Saturday, August 30, 2008

Our Own Tsunami

Our story began in 2001, when my husband was suddenly admitted to hospital and immediately underwent surgery for Stage 4 cancer. He had not been feeling sick in the previous months, other than being very tired, which is not something that would trigger a visit to your general practitioner. Then one afternoon at work, something just didn't seem right and he went to the hospital for testing. He was admitted later that night. Within two days, his left kidney was removed and after a six-week recovery at home, he returned to work. Cancer at that time really didn't have any affect on us, because of the doctor's diagnosis after the surgery that "they had gotten it all" and also because of his speedy recovery and return to work, it was similiar to any major surgery with positive results. That had been my husband's very first time ever hospitalized since I had met him. He had been very fortunate up to that time, never to have had any major health issues.

For the next five years though, there were continuous three-month and six-month visits with his urologist and other specialists. Continuous scans, MRI's, x-rays and blood tests were the norm, with us always holding our breath each time we received results, but were continuously reassured that "the cancer was NOT reappearing"! As I look back now after all we have gone through, I strongly wonder why my husband never did see an oncologist, just to go over his tests results and give us his/her opinion. Of course, we never questioned this and left it up to those in the health care system who knew best. Knowing what we know now many years later, we should have discussed the option of having my husband take some type of chemo, just to ensure that the cancer was completely gone. A few chemo treatments would have been a "breeze" back then, based upon what he has gone through since, if it would have prevented the cancer cells from metastasizing. I would strongly suggest to anyone reading this who recently had a nephrectomy or is about to have one, and if no other mets appear after the surgery, to ask this question of your urologist. I am in no way a person who can give answers to medical questions, but I can relate our experiences to others, in the hope that it will prevent other health issues from happening to you. There is one clarification that I need to make with regard to any reference of how we were constantly assured that the cancer was no where in site. Late in 2005 after testing, we were told that a cyst or possible lesion appeared, but nothing of a cancerous nature. It obviously was not considered by the medical team as an emergency, since my husband's MRI to provide further confirmation was not scheduled for at least eight months later!!! His admission to hospital however, was two months before the MRI date.

Cancer prevention is the key! Our governments tend to choose the scenario of dealing with the cure, rather than the prevention. And which political member and party was it that decided to abolish our once very efficient health care system here in Canada, by enormously cutting back on health care funding? Prevention would decrease the overall health care expenses, while trying to cure the symptoms of cancer usually result in enormous costs to both governments and of course, patients and their families. As individuals who may be affected, it is our responsibility to mandate our government leaders to have patient testing done in a timely manner. This of course relates to all health care issues. If the results are positive, waiting only magnifies the problem and elevates the health care costs dramatically. I urge you all to lend your voice to a better health care system...one that is more efficient with testing and diagnosis. It is every person's right to have the best health care that is available.

Just one month from my husband's finale of his five year follow-up, he was not feeling well and after a blood test was referred to a specialist immediately. As we sat in the specialist's office, arrangements were made to admit him at once and our second and most life changing journey with cancer was now about to begin.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Do You Inspire? Men That I Admire

My husband is a person of inspiration! Ask anyone who knows him and they will definitely agree. He's always been someone who leaves a positive impression on everyone he meets but even more so since his cancer diagnosis. I remember that day when the doctor gave us the devastating news of terminal cancer and a three month longevity. My daughter and I were devastated, but my husband just lay in his hospital bed, accepting his fate and instantly his thoughts were on his family and not his illness. He has travelled a difficult road since that time on many occasions, but his strength and determination to never give up, is truly amazing. Ask him at anytime how he's feeling and the answer is always "Good". He refuses to worry, takes each day as it comes and has a faith that can most definitely move mountains. He is willing to try whatever is out there in the medical field and never shys away from taking risks.

This summer I started to read a book entitled "For the Moment: A Memoir of Survival" by Bob Wakeham and once I began, I honestly could not put it down until I had finished. It is a true revelation about another man's journey with cancer and details his hardships along the way. Readers will definitely find inspiration from this author's determination to never quit!

My daughter recently gave me a book entitled "The Last Lecture" and I'm sure most of you by now have heard of a hero by the name of Randy Pausch. His inner strength defies description and once again, any reader will be more than inspired.

Yes, inspiration can sometimes make miracles happen. Who have you inspired today?

How to Post Your Comments!

Just thought I'd run through the procedure to post your comments! I've made it very simple and there's no need to register.

Access the "comments" section at the end of any of my posts, then type your comment in the box. Next, type in the colored jumbled letters in the appropriate area and then you can either click the "Name" (and enter your first name) or the "Anonymous" bullet and final step is to "Publish Your Comment". It's that easy!

You can return to the website by entering the "My Husband's Cancer" at the top left.

Looking forward to hearing from everyone with regards to general comments about the site, suggestions, questions, etc.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Our First Visit to the Chemo Ward

I have vivid recollections of that day when my husband and I pushed open the doors to that huge room. Recliner chairs lined one side, while hospital beds were displayed against the opposite wall, all holding patients receiving various types of treatment. Once registered, a nurse approached and asked which my husband would prefer, a chair or bed. He chose a bed and soon he was receiving his meds. The staff were magnificent and certainly understood our apprehension in this new environment, while patient's and their familes were accommodating to answer our many questions. One man in particular, whose wife was the patient, told me not to become intimidated by this new environment, but to make ourselves "feel at home" and pointed me towards a heated facility where I obtained warm blankets for my husband. A kindly lady paced the ward with her tray of refreshments, always going out of her way to personally get to know each patient and leaving each with a lasting smile and a memory from her humorous side. That particular chemo ward has large windows that allow those inside to have a scenic view of a beautiful garden, planted lovingly to encourage cancer patients and instill in them that "hope" abounds!

Our visits to that ward in the following weeks always left us with that same homely feeling. The constant beeping of IV machines, dripping orange popsicles, nurses always rushing to attend to any patient's needs, the biggest smiles on patient's faces and the kindly refreshment lady have all become my memories of that ward. It was there that cancer patients received hope and inspiration to keep going and to never, never quit.

One final remark leads me to that same gentleman that originally encouraged me to feel at home there. He had always been by his wife's side through her many treatments and each time we saw them there, his wife appeared so much weaker. She had lost all of her hair and her fragile body showed signs that her condition was worsening. One thing was constant though, and that was her enormous smile everytime we saw her! Not a usual everyday smile, but one that gave everyone who saw it, encouragement to keep going! We did not see her during our last few visits at that ward and assumed the worst had happened.

Two months ago, just a year since that time as we were driving into the hospital parking lot, we saw a couple walking towards us, holding hands and laughing. The woman donned a mass of dark curly hair, and as our eyes met, she gave a huge smile. You guessed it!!! It was the same couple that we had met and shared many hours with during chemo treatments. She was now cancer free and a picture of health. She has become our symbol of hope and inspiration to never give up, no matter how much the odds may be stacked against you.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hints on Healthy Eating and What Works for my Husband


Yes, we've heard everyone say this for years...eat all your veggies, stay away from junk food and watch those calories. We've proven that good eating habits are vital when you are a cancer patient. Sure, you can push your shopping cart into the not-so-nutrious area of the supermarket once in awhile, but for the most part, pay very close attention to your overall diet.

Fruits are a must, but be extra careful with grapefruit or pineapple if you are taking particular medications as they might react to some meds. It is always best to check this out with your doctor first. In our area, blueberries are in abundance now and we are fortunate to be able to pick wild ones very close to home. Vegetables are important to maintain a healthy diet as well, and we eat local produce during this time of year when it is readily available and will always substitute the frozen varieties if necessary. Lots of lettuce, cabbage, broccoli and any green veggies are excellent food choices.

My husband has always been very disciplined in trying to maintain a healthy weight, even at times when he's not feeling that great to eat a nutritous meal. He's been very fortunate, that his chemo treatments have not caused much nausea and loss of appetite. We know from experience how quickly weight loss can occur when you are feeling ill, so if possible, try your very best to keep up a good appetite. Even home made eggnog has served hubby on several occasions when whole food is not a substitute and he tries to have at least two milkshakes or more every week. We've purchased a juicer and I've discovered that there actually is lots of juice in a carrot...truly amazing!

The worse symptom of his taking Sutent, would be occasional stomach pain which for now, is quickly remedied with proper medication. He had to be extremely careful though not to eat unfriendly foods during his third and fourth weeks when he was on the four-week Sutent medication and definitely appreciated the two week hiatus off those pills, to allow his stomach to return to a somewhat normal state. His routine has changed a little now though, so we are awaiting more time on his present chemo to see if there will be any reactions.

He's also discovered not to lie down right after eating while on oral chemo, as this will only irritate your discomfort more. Sleeping on two pillows has proven to be a reliable aid as well to bring relief from indigestion. Tums have worked wonders on heartburn nights and the loss of how food used to taste, is a common theme.

Of course, we have learned that no two patients are alike when referring to symptoms of chemo. My husband has been very fortunate to not have had any of the more major reactions, but everyone is different. Grey hair has resulted from the Sutent, but that is very minor in the BIG picture of things. His grey hair quickly returned to normal color once he was taken off Sutent for awhile. That was the least of our worries.

For those of you who may be just starting your chemo, I would suggest that you read all of the information that you can, learn about the possible symptoms and how to control them if it happens, but remember that you may only have very few of them, if any!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Some of My Best Friends are Those I've Never Personally Met

Cancer in our family has given us many trials to overcome, but it has also given us so much to be thankful for. One of which is meeting our cyber friends. We are proof that you can become the best of friends without ever actually meeting someone face to face.
In my initial search on the web for cancer information, I discovered many websites that were indeed very helpful. The internet is not all bad, as most people think. It can be lifesaving at times and I've obtained vital information here whenever I've needed it.
One site that I found to be very informative at the start was http://www.cancercompass.com/. This website provides info from patients and their caregivers on every type of cancer. I'm not trying to be an ambassador for this particular site, because there are hundreds of others that do the same thing, but from my personal searches, this site is where I started. It was from this site, that I connected with one of my most cherished friends whose husband's condition was and still is so very similiar to my husband's. I don't think "I" would have made it through all of this, without her constant support. Even now, whenever I have a question, Mary is right there. I hope all caregivers reading this can connect with someone who shares similiar experiences to provide that lifeline when you need it most! She's there for me and I for her, and you can't ask for more than that.
Email friends are also a must have! My friend Bonnie has been there from day one with her emails of support and encouragement. It seems she always knows by instinct when I need to connect, and an email arrives instantly. Then there's been many surprise greeting cards to let me know she's thinking of hubby and I during our most difficult days, as well as telephone calls to lift our spirits.
Many of our email friends like Kathy, Art & Susan, David, Bunker, Lisa and Wendy, just to name a few, have lived through similiar experiences both personally and also within their immediate families. We continue to communicate to support each other and share our common theme of cancer.
We are all just ordinary people who have all formed this close bond because of cancer. Little did any of us know at the start, which way this road would lead us, but I for one, am so very grateful to have found these lifelong friends.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

What a Difference a Year Has Made

When I think back to last year this time, things were so very different. It had been a little over a year then and I was still getting used to my husband's terminal cancer diagnosis. He had been taken off Sutent a couple of months earlier after six cycles, and I was desperately searching for a miracle. The web became my constant companion, as I dilingently checked several times a day for a new kidney cancer drug for him to try. Since the chemo had been stopped, we could tell that his cancer was growing and he was running out of time. Then after two months of searching, there it was right before me......Torisel! All information pointed to the fact that it was available in the US but had not yet been approved in Canada for patient use and more importantly, had not been approved in my province. After all we had been through over the previous 13 months, I was not about to just settle for those words "not approved" and decided to do something.
First step was to call the manufacturer Wyeth and find out everything there was to know about it and to determine if I could get approval on this end, if they would forward the drug. It was a go! Next step was to contact his oncologist to get the proper procedures in order and to ask him to speed things up as fast as possible, as my husband's condition was worsening. I called the oncologist constantly and I must say he did everything possible to move the process along. Apparently, the hospital board had to make the final approval and this is what took the extra time. Finally, after two months longer, we received approval and my husband's first treatment of Torisel began in August 2007.
Yes, last year there were so many uncertainties with a new chemo drug, what it's side effects would be, how my husband would react and the thought that if it failed, we did not think there was anything else available. My husband was quite willing to take the risk, and that is all that mattered. The final decision was his alone, and myself and our two daughters would stand by his decision and support him all the way.
Last year was all about "taking a risk" and today we have learned through our experiences with cancer, that life can be extended by agreeing to do that. Each of us take risks everyday, sometimes just by walking out our front door, so face your fears and keep the faith.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Appreciate the Little Things


Today was glorious....lots of sunshine and hot temperatures. Hubby and I spent it outside, watching the bluejays in our three feeders. I know that might sound boring to many of you, but seems it's the little things now that we appreciate so much more than we did previous to my husband's cancer diagnosis.
We now live day to day, thankful for the time that we have together and always knowing that things can change in an instant. Of course, that's the way life is for anyone, but once you've had a near death experience and have fought courageously to live, your whole perception of life becomes rearranged. We are very grateful that my husband now goes to work everyday, is feeling relatively good and life for now, is back to "normal". I say that word cautiously, for even though he is on continuous chemo on a daily basis, we have been truly blessed.
These past two years have presented us with many struggles, and blessings that have been too numerous to count. I hope that by sharing our experiences with cancer, we can inspire others to keep the faith!
Looking forward to your comments.