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!


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!!

First set of results are in…and the answer is:

Clear!  Clean!  My colonoscopy shows no signs of cancer or anything even suspicious!!!  And the doctor said the surgery area looked great…and the surgeon had done a fine job.  (Of course he WAS the surgeon, so he delighted in telling me what a fine job he had done!!)

I’m greatly relieved, tremendously thankful, tearfully joyful, gratefully blessed!

Now for part two–next Tuesday when I see my oncologist for the results of my CT scan and blood work.  I’m pretty sure he won’t use the words “cancer free”…the best I can expect from him is “no sign of cancer at this time”…but who knows how I might decide to reframe that little phrase!  However, I won’t count my chickens yet…the hatching will come on Tuesday.

Happy weekend, all!

Happy Anniversary???

It’s one year ago, on August 13, 2013, that I was taken totally by surprise with a diagnosis of colon cancer.  Backing up a few weeks—I had seen my primary care physician for something minor—I don’t even recall what it was.  She looked at my records and said “It’s time that you have a colonoscopy”.  Thankfully she put the orders in, so the clinic called me to set up the appointment.  Otherwise, I likely would still have the tumor growing inside of me.  Left to my own devices, I would have procrastinated until who-knows-when!  (Sound familiar??)

So, on the 12th I did all the prep work, (which is really the part that people don’t like—the procedure itself is a piece of cake in comparison!)  and showed up at 6:45 a.m. on the 13th like the obedient patient that I am.  My plan was to go out for a fun breakfast after I was done…you know…as a reward for making it through the prep and procedure.  By 8:00 a.m., the physician was back in my room telling me that he had found a tumor, and that he was sure it was cancer.  So much for my breakfast plans…or other well laid plans for the future!

Although I do’t recall a whole lot of details from the rest of the day,  I do remember my first reaction:  I uttered the prim and proper response, “Oh sh*t”, and I realized that at that moment my life was changing dramatically.  I entered a whirlwind of appointments over the next two weeks.  But more than that, I entered a new ‘club’.  Even though I’d had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for 12 years, it had never felt life-threatening to me.  Now I had a 2nd cancer diagnosis—and I felt much more vulnerable.  THIS felt life-threatening!

A year later, I’m very glad that I journaled and blogged about those days, because I would not be able to remember much of what I experienced over the next several weeks through surgery, and then the months of treatment.  I just reread my first journal entry, post diagnosis.  Not a pretty picture…in fact, a direct quote from that entry, trying to describe my mixture of feelings reads as follows:   “Shocked.  Stunned.  Angry.  Sad.  Betrayed.  Overwhelmed.  Scared.  Lost.  Disoriented.”

I’m very happy to be in a much different spot today!  Following surgery, and five months of hellish chemo treatments, I can say that my life feels nearly normal again.  The neuropathy in my hands is getting much better…but my feet still sting a lot, and keep me from doing extensive walking.  So I ride my bicycle instead!

Now it’s checkup time.  This week I have a CT scan, blood work, colonoscopy, and then on the 19th I see my oncologist for results.  I’m not particularly concerned…I strongly suspect I will get a good report.  Nonetheless, I will be anxious to find out what the tests show.  Just this morning, as I drove to my CT scan, I thought how privileged I am to be able to have such an excellent health care system available to me.  Even though some of the tests are not particularly pleasant,  they’re accessible at little cost or inconvenience to me.  May I never grumble about ‘having to go to the doctor’!

As I “celebrate” this one year anniversary, I continue to be very, very thankful for my return to good health.  Right now I have three persons in my close circle who are undergoing some type of cancer treatment, in various degrees of seriousness…but much more advanced than what I experienced.  So I don’t have far to look to see how fortunate I am.  There are some pretty deep theological questions that rattle around in my head—why is one person spared, or one cured, while others struggle for years, and some die much too young?   I certainly don’t have adequate answers—only more questions.  I do know this—It is sobering to me to be on the side of ‘good health’ once again when not so long ago I very seriously wondered if that could/would ever happen.  Sobering…and joyful.  Thanks be to God!

I will post results soon.  Thanks for your support!!

So–What Are You Eating These Days?

I get asked that question quite a bit, so I thought I’d put it into a post…which will also force me to get more clear about the answer.

If you’ve been hanging around reading these posts since the beginning, you know that this journal/journey didn’t begin with colon cancer.  Rather, I began when I decided to research/explore what has been written about alternative ways to deal with cancer—other than the ‘traditional’ methods of surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy.  That was in January 2013.  It began when I almost ‘accidentally’ attended an at-home seminar where the speaker was a woman who used Gerson Therapy to deal with her very serious case of uterine and colon cancer.  Her doctors (at Mayo) told her she couldn’t expect to live without radiation and chemo, but she refused both—went home and began a 2 year, very intense regimen of nutritional therapy.  (I won’t go into more detail—it’s all in the first few posts that I wrote in early 2013.)  That was 22 years ago—she’s still doing fine.

I had just completed 2 years of treatment for my non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which at this point is considered chronic—meaning I can expect it to return.  I was intrigued by the idea that maybe I could find a way to cure, or at the very least, stave off the return on my NHL.

So began a very focused, determined, committed search for information that won’t  be found in any traditional doctor’s office.  I’ll make a very long story, very short:  I made huge changes to my eating habits—scared the daylights out of several of my friends!!   More than one person thought I’d gone off the deep end—juicing my way into oblivion!  But I felt good, had great energy, and loved the whole idea of learning many new things.

I became almost entirely vegetarian, and nearly vegan (cutting out all dairy).  And I consumed about 7-8 helpings of homemade juice each day.  I also followed the Gerson recommendation of doing coffee enemas daily in order to detoxify my liver. (That really blew people’s minds!!)  I was very faithful with this routine for several months until August 13, when I went for a routine colonoscopy, and came out with a diagnosis of colon cancer.

And so began yet another journey.  After surgery and 5 months of chemotherapy, I’m finally feeling pretty much back to normal, and can make some decisions about how I want to eat “now”.  I lost about 20 pounds during chemo.  I ate whatever I could tolerate, with no regard as to whether it was ‘good for me’ or not, but ‘what I could tolerate’ was a short list.  Now I’ve gained back enough so that I’m ready to give more thought/effort to what I want to put into my body on a daily basis.

Now, I realize that many people simply do not give much thought to what they should eat. (or..they think about it, but don’t take much action.) I know I’m a little odd, giving this much attention to nutritional decisions.  But with 2 cases of cancer in my recent personal history, I happen to believe that my body has a better chance of remaining healthy if I pay a LOT of attention to what I put into into it (as well as what I put onto it—another whole topic!) Plus, I give a lot of credit to my two daughters-in-law for helping me to better understand the importance of good nutrition, and support me as I’ve tried to learn a whole bunch of new info:  Tami is a personal fitness trainer and has studied nutrition and its effects on our bodies, and Jen has undergone 2 heart attacks in her 30’s and has become a strong advocate and spokesperson for women’s health.  It makes for interesting family discussions!!

So—back to the original question:  What am I eating these days?

It’s easiest to begin with a basic philosophy that I’ve adopted:  I want to keep my body as free from toxins and inflammation as possible.  Doing so will keep my immune system at optimum levels and allow it to do what it is designed to do…namely, fight off disease inside my body.

In order to do that, I need to avoid or eliminate, as much as possible, food (and other products) that contain chemicals, pesticides, hormones, GMOs, antibiotics…  That is not easy to do in today’s world!  It’s a little bit like navigating your way through a mine field!  But, there are a few basic ‘rules’ to follow to get one a long ways toward this goal:

  1. Avoid processed foods.  Although I’m not patient enough to make everything from scratch, I have certainly eliminated a lot of cans, packages, bottles, etc. from my cupboards and my grocery trips.  Some examples:  I buy tomato sauce in cardboard cartons rather than cans.  I buy bulk black beans and boil them—not a big time consumer.  I avoid chips and crackers MOST of the time.  I buy fresh vegetables rather than canned.  I make granola from scratch rather than buy cereal in boxes.

What’s so bad about processed foods?  Briefly:  the biggies:  chemicals, salt, sugar.  Nearly all processing involves chemicals (can you think of any that doesn’t?).  And nearly all processed foods have an overabundance of salt and sugar. There’s plentiful evidence showing the hazards of consuming too much of either…no need for me to add to that.  So—I avoid processed foods as much as possible.

2.  Avoid sugar, white flour, and cut way back on salt.  Basically there is no redeeming value to any of these products, so I avoid them as much as possible.  I stopped drinking pop quite a few years ago…full of sugar.  And diet pop is even worse.  Once in a great while I’ll order a Coke—that used to be my passion—but I find that I just don’t like the taste of it anymore.  I never thought that would happen!

3.  Eat “clean” meat.  Meat that is hormone and antibiotic free is labeled that way.  If it isn’t labeled that way, you an count on the animals having been fed both hormones and antibiotics. I usually buy  my meat at a coop, which makes it easier to find clean meat.

4.  Eat organic produce and other foods.  The biggest argument I hear about organic and ‘clean’ products is that they cost more than regular products.  Yup—they do.  And here is how I choose to think about that extra cost:  1) If eating clean can keep my body healthier in the long run, (which I believe it can) the “cost” is well justified.  2) What it costs to eat one nice meal in a restaurant is about the same as the additional cost per month of what I spend on organic products.  That’s a no brainer to me—eat one less meal out each month, and my costs are covered.

5.  In general, eat less restaurant food…unless it’s an organic restaurant.  Restaurant food is overloaded with salts, sugars, and starches.  It’s far from clean and generally not healthy.  Having said that, I enjoy going out with friends to eat and don’t turn down opportunities to do so. I simply am careful about how often, and what I eat when I’m out.

That’s it!  Those are the most basic guidelines of what I follow.  It’s really not that difficult or complicated once you change your belief system and your habits.  Actually…the difficult part is the part about changing your belief system.  Once your beliefs change, the habits will follow, and so will—I believe—better health.

(**Note:  this is not a lecture.  I’m not trying to convince anyone to do anything–honest!  I’m simply answering a question I’ve been asked frequently.  I believe we all need to come to a place where we feel best about what we’re doing about our health…and this is my place, at least for now.)

And now for the ‘less-than-cheery” post…

As I mentioned in my last post, I have another post rumbling around in my head. This is one that feels much riskier to put out there ‘publicly’.  It’s not full of news about good energy, healthy hugs, or cheery thoughts.  Although I continue to experience those things, I also experience some darker thoughts and feelings, living right alongside the lighter ones.  I share these for 2 main reasons:  1) because they’re real, and a part of my experience, and sharing them helps me to move through the process of healing; and 2) because it just might help others to give themselves permission to have paradoxical feelings living inside them—and not beat themselves up for not having it all figured out!

I’m now 2 1/2 months past my last treatment.  I had expected to be reflective following treatment—you know—what did I learn from this?  what will I do differently in the future?  how has this changed my life?  Big thoughts, wise assessments, deep analyses, etc. etc.


Instead, I have found myself so relieved to no longer be dealing with the exhaustion, lack of appetite, terrible taste in my mouth…and all the other things I complained about for the 5 months of treatment…that I usually don’t want to reflect on anything other than getting my flower gardens looking good so that I can enjoy them.  It’s like the pendulum has swung from wallowing in misery, to wanting to put as much space as possible between that experience and my present daily living.  Until now.

Very recently I have become more ready to reflect…or at least to begin the process of figuring out what all this has meant.  Cancer (or other life crisis) doesn’t just affect us physically—it affects us emotionally…big time.  It throws our emotional compass way off balance.

Actually, I’ve kept myself pretty busy now that I have energy once again.  But some of my busyness is a way to avoid some of the feelings that I have about this past year.  While I am happy that we have both made it through some pretty serious health issues, I’m beginning to feel some of the less-than-cheerful feelings that inevitably go along with changes in one’s life.

For example:  anger.  Do you ever feel angry, but don’t really have a target for the anger—at least no one that makes sense to get angry at?  I’m angry that after taking relatively good care of my body for most of my years, I’ve ended up with 2 cases of cancer. In fact, sometimes that really pisses me off!  It feels like my body has betrayed me, but who do I get angry with about that???  Me?  God?  Neither of those options make a lot of sense to me.  So…I continue to trudge along the path of exercise and good nutrition, which supposedly give me a better chance of good health,  but where are my guarantees??   I want guarantees, darn it all!!


Behind anger, of course, is loss, grieving, sadness.  It happens to all of us on a regular basis whether we’re aware or it or not.  We recognize the big losses—death of a loved one, loss of a job, diagnosis of a life threatening illness, etc.  But life is packed with small and medium size losses also, and we end up grieving those losses whether we recognize it or not.

Ready for a lesson in grieving?  In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler Ross, the “mother” of grief research published a book called On Death and Dying.  In it she described the stages of grieving, which I had to memorize in graduate school:  DABDA: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.  These don’t happen in chronological order—that would be too neat  a package!  We bounce around among the 5 ‘stages’ over and over again as we try to come to terms with whatever loss(es) we’re dealing with.  We may very well think we are comfortably at the acceptance stage when—boom!—we’re dealing once again with anger, or depression, etc.


So, as I became uncomfortably aware of my anger in the past couple of days, I (in my typical analytical way) started to reflect upon what losses I’m grieving.  What am I mad about?  In  nutshell—I’m grieving the loss of optimum health, high energy, ability to do ‘all things’, a steel-trap memory (that doesn’t fail with names and other details), a spirited body (one that doesn’t groan to every command I give it).  I’m grieving the fact that I now have fingers that have lost feeling and can’t fly across the keyboard effortlessly like they once did.  I’m grieving that my feet ache after minimal use, and therefore I can’t take long walks like I used to.  In my own “Pollyanna-ish” way, I didn’t think I’d lose this much this ‘early’ in life.  I wasn’t ready!  (I know, I know…when are we ever “ready” for a health crisis??..or any loss??)

But…a life crisis/loss will bring us nose to nose with our vulnerability, our weaknesses, our lack of control, our need for support.  And that is at the crux of my anger, my grieving—namely that I AM vulnerable and weak in terms of having control over “time marching on”.   And with “time” comes ailments, weaknesses, slowing of body (and mind?), aches, pains…and various heartaches and losses.  Darn! I hate it when that happens!

Some who are reading this may be ready to shout a few questions in my direction:  “Why are you angry/sad?  Aren’t you thankful you made it through chemo and are on the road to better health?  Don’t you realize how lucky you are, compared to the experience of many others?  [As a matter of fact, I’m keenly aware of this fact.  As I write this, my brother -in-law is at the U of M having stem cells extracted from his bone marrow in order to have a transplant next week.  He’s had cancer for over 20 years, with tons of chemo treatments, and this is his last option.]  Aren’t you overjoyed to have your energy back?  Aren’t you looking forward to many years of good living ahead of you?”  Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes!  And as for the big question: “Why can’t you just accept that ‘it is what it is’?”  Well…because, one doesn’t simply jump to stage 5 without having to at least tiptoe through the other less enjoyable steps!

Going through the grieving process doesn’t negate the fact that you’re also thankful for what you have.  But ponder this thought:  Being thankful doesn’t negate the fact that you can also feel anger and sadness over what you have lost.  Just another of life’s paradoxes!

So, I’m currently slogging my way through Kubler Ross’s stages of grieving, trying to be patient with myself as I experience the less-than-cheerful feelings that go against my Pollyanna-ish nature.  Let’s face it—I don’t like loss of any kind, big or small.  I don’t like watching the aging process take its toll on me, or on others that  l love.

And if anyone says “It is what it is”, I’m going to deck ‘em!!  (Or, does anyone have the urge to say “This too shall pass?” That will get you a frown…not a complete decking.  Ha!)

I warned you—reflective, turbulent, emotional, not cheery.  That’s just where things are at for now…and that is fine!  Really!