January, 2015

Unbroken” Louis Zamperini

On the New Year’s Day George and I went to see “Unbroken”; a hot movie about Louis Zamperini, who was born in Torrance, became an Olympian, and survived a brutal Japanese prisoner camp, directed by Angelina Jolie, who led an epidemic of double mastectomies as a breast cancer prevention.

In Torrance there is an airport named after Zamperini. Torrance High School is the school he graduated from, and I used to work there. After he became Christian, old Louis Zamperini came to a men’s club at our church as a guest speaker, and George had a chance to talk with him.  There were enough interests to see the movie.

After the movie was over, George asked me, “So what do you think about the movie?”

Well, first there were so many horrifying scenes that were very hard to watch.  The main part of the movie was that a Japanese sadistic soldier, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, abused Zamperini like hell, and especially when he commanded all prisoners to beat Zamperini’s face one by one because Zamperini refused to broadcast anti-America propaganda on the radio, it was almost too heavy to take it.  I was afraid that people may become anti-Japan, and Japanese may instantly react saying, ”How about Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s atomic bombing?”

Second, the movie didn’t include the most amazing or crucial part of Zamperini’s life: When he became a Christian after the war, being influenced by Billy Graham, he was saved from the hate and nightmares, which had continually tormented him, and he went back to Japan not for revenge but to forgive the soldiers who had abused and tortured him.  The movie only described about it in short sentences at the very end.  It was disappointing.

The evil man, Watanabe, was on an interview in “60 Minutes” when Zamperini went back to Japan.  Watanabe didn’t deny his brutal treatment towards Zamperini, but he refused to see Zamperini.  I can imagine for Watanabe it required so much courage to see the man he wanted to destroy, especially knowing the same man was willing to forgive him.  Nevertheless, It was so shameful that Watanabe didn’t take the offer of forgiveness.

As a Japanese the movie was not easy to watch.  Yet perhaps what I saw in the movie was Satan.  I recognized how savage Satan was.  His claws tear apart our bodies, minds, and souls mercilessly.  It was truly a miracle that Zamperini survived all such sarvage afflictiins.  The movie title “Unbroken” gives an image that Zamperini was an strong iron man, yet in the fact, his life was almost destroyed by the after effects of the satanic attacks during the prison camp despite his survival.  It was Jesus who saved him.

New challenges and trials will come, but if I get scared or depressed, I should remember Jesus who is stronger than Satan, and Zamperini, who produced so many fruits being healed by Him.  I am weak but my God is almighty!

 

 

Tons of Flowers!

New Year's Eve

After I had a great time with friends who made a fantastic dinner on New Year’s Eve, on New Year’s Day, I went to see Rose Parade Floats for the first time in my life with George, a brother-in-law, and his wife.

There were about a hundred floats and a huge crowd, but I could see the floats so close to my eyes and was amazed with marvelous designs, creativities, scales, and beauties.

Rose Parade floatローズパレード#3

City of Torrance #2How long does it take to make a float?
How many people are involved in one project?
What is the process?
Where is it made? Does someone drive a float on the freeway to Pasadena?
How many kinds of plants are used?
Who designs and decides all the materials?  Etc…

Rose Parade Pink Ribon

I wanted to ask so many questions, but volunteers in white suits standing in front of the floats were so busy answering others that I could ask only one question:

“When did the volunteers decorate the flowers?” Zappo

“Since it is warm in Pasadena, in order to keep the flowers fresh, usually they decorate 24 hours before the parade. Yet because this year was cold, they did it 48 hours before the parade,” a volunteer guide answered me.

24-48 hours— that means so many volunteers are needed.

ローズパレードw: GeorgeThere must be hundreds or thousands of kinds of flowers but some are ordered outside of California, I heard.

All kinds of colors and textures are created by not only flowers but also vegetables, nuts, fruits, crops, beans, leaves, etc. The creativity and knowledge of the designers are superb, but the creativity of our God, who made all those plants with different colors and textures, is just incredible!

Going to see the Rose Parade floats was one of the things on my bucket list, and indeed the beauty of the creation made me happy very much!

A New Resolution

Monday was the first chemo day of 2015. The routine began with weight checking.
The number that immediately appeared was shocking. I gained five pounds in only two weeks. I took off a thick cardigan and stepped on the scale again. One pound lessened, but I already took off my shoes, and I didn’t have anything to take off any more. I didn’t have breakfast. If I had, I would’ve seen a heavier weight. I must have eaten too mamy sweets during the holidays.

Sunday, I had blood tests which were supposed to include blood sugar and cholesterol, but I postponed them because I hadn’t fasted. Since I’ve been on steroids, I have to watch sugar and cholesterol carefully, but since I gained 5lbs, probably they are getting high, too.

I brought a piece of banana bread, fruits, nuts, and chocolate in a backpack as today’s infusion would take six hours.
The banana bread has lots of sugar, butter, and flower, but I ate it thinking it was so delicious.
The perssimon was very sweet and must have had high fructose, but I ate it all anyway.
Nuts have high calories, so I should’ve eaten only a few, but by the end of the infusion, the bag became empty.
“Chocolate is out of the question!” I thought, but it also went into to my stomach sadly.

I have a cousin-in-law, who has radically changed his diet to vegan after his diagnosis of diabetes. He said that he convinced himself that meat, sugar, or any flour products are poisons for him.
I understand also that cancer grows eating sugar: If I become diabetic, I will lose some treatment options. Yet, still they look so yummy that I can’t see them as poisons at all.
My refrigerator and kitchen storage are always full of sweets, especially around this time of a year. Even if I go to the church or a friend’s house there is always something sweet waiting for me.

However, as this year’s resolution, following the cousin-in-law, I will stay away from sweets! —just one per day.
Is it still too much? Oh Lord, help me with the temptation!

Passing Out in Bathroom

My cough was getting bad again this week.
Yesterday it was constant, I had no appetite, and ran a fever, too.

I don’t remember what time it was, but shortly after I took Robitussin – because the constant cough didn’t allow me to sleep – I started feeling nauseous and the nausea was getting stronger and stronger rapidly. Feeling urgency, I stood up to go to the bathroom, but just a few steps later, all strength slipped out from my legs and I fell on the floor. I couldn’t stand up so I crawled to the bathroom.

I was totally groggy and felt like a cold sweat was breaking out from every part of my body. I remember that. Then next moment, George was next to me stroking my back and said, “ Are you OK?” He heard me moaning and found me crouching down on the floor in the bathroom, though I don’t remember.

Going to the bathroom helped me and after then I could sleep well. Now I have less cough, no fever, and an appetite also came back.

I will go to a lab tomorrow, so if something is wrong with me, the result may show it. I am glad now I feel better and so thankful for George who took good care of me. I don’t know what I would do without him. Gratitude.

Chronic Infection

The urgent care and the lab are on the same floor in the same building.  After I went to the lab, because I still felt weak and feverish, I decided to see a doctor in the urgent care.

The lab results were all normal except glucose, which was now 121.

The doctor ordered a chest x-ray, but the result was negative.

I informed the doctor about passing out in the bathroom.  I said, ” first I wondered if that was a sign of the brain metastasis, but as I felt better after the BM, it doesn’t seem to be associated with the brain metastasis.”  The doctor supported my thought. Relief!

I also told her about the possible chronic infection of a tooth bone: Last month when I went to a dentist for a teeth cleaning, she referred me to an oral surgeon noticing there was an exposure of a bone around the area where I had an infection last summer. As I visited the oral surgeon last week, he said the bone may be chronically infected and I should have a biopsy.

Listening to me, the urgent care doctor prescribed the same antibiotic as last summer, and it seems like it’s working.

Of cause I am glad if it’s working, but started wondering if this never-ending cough or  running nose may have something to do with the chronic infection.

I’ve never heard the word, “ chronic infection” until the oral surgeon told me. He gave me the impression that the chronic infection was somehow serious.  He said if that’s the case, I should treat it as soon as possible and if not, it may spread and affect other parts of the jaw or mouth.  He also said, it is very rare, but this could be cancer.  I didn’t take it seriously because it didn’t hurt, but I decided to Google to get to know about it better.  Then I was stunned.

The chronic infection is the infection, which the immune system doesn’t work on so it progresses quietly but surely without any pain or discomfort. Even antibiotics may eventually lose their effectiveness. AIDS and Hepatitis are examples of chronic infections.

This–the immune system is unable to work to kill the invading agents–sounds like cancer, and indeed, there are cancers which were caused by chronic infections.

Last summer when I had a horrible pain in the mouth, it must have been acute infection.   The exposed bone is under an implant which I spent lots of money and time on six years ago. When the oral surgeon said probably I need to remove the implant, I was very disappointed, but now I realize this is much more serious stuff which threatens my life, if I have it.

I am thankful that I noticed it instead of ignoring it.

 

Consultation with Dr. Slamon Again

On the 14th I went to UCLA to seek a 2nd opinion from Dr. Slamon, the doctor who invented Herceptin, which has saved millions of HER2 positive breast cancer patients.  Until then the prognoses of HER2 positive breast cancer was so poor, and probably I hadn’t been here without Herceptin.

This time, I wanted to hear what regimen would be available if I gave up Taxol, which has been causing Peripheral Neuropathy.

Before the exam, Dr. Slamon said that reducing the dose of Taxol might be ok, but after the exam, he said to stop it.  It was what I expected because the peripheral Neuropathy has worsened and sometimes made me scared.

Yet the surprise was that he said to go back to Herceptin and Perjeta only.

I told him that cancer activated only within three months after I started that regimen, yet he explained that because the last two CT results were stable and if cancer activates again, add Xeloda. If the side effects become a concern, reduce the dose and stay in the regimen as long as possible.  The other choice would be T-DM1, and again, stay on the regimen as long as possible reducing the dose if the side effects worsen.

I am reluctant to go back the regimen, which failed to keep me in remission, but maybe I have used all strong cards, so now I have to play with whatever I have buying time as much as possible.  Or as the treatments of cancer always require monitoring the side effects, maybe even if the progression of disease is predictable, I may need to stop the treatment or reduce the medications in order to give time to recover or rest the body…I don’t know.

At the end the receptionist charged only $49 instead of $450.  She said Dr. Slamon didn’t like to charge high for a self-paying patient.  The world-famous doctor, who became even a candidate of a Nobel prize for developing Herceptin, was also a supremely gracious doctor.  I am so blessed to be able to see him!

 

 

See You Again

“ She stopped eating and drinking.”

Listening to the family of Vivian, a terminal breast cancer friend, I realized her time on the earth was coming to the end. Wishing to see her again, I decided to visit her house where her sisters, son, and nieces were all gathered.

“ George came and he was with us a while ago,” saying so, the family welcomed me warmly.

Three days ago, after the ESL Bible Study, I stopped by her house to drop a card I copied a Bible verse in the class:

“God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.”–Hebrews 13:5-6

Vivan’s sister told me that she placed the card above Vivian’s bed and read it to her everyday, even this morning.

I walked into her bedroom. Covering herself from the head with a sheet, she was sleeping. Putting my hand on her shoulder, I talked to her.

“ Vivian, God has been with you, and He will be with you. I hope you feel it. Once you get to His house, you will receive a new body that will never get sick or die. And when you wake up, we will all be together again. See you soon! I love you.”

As the family offered me a cup of coffee, I sat in the living room and chatted with them.

“ You are all together in this difficult time to support each other. This is wonderful! She must appreciate it and God must be saying, ‘ You are doing good job!’”
“ I think death is like giving a birth. You have to suffer for a while, but on the other side, angels and God are waiting with excitement, saying, “She is coming!” And if you get there, everything is much better than this side.”

“ On this side, because there is time, you have to wait to get together with her again, but over there is no time, so once she wakes up, everyone will be there!”

“ This chapter will end soon, but that is not the end of the story. There is one more chapter. That chapter will be the best one and that will continue forever. “

“That’s what God promised us and because of Jesus, it is possible.”

We shared the hope.

A few hours later the phone rang, and I learned that she passed away.

The strong feeling surged within me to make me weep, but I told myself that she is now with the Lord.

With George, we prayed together that God would continually comfort and give strength to the family who was left behind.

George’s dismissal

George will be pretty much sure to lose the job at the church at the end of this March. We have been talking about the possibility since the church’s environment has changed more than a year ago. I have been wishing and praying for God’s intervention or opening the new door. The new door is still not clear yet, but leaving the church seems like His answer.

My first reaction was fear and anxiety. George and I are 60. I have had the endless battle against stage 4-breast cancer. George has Parkinson’s and paralyzed vocal cords. Who wants to hire such a man? What will we do with health insurance? I thought that people our age were getting ready for happy retirements with lots of savings, pensions, and looking forward to a cruise, or enjoying hobbies, but our boat seems like going down.

George has been saying to focus on Jesus; if your God is small, the problem becomes bigger, but with a big God the problem becomes smaller.
I have prayed, meditated, and listened to George and God. Then it became clear that George has been doing everything right in God’s eyes. It has been a tough year for him being pushed his gifts into a small box with a lid, and becoming invisible. Yet he has been patiently bearing and continually caring for people behind the scenes.

Then a following Bible verse spoke to me.

“Dear friends, don’t be surprise at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. —
So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” -1 Peter 4:13-19

George is sharing the suffering with Christ. In the suffering, we are still with God. This is a privilege! Then what do I need to be afraid of?

Matthew 5 The Beatitudes also encourages me:
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God….”

We are receiving blessings even if we may become poor or continually suffer. We’ll be ok, because God is with us!
I am looking forward to seeing what He is preparing next for us.

This Time It Is Shingles

According to a cancer friend, who just had shingles, one out of three Americans get this painful rash.

“Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. When you have chichenpox, the virus gets into your nerve roots and stays there long after you get over the chickenpox. If the virus becomes active again , it can cause shingles.”– (from Kaiser Care Instructions).

The first symptom was a sharp pain in my back on Tuesday night. I thought that was a muscle cramp, but even after I applied cream, which I usually use for cramps, it didn’t help. Soon after, the pain spread to the chest where I had a mastectomy and radiation therapy. I also felt itchy. I looked at my chest, but I didn’t see any change. Then I experienced headache and BM also became frequent.

When I heard from the friend about shingles a couple weeks ago, I Googled it with curiosity. Except rash, since everything else I have is so much like the symptom of shingles on the sites, I made an appointment with a doctor.
The day of the appointment, the 3rd day, I saw some rash on the chest.

The doctor told me that probably it was the early stage of shingles, and he prescribed me an antibiotic for 10 days.

The shooting, throbbing, and burning pains are still there, but I can tolerate them without a pain meds yet.

That afternoon, I went back to Kaiser for a CT scan, which has been two months since the last CT. Many things have been happening to my health, this year, but I’ll look forward to seeing the result next week.

Lung Nodules Could be Metastatic

The result of the CT I took after a two month interval arrived.

Overall it said, “stable”, but a couple nodules became mildly bigger in my right lung.

When I read a result, I always look for the words, such as “decreased”, “ not seen”, or “improved”, so if I see the opposite words, I get intimidated.

Usually I take a CT every three months. I wonder if the reason why the interval became shorter to two months this time was because a tumor marker, CA, was elevated in the last blood test.

The elevation was a little, but my number of CA was always in the normal range in the last four and a half years – even when cancer spread into the lungs – until a couple of months ago, and that’s why I guess my oncologist called for a little earlier CT exam.

The report says, “These (changes) could be metastatic.” Then probably I need to stop Taxol anyway and change to Xeloda, which Dr. Slamon recommended.

I will see my oncologist this Friday. I will discuss about the next regimen, as well as the biopsy the oral surgeon recommended for the mandible, the bone under my teeth implant.

The biopsy is done to detect cancer, I think, and what I know is that if cancer is in the bones, that causes sharp pains. Because I don’t have any pain and the area he is talking about is the area I had an acute infection last summer, the more I think of it, the more I doubt the possibility of cancer but that it’s an infection, though there is always the possibility. If I can ask Kaiser to do the biopsy, it’s not a big deal, but if I have to do it outside of Kaiser, the insurance won’t cover it, so I’d like to discuss if it is necessary or not.

The pain of shingles is finally fading away, though the rash is still there.

““So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”—Matthew 6:34

Remembering a scripture, I give my concerns to God this morning again.

From Beginning Cancer Was Metastasized

On Friday, I went to see my oncologist and changed Taxol to Xeloda.

The doctor said that the size change of 9mm to 11mm was too small to change the regimen because the criteria of the progression of disease means 50% increase of the size, but with Dr. Slamon’s recommendation, who was concerned with my progressed side effect, the peripheral neuropathy, she allowed the new regimen.

I got curious how long this enlarged nodule has been observed. So I looked back at the past CT reports and found a statement about the same nodule, which increased the size from 7 to 9mm in May 2012, when I was told that cancer spread into lymph nodes around the sternum and the lungs.
Yet, she told me that this same nodule was already found and informed on the first CT report in May 2010, even before the treatment started.

The nodule was not growing or growing so slow that it was not identified as cancer. My first diagnosis was stage ll b out of four stages, but actually cancer had already spread into the lung, stage lV, from the very beginning.

It was a kind of shocking.

The two year remission I thought cancer was gone was the period that cancer was there just in small sizes.

Normal cells repeat the cycle of cell division to death, but cancer cells never die and keep cell divisions and growing. Despite the intense five-year treatment, cancer hasn’t disappeared and grown back. I realized the stunning resilience of cancer and the extremely daunting challenge.