Two Year Cancerversary

November 18, 2013. That was the day I had surgery for pancreatic cancer. I was one of the lucky ones. I could have surgery. Most people with my diagnosis cannot. Half of my pancreas and my whole spleen were removed and then shortly thereafter I went through 18 rounds of chemo. It was a long road that I have previously chronicled here, but I made it through. Most pancreatic cancer patients do not survive the first year. In fact, 80% do not make it to the one year mark.

When I planned my surgery, I did it strategically. In our house, November is a busy month. Our oldest daughter, my husband and my father all have November birthdays. I remember scheduling my surgery between my daughter’s 16th birthday and my husband and dad’s birthdays. I knew my illness cast a dark cloud over all of our celebrations that year, but I wanted to try to give enough time so that we could celebrate everyone else’s special day.

Last year, as the birthdays and my cancerversary approached, I admit that I thought a lot about my own anniversary. I was excited for the birthdays and so grateful that I got to be there for them, but I thought a great deal about my own anniversary and what it meant to me. I thought about everything that it signified and all of the stuff that we had experienced over that past year.

This year, as my cancerversary has approached, I have been aware of it, but in a significant mental and emotional shift, it has become less important to me. I have been more focused on other stuff in my life: Riley’s 18th birthday, my husband’s 50th birthday, my daddy’s birthday, my work and the race series that I am currently wrapped up in co-directing.

Still, it is an important anniversary and one that bears marking, because so much in our worlds changed two years ago. At this point in time in 2013, our worlds were rocked by my diagnosis. We did not know how much time I would have with my family. I think about the things that I have gotten to take part in over the last two years that I might not have had I not been so fortunate throughout my diagnosis and treatment. There have been birthdays. The girls were 10 and 16 when I was diagnosed. Now they are 12 and 18. Riley is legally an adult. Riley got her driver’s license. The college decision has been made (Go CSU Rams!) There have been homecomings and a prom. For Peyton, there have been karate belts earned, selection for a club volleyball team and a number of other successes in athletic and academic areas. She moved from elementary to middle school as I finished chemotherapy.

With Riley & Peyton on Riley's 18th birthday

With Riley & Peyton on Riley’s 18th birthday

Steve and I celebrated another year of wedded bliss. My family and I took an amazing vacation together, where I also happened to run a 100 mile race.

The family crossing the finish line with me!

The family crossing the finish line with me at the Bryce 100

Goofing around in Bryce Canyon after the race

Goofing around in Bryce Canyon after the race

I ran a full marathon and a half-marathon with Project Purple charity teams.

With Elli & Dino

With Elli & Dino in Lincoln, NE

With Jenny

With Jenny in her home state of NE

Several of the Project Purple Denver team members at the event.

Several of the Project Purple Denver team members at the event.

I ran a 50 mile race this fall at the Bear Chase Trail Race.

Lucky girl getting a hug from both RDs, Ben Reeves (l) and David Manthey (R). Notice the missing glass lens.

Lucky girl getting a hug from both RDs, Ben Reeves (l) and David Manthey (R). Notice the missing glass lens.

I ran a mountain race with my husband and friends.

Breck Crest with my honey

Breck Crest with my honey

With Debby, my friend since I moved to CO in 1999!

With Debby, my friend since I moved to CO in 1999!

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I race directed a charity 5k for Project Purple and continued working with our local club, the Pikes Peak Road Runners.

Having fun after the race!

Having fun after the Project Purple 5k!

With my PPRR Fall Series crew

With my PPRR Fall Series crew

We gained a new family member when we adopted Willy in January.

Our newest family member, Willy

Our newest family member, Willy

And last week, we said good-bye to the Grand Dame, Greta, who passed away..

She was a natural beauty

Greta, the Bullmastiff

I got to spend time with our wonderful extended family back east over the summer, which is something I never, ever take for granted.

Through all of this, I have met so many amazing and wonderful people that I simply cannot name them all. I do hope they all know the positive impact they have had on my life.

I often think in long-term thoughts now, which is something I did not always feel that I could or should do. I wonder what college will be like for Riley and what high school will be like for Peyton. I wonder what new adventures are on the horizon for Steve and me as our kids grow and prepare to move on to live their own lives independent of us..

Not everything is easy or joyous, of course. You never get through cancer without any long-term repercussions. I saw an endocrinologist recently and  we agreed that it was time to try a medication to help stabilize my blood sugar levels, which have been all over the place. I have not felt like my normally energetic self for a while now and I am hoping that this will help return me to where I used to be. I am still trying to make peace with this recent turn of events. I would never have been in this position if I had not had half of my pancreas taken out. While I know that I am so very lucky to be here, I am also frustrated by how I have been feeling. If pancreatic cancer had not chosen me, I would not be facing the health issues that I am facing now.

All of the above being said, I know that pancreatic cancer gave me many gifts, too. One of those gifts is the gift of friendship from so many people I would not have otherwise met. I will relay one story now because it demonstrates to me the serendipity of life. In September, I was running the Bear Chase 50 mile race. I was wearing my Project Purple shirt which says “Survivor/Running with half a pancreas” on the back. I passed a woman who was running the 50k (different courses that converge over time) and she asked me, “Why are you running with half a pancreas?” I told her my story and she told me that she was a type 1 diabetic. We chatted a bit, but eventually parted ways. I had hoped that I would see her again after the race was over, but I did not.

Three weeks later, I was working the Project Purple booth at the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon expo. Guess who stopped by?

With my new friend, Jen.

With my new friend, Jen.

Jen and I were meant to meet. I believe that fully in my heart. As it turns out, she had a friend who was battling pancreatic cancer. Sadly, her friend passed away shortly after we met in Denver; another tragic loss to this dreadful disease.

When I met with the endocrinologist a couple of weeks later, he told me to make friends with Type 1 diabetic athletes. I believe we met because we both needed each other at this point in our lives. She needed to see someone living beyond PC and I needed to meet someone who could show me that distance running and diabetes can co-exist. It all seems overwhelming right now but I know that I will figure it all out in time.

So much has happened in the past two years. I am so grateful that I am still here. I have been given the gift of more time with my family, and I have been given the gift of new and meaningful friendships. This year I look forward to seeing my eldest graduate from high school and go off to college, and to seeing my youngest enter her teenage years. Even though it has not always been easy, I am excited to see what year three brings!

You can read last year’s cancerversary remembrance here:

https://mypancreasranaway.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/remembering-on-my-cancerversary/

Saying Goodbye

Today we said good-bye to a member of our family. Our beloved 11.5-year-old Bullmastiff, Greta had to be put to sleep today.

She came to us many years ago. I had two young kids and I wanted a low maintenance dog who would be good with children. Greta was all of that but she was so much more. She was a tiny puppy who became a larger-than-life companion.

Riley was 6 and Peyton was 1 when we brought Greta home.. Peyton has no memories of life without Greta and Riley has few. We got her from Goldbars Kennel in Holyoke, CO.

Greta's litter. Her mama, Maddie, from Goldbars kennel

Greta’s litter. Her mama, Maddie, from Goldbars kennel

Maddie

Maddie

Greta's daddy Alden

Greta’s daddy Alden

Greta as a tiny puppy

Greta as a tiny puppy

Peyton & Riley with Greta the day we brought her home

Peyton & Riley with Greta the day we brought her home

Riley holding Greta

Riley holding Greta

Peyton loving her new puppy

Peyton loving her new puppy

Riley content to snuggle

Riley content to snuggle

One member of our family was less than thrilled with the addition of a new puppy.

One member of our family was less than thrilled with the addition of a new puppy.

Peyton and Greta really grew up together. Greta quickly demonstrated that she had the patience of a saint. She also LOVED children. She loved everyone, but she had a special place in her heart for kids. We could not walk by a playground without her tail practically wagging off of her body. She would give kisses that would completely drench a child’s face. This was either met with amusement or horror.

Peyton & Greta

Peyton & Greta

Peyton & Greta spent many lazy weekend mornings together.

Peyton & Greta spent many lazy weekend mornings together.

She had a lot of personality

She had a lot of personality

She always wanted to be with us.

She always wanted to be with us.

Greta sometimes (Ok, often) got into mischief. Her appetite was legendary. At the age of 8 months, she ate the side of our love seat. As she got older, she ate tennis balls, packages of balloons, Peyton’s tooth that was packaged for the tooth fairy, children’s vitamins that contained iron (she had to get her stomach pumped), a tampon, Peyton’s birthday cake, an easter basket full of candy, multiple barbie dolls, an avocado seed, plastic bags, silly band bracelets (rainbow poop as evidence), entire loaves of bread, my friend’s tooth-brush, headphones, and part of the kitchen floor among other things. When she first started eating random objects, I used to panic and call the emergency vet. After hearing several times, “Due to her size, she should pass that OK”, I learned to relax a bit. She was honestly very lucky to survive her culinary adventures.

Her love of Barbies was legendary

Her love of Barbies was legendary

greta barbie help

the living room often looked like a crime scene.

the living room often looked like a crime scene.

Friends even brought Barbies to Greta as peace offerings.

Friends even brought Barbies to Greta as peace offerings.

She was a natural beauty

She was a natural beauty

But when I think of Greta, I think of that stuff with a wistful smile. I remember her for being a gentle giant who was always full of love. Despite her large size, she had a sweet and loving disposition. She was welcoming of everyone who came to our home. She loved my children. She adored their friends.

And a lap dog.

And a lap dog.

And a lounge lizard.

And a lounge lizard.

No one could relax like she could.

No one could relax like she could.

There was that day last winter when she decided to dismantle the Christmas Tree.

There was that day last winter when she decided to dismantle the Christmas Tree.

In 2014

In 2014

greta bone

She has helped me raise my kids over these last 11.5 years. She helped me when I mourned the loss of our German Shepherd, Klondike, and my cat, Tribble. When I was diagnosed with cancer, she was a source of constant love, comfort and companionship. She was always up for snuggling on the couch or my bed. During my treatments, she started showing real signs of age and wear and tear. I prayed to God that she would survive until I at least finished treatments. She did. She was sometimes naughty, but she was truly an amazingly good and special girl.

And when I went through chemotherapy, she was always by my side.

And when I went through chemotherapy, she was always by my side.

These last couple of weeks, she starting showing significant distress. We tried a few treatments, but the reality is that she was a big girl who had outlived her projected life span. Most Bullmastiffs do not make it to over 11. She could no longer get out to go to the bathroom, among other issues, and we knew it was time. We said goodbye to her this morning. We surrounded her and told her we loved her. The girls cradled her giant head in their laps and we eased her way across to the Rainbow Bridge. As sad as this is for all of us, I am grateful that we could ease her very obvious suffering. I know that during her last night in our home, she was so ill that Steve and I would have done anything to take away her pain.

For now, there are many tears and the emotional toll is hell, but ultimately it is all worth it in the end. That’s part of the bargain when you love a dog: You know that you will have to say good-bye much too soon. It seems so strange that all of the creatures that inhabited our home, our hearts and our lives early on in our marriage are now all gone. It feels like the end of an era in many ways. The little six-year-old girl who carried Greta in her arms all of those years ago will be 18 in days. The other little girl is on the cusp of being a teenager. In many ways, it feels like a lifetime ago that we brought her home.

We loved Greta so deeply but, more than anything, we were so lucky to be loved by our Greta.  Our hearts, our arms and our laps are currently empty but I know that, with time, our memories will become more of a source of comfort and less of a source of tears.

Greta dog jail