The Bell

October 6, 2018

Bobbi- What a 15 month whirlwind this has been. Chemo Abraxane, Gemzar, hair loss, no eyebrows, eyelashes, completely stripped of recognition. The only control I had was to shave my head when it was literally coming out in clumps. I remember walking from the bed to the kitchen and not sure if I would make it to the nearest chair. Having to sit on the floor of the shower because of not being strong enough to stand. My first thoughts when told I had pancreatic cancer were I will not be around in 6 months, a deadly diagnosis. How I felt then I did not care if I had a time limit on life. When on the brink the human spirit seems to dig deep within to survive. There was a chance that chemo would shrink my tumor and a Whipple surgery would be possible. How can one embrace a huge surgical procedure? I questioned if this would even occur. Next scan liver spots now facing possible metastatic disease, the lifeline was shorter. At time of biopsy spots are gone. WTH . More chemo. I have literally gone through health hell. When told Chemo indefinitely I was done, no more. The day after my decision the surgeon called, said scans were reviewed and I was a candidate for surgery. How would I endure this when I could barely stand? I trained starting with baby steps. Then I was walking a mile, at times having to sit on the side of the road to make it back. I had surgery March 27th and was out of the hospital March 30th. Was I ready to leave the hospital? I put on a warriors face and said I can and will do this, though was unsure. I walked and never stopped. One month after surgery I rode a radiation bus daily for 30 trips along with chemo, with my brother Steve fighting his cancer battle. That period of time we grew even closer. His wife Debbie always with encouraging love.

After my first chemo and radiation treatment, after the surgery, was spent in a motel getting sick for 12 hours. Probably should have gone to the hospital but was seeing doctor next day anyway. I was told I would have 4 more cycles of single agent chemo after chemo radiation was complete. Finally had about an inch of hair and lost it twice so I guess three times the charm. Remember pulling at my hair on day 14 and was shocked when none fell out. Maybe I will luck out this time. By this point the once revered hair mattered little. Never thought I would be writing at this point. Didn’t expect to make it through the ordeal but am so looking forward to my final chemo. Ring the bell. I did not fight alone there are too many champions behind me. My sister Lori and husband Jim came to many appointments and comforted me more times than can be counted. Remember being at her house when I was extremely ill lying in bed together, just being sisters. Our son Sean and wife Jen, who made many trips from Wisconsin with the grandkids were a HUGE motivation. Weekly messages with positive inspiring words from Jens Mother helped. Sharing calls with Shay, our Daughter halfway across the world going to school was a blessing.

My sister Chrissy always called after each treatment meant so much. Visits with brother Mike kept me cheerful and laughing. Meeting with my mother each week, with some really deep talks kept me grounded and feeling positive. All the friends in Wausau were in my corner! The doctors, nurses, social workers, financial assistant coordinator, the nutritionist who provided me with protein drinks and vitamins. The Hope Lodge in Grand Rapids was amazing, along with Surgeon Dr. Jill Onesti. Oncologist Dr. Elena Copolla, Becky Tom NP, and Dr. Boike, Andra, Wendy, from Karmanos were true miracle workers! I would have perished without everyone’s help. When humanity seems to be at all time lows there are people out there.

And of course Mike, my husband. Whose wise words of “worry does not change outcomes” will always stick in my mind when I get too far into the future with it. He was my trainer and coach. And he always told others we were oath keepers not caretakers when the word was brought up. We battled his serious health issues for 7 years, with me doing the same. Guess we do things big at our house, cancer and heart disease. Know his endurance was limited but he made meals, shopped, laundry, shaved my head (and his own), and many sleepless nights looking over me while I slept. Drove 180 miles once a week for over a year. Called hospitals, doctors, loved me, massaged my aching muscles and bones, the list goes on.

I just know today I am here and will spend my remaining days appreciating life. It is not what you have but who you have in your lives. I certainly didn’t fight this alone.

October 11th, 2018

The day finally arrived. We were in Petoskey just a couple days ago, I was the speaker at a survivors meeting, and was unsure what to share. I knew it was a good sign to be speaking at such a meeting. It really dawned on me that I was in fact now a survivor! I still had one more treatment and it’s all I could think about! And today was the day! Lori and Jim met us there, I had the first nurse I started out with, Melissa, and in the exact same chair and room of the first chemo treatment. After the treatment it felt like a ton of weight was lifted off my shoulders. There were many hugs, and when I rang the bell joy never felt before went through my body! We celebrated by going out to a wonderful deli. It feels so good to be alive.

The ride here was stormy and windy. The ride back the same until a giant rainbow appeared the closer we got to home. It was an amazing sight. The timing of it was like an out of the body experience.

There will still be future scans and doctor appointments. No big deal. Today was a good day, no… it was a great day!

October 9th, 2018

Mike- Bobbi spoke at a survivors group today, sharing her story. Many had tears. From barely being able to walk last Christmas to the woman today is a total transformation. So many thanks to everyone! During the talk it sunk in that we were very close to the end of this journey. I was so proud of her using her story to now helping others with their journey.

October 11th, 2018

Seeing Bobbi ring the bell today, having completed all treatments, was an unexplainable feeling. What a long 15 months it’s been. Over 10,000 miles traveled and we are finally done. Lori and Jim met us at the infusion center which was extra nice. Lori presented her with beautiful flowers and the entire experience felt surreal. When we arrived home, and alone we hugged and tears rolled down both our cheeks. Her writings did an excellent job sharing what took place. Glad we have a happy ending. So very proud of her. So grateful for this new chapter. So appreciative for all who have stood by our side with compassion and love. Thank you. Thank you Karmanos!

Today I’am a survivor! To all reading this I hope this inspires you in your battles. The worse odds and statistics matter little. Fight like you’ve never have before and lean on the lives around you. Don’t worry about tomorrow, just get through the one second, minute, hour, and the day you are in.

Home

We returned home on the Monday evening, after 2 weeks in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bobbi is healing excellently. The Whipple procedure went very well. Having Sean here has been a big help! The stay at the Hope Lodge, which we’ll be featuring in the next post was amazing.

We met with her surgeon before returning home and she explained what the results of all the pathology were. Here pancreatic tumor was beaten down to the size of a grape from the intense chemotherapy regiment, and removed. It once was the size of a walnut. 29 lymph nodes were taken out, all negative for cancer cells.

The tumor was stuck to her portal vein so there are a couple of cancer cells still adhered to it. Bobbi will now undergo 2-3 more months of chemotherapy, in addition to 5 weeks of daily radiation to whip these out. This will take place 4 to 6 weeks from now. The procedures will take place in Petoskey again. Her surgeon is an amazing doctor and she called Bobbi her “Rockstar”.

Intake of food is a hit and miss type of experience. Some cause nausea and doesn’t stay down, but considering the type of operation this isn’t unusual the surgeon said. It’ll be awhile before things settle. Her diabetes has improved since the operation. On Sunday we visited with her sister Chrissy and her husband Jeff. It was a well needed visit! It was nice to get away and enjoy their company. We also had an opportunity to visit with her niece and her kids! It was a cheerful time. When Bobbi became tired we returned to the Lodge and went to bed early.

We are feeling optimistic about everything. Today I went shopping for nutritional soft foods, supplements, and called her cancer team in Petoskey. Her appointment there will be on April 25th. Will be a consultation visit and to set up appointments for the future.

When we got home cards from friends filled the mailbox! Thank you! She is doing well, sleeping right now, but we’re slowly getting back into the groove of things. I can’t express enough how helpful it’s been to have Sean here! There were a lot of positive things that took place and having him here with us has definitely been one! Steve, Bobbi’s brother, also underwent major surgery for cancer a couple days after hers and is home now too. What a couple weeks of unsteady waters.

We are feeling very grateful for everything and everybody. The next couple of months will be challenging but it is what it is. Got to roll with the great news, think positive, get rest, and take on the next pitch. Told her we’ll be home soon and that’s where we are now! Home!

Surgery Today

Went to hospital for Bobbi to register at 7:30. Sean came with us. Jim, lori, Jeff and Chrissy soon arrived. At 8:30 they took her back to prep then allowed us to visit with her for an hour. Bobbi was cheerful and hiding her real emotions behind humor.

We’d look at each other and had a hard time not tearing up at the same time. Monitors were hooked up, wires, things I had no idea what they were. As she visited I simply rubbed the side of her head where new hair was starting. We spoke the same language to each other with our eyes. I remained quiet, taking in everything that was going on. Wanted her to spend the time with her family and son. The surgeon came in and explained what was going to take place, said a prayer around the bed. I was as at a loss for words. The journey has been hell and she has fault so hard to live and never balked this entire time with countless trips of chemo and pre-operative instructions. She truly is a warrior. The week leading up to this was difficult. Having the kids visit helped a lot. Now everything is resting on text messages that the surgical room is sending letting me know what’s going on.

The first text said the surgery begin at 11:18. The first thing the surgeon is doing is checking her liver out to doubly make sure there are no tumors. Then the procedure will take place.

Second text at 12:11 said no spots on liver. Surgery is continued.

I’m in the hospital chapel as I write this. The next thing I knew 5 or 6 people came in and a service began. Lasted about 20 minutes. Didn’t know when to stand, sit, kneel, or what to say back as it seemed everyone said the same thing by memory at certain times. Respectfully tried to do the same. With Easter this Sunday I think it was in relation to it. Pastor talked about Judas.

All of this feels surreal right now. My every thought is on Bobbi and flashbacks of simpler times. I’m so fortunate to have our paths cross 25 years ago. This experience has brought us closer in a million ways. About 80 minutes have passed and still quite a long wait to go.

Going to get something to eat now, meet back up with everyone. Know many are praying for her and in their thoughts. Many well wishes received this morning. A very touching one was sent by her nephew Cole. It meant a great deal to both of us.

5:51pm – Surgery is done. A complete success. All areas around were clean. Portal vein area inflamed. No ICU unit. Will be up and talking in 2 hours. Will be taking it easy today with rest, tomorrow walking. Good 3 to 4 days with drains. Everything that had to go right went right. Thank God. Twisty is gone. 100% successful! Not out of the woods yet but certainly see the trail and sunlight. Back in the chapel giving thanks. Thank you to everyone. When the going got tough you helped her in ways no others could!

Update March 28, 2018

Doing better than expected. Numbers all look good. No complications. Walking a lot, trying to do everything herself with no help but you know how she is! Miss. determination woman. Watching her sleep today was nice. She had a calm look that I haven’t seen in a long time. Family was here visiting and a good friend she grew up with. So glad Twisty had its ass kicked and out of there. Will continue to update this post with news. Thank you for the love and messages here on and on Facebook. She’ll have a few more months of chemotherapy when healed. Not sure what cocktail blend or type, all that will be decided later I’m sure.

March 31, 2018,

Sean and I went to the hospital yesterday morning and quickly learned that she was cleared to leave! Unbelievable. 70 some hours after surgery and she walks out the door. Last night she walked the hallways here at the Lodge and watched CD movies available from their large selection in a study room.

About 5:00am I woke to find her out of bed and sitting in the recliner. Asked her how long she’d been up and she said only a few minutes! Somehow or another I just knew she wasn’t in bed.

Today her sister Chrissy visited and spent some good quality time together. Sean went to Meijers food market and stocked up with soft foods. Bobbi also decided to tackle 3 sets of stairs! I was like….WTF? Seriously? It felt so good to sleep together. We have nothing planned for the next week. We leave Grand Rapids in 9 days after seeing her surgeon for follow up visit. Things are going very well. She is getting up and down like nothing took place.

 

Grand Rapids

IMG_2005September 12, 2017
What a busy week. On Labor Day we packed the car and preceded to Grand Rapids, Mercy Hospital. Bobbi had her CAT done but hadn’t received any information on it yet. Her cancer team in Grand Rapids told us about the “Hope Lodge” a block away from the hospital. It cost nothing to stay there, sponsored by the American Cancer Society. I thought no way. We were a long ways from home and had no idea how we’d afford the journey. Like millions of other families we lived month to month on her social security. I was prepared to simply sleep in the car at night. Wasn’t a big deal. The big deal was what was taking place inside my wife’s body.

The hospital first wanted us there on a Tuesday for a imaging test called EUS for staging of the cancer. This would provide the information that haunted us. The test was completed and the next few days until Friday seemed like an eternity of time. The Hope Lodge was extremely comforting. Everyone there was fighting cancer and were battlers. It felt surreal walking into the doors. A kind lady named Stacy greeted us at the door and took us on a tour. There was a exercise room, reading room, billiards table, and a huge kitchen area for meals. The rooms were nice and very clean. What more could one wish for during this tense time? Guests were able to cook meals. Refrigerators were assigned to each family and one room had shelves stocked with different foods from the kindness of others. We can’t say enough good about this place. Everyone was kind and supportive. Meeting other cancer patients was good. Learning of their own personal battles helped a lot. We certainly all have our mountains to climb. She and her sister Chrissy, who lived about 45 minutes away went out together for the day on Thursday. The visit picked up her spirits and helped pass the time before the meeting. The wait was torture for us. Bobbi was experiencing nausea and stomach pain. The nights were long. Shay is going to school in Australia, which is a 12 hours time difference so it was nice messaging with her in the deep of it. During the day we did the same with Sean and Jen, in addition to Bobbi’s siblings. Each helped us a great deal. Everyone was concerned and supportive. What a situation our family was suddenly confronted with.

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On Friday we met with her main doctor, a lady named Jill. She explained the results of the different tests and what our options were. The tumor was located on the top of her pancreas, which was more positive than in other areas. Because it was in this area, blocking her gallbladder duct, Bobbi’s body showed that there was something wrong. The change in skin color, the nausea, the blood sugar numbers bouncing all over the place, not to mention the weight loss. All symptoms that told her to get in and see our doctor. Some people dealing with this type of cancer get little advanced warning. Which in turn makes it more difficult to catch and treat. The CAT scan showed no spreading of the disease. The best course of action would be chemotherapy and then a surgery named ‘whipple’. The goal was to shrink the tumor and stop any cells from spreading, and when it was safe to surgically remove it. We’d began with 2 months of chemo, have another CAT scan, and see if it did in fact shrink the tumor. If so a month would be needed for all the chemo to leave her body and surgery. A major surgery. After this more chemo. A total of six months. Once each week, for three weeks in a row and then a week off. The chemo treatments will take place in Petoskey, Michigan. About an hour and 45 minutes away. On the way home we stopped at Lori’s and Jim’s house for a couple of days. Could think of no better place to shelter us from the storm. She’s close with everyone in her family. Mike and Steve, her younger brothers, and Lori and Chrissy her younger sisters. her father passed away some years back, of cancer, and that is still fresh in everyones minds and heart. Her mother, Betty,  are close as well. Its been a very emotional three weeks for everyone.

First a port will be placed into her chest. This is a tube where the Chemo will be dripped into. We are waiting for the local hospital here in the Soo to call us on the date. On Friday we travel to Petoskey for our first consultation visit, in just a few days.

On Sunday we talked with Sean and Jen. They had told the grandkids. We were waiting until we learned more on the battle plan. It must have been a difficult meeting to have. We are a close family and just the word cancer is scary. We made a short video to show them a visual that things were well, and followed up their talk with a FaceTime call. You want to protect the people you love from worry and stress, but at the same time its important to have the children know that this battle will take place and that we are going to beat it. We have some good things in our favor. Catching it early and the location where it the tumor was discovered. We aren’t out of the woods in any fashion. Its going to be a long and tough road. Bobbi’s attitude throughout this has been amazing. There are moments of unsureness, but they’re talked through and discussed. We could sit back and just cry and let the sorrow drain us, or we can put on the armor and get ready for the fight. Jen sent us lots of oils and her mother Carol sent us lots of reading on holistic information. We’re very close with her parents. Every holiday was spent together while living in Wisconsin. Bobbi has chosen to only share the news with a few friends there as well. She doesn’t want people to worry or feel sorry for her. Which I get 100 percent. People will learn in time I’m sure. But right now its a family matter and all our energy is being spent in preparing for the chemo and surgery. Getting our ducks in a roll with insurance coverage and so forth. We’re on medicaid so lots of pre-authorizations and phone calls are being made.

We are choosing to believe that we can and WILL beat this. There is no room for doubt. I can’t began to imagine whats going on in her mind. This is the strongest woman Ive ever met, whose taking on a battle that is going to be beaten. We now have the facts, the battle plan, and now waiting on the first treatment. In the meantime its important to get as many calories into her system as possible. There have been some rough spots of sickness throughout the day and night. Its such a helpless feeling wanting to spare her the pains and be unable. I’ve dealt with over 25 hospitalizations the last 6 years with heart issues. A failed quadruple bypass surgery, and 19 stents put into my heart. Everything medically that can be done has finished. I’m on palliative care for comfort. My battle may help her in knowing that we can do anything we put our minds to. We each look at life differently than just a few weeks ago.