Wednesday, December 17, 2014

10 years... Our Cancer Story...

I can't believe it...

... YESTERDAY was the 10 year anniversary of Jeff's cancer diagnosis...

... I guess the fact that we passed right by that date without a thought is a blessing, because 10 years ago today, was a day that changed our lives...

...there were really, really bad and dark times... but there were also very uplifting, loving, and hysterically funny times. There were moments that we didn't think it could get any worse, followed almost immediatly by a wink, or a gentle hand squeeze, or the look that Jeff and I give each other when nobody else exists in the world... it is just us... together... in perfect love... knowing that things would be alright.

Many years ago I wrote about the first few hours after diagnosis... I believe this is the 8th year in a row I have posted this special story. Jeff and I have been overwhelmed with the touching comments that so many of you send each year... so as long as you enjoy and/or are touched by our story, I will continue this annual tradition.
This story is Dedicated to my love,

my Sweetheart, my best friend,

my hero, my husband, Jeff.

Snickerdoodles, peanut butter, sugar cookies and spritz cookies…that should finish off our holiday baking. Go on a city drive of Christmas lights. Buy a pair of jeans to match the pink sweater for Jessica. Spend an afternoon in Julian and get hot apple cider. Finish wrapping gifts.

It was December 16th, 2004 and a week before Christmas. I was sitting in the waiting area of the Gastroenterology Department of Scripps Green Hospital writing my list of last minute Christmas ‘To Dos.’ Anna Grace, then six months old, was waiting with me for Daddy to be done with his colonoscopy. Jeff hadn’t been feeling well and hadn’t been eating very much. As he was preparing for the colonoscopy, he told me he was craving a Double-Double from In-N-Out. I promised I would take him there as soon as his procedure was over.

“Mrs. Locher?” Dr. Nodurft was standing in front of me. “May I have a word with you?”

He guided me through a door that led to the examination rooms. I walked down the hallway, pushing Anna’s stroller in front of me. All morning, the nurses that walked by Anna had stopped and made some comment about how cute she was or how happy. There were two nurses standing in the doorway of an exam room, waiting for Anna’s stroller to pass by in the little hallway. This time the nurses didn’t look at Anna. They looked me in the eye. They didn’t smile. They looked down at the floor. For a split second, things started moving in slow motion. Could there be a problem with Jeff? As the cold fingers of dread started twisting in my stomach, I calmly reminded myself that Jeff was 44 years old, in great health, and in good shape. I knew I was being led to the transition room where my slightly drugged up husband would be waiting for me, right? Everything would be fine! Everything would be fine!

I wasn’t led to the transition room, but a small exam room. There wasn’t room for the stroller, so I left it outside and carried Anna in. Dr. Nodurft entered the room with us and another doctor followed behind us. The room seemed to be filled by the exam table and I remember how white the paper liner looked on the table. Did I say the room was small? That feeling of slow motion was starting again and I had a bad feeling. There couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with Jeff. Don’t doctors give you bad news in their private office, or in a family waiting room…or in a private, small exam room…

NO! I was cuddling our beautiful baby girl…Jeff waited so long to become a Daddy…nothing could stop him from watching his children grow up…from walking his daughters down the aisle…to watching his son become a father and passing the family name to the next generation…why were they just standing there? But, I knew the answer, didn’t I!?

“As you know, your husband was here today for a colonoscopy. He has been bleeding internally and we needed to find the source of the blood. We found a tumor…” I tried to concentrate on the next words coming from Jeff’s doctor, but I seem to have gone deaf.

“I guess I won’t be taking Jeff to In-N-Out.” I told the doctor about my earlier promise. I smiled and was silent. He seemed to know that I needed a moment to process reality.

I was standing there, holding Anna. I was dizzy and darkness was creeping in from the sides of my eyes. Shouldn’t the doctor take Anna from me so I don’t drop her? I sat down in the only chair in the room.

I knew what my next question was going to be, but how would I ask it? I started my question several times, but only uttered a few disconnected words… “Is…will…it’s not…he can’t be…Jeff is not terminal…” came out more as a shaky statement than a question.

Dr. Nodurft explained we wouldn’t know anything without more tests and until the pathology was completed on the specimen that would be collected during surgery. We talked a bit more and I was told that Jeff was still out and wouldn’t be ready to see me for awhile. The good doctor suggested a nice, quiet spot outside by the reflection pond where I could make some phone calls. He assured me he would come get me when Jeff was awake and ready for a visit.

I sat down by the pond. Nobody was around but the coffee cart barista. I don’t know what the temperature was, but I was cold and shivering. Anna was so quiet…almost as if she knew what was happening. She just looked at me as tears flowed down my face.

I remember thinking of a line from one of my favorite TV shows, "Lost." Jack, the young doctor character, explained that in order to deal with the emotional situations related to his work, he would allow himself to give into his fear/pain/grief for a count of ten. Then he would take a deep breath and concentrate on what had to be done to rectify the situation. I slowly counted to 10, took that all important deep breath and called my Mom.


“Mom?” I could barely get the word out.

“What’s going on?” Her voice was shaking by the end of her question. She knew where I was.

“They found cancer…” came out in one gush of breath, as if I had been punched in the stomach.

Mom was sobbing by the time she finished her “Oh my God!”

I gave her the limited information that I had. “They don’t know how bad…Jeff is being admitted…surgery tomorrow…Jeff doesn’t know yet…”

I guess Mom knew the “10-second Fear Rule” because she was quickly down to business.

“I will call your Dad and get him home…”

“You don’t have to pull him out of work,” I inserted because I knew Dad had used all his vacation time for the year.

“I can tell you that he will not be able to work after he hears this news. I will pack while he gets home and we will be there as soon as possible.” She already had a plan for getting Anna from me at the hospital, picking up Jessica and Christian from school, and staying at our house with the kids as long as we needed. Isn’t that what Moms do best? They take care of business when their kids need them!

The next call was to our church. I knew Jeff would want Father Jim to pray with us before the surgery. I requested Jeff be added to the parish prayer chain. Both requests were granted.

Next, Jeff’s Dad. The receptionist was telling me Jeff’s Dad was out of the office just as Jeff’s doctor walked up. “Jeff is awake and ready to see you.” I would track down Jeff’s Dad after I had a chance to see Jeff.

Anna and I were led to the transition room. I knew my eyes were swollen from crying, but my “10-seconds of Fear” were over (actually, by that time, I had gone through many, many 10-second counts) and I was going to be strong for my incredible husband.

I could hear the beeping of the medical machines from all the patients hiding behind their privacy curtains. I could hear the nurses’ shoes squeaking on the floor. I could smell that unmistakable scent of “hospital.” Our eyes met. I was strong. He looked like he was still out of it. Everything else faded away. My grasp tightened on Anna’s stroller. There was a long pause, smiles from both of us, and almost simultaneously we both said, “I guess we’re not going to In-N-Out.” He had been told. He reached for my hand. Our grasp was strong. Neither of us let go. So many questions. Not many answers. No guarantees. Yet, we both felt a slight feeling of calm, serenity, peace. The feeling was buried by the fear and sadness and questions and that “spiraling out of control” feeling, but it was there. You can call it what you want…denial, hope, naiveté…I call it faith. No matter how small that pinprick of a feeling was, we knew everything was going to be okay. Looking back, I can pinpoint that moment, that first look and coming together of husband and wife during a life-altering situation, as the moment that God stopped walking with us, but gathered us in His protective arms and carried us. Together.

Ironically, as I finish writing this story, I am sitting in a waiting room. Anna is asleep in her stroller. It is one year later and Jeff is having his first colonoscopy since going through surgery to remove the tumor, which came with a foot of large intestine, some small intestine, his appendix and 29 lymph nodes. He was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer, has endured six months of chemotherapy, and two additional surgeries. He is still dealing with side effects from the chemo, but we know those will fade one day soon.

“You can come in now.” The nurse is standing at the recovery room door. I had been pretty calm until this moment. I thank the nurse and start pushing Anna toward the door. The nurse is smiling at me and commenting on how cute Anna is. Although I smile back, I think I have stopped breathing.

I hear machines beeping, nurses’ shoes squeaking on the floor, and recognize that antiseptic smell. There are five nurses walking around the room. They all smile at me and make cute comments about Anna. Jeff’s nurse leads me to his bedside. He appears to be asleep.

Jeff’s nurse hands me the report from Dr. Nodurft. The first thing I see is a happy face. The report reads, “Well done, Mr. Locher! Your colon is perfectly normal! Great news. Next colonoscopy is recommended in three years. Let me know when you get back to cycling and we should go sometime!”

A single tear is rolling down my face. “Thank God! Jeff is going to be fine!,” I enthusiastically say to the nurse. I look over at Jeff…he hasn’t moved…his eyes are closed… and he is smiling.

As I read this story, 10 years later, I can't help but bust another tear.  Jeff is still dealing with issues from the chemo, but he never complains... never talks about it.  My sweet husband is going to be doing his first triathlon at the start of 2015... yes, I (and a few of his friends) pushed him into it... he rides... he swims... and he said he will learn to deal with the pain of the run.  With as much as I want to say, "RUNNING HURTS!" I know it hurts him 10-fold because of his neuropathy.  I love my husband... I love the fact he will smile through a tri because he knows I can't wait to be his biggest cheerleader... I simply love my sweet husband!  Happy Anniversary, Jeff!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Week 1 70.3 Training and Photos...

Week #1 of 14 of my training for Oceanside 70.3 is done.  I did every workout except (1).  Sunday, I was supposed to do a 20-mile bike ride and passed due to pain in my knee after Saturday's 6-mile run.  I don't plan to make a habit of skipping workouts, but at the very start, after doing (5) workouts in a row (which I haven't done in months), I listened to my body and rested a bit.

208.4 pounds
205.2 pounds
Today was also the reporting day for Week #1 of our triathlon's group Holiday Weight Loss Challenge.  In typical holiday fashion, this week I made it through (2) banquets and (1) night out with friends... and STILL lost 3.2 pounds!  Another reason why this is the perfect time for a Weight Loss Challenge!  If I wasn't part of this Challenge, I would easily have put on (3) pounds with all of that great food!  Some of my tri group friends read my blog, so I can't say where I placed (yes, Dad, I know they could do the math below)... but out of (16) competitors, after the first week... I can say I'm doing pretty well! ;-)

Time to go make dinner, do some laundry, finish addressing the Christmas cards, get Mom the list of details for Christmas Eve/Christmas, and start wrapping... and get some sleep for training week #2 to start. 

There is a reason that I love to Swim/Bike/Run...

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

It... Has... Begun...

Photo taken at 5:30 this morning...
on my way to Oceanside 70.3 training workout #1. 
Great spin today...
workout #2 in the morning...
only 95 more workouts until race day... ;-)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Athena of the Year - New Photos...

Kim, Catherine, Rick and Me... the kick butt Athenas and our Race Director
That title sounds pretty good, doesn't it!? ;-)  It sure does make me feel good!  Last night was the annual Awards Banquet for the Koz Events Triathlon Series.  For the 2nd time in (3) years, I was thrilled to take home the 1st Place Athena (over 40) Triathlete award!!!  It was a fun event, nice dinner, and great company.  Jeff and I enjoyed our evening with Catherine and Kim, the rest of the Athena (over 40) podium!  As Rick Koz pointed out last night, every triathlete has a story, and Jeff and I love getting to hear the stories of other triathletes.

We all received our medals and a special glass...
for whatever you might want to add to it... ;-)

It is also time to face the music with my weight loss (or in this case, gain.)  I have taken it very easy for the past (2) months getting ready for my Ironman training to start... add that with Thanksgiving and, well, I've added a bit to me.  So, who comes to the rescue but my triathlon group, Tri-It Together, who is doing a weight loss challenge THROUGH the holidays.  It started today and runs through Christmas and New Years.  A simple but brilliant idea that I need as my official Ironman training starts tomorrow. (It actually started today, but Monday is the one rest day a week.)  WARNING... the following photos are not so good... but what IS good is I start kicking those pounds in the morning!

208.4 (ouch!)
208.4 time to make those
fat cells CRY! ;-)