pancreatic cancer path

It Could Always Be Worse

This past year has been an incredibly rough one. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, social unrest, political challenges and untimely deaths of stars we thought would live forever.

Loss is all around us every day and we are pummeled by news of it at every turn.

With or without cancer in your life, it all can get to be too much.

So when asked “How are you doing?” I pause and sigh.

I really don’t know how to answer that question in a way that doesn’t scare people away.

What I want to say is…

I do know that it’s not normal to cry all the time, so when that started happening I called my doctor. Now with a daily dose of 50mg of Zoloft, I feel loads better.  I can laugh again, and I’m able to roll with things instead of feeling overwhelmed.

I sleep fitfully most nights, clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth. I wake up with headaches and I have ulcerative colitis that sometimes keeps me close to home.  My fibromyalgia is on high which is the pits because I can’t remember a lot of things (brain fog they call it…), and I tend to use the wrong words when speaking.  This leaves me looking a tad silly and feeling frustrated.

I’m grateful for friends and family who have stuck by my side despite the challenges and changes, and not run away even when I’m too weary to continue to hold up my public mask.

Yesterday I had to put my beloved dog of 16 years down after taking my Mom to her oncologist to discuss further treatment of her pancreatic cancer.

It was a shitty day.

Today there was good news.

It appears that the same chemotherapy drug (Gemzar) that put Mom into remission in April, continues to work in the management of her cancer.  Her blood tests showed a 500 point drop (down to the 1800 range)  in her CA119 with an infusion every other week.

While she’s very tired for about a week after the chemo, she gets one week of pretty good days as long as she keeps up with her pain meds.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring or even if it will come. I suppose if I dwelled in the darkness of that thought for very long I’d succumb to its power, but instead I choose to run towards the light of optimism housed inside the love I feel for others.

How am I doing?

Thanks to the special people in my life, pharmaceutical intervention and God’s mercy, I’m OK.

And most days I’m still able to remember that it could always be worse, so I keep digging for that damn pony.

 

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Christmas peanut brittle

Peanut Brittle and Cheese Balls

For as long as I can remember my Mom has made sweet and savory treats to give as gifts to friends at Christmas. It takes a lot of sugar, time and energy to produce it, but she has always enjoyed witnessing the happiness it brings to those who receive her gifts made with love.

Despite having received a chemo treatment this past week; a treatment that has her feeling much worse than the last one – pained and very fatigued, she has made lists, shopped for ingredients and produced many goodies to share.

I arrived at mid-day to find her large kitchen filled with works in progress.

Sweets and Treats

“Stir this…”, she says as she hands me a wooden spoon and puts me to work in her kitchen.

Mom had already made half a dozen batches of peanut brittle and was putting me to work on Rice Krispie treats.

“We’ll do two batches. Do you think this is enough butter?” she asks as she throws in a stick.

My Mom’s ability to not follow a recipe and still come up with something delicious has always fascinated me. I suppose over time I’ve developed some of that talent, but not to the degree in which she perfected it long before there were hundreds of cooking shows on television each day to show us how it is done.

“What did you put in the cheese balls?” I ask her.

“Cheese” she says with a smile and tired eyes.

“I know that smart ass, but what else?”

With a smirk she says “A little of this and a little of that…until it tastes good.”  She knows what she’s doing.  The mix smells amazing!

We both laugh and then she proceeds to tell me about how my Dad used to eat anything she made – with gusto!  (Dad was full of enthusiasm for life, and he loved food, so no surprise there.)

With cereal stirred into the marshmallow and butter, we worked together to put them into greased pans.  The cheese ball mix had softened and after mixing it it bit more, I set to finely chopping parsley to roll them in before chilling and wrapping up for gift giving.

Mom sets to work on another batch of peanut brittle.

I think she has probably made close to 1,000 batches in her lifetime and since the invention of microwaves that production has increased.

Everyone who tastes it raves about it, so I thought I’d share her recipe (she gives it out so I’m not giving up a family secret here) for you to enjoy.

Emily’s Microwave Peanut Brittle

Christmas peanut brittle

Kitchen stuff you will need:

  • 2 Quart Pyrex GLASS Measuring Bowl (microwave safe)
  • Metal baking sheet with sides
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Oven mitts 
  • Microwave 900 watts or more

Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup White Granulated Sugar
  • 1/2  Cup Light Karo Syrup 
  • 1/4 Cup Water
  • 1/2 Cup (1 stick) Melted Butter –  salted butter is preferable and NOT margarine.
  • 1 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla 
  • 1-1 1/2 cups Dry Roasted Peanuts (salted or unsalted)

Stir together in large Pyrex measuring bowl: sugar, Karo syrup and water and microwave on HIGH for 7 and a 1/2 minutes.

Carefully remove from microwave.

Add 1/2 Cup MELTED Butter and 1 teaspoon pure vanilla.

Stir into heated mixture and return to microwave to cook on HIGH for another 5 minutes.

Remove from microwave and add 1 to 1 and a 1/2 cups dry roasted peanuts (salted or unsalted), stir and return to microwave for the last  1-4 minutes of cooking on HIGH.

**The last part is the tricky one as you don’t want the sugars to burn (getting too dark).  Watch carefully and if the color is golden brown it’s good!  You don’t have to cook it beyond that point, so if it’s not yet at the 4 minute mark – no worries – take it out.

The last step…

Add 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda to the mix and stir.   (It will puff up a bit, and turn a lighter color, which is normal.)

Pour hot mixture onto a greased or non-stick baking sheet.

**The bottom of the sheet will be very hot, but hold onto the edges and tilt it, letting gravity move the mixture slowly to thin out over the sheet.  After a few minutes it’s OK to take a fork and press down the mix, pulling towards the edges of the sheet at the same time.  As it cools these marks will fill in.  When completely cool, twist the baking sheet to break up the brittle and store in air-tight containers.

Pride and Perseverance

Mom was staggering around the kitchen without her walker – something that drives me crazy as I always have this fear of her falling.

In between stirring and chopping, I found myself rounding up her walker and plopping it in her path.  She’d smile and go the other way, leaving the walker behind.

This walker-game we play is both amusing and infuriating!  Most days she indulges me while I can see her, but I know all bets are off when I’m not around. Sort of like a toddler or a teen, she needs to feel in control of her life.  Especially when everything feels so out of control.

She has said to me many times that the thing that drives her most crazy these days is the loss of autonomy she feels.  It’s having to depend upon others for so many things that when you can do them for yourself, seem so insignificant.

Things like driving to the market and easily walking inside, shopping and loading your groceries in and out of the car.  Something like this that she has probably done thousands of times with ease, now looks as daunting as climbing Mt. Everest.

So on a day like yesterday when I could go over to her house and help her to accomplish something that is of great importance to her – assisting, but not doing it for her,  it felt like a privilege.  And as a bonus we got the opportunity to spend time together and do “normal” despite the increasing abnormal circumstances.

Later in the day Mom was weary and pained, but happy to be out and to have accomplished her goals for the day.  We set out to  deliver some treats and then on a whim decided to check out some streets decked out in holiday lights.

The decorations were amazing and the moments with Mom on this day – perfect in spite of cancer.

 

 

 

cancer greatest gift

Cancer: The Greatest Gift

“What do you want for Christmas?” 

With the holiday approaching my Mom asks me this question a lot, but she knows the answer as it’s what she wants too.

It’s been a month. Two chemo treatments have been completed, with another one coming up next week.

Treatments have been spaced every other week, to give her body time to rebound from the chemical attacks and gain back some energy for other things.

While the CA119 numbers haven’t yet gone down, the expectation is there that they will.  We’ve already witnessed that miracle once before, what’s to say it can’t happen again?

Prior to this cycle of chemotherapy Mom had two chief complaints.  One had been extreme fatigue and the other a painful midsection, radiating into her back.

After the first chemo dose her fatigue came on strong with nausea about three days after her infusion, lasting about four days. She had no interest in eating, and napped a lot.  Sometimes a shower was about all she could muster in a day.  Then she took on the second dose with the expectation that there would be more of the same.

Surprisingly that didn’t happen.

The second dose of Gemzar – same amount of the drug as before – made her feel tired for a couple days; hitting a few days after the infusion, but then the fatigue dissipated.  The worst part seemed to be her inability to remain asleep, for once she would awaken her thoughts were so loud in the silence of the night that she couldn’t seem to quiet them without more drugs.

In less than a week things started to get better.

Mom looked more herself and was able to attend a Christmas party with her high school classmates. (Something she so looks forward to each year.)  She was also able to go to lunch with friends and go grocery shopping with me in tow.  We managed to get her Christmas tree up and our laughter returned.

We were blessed with truly good days.

To remain ‘in the parade’ as she would say, Mom has to wear a transdermal narcotic patch for pain management in addition to oral medication.  It seems to help a lot, but you can’t help but wonder if the increased pain means the cancer is running rampant or losing the war.

Our spirits are humbled and grateful for God’s blessings this holiday season including the many friends and family members who have shown us both such genuine kindness and compassion.

And as awful as cancer can be to individuals and those who love and support them in their fight, it’s also an incredible gift.  For within cancer’s painful emotional and physical challenges it provides many lessons. Ultimately stripping away all that is unnecessary and leaving behind a deeper understanding of what it means to live and love.