Jim’s home!

Only a little over 24 hours following surgery, Jim was released from the hospital.  He passed all the tests and hurdles that they gave him, so they kicked him out!   He’s feeling good.  He has pain meds to take as needed, and he has a list of instructions to follow so that his healing goes smoothly.

Thank you so much for all the support that has come our way!  This may be a ‘routine’ surgery, but due to his long ordeal of 16 months of non-healing, it feels anything but routine.  We’re ready for a whole new ‘normal’!!

Carolyn

Jim’s surgery

Jim had hip surgery today at 1:00 and he’s doing great!  The doctor only had to replace the ‘cup’, and not the stem, so that was good.  He told me that he put in a larger cup than before, and he screwed it in so well that there’s no way it could possibly move!  He also did a couple other more technical things that should ensure a good recovery.

When I left his room this evening he was in good spirits and looking forward to getting on his feet as soon as possible.  Likely they’ll have him standing tonight yet, and walking tomorrow.  There’s a chance he’ll be able to come home tomorrow…or Friday at the latest.

We are so grateful that the surgery is now behind him, and he can focus on healing…and getting back to living life to the fullest!

Thanks for the many prayers and kind thoughts/words sent by so many of you!  We are very blessed to have such caring family and friends!

SUPER Great News!!

I used to have a saying that I used to say in the mornings when I first opened my eyes:  “I wonder what this day will bring for me.”  I loved that saying…but I haven’t used it for a long time.

Today at 9:12, Jim received a call from the University of MN hospitals saying that someone had cancelled out of their surgery on Friday…and he could take that spot if he wanted to!  Ummm…like he was going to think about that for a long time!!  He immediately said yes!  Then she said he needed to come to a pre-surgery ‘training’ that started at 10:00 today.  So, he quickly jumped into the car and headed for the U.

We were both elated!!

Then…at 1:18  he received another call.  Would he like to come on Wednesday instead, since they had another cancellation?  Again, there was an answer with no pause from Jim…Yes!  So, now he is scheduled at 1:00 on Wednesday.

As far as we are concerned, this is an answer to prayer!  We’re very hopeful that this will relieve him of the significant pain he has been experiencing…and hopefully will do so quickly!  It also allows him over 2 months to recuperate before we leave on our Alaska trip.

As Jim says…he’s excited, “and my wife is super excited”!!  But that’s the difference that’s been apparent between the two of us for 50 years!! Yes, tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of our first date…when Jim was excited to be going out with me….and I was super-excited!! :)

I think I’ll go back to starting my day with “I wonder what this day will bring for me.”  It’s a good thing to approach each day with a healthy amount of “wonder”!!

Thanks for prayers!!

Carolyn

One year out of treatment!

It’s been one year since I finished my chemotherapy.  At that time I weighed 97 pounds, and looked 97 years old!  A year later, I’ve gained pounds (not telling how many!), and have ‘lost’ a few decades in age!

I had my one year check-up this week.  All of my numbers looked so good that my doctor just sat and chatted with me for awhile.  He wanted to know about our upcoming trip to Alaska, etc.  It was a very “normal” visit–unlike any I’ve had for the past 4+ years.  Left me on a real high!!

I wish I could quit with that and say “all is well”, but the other half of the equation–namely Jim–is not doing so well.  His hip simply has not healed and finally the decision has been made to do another surgery to repair it.  He has tried physical therapy, chiropractic, crutches (4 months!), electronic stimulation (24/7 for 7 months!), and using a cane…and he still can’t walk without pain.  Very discouraging!!

He/We had hoped to get the surgery done soon after we returned from Arizona at the end of March.  No such luck!  The surgeon is booked until mid-June, but since we have a trip to Alaska all booked beginning June 30, that didn’t seem like a good idea.  So now he’s scheduled for July 30–over 3 months away!  Ugh!  He’ll have to take a megadose of painkillers with him on our trip!

So…this is sort of a good news/bad news update…but such is life.

Thanks for keeping up with us!

Carolyn

Addendum re: Jim

Selfishly focusing only on myself :(     …I’ve been asked to give an update on Jim.

It’s been almost a year since Jim’s hip replacement surgery–Dec. 20, 2013.  He knew, even last winter, that his recuperation was going slowly.  All the time we were in AZ, while he was taking care of me, he continued to have some pain, and could walk only short distances before he had to stop.

When we got back in April, he went back to his surgeon…and was told he simply was healing more slowly than most.  Then his pain got worse throughout the summer.  Finally in August when he again returned to the surgeon, more scans were done and it was discovered that his bone has never grown to fuse with the new hip apparatus. (Insert many sad faces here!!)  This happens in 1/2 of 1% of cases, he was told.   This is one time you do NOT want to stand out from the crowd!

So–Jim was put on crutches to take the weight-bearing off of his hip, and he was fit with an electronic device that sends electronic signals through his hip bones to stimulate bone growth.  The device has been proven helpful in cases of bone breakage and fractures, but has not been tested much for hip replacement problems.  So, he’s a test case!

After nearly 3 months on crutches and getting ‘shocked’ 24 hrs/day, it MIGHT be working.  He has less pain, and is able to use a cane around the house.  He still uses crutches whenever he leaves the house.  He is dedicated to this effort, and wavers between hopeful…and less so at times!  He figures he’ll continue with the crutches and electronics at least until the end of January…and then hopes he’ll be able to work back to a normal way of walking again.

If none of this works…he’ll be back for another round of hip surgery when we return from Arizona in the Spring.  Prayers, please!

Yes…if you’re keeping track, Jim and I have taken turns taking care of each other ever since his heart surgery in May, 2013.  I guess this is what we promised each other back in 1967.  A break, however, would be welcome!

I LOVE Good News!!

It’s been two months since I last wrote a post.  I’m anxious to share some good news, and to give an update on a few things.

I had my regular oncology visit today—8 months following the end of treatment.  No scan was done this time—just blood work.  Everything looked great.  ALL IS WELL!!

Even though I feel great and have tons of energy, a visit to the oncologist brings out anxiety!  After all, I felt great 13 years ago when I was first diagnosed with lymphoma…and I felt great a year ago when diagnosed with colon cancer.  So, obviously “feeling great” is not a guarantee of optimal health!  It was wonderful news, once again, to hear that my ‘numbers’ are all good and I can go on my merry way for another 4 months.

The only down-side I am feeling is the stupid neuropathy!!  I’ve talked about this quite a bit in past posts…and it’s still hanging around, bugging me more than I’d like it to.  I had been doing acupuncture quite faithfully this fall, and indeed, when we left for Mexico in mid-October, my hands were much better, and my feet were improving.  That lasted until early November when the stinging and pain returned.  I returned to acupuncture after our trip, but it just wasn’t doing the trick, so for the past 2-3 weeks, I’ve become more discouraged about neuropathy being something I will need to learn to live with.

But…there may be two possible ‘lights’:  one is that colder weather tends to kick neuropathy into high gear with some people (and we have certainly experienced plenty of that already in Minnesota!!); and secondly, my doctor said today that he has had patients experience a higher level of pain as their nerves were healing…sort of the storm before the calm.  He still thinks it’s possible that the neuropathy could lighten or even go away in the next few months.  Boy, do I hope he is right!!

As for the “colder weather” idea—we are headed for Arizona on December 28, so I’ll give that theory a try for 3 months in warmer temps!

The other update I wanted to give is about Kay, my friend with brain cancer.  You may recall that no one expected her to continue to live this long, following her stroke earlier this fall.  But once again she is proving everyone wrong!  We’ve been to Fargo to see her several times in the past 6 weeks since returning from Mexico.  We could see quite an improvement upon our return.  She remains in the nursing home due to the amount of care that she needs.  But she is very alert, follows all conversations, and joins in when she can.  From all appearances she will not only celebrate Christmas once again with her family, but will also mark the 6th anniversary of the diagnosis of her brain cancer on January 1.  She is breathing rarified air by being one of what can only be a very few people who have lived this long with that same diagnosis of glioblastoma multiforme.

We will go to spend one more day with Kay and her family before we leave for AZ.  Uff—that will be tough!

And once again the ambivalence of joy and sadness rest deeply on my heart:  I am joyful for the news I received today…and I am so sad that my friend is no longer able to receive such joyful news for herself.

The season of Advent, and it’s theme of waiting in the darkness, is not lost on me in Kay’s situation.  Indeed, perhaps more than most of us, Kay awaits ‘in the darkness’ for her Savior to come.

May each of you have a blessed Christmas season!

~~Carolyn~~

Juxtaposition….with a Capital J!

The Juxtapositions of Life:

I’m often struck by situations in life that place us in parallel but seemingly opposing emotional responses to certain events.

I’m certain there are many people who can resonate with a time when a child was late—very late—in coming home.  The later he/she was, the angrier you were that they didn’t call…and the more frightened you were that something awful may have happened.  And then when they do show up…well…do you wring their neck, or hug them them hard?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about seemingly contradictory feelings that lie along side each other, and move in and out of my mind and actions quickly…while my body hardly moves at all!  Most pointedly, this has to do with our friend Kay.

We’ve been driving to Fargo weekly to see Kay.  Two to three weeks ago we were quite certain that we were experiencing her last days.  She had a stroke and was responding very little to her surroundings.  But even as our hearts were heavy, we (Darrell, daughters Sara and Tessa, friends Ron & Cindy) went out for pizza and laughed together.  More than once the question popped into my mind—“how can we do this…laugh in the midst of such great impending loss?”  It doesn’t seem to make sense.

And yet it does—it’s our frail, human way of coping…the one way our minds know how to find some balance between the heaviness of grieving and the balm and healing that comes from bonding with others through laughter.  If we didn’t engage in the laughter part of this equation, the heaviness would draw us far too deeply into the darkness of grief and depression.

We just returned from spending the day with Kay.  She’s now in a nursing home where they can provide the kind of continual care that she needs.  Fortunately she has rallied, and is able to respond with a few words when we speak to her.  She’s very aware of what is going on around her, and enjoys just sitting in her wheelchair and listening to the chatter of her family and friends.  At one point today there were 10 of us in the visitor’s room—Kay & Darrell, Tessa and Jon, Ron, Cindy, and Kristi, Cindy’s sister Carolyn, and Jim and me.  The chatter, the bantering, the laughing, the reminiscing…brought smiles to all of us, including Kay.

And then it came time to say goodbye.  Uff!

I put my cheek against Kay’s cheek, and I sang “God Be with you till we Meet again”  I only sang a little bit of it…that’s all I could do.  I glanced back at her as we walked down the hall…wondering…

And here’s the biggest juxtaposition for me right now:  On Tuesday we leave for Mexico on a trip that has been planned for over a year…before Jim’s heart and hip surgery, before my cancer diagnosis.  You see, it takes that long to find a date when 9 of us can clear our calendars to spend 5-6 days together!  Our whole family is going to Cancun!  I presented this idea to everyone sometime in early 2013, with the idea of doing this for Jim’s 70th birthday, which was in March, 2014.  The date that finally worked for all of us is now…and so much has happened since we set that date!

As any parent knows, having the entire family together is a little like High Holy Days!  It’s a BIG DEAL!  It’s precious time, and reason to celebrate!  I’m excited!!   And we have much to celebrate!!

Jim and I have been going to Mexico just about every year since 1995.  This is our 18th trip.  We’re staying a total of 18 days—having our own vacation after the kids leave.

Well…you get the picture, right?  I’m deeply grieving the impending loss of my good friend….and I’m giddily excited about having my family together on the beaches of Cancun.  Juxtaposition with a capital J…Ambivalence with a capital A!

But life presents us all with a plethora of these conflicting ‘opportunities’, does it not?  We get lots of practice in bouncing around between sadness and joy, anger and relief, fear and excitement, tears and laughter.

So…as I glanced back at Kay today, I prayed that I will have another opportunity to visit her upon our return. We come back November 1…or sooner if we get a call letting us know that there is no more opportunity to visit.

I pray that we don’t get that call…that I get another chance to sing to Kay…that we have another opportunity to chatter lightly, to laugh together in her presence.

And in the meantime…I’m off to Mexico to celebrate life with my family.

Juxtaposition…with a capital J!

Port’s out! Done deal!

My port is out.  Once again, the emotional part of this process brought some surprises.

I checked in to United Hospital at 6:15 this morning—an unusually early hour of the day for this retired person!!

Just walking into the hospital brought out a boatload of unhappy memories and feelings that I didn’t expect.  I mean—I was there for something good and positive.  Getting rid of my port meant that my treatment process was officially over.  My oncologist saw no reason to keep this piece of equipment in my body.  Good stuff, right?  Right!

I had much of the same staff working with me today as I had a year ago when my port was inserted.  They’re wonderful—very kind and obviously very competent.  I appreciated each and every one of them.  But I found myself absolutely hating being there!  I was not cheerful, even though I had started the day with “This is the day the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it.”  And:  “This is my favorite day”.  I was trying hard to turn the tide…but as usual, the more I tried to control, the less control I had!  Darn…I hate when that happens!

So—I had a nice nap while they did their thing.  And when I woke up, the tide had turned.  My eyes filled with tears, realizing the meaning of this procedure.  I’m done!  I’m thankful!  I’m blessed!  I’m making plans for the future—both short and long term.  I’m closing a chapter that was the most difficult thing I have ever experienced, and I’m ready to find ways to give back.

My greatest thanks go to God for guiding me through this journey.  And my next thanks go out to all of you who are reading this post.  You, and a whole lot of others, prayed your hearts out.  My cup runneth over!!

My Friend, Kay

I’d like to tell you about Kay—my friend of 43 years.  There’s a special reason I’m writing about Kay today—I hope you’ll hang in there to hear more on that later.

Kay and I met in the back of McVille Lutheran Church in the “cry room” (think ‘nursery’, but without toys, cribs…or volunteer attendants).  Jim & I moved to McVille, N.D. in 1970, following Jim’s graduation from seminary.  The population at that time was around 700.  Jim served a 3-point parish—one church in town, and 2 in the country.

In 1971, a new family moved to town.  Now, in a town of 700 people a new family is BIG news!!  Nearly everyone is related to each other in some way, so Kay and Darrell Moon, and their baby daughter Tessa literally meant new blood in the community!!  Now there were two families who were related to no one else—the Moons and the Tonnesons!

The Moons began attending McVille Lutheran right away.  I believe it was the first Sunday that they were there when I saw Kay take Tessa—about 7-8 months old, out of church to the cry room during the service.  I immediately thought this would be a good opportunity to meet this new mom in town, so I decided our oldest son Mark, who was 2-3 months old, needed to be taken out as well.  Who knows—he may have been sleeping peacefully, but I wanted to meet Kay, so out I went to the cry room!  That meeting was literally the beginning of our 43-year friendship.

Kay andDarrell lived on the other side of town from us—a whole 6 or 7 blocks away.  We would put our babies in strollers and walk to one or the other of our houses to visit…to have adult conversation—something young mothers find lacking at times!  After a couple of years, they moved to what became their permanent home in McVille, just a block away from where we lived.

It was at their house that we dropped Mark in the middle of the night when I went into labor with Scott in October of 1973.  And a few months later in June 1974, we took care of Tessa while Kay went to the hospital to give birth to Sara.  A few weeks later, Jim not only baptized Sara, but we were also her godparents.

There was a 3rd couple/family added to this mix also.  Ron and Cindy Ophaug were ‘locals’ (meaning they were related to at least half the people in the community!!).  They farmed, and attended one of Jim’s country churches.  Their daughter, Kristi (only a week older than Tessa) was likely the first baby that Jim baptized after moving to McVille.  Their son Paul joined the family in 1972.  So…by 1974, the three couples had 6 young kids, and our times together were frequent, busy, and fun.

During those years we spent more time with the Moons, living only a block away.  Kay and I would often check our plans for supper…and then combine them to eat at either their house or ours.  Darrell worked in the bank, Jim at the church…so they often got a surprise as to where they would be eating supper when they got home from work.

We moved away from McVille in 1975 when Jim went back for training in chaplaincy work.  We spent 3 years in Jamestown, ND, just 90 miles from McVille.  Kay and I wrote to each other once or twice a week—actual handwritten letters, mind you.  Sometimes they were 5-6 pages long!  We continued to see each other frequently, with only 90 miles separating us.

During this time, Ophaugs had a 3rd child—Aaron, in 1976.  Moons became his godparents.  And we adopted Kimi in 1977—Moons are also her godparents.  The intertwining continued.  Clearly the threads of our lives were not just persevering, but were deepening.  Every birthday—adult or child—was spent together.  And nearly every New Year’s Eve we spent together—playing games with the kids until they went to sleep (all 8 of them!), and then continuing with our games until midnight or later.

Then in 1978 we made a bigger move—to Rochester where Jim added on to his education to become a clinical supervisor for chaplaincy/seminary training.  That was a difficult move since it meant putting so many miles between us and our friends.  It was only for one year, and we did manage to visit each other during that time, but it was more difficult.  And…every phone call at that time was long distance, which cost money….which none of us had!  So letters became our main way of staying connected.

In 1979 we moved to Fergus Falls, MN, and settled in there for 25 years.  Now we were about 3 hours from McVille—a reasonable traveling distance.

The Ophaugs also moved from McVille in 1987, when farming no longer was working for them as a way to make a living.  They moved to Minto, N.D., a distance of about 75 miles from McVille.  So now the 3 couples were in 3 different locations…but we still managed to keep well connected.  Moons and Ophaugs would often take short trips together with all their kids…sometimes to our cabin where all 14 of us would be together again.

We took one long trip with Moons while we still had kids at home.  In the mid-80’s, in two cars, we traveled to/down the west coast together.  We pulled a camper…Moons stayed in motels!  The 4 of us have also taken trips to the east coast, and to Germany and Switzerland.

Every milestone in our lives found us at each other’s side:  confirmations, graduations (high school and college), parents’ funerals, weddings—we always knew the other 2 couples would be there to support and celebrate.  Sadly, we also were together when Aaron Ophaug died in 1999, one of the lowest, saddest times in our long friendship!

After our kids were all out of the house, we began a yearly tradition that became known as MOT weekends (think last names).  We took turns planning these weekends, but almost always they were in the winter.  We went skiing in Montana, but mainly we stayed in MN or ND.  Kay always tried to find a place in ND…she is one of North Dakota’s most loyal fans!!

In January of 2009, Kay was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme—a common and deadly form of brain cancer.  Surgery was done immediately to remove as much of the tumor as possible.  Radiation followed for several weeks, and then chemotherapy.  The prognosis was dim:  most people die within 6-18 months.  Only 5-10% survive beyond 2 years.  The 6 of us gathered that winter for our regular MOT weekend, and many tears were shed.  We believed it would be our last MOT.  Still, we tried to make it as normal a time as possible, which meant the women went shopping!  I remember Kay didn’t buy anything—she just felt it wasn’t worth it since her life would soon be over.  It was a sad, sad weekend!

News of Kay’s diagnosis spread among family and friends, and Kay also set up a CaringBridge site to keep people updated on her journey.  Soon she had hundreds of people praying for her, and supporting her in many other ways as well.  Her CB website has had nearly 49,000 visits in the past 5 years!

She had oncology visits with CT scans every 3 months.  We all waited on pins and needles to hear the report after each visit.  The reports were encouraging—the tumor wasn’t growing, and Kay slowly began to regain some normalcy to her life—a “new normal”, but one where we all began to have just a little bit of hope.  It was during these early days of her cancer than her grandson, Trey (then about 10) asked his mom how long she thought Grandma Kay was going to live.  Sara was very honest with Trey, and told him about the 6-18 month prognosis, and the 5-10% chances of life beyond 2 years.  Wonderful Trey said:  “I guess Grandma is going to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records!”

Trey’s wisdom and hopefulness have prevailed because every 3 months for over 5 years, Grandma Kay got the same report from her oncologist:  “No changes in the tumor”.  The MOT times together continued…and became more than annual.

Then July 2014, Kay went for her regular oncology visit.  With stunned silence, Kay, Darrell, and Sara all heard the news:  “The tumor is growing”.  And as they passed the news on to the rest of us, we also were stunned with the reality that the book of world records was beginning to close.

A couple of years ago, Kay and Darrell moved to Fargo, close to Sara and close to her medical caregivers.  Tessa, who is a pastor, lives with her family in South Africa.  In early August Tessa flew home to spend 2 weeks with her mom and family, but is now back in SA.

Cindy and I spent a couple days with Kay in early August.  We could see changes—her walking was less stable, for one thing.  But in spite of the gray cloud hanging over us, we enjoyed being together—going out to lunch, going to a play.

Yesterday we drove to Fargo, as did Ron and Cindy.  We spent several hours together—had birthday cake, because today is Kay’s 68th birthday.

In the midst of the sadness that we all felt, we found ourselves laughing together like we’ve done so many times over the years.  Kay not only joined in on the laugher, but cracked a few jokes herself!  That felt so good!!

I just talked to Kay to wish her a happy birthday.  She told me about her birthday gift this year—a shiny new walker.  After seeing her yesterday, I know that it’s something she needs immediately.  She can no longer walk by herself.  She has been told to expect new symptoms to appear quickly, which could include falls, seizures, etc. She’s more tired, and that will increase as well.

We’ve all pledged to be with her and Darrell as much as possible in the next weeks and months.  Kay has no siblings.  But she has her friends of 43 years that she can count on to be with her as she faces her last days.

Kay is not afraid to die.  She has a deep faith, and she knows Jesus will warmly welcome her when she leaves her earthly time behind.  But that doesn’t making the leaving easy.  She has a wonderful family including 5 grandchildren who she doesn’t want to leave behind.  Sometimes this is just too sad!!

I seriously don’t know how to bring this post to an end…because…well, you know.  It’s not going to end well.  There’s no happy ending here.

Mainly I wanted to write about long-term friendship, and the honor I’ve had to be Kay’s friend for 43 years.  Kay—I know you will be reading this.  I love you!

Today is My Favorite Day!!!

Maybe you remember a time when you were first in love….and you wanted everyone to know.  You wanted to go outside and shout it to the world:  “I’m in love!!!”

Well…today I want to shout this to the world:  “I’m cancer free! I’m cancer free!!  I’m cancer free!!!!!”

I had predicted that my oncologist would not say those words…which he didn’t, although he said, in his conservative manner: “Everything looks really good.”  A few minutes later, which I was lying down on the exam table, and we were chatting, I said “I suppose you won’t say that I’m cancer free.”  He replied,” Oh yes…I’d say you are cancer free.”  I jumped upright…and startled him!  He said: “Be careful.  I’m Lutheran.  I don’t get all this emotional!” We laughed at that—he didn’t know that Jim is  a Lutheran pastor!

Anyway…he said he has no problem calling me cancer free at this time.  There are absolutely no signs of either the colon cancer, nor the lymphoma.  In terms of recurrence, he said at the time that treatment ended in April, my chances of the colon cancer returning were 41%.  Now that everything is clear after 4 months, that percentage has dropped into the 30’s, and will continue to drop every day that I stay clear.  I go back again in December for tests….and if all is still clear, again the chances of recurrence drop.  He won’t use the word “cure” until I have 5 years of clear tests.  But right now I’m just very happy with the words “Cancer free”!!

As for the lymphoma, he says he’s not terribly worried about that, even though there is a chance of it recurring.  So, I really liked hearing that piece of news too—“Not worried” is good!!

This will sink in over the next few days.  I’m so grateful, so thankful, so humbled to have this chance at a healthy life for whatever period of time that I can!  (Personally, I’m going for a minimum of 20-25 years!!)

I’m going to do a future post about this quote, but I’ll just add it briefly here:  In A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, Pooh asks Piglet “What day is it, Piglet?”  Piglet says: “It’s today.”  And Pooh responds: “My favorite day!”

Yes, friends…Today is My Favorite Day!!