As she prepared for another major surgery in her cancer “dance”


COOPER, Iowa, Aug. 20, 2017 — In my continuing “dance” with cancer — adenoid cystic carcinoma — the music is getting louder and the dance moves seem a bit tougher right now. But, hey, I’m still dancing.

Bring on the big band.

When I last wrote about this, I explained that my 90-day chemotherapy regimen had not worked, and we were awaiting word whether a different chemotherapy drug, keytruda, might be an option.

We’ve now had to change dance moves again.

Days after I wrote that column, Dr. Matthew Hill, my oncologist, said genetic testing revealed that the cancer mutations in my cells don’t qualify for keytruda targeting.  Damn.  Who knew that cancer cells had to “qualify” for possible treatment options?  Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise.

Dr. Hill also had asked the “tumor board” of cancer doctors at Unity Point’s Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines to once again review my case.  Dr. Qasim Chaudhry, who removed a huge cancerous tumor from my liver two years ago, and Dr. Olaf Kaufman, who did an “ablation” on two small cancerous tumors earlier this year, were both there when the tumor board discussed my case.

Ultimately, Dr. Chaudhry offered to go back in and remove two small tumors on my liver and three others identified in my abdominal and pelvic areas.  The largest of these tumors is just over an inch in diameter, so they are all relatively small.

Christina Carla & Dr. Chaudhry 2.JPG

Here’s Carla Offenburger (center) in December, 2015, after she’d had tumor-removal surgery from her liver by Dr. Qasim Chaudhry, and on the left is nurse Christina from his staff.

When Dr. Hill told me this news, the first thing I said to my husband Chuck Offenburger is that I’m glad I like Dr. Chaudhry’s work and bedside manner.  I told that to Dr. Chaudhry, too, when I visited him a week ago.  So, surgery is the direction we are headed.

Dr. Hill reminds me over and over again that I am healthy, physically fit for my age, and very much a candidate for successful surgery.  I am grateful for that, and also that Chuck and I have a fairly healthy lifestyle.  I am also thankful that we have kept up our 6:30 a.m. walks, with few exceptions.

I am scheduled for surgery on Wednesday, Aug. 30, first thing in the morning.  Dr. Chaudhry says it will take several hours and he’ll take the five identified tumors and any others he sees that can be removed.  He mentioned using something called a “shark bite.”  Egads!

And then?

Well cross our fingers,” he said.

Indeed, we will.

It’s been real clear to me that removal of my cancerous tumors is really the only treatment option I have at this time.  Radiation and chemotherapy just don’t work on adenoid cystic carcinoma  — and we’ve checked it all out, trust me.

If all goes as we’d like, this surgery will push the cancer back for a few more years.  At the same time,  Chuck and I and our physicians will be diligently watching for new treatment options. With all the research and new treatment developments that are happening across the U.S. and around the world, I am hopeful.

Chuck and I call this “hitchhiking” from one treatment possibility to the next.  It’s a phrase we learned years ago from another cancer patient when we first started our cancer dances. It’s how we hold on to hope.

So, on Aug. 30, I’ll find myself back at Iowa Methodist for a major surgery, and then stay there for seven to 10 days of recovery.  When Chuck brings me home, I’ll spend the next five weeks or so doing football and baseball on the radio and computers, watching the start of fall harvest from my porch, reading and doing jigsaw puzzles — and taking heavy drugs and sleeping a lot (on my back).

I’m stacking up some books to read (any good suggestions?), ordering up some new jigsaw puzzles and getting the house in order.  I’m also lining up some “babysitters” so Chuck can get out of the house on a regular basis.  First in line?  His sister Chris Werner, of Cedar Rapids, who will be with us our first few days back home.

I told Chuck that repeating almost the same surgery and recovery that I had in 2015 is a double-edged sword.  I know what to expect — both the bad and the good.

The bad?

  1. It’s physically painful for weeks.
  2. Eating is difficult and unpleasant.
  3. Sleeping on my back is not what I prefer.
  4. It’s a long time off work — which requires immense prep work.  And takes all my vacation days.
  5. It’s a financial drain.  Short term disability only pays 60 percent of my salary, and insurance doesn’t cover the incidentals that ultimately occur.
  6. It has me missing some fun activities we had planned for fall.
  7. Recovery seems really slow.

Ouch!  Again.  (I know I’m whining!)

The good?

  1. I know I can do it, because I’ve done it before.
  2. I have a great support system of friends and family.
  3. I like my care providers.
  4. I still have the sweat pants I wore for six weeks in 2015.
  5. I won’t have to cook.
  6. It’s fall in Iowa.
  7. It will prolong my life.
  8. And most importantly, I know the ultimate physician is on my team.

So here we go again — join me on the dance floor.  And pray for me , the same prayer I’ve been praying for months: “Courage, strength, healing and health.”

ALL CANCER PATIENTS ARE ENTITLED TO AN EMOTIONAL BREAKDOWN, AREN’T WE? Well, of course it was going to happen — having an emotional meltdown about my cancer.  Thanks to the two women in a RAGBRAI food line in Garner, Iowa, on Tuesday, July 25, for taking my breakdown in stride.  It was a painful one, too.

I wasn’t riding my bicycle on RAGBRAI, but instead was driving a car in support of Chuck and our friend from Cuba, Reinier Menendez.  They were bicycling the one day’s route between Algona and Clear Lake. I met them for an afternoon break in Garner.

First, one of the two women stumbled and stepped on the toes on my left foot, the very toes that were riddled with blisters as a side effect of my oral chemo treatment.  Those blisters were healing nicely and I, in my own stupidity, had removed my shoes and socks, and was wearing shower shoes so my toes could get some sunshine and fresh air.  And wow, did it feel good!


And I burst into tears.  The pain was excruciating.  When the woman looked down to see my ugly toes that now had been scraped and were looking, well, bad, she was frantic that she had caused all that ugliness and damage.

No, I reassured her in tears, the chemo had done all this, “and it didn’t even work!”  As she and her friend tried to comfort me there, it came out that both are cancer survivors themselves.  I found myself blubbering through my tears about how unfair this all was.  Then one of them kindly said, “at least you didn’t lose your hair,” and I said back rather loudly, “but I didn’t lose my tumors, either!”

Eventually, we had a calmer conversation about my cancer and my treatment options, but I suspect those two walked away thinking, “Wow, that was bizarre!”  I walked away limping and in tears.

But you know what?  I obviously needed that, and I’m grateful that two cancer survivors were there to listen to me.

They were a blessing, one of many that have come my way.

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22 thoughts on “As she prepared for another major surgery in her cancer “dance”

  1. Still dancing! Wonderful news. And now retired Chris can help. Will be saying prayers on the 30th and beyond. You go, girl!

    Barbara Cunningham, Shenandoah IA

  2. Oh Carla, I’m so sad all this is happening to you. It sucks and just doesn’t seem fair. Though I’ve come to learn nothing is fair except the one with a Ferris Wheel. My heart and prayers continue to go out to you Chuck and all your care providers. Keep on dancing my friend. Keep dancing. Love hugs and kisses Murf

  3. Praying for you, Carla, for courage, strength, healing and health. You have a lot of pray warriors for you and Chuck and all your care providers. Hugs!

    Robyn Stokstad, Des Moines

  4. Hi Carla. Randy and I are praying for you and Chuck. Your strength and bravery are an inspiration to us. When my dad battled cancer for five years starting 1982, I learned a good attitude, faith in God and faith in doctors were such an important part of the journey. We tried to keep that philosophy when Jennifer was sick also. Please know we think of you often and pray for all to go well.

    Phyllis Bunkers, Jefferson IA

  5. We will definitely keep you in our prayers Carla. We will also keep the surgeon and medical field in our prayers. Hate cancer.

  6. Prayers for you! Carla, your positive attitude, healthy lifestyle, faith, medical team and the loving support of your family and friends will get you through this. And everyone is entitled to a meltdown now and then — it happens. Sounds like you are ready to do this and move on with the rest of your life.

  7. I love your spirit and lists. It’s good not to forget the positives. You are an inspiration, Carla. You have my prayers now and throughout the next few months.

  8. Today, Aug. 21, the shadow of the moon covered the sun. The sun passed through to shine again. This doesn’t happen very often, but today was the day. I knew when it started that the shadow would leave just as I know that your light will shine. I am sad for the pain you must endure.

    Bonnie Orris, Jefferson IA

  9. Carla, I am writing your name on my calendar amd crossing my fingers in prayer. You have an awesome attitude and every right to cry when you hurt. It’s not wrong to cry. Or complain. Or whine. You get down, but you get up! God has this and you can get thru it again. Loving and praying in Missouri. Hi to Chuck and Chris. You’re in good hands.

  10. Carla, although I don’t personally know you, I feel like I do. I am from Shenandoah and love your “outlaw” Offenburger family. I have been praying for you and your family since I read your first blog. I know the support system you have, they are all awesome. God will wrap His healing arms around you. I also pray for strength and peace for you, Chuck and family.

  11. It is incredibly helpful of you, Carla, to be as direct, detailed and honest as you are being about this process. You are making an important human connection and I’m learning from you.

  12. We are praying for you — as will all of us at Central Christian. You are a real trooper, as well as Chuck, so with your faith that you practice, am sure God is listening. Good luck with surgery.

    Elma Schrader, Jefferson IA

  13. Book Club is ALL praying, and we are good at it. I am sorry for the repeat surgery, but a good surgical team will start you once again on a healing path. So, yes, courage, strength along with healing to health. Carla, I am a serious puzzler, absolutely love them. I have lots and would send some your way. Preference for 500, 750, 1000 pieces? Calling all the health angels into your orbit.

    Barb M-B, West Des Moines

  14. Good Morning Carla! Dang on this news — I was so hoping that this last round of treatment would do its work. I really enjoyed reading your “the good” and “the bad,” very insightful. I will surely keep you in my good thoughts and in my prayers. May the surgeon be guided by the “surgical God” next Wednesday.

    Joan Hakes, North Liberty IA

  15. Carla and Chuck, my thoughts and prayers are with you both tomorrow. Carla, you are the strongest woman I know and cancer is NO match for your mighty resolve! Courage, Strength, Healing and Health! Prayers of strength and love are with you!

    Christa Simons, Jefferson IA

  16. You are constantly in prayer for good surgical results. Am anxious to hear how it went. Everyday prayer for your courage, strength, healing and health! Sending love!

    Lois Clark, Jefferson IA

  17. Praying that you are doing well and that the surgery was a success. Keep your positive outlook and know that many of us pulling for you. My daughters were at Johnston High School with Andy, and both of them enjoyed joking around with him in band and chorus.

    Carol Hammen

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