Sunday, December 13, 2009

Back on the On Ramp: Week 12

Week 12: Dec. 6-12 “Home Sweet Home”

Saturday, December 5th we began our northward trek with the idea of stopping off in the Reno, Nevada area to visit family. The clouds of uncertainty surrounding the weather predicted for the area added to the drama of our trip. Below zero temperatures and snow were lurking on the horizon. Even at home in the northwest, temperatures in the single digits were expected. After spending the day in the sun in 70 degree weather in Loma Linda last Friday, our bodies were in for a shock. The scenery surrounding our trip up the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range on Saturday was spectacular.

Early Saturday evening we arrived ahead of the storms in Verdi, Nevada. We were faced with the dilemma of cutting our visit short and heading out the next morning before the onslaught of the snowstorm or waiting it out. This was one of the “no clear cut answer” situations with both scenarios not looking too favorable. Two added elements weighing in on the decision included a retirement party for Diane’s sister set for Sunday night and getting back home in time to see off our middle daughter’s family for a month long stay in Arizona. It did not help matters that we had not seen them or our new little granddaughter in 10 weeks.

The urge to head home ahead of the storm seemed prudent even though I did not feel all that comfortable with the decision. Regardless, we headed out from Verdi Sunday morning. That’s when the fun began. About twenty miles out we encountered a huge traffic tie up. Later we learned there had been an accident ahead of us that closed the freeway for three hours. While sitting on the freeway going nowhere I thought back to the night before when I had prayed for some direction on the timing of the remainder of our trip. The answer was not apparent when we left that morning but sitting stuck in traffic it now was staring me in the face: “Central Truckee Exit Ahead.” I first thought we might as well pull off and wait this mess out but then it soon became obvious this storm was just kicking into gear and the brunt of the bad weather was still ahead. With this new direction we whipped around and headed back to Verdi with thoughts of enjoying the comforts of a warm home.

The snow continued to fall throughout the day but it did not deter us from heading out for the retirement party for Diane’s sister Sunday night. The family connection in Reno circled around a big table at Macaroni Grill was a lot better than driving in a blizzard and wading through the numerous accidents that snarled the freeway throughout the day. The storm did not loosen its grip on the area until Monday evening. The forecast showed clear skies for Tuesday, yet still with sub freezing temperatures awaiting us for our next opportunity to continue our trip north to Vancouver. Monday night found us shoveling and plowing a foot of snow off the sidewalk and driveway to clear the way for our departure.

Tuesday was indeed a beautiful bone-chilling day. With our hugs and goodbyes all in order, off we headed riding on the security of our four-wheel drive Toyota and a favorable forecast. Even though the trip took an additional two hours the scenery made it worthwhile. Once we made it to Mt. Shasta it was clear sailing the rest of the way home. Upon our arrival, it was still uncharacteristically cold, but we were home!

Getting reconnected with our family was first on the order, with the remainder of the week getting caught up with being away for two and a half months. It is good to be home!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Off Ramp Loma Linda: Week 11

Week 11: Nov. 30-Dec. 4

This week ends a huge chapter in our lives. Friday is my last treatment and we will be on the road Saturday heading for home. As things wrap up for us here at LLUMC it also ushers in the next phase. After all, this will be a continuing story. With treatment for prostate cancer I will be monitored for the rest of my life for the slim chance of recurrence. It is one of those “things” that marks you for life.

This final chapter began Sunday in Seal Beach as we wrapped up a long Thanksgiving weekend with family. This whole story has been one full of thanksgiving so it was a fitting way to set the tone for our last week. Monday afternoon found us back at our little cottage in Loma Linda for the last 5 days of treatment.

While I have been here there has been plenty of time to ponder life and life purposes. There have been two significant revelations of sorts that have come to me in my pondering. One has to do with the cure and one about life.

The cure became a numbers game for me.
Follow along with this one.

This has been the procedure for the 45 treatments. Drink my 18 oz. water (almost 26 qts overall), walk 675 steps from our cottage to the proton center elevator, show up at the Level B waiting room, get changed into my oh so chic hospital gown, walk down the hall to Gantry 3, climb into my pod, receive my balloon with a smile on my face (4 more ounces of water-almost 6 quarts total), get 2 x-rays, count off 30 beeps from the Geiger counter indicating protons are being delivered, and then climb out and walk another 675 steps back to our temporary home away from home. The final total for steps towards the cure can be broken down like this:

1,350 steps for consultation & planning;
60,750 steps for treatments;
12,150 steps for weekly doctor appointments;
10,800 men only support group meetings;
This comes to a grand total of 85,050 steps which equates to about 50 miles which translates to a little over 3 ½ hours of walking towards the cure for cancer and the healing process.

As I have stated before, each delivery of protons lasts about 1 minute and 45 seconds which for the 45 treatments adds up to 78 ¾ minutes. For round numbers, let’s say, 1 hour and 19 minutes is all the time it took towards this cure for cancer.

The second “ponderable” has to do with the present. I posted this thought on my other blog the day it came to me: “Each day we are given is a gift. Unfortunately too many people fail to open the present.” Obviously the “present” has an intended two-fold meaning.

It reminds me of an old Peanuts comic strip where an uninterested Charlie Brown is sitting beside an unwrapped present. Lucy of course in her own special way wants to change the situation with a series of questions aimed at getting Charlie Brown to open his gift. To the best of my memory the gist of the dialog is something like this:

“Why don’t you open your present?” Lucy asks.
“It’s probably just a shirt,” Charlie replies
“Don’t you want to find out what color it is?” Lucy responds
To that Charlie Brown states, “It’s probably not my size.”
Lucy, getting a little exasperated follows, “You can at least open it an find out what size it is.”
And finally Charlie Brown comes back with the clincher, “It probably has pins in it.”
In disgust Lucy picks up the present and smashes the box over his head.

What excuses do we come up with for not opening up the gift of each day?

For me, being here at LLUMC has been a gift. It was a package we had no idea what impact it would have on us. We could have said: “It’s not comfortable being here out of my element,” or “I don’t even know anyone,” or “I have cancer and just want to get this over as soon as possible.” With proton treatment there is no such thing as “soon.” For most of us here 45 treatments and 11 weeks away from home can seem like an unwelcome present. As you have been following along over these past 10 weeks you have seen a glimpse into what we have found inside this unlikely present.

I would hope each of you opens the gift of each day with the same excitement as a child looking for the treasures in the present set before him or her. New friends, new experiences, and new opportunities for growth are waiting to be unwrapped each day.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Off Ramp Loma Linda: Week 10

Week 10: Nov. 22-Nov. 28

The final countdown begins. 40 treatments down and 5 to go! This is a great milestone for which to be thankful. This Thanksgiving week was one that we had not anticipated a year ago, but this season we are still full of thanks for the many blessings and experiences that have come our way: new friends, special times with family & friends in Southern California, and a big step forwards completing prostate cancer treatment.
This was a short week for treatments as the proton center was closed Thursday through Sunday for the holiday. Our week began with our last visit to Trinity Church in Redlands where once again we were nourished in the teaching of God’s word. Finding Trinity was another aspect of this adventure for which we are truly thankful.

Sunday afternoon we paid a visit to Kimberly Crest Mansion for a tour of the house and grounds. It is a beautiful home which can be found in the California Registry of Historical Landmarks. The house has been described as being “an excellent example of Chateauesque architecture.” It was constructed in 1897 with many modern conveniences not readily available for the time period. We are going to miss the beauty and variety this area has to offer (not to mention the mild weather to which we have grown accustomed).

We spent the remainder of the week in Seal Beach, Long Beach and Oceanside with family to complete this Thanksgiving week. We missed our family back home in Vancouver, Washington, but our house up north was still the site for the local family get together as our daughters and their families joined there for food and fun. We do indeed have much for which we are thankful.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Off Ramp: Loma Linda Week 9

Week 9: Nov. 15-Nov. 21

Once again we started the day off Sunday by attending the early service at Trinity Church where we have really felt at home. Later that morning we had the privilege of attending the annual “BOB Brunch” held here at LLUMC. Bob Marckini hosted the morning’s activities which included messages from past proton patients and LLUMC dignitaries. Dr. Jerry Slater (Chair, Radiation Medicine) presented some of the exciting developments with protons and Dr. Richard Hart (president of the university) likewise with the medical school. Dr. Slater’s father, Dr. James Slater, pioneered proton beam therapy at Loma Linda. This was another one of those reminders of being in the right place at the right time.

Saying good-bye to new friends was a theme that unfolded this week. Each week a number of people “graduate” from their treatment, but now is the time we are beginning to bid adieu to those who started their treatment close to when we did ours. I am down to eight to go after Friday’s treatment and then I will have my turn at graduating.

A surprise friendship that developed while we were here was with the young mother with a brain tumor we mentioned in an earlier post—a surprise in the fact that all of our other friendships have come from the ranks of the prostate cancer patients. There are not many patients here in the proton program with a “zero” PSA. Well, Mary is one of them. We enjoyed a hike with her husband, Brian, Tuesday afternoon as well as a couple of meals with them during the rest of the week. The last we heard they were heading down the old Route 66 on their way home to Nebraska.

Friendships are not necessarily part of the cure, but they are part of the healing process. The protons and the staff here at LLUMC are taking care of the cure; relationships provide venues for healing to take place. We are thankful for friends new and old that have shared in this experience and enriched out lives throughout our stay.

Saturdays typically provide us with the opportunity for new experiences. This time it was an outing to downtown Riverside and a visit to the Mission Inn which is a national historic landmark hotel and spa. After Thanksgiving begins their festival of lights in celebration of the Christmas season so we anticipate another visit there before we leave. Saturday evening we took advantage of our proton discount and enjoyed another performance by the San Bernardino Symphony. This time Robert Schumann’s finale symphonic work was featured along with the talents of young piano virtuoso Kyle Shafiee.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Off Ramp: Loma Linda Week 8

Week 8: Nov. 8 - Nov.14

Sunday the week started out for us with a jaunt to Trinity Church in Redlands for the early service and then it was off to Martha Green (cafĂ©) for brunch with our good friends visiting from Orlando. In the afternoon all four of us headed to Irvine where we spent the rest of the day celebrating with family and friends at my sister’s wedding. A fun by-product to the weekend was being introduced to a new game to us called Bananagrams. It’s a game similar to Speed Scrabble.

Treatments 28 through 32 went off without a hitch and moved us closer to the magic number of 45. Presently I am on track to be finished on December 4th. Until then the routine remains about the same: drink my 16 ounces of water, show up at the Level B waiting room, get changed into my oh so chic hospital gown, walk down the hall to Gantry 3, climb into my pod, receive my balloon, get two x-rays, count off 30 beeps from the Geiger counter indicating protons are being delivered, and then climb out and head back to my temporary home away from home.

Our self guided Boot Camp style workouts began this week now that we our on our own. The membership to the Dayson Center has proven to be a great asset for us.

At the Wednesday evening proton meeting we were privileged to have Bob Marckini as our guest speaker. His book “You Can Beat Cancer and You Don’t Need Surgery to Do It” was very influential in my decision to choose proton therapy. He is also the founder of the Brotherhood of the Balloon (BOB). This is an organization that provides support to prostate cancer patients around the world. Yes I am a BOB member. We are looking forward to attending the BOB Brunch this coming Sunday here at LLUMC.

Saturday we worked in an excursion to the Joshua Tree National Park. It is a little over an hour to the south. It is a beautiful high desert park and a favorite to rock climbers. We finally got a chance to wear some of our fall attire as the temperatures hovered in the upper 50’s. We wrapped up the evening with dinner at Citrone Restaurant and Bar, which is one of many great restaurants in the area. The best I can describe it is Californian influenced Italian cuisine.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Off Ramp: Loma Linda Week 7

Week 7: Nov. 1 - Nov.7

The weeks are flying by with 27 treatments under my belt. This week can be summed up as “relational.” It seems like all week long friends new and old crossed our paths. Sunday we started out by taking a trip down to Seal Beach for Diane to attend a wedding shower for my sister and for me to hang out with my Dad. It was a great day at the beach.

It was a bit bittersweet to wrap up Boot Camp this week. The main reason for the sense of sadness was mostly relational. Charles and Courtney have been great and we consider it a privilege to call them our friends. Our Boot Camp partner, Calvin, will be wrapping up his medical treatment soon so it was probably our last time to see him. We were able to spend some quality time with him Thursday afternoon sharing the “bonus” blessings from each of our times here at Loma Linda. It is obvious that we are each here for more than protons. We are determined to keep up our workouts and also maintain our connections with our Boot Camp troop. The sweet part about wrapping up Boot Camp is knowing we made it through it.

We also had the privilege of being blessed by a visit from some dear friends of ours from Orlando, Florida. Friday I was able to have them join me in Gantry 3 where Brian, the technician, introduced them to protons. Like all who see this firsthand, they were truly impressed with this technology.

Saturday it was off to Palm Springs for another day in the sun just hanging out with our good friends from Florida. Each day is a gift and we did unwrap the present.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Off Ramp: Loma Linda Week 6

Week 6: Oct. 25 - Oct. 31

Almost halfway there … at week's ends I am about halfway through the treatments. Next Monday is “hump day” and we will begin the home stretch. The daily treatment schedule pretty much goes on with little in the way to report. The treatment is exactly the same every day with the same proton dosage being administered. The only difference is the left side is done one day and the right side the next. The actual treatment time lasts about a minute and a half with 45 total sessions in the Gantry. So I guess it is safe to say the cancer curing process here takes only a little over an hour (1.5 x 45 = 67.5 minutes). The tech team in Gantry 3 is great. They are easy to get along with and very accommodating. The only time I see the doctor is every Thursday around 11:30 AM. Each time we see him he reassures us that all is going along per plan.

This was a week of “firsts” for us down here in beautiful Loma Linda. About mid-week the temperature actually pushed down to the chilly end of the thermometer. The winds picked up and the jackets came out. Wednesday was the first time I wore jeans. Up till now it has been all shorts weather. Wednesday night was the first night we used the heater in the Toyota; Thursday morning the gas heater kicked in for the first time; and we moved Boot Camp indoors for once. But not to worry … it is heading back up into the mid 80’s by the end of the week. The hummingbirds, sparrows and finches are still frequenting our feeders. We hear the constant reminders from the helicopters taking off and landing at the hospital that help is on the way.

There was a full slate of activities at LLUMC as the school of medicine celebrates its centennial this week. Friday night we joined in the celebration by attending an evening with Tim Zimmerman and The King’s Brass and enjoying a challenging message from Lee Strobel. We were also reminded of the mission of the school and medical center “to continue the healing and teaching ministry of Jesus Christ, ‘to make man whole.’”

Saturday morning we decided to continue in our participation of the centennial celebration by attending the Loma Linda University Church’s worship service. Were we in for a treat (without any of the tricks, of course). We were blessed by the music and the message beyond measure. A full orchestra and chorus consisting of current students and alumni contributed joyously and skillfully to the worship. Pastor Randy Roberts presented the truth of God’s word with the exhortation to embrace the vision of Christ in preaching, teaching and healing in our daily walk. Later in the afternoon we ventured back to the church to attend a service commemorating the legacy of Baby Fae. It was 25 years ago that her battle for life gripped the attention of the nation. Words cannot express the emotion and hope that filled the auditorium.

On a side note, as we look back at the “coincidences” we have encountered along the way a couple from Saturday stand out. At the Saturday morning worship service in a packed out auditorium we ended up sitting next to the nurse for the head of the proton department at the medical center. Following the service I shared my revelation regarding the actual treatment time for proton therapy in a small group. One of the former deans of the medical school chimed in that "we should to get that in next year's program." That afternoon, in an equally packed house, we sat next to a urologist who graduated from the medical school in the 60’s. He was very encouraging regarding our choice of proton treatment. It seems with each day we get a reminder or two that we are at “the right place at the right time.”