Bountiful Blessings

On Friday I was able to meet with my local oncologist and tell him we would keep going with what we had been doing. He called me a “boring cancer patient” which he told me was a good thing…and a compliment. I got my Lupron shot and then I was out of there for another month.

We had a good soaking rain Friday morning, which was fabulous as it has been very hot and dry for the last couple of weeks. It was great for my new driveway to cure, but goodness, we needed that rain. It cooled things down a couple of degrees (it has 10-12 degrees hotter than average for over a week now) and allowed the humidity to drop which was blissful. I have still managed to get my walks in, it just has to be early in the morning.

Friday night I was able to attend my first live Nazareth group in about 18 months. See here for what a Nazareth group is: https://nazarethgroups.com . I have been a part of this group for several years and they are like family to me. We were able to meet via zoom part of the time, but wow, that did not even come close to replacing the tight hugs I received and gave out to these wonderful people. With cancer and COVID over the last 18 months or so, it has been tough. Even though I was pretty involved in my parish, I felt like I was pretty much forgotten….except for these people. We are a pretty tight knit group and I love them to pieces. It was like my birthday and Christmas wrapped into one.

I have spoken with my kids this weekend and they are doing well. Adulting is hard and they are managing any curve balls being sent their direction. Rich was in an over 40 hockey tournament this weekend and I was able to make it to two of his games. They didn’t win, but they had fun and he has slept well every night. Lily starts driver’s ed classes this week. You have been warned.

I started taking fish oil to help with the joint pain per my sarcoma specialist. I used to take it all the time, but went off it before my first surgery and never went back on it. He also suggested massage therapy. I found our old foot massager and managed to struggle my way through 30 minutes of it last night. It made a HUGE difference on my feet. The pain has been reduced by at least half if not more. I am going to try and use it everyday. With as much walking as I do each day, it probably it a wise choice. Anyhow, I have been blessed so greatly as of late, and just wanted you all to know I am doing well.

Zoom Meeting Results with my Sarcoma Specialist

I just got off a zoom meeting with my sarcoma specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. (Did you know there are 3 Mayo clinics in the U.S.? Arizona, Minnesota, & Florida – just in case you need to know this to win a trivia game some day.) I had been checking every morning and every afternoon this week on my patient portal for the Mayo radiological report. It never showed up. I wanted to have them verify what the local radiologist has seen…that my pelvic tumors are shrinking. My specialist (who I absolutely adore and trust, by the way) said he didn’t even bother to have it read and measured by a radiologist because it was obvious to the naked eye that they were shrinking…which is AWESOME. He said out loud what I had been keeping pent up inside….”At least your tumors didn’t double in size.” That has been known to happen….a lot, actually. LMS is a fickle cancer. It is like playing whack-a-mole with treatments. With any treatment, you have a 30% chance it will shrink, 30% chance it will be stable and stay the same, and a 30% chance it will grow….on chemotherapy. I can’t imagine anything worse than having to go through the horrible treatments and side effects of a chemotherapy to then find out that it not only didn’t work, but it GREW. I hear about that so often on my LMS support group online. So it is working and working quite well. He said it normally doesn’t really become effective (the hormone treatment) until several months into treatment so all of this looks very promising at 10 weeks in. So we are going to continue to stay the course. He gave me a few suggestions about the joint pain. He was expecting that I would have some issues with that, as it is a very common side effect of anastrozole. He also eased my mind a bit with COVID vaccines and what I should and shouldn’t do. So on to the traveling part of my summer! We have a lot planned and I can’t wait to share it all with you in words and photos.

Tomorrow I go and visit my local oncologist and get my next lupron shot for the month.

Rich, Tallinn, and I walked over 5 miles this morning. We went pretty early but it was still pretty warm. I paused on this path and saw the sun shining through the trees and felt it applied to this day and how I feel right now. The sun is shining bright through the shadow of the trees…shedding rays of sunshine in the darker places. This totally summed up how I feel.

Praise Report

My parents go to a senior Bible Study on Wednesdays at their church down in Cypress, TX. They always have a praise report….a list of things to be prayerfully happy about. Today I have several. First off, I went out to lunch with a good friend I hadn’t seen or been able to talk to in person in quite awhile. We went to Shirley’s Diner….evidently a staple in Omaha, but I had never heard of it. Now I have reconnected physically with my friend, Erika, (thanks so much for lunch!) and I have a new place to venture to. I also saw an dear friend there from my days at Fort Crook Elementary. It was so awesome to see Viv and give her a hug! See? All good things! We are in the process of having our driveway replaced and it is looking great so far. The new windows are going in at the store this week as well, and they look great. Rich hired a new person and it looks like he will be a good fit…so that will allow Rich and his managers to not have to work so many weekends. Every person helps to lighten the load for everyone. I have been walking Tallinn to the store 2-3 times a week to work for a few hours at a time. I don’t usually work with customers, as our city mask mandate has expired, but I try and get out as much inventory from the storeroom onto the floor as I can…the kind of jobs others don’t always have time to do because we have been so busy. It keeps me active, helpful (I hope) to others, and involved in the store physically. The weather has been warm and sunny lately so I have been spending some time on my back porch with Tallinn listening to podcasts, writing, reading, or listening to audiobooks. I went to a new optometrist and he got me squared away with new glasses and contacts that actually allow me to see clearly. It really is the small things that are such blessings sometimes! I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of that….having 20//20 vision. I haven’t been able to see well for the last year and after going back to a different place 2 times, I gave up and just dealt with it. I am pleasantly surprised at how nicely I can see now. I thought it may have been the chemo affecting my vision. It was just not the correct prescription for my eyes. The biggest praise report thus far has to do with my progress on this new drug I am taking. I had my 3 month scans of my chest, abdomen and pelvis on Monday morning. I have called Bergan Mercy to have my scans sent to the Mayo Clinic as my sarcoma specialist likes his radiologist to read the reports independently as he knows more of what to look for. I would think it would be about the same as the results I got dropped into my local patient chart this afternoon. The local radiologist said all my tumors are either stable or show some shrinkage. Pretty good for only 10 weeks on this medication. This tiny white pill I take every night which makes my joints ache so badly and gives me more fatigue than the last chemo regimen I was on, seems to be working. I will take it…and gladly. There is no cap on taking this med, so I could potentially be on it for years, as long as it is working and I can withstand the side effects. For now, this leaves me 3 more months of peace of mind. I will meet via zoom with my sarcoma specialist on Thursday. Then I meet my local oncologist and get my lupron shot on Friday and I am guessing I will be continuing on the same treatment plan for 3 more months. I have a lot of traveling to do in the next two months. I think I am home for less than 10 days in July. I have a lot of photos of random life with the Messina family to catch up on and I hope to post those soon. When I lived in Norway….and then over the last year when I was not allowed to be in the sun because of my chemo I was on, I learned to drop everything and go outside when it is nice. I am spending a lot of time on my back porch with the dog. I have plenty to do inside but I can’t force myself to sit in the A/C doing computer work when I can be outside with the warmth of the sun on my face. It just feels too good. So I hope to catch up soon!

A Special Family Visit

My Uncle Ken (my dad’s youngest sibling) and his wife, my Aunt Christine, stopped by our store this afternoon as they were passing through Omaha. We were able to sit and chat about all sorts of things. We also ended our visit holding hands and praying. It was a wonderful visit and I am so blessed to be able to see them! They live in Michigan and I hadn’t seen them in 4 years. This very likely could be the last time I see them, so there were lots of hugs.

A Special Thank You

Thank you to everyone who prayed for Hollie. She went to be with her Lord on Thursday. She will be greatly missed by not only me, but our small group of LMS friends who talk often. Today our group was able to cry and be mad about how unfair it is that she was taken from us so quickly and so young. She will be missed. I now lift up her husband and children in prayer as they learn to live their earthly lives without her smiling face at their sides.

On to Month 3…

This morning I went to the Cancer Center at Bergan Mercy to have my third Lupron shot. I also got my port flushed. I kinda felt like a car getting a tune up. An injection….a flush…. Anyhow, this officially starts my third month on Anastrozole, an aromatase inhibitor. I have had quite a bit of joint pain although the last three days I have felt better. I specifically have pain in my feet and it was better. So we’ll see if the Lupron shots are making the joint pain worse or not. I had this weird dream that I ran into our former parish priest, Fr. Michael Voithofer. He knew my feet were hurting and he knelt down to wash my feet, like they do on Holy Thursday’s Mass during Lent. He placed my feet in warm water and started to massage my calves and feet. If you know me well at all, I do NOT let people touch my feet. I am extremely ticklish and now with having had hand/foot syndrome for a year, my feet are very sensitive (although it is getting sooo much better now that I am off the chemo). I had been waking up and my arches were cramping and by feet were so stiff it was hard to walk until I really got moving. That morning I rotated and stretched my feet in bed before getting up, as I had been getting in the habit of doing and I didn’t have pain and my feet weren’t so stiff and tight. I was telling Lily and Rich about my dream. They thought I was a little crazy. I think it was divine intervention. I am sticking to it.

On June 1, I will have my CT scans of my chest, abd, and pelvis to see if these drugs are working. I will then teleconference with my sarcoma specialist at the Mayo Clinic on Jun 10th to see if I will continue with these AI’s or if I will have to go back on some kind of chemo. We have three trips planned in June and July, so noting having to throw in a new chemo there would be nice. I will meet with my local oncologist on June 11th to talk to him about what my specialist has recommended. Fingers crossed, I will then get another Lupron shot and move on to my next 3 months on Anastrozole. Anyhow, that is the medical itinerary I have set up for now. I did see a new optometrist on Thursday that I really liked. He was really helpful with helping me see better. We are going to try a couple of contact combinations over the next few weeks and see which one works best for me. I can already see better with the trial pair I have in now. I also have a pair of glasses on order that should fit me much better and allow me to see better than the current pair I have. Now to wait for them to be made and arrive.

I have been able to go back to Mass on the weekends as my parish is doing good physical distancing and people are still required to wear masks at most of the Masses. I have been able to see some people I hold close to my heart in person for the first time in 15 months. There have been tears and long, tight hugs that feel so absolutely wonderful. Today is the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus, a holy day of obligation here in Omaha. (some diocese celebrate this on the weekend – but we celebrate it on the day). I took Lily to school, spent an hour at the hospital for my “tune-up”, took a 90 minute walk with Rich and Tallinn at Lake Zorinsky, did some bookkeeping, went to Mass, grabbed a few groceries and spent some time doing some writing, reading and then listening to an audio book on the back porch with Tallinn in the sunshine. I am loving not being on Doxil and being able to be in the sunshine! I have been taking Tai Chi classes via zoom with a cancer support group here in Omaha for the last 6 weeks or so. Tonight was the last one. I have two black belts and nearly another in martial arts. I gave it the college try. It is just too slow for me. I can do the form that I learned though and I met a lot of neat people locally via zoom. That zoom meeting moved right into another one that had my sarcoma specialist from the Mayo Clinic as the guest speaker at a National LMS Foundation meeting. This is a great group of people living with LMS that have doctors and researchers and other various roles speak to us a couple of times a month. We are from all over the country and the zoom meetings are a chance to talk to specialists and ask questions. After the presentation is complete, the speaker leaves the meeting and we all chat about what is going on in our lives and ask each other questions. Tonight there was a gentleman in California who had questions about ports…about chemo. He is just starting on his journey with LMS. It is so nice to be able to answer some questions and support others.

About helping others with LMS….I have a couple of people I have met online that I have gotten close to. Katie up in Montana died 3 weeks short of me being able to meet her in person. I have a friend in the UK named Marie who I have bonded with. However, there is a woman in South Dakota that I have really spent a lot of time online with over the last….goodness…almost a year now. She was diagnosed several months after me. Her name is Hollie and we texted each other several times a week. Having LMS is like having a baby. You really can’t understand what it is like unless you have also been through it. Hollie and I were going through the trenches together with LMS and chemo. She could text me and ask me if Doxil made my armpits look a weird color, as if they were dirty. Well, yes, it does. We could lament about how it felt to be a mom with kids at home watching this horrible thing happen. Hollie is younger than I am and has younger kids….like not even teens yet younger. We could talk about the impact the illness we both have had on our husbands…on our marriages. I last spoke with Hollie Monday night…late. She had sent me pictures of her and her oldest daughter hugging in a hospital bed. She had some blood work issues and ended up in the hospital. She had some procedures done to correct the problem and then everything just went to hell in a handbasket. Her organs started to shut down and she decided to go home on hospice this week. She had to tell her kids on Mother’s Day that she wasn’t going to be around much longer. I spoke to her Monday night….trying to console her about her leaving her kids. I sent messages Tuesday and Wednesday and heard nothing. Not good. Her husband, Chad, sent me a message yesterday telling me that she has been unresponsive since Tuesday morning and it won’t be long now…that she was ready to go and just waiting for God to take her. It has been an emotional rollercoaster for me losing this young friend to this horrible disease that will eventually take me. I can’t imagine how hard it is for her two kids and her husband…and her mom, who has been battling cancer herself. So, my wonderful prayer warriors, if you are so inclined, please lift up Hollie in prayer that she has a peaceful passing…that her family will have the support they need to get past this very painful part of her transition to heaven. Thanks, I would really appreciate it! I am storming heaven on her behalf daily as well.

Happy Mother’s Day!

My mom left all she knew in Michigan when she married my dad and they moved to Germany. Imagine living in a foreign country when you hadn’t really been out of the state very much….not being about to call your mom while you are pregnant due to long distance phone costs and snail mail being your only avenue of communication and it took weeks to get back and forth over the ocean. No cell phones, no social media, no email….no computers. When we first moved to Okinawa, it was harder to communicate at first, but nothing like that. That was a big leap of faith for my mom to take with my dad. She continued it for nearly 30 years of service to the U.S. Army…three kids and moving every 2-3 years to another location. Through it all, my mom volunteered her time teaching English as a second language to military spouses….doing secretarial work at several of the churches we belonged to along the way….and as a Stephen Minister, ministering to those suffering in the silence of the world who needed someone to talk to. She has been quite the role model for my 50 years of existence and I love her dearly. The last thing you want to do is to worry your mom…and I know that my illness has done that to her. No one should have to watch a child of theirs suffer. However, I hope to have many more happy memories with my parents while I am still able. I love you Mom, and I thank you for all your sacrifices for us kids growing up. Thanks also for being such a great Grandma to our kids! Happy Mother’s Day!

Give me Jesus at the dentist

Okay. Let me preface this whole post with the fact that I hate going to the dentist. I don’t have the best teeth to begin with and I have never been fond of going. I grew up moving all over the place and never had continuity of care, so there was also that. I have been going to this dentist for nearly 10 years and I really like her. She hums and sings along to the radio as she is working and is a mom of several kids and now a grandma. I was seen in Sept of 2019. I started up with my cancer journey in October 2019. My regular appointment was supposed to be March of 2020 and COVID went crazy and they closed down and I wasn’t safe to be out and about. So here we are. April 2021. I haven’t seen a dentist in over a year and a half. That in itself made me nervous. The whole time I have been on chemo I have had a really sensitive mouth. A few mouth sores here and there…thrush once (that is no fun!). Even on Doxil for the last year, during the third week of the round, my mouth would get really sensitive and it felt like my teeth were all shifting (like I was wearing braces) It was really weird. I had to change to a soft toothbrush and toothpaste for sensitive teeth. My mouth just felt sore and tight. I used oncology mouthwash to prevent mouth sores. Go figure, my local medical oncologist was not forthcoming with any helpful information. Sigh. Chemo does a number on your teeth and gums….and even though I am no longer on chemo but on anastrozole, an aromatase inhibitor, it also leeches calcium from your bones and teeth as a major side effect. I waited until I was fully vaccinated and then called my dentist down in Bellevue, Nebraska. (this is a 25 minute drive for me…but totally worth it in my mind) I was dreading today’s visit. They always ask about your health changes since the last time you have been there. Well…where do you start with a question like that when you are me? I sat down yesterday and typed up a synopsis of my health care and treatment over the last 18 months and highlighted the things most pertinent to them (zometa bone medication – can’t have any teeth pulled or root canals done within 6 months of having it – and I got it last month and get it every 3 months – and blood thinners). I handed it to the tech and she immediately got a dental hygienist who has dealt with several patients on chemo. She gave me lots of advice, did all my cleaning and polishing today, and gave me several pamphlets and samples of stuff to use for my mouth that I so wished I had 18 months ago. However, I was treated with such kindness and thoroughness. I was convinced I had several cavities. I did not. I rarely ask God for healing for myself. I feel it is kind of selfish with other people out there suffering more than me. However, I have to admit, that I talked to God about this dental visit. I told Him I could handle it if I had to have a lot of dental work done…because I wouldn’t have a choice. I would just have to deal with it. But I asked Him if He could help me through it and make it not so bad. I was in tears by the time I got into my car after my appointment. I thanked God profusely for taking this cross from me for now. I know a lot of you all are thinking what a child I am being about the dentist. I just really couldn’t handle a whole lot more. So I found Jesus at the least likely place…the dentist office today and I just wanted to share. Next appointment is Nov 11th. Curious as to what things will be like with my health at that point. Hopefully still chugging along!

Go Big Red!

The spring game….the red versus the white with QBs in green. The first half with only shoves with the starters. The second half all out hitting for the youngsters who will be ridin’ the pine most of the season. Scott Frost and his crew doing what they do day in and day out…. 2021…..50% capacity in Memorial stadium which easily holds the NCAA record of most recorded sell outs. After no one allowed in the 2020 season, the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers were ready for some football and ready for a crowd. It was sunny, 85 degrees and super windy. The tradition of letting loose of red balloons after the first points scored backfired as the balloons swirled around the stadium rather than being lifted on high and dive bombed the players on the field. We were masked (or supposed to be) and physically distanced. It was so good to be in the stadium again, even if it was only for the spring scrimmage. Good new, the Huskers won. We also got to see Tim briefly as he was partying with some friends in Lincoln during the game. He is on a short few days vacation from Colorado to see some friends in Lincoln. Here are some photos from the game. Lily came along due to forced family fun outing rules. She is not a big sports fan. She managed to do origami with the hotdog wrapper. We had red hotdogs and Rich had a runza to christen the 2021 Husker football year. Great time had by all!

Lily and Cyndi ready to cheer on the Huskers!

The Messina family adding to the “Sea of Red”

Let the season begin!

Gorgeous day for the spring game!

Red hotdogs and a runza for lunch

Lily doing origami from the hotdog wrapper

The end result of 30 minutes of folding….a crow!

My youngest son, Tim, and his momma at the railyard in Lincoln

A little to share here and there….

First of all, Joe and Michelle came up to Omaha for 24 hours this past weekend. Lily was off at a sleepover, but the four of us (Joe, Michelle, Rich, and I) spent a good chunk of Saturday at a family friend’s wedding and reception. We sat with our long time military friends from Norway, Ed & Wanda, and their son, Zac (Joe’s best friend), and his girlfriend, Megan. It was so nice for the 8 of us spending time together as adults. I had such a wonderful time. Tanner and Megan made a beautiful couple, and I wish them all the very best in their lifetime together. Tanner graduated with Joe and Zac and the three of them are good friends. It is hard to believe two of them are now married, two are firefighters, and Tanner will be a doctor (he is a physical therapist) in the next month or so. I love that Joe surrounded himself with really good people and has kept those good people in his life. I was not only blessed to know Zac and Tanner had Joe’s back, but I also got to love them as if they were my own…along with a few other men in Joe’s life. I am doubly blessed because I got to know their wonderful parents and got good friends in return. I got to see them and got lots of wonderful, tight hugs from these young men and their parents, whom I have really missed spending time with! I can’t even count how many times we either froze or fried watching Bellevue West High School football games! Good times! Now our boys are men….and I am so proud of each of them!

Zac, Tanner, and Joe

Zac & Megan and Michelle & Joe – the best of friends…they all live in the Kansas City area….Zac and Joe are fightfighters and first met when they were in the 7th grade in Stavanger, Norway. They have been best friends ever since!

How is my treatment going? Pretty good. I am staying active….I have been working 2-4 hours each morning in the store doing manual labor…moving stuff. Tallinn goes along with me as we are not open until 10, so from 8-10, he can roam the store and just follow me as I go from the store room to the floor, putting out inventory. Once the store opens, he settles himself under RIch’s desk in his office and is happy to take his morning nap there. I have been trying to get walks in as well. I am really feeling a lot of stiffness and joint/muscle pain from the anastrozole that I take daily. It is to be expected. I have talked to some people taking the same type of aromatase inhibitors and started taking Claritan yesterday morning. It worked really well with joint pain with neulasta shots I took last year. Tonight I will also start taking tart cherry chewies. Sounds weird, right? Well, it really works for a lot of people, so I figure why not give it a try? I have already noticed a bit of a difference with the Claritan, especially in the mornings. By afternoon, I am stiff and sore again though. I took some Tylenol this evening before going for a walk with Rich and that really helped too. So hopefully this will help. I went back to Mass starting two weeks ago and the Catholic Calisthenics had me moving pretty slow. Hopefully this will help.

I am still taking an advanced photography class online and loving it. However, it has been somewhat stressful being so busy and traveling recently trying to get my assignments posted. Bonus is I have had some gorgeous views to take photos of. If you saw a person in a winter jacket standing under a flowering tree in the Walgreen’s parking lot this morning in between snow flurries taking photos, that was me. I also got a great photo of Lily tonight….made it black and white and absolutely love it. So here are a few photos from my assignments on light this past week.