Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Waiting Game

Today Buddy started the 2nd week of the 2nd chemo cycle, and because his lab results have improved, they are re-introducing cytoxan into his regimen...this powerful drug is the one being held responsible for blasting so many cancer cells in his 1st dose last Apr 18 that resulted in "tumor lysis" -- the "blasted cells"clogged up his kidneys, his body went into shock, his heart rate slowed down to the 30s (potassium was 8 and creatinine was 12) and he was confined in the ICU for a few days...and until now he spends 4+ hrs in a dialysis center 3x/week as his kidney functions have not fully returned.

So I guess it is understandable if we are a little bit apprehensive as we sleep tonight...but we do know it needs to be done because cytoxan is proven to be very effective in the treatment of myeloma, and the sooner it is re-introduced, the greater the chance of healing.  

In a way, it is a good thing that he is on dialysis because whatever cells that are blasted will get dialysed in less than 24 hrs, hopefully enough time to prevent another shock to his system...although the doctors have said that tumor lysis has never happened twice to the same person -- it only happens in the beginning of some blood cancers because of the very high level of cancer cells that are present, but would not be the case in the next cycle...then again, Buddy is one in a million, so you never know cos tumor lysis never happened with myeloma patients either...

This last week has been awesome for Buddy and all of us. He is generally taking the chemo treatment well and has been able to walk around a bit more.  On his birthday I baked brownies for him to give to his dialysis nurses. But before going to the center, the kids and I went with him to a Hyundai showroom, then went shopping while waiting for him to finish because he wanted new shoes (DSW!). After dialysis, we stopped by the Dodge and Honda showrooms. When we got home, we had pizza, Mom Linda's pancit and cake with the Festins. He was also able to Facetime with a few relatives. Before he went to bed that night, he told me he had a great day...

Over the weekend, 2 cousins flew from California - Vince and Aldo and we all had a blast barbecuing, eating and talking for 2 straight days.  Mike even drove in on Sunday to join us for Buddy's post-birthday week-end.

Today, on the way to the doctor I told him he seems stronger now than before we left Manila...and he agreed.  He usually drives to where our schedule is and then I drive back home or to wherever he wants to go (the GPS is my best friend and security blanket). He started taking physical therapy sessions once a week and is challenged to do more each day.  His heart continues to have a funky rhythm because the amyloid is already there, and the combination of medicines changes every week depending on what symptoms are acting up.  He takes his "bag" with him almost everywhere, which contains his medications, blood pressure monitor, thermometer, tissues, etc.

His kidneys are functioning again but not enough to get him off dialysis.  The 4+ hours every other day in the dialysis center are really depressing especially since he is surrounded by people who are at least 30 years older, all getting dialysed.  So getting his kidneys back in working condition will be a huge load off his already heavy burden.

But despite all of this, we are all okay, really.  Everyone is coping with and adjusting to the sudden change in lifestyle.  We are thankful for all that we have and always remind ourselves that we almost didn't even have this...and really, it could be so much worse.

Here are a few pics from the past week...

Luis tried, was forced to actually, to mow the lawn for the 1st time...with Uncle John Vonhof as mentor...

Dinner on Bud's birthday, May 22...Steve Pohlen also dropped-in for some pancit...

Bud's Birthday Weekend (a.k.a Memorial Day Weekend)...a 2-day feastravaganza featuring food by Vince Verde and entertainment provided by Aldo Mojica...

That's it for now...thanks again for all the prayers and well-wishes being sent our way...praying for smooth sailing ahead...


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Global Sources - My wonderful team

I've always been mentioning my friends and family in my blog posts.  I have to mention that many of friends are actually the people that I work with at Global Sources.  Some of them I've worked with for 15 years.  I can't mention them all but from Merle, Spenser, Tommy, Brandon, James S., Philip, Sarah and Ron, Mark S., Brent, Peter, Bennie, Graham, Claudius, Suzanne, Connie, Chuck, Mike S, Bill J., Alex B and the Hinrich Foundation, thank you for your messages.  Brandon is even Skyping me at odd hours in Asia.  Amitabh, Shishir and the India team, Ms. Jung and the Korea team, Din Han, Anna and the VN and rest of SE Asia team, the World's Greatest Trade Show Team (Alexis, Flora, Tricia, Minnie, Nicole, Tracy, Ida, Rex) to Seema, Manoj, Brendon, Melody, the folks in HKG, Florence, Yvonne, Holly, Teresa, Jackie, Will C., Felix, Alinda, Mark G., and all the Southmark team, the wonderful folks in the Philippines, Rufus, Grace and the Accts team, Bernie and Editorial Team, my former GS team of page developers, Jackie, Jasper, Rod, Tina.  To my dear friend Minesh, who calls regularly to check on me.  Thanks.  To other former GS team members such as Nick and to all of you who have sent your wishes, thank you.  To those who I haven't mentioned, my apologies, I simply can't name all who have sent me well wishes as the messages, prayers, thoughts have been overwhelming.  I'm so honored to have all of you supporting me through this. I need to make special mention of my Asst. Office Manager, Mars Ilagan, who has done so much for me through all of this. 

I have talked about the family and friends who have been my support.  However, for 15 years, Global Sources has been such a huge part of my life, having provided me with the opportunity to come to Asia and do what I truly love to do and what I am passionate about.  Global Sources is part of my family.

Good days are outnumbering the bad now which feels even better.  Yesterday (May 20) admittedly was "bad".  I had dialysis in the morning which wiped me out and my heart medication began to react to lower my heart rate to a low level (42bpm) and my blood pressure got too low.  I also got my weekly dose of Chemotherapy which made me feel a bit funky later in the day.  To help out my heart, my doctor Ruffy Festin (also my cousin) changed the medication doses which is why I feel really good today.  Today, I woke up feeling great.  Really feeling good.  One measure is that I could actually get up the stairs 2x without getting light headed.  To me, that's a major accomplishment right now.

I decided to get my work PC and go through emails which I did for the better part of 4 hours.  I sent out a couple of longer mails re: our upcoming show in Miami, as well as to the India team and to the Korea team.  It felt great to actually be working, even though it's from the USA right now!  I know that my brain is still working and now that I had some time, I wanted to contribute to what I feel I do well.  I also know that I will be back at full strength at some point, although that is still some ways off.  My heart is now under control, my kidneys are just starting to come back, my lungs are not 100% yet and my GI bleeding is now under control.  My Chemo is just starting the 2nd stage of 6 stages so I have to be patient.That being said, I feel great today and I hope to be feeling even better in the future. To my Global Sources family, I want to rejoin you as soon as possible.

My birthday is tomorrow, May 22.  This one is a gift from God and from all of you who have been praying for me  Thank you.  

Lastly, I've received a few comments (as well as my own comments) that I'm going to beat Cancer.  In the spirit of the 80's and knowing that so many people enjoyed my previous video post, please take a step back 20+ years and watch this video.  Yet another reason to make you smile.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The first haircut!

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are my dialysis days.  I go to DaVita Dialysis Center, and the nurses there hook me up for my usual 3 1/2 hour session.  I sometimes read, watch TV, use my iPad.  This time I slept for about 2 of the hours.  While awake, I watched Star Trek VI and Star Trek VIII on the SyFy channel.

Friday, May 17 was different.  Near the end of the dialysis session, Dr. Moore, my nephrologist came over to talk with me to talk about lab results.  My #s were good!  My hemoglobin #s, potassium #s, creatinine #s, sodium figures were all positive and getting better!  Terms that had no meaning to me 2 months ago meant so much now!  He went so far as to tell me to go ahead and cheat on my Renal Diet!  "If your family is having a pizza, go ahead and have some".  I couldn't believe my ears, green light for eating pizza!  If only he had told me that the day before when John and Laura brought over Lake Harriet Pepperoni Pizza!

2 weeks post ICU, and countless antibiotics later, my strength seems to be coming back.  I can walk for 200 meters.  I can get up stairs more than one step at a time.  I can easily walk to the washroom without assistance.  I can eat pizza (on a limited basis)!  Things I took for granted for so long, then became so difficult, are now becoming doable again.  The process of moving forward is happening.

We celebrated by going out for Chinese food.  Just a quick bite at Leeann Chin.  Then, I went to get a haircut at ProCuts.  My first haircut since March when I left Manila.  It felt great to have a fresh cut and feel normal again.  Again, things I took totally for granted before were now the source of a huge smile at the end of the day.

My cousin Vince called later last night.  Talking to him was great because I could actually talk.  Last time he called I was in the ICU and barely functioning.  What a difference a couple of weeks make.  I'm now on the road to moving ahead.  Cancer isn't controlling me anymore.  I'm not cancer.  I'm taking control of it and moving ahead.

Today, John, Laura, Ruffy, Bernadette and their kids came over to celebrate my birthday.  It's almost May 22 so I got to celebrate being 45 a couple days early.  As I have a green light to cheat a little bit, I got a taste of "Nigel" (fantastic tasting burger) and a Hebrew National Hot Dog.  Absolutely fantastic!  Ria baked me a beautiful cake which was a checkerboard pattern.  The kids had a wonderful time running around in the lawn.  One of my best birthday parties ever considering I was in the ICU just a bit over a week ago.  John, who has been my best friend for 38 years (!!) and I had a blast watching our kids chasing each other around my parents' lawn.  I told him that 25 years ago, we wouldn't have imagined watching our kids running around.  

I still have a long ways to go.  But good days are now outnumbering the bad ones.  I thank everyone for their prayers and thoughts again.  Without them, I wouldn't have the strength to push forward.  I continue to rely on my faith to keep me strong through all of this.  To fret over the situation would be the easiest thing to do.  I won't do that.  I want to improve my life, even with the cancer that I'm totally intent on beating.   I will beat it with all of your support! 

John lighting my birthday cake

Like my compression socks?!?!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

In the eyes of my children

My kids.  How are they taking this new change in their lives?  Being transplanted on a couple days notice to the USA, leaving behind their friends?  We told them a couple of weeks ago that they'll be here for awhile.  They would be enrolling in new schools in Minnesota.  They secretly told Trinna that they were a bit nervous about meeting new friends.

I asked Luis the other day, "what's your favorite part of being in the US?".  He didn't even hesitate, "our cousins!".  CJ and Sarah Festin are always here to play with them.  They enjoy each other's company so much.  

The inseparable cousins last Mother's Day, May 12, 2013.

Anna Mojica (Mike's daughter) came up to hang out with them for two days the other week.  Fantastic fun at the mall, aquarium, pool.  Yesterday, Carlos De La Fuente and one of their older cousins, Trishka Sanchez came to take them out (Thanks Ginger & Gil De La Fuente & Tim Bruess!). They can't wait to see Katherine Mojica (she was sick earlier).  One of the (unexpected) blessings of this journey is for my kids to discover their cousins.

Here they are after their tiring day driving from Chicago and then taking the kids to the Mall of America.

When I was younger, I still remember counting the days that young cousins would come to visit us.  I cherished those moments more than anything to the point where I knew I wanted to live in the Philippines again someday (which came true).

The cousins have made the kids' transition a bit easier in the past two weeks.  How easy is it to understand why mommy & daddy keep coming in and out of the hospital and all the other stuff happening?  No matter, they're kids and we want them to enjoy just being kids.  Being kids is so much easier when they hang out with their other kid cousins.

One of my favorite "mood changers" is to simply sit around and listen to 'THE NOISE'.  Every parent with kids between 6-12 knows what this is.  It's a non-stop chatter, about kids' shows, video games, random info from the Internet, everything.  It's wonderful to listen to.  It's great therapy to help get through the health issues.

They're enjoying other things like the weather, food.  It's a new life for them.  It's a new life for all of us for now.  We want to make the best of it, every minute.  So far, they are!!


Postscript...by Ria

Buddy was discharged last Friday in time to celebrate Mother's Day with us at home.  We were happy to just not be at the hospital and my only request was not to cook that day so we ordered Chinese:)

Today was a very good day. Mom and I went with Luis on a tour of Buddy's alma mater, Benilde St. Margaret's where Luis will be studying this year, and he was suitably impressed at how different it is from his experience of schooling in the Philippines (I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact that they will each be given a Macbook Air on the 1st day of school).  We are all excited for this great opportunity for him to expand his horizons and just try new things. He even posed by Buddy's graduation photo.

Today was the 1st day the temp hit the 90s and the 1st day Bud went with us to the park. Luis volunteered to push Bud in his wheelchair all the way and back; and we are so proud of how helpful he has become since arriving here, even without being asked to...

Hope all days will be like today...


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Looking in the mirror

I told my sisters Rissa and Rinna this week, as well as my best friend John, that "I have had the most charmed life of any person I know".  I have wonderful parents who sacrificed everything so that my brother and I could have the lives we have.  We've always had a wonderful extended family and I have made the best of friends wherever I've gone.  I got the best education, moved back to the country I dreamed to live in (the Philippines), married the absolute love of my life, have 3 beautiful children and have the privilege to be working for a great company with a job that has allowed me to see the world.  

Yes, I now have cancer.  For the past 3 weeks, I have been to the ICU 2 times, gotten a "code blue",  lost my kidney functions, gotten a serious case of pneumonia and have developed a heart problem.  I've experienced the difficulty of standing up, trying to walk 10 feet to go to the washroom, sitting up to reach for a glass of water, internal bleeding, and being scared out of my skull because I couldn't breathe.  

I couldn't sleep last night.  I kept waking up after 30 minute stints.  This morning at 1am, I prayed.  I prayed to God to give me the strength to get through this.  I said many things but I felt that someone was holding my hands as I was praying.   

I tried to sleep again, but after an hour of cold sweats, I realized I needed to go to the washroom.  I had to struggle to unplug my heart monitors and walk with my IVs but I made it.  Then, in something of an exercise that I've taken for granted for my entire life, I took a shower on my own without any assistance.  This isn't exactly simple, as I have a dialysis catheter now, but I did it.  I then shampooed my hair (had to do it separately), and then shaved, brushed my teeth again.  

For the first time in weeks, I was standing on my own, without help, for over 10 minutes.  Also for the first time in weeks, I really looked at myself in the mirror from head to toe (not sharing photos of this sorry!).  My arms have gotten very thin.  My neck is thinner.  My stomach has large bruises from the subcutaneous Chemo injections.  My arms have innumerable IV scars.  My back had a rash from the antibiotics.  My backside has atrophied from the lack of any form of physical exercise (I haven't been able to walk).  My legs are swollen due to fluid build up.  I am so not ready for any Men's Health cover.  But, more than any other time in weeks, I FEEL STRONG.  

The nurse heard me and came in.  I told him that I was feeling very good.  I saw a cross around his neck.  He then said something that was so helpful.  "Enjoy this moment".   

God has given me this strength all along, it took for me at 230am looking in the mirror to see it once again.  I am so lucky to have faith and the prayers of all family and friends.  The road ahead will be a long one.  There will be more bumps in the road than what I've had in these past two weeks.  But I am ready for the bumps and whatever else the Amyloidosis and Multiple Myeloma throw at me.  The doctors have been wonderful at addressing my physical ailments.  God has been there all along to give me the inner strength to work with these doctors to beat this cancer.  It's up to me to feed on His love for me and all of your prayers to help get through this.  I still have the most charmed life of anyone I know.  

Till next post!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Expect the Unexpected

That has to be our mantra now...we have no choice.  Very few things in this journey of ours has been what we thought it would be.

On top of everything else, Buddy now has pneumonia, because the chemo has left him immuno-compromised.  We were supposed to have the last chemo shot today to finish our 1st cycle, but couldn't because of the fever.  Tomorrow, they will probably do a bronchoscopy to check his lungs and clean it up (I'm sure the doctor had used better terms for this, but I forget).  Hopefully, nothing else comes up after this so he can be discharged right away.

In Buddy's words, "Cancer is a B*T*H!" We now need to expect the road to be very bumpy, so that we can be thankful for the smooth patches and not get blind-sided by the rough ones too much.

But we have to continue to count our blessings...that we are being given the chance to fight at all, is blessing in itself.  And thank you to all who are fighting with us...there is no way we can do this without you.


Back in the Hospital

I guess it's obvious that the kids are in town because posts are more difficult to squeeze in these days.  I am writing this post in the cafeteria of Methodist Hospital as we wait for Buddy to be admitted again because he is running a fever.

Bernadette, Ruffy's wife, is watching the kids now, taking them to Dave and Buster's and continuing their playdate at their home until one of us is back home.

Buddy's sister-cousins, Rissa and Rinna, are also here with us before they fly out later. They had a happy reunion yesterday which was great for Buddy's spirits.

The past week was generally calm as we try to get into the groove of things, although Buddy's not feeling so hot lately and his spirits are a bit down as we realize how difficult this will really be.

Here's a quick pic taken right before Rissa and Rinna left for the airport.