Saturday, February 29, 2020


In an earlier blog, I wrote about my son-in-law Ray's diagnosis of cholangiocarcinoma, or cancer of the bile duct.  The cure was surgery to remove the bile duct, and he was scheduled for the surgery on Monday of this week (February 24). However, when the surgeon began to operate, he discovered that the pancreas was not in good enough shape for the surgery to be completed as it was too high risk.  So the decision was made to have him undergo chemotherapy for several months and hope that he would then be healthy enough for the surgery in 4-6 months.  
All our family was deeply disappointed, since I think we thought that he would have the surgery, recover, and life would return to normal.  But it now looks like a much longer and more arduous process. One of my other sons-in-law has been doing a great deal of research into this cancer and he recently found out that now the chemotherapy before surgery is becoming the preferred protocol, particularly in the older patients (70 and up) who are normally the ones who are afflicted with this disease. 
Catherine was the one who had to tell Ray when he came out of the anesthesia that he still had the cancer and what the treatment would be, and he had a day when he was rather discouraged.  Today he went home from the hospital, he has a referral to an oncologist, and they seem to be taking one day at a time.  
I spoke to a friend who called today about a cancer prayer group that she hosts at her house once a month. She was diagnosed with cancer when Catherine and her daughter were in grade school, and all these years later she is doing well and coordinating prayer groups at her home and church.  She is a good reminder to me that health and concern for others and a full life are very often possible after a cancer diagnosis.

Sunday, February 23, 2020


One of the coaches in my Productivity program suggested that, since a couple of us had been discussing issues with our noses, it might be a good topic for a blog post.  I decided tonight to go back and copy the discussion, and of course I couldn't find it. This proves a number of things: if you think of doing something, move it forward right away.  I got as far as the headline for this blog post, and the other things we discussed disappeared into the ether.  Of course, this might be an opportunity to go in a different direction or be more creative, but it also might mean that some brilliant insights will be lost.  But since it wasn't an earth-shattering topic, I can ruminate and let it go where it will--or just follow my nose.
As a child, I was never happy with my nose. I judged it was too big for my face, closer to my mother's which had a slight bump in it, and less like my father's which was very straight and which he had bequeathed to my brother.  When I was in high school, a friend had had a nose job. She had had a fairly large nose that was hooked, and after the surgery she had an adorable, much smaller nose that I envied (of course, she was also about half my height).  When I was 16, I told my father that I wanted a nose job.  He was strict and I never really thought he'd let me get one, but he began to tell me every night when he got home from work that he loved my nose.  At first, I didn't believe it and just thought he was saying it because he thought it would steer me away from wanting to change it.  Then I thought that since he loved my mother he probably thought she had a nice nose, and therefore liked mine, too. However, it didn't convince me to like it.  
But he kept telling me that he loved my nose, probably for a whole year.  It is difficult, even for a stubborn teenager, to resist a constant barrage of affirmation. When I look back, I know that he could have just told me to stop complaining (which he often did about other things), but instead he kept repeating that he loved my nose. I can see underneath that, the love he had for me, and probably the awareness that I was going through a gawky adolescence in which I was going to fasten on at least one aspect of my appearance which I detested. It wouldn't have helped if my mother had done this, but it made a huge difference that my father did. By the end of the year, I began to see my nose as less horrible than I originally thought, and the following year, when I met the boy who fell in love with me and eventually became my husband, I rather liked my nose, and his admiration made me feel beautiful from head to toe.
Love can change our perspective, and it did the same thing for my oldest daughter. She and my son inherited my nose; the other four daughters all got my husband's, which of course I thought was perfect.  Elizabeth was not too happy with her nose, though she was so self-confident I don't think it bothered her that much.  (She had a scar on her forehead from an accident as a child and if anyone asked her about it, she told them it was a dueling scar!) Her husband told her that he loved her nose, but she thought he might just be saying that, or that he was intrigued because he is Korean American, and hers was so different from his (as his stepmother said, hers was a "tall nose"). At some point, they had watched High School Musical and he commented on how attractive one of the actresses was. When they watched the sequel, he said that for some reason she was not nearly as good looking in this movie.  Eventually they realized that the actress had had a nose job between the two movies!  So Elizabeth realized that he sincerely liked a larger nose!
On the other hand, my son who has the largest nose in the family (and at 6'5" is the tallest), always loved his nose. He told me when he was about 10 that if he ever broke his nose, he would ask them to fix it so that it looked like a huge, hooked pirate nose! I'm not sure if he still feels that way at 27, but I am thankful he never broke his nose!

Sunday, February 16, 2020


Today was the first time I have ever been to the Baptism of someone who wasn't a baby or coming into the Church at the Easter Vigil.  My friend in the choir has been the caregiver for her 6 year old grandson for a couple of years.  She has been bringing him to Mass with her every week, and he sits with friends in the front pew near the choir while she contributes her considerable talents as a soprano to the music each Sunday. She told me that he has shown an incredible thirst for God and has been learning prayers as well as all the parts of the Mass. She plays the hymns we are scheduled to sing all week long, and he often knows most of them by Sunday. 
Each week, when he comes back with her to the choir room, he gives each of us a hug, and tells us he loves us with a brilliant smile. At some point I asked her if he had ever been baptized, and she said no, but she would have to get his mother's permission.  Apparently, she was motivated to do so, and his mother said he could be baptized since he wanted it so much.
Today was the day, and he came into the choir room beaming with excitement and reminding us all that this was his big day. About 14 of us were able to attend his Baptism, and it was a very special occasion. Our priest waited until all of us had arrived, let us take pictures, and brought our little friend into the Catholic family of God.  
I then hosted a little party at my home, and our choir family came to help celebrate. We told him that he's completely a member of our family now, and while he ran around happily in my back yard like any other 6 year-old boy, the smile on his face and the joy in his heart gave all of us a delightful afternoon. The cake I got for him was a big treat, but everyone had brought a potluck dish and there was a feeling of camaraderie among all of us as we celebrated being the little village brightened by our newest member.

Sunday, February 9, 2020


Somewhere I read that to thrive we need 12 hugs a day.  When my husband was alive and my six children were at home, it was fairly easy to collect those hugs, and more. But now that I am a widow and my children are grown and have mostly moved out (my son is still here occasionally), there are days when even one hug is hard to come by. 
I grew up in a physically affectionate home. My parents were in love throughout the more than 50 years of their marriage, and they demonstrated their love in words and action. My mother believed she had met the man of her dreams in my father, and he called her "Baby Bunny" all the days of their lives. When I was older I understood why my mother had only red negligees when she hated the color red!
When I met the boy who eventually became my husband, I learned that he was from a very different kind of family. They were genuine East Coast WASPs before I knew what the initials stood for, and my husband told me that his mother had last hugged him when he was 11 years old. They were not physically affectionate at all and I didn't think they were emotionally very connected either. His parents separated about the time we were preparing to get married, although they never divorced.  
One of the first fights we had was the Palm Sunday when my husband came into the Catholic Church from the Episcopal Church.  He made a Profession of Faith before Mass, and then could go to Communion with me for the first time that day.  His conversion was the result of years of prayers on my part, and extensive reading (and prayers) on his and it was one of the happiest days of my life.  As we were leaving church, I impulsively reached out and took his hand, and he pulled it away from me.  I was shocked. When we got outside, he said, "Not in church!"  I didn't think there was a rule about holding hands in a Catholic Church, but I thought maybe that was the rule in the Episocopal Church. We had a brief argument, but I was more hurt than angry, and eventually I just let it go.  
When we went on our World Wide Marriage Encounter Weekend after we had been married seven years, our lives changed radically, and one of the outward signs of the change was that we began holding hands wherever we went, and that included going up to Communion as a couple, holding hands. We began with just our two oldest girls walking behind us (though I was quite pregnant when we made our Weekend), and eventually had a parade of six trailing after us, so we were well known in the parish. We learned about couple hugs, and I eventually convinced him that we needed to give his mother one when she came for a visit. 
After his parents had both died, his middle brother died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm, and this changed the whole dynamics of his family. Suddenly reminded that none of us is going to be here forever, his sisters and remaining brother began to hug each other when they got together, and told one another "I love you." When my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he and his siblings got together by video every week, often with nieces and nephews as well, and they visited as often as they could from the East Coast. It was a blessing to see how much love they really do have for one another, and for our children and me. I am very conscious when my children, sons-in-law and grandchildren are here of giving them deliberate hugs and they are all affectionate with me.
Particularly since I became involved with Beginning Experience, I try to hug everyone in our group when we meet. All of us have lost a spouse, either through death or divorce and the healing power of a hug is amazing.  Just today, after Mass, a friend of mine who is also a widow came up and gave me a hug.  She then asked me about Ray's cancer and told me that she has been praying for him.  It was a gray and rainy day, and her kind words and hug brought a welcome and unexpected warmth into my heart.

Sunday, February 2, 2020


Since my son-in-law was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma (cancer of the bile duct), I have done quite a bit of research into this very rare cancer and its treatment.  My oldest daughter mentioned that their surgeon, Dr. Chad Ball, is the top surgeon in Canada for this type of cancer, and I looked him up and found that he is also the youngest head trauma surgeon in Canada as well as specializing in hepatobiliary and pancreatic oncology.  He is associate professor of surgery and oncology at the University of Calgary and practices Hepatobiliary, Pancreas, Trauma and Acute Care Surgery at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary. According to one of his bios, being a trauma surgeon wasn't enough to keep him busy and interested, so he also pursued the cancer niche which brought him into my son-in-law's orbit. He has an alphabet soup of initials after his name: MD, MSC, FRCSC, and FACS, is an international speaker on surgical and resuscitation topics, and his research areas of interest encompass clinical injury care, hybrid operating environments, parabolic flight surgery, randomized controlled trials within HPB surgery, and national surgical manpower analyses.  
According to Catherine and Ray, when they met with him, he told them that he has done thousands of the surgeries that he proposes to do on Ray, and that Ray's age works in his favor, although Dr. Ball's oldest patient was 96 and is now 103!
I watched a video of Dr. Ball giving a talk on trauma, in which he said that the RAPTOR Suite in Calgary was the first one in the world; it is a hybrid unit designed for interventional radiology and operative interventions. RAPTOR is an acronym for Resuscitation, Angiography, Percutaneous Techniques and Repair.
It combines four previously disparate units in one place which are critical in treating severely injured trauma victims. It cost $10 million which was raised with a partnership of private and public fundraising. He also commented that among Canadians under 45--and in fact people around the world under that age, injury or trauma are responsible for more deaths than all other causes combined. He said that in aerospace, CT or Xray machines can't be used because they are too heavy, but ultrasounds can and that ultrasound probes are now widely in use in many areas.  In addition, catheters that cost $2.49 can be used to give surgeons additional time to stop bleeding, and straws can give them time to deal with arteries and veins that need to be reconstructed. These low cost, low tech items can be used in hospitals in areas like South Africa's shanty towns to bring about results similar to hospitals from wealthier areas.  It is fascinating to see that Dr. Ball's interests range over a wide swath of areas from aerospace to medicine in poor areas. His training and expertise certainly give me a sense that Ray will be in good hands when he undergoes the surgery for his cancer.

Dr. Chad Ball