Damned cancer returns, so here we go again, and let’s talk about it

By CARLA OFFENBURGER 

COOPER, Iowa, Jan. 5, 2017 – It’s time for us to have conversations about cancer.  Again.

Yes, adenoid cystic carcinoma is apparently back, for a third time.

Go ahead and say whatever comes to mind.  I already have. And now I have to move forward with it.  Again. 

Cancer is like a bad relative that I can’t break away from.  She’s a pest that isn’t wanted.  But she also appears to be a lifelong companion. 

So, over the last 10 days, I have been reflecting on our cancer conversations from the past.  They bring me strength in this time of uncertainty.

It’s been a bumpy holiday for us Offenburgers.

As all cancer survivors know, you don’t forget the dates, times and places that you receive the news you don’t want to hear.  And you don’t forget the details. 

Chuck & Carla A+BC Award Sept 30.JPG

Chuck and Carla Offenburger have had a lot of experiences as cancer patients — probably even more good moments than there have been bad moments.  Here was a good one this past September when the Des Moines-based organization Above & Beyond Cancer presented them with their annual Cancer Survivors Recognition award.  You can read the citation that came with the award at the bottom of this column.

My routine December check-up with oncologist Dr. Matthew Hill included labwork, an ultrasound and a chest X-ray – different from my previous 2016 check-ups that included a CT scan.  The goal was to eliminate some exposure to radiation, knowing we could see what we were looking for in an ultra-sound, X-rays and labwork, and go from there if necessary. 

The minute Dr. Hill walked into the exam room, I knew the news wasn’t good.  That was on Dec. 20.  A spot on my liver looked suspicious.  Then a CT scan, which I had the next day, showed more than a spot on my liver.  There were seven spots showing up in the mesentery in my pelvic region.   The call with these results came at 5:06 p.m. when I was standing in front of the orange juice section of our local Fareway Grocery.

I was speechless. Shell-shocked.  And pissed off!

The holidays being so close complicated the ordering and scheduling of a follow-up PET scan that was now necessary.

Can I interrupt this important message to complain about the pre-authorization process?  Seriously.  An oncologist places an order for a cancer survivor, as part of a follow-up to cancer screening tests with bad signs, and it takes over 12 hours to get a pre-authorization?  Where are the “red flag orders”?

Chuck and I started the Christmas holiday by sharing the frightening news to just immediate family and a few close friends.  Then we insisted it not be mentioned again so we could enjoy the holiday visit from our son Andrew Offenburger, his wife Maria and our three granddaughters Lindsay, Casey and Audrey.  We had a wonderful jam-packed Christmas celebration that went on six days.

On Tuesday, Dec. 27, within an hour of the girls and their parents leaving the farm, I was on the phone trying to see why a PET scan wasn’t scheduled yet.  Dr. Hill’s staff got on it immediately, but with the New Year holiday extending thru Monday, Jan. 2, the PET scan couldn’t be scheduled until Tuesday, Jan. 3, at John Stoddard Cancer Center at Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines.  By 9 o’clock Tuesday night, I had a message from Dr. Hill indicating that the PET scan showed:

–a small, likely-cancerous mass within the inferolateral margin of the left lobe of the liver;
–a small “nodule” abutting the diaphragm, questionable for “early recurrent disease”;
–and a 1.6-inch area in the left uterine area that needs to be checked for possible pelvic cancer.

The good news?   There is no sign of disease elsewhere, including in my head, lungs, heart and other organs.  Yippee!  Seriously.

Life can turn on a dime, you know?

I reached for chocolate!

Did you all know I’m claustrophobic?  That makes all this scanning business quite stressful for me.  An MRI is almost out of the question.  Honestlly, part of me now believes the worst is over, if they don’t make me get in another tube.

Here’s the plan right now.  Liver surgeon Dr. Qasim Chaudhry is sharing my report with the “Tumor Board” of consulting cancer physicians at Iowa Methodist, who know my internals very well by now.  The discussion will probably include surgical removal of the tumors, since adenoid cystic carcinoma just doesn’t have a history of responding to chemotherapy. 

If removal is the next step, this will be my third time having it done.  First a golf-ball-sized tumor was removed from my lower jaw/throat area in 2010.  Then in the fall of 2015, a 6-pound tumor, 60 percent of my liver and my gall bladder were removed by Dr Chaudhry.

I’m scheduled for a biopsy on Monday, Jan. 9, which will confirm the preliminary news – or some kind of miracle.

We’ll pray for the latter and prepare for the former.  Because we also know this:  We’ll handle this go ’round just like we’ve handled the others – full throttle, doing exactly what they tell us to do, and doing it all as quickly as possible. 

So right now, our house is a whirlwind.  What might we be missing?  What should we do in preparation?  What will the next several weeks or months be like?

In 2010, after neck surgery, I did six weeks of radiation as an extra measure to eliminate any lingering cancer cells near my brain stem.  In 2015, I was recovering for nearly seven weeks after Dr. Chaudhry removed that tumor which was so large that his physician pals were kidding him that it was almost like an obstetrical procedure.

What will happen this time is still up in the air.

And thus, our cancer conversations in the past are all replaying in my mind right now.

A very recent one is almost eerie.  On Friday, Dec. 9, we attended the funeral in Des Moines of our longtime friend Lauren Smith who had a long “dance with cancer,” as she often put it.  At the funeral luncheon, I was talking to another cancer survivor about my upcoming check-up with the ultra-sound and X-rays.  I affectionately used the term “scanxiety” – a term Lauren loaned me years ago.  When the discussion turned to how we deal with this scanxiety, I said, “We have a great role model in Lauren, and I always try to remember her advice and her attitude.”

So now I am trying to keep the attitude of a woman who’s “optimism touched the lives of so many…,” according to her obituary.  I need her optimism now, for sure.

Another past conversation that comes to mind again is one with cancer survivor Stephanie Cook Stockton, who grew up in Shenandoah with my husband Chuck.   In 2010 she told me “when things get tough, just close your eyes and picture all the people who are praying for you.”  Stephanie said, “It really helps!”  She also suggested, “When you get so sick or tired, or whiney and just don’t feel like praying, know that someone else is carrying you through!”   I’m going to keep that in mind this go ’round, too.

Earlier this year on Sept. 30, Chuck and I were honored by the “Above & Beyond Cancer” organization with their annual Cancer Survivor Recognition award.  This wonderful program is under the leadership of radiation oncologist and adventurer Dr. Richard Deming. 

Dr. Deming, who talked briefly at the presentation, shared that he understands why so many cancer patients use terms like being a “warrior” and “battling” cancer.  But he said his aim, with “Above & Beyond Cancer,” is to “transcend cancer.”  They believe in a “mind, body, spirit approach.”  Certainly there must be treatment, even aggressive treatment.  But they also encourage cancer patients – at any stage of the disease – to live lives of purpose and passion.  Right now as I write, Dr. Deming is leading 32 cancer survivors and caregivers on another of the organization’s cancer-transcendent adventures, to Kenya and Tanzania in Africa.  First in Kenya, they will build a “Hope Lodge” where people can live while receiving cancer treatment. Then they’ll go to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for fun and inspiration.

Now, in the past I have said I will battle this disease, or that I will be a warrior.  But this go ’round, I think, I’m going to look to Lauren Smith and Dr. Deming and dance this round through.   I’m not a great dancer, but I think I have a “mind, body, spirit” mentality, and my cancer is actually a slow dancer.  And honestly, when I slow dance, I have a tendency to want to lead.

So help me lead this dance, by sending your prayers my way.  Chuck and I could use them right now.  It’s always more fun to dance on a full dance floor – so be our partners in this go ’round, please.

Let me close by sharing two important messages I’ve just received.

Sharon Stalder, of Jefferson, a three-time cancer survivor and leader of our Greene County Cancer Support Group, wrote this:

Just opened this email with your news and offered this prayer immediately: “Great Physician, architect of our body, we lift up the physical concerns of Carla and ask that you guide Carla’s medical team by giving them wisdom and knowledge. Grant Carla and Chuck peace, strength and courage as they battle this current concern together.” May you know His presence. With HOPE, Sharon.

Rev. David Telfort, one of my pastors at Plymouth Congregational Church in Des Moines, wrote this:

I know you both know at this point what to do and how to go about your care. We’re here as an added layering of support and encouragement. You are loved and we’re here to help in any way you may need.  I’m an email or phone call away. Praying with you. David. 

I feel His presence.  And I am loved.

Thank you for praying with me and being one of those who loves me.

There’s one thing about the way we’ll do this new dance with cancer that will be similar to what we’ve done in the past – we’ll be keeping you informed with messages, blogs and posts.  Taking the journey with those we love is the only way we know how to do this.

You can write the columnist at carla@Offenburger.com  or comment using the handy form below here.

When we Offenburgers were presented a Cancer Survivors Recognition by Dr. Richard Deming and his Above & Beyond Cancer organization in September in Des Moines, this was the citation:

“Iowa writers & bicyclists Chuck & Carla Offenburger, who live on the Raccoon River Valley Trail near Cooper (pop. 30) in southern Greene County, since 2009 have thrown themselves  into what they call a ‘tag-team cancer’ fight.  Chuck has been through two rounds of lymphoma and a stem cells transplant.  Carla, who is community relations director at Greene County Medical Center in Jefferson, has been through two rounds of adenoid cystic carcinoma.  They’ve leaned on and pushed each other through chemo, radiation, surgery, CT & PET scans, MRIs and more.  All that has given them a firm resolve to ‘pay it forward,’ help others and love every minute of life they get.” 

You can learn more about Above & Beyond Cancer right here: https://aboveandbeyondcancer.org.

29 thoughts on “Damned cancer returns, so here we go again, and let’s talk about it

  1. Prayers & more! Will add you to my list. My sister starts chemo possibly next week. Still awaiting more lab results as some answers varied. (She is in Maryland because where she lived in North Carolina couldn’t get her in until after Jan. 1. She had her surgery there Dec. 19.) She is the third of us three sisters that have had breast cancer in our later 60s. They ask, “Did our mother take DES during pregnancy?” (That was a popular drug for nausea in the 1930s and later.) How the heck do we know? And records? Answers lead to more questions. Wishing you the best!

    Elaine Deluhery, Jefferson IA

  2. Carla, I am so sorry to learn of your news. As I am two weeks away from completing the big three “nasties” (chemo, surgery, and now radiation) for breast cancer, I can’t imagine having to go through it all again two more times. Your tenacity and gracious courage are such a wonderful inspiration. Please know that you now have another warrior on your team to help support you and Chuck with prayer, encouragement, and any other way I am able. Allen Hall is a good friend of mine, and through him I feel as though I already know you a little. I’m praying for that miracle you mentioned.

    Mary Beth Costello

  3. Praying for Carla and Chuck and all your physicians through this journey. Lots of prayers on Skyline Drive in your old neighborhood in Des Moines. We pray for strength and support for you and will be following your updates. Love and hugs!

    Arden Stokstad, Des Moines

  4. Carla, you and Chuck were my heroes and my models when I went through my cancer challenge five years ago. If I ever have a recurrence, you will continue in that role. I’m not a dancer either, but I’ll get out on the dance floor with you folks anytime. Everyone is pulling for you in your current battle. Best wishes for a totally successful outcome.

    Rick Morain, Jefferson IA

  5. We love to dance and will help fill up your dance floor! Praying for you and Chuck and all those that will help you through this dance!

    Janet Durlam, Jefferson IA

  6. I am Clark Smith’s cousin — hence, hence Lauren’s, too. I prayed for both you and your husband in the past and will keep you in prayer again! You honor Lauren by holding her near and dear in your heart. I am so positive that Lauren will be at your side every step of this dance of yours. I would be honored to be a prayer warrier and dance floor-participant of your dance. Hugs, bear hugs from a stranger, praying for you and following for updates.

    Lisa Taylor

    • I am Verna McManus, the aunt of Lisa Taylor and Clark Smith — and also consider myself an aunt to Lauren Smith, as she was as sweet to me as my blood nieces and nephews. My husband and I have been down this road. The second trip proved too much for his weak body. Bill knew your husband Chuck, as they both worked at the Register at the same time. I will dance with you and pray day and night, as I always do for so many of my friends who are fighting what I call the BIG C. Our philosophy, when Bill was fighting so hard to beat the Big C, was that God is in control and we know He will not give us more than we can handle. Or if He did, He also gave us strength to get through. Prayers and Love to you and your family.

      Verna McManus, Des Moines

  7. Carla, you don’t know me, but your husband and mine worked together at the Evening Sentinel in Shenandoah decades ago. Chuck was just a youngster, covering sports and taking pictures, while my husband Kaye worked on the press with Whitey Davis. I have added you to my prayer list and will continue to pray for you. Chuck’s nephew John Offenburger told us your health problems had resumed when he stopped by the church office when we were folding bulletins. We let him know that you would be included in our prayers.

    Coleen Norton, Shenandoah, IA

  8. Love your analogy about your dance with cancer! Rick and I love to dance and will be on the dance floor with you, watching you lead the cancer out of the dance hall. 🙂
    You are in our thoughts and prayers.

    Marcia & Rick Wanamaker, West Des Moines, IA

  9. Ah, Carla, yet again you have this fight to go through! I am so sorry. My thoughts and good wishes are with you always!
    You are such a strong woman, and a fighter, and your decision to share your journey is such a brave thing to do. Maybe, and probably a necessary thing for one such as yourself.
    I did tell you that my youngest son, Dan Petersen, died of pancreatic cancer a year and a half ago, at the age of 52. So although I am a lucky woman to remain healthy at age 82 – I do feel I traveled along your path, even though as a bystander. I was a bystander who Loved Loved the patient.
    And now I extend my love to you, and my memories of good bicycling times we shared. Good memories, Yes! I will be following your blog entries, and thinking about you…..

    • Carla and Chuck: Carol and I are thinking of you both as you deal with this. We are behind you all the way and looking forward to your coming out on top again. With love dear friends,

      Paul & Carol Kurtz, Athens, GA

  10. Carla, I’m adding you and Chuck to my prayers. When I get scared, I like to imagine God having really big hands, and holding us in them lovingly. Nothing bad can touch you when you’re in God’s hands. And that is faith.

    Lou Ann Sandburg, Clive, IA

  11. Prayers. Peace. Positives. All in our thoughts. The daily candle remains lit with Hope.

    Dave & Anne Stevens, Northwood, IA

  12. Carla, I don’t know you very well but I use to work at Ben Franklin and you would come in there. I just want to let you know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. You have a very positive attitude and I admire you for that. I wish you all the best.

    Dawn Davis, Jefferson IA

  13. Carla, not again! In this School-World, sometimes we are the student and sometimes the teacher, and we wonder WHY? One never knows the number of lives we touch in our own unique and special way. You have been both student and teacher. You have touched many, many lives with your love, courage and faith. As you have been given strength from your mom, Evelyn, Lillian, Faith, Nicole and others — so now you give that to others, and the ripple spreads. Prayers from the Angel Choirs of Healing join our prayers, and are with you. With love,

    Nancy Thuma, Mount Pleasant, IA

  14. Dear Carla, I’m so sorry that the “Big C” has revisited you. I’m praying that God will give you peace and increase your faith as you fight the good fight. I hope that this poem by Bernice Chambers will be an encouragement to you and other cancer patients and survivor:

    “What Cancer Can’t Do: Cancer is so limited. It cannot cripple love. It cannot shatter hope. it cannot corrode faith. it cannot eat away peace. It cannot destroy confidence. It cannot kill friendship. It cannot shut out memories. It cannot silence courage. It cannot invade the soul. It cannot reduce eternal life. It cannot quench the sprit. It cannot lesson the power of the resurrection.” Amen and Amen. Praying for you and Chuck. Keep the Faith .

    Marilyn Cox Campbell, El Cajon, CA

  15. Count me in on your prayer team, both of you. May God bless and strengthen you both. We can use prayers, also.

    Janice & Ron Parker

  16. Hello, Carla. I am at a loss for words. My prayers go out to you all. My grandson-in-law has had a round of cancer this past year. He is in the Army and lives his life as a warrior, too. Literally. David and Ashley plus four young ones are doing each day one step at a time. I am sending prayers and will dance with you and yours. I have two left feet, but I can learn. Go ahead and get angry, too. A little motivation helps. Just tell cancer to get out of the way. Love you folks.

    Mary Brower, Tama, IA

  17. The strength of your faith in the All Mighty, as well as your medical teams and kazillion friends praying for your recovery, is bound to lift your spirits. Hang in there! You have miles to go with love and support from everyone who’s ever had the fortune of knowing you both. If you can bike 5,000 miles across America, you can beat this one too with the amazing support you have in your medical teams and daily prayers from all who love you. Hang in there. I love you both.

    Sally Robinson, Lakeside, Michigan
    .

  18. Dear Carla, I cannot believe that you have to go through this once again. How many times is too many? You have your faith, a great team of physicians, your friends and family, and sadly a lot of experience for this battle. I will think of you every day and pray for you in every way I can. You (and Chuck) changed so many of our lives during the summer of 1995. We need you to keep the memory and flame burning. Love and kisses.

    Arnie Henden, Sun Lakes, AZ

  19. Carla, I don’t follow social media much so today when I checked into your website I was saddened to hear your news of the return of cancer. I appreciate your strength in confronting it and sharing your story. My most positive thoughts and prayers are with you and Chuck on this journey.

    Mary Ann O’Hara, Chuck’s classmate, New Orleans, LA

  20. Praying for you both, for courage and peace and the grace to keep living and enjoying your lives in the midst of this.

  21. Carla, praying for another good outcome as you battle this “beast” again. Think of you both often and was sorry to hear of your cancer returning. I have admired the faith and courage you have and will continue to pray for you and for Chuck as well.

    Lois & Sam Kauffman, Audubon, IA

  22. Carla, you have been on my prayer list since I heard you are starting the “battle” again. Do know, you are on many people’s prayer lists. May you have God’s Peace while you fight this fight. Caring thoughts.

    Linda Nydegger, Bolan, IA

  23. Carla, I am so sorry I did not have this news when I saw you and Chuck at the Mall last week. It is unimaginable that you are having to deal with yet another reoccurrence. Cindy and I send both you and Chuck our healing wishes and are putting the power of prayer to work here at home and though our prayer chains. We wish you much strength and peace in the days ahead.

    Randy and Cindy Jensen, West Des Moines

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