Hitting The Road to OHSU

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything because it’s been fairly uneventful. Resting, gaining strength and trying to come to terms with a cancer diagnosis. We’re all doing it, and some days it’s simply easier to do than on others.

Mom has now recovered from her lung wedge resection surgery which removed a section of her left lung containing a small cancerous mass. She’s back to walking around without huffing and puffing, and doesn’t need oxygen as she did after the surgery.  The spot in her lung was not the same kind of cancer that’s in her pancreas. That cancer is gone and now she’s been given the thumbs up to consider another surgery to cut out the mass in her pancreas.

The question is: “Can it be done, and if so can it be done non-invasively?”

Tomorrow we’ll know.

I’ll drive her to Portland and in the afternoon we’ll be meeting with Dr.Billingsley at OHSU to hear what he thinks the next step in her care should be.  It’s difficult not to project ahead and assume certain things, but since neither of us are oncologists we decided it’s best to try not to do this.

While tired all of the time now, Mom looks good. She’s lost a little weight, but not much and isn’t having pain, which is great. She’s still got her sense of humor and this is something we both try to cultivate at every turn.

Sometimes things almost seem normal.



Good Stuff Is In The Routine

I wake up and my first thought is ‘Mom has cancer’. God how I wish that wasn’t so! Both that she didn’t have that damn tumor growing inside her pancreas, and that I didn’t have some form of a semi-panicked thought before my feet hit the floor each day.

While I could happily dump this particular morning routine, I’m still an optimist.

Each morning I say my prayers before I get out of bed. I give thanks for another day and arise still hoping, praying, digging… for the good stuff.

Today I get the opportunity to go over to Mom’s house (about a 40 minute drive from mine) and hang out with her.

We don’t really have a plan for the day.

Despite improvement since her lung surgery, overall she’s much more tired than she’d like to be. She’s also experiencing some things that may or may not be related to her pancreatic cancer.

We talked last night (something we do every day…) about a possible trip to Costco to pick up a birthday cake for my daughter and meet up with my husband for lunch. But her fatigue will dictate whether it’s a  $1.50 hot dog and a drink lunch or a nap today. The likelihood is that we’ll stay home, chat and watch more HGTV while I help out by doing some laundry and cleaning.

It’s routine stuff, but it’s also something that helps me to keep her cancer diagnosis in perspective and reminds me to cherish ‘time’ that much more in all my relationships.

When I’m exhausted from my day’s efforts I will often say: “One day I’ll miss this, but today isn’t it.”  Recently I’ve started to re-think this statement.

The truth is, my house isn’t as clean as I’d like it to be, but I know one day in the not-so-distant future, I’ll have all kinds of time to clean it. I won’t always have the opportunity to listen, laugh and simply be with those I love.

The time I spend  just hanging out with my Mom, picking up my daughter from school and sitting with my husband holding his hand, are precious and fleeting.  These are patterns of behavior that we’ve created together which keep us grounded despite the shifting circumstances and external forces which are out of our control.

These people that I love so much  are my routine, and thus, a part of me. The best part of me. The good stuff. 



Driving Towards Information

As Mom continues to slowly recover from the surgery to remove the cancerous tumor from her left lung, we all can’t help but cycle through thoughts related to the cancer still unaddressed in her pancreas.

Last Friday she’d called Dr.Billingsley’s office at Oregon Health Sciences and was told her records were being reviewed and to expect a call back on Monday.

Setting Up The Consultation

As promised Dr.Billingsley’s office called her back with an appointment for next week. She told ‘Nicole’ who had called to confirm the appointment that this was just too soon as she’d yet to have her post-op check from the surgery done less than two weeks ago.

“What surgery?” Nicole asked.

They had reviewed her records at OSHU, but the latest surgical info had yet to be accessed. Luckily Nicole looked it up and found it in their system. She agreed with Mom that resting for a week or two more would be a good thing, and the consultation appointment with Dr.Billingsley was rescheduled for Wednesday, March 30th.

Soon after that call Mom’s local oncologist, Dr. Savage,  called to check in.

She too thought it was a good idea that Mom rest up and gather strength for what is potentially to come. Dr.Savage told her she’d be in contact with Dr.Billingsley and that if it was decided that surgery would be forthcoming, a round of chemo prior to surgery might too be part of the deal.

Trusting The Educated To Do The Right Thing

With each passing day I have to keep reminding myself of the remarkable way Mom’s cancer was discovered so early. Some might say it was lucky, but i prefer divine intervention. Smart doctors following their instincts and caring for their patient in a very human  way.

Listening. Feeling. Acting. 

As I read Billingsley’s bio I can appreciate how smart this guy must have to be to be the Chief of Surgical Oncology at OSHU, and I just hope he too is this same sort of doctor.


B.S. Stanford University, 1985
M.D. The Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine , 1989

A friend of Mom’s who has stage IV pancreatic cancer was operated on by Dr.Billingsley about a year ago. He can’t say enough good things about him or the care received at OSHU; adding a vote of confidence that we are indeed on the right track.

My hope is that Dr.Billingsley will see not just the tumor in Mom’s pancreas, but see her as a human being, and offer options for treatments which will provide her with the best quality of life for the longest amount of time.

Wednesday, March 30th promises to be an illuminating day. 




reality of fear

Facing Fear and Moving Forward

My mother taught me that when applying for a job or asking for a raise, the worst thing that could possibly happen is they could say ‘no’. Once I learned that simple lesson, life in general got a whole lot easier. I started applying it to lots of different areas of my life. I became much less fearful of trying new things, meeting new people or asking for what I needed in relationships. When I heard ‘no’ it wasn’t a problem to me as much as it was a speed bump.

‘No’ often led me to another person, place or thing that was ultimately better for me. I learned lessons; growing intellectually and emotionally, and I became more patient. ‘No’ wasn’t all bad, but it didn’t always feel good. ‘No’ challenged me to become better at the whole human being thing.  Hearing ‘no’ hit the pause button on my life long enough for me to become slightly fearful of whatever was coming next, but it also gave me time to gather my strength and make a plan to play once more.

In my mind, a cancer diagnosis is sort of like being told ‘no’.  

Today, getting Mom to make the calls to these treatment providers was sort of tough. Finally after asking her several times to give them a call I asked her why she was dragging her feet and she said “…I’m afraid.”

I’m afraid too. We’d be stupid to not be afraid. The problem with fear is that it leaves no room for faith though.  You’ve got to be willing to kick fear to the curb and drive on by to get to a new place, and my bet is that the new place isn’t near as scary as the one we’re standing in right now.

Eventually, Mom made the calls. She was promised call backs on Monday of next week. We ate lunch, I cleaned (something I do when I’m stressed…), and I tucked her into bed for a nap before driving home to spend the night in my own bed – something I’d not done since she returned home from the hospital.

In the coming days we’re going to be asking questions and some of the answers will be ‘no’.  Strange thing is I actually take comfort in that, as I know it’s not always a bad thing.



Pathology Offers Hope

It’s an adenocarcinoma of the lung, but the section taken during the lung wedge resection surgery on the 25th of February has eradicated that cancer with no further need for radiation or chemotherapy. There are clear margins and no signs that the lung cancer has spread or that this cancer was a metastasis of the pancreatic cancer which has yet to be addressed.

Good news!

It’s been one week today since the surgery and Mom is finally starting to show signs of recovery.

The first few days in the ICU where very scary. Something that the surgeon thought would mean a couple of days in the hospital turned into a struggle to keep her blood pressure up and her heart rate down. At one point we thought she’d had a stroke, but thankfully it was the effects of over medication caught in the nick of time.

Mom is very weak right now, but she’s improving slowly each day.

The surgery to remove the spot in her lung was what would be considered minimally invasive, but it’s had a big effect on her overall stamina. In all honesty that could also be the pancreatic cancer acting up or her cardiac issues hindering progress.

Right now gathering information and strength for the next phase of treatment are the goals.