Monday, November 3, 2014

Team Beck at our first year participating in the Pancreatic Action Network PurpleStride 5K!  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

An Epilogue for Angie

For those of you who have been enriched by Angie’s blog – my apologies.  I am not blessed by that muse.  Angie was the consummate wordsmith; lyrical, funny and thought provoking.   I had the great honor of walking her journey with her; sometimes as a guide, more often as a sorority sister.  And now, I hope to share with you some of the things I was privileged to witness along the way.

When I was first diagnosed by Dr. Picozzi (who also was Angie’s oncologist) he told me something very wise.  Not only did it confirm in my mind that I had the right doctor, but it stays with me still.  Angie and I had many, many conversations about this.  Here is what he said.  “Most people when they think of cancer, they think about the physical battle, how ravishing it is to the human body.  But what cancer really is, is the battle for the human spirit.  If you can keep your spirit strong, you will win.  Every time.”  As my journey progressed, I began to understand what that meant.  Angie knew this before her battle began.

Angie’s beloved father and brother died of cancer.  She understood that you might lose the battle, but still win the war.  That war is won by the legacy you leave behind.  The legacy Angie leaves us is monumental.  It includes:

LAUGHTER.  Cancer is a cruel disease.  It scars our bodies, steals our hair and nails, destroys our appetite, leaches our strength.  In Angie’s case – it stole her butt!  That’s right – I know you remember the story on the blog about the day she lost her butt.  Leave it to Angie to take that devastation and make us laugh.  One day, while I was sitting with her during a chemo session, she showed me her hands.  The nails had begun to turn black and lift from the nail beds.  Soon, they would begin falling off.  I had assured Angie that they would grow back and showed her mine.  I had just had a manicure and I remember she looked at my nails closely and said she was not going to wait for that.  She was going to get some Lee Press-on nails – the ones with the bling and would add some Superglue just to make sure they stayed on!

COMPASSION.  Angie and I knew a young girl, Shannon Cocke, who died from colon cancer at the young age of 37 after a terrible, terrible four year battle.  She left behind a 4 year old daughter and two sons, ages 9 and 17, as well as her husband of 18 years.  Whenever Angie would talk to me on the phone or see me in person, the first words out of her mouth were. “How is Shannon doing?”  Nothing made Angie cry more quickly than to hear about her struggle.  She grieved for Shannon’s family and that Shannon had not lived even half of her life yet.  Most of all, she grieved for Marion, Shannon’s mother.  Many, many times Angie thanked Our Lord that her boys were fine and healthy.  She could not imagine the kind of grief Marion was feeling.  We went to Shannon’s service together and sat next to each other.  The first thing she said to me was, “Are you going to cry?”  “Oh no.”  I said.  “I’ve cried all week and I can’t cry any more.”  Angie gave me “the look” (you know what I’m talking about) and in her best Angie voice said, “Mmmm –hmmm.  Well I got you covered.”  Five minutes later when the faucet turned on, she reached into her bag and pulled out a big handful of Kleenex.

ATTITUDE and SASS, also known as COURAGE.  My nickname for Angie was “Miss Sassy”.  She might be down, but she was NOT out and if she felt you pitied her – look out!  Do not sugar-coat the situation, she’d tell Dr. Picozzi – give it to me straight.  Like all of us, Angie preferred to have a long life.  But she was not afraid of death.  What she feared was the indignity that our society seems to require before we are allowed to rest.  She would not put up with that.  There is so little you can control with cancer, but she was going to make sure it did not take her dignity. 

Her disappointment was huge when she could not go to Mexico with her niece, Debra.  The day she was to leave, she ended up in the hospital with a raging fever and dehydration.  But she put that behind her, recognizing that this was a warning that cancer was trying to get the upper hand.  She was not having it and forged ahead. 

Right after Angie’s return from Hawaii, things took a bad turn.  She learned the cancer had spread to her liver.  She came down with a virulent e-coli infection.   A CAT scan revealed the cancer had spread further in to her back, causing excruciating pain.   The tumor in her liver caused her bile ducts to become blocked and she needed surgery to place stints to re-open them.  In the last conversation I had with her, two days after her surgery, she could barely speak.  But she looked at me and said. “I’m so tired, so tired.  I need to go home.”  What she meant was she needed to go HOME, to be with her Mother, Father and Brother, to hug Shannon and to rest, whole again and free from pain.

Angie passed away on the morning of July 26th and her legacy lives in all of us who were blessed to know her.  It was an honor to laugh with her, cry with her, talk about all those big meta-questions and hear her talk with so much love about her boys and her family.  I for one will be trying to live my life the way Angie lived hers – loving everything and everyone around her, keeping a sense of humor and staying sassy. 

Thank you Angie for touching my heart and strengthening my soul.  I love you so.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Back To Life, Back To Reality

Hawaii is a paradise and I can’t think of anywhere I’d like to be feeling out of sorts than there.  But my most recent trip to Oahu for my son’s graduation challenged my body in ways I had not expected.  In my previous post I highlighted the good moments only, because, there are times when good moments need to have their own platform.  I think I did that well.  This post however, will be about the F’d up stuff nobody likes to experience let alone talk about.

The first two days of my trip were spent at my son’s house.  I got there on the May 8th and didn’t check into my hotel until the 10th.  Feeling slightly under the weather when I arrived I slept quite a bit the first two days, which was confusing for my granddaughter.  She asked my son, “Why is Noni always sleeping?” That made me sad.  My last visit we walked to her school in the morning, and then I picked her up in the afternoon.  We walked to the store on occasion, we went shopping together, we spent time at the beach – we had a ball.  Of course all of those activities were pre-cancer diagnosis.  This visit, after only two days, and my body felt limp with zero energy for doing simple things like moving from the bed to the toilet.  Two days in and I was already yearning for the privacy of my hotel room, and praying for just enough energy to wrap myself mind, body and spirit in self pity.  Yeah, I was feeling all kinds of woe is me.  I’m not even gonna lie.  It didn’t help either that her other grandparents were visiting as well and brought with them all kinds of energy to boot.  Oh yippy Skippy.  They went snorkeling with my Diamond, and hiking and shopping, and blah, blah, blah – look at us we’re super grannies!  Okay I know.  I should be ashamed of myself for such childish thoughts but I’m not.  I had moments of serious grand envy for my son’s in-laws – but hey! -- my emotions were exhausted too and in a serious tizzy.  I will not apologize!

I think I can honestly say my body was never quite the same after being stuck in the hospital in April for dehydration and an infection, which my doctors were never really able to locate the source.  So it’s quite possible – more than possible – that the reason why I was feeling poorly when I boarded Hawaiian Airlines on that beautiful May morning, is that the unknown infection was still declaring war on my body.  Ugh. 
My son was insistent about scheduling events for us and now in hindsight, I’m glad he did.  Otherwise my reason for getting out of bed would have been limited to my son and granddaughter -- and that would have been enough mind you, but I was glad he had the other distractions as well.  I have to say though, participation in even the best events took every single bit of energy I had – I smiled, I chatted, I laughed at the funny things and on one occasion I heaved my dilapidated body up from my chair (to watching eyes I hoped my going from sitting to standing was an effortless transition) and participated in a couple of line dances i.e. The Wobble, Down South Shuffle and some others that I can't recall the name.  I believe these moments were immortalized in my son’s camera.  At every opportunity the next day found me buried under a bunch of covers completely depleted of everything. When did participating in life become such a chore?  Seriously, I detested being so weak but felt as helpless as a kitten.  I’d crawl – slowly – from under the covers to eat and pee and then prepare myself emotionally and physically for the next event.  I was in Hawaii for Pete's sake, freakin' paradise.  This could not be happening!  I did not want to be remembered as mom with cancer.

Pain is a new symptom these days; right below my right breast, over my liver.  This area was kind of sore before I left for Hawaii and I complained to my doctor but he said it wasn’t the cancer because it only caused me pain when I moved a certain way or breathed deeply.  He explained that cancer would hurt all the time not just when I breathed, exhaled or moved a certain way.  Hmmm… that didn’t make much sense to me since I have tumors in my liver, which leaves the door open for possible, probable and eventual pain.  So a day after I returned to T-town I had to report for duty in oncology and at that time I told my doctor the pain had worsened.  It was like someone had taken a knife, that had been seared by white hot flames, and stabbed it into my body.  An exaggeration?  I wish.  My doctor commented, “Well it looks like the cancer didn’t like the month off from chemo.”  But I thought the pain wasn’t due to the cancer.  Another hmmm…    I also started experiencing discomfort in my middle and lower back, not pain per se but it’s like have a rotting tooth in my back with a constant, gnawing ache.  I don’t know how best to describe it than that.  My doctor gave me a prescription for oxyCODONE.  Yeah.  That should fix me up nice.

My equilibrium has become an issue.  While in Hawaii I fell going up the stairs twice.  Now there wasn’t anything for me to trip on so I couldn’t use that as a alibi and I was walking so slowly at one point I thought I saw a snail pass me by.  And yet, I lost my balanced and fell, on two different occasions.  What the what?

My appetite has changed, meaning before Hawaii I was eating anything edible and now I make it a point to remember at regular intervals to eat something.  I’m losing weight folks. Since returning from Hawaii I’ve already dropped 7 pounds without trying.  Now as you can see from the pictures in my previous post I’m a hardy gal and 7 pounds isn’t going to emaciate me.  But the fact I’m losing it without trying gives me some angst.  And you know what? With all this brouhaha – and I’m not trying to be a negative Nellie – sounds to me like cancer is raising its ugly head. 

I had it really good this last year and a half since being diagnosed.  I'm grateful.  These new symptoms have me acting like a genuine sissy.  I don't do pain well.  I returned from Hawaii May 20th, last Tuesday, and while still feeling like shit, had chemo on Thursday.  I'm still recovering from whatever and my bed and I have become best friends the last week and 1/2.  My goal these days is simple -- just trying to see how long I can stay up in a day before seeking comfort beneath my blankets.

What I've tried really hard to do throughout this journey of mine is stay one step ahead of the cancer.  No lie, it's becoming quite a challenge.  I had an appointment with a Natural Path this past Monday.  My first impression was good.  She assured me she'd had a patient with pancreatic cancer and that by following the holistic ways he was able to live a good year 1/2 past his doctor's guesstimate of life expectancy.  My oncologist specializes in pancreatic cancer and I'm hoping my new Natural Path can do the holistic thing with focus on everything else.  It was a good appointment and I walked out of her office feeling hopeful with a handful of supplements for inflammation, pain, and good liver health.  I will keep you updated on this new venture. 

Just so you know, my Diamond and I were able to have some quality time together on what I named Diamond Day -- a 24 hour period.  This was a day where she could have a shopping spree (within reason) at Toys R Us, lose herself and what's left of my mind at Chucky Cheese (an absolute nightmare for an adult but I endured) and then stay up as long as she wanted watching the movies she loved on Netflix.  My son and daughter-in-law and all in-laws stayed at the hotel for a night while Diamond and I took over the house.  It was, I must say, a successful day!  Below is my Diamond giving her new purchases a bath.  By the way, my girl just made the honor role!  Go Diamond!!

So there you have it.  Ciao.

Life has a way of kicking us when we’re down. And just when we think we can’t fall any lower, we get kicked again.  But it’s important to remember that setbacks, failures, and tragedy are a part of life. Whether we manage to find joy and success in the daily struggle of life is largely dependent on our ability to persevere through even the toughest adversity without ever giving up.
By Keep Inspiring Me

Monday, May 26, 2014


Hey it's me, and here's my disclaimer.  I, Angie, promise really hard not to bore you with too many details of my trip however I can't promise that you won't be bored by the butt load of pictures attached.  I do love my pictures. There you have it.

I have to say, my flight over the ocean was literally smooth sailing. Yeah -- that's the analogy I'm sticking with, smooth sailing.  I mean, seriously, that plane flew through the sky with as much finesse as a big steamer cutting through the gargantuan waves of the Atlantic. 

Hawaii was grand!  I loved the blue skies -- well, when it wasn't raining that is -- and the bluer than blue ocean.  I loved the food, and the people -- so friendly, and I absolutely loved staying at the Hale Koa, a hotel for military, civil service workers and their families.  It was huge, and the rooms were roomy; the place is right on the water next to the Hawaiian Hilton.  Did I mention I loved the weather while I was there?  It was absolutely perfect; almost as if it were designed especially for someone going through chemo who really shouldn't be subjected to a lot of direct sunlight.  As for my health, well, the trip was a combination of ups and downs which I made the most of but for this post only, I’d like to focus only on the up times because those are the times that kept the smile on my face and one foot moving in front of the other, and I won't lie, at times that proved to be some kind of challenge, but I digress.

Seeing my handsome son, Michael, all dressed up in cap and gown made my heart burst with mega pride.  The graduation date was Monday, May 12th at 7:00 pm at Chaminade University.  I have to say, it was a bit offsetting at first because I noticed as we were herded down the rows to our seats there weren't a lot people in the crowd particularly dressed up for the occasion.  The attire was mostly Hawaiian shirts and shorts or other way, way causal attire.  But I guess that’s Hawaii’s way of doing things.  In Hawaii you're on vacation 24/7 -- not to shabby.  Hmmm…my son informed that if we were to go up into some of businesses in the high rises during week days most business men wear their Hawaiian shirts with slacks. Oh well…I’m not complaining it was just an interesting point.  If I could afford to live in Hawaii I’d be casualled down and on the beach every chance I got.  Below is a picture of me, Michael and my granddaughter, Diamond, after the ceremony.  We're standing in front my favorite restaurant, Bubba Gumps.  Unfortunately, I don't have a shot of Michael in cap and gown because by the time he met us at the restaurant he’d disrobed and promised (hasn’t happened yet) to take a picture for me and send it later.  Uh huh…I’ve heard that one before.

My son and his wife, Melisssa!

Melissa's mom, Diamond, Melissa and her dad (aka my son's in-laws)

We attended two luau's during my stay in Hawaii and they were spectacular.  At the first one, which was on a cruise ship, we had a wonderful and authentic meal with entertainment from the beautiful Hawaiian men and women who danced for us -- hula dancing.  It was so much fun.  More pictures below!

View of the sunset from our cruise ship.

 The second Luau was held at one of Hawaii's large malls.  Again, we had a great meal with specular entertainment by hula dancers and then went into a theater for a performance by some really amazing impersonators, Elvis, Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga!  They were incredible performers and I had a really good time.  This was actually one of the best tribute shows I've ever seen.  If ever in Hawaii check out Legends In Concert Waikiki Legends In Concert Waikiki.  Take my word on it, you will not regret it! :)

Okay I literally have a ton more pictures but it's time to bring this to a close.  Above is a picture of my beloved son and granddaughter on my last night in Hawaii at a buffet, which was de-li-cious I might add.  

Wishing you all the very best in your days.  Aloha and Mahalo!

Live for today, love for tomorrow, and laugh at all your yesterdays. Never regret the past, always hope for the future, and cherish every moment you have.  

Nishen Panwar

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Fourteen Things I'm Thankful For

  1. Tony and Michael
  2. My Diamond
  3. My sister Vickie, who has a heart the size of Mt. Rushmore, for being my big sister at just that moment in life when I needed one. 
  4. My niece Debbie who has taught me to step outside the box every now and then to experience life raw and to always find room for laughter that makes my gut hurt.
  5. My bestest friend in the whole wide world
  6. Waking up every morning bright eyed and bushy tailed.  Is that how that saying goes? Sounds weird.  What is a bushy tail?
  7. The balled spot at the top of my head.  It reminds me to stop whining and to be grateful that the rest of my head is now covered with new hair that isn't nappy.  Hey!
  8. Brothers like Kenny.  I still miss you every single day!  I've been seeing previews for 24 coming back on.  But I can't watch it without you here.
  9. German chocolate cake, banana wafer pudding, chocolate chip cookies warm out of the oven, Rocky Road candy bars and Reuben sandwiches which I've only taken a liking to since mom passed. It was one of her favorites.
  10. Months of ease with no pain
  11. Friends, friends so many good, loving, devoted and angelic friends!
  12. Pizza with lots of cheese
  13. Um...gaudy jewelry.  The kind that can only be found on QVC or Shop HQ.  Yeah I said it.
  14. That God never gives up on me even when I'm a pain in the butt!

If we remembered everyday that we could lose someone at any moment, we would love them more fiercely and freely, and without fear- not because there is nothing to lose, but because everything can always be lost.

Emily Rapp

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hey It's Just Me Checking In

Okay so I’ve been really remiss at updating my progress, assuming that you all still want them.  Last Monday, April 21st was my last day of 12 chemo sessions for the current therapy.  Yea!  When I get back from Hawaii I will start something new which will consist of two of the three drugs I’ve been taking.  The drug that causes sensitivity to cold will be nixed – thank you very much! Oh and my peeps will be throwing me a party to celebrate my completing this last chemo therapy.  I'm so spoiled! And so excited – I leave for Hawaii next Thursday first thing in the morning and after that, it’s on ya’ll.  We’re going to have some sunshine, blue skies, bask in the waves of a beautiful sea, sandy beaches, drinks with umbrellas in them and me shaking my groove thing at a big luau.  I am so ready.

I have to tell you about my last chemo though only because it was amusing and we need to take every chance we get to laugh when we get a chuckle.  So I was plugged in with tubes here and tubes there and two of my favorite nurses were working on me to get a blood draw without success.  So they had me reclined all the way back in my chair – didn’t work.  They asked me to lay back and put one hand in the air with abandon like I just don’t care – didn’t work.  The last pose was a keeper.  I’m on my side with my right arm stretched out behind me with the male nurse standing over me with his hand splayed across my breast and pushing down on my port.  At the same time, the other nurse is mumbling to her fellow nurse, “Great, perfect don’t…move… an… inch…I’ve got it.”  To the onlooker it may have looked like we were doing a photo shoot for something naughty.  It was at that moment my doctor walked in and balked, “What is going on here?  What are you doing to my patient!?”  We all got a good laugh and Nurse Marion explained, “It’s okay Dr. P. just trying to get a good blood draw.”  Hey in the chemo biz you take the humorous moments when they present themselves and just run with 'em.
So in my last update I mentioned they’d done some CT scans when I was in the hospital and determined from the scans that the cancer in my liver had spread.  But Dr. P. redid the scans and they showed that the cancer in the liver had not changed since the last scans he did pre-hospital.  This means the chemo is working at killing the cancer cells so we’re golden.  I so needed to hear that good news.

As of today, last couple of days have been rough but I can’t complain because they could be so much worse.  I’ve been seriously dragging with fatigue weighing down on me.  But sometimes I just have to listen to my body and do absolutely nothing.  So I’ve been lying around watching the tube, eating when my stomach tells me to, taking my nausea meds and drinking a lot of water, which seems to help with a multitude of sins and whatever else ails me.  My doctor asked me if I wanted to have a chemo session on May 5th before I left and ‘hell no’ immediately came to mind.  If I did that I'd be having chemo Monday, wearing the fanny pack with the 5FU drug until Wednesday and then catching my flight to Hawaii on Thursday.  Yeah, no.  As it stands now, by next week the residual effects of chemo will for the most be doing an exodus and I’ll be good to go for my travels without fatigue and nausea hanging on me like a wet blanket.
So there you have it.  Hopefully my next post will have pictures of my Hawaii trip and me with a lei around my neck and a frilly drink in my hand.  Aloha!

I have the gift of laughter. I can make people laugh at will. In good times and in bad. And that I don't question. It was a gift from God.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Mexico and Me

The international flight to Mexico left without me last Sunday. Yeah, at the time the plane was airborne I was connected to an I.V. with antibiotics flushing through my body via my port. Here’s what happened. Friday after having some breakfast I got the worst indigestion ever. I didn't know what was going on but feared that if it wasn't indigestion it might be a heart attack or blood clots. I prayed hard for indigestion. The pain wrapped around my chest to my upper back. I tried to walk it off. Nothing. I tried to lay on my back with my feet up against the wall (my kid’s grandmother on their father’s side once told me that the best way to relieve yourself of gas was to lay down on the floor with your butt close to the wall and legs up). Nada. After about an hour of misery I decided it might be best to get into my car and hit the freeway for the 25-30 mile drive to Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle. Crap. I didn’t want to make that drive but going to emergency in Tacoma just wouldn't do. They did not have access to any of my records and the doctor’s there would just end up poking and prodding without any background information on me and that would only frustrate them and piss me off. So I drove to Seattle.

Once in the E.R. at Virginia Mason, I was immediately taken into a room and examined. They did a couple of CT scans – upper and lower body – in order to rule out heart attack and blood clots and at first decided it might be girds. I had missed taking my Omeprazole for a couple of days so it wasn't unlikely. Omeprazole is an acid reducer I’ve been taking since the Whipple procedure last July on doctor’s orders. All tests came back negative for anything bad. The nurse gave me a Vicodin for the pain and was getting ready to send me on my way (I actually argued with them to keep me for at least 45 minutes so the pain meds could wear off before I got back into my car but the nurse was adamant they had no reason to keep me), however, before I could get dressed she decided to take my temperature and low and behold it was a whopping 104 degrees. Yikes! Other than the pain in my chest I hadn’t even felt bad, which I believe is a prerequisite for walking around with a temperature of 104. They feared there was an infection. So I got admitted into the hospital. By this time I was still hopeful they could find the source of the infection, and administer some oral antibiotics so I could still catch my flight to Mexico on Sunday. In my fantasy world, by Monday, I'd be hanging out by the pool with an alcohol free margarita in one hand. Not to be. After two CT scans, several blood draws for cultures, lots of fluids and some Tylenol to bring the fever down, I was moved from the E.R. to a room on the 15th floor where I could immerse myself in self pity. If the Tylenol hadn’t worked the nurse on my new floor threatened to take away my blankets and stuff ice packs around me. Hell no. The stank eye I threw her way must have spoke volumes about my mood because none of that happened.

I was in the hospital until Monday. They were thinking the infection may have been in my port but the doctor explained that the ER doctor messed up on the order to take a culture of the port and by the time they’d realized the mistake they’d already given me a butt-load of antibiotics so any tests they did would be inconclusive. In short, they released me because they were able to get my temperature down and my red and white blood counts where they should be, but they still hadn't found the source of the infection in my body. Also one of the CT scans indicated the cancer in my liver was spreading. Translation: chemo treatments were not as effective as my oncologist first thought. Damn.

As a consolation to Mexico, I planned, while in the hospital, a trip to Seaside, Oregon for 4 days of walking along the beach, shopping at Seaside’s quaint little gift shops and just enjoying a bit of solitude and peace so I could wrap my mind around some things. But then I got a call from my oncologists nurse. I told her about my impending trip to the ocean and her surprise that the doctor had approved such a trip was palpable and my heart dropped. I told her I'd mentioned it to the doctor in the hospital and she said it wasn't a problem since the ocean was only a car ride away. But by the time the nurse ran down the list of things I needed to watch for, and gave me the 800 number to call in the event some of the things on the list did happen, I got scared. I’m ashamed to say I let that fear keep me from jumping into my car and heading south toward the ocean.

So physically I'm a mess, and emotionally...really bummed. What messes with my head though is how suddenly I can go from feeling just fine to ending up in the Emergency Room. WTF! But it is what it is and now I have to make some serious mind adjustments. Easier said than done I know. Fear is seriously working hard to wrap itself around my psyche and I just can't allow that man. It will prevent me from living my life. So what to do, what to do?

I need a new plan. I have my Hawaii trip coming up on May 8. Hopefully my doctor will have me in good shape by then.  My son is graduating from college in May and I just can not miss his graduation.  So I'm going to be a good gal and follow doctor's orders so I can get better.  And soon, I will have my moment on the beach, where I will enjoy a Shirley Temple or two (when I was in the hospital one of the doctors told me cancer cells don't like alcohol), and watch while my granddaughter romps in the water.  And you know what?  I can't swim but I just may get a little wild and crazy and find myself romping in the waves too.  Can't wait. 

Being positive doesn't necessarily come naturally. We have to make that decision daily.

Joel Olsteen