Five Years Later

October 21, 2014 - 5 Responses

nylenFeeling nostalgic tonight and thinking back to October 22, 2009. I had checked in that morning to Mercy Medical Center for some routine tests, including a routine mammogram and before the day was over, I had been diagnosed with Breast Cancer, met with my primary care physician and was scheduled for a surgical consult. It was a Thursday…a day that completely changed life as I knew it and shaped the rest of my life forever.

Unbelievably, it is now five years later. If you followed my two blogs over that time period – cathystunnel.blogspot.com and beyondcathystunnel.wordpress.com - you shared this journey with me. In some ways it seems so long ago…and yet, not. Through those years, and through all that I went through, in the back of my head, my focus was always on October 22, 2014. Why? I’m not totally sure, but it seems like cancer statistics always focus on a five year survival rate. That seems to be when you reach the proverbial “long term survivor” status. It’s just another milestone, but, an important one, I think…and one I have been focused on since Day One.

That is why, when the annual pink frenzy began again this October, I couldn’t help but feel some excitement…and I began counting down the days to my Five Year Cancerversary.

Today, I saw my oncologist. My labs were good. My general health is excellent. There is no sign of cancer. I MADE IT! Tomorrow, I will celebrate five years of survivorship and, for that, tonight, I am feeling very blessed. I must admit that there are times when I wonder, why me? Not why did I develop cancer but why did I survive when others have not? So far, I don’t really have an answer to that but it is something I will figure out. In the meantime, I have a short story I want to share with you.

Back on that day when I was diagnosed, I was going through a battery of tests, prescribed by my primary care physician as part of a new patient work-up. I had just transferred my care to him after a lifetime of care through another office. His name was Dr. David Lucke, a genuinely caring and diligent physician who ended up walking with me through this journey for all of these past five years, calling me in every few months just to see how things were going and to stay on top of things. His was a very comforting presence in my life, so I was saddened when he announced his retirement several months ago.

Following my surgery, back in November, 2009, I was referred to an oncologist, Dr. Sudarshan Doddabele. I was so frightened going into that appointment. But, he, too turned out to be an amazing physician…calm, reassuring, assiduous and just downright nice. Over the past five years I am positive that I had more appointments with him than I have had with all other doctors combined in my lifetime. And, his was a very comforting presence in my life as well.  Sadly, he left Sioux City a couple of months ago for another opportunity in Tennessee.

As much as I hated to see both of these men retire and / or leave the area, it now occurs to me that this is an obvious indication of the closure of this chapter in my life.

In our bedroom, there are two boxes that have been sitting on the floor for five years. One, I call the cancer box. It contains the paper trail from my entire cancer journey…from diagnosis to treatment procedures to all of my lab results, etc. The other contains all of the hats and scarves I used to cover my bald head during my many months of chemotherapy. As this chapter closes, I think it is probably time to remove those boxes from our bedroom and from our lives as well. It is time to truly move on.

And, I also think it is time to do some soul searching on where the next chapter of my life is leading me. I am at this crossroads for a reason. I am so happy to have reached this point and I intend to make the most of it. Every day is a gift. It’s up to us to use those days wisely. I hope that I will.

And now, one more thing. As I said, my cancer diagnosis was totally unexpected. I had no idea going into that mammogram that there might be a problem. My doctor had no idea either. My cancer was found on a routine mammogram. This is breast cancer awareness month. If you, or someone you care about, is due for a mammogram, please don’t delay. Do that for me. It could save your life. Take it from one who knows.

CELEBRATE!!

End of the Tunnel

October 10, 2012 - 10 Responses

I saw my endocrinologist this morning…this on the heels of an appointment with my primary care physician on Monday. Both went very well as did the visit to my oncologist a few weeks ago. In fact, it appears I didn’t need that thyroid gland anyway. :) He says my synthetic thyroid levels are spot on perfect. My cancer markers are also within the normal range. And, my general health is excellent. I don’t have another medical appointment until January. Well, unless you count the mammogram in a couple of weeks.In just a few days, I will celebrate my 3 year cancerversary. It was shortly after that diagnosis, in 2009, that I began my first blog, Cathy’s Tunnel http://cathystunnel.blogspot.com/. It was established for the purpose of sharing my journey through the dark and winding tunnel of breast cancer treatment. That, of course, evolved into this blog, Beyond Cathy’s Tunnel when I finally completed my year and a half of treatment. This one has helped me through the struggles of moving from cancer patient to cancer survivor. But, I’m finally there. I have finally reached the stage of cancer survivor – no longer a cancer patient.

I was just looking back through some of my early posts and I am blown away by some of the things I went through. I guess it’s kind of like labor – it erases itself from your memory once it ends. I was so naive going into this. I remember when a PET scan done when I was two treatments into the strongest phase of chemo showed possible thyroid cancer and I had to stop chemo to have my thyroid removed. My greatest concern was that I would have to go back and start chemo over and go through those two treatments over again. That isn’t how it works, thank goodness, but I didn’t know and I was devastated by the possibility. And, I was also concerned about whether or not they would let me wear my hat in surgery or if I was going to have to go in, bald headed. Oh, the memories.

You will never know how much I have appreciated the love, prayers and support of all of you during these difficult years. It has helped to carry me through. But, it’s time now to move on. I’m not dissolving my blogs, but I am ending my regular posts. It has long been my dream to write a book and, it is the pursuit of that dream that will now consume whatever free time I may find for writing. Should something come up that I feel deserves blog publication, I will still do so and those of you who have signed up as followers will receive an email alert notifying you of that post.

And, hopefully, if that book is ever published, it will find an audience just as these blogs have. My sister, Susan, shared this quote with me when I was writing my first blog. She thought it sounded like me. I hope that is true. “She not only saw a light at the end of the tunnel, but she became that light for everyone who knew her.” Anonymous I can’t imagine a greater compliment.

I thought I would share a final photo tribute to the journey through the tunnel. Hope you enjoy. And now, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.” Henry David Thoreau

Later.

pre-cancer at the ocean

pre-cancer at the ocean

My Race For the Cure Team – First Year

crossing the finish line first year – just barely

40th anniversary dinner at Hunans

at the lake, sans hat

many, many hours clocked in these chairs

last treatment

met Ali from Biggest Loser

celebrating end of chemo at South Padre – back to the ocean

2nd Race for the Cure – Honorary Chair

on scissor lift to spray paint banner

Kelli and Brett’s wedding

enjoying a dance with Ken

dropping the puck at Pink in the Rink

riding the zamboni at Pink in the Rink

zamboni ride, Pink in the Rink, 2011

Survivor

 

 

 

It’s a Beautiful World

September 12, 2012 - 4 Responses

Got in my car about 5:30, after spending the afternoon at the Cancer Center. The song, “It’s a Beautiful World” was on the radio. I couldn’t help smiling. Dr. D. was so excited – and, I literally mean excited – that I had held my own, weight-wise. In addition, my counts were good. My x-ray was clear. Exam went well. I don’t have to go back until January. Yes – it IS a beautiful world.

Later.

Happy Birthday

September 3, 2012 - 2 Responses

Home from the lake…and what a great week-end we had. Just thinking about the fact that today would have been my Moms 89th birthday and how much she and my dad would have enjoyed spending this time at the cabin with us. Food, family and fun. It was just great and the weather was awesome. Cooled down enough to have a beach fire in the evening (and, yes, I did wear a jacket). Plenty warm enough to go kayaking and fishing during the day. The time went by all too quickly. And, it was a bit nostalgic because, if everything goes according to plan, this will have been our last visit to the cabin. At the end of this season, plans are to tear it down to make room for Sue and Ron’s new lake home which will rise from the ashes next season.

But, for now, it’s back to work and back to life. Time to begin the countdown to my follow up at the Cancer Center.

Jeannette Williams…happy birthday! We are so thinking of you today. Miss you and love you always.

Hope you all enjoy these photos of Labor Day at the lake – 2012. Thanks to Ken Stueve for sharing his photographic expertise.

Later.

Labor Day at the Lake 2012

August 31, 2012 - 4 Responses

Labor Day already? Really? My goodness this summer has flown by. Just getting ready for our annual Labor Day Lake Retreat and looking back over some old photos.

Labor Day at the Lake 2009

Labor Day at the Lake 2010

Labor Day at the Lake 2011

Notice anything? Jackets. Every single year. Jackets. It has been record-breaking heat this week. Temperatures in the 100s. Have a feeling that means no jackets this year and no fire in the fire pit. But, it doesn’t really matter. We always manage to have fun whether it’s hot, cold or somewhere in between. And, we’re really looking forward to it. The down side is – once the week-end is over so is summer. And so is my break from cancer. Next week I will return to the Cancer Center for the first time in nearly 4 months. For the entire summer I have been able to put that part of my life behind me and, for that, I am so thankful. I never once got up on Monday morning and went through a mental checklist of my medical appointments for the week. I seldom thought about cancer. I seldom talked about cancer. But next week I’ll walk through those doors again and will be reminded. In October I have three more appointments scheduled AND will celebrate my 3 year Cancerversary. It’s been a nice break though, having the entire summer off. And, hopefully, once I get through this next series of appointments I’ll find that I don’t have to return until after the first of the year. Cross your fingers.

In the meantime – it’s off to the Lake with Ken, Sue and Ron. YAY!! Enjoy your holiday week-end.

Later.

The Summer of My “Content”

July 3, 2012 - 3 Responses

It will soon be three years since my cancer diagnosis and this summer is the first, in that time, that I have been able to go for more than a month with no medical appointments, no diagnostic procedures, and without walking through the doors of the Cancer Center. When I found out, in May, that I would not have to come back until September, I was ecstatic. Ken and I vowed to start living again…to do things we had not been taking time to do, things we had put on hold, things we had simply been overlooking.

Of course, the big one was our trip to Bodega Bay. That was awesome. But small things can be just as awesome in their own way, as we are finding out. During the time I was in treatment we virtually stopped eating out. This summer we have made it a point to start visiting some of the many restaurants that have opened up during that time and what a treat that has been. We actually went to a movie the other day…at a THEATER, not Netflix. We plan to do more of that. We experienced our first three on three basketball tournament last week-end. Well, my first, anyway.

On the way home from the tournament, we drove past the Cancer Center. I made the comment that even though I was not in treatment last summer, I still felt that my life revolved around cancer because I was very much an active patient still. This summer, I’m not. And I realized that the experience is finally starting to fade into the background of my life. I am finally beginning to feel disconnected from the Cancer Center.

Tomorrow is the 4th of July. Summer is flying by. Tonight we kind of pretended we were still in California and went out to Wine Styles to select some nice summer wines. Now we’re preparing to grill some turkey burgers to enjoy with fresh garden tomatoes and some sweet potato fries…a simple thing to do but so enjoyable. And I realized tonight that this truly is The Summer of My DisContent.

Happy 4th of July everyone.

Later.

Freshman Year

June 20, 2012 - One Response

So, I officially became a card carrying Medicare recipient the first of this month. But, today, I guess I officially join the ranks of those referred to as elderly…according to the dictionary definition, anyway. For some reason that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But here is the truth in how I feel about that.

I think elderly is a term coined by young people to describe how they see those with more life experience than they. I get it that young people often look at those in my age group and see them as old. I especially feel like I am more physically a part of that group since my cancer experience accelerated the physically aging process. However…

I think the point at which someone becomes elderly should reflect the way they see themselves. Some, at my age, feel old, act old, dress old, etc. That’s not me. I still feel youthful. Granted, I have to fight some aches and pains most days, but that will disappear once I no longer have to take the medication that I am currently taking. It’s not old age.

Ken, this morning, said I have now entered my freshman year at Elderversity. And, in a strange way, I like that. The term freshman puts a more youthful spin on things.  And, that is, as I said, still how I see myself. So, I will go through my day today thinking of myself as a freshman…not as elderly. And, no matter how you look at it, I am happy to celebrate this day.

Later.

Pretending

June 14, 2012 - 2 Responses

I woke up this morning and decided to pretend that today is my birthday. Why? When my birthday actually rolls around next week, I will be in Sioux City, IA, working. Today, I am spending our last full day amidst the beauty of nature in Bodega Bay, CA. Seems like a better day for a birthday to me.

I started the day with Ken, soaking up some sun on the deck off of our bedroom. Then we all got ready and caravanned to Armstrong Park, in Guernneville, for a picnic amidst the redwoods. Fresh fruit, cheese and champagne sipped from a red solo cup. That could be a song. :)

Back at the house now, the “kids” are all pulling fresh crab meat from the shell to make crab cakes and fresh veggies for dinner tonight. AHHH…yes…this is the way to spend a birthday.

Tomorrow we will unfortunately say goodbye to the sea and take to the air to return home. But we’ll all take with us, loads of memories in our heads and our hearts. Plus lots of photos. For now, we’ll enjoy what’s left of our week and my pretend birthday. And, some day, God willing, we’ll return once again to the sea.

Later.

In Memory…

May 27, 2012 - Leave a Response

It’s Memorial week-end. We went to Ida Grove yesterday to leave a memorial on my parents and grandparents graves. We’ll do the same for Ken’s parents and Brian tomorrow. Sunnybrook Church had a special recognition this morning, as I’m sure many other churches did, for those who have lost their lives in the service of our country and those still living who are or have served.

This past week, I was stunned to learn that an old friend had passed away in her sleep. Oddly enough, she was planning on leaving on vacation the next day. She was packed and ready to go. She just didn’t realize where she was actually going. At her memorial service, it was pointed out how much Jill loved the ocean. That makes two of us. In fact, the ocean is to be Jill’s final resting place.

In less than two weeks, on June 8, we will be gathering to celebrate life and love in Bodega Bay…in a beautiful vacation home overlooking the ocean. I will stand beside the sea and I will remember Jill. In fact, the vastness of the ocean and its beauty and majesty, have a way of invoking lots of memories and emotions that lay dormant during the normal hustle and bustle of life. I will remember many who have gone before me and feel humbled by the mystery of life.

We never forget those in our lives who have passed away but certain times, like Memorial Day, trips to the ocean, etc. trigger those memories and bring them to the surface. So, I just wanted to take a moment this Memorial week-end to publicly remember John, Jeannette, Agnes, Harold, Jill and the many, many others in our lives who have gone before us. We love you. R.I.P.

Happy Memorial Day all.

Later.

And Believe…

May 11, 2012 - 6 Responses

Back in January, I wrote a post entitled Believe. It dealt with my fervent belief that 2012 would be my year. It would be my opportunity, after 2.5 years, to recapture some semblance of normalcy in my life. Over the past several months, while never losing sight of that belief, I continued to bump into walls in the dark, never sure what direction I was going to end up going or when I would get there. In my last post, as today’s appointment loomed closer, I couldn’t help feeling like I was awaiting my parole hearing.

I received a call earlier this week from the Cancer Center wanting to move back my appointment time. She said she knew I preferred afternoons. How does that work? How does she know that when she schedules 1000s of appointments every month? I definitely know I’ve been hanging around there too long.

So…this afternoon it was. Showed up between 3 and 3:30 for labs. Got called back for my nurse consultation and weigh-in.  I made sure to show up in heavy jewelry, a belt and left my shoes on. Still I didn’t gain anything but did manage to camouflage all but 1/2 pound of what I had lost. Then, the long wait to get called back to see the doctor.

Shortly after 5 I was called back and very shortly thereafter, Dr. D. knocked on the door. First words out of his mouth – You lost another pound. I corrected him that it was actually less than a pound and that it really was leveling off. He grabbed me by the shoulders and said “You can’t afford to lose any more weight.” I said, OK, I won’t, smiled and the drama was diffused.

We went over the  results of my labs and, for the most part they were good. He examined me and we talked about a couple of other things. He had talked about starting me on a new drug, but decided to wait. Good news.

Then he shook my hand and said, Mrs. Stueve, I’ll see you in 4 months. Seriously? I actually screamed (softly). He smiled and said, “I find nothing wrong with you. But if you have any concerns at all before 4 months, call.”

Parole granted.

When I got home, Ken was waiting at the door to find out how it went. I told him and screamed again. After 2.5 years I am no longer a cancer patient. I am officially a survivor. Ken left the room and came back with a gift bag. If you recall, Kelli came up with the idea of buying a charm every time I had a chemo treatment. Between the kids and my husband, I ended up with a beautiful, full charm bracelet that I wear as a reminder of the support of my family while I was doing treatment.

I opened the bag and it was another bracelet. It matches my chemo bracelet but includes just one charm. It is a little difficult to see in this photo, but the charm opens to reveal the word Believe. I cried. We both cried. It has been so long and so difficult at times, but neither of us ever stopped believing. I am so happy tonight I can’t stand it.

Sunday is the Komen Siouxland Race For the Cure. This is the 4th for Sioux City and the third for me. While not as much pomp and circumstance as last year, it will be a true celebration for me and my small band of “merry men.” I will walk proudly feeling like a true survivor.  If you’d like to donate, there’s still time do so today by clicking here and then on Donate to Cathy. Your gift will mean so much to so many. Thank you.

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined..”                                                                                                     

Henry David Thoreau

Time to start on my book.

Later.

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