The Last Chapter…
For years, since September 2007, you have followed my journey and encouraged, loved and supported me and my family!! We could not have done so well without our “village.” I cannot thank you enough for the love, prayers and energy you have sent our way. We absorbed this energy and love and it has carried us a long way.
To backtrack a little, I started a new chemo regiment in April. However, I was only able to tolerate the Cisplatin and Gemcitabine until June 27th. During that treatment, I got up to go to the bathroom and felt lightheaded. I quickly became short of breath, nauseated, and had extreme pressure in my chest. Michelle ran to get the nurses and the entire code team was standing at the door ready to go to work. I was having a full blown anaphylactic reaction to the Cisplatin. Fortunately, the nurses were able to reverse some of the side effects and I was saved by the Arizona Cancer Center’s amazing nursing team.
In early October, I went with Michelle, Pete, my sister Kathy, her husband Jim, my brother Jeff, and his wife Kaytie to Sonoma to spend some time in wine country. What an amazing trip! We laughed and laughed. I am so glad we were able to enjoy this time together.
Two weeks later when I returned to Tucson to receive the Gemcitabine, Dr. Chambers had me do a skin test to determine if I had actually developed an allergy to the Carboplatin. Unfortunately, I reacted again and my allergy was confirmed.
At the beginning of November, Michelle, Billie, and I headed to Tucson. This time not for treatment but to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. We had so much fun painting our faces at Kristen’s house and enjoyed the procession and Ozomatli at the Rialto Theater. If you ever get a chance to see this band I promise you will not be disappointed!! They rock!!
On November 10th, Nicole gave birth to Caleb Steven Cundiff. He is their third child and absolutely perfect. Caleb is the best baby and such a joy to have in our lives. He is such a blessing!
In early December, Billie, Michelle, and I went to Chicago to see the Dave Matthews Band and visit my cousin, Cindy. We had such a great time. Less than 24 hours after returning from Chicago we set out for California. Billie, Danielle, Dan and I left on Saturday, December 8th to have dinner with my good friend Jenny Molina, and her daughter, Michelle, and son-in-law, Will. We started with lunch on the beach and continued with appetizers at Will and Michelle’s and off to an amazing dinner at an Oceanfront restaurant in Newport Beach!! The day was filled with manicures, pedicures, and a little shopping as well!!
The four of us left early on December 9th and went to California Adventure and shared the day on the roller coasters, Tower of Terror (the elevator drops about 12 floors!!), more roller coasters, California Scream’n, and more eating and drinking until Nicole, Billy, Chloe, Luke, Caleb, Pete, Michelle and Blake showed up. I immediately took my grand kids and encouraged my adult children to hit the roller coaster. Off and running we were! I took the kids on the Ferris wheel; Chloe went on the smaller roller coaster with Dani and Billie (Billie was the one screaming and Chloe was laughing)! We all danced and cheered as the Disney parade came down the street. It included Woodie, Jessica, Buzz, Sully, etc!! What a night!!
The next day, December 10th, big Billy left for a workout and the rest of us headed to Disneyland. It was Chloe’s 5th Birthday!! As we headed into Disneyland and the Main Street, Mickey was walking toward us. Dan told Mickey it was Chloe’s birthday and Mickey immediately grabbed her hand and led her into the Main Town Hall. Mickey put Chloe on the phone with Goofy who sang her Happy Birthday! Mickey then led her outside and we all took pictures with Mickey!! What a moment we will never forget!!
Chloe was finally able to experience all Disneyland had to offer. She road on all the roller coasters, except the Matterhorn. She road Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain twice, and Space Mountain with Mommy once – she did not like that one, “it was too dark.” Of course, she and the boys did ride “It’s A Small World,” “The Pirates of the Caribbean,” Dumbo, the Tea Cups, etc. That night, the kids stayed in with trusty babysitters they had met last summer. The adults went out to dinner for Nicole’s birthday and then tore back into the park. What a riot! Before we left the next day, we spent a few more hours at Disneyland and everyone got to hit up their favorite rides one last time. As we left for home all of us agreed it was the best family trip so far. We were all like little kids in the “happiest place on earth.”
On the drive home, I felt a lump on my right breast. Fortunately my next visit with Dr. Chambers was the next day, December 12. The intern came into the room to check me out first. Even without my chart and I knew right at that my CA-125 must have been up. Dr. Chambers came in and I knew immediately that it was not good news. My CA-125 rose from 211 to 535!! The Gemcitabine was no longer working and we both knew the CT from November must not have picked up something. She ordered a full STAT CT and breast ultrasound for the next day, December 13.
I returned to Tucson the day after, December 14, to try a new drug given mainly to colon cancer patients, Oxaliplatin. At first I was nervous about taking another platinum based drug after developing allergies to the Carbo and Cisplatin. However, I trust Dr. Chambers and was willing to give it a try. Despite having started massive doses of steroids 24 hours prior to beginning the Oxaliplatin, I immediately developed neuropathy – very intense feelings of pins and needles. As I received the last bit of the drug, my lips and tongue started going numb and I was not feeling well. I knew at this point I would not ever take this drug again. The next several days were filled with terrible sensitivity to anything cold, fatigue, eye twitching, halos around all lights, severe back pain and a productive cough. My nurse Sam called me the next Tuesday and informed her that I could not take this drug again and she completely understood!! How do other people take this drug?! My prayers and energy go out to them and their loved ones. We must come up with better drugs for cancer patients with less side effects!!
On December 16th, we had our second annual “ginger bread” house making contest. We had so much fun! Dan won with a rendition of Kinnick stadium, home of the Iowa Hawkeyes. The other houses ranged from decent to downright sad.
I went to see my doctor in Phoenix, Dr. Lieberman on Tuesday, December 18th. She prescribed me antibiotics to help avoid potential infection. The very next day Bill and I began a two-day mediation for our legal separation. Unfortunately, we could not come to an agreement and I decided it was in my best interest to proceed to trial.
As if that wasn’t stressful enough, Dr. Lieberman called me on the 19th and gave me my results of my December 13th CT scan! Shit!!!!!!! Things had changed significantly!!! A proliferation of nodes in the lungs, the nodes that were in my lungs previously had grown, I have metastatic cancer to the spine (UGH, no wonder I was having so much pain in my back!!), nodes on my right adrenal glands (again, an answer to why I was having so much pain on my right side), and a small pleural effusion on my right lung. Dr. Lieberman set up an appointment with a pulmonologist for the following Friday. I agreed to go to the ER if I developed shortness of breath.
I retired from the office! On December 21st the managing partner and office manager threw me a wonderful retirement party. They presented me with the the most amazing gift of a Make-A-Wish angel figurine! As you all know, my sister is an original founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Bill joined the organization later to help it take it to the next level. Make-A-Wish has been instrumental in our lives and that of our children. I thank the office for such a thoughtful gift!
In my retirement, I plan to spend as much time as possible helping to build Colleen’s Dream Foundation, a not-for-profit organization started by Nicole, Billy, and the girls to raise awareness for ovarian cancer and support clinical research for early detection. We are planning our first event in early April. We will keep you posted on the details. Here is the beautiful logo that was developed.
Christmas Eve was incredibly special. Shortly after being discharged we went to my sister’s house to celebrate my brother-in-law’s birthday and pass out gifts. Kathy and I were overwhelmed to give our daughters a Christmas present that was so meaningful and truly represented who we are. It was a very special evening.
We left Kathy and Jim’s and went back to my house. The girls and I had decided to cancel our dinner reservations in light of my little hospital stay and instead ordered out and had a slumber party! All the girls, their husbands, and my grandchildren spent the night! It was so much fun! We watched Christmas Vacation and wrapped presents. Watching my son-in-laws put together a kitchen I bought for Chloe was priceless!! They never got to bed until 3 AM and I could hear them cussing my name as they all worked together to get the kitchen done in time!!
On Christmas morning, I had the joy of watching all the kids expressions as they saw the presents Santa had left. Then we all opened gifts together which we had not done in many years, this was a special moment for me! Thank you to my girls and son-in-laws for being so great and wonderful to me. Not only have my girls been so accommodating in their schedules, my son-in-laws have too!! Billy, Pete, Dan, and it would not be complete if I didn’t include Cooper! They have taken time from work and spent resources on our trips and adventures which I know they probably had different plans for. They have taken time from their days to help me when I needed it. These are very special young men and I am so happy they are part of our lives, we are all so blessed!!
After opening presents and having a fabulous breakfast, we got cleaned up and met at the Coach House, a Christmas tradition started several years ago. For dinner, we went to the Kloos’ house and enjoyed great company and a hysterical “something underneath” themed white elephant gift exchange.
The day after Christmas, Michelle and I went on a hot air balloon ride. This was her Christmas present to me. She picked me up bright and early and we headed to the Deer Valley Airport. It was an amazing adventure! To see the sun rise on a beautiful morning in northern Phoenix from 7,000 feet in the air was truly special.
I have been feeling better and better each day. On Thursday, we had family photos taken by a dear friend, Cassie. She did a great job! Here is a sneak peak.
After photos, we went to dinner at the Mission, the restaurant we had planned to go to Christmas Eve. I was happy to be able to share such a special evening with everyone!
Yesterday, Danielle, Dan, Pete, Michelle, Blake, Billie, Cooper and I drove to the cabin for New Year’s. There is so much snow here! I’m a little short of breath up but only with exertion. Billy, Nicole, and the kids were on their way up yesterday, in fact, they were nearly here, when a terrible catastrophic accident occurred only two or three cars ahead of them. Billy assisted where he could while Nicole waited in the car with Chloe, Luke, and Caleb. Once emergency personnel arrived, the road was immediately closed and they were forced to turn around and drive back to Phoenix. While we were so sad they could not join us, we have focused our energy on being grateful that they were not involved in the accident and praying for the families that were.
Next week I see Dr. Chambers and hope to find out if I qualify for a clinical trial. If not, then I am done with chemo!! Quality of life has always been most important to me and up until this point I believe I have been able to maintain it. However, I understand where I am with this disease process and just want to make the most of everyday. As you can see, we have been busy and attempting to do everything we have ever wanted to do together while we still can. We are blessed to have this opportunity.
When I think of not being here the pain comes from knowing I will not see my grandchildren grow and see all the fabulous events in their lives. UGH!! And worse, thinking of all the events I will not see and enjoy the with my own children!! The thought of this makes me cry and so very sad!! However, I am not afraid of death as I know there is something so much greater waiting for me!
Yes, I believe I am in the last chapter of my life. The emotions run from every place imaginable. We have been blessed with the gift of time and we have taken advantage of all our opportunities to be together. Time is precious especially now!!
I sincerely thank you all for your support, kindness and love.