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November
20
2020

Last Post

Deann died yesterday shortly before 4:00 a.m. It was clear the night before, when Alice and I moved her to the bed in our room, that the end was near. The light that usually shone in her beautiful brown eyes was not there. All that remained was for her heart to stop beating.

When I went to bed, I put on some of her favorite hymns so she could hear them one more time. Alan Jackson has a beautiful album full of them, called Precious Memories. Deann loved singing hymns around the house, and to herself while she gardened. She found great comfort in the words, and I like to think she could hear them as I laid there with her. I kissed her goodnight and told her thanks for spending another day with us, which had become my habit in the last couple of months. Eventually, I fell asleep.

I awoke around 3:00, and her breathing had not changed from when we put Deann in bed. It was labored, but regular. I just laid there with her, holding her hands and stroking her hair. She called out near the end a couple of times, and I let her know I was there, and I told her I loved her.

True to her quiet nature, Deann's last breath came with no fanfare. In fact, it caught me by surprise. She simply drew her last breath, and then stopped. I put my ear to her chest and could hear nothing and I knew she was gone.

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Her last few months were not easy. The brain tumor the doctors had been able to beat back returned in July of this year, claiming her ability to walk. She was able to manage a little bit with a walker, but it was always a struggle, and it frustrated her to no end. She was happy to put it aside finally, in favor of a wheelchair. She was able to still climb stairs, so after a month in a hospital bed following her return from the hospital, she was able to climb the stairs to our bedroom. Eventually, at the end of October, even that became too much, so I bought a bed and booted Alice from the bedroom on the first floor that had become her home office. It was in that bed that she would die.

Every day, Alice and I would move her from the bedroom to the living room, or the sun porch if it was warm enough. She slept a lot, but would always want to be awake for Jeopardy at 3:30. Fridays after dinner we'd watch the new episode of The Great British Bake Off. It's a gentle show which matched her gentle nature. She was a huge fan. What brought her her greatest pleasure, though, I think, was being read to. Alice or I would read from a book to her, and she never objected. It's something we did when we first got married, and I was happy to revive the practice in her final days.

Her last good day came a couple of weeks ago on a Saturday. Her family gathered on our deck to celebrate her sister's birthday. It was a nice warm day, and Deann was able to be out with all of us, and stayed awake all through the party, which was a nice treat. By then, she'd mostly given up talking but was able to sing Happy Birthday. To our daughter's consternation, she spoke to her for what would turn out to be the last time. Alice asked her what was up, and Deann replied with that old childhood retort, "chicken butt". Always a wit, that lady!

Luckily for me, her last words to me were "I love you, too", which she was able to get out one day soon after that when I told her I loved her, which I did every day of our marriage, no matter how much we fought that day. It was true every time I said it.

The last 2 weeks of her life were pretty sleepy. Eventually, she gave up eating, and, finally, drinking. She, miraculously, was never in any pain. She got a little bit of hospice care, but most of the taking care of her at the end was done by our daughter and I. It was a labor of love, and I'll remember these last days of her life for as long as I live.

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Deann was first diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just 36, and with glioblastoma when she was 52. She lived to be 54 and she never let the disease define her. It was just a part of her life that she learned to live with. Aside from the months of treatment, her life was pretty good. She raised 2 great children, grew a beautiful garden, struggled mightily to keep a clean house despite her husband's and kids best efforts, kept us fed, and was a well respected professional at work. She got to travel with her family and friends, but always was happiest at home. She let us know she wanted to die in it, and it was a wish I'm happy I was able to grant.

It's been great hearing from everyone who knew her, and learning just how many lives she touched. She was a quiet woman, but strong, and she made me a better person.  I'm a lucky man to have been married to her for 29 years.

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March
16
2020

2 Months at a Time

Hi all. It's been awhile. I meant to write something a few weeks ago to mark the year it's been since Deann got diagnosed, but, obviously, that never happened. Why that is, I can't really say. Laziness, I guess.

Deann has done really well this past year. Things looked pretty dire last spring when she was getting radiation therapy on her brain. Now when she goes in to see her oncologist he is always pretty pleased with how well the treatments have worked. It's a continual marvel to me to see how matter of fact Deann is with this whole thing. I wish my faith was as strong as hers.

I try not to think of it too often, but cancer has been a part of our married lives for longer than it hasn't. 2002. That was the year her first breast cancer diagnosis came. Dennis was in kindergarten and Alice was in 2nd grade. Now all 4 of us know way too much about cancer and its treatment. Deann and her breast oncologist got to know each other way better than a patient and her doctor should ever have to.

Deann's life is now punctuated by bi-monthly MRIs. It's a watchful, somewhat anxious time. I take a vacation day, book a parking spot down at Northwestern Hospital the night before, then drive her down for the scan. A couple of hours later we meet the brain doc to find out the result. Deann is always composed when she's sitting there on the exam table waiting for him to come in. I sit there on pins and needles. She and I both know what's coming down the road, eventually, but she, remarkably, has come to terms with it.

She has a lot of solitary hours to fill these days. She's becoming pretty well read, and she is always irritated by the squirrels eating the seed she puts in the bird feeder. Deann has always been kind of a loner. Growing up on a farm will tend to make you self-sufficient. But, and I may be way off base here, I think she gets a bit lonely at times. When she was first diagnosed, mail and visitors abounded. You could really sense the love. As always, however, life does go on. The crisis recedes and a new normal takes over. I'll bet she wouldn't mind if people dropped over, or called every so often. She loves to be the hostess.

Wednesday will be her next exam. Please keep her in your prayers and on your mind.

December
2
2019

December 1, 2019

"There is no evidence of acute infarction, mass effect, midline shift, or pathologic extra-axial collection. The principal intracranial flow voids are preserved." This word salad from Deann's last MRI (really good!) means that it's story time again. I'll keep it brief since I'm feeling lazy at the end of a truthfully quite slothful Thanksgiving weekend.

Deann and I met in Iowa City, where I was a houseboy (nice, eh?) in her sorority house. That job entailed bringing out food from the kitchen to the tables where the young ladies would pass it, family style. The pay was a free meal and a few bucks a day. I can tell you the pay was quite low, both gustatorily and financially. I didn't really do it for the cash, but the food was horrible. I chose the house with the worst cook in all of Iowa City.

Now that the exposition is laid out for you, we come to the crux of the story. Being a houseboy meant that we were matchmaking fodder for the girls who were currently unattached come social event time. The fall mixer was looming, and Dave, the other houseboy, and I were pressed into service. Dave was matched with my future bride and I was assigned to Wendy.

The mixer was a costume affair and the girls chose the costumes. Wendy wanted to go as Vulcans from Star Trek. Since there wasn't a Vulcan woman in the cast, I asked her what she would be, to which she replied, "Some Vulcan chick." (This happened over 30 years ago and I still remember her reply.) Deann and Dave were Becky Thatcher and Tom Sawyer. Cunningly, I was the evil, goateed Spock from the Mirror, Mirror episode (nerds will get this) since I thought I was so clever. Wendy and I both sported green face paint and rubber pointed ears.

We all sat down at a table together and I looked at Deann and I was quite envious of Dave. Fortunately, things worked out for me in the end.

October
28
2019

October 28, 2019

It's been over 3 months since I've updated this, but I always say no news is good news, and that goes double for Deann. She had an MRI in September that was unchanged from the July one, so that's the no news that doubles as good news.

Since there's really no medical news, I thought I'd share a story about Deann with you, dear readers.

In 1999, when the kids were 3 and 5, we took off on a 3 week road trip to visit some friends in Seattle. On the way back, we spent the night in Scottsbluff, Neb. We checked into our motel, and I went off to play some golf, leaving Deann with the kids. This had consequences later.

The next day we drove off to Scotts Bluff Nat'l. Monument. All this is, really, is a big sandstone rock at the edge of the prairie. It's so imposing, however, that our government has seen fit to turn it into a tourist trap. There are 2 ways to get to the top: the good old American way, driving; and walking up a path cut into the side of the bluff. Since we're patriotic we drove.

Sandstone is highly susceptible to erosion, and there's plenty of wind out their in the western Plains to do the job. To illustrate this, the Park Service had, about 20 years earlier, sunk a length of pipe into the stone. In the intervening years Mother Nature had done her worst, and about 4 inches of the pipe were now exposed. All over the place are signs imploring visitors to leave the surface undisturbed due to is susceptibility to erosion. Our kids could not yet read.

Deann saw the kids drawing in the sandstone with something hard they'd found, and she just lost it. She snapped at them and told them, "You see that pipe? That's from 20 years of kids messing around!" I saw this was not going to get any better, and besides, it was time to go. There is only so much time you can devote to looking at the sweeping vistas of the Great Plains.

I suggested to Deann that she walk to the bottom, alone, and the kids and I would meet her at the bottom. She was amenable and set off down the path. Scotts Bluff is 800' tall, and the trail switches back a bunch of times, so I knew it would take her a bit to make it to the foot. The kids and I waited until she got about halfway down, waved at her, and headed to the bottom ourselves.

Deann had, fortunately, walked off all the frustration, and we set off for what turned out to be the single best tourist trap we'd see on that vacation, perhaps ever: Carhenge.

July
17
2019

July 16, 2019

When you're neurooncologist is more worried about how your nose looks than how your brain tumor is you're doing pretty good. Right?

Deann got some really good news last Wednesday! She has to go every two months for an MRI and, somewhat dumbfoundingly (at least to the doctor), the tumor has continued to shrink. He was really, incredibly pleased, and so were we. The tumor isn't gone, but it's in retreat, which we'll definitely take.

The Optune device must be doing something. At least I hope it is. Putting the arrays on Deann's head is not high on the list of activities we look forward to, but the beneficial effects are pretty apparent, so, on with the arrrays, we say! Besides, her bald head is quite cute.

Deann is heading out to the farm to spend the weekend with her parents while Dennis and I go on our annual baseball trip. We're both looking forward to getting out of Dodge for a bit.

Keep her in your prayers. It's definitely working!

June
15
2019

June 15, 2019

Nearly a month since the last update. How time flies!

I always say when people ask how Deann is doing, no news is good news. Nevertheless, here's some news. Deann had a check up visit with her neurooncologist Monday and he was pleased with her neurologic function. It was a short visit, and those are the best.

This Monday, Deann will start wearing an Optune device. The only downside to this is she will, once again, be bald, since you have to have bare skin for the electrical contacts to work properly. That is the only drawback, however, and she's looking forward to starting. Plus, we'll get to see what kinds of stylish things she can come up with to cover her scalp.

She had a nice birthday early this month. We spent Memorial Day weekend on her parents' farm with everyone on her side of the family in attendance. The weather was fantastic and it was nice to spend time with everyone. Deann even took her turn at pitching horseshoes. Good thing we're not relying on that to bring money into the household! Here she is on her actual birthday with some flowers she got from a neighbor.

May
15
2019

May 14, 2019

Yesterday, Deann went in for her follow-up MRI, one month after the end of her course of radiation treatments. This was to see if the radiation had done it's job. We at home did notice an improvement in her memory, and she seemed to be a little more on the ball than before, but we had no evidence of how well the radiation had worked beyond our hopeful observations.

Dr. Lukas, Deann's neurooncologist, showed us the 2/22 MRI slides next to the 5/13 slides, and the improvement was remarkable. The tumor was not gone, and it never will be, barring a miracle, but the shrinkage was considerable. He was quite pleased with how well the treatment seems to have worked.

So, Deann has received the last dose of radiation she'll ever get. She's had her head irradiated twice now, in 2011 and 2019, and it was kind of a shot in the dark thing that she even got the second course, but we're grateful for the try. Next, she'll be back on the oral chemo pills, one week on and three weeks off, until they cease to be effective.

Dr. Lukas also recommended this crazy thing: https://www.optune.com/discover-optune/explore-the-system. The only downside is the hair will have to be sacrificed in order to use it, but, after radiation, it's not runway ready anyway. She's mulling it over right now, and I'm doing all I can to convince her to wear it. We'll have to see if Blue Cross is willing to underwrite it as well.

So, Deann got about the best news she could hope for, and she's grateful for all the prayers and good wished everyone has sent. Keep them coming! They mean a lot to all of us.

April
23
2019

April 23, 2019

Right now Deann is on the couch sleeping off yesterday's burst of energy. The warm weather drew her out to the garden, where she spent most of the day. Or, perhaps it was spending Easter weekend with her family. Whatever the reason, it was nice to see her so active.

No real news, medically. Deann has been sleeping off the radiation, and there has been a slight, noticeable improvement in her memory. Even Deann says she thinks she's better. The hair is another story. Lots up top, and right above her neck, but almost nothing from the crown of her head to just about the tops of her ears. She's pretty nonchalant about that, since this is the 3rd time going bald.

What is the same is her crankiness when she gets hungry. What ever happens, that will never change!