Celebrating life and fighting cancer is indeed exhausting but worth it

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 granddaughters in Oxford OH in July 2019.jpg

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.

Scary, indeed.

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 double-dose radiation in July 2019.jpg

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.

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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.

32 thoughts on “Celebrating life and fighting cancer is indeed exhausting but worth it

  1. Prayers for strength, health and healing, and comfort for you as you continue the good fight. Prayers for your doctors as they continue to discern the best treatment for you. Prayers for Chuck and your family as they support you through your treatments. And, of course, praying for a miracle.

    Cathy Barnett

  2. You are doing so well! Congratulations. And yes, prayers continue. ❤️❤️❤️❤️

    Barbara Cunningham, Shenandoah IA

  3. Your courage and positive attitude shine through every word you write about your journey with cancer. Mine and Doug’s prayers are with you ceaselessly. I’m praying for your miracle, also. You are so amazing, Carla, and I love you dearly. We are looking forward to you and Chuck spending the weekend with us for the 50-year Vanderbilt reunion in October! Much love and many prayers.

    Molly Bates, Centerville TN

  4. Carla, as a person “in remission” from CLL, I know just how exhausting the chemo the docs pumped into me was. Your “don’t count me out, just count me tired” slogan is a great one. Kathy and I think of you often and we send love and support to you and Chuck. You’re an example of engaging with life. Courage and blessings!

    Roger A. Revell, Liberty MO

  5. Our daily candle and prayers continue. Faith and courage at the top of the list.

    Anne and Dave Stevens, Northwood, IA

  6. Thanks for sharing your story, Carla. Cancer survivors and fighters, and even those without the dreaded disease, can take good things away from your journey.

    Jim Wyckoff, Cedar Falls IA

  7. Appreciate the honesty, and am praying for a miracle along with you. Are you going to the Iowa State Fair? Would love to look at the quilt display with you.

    Allison Engel, Des Moines

  8. You’re the most courageous person I know! You’ve created a “how-to” story for facing the tiger that has entered your life. Such an important inspiration for those of who will likely face some physical crisis as we grow older. Thank you.

    Mary Hilliard

  9. So very proud of your attitude/outlook. Happy that you have the support and time spent with your hubby. It brings back so many memories — 10 years now. And it’s so reassuring that he’s still so remembered by so many, as you surely will be. Keep up the fight and most of all the prayers to Him who loves you the most.

    Connie Wagner, Sibley IA

  10. You are such an inspiration, Carla! Thank you for their sharing your cancer journey. Sending you caring thoughts for courage, stamina and joy-filled days and a positive verdict!

    Diann Peyton, Des Moines

  11. You are such an inspiration! You are and have been first on my daily prayer list for several years now — fight on! Can’t wait to take you off the list because you have won the battle. If anyone can do it. you can. Keep the faith in your docs — sounds like you have the best.

    Carol Mogolov, Des Moines

  12. Carla, thanks for sharing your stories. Such a good reminder for us to live our lives everyday. Your courage with smiles is truly a testament about how to live a life. Thanks for sharing and showing us how to live. Prayers and love to you and yours.

    David Weaver, Rippey IA

  13. What I love the most — besides, of course, your lucidity and positive attitude — is your beautiful smile! And of course the fact that you are not afraid to share the ups and the downs of your cancer journey. Keep up the good fight, Carla. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

    Harriet Welty Rochefort, Paris, France

  14. I do keep you in prayer, along with so many others. What a nasty disease! You are an inspiration to so many. Jodi (daughter) is also beautifully going through it, too, also treated by Dr. Hill. Isn’t he great? Keep up the good work. God’s not done with you here.

    Kathy Mathews, West Des Moines

  15. Dear Carla, what a courageous person you are. I just pray that I could have half the strength and faith you have if I were in your situation. Continued prayers for you and Chuck!

    Richard Hensley, Atlantic IA

  16. Carla, how beautifully written! Thank you. Thank you for sharing so clearly and exquisitely your journey through this year. You know I hold you in my heart and my prayers always!

    Kathleen Murrin, Des Moines

  17. Keep beatin’ it back, Carla. Talk about Superheroes – you’re at the top of the list. Keep on keeping’ on.

    Rick Morain, Jefferson IA

  18. Carla, you are my hero. I know you have to have down times, but you don’t seem to let this bother you. You and Chuck are living life to your fullest. You two are in our prayers nightly. Keep on keeping on. Prayers, dear cousin.

    Ronna O’Brien, Boone IA

  19. You amaze me, Carla. You are a poster woman for dealing with cancer and you should go on the road with your story. Prayers and well wishes to you.

    Karen Chesshire Ray, Port Orange FL

  20. My prayers continue. Your energy and attitude lift my spirit. It’s good to rest. Radiation exhaustion is real and something you don’t really understand unless you’ve been there.

    Rev. Beverlee Bell, West Des Moines IA

  21. Hi, Carla after reading all this today, all I can say is how brave and strong you are. I will continue tor pray for you, and keep making your memories.

    Pat Perkins, Shenandoah IA

  22. Just read your latest article, Carla. It is indeed scary, but every time you’ve given us an update it is overwhelming, and yet you have soldiered on and defied the odds. My prayer is you will continue your fight and not give up or give in! I’m praying for strength to continue your dance with this terrible disease.

    Jack Lashier, Des Moines

  23. Carla, you’re something else and you inspire so many of us. I am your 6:30 a.m. pray warrior. Hugs and love to you.

    Lois Clark, Jefferson IA

  24. So sorry to hear all the cancer news. As we get older I always thing there are three things we worry about: Alzheimer’s, cancer, and Parkinson’s. So far, after my 84th on August 2, I have luckily escaped those. I do pray you wife is able to stay in the battle until victory reigns.

    Tom Black, West Point NE

  25. Carla, as always, thank you for writing and sharing your experiences and thoughts. It’s so great that you and Chuck have taken these trips, including cheering on Vanderbilt. You are ONE COURAGEOUS WOMAN! Thinking of you.

    Clara Hoover, Omaha

  26. Thanks for sharing this, Carla. I can’t imagine what you are going through. I hope fall will bring better news on the tumors.

    Mary Huggins, Urbandale IA

  27. Think of you often and you both are in our prayers. Keep up the good fight. God’s peace and love.

    Joe and Linda Nydegger, Bolan IA

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