From Margaret

Unabridged … Unplugged … Unedited! 😉 from Margaret … on steroids – literally!

Gotta love it!

John

Dear Friends,

The ultra marathon trip along the yellow brick road is now in full swing and it felt SO GOOD to “get to*” start chemo today. It was not nearly as bad as I had feared – I am aware that side effects take a while to kick in but nonetheless the actual 3.5 hours of chemo was really not that bad. And when chemo was over and John and Katie and I got home I actually went Christmas shopping all by myself and managed to check off a huge chunk of my to-do list.

Tonight I want to simply say a huge, overflowing, and heartfelt thank you to all of you. I also want to briefly share one (okay . . . maybe two since I have to eventually explain the asterisk in the above paragraph) of my favorite devotional/inspirational readings this week.

I purchased the most wonderful little book on our Napa trip over Labor Day weekend titled, “Watch For The Light ~ Readings for Advent and Christmas” and William Willimon’s reading for December 14th titled “The God We Hardly Knew” practically jumped off the pages and spoke to me in all caps, bold, and with a bunch of exclamation marks. “It’s tough to be on the receiving end of love, God’s or anybody else’s. It requires that we see our lives not as our possessions, but as gifts.” The amount of receiving which I (along with my precious family near and far) have been privileged to receive in this journey in the form of cards, emails, gifts, texts, meals, visits, snacks, listening ears, little “happies”, love, encouragement, support, offers of help from the mundane to the sublime, and prayers has helped me to understand that my life is indeed a gift. In a poem by Oscar Romero the lines, “those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God. Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.” You ALL – my scarecrows, tin mans, lions, Glendas, and Wizards have embodied “Emmanuel” and I have indeed experienced the abundance of God. Thank you.

*”Get to” are two very important words which have also helped shift my thinking and hopefully enhanced my resiliency (shout out to all of you who have shared your “3 Good Things” experiences with me!). In a different inspirational book written by a cancer survivor – it was suggested that instead of thinking in terms of “have to” we have the option of changing the “have” to “get.” Instead of, “I have to go to work, or Christmas shopping, or a meeting, or a doctor’s appointment, or even chemo” we can say, “I get to go to work, or Christmas shopping, or a meeting, or a doctor’s appointment, and especially chemo!”

So, the answer to the oft asked question of how are you? I am doing great! One chemo down, five to go. Full of gratitude for my family, friends (new and old), friends of friends, fabulous medical team (many of whom I attest are “ministers” just serving in the medical field), other cancer survivor success stories, and my new favorite four letter word . . . HOPE.

With love, gratitude, and hope,
Margaret

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How’s Margaret? Part 2

2014-12-04 11.10.57 A picture is worth a thousand words! (Again, thank you, Angela Duggan, [adugganphoto.com] for taking pics the night before Margaret’s surgery – three long weeks ago.)

Importantly, Margaret is bouncing back nicely from the rigors of major surgery. She’s up, getting dressed, getting out of the house a little bit, lifting stuff, holding court with friends, walking outside, and, of course, Christmas shopping. Her very irritating drains are out, her chemo port is in, her appetite is returning. She’s had no fever or infection.

She almost went to church on Sunday, but wasn’t sure she had enough energy and needs to be well for chemo.

She is sore from biopsies taken out of the bones in her back last Thursday, but this too shall pass. All of her doctors are being very generous with pain and sleep medication – which has been quite effective! (“Valium? This is Margaret calling!”)

She is scheduled to start chemotherapy on Wednesday. She went to “Chemo Teach” on Friday to demystify it somewhat, and she has been given insider tips from veterans on which chairs are best, how to dress and what to pack with her.

We all experienced a moment of severe panic Sunday afternoon when Peyton Manning went to the locker room with an injury and Brock Osweiler attempted three passes – but that’s another story. Sorry, I digress.

Katie has been a fearless, tireless and champion caregiver. Megan comes home again on Saturday. Yippie!

I fumbled my way through another “sermon” on the Sunday of Love, but am glad Kira’s preaching next Sunday!

Yes, there have been brief moments of collapse and despair, but the general household tone continues to be one of hope and steely resolve to run the race and meet the challenge. Again, I simply cannot tell you how profoundly grateful we all are for all the well-planned and random acts of kindness – small and large – through which we have been blessed. Thank you!

The (Cancer) Plot Thickens

(Sorry, I am re-posting this because on an admin. error on my part.)

Again, thank you for your outpouring of love and support for Margaret.

It all helps more than you will ever know.

Below is a sweet note from Margaret, but first let me update you on her medical condition.

The PET scan did show continued cancerous activity in her left chest area and revealed that the cancer has spread into her sacrum and lower spine. Thus, she has been upgraded to “Stage 4 Breast Cancer.” Although this is not what you want to hear, frankly, we were spiritually and emotionally prepared for this news.

Although they are still hastily running tests on her, she is scheduled to start chemotherapy on Monday – assuming all goes well otherwise. At Stage 4, the goal is remission, which means her chemotherapy will be altered and – graciously – more tolerable. She still will have radiation, followed by long-term hormone therapy, which is effective against this type of cancer.

There is good news: her organs are clear, her blood work looks great, she is not experiencing horrible pain in her back and hips, her bone scan was otherwise negative, and her spirit remains positive. Most positively, because of a number of medical nuances that we do not fully understand, the doctor believes there is a reasonable chance to think that she will make it to that coveted 5-year survival mark.

If you Google on Stage 4 breast cancer for a prognosis, you will see some pretty bleak numbers, ranging from 15% to 22% for a 5-year survival rate. Margaret’s oncologist is much more optimistic that she will respond well to the course of treatment.

Yes, this is a very serious turn, but good doctors, modern medicine, strong faith, good humor, wonderful children, an outstanding husband (!), and your love and support will see her through this difficult time into the next phase of this wonderful life.

Shalom,

John B.

Here’s Margaret’s note:

I am not going to lie . . . cancer really does stink. This you already knew.

So I would like to share with you some things that maybe you don’t know yet.

Cancer also serves as a very strange catalyst for some of life’s richest blessings. 

One of the first official “cancer patient” things I did was attend a breast cancer survivorship class centered around the concept of resiliency. The very well educated, experienced, and knowledgeable presenter chose to use the movie The Wizard of Oz (one of my all-time favorites) to help us look at our breast cancer journey in a different way. The part of the tornado is played by breast cancer, Dorothy is played by me. The yellow brick road is indeed (like a marathon) long, steep, curvy, scary, and beautiful. However, Dorothy is never alone! She begins with Toto (currently played by our beloved Deacon) and along the way she finds the scarecrow/brain (played by my amazing medical team) and the tin man/heart (played by all of you my friends new and old and friends of friends) and the lion/courage (played by all of us together to stare down the scary parts along the way). Spoiler alert! After the rather disappointing meeting with the not so great and powerful wizard of Oz Dorothy finds herself at home and sees her family and friends and home in a new way.

How does this relate to resiliency? Well . . . it turns out that there are a couple of things anyone can do which are statistically proven to help one be resilient. One is what I refer to as “3 Good Things.” This is a daily activity and I invite you to join me in this practice. It has already paid off for me in spades I am happy to report. All you have to do is at the end of EVERY day write down 3 good things that happened to you that day. It can be as small as getting the princess parking spot (which many of you know is always one of my favorite things) or as huge as winning the Lottery with the winning Powerball too or when the plastic surgeon tells you how great your skin/healing looks and you can tell that he really means it. However, the real secret to this practice lies in when you actually tell someone that they are one of your 3 good things that day. That is when the magic happens. Trust me on this one! (and please share your stories with me when this happens to you and this way the magic just keeps going!)

The second thing statistically proven to help with resiliency is to spend five minutes a day (yep only 5!) to practice mindfulness. This will look different for everyone. For some this is prayer, for others intentional breathing, for others visualization, and the list goes on. You can also do this in the grocery store line, sitting in traffic, waiting for an appointment, etc. And if you need to start out with only one minute and build up to five minutes that is okay too.

The third and last is the toughest and also not a daily task. Write a letter of thanks to someone in your life you are grateful to . . . seriously grateful. Next is the hard part – read it out loud to them face to face. IF they are too many miles away to make a “ring the doorbell and read and run” experience not feasible you may read it out loud to them over the phone. I have not finished this one yet so I cannot assure you of its magical resilient power but I am committed to giving it a try.

Here is to you all of my wonderful scarecrows, tin mans, lions, wizards, and Glendas!

Lastly for now – I want to tell you that I have never in my life experienced such overwhelming love or fully comprehended how loved I am by those nearest to me. It is an unbelievably wonderful gift for which I remain grateful beyond mere words. I cannot wait for you to join me when I get the news that this icky breast cancer is in remission when we have one gigantic party with champagne and dancing. Count on it . . . because I am.

With love and gratitude,

Margaret E. Bell

The (Cancer) Plot Thickens …

Again, thank you for your outpouring of love and support for Margaret.

It all helps more than you will ever know.

Below is a sweet note from Margaret, but first let me update you on her medical condition.

The PET scan did show continued cancerous activity in her left chest area and revealed that the cancer has spread into her sacrum and lower spine. Thus, she has been upgraded to “Stage 4 Breast Cancer.” Although this is not what you want to hear, frankly, we were spiritually and emotionally prepared for this news.

Although they are still hastily running tests on her, she is scheduled to start chemotherapy on Monday – assuming all goes well otherwise. At Stage 4, the goal is remission, which means her chemotherapy will be altered and – graciously – more tolerable. She still will have radiation, followed by long-term hormone therapy, which is effective against this type of cancer.

There is good news: her organs are clear, her blood work looks great, she is not experiencing horrible pain in her back and hips, her bone scan was otherwise negative, and her spirit remains positive. Most positively, because of a number of medical nuances that we do not fully understand, the doctor believes there is a reasonable chance to think that she will make it to that coveted 5-year survival mark.

If you Google on Stage 4 breast cancer for a prognosis, you will see some pretty bleak numbers, ranging from 15% to 22% for a 5-year survival rate. Margaret’s oncologist is much more optimistic that she will respond well to the course of treatment.

Yes, this is a very serious turn, but good doctors, modern medicine, strong faith, good humor, wonderful children, an outstanding husband (!), and your love and support will see her through this difficult time into the next phase of this wonderful life.

Shalom,

John B.

Here’s Margaret’s note:

I am not going to lie . . . cancer really does stink. This you already knew.

So I would like to share with you some things that maybe you don’t know yet.

Cancer also serves as a very strange catalyst for some of life’s richest blessings. 

One of the first official “cancer patient” things I did was attend a breast cancer survivorship class centered around the concept of resiliency. The very well educated, experienced, and knowledgeable presenter chose to use the movie The Wizard of Oz (one of my all-time favorites) to help us look at our breast cancer journey in a different way. The part of the tornado is played by breast cancer, Dorothy is played by me. The yellow brick road is indeed (like a marathon) long, steep, curvy, scary, and beautiful. However, Dorothy is never alone! She begins with Toto (currently played by our beloved Deacon) and along the way she finds the scarecrow/brain (played by my amazing medical team) and the tin man/heart (played by all of you my friends new and old and friends of friends) and the lion/courage (played by all of us together to stare down the scary parts along the way). Spoiler alert! After the rather disappointing meeting with the not so great and powerful wizard of Oz Dorothy finds herself at home and sees her family and friends and home in a new way.

How does this relate to resiliency? Well . . . it turns out that there are a couple of things anyone can do which are statistically proven to help one be resilient. One is what I refer to as “3 Good Things.” This is a daily activity and I invite you to join me in this practice. It has already paid off for me in spades I am happy to report. All you have to do is at the end of EVERY day write down 3 good things that happened to you that day. It can be as small as getting the princess parking spot (which many of you know is always one of my favorite things) or as huge as winning the Lottery with the winning Powerball too or when the plastic surgeon tells you how great your skin/healing looks and you can tell that he really means it. However, the real secret to this practice lies in when you actually tell someone that they are one of your 3 good things that day. That is when the magic happens. Trust me on this one! (and please share your stories with me when this happens to you and this way the magic just keeps going!)

The second thing statistically proven to help with resiliency is to spend five minutes a day (yep only 5!) to practice mindfulness. This will look different for everyone. For some this is prayer, for others intentional breathing, for others visualization, and the list goes on. You can also do this in the grocery store line, sitting in traffic, waiting for an appointment, etc. And if you need to start out with only one minute and build up to five minutes that is okay too.

The third and last is the toughest and also not a daily task. Write a letter of thanks to someone in your life you are grateful to . . . seriously grateful. Next is the hard part – read it out loud to them face to face. IF they are too many miles away to make a “ring the doorbell and read and run” experience not feasible you may read it out loud to them over the phone. I have not finished this one yet so I cannot assure you of its magical resilient power but I am committed to giving it a try.

Here is to you all of my wonderful scarecrows, tin mans, lions, wizards, and Glendas!

Lastly for now – I want to tell you that I have never in my life experienced such overwhelming love or fully comprehended how loved I am by those nearest to me. It is an unbelievably wonderful gift for which I remain grateful beyond mere words. I cannot wait for you to join me when I get the news that this icky breast cancer is in remission when we have one gigantic party with champagne and dancing. Count on it . . . because I am.

With love and gratitude,

Margaret E. Bell

Update: Confirmation

Today, Margaret had her first post-op appointment with her oncologist. For the first time, he confirmed what we suspected: she is at the top of stage 3 (3C) of the four stages of breast cancer. This is a preliminary staging, which may be influenced or changed with the results of the PET scan, which is now scheduled for Wednesday – pending insurance approval. The cancer was also graded at 3, which is the highest or most aggressive grade given. He said there is a 95% probability that the cancer has not spread beyond the area of the left breast, but the PET scan will give us definitive answers.

Again, this was generally the expected news; however, Margaret and I are both optimists by nature and always hope for better than expected. Thus, the news is sobering. The good news is that she is clearly recovering from surgery in excellent shape and will start chemotherapy as early as next week.

And FYI we had a marvelous Thanksgiving! Katie and I did our part, of course. Megan was home from Washington, DC, with her very significant other, Joe, who fit right in under very difficult circumstances. We all pitched in to cook together and made it a day of great laughter, joy and gratitude.

Margaret continues, as do I, to be grateful for all the e-mails, cards, flowers, wig stands, inspirational books, devotional guides, meals, visits, text messages and other gestures of support and love. We know this will be a marathon – not a sprint, so I personally hope you will “pace” yourselves and stay in this with her for the long run.