Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best Books of 2013

     For the last few years I've compiled a best of list which included movies and music, but nothing really stood out in either of those categories for me this year. However I did read 68 books in 2013 and I gave 5 stars to 7 of them. I also gave 4 stars to 27 books so exactly half of the books I read this year were very good or excellent - I guess I'm getting better at picking good reads. I track my reading at goodreads.com and it helps at year end to look back at what I've read. The lowest rated book from 2013 was "Turing's Cathedral" which was about the beginnings of the modern computer. It apparently was a bestseller but all it did for me was make me feel stupid.
     So here are the top 7 books I read this year, along with the comments I put into my database after I read them:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio 
      I loved this YA novel about a boy who goes to school for the first time (grade 5). Because of gross facial deformities he had been homeschooled. Wonderful use of voice - different sections written by a variety of characters. I read it 3 times - once for myself, then once to prep for using it in class, then as a read aloud. A very 'rich text' as we say in the teaching biz - used most of the music referenced, Auggie Doggie cartoon and movie clips, study of voice. Very endearing character, in the end quietly heroic - really a story about acceptance. 

In the Absence of God by Richard L. Cleary  
     This is a pretty heavy book in a few ways but I really liked it. The author has an amazing vocabulary (I looked lots of words up - so convenient on the ipad) and the depth of thinking about belief is something I’ve never read before. It sometimes seemed like I was in a course on philosophy. My only complaint would be that sometimes these dialogues became too pervasive and then the story dragged somewhat. However, overall I think this quite an amazing book and I found it very encouraging to my own beliefs (did quite a bit of highlighting).

Canadian History for Dummies by Will Ferguson  
     I really enjoyed this look at our country’s history. It’s filled with lots of interesting information about our past and is told with a wry wit. It also balances some of the social history (women’s, native rights) that are important to our development. Some overarching themes emerge as well, like the continual federal-provincial tensions, French-English problems, unity-multicultural issues. It is an overview though so he can’t give lots of details (but this encourages me to read more about some people or events). I’ve recommended this great book to several people and plan on buying my own hard copy to share and reread.

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs  
     This was a great read - the author decided to try to follow the Bible for one year, even though he was agnostic. OT for 8 months, NT for 4. Had some nominal Jewish background (with more religious relatives). I was mostly impressed with his honesty and respect for believers, even those he found pretty ‘out there’. Lots of humour comes through as well. He would admit by the end, to have been changed, valuing some aspects of faith-filled living, but not to the point where he would say he believes in God. Very interesting to get an outsiders perspective on some of the things in the Bible.

In Search of Deep Faith by Jim Belcher   
     I really loved this story about a pastor and his family who take a year off to travel around Europe exploring spots where important people of faith have made an impact on the author. They start in Oxford and then hit some important places on the continent - southern France where Huegenots sheltered Jews in the mountains during WW2, the Netherlands to see the house where Corrie ten Boom’s family also rescued Jewish people, Germany for Bonhoeffer sites, Austria and the real Von Trapp family. Along the way he shares honestly about family dynamics and encourages the reader to think more deeply about faith. 

Paris by Edward Rutherfurd   
     Loved this book! I think the trick to reading Rutherfurd is having extended time to give to the long, intricate story, so reading this on holidays at the cottage was perfect. Plus I think this is the best story of his I’ve read so far. However I would say it is skewed towards the more modern era, giving more time to the 20th century than most of his work. Still, I was able to really enjoy the storylines and many characters, plus I learned a lot of French history along the way. I think he really captures the heart of the French people, and many of the things that make them unique. It helped too that we had visited Paris back in 2006, though now I wish we had seen a bit more of the city.

     The Gospel of Mark by Michael Card  
     I find these studies very helpful (he's written 4). Card has so many insights that really help the stories come alive. Two interesting themes that keep being reaffirmed with this gospel is that it was written during the persecution of Nero and it was also based on the reminisinces of the apostle Peter. Over and over again there are clues in the text that set it apart from the other gospels and support these 2 proposals. Good preparation for our Friday night study of this gospel.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Chemotherapy Graduation

     While not too much exciting happened during the last two weeks (except for attending a beautiful wedding last weekend), the past few days have been very eventful. Of course the ice storm hit on Sunday, cancelling church and bringing down a large limb from our tree in the front yard. It hit Alison's and Joel's cars but didn't do any significant damage. But our power went out about 6:30 in the morning and didn't come back on until almost midnight. We spent a bit of time over at David and Rachel's keeping warm, cooking food, and looking after Lindsay so they could have a date time.
     And Monday of course was Beth's final chemotherapy treatment. David accompanied her for this one and I dropped in at lunch time.
Everything went very smoothly (there have been some previous issues sometimes getting her port-a-cath to work properly, but it wasn't a problem yesterday). At the appointment on Friday her chemo doctor was very pleased with her liver enzyme levels (they were normal) and her hemoglobin (iron level) had also come up significantly. However the calcium level was creeping up again to what they call a 'critical level' so she ordered another infusion (Beth has had one before) to bring it down somewhat. So this was an add-on to Monday's treatment. It's a 3 hour infusion so they allowed her to go home with it (around 1:00) and then she went back around 4:00 to get it disconnected.
    And then the blessings started pouring down. We first came home to a gift bag from a friend between our front doors. Then at around 5:00 one of the doctors that Beth works with at St. Mary's dropped by to deliver a card, flowers, and gift from the hospitalists (8 doctors who work with patients that have been admitted) there. It included a very generous set of gift cards for local restaurants and Chapters - let's just say we've got eating out covered for a while now!
   About 7:30 three of Beth's co-workers arrived at our house carrying in baskets and bags of gifts that had been collected at the hospital. Apparently her floor had sent a message around the hospital letting people know that they wanted to bring some Christmas gifts to Beth and wondered if others would like to contribute. Well, it was pretty overwhelming to see the number of gifts that were given, and it took a long time to go through them all. There were so many thoughtful gifts and wonderful cards with words of support and encouragement - we were just soaking in the love and care of her friends at the hospital. The original plan, apparently, had been for a whole choir of co-workers to file down from the hospital on Sunday night to sing carols to Beth at our house. Unfortunately the ice storm prevented them from doing that. But they had put together a beautiful compilation of pictures taken around the hospital with so many of her coworkers holding creative and touching signs. So we popped this DVD into the computer and just sat there with tears streaming down our faces as all of these wonderful people encouraged Beth on this journey - it was truly beautiful and touching (if the video doesn't work try this link: St. Mary's Encouraging Beth. Also if you click the box corners in the bottom right corner you can see a larger version of the video)
     We're looking forward to having family and friends over tonight to celebrate on Christmas Eve and then we'll spend tomorrow at my parents. Beth says she still wants to go up to the hospital to sing carols on Christmas morning (a Kreutzkamp tradition for many years now). We've received many words of appreciation for this blog keeping folks updated - but I'd say from our end it's been such a blessing to have so many people taking an interest in what's been happening. It's hard to express how much your support and prayers have meant over the past few months. Thank you for your love and care, and we wish a Merry Christmas to each one who reads this!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

More Good News

     Beth had two really good appointments last week that brought more peace regarding a couple of issues. On Thursday we met with the surgeon who will be performing the mastectomy in January. He explained things very well and agreed that in Beth's situation a double mastectomy would be appropriate. He will also need to remove some of the lymph nodes under her arm on the right side which makes the recovery on that side a bit more complicated. That is, she will need to have some physiotherapy for that as it will take some time to regain normal mobility. It was interesting to hear him say that he felt Beth will find the surgery to be easier to handle than the chemotherapy (not sure yet if we'd agree with that but we'll wait and see). Beth's chemo doctor had mentioned at her last appointment that the ideal time to wait between her last chemotherapy treatment and the surgery would be about 3 weeks. Since her surgery was scheduled for January 31st (about 5 weeks post chemo) I was a bit concerned and asked the surgeon about moving the date up. He said that shouldn't be a problem and when his secretary checked into it Beth got a new date for surgery - it will now be on Monday, January 20th.
     On Friday we went to Toronto Western Hospital to see a liver specialist who deals with Primary Biliary Cirrhosis. The first thing she said was that cirrhosis is actually a misnomer and that this condition really doesn't fit that designation. She also said that when people respond to the drug treatment (which Beth apparently has, as her levels were much improved with her last blood work) then their life expectancy is no different from the rest of the population. As well, the doctor said that there have been some cases where they have actually found there can be some healing in the liver with this drug. So this was really great to hear, especially because Beth had been quite worried about the long term consequences of this disease. It was also interesting to hear that the doctor who spearheaded the Canadian study of this drug just retired in June and so the (quite young) doctor we met, has worked with one of the best experts in this area.
     As far as her latest chemo treatment has gone the most annoying side effect has been her mouth being affected. She continues to use the special mouthwash they provide but it still is hard for her to enjoy food. That timing was unfortunate too, as we had her family Christmas gathering this past Sunday at her niece's in Cambridge. Still it was a wonderful time of visiting with extended family.
     On Saturday we visited the ChristKindl market at Kitchener City Hall and then met with our friend Daryl who had taken some family photos for us back in September before Beth lost her hair. There were some good shots and we thought we'd share one here:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Good Reports

     We travelled down to Toronto last Tuesday to see the surgeon about Beth's parathyroid glands. Here's a bit of technical stuff (skip it if you don't need to know and the picture just freaks you out). Most of us have 4 parathyroids, but Beth only has 2 - the two on her right side were lost during her surgery for thyroid cancer in 2002. This surgeon we saw at Princess Margaret Hospital was the one who took out the rest of her thyroid (on the left side) in 2003 and he was able to preserve those parathyroids. However, as has been shared in a previous post, there is now a benign tumour on one of them, which has been causing her calcium levels to rise significantly. The hopeful news from our visit with the surgeon was that he felt he would be able to just remove the one affected gland and leave the other one intact. If the one remaining parathyroid would be able to do the job of regulating Beth's calcium level that would be wonderful, as having to take synthetic calcium supplements can cause some other challenges long term.
     On Wednesday we had supper at our place with some friends from way back when we were in youth group together (sometime in the previous century). We had a lovely time visiting and then rushed off to hear the author Malcolm Gladwell speak. His latest book is called "David & Goliath" and it's all about the power of underdogs. He didn't talk about it that night but there's an interesting profile in the book about a doctor who revolutionized cancer treatment back in the 60's. He was the first one to use a drug called Vancomycin and he also was the doctor who began using a mixture of different drugs to treat various cancers. Both of these revolutionary ideas are significant to us because Beth has, of course, received the "cocktail" treatment for her cancers, and in fact when she received chemo for Hodgkins disease back in 1983, one of the drugs in that mix was vancomycin. Our son David bought a copy of the book for Beth and got it signed by Gladwell, to encourage her in the battle against the giant she's facing. Interestingly, Beth has not been able to read much while she's been off, and she had thought that she'd be able to get some extra jobs done around the house. But it seems that just dealing with this disease is pretty much a full time job - she recently tallied some of the things that have taken up her time: 21 doctor appointments, 19 tests, 5 chemo treatments, a variety of workshops & info sessions.
     Beth had blood work done on Friday, as well as meeting with her chemo oncologist. All of the levels that have been a concern had improved - her calcium level had come down, the indicators for her liver were all much better, and her iron level was the best it's been since this all started. It seems that some combination of drugs (she had the infusion for the calcium level last week, and has begun taking 2 tablets daily for her liver) and prayer are certainly working! As well, the doctor said the breast tumour has continued to shrink in size significantly.
     Today (Mon. Dec. 2) was Beth's 5th chemotherapy treatment and it went amazingly well. The port-a-cath worked right away (without needing to be flushed) and they could administer the drugs more quickly since there have been no reactions during the previous infusions. Josh went along with her this time and they were home by shortly after 1:00. Then Beth had a pretty good sleep by the fireplace in our family room and after supper she even wanted to put up our Christmas tree!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Feeling Blessed

     Well, we think this was one of the best weeks Beth has had since beginning her chemotherapy treatment! We're so thankful for everyone's positive thoughts and prayers.
     Last Monday Beth had the infusion to bring her calcium level down and while it was a longer day than expected, she felt next to no side effects from that treatment. It
ended up taking them almost 3 hours to get the port-a-cath access to function correctly, as it seems to get clogged up by a substance in her blood (called fibrin) and so needs to be flushed with a drug, which they needed to do twice before it was working properly. Beth was surprised when she called the hospital later in the week to see if they would do a check of her calcium level - the nurse told her that they find the infusion works well and the retest isn't necessary. At any rate Beth will get new readings with her blood work this coming Friday as part of her prep for the chemo treatment next Monday (the fifth one, or as we like to say, the second last one).
     The only other concerning time this past week was waking up for the third night in a row on Tuesday with pretty severe night sweats. Beth was somewhat worried about these, and it is one of the symptoms that is listed on the side effects to watch for and call the hospital about. So she did talk to the nurse about this as well but, it was felt that these weren't related to the chemo since she didn't have an elevated temperature along with them. They likely are being caused by the onset of menopause that Beth seems to be experiencing as a result of the chemotherapy.
     On Friday there was an appointment to have a marker inserted in the tumour in her right breast. This is done with local anesthetic and is placed in the centre of the tumour to help the surgeon. Beth really appreciated the wealth of information provided by the radiologist. This doctor helped to explain the kind of tumour and cancer in more detail - we had been told that the tumour was 'diffuse' and we wondered if that was a more negative thing as it sounded like the cancer in the breast was more spread out, but this doctor said it's just a description of the tumour and doesn't affect the cure rate in any way. The radiologist also showed Beth the mammogram they did that day and pointed out to her that there has been a significant reduction in the number of cancerous ducts in her breast compared to her previous mammogram in August.
     The rest of the week was filled with lots of visits and warm wishes from a variety of friends and relatives. Every day it seems there is either a card in the mail, or a message online, or a phone call, or someone dropping by, and these are a real tangible support and encouragement as we go through this time.
     On Thursday Beth drove to Mitchell's Bay (on the other side of Chatham) and had a great day with her sister Elaine, and her husband Bob, making Christmas gumdrop cake, which is an old family recipe her mom used in the past. On Friday she received a nice package in the mail from Calgary that included a beautiful pink hat and scarf that were made by her great-nieces there.
     Laying in bed Saturday morning and reflecting on the week, Beth said she was just feeling so very blessed by all of the support and concern that so many people have shown to her. And of course if you're reading this blog then you are one of those people and we want to say thank you for journeying with us. We so appreciate your love and care.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

3 Issues in 1

     So Beth had her fourth chemotherapy treatment this past Tuesday (Nov. 12) and before they give her the drugs she always needs to have blood work. Some of her levels that have been high, particularly her calcium level and liver enzyme levels were even higher. So they ended up giving her 25% less of one of the drugs to see if it would have any effect on the liver enzymes.
     On Thursday she had an appointment with the GI doctor about her liver and it was over the recess time at school so I was able to come along. From the results of the blood work he is quite sure that she has Primary Biliary Cirrhosis of her liver. He said that this is a fairly rare condition (he has seen 4 cases in 10 years) and that the progression of this chronic disease is quite variable. That is, some people can go for many years with very little effects from it, but on the other hand if it progresses more aggressively it could eventually require a liver transplant. So obviously this wasn't the news we were hoping to hear, but at the same time we are very relieved that no cancer has spread to the liver. The doctor prescribed a drug that he says has been found to be quite effective in treatment of this condition and that once she starts on it her enzyme levels should come down. As well, he is referring her to a liver specialist in Toronto who deals specifically with this condition.
     Thursday afternoon Beth also received a call from her chemo doctor at Grand River Cancer Centre, as she is quite concerned about the high calcium levels that are showing up. Even though Beth has none of the symptoms that can be associated with this, the levels have gotten so high that the doctor feels Beth could be at risk for renal or neurological problems. So she has booked an intravenous infusion of a drug that will bring her calcium level down. In fact that will be done tomorrow, on Monday morning and it sounds like it will take about 3 hours, as they need to give the drug slowly. We pray that it will be effective and that she will not need many of these treatments. As well, there can be some side effects of this infusion (although rare), especially with people who have had radiation in their jaw area, which Beth has had in the past.
     So for those keeping score, this is 2 other complications that need to be treated on top of the breast cancer Beth is dealing with. I think it's been mentioned before that the calcium problem will be eventually dealt with by surgery to remove her parathyroid gland(s). It's been a bit tougher week as a result, but it has been helpful to at least know exactly the things we're dealing with, instead of wondering and worrying. On the positive side, several people have told Beth that they have been specifically praying for her to have less side effects from this last chemo treatment and it would appear that so far things have been better. Fatigue has not been much of an issue and her mouth has been less of a problem as well, so we're very thankful.
     And there have been lots of good things about our week too. Three delicious meals that continue to be provided by our church family on chemo weeks, encouraging cards we keep getting in the mail, time with our family (and Joel was able to come home from London 3 times this week), a nice visit over breakfast Saturday with my cousin Jim and his wife Carol, dinner at my mom & dad's with my aunts and uncles from up north, along with other supportive conversations with family and friends. On Saturday afternoon David, Josh and Alison helped Beth to do some initial Christmas baking, so that was special as well (plus I got to take care of Lindsay during that time).

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

4 Down, 2 To Go

     Chemo #4 today (on a Tuesday instead of Monday, because it was closed yesterday for Remembrance Day) - it's nice to be well over half way through this process. Beth was a little more concerned about treatment this time as it feels like she's going into it already feeling tired. She found herself needing to rest (and falling asleep) more during the day over the past week. Our youngest son, Joel, was able to come from London today to accompany her to the appointments.
     Beth had a couple more encouraging conversations with doctors last week. She talked to the GI specialist on the phone about her blood work, and while some of the numbers are still not where they should be, he doesn't think that any cancer has spread to her liver. However he will retest things in a couple of weeks and if things haven't changed he would consider doing a biopsy. On Wednesday Beth was able to see her chemo oncologist and she said things were going well as far as the treatment is concerned. When she feels for the breast tumour she can tell that it has reduced in size by about half. She too feels that the liver is not involved, that there has to be some other issue happening which is affecting her levels.
     On Thursday Beth had an appointment at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto where she is seen every couple of years as followup to her thyroid cancer back in 2002. Actually she was seen there way back in 1983 when she first received treatment for Hodgkin's disease. Josh drove her back and forth (they weren't too thrilled when it took 2.5 hours to drive home) and Beth was glad to see her original thyroid doctor as the last several times she's met with an associate. She caught him up with all that is happening now and he recommended that if she has her parathyroid gland out (which is seeming likely at some future point) that she should consider having the surgeon who took out her thryoid at PMH as he is highly skilled at that kind of surgery.
     Joel also was home on the weekend and we ended up doing a pretty big cleanup/reorganization on Saturday as he needed to get some stuff out of the attic so Alison can bring the rest of her things from the apartment. We went through a lot of material and it felt good to get rid of at least a few things (lots of paper got recycled). As well, we're having some renovations done in our family room by Starkey Contracting (James is a friend of the family and does good work so we'll give him a free plug here - click the link) so things on the main floor are in a bit of an upheaval too. Things are looking great though and we'll soon be set back up in front of our fireplace.
     On Sunday it was wonderful to have the whole family together at our place to celebrate my mom's 74th birthday for dinner. A highlight of my day was after church when I came over to David, who was holding Lindsay, she reached out her arms to be held by me - a first! That night we went to see the movie "About Time" - it was a neat concept, although the time travel stuff is filled with lots of holes. However, in the end it's message is great: take the time to "relish this remarkable life." Important words, but difficult to live out, especially at this time, when dealing with major health challenges. Still, we work hard at staying positive and hopeful.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Ups & Downs (& Ups Again)

     Side effects from Chemo #3 have been pretty similar to the first two times but Beth's mouth has bothered her quite a bit, and for longer this time too. We attended a couple of fun events on the first weekend after her treatment but she couldn't enjoy them quite as fully because of her mouth issues. We dressed up for a stag & doe celebration for Alison's friend (and ex-roommate) on the Saturday and enjoyed visiting with folks there. On the Sunday there was a gathering in Exeter for all of Beth's cousins on her mom's side. We went to a restaurant for a buffet and then back to her cousin Linda's for a huge dessert spread. Unfortunately Beth was pretty discouraged because she took a nice sampling of a few of the goodies but couldn't eat most of them.
     Then on Tuesday morning she had an appointment with the parathyroid specialist but it turned out he couldn't really do it as his computer system was down. So he called later in the day on the phone but it turned out to be quite an upsetting conversation (and in retrospect it should have been done in person). He was investigating her high calcium levels and had the results from the parathyroid scan. He said that there was a tumour on Beth's parathyroid gland and that he was wondering about possible involvement of her liver as her alk phos level was elevated. When Beth asked if he was saying that she could have cancer in her liver he responded that he couldn't really say either way for sure, but that it should be investigated with another specialist (GI doctor). While this information was very troubling, Beth was also concerned when talking to this doctor, as it became apparent that he hadn't read some of the other test results very carefully (if at all) since her CT scan showed that her liver was clear. He also was suggesting she possibly have a drug infusion to treat the higher calcium level but it comes with a whack of more side effects, including severe jaw pain.
     So we were quite discouraged to hear this news and tried not to worry, but that was difficult. Beth was at the cancer centre the next day for a genetic counselling appointment so she went to see about talking with her cancer doctor concerning all of this. She met with the nurse and (after breaking down crying and then pulling herself back together) explained about the phone call. The nurse relayed all of the information to the doctor and then the doctor responded through the nurse, saying that she doesn't feel the anti-calcium infusion was necessary, but agreeing that Beth should see the GI doctor. The parathyroid doc had said that it might be 3 or more months before getting an appointment with the GI specialist, but there was no way we could sit around waiting for confirmation for that long. Since Beth knows this particular doctor from the hospital, she was able to make contact with him and got to see him on the Thursday afternoon. He went through all of the results with her and told her that the tumour on her parathyroid was benign and that he didn't feel the liver was involved. He ordered more bloodwork and explained that one of the tests would give him a more definitive determination about her liver. So we felt much more hopeful after she met with him.
     In the midst of all of this it was really nice to have a couple of evenings with our granddaughter Lindsay. Our son David was away the whole week because he was travelling to Nova Scotia to help the organization he volunteers with to dismantle and bring a back a fighter jet that was on display there. So we invited Rachel and Linsday over for supper on Tuesday, and went out together on Thursday too. Lindsay just turned 8 months this past weekend and she is so much fun to be around - she's such a happy little girl and it's just amazing to see her interact with people and her environment.
     On Friday we had a nice visit with Beth's sister and brother-in-law, Sharon and Ted, along with their granddaughter Jenna. This past Saturday we had a great breakfast out with a newer couple from church and then Beth's sister and brother-in-law from Chatham, Bob and Elaine, dropped in for a visit on their way to Toronto. We shared some great laughs (always therapeutic) and were so touched when Elaine presented Beth with a beautiful quilt that she'd made for her. She'd been gathering up pink material for the past months but as she said she had no idea at the time that she'd be using it for her sister. Then on Saturday evening we went to a wonderful concert in town by a singer-songwriter we like (Jacob Moon from Hamilton) who was playing with the KW Chamber Orchestra.
     On Sunday evening (yesterday) Beth was anointed and prayed for by the leaders of our church. This was a special time - we so appreciate the prayers and support of our many friends, relatives, and brothers and sisters in Christ.

Friday, October 18, 2013

October (so far)

     I haven't written in a while now so should probably update any interested parties about how things have gone after chemotherapy #2. Overall, Beth would say that the side effects were less this time - some of the ones she experienced the first time didn't appear and those that did weren't as severe. So that's good news.
     She's a bit worried about her fingernails, as apparently they can be affected in a couple of ways. Our niece Kim (during her treatment 3 years ago) got an infection in a fingernail that developed into cellulitis and required IV antibiotics in the hospital. When I talked to a coworker who had breast cancer treatment a couple of years ago, Beth was not happy to hear that her fingernails had completely fallen out! Beth did get an infected hangnail on one finger that started bothering her a little over a week ago, but she saw our family doctor right away and the antibiotic he prescribed seemed to take care of it.
     While her dry mouth still was a problem this time, she took the 'Magic Mouthwash' as soon as she felt symptoms and it never developed into as big an issue. However she says that she plans to take it for even longer with the next treatment as she's sure that will make it even less of a concern.
     The past couple of weeks have also been busy with nice visits from lots of friends and family. I was away at a men's retreat for a weekend but Beth had good support from our children. We've been very thankful and impressed with how the kids have really rallied around us and been more available. And of course granddaughter Lindsay therapy is always wonderful - we had a great time going with her and David to St. Jacob's Market when Rachel was away for an overnight in Parry Sound.
     Two days after the last chemo, Beth felt up to going to hear Paul Young speak in town. He's the author of the bestselling book 'The Shack' and he's also a fantastic speaker with an awesome story to tell. It was so nice to look over and see Beth smiling and laughing at the amazing things he shared. Beth's sister Sharon sent a perfect little poster that we've included here. There are some things that cancer just can't stop.
     The Grand River Cancer Centre (GRCC) is going to do genetic counselling with Beth so she has spent a significant amount of time lately gathering information for this. She needed to identify which of her 16 aunts and uncles and 27 cousins have dealt with cancer. Unfortunately there have been 22 cases in her mom & dad's families, which is kind of shocking when you realize that over half of her relatives have had cancer. Beth needed to send out release of information consent forms to 13 of them so that GRCC can contact the hospitals where they received treatment.
     So today (Friday, October 18) Beth had another appointment with her chemo oncologist. The news we're most excited about is that her hemoglobin (iron level) has gone up quite a bit - thank you for your prayers! Her level would still be considered on the low end but hopefully it will continue to increase. When the doctor examined the breast physically she was amazed that the tumour has decreased in size significantly. So Beth is ready for her next chemotherapy treatment on Monday. She has been in contact with the surgeon's secretary and has a consultation appointment booked for early December. The date for the surgery has already been set - January 31st.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Chemotherapy #2

     Today was Beth's second chemo treatment and Alison went along with her for this one. The nurse was able to infuse the drugs a bit more quickly as she was able to tolerate them fine the last time, but it still took about 5 hours. Apparently it should be even faster next time. So everything went smoothly today and Beth is not feeling any side effects except a headache.
     On Friday we had an appointment with the oncologist and although it was a brief visit we were very encouraged when she examined the breast tumour. Dr. Bahl said she could feel that the lump had definitely changed - that it seemed to be breaking up. So that was great to hear after only one treatment.
     This past week seemed to focus quite a bit on hair. Beth has gathered up a lot of head coverings from friends, the hospital and from a resource support centre called Hope Springs. She even was able to get a pretty nice wig for no charge. Of course, my favourites are the ones we picked out together at Ardene's - I think they even make her look young and hip! It was pretty timely that she explored this because she woke up Friday morning and realized she was shedding hair quite a bit. There was a lot of hair in the tub after she washed it, so that night she had Alison use the clippers to take it down to about half an inch. As of today Beth still has some slight hair covering but she's been wearing a variety of hats the last few days. And we've realized that although it takes some getting used to, this is a small price to pay for the powerful healing effects of these treatments.
     Beth's iron and calcium levels continue to be a concern. She has been taking progressively more iron supplements for the last 3 weeks but her level was still quite low on Friday. Hers was 87 - a normal level is 120, and doctors will usually transfuse a patient if it goes down to 80. Her current plan is to eat a lot more iron-rich foods (Cream of Wheat every morning here we come!). Tomorrow Beth is going in for a bone-density test and a parathyroid scan which will be used to investigate for causes of her higher than normal calcium level.
     Looking back over the last week we're thankful that Beth has been able to function pretty normally. It was nice to have Joel home on Wednesday and he cooked us a great steak dinner - we had the whole family here, including grandma & grandpa. We also had some good visits with a number of friends this week and have so appreciated the many cards and expressions of support we've received. Beth was especially touched by the beautiful plant and touching card that was sent by her co-workers at St. Mary's Hospital 5th Floor.
(P.S. Do you know that if you click on the pictures you can see a larger version?)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Week 2 after Chemo 1

     So last Monday Beth called the Grand River Cancer Centre to talk to her oncology nurse about her mouth being so sore. In fact she was feeling bad enough that she started crying as she was on the phone and the nurse was very helpful as she ordered something for her called Magic Mouthwash. I picked it up after I got home from school, she tried it right away and could already feel it working within a couple of hours. Beth used it 5 times in all over the next two days and it brought some real relief and healing (though it took a couple more days for her mouth to get back to total normal).
     On Tuesday we got everybody together to get some family pictures taken. We did it in Mom & Dad's backyard and our friend Daryl was our photographer. It will take some time for him to get them ready for viewing but we know they'll look great. Then on Wednesday Beth went to get her hair cut shorter. It took some getting used to (Joel said she looked like Justin Bieber) but the consensus is that it's pretty cute.
     Thursday morning was a minor operation to have a port-a-cath inserted, a temporary/permanent IV site in her jugular vein, which will be used for drawing blood and infusing the chemotherapy (instead of using an intravenous line in her arm). She was given a relaxant along with local anesthetic and everything went smoothly. There are 2 dressings from the incisions - on the left side, just below her neck and just above her breast. Thursday afternoon we had supper coming from our friends the Wiseman's so had invited the kids to join us, and then my cousin Jim and his wife Carol also showed up with food! We've felt very blessed by the practical expressions of support we've received. Beth also had an appointment in the afternoon with a specialist because her calcium levels are high and it was great to have our friend Ellen drive and act as a second set of ears.
     Friday morning Beth really enjoyed being able to visit with her long-time friend Marg (they were in the same nursing class 36 years ago). On both Thursday and Friday evenings we went out to our church small groups and it was nice getting back together with these good folks, as we've shared life together the past 2 years.
     On the weekend we took off for a getaway to Niagara Falls. Beth had read Pierre Berton's book "Niagara" this summer and had been wanting to visit again. She was feeling good so we felt it would be the right time to do it. We got a fantastic room at the Marriot with an amazing view of the Falls. It rained most of Saturday but our room was cozy and we also went out shopping (don't tell anyone but we ended up buying 4 pairs of shoes!). We enjoyed a nice lunch at TGIFridays and a great supper at Milestones, both within walking distance. Sunday morning was a good breakfast buffet (included with the package) and then some paperwork - marking for me, genetic history forms for Beth in preparation for a genetic counselling appointment. Then we headed down to the Falls at Table Rock via a walkway from the hotel that goes right over to the incline rail car. We bought some fudge and a photo of the Falls, then walked up to Clifton Hill. Berton talks about the "Carnival" on the Canadian side of Niagara and it sure is obvious in that section of town. We had a long walk back to the car but the sun was out and we needed the exercise. All in all it was a wonderful weekend and Beth is looking forward to being a bit more active this week as she feels quite good. The community nurse will be by on Monday to change her port-a-cath dressings.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

7 Days In

     So there have been lots of things we are thankful for this past week but to be honest today seemed a bit harder. We're so glad for anti-nausea drugs as that has not been an issue at all. Beth was bothered by headaches for a couple of days (Tues., Wed.) but these could be managed with Tylenol. We certainly appreciated getting 3 delicious meals delivered to us this week from friends at church, especially as Beth has felt a real lack of energy. While that feeling wasn't too strong the first few days, it did hit pretty hard starting Thursday evening. And on Friday she was feeling quite weak, to the point where she said she felt that if she had tried to take a walk outside she'd be afraid of the wind blowing her over.
     However we had a very nice family time Thursday for supper with everyone here except Joel (who's living in London but will be home for a visit this Tuesday). Our beautiful granddaughter Lindsay did a great job entertaining us as she bonded more with our yellow lab, Josie, and started doing some commando-style creeping around the rug trying to get the iphone I laid just out of her reach. A special aspect was that Beth had laid out a quilt for her to be on that was made by her mom and grandmother.
     We laid low during Saturday, with Beth resting a few times, but then she felt she had enough energy to go to our church corn roast near St. Clements. We had a wonderful time visiting with lots of good folks and were grateful for the sunshine keeping Beth warm. She did get tired after awhile so did retreat to the car for a bit as well.
     So today, Sunday, we headed up to Beth's hometown of Zurich to celebrate (open house/drop in) the 80th birthday of one of her cousins. Both of her sisters, Sharon and Elaine, along with her brother Gary were there too so it made for a nice mini-family-reunion. But Beth is really beginning to be bothered by her mouth. Part of her history is that she was treated for Hodgkin's disease 30 years ago and they used radiation on her neck and mouth/nasal area. Consequently she has had to adjust to having very little saliva in her mouth for a long time now, which has made her more sensitive to spicy foods and has also resulted in a lot more dental work. It seems though that the chemotherapy drugs are affecting this even more, which would make sense, as they target the fastest growing cells in our body. Beth is finding that her lips are very dry and cracking, and her mouth is even more sensitive. She is concerned about getting sores in her mouth which then would be a risk of infection. As well, I think we're both a bit worried about how bad this will get - will it start getting better or will the chemotherapy continue to exacerbate the situation? Beth will try to contact the doctor tomorrow to find out more and perhaps get a cream for her lips that can aid in the healing process instead of just protecting them (though she is glad for Burt's Bees lip balm;) Just tonight she also began wondering if she's getting a cold, which wouldn't be a good thing. From information we've gathered from different sources we are quite hopeful that week 2 and 3 after the chemo will have Beth feeling better and better (just in time for the next round, of course).
     We so appreciate your interest and support and prayers during this time.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Chemotherapy #1

     Yesterday was a long day but overall, and amazingly, we felt pretty positive throughout. We arrived at the Grand River Cancer Centre around 9:00, then didn't leave until 5:00 in the afternoon, and it was never stressful, but actually almost relaxing!
    We began the day by meeting with a pharmacist named Terry (so we knew he'd be a good guy;)) for about 45 minutes. He was very encouraging and also was a wealth of knowledge. It was very interesting to hear about his close connection with Beth's first cancer doctor, Dr. Brian Dingle, when she was treated for Hodgkin's disease back in 1983 (exactly 30 years ago this month). They kept wanting to share stories about Dr. Dingle and it was indeed great to reminisce. We're thankful for the advances in anti-nausea medicines over these 3 decades as Beth's chemo experience back then was pretty traumatic.
     Next we went into the chemotherapy treatment area and met our nurse for the day. It was neat that her name was Lindsay (our beloved granddaughter's name) and she was wonderful - explaining what to expect, taking as much time as we needed and patiently answering all of our questions. The facility is really beautiful and it was very nice to have large windows pouring light into the room. Lindsay started the intravenous line and started a 'top-up' of one of the anti-nausea drugs Beth had misread the dosage on (she took pills both Sunday and Monday for this but didn't realize she was supposed to take 2 of the pills on Sunday). 
      Beth was able to keep on her street clothes and opted to lay on a stretcher, though large comfy chairs are also available. With this being the first chemo it would be a longer day as they give each of the 3 drugs slowly in order to watch carefully for any reactions. The first drug was Herceptin and it took 1.5 hours to administer. I snuck home at lunch and then went to the store, as Beth had wanted to get a smaller Bible to use for reading and highlighting passages on hope and encouragement. I wasn't exactly sure what to get her until I noticed a pink one that was sponsored by the Breast Cancer Foundation - perfect! When I gave it to her it was the only time in the day when there were tears, as she said, "I still can't believe that this has happened to me!"
     After the Herceptin they wait an hour or so before giving anything else. Beth was also given some Benadryl, which is routine, to prevent allergic reaction with the next drugs. So the last 2 drugs, Carboplatin and Docetaxel, didn't get started until mid-afternoon but they didn't take near as long to administer. Beth couldn't believe that the 350 ml of solution for the Docetaxel would be given in just half an hour as they would never do something like that on her floor. But apparently the drug needs to be administered quickly because of it's instability chemically (yeah, this probably all getting too technical).
     The main thing here is that we've been so thrilled that Beth didn't feel any real side effects during the treatment and even continuing on until tonight (Tuesday evening). She said she had very fleeting and minor feelings of nausea twice today and has taken some Tylenol for a headache a couple of times but otherwise is feeling pretty normal.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Cancer Shock

September 9, 2013
The past 11 days have been something of a whirlwind and so first off I want to apologize that this information hasn’t gone out sooner. As usual I’ll also apologize for the mass email but we’re feeling a bit overwhelmed (but thankful) with the number of people we need to be in contact with about our present situation.
The short version is that Beth has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She noticed a lump in her right breast in August and quickly went to see our family doctor. He sent her for an ultrasound but the doctor there felt he should do biopsies (of the breast and a lymph node under her arm) because things looked suspicious. Amazingly the results were in just 3 days later and when we met with our family doctor he acted quickly to get Beth set up. In fact, that very afternoon (Thurs. August 29th) we met for over an hour with a nurse ‘navigator’ at the Grand River Cancer Care Centre. She works exclusively with breast cancer patients to help coordinate getting their treatment started and she had already booked appointments for the following week for tests and a meeting with the cancer doctor, Dr. Bahl.
We met with Dr. Bahl a week later, but it took her an extra day to decide on the best treatment because of Beth’s previous cancer treatments, especially one of the drugs she received 30 years ago during chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s disease. At this time the planned treatment is 6 doses of chemotherapy (actually 3 drugs each time) every three weeks, then surgery to remove the breast and affected lymph node, and finally radiation. So this will be a long haul overall, but we’re not sure of the exact end date at this time.
However Beth has started her first round of chemotherapy today, Monday September 9th. If we keep to the schedule then her last chemo would be Dec. 23 (Merry Christmas!). They would wait at least a month, we believe, until surgery and there would probably be 4-6 weeks wait before radiation. Anyway it looks like things won’t be finished until next spring sometime and even then it seems like one of the drugs will be kept up for some time after that (fortunately that particular drug has very limited side effects).
It’s important to know that the doctor assured us that “we’re dealing with a curable situation here” - those words of course helped us immensely. While this cancer is fast growing and has spread to one lymph node, the tests showed that it has not gone beyond that, and they are confident in the effectiveness of this treatment.
We appreciate your thoughts and prayers. We believe in the power of prayer, and have already sensed God’s ‘peace that passes understanding’ in the midst of this process. 
        A good friend gave Beth this acronym when she was battling Hodgkin's disease (and it continues to apply):
B eat 
E verything 
T hrough 
H ope
          Ps. 33:22 "May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in You."

Thanks so much. Love,
Beth and Terry

Friday, January 11, 2013

Year End Family Letter

Happy New Year!    

We look back at 2012 with grateful hearts for many things, but the past year did have a number of challenges for the Kreutzkamps.
We started the year dealing with 4 medical concerns: Mom was scheduled for surgery to remove cancerous spots from her ovary, Beth needed to have a lesion removed from her esophagus in London, Alison was having a thyroid scan to examine lumps, and in February Dad and Mom had to quickly fly home from Florida because of blockages found in his carotid arteries.
Mom’s surgery was successful and she was declared cancer-free. Dad had more tests and eventually saw a specialist in the summer who recommended surgery. However when he had the operation they discovered that the arteries were completely blocked so they don’t try to fix them then. Fortunately people can live with completely blocked carotid arteries for many years. Alison’s was a longer process as she found out there were some cancerous spots in her thyroid. So she ended up having 2 surgeries this year, as well as a radioactive treatment (pill, then some isolation) in London. Thankfully, everything went well and she is another of our family to have beaten cancer.
On a happier note, we are excited to share (if you haven’t already heard) that  David & Rachel are expecting their first child at the end of February! We’re certainly looking forward to this next stage in our lives - being grandparents. 
The big news for Josh is that he moved out of our house in November, to a townhouse not too far away. He shares it with a friend, Ryan, and it seems that their place has become the hangout for lots of friends. Josh started at yet another new computer programming job this year and this company is in Mississauga so he continues to commute. 
Alison continues to share an apartment in town with her friend Julie. She began teacher’s college (University of Western Ontario, where Terry got his B.Ed. oh so many years ago) in September and commutes to London for classes. She continues to work at the local pool as well.
So Joel is now the only child at home. However he was in Toronto from January to April finishing his culinary program at George Brown college. He wrote (and passed!) his Red Seal exam later in the year. In the fall he took a trip to Berlin before starting his new job as a cook at a new restaurant in Waterloo called Beertown.
After teaching the most challenging group of students in his 25 years (yes, he got a watch!) Terry was assigned a new grade and a new room in the fall of 2012. And so the challenges continue, even as retirement looms on the horizon. Terry didn’t write as regularly this year on his blog but there might be a few things of interest. Check it out at: www.tkreutzkamp.blogspot.com
Beth continues to mostly work as the resource nurse on her floor but there are lots of challenges in that role as well, especially as so many staff are new. She also took on the leadership role of deacon at our church.
Holiday trips this year included:
  • a quick trip down to Florida on Family Day weekend in February - the idea was to spend time with Mom & Dad but they had to fly home the week before, so we just hung out at their trailer, enjoyed the warm weather, and used their car.
  • spending March break at our first resort experience in Punta Cana with our friends Bruce & Carol. We enjoyed it so much that we took our whole family to a resort in Cozumel, Mexico over Christmas.
  • attending the Faith & Writing Festival in Grand Rapids, Michigan in April - lots of interesting speakers and some great music
  • a week renting the Wiseman cottage near Huntsville - it’s always relaxing and beautiful, and it was nice that Mom & Dad could join us
  • a trip flying out of our local airport to Alberta to visit Beth’s nephew Scott and family in Calgary, then driving up along the Columbia Icefield Parkway to spend time with her niece Kim and Mike in Edmonton.
  • family reunions in the summer, along with a few days at our church Camp Kahquah near Magnetewan

We’re glad for the chance to connect in this small way with you at this time of year. And as we said last year: you are in our thoughts and prayers.