I remember the call from my oncologist so very clearly. After months of battling brittle bones and being injected daily with bone hardening drugs into my stomach, just as I thought I had begun to make progress, he called me to tell me that my bone marrow biopsy was positive for multiple myeloma…a bone marrow cancer.
My first thought was thank God they finally know what’s slowly killing me. My second thought was like the words of the song says, “Lord, this time you gave me a mountain. A mountain that I may never climb. It isn’t a hill any longer. You gave me a mountain this time.”
It isn’t surprising that my first thoughts were of God and mountains. Throughout the four years that I battled multiple myeloma, at first just to survive, then to get mobility back, I would often mentally picture walking in the mountains of Montana. Mountains have always been where I have felt closest to God and found peace.
Multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer, destroyed my bones. They became so brittle that all of my thoracic and lumbar vertebra sustained compression fractures. I once had six new fractures in my back at one time. I also endured several cracked ribs.
I would break my back doing the simplest of tasks including flossing my teeth, lifting a toilet lid and trying to pick a shirt up off of the floor. For over 18 months I was imprisoned in a chin to hip hard body cast. I spent over two and a half years confined to a hospital bed in my living room staring out of my living room window at a small oak tree in my front yard. I was unable to stand or walk without using a walker for over three years. So, being able to hike in the mountains of Montana was a pretty far-fetched goal.
Getting stem cells
Sitting up in body cast, watercolor painting, not allowed to lift elbows off of the table.
Where I spent almost two years.
If in reality I couldn’t get to mountains, I could in my mind. I dreamed, I was in those mountains, often. I was there when I was encased in that body cast. I spent time in them when imprisoned in the hospital bed in my living room. I was climbing those mountains the day they put the Hickman chemo port into my chest. I visited those snow covered peaks each time they bored holes into my bones using only local anesthesia before they used a massive syringe to suck out bone marrow samples.
Those mountains were in my nursing home, rehab and hospital rooms. They were there the day I watched, “the nuclear bomb” of chemo for my stem cell plant slowly enter my body.
There were times during those years of battling cancer, fear, depression, chemo therapy and stem cell transplant side effects, mobility loss, and pain when my only contact with the great outdoors, for this outside farm girl, was dreaming of mountains and their meadows.
To beat my cancer I did everything the doctors asked me to do, except for one thing. I refused to use a wheelchair. I had no intention of being trapped in one of those. For, I had decided, like Winston Churchill stated in his greatest and shortest speech to “Never, never, never give up.” In fact, I bought a silver dog tag engraved with those words to always wear around my neck on a necklace that included my cross, a silver family tree given to me by my grandson on a Mother’s Day long ago and the first ring my husband ever gave me.
After making the decision to fight on, no matter how sick I was, whenever someone helped me out of bed, I would push my walker around my kitchen island until I was too tired to go any further. First one, then five, 10, 20 and eventually a 100 laps a day. I wore a trail into my hardwood floors.
During the long months that stretched into years when I was too sick and weak to leave my home, occupational and physical therapists would come to bathe me, and help me relearn the simplest of tasks. First, I had to learn how to get out of bed without breaking more bones. As I would sit up I could feel my weak spine bend sideways just like a willow branch and would pray that it would not snap and paralyze me. It didn’t.
Eventually, I re-learned how to do stairs. Then, after months of being totally house bound, with two therapists, one on each side, I was allowed to go outside and push my walker to the end of my driveway and back.
There were many trips to the end of my driveway. I can still remember the sheer terror of trying to step down from the driveway to the street for the first time without jarring my spine. I did it, though, and my world began to grow. First just to the edge of our property line, next came the end of our street and eventually laps around the block pushing a walker with tennis balls on the bottom. As I grew stronger, I mastered using a walker with wheels, next came two canes and eventually just one cane.
I walked and walked. I walked with shuffling feet, bent over, with a broken back. I walked sick and exhausted from chemo. I walked bald. I walked masked. I walked on flat streets, inclines and hills. I wore out many tennis balls. I have worn out many rubber stoppers on the bottom of my canes. I climbed stairs many times a day just to strengthen my bones and leg muscles. Each step I took was me telling my cancer to go to blazes.
After such a hard and long cancer battle, you cannot imagine the joy of traveling out of state for the first time in almost six years; being in Great Falls, Montana, to visit and hug my dear Aunt Margaret who faithfully called me weekly throughout all of those years to lead me in Bible study; and to at last stand on a hiking trail in Montana and see a horizon filled with snow and wild flower covered mountains.
Uncle Klynn and Aunt Margie
As I stood beneath a snow-capped footstool of God, the bible verse that I clung to throughout my cancer battle was again prayed.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
It did not matter whether I could only lift my eyes to the top of a small oak tree in my front yard, or the summit of a great mountain, my help always came from the Lord….who never left me or forsook me.
With baby steps, a bit a grit and by the grace of God, I climbed the mountain!!!
I hope you enjoy these vacation pictures!
Lots of Wild Horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Herd of Wild Horses at Theodore Roosevelt Park
Foal with Mare
Foal trying to eat car
Beautiful Wild Flowers
Animals galore! Bear, wolf, elk and antelope too!
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park
It was a great trip. We hiked from sun up to sundown and I never even got sore muscles….Bully!!!!!
I have always believed that a promise given is a promise kept. Yesterday was all about memories and keeping a promise to myself.
When I was incapacitated from the fractures in every thoracic and lumbar vertebra in my spine caused by the cancer Multiple Myeloma, I found it heartbreaking that in only six short months I had gone from Assistant Communication Director/Press Secretary/Blue Book maker for Secretary Mark Ritchie to lying in a hospital bed in the Capitolview rehab center at Region’ hospital looking at our beautiful Capitol out of a window. At that time, I was very convinced that I was never going to get to go in it again, let alone climb any of the beautiful marble steps that I had raced up and down for so many years.
One day the social worker came to visit me. She picked up a notebook that I had been using as a journal. My body at that time was broken and there was nothing that I could do to make it heal, so I focused on preventing my mind from slipping into depression. After losing a baby, years before, I experienced a severe postpartum suicidal depression. During the weeks that I had be hospitalized at Sister Kenny Institute’s Young Adult Depression Unit, I had been taught coping skills. Boy, did that training pay off!
In my journal the therapist found I had written, “I will have better days!.” Over and over again. She commented how amazed she was to find an affirmative statement under the circumstances. Right then and there, I promised myself that some day I was going to again climb the stairs to the Minnesota Senate Chambers at our State Capitol. It may have taken almost four years, but yesterday, was the day!
The day began with a trip to see my oncologist. I had already seen my labs so I knew it was going to be a good appointment. He said that I should remain healthy indefinitely. That’s just what I wanted to hear from that guy! Then, we chatted about how far my physical recovery has come. He recalled the first time we met in the emergency room at Regions and how very fragile I was. My young Irish doctor noted that I was basically a conscious vegetable, completely incapacitated. When we had finished our reminisce, I gave him the cookies that I had baked for him and his staff. They all had worked so very hard to save my life and help me regain good health and mobility. I felt they deserved a treat.
My next stop was the infusion room. If you have never been in a cancer clinic’s infusion room, it can be quite overwhelming. These rooms are lined with many, many reclining chairs filled with people of all ages, genders and ethnicity just like you getting chemo. Cancer does not discriminate.
Sitting next to each patient’s chair is their IV stand hung with a multitude of bags filled with blood products, liquids and drugs. Some of us are bald and some of us are not. I have been both. Scattered about the room are baskets filled with donated stocking hats of every color imaginable free for the taking. Chatting the patients up are the worried and tired looking family members and friends that accompanied them.
World War II Buddy El Ewert and I enjoying our bald heads
My infusion was just for a bone hardening drug. For some reason, yesterday my oncology nurses all came by to remind me of the “fragile state”I was in the first time they met me. Maybe I got their attention when I asked one of my favorite nurses where her bright green hair was today. During St. Patrick Day’s past her green wig was a big hit.
The nurse got a hold of physical therapy. The therapist came to assess my movement and help with some trouble spots in my neck and back. I still cannot completely lift either arm and have lost considerable motion in my neck . Whenever I move my head from side to side or tip it back, I get pain in my spine, right between the shoulder blades. Not being able to turn my head is what prevents me from driving and was going to prevent me from seeing the top of the rotunda at the Capitol.
She knew exactly what the problem was and went to work. I had a muscle that was looped and a lot fascia that was being very stubborn. Then,she exclaimed, “Pat, you have adhesions sticking your muscles to your skull!” Which explained my incredibly unpleasant under the chin Charlie horses. She went to work. Finally she said, “There it goes!” At that moment, for the first time in years I could turn my head from shoulder to shoulder and backwards. Bully!
With my doctor appointment, infusion and physical therapy behind me, my husband dropped me off at the side door of the State Office Building. Fondly known to those of us who have called it home…the SOB. That door is the one I used for many years when I worked in that building.
As I stood in front of that door I noticed two things. Time had just been rolled back and it had been refinished. Loaded down with a bag filled with my friends’ favorite cookies, I headed for the Secretary of State’s Office. I barely got through the door when I was greeted by one of the two Brads. I asked for Bert.
Bert came and he took me on a complete tour of the office. It was wonderful to see all of the changes and meet new staff. So many of my friends were still there and they all looked so good.
Then, Bert and I had a good visit in his office, just like we used too. Bert used to keep me out of mischief when we worked together. It was a necessary role and he hasn’t changed at bit. He felt that it was alright for me to climb the Senate stairs, but all other stairs were strictly off limits and elevators to be used. When we worked together, he knew that I could rarely be found in an elevator if I could get some exercise taking the stairs. I promised him, I would follow his advice, and that if I got too tired I would be back to sit with him in his office until my husband could pick me up.
My next cookie stop was House Supply. I don’t think I will ever forget the look on Bill’s face when he saw me standing there. I didn’t get to see Jess, but found Steve later. I was introduced to Danny’s son, he looks like his dad, and was assured that one of the over a dozen gingersnaps I had made for Danny would be saved for him. I bet he does only get one.
Next, I headed out for the Capitol and those senate stairs. Bill was concerned that the incline to the Capitol would be too steep for me, but it wasn’t at all. Heeding Bert’s advice, I took the elevator up to those stairs.
Stepping back into the Capitol after an absence of almost five years affected me a bit. Then, I headed for the Senate stairs.
I took this picture myself from the top of the stairs.
Stairs never looked so beautiful. There they were, just as I remembered them. I had thought of them so very many times. They were before me when I sat in a chair with a therapist helping me to lift one leg then the other. They stood tall when I tried and tried to go up those four little steps in the physical therapy room. I dreamed of those stairs when day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year were spent in a body cast trapped in a hospital bed in my living room. Those stairs taunted me when I wanted to give up. Those stairs helped me conquer my cancer and it was finally time for me to conquer them.
As I stood before my nemesis, I took a deep breath, said a prayer of thanksgiving to a merciful God, held on to the railing and up I went. It wasn’t even hard! When I got to the top, I took a picture. Then, I found one of those big old oak Capitol benches and just sat for a bit to savor the moment.
It will surprise no one that, that did not last long. Soon, I was back on the trail to find my senate friends. Many of whom had no idea where I had disappeared too so long ago.
After a great visit with John in the information office. I went into both the House and Senate chambers. I had worked in both. It was then time to just take in all of the Capitol renovations, especially the artwork. I walked into the rotunda, tipped my head way back and took in the whole dome. Magnificent! The colors of the murals in the Supreme Court chambers were particularly glorious. I did not go into the governor’s office, on purpose, because it leaves me a reason to return.
Next, I decided that I needed to explore the new Senate Office Building and see where Senator Mary Kiffmeyer had hung my painting of U.S. Grant. That building is so light and roomy and marvelous. I was impressed! As I headed out to find friends, they just seemed to find me. David found me in the hall, then Ward showed up and Troy. We had a good chat.
As I turned to continue on there was Glen. He showed me where to find the other Sergeants at Arms. Those guys have always been some of my favorite people. Not all of them were there, but I got to see Herb and Bob. Bob and I were always good friends, and he escorted me up to see my painting. When I was standing next to it, as he took my picture, I noticed that I had painted it in 1997. It was twenty years old!
Bob and I continued our tour ending up in the Senate offices. I saw Steve, Sven, Marilyn and of course Nick Thompson. Since, they did not know what had happened to me, they were surprised to learn of my challenges. We shared memories and laughs. Then, Nick gave me one of the best compliments ever.
After working in both the Senate and House for Republicans, I think many people were surprised when I went to work for Secretary of State Mark Ritchie a Democrat. Nick said that it had surprised him. However, after he thought about it a while he came to the conclusion that the decision to hire me was probably one of the best decisions Secretary of Ritchie ever made. I, sure, hope the Secretary felt the same way.
By this time I must have looked tired. The infusion I had received that morning always causes fatigue and I had been wandering around the Capitol for hours by this time. I told the folks that I was going to head back towards Bert. Nick asked me several times if I needed help. I am sure that he would have had the wheelchair out in a shot if he thought for one second that I did.
On the way back to the SOB, I needed to find the new press pool. I had been in the old one many times and wanted to see if those hardworking folks had finally gotten better digs. I could not find it! Just then, I spotted Bill Werner, a reporter. He pointed me in the right direction.
Several of the reporters that I used to work with were there. It was so nice to see them again. One of them, sadly told me that she’d had just lost another friend to cancer the day before. We agreed that cancer sucks. I did miss seeing my friend John from KARE 11, down there, but he was on vacation.
When I got back to the SOB. I headed upstairs to see my House friends. Rebecca and I had a great chat. Seeing as how I am no longer an employee of that place, I feel there is no need for me to be politically correct. Making Rebecca laugh has always been one of my favorite pursuits. Success was mine! I stopped by to see Mark’s office and where Alayne and I used to work.
Then, I went downstairs to get something to drink and ran into one of my favorite people Sean. Sean, Michelle and Valerie have worked at the SOB cleaning up after all of us since my Senate days. Sean looked great. His little girl, that I used to help tutor, is now 17 years old and will graduate next year. He has two more children. He caught me up on the news of Michelle and Valerie.
By the time I got back to the Secretary of State’s Office, I was locked out. It was almost five p.m. and I had been walking and chatting for over four hours. So, I sat down on a bench to wait for my husband.
Who should show up? Travis Reese. Travis had worked with me in the Secretary of State’s Office doing outreach. He reminded me of all the fun, he, I and Sara had working together at the State Fair. He then reminded me about my being Minnesota State Fair Reserve Grand Champion in Animal Calling in the Ag Olympics two years in a row. Both years I was beaten by a team of folks from the Department of Ag doing musical animal theater.
My state fair ribbons for animal calling.
You might think that I lost because I was out numbered, but I cannot ever remember being outnumbered. Far be it from me to cast stones, but scripted group animal calling was clearly a violation of Ag Olympic rules.
Interestingly enough, one of the years I competed, one of the other contestants was a former preschool student of mine who was then Princess Kay of the Milky. I had both her and her sister as students and they both became Princess Kay’s. Yes, she recognized, “Mrs. Detergent.”
Then, too, only I would work for Mark Ritchie at the state fair, and be on Republican Lt. Governor Carol Molnau’s team for the Ag Olympics at the same time. I had forgotten that I used to practice my cow mooing and chicken crowing in front of Sara and Travis. Travis hadn’t forgotten at all!
Bert came out into the hall right about then. He told me Becky was back and we went back into the Secretary of State’s Office to say hello.
Bert gave me a hug and then Doug was there.
My magical day didn’t end there though. When I got home, I went to the mail box and there was a letter from my cousin Chris. Uncle Myrwin’s daughter. In that envelope was the most perfect picture of my dad and Uncle Myrwin. The two brothers are sitting side by side. I will get a frame for it.
Travis’s comments reminded of my State Fair Ribbons. I went to look for them, so that I could put a picture of them in this blog. When I pulled open the drawer, there he was, right on top….my lucky Duck.
When I worked for the Minnesota Department of Veteran’s Affairs it was my honor and privilege to be the project manager for our state’s World War II Memorial Dedication. It was a neat day and we had over 25,000 people attend. One of the events that day was a flyover by World War II bombers and fighter planes.
About a week after the event, I received a package in the mail. The package was from one of my pilots. In it was a stuffed toy duck with a note telling me this was a lucky duck, because he got to fly in the cockpit of a World War II bomber on the day of our dedication.
As long as I am sharing memories maybe this is the time to report that the morning of the World War II Dedication Memorial I was informed that one of the pilots flying over our large crowd of men, women and children would be a World War II pilot flying his own plane. I paused. Asked if he had passed his flight physical, then informed the lads that he could fly as long as he did not fly over the crowd. That is why one plane was slightly out of formation.
You know, I think I am probably still the only Capitol employee that ever had to get gun permits from the City of St. Paul for a tank, muskets and machine guns. Or who, had Civil War cannon placed in the Rotunda. We never scratched that beautiful historic floor even a bit!
Yes, there definitely are lucky ducks, I own one and am one.
Moral of story:The view is definitely best after the hardest climb.
My cancer battle against multiple myeloma was a very long and painful one. It began in earnest during the Christmas holiday’s in 2012 when I first broke my spine taking the turkey out of the refrigerator. Over the next four years, I would have many new unpleasant experiences. Such as being in a body cast for 18 months, confined to a hospital bed in my living room for years, months of chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, baldness, drug withdrawal and other physical, emotional and mental challenges.
Having cancer is just plain tough. I have now done it twice. Thyroid and multiple myeloma. No matter what your age, a cancer diagnoses is terrifying.
Cancer patients suffer. They become quick friends with much of the worst that life has to offer. Their new companions include the fear of death and dying; pain; nausea; anxiety; depression; isolation; loneliness; and job and financial loss.
Cancer patients lose. They lose body parts, hair, appetite, mobility and independence. While most of those things can often be compensated for or regained, there are permanent losses. Relationships change. Friends and relatives drift away, because they are either too busy to be bothered, your situation is bringing them down or they just cannot stand to watch the suffering. Some of those relationships will never be made whole again.
In addition to physical, mental, emotional and financial loss, cancer patients often miss out on everyday things that most people take for granted. Like being there for the special children in your life as they grow up. Then, too, due to circumstances beyond control special events cannot always be attended. When I was in chemo and still in a body cast due to my broken spine, I missed my only daughter’s wedding.
Cancer patients surmount. This morning when my latest round of cancer tests indicated that I am still cancer-free, I told my husband that it is time for me to experience the things that for so many years were beyond reach and only dreams.
Stairs to the Senate Chamber at Minnesota State Capitol
When I was hospitalized for weeks for physical rehab to relearn standing, walking and stair climbing. I vowed to myself that not only was I going to conquer those five steps in the rehab room, but that someday I would, again, climb the steps to the Senate Chamber at our state Capitol. After four years, God willing, next Friday, March 17, after my oncology appointment and infusion at Regions, I am going to return to the Capitol. I am going to visit friends, deliver some cookies and check out all of the changes. And, I am, again, going to climb all of those beautiful marble steps.
Later this spring, I will need to complete a short test run of a trip. So, my husband plans to take me to see where my daughter was married two years ago. Then, I am going to return to the land of Lincoln to visit my daughter and her husband and finally see their apartment.
Our last trip to Illinois before my cancer struck.
If my back can survive a car trip to Illinois, then, later this summer I am going to Montana. I am going to visit my dear Aunt Margaret in Great Falls, Montana, who spent so many hours in prayer on my behalf. When I was totally bed bound, with not much light at the end of my tunnel, Aunt Margie called me every week, for months on end, to lead me in bible study. I need to give her a hug.
Great Falls, Montana
Then, I am going Glacier Park. I am, again, going to stand outside of the cafe at Swift Current, look up at those God made granite cathedrals and hear the Lord whisper in the winds that race around those cliffs.
Glacier Park, Swift Current Lake.
After, I get my fill of the view, I am going to take on a few trails with just as much determination as I did my cancer while trying my best to avoid a bear.
Although, after all I have been through, the bears would be wise to watch out for me.
Sitting up in body cast, watercolor painting, not allowed to lift elbows off of the table.
Getting new stem cells
October 11, 2016
I just returned from a walk with the dogs, Doug and my appointment at the University of Minnesota Bone Marrow Transplant Unit to get the results of my latest round of bone biopsies and cancer seeking lab tests.
It will be four years this November when my spine first broke lifting a holiday turkey out of my fridge. Today, I am totally cancer free! They cannot find Multiple Myeloma or cancer, anywhere and they were looking!
Six months ago I still had a couple of iffy test results, but all of those items are now gone. I do not have to have anymore routine bone marrow biopsies. I do not go back to the University of Minnesota unless my regular oncologist finds something and as my oncologist at the university said this morning, “Patricia, this is as good as it gets…go enjoy your life.”
It was very nice of God, him, his staff, Dr. McCormick and the Regions Cancer Center staff to give me back a life. As the nurses, one on each side of me, were giving me six vaccinations, one of the nurses, that has been there a long time said, “Pat, if I met you on the street I would never guess how much you have been through.” I cannot think of a higher compliment.
Thank you everyone for your prayers. God has very, very greatly blessed me and believe me, I count those blessings every day. I am humbled by his grace and love.
Now, I am going to go lay down to prevent autism from all of those vaccinations. Soon, I will again be immune to chicken pox, measles and mumps and be able to go to church and events where potentially un-vaccinated children may be present. I will hug them all!
Best of 2015…..my grandson. He has held that title for 9 years.
Best gift of 2015….was from God when he blessed my cancer treatment and after 3 years of battling it, I am cancer free and in remission from multiple myeloma.
Best day…every day.
Best husband ever…. Doug. He has held that record for 37 years and even liked me when I was bald.
Best daughter…Aurora. Aurora completed her Ph.d in Analytical Chemistry this year.
Best son…Coleman. He mastered using a pressure cooker and taught my husband the same skill. His jams and jellies are delicious! In addition to that he was published again this year and is a senior research scientist at Mayo Clinic.
Best friends….the many people who unconditionally supported me throughout these years of recovery,especially Pat, Mary, Janis, Sylvia,Susie, Betty and El.
Best doctors…all of my doctors are the best. Thank you to North Suburban Lino Lakes Clinic, Regions Cancer Care and the University of Minnesota.
Best dog…Walter. He passed away on December 1, 2015 and is greatly missed. (See post of his obituary. “Walter, A Dog’s Life Well Lived”)
Best looking dog….Truman my 110 pound pure white German Shepherd.
Best food…..husband’s chicken enchiladas.
Best trip….Duluth, MN and watching the big ore freighters go in and out of the harbor.
Best hiking trail….Taylor Falls State Park
Best event…The Minnesota State Fair.
Best movie on Netflicks….Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Best movie in theater….Star Wars, The Force Awakens
Best accomplishment…stopping using a walker.
Best painting landscape division….Anger
Best painting floral division this year was a tie.
Blooming Prickly Pear Cactus and Wind In The Peony.
Best painting farm landscape division
Combining Wheat in Montana
Best painting in portrait division
Gambel’s Quail on Blooming Cactus.
Best children’s story….”Laney the Brave” which I wrote and illustrated for my 2-year-old grandniece who spent all of 2015 fighting AML Leukemia. That is one heck of a brave little girl!
Best news of 2015…Laney is cancer free!
Best political recipe…Recipe for President (see post)
Best political prayer
Best quote on manners…Winston Churchill
Best quote on political leadership….Mark Twain
Best quote on equality…black bear.
Best homeopathic recipe…..A Cure for What Ails Us (see post)
Best cookie recipe…Walter’s Favorite Treat: Gingersnaps (see post)
Best cake recipe….The Rolls Royce of Cakes: The Chiffon (see post)
Sending you all my best from 2015 and hoping for all the best in 2016.