Saturday, June 27, 2015

cranial prosthesis










I've been saying to friends, I feel as though I am "nesting."  I wonder if there is a word that describes the frenzied, rushed, feeling of trying to pack a summer's worth of living into a couple of weeks, as you prepare to do aggressive chemo?

July 7th has been scheduled as my first day of chemo treatment.  Dr. Panwalkar is on vacation, so I will see a nurse practitioner early that morning.  Then infusion is scheduled right afterwards.  I will be having a "loading dose," which is a larger than normal dose of the first two drugs.  They will watch over me carefully, for any reaction that might occur.  I will be there all. day. long.  Then...

I'm so not there yet.  Not ready.  Not wanting to face the reality that is about to crash through our tiny existence.  

So I plunged into denial- long and hard- over and over again these past few days.

I've loved all those who have plunged in, right along with me.

We gathered a bunch of our hockey moms and went out to The Tavern, and had homemade pizza, and drinks last week.  I even indulged in a raspberry drink that was fruity without being overly sweet.  But I enjoyed every drop of it.

I took mom's peonies out to the cemetery  and visited with all of our family, leaving a trail of soft and feathery petals wherever I went.

I've had lots of visitors, coffee dates and lunches.  

I was in a documentary (!)... and that's all I can say about that for now.

I have friends coming for a special girls weekend starting today.  

And we have a last minute gift of adventure arriving for next week that I can't wait to share with you all.

Still...

My desk is littered with prescriptions...

my cranial prosthesis script arrived.

Can you piece that one together?  

I'll leave the answer down in my comments.


In the meantime, I'm off once again, plunging deep into living life.  

Live your moments, friends, live them full! 















Wednesday, June 17, 2015

standing at the edge of grace




“Grace is the sweet moment you never expect but turns up to get you through a day, an appointment, a reality you never, ever dreamed for yourself.” 
― Kara TippettsThe Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life's Hard


Some of my moments of Grace this past week...  Hard Grace... but still Grace.


For just over two weeks, I checked on Mama, the dove sitting on an egg in the flimsy nest of twigs and fluff, and stuff, in the tree in our back yard.  Every time, she was there.  She weathered the storms, the downpours of rain, the gusts of wind.  Through it all she remained hunkered down. 


Till that one day last week.  I looked.  And looked.  Up through the branches on my tiptoes, all I saw were twigs.  So I quietly slid a chair over and slowly raised myself up on the wiggly chair.  To my utter delight, there it was- her baby!  The top of its head was fuzzy.  The feathers short.  I had to thrust my camera over my head to get a somewhat clear photo.  




I've seen Mama come and go.  But the fledgling baby remained. Crosby ran in and around barking, and lounging underneath the branches, yet the doves just came and went as they pleased. The mourning "coos" were loud and abundant throughout this nesting phase.

The last time I looked, two heads rested side by side as I went to the front of the tree.  And two tails jutted out the back, side by side on the back of the tree.  It was the last time I saw them in the nest.  

Though I keep checking, as I've heard the doves mate for a lifetime, and often have several sets of babies throughout a season. 



In the meantime, we were back at the hockey arena full time.  It was too hard to capture the below in a decent photo- but I wanted to remember this moment of Grace, and gift, despite how the photo looked.  

Nolan, and one other of his hockey team mates, were invited to attend the 2015 Fargo Force Tryout Camp.  It was such an honor to be asked to go.  Technically, he is too young to even make the team.  It was such an irony to see young men, with birth years of 1995- 1999, as the ones old enough to garner a spot on this USHL team in Fargo for next year, listed on the roster.  Then we see the '00.  And right next to that, is our son Nolan.  Too young to make the team, but wide-eyed and hungry enough, and brave enough, to say he'd love the chance just to try. 

The speed of the skating is fast.  The style is physical and gritty.  The skill is awe-inspiring. You have to be quick with your decisions, and even quicker in the execution of moving that puck.  



But each game, Nolan, got a little more confident.  A bit more used to the style.  He started getting shots on net.  And finally- he tipped a puck in for a goal!  





Coach Eades said Nolan could play with his son, Eddie, on the green team.  Love that "Sioux," color matched up with that team.


There are all kinds of ways to dry your smelly and wet  hockey gear.  Love the jersey looking at home as the license plate.







Nolan played the last game Saturday afternoon, and then we thought we were done.  So we packed up and headed out to eat.  But in the middle of our dinner, his phone rang.  His face broke into a smile.  It was coach.  Would Nolan like to play in the "Young Guns" game?

This time they were divided into Blue and White teams.  Coach Eades took the bench.  It felt like a glimpse of what going to a Fargo Force game next year, will look like.

Nolan rose to the occasion.  He skated well and played more physically.  Even though the puck hit the post, it bounced in, before it came out and technically, everyone knew Nolan had scored a goal.  





We left that night with a small taste of what Nolan's next few years of hockey may be like.  His eyes are open, wide, with the hard work it will take to get himself up to the next level of competition.  But he remains determined.  Filled with hope.  And ready to embrace all the ups and downs along the roller coaster ride of living the hockey life.



When you think of grace, this isn't what you'd normally think of, is it?  This is my Dad's old pick up.  With 4 flat tires, peeling paint, and seedlings growing out of the dirt in the bed of the truck.  We were thrilled when we discovered that Make-A-Wish could garner $500.00 for the donation of our truck to them.  They would even come and get it for us.



So we watched the young man pull in with his truck and hauler.  He placed a charger on the battery under the hood and we sat chit-chatting a bit.  We chuckled at the thought of it starting.  No way.  We'd tried so many times, just wanting to move it.  It wasn't going to budge for us.  We were convinced the young man would have to winch it the whole way.



But isn't life funny?  Aren't the tiniest things often prone to offering the biggest surprises?  

The young man insisted we try to start it. 

We had to go in search of Dad's keys.  We watched as the young man inserted the old key into the steering column, and turned it over.  It chugged, and sputtered, but the boy sat turning the key, and low and behold... it sprung to life and started! 

I mean- it started and ran so smoothly- we all just sat chuckling, and shaking our heads.  And all I could feel was my Dad.  Smiling.  And saying "That truck was the best truck I ever had. It was never much to look at, but that engine just kept going and going."  That truck sat outside for two Minnesota winters, with no protection from anything- and started like a charm.  




As I've watched and listened, I've discovered Grace can even come knocking on your door.  It was nearing a time when I settle in for the night.  Fatigue has been gnawing at me and I am resting in bed early evening.  But the knock on the door was insistent.  Who could it be?

A Cash Wise Grocery Store, delivery driver, asking if I was Vicky Westra, by chance?  My eyes wide in wonder, I assured him I was and he smiled and said okay- lets get this thing started.

Oh my... not only did it start... it went on and on.

Crate after crate was opened, as bag after bag of groceries traveled into my kitchen.  Bunches of fresh fruit.  Bags of chicken breasts.  Bags of lunch meat for sandwiches.  Cheeses of every kind.  Eggs, potatoes, and pizzas... etc.  A turkey even, with stuffing!  

The bags on the floor were just a small part.  The table and counters were all filled as well.  I lost count at 24 bags of groceries!!

And the driver?  Said it was all anonymously ordered and paid for.  He couldn't give me a clue!  He said he was a supervisor for the store and wanted to personally come out and deliver these to me.  He also stated this has happened only a couple of times over the years.  You could tell he was as touched, as I was.  We have eaten so well, because of this!  Colton has cooked away.  And Nolan was well fed for all of his hockey games.  We're so touched and humbled by this generous and thoughtful act.  



It seems as though, God was preparing us for all that was to come.  Our "nest" of comfort was being prepared for the newest journey we are about to embark upon.



We got right down to business at my appointment with Dr. Panwalkar on Tuesday.  


I think the word we could use to describe my test results would be "stinky."  Or some variation of that.  As we went frame by frame through my scan, slowly the yellow spots, indicating active cancer, began to appear.  Some of the ones in my lungs have been there for a long time.  But alas, there were quite a few new ones as well.  


And then he kept scrolling.


And there's my colon- shining bright yellow in a huge blob.  And right next to that?  Another huge blob on my uterus.  Oh and then- a spot in my pelvis... and then? Yeah, it just keeps going.

But, I was about done.   Why do I need to know any more?  

Stinky.  Way too yucky to even know how to respond.


My mind just thrusts itself forward and wants to know what we're going to do?


Dr. Panwalkar is quietly searching my face.  

"I think we should consider chemo again," he says, hesitatingly.

And my face blanches, as I recoil.

"No?" He quickly questions.

"Maybe we can try another estrogen blocker?  A different one?"


But I tell him.  Even though what my face tells him is true.  As much as I don't want to do chemo- I don't think I have any other choice but to do chemo.

To go aggressive.

Aggressive chemo is indeed what I need to do.


Which one does he think?

"Taxotere."

And somehow, as I sit nodding, I know there is more.

"And?" I say.

He smiles and says...

"Perjeta, and of course Herceptin."  


"You will lose your hair.  Your white cell counts will go low.  You will have to come in the moment you have a slight fever.  Your sense of taste will be off.  Diarrhea is often part of it.  You will have to do steroids- and watch for rashes..."  His voice trails off...


I'm sitting and nodding and knowing.

And somehow, despite how yucky this all is... I don't want cancer to steal my joy.


He is my tower of Grace I lean on.  Will he do another picture with me?  And when I tease about how "famous" he is, he shakes his head and laughs his hearty laugh.  And we smile.  


Because living well?  That is what beats cancer.  

Living our moments well, with as much Grace as we can.




We may be needing some help with the boys, and other things, but as we slowly figure out this new path, your ever faithful prayers for guidance and clarity and strength are so appreciated.  

~much love to you all~
























Thursday, June 11, 2015

in the moment


My heart always beats a little faster as I go to open my mailbox.  Its no wonder.  The sweet notes, cards, letters, gifts- all just help bring a measure of joy and lightness to me like nothing else.  And even though, my thank you note writing, has been slowed once again as some stiffness and swelling has attacked my writing hand- you all are "The once in a lifetime kind of people."

It was a beautiful bracelet that arrived that described what I was trying to do.  What I am trying to do.  "Live in the moment."  And when I'm trying so hard to figure out what my next treatment should be, its easy to not be in this moment- at all.  

So I stepped back in time.  With my rhubarb growing big and thick stalks, it was time to harvest.  The tart fruit pairs well with the base of these bars-  an almost sugar-cookie like dough.  It screams to me "summer is here!"  So I bake one pan, that disappears over night.  Then Colton makes a double batch, and I love that we are spending this time together.  Just him, just me.  Then we use his Grandma Carole's recipe, and bake it in Grandma Mary Ann's pan, and it tastes like so many memories of our time with both of them.  Its the perfect balance of the hard mixed in with all the soft.  The sweet mixed in with the tangy that play off of each other so well.  






I love my recipe book.  My mother-in-law gifted me with all of her family's recipes- some even written in her Grandmother's handwriting.  She copied them into a binder, and even wrote short notes about them.  This recipe was Uncle Jack's favorite- and he happens to be the one we named our Colton Jack after.  


These bars are so simple to make, and yet so yummy too- their heirloom legacy already etched into the minds of the next generation.  Isn't that what we all want?  For some part of us to go on?  Something we cherished, or believed, or felt- to be carried on by others. 





This boy has us in stitches most of the time.  I was calling his name as I sat with the camera.  His big eyes, are responding to me, even though he won't look my way.


Crosby!  No, over here...


Yep- that's our dog.  He must be entering his "teen" years too! 


Mom, this is for you.  I didn't forget.  I had Rick drive past the house keeping watch, waiting for the peonies to bloom.  The burgundy ones, have intermixed somewhat with the white ones, and it makes the most alluring colors in the middle of the white one.  The fragrance is something I wish I could bottle.  I am drying some to bring and sprinkle on top of you so they'll be with you always.









My scans were bumped up somehow.  I've had a busy week already, and I now have a PET scan on Friday, and I then see Dr. Panwalkar on Tuesday.  Then I'll have infusion.  And then right after that?  I'll have sedation and then an MRI of my brain.  And then... we'll see... 

So I'm asking now.  How can I pray for you?  I will make my list big, and tuck it into my gown, and bring it with me into the tube, into my hope-filled dreams- into all that awaits in this moment, and on into the next.  

Please feel free to email me your prayer requests: 

vwestra14@gmail.com




Jesus Calling- June 10th

...When you try to peer into the future and plan every possibility, you ignore your constant Companion who sustains you moment by moment...  Never lose sight of My Presence with you. This will keep you resting in Me all day, every day.














Thursday, June 4, 2015

...all that's left...








It fluttered out of a pile of cards mom had saved.  Someone must have said it to her.  Or she copied it from something.  Her ability to read was compromised, and she'd skim and scan for details, bits and pieces, but was never one to read from beginning to end.  She never made it through a blog post.  Or a magazine piece I'd written.  But she'd find a detail she could talk about.  A picture of someone.  Some small thing she would tell you.

So the scrap has been a mystery. 


I've been staring at that bit of paper on my desk.  Words to live by, maybe? 



It brings me back to that day.  The day she would surrender and begin to let go of the only thing she was left hanging onto.  Her family.

The tears were hard earned.  She'd gracefully accepted, over and over again, the things she couldn't change, while at the same time changing the biggest thing she had left- herself.  

She was softer.  Gentler.  A side of her, I had always longed for in a way.  She gave up, so, so much, that she became, stripped down, and real.  It was just her.  Not her things, her possessions, her bills, or even where she lived.  None of those things meant very much to her at the time.  It was just her.  Her memories.  Her stories.  Her heart's longings. 

And, she needed me.  Like no other time in her life, it seemed.  She needed me.

Living peacefully was what she clung to.  And we all helped her achieve that in any way that we could. 

Until, that day they told her.  Her body was beginning to fail.  No treatments were left.

And she laid back in her bed, and I leaned down to be at eye level with her glassy eyes, peering through the side rails of the hospital bed. "But you, all of you..." she choked out. "That's what I don't want to leave."  Her heart, so entrenched in each word uttered, each tear shed.

It was one of the truest moments we've ever had.  She had let down her guard, and was as vulnerable as I've ever seen.  We'd traveled over lifetimes, it seems, in just the past year, suddenly arriving at that place where we give all that we have left- ourselves.  

I sit surrounded by some of her things.

But its not her box filled with china that I treasure.  Or her crystal stemware.  Not her watch.  Her boxes of tea cups.  Her things.  Her things. Her things.

Its those words, printed out in her handwriting, on a scrap of paper she found somewhere, that I return to time and again.

The tattered note.  With a coffee ring left on it and a crease in the middle.  That somehow saw her through her illness, with peace, and grace, until her very last days here on earth.

I was typing these words yesterday when the phone rang.

***********************************************************  

It was Dr. Panwalkar.

The doctor at MD Anderson, does not think I would benefit from IT Herceptin.  She did not want to see me.  I could still go to the breast cancer center, for a second opinion, but it would not address my brain, which is what needs treatment.


I'm disappointed.  And I have no idea what to do... next.   Dr. Panwalkar suggests we scan again, in a month, and go from there.  


I trace the words again... "Live peacefully with all that's left."  


It leaves a lump in my throat, and tears sting my eyes.  


But the fragrance of lilacs freshly blooming in my yard are strong.  My mailbox fills with words, and gestures, and grace, and gifts.  Words carved in stone rest heavy in my hands.  While joy fills the faces of my boys as they open Birthday cards that scatter across our table.

And my heart seems to know, its enough... all thats left, is more than enough.  




























Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"in the weeds.."

She's been sitting in my tree for over a week.  Sometimes, forward facing.  Sometimes, backwards, with just her tail feathers hanging over the edge.  I've never seen her move.  Ruffle her feathers.  Turn her head.  Blink an eye.  She is just devoted and determined, to help nurture those babies nestled in their shells, until the time to enter this world, comes to fruition.

We've even had to mow around the tree, and yet she stays.  Its poured rain.  Yet she remains.  Steadfast.  Strong.

Crosby takes up residence below the branches of the nest, and not a squawk is heard.  

I marvel at her resilience.  

She is teaching me through her maternal instincts.  How to live "in the weeds," or in the midst of watching and waiting.



Mourning doves are rich with symbolism.  

Their distinctive “wooo-oo-oo-oo” sounds are evocative and are often associated with grief over the loss of a loved one.  How fitting this is to me.  And yet...

But far from representing loss, "the symbolism of mourning doves gives us optimism with its spirituality. Beyond their sorrowful song is a message of life, hope, renewal and peace."  







The "lip dub" video below will uplift you so!  This is Horizon Middle School- both Nolan's and Colton's school.  Mr. Brian Cole the Orchestra teacher,  with the help of two students, orchestrated and produced this masterful Lip-Dub video using over 1400 of the schools students.  

Colton was picked to play a small role that comes at about the 1:42 mark- you'll see him pulling someone on a scooter going backwards.  

With the students decked out in their orange and black "Spud Pride," colors this whole video was shot in just one take!  With nothing but an iPhone, and a lens attached, 1400 kids lined throughout the halls of the school, lip synching to some popular songs.  It all ends with a huge celebration of confetti, dancing and a ginormous balloon drop.  

With just over 17, 000 views, we would love to see the viewership grow if you are so inclined to watch even part of it.  

If the clip below doesn't play you can see it HERE on Youtube.





I think my presentation with Dr. Hysjulien, for the Embrace series presentation,  went well last week.  I spoke about "Living your Legacy," to a room full of Sanford nurses and staff people.  Tears and laughter were in abundance, and I hope that someone walked away with an idea of how to begin living their legacy.

I even was honored with a surprise.  A classmate of mine, that I haven't seen since high school, showed up to hear me speak.  Thank you Penny!  I was so touched by her thoughtfulness, and loved getting to spend time with her.  



I saw Dr. Panwalkar yesterday.  


Have you ever watched Top Chef?  Or one of the competitive cooking shows?  At some point, I picked up the term "He/She, is in the weeds."  Its like the finish line is approaching, and you're sweating, prepping, and preparing food at max speed, with little idea if you'll finish the dishes, before the guests arrive- who are hungry.  Not just ordinary, hungry.  They are ravenous- famished- starving.


I feel a bit like I am "in the weeds." Searching for a way through, for a treatment to utilize, before those ravenous cancer cells grow and multiply and spread.  


So after weighing some options, I think we've landed on the plan of seeing an Oncologist at the Brain and Spine Cancer Center, of MD Anderson, in Houston, Texas.  She has helped several other women like me, with breast cancer metastases, in their brain.  

So Dr. Panwalkar initiated the referral process, and we will wait and see. 


In the meantimes, I've been extremely humbled by all of the love shown to me by all of you.  Your grace-filled words and deeply felt care and concern, truly help me get through each day.  So much gratitude- so much.





















Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Rain of Grace


Ann Voskamp says…

"Grace holds you when everything else falls apart — and whispers that everything is really falling together."



It's always the little things.  The Birthday Cards that arrive, unexpectedly in the mail.  She is the coolest of friends from Texas, and she loves us big.  The boys, with neither of their Grandma's with us any longer, have felt the empty space in a tangible way.  They still hovered by the mail box, hoping for a little Birthday acknowledgement.  The day after they stopped looking anymore, cards arrived, from Texas.   I may have been the giddiest one of all.  There is an ache within me, for me to fully know, the boys will celebrate birthdays.  That they will be loved, and cherished.  That the community that has surrounded us, will keep them at their center.


Last Tuesday I met with the Neurosurgeon, Dr. Adam Jackson.  He shook hands with us as he walked into the room, swiftly striding over to the computer on the desk next to me.  


No moments of small talk.  No getting to know one another, conversationally.  He jumped in, with the hardest words, right away.

"Well, you are stuck between, a rock, and a hard place, aren't you?"

"Blink.  Blink."

I've stopped being able to absorb more sadness.  I'm detached in a way, but facing forward, listening to the stark reality of his words.

All I can do is stare blankly, and blink.


I'm sitting rather precariously on my seat, observing.  Wondering where he is about to take me.  He is going to go on, despite anything I might say.  So I sit.


He flips on the screen and my scan springs to life in mere moments.


He begins to tell me, anatomically, where my tumors reside.  As he begins pointing out the structures of my brain using terms I have vaguely heard before, I suddenly flash back to Graduate School.

The professor was Dr. Dahlhouse.  He was short statured, but had a booming voice.   He had moved from Jamaica, and his accent was thick.  He was funny and warm.   He was passionate about the human body.  And despite our limited time together,  he wanted us to have an in-depth look at the complexity of the human body and how it all worked.  So our Anatomy & Physiology book, was a Med School book,  used at UND.  

I literally used to sit with a dictionary, trying to decipher the words being used in each sentence of that book.   The amount of sheer memorization in that class, made it feel like a full time job, on top of which, we had to decipher some of Dr. Dahlhouse's accent. 


Suddenly, Dr. Jackson, wheels back in his chair.

I'm jolted, back instantly, in the exam room.  Dr. Jackson is no longer verbally dissecting my brain.  

Instead, he is asking me a question.

"What do you want to do with your life?"

"Blink?"


"Because if you want to sit in a boat, and fish all day long.  I might be able to help you."

"We can make a long incision along your hairline, and peel it all back.  Then we'd make the hole and drill through the bone and resect whatever we can of the tumors."  

I'm suddenly feeling more Grey's Anatomy, and where is Dr. McDreamy anyway?  

But Dr. Jackson goes on.

"But if you want to talk.  Or form sentences.  Or use words.  Or think.  Then this is probably not the procedure for you." 

"Blink, blink, blink."


"Because you look like you're highly functioning right now."

And since the first rule of medicine is to "do no harm."  Then I shouldn't do surgery on you.  Its far too risky.

"As is any needle aspiration of the tumor for a biopsy.  Too risky." 

"Blink."


Do you know how hard it is for me as a brain surgeon,  to tell you I can't do surgery on you?"  

Do I know…?  No, I know nothing.

"Blink."


"I'll tell Dr. Foster I think we should watch and wait. " 



"But if you should decide you do want to proceed, than please feel free to contact me again."


Double blink.




"Grace loves us when we are at our darkest worst and wraps us in the best light."  
~Ann Voskamp


A week later, and I still don't have any answers.  And neither do the doctors, so far.  I've tried to do some internet research, but I've clicked away each time, because "darkest, and worst" are in bold face everywhere I turn.  


So I turn back to Ann Voskamp, who is  prose-worthy, as well as praise worthy.

And she says:

"You don’t have to know how to do it all.
You just have to choose to be all here, right where you are.

His grace meets you in the moment — and you will miss it if you are worrying about future moments.
Lock your thoughts in this moment — and you get to live the freest of all."






























Thursday, May 14, 2015

Happy Birthday, Colton!

Colton, how is it possible you turn 13 today?  Two teenagers- in one house?  



I've joked for so long about my "shot glass" list of desires.  No bucket list for me.  Two boys, turning 13 and 15 just 3 days apart?  I'll take it- another small moment and a milestone- I'll savor and celebrate.  





Oh Colton, where do I start?





Your big brown eyes are soulful, and the way your nose crinkles when you laugh brings joy to my life.  You could not be more opposite of your brother.  While Nolan is here to lead me into uncharted territory and expand me, your calm demeanor is the honey that both sweetens my soul and anchors me.  





You're smart, funny, stubborn, sensitive, imaginative, loving, and a still a bit of a Mommy's boy.  You wiggled your way into my heart from the very start, and have notched out your own way in this world.  




I realized the other day, I can't do all the "little boy" things I used to.  You'll let me grab your hand for a minute, but no way could I hold it.  I can hug you quick,  yet, it's occurred to me you don't really desire me to hang on too long.  But in your wise beyond your years way, you seem to know, it is I who needs to hang on, for just a little bit longer.  




I look at Nolan and I see all the things he can and will most likely do with his future.  I look at you and have no idea.  But what I've realized is that I can't dream a big enough dream for the things I think you will one day do.  

To the moon, Bubba Jack- love you to the moon and all the way back.  






When you get lucky

When you get lucky

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