By CARLA OFFENBURGER
COOPER, Iowa, Jan. 25, 2019 — In late December, I reported that I was most likely going to do some “spot radiation” under the direction of Dr. John Triantafyllos (fondly known as “Dr. T.”), a radiation oncologist at Iowa Methodist Medical Center’s John Stoddard Cancer Center in Des Moines. And that’s exactly what I did during my 60th birthday week – four days of “SBRT” (that’s Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy). The treatments, which were approximately six minutes each day, focused specifically on one tumor in my right lung.
It was an hour drive down, very little wait time, about 10 to 15 minutes of prep time, then the six minutes of radiation. Then we were back in the car for the hour drive home. A week later, I can report that the only side effect was some minor fatigue.
Carla Offenburger, all prepped and ready for radiation at John Stoddard Cancer Center.
All this seemed like a piece of cake in comparison to what I’ve been doing the last three years – several hours in surgery, three to 10 days recovering in the hospital, and then five to seven weeks recovering at home.
Saying all this doesn’t make the radiation treatment any less daunting. It is tough for many people, and many in the same waiting area I was in were doing radiation twice a day. I felt truly lucky and blessed.
You might wonder, “What does one do during radiation?”
For me it was an easy choice. I prayed.
My praying ritual took on a simple pattern, a little different every day.
First, I would pray as I was being prepped for radiation and while the X-rays, or “mini” scans, were being done, ensuring that the beams were aimed exactly where Dr. T wanted them. This prayer was always in thanksgiving for the technology that makes such treatment possible. I prayed too for all my physicians and therapists who were treating me at the moment.
Next I prayed for those I know who are going through their own serious battles with cancer or illness. Last week I focused on great-nephew Austin Antisdel, who is in the middle of making decisions about his next treatment options for small-cell lung cancer. And Mark Morris, husband of a high school classmate, who had been battling a type of blood cancer for months. (Sadly, Mark lost his battle on January 23.)
“Ringing out” is a tradition after you complete your regimen of radiation treatment.
Then, I had a different prayer for the actual six minutes of radiation treatment. One day I prayed for every single member of our extended family (all the Burts and Offenburgers), by name. That adds up to 134 names in all. Sometimes a name would escape me for some reason. Mostly that would be a name of one of my nieces’ or nephews’ kids, and I’d just said, “and their kids.” But overall, I pretty much have this prayer list memorized. It is also the prayer I say to help get me to sleep on nights when my mind won’t let cancer go.
On another day I prayed the Lord’s Prayer, over and over. It seems like I was able to do this about 24 times during the six minutes. And it still astounds me that sometimes I found myself messing it up and having to start over. Seriously, does “thy will be done” come before or after the trespassing?
On the third day, I did a prayer combo – my family members, the Lord’s Prayer and then the one for Austin and Mark.
On the fourth and final day, I prayed what has become my mantra over the past few years – four words: “Strength, Courage, Health and Healing..”
These four words are significant to me. I ask for strength to keep me going when I feel weak about all of this. I ask for courage to face the many unknowns. I pray for health that I might stay as healthy as possible, so my body can handle whatever treatment might be coming my way. And I pray for healing, always holding on to hope for a cure from new research. On that final day of treatment, I was able to pray these four words 110 times. 110 times! Surely the Lord heard this prayer
Prayer makes anything tolerable, really.
The small card in the corner of our bathroom mirror, a constant reminder.
What now? We wait.
It won’t be until my next scan in March — I get one every 90 days — that we will know if the spot radiation was successful. Scanxiety! That will also be when we find out if the other tumors have remained stable or have grown.
So many of you ask me, or wonder, “How can you go through this?”
Living life in 90-day increments does indeed wear on me at times. But I mind the little “Life is Good” card on my bathroom mirror, and keep going. The alternative isn’t really an option. Is it?
I read a lot. In fact, right now, I’m reading the Bible in 90 days with my Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ family. (This is the second time I’ve done this Bible study, 10 pages per day.)
And I find great comfort in quilting. In fact, I’ve done some very special projects for those dear to me. Close friends Mary Riche and Nancy Teusch got quilts I made specifically for them last year. I made three special ones for three beautiful granddaughters, still to be given (quiet, it’s a secret still). And 2019 will find a few more being completed.
This past Christmas, I made very special small wall hangings I named “Crazy Family Love” for all the women in the Burt family tree – nine in all. The pattern used the same fabrics, shuffled around, making each finished project different, yet the same.
The small quilted wall hangings for women in the Burt family.
While quilting these, I prayed for the recipient, and I thought of her and what her role is in our family. I recalled specific family moments of hers. It was very carthatic for me during my recovery from surgery late last summer. I hope those wall hangings become “keepers” in each recipient’s family.
Quilting has become a real “calm” in my cancer storm, and I use it to create lasting gifts for those I love. Making memories with material, I think.
Of course, Chuck and I continue to plan and do adventures, as many of them as we can schedule and afford.
But really, just soaking up all the blessings that come my way every day, that is important for me, too.
I work hard on my faith,. I believe God has a plan for me, and I’m not going to resist whatever that might be. I try to listen for his voice, to guide me in what he wants me to be doing during this journey.
I feel so blessed knowing that so many of you are praying for me, loving me, and living the good life with me.
You can write the columnist by email at carla@Offenburger.com or comment by using the handy form below here.