Friday, August 27, 2010

"I Refuse to Worry"

(Friday, August 27, 2010) “I Refuse to Worry”
I’m not sure I can handle another “rest week.” The roller coaster ride continues. Sometimes you are slowly climbing up with a pretty good view of everything around you. Things seem under control and manageable. But you know that a drop may be just over the horizon or just around the turn. I'm not a big fan of roller coasters and on the rare occasion when I have ridden one, I hold on tight and try to focus on what's ahead. It's been that type of week with this "nasty little disease." I'm holding on tight and trying to stay focused.

Sunday afternoon I passed out again. Thankfully Adam was at the house and when I felt I was “losing it,” he "carried" me to the bedroom. He and Patra quickly drove me to Moffitt. I wondered if my "driver" would be my professionally trained son (law enforcement defensive driving courses) or "Danica Patra." Adam deferred to Mom - probably a wise decision. (My eyes were closed because of my condition. I wonder if his eyes were closed during the drive.)

Tests confirmed I was dehydrated and my potassium level was very low. We “closed down” the B.M.T. (Bone Marrow Transplant) Clinic Sunday night about 7:30 p.m.

Monday morning I was still dehydrated so it was back to Moffitt for more fluids, proteins and potassium. It was decided that I should have a PICC line (Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter.) The good news is that I no longer have to be stuck with a needle to have I.V. line(s) placed every time I go for blood work, fluids, chemo-therapy, etc. I think my veins join with me in giving thanks for the PICC line.

To keep me hydrated, home health care was brought in and I am receiving I.V. fluids daily. They trained Patra so she is not only my primary care-giver but also my nurse. She gives me I.V. fluids and flushes my PICC line daily. It is amazing how “user friendly” they have made these medical aids and she is doing great keeping me “tuned up.” (She does not have to give me any injections. Thank you, Lord!) A home health nurse or Moffitt nurse will clean and change the dressing on the PICC line. Andrew is pretty excited that Grandpa has his own I.V. pole at the house.

I won’t have my PICC line for long. Next Thursday, I am scheduled for a procedure to insert a port.

As I received my I.V.s Monday and waited for the PICC line to be inserted, I was anxious. Since the end of 2009, Patra and I have made many trips to Moffitt. There are moments in this journey when you can't help but get tired and discouraged. I recently read a biography of Oswald Chambers ("My Utmost for His Highest") and he would often tell the troops he served while in Egypt during the difficult days of World War I “I refuse to worry.” Repeating and thinking about Chambers' saying and Psalms 56:3 "What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee" brought me a great deal of comfort and peace. (I am no Oswald Chambers so the words of my prayer were more like "God, I am trying to refuse to worry, but it is really hard. Would you please help me?")

The certified PICC nurse specialist did a wonderful job. Using ultrasound visualization, she located a large vein in my upper arm and inserted a plastic tubing catheter which runs up my arm, across my chest and into the superior vena cava near my heart. A chest x-ray confirmed the correct placement of the PICC line.

Looking at my vein on the ultrasound and realizing that a wire and catheter would thread their way through my vein and stop at a point near my heart, I was thankful for an incredibly wonderful Creator and Designer. Right now, my body is nothing to brag about. My weight is down to 167.5 (that’s high school thin and close to 40 pounds below my "normal" weight.) But I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

I was designed by a loving God. Because of God's design, doctors are able to use their training and knowledge to accomplish procedures like installing a PICC line. They can rely on the design of the Great Physician. Laying in the hospital bed I contemplated the amazing way God designed us. Last year I read a book, written by a physician in England, which speaks of the wonder of the human body. When I arrived home, I read again the following portion of the book dealing with the human heart. I thank God for His amazing, incredible, wondrous work of creation.
The heart is an astonishingly powerful pump, capable of propelling the entire volume of the body’s five litres of blood through the ‘pipeline’ of arteries and veins that, stretched end to end, would circle the globe five times – 100,000 miles in all. This ‘pump’ may be no bigger than an orange, nestling in the palm of the hand and weighing just a quarter of a pound, but it generates enough force to propel a fountain of blood against gravity six feet into the air, and in doing so utilizes as much energy as the legs of a marathon runner pounding the pavement…. And for good measure, this masterpiece of engineering efficiency should with luck run the two and a half billion cycles of a lifetime without maintenance or lubrication, or the need to replace its four sets of valves, which open and close four thousand times every hour. James Le Fanu, Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves, p. 121.
Have you thought lately about how special you are? You are fearfully and wonderfully made!

Patra and I would appreciate your prayers for our grandson, Andrew (5) and David and Jenny. Andrew is scheduled to have additional MRIs done at All Children's Hospital on Thursday. When I look at him, it is easy to see that he is wonderfully made. What a God we serve!

Until next Friday. God willing.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Walking on Water"

(Friday, August 20, 2010) “Walking on Water”
This is always a busy and exciting time of year and even this “nasty little disease” can’t change that. Andrew (5) started kindergarten on Wednesday. When his first day was done, he told his mother that he really liked his school and therefore there was no reason for him to go to college. We are keeping Austin (4) for a couple of days while Emily is in Texas taking comprehensive exams (written and oral) for her Ph.D. Adam starts his second year of law school Monday. (He is doing much better than I did. I have mixed feelings about that. He is doing MUCH better than I did!) Adam’s wife, Sharon starts teaching next week so Patra will sometimes watch Avery until Adam picks her up after class.

All the talk in our family about school made me realize how much I miss teaching. Normally, I would be getting ready for a new year of teaching Community Bible Study and a new semester teaching negotiation and mediation at the law school. And, just so I didn’t get bored, I would be teaching my adult Bible study class at church. While my plate was probably a little too full, in less than a year, all of those opportunities to teach have disappeared. While I am physically unable to teach presently, God has graciously opened another door of ministry through this blog.

I made it to our Bible study class party last Saturday night. It was great to talk to a number of people. Thanks to Steve and Bobbie for their leadership, hospitality and particularly thanks for making such a comfortable recliner available! Thanks to all of the class members who are such prayer partners and encouragers.

This was a good week. I completed the chemo-therapy portion of cycle #2 and next week is a “rest week.” With every treatment the last two weeks, I have been given fluids and proteins and that has definitely helped me stay hydrated. I am really going to try and avoid any emergency runs to Moffitt or an E.R. We will be doing some testing next week which may give information to the doctors about whether or not the treatment is working. Your prayers would be appreciated.

I am regularly reminded how many people are experiencing “storms” in their lives. For some of us, it is an illness or a disease. For others, it is financial or relational or legal. In the Gospel of Matthew, we are told about an incident where the disciples experienced a “storm.” (Matthew 14:22-36)

Briefly, Jesus had instructed the disciples to take a boat and he would meet them later. Unfortunately, while at sea, they were battered by a storm. Not only were they frightened by the storm, they were also frightened when they saw Jesus walking on the water toward them. They thought they saw a ghost. (Apparently they didn't think Holy Ghost.) After Jesus reassures them, Peter asks for permission to come to Jesus. Permission is granted (“Come”) and Peter initially does very well walking on water. But as Matthew 14:30 points out, Peter became afraid and began to sink. He prayed a quick prayer, “Lord, save me!”

I would like to share three thoughts about this story. (It is a rich story and there are certainly many more thoughts and truths to be gleaned from it.)

Sometimes when you are in a storm, God wants you to get out of the boat and do something exceptional. I believe that God still wants to use me. He is going to get me out of the boat of this “nasty little disease” and He is going to let me “walk on water.” I believe that God is going to enable me to do something that I can’t even define at this moment that will be beyond what I believe I will be able to do. I'm praying that I will again be able to teach a Bible study class.

For me to get out of the boat and walk on water, I’m going to need to trust Him. At some point, when He tells me to “come” or to “go” or to “do,” I’m going to have to get out of the boat and obey. As long as I keep my eyes on Jesus, I’ll be OK, but when I take my eyes off Him, I’ll sink. Again this week, I was reminded how this is a daily journey. The other night I woke up and began to think about the future and my mind wandered where it shouldn’t go. (Sometimes my mind wants to go even deeper in the tall weeds than the disease has taken me.) I was sinking. Fortunately, I was able to regain my focus, spent some time praying and thinking about God’s promises to me. His mercies were new in those early morning hours. It is my prayer that I will be faithful to His call when it comes.

God answers prayers, even short ones. When he was sinking, Peter prayed, “Lord, save me!” I am becoming a master of the short prayer. “God, give me strength for today.” “Father, thank you.” “God, I am afraid.” “You are so faithful.” “Please help me.” “Protect my family.” He hears them all.
Getting out of the boat may be hard. Some days, it takes a herculean effort to get out of the recliner. I have always thought that scripture shows Jesus to have a keen sense of humor. The other night as I was thinking about this scripture, I thought of Jesus calling to me. "Bob, it's time to get out of the boat. There is something I want you to do. It will be OK. Just get up, get out, start walking, and keep your eyes on me." As I looked at Jesus, I began to smile. In His hands he held a bag of Oreo cookies and potato chips. Looking at Jesus always cheers my heart. (Regular readers of this blog will know that Patra has used Oreo cookies and potato chips to motivate, encourage and reward me in my recovery and therapy.)

Until next Friday. God willing.

Friday, August 13, 2010

"My Daddy says"

(Friday, August 13, 2010) “My Daddy says"
Yogi Berra, the great philosopher and baseball player once famously said with respect to baseball, “90% of the game is half mental.” While trying to make sense of that gives me a headache, Yogi may be right. “90% of dealing with this “nasty little disease” is half mental.”

Yogi may make more sense than the rest of my blog. It is late Thursday night (waaay past my bed time) and Patra and I just got home from Moffitt. We didn't leave the Infusion Center until 9:00 p.m. Please excuse any spelling or grammatical errors. Also, if anything doesn't make sense, make up your own ending!

One reason you have to make this journey a day at a time is that each day is so different. This week started off much better than last. When I arrived for my injection Monday, the nurse told me the doctor had ordered fluids and protein to hopefully prevent dehydration. Not only did I feel much stronger but it seemed that the side effects were much improved. I felt really good most of the day Tuesday.

I made a brief appearance Tuesday night at the leaders’ meeting for Community Bible Study. What a blessing! These are men that I have the highest respect for. To have them pray for me means a great deal. I pray that God will bless their study in a special way.

Wednesday morning two of my former law partners and their legal assistants came to the house for a visit. These are special people. I have wonderful memories of practicing law with them and it was good to see them and catch up on their families as well. I was still feeling pretty good.

Wednesday night I didn't feel quite as good. I actually ran a low grade fever. Thursday morning the fever was gone but I told Patra that I was glad I was going to get more fluids.

By the time we got to Moffitt, Patra thought I should use a wheelchair but I confess, I was being stubborn and wanted to walk by myself. When the nurse took my vital signs, she wasn't as diplomatic as Patra. She wanted me in a wheelchair because she didn't want to be picking me off the floor. I thought about trying to negotiate with her, but when I saw how firm she appeared, I was afraid that if I objected, she might curse me, grab some beer from the refrigerator, deploy the chute and quit her job. (Sorry, I guess that only applies to flight attendants. I told you - it is late and I am tired.) In any event, I was from that point on, in a wheelchair.

When I was called back for my chemo-therapy, we turned the corner and one of the supervisory nurses saw me and asked my nurse for my chart. "He doesn't look good." (If I had felt better I might have been offended.) "His lips don't have any color." "Is he always that dark shade of gray?" She immediately contacted my doctor to order additional blood work. Turns out her intuition based on years of experience was accurate. The blood work showed that since Monday, my hemoglobin had dropped significantly. I needed a transfusion.

So, it ended up being another long day in the Infusion Center. Ultimately they placed 2 different I.V. lines. My pole with the bags got very crowded looking. As best I remember, in addition to the anti-nausea medication, my I.V.s included steroids, fluids, Velcade, albumin (protein), 2 units of blood, and a diuretic. (I think they add the diuretic just for fun to watch me try and manage the I.V. pole and lines while walking to the bathroom every 10 minutes.)

There is no way to get discouraged or feel sorry for yourself when you see and meet the heroes at Moffitt. In the chair next to me this afternoon, there was an older man who has been walking through the tall weeds for more than 20 years. As he told me his story, I felt like the young recruit in boot camp learning how to salute, march and shoot the weapons. He was the Master Sergent who had been to battle. He told me "war stories" from the real shooting war that he had been engaged in. He shared insights on how I am to fight this war.

Tomorrow will be another day. Because 90% of this fight is half-mental, I'm banking on tomorrow being a good day!

Regardless of what the day may bring, Patra and I are blessed every day by the grandchildren. They mentally give us strength for the day. We can’t believe how quickly they are growing. Andrew (5) starts kindergarten next week; Austin (4) is using words I’m not sure I can spell; Megan (9 months) started walking this week; Avery (9 months) is definitely going to be the world’s prettiest golf-playing (her Dad), ice skating (her Mom), princess.

(Here's a quick video (35 seconds) of the grandkids "on the move")

Andrew and Austin love their Daddies. It is exciting to see and hear them talk about their Dads. Whenever we go to a new place, if James is not with us, Austin says “I want to bring my Daddy here.” “My Daddy would really like this store.” He already understands that if something breaks, Grandpa is not going to be of much help. He believes his Daddy (and maybe Grandma) can fix anything.

I almost got myself in trouble with Andrew this week. He and David have been watching a lot of baseball this summer (Go Rays!) and he has become a Rays' fan. If he is swimming and there is a game on, he regularly comes to the door and asks me what the score is.

The other day he and I were watching a game together and a Rays' player hit a grand slam home run.

“Grandpa, the Rays are ahead 4-0.”

“Buddy, the score is 4-1.”

My Daddy said if there were 3 men on base and the Rays' hitter smacks it out of the park, the score is 4-0.”

“Buddy, the other team already had a run.”

“Grandpa, my Daddy said if there are 3 men on base and the Rays' hitter smacks it out of the park, the Rays get 4 runs.”

“That’s right.”

“And Grandpa, my Daddy says if the Rays smack it out of the park, the other team doesn’t get any runs.”

“That’s correct.”

“Grandpa, what’s the score?”

“4-0. Your Daddy has taught you well.”

“I know.”

Do I see another lawyer in the family? More importantly, when Andrew says, "My Daddy says," he is showing a respect, a love, an admiration, an appreciation for his earthly father. David is laying a foundation so that someday Andrew will say with respect, love, admiration and appreciation, "My Heavenly Father says..." To all the fathers of young children, never forget how important your role is in your child's life!

Until next Friday. God willing.

Friday, August 6, 2010

"The GIFT of an Illness"

(Friday, August 6, 2010) “The GIFT of an Illness”
This didn’t turn out to be the week of “rest” I envisioned. I was hoping my “rest week” would at least mean no trips to a doctor, hospital or Moffitt.

I didn’t feel good last Friday and I really didn’t feel good Saturday. We thought it was just my body reacting to the end of the first cycle of chemo-therapy. Emily drove home Saturday morning and the plan was for all the kids and grandkids to come over that afternoon. (One of the great joys for a parent is when your grown children enjoy being with each other.)

By the time Emily, Adam and Sharon got to the house Saturday, I was “in bed.” When I got up and tried to be part of the family, I “passed out.” (I hate it when that happens.) Fortunately, I was sitting at the time and Patra was right there to prevent me from falling and hurting myself. Because we have been through this a few times now, as I was coming back to reality, Patra had the doctor's role down pat, asking me if I knew the name of the president.

These episodes are hard on Patra. Some of my actions are similar to having a seizure. My eyes roll in my head and there is involuntary twitching of my extremities. While I am only “out of it” for a short period of time before regaining consciousness, she has a difficult time getting over the picture in her mind of “losing me.”

Because I “passed out,” we were instructed by Moffitt to go directly to the E.R. Adam loaded me in the car and he and Patra took me to the E.R. We were taken to an isolation room (bone marrow transplant patients should be protected from germs) and we had wonderful, caring nurses and an excellent doctor. We provided a report from the Mayo Clinic which gave a concise history of my situation which the doctor read before seeing me. When he walked into the room he had a good handle on my situation.

Once again this “nasty little disease” had caused me to become dehydrated and I needed fluids. From my history and clinical presentation, it seemed clear what the problem was so the doctor didn’t want to put me through a bunch of superfluous tests and procedures. I received I.V. fluids and then got out of the hospital before being exposed to any new germs or diseases. Within a few hours I was back home and although still “in bed” at least I was able to be near the kids and grandkids.

I didn't improve Sunday or Monday and by Tuesday I was orthostatic (blood pressure readings confirming dehydration) so it was back to Moffitt for more I.V. fluids and protein. It turned out to be a long day. Patra and I were the last patients in the B.M.T. Clinic, finally leaving for home about 7:30 p.m.

While it was a difficult week, I keep thinking about the “gift” God has given me. It is difficult to explain my feelings in this regard in a blog post. Romans 8:28 (see above) says that God causes all things (including “nasty little diseases”) to work together for "good" to those who love Him. This is a difficult concept if you really think about it. I do not for a moment believe that God made me sick or that being sick is a good thing. But I firmly believe that God can take this bad situation and use it for His “good.” If I allow Him, if I TRUST HIM, He can and will cause it to be used for His glory and my benefit.

Even after a difficult week, I appreciate the way God is blessing me through the “gift” of a “nasty little disease.”

Not only am I living my life “day by day” but I appreciate each and every day. I do not take any day for granted. As much as I physically can, I am enjoying each day. That is a “gift.”

Patra and I talk about important things every day. We don’t take each other for granted even for a minute now. That is a “gift.”

I have an opportunity, a freedom, an incentive, to give my children advice on life, faith, family and friends. (Because I am “sick” they feel an obligation to listen.) What a “gift.” Unfortunately for them, I still have a “lot to say” so they need to “buckle up.” (One night when Adam was in high school and going out, I started in with “parental advice.” Adam smiled and suggested that it might be easier if I just referred to my lectures by number. Respect a girl – lecture #23. Watch out for the "mob mentality" when you’re in a large crowd – lecture #42. Never get in a car if the driver is drinking – lecture #65. His suggestion was that we could save time if I would just call out the numbers like a football play. “Adam, #23, #42, #65 and whatever you do, don't forget #99.”)

I appreciate people more than I ever have in my life. What a “gift.”
I have renewed friendships because people have heard about my illness and they cared enough to contact me. What a "gift."

Had I not gotten sick, I would never have written a blog. Writing the blog has been so therapeutic. I find peace and comfort sitting at the computer and attempting to express in words truths or lessons God is teaching me. Struggling to put my thoughts and feelings into words makes things clearer in my own mind. (I have never kept a journal or a diary but I can imagine that people who do would have similar thoughts about the benefits they receive.) Through the blog, I have made new friends. What a "gift."

My faith has never been so real, so close, so personal, so meaningful as it has since I got sick. That is a “gift.”

I hope you are not walking through any "tall weeds." I hope life is good and you are enjoying the blessings of God in your life. Scripture says that God causes all things (even the good things!) to work together for good to those who love Him. Sometimes it is harder to see the “gift” during the good times. During the good times there may be less motivation to look for God's involvement in our lives. Regardless of our circumstances at the moment, we don’t want to miss the "gift" God has given us.

We teach our children that it is important to express thanks when they receive a “gift.”

God, I don’t understand everything that is going on. I do know that You are in charge and that You are always good. Your Word is true and Your Word says You cause all things to work together for "good" to those who love You. In the midst of this journey I am seeing you work and I am beginning to appreciate the "gift" You have given me. Help me to understand more clearly. For what I do understand about this "gift," “Thank you.”

So ready or not, “rested” or not, we start cycle #2 Monday.

Until next Friday. God willing.

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