Life “seems to keep getting better,” despite another cancer surgery


COOPER, Iowa, July 18, 2018 — My life seems to keep getting better.

And I’m beginning to believe that it’s because I have cancer. Isn’t that odd?
It’s my perspective, of course.

I hope all those I know and love don’t have to get a cancer diagnosis to appreciate all they have. And that they keep a good perspective on how good their lives are.

Yes, I still have cancer, for those who are following my journey. I actually have a little bit more of it than I had last time that I shared an update with you. Darn it.

You may remember that on March 2, I received “miracle news” that none of my nine or so cancerous tumors had grown. Those tumors are in my lungs, liver and pelvic area. That was a wonderful appointment with Dr. Matt Hill in Des Moines, and right after we left him, Chuck and I started a two-week driving vacation out West.

We focused on that joyful news for the next 90 days. The magic days between scans sometimes have me forgetting I have cancer. I simply sink back into a wonderful life of routine – working, reading, gardening, quilting, bicycling, walking and plenty of family time. I like that.

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Carla and granddaughter Audrey Offenburger, 3, frolicking on July 15 in the water park in Guthrie Center, Iowa.

Then at other times, we find ourselves living “like there’s no tomorrow.” Our trip out West was like that. We had a wonderful trip visiting family and friends, watching Chuck’s alma mater Vanderbilt play baseball in California, doing some fun bicycling and seeing a whole lot of our country, including a fabulous visit to Zion National Park.

Then in early May, we visited son Andrew and Maria Offenburger in Oxford, Ohio, for 7-year-old Casey’s first communion.

Since then, we’ve been embracing adventures right in front of us while sitting on our front porch on near perfect evenings. I planned and planted more flowers than ever, decreased the vegetable gardening and joined a local CSA.

On Friday, May 31, I had my next 90-day scan. And it was the following Tuesday that I found out miracles can be short-lived when you have cancer.

Dr. Hill had to report that all of my tumors showed a “slight progression.” Some grew more than others. The tumors in my lungs are smaller than a finger nail. The ones in my liver are slightly larger than that. It’s the one in my pelvic area that is about two inches in diameter. This is the one that will eventually cause some discomfort. More good news was that no new tumor growth was detected.

Our conversations with Dr. Hill are always frank and honest. He knows our perspective on life and always keeps that in mind.

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Carla with granddaughters (from left) Lindsay, 11, Casey, 7, and Audrey, 3, during one of their “Master Chef Junior” cooking escapades — this time for brunch — on July 15.

And yet, we had to start talking about what was next.

We still feel that my quality of life supersedes a treatment that we all understand is suspect as far as being successful. Why would that be? Because every treatment with my rare cancer is somewhat of a “trial.” There are a lot of chemotherapies out there, but none designed specifically for adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC). Removal of tumors is still the main protocol. Other plans, which Dr. Hill has in mind, will most likely make me sick, with slim to no guarantees for total remission. And most likely result in heavy chemo with side effects that will impede my quality of life.

People live years with my cancer. I read it and see it all the time on the International ACC Foundation site I follow. I read about periodic treatments of all kinds depending on where the cancer is located. Every case is so very unique. It’s invigorating, hopeful and often frustrating.

We ultimately signed up for another 90 days, with plans for a scan in early September.

In the meantime, Dr. Hill consulted with Dr. Olaf Kaufman about doing another long-needle ablation to get rid of the 2-inch pelvic tumor. Dr. Kaufman successfully did a procedure like that on Valentine’s Day, 2017, for three other tumors. We were happy with those results. This seemed like the logical thing to do again, if possible.

Alas, Dr. Kaufman and Dr. Hill ultimately determined that the 2-inch tumor was too large for an ablation, so I’m now scheduled to see a gynecology oncologist today, July 18, about the possibility of surgically removing this tumor sometime soon. It would be my fourth major surgery in eight years.

While I know the routine of what to expect with such a surgery and how to be positive, it’s still draining emotionally. And sometimes physically.

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Carla with Alicia Coceres Ojeda, the mother of our daughter-in-law, visiting from Corrientes, Argentina, and Carla’s mother Sue Burt, who now lives with us at our Simple Serenity Farm near Cooper.

So how is that I think my life keeps getting better with news like this?

First of all, nine years with a rare cancer that seems to invade my body at will is pretty darned good. I’m working for another 18 or more. One 90-day scan at a time.

And in the meantime, my focus seems to be on “making memories” – not for me necessarily, but for those I love.

More activity, more photos, more love to share. I find myself asking, what do others need for happiness, for joy, for a good life? Is it my time, my talent, my treasure? I want to give, give, give.

It’s not about me! I wish I would have been living my whole life with this perspective.

I take things very much less seriously. That “deer in the headlights” look you might see from me now and then translates into, “What does that matter?” or, “Is that the best you can do?” or, “Why are you worrying about that, exactly?”

So after a slight dose of “ugh” news in my cancer dance, we will get back to making memories.

We are beginning to work on another big trip this fall. Most likely out East – New York, Boston and New England. It won’t be hard to make that fun.

But honestly, all of this is often exhausting too – mentally, emotionally and physically. I go to bed nearly every night exhausted but always with much gratitude. My prayers are full of thanksgiving – that I was able to live another full day, even it that only included a routine day at work. I pray for, by name, all those I know who are suffering too. My journey is only one with so many others.

If all my wishes were granted, I wouldn’t have cancer, of course. But, I do. And, as I’ve said before, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to live with it. And I’m going to make the best out of – with those I love, making memories over and over and over again.

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20 thoughts on “Life “seems to keep getting better,” despite another cancer surgery

  1. You’re a model, Carla, and your message to live and to give is so inspiring — for cancer patients of course, but for all of us including those who are well but don’t appreciate what we have enough. Thank you for sharing your wonderful philosophy of life with your readers who cannot help but be your fans!

    Harriet Welty-Rochefort, Paris, France

  2. I love reading your positive reactions on living with cancer and the wonderful times you are enjoying with family and friends. Prayers of thanksgiving for the nine years you have lived with this rare cancer and prayers for another 18! You are such an inspiration!

    Cathy Barnett

  3. This brought tears. “I want to give, give, give.” What a message. Sharing the good, the scary and frustrating is a road map for all of us on how to face crummy medical news. Thank you, Carla.

    Allison Engel, Des Moines

  4. Carla, thanks so much for sharing your heart. You have an amazing outlook, your giving spirit is truly an inspiration and makes me want to do the same. We don’t know what life will send our way. God gives strength as strength is needed. Our hope isn’t in this world, but in our Heavenly Father. Thanks again, I’m praying for you in this journey.

    Diane Watsabaugh, Des Moines

  5. Carla, you are the BEST! God bless the doctors and all the new treatments being developed. Best wishes to you and Chuck always.

    Stan and Marleen Moffitt, Boone, IA

  6. Although we have never met, I find your blog so inspirational. I am fortunate to be in good health, enjoy a wonderful marriage and am blessed with a great family. All of which I soooo take for granted until reading your blog which causes me to realign — to appreciate, take time to love and appreciate my blessings. Thank you so much for sharing your dance and for helping me to be a better person. Hugs to you and know that you are in my prayers!

    Marcia, a friend of your sister-in-law Chris

  7. WOW! What a powerful column you wrote, Carla! It brought tears to my eyes. God is working through you to bring to others hope, joy and most importantly the attitude that you can have a very high quality of life while dealing with your cancer. I continue to lift up you and Chuck in my prayers every morning.

    Sue Green, Cedar Falls, IA

  8. What a glorious report on your constitution and soul, while disheartening on your ACC. We are having a sweet week at the beach with Sarah, B.J., Anna Cate and Molly at Fort Morgan, AL.
    We all love you, dearly. Our prayers are with you.

    Molly Bates, of Centerville, TN

  9. All the best, Carla. Your attitude is admirable. Enjoy each day and bring joy to others, too. Wishing you many more happy years!

    Jean Arnold

  10. Carla, you are an inspiration. We should all be living our lives to the fullest one day at a time. Will keep you in my prayers.

    Shelly Berger, Jefferson IA

  11. I have had adenoid cystic carcinoma since 1999 (diagnosed). I am living a full life with my husband and two tween/teen children we just adopted. I’m a “bonus mom” with wonderful grandbabies too. I’m deaf in one ear, have tons of quirks from 51 hours of surgery and two radiation tangos. You keep doing you, and living life!

    Carmenita Montgomery, Skiatook, OK

  12. I pray for you and your mom every night! Your faith, spirit and concern for others will bring you many memories and strength to continue your dance with this scourge! May your next surgery be equally successful as the previous. 150 xoxoxs!

    Myra Hewitt

  13. I love your story. It’s made me think about my cancer — something I have been “not thinking” about, much, lately. I’m 18-plus years into this cancer journey and over nine years into the spreading of it into my lungs. All the best to you.

    Beth Holmberg

  14. All I can say is amazing, inspirational and heart wrenching. We are filled with respect for how you have handled this from the very beginning. Your lives are fuller than so many others due to your insightfullness. Prayers will continue for many, many more quality years.

    Kathy Mathews, West Des Moines

  15. You’re inspiring. My husband has ACC, eight years fighting so far. This gives me added confidence in our multi-treatment strategy. Thank you!

    Debbie Morgan

  16. I continue to be amazed with every one of your columns..You are an inspiration and a reminder to all of us to count our blessings. Always keep you in our prayers and Chuck also for his part in the dance.

  17. Carla, you are an inspiration. Keep living life to the fullest and writing. It is your gift to the universe. Prayers for you!

    Lou Ann Sandburg, Clive IA

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