Finishing Strong

Laura has fought the good fight, and has finished her race, having left us to wait until our own death or until Christ’s return.

You may view her Obituary and get details of her service here:

Laura Michelle Pope Navarro

Thank you all!

-Anthony

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Yes, I’m stressed

YMy employer used to have a Wellness test every year to check how you were doing. Some of it was physical test results, some of it was mental. My least favorite was the stress test. It would list stressful circumstances and ask how many applied to you. And then it would declare you were stressed and should work on that. End of test.

I always hated that. I can’t change my circumstances without retreating from living. I didn’t do anything wrong that led to my father dying from lung cancer, or my employer being stupid about firing people all the time and setting unreachable targets, or the economy tanking. That’s part of living, life is full of stressful circumstances. Deal with it.

But the test never asked if I had coping mechanisms in place. Did I exercise, did I have religious beliefs that helped, did I have a support network of friends. That’s what it should have been testing me on. How to cope with stress, not whether I have stress.

If you don’t have any stress, you are not living a full life. The question is not if you have stress or not. (Although some types of stress you do have control over and maybe should reduce.) The question is how are you balancing your life to handle the stress in your life. Here is a post with some biblical ways to deal with stress.

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X-rays and other scans

XOther than dental x-rays and mammograms, I have rarely had any scans for the rest of me. But getting cancer changes all kinds of things. I started with a CT scan. Then while in the hospital I had a PET scan and of course ultrasound with the paracentesis and thoracentesis. I’ve had more CT scans since then to monitor progress of the treatment. Many people with cancer dream of hearing the words No Evidence of Disease (NED). I was always looking for No Evidence of Progression of Disease. It isn’t going to go away, but we did at least stop it in its tracks for awhile.

The most embarrassing CT scan was new year’s at Presby main ER. I was nauseous, that’s why I was at the ER. I didn’t insist on a bucket and I yacked all over the CT machine when it was over. I had another CT scan the last day of March and they decided I didn’t need to drink the stuff, just the IV with the contrast dye. It still got a bit dicey for a few seconds, but mind over matter worked, and I had my pitcher in my hand when I sat up, just in case.

I have learned that having a CT scan at an imaging center costs under $1000, but having it at the hospital can cost over $3000. I taught my oncologist to schedule at the imaging center instead of the hospital. I’m costing the insurance company lots of money, and this is an easy way to avoid the hospital and save some money.

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Weddings

WMy wedding was 23 years ago in January in Brooklyn, NY. We hadn’t found a home church, so we were married by a Justice of the Peace at the courthouse, who was a southern black woman. What a comforting accent for the wedding vows!

Anthony’s brother and sister came up and my boss/friend from work Aileen let me use her apartment to get ready. Mom, Aileen, Christine, and I walked to the courthouse a little behind Anthony, David, Dad, and Jim. David did a good job trying to keep Anthony from looking at me in my dress.

The ceremony went well and then we walked back to the Promenade for pictures. With the cold wind blowing right in that slit in the back of my dress. In most pictures Anthony has his hand covering that slit, but I think I was still pretty blue with cold. I was busy holding David’s tie down so it didn’t slap me in the face. Dad never took his overcoat off. Probably smartest of the bunch.

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Last year I got to go to the wedding of a good friend (I enjoy being friends with the mom and the daughter). This photo is of my Circle of Grace at the wedding. The funny part is that in the back ground you can see the bride and groom for the wedding coming up in May. Our church intern Jim, who has been living with us forever, is marrying one of the sweetest girls I know. He is going to treat her right, and we are so happy for them.

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Vin is the man

VI am a fan of Vin Diesel. This seems to be a well kept secret, even though I have not sought to keep it a secret. My buddy Nate mentioned he was borrowing all the Fast & Furious movies from a friend to watch one weekend. I asked if I could join him as I have never watched any of the movies but I do love me some Vin Diesel. We watched 4 on Friday and 3 on Saturday and enjoyed every one of them.

  1. The Fast and the Furious (2001) started it all – so glad they didn’t do the love triangle thing, this was much better
  2. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) – I like Eva Mendes and Cole Hauser, enjoyed this one
  3. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) – no Vin, but some cool drifting and we meet Han
  4. Fast & Furious (2009) – Vin is back and they kept Han, great move!
  5. Fast Five (2011) – we get The Rock
  6. Fast & Furious 6 (2013) – Han and Gal Godot! And Letty is back
  7. Furious 7 (2015) – No Han, sad. The Rock has to go to work! And Anthony’s quick grasp of the plot as evidenced by his comment “but Shaw is in the hospital”.

Vin isn’t in the third one, but they fix that with the rest of them. And then they added The Rock (who looks a lot like Dwayne Johnson). And then Nate and I cried at the end because Walker died.

To handle the fact that we were out of F&F movies, we watched the Riddick movies. I had seen them but Nate hadn’t. And I didn’t mind watching them again – because Vin!

Binge movie watching with Nate is a blast.

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Today’s post brought to you by the letter T

TBack on Tuesday I introduced you to the concept of a paracentesis procedure to drain fluid from the abdomen. When the fluid is in the thoracic area, it’s called a thoracentesis. And yes, I had one of those, too.

I had actually just left the urologist’s office after checking on my stent and talking about the replacement schedule and I realized I was having real trouble breathing. I can’t remember now if we contacted the urologist or the colorectal surgeon, we should have called the oncologist, but I still forget he’s my main doctor for everything now. Anyway, the advice we got was head to the ER. There they contacted my oncologist and he approved a thoracentesis. I think it was blue sticky on the paper that day.

They didn’t keep the ultrasound going to track, just told me to tell them when it felt different. I could definitely tell the point when it was all drained and said so. I was breathing better immediately, of course.

 

My other T word is TPN, the IV nutrition I take every night. It runs about 12 hours to feed me all the calories the pharmacist has determined I need. It’s keeping my weight right around 111 to 113, so we must have the right numbers. That uses the pump I talked about back on Tuesday to go through my port. I’m so glad Anthony is here to set it up every night. There are days I’m so worn out I would probably skip it and just go to bed. But he gets in there and does it every single day.

Already being on TPN made the transition to not eating solid food easier. We just increased the calories. The hospital called the pharmacist to see how much I was getting to set me up for the week in the hospital. Nice to already know what was needed.

Technology is amazing sometimes.

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Signet Ring Cell Carcinoma

SAh the signet ring, symbol of the king’s authority. They named a cancer after it because of the way the cell is misshaped. There are some people who have lived 8 or 9 years after diagnosis, but the median time is 4 years. It doesn’t go into remission, it gets beaten into submission and only stays there for so long. Eventually, either the chemo or the cancer gets you.

I have to say, it was quite a shock to hear this diagnosis last May. But the month was so topsy turvy in so many ways. We started thinking it was ovarian cancer, then maybe appendix cancer, and then finally the tests came back with the actual name. It was spread all over my abdomen, covering my entire appendix (which is so tiny that the phrase is actually laughable), and a big mass or tumor (what’s the difference) mashing on my intestines (small and large). That means stage IV when it’s spreading like that.

I suspect I had it for 6 months or more before it was discovered, so I think the 4 year countdown starts from there. But this month of April makes one year since the real adventure began. With Mom in rehab after 2.5 weeks in the hospital and not able to remember the past 4 months, I ended up in the hospital for 2 surgeries and then learning to live with an ileostomy. (Good thing Anthony was there paying attention, I was still in denial in the hospital.)

Things moved along with the port placed, then chemo started one week later. New routines, new normal, new side affects. It took June and July to get my head back in the game, then I started dropping weight and had to try to deal with that. Nurse Mary saved me with fluids and then saved me again with TPN. All the nurses at the oncologist’s office have been wonderful!

And finally I rejoined the choir in September and have only missed 2 Sundays because we were in Florida. What a joy to worship in song and with the people I love. Pastor Lee has preached up a storm with so many suffering during this season. What wonderful descriptions of complete healing and heaven and how to stay the course while suffering here and what we have to look forward to.

What a wonderful outpouring of love from so many people and so many places. The Holy Spirit has held me up every step of the way. I have such a deeper understanding of my need for Christ and of what Christ has done for me. So many blessings, people I’ve met, stories we’ve shared. All because of a cell shaped like a signet ring, the symbol of the king’s authority.

He is king of kings, and lord of lords. He is mine and I am His.

God is good, all the time. And all the time, God is good!

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Reading

REveryone who knows me knows that I love reading. I created a page on this blog listing books I’ve read and that I recommend (I’ve read a lot more that I wouldn’t bother reading again).

Reading can be an escape, it can introduce you to new concepts, it can challenge your prejudices and assumptions, it can educate you. Reading stimulates my imagination as I see the people and places described in the book.

I’m not against movie versions, but I usually prefer spending time with a book. I’ve had times during the past year that I was too tired to read, or at least too tired to read something new. Rereads are a perfectly valid activity and I have some that I’ve enjoyed rereading this year.

I’ve also read a lot of new books on suffering and cancer, of course. There are some good ones out there. Todd Billings and Kara Tippets have been very useful, as well as Joni Eareckson Tada.

Blog posts by RC Sproul, Jr, have been helpful in imagining what things will be like for Anthony when I’m gone.

I’ve started giving away some of my books. I have to stop sometimes and remember Anthony may want some of these to stay around. 🙂 Nan gets all my Guy Gavriel Kay books, a shared love! Charlotte got all the Dorothy Gilman and tons of homeschool ambitions for Caisson and biographies for Leonard. Edie is trying out some Robert B Parker and took Maisie Dobbs. Maybe Don will take all the Dave Duncan books. I have a few to send to Karen in Colorado. It’s kind of fun trying to match my eclectic reading habits to my different friends.

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Thoughts on quitting

QQuitting is for losers. Or quitting is unacceptable. We are big on not quitting. Except that so many people do quit, all the time. New Year’s Resolutions get abandoned all the time.

Which is why there are so many people saying “don’t quit” to encourage people that they can push through. Keep working out, get back on that diet, stick with that relationship. And usually they are right, the reward for sticking to it, for all that hard work, is worth it. Find your motivation and stay with it.

In general, we feel guilty when we quit something we set out to do. For avid readers, we have to reassure each other that sometimes it really is ok to quit a book, there isn’t enough time to read a book that isn’t working for you, let it go.

Take battling cancer as another example. Most people agree it should be about quality of life, not quantity of life. Although mothers with small children want quantity, too. And that makes perfect sense. So, we get on the chemo train. We search out alternative healing options. We fight. People tell us to keep up the fight.

But it is exhausting. It’s harder than it looks. And quality of life is a relative term. What some people would put up with to have another month is something other people see no reason to tolerate. And there is the fear of what happens when you get off the chemo train. How long will it take to get to the end? How much will it hurt? How can I watch my family and friends start crying at the thought that I’m quitting the fight?

Nothing about this cancer walk is easy. There are so many decisions about treatment options, changing treatment, handling side effects, dealing with unexpected obstructions and all those complications, and deciding when to call it quits and let God and nature take its course. Do I believe God is sovereign? Do I believe in heaven and eternal life? Do I believe in the resurrection? Is it time to act on what I believe?

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And for the letter P…

PMore medical stuff today, so much of it starts with P.

First, I had a paracentesis. This is something they do to remove excess fluid that is collecting in your abdomen. They clean you well, then put this sticky paper on you to maintain sterility and reduce risk of infection. Then they stick this huge needle in you near where the ultrasound says the fluid is (one time I had to turn on my side to get all the fluid to pool together). Then they hook the needle up to a bottle and suction out the fluid until the ultrasound shows it is gone. It looked like coca cola to me in the bottle.

Then they remove the needle and the sticky paper and your body is either blue or orange, depending on what color the sticky on the sticky paper was. With my third paracentesis they had me actually go into a surgical room because they planned to put in a drain, but they decided there really wasn’t enough fluid in there to justify that so no drain. Look, something I didn’t end up having in my body!

Next up was having a port put in my chest. Interestingly, this was done by the colorectal surgeon. This allows for IV type stuff without having to poke me looking for a vein. It was for my chemo and then became the main way I do my TPN.

Once I was on TPN, and it was taking up the port every night, I needed another way to get chemo because I kept that on for 3 days. I went back into the hospital for a quick outpatient procedure to put a PICC line in. This is in my right arm and has two inputs.

We’ve heard don’t do TPN in the PICC, and we’ve heard don’t do TPN in the port, and we’ve heard it doesn’t matter. I ripped my PICC line almost out one night and eventually had to have it replaced. Then they put it in so tight that it was irritating my skin and I had to go in to have it loosened up a little bit.

Finally, the beloved pump. It comes in many different sizes and shapes. At the hospital, I had three to do my two-part TPN and fluids or whatever. The good news is most medicine was also in IV form since I wasn’t keeping things down well that week, with all the vomitous incidents. At the oncologist office I usually had 2 to handle the different inputs. And then a small one in a small bag to take home for 3 days to continue the infusion.

Of course I also have a pump for the TPN every night. We got a more modern version a few months ago and it even lets us set a delayed start so Anthony can set it up for me before he goes somewhere but it doesn’t start that early so it doesn’t end that early (12 hours from 5pm is 5am people). Pumps are good things.

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