There hasn’t been much excitement in our lives since a year ago when COVID-19 reared its ugly head. Staying home as much as possible has become the norm. The most action we’ve had this winter has been the 4-6 inch snowfall our area received Feb. 4. The Outdoors Guy and I live in a country condo association on the outskirts of La Crosse. As the snow continued to fall and the wind kicked up, we wondered if our snowplow guys would still come on the 4th because of all the blowing and drifting. Finally, about 8 p.m., Thursday evening, we saw their headlights at the condos below us and knew they were on the job. By the time they reached our condo, it was about 9 p.m. Bored out of our minds, we stood by the window and watched Matt perform his magic in his large pickup truck as we relaxed in the comfort of our home. In less than 10 minutes, he had our double-driveway cleared and was on to the next condo. There are 50 units in our association, so it’s no small feat. Mostly, it’s oh-so-nice to have the job done with no effort on The Outdoors Guy’s part. Because of his battle with pancreatic cancer, one of his side effects from chemo is not being able to withstand the cold like he used to. I have back problems making shoveling a big no-no for me. So, it’s a great relief to have snow removal done for us. After Matt plows, has dad, Pat, follows up, clearing snow close to the garages with a small tractor. On Feb. 4, Pat was running late, so we didn’t get to see him work his magic as he zig-zags back and forth at lightning speed! We left our outdoor lights on for him. Bob woke up about 1 a.m. The job was finished. Nice!!! But, one thing is for sure. If things get any more exciting around here, we honestly don’t know if we can take it!!!
The Outdoors Guy is ‘Flourishing!!!’
Two weeks ago, The Outdoors Guy had his regular blood work, CT scan and then an appointment with his oncologist, Dr. Paula Gill of Mayo Clinic, La Crosse to review the results. Since being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer May 8, 2015, he has periodic tests and CT scans every six months to be sure the tumor hasn’t once again reared it’s ugly head. Unbelievably, it is nearing the six-year mark since his diagnosis and he is still going strong. Once again, test results were excellent and his appointment with Dr. Gill went well, too. According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, or PanCan, Pancreatic cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., behind only lung cancer and colorectal cancer. It was expected to become the second-leading cause after lung cancer around 2020. The overall five-year survival rate from pancreatic cancer is only 9 percent. Another interesting fact: Pancreatic cancer is the ninth-most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and the 10th-most commonly diagnosed in men. PanCAN states the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer patients increased from 6 to 9 percent between 2014 and 2017. PanCAN also notes that although it seems like scant progress, a 3 percentage point rise means more than 1,700 people across the country survived five years when they would not have three years earlier. Amazingly, The Outdoors Guy is included in that statistic! As he nears his six-year anniversary, The Outdoors Guy continues to find joy in the simple things in life, namely being out in nature on a daily basis. When he says he’s going to the boathouse, I think to myself, “Let. Him. Go!!!” Besides God and family, it is the next best thing to have kept him alive! An added bonus is yesterday when he had his first COVID vaccination with the second to follow in three weeks. No one can predict the future. But, our family has had more “future” with The Outdoors Guy than we ever thought possible nearly six years ago! Dr. Gill was right on the mark when she told him at his most recent appointment, “You are flourishing!!” He is and we are very grateful to God and blessed for every day his life story continues!!!
Amid COVID-19, it's great to get AMAZING health news!!
Last week, The Outdoors Guy had labs and a CT scan for pancreatic cancer he was diagnosed with on May 8, 2015. Yes, it has been 5-plus years since his diagnosis!! What makes this so incredible is pancreatic cancer survival rates, according to the American Cancer Society, “Are grim. For one year, the survival rate is 20 percent and the five-year survival rate is just 7 percent.” For four years following chemo, radiation and surgery, Bob’s scans and tests have been clean. And, we are so thankful last week’s results gave us the same fantastic news!!! The CT scan shows no sign of the tumor. Plus, his labs are within normal range. Unstageable cancer is uncommon. Leave it to The Outdoors Guy for his to be unstageable throughout his illness. Back in 2015, his surgeon at Mayo-Rochester, Dr. Mark Truty, reminded us that Bob had a very bad cancer. At the time of diagnosis he was borderline, meaning he only had a 50/50 chance to live until surgery. After Bob’s first 25 treatments of the strongest chemo allowed, Dr. Truty's plan for the next phase of treatment was five weeks of radiation five times a week, and then, hopefully surgery. Afterward, Dr. Truty said, "You are doing better than average! Most people who make it this far survive! The tumor is pulling away (from the artery)!!" Dr. Truty said the tumor had shrunk from five centimeters to three. He also told us the scan showed no evidence of metastatic disease! Surgery, called the Whipple Technique, was scheduled for Jan. 22, 2016, in Rochester. Despite a pre-surgical laproscopy that showed the tumor had not metastasized and surgery could proceed, we got word Dr. Truty was closing much sooner than expected. Dr. Truty met with us in a consultation room and proceeded to tell us that when his team opened The Outdoors Guy to begin surgery, he found something he had never seen before. Bob’s entire abdominal cavity was covered with scar tissue from colon surgery he had in 1989. It was not visible on CT scans or during the laproscopy. Dr. Truty said the scar from that surgery was not very large. So he was shocked to see scar tissue covering The Outdoors Guy's abdominal cavity. It had adhered to just about everything. He told us, "When I touched it, the scar tissue was falling apart like wet tissue paper, and trying to work through the scar tissue caused bleeding." Dr. Truty said just by removing a portion of the tissue from the bowel, it caused enough bleeding that he had to resect the bowel. Dr. Truty was unable to proceed with removing the tumor or performing the Whipple Technique. "I felt if I attempted to continue with the procedure, I would lose him," Dr. Truty remarked. Even though our family was extremely disappointed, we spoke of Dr. Truty's world-renowned level of competence. We were grateful The Outdoors Guy had the best of the best, one who recognized the monumental risk and wasn’t willing to take it. It was also encouraging when Dr. Truty told us he believed in all likelihood the tumor was dead or nearly dead. He said, "I could not feel the tumor, only a thumb-like impression of where it had been." After surgery, Bob endured 12 more rounds of chemo followed by blood tests, tumor markers and CT scans every three months. However, in July of 2018, Dr. Paula Gill, his local oncologist, said because his test results continued to be excellent, she could no longer justify testing as often. It made Bob a little nervous, but he agreed to her plan. Two years later, all continues to be well!!! As of July 2020, it has been five-plus years since his diagnosis. The Outdoors Guy and our family are so grateful to God for this tremendous gift of life Bob has been given!!!
Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side; Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain; Leave to thy God to order and provide; In every change He faithful will remain. Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end. - Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel
My COVID-19 experience
If you read two of my previous blogs in May, you know I had day surgery at St. Mary’s Hospital-Rochester for a cochlear implant. In those blogs, I didn’t include information regarding COVID-19. Two days before my surgery scheduled on May 6, I was required to be tested for the virus at Rochester’s Mayo Clinic. The nasal swab test returned negative. But, to my complete surprise, the blood test was positive. According to my local primary physician, Dr. Martha Binn, this meant I was indeed infected with the virus at some point in the past. But I was asymptomatic and did not know I was sick. Still, Dr. Binn said I did have the virus. What makes my diagnosis ironic is sometime in March I told family members this was the healthiest winter I’ve had for several years with not even a cold. Strange! Upon reflecting as to when and how I could have picked up the virus, only one possibility came to mind. The last weekend in February, we were with family at a Minnesota hotel/water park. The following week, a family member became very ill. At the time, we thought it must have been a bug. Yet, it was something our family member had never experienced before. Back in February, we were aware of COVID-19 in China and Italy, and we had begun to learn about cases in New York. But, we didn’t realize it had already infiltrated mid-America. Later though, after we learned more about COVID-19, there was no doubt the family member had contracted the virus at the hotel/water park. I am convinced that is where I got it, too. Why? Because the hotel lobby was packed and the game room was busy. Elevators were crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with people breathing on each other and plenty of floor-button touching. YIKES!!! As far as we know, The Outdoors Guy didn’t contract COVID from me, nor did any of our other family members from their household. Yet, they could have and, like me, were asymptomatic. We continue to wear masks and take recommended precautions. Will we get the vaccine when it is available? Absolutely! The obvious reason: Dr. Binn advised, “There is no way of knowing how long the antibodies will last.” My antibodies could be long gone by now. Our country’s citizens anxiously await the day when life returns to normal. Then, except for lessons learned and the tragedy of lives lost, may COVID-19 be but a distant memory in our nation’s history.
The last time I checked in, which was in early May, my cochlear implant surgery at Mayo-Rochester was complete and I was in a two-week healing mode. (See my previous blog for surgery details.) It has been nearly four weeks since surgery. Just over a week ago the implant was turned on in what is called activation. And, I returned to Rochester for a scheduled adjustment the next day. The follow-up appointment with surgeon, Dr. Brian Neff, went very well. He was pleased with my progress and expects my hearing to continue to improve. Recovery has progressed as expected. Overall, my hearing is not like it will be in the future because it takes time - usually 6 months to a year - for the brain to become accustomed to the new device. It definitely is an adjustment. It takes commitment and effort. Currently, voices and other sounds I hear resemble the way we hear underwater. Like gurgling. Not only that, men’s voices sound lower than normal and they seem to be speaking slower than before surgery. Female voices sound like Mini Mouse, even when I’m listening to music. It’s comical and puts a smile on my face. So, I’m not complaining. Once fully recovered, I’ll actually be kind of sad Mini Mouse no longer will be singing my favorite tunes!! Not only can I hardly wait for life to get back to normal, but for it to be even better! However, patience is the key! And so I have learned…”Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.” Barbara Johnson Amen to that, sister. Amen to that!!!