Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Elich Experience - 2011

2011 was the year of the shared experience.  

At the beginning of the year the focus was my continuing recovery from November’s thyroid cancer surgery.  In February Barb and I made several trips to Regina for the multi-step treatment culminating in the radioiodine ablation (a radioactive iodine drink designed to destroy any lingering thyroid tissue in my system).  This was followed by three days in quarantine as the radioactivity wore off – an interesting circumstance to say the least.

We learned the cancer experience goes more smoothly when the ups and downs are accepted and shared together.  God proved faithful and we remained joyful and confident under His hand of care.

Judy, Patty, Kathy, April, John, Mary, Steve, Barb

A Grand Summer Vacation

As the summer months progressed, Barb and I spent ten glorious days at Waldport on the Oregon coast.  Blessed with sunny weather for those days, we walked along the beach, explored the sights along the coast, took pictures, played golf, and had a glass blowing lesson at a shop in Newport.  As well, we spent a few days in Portland catching up with family and friends.

Beth and her friend Becky took their Oregon Adventure in April – returning with stories of much food eaten, train trips taken, shops explored, and accounts of time spent on the Oregon coast.

Hannah took her much anticipated summer vacation to visit her friend Michelle in Calgary.   She returned with stories of life in the big city, canoeing on Lake Moraine, shopping and reconnecting.

A Focus on School
Beth began studies in the Fine Arts Dept. at the University of Regina.  She has done well and it has been a delight to see her embrace the opportunities of university and this new phase of her life.  Hannah took on the challenging route of continuing her program by Distance Learning courses through Memorial University.  She spent many days and evenings pouring over textbooks, writing papers and studying for exams.

A Sad Goodbye

In the midst of all this, Penny, our 18 year-old cat, a beloved member of the family, had to be put down.  Age had caught up to her and this was the best option, but it proved to be a sad and emotional experience for us all. 

Good News

In November Barb and I returned to Regina for a series of follow-up tests. In anticipation of this I was required to go off my thyroid hormone medication for the month of October.  This was a month of ups-and-downs in energy, concentration, and emotional levels.  In the end it proved to be worth the experience as we received the news of being cancer free.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Penny: In Memoriam

Below is the text of an email I sent to Barb, Beth and Hannah this morning. It gives you the sense of where this post is headed.

We have a 4:30 appointment this afternoon for Penny with Dr. Hicks at the Moose Jaw Animal Hospital. She explained the procedure - we can be with her and all. What to do after - do we want her ashes, to scatter or bury or whatever – can be decided later.

I am an emotional wreck, but I do think this is best. I know we all love her, but she can’t continue being the unwanted cat – we don’t want her inside (because of the possibility of messing); we don’t want her messing on rugs and floors (even though we have been willing to clean it up); we don’t want her on our laps because she smells (I didn’t this morning); we don’t want her on the furniture and blankets (though we have been pretty lenient with the furniture part); we don’t want her in the cold in the garage (though she has done surprisingly well with the cold up to this point). In short, as much as we love her, she is unwanted (this sounds harsh I know, but in some ways that makes it easier for me). She has been a good kitty and I love her dearly, but it is time. I feel like a dope for crying so much, but that’s the way I am.

Penny came to our home in Rutland, Saskatchewan in October, 1993; the same weekend Joe Carter hit his walk-off home run to win the World Series. I have always enjoyed connecting these two events - an iconic Blue Jays moment and the arrival of a life-long friend.

Penny was born in Three Hills, Alberta in the home of our good friends and fellow cat-lovers Douglas and Veronica Lewis. Among the litter of kittens born in their home that August was one wee kitty that grabbed our hearts with that “I am a nice kitty and will love you and be cute and not be too much trouble” expression on her face. We were smitten and three months later she became an official part of our family.

Our earliest memories of Penny are of this little kitten wandering around the house, meowing like crazy, looking for Beth and Hannah who had gone off to school. As she waited for them to return, she occupied herself with kitten things – endless wandering, exploring, climbing, and meowing. This is just the beginning of so many memories.

One Saturday evening, while watching Hockey Night in Canada, I heard a rustling around in the pantry in the kitchen. In checking it out I found Penny sitting up so proudly with a plump, living mouse in her mouth. Acknowledging her accomplishment, I took care of the mouse, and went back to the game. Soon the rustling in the pantry was back, and yes, there was Penny with her second trophy of the evening. As I figuring out what to do with this mouse, Penny preceded to let it go and chase it around the kitchen. Not wanting to lose sight of this mouse, I followed Penny into a small storage room off the kitchen, had the mouse run up my pant leg, quickly took off my pants, and Penny and I watched the mouse run down stairs to the laundry room. All the while Penny stared at me with a “why did you interfere with my mouse?” look on her face. (In case you are wondering, I found that mouse the next morning trying to scramble out of the laundry room sink. It met its demise.)

Penny’s earliest animal friends were Chester and Waggles, two female dogs we cared for in Rutland. It did not take long for Penny to show her comfort hanging around these two friendly, cheerful, accommodating pups. That is until Penny boldly approached their food bowl for a sample. One of the dogs, Waggles I believe, took offence and snapped at Penny breaking her left hind leg. Thus Penny had her first visit to a vet and carried the scar of that event the rest of her life.

One day in June, 1994, on Hannah’s bed, Penny became a mother to three kittens– Blackie, Rae and Oreo. She proved to be a caring momma-kitty, cleaning and protecting her three babies. We remember how, as mother cats do, she moved her kittens to a new location – the most remote, hardest-to-reach place in the back of Hannah’s bedroom closet – likely to keep us kitten lovers from handling these three fur balls too much. The next spring Penny became a grandmother when Rae gave birth to five kittens – Cobbles, Chubbie Cheeks, Goatee, Stripe, and Butch (the best set of names ever given to a litter of kittens). Penny proved to be a rather grouchy grandma and never warmed-up to her progeny. Over the years as other cats became part of the family, notably Duckie (Hannah’s cat) and Danielle Rousseau (Beth’s cat), Penny greeted them only with low growls and the occasional “stay-out-of-my-way” hiss.

In July, 1995, Penny joined us in our move to Pambrun, SK, where she quickly adapted to small town living. She enjoyed wandering the streets, being cared for by Miss. Dickson, and bringing to the door fresh trophies of birds and mice. Pambrun life proved to be a good life for an easy-going cat like Penny.

These years were not without struggle. In 2005, Penny experienced a serious case of dehydration. She was not drinking water or eating food, became listless and gave every indication that the end was near. A trip to the vet proved to be just what she needed. Dr. Wanda gave Penny an I.V. of fluid directly under her skin, which would allow the fluid to be slowly absorbed into her body. For a day or so Penny was a round, soft, fluid-filled balloon of a kitty, but was soon restored to health and strength.

It was this event that attached Penny to me and me to Penny in a deeper way. She wanted to sit on my lap. She greeted me at the door when I came home. She woke me at night so would sit with her. She looked to me for the occasional, okay, the regular bowl of cream.

As she turned 18 years old this past August it was clear her body was showing its age. While she still enjoyed having her chin scratched and being rubbed behind her ears, she had grown hard of hearing, had difficulty jumping onto her favorite chairs, and has not managing her bodily functions well. We knew this was the day.

Penny died peacefully in my arms at five o’clock this afternoon. Dr. Hicks and the staff at the Moose Jaw Animal Hospital are so caring and sensitive to the emotion of the moment. Penny will always be with us in the fondness of our memories. We are thankful to have had her as part of our family.

Monday, October 3, 2011

On to Phase Two

The follow-up phase in this cancer journey has officially begun. With nuclear medicine scans scheduled for November 2-3, it is necessary for me to be off my thyroid medication. So today, for the first time since December 16, 2010, I did not take my morning pill. The result of this no-medication experience is likely to be varying levels of fatigue, lack of concentration, feeling cold all the time, and a general sense of fogginess of head. Much of this to one degree or another has been part of my experience already. What I can expect, I assume, is an increased level of severity in these side-effects.

Under normal circumstances a thyroid cancer patient would receive ‘thyrogen’ – a chemical compound used in preparation for the scans that are part of the treatment process. Thyrogen allows a patient to continue with their mediation thus avoiding the experience of prolonged hypothyroid – the condition that produces the fatigue, etc.

So far so good. I have made it through this day with only minor changes in my energy level. The days ahead will tell the whole story.

In the meantime, the idea of follow-up is to determine the status of cancer in my system. This of course raises new concerns that must be set before the Lord. We are continuing to trust the Lord for a positive outcome in all this. Of course, the Lord determines what constitutes a positive outcome. To me it is being cancer free. For the Lord a positive outcome is He working out His purposes in me.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

One Year Later

This is my first post in long time. The first since I declared a renewed interest in posting posts. My resolve did not last long. So I am starting over with my fresh start.

Here it is August 31, 2011 - not the official end of summer but pretty close. September means school year, and with that the beginning of the long grind toward next summer. I am sure it will be a profitable and enjoyable grind.

One year ago I was between appointments - waiting to hear from which ever doctor was next on the list - turned out to be Dr. Pillay in Regina. One year ago I was just getting used to being full-time at Briercrest Distance Learning. One year ago I was beginning my role as MDiv program coordinator at Briercrest Seminary - a position I enjoyed, even with a three month interruption. One year ago I had no idea how significant the coming year would be - who does?

One year later,
I am deeply in love with Barb,
I am exceedingly proud of Beth and Hannah,
I am thankful for good health,
I am committed to better health,
I am appropriately sensitive to the word 'cancer',
I am a new Mac user,
I am even more fond of the Oregon Coast,
I am excited about new opportunities for personal growth,
I am open to new areas of professional growth,
I am confident of God's faithfulness in my spiritual growth.

What about the year ahead? In October I will begin a series of follow-up tests to determine the status of my cancer treatment. First on the agenda is an ultrasound on October 25. The rest of the schedule will unfold from there.

So stay tuned.

Monday, June 27, 2011

New Kid on the Blog

I am sure that corny line has been used before in the blogosphere, but I thought, “Why not?” Technically I am not a new kid on the blog, but a returning kid. Since my last post was many months ago, it is like starting over. So here I go.

Seven months ago I had surgery for thyroid cancer – a thyroidectomy. Since that time, except for the posts describing my experience in surgery and a turn-of-the-year up-date, I have posted no posts (as you can tell). I tend to be one of those “I have nothing to say” types, so no posts. Barb and others have told me I do have something to say and one avenue for that is the blog. So here I am returning to the keyboard.

My intent over the next few days is to describe my experience of the last few months and then to begin moving forward toward being an old kid on the blog..

So, stay tuned.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Scattered Thoughts from Recuperation Central

More than a month has passed since my surgery and return home from the hospital. Let me get you caught up on life in recuperation central.

On the health front the initial challenge was dealing with the six inch incision running across the base of my neck. Understandably it proved to be tender to the touch, itchy, and the bandages were uncomfortable. The home care nurse came to the house to remove the remainder of the staples (half of the fourteen staples were removed at the hospital), which allowed for lighter bandaging and eventually being able to shave my neck. The muscles in my neck were quite sore, so simple things like swallowing, yawning, coughing, and sneezing were quite painful.

Throughout the month I have been waiting for what we call (accurately or not) ‘the crash’. This is the depletion of the remaining thyroid hormone in my system, leaving me weak, tired, and generally lethargic. While there have been days of more extreme tired and lethargy, I am not sure the crash, as imagined, has taken place. Energy levels have been more of a peaks and valleys experience.

On December 16 Barb and I traveled to the Allen Blair Cancer Centre in Regina to meet with Dr. Behl, a radiation oncologist. There we explored the plan for the future radioiodine treatment and got a big picture perspective on what is ahead over the next two months. It is here that I am told I have a paralyzed vocal cord, which explains my raspy, whispery voice – which, along with a nice looking scar, is the most immediate evidence of cancer surgery. The idea of the Cancer Centre stirs a range of thoughts, most of which are difficult to put into words. It says I am dealing with something serious that requires important and specific follow-up. I am working with a disease that requires a specific medical department devoted to this mysterious thing called cancer. The idea of cancer has become much more personal. Hearing about or reading accounts of people with cancer touches me in a new way.

So what do you do when you can’t do anything? Well, my time has been spent reading (a fine book called The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer – [look for more on this in future posts]), watching TV (TCM and the Food Network are favorites), checking the computer (because it is a way of contacting the outside world), jigsaw puzzles (I am currently on my third one) and dealing with the routine of health issues (taking medications). I describe this time as “useful uselessness”. Taking time to recover is important; accepting the lack of productivity is the challenge.

I believe I have been most surprised by the emotional challenges of this recuperation time. I knew going in that the recovery process from cancer treatment, or any other health issue for that matter, can be a mix of emotional and personal struggles. I knew this, but now, having experienced it, I appreciate more the fact that dealing with cancer is a whole person experience. The sense of guilt, the reality of isolation, the lack of productivity, and the uncertainty of the future add up to a weighty mix of emotions to work through.

While wrestling with all this, I have also reflected on the nature of faith. What does it look like to have faith in Jesus for all of this in the midst of all this? Over the years I have heard people share about those who, while struggling with disease or infirmities of some kind, “They never complained about a thing.” Those people are held up as models of faith. They trust Jesus with such confidence that every detail of life is positive. I will have to confess, I have complained. Is this a lack of faith? I don’t think so. Faith without wrestling with the struggles is not reality. Trying to manage the issues and put a positive spin on everything is really just seeking to have faith in myself rather than Jesus. For me, true faith is a belief that God loves me, and accepts me, and listens to me, and is patient with me, and welcomes me in my weakness. Being genuine before Him is the best option. He sees the big picture and the smallest details.

Friday, December 3, 2010

On The Table

In surgery I was directed to lay on the table – which seems to me was a cloth-covered, flat space designated just for me. Two spaces extended from the table for my arms to rest upon – thus a distinctly cruciform shape – no irony intended. I remember noticing the lights in particular, two round fixtures with a vast array of bright bulbs waiting to guide the process. Dr. V. , the anesthetist whom I had met earlier was there. The nurse directing me in the preparations was very nice. Dr. Miller came into the room and introduced me to the surgical team – I don’t remember them.

Then things got under way. The nurse held a blue oxygen mask over, but not on, my face. Dr. V. gave some instructions about falling asleep. Here is my most distinct memory of the preparations for surgery. I was breathing the fresh oxygen when, coinciding with the anesthesia, the fresh oxygen turned to a distinctly sour smell. I have thought about that a lot. Either the gas coming from the oxygen mask changed or the overtaking anesthesia altered my sense of smell. The sense of smell establishes the strongest of memories, and this is one I continue to carry with me.

The next thing I knew was waking-up in post-op. I noted the sensation of waking there is quite distinct from waking from the fainting spell. There was less confusion, less fear. Comforting voices reassured me that all was well. My greatest need was for water, but that would come in due time. After a time, I was brought back to 217, resettled in my bed, and greeted by Barb and Beth.

I recorded these events of surgery day while recovering in the hospital because I did not want to lose the memory of this multi-sensory experience. We are created to take in the world around us; to live and learn through each experience God brings our way. I am thankful for being able to ‘sense’ my way through surgery day.