By CARLA OFFENBURGER
COOPER, Iowa, Jan. 27, 2020 — I have often said, cancer is a curious friend. And I still believe that – but sometimes it can feel like a friend has turned on you and causes you more grief than you deserve from a friendship. This is what I’m feeling right now with my friend cancer.
I am confident that we will make up soon and be back working together. But damn, right now, my adenoid cystic carcinoma cancer has me a bit frazzled.
Whether friend or foe, time flies when you’re fighting cancer. And a lot has happened since I last updated everyone last fall.
In October I started taking an immunotherapy drug, Nexavar. And I’m happy to report we are seeing positive results. A scan in December and another earlier this month showed, for the most part. the Nexavar is stopping some of my tumor growth, as we had hoped. That’s exciting and makes the minor side effects tolerable.
In January, our oncologist Dr. Matt Hill, of the John Stoddard Cancer Center at Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines, recommended that I have a rubbery feeding tube placed into my stomach to help me overcome a lack of appetite and incredible weight loss.
In January when he saw me, I weighed 107 pounds. I have since gone down to 100 pounds and am now back up to about 105 pounds. I need to find 20 pounds or more.
Carla Offenburger with two cartons of nutrition that she now receives directly from the infusion bag, into her stomach via her new feeding tube.
Four times per day, we pour 8-ounce cartons of “Osmolite” into an infusion bag, add some water, hang the bag on an IV pole, then connect the infusion tube into my feeding tube. About 15 minutes later, I’ve had my full meal. These feedings give me all my required daily nutrients and 1,600 calories. I can eat whatever I want in addition to these feedings. And, while I’m still struggling to eat much, I’m getting better at that, too. There’s no doubt that a priority has to be on my eating.
Carla eating one of her “meals” in our farmhouse living room.
But that’s not my only challenge now.
While Nexavar seems to be working on many of my tumors and lesions, it didn’t stop a tumor that developed quickly in my pelvic area the last few months, one that almost escaped detection. But in the January scan, it showed up as a “softball”-sized tumor. Ouch.
The pelvic tumor is pressing against my bladder on one end and my rectum on the other. It is uncomfortable. And, most likely is the cause of much of my lower back pain and bowel issues. Go figure.
Defeated? Not at all.
Angry? Of course.
Knowing that the Nexavar seems to be working on most of my tumors keeps me from feeling defeated. And with Dr. Hill having a treatment plan in place, that helps me be hopeful.
Yes, I’m angry that I have to add another treatment to my schedule. Yes, I’m scared. How can I not be? But, scared can be overcome with strength, courage and prayer. I’m using all three, plus the incredible support I get from friends and family.
Mostly, I’m hopeful. When Dr. Hill walks into my exam room and calmly explains what needs to happen, it is reassuring. He always seems realistically hopeful, and so am I.
The plan now?
We’re hoping that radiation oncologist “Dr. T” can save Carla or the third time in just over a year. Here they were together in January 2019.
We’ve added 15 daily doses of radiation to shrink the pelvic tumor and relieve the pain I have. I started this on Monday, January 20. Daily trips to Des Moines are giving Chuck and me plenty of car time. This radiation treatment has me again working with radiation oncologist Dr. John Triantafyllos, or as everyone calls him, “Dr. T.” He is also at John Stoddard Cancer Center. He used radiation to successfully eliminate a large tumor in my lung last January. And last June he went after a tumor in my left femur bone. Both of those treatments were successful. Of course, I trust that this treatment will also be successful.
I’ll finish the radiation up on Friday, February 7. If all goes as I’d like it to, Chuck and I will be able to fly to Scottsdale, Arizona, the following week to watch our Vanderbilt University Commodores baseball team open the 2020 season by playing in a “MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament” sponsored by Major League Baseball. It’s a great field with Vandy, Michigan, Connecticut and Cal Poly. We’ll stay in Scottsdale with our step-daughter and husband, Janae and Chris Learned. We’ll take a much needed break from my cancer-filled days, soak up some sun and relax. When we come home, we’ll do whatever needs to happen next.
I am so fortunate to have cancer warriors who are helping with meals for the Offenburger household (otherwise, I’m afraid Chuck would make pancakes every night for my mother Suesy Burt). It is reassuring that my sisters Tammie Asmbaugh and Chris Woods, of Des Moines, and Chuck’s sister Chris Werner, of Cedar Rapids, make themselves available whenever needed for an overnight of care. I am grateful for all the cards of comfort and support I get. And I am forever in awe at how much I feel the love of so many.
Everything we do now is adding days, months, perhaps years to my life and we are very much aware that this is all we can hope for. I want to be present every day to enjoy what God puts in front of me.
And I want to do it with grace and gratitude. I don’t want to be angry or bitter at my circumstances. I want to dance in the glory of the wonderful life I have. Dance with me please.
You can write the columnist by email at carla@Offenburger.com or comment by using the handy form below here.