Beyond Life's Challenges

It's time to think, see and live…BEYOND!

September “Zebra” Report

On Tuesday, September 2nd, I had my scheduled MRI, blood work, and follow-up appointment with my specialist, as well as my monthly sandostatin shot, before I left on Thursday.

When I shared And the Verdict Is…, I reported that the preliminary results appeared stable.  We were awaiting the radiologist’s final report and the blood work that they have to send out.   (Read here for the account.)

I have to admit that each time I have gone in since my initial diagnosis of carcinoid cancer, I seem to go through a period of trying  to prepare myself.

I wait for the “ball to drop.” 

I do my utmost to never show negativity or give it that energy, yet I never want to lose my sense of reality so that I am taken by surprise at any news.  It leaves me feeling just a bit unsettled until I can breathe again, though I handle it without most people ever knowing of my concern.  Sometimes, that effort is worthy of an Oscar nomination.

I was not too worried when I left for my visit to Tulsa to spend time with my sister, but I wanted to make sure that I received the final report, just to be aware of those realities.

I received the email reply from my specialist yesterday.  I was in the car with my sister when it came in. I broke down in tears in front of her, as if a dam had finally burst. She saw the evidence of what brews inside of me, despite my outward display.

Hi Coral, The final report on the MRI is stable or decreasing size of liver lesions. Chromogranin A is 762 slightly up from 703, Serotonin is 1650 slightly down from 1700.  So bottom line. You are good to go!  Best regards, Jim Park

 I am good to go. 

First of all, may I say that I love that my specialist and I have the kind of working (patient/doctor) relationship where we can email, and I can call him by his first name.

My next appointment will be next September.  Next year. 2015.

I am good to go.  I can let go of this for another year.   Even though I know this is something that I will live with for the rest of my life, and get monthly injections of a medication that manages the symptoms associated with this crazy cancer, I do not have to anticipate another MRI or the blood work for twelve more months.

One year.  Things will seem a bit more normal, whatever that means.  Breathe easier.

Two years ago, I feared that I would not be able to use my passport.  Today, I am figuring out when I need to have it renewed.  It expires the month before my 60th birthday, and I am making plans.  I will make absolutely certain that…

I am good to go!

 

carcinoid

 

Thirteen Years Later…

If you were old enough to watch television on September 11th, 2001, you will never forget the events of the day that terrorists found their way to cause panic and destruction in the hearts and minds of the American people, both native-born and those who made America their home.

It is true that there were nearly 3000 people who lost their lives that day.  It is true that hatred of us was so strong in some minds that these few wanted to destroy us at what they believed was our core–government and finance.

But what we also experienced that day was an incredible resilience in the face of disaster, which included so many things that cannot be destroyed...the human spirit.

Let us always remember that we must give power to that spirit so that those who showed that spirit will be Never Forgotten.

 

 

Tulsa Time with My Sister

In fewer than 24 hours, I will be in Tulsa, Oklahoma, spending the following 11 days visiting my sister, Sonja.

We are seven years apart. We have a brother between us, and two other sisters younger.  Because I was the first-born, I left home first.  Sonja was only 11 years when I joined the Air Force. The other two girls were 7 and 4.

Sonja and I were raised similarly in those days before I left home.  The family dynamics changed drastically due to a divorce a couple of years before I joined the military.  I don’t think it was easier before or after the dissolution.  It was simply “different.”  My leaving changed the dynamics, yet again, as does any family when children leave the nest.

One thing that I have realized is that the two of us have never spent time together without someone else around.  Now that we are both in our 50s, I wanted to make sure that it happened. It has been a long time coming.

So, I’m on my way to Tulsa and will be there through her birthday, leaving the following day.  I am so looking forward to having fun with her and making the memories that only sisters can make.

Two women. Two girls. Two people whose lives have paralleled in many ways with shared experiences, but lacking in the experiences together that were not painful from what life dished out.

These next 11 days are a time to share joy and laughter, and go back to recreate the childhood sisterhood with new memories.  And we will enjoy one another five decades later in ways that only we sisters can share.

 

 

And the Verdict Is…

I had my blood work and MRI today at UWMC.  I really do appreciate the team of people they have working there.  They listen to me.

I tend to be a “hard stick,” and usually I have Mario do the dirty deed to start my IV.  He wasn’t there today.  Daniel, the MRI Supervisor did it instead.

I have to admit, I was impressed.  He got it the first time.  I can also say that I wasn’t nearly as stressed out going in for that IV as I usually am.  Perhaps, that had something to do with my veins cooperating?

The MRI was as it usually is.  Twenty minutes of holding still, breathing in and blowing out to hold my breath as the machine does its thing.

After the MRI, Daniel called down to the lab and the technician came up to draw the blood for the serotonin and chromogranin A (sp?) levels, as well as the other things for which they usually test.

My appointment with my favorite doctor, James Oh Park, my liver specialist is usually always fun.  He lets me give him a hard time, and seems to appreciate my sense of humor.  Of course, I push it a little bit in front of the interns.  I figure if they are going to be doctors working with patients on their own, they need to be prepared for those of us who can be more animated.

So, the preliminary results are in.  In these past eight months, since the last MRI, the liver tumors are stable and there is no evidence of any new lesions.  Of course, the radiologist has yet to finalize the report, which I should have in a few days.

Dr. Park said that because we have more than two years of minimal growth (about 4mm if I did the math correctly), that we can look at my next MRI/blood work/appointment in one year.  Of course, if something were to change in my health, I would be back sooner, but I am holding out for the year!

As well, the blood work came back with liver and kidney functions normal, still a tad low on potassium (eat more bananas), and we will wait for the other levels, which will be high with the liver tumors active.

As long as things are relatively stable, I do not see the need at this time to go in for the liver resection.  Yes, I wish the damned things were just gone, stable or not.  But, I do not want to put myself through that surgery until such time that it seems necessary. It seems that the symptoms are managed well with my diet and the monthly shot of sandostatin.

So, there you have it.  I guess I still have more life to live.

Labor Day Weekend Over and Tomorrow Is the MRI

I can hardly believe that it is September already and the end of Labor Day weekend.  My birthday month is over, and the weather will be turning cooler before long.  I already notice the days becoming shorter far too quickly.

Tomorrow I am scheduled for my MRI and blood work to see what has gone on this past eight months with the liver tumors and to see if there is anything else that is of concern.

My last MRI was on January 8th, and things were stable for the most part. (To read:  http://corallevang.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/january-bloodwook-and-mri-the-preliminary-results/)  And here we are, two months farther along than the six-month schedule I was on for the last (nearly) two years.

I can honestly say that I have not been as stressed out this year about this Carcinoid Cancer, as I was since my diagnosis in May of 2012.  Perhaps, I am coming to grips with what life really is, and that mortality is everyone’s destiny.  Yes, even my own.

I have made a conscious effort to not allow myself to fret about the symptoms I experience, as they pass.  I am becoming more savvy as to the cause of them, often times responsive to my diet.

And tomorrow afternoon, I will be meeting again the people who poke and prod, start IVs and draw blood, put me through the machine, fill me with dye, read results, and give me the latest preliminary findings, ask me about any new symptoms, and we shall talk about what is next.

It would be untruthful to say that I am not nervous.  I am not sure that one ever gets over that feeling.  But I can walk in to the medical center knowing that I am prepared for whatever will be shared, and will deal with it, as necessary.

I do wish, however, that somewhere around the world someone would find a cure for this disease called, “cancer.”  And I wish more people recognized that there are more colored ribbons than just one or two colors.

 

00 a zebra

41 years later: Freedom and independence was bittersweet

Forty-one years ago…

I was pulling into the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Los Angeles about this time early in the morning. My mother drove me, as I did not even have my drivers’ license.

I had few friends to speak of as I had not been allowed to forge the friendships that most kids do, so it was just my Mom and me. (I learned later that the friendship situation was not because of Mom, but I will tell that story later. )

A few days earlier, Mom threw me a surprise going-away party. Some of the friends/acquaintances I did have showed up, but for the most part it was attended by the adults who were my mother’s friends, or adult relatives, and people we knew from my mother’s shop, a Curries’ Ice Cream Store.

My parents were already divorced My father did not attend, and I am not sure now if he was even invited.

When I called him several weeks before my 18th birthday to tell him I wanted to join the military and needed his signature on the paperwork (women needed parents’ permission until the age of 21), he got angry and refused to sign it.

“There are only two kinds of women who join the military. Whores and lesbians. Which one are you?”

I did not know what either of those two types of women were (yes, I was that naive) , but I knew it was an insult to me.  I went to the dictionary to look them both up.

I called my recruiter and lied to him that I did not know how to reach my father.  I remember distinctly using the words, he abandoned the family.”  At 17, I suppose I felt  justified in using those words.

My paperwork was pushed through with a waiver for paternal consent.

So, here I was finally on my way to freedom from a crazy, mixed-up family to a life of me making my own decisions.  Of course, I see the irony in that decision today.

As my Mom pulled around the circle of the MEPS center, I remember not wanting to have her walk-in with me, but simply drop me off.  Secretly, I wanted her to put her arms around me and tell me that she did not want me to go.  I do not remember if she came in with me or not.

That whole day is a bit of a blur, though I remember raising my hand and taking the oath of enlistment. I remember a lot of paperwork. I also remember waiting around for a lot of time.

My clearest memory of that day is being on the airplane, my first plane ride. I was off to San Antonio to Lackland Air Force Base for Basic Training and was the day I, with many others, were off…

…into the wild, blue yonder.

One more thing that I remember very clearly of the day was my mother and I both crying at the MEPS Center, though I do not remember if it was in the building or out in the parking lot.  She did not generally show her emotion, nor did she speak a lot of it, either, but I will never forget her last words to me before I had to do all those things needed before I was processed…

“My baby is growing up.”

 

Looking at life through the eyes of my six-year-old nephew

“When I’m 20, how old will you be, Auntie Coco?”

The words brought tears to my eyes tonight, my thoughts going immediately to the idea that I would not be around to see his 20th birthday.

I have 10 nieces and nephews. Each of them are very special to me, whether they realize it or not. Unfortunately, I do not know most of them very well, nor do they know me.  In fact, to some of them, I am the “old aunt” who is (fill-in-the-blank-with-an-adjective-that-may-or-may-not-be-accurate), their view of me being some story of me told to them by someone else.

That is how it is in some families.  That is certainly how it is for me, being the oldest child of a family of five with two-and-a-half to four years age difference between each of us, and my growing up and leaving home at age 18 when I joined the military.

My youngest nephew, Aiden, was born six years ago today.  I have had the opportunity to see him throughout his young life.

I missed his being born by only a few days, as he decided to wait until after I returned home to Washington to be born.  I am glad , however, to have had the time my youngest sister during those last days of her pregnancy. I went back out in the fall and was able to meet him as a tiny infant.

A few months later, my sister, niece and nephew moved to Washington, and we have had the opportunity to build a family relationship over these last six years that has been relatively foreign to me during the previous 35 years.  I have been included in and able to go to concerts and graduation, birthday parties, holiday get-togethers, and so much more.  My youngest sister, who is more than 13 years younger than me, has helped to bridge and fill a large gap that was missing in my life, as circumstances of life have taken  twists and turns.

Through my nephew, I have seen pure joy, as many receive with their grandchildren, which I was not able to see during these same stages with my own two.  Once again, life’s challenges have prevented that, which affects the relationships we share.

Aiden has filled that void for me, and we have a special bond, as no other, even though we do not see one another often enough.

When I called him tonight to wish him a “Happy Birthday,” and he asked me the age question (followed by the, “when I’m 30, 40, and 50″ follow-ups),  I felt an incredible sense of fear that this cancer will take away the experience of joy of seeing him grow up.  There was a sense of sadness that he, too, might not know the whole me I want him to know, just as with my grandchildren and other nieces and nephews.

I realized that as this little boy asked me how old I will be when, he does not have the same sense of time that I do.  At six-years-old, he is in the moment, and lives for right now. Of course, he does not understand all the realities of life that he may face in his adulthood. He is simply living his life at six years old, excited about getting a bike and looking forward to his next birthday.

I was reminded of a big lesson tonight, when I called…

Live in the moment.  Dream big. Hope for more.

I am looking forward to seeing him on Sunday at his party at Chuck E. Cheese’s, where I plan on being a kid with him.  Laughing with him, playing with him, and his friends, my niece, my sister and whomever else shows up.  I don’t care how silly I look or how foolish I may sound.

I look forward to the surprise on his face when he returns home (I’ll be there to see it) from the party, and he walks in to see the drum set that I bought him for his birthday and set up while he was away at church before meeting at the pizza parlor.

But most of all, I look forward to celebrating many more birthdays with him.

Let’s see, Aiden…Auntie Coco will be 73 when you are 20…83 when you are 30, 93 at 40…and 103 when you turn 50.

Let’s keep dreaming, my dear, sweet nephew!

What Even Robin Williams Probably Didn’t Understand About Depression (by Theresa Wiza)

What Even Robin Williams Probably Didn’t Understand About Depression.

This article by Theresa Wiza is self-disclosure and wisdom that few writers are willing to share so openly.

In light of the recent news about the tragic situation in the life of comic and actor Robin Williams, and his family, this author gives you more than just a glimpse of what may be going through the minds of many who suffer (often) silently.

Technological Challenges of an Otherwise Adept Communicator

I am a communicator.

I like to talk. I like to write.

I like to interact with others.

I know that technology has opened up the doors and made things possible in ways we never dreamed possible.  But even as I try to maneuver through a process of trying to figure out what direction to take my blog, there are too many options and some of the language words used make absolutely no sense to me, let alone trying to understand how this all works.

Technology, though it has helped me in some ways, has left me feeling rather inept as a communicator.

Perhaps the time has come that I take a class somewhere.  Is there an adult education class at the local community college on “How to Blog Using WordPress”?

I am sure that there is a tutorial somewhere on this site that should take me through it, but what about those of us who learn better in a classroom, with collaborative, face-to-face learning?  I have watched videos, but I value the one-on-one connections with other human beings, where I can ask questions, get answers, and have someone talk me through the process interactively.

It has been suggested that I simply hire someone to do it for me.  My experience with that has been that the one who is hired is unwilling to do it collaboratively, but is impatient and wants to do it his way and has no time for me wanting to understand the process.

So there is just one of my dilemmas, as I move forward.  Any suggestions or advice?

I simply ask that you do not send me a tutorial for said advice. ;-)

 

Making Changes Soon

I am at a crossroads in some of what I want to do with this blog and where I want to go with a coaching business.  I’m looking for a mentor, and others with whom to consult, regarding getting things on the right track, and launched before the end of the year.

I like collaboration and finding the right people to bounce ideas off of seems difficult for me.  I have not yet figured out exactly why.

But, there are some things churning.  I’m also in a process of purging myself of those elements that do not serve well.  This is especially difficult, but necessary.  I simply need to remember that progress is more important than perfection.

As soon as I figure out the details, I will disclose.  My target date is in the late fall.

In the meantime, I will continue to post here from time-to-time, as well as the other sites.  Learning more about what is possible using social media comes slowly for me, as I am also still working, but I’ll get it figured out.

So, tell me…what changes are you making in your life?  In your business?  I’m curious!!

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