Monday, January 20, 2014

An Amazing Day!

     Well the short answer is that today went amazingly well! If you want more details feel free to continue reading (I promise not to get too medical or graphic).
     Beth woke up at 5:00 because she was told to drink a couple of cups of apple juice at that time and then we walked up to the hospital just before 6:00. Beth wanted to drop in on the 5th floor to pick up some information a coworker had photocopied for her and then we headed down to the day surgery unit to get registered. Our son David joined us about 6:45 (he took the day off work). Our friend and former pastor Olu Peters and his wife Tracey dropped by shortly thereafter and offered up a beautiful prayer before Beth went into the surgery.
     Then the waiting began. David and I went home and I ended up taking a nap as I hadn't slept well the night before. We went back up to the hospital around 9:30 since we wanted to make sure we were there if the doctor came out to talk to us after the operation. We were hopeful that would happen but in the end he didn't come and we could tell that he had several other surgeries he was performing in quick succession so it wasn't a big surprise. A former neighbour of ours is a long-time volunteer at the hospital in the day surgery unit so he was able to keep us informed a bit - that is, he told us that he had seen Beth in recovery but he didn't talk to her as it seemed she was sleeping a lot. At noon I felt we had sat there long enough so I went back to ask where things were at, and as it turned out Beth had just arrived back in that area. She was looking pretty pale and was still a bit groggy but was able to communicate fine (with regular doses of ice chips for her mouth). Alison came up from the house about that time as well so she and David were able to come in right away too (we saw signs up saying only 1 visitor per patient but nobody hassled us about the 3 of us being there, although we tried to rotate a bit as well so usually only 2 were there at a time).
     Around 1:00 David and I headed out to get some food (my 5:30 muffin had worn off a long time before!) and pick up a couple of items from the drug store (pain prescription and an anti-itch cream as Beth has found lately that her skin has become way more itchy and she wonders if it has something to do with her liver). While we were away she was able to get some sleep and gradually wear off some of the effects of the anesthetic/surgery - this mainly involved taking deep breathes regularly and keeping her legs moving. She did get some pain medicine as well but her pain never got over a 4 or 5 on the 10 point scale. She was surprised to find that she has pretty good range of motion on the right side where they took lymph nodes from under her arm. However she is restricted in lifting to nothing over 5 pounds.
     Beth got up to go to the washroom, needing a bit of support as she felt a little unsteady at first, but she really did quite well with that and then the nurse showed us how to empty the 3 drains that she has, one for each incision. She got a special camisole from the Hope Springs support centre that she can wear which includes pockets for the drains so we put that on and then got dressed for being discharged. Alison brought the car up and I bought Beth a bowl of soup from Tim Horton's on the way out. So we were home by 3:45 and Beth was pretty comfortably sitting at our kitchen table eating some soup (see photo).
     It was really wonderful being at St. Mary's Hospital where there are so many familiar and caring people. Beth connected with a couple of long-time friends and co-workers through Facebook on the weekend who work in the operating and recovery rooms. They each asked if she would like for them to be with her in those areas and she was thrilled to have Rosemary present as she got prepped in the surgery suite and then Kathy be her nurse caring for her during the first stage of her recovery. In fact, Beth and Kathy trained in the RN program together (oh so many years ago now) and even lived together for almost 2 years as they began their careers at St. Mary's. Amazing, right? And the whole day was filled with lots of other great connections as we crossed paths with many of Beth's co-workers. (it took a while to wheel her out at the end of the day as she needed to stop to talk to people along the way). While her primary care nurse in the day surgery unit was not someone Beth knew, Vicky was so supportive and helpful. She has known though of the situation through hospital channels and said that when she found out this morning she'd be taking care of Beth that she knew it was definitely a "God-thing."
     Josh dropped by later in the afternoon and then David went to get Rachel and Lindsay so we had supper together. [We had leftovers from a great retirement party that Beth and the kids hosted for me on Sunday at our house. 28 of my coworkers from Queen Elizabeth School came, where I worked for 19 years before transferring to my present school a few years ago. It was a wonderful time and Beth said it made for a great distraction from thinking about the surgery.]
     The rest of the evening continued to go well, with Beth taking pain medication at 5:00 and not taking anymore until 10:00. Lindsay therapy (which includes lots of smiles and giggles) is always very effective. Joel got home from work at 9:00, after a 12 hour day. I emptied Beth's drains and we've been pleased that the fluid draining now is more clear. I feel like I'm just starting to ramble random information now and for some reason I'm feeling kinda tired. But it really has been a very good day all things considered. I think we're all amazed at how well Beth is feeling and so we are obviously grateful for the many positive thoughts and prayers that have been offered up at this time. From the bottom of our hearts we say thank you once again for your love and support.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ready for Part 2 (of 3)

     The last few weeks have been a nice respite from intensive medical treatment, although it hasn't been completely devoid of hospital visits. The Friday of Christmas week Beth was delighted to get out her port-a-cath tube that had been inserted into a larger vein by her heart for the chemotherapy. This had allowed the drugs to be given without irritating the veins in her arm. However she did find the port-a-cath itself to be kind of irritating too, though just skin discomfort.
     This past Monday Beth had to go the the Grand River Cancer Centre to receive her infusion of herceptin. She will continue to get it every three weeks until September. This is a drug that is used because the breast cancer was determined to be HER2+ (that stands for Human Epidermal growth factor Receptor 2-positive, for those that just need to know). Actually how this treatment works is fairly complicated so I'll just use a couple of internet quotes to say that it is "a targeted therapy that is designed to work on a specific area of the cancer cell to reduce it's ability to spread". It also "alerts the immune system to destroy cancer cells to which it is attached." At any rate they recommend continuing this treatment for a full year. The side effects of herceptin are much less than the other chemotherapy drugs, although it can result in heart problems, so Beth is having regular echocardiograms (every 3 months).
     On the weekend Beth went up to emerg early Sunday morning as she was concerned about a possible infection in a fingernail. The doctor there prescribed an antibiotic but she went to our family doctor on Tuesday as an abscess needed to be drained and since then it's been healing up fine. Beth was wanting to be extra careful not to have any complications that might delay next Monday's surgery.
     Beth has also been calling around trying to arrange to have her parathyroid surgery before the radiation begins. This would hopefully stabilize her calcium level so that she would not need to receive any more of the drug used to bring it down. We meet with the surgeon in Toronto at Princess Margaret Hospital the last week of January to determine a suitable date for that surgery.
     Tuesday was the presurgery appointment at St. Mary's, which involved some tests and a meeting with the anesthetist. So Monday (January 20th) is the big day - Beth is scheduled for a double mastectomy at 8:00 and apparently the surgery takes about 2 and 1/2 hours. Most people are shocked when they find out that this procedure is considered day surgery (that is, she won't stay in overnight) but apparently that's been the common practice for the last year or two. She will come home with 3 drains - one for where each breast has been removed, plus one along her right side as they will be removing lymph nodes under her arm. These stay in for 7 to 10 days and a community nurse will come in regularly to change the dressings, etc.
     Beth says that although it has taken her some time, she now feels that she is ready to face this next stage in the journey. We realize that there will be an adjustment period getting used to this new reality. At this point she has not made any decisions about reconstructive surgery.
     We certainly are grateful for everyone's thoughts and prayers at this time. We are thankful for skillful doctors and nurses and continue to trust in God to guide them. Your ongoing support has been so important and appreciated.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Annual Family Update

     While Beth’s medical challenges over the past 4 months have been pretty much all-consuming, we look back over 2013 remembering the many good times we have experienced as well.
  We started the year preparing for the arrival of our first grandchild. The excitement mounted as we redid one of our spare rooms over into a baby room and shopped to furnish it. Then Lindsay arrived on March 2nd and everyone rushed to the hospital to welcome her. Lindsay has been a great joy in the life of our family. David and Rachel are awesome parents and Lindsay has been such a happy little girl at every stage of her development over the past 10 months.
  When they’re not busy parenting David & Rachel continue to work, Rachel even doing some freelance graphic design during her maternity leave. David still works out at the airport and volunteers with the Jet Aircraft Museum in London. A highlight for him was organizing, and participating in, a trip out to Nova Scotia this fall to help bring back an aircraft from there.  
Josh started a new company with some associates last year that has really taken off, to the point that he leased office space in Kitchener. Their internet presence is at and it gives wider access to Netflix movies and such. We spent a fair bit of time this summer going around to look at houses in the area as he was seriously wanting to buy. While none of his offers went through now he’s now looking at condos.
  Alison graduated from teacher’s college, at the University of Western Ontario, in June, and did a fair bit of volunteering at dad’s school in the fall. While she waits to get on the supply teacher list she continues to work the desk at the local pool and moved home in September. Most of her fall was spent helping her friend (and former roommate) Julie prepare for her December wedding, as Alison was her maid of honour.
  Joel received a promotion (from cook to Chef de Parti) at Beertown in May and then moved to London in July to help open one of their restaurants there. He enjoyed the many challenges with this but has found some of the politics in the hospitality world to be draining. At the end of the year he was offered a position back at the Waterloo store so now has returned home as well. Joel also did a lot of writing this fall as he made applications to teacher’s college for 2014, hoping to become a culinary teacher in high school in the future.
  Most people are probably aware of Beth’s ongoing battle with breast cancer that began at the end of the summer. I’ve written a pretty detailed account on my blog ( We’re very grateful for how quickly things have been dealt with and have been so impressed with the care at the Grand River Cancer Centre. Chemotherapy finished on December 23rd and Beth is scheduled for a double mastectomy on January 20 (at St. Mary’s hospital). Radiation will follow several weeks after that.
  Terry had been looking forward to retirement after March break but now has pushed that forward so that he will be finished at the end of January. He got out golfing with his Dad a bit more this summer and enjoyed helping redo David & Rachel’s backyard. Terry leads the music at church at least once a month and we sing with the children there regularly as well.
  Our house got some much needed attention this year too. A young friend, James, who’s starting his own business, did some great work on our family room, steps and kitchen this fall (you can see pictures at Currently another longtime friend, Steve, is redoing the kids’ bathroom.
Holiday trips this year included:
  • 2 full weeks (instead of our traditional one) at Harp Lake cottage near Huntsville. It was really nice having the extra time as we had friends and family visit over our time there.
  • we stayed for a full week at our church Camp Kahquah this year and enjoyed it so much we booked for 2014 as well
  • numerous visits with family and friends, including a quick trip up to North Bay and hosting a Hugill gathering at our house, including Beth’s niece Kim’s family from Edmonton
  • a getaway to a Bed & Breakfast in Port Stanley with our friends Dan & Ellen in August
  • attending the Gentleman of the Road music festival in Simcoe (along with 25,000 other people - all who seemed to be standing in front of me!)
  • a few days during March break at Blue Mountain where Josh, Alison & Joel went snowboarding. We had a great room looking right out onto the hill.
  • a trip to a concert in Cleveland, Ohio in March and a visit to the Rock & Roll Museum there
  Overall, this has been a year of drawing closer together as a family and leaning on the support of so many faithful friends. Tough times have a way of doing that, and we’re especially thankful for the blessings of caring relationships.