By CARLA OFFENBURGER
COOPER, Iowa, Aug. 1, 2019 — It’s been an exhausting last few months for me – and cancer.
I’m tired, folks. Don’t count me out, just count me tired.
It’s been a whirlwind summer for sure. But before I give you the latest news, let me review what I’ve already done in 2019 to keep at bay the adenoid cystic carcinoma cancer that continues to grow within me. You’ll see how exhausting this dance can be.
IN THE PHOTO AT THE RIGHT, the Offenburgers at the Relay for Life in Jefferson in April.
January – radiation on the largest tumor in my right lung, which was deemed successful after my doctors checked it with a scan in March.
April – a long-needle, “microwave” ablation on one tumor at the bottom of my spleen. This was also successful.
May – another long-needle ablation, this time freezing a tumor on my back just below my right shoulder muscle. They found that one during an ultrasound procedure, which was done as part of my spleen ablation in April.
July – “double-dose” radiation on my left femur to attack a metastatic segment of the leg bone that we have been monitoring for the past several months. We won’t know if this was successful until a September full-body bone scan.
In between those treatments, I’ve had two CT scans and two full-body bone scans, all to monitor my tumors, lesions and suspicious spots from head-to-toe and throughout my body.
But I haven’t been so exhausted that I didn’t continue to create the memories that my oncologist, Dr. Matthew Hill is encouraging me to do. He is with the John Stoddard Cancer Center at UnityPoint Health’s Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines.
Dr. Matthew Hill with Carla Offenburger in June.
In February, my husband Chuck Offenburger and I spent a week in Scottsdale, Ariz., staying with step-daughter Janae Jaynes Learned while we cheered on the Vanderbilt Commodores. They were opening the 2019 college baseball season in a four-team, round-robin tournament at a Major League Baseball spring training complex.
Then on the Memorial Day weekend, we had our granddaughters Lindsay, Casey and Audrey Offenburger here at the farm, along with their parents Andrew and Maria Offenburger, for several days jam-packed with fun.
Next, Chuck and I did 10 days of the College World Series, wrapping up the Vanderbilt baseball season, with our Commodores winning their second national championship. We drove to Omaha and back for every Vandy game. What a fabulous time that was, and I’m so grateful for a team of young men who can make a cancer patient like me so happy.
Chuck and Carla Offenburger at the College World Series in Omaha.
Now, we’re just returned from a two-week vacation, spending the first week in Oxford, Ohio, with our granddaughters and their parents.
The second week, my extended Burt family gathered at a rented home on Clear Lake in north central Iowa, re-living our family vacations decades ago. Back then, my maternal grandmother Edwina “Eddie” Olsen, would arrange a Clear Lake cabin every summer, and there my parents, we sisters, aunt and uncle, and cousin made great childhood memories. We re-created some of those in Clear Lake this summer, and we’ll be back there for more again next summer, I’m sure.
And fall plans are starting to fill our calendar. It’s now somewhat of a joke with my physicians that my treatment is always “done around Carla’s personal calendar.” So true!
With our granddaughters in Oxford, Ohio, in July.
And here we are today. Or back in June, actually. When I had my regular 90-day scan in June, the results were, well, disappointing and scary. Dr. Hill was clear and firm when he said we should start taking my bucket list more seriously while, medically, we continue to tackle one tumor at a time.
Here’s the deal: The cancerous stretch of my left femur increased in size. I have a new tumor on my spleen. I have three new tumors on the left upper part of my liver, and I have so many small tumors in my lungs that Chuck and I lost track of the count.
But not insurmountable. We hope.
This news came to us the same day we were later travelling to Omaha for a College World Series game that would put Vanderbilt in the finals. We had plenty of road time to talk about this news.
On the recommendation of Dr. Hill and our other docs, we took almost immediate action on the left femur with five days of “double-dose” radiation, which we hope, over the next several months, will prove successful.
Carla Offenburger ready for a double-dose of radiation on the femur in her left leg.
Then we went right into our two-week vacation.
Of course, we have had a lot of serious discussions about life changes we should be considering. We are still having those.
I remind myself daily of the quote from my favorite cancer support book, “50 Days of Hope,” by Lynn Eib. On day 16, she says, “Don’t deny the diagnosis, defy the verdict.”
I can’t change the reality that I have a cancer that is labeled stage 4, incurable. But I can focus on making sure I have a say in the verdict. I’m going to defy it as long as I can.
We’re embracing the saying on this one block of a “cancer quilt” that the family of our late friend Lauren Smith gave us after her death from the disease.
I trust my physicians, Dr. Hill, who does a terrific job of consulting and coaching me; Dr. John Triantafyllos, my radiation oncologist, and Dr. Olaf Kaufman, my radiation interventionist. So far, they have always had a treatment ready for me. All are cautiously optimistic and yet realistic. All seem very willing to help me defy the verdict, one tumor at a time.
During my last visit with Dr. Kaufman, he said, “Carla, we know we need a brain, at least one lung, a heart and a liver. Let’s focus on your liver right now.”
And that’s what we are going to do. We are scheduling an intense ablation for September to take care of my three liver tumors. And after my next 90-day scans, also in September, we’ll sort out what has to happen next.
Until then, I’m resting. And I’m praying for courage, strength, health and healing. And a miracle. Pray with me, please.
You can write the columnist by email at carla@Offenburger.com or comment by using the handy form below here.