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.

Radiation Treatments Completed

A picture Bobbi painted of a fairy with watercolors after she lost her hair last year. It’s grown into what she imagined it to look like. 

Today Bobbi completed her 30th radiation treatment. Man, there is simply no words that can describe my admiration to this woman. From the start, the bleakest day’s, to now crossing over a milestone that’s deciding everything. It was a long-haul, 6,000 miles! And she did it with her head held high, a sense of humor, and uncompromising attitude of screw you cancer. Knowing the odds, not being sure if she would see Christmas or spring. I am thankful to family and friends to catch her when she needed it, all being proud and concerned. Her friends and family have been unbelievable from the start. The party in Wausau last year opened her eyes to all the love and support that others have for her. Kindness, having others back at times, returned ten fold to her a time she needed most. The love from direct family made her smile during the darkness days in many ways. Sean and kids visiting more, staying at hospital during Whipple, her siblings love going to chemotherapy with her, all made a difference. Nobody was sure of anything at one time.

I’ve notice small but significant things that show me her old cocoon is really shedding. We were out playing frisbee the other day and it reminded doing so before all this. Last weekend there was a big get together for her sister Lori’s birthday at their cabin in DeTour. Bobbi arranged everyone to meet a few miles away so we could drive there and surprise her. Mike, Bobbi’s brother and she escorted everyone in there on the back of Mikes motorcycle. Driving the car behind her and seeing this brought back so many memories of our days flying in the wind. Seeing her smile, hands out stretched like a bird, told me she was on a natural high. Was great seeing her and Mike leaving the way. She also had a great week with her sister Chris. After the party her mother Betty took a fall and shattered her shoulder. After just getting over a hip replacement stairs can be a bit of a challenge and proved to be. We were all very fortunate to have been there when it happened. She’s 84 years old and one tough woman! Was hard to witness.

She met other cancer patients at the hospital at 8:15 every morning. Didn’t miss a day. The drive to Petoskey proceeded. It did her a world of good to connect with others fighting this unforgiving foe. A lot of hours and miles spent bonding. She said none of then talked about cancer. Each day someone brought a snack and they plowed ahead to get treated. She made some lifetime new friends. Her doing this with her younger brother Steve has been good for both of them.So proud of her. That page is now officially turned as of today, and we have sometime to enjoy part of the summer. Her hair is returning and is so soft and pretty. Has curls in it! She looks very attractive. It so nice to see her with the sparkle returning to her eyes.

4 more months of weekly chemotherapy after a few weeks off. It’s a lot. It won’t be easy, but when has it ever? I’m starting to see news signs of change and it’s beautiful. The 4 months going to Karmanos and she will be ringing the bell hanging on the wall there. Surrounded with the many who work there, and get treatment there. Their like family now. Always with a kind smile and words. They share pictures of their kinds and humor is always present. There are very serious moments of course, it is a hospital, but it’s like Norm walking into Cheers. Everyone is happy to see her. I stay back in the woodwork and just watch. Taking everything in.

It was time for a positive post. Cancer is terrible. It’s so far from being black in white. A lot of blurred lines. Yet you push on, knowing some days will suck. I often didn’t know what to say. Simply get her pillow, and the blanket Cinneidi made her and cuddle, knowing it would bring needed sleep to her. Often not saying anything. It’s great being able to gentle rub her hair again and knowing she’s sleeping.

A page has been turned. Eyes are wide open to life. We may never know if she is officially cancer free, doctors are hesitant to declare those words, but she is definitely a survivor. Yesterday is over for all of us! Be it good, bad, or just a lot of work. Now passed. Today is new. People often wonder if they’ll get through something. They can. Maybe not in leaps and bounds, sometimes you have to crawl through it, but you can. There are many distractions each day that try to rob and blind you from the good. We push ourselves, are hard on ourselves. We jump from one project to another. Which is good to a certain point. Just don’t let the years add up wishing for things you already have.

Suicide?

There’s been a lot in the news about it lately. The ultimate goodbye. Every second and every breathe to live is over. Final. There’s no more hurt, physically or emotionally. Done. The one thing they probably all desired is to literally rest in peace. A place never found while alive. Just wanting to be done with all of it. Being alive every 24-hours feels like a torture. The situation or event that caused such pain would be less painfully ending than it would be living.

Many can’t comprehend it. Questions are asked about why and how could someone do that. The human spirit fights with every breath to live. From the time our eyes first know light we are fighting to live it. Some question it when the person is famous and financially set. What problems could they possibly have? They had “everything”. To be alone and seriously making that decision is a face to face meeting with yourself. Do I do it? Or is life suddenly going to get better? Whats it going to be? Live or die?

I know for myself that life’s mountains get pretty damn high. I’m not afraid to say I’ve looked into this mirror. I’ve been able to believe in hope. I think if hope is gone, then life is really over. Some have small threads of hope in their hand, when it may be a rope. And some believe they have a thick rope but in reality it’s thin.

No person alive has “it made”. They are some more fortunate in the life they were born into or worked hard to achieve. Compared to lives struggling to put a roof over their head and knowing the sound of their child’s hunger. But money has nothing to do with the decision.

When I thought about it, really gave it a serious thought was when a sudden disease changed everything. An emergency quadruple open heart surgery led to unexpected complications. It took 3 years of battling, and 28 more less serious surgeries to follow that kicked my ass. I did everything I could to continue to live. Many a night not being sure if I would. The wires and beeping machines dropping fluids into my veins made me question it. I made peace with perhaps not waking up, but it was like I had no options. I had to be a peace with it. A higher power was in charge.

Things improved but life was no where easy for my wife Bobbi and I. We lived a simple and good life. Children, grandchildren, relatives, some good friends. Long work hours long, mortgages, the whole works. When my heart stopped working as it should, most of it, besides family and friends, changed. We thought we could handle anything life threw at us without worrying others. The more surgeries that took place the harder the fight became. We told each other we’d get through it. Bills poured in and slowly removed our life saving. Somehow or another it lead to a new day.

When alone with my thoughts a part of me was tired of physically struggling and swallowing the pain. Maybe it was time to check out? I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. Until someone is in that position it’s hard for them to understand it. Pain makes death inviting. What kept me from checking out was Bobbi and the children. I couldn’t leave Bobbi in the midst of this hardship. I wasn’t ready to never see the ones I loved again. The moments before that ultimate final decision are lonely and silent.

Hope was not given up. Eventually there were more better days than bad. Then out of now where Bobbi is diagnosed with one of the worst cancers a person can get. Pancreatic cancer. Reality was again staring us in the face. What the hell kind of crap is this? What would our future look like in the next days, weeks, and months. My health issue I looked at as dice being tossed. Either it was going to beat me and if it not I had no intentions inviting it.

When Bobbi was diagnosed with her cancer, one which very few comeback from, it changed everything again. There was no way life was dishing out to us this reality. I knew that there was a reason I didn’t cash in my chips before, my wife needed me now more than any other time in her life. I would be with her throughout it all.

We decided to fight forward. I knew Bobbi had the spirit and fight but also knew what the statistics were. Not good. A period of shock was felt by everyone. Nobody was ready for this one. Was I about to lose my wife? The one person I’ve given everything to. Made every plan in the tomorrows with. I felt like I had no other reasons to live if she died. Then the thoughts of the children crept into my thoughts. The loss of both would be a nightmare. I don’t think like that anymore.

Bobbi has continued to battle. Months of chemotherapy. A major surgery, weeks upon weeks of daily radiation. Her weight peeled off her and her hair swirled around the shower drain. Daytime became night and night became day. Clocks were only good for reminding us of future battle days.

The rate people are committing suicide is alarming. In the last years more people have died from this than auto accidents. It doesn’t matter the amounts they have in a bank account are. The type of house they live in or what job they had. Death doesn’t care.

Why do people take their own life? We all feel sadness and despair for all kinds of different reasons at different times. They are far from trivial in what they are if such actions are attractive. Sometimes believe we’re not strong enough to deal with a situation that is known by the feelings of disparity. We are strong enough though.

I understand how heavy life can get. It truly can at times be a torturous existence. We may smile and pretend everything is alright but it’s only a charade. Every night your unsure if you are strongest enough for the day, and throughout the day your question how your ever going to do it. The thoughts get heavier and heavier.

It is an escape. It’s certain not a decision made in a moments time. I believe the first thoughts of it are in a mirror. The mental and emotional anguish that’s felt in our brain, or the physical toll our personal battle is fighting.

We owe it to ourselves, to others that love us unconditional, to tell another when it’s seriously being considered. Our worst days alive haven’t killed us yet so why not believe in just one more day trusting someone enough to talk? You never know how things may suddenly change. Give it one more second, one more hour, one more day.

The national hotline for help is 1-800- 273-8255. Globally, close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, which is about one person every 40 seconds, according to the World Health Organization. In 2015, more than 78% of those global suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries.

Bobbi has finished 26 sessions of radiation as of today and we are excited to soon be finished. Another 4 months of chemo. We’re doing good and battling whatever life throws at us.