Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Grieving Heidi's Death - Joe

It's been two and a half months since Heidi died of her metastatic breast cancer. 

Here is a link to the recording of my presentation at Heidi's Memorial Service:
Heidi's Memorial

I am still devastated.
But I am building a new life, slowly and mindfully by:
  • telling everyone about how wonderful and brave she was
  • asking God to help me grieve in healthy manner
  • continuing the outside adventures alone, occasionally with friends
  • hosting holiday dinners at home
  • decorating the house in new ways for the holidays, to start a new tradition
  • journaling my grief over time, on Facebook
  • staying vigilante regarding both my cancers' potential recurrences/metastasis
  • restarting volunteer work for church and nonprofits

My heart goes out to those of you that face a cancer battle alone.  Heidi and I had each other and our marriage got so strong through our ordeal.  I hate cancer with a passion and will try to continue supporting friends that are still fighting cancer.

Love & Blessings,

Monday, September 24, 2012

I Will Always Love You Heidi - Farewell

Heidi Hendricks

Heidi departed for Heaven this morning.
I will always love her.
Thank you for the prayers and positive thoughts so many of you sent to help her battle cancer and live years beyond her prognosis, for God.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Overwhelmed - by Joe

The gamma knife procedure worked on Heidi's 6 brain tumors - but now, they have discovered many more, including in the cerebellum. 

Even though Heidi has been off Taxotere, her ascites (liver causing abdomen to swell with fluid) has gotten worse.  And we still don't know if the new chemo is working after 3 doses.
Overnight at the Seattle Cancer Alliance Guest House

She barely finished her last hike on August 1 up the Little Quilcene Trail.  But she enjoyed it and the scenery as you can see was spectacular.

But the last 3 weeks have been filled with ambulance rides and hospitalizations.  As I write this, I am sitting next to Heidi's hospital bed as she sleeps. 

Heidi's last hike before hospitalization; Little Quilcene Trail
Praying for Heidi on my solo hike up Mount Townsend
Two days ago was a nightmare.  She awoke unable to walk, unable to speak.  She had an appointment with the gamma knife team in Seattle.  Our wonderful friend Rina came to my rescue helping me get Heidi safely to the car and then in Seattle, into the hospital for her appointment.  Seeing her condition, the gamma knife team there at Harborview Medical Center sent her by ambulance to here at the University of Washington Medical Center, so her oncology team could figure out what was wrong.

Confusing symptoms have kept the oncology team looking for answers as to why Heidi's speech and coordination have gotten bad so quickly, why her liver is not recovering after being off the Taxotere.

At UWMC, Heidi so weak but still joking with me and a friend.
As of tonight, they believe her many medications were not getting metabolized, producing the symptoms.  So the strategy now is to stop most medications and detox the abdomen which was positive for ammonia.  This has partially restored her clarity of thought & speech and she is again fairly steady on her feet.  But her bilirubin is climbing, a very bad sign.

My own reports are all good.  No colon cancer.  No bladder cancer recurrence.  PSA normal, further confirmation that my radical prostatectomy got all the cancer there.

We are both wiped out, worn out.  But hopeful that her doctors will get her past this danger point and back on the hiking trails she loves.

As always, thank you for your support, your prayers & positive thoughts.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Scary Times - by Joe

Heidi's latest chemotherapy was causing liver failure so her Oncologist had to stop it, even though it was still at least partially effective.  The side effects have been devastating to our lifestyle, so the change brings both relief and fear of tumor progression.

August/September will be stressful.  This week we find out if Heidi's gamma knife procedure was successful on her brain tumors.  Next week I get checked for colon cancer and prostate cancer recurrence.  Next week Heidi starts a new chemotherapy.  A few weeks later I get checked for bladder cancer recurrence.

The prayers and positive thoughts from others sustain us both, strengthens our faith and reliance on God.  The two small church congregations we participate in have reached out with tremendous compassion.  And the same from Facebook friends, local friends and our family.  Such love.

When her side effects allow, Heidi continues to hike with me to spectacular destinations.  Occasionally I hike alone.  For both of us, being outdoors is the best sanctuary of all, bringing new perspective and courage.

Thank you for your compassion,

Love & Blessings,

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Side Effects -by Joe

Heidi's new chemotherapy, Taxotere, was confirmed effective against her new liver tumors two weeks ago.  Wonderful news!

The downside is the worsening side effects, because it is such a toxic therapy.  Heidi and I worry a lot about the neuropathy and dizziness.

When you cross your legs and the one leg goes 'to sleep', when you stand your foot is numb, eventually starting to tingle as sensation returns.  That's also how neuropathy feels.  Anywhere from tingling to numbness.  Scary for an athletic, outdoorswoman like Heidi.

The dizziness is new, not experienced with any of Heidi's previous side effects.  Last month on a hike, I had to catch Heidi as she started to collapse on the trail from dizziness.

The pain, fatigue, GI upset and mouth sores were there with previous chemotherapies to varying degrees.  But the neuropathy and dizziness scare us.  We are praying hard that neither worsens and that we'll find supplements that mitigate them both.

But on Heidi's better days, we continue to live life as fully as possible:  hiking, participating at church, deepening friendships, gardening, working.

God willing, the side effects will lessen instead of increasing over time. 

After all, Heidi's active life four years past Stage 4 diagnosis is a miracle in itself.  They expected only one year. I am profoundly grateful for the miracle!

Thank you for your prayers and positive thoughts!


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Celebration! -by Joe

Awaiting tumor marker results and Oncology appointment
After 3 succesive chemotherapy failures in the past 6 months, Heidi's new liver tumors were growing as well as her bone and lung cancer progressing. Terrifying.  So 3 weeks ago her Oncologist resorted to the very toxic chemo called Taxotere.  Unlike Heidi's past chemotherapies, Taxotere is given once every 3 weeks instead of every week.

Great News!!
This Monday, 3 weeks after that first dose, Heidi's tumor markers were drawn and an hour or so later we met with her Oncologist.  The result? The tumor marker showed Taxotere was working, even after one dose!!  And her liver tests were moving back towards normal!

Because of the high toxicity of this chemo, Monday's dose was stopped when Heidi immediately developed a serious reaction to Taxotere as soon as the dose was started.  So they tried again Tuesday, going very slowly, adding other meds to reduce her body's negative reaction.  It worked and she got her complete second dose of Taxotere!

At the same time they were starting the second dose of Taxotere on Tuesday, I was seeing my own Oncologist for a followup after my cancer surgery on March 12.  Everything looked great he said, including my tumor marker(PSA)!  So I rejoined Heidi for her hours spent slowly receiving the Taxotere.

Celebration meal together with Mary at the SCCA Guest House
Heidi's dear friend Mary was also with Heidi in the chemotherapy room both days, giving wonderful support and encouragement.  Thank you Mary!  We celebrated with a meal together with Mary.

Back home now, we are both exhausted but so very thankful to God, to the staff at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and so many friends & family praying for us, sending positive thoughts our way.

So thank you!

- Joe

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Knowing who you are -by Heidi

Spending time in SCCA's Chapel
I have been spending a fair amount of time lately hanging out on the couch. Somehow I envisioned being productive while being on the couch. I thought, "ok, so you are not energetic, you can still read, you can talk on the phone, you can knit, you can pray". But reality (as usual) has not been so rosy. When I feel bad enough to lay on the couch, it is like a horrible cold with malaise. I don't want to do anything. And if I force myself, it comes out badly. I lose track of the conversation when I am talking with a dear friend. My knitting needs to be pulled out because I didn't notice mistakes. Words don't flow they way I want when I am trying to write a note. My concentration is WAY down so I will forget in the middle of a prayer what I am praying. This, by the way, is where reading a prayer written by someone else or reading scripture helps me. God has to just manage with prayers He has heard before :) !
Support from SCCA's Chaplaincy Director

This has brought me back to my insidious expectation that who I am = what I do. I know in my head what a lie that is. My emotions and self-image are slow to come along. I have appreciated James Pyles blog for several years but this one really hit me between the eyes. Especially his quote from Rabbi Tzvi Freeman and exposition from it.
"From a point before and beyond all things, G-d looked upon a moment in time to be, and saw there a soul, distant from Him in a turbulent world, yet yearning to return to Him and His oneness. And He saw the pleasure He would have from this union.
So He invested His infinite light into that finite image, and became one with that image, and in that image He created each one of us.
As for that moment He saw, that was the moment now.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“G-d’s Image”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson"
This quiets my emotions, reminds me that all doing comes from God's being, not my scurrying around checking off lists.

 Thank you James.

- by Heidi

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tough Times Ahead For Heidi - by Joe

Waiting to hear the tumor marker results
Yesterday's (April 2) tumor markers (labwork that tracks her cancer) confirmed that Heidi's adriamycin chemo has not worked and her cancer is growing.  So they stopped that chemo and told us to wait to hear what her Oncologist plans next. 

Meanwhile I was having increasing pain from my surgery and my Oncologist ordered a CT scan yesterday, which showed the post cancer surgery drain was not working.

After the bad news, staying at the SCCA House

Today, I had outpatient surgery to place a deeper drain that will hopefully work better.  When we got home from my surgery, Heidi's Oncologist contacted us with thier plan: MRIs to establish a baseline of Heidi's current cancer status and then starting another chemotherapy called taxol.

Waiting for my outpatient surgery

As you can see from the photos, we pray, we laugh, we cry.  When I get scared about Heidi I remember the amazing hikes and climbs we've done since Spring of 2011 (almost 40!).  She's tough, she's determined and I plan on supporting her better and better as God shows me how.

No despair.  None. 
Pray..  Laugh..  Cry..

Thank you for caring,

Friday, March 16, 2012

My Prostate Cancer Ordeal - by Joe

At Heidi's weekly chemotherapy at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
On top of my bladder cancer, a biopsy on January 10 by my famous Urologic Oncologist showed Stage 2 prostate cancer.  The last thing we needed - 3 cancers between us!

After thinking about the options Dr Dalkin gave me, I decided my survival and ability to best support Heidi would be with an open radical prostatectomy.

March 11 was so much fun(ha!), limited to 'clear liquids' and several nasty 'cleaning' meds, like Magnesium Citrate. I alternated between stress and calming contemplative prayer.  Heidi was such an anchor that day/night!

About to enjoy gournet Chateaux de Mag Citrate :-)
On March 12 I had the surgery, which included a few extras:

  • A cystoscopy to check for new bladder tumors (none found)
  • A repair of an inguinal hernia I was not aware of
  • A mesh inserted to fix a hydrocele
  • Some sebaceous nodules removed. 

Along with removal of the prostate, lymph nodes and vesicles were also removed and sent to pathology. Dr Dalkin joked with me afterwards that he had done a complete 'overhaul' of my abdomen.  He was able to spare both nerve bundles next to the prostate, which will reduce my odds of longterm impotence.

On the day of my surgery, Heidi had her Oncologist appointment at SCCA and her weekly chemotherapy.  The next day, during my first day of hospitalization, she had an MRI and met with a bone Oncologist to find out if he saw hip tumor progression on the MRI; thankfully none found!

But her last tumor markers were elevated, after getting 2 rounds of her new chemo adriamycin.  Scary.  The next tumor markers will hopefully show a drop, which will mean the adriamycin is effective.

Heidi spent that uncomfortable first night with me in the hospital, a comfort during my wracking pain.  The next night she caught up on sleep at the SCCA Guest House.

Recovering from my prostatectomy and Heidi's scans & chemo
After 2 nights in the hospital I was sent home.  Because of the added procedures during surgery I'm now in a slow, painful recovery; and stuck with drains for at least 10 days. And Heidi is exhausted from her intense 2 days of MRI/chemo/appointments.

Pathology checked that no cancer was in the nodes or on edge of the prostate, which would mean remaining cancer after surgery. Completed today, March 16, the report showed all was clear, giving me a 95% survival prognosis. And as long as I keep followup cystoscopy appointments to check for new bladder tumors, I have a great prognosis for that cancer as well.

We are so grateful for God's love during this, for the amazing SCCA/UWMC medical teams and of course for your compassionate support.

We hope to fight this monster and have a long life together serving God, building relationships and hiking/kayaking our butts off!

Thanks for caring.

Love & Blessings,
Joe (& Heidi)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Called To Be Quiet -by Heidi

I am definitely in a new place in my walk with God. He has been telling me for some time now that I am called to be quiet. I am still not quite sure what that means. I have been trying to do contemplative prayer, hiking and praising God in nature, building an attitude of thankfulness for each day and to give myself permission to let go of all the "to do" activities that I see around me or want to participate in. That has gotten me part of the way. But this ratcheting up of our distressing circumstances (the failure of my moderate chemo causing me to move to a much stronger chemo to combat growing cancer in my liver and bones; Joe's diagnosis of a second kind of cancer leading to a radical prostatectomy complicated by an additional surgery for possible bladder tumor removal in March) has caused me to seek more.

How DO I Glorify God when my brain is foggy, my body hurts, I grieve for myself and my beloved husband? Somehow, I always thought, "well, if I can't DO anything, I will be quiet and lay on the couch and pray and read and write encouraging letters to people". Doesn't that seem holy? And yet, the reality on those days is that I can't think well enough to pray, I have little energy to read anything more difficult than light fiction and I can't put words together to write to anyone. I don't even want to talk to anyone on the phone.

So I sought God's answer. A friend reminded me of a castle in her part of England that was besieged and it fell because it's source of water was outside it's walls. I asked God to remind me of more ways He could strengthen the well of life within me. I thought of the children's song: " Spring up Oh Well, within my soul. Spring up Oh Well and make me whole. Spring up Oh Well and give to me, that life abundantly".

Act 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Rom 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helps our
infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
Original photo by artist Sid Armstrong
sent to us as a symbol of hope.
So I am adding a time of using prayer language to my daily time with Him. So far it seems helpful because: I don't need to be intellectually steady, all of it is from Him, it requires nothing but obedience from me, and I am strangely calmed and strengthened by it.

Thank you again for your prayers and support of us.
We know we could NOT make it without you.

Love & Blessings,

Friday, February 17, 2012

Handling Challenging Bad News For Us Both -by Joe

Heidi receiving her first dose of her new chemotherapy, adriamycin
 Tough times ahead..
A wonderful mystical hike on Valentine's Day

Since my last blog entry, our hopes for Heidi's new chemotherapy changed to disappointment when scans showed continued progression of her bone and liver tunors. She started weekly adriamycin this past Monday, a more toxic, more powerful chemo.

On the summit of challenging Jefferson Ridge on New Year's Day!

As with the chemo that failed, they'll have to wait 2 months to determine if this chemo is working via more scans and lab work.

My new prostate cancer is Stage 2 according to my biopsy, but during my upcoming surgery (radical prostatectomy) on March 12 they will check surrounding lymph nodes to make sure it is not Stage 3.

During the same procedure, they will go into my bladder, removing any new tumors found there.

So we have a lot to deal with. Prayer and support from family & friends are keeping us afloat these days. And humor.

Our easiest setting to pray remains on hikes in the two magnificent mountain ranges nearby. We have already done 5 hikes this year! What a contrast between a day at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and a day on a hiking trail. 

Enjoying a beautiful creek below this beautiful wooden bridge

We need both.

We are grateful for both.
We are grateful for you.

Heading up a ridge to reach a beautiful river gorge

As always, thank you for your prayers and/or positive thoughts.. your compassion.

Love & Blessings,
Joe & Heidi

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Good News Bad News Roller Coaster Ride - by Joe

We are sitting in the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance cafe as I write this.  We are both adjusting to both good news and bad news today.

Waiting for my ultrasound & biopsy procedures.
The good news is that the specialist Orthopedic Surgeon that handles bone cancer cases wants Heidi to stay fully active.  He has the most expertise in this area and told us that the new hip/femur tumors are not a danger for fracture at this point.  Not even worth doing radiation.  Hopefully Heidi's new chemotherapy will stop them completely at this stage.

The bad news is that in addition to my recurrent bladder cancer, my biopsy report just came back positive for Stage 2 prostate cancer.  Whatever treatment I get for it has to wait 8-10 weeks because of typical post-biopsy bleeding. 

Meanwhile, we have a long list of planned hikes/climbs for this year and will continue to worship God in high places as long as we can. And in the kayak, the garden, at church.. everywhere. God's Love is as present as ever in our lives. More, actually.

Thank you for caring!

Joe (& Heidi)
Waiting for in the SCCA cafe for Heidi's Oncologist

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Living Strong With Bad News - by Joe

New Years Day 2012 hike up Jefferson Ridge
There's just no easy way to say it.  The latest scans are very scary.

For the first time, they've found cancer in Heidi's liver.  And now, they have found a new tumor in her right hip that affects weight bearing strength; meaning potentially hiking, walking.

So, we did a challenging hike/climb up Jefferson Ridge on New Years Day, to start 2012 out with an adventure.  We had communion on the summit.  We enjoyed the challenging route through deep, steep snow.  We took in the spectacular views.  We pray God will let us continue seeking & worshipping Him in high places like the 28 hikes/climbs we did in 2011.

Tumor Markers being drawn at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance

By next week we should know if Heidi's chemo and/or activity must change.  We should also know if the new mass in my prostate is cancer or not.

Whatever happens, we will face it together with our eyes set on God.

View of Mount Washington from Jefferson Ridge on our New Years Day hike

As always,

Thank you for your prayers/positive thoughts!

- Joe (& Heidi)