Aug 31, 2007

Home Bitter-Sweet Home

So I flew back to Texas on Monday. Thank goodness my flights were uneventful. Roger and I had a great visit. Roger signed us up for a yacht trip through MWR at Walter Reed. We spent the day on a 49 ft luxury yacht. Talk about the life. There's no way I'd ever be able to or spend $572,000 on one of those, but man, what a life. The captain and crew from The Yacht Center were so nice. It was a lot of fun. I didn't know what to expect at first because yachts are defined differently by many people. My only knowledge of what a yacht was is from Puff Daddy and Jay-Z videos. Turns out the yacht we were on was a baby compared to theirs. After the cruise around Kent Island with a short detour to Annapolis, we were treated to an awesome lunch at a local seafood restaurant called The Jetty. It was truly unbelievable. We ate so much seafood. I was in heaven. What's so funny about that is Roger and I went to Annapolis the following week for three days and we ate so much seafood there, I was sick of seafood. We walked by a restaurant in Bethesda later that week that served crab and other seafood and I thought I was going to throw up from the smell. I couldn't believe I was sick of seafood. I love seafood. Proves the point, too much of a good thing...

So we went to Annapolis and had a great time. We toured the city, the Naval Academy and all the shops. Roger was exhausted after it was all over. We stayed at a bed and bagel on Main Street over a delly called Chick & Ruth's. You'll have to read about them to understand how unique they are. It was great and we highly recommend staying there. This place was way cool. The Saturday before we went to Annapolis, we had the honor of observing our friends Charles and Deborah get married in Warrenton, Va. Pastor John performed the ceremony and it was absolutely beautiful. One of the most personal and sweet ceremonies we've ever witnessed. The town of Warrenton is a quaint town with lots of history. It was really neat. The reception followed at a local country club which was a lot of fun. We had to leave early enough to make the hour and a half drive back to DC to make it to church the next morning before we left for Annapolis. Our friend Allison let us borrow her car while she was visiting family in Indiana. We wouldn't have been able to get away without her generosity. Thanks Allison. You rock!

We only had one week left together and poor Roger got progressively sicker. Turns out he had an upper respiratory infection. So he spent most nights of our last weekend hacking all night. We were both exhausted. And on Saturday we went swimming with John & Tamra to which Roger thought he jammed his ring finger while we tossed a football in the pool, but he actually fractured it. Poor thing, he was all messed up this weekend. A good friend of ours, Alev, gave Roger a photo safari she couldn't get to for Sunday afternoon and we didn't think he'd be able to focus a lens with his finger wrapped up like it was. But he was able to and we had a great experience in Georgetown learning how to take better pictures. It was really neat. I'll get Roger to post pictures from all these events soon. He'll be visiting his friend Ryan and his sister Marie this weekend at the community house. He's already feeling better and not coughing at all through the night now.

But as always, going home is bitter-sweet. Living at Walter Reed is not the most comfortable so although I love being with Roger and going through this experience with him, I really miss the comforts of home while I'm there. And although I look forward to going home to my nice big bed, my own private bathroom, etc., I sure wish Roger was coming back with me. Walking into an empty house all alone doesn't make those conveniences any better. I can't wait for Roger to be home. I really miss him.

Aug 14, 2007

The Final Word: DELIGHTED!!

Holly and I went to the Naval Hospital yesterday (Monday) and met with my Radiation/Oncologist and Neurosurgeon. My Rad/Onc went through the images with us from the past few MRIs and showed us how they look pretty similar and the shifts in the images can be attributed to how my head is positioned each time. Anyway, he spoke with several of the other Oncologists there and they all agreed there is nothing to be concerned with. We talked about a PET or MR Spect scan and he said that we should just do another MRI in three months as those scans won’t really help at this point. We then met with my Neurosurgeon and he expressed the same thoughts. So, all in all, we were happy with what we heard and went on our very merry way! Thanks again to all of you who have been praying for and supporting us. We are very blessed to have you in our lives.

Holly and I signed up to go Yachting tomorrow. We have no idea where or what kind. All we know is that we’re being picked up with some other people at 0800. I hope this isn’t one of those boats that we’re going to have to work on. But if it is, I guess it’ll be okay. We’re up for anything. The weather here has been very nice – dry and not too hot. We’ll let you know how it turns out tomorrow.

Aug 10, 2007

Pics from Soccer

David BeckhamTina sent me a link to the photos from last night. Click the photo at left to go to the album. Tina has a blog too - check it out.

I kicked butt at Physical Therapy today! I got there early and worked my butt of for two hours straight. They also had me do some new stuff requiring precision stepping with my right foot and left foot in coordination. It was hard… by brain was tired afterward. :-) I pushed myself today since it is Friday and now I can rest over the weekend.

I saw the newspaper this morning and they used about 20 images that I shot over the last week. It’s pretty awesome… I’ve never seen so many images in their paper. The online version doesn’t contain very many though. I’m happy about it and looking forward to next week’s assignments.

And of course, Holly will be here tomorrow. I’m so excited! I can’t wait to see her and give her a big hug.

Thanks to all of you who have been sending me encouraging emails. The days are easier to get through thanks to you. God bless you!

Aug 9, 2007

Bend It!

Just a quick note to let you know that today went much better than yesterday. I slept well, went to Aquatic Therapy, went to lunch and saw the whole newspaper crew and ate with them. Then they invited me back to see the final layouts for the paper that is coming out Friday.

Earlier this week, I neglected to mention that after shooting that building dedication last Thursday, I shot what WRAMC calls Organization Day, or O-Day. It was basically like any company picnic with booths, games, food and fun. I spent four hours in the heat taking over 390 pictures. Many pictures of the same things to make sure I got good ones. It was extremely hot, but stayed in the shade and learned that if you take their pictures, you get you food tickets and food from those that give it out before everyone else. It was awesome.

Then this past Tuesday, I had the opportunity to photograph the Postmaster General of the United States and Retired General Colin Powell unveil the new 41 cent Purple Heart Stamp. Colin Powell then awarded two soldiers (that happen to be in my platoon) Purple Heart awards for injuries they sustained during combat while serving in Iraq. It was a very cool assignment and I got to rub elbows with the professional photographers… and I mean that! These guys shoot with their elbows sticking straight out to make sure they have staked out their “space.” They push and get in your way… it was awesome. I got some pretty good photos and it was exciting knowing that I was photographing something going on and that if I didn’t get the right pictures, they wouldn’t have them for the paper. I was sweating like crazy during the whole thing and I think I popped off about 130 pictures in just an hour. I really had fun and am learning a lot. I don’t know how I’m going to capture an image of the paper when it comes out tomorrow though. I just want to share it with you somehow.

Lastly, Captain Nun from yesterday’s post stopped by to tell me that she had extra tickets to the Major League Soccer (MLS) game between DC United and LA Galaxy. I know that the famous David Beckham joined the LA team this year, but still has not played. But I knew it was a sold out game and they were 6th row seats near the goal, so I called a few friends and ended up going with my friend Tina from my community group, who also happens to be a soccer fan. I’ve never really followed soccer and she kept me up on the rules of the game and what was going on. About 30 minutes into the game, Beckham began warming up, stretching and running back and forth. We figured his team just had him do it for show to make the fans happy. He did all of this right in front of us since we were almost down on the field, so it was cool. But the fans were just downright annoying. From the time that he got up, they stood up to watch him warm up and got in everybody’s way. The dude was just warming up! But I think it was mostly the ladies… so I guess that’s why. Anyway, we hit halftime and it started to rain. Hard. Good thing Tina brought an umbrella. We huddled in our seat and everyone around us got soaked. Then with 20 minutes left in the game, Beckham took off his shirt (to the pleasure of the ladies) and put on his game shirt and got in the game! So, this was his MLS debut in America. The news said he was inspired by the large crowd and by being in DC for the first time ever. He was a bit slow and almost helped LA score once, but in the end, DC won the game 1-0. At the end of the game he took his shirt off again and gave it to one of his players (a tradition, I guess?) and went on his way. All in all, we had a good time and it was pretty exciting. Maybe I’ll see another soccer game in the near future.

Aug 8, 2007

Bad News... Great News... A Rollercoaster Day

I finally stopped in to see my alternate case manager this morning and she pulled up the Radiologist’s report from my MRI a week ago. It still is not a final report and she was unable to print it for me. But I leaned in toward her monitor to read it. The first part sounded like the rest of the reports… mentions of scar tissue, dried blood, necrosis, edema… but the last line, which is the overall impression of the scan read, “cannot rule out progression of neoplasm.”

Without any explanation, that freaked me out. I thought the worst. What did it mean? Was the tumor back? I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. I read it again to make sure I caught it the first time. Yep… I read it right. I felt a little queasy and stood up. She said to me, “do you know what that means?” I said, “I guess it means I’m not out of the woods yet.” She didn’t really say anything back, so I was convinced by her reaction that I was right and I dropped my head and walked out of her office. A female Army Captain that I talk to quite a bit here was waiting to see the case manager next and was seated right outside. She saw my expression and asked me if everything was okay. I didn’t answer. I wanted to cry. She asked me if there was anything she could do. I thought of anything, but didn’t come up with an answer, so I responded with, “I don’t know…” and I walked away. Walking down the halls I ended up at my platoon sergeant’s office and plopped down in his chair. He saw the expression on my face and asked me what was up. I couldn’t talk much… I thought I might cry. So I just told him that the MRI might not be a good one. I really don’t remember exactly what we talked about… I just know that eventually I left and knew that I needed to get something in my stomach so I didn’t feel sick all day.

I hadn’t eaten since 8pm the night before and now it was nearing 9am. I knew I was hungry, but I was sick to my stomach. I went to the chow hall and managed to stuff down a breakfast burrito, some yogurt and a banana. Ii figured that would hold me over for a while. I walked out of the mess hall and wandered into the Chapel area of the hospital on the same floor as the dining facility. Walking in, I noticed there were not very many people around. Nobody seemed to notice me and I felt very alone. I think I was about to walk out when a Major… a Chaplain… asked me if he could help me. I could only manage to get out, “I need to talk to someone.” He looked into my face and immediately opened an office for us to talk in. I sat down, he sat and closed the door and I burst into tears. I sat there uncontrollingly sobbing for a few minutes. I finally cleared my throat and explained what happened earlier to me. But I guess the sadness wasn’t from the shock of what might happen to me, I was more upset at the fact that I could not comprehend why this was happening from a religious aspect. I knew that the Lord does not punish us for our sins… but I felt like I was being punished for some reason. He then stated that he believed, as do I, that sometimes God gives us a little nudge or a reminder to take care of certain things in our lives that we might have been struggling with for a long time. This immediately related to me as I’m sure it relates to many people.

He asked me what else I was feeling and I answered fear. Not fear of dying, but fear of suffering. Physical suffering for me and suffering for Holly and my family if we indeed did have to go through what we already went through. I did not want to go through any of that again. My mind was racing at a thousand miles an hour and I was just going through a whole range of emotions and thoughts of everything in my life. He mentioned some verses from Genesis and we had just studied Genesis a few weeks ago at church. Then he mentioned a few things that very closely related to a book study that we just completed that related to me too. It was just odd that so many things correlated to what I was going through right at that moment. We talked for about an hour and I decided I was emotionally stable enough to leave and go back to my room. Before I left, he handed me his card and told me that he was actually the Chaplain for the Brigade that I am in. I was supposed to go to him anyway and he was at our formation this morning. Freaky.

I went back to my room and finally called Holly to tell her what I had found out this morning. Then the Captain and another Sergeant came by to check on me. They invited me to lunch, but I really wasn’t hungry. They left and I then talked to my sister and my father. All of those conversations were a blur. It’s sad to say, but I was just repeating the same thing over and over again. I just felt like I needed people to know and to pray for me. I called up my friend Buddy and we talked for a good while. It was around that time that the Captain came back and I invited her in for a chat. She sat down and the first thing I managed to get out was, “Do you go to church?” She surprised me by answering, “You’re probably not going to believe this, but I used to be a Nun.” Holy Cow!!! We had another very good conversation that encouraged me and she urged me to call my Neurosurgeon’s cell phone. I had already called his office and emailed him, but never got a call back. She convinced me that he would not have given it to me if he didn’t want me to call… so after she left, I did.

I picked up my phone and gave him a call and he answered. I told him about what happened earlier in the morning and said he’d call me back on his land-line. He loaded up the MRI images on his computer and I loaded them up on my laptop. He told me where to look and we went through the images slice by slice together. This MRI, or ‘study’ as they call it, consisted of 5mm slices of my brain. He was comparing last week’s MRI to the one we did in April. We looked at a few things and did notice some differences. First of all, it looked like the edema, or swelling, had withdrawn about 5mm in one area – that was good. Everything else looked slightly different from last time, but the size of the mass was still 1cm. He said the differences in appearance could be due to how my head was oriented this time compared to last time. MRIs of the brain will never look exactly the same twice; there are just too many factors. He said that what is there could be scar tissue, blood from the surgery, necrotic tissue from the radiation (that usually does not appear until 12-18 months after radiation has completed – it has been 12), or it might be neoplasm, or tumor. The latter not being very likely in his opinion. He said that he didn’t think there was anything to worry about and that he was disappointed with the radiologist’s report and the fact that it has taken them so long to finalize it. He had never heard of the radiologist’s name, ever worked with him or knew who he was, so he didn’t even trust the report. Let me tell you, I’ll trust a neurosurgeon’s opinion of a brain MRI before I trust one from a radiologist that has to interpret MRIs from all over the body. My doctor just works on brains all day, every day. He suggested that the next likely step would to do a PET scan or a SPECT scan to try to determine exactly what the components are up there before jumping to conclusions. Those are very detailed 3D scans that can distinguish different types of tissue. What a RELIEF!!!

I have an appointment with my Radiation/Oncologist Monday and my Neurosurgeon wants me and Holly to stop by. Oh yeah… did I tell you that Holly will be coming out here for a few weeks?!? Yay! So, today has been a very emotional day filled with ups and downs. Can you count how many times God tried to get my attention today? I think he’s trying to tell me something. Thanks for your continued prayer.

By the way, you can have this blog emailed directly to you if you scroll all the way to the bottom of the page on the website and sign up. And if you use Yahoo or Google as your homepage, you can subscribe by clicking the buttons to the right on the webpage. Alright, it’s 11:40pm here on the east coast and its still 90 degrees out. Thank God they fixed the AC in our building today!

Aug 6, 2007

No update yet - Maybe Tue

Just a quick update… I found out today that my Case Manager is on leave, so I did not get the test results. I’m going to call my Neurologist tomorrow and see if he can read them to me. It is darn hot and humid here. Highs of 98-100 Tue with heat indices up to 110. I’m going to stay out of the heat as much as possible tomorrow. Alright, that’s it for now. I hope to have more news tomorrow.

Dad's Doctor's Appointment

Last Monday I took my dad to a doctor's appointment he has about every two or three weeks for his coumadin levels with his primary care doctor. I found out his name is Dr. James Bonds. Not James Bond, James Bonds. Interesting fellow. He told us some war stories from working at Darnall Army Hospital at Fort Hood. I have so much more respect for him now.

My dad and I compiled a list of questions to ask Dr. Bonds and he graciously answered all of them. I can tell you I feel a lot more comfortable with my dad's health care now. And I'm not as concerned about him leaving this earth anytime soon.

So although my dad has heart damage due to damaged veins from years of smoking and the resulting heart attacks, he does not have heart failure. Which is a good thing. The problem is the damaged veins can not bring fluid back up to his heart. As I posted before, an angiogram showed my dad's heart is only working at 15-20%. So my dad is going to experience the fluid retention and swelling probably for the rest of his life. It has been getting better since he went home on July 19th. The decision to implant the defibrillator was made by my dad's cardiologist as a precaution. Dr. Bonds believes the only thing my dad might experience and it was a big might would be heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat). So he will most likely have the defibrillator for a long time. So far it has not gone off, but he will feel it if it does. And it will give him a good startle because it feels like you stuck your hand in an electrical socket except the charge comes from the chest. The batteries usually last around 10 years unless it's used more often. My dad and I both wondered if he needed to keep his nitroglycerin pills on him now that he has the defibrillator. Dr. Bonds said he should because they would help with chest pain during an attack.

Regarding the blood clot in his right leg, he will stay on coumadin probably until October then a sonogram will be performed to check on any reduction. My dad feels like it must have reduced in size at least a little because his leg doesn't swell as it did previously. Now all my dad needs to do is rest so he can recover and gain weight. With the two polyps removed he has a better chance of not experiencing digestive issues which would prevent him from gaining weight. Dr. Bonds told him he could eat anything he wanted and as often as he wanted. He prescribed two supplements such as Ensure every day plus getting lots of protein. He ate well before but now he's eating even more especially sliced brisket sandwiches from C&J BBQ in Bryan. He's consuming at least 2-4 pounds of sliced brisket a week. He's going to turn into a sliced brisket sandwich. He will gain weight, but it will be slow.

He's doing a lot better, getting around a little better and feeling better. He still gets tired and he's still weak. I kept telling him he needs to take it easy and rest. He pushed it too hard at first, but now he's learned what his limitations are right now. He has been on the tractor to shred the front pasture but I don't know if he's driven a truck yet. He's anxious to go fishing at Sam Rayburn Lake on my sister's family's new pontoon boat. It is a lot of fun. But he's not going to push it too hard, too fast.

So please keep praying for my dad. Dr. Bonds said he most likely will not improve past his current condition which means he will not be able to do the physically demanding work he has done all his life. My dad will have to find a different means of making ends meet other than welding, blacksmithing, masonry, carpentry, etc. And I'm sure not being able to get around easily will affect him emotionally also. Thank you for all your prayers and concern. My family greatly appreciates it.

Aug 2, 2007

No Official Results Yet

I stopped in to see my Case Manager today to see if the MRI results were in the computer yet. She looked and part of it was there, but it was not completed or ‘signed’ yet. I’ll check back with her tomorrow afternoon. This morning I had my first assignment with the Stripe, WRAMC’s weekly newspaper. I photographed the dedication of a building here on post to CPL Angelo J. Vaccaro, a soldier and medic who gave his life in the line of duty. This guy is a hero… the kind of guy you want to have in your platoon if you run into action. He did some amazing stuff and saved more than a handful of lives on the battlefield. You can read about some of the amazing things he did in this Stripe article from last week’s edition.

The shoot went very well. I was nervous as hell and it didn’t help that it was just about as hot as hell out there. I knew that the paper was relying on me for their pictures and I didn’t want to let them down, so I think I took too many pictures to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I ended up taking 186 photos in an hour – and I’ll bet they don’t even use some as the reporter there took her camera too. But maybe I’ll make the front page – I’ll let you know. I talked to the reporter later in the day and she was impressed. I’m not one to toot my own horn though, so well see how it turns out. I’m just doing this because I want to be a better photographer and doing this in my spare time will push me to work better as my work will be critiqued. I need that. I’ll post some of the photos next week after the paper comes out – I don’t want to post them before that as a courtesy to the paper. When I got back to my room, my entire uniform was soaked with sweat – yes, it was that hot outside. I had to change into different clothes for Aquatic Physical Therapy, so I had to lay my uniform out to dry. It was a very hot day and tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter and more humid.

Speaking of tomorrow, I am shooting Organization Day on Friday. O-Day, as they call it, is a day where two hours around lunch is set aside for people to have fun. People can bring their kids, there are games, food and fun. I have no idea what to expect… but I know one thing. I’m going casual in some wicking shorts and a t-shirt because I hear everyone else will be casual. I hope I take some decent pictures for them. Oh... and the best part about O-Day? No 0730 formation Friday morning!! I can sleep in.

Aug 1, 2007

MRI looks good to me... waiting for confirmation

Just want to send out a quick thank you to all of you who have been praying for me. I had my MRI today and I got to see the images for myself. I compared the images to the MRI from April and they look very similar. From the looks of it, there's no new tumor growth, but I am not a professional. I plan to visit my case manager Thursday to get a copy of the Radiologist's report - the final word. I'll let you know what it says when I get it.