“Strong or fragile, I still have cancer.” And so much to live for.

By CARLA OFFENBURGER

COOPER, Iowa, Dec. 19, 2017 — It was a year ago right now that my oncologist Dr. Matthew Hill gave me the news that my cancer had returned. That came a year after I’d had major liver surgery in the fall of 2015, when Dr. Qasim Chaudhry removed 60 percent of my liver, which held a 6-pound cancerous tumor. I was feeling pretty good about my prognosis during those intervening 12 months, with scans every 90 days that came back “good.”

But the recurrence a year ago meant we would spend much of 2017 in aggressive treatment – including an “ablation” of three tumors with long needles in mid-February, chemotherapy that didn’t work in the spring and early summer, and then another major surgery Aug. 30. In that one, Dr. Chaudhry removed seven tumors and more than 60 suspicious nodules floating in abdominal tissue. He told us he removed “all the disease I could see,” and thought it was “at least 95 percent” of it. I have had a good recovery since Aug. 30.

My 90-days-later appointment with Dr. Chaudhry was last Thursday, Dec. 14, where I actually met with a surgical partner, Dr. Gaurav Jain. He shared the results of a new CT scan I’d just had.

Of course, Chuck and I were optimistic – aren’t we always? But we left very disappointed. And as Chuck has termed it, “a bit wobbly”.

My cancer is back. Again.

S.P.E.E.C.H.L.E.S.S.

So, 2018 will have us in round 4 of my cancer fight.

Carla in special T-shirt heading to hospital.jpg

Carla Offenburger, when she was leaving home late last summer for surgery at Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines.

Those of you who have long been following my journey will recall I had a golf-ball sized tumor in my lower jaw/neck removed in the spring of 2010.

The cancer was identified then as adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC). It’s a rare cancer that often starts in the salivary glands and lymph nodes in the jaw and neck. It usually appears in encapsulated tumors, which often show up later in or around the liver, lungs and other organs. ACC is diagnosed in about 1,200 people in the U.S. every year, in twice as many women as men. It normally is a slow-growing cancer. Research is underway globally for drugs that might be effective in treating ACC, but so far, there is no known cure. Surgical removal is the most common medical response.

In late summer and early fall of 2015, we discovered that the cancer had moved to my liver, and that’s when Dr. Chaudhry removed the huge tumor and much of my liver.

In December 2016, a routine follow-up scan showed tumors had returned to my liver, abdomen and pelvic area. Ugh.

So, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve spent the bulk of 2017 doing some type of cancer treatment. A PET scan on Jan. 3 revealed just how invasive the cancer was. A good part of that PET scan may have been that it meant I met the high health insurance deductible fee for the year – before some of you had put away your New Year’s party supplies.

On Valentine’s Day, Dr. Olaf Kaufman did a radiation ablation on three tumors, which eased any immediate danger.

In the last week of February, Chuck and I traveled to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville to get a second opinion on treatment options from Dr. Barbara Murphy, who we learned has treated many ACC patients from across the nation. She was quick to agree with what Dr. Hill, Dr. Chaudhry and Dr. Kaufman were telling us back home.

In late March, we took a brief hiatus from cancer to travel to Cuba – a “bucket list” item for us. And when we returned, I started 90 days of oral chemotherapy. To no avail.

In July 2017, a CT scan showed no shrinkage or absence of the tumors identified 90 days prior. Surgery was the next option – again.

On Aug. 30, I was back in the surgery room with Dr. Chaudhry, who spent five hours identifying and removing every bit of disease and all the suspicious nodules he could find. He said he jostled and inspected every organ in my lower chest and pelvic area.

Pie ladies.JPG

There is so much to live for — including pie baking with granddaughters Casey (left) and Lindsay Offenburger, like this threesome did recently for Thanksgiving at their home in Oxford, Ohio.

And here we are today

The CT scan on Tuesday, Dec. 12, was of my abdomen and pelvic areas. It showed one small tumor at the bottom of each of my lungs; one re-developing tumor on the edge of my diaphragm; one just over an inch in size near my left ovary area; and a new small one at one side of my liver.

Cancer sucks.

Needless to say, this is a real blow to me and Chuck.

On Friday, Dec. 15, after we met with Dr. Hill to begin planning and considering our options, I told Chuck I was “pissed and fragile.” Dr. Hill ordered another CT scan, this one directly of my lungs, so we could see if there are more tumors up higher in the lungs. They wouldn’t have shown up on the previous scan of the lower part of my lungs, abdomen and pelvic area. I had the new scan Monday morning, Dec. 18.

On Monday evening, Dr. Hill called. He was seeing six or seven more small tumors throughout the lungs. And as he said, “this is not good news.” He indicated he has been in conversation with Dr. Chaudhry.

My case is still scheduled for consideration by the “Tumor Board” of cancer specialists for early Thursday morning, Dec. 21, at UnityPoint Health/Des Moines, where the latest scan reports will help the doctors determine treatment recommendations. No doubt, the lungs will be the focus.

Re-grouping for this go ’round is a bit tougher for me. When I wrote my high school tennis partner, Suzanne Lang, of Des Moines, that I was “pissed and fragile,” she immediately wrote back “pissed and strong!” I hope so.

Throughout 2017, I wrote about how I was “dancing” through this. Well, I’m taking off my dance shoes and putting on an extra seat belt. I feel like I’m on a roller coaster. This is going to be quite a ride – in a race I intend to win.

Last Friday, Dr. Hill pointed out that through all this, I really haven’t been “symptomatic” – showing signs of cancer illness. “Look at you right now,” he said. “You look like you shouldn’t even be in here” discussing cancer treatment. I intend to stay that way. Exercise and diet will be my focus to stay and remain “healthy” so that I can deal with what is to come.

While I look healthy, I still do hurt from my late-August surgery. I have 24 inches of scars on my abdominal area. I have little or no muscle in my upper abdomen and many of the nerves in that area were severed during surgery. But I’ve always been moving forward on the optimistic road of “this too shall pass.” Now, my “hurt” has hit my mind and heart.

For solace, I pray, and I keep returning to a book I have held dear and read multiple times during the past two years, “50 days of Hope” by Lynn Eib. It was sent to me by another cancer survivor, Kirk VanKirk, of our neighbor town of Perry, while I was recovering in 2015. The entire book is filled with hopeful stories of cancer patients and survivors. I find it to be very calming.

Book 50 Days of Hope for Carla column.jpg

One of the books that is sustaining Carla Offenburger right now.

My focus now in the book is on the story of cancer patient Rev. John Piper, who says, “I remember thinking I could go home and feel sorry for myself – but I would still have cancer.” He said, “I don’t want to waste this cancer.” He wanted to be an example for others on how not to be afraid and how to move forward with optimism.

I’m not wasting my cancer, either.

I’m not wasting the continuing prayers that are being said on my behalf.

I’m not wasting the cards, emails or Facebook posts of encouragement that have been sent to me.

I’m not wasting the gifts of money, gas cards or wonderful meals that have been delivered to my home.

I’m not wasting all the time spent with those who have visited me in the last year while I was sick or weary.

I’m not wasting the support of my family.

I’m not wasting any of what I’ve been through since 2010. And that means Chuck and I are going to do everything we can to drive this cancer out of my body and our lives.

And if all we do, and if all the work done by the medical professionals we consult, doesn’t make a damn bit of difference, at least we are going to be in the driver’s seat – with seat belts on – for this journey.

Yes, cancer does suck. And honestly, it sucks to be me right now. I want to be strong, but I admit I’m fragile. Strong or fragile, I still have cancer. I’ve got the best team of physicians, including the “Great Physician” on my team. I’m going to actively pursue all my options. And I’m going to keep myself as healthy as I can. And happy.

There is no other option.

I’ll appreciate knowing you are still with me during this go ’round. And please continue to pray with me – for strength, courage, health and healing.

Now, let’s all have ourselves a merry little Christmas and welcome the Christ child into our lives once again. He will offer all of us hope, peace, joy and love.

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

34 thoughts on ““Strong or fragile, I still have cancer.” And so much to live for.

  1. God bless you, Carla. Through the incredible love and strength of God, you show incredible love and strength in everything you do on this journey. You are a hero and you will win. Our prayers are with you and everyone else fighting cancer.

    Dave Bayless, Des Moines

  2. Yes, cancer sucks! My prayers are that you continue to be strong and optimistic through these struggles. And your medical team has the brilliance to help you through yet another hurdle. Thinking and praying for you!

    Debra Carle, Des Moines

  3. Carla, I am so sorry that your cancer is so insistent upon returning. As I was reading your post, an image of a photo of Chuck in the hospital years ago flashed into my mind. He looked so terribly ill, and I’m sure he was. His recovery has been enormously encouraging, and I’m sure you reflect on that with positive thoughts. I’ll be hoping that the Great Physician will be with you in a real and sustained way in the coming year.

    Allison Engel
    Los Angeles

  4. My heart hurts for you and Chuck when I read your latest post. Thank you for sharing both the peaks and valleys of your journey. It must be so difficult to share this latest news, but you’ve done it and all we can do as your “support army” is to continue to pray for a miracle and for your strength to continue to battle!

    Jack Lashier
    Des Moines IA

  5. My thoughts and prayers are with you in this fight. Cancer does suck. You are wished strength, peace, and many more pie baking days.

    Ann Wilson
    Carroll IA

  6. Carla, Chuck and I graduated from Shenandoah High School together. Just wanted you to know that you are in my prayers. Yours and Chuck’s name are on a prayer (white) board that I keep in my office. Your thoughts in this blog really touched my heart. So sorry for what you are having to go through, but I do admire your courage and the way your express yourself. This is a stretch (to apply to your journey), but I heard and memorized these words from a Christian pastor way back in the ’60s, “Lord, we know not where we go from this familiar scene, but You are here and You are there…and all the way between!” There was more, but I love the thought that the Good Lord is with us exactly where we are and where we will be and all the way along! These are obviously tiring, demanding days for you. My prayer for you right now is for strength and encouragement.

    Love and prayers,

    Rev. Wes Smith
    Chesterfield VA

  7. You have been in our prayers ever since the beginning of this “nasty cancer” in 2010. I can’t begin to imagine how I would handle it. You are so very strong with an incredible spirit and I know you will not give up the fight. We will continue to pray for you and for Chuck as well.

    Lois and Sam Kauffman
    Audubon IA

  8. I believe that you are stronger than you think you are. Many people in your boat would be jumping ship right now. But look at you! You are an incredible fighter with a huge support team, plus a strong faith in your God. And, as you mentioned, you have so much to live for. Folks all over the country are praying for you. You are truly an amazing woman and an incredible example for us all. May God bless you and keep you and Chuck.

    Mary Beth Costello

  9. Prayers for strength, courage, health and healing. Continuous.
    And yes, Merry Christmas.

    Barb Cunningham
    Shenandoah IA

  10. Carla…..what a strong woman you are.I admire your truthful stories on your feelings of cancer sucking. Even tho your pissed, ( which I think is great). Because it shows that your still fighting. We say Prayers every night for both of you, and will contiune. Mike and Ronna. Enjoy your Christmas and your family.

    Ronna O’Brien
    Ogden IA

  11. I wish I had words to come close to describing the depths of love and admiration I have for you, Carla. You are teaching us all alot. You are in my heart all the time.all the time.

    Douglas T. Bates III
    Centerville TN

  12. Oh Carla, I don’t think fragile doesn’t mean you aren’t strong. It takes a lot of strength to still have the will to fight like you have, the grace to acknowledge the love and prayers of your friends, and poise to realize the depth of connections to your human experience to stand witness to your fragility. I love you and am so proud of you, and of course, and am praying for you and Chuck.

    Sarah Bates King
    Centerville TN

  13. Carla, “fragile” is not a term I would use for you…your show of strength and GRACE during this process has been a show of humanity and “force” for all of us as we follow your journey…here’s to hoping you find peace in the quiet moments ahead, and comfort knowing you are thought of and prayed for by so many. You and Chuck have taught those around here what it means to LIVE YOUR LIFE TO ITS FULLEST!

    Jean Feldmann
    Jefferson IA

  14. Carla & Chuck, keep fighting and showing cancer that it is NO match for your determination and perseverance! This sucks, indeed. You have been fighting with incredible strength, grace and patience. Keep the boxing gloves on, my friends, and punch cancer back in its place. You have so many people who care so deeply for you and we are on this journey with you to provide any strength we can. We will all continue to pray and provide arms of support to you both when you feel fragile and frustrated. Lean on us! You are the strongest woman I know, Carla! Love and prayers.

    Christa Simons
    Jefferson, IA

  15. As Steve Buttry said, “Let’s be strong together.” Prayers and all positive thoughts will keep coming. I’m standing with you and Chuck.

    Mimi Buttry
    Des Moines IA

  16. Carla. I do include you in my prayers every night, & I will continue. Bless your heart & soul for all you’ve been through & whatever lies ahead. The old cliche, one day at a time, is all I know to say, & that you are in our hearts.

    Karen McCoy
    Jefferson IA

  17. Oh Carla, I pray God wraps His healing arms around you. This is heart breaking. Your support system is great but it still sucks. I also pray for strength and peace for you and your family. I don’t even personally know you, but know you are an amazingly strong woman.

    Barb Padilla
    Council Bluffs

  18. Prayers for courage, strength and hope. May God bless you and Chuck through the dark times and into His light. Merry Christmas to you both!

    Deb Hayes
    Shenandoah, Iowa

  19. Carla, you are strong. Chuck, you are too. You will continue to be in our prayers everyday. God’s Peace and Love though this Christmas Season and always.

    Linda and Joe Nydegger
    Bolan IA

  20. Carla, I am astonished by your lucidity, your fragility and your strength (it takes strength to admit fragility). Cancer is a monstrous disease but your attitude and your fight against it is beyond admirable. I am rooting for you, sending positive thoughts your way and putting you in my prayers.

    Harriet Welty Rochefort
    Paris, France

  21. I just want to tell you that you and Chuck are in my prayers. We haven’t met since 1995 but I have prayed for you both over the years. You’re a strong person and will continue to be even during this next go ’round. Your faith will help.

    Jan Lautner Brush
    Gainesville, FL

  22. Y’all are in my thoughts and prayers. I’m wishing y’all a Christ-filled Christmas and a healthy and happier New Year.
    Love and peace. And good luck tomorrow!

    Caryl Privett
    Birmingham, AL

  23. Dear Carla & Chuck, please know that you will continue in our prayers. Strength and courage along with healing will be in our thoughts. Sharing your story and reading about others feeds your soul and ours. We realize what is really important. You both go through life with gusto. Keep that up! Sending love.

    Peg Raney
    Jefferson IA

  24. Carla, you are in my prayers, as well as the prayers of many other people. We are all pulling for you!

    Jim Miller
    West Des Moines

  25. Dear Carla and Chuck, damn that cancer! Sorry to hear of your latest battle with that SOB Mr. C. We join with your incredible list of friends knowing that you both are “Pissed and Strong.” Our continued prayers are with you! Love you guys.

    Dick and Carol Hensley
    Atlantic IA

  26. Dearest Carla, it took me three days to gather the strength to find the words that might comfort you, yet you find the strength to get to up and fight every day. I wish I had the words that I feel in my heart for you. You are blessed to have a wonderful team of doctors, nurses, family and friends to stand by you. I miss seeing you and wish I could give you a big hug in person but this will have to do. May God bless you and Chuck and may the New Year bring you closer to THE cure.

    Arnie Henden
    Sun Lakes AZ

  27. Dear Carla, you and Chuck have been in our thoughts and prayers all these many months. Yes, continue to be strong and know we care about and are proud of you both for your positive, ongoing war with this disease.
    Wishing you a meaningful Christmas.

    Carol Kurtz
    Athens GA

  28. Carla, I continue to pray for you and Chuck that this, too, will pass. Cancer is a hideous, insidious disease; and it is way past time for it to leave your beautiful body so that wellness can be yours again. You are an amazing warrior, and I just have to believe with all my heart and mind that you will conquer the invasion. Love, hugs, prayers, snd fervent best wishes are on their way from the Horners.

    Anne Bates Horner
    Harriman TN

  29. Positive healing thoughts to you and Chuck. You are amazing and so strong Carla. You will get through this. Really look at all your options and things you do for yourself. It will give you back some control. Every tomorrow has two handles we can take hold of, the handle of anxiety or the handle of faith. You have been through this and you will get through it. Reflect on all the positive things you have done to cope. The hope is that you are more experienced this time and use this knowledge to your advantage. Take care. I appreciate you sharing your story and I want you to know that we all learn from you.

  30. Just finished reading your column again, “Strong and Fragile,” from December 19th. We have never quit praying for you and Chuck. My heart is heavy just reading it, but you are so strong and amazing. I don’t know how you do it but don’t give up and we will continue our prayers. I just heard your story was in the Carroll paper but I haven’t had a chance to see it yet. Our blessings.

    Lois & Sam Kauffman, Audubon IA

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