By March 30 we arrived in Livingston and went that day to a doctor to see if Donna actually had acquired a walking pneumonia over the last few months. They did chest x-rays & a CT scan and thought it "looked like" pneumonia, gave her antibiotics, steroids & an inhaler and sent us on to Bonaire for the 3 weeks we had planned there. However, they did ask that we see a pulmonologist upon our return as they couldn't tell much from the chest films.
The first week in Bonaire, we didn't do much for water sports, but began snorkeling the 2nd week. Donna could never breathe well enough to feel safe SCUBA diving, so we stuck to snorkeling. On April 26th we visited the pulmonologist in Lufkin who said, "you need to go to the hospital now." He advised driving to Methodist Hospital in Houston, so we did the following day and Donna went to the ER. Within a few hours they had admitted her and felt she had some obscure pneumonia cause and were actually intrigued by the challenge of figuring out what the cause was. They started broad spectrum antibiotics via IV immediately.
The hospital lab continues to culture every body fluid Donna can provide, but after a week everything keeps coming back negative. They keep looking for other possibilities such as masses various places in the body, heart disease & anything else they can think of, but everything comes back negative. Early in the 2nd week Dr. Zaid says the lab "almost has it", oh and they want to do a PET scan also. Well after looking up PET scan on the internet, I realize they are looking for cancer too.
The morning of May 4th Dr. Colton's team of Drs. Zaid & Karanchi arrive and ask "how are you at getting bad news by yourself, or would you rather wait until your husband arrives?" (what kind of bedside manner are they teaching at this hospital?). I just said give it to me. They said, you have cancer cells in your lungs. Lung cancer. They all look grim. I feel devastated even though I suspected they were looking for some sort of cancer. I hold myself together, but my blood pressure rises very high for 2 days.
The PET scan shows them that there is cancer cells in both my lungs, but no where else, so it hasn't spread from another primary place and hasn't spread past my lungs. I meet my oncologist, Dr. Lehane who says since I have been taking folic acid & vitamin B-12 regularly he will start chemo immediately. He mutters almost under his breath and we barely catch what he says...."stage 4, chemo will give you better quality of life", and it slowly dawns on me that he thinks I am going to die before too long. My first dose is May 7th sometime around midnight & I sleep thru the process. He advises I get to keep my hair which is comforting and if my immune system remains strong, I should avoid some of the really bad side effects of the chemo.
Now my biggest problem is escaping this hospital. Since being here, I have required supplemental oxygen. First thru a non-rebreather mask and 15 liters of pure O2 as they couldn't get my blood oxygen levels up any other way. Finally via a nose cannula and at least 10 liters of O2. They are afraid of letting me go home at this level. Finally on May 11th I get to leave. Fifteen days in the hospital and I have become as weak as a new puppy.
The first few days back at the motor home were very tough. I was exhausted at any small effort. However, day by day things improve and within a few days, I can do a somewhat normal routine that includes my own personal care and cooking dinner & cleaning up. I'm sure Don is relieved to be back in the blue/pink routines. We begin walking around the RV park as I need to strengthen my leg muscles which seem to have disappeared while in the hospital. We soon work up to a good slow pace.
Chemo #2 comes as an outpatient on May 24th. I think I know better than the doctor and talk him into letting me not take the steroids I'm on that night. Big mistake. Probably set me back 3 days. I will follow their process from now on.
June 11th thru 13th - I am excited as my two children have decided to visit me in Houston this weekend. It is the first time the 3 of us will be together at the same time in nearly 30 years. My children make some "rules" and let me know that they want a lot of my time, one-on-one and want to pick me up early and spend the day. That's fine and Don makes plans to do other things for the day. However, on the 12th no one shows to pick me up and only thru snippets of conversation during the day do I find out that my daughter has decided to spend the day with an old high school friend. They don't show up until 7pm on Saturday. I was certainly not feeling the love from my children that day. Don is furious with their treatment of me, but cancels his plans and works hard to make me feel loved during the afternoon. God has truly blessed me with the never failing love of this man for over 30 years for which I am ever thankful. As it turns out at the end of the day, we all have a nice visit over dinner at a nearby restaurant for about 3 hours Saturday evening. No one calls me the next day before they fly/drive back to their homes. I love my children and forgive them any hurt they have caused me, but my prayer is that they will learn to forgive, so that they will be able to be fully forgiven.
June 14th - I continue to improve with Chemo #3. A disappointment is that I still require supplemental O2. I'm hoping to get off of this ASAP as we are very tied to the Houston area until that happens. The thought is that the chemo will kill off the lung cancer and I will get a better lung function back so will no longer need the oxygen. However progress is slower than I hope for. We do want to get a summer travel schedule back and hope we can do that.
June 16 - We do take a short trip to Fredericksburg, TX. Don plays golf, we visit our favorite Becker Winery and buy lots of wine. We stop to visit Ken & Jan Tilton in Spring Branch TX before heading back to Houston. It was blissful being able to have different scenery and people to visit. We may visit Dallas while waiting for Chemo #4 scheduled for July 6th.
June 29th - We drive to the Dallas area and spend the week visiting friends and clean out ALL the old clothes we will never wear again from our storage room. Don does get another golf game in too. We must get back to Houston by July 5th as chemo #4 is scheduled for the 6th. Although Hurricane Alex gave us rain in the Dallas area too, it wasn't nearly as much or as intense as that in Houston, so we missed several inches of wet while here.
Around the 15th of July we leave and head for Georgia. We now have not only the concentrator to provide O2, but a unit that lets us refill tanks so we will be able to maintain our portability while on the road. We visit with Don's sister Nancy and see Mom. She recognizes Don as he talks to her. It is the last time we will see her. We travel on to Brunswick to visit with Dad & Ea. They are most gracious and warm to us.
We arrive in Elkhart Indiana on July 31st in anticipation of a Dr appt on the 3rd. We meet Dr Ansari. He is most impressive and I like him. He arranges for chemo 2 days later on the 5th and says I will be on a 3 week schedule. Our Fulltimer's rally starts on the 7th and runs for 10 days then we arrive at the Newmar Int'l rally on the 16th. I get around both of them, but must use oxygen at with any physical movement. I have to stop and rest often. However, as the month progresses, I can tell I am breathing better even though I still have ZERO muscle in my arms and legs. I finally read someplace that Decadron, the steroid I am taking daily can cause that. Hmmmm, my Dr in Houston told me I could cut down every 2 weeks as long as I had no adverse effects and I have been doing that. Dr Ansari told me I could cut down every week, so by end of August I have taken my last one. I hope the last one forever as they are insidious little things that rob your body of so much.
After the Newmar International rally we go back to the Elkhart Campground to wait for the Escapee's Escapade that will start September 12th. I have chemo in the interim and the Dr wants me to have another PET scan to see if any of this treatment has been effective. I certainly agree so I have my 2nd PET on September 14. On the 16th I go in to visit the Dr and have my 3rd & last chemo in Indiana. The PET shows normal lungs, free of disease. I am stunned, but happy. But, I ask, why am I still requiring oxygen. He says from the damage caused by the cancer. Hopefully it will continue to heal and I will be able to be off of it, but no guarantees. I know I will be off of it soon.
We continue on west and visit friends in Denver, Natasha & family in Sandy UT, then on to California.
We arrive in Chico and forget the O2 tank on the way to my cousin's house. Hmmm, Don says, if you need it I'll go back for it. I wear it to bed for the next 2 nights, but that's the last I need oxygen. Oh man, free at last. We visit with my cousin & his wife and I get chemo then we head for Washington for a NKK "Roving Rally" thru the Cascades. What a great trip this is. Absolutely beautiful scenery, we are so glad we got to make this trip. Then it is back to Chico for another chemo before we hurry to make it back east.
A quick stop in Phoenix to visit our friend Bob Hunt & his wife. We drive thru a trailer park I lived in as a kid. What a dump it has turned into. It was brand new when we moved in when I was 9. Oh well, that was 55 years ago, so I guess time passes :).
My doctor is happy to see me. I realize he is also surprised to see me as he didn't think I would make it this long. He does another PET and says I am not cancer free as they said in Indiana. Better, but not free. What a bummer, but the PET here takes 3 to 4 times as long to do. Many more pictures are taken and there is much more detail on the film I see. I think they must do a better job here. He really has no other plan for me other that to keep on doing the same thing. When I ask how long he says, "as long as it works." I realize then that he is stuck in that traditional mold and doesn't have anything else for me and I'm really on my own to find the "cure" as he doesn't have one.
We spend the first part of the month traveling around the state and back to Houston every 4th week for chemo. Then the week before Christmas, we get the call we had been expecting/dreading. Don's mother has died. We pack up and head to Georgia to be with family.