My journey to shoot for the moon.

Archive for July, 2011

How We Added Kirby to Our Family

After the last few days of difficult posts, I thought I would lighten things up a bit.

Kirby is a pug-mix.  She is mostly black and tan and it starting to turn white.  She weighs about 15 lbs.  She has a lot of spirit.  And she’s smart.  Very smart because she found us.  Not so smart because she likes to run away.

It was the end of May.  Michael was 3 and David was 5.  Summer was coming.  We wanted to add another dog to our family as Alex (our wonderful boxer-lab) was 9.  Chris and I had talked about it and decided that we would start looking for the right dog.   While we purchased Alex from someone who lived in Kenosha, WI, we wanted to see if there was a puppy we could rescue.  I went looking on PetFinder.  I expected Chris home shortly and figured he could look with me.

Our house in Zion, Illinois was a tri-level.  We had a parking area in the back where there was an alley.  We had a fence in the front yard.  Anyway, as I was looking on PetFinder, Chris came running through the house.  He yelled at me, “Don’t let the kids or the dog out front.”  And then he ran out the front door.

Puzzled, I went out the front door to see what he was doing.  And there, running around our front yard, was a little dog.  She was not wearing a collar.  Chris got some dog treats and we sat on the front step and she came over.  She was sweet and gentle.  She had something wrong with one of her eyes (there was a red protrusion), but beyond that, she seemed healthy.

Michael, our animal lover, came out to see what we were doing.  She sat down and the dog began kissing him.  When she was wagging her tail, her whole body wiggled.  Michael was in love with her.  We explained to him that she wasn’t ours to keep and called Animal Control.  When the Animal Control Officer arrived, we turned her over.  However, we did ask him what would happen if she wasn’t claimed.

He told us that we should make a reasonable attempt to find her owners, he would see if she had a chip and check the logs to see if someone reported her missing.  If, after 3 days, no one claimed her, we could come and get her from the pound.  I spent the following day calling around to see if anyone had reported her missing.  There were a couple of pugs missing, but not a pug-mix.  No one reported her missing to the police and she did not have a chip.

Animal had to hold her for 3 days.  Unfortunately, we found her on a Tuesday.  They had to hold her until Friday before they could release her.  But the Animal Control Officer and I played phone tag on Friday and were unable to connect.  And it was a 3 day weekend so it was Tuesday before we could pick her up.

When we arrived at the pound, the Animal Control Officer told us what a sweetie she was.  In fact, she was so sweet that he allowed her out of the cage and she would sit on his desk.  He allowed her to roam around the office and he had grown a bit attached to her.

Kirby - you can see the third eyelid (red protrusion) at the corner of her left eye.

We took her from the pound to the Vet.  She got all of her shots and the red protrusion was her third eyelid.  It looked gross, but she was so cute, it could be over-looked.  The third eyelid has never seemed to bother Kirby.  The vet did try a quick proceedure (that we paid $35 for) to stick it back in.  But it “popped” out again even before we left the vet.  They could do surgery, but it is costly and not guaranteed to eliminate the problem.  So we haven’t bothered.

During the car ride from the pound to the vet, had the boys work on finding a name for her, but they were having difficulties.  So, I started naming off video game characters:  Mario, Sonic, Kirby and Rayman.  The boys picked Kirby (for the video game Kirby Air Ride).

We brought her home and introduced her to Alex.  She and Alex seemed to get along, at least most of the time.  She played with Alex, which was good for Alex because she was getting older.  But Kirby liked to run.  If she got out of the fence, she would run.  And she would run fast.  We ended up having to put her on a chain, even though she was inside the fence, because if the gate was left open, she would take off.  At this point, she was precious to us and we didn’t want to lose her.

Kirby, Alex, 2 hamsters and the boys all traveled in the back of the van from Illinois to Colorado during our move.  Kirby and Alex shared the third row seating in the van.  Kirby needed to have a dog seat belt because, not only would she take off if the doors were opened, she liked to climb in the lap of the driver.

Kirby seems to like Colorado.  She loves to lie in the sun.  Thankfully, she has only “escaped” a few times.  She spent a year as an only pet after Alex died in 1997.  During that time, she had a pink piggy that she loved to throw around.  Before Piggy, she rarely played with toys.  Piggy was with us until we got Sugar and she was destroyed.   We thought that she was funny when she would play with Piggy and she made us laugh.  Piggy showed us how much Kirby still loved to play.  I’m not sure if Kirby misses Piggy, but she has Sugar to play with now.

I think that it is fitting that Sugar, our adopted greyhound-lab mix, wants to play and bugs Kirby.  Kirby bothered Alex all the time when Alex didn’t want to play.  Sugar is doing her job, though, like Kirby did hers:  she is keeping our older dog somewhat young.  And believe it or not, I think that Sugar and Kirby are friends.  They have a lot in common, they were both added to our family and they both seemed to “find” us.  I guess they both know a good thing when they see one.

Sugar and Kirby sharing my chair.

The Sobering Facts About Lung Cancer and My Opinion

My husband, Chris, has Stage IV Lung Cancer.  Many people do not know about Lung Cancer and think that it is like breast cancer.  It is not.  You can read about Chris’ Cancer in my previous posts (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3).  I will be writing about Chris’ cancer and how our family is managing, in the future.

Here are the sobering facts about Lung Cancer.  This information has been taken from the website for  The National Lung Cancer Partnership and the American Lung Association.

  • 220,000 people each year are diagnosed with Lung Cancer.
  • Lung Cancer accounts for almost 30% of all cancer deaths per year.  More than breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer COMBINED.
  • Breast cancer research gets $750 million per year.  Breast cancer is responsible for approximately 40,170 deaths per year.   Lung Cancer research gets $267 million per year and is responsible for nearly 160,000 deaths per year.
  • The five year survival rate for Lung Cancer is only 16%.  For prostate cancer it is 100% and for breast cancer it is 89%.
  • The five year survival rate for Lung Cancer has gone from 12% in the early 1970’s to 16% today.  While the five year survival for breast cancer has gone from 75% in the early 1970’s to nearly 90% today.
  • Between 20,000-30,000 people who have NEVER smoked are diagnosed with Lung Cancer EVERY year.
  • Only 16% of people who are diagnosed with Lung Cancer have not had their cancer spread outside of the lung.  With a breast cancer diagnosis, 50% have not had their cancer spread and with prostate cancer 90% of people have not had their cancer spread.
  • Over half of the people diagnosed with Lung Cancer die within one year.

My Opinion

It is easy to blame the person who has Lung Cancer for their disease because they smoked.  But what about the 20-30 thousand people who are diagnosed every year who haven’t ever smoked?  Should they be blamed too?  We don’t blame other cancers on people who are diagnosed with them.

There is a stigma attached to Lung Cancer:  you must have done something to cause this to happen.  This, in my opinion, is the reason for the disproportionate funding.  If you have Lung Cancer, then you must have smoked and then you deserve to have cancer.  It is faulty logic because many people who smoke do not get Lung Cancer.   But anyone with lungs can get lung cancer.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve smoked or not.  So, unless you are a fish, you have a chance of getting Lung Cancer.

There is no cure for Lung Cancer when it has spread outside of the lung.  I’m going to say that again, differently, because it is so important:  There is no cure for Stage IV Lung Cancer. 

Chris was 41 when he was diagnosed.  He never smoked.  There was no reason, at any time, to suspect that he might have Lung Cancer.  He was not in a risk group.  However, his Lung Cancer was at an advanced stage when they discovered it.  There was no reason for them to be looking for it.  Not one single reason.  If his pleura wasn’t filled with liquid, if his doctor hadn’t ordered x-rays to take to a specialist, the cancer probably would not have been caught until it was too late to treat.  As it is, there is no cure.  There is only treatment.

My brother (the Pulmonologist at University of Michigan) tells me that “common things are common and uncommon things are uncommon.”  Chris’ cancer is uncommon.  Rates of Lung Cancer are described as “low” in people under 40 and the chances of being diagnosed with Lung Cancer increases with age.  Chris was 41 when he was diagnosed, but that was with Stage IV – how long had he had Lung Cancer before it was found?  No one knows, but it is certain he was 40 or under (remember he was diagnosed days after he turned 41).

There is no Lung Cancer celebrity spokesperson.  Why not?  Because in all likelihood, they did not survive long enough to be a spokesperson.  There are no Lung Cancer “Survivors” who were diagnosed with Stage IV.  There is no national campaign to put an end to Lung Cancer.  There are no corporate sponsors.  There is no color that people can identify with Lung Cancer (it is pearl) and it does not have an Awareness Month.  I am not, by any means, begrudging those who have survived breast cancer their celebrations.  But, sadly we will not be celebrating any cure for Chris’ Lung Cancer, because it doesn’t exist.  In fact, it is a devastating diagnosis.  Our lives have been forever changed by Lung Cancer.  And when there are no more treatment options for Chris. . . it is something none of us want to face.  But at some point we will have to face it.  There is something horribly wrong with that.

Chris’ Cancer – Part 3 – July 2011 Update

This month has been really rough for Chris. The side effects from the drugs and the radiation (from last month) are really causing him to be tired and nauseous.  He has been having difficulty with a “thingie” (note the use of the correct medical term) on his foot. It is a hard bump and it is causing him pain.

Chris saw the doctor (actually the nurse practitioner, I think) on Tuesday.  She really didn’t have any idea what the thing on his foot was, but since Chris had a different “thingie” (again, note the use of the correct medical term) on his head that grew to the size of a nickel and then went away after he was on the pill format of chemo (clinical trial drug) for a while, she wanted him to have it checked out.

It was my understanding that Chris was going to go for a PET Scan and then they were going to send him to a dermatologist to have the spot biopsied.  But since the spot was still small, they would probably remove the whole thing while they were doing the biopsy rather than having to go back in to have it removed.  Last I heard, the hospital person (please note my usage of the person’s correct title/position) was going to call Chris to schedule that stuff but hadn’t called yet.  Although Chris is getting better at putting things on the calendar, I haven’t seen it appear there either.

Chris told me that they did call him and he had a PET Scan not that long ago and that it is too soon to have another one.  Also, they don’t need to scan his whole body, just his foot, so they will be doing an MRI.  But they haven’t scheduled it yet.

Chris sees the pulmonary oncologist on Wednesday for his regular monthly visit.   So, maybe we’ll know more by then.  The hope was to get the scan in before Chris left this Thursday for Illinois to visit friends and family.  I guess that won’t happen, but I could be wrong.

Last night Chris took off his shirt and I noticed that his back is all red on the right side (the side with the cancer).  It looks like someone smacked him back there and there might be a bruise.  He says it doesn’t hurt.  But he says that he feels congested, like he did when they found all the fluid around his lung.

That’s the thing about cancer:  every little thing isn’t little.  Even if it turns out to be nothing, you worry about it being something.  You worry that the doctors are wrong or that they missed something.  You worry that next time it will be something.

Please look for the next post:  Sobering Facts about Lung Cancer and My Opinion

Job Search Update – July 29, 2011

There really isn’t anything to report.  I still haven’t heard from the principal at the middle school in Elizabeth.  I did email him today to follow up.  I first tried to call, but the office is closed until Monday.

There was a posting for a Moderate Needs Teaching position in Douglas County at one of the middle schools and I did apply for that one.  It doesn’t close until Wednesday.

And that is it.  There aren’t any new postings in Cherry Creek.  I think I am going to have to try Aurora and will work on finishing my application next week.

Other than that, I have applied to be a substitute in Douglas County and my application is being processed.  I know because they contacted me yesterday about one of my professional references.  So, hopefully if I can’t find a position I will be able to sub.  I did speak with the principals at Pine Lane and Sierra to let them know that I was hoping to sub and ask if they would recommend me to their staff.  I also spoke to a few teacher friends and asked them to think of me.  I’ll be sending out an email when I get a sub number and am officially approved.

If You Like My Blog, Share It . . .

Good Morning!  It looks like it is going to be a nice day today in Colorado!

A few days ago I wrote about reaching 500 views of my blog.  It is amazing, since I’ve been writing for less than a month!

I really am enjoying writing my blog.  The creative and emotional outlet is one that my life has been missing, and I wish I would have started sooner.  It isn’t that I didn’t think about it, but I was often too busy dealing with things day-to-day to take the time to do the research that brought me to this wonderful site to manage my blog.

I really LOVE seeing how many readers I have on a daily basis.  It is affirming and encouraging.  One of the things, about the site I picked to host my blog, is that it tracks how many views my posts have and how people got to my blog.  So, if you read Pantyhose when I shared the link on Facebook, it tells me that 1 person clicked on my Facebook link and that 1 person read Pantyhose.  If someone accidentally finds my blog and goes to read it because they were looking for articles on pantyhose, it tells me that too.  You get the idea.

So, please, if you are enjoying my blog, share it with a friend.  Choose to subscribe (by clicking on the email subscription button) and have it delivered to your mailbox.  If you want, post a comment.  And if you wish that I would write about something specific, let me know.  Part of the real fun in doing the blog is knowing that people are reading it.

July 23, 2011

Chris’ Cancer – Part 2

The boys and I arrived at the hospital fairly early. We wanted to spend the day with Chris and to be together as a family. I’m not really sure what my brother had to do, but by 9 am, Chris was getting phone calls. My brother called him and told him that they were going to arrange for Chris to be transferred to University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora.   We assumed that it would be the following day.  However, he also got a phone call from a well-respected lung cancer researcher, Dr. Paul Bunn, who is at University of Colorado Hospital.   Dr. Bunn did not want Parker Adventist to do anything else with Chris and the doctors there were saying that they wanted to do another procedure, so Chris was transferred and in his room at U of CO Hospital by dinner.

Chris was in the hospital for 10 days total. They performed a pleurodesis, which is a procedure where they attach the lung to the chest wall so that no fluid can build up around the lung. They inserted a second chest tube to help drain the liquid. In the end, they drained 2 gallons of liquid from the pleura (the space around the lungs).  When all the scans were done, they discovered that there was a tumor in Chris’ lung and there were cancer cells throughout the pleura.  This is why it was called Stage IV.  And at some point, they were able to type the cancerous tumor in Chris’ lung and found that it was a rare mutation that Dr. Bunn was specifically studying.  It was called EML4-ALK.  Believe it or not, this was good news because Chris could be put on a clinical trial drug that they were testing to see if it would impact the ALK cancer cells.

Chris began chemo and had two different drug combinations.  One was a somewhat standard chemo drug (Chris could probably tell you what drug it was, but I really don’t know) and the other was the clinical trial drug.  Just the actual infusion of the drugs took 6 hours.  So every 3 weeks he spent the day at the hospital.

Chris and the boys in Nov. 2009.

I was still trying to finish my student teaching (and my Master’s program), be a mom to our 2 boys and a spouse to someone with cancer.  It was very difficult.  As much as I hated it, Chris went to a number of infusion sessions by himself.  It is not the way that I wanted it, but there was only so many things I could accomplish in one day.  No one should have to sit through 6 hours of infusion alone.  And I am so sorry that is what happened.  But, Chris told me, immediately after he told me that it was cancer, that I had to finish school and get my teaching license.  Both of know that it is the only way that I have a chance of providing for our family when I need to.

After Chris finished with the “regular” chemo, he only had the clinical trial infusion (which was much shorter) every 3 weeks.  Many things from this time period are “fuzzy” in my brain.  I know that I should know and remember everything that Chris has gone through and the time-frame, but honestly, I was working on managing everything so that he could go to work and get treated.  He was the one who had to deal with the side-effects and the treatments.  I am certainly not downplaying the side effects or the immense emotional toll that chemo had on Chris (and to a lesser degree, me and the boys).  It is just that we have traveled so far from infusion that it seems like it was another lifetime, at least for me.

Chris with Sugar, who seemed to know something was wrong and wouldn't leave Chris alone.

The chemo drugs did not result in any change in the cancer cells:  they were not growing, but they were not shrinking either.    And then, they did start growing.  Not a lot, but just enough so that the doctors were going to change Chris’ treatment.

Dr. Bunn sent Chris to another doctor at the U of CO Hospital who was involved in a different clinical trial drug.  This one was in pill format and would be targeting the specific mutation of the EML4-ALK cells that Chris had in his tumor.  Obviously, chemo drugs in pill format were much less of a hassle.  The side-effects were very much the same as the side effects of the infusion drugs.  And again, the time period is fuzzy – but I think that Chris has now been on the drugs for around 9 months.

Clinical trials are nice because they often do additional testing to see what the impact the drug is having.  They also suck because no one is really sure what will happen with them.  Chris has a CT scan done every other month.  The nice thing about the scans is that it lets us know how things are progressing on a regular basis.  The not so nice thing is that Chris has to go for the scans in addition to seeing the doctor.  The time between the scan and the doctor’s appointment (usually about a week), is fraught with anxiety for all of us.  Chris becomes short-tempered, I become emotional and the boys feel the stress and Michael tends to get in trouble, while David overcompensates to the other extreme.

At the end of May 2011, Chris’ scan showed that there was an area of cancer that was growing.  What that meant was that the cancer cells had become resistant to the clinical trial drug.  We knew something was probably happening because of a marker in his blood that they were watching, was going up.  He has blood-work done at every doctor’s visit.

The doctors felt they could treat this “flare-up” with radiation and Chris went for radiation at the beginning of June for 10 days.  Radiation seems to have different side effects than chemo, at least for Chris.  The radiation side effects were more intense and he was in more pain rather than less.   But for now, radiation is finished and Chris is back on the pill format chemo drug.

Chris and the boys at the Chinese New Year Performance in Feb. 2010.

More to follow in Chris’ Cancer – Part 3

Chris’ Cancer – Part 1

This is a post that I’ve not really wanted to do.  I thought perhaps I could wait until I had updated information, but that won’t be for another 5 weeks or so.  Here is the story – from the beginning.

Chris was feeling lousy.  It was September, 2009 and he was congested and it wouldn’t clear up.  Chris has asthma and allergies.  I  had started student teaching and life was crazy.  Chris went to see the doctor, who prescribed something (can’t remember at this point) and told Chris to come back in 2 weeks if he wasn’t feeling better.  In the meantime, Chris had his 41st birthday on September 30.  On October 1, he went back to the doctor because he wasn’t feeling any better.  She didn’t really know what else to do for him and wanted him to see a specialist for his asthma/allergies.  She ordered a chest x-ray for him since he would need one when he saw the specialist.

On Friday, October 2, Chris went to the hospital to get the x-ray done.  He went first thing in the morning and then drove to work.  Most days it takes Chris about 20 minutes to get to work.  But before he even got there, the hospital was calling and telling him that he needed to come back as the x-rays were showing he had fluid around his lung.  They couldn’t tell him what that meant, at the time, because it could have been a lot of different things.

Chris called me at work, not on my cell phone, but the main office and told them that it was an emergency and that they should find me.  I went to the office to get the phone and he asked me to come home to meet him to take him to the hospital.  As I left the school, I called my mom.  I needed my mom to track down my brother.  My only brother, who is (of all things) a Pulmonologist at the University of Michigan.  My mom must have heard panic in my voice because my brother was calling me before I made it to my car.  There wasn’t much my brother could do at that point, except tell me not to panic.  Apparently, fluid around the lung can be caused by a number of things.  Cancer was only one of them.

I met Chris at home and then drove him to the hospital.  We were told that they would insert a chest tube to drain the liquid and that he would be able to go home.  But that isn’t what happened.  They inserted the chest tube and started draining liquid and draining liquid and draining more liquid.  They kept doing scans or x-rays (don’t remember which) to see if the area was clearing.  It wasn’t.  They finally admitted him to the hospital.

At this point, they were still telling us that it could be a lot of different things.  They needed more time and to get more liquid out before they would be able to tell.  I called my friend (former friend now, but that is for another blog) and she offered to get the boys from school and take them to dinner with her kids.  The kids were all friends, so I thought this would be good for the boys.  Then she would either bring them by the hospital or take them home (depending on where I was).  I was concerned that the boys would freak out if they heard from her that Chris was in the hospital.  So I went to visit them at school.  David was in 6th grade and Michael was in 3rd.  Both boys handled the news fairly well.  They were concerned and upset, but not panicked.

They had dinner and were dropped at the hospital.  They visited with Chris and went “exploring.”  We were at Parker Adventist Hospital.  It is a small community hospital and the boys quickly found their way around.  We spent much of the day Saturday and Sunday at the hospital.  Chris’ friends Mike and Carol (brother and sister – who Chris has known his whole life as their mothers have been friends since before they were all born) came to visit.

On Monday there were more scans.  The boys went to school and I went to work.  Same on Tuesday.  Although, when I arrived at the hospital, with the boys, Chris sent them on an errand.  And then he told me that the doctor had just left and that the fluid around the lung had drained enough to reveal a cancerous tumor.  We managed to keep things together long enough to tell the boys and for Chris to call Mike and have him come to the hospital so Chris could tell him in person.

And we called my brother.  It was after 7 pm in Michigan.  All I remember my brother saying was, “let me see what I can do.”  I don’t remember anything else.  I know I spoke with my parents and two of my friends (one mentioned above – the second became a former friend also – and I promise to tell that story another time).  I remember going into the public bathroom of the hospital and crying.  And the boys cried.

We left the hospital to go home to sleep and were back at the hospital early the next day.  I stayed home from work and didn’t send the boys to school.

More to follow in Part 2

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