Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Victoria got the call today. 

She called to tell me about it: 

The pathology report is back from last week's surgery. The tissue they cut from the breast had completely clean margins. And the 5 sentinel lymph nodes that the surgeon removed are completely clean. No cancer in the lymph nodes means no cancer got out into the rest of her body, and the cancer that was in her breast is cleanly and completely cut out. 

Vicky is clean.

That was an amazing moment, standing there in an empty conference room, phone to my ear, listening to Vicky tell me this. I couldn't speak for a long time, almost floated away. It was a moment I will never forget, standing there, listening to the electric silence between us, sharing an incredible, sacred realization that she and I had just crossed a threshold; the uncertainty and fear were now in the past; the road ahead is sunny and verdant and it is going to go on for many, many years.

When I got home, we walked into each other's arms, held each other for a long time. "This lady feels good," I said. "This lady feels healthy."

Then I asked her: "So -- what are we going to do for the rest of our lives?"

She looked up at me with a thousand hopes and said, "I don't know. I guess we'll just need to figure that out, won't we?"

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Next Station

We met with Dr. Rasmussen, Vicky's surgeon today. He was very positive about the results of the exam. No clinical evidence of the tumor on exam. He said he would be shocked if there was lymph node involvement.

And the best news -- surgery is a week from tomorrow!

It was an amazing thing to sit with the scheduler and ink a time for her surgery. I didn't get her name, but she was a sweet woman. As she was working out a time, she told us something she'd heard about cancer from another patient. She said it was like going on a journey. They tell you hey, you're going on a journey and so you pack your bags and there's all sorts of anticipation and excitement. Then you get on the train, and it goes faster at times and slower at times and there are beautiful vistas that you want to stop and look at closer, but you soon realize that the train never completely stops. It just keeps moving you on to the next station and the next station after that.

So now, surgery is the next station. But it is the next station! No more interminable chemo cycles.

One thing was very disappointing: Dr. Samuelson said that likely if there is no lymph node involvement, there would be no need for radiation. We mentioned that to Dr. Rasmussen, and he was very surprised. He said that for any lumpectomy, the likelihood of recurrence goes way up if you don't do radiation, and he thought that we had possibly mistaken what we heard from Dr. Samuelson.

Tomorrow we'll be meeting with Dr. Samuelson, so hopefully we'll get his perspective, but looks like Vicky will be going through 6 weeks of radiation post-surgery, 5 days a week. Pretty big blow.

But. Vicky is beautiful and strong and her pants are creased and she has a beautiful scarf and hat and her head is up and she is looking toward the future with love and optimism and especially hope. We couldn't be more grateful for the blessings we've been given, that the tumor has virtually disappeared with the treatment, and that Vicky is starting to have energy again.

The Lord is truly miraculous and loving.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Six Down, Zero to Go!

Today marks the very last chemo treatment for Victoria.

We had a nice lunch sharing a Cafe Rio enchilada-style sweet pork burrito while the Perjeta was winding its way into her veins for the last time. Then Vicky slept for a long time, after I fetched her a warm blanket...

Then, it was done. The nurse brought her a bottle of sparkling cider, compliments of the clinic, and congratulated her for completing her course of chemotherapy...

And then, the moment she had dreamed about for four months: Vicky and I walked over to the big brass bell on the wall of the clinic. Vicky grasped the clapper and rang it for all to hear. It was a magnificent, satisfying moment...

As we drove away from the clinic, I said, "It's truly over. Now you can get to the business of growing your hair back and getting yourself healthy again."

Vicky was so quiet, I had to look over at her. She was weeping. She finally said, "I really didn't believe that this day would ever come."

When we got home, we found that the Primary Activity Days girls had left some welcome signs...

Such a sweet surprise to come home to. Such a sweet group of girls. There are so many people in this world who love Vicky. So many wonderful, gracious, loving people. 

We had started a tradition of pre-chemo dinners: gathering all our children and grandchildren together before each of Vicky's treatments. It got difficult for everyone's schedules, so I sadly let it rest a month or so ago. Then, last night, Genevieve texted us, saying: "I know Mom's last chemo is tomorrow and she may not feel up to it, but I don't want to give up on the dinners at the finish line. If you guys want to I could come up."

That led to a Genevieve-led campaign to get everyone together. And all three of our children who are in Utah showed up. It was a wonderful, relaxing, fun dinner at IHOP. Vicky insisted on the locale, even though I said we should go somewhere more upscale, given the magnitude of the celebration. 

But she was right, as always. We had a wonderful server who, when I told her what was going on, helped find glasses for the sparkling cider, and plates for the pie I sneaked into the restaurant. David and Genevieve and Parker and Hudson and Ellie and Daemian -- so wonderful to have them all there, and all so present for their mother. I was overwhelmed.

As the dinner was winding down, I gave everyone a little bell to hold up (but not ring yet). Then I said:

"I saw Vicky take the news of her diagnosis with grace and determination.
I saw the worry in her eyes as we searched for the right doctor and the right treatment.
I’ve seen her laid low with fatigue and pain, over and over again.
I’ve seen her rise from that fatigue and build a table, or finish a mantle.
I watched her move forward with good cheer after she lost one of her prize possessions: her hair.
I’ve seen people double-take at the beautiful woman in the scarf and hat walking by.
I’ve seen her when she couldn’t focus her eyes to read, worried that the chemo was ruining her eyes.
I saw the gratitude in her eyes whenever she got a call from one of her children.
I’ve seen her laugh with delight at things her children or grandchildren said.
I’ve seen her cry at any kind word.
I’ve seen her forget herself and reason and talk through problems that her children are having, and hear the compassion and concern in her voice.
I’ve seen her stop cold and lay on the nearest horizontal surface, regardless of its hardness or prickliness, when she was just too tired to go on.
I’ve seen her face down her chemo demons; and this afternoon, I watched her stand at the end of her final session and ring that big brass bell for all to hear.
There was never a sweeter sound."

Then everyone rang their bells to seal the reality that Vicky was finished with her chemotherapy, forever and ever, Amen. 

Here's the whole, blessed crowd.

There is no such feeling as having your children and grandchildren gathered around you at such a moment. 

And now we turn the page to a brand new chapter. There are things we don't know and are a bit afraid of. We don't know what the surgery will tell us, or whether Vicky will need radiation therapy, or if her lymph nodes are affected. All this is true. But there is so much hope. Dr. Samuelson hasn't been even able to find the tumor on the last several examinations. He said that they have no clinical evidence that that lymph nodes are involved, and if they're not, then likely she will not require radiation therapy. Vicky will soon start perking up from this long twilight of fatigue. Her hair will start growing back, and she's excited to see what color and texture it will be. She can start exercising again, and invite people into our home, and build new things, and visit her grandchildren, and take a calling at the ward, and engage with her life, fully and completely, feel the sun and the rain on her face and thrust her hands into the earth. 

Life will soon catch back up to this dear woman who loves life so completely. I am without words.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

When Temporary Seems like an Eternity

People have been asking where the blog posts are. I was determined to document Vicky's journey each step of the way, and I have fallen down because it has become so hard to witness. This journey she's on is no longer shiny and new, with all those interesting questions of what happens next. It is now often a journey of grinding fatigue and tears. She cries so easily. 

The other day she said, "This is temporary, right?" I said Oh, most definitely, but she is having a hard time believing me. 

But there are bright spots. Especially today. Vicky texted me at work, wondering if she had her doctor's permission to go swimming at the rec center. I about fell off my chair. A little later, she texted that she had gone swimming, and that it was good.

I was so very proud.

Here's a little photo collage of her over the last few weeks:

Vicky looking so pretty with her apron and pink scarf...

Vicky trying to be up and about, but oh, so droopy...

Vicky clapping at our little visitor squirrel we found in our living room the other morning...

Vicky resting during her 5th (out of 6!) chemo treatment...

Sometimes she just needs to lay down on the nearest horizontal surface...

Vicky and me out on a short Forced March a couple of days ago. She's the one that requested it!

She's got one more treatment to go, and then after a recovery period, surgery. To her, this feels like it's always been this way, and it always will. But the time is coming close that she will be done with her chemo treatments, and this overwhelming fatigue will come to an end. 

It is so hard to see such a self-sufficient, cheerful woman become so frail. But she is strong, and that strength cannot help but peek out, like today, when she just up and went swimming. A more courageous, persistent, resilient woman I have never seen. 

This weekend, we're heading to Moab for a few days. I expect it to be quiet, with perhaps a few outings. But I get to be exclusively with her for a few days, and she gets to completely relax in a beautiful place. It doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The New Normal

Last Wednesday, Vicky received her fourth treatment. Fourth out of six. Two-thirds done.

That night, I expected her to crash. Instead, I came into the kitchen to see this...

Hard to keep a good woman down. 

But then, the expected and inevitable crash came the next day...

Then, I started hearing things from her that she had never said before. When I came into the bedroom to check up on her, she said, "David, is this ever going to end?"

Then yesterday: "I'm really afraid that this is the new normal, that I'm always going to be tired." This after a Saturday in and out of bed, trying to start projects, but just not having the fortitude to get very far on them. 

Finally, yesterday evening around sunset, I said, "I'm taking you for a ride. You've been cooped up in this house too long."


"And all you have to do is sit in the front seat and look out at the beautiful world."


I shepherded her out the door.

We drove up Skyline drive high up onto the mountain, then parked at an overlook with a spectacular view of the sun setting over the Great Salt Lake and the mountains beyond. And then, when she finally realized that she had someone there who loved her and was listening, she began to talk...

She said that she was really starting to wonder if this was the new normal, that this time of pain and nausea and dashed ambitions and aborted attempts at getting something done was really her new reality, and that maybe she just needed to get used to the notion.

I said, "You're already past the half-way mark. Two more treatments, then your surgery, and you'll be on the upslope."

"That's just it," she said, tears dripping off her cheeks. "I'm just not that sure anymore that maybe it won't be back."

We sat in silence, watching the Westering sun.

"Look at the people we know who've been through this," she said. "They're not the same. Some are gone, others are diminished, not many are completely whole, the cancer forever behind them."

She said that she lays there, worrying about the yard and the trees that need spraying and the broken swamp cooler on the roof and the weeds coming up in the garden and the porch steps that need pouring and, if it was last year, she would have just gotten busy and knocked down all those problems one at a time until they were gone, but now, she tries and finds that's she's too tired. And the problems loom larger.

I said, "Well guess what? That's why you married me. I get to take care of the problems while you can't."

Then I told her about something that my Mom said. She had just been through a several years of struggle with arrhythmias, being tired and drawn and out of breath. Then the doctor discovered the problem with her pacemaker, and suddenly her heart was strong and beating when it should, and she could walk and breathe and stride out into the world and be a part of it again. She said, "I realized that I had come to believe that being sick and tired was the new normal for me, and it was like being reborn when I realized that it wasn't, that I still had some vitality in me, and that life could still be bright and energetic and beautiful."

I said, "That's going to be the way with you, too, Vicky."

By now the sun was down, and we drove slowly home, making plans for next Wednesday, when she'd be out of the worst of the the chemo crash, and we could stroll around the yard and categorize what needed to be done. She said, "It is so nice to have somebody to talk to."

At the end of the night I showed her a TED talk I love by Guy Winch called, "Why we all need to practice emotional first aid." He is an identical twin, and has always been close to his brother. A while back, his brother contracted Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and had visible tumors all over his body. Here's a picture of him in the middle of his chemotherapy:

Dr. Winch said that, rather than play doleful scenarios over and over in his mind about his brother's future, he decided to practice emotional first aid on himself, to interrupt that sad recording and think of happy things, of a happy future. 

Within a week, his outlook completely changed, he was more resourceful, and a better encouragement to his brother. 

His brother completely recovered. The chemo eradicated all traces of the cancer from his body. Here is a recent picture of the two of them.

When the video was over, Vicky was awash in tears. 

Sometimes things start knocking around in your own head, start reverberating around in there in unnatural ways. And sometimes all it takes is taking a drive to see the sunset, having a talk with someone who loves you and having a really good cry. 

And then you realize that the world will take a few more turns, and then you'll be back out in the sunshine once again.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Two Hats

Right before church today, Julie, one of Vicky's friends from the ward called. She wanted Vicky to bring an extra hat to church.

It was the sweetest show of solidarity. They sat together in Sacrament meeting with those hats cocked at jaunty angles, and I'm simply positive that all the other women in that meeting were jealous.

Here are some pictures of them...

This chemo cycle has been by far the hardest for Vicky. Only the last two or three days has she felt much up to anything. But today, the sun came out and melted the last of the snow, and there was a warm breeze, and we went for a lovely Forced March with the dogs. We went over to the church and threw Mobi's ball for him for a long time, sitting on the warm grass and watching the sun set over the Great Salt Lake.

Vicky said, "You know, this warm weather gives me hope."

I said, "How so?"

"You know -- that spring will come, and that everything will be okay."

Truly and simply said.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Prodigal Dog

Last night, I took our two beagles Lexi and Mobi for a hike up on the mountain above our house. I've taken Mobi on these hikes for years and enjoy his company very, very much. He is the perfect companion: he wanders free and happy across those hills, yet, when I stop to rest, he comes close and lets me know that he is happy we're there together.

Lexi is entirely a different matter. When she's on the leash, she's pulling on it like the minotaur on a mission, and when we're up on the mountain and she's off leash, I have the dickens of a time catching her when we get back to the road. With Lexi in tow, I come back from those hikes quite the opposite of refreshed.

But I take her for one reason. Vicky loves that little dog, and has since the moment she brought Lexi home from the pound six months ago. And she wants that little dog to be healthy and happy.

So -- up the mountain we go.

Last night was a dark one. I love wandering free beneath the dark sky, off trail and without constraints, listening to the wind whistling through the grasses and the slight jingling of the dog's collars. We were quite far up on the mountain when I realized that I only heard one dog jingling. I figure I'd learned how to manage Lexi: sit and wait until she comes around, then wait patiently for a good deal longer until she comes close enough for me to snag her collar.

So Mobi and I waited. And waited. For much longer than we are accustomed. No Lexi. I whistled, and shouted, peering out over the mountain from whence we came, squinting to try to make out a tiny brown and white form skipping between the sagebrush. Nothing.

It was clear that even Mobi didn't know her whereabouts. Retrieving is not his strong suit, but even he made little forays out into the darkness as if trying to look for her.

I tried to put out of my mind the possibility that she was truly lost, wandering across the grasses, calling, whistling, but in truth, I was beside myself. How could I go home again with one beagle and one empty leash? How could I stand before Victoria and tell her that I'd lost that little dog? How could I break her heart like that, with all that she is trying so bravely to deal with?

But in the end, that's what we did, Mobi and I; we walked home, calling and whistling and straining to look. I had a tiny hope that Lexi maybe had preceded us, and would be waiting at home with a befuddled Vicky with many questions. As we started down the mountain though, I looked out over the valley with its hundreds and thousands of homes, and saw how very far away and insignificant our home was, and couldn't muster much hope that a little beagle could navigate the maze.

And sure enough, when we got home -- no Lexi.

Vicky has such grace. Even after the awful, terrible week of sickness and fatigue she's had, she took the news with equanimity. She started when I told her, and asked a few clarifying questions, then, without a trace of recrimination, she simply started making plans for how we would look for Lexi. We got in the truck, and began retracing our steps -- down the long road to the trailhead, stop and yell and whistle up the dark trail, then backtrack along to the dirt rugged pipeline road, driving slowly with the windows down and the cold streaming into the cab, calling and whistling until our voices were sore and mouths tired from whistling.

And no dog.

We found ourselves back at the house, sitting in the darkened living room with the front porch light on, watching out the front window, hoping beyond hope that our little dog hadn't been found by a coyote, and that she would have the intelligence and presence of mind to find her way back.

We sat and watched and talked quietly for an eternity. We talked about all those stories when pets made long journeys to find their masters. We wondered if The Incredible Journey had any basis in truth, but again, we found great comfort in the fact that my father's dog Putter came all the way from Logan Canyon to find his home again.

"But then again," Vicky said, "Maybe she won't make it back." And her lip trembled.

Then Vicky started from her seat. "Look!" She pointed out the window.

There, wandering from the street into the pool of light was a little brown and white dog. Our little prodigal dog. We threw the door open and there never was such a welcome.

Turns out -- they do come back.

We lost our daughter Genny when she was 14 years old. It wasn't really all at once, but friends and life choices slowly took her away from us, and for years we were beside ourselves, praying and hoping and thinking about how we could bring her back. She would dip back into our lives, like Forrest Gump's Jenny, but then she would be gone again, and the gnawing uncertainty would begin afresh.

What parent hasn't waited in that darkened living room, looking out the window, hoping their child will step into that pool of light?

Last week, I sat with my 31-year-old daughter Genny in her sacrament meeting, surrounded by her two boys, and watched the way she smiled and loved those children, and thought about the wonderful way she has been with Vicky, calling her and giving her thoughtful gifts, being there completely for her. Our prodigal daughter, now a beautiful, poised, accomplished woman.

Turns out -- they do come back.