Friday, June 14, 2013

Post treatment protocol

Today was the first day of flushing of the port. This is the first time we return to the Cancer Center after completing the treatment protocol. I'm not sure what I expected, or Zack for that matter. We both had the idea that we would go in, the nurse would weigh him, measure him and take his vitals like every other time. We expected his port to be accessed and "flushed" or cleaned out. We did not expect them to take his labs and wait for the results. We were escorted to the "usual" television room and then asked to wait for the results.

We had a post treatment meeting with Anne, whom is a research nurse who works closely with patients, families, and staff. (When a child is diagnosed with cancer, Anne works with the family and the child in the hospital providing them with information that they will need over the next several years. After discharge, she will follow up with them in the outpatient clinic to ensure that their questions and needs are addressed. She works closely with staff addressing questions about the patient and family to help provide a continuum of excellent care. She most recently helped create a smooth transition for the hematology/oncology clinic from Mission Children’s Clinics to the SECU Cancer Center. She took on a leadership role and added responsibilities to make the transition as seamless as possible for staff and patients. As a research nurse, she worked with staff and physicians to prepare for a successful audit. She is also in school. Anne’s dedication and compassion for nursing is displayed everyday in her interactions with patients, families and staff.) 

Anne entered the room with two pieces of paper. She is more serious than the other nurses. She was one of the first we met with to go over protocol, possible trials that are going on around the Country and to ensure we are on target with treatments based on protocol. She sits down and begins to explain our new schedule. The shocker was that Zack will have scans every three months for the next three years, followed by every six months for the fourth year and once a year following. "This is the only way we are going to know if it returns." said Anne .... those words shocked me back into the reality of it all! Walking back into the center was already a reality check. When you are away, enjoying the day to day, you put the past year behind you and try your best to move on. Anne had "offered" for Zack to have the port removed early, to which I was not amused! I firmly pointed out that this was major surgery and IF there are signs of anything, he would have to undergo two surgeries in a matter of months. The port is not affecting his everyday life and waiting another two months is in his best interest. Though Zack was not thrilled, he had to agree with the logic. Anne went on to explain the reasoning behind his continued need for antibiotics. She said there is a special type of infection that he "could" get from the port which could lead to pneumonia. Having had enough "information", we agreed to continue with the Septra. As Anne exited the room, Julia entered with the best possible lab results. She said all of his counts are in great shape and he is free to do as he wishes. His only limitation at this moment is lifting weights, and that is due to the port. 

My plan was to go to the Red Cross and donate platelets, but once we left,  I was so tired and Zack hungry. We had a nice lunch and were on our way home again. The Red Cross has been calling me every other day asking for platelets. One of my main missions is to work with the Red Cross about getting platelet machines in our own town. It is a huge problem as it takes about five hours from the day to drive to Asheville, donate and return back to Brevard. I have spoken with a lot of people in town and those that are able to donate simply say it is too far and too much time to go to Asheville. 

When we returned home, Zack ran up the road to work on a water feature for Frank. I laid on the sofa and before I knew it, I had fallen asleep and continued to do so for three hours. I was emotionally drained. It had snuck up on me and hit me hard.  Frank and Zack both returned about the time I woke up. Zack was getting ready to head up to his friends for a swimming party. Frank ran down to the pond to fish a little with the dog and I continued to process the day.

Zack has pre registered at our local community college. His plans are to continue working with Frank until he can get a job at a local store. He would like to work there in the evenings and go to school during the day. It is a very exciting time for us all. We have been celebrating his end of treatment, celebrating his graduation,  celebrating life in general. We know that we must continue to celebrate each day. As Mom reminds me quite often, he has been cancer free since the tumor removal. THAT is what we will hold on to. To hold our breath each time we have the scans will honor this horrible disease and we refuse to give it any more power. We will know each day, that he is and will continue to remain cancer free. 

Life after graduation.....

  Since Zack's and his friends graduation, we made a quick trip up to Blacksburg Va to see my nephew Nick Ladd be "hooded" which basically means, he is now a Doctor of Osteopath. Zack and Frank opted to stay home, as Frank doesn't travel well for long drives and Zack had multiple parties to go to all weekend. The following weekend, we had decided to throw our own party to celebrate not only Zack, but his friends as well.
 The day was simply gorgeous and we all had a wonderful relaxing time.

Frank cooked hamburgers, hot dogs and freshly caught trout.


     I haven't seen Zack or Frank this relaxed in a year! It did my heart good to see them have such a great time with everyone and thoroughly enjoy the day, laughing, telling jokes and catching up with old friends and family.





Sunday, June 9, 2013

Graduation Day.... Part One!!!!

How can you put an entire year into a few simple words? I personally have never been one for a "few" words. I ramble, talking so fast at times that some can't seem to catch up. As "we" all try and find the new "normal" path post cancer, I find myself taking it literally one step at a time.

Zack has been full steam ahead! Nightly bonfires with friends, running from one house to another. A simple text from me with "WRU?" (where are you?), requires only a simple response... "Drakes, T Dubbs, Donald's or the ever popular Walmart parking lot!" 

It is 4 pm on Friday, May 31st, 2013. I arrive at the Brevard Music Center, the location of Zack's class of 2013 graduation. Today marks exactly a year we met with the surgeon to schedule removal of the tumor I had just discovered the night before. The ceremony was to start at 6pm, but in this small town, if you don't arrive early to save your seats, there is nothing left. Frank had to work until the last minute, so it was up to me to be the guardian of the seats. I brought a supply of paper and tape, found a row of 15 seats and started marking each one with Fisher. Eight rows in front of us were already roped off and marked with the names of many I knew throughout our years with Scouts, Schools and Sports. Slowly the Center started to fill with proud Parents, Siblings, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Nieces, Nephews and friends. As the seats start to fill, some are coming to me asking for paper and tape. As always, I was prepared to share and was eager to help others mark their seats. I was anxious and this gave me something to preoccupy my time. While waiting for everyone in our party to arrive, I had a mild altercation with a man and his father, both of whom had been drinking and became loud and obnoxious. I firmly asked them three times to please be pleasant as all of our kids are here to be celebrated. Each time, they mellowed out a bit, until I finally, turned around and advised that I would be glad to personally escort them out of the building! I had not trouble after that. As family arrived, our seats started to fill as well, Mom, Rhonda, Peter, Frank, then Bill and Amy (Zack's "other" parents), Shawn, Floyd and Darrick followed by nephew, Nick and Havely (his partner) whom arrived straight from Blacksburg, VA where he will graduate the next day, Jim (nephew) came in just in time from Chapel Hill, NC, and sister in law Jamie. Just as the procession of teachers,  followed by students started to walk down the aisles, a couple stood next to our seats. BFF Nancy and her family were on the side of the Center trying to get to us, so their seats "looked" available. The lady approached Frank and I and asked if the seats were taken.  I explained that my friends were making their way down and apologized. She then asked a couple in back of us, who also had their family walking down the aisle. The couple then stood in the middle of the walkway and announced they would not move until someone gave them seats. As the processional music started to play and everyone stood up to honor the students, I asked the couple to please move out of the pathway, the woman looked me straight in eyes and said "we don't have anywhere to sit!" I finally looked back at her and announced "IF you had arrived here at 4pm like the rest of us, YOU would HAVE a seat!!, now move!" Surprised, she looked at me and simply said "really?? seriously?" to which I replied "seriously!" She and her husband promptly left the area while folks around me started to pat me on the back and congratulate me. NOT my proudest moment to say the least, but as always, don't mess with big mama!!

Zack walked down the aisle opposite us, so we could only see him from afar. One by one, his friends were walking past us as we screamed with excitement. The usual speeches were given, this year was light and full of energy. The student body president was full of humor and the graduates interacted the entire time. As the graduates crossed the stage, you could hear the shouts, applause and horns blowing. We were all asked to "hold your applause until after the ceremony", but I don't know too many people that follow "the rules" at these events. As we were watching these "kids" cross, Frank and I remark where we knew each one from. We were walking down memory lane and had permanent smiles on the entire time. What amazing young men and women this group is, and we can't wait to see where life brings them. One young man was escorted across the stage in his wheelchair, the entire auditorium stood to honor him, a little while later another young man was helped by both parents and again everyone stood. When it came to Zacks time, all of the graduates and teachers stood, applauding, then (of course) as I'm crying, over half the auditorium stood up. As I looked around, I could see some looking around puzzled, almost as if to say "why are we standing for him?" I had to laugh and cry at the same time. A year ago, we had no idea of his graduating, let alone crossing the stage on his own. I was thankful that some didn't understand, it meant he "looked" just like everyone else. What a blessing!! After the ceremony, we all gathered on the lawn for photos. Fortunately Mom, Rhonda and Amy had cameras as Franks died during pictures as did my cell phone. I can only explain my emotions as those of someone getting married, I was there, but oblivious to anything around me. As "they" say, a picture is worth a thousand words, though I had to do both. 
waiting for the ceremony to begin

graduating class of 2013

Zack, Uncle Mitch and Trenton P
Zack with cousin Darrick
Zack with his Meme
Aunt Jamie, Dad Frank and Niece Abby

Zack with 2nd Dad, Bill
Family friend Romona
"my" two sons, Zack and Chris F.
waiting for guests

Frank, Havley and Nick

Frank and Trenton P

Mitch, Meme (Mom) and Nick

Zack and Cousin Peter

best buddies, Zack and Trenton

Dad taking photo of Mom and Zack 

The master photographers

With Aunts Sissy, Tammy , Uncle Mitch and Abby

Meme crying happy tears

Cousin Nick congratulating

A smile for the camera!

Me, Zack, Cousin Darrick and Aunt Jamie

Always keep the eyes on the camera!

Fellow graduates!

Bill hugging "the mama!"

THE MASTER photographer

Mama and son!!

the girls find their way to Zack

another dear friend

and another.....

and another......

"papa" Brian

Zack, Austin O. and Trenton P. best of friends!

"My boys!"

"He" did it!!!

The happy graduates!

Cousins Nick and Jim

"A reason to be proud!"