Stand down from the Alert 5!
Most of my military career was spent in Naval Aviation, nine of those years in helicopter squadrons with Search and Rescue missions which meant that we were always at a heightened state of readiness – Alert 5, Alert 15, and Alert 30. These alerts are the time we would have from receiving word to launch our alert aircraft until they had to actually be airborne. Alert 5 being the highest state of readiness meant we would have 5 minutes from getting the order to launch and getting an aircrew in the air for a rescue mission or to respond to hostile situations. Alert 30 was a more relaxed readiness posture, but you still had to be prepared for the worse case scenarios to arise. Cancer is like being on an alert status, it keeps you on edge because this evil disease can ramp up and down with a swiftness…
Loraine and I got up this morning still under an Alert 5 status in our heads. Her radiology appointment was this morning, so while we were excited to be getting an idea of what her treatments would be, there was still the trepidation of venturing into the unknown. I have said that cancer can take you on an emotional roller coaster ride, but in between those rides there is little down time in our house as we also having been caring for Loraine’s brother Howard for the last year. Howard has Hepatitis C, advanced cirrhosis of the liver along with liver cancer to boot. With two in the house with cancer, we have our hands full. Just when that emotional roller coaster we are on creeps back into the loading station, it launches again before ever coming to a complete stop.
To help ease the stress this morning I made us a special breakfast of steel cut oats cooked with Saigon cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. I added butter and Swerve brown sugar substitute to the oats and then drizzled a little sugar free maple syrup over the top. This would have been even better if I would have had some chopped pecans to add to it.
Once Loraine and I had eaten, we ventured off to Kansas City to meet Dr. Boersma, the radiology doctor who will be doing Loraine’s radiation treatments. Once there, we were taken back to an exam room almost immediately by a wonderful nurse who spoke very glowingly about the doctor. This kind woman really helped to settle our nerves by filling us in on as much information as she could. We are so thankful for all the thoughtful doctors and nurses we have encountered thus far.
The treatment plan.
Dr. Melisa Boersma gave me a good vibe as soon as she entered the examination room. My thoughts that she was truly down to earth was solidified when I noticed that she was wearing cowboy boots. Having lived in many different places, I know the idea of a woman wearing cowboy boots might sound strange, but here in the fly over country of the American mid-west, this is a sign that you are dealing with a straight shooter who has a very kind soul.
After an examination of Loraine’s incisions, Dr. Boersma began discussing the treatment plan on her part. It could not be said exactly when radiation treatments can begin because as of that moment, we still had not received word on the OncoType test results. Additionally, chemotherapy, if required would have to be completed before radiation can begin. But at least we now know how this part of her treatment will be done.
Loraine will be undergoing External Beam Radiation treatments. It is amazing how far medical science has come with computer technology. For all the times, I have thought technology is advancing too fast, I am also very thankful we have brilliant people who have been able to figure these things out. On her first treatment visit, there will not be any radiation involved. The first visit will be a dry run where the doctor and her technicians essentially get Loraine and the equipment all calibrated to each other in order for the radiation beam to be focused exactly where it needs to be with each and every visit that will be five days per week for six weeks in duration once they begin.
As custom motorcycle builders will create a jig in order to build frames that have true alignment, Doctor Boersma is essentially creating a jig for Loraine. To do this, Loraine will get three small tattooed dots in specific locations in order to get her body properly aligned for treatment. These tattoo’s will be nothing more than permanent marker points where steel beads will be stuck as guidance points for placement with a CT scan. Once the beads are in place, she will be placed into a CT Scan machine where the team can position her body. Her body will be in the exact same position with each treatment, there will be zero deviations of positioning, all the reference points will be stored in a computer for each use that is specific to Loraine.
Following what I will call the initial set up visit, Loraine will receive the treatments that are essentially like a powerful x-ray. Getting her positioned and the equipment set up will take longer than the procedure itself. The total time for each treatment visit is scheduled for only fifteen to twenty minutes maximum. Once her treatment is done for the day, she will be able to return to work. I’m sure her gracious employer will be happy about that! Prestige Home Health Care is owned by a wonderful couple, I cannot speak highly enough for them.
With external beam radiation there are very few side effects to be expected. There may be a decline in appetite, and a general feeling of fatigue, but this is not a sure thing. What is to be expected is once the course of treatments are coming to an end, there will be some skin irritation much like a sunburn. The doctor told us, this is actually a good sign that the radiation treatment is going as planned and the beam is hitting it’s target every time. There are a couple creams available to help with this, one being aloe vera based. Essentially, she might need a glorified sunburn ointment.
Dr. Boersma was very thorough and answered all of our questions. We left feeling good about the treatments, but still had the question hanging over our heads about whether or not chemo or hormonal treatments would be the order of the day. After the visit we were able to relax our posture to an Alert 15 status. We were able to rest a little easier but the doctor visits were not over for the day, we still had to do a follow up visit with Dr. Butler so she could examine the incisions once again.
Alert 30 Assumed!
After a brief nap, Loraine and I began our drive over to see Dr Butler. On our way there, we got a call from the medical oncologist, Dr. Satelli, who gave Loraine the good word we have been waiting for.
Praise God above, our prayers were answered!
The OncoType test results are back and Loraine will be able to undergo hormonal therapy treatments rather than having to do chemo-therapy! Of course we are not out of the woods yet, but this is great news for us. Chemo is such an ugly treatment with all the sickness involved. Being real about it, chemo is akin to poisoning the body to kill off cancer cells. Chemo kills cancer and healthy cells alike. The difference being that cancer cells cannot repair themselves as healthy cells are able to. We are very thankful that Loraine will not have to go through such an ugly treatment protocol. The next part of this good news is the hormonal treatments can be given at the same time as radiation treatments. She does not have to wait much longer now for treatments to begin! All that is required now is Loraine needs to be fully healed from the surgery, and she is getting there.
Once at Dr. Butler’s office, she examined Loraine and as a precautionary measure recommended she see a wound care specialist for her incision. The incisions are healing fine, but with some of the dead skin that comes from a flap type wound, she wants a wound care specialist to trim back some of the dead skin and to give her specialized ointments to help with further healing. The last bit of good news for the day is Dr. Butler released Loraine to return to work once she has seen the wound care specialist. With radiation and hormonal treatments, my dear wife can be able to get her life back to as normal as possible under the circumstances. She will be able to work during these treatments, where should she have had to undergo chemo-therapy, there is no way she could have worked. My sweet wife has been a hard worker her entire life, and she is not one to ever sit still. I cannot help but to believe that with the grace of God, and life returning back to normal, she is going to kick this third cancer in the butt good and hard. Loraine is a fighter, she is a damn tough woman. She will prevail in this fight!
We are so thankful and blessed.
We are so thankful and proud of how our daughter Jennifer and our three beautiful granddaughters have come through during this time of need. They have brought meals to us that we can heat in the crock pot to ease our stress. And, to keep Grandma’s spirits high, they have been making arts and crafts together. I love seeing my girls enjoying each other the way they have been. I only wish our daughter Molly and granddaughter Nishi were here too. As it is, Loraine gets calls daily from Germany, we know that if they were closer, they would be here too.
In life, we can be knocked down. Then to add insult to injury, we can be kicked before we get back up. Sometimes cancer can feel like a steel toed boot smashing into the ribs when you are down. But, the pain of cancer is greatly mitigated by a faith in God, and the loving support of family and friends. To all who have checked in on us, and kept us in your thoughts and prayers, we love each and every one of you. God bless, and thank you for reading.