Monthly Archives: July 2018

Preparing for battle

Preparing for battle

Ephesians 6:11-18 King James Version (KJV)
11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;

During this journey of pancreas cancer we have faced very difficult decisions a couple of times. In the past I have taken the approach, “Let’s get it out of my body now.” vs. attempting to shrink the tumors with chemotherapy which may or may not work. We gather the facts and Tommy always gives me his opinion but tells me to make the final call because it is my body. And, I always had a very strong feeling of what I needed to do. Those decisions have proven to be the right ones so far. God granted us a miracle giving me 4 years and 2 months of a very good quality of life.

We find ourselves once again at the crossroads. There are five small nodes in my right lung that have been carefully observed for many months. Just a month ago three nodes were removed from my left lung, two of which had cells consistent with pancreas cancer meaning my cancer was back. It had metastasized to another vital organ.

Adenocarcinoma originating in the pancreas is the deadliest form of cancer.

We must prepare for battle once again. But, this time the decisions are not quite as clear cut. The options call for patience, for waiting. Having these cells at work in my body, knowing the destruction they leave in their path makes it very difficult to sit back. To give it time to manifest, to grow. Yet, the doctors tell us the five nodes are small. They have been very slow growing which is uncharacteristic of pancreas cancer. The cells are not acting like pancreas cancer. Nothing about the cells behavior is textbook. They even challenged the pathologist findings. But, the proof remained. The cells are consistent with pancreas cancer.

But yet what do we know about pancreas cancer?

We do know that it behaves differently in patients. That it responds differently to routine treatment. While those who dare to challenge it in research are discovering new techniques to fight it every day, there is no 100% foolproof treatment.

The doctors question if the nodes are large enough to have good blood supply necessary for the chemo drugs to do the job. “Let’s wait six weeks.” They don’t want to infuse me with the poison that could kill the cells and rob me of the present good quality of life I enjoy until they are sure it can work.

So, we will wait. We will enjoy every day I am feeling good. We will make plans and take short trips and watch sunsets and children playing. We will take in all of this amazingly wonderful life we have been blessed with.

I stand fully clothed in the whole armour of God…ready to fight the battle before me once again.

Jude has HOPE for his Mia

Pompeii and Vesuvius

Pompeii and Vesuvius

To the east, just around the bay of Naples, a 25 minute drive, you will find Pompeii and Herculaneum. These two cities are the most completely preserved cities of classical antiquity along with their nemesis, the volcano Vesuvius. The volcanic ash and lava from the eruption on the morning of August 23rd, AD 79 of Il Vesuvio preserved these towns almost exactly as they were on that day. This left them not just archeological ruins but precise replicas of daily life in this ancient world. Our family enjoyed a two hour tour by an informative guide who unveiled the mysteries of this ancient ruin.

This once bustling commercial center with a population of 10,000 to 20,000 covers 160 acres. Approximately one third of the ruins have been unearthed. Our family walked along the tracks of chariot wheels cut in the pavement. The rings where the horses were tied still remain near the sisterns which allowed them to drink the fresh mountain water while their charioteers enjoyed a beer. Pompeii’s frescoes which are painted in vibrant reds and orange have remarkably retained their vibrancy. You could feel the presence of the people as we wandered past what once obviously was their home.

Our entire family stood in awe of the plaster casts of those overwhelmed by the eruption left in situ. The Orto dei Fuggiaschi (Garden of the Fugitives).

The temperature was around 86 degrees but the gentle breeze made the two hour walking tour seem short. Even the children enjoyed this part of our Italian adventure.

Embracing our roots

Embracing our roots

Riarda, Caserta, Campagnia, IT

The entire family, three grand babies under 4, four grand children, twins 17, two more age 19 and 22, daughter and her husband, two sons and their wives plus Tommy and I made for 15 traveling from Jacksonville, Florida to Naples Italy 5,176 miles as the crow flies in 14.5 hours.

Our plans to celebrate Tom’s 60th journey around the earth brought us to Naples where we would stay for two days exploring Riardo, Caserta and our family roots and a guided tour of Pompeii. Next, a week at Villa Antonella, our lux vacation home in Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. Day trips were planned to the Isle of Capri, Positano and a full day on a 50 foot yacht cruising the Isle of Capri with hope of a dip in the Blue Grotto. A trip most could only dream of.

We feel so extremely blessed. I believe there is a purpose behind this trip that will one day be revealed. But, for now, we must breathe it all in, every moment, every unexpected scent of truffle, every landscape of God’s creation. And, we will do it together, making memories that will last a lifetime of laughter, meals, family games, trips, sunsets, mountains, moments.

Just two weeks prior to our trip we were given the pathology results from my lung resection to remove three tumors that the doctors believed were lung cancer. They shockingly reported the cells were consistent with pancreas cancer. The news hit us hard in the gut. The pancreas cancer had metastasized to my lungs. Now the trip took on even more meaning.

Our hotel was situated in the center of Naples overlooking the port. When we explained to our driver what we were doing, he was sure to point out a beautiful but vacant building at the edge of the port where Luigi Zitiello passed thru in 1906 before boarding the ship that would carry them to their destination, in his case Ellis Island. We shared our research and the addresses we wished to locate once we arrived in Riardo. He seemed to share in our excitement and was eager to help us.

We spent some time sitting in the piazza and just walking the cobblestone steps where Tom’s ancestors had walked before us. My heart was filled as I watched our children and grandchildren stare at the beauty of this ancient city, near Caserta, the home of the Royal Palace.

Those many conversations with Tommy’s Dad about his family at my breakfast table while I reviewed Ancestry hints for accuracy had paid off. We had found our way to the root of our children’s family tree. It was a day I will never forget.

On the steps in Riardo

Waiting on pathology…

Waiting on pathology…

Living every day to the fullest

The day before my scheduled VATS (video-assisted thoracic surgery) to remove three nodules that were suspected of being lung cancer went smoothly. 7AM I found myself on the 8th floor for a fasting blood draw and vitals. Then on to another floor for pulmonary testing to determine my lung capacity prior to surgery. The technician shared surprisingly, “Your lungs tested great. You have perfect lung capacity.” Check.

Then on to the surgeons office for a preoperative consult. The nurse who schedules surgery explained where to report, what would happen and how the day would go. The surgeon came in to give final instructions. He explained he would be making about a two inch incision between my ribs where the camera would be inserted. Then he would make smaller incisions for the instruments. He would remove three wedges of my left lung. They would test the frozen samples right there in the operating room. Then post surgery, from recovery I would be taken to a room where they would monitor me to be certain the lung remained re-inflated. I would have oxygen and would be uncomfortable. I would have a chest tube to drain the fluids from surgery from the lung and as soon as that subsided it would be removed. The entire hospital stay would be about three days.

Everything went exactly as described. Post surgery, Doctor shared with Tommy my tumors were positive for adenocarcinoma (cancer)….we would need to wait to see what type of cancer from the pathology report. This would take several days because the tissue would need to be grown on slides called “stains” . But, he felt 90% it was lung cancer. This would be highly treatable in this early stage. They also removed some lymph nodes for testing.

Everything unfolded as explained. The surgery ran about two and a half hours, as Tommy waited for me patiently in the same waiting room he had waited four years before for 9.5 hours during the whipple procedure. Once I had spent an hour in recovery, I was moved to a room on the 7th floor. Tommy joined me.

The chest tube caused far more discomfort than I had anticipated. Dr. explained he had to go far into the top of my left lobe to get one of the wedges and could have caused some nerve damage. I was not able to sit upright or get out of the bed for about 24 hours. But, once the drainage subsided, the tube was removed and I felt immediate relief. I was sore, but no longer had shooting pain when I moved.

Thursday I was released from the hospital and sent home to await the pathology report that all of my doctors agreed would probably reveal the tumors were lung cancer. They thru out a 90% figure which gave us hope.

It was the fourth of July weekend, and my surgeon said sometimes he might get a call on Friday at 4PM with results. Not surprisingly Friday came and went and no phone call. But, Saturday around 1:30 in the afternoon he called. “Is your husband home?” “Yes, let me get to him and put us all on speaker.” I said as I rushed up the stairs to his “man cave” where he was watching golf.

This phone conversation was a complete shock to Tommy as the Dr. shared the results of the pathology report….”the tissue is consistent with pancreas cancer.” The doctor was obviously shocked. We just didn’t see this coming he said. The behavior and growth of these nodes made us believe they were lung cancer. We ended the conversation with “we will discuss this further next week.”

Tommy hung up the phone in total disbelief. “Why would they give us such huge odds and then come back with this report?”

We agreed to reach out to my pancreas cancer surgeon as I texted him to please call me. He called after a short time having called my oncologist and thoracic surgeon to confer.

Basically they all were surprised with this result. Further testing and discussion will be forthcoming. We will determine next steps and a plan will be in place within a couple of weeks.

Personally, I held a small doubt that it was lung cancer. Perhaps out of fear? Perhaps preparing for the worst so I could be joyful in the lung cancer report. I believe that God, not my surgeon or my oncologist or the pathologists in the lab are in control. Nothing about this cancer from May, 2014 has been typical. So why should A-typical results now be such a shock?

Plus, this energizes me even more to shout it from the rooftops…..”This mysterious cancer needs our attention.”

July 11th fifteen Zitiello’s will board a flight to Italy were we plan to have the time of our lives, just as we did in July 2015 after completion of my surgery and treatment. We are not going to let this news engulf us or lead us to the chair in a lump.

God knows exactly how this will all turn out. I plan to allow Him to let it unfold exactly as He wants it. And, hopefully we will all emerge prepared and more informed and more hopeful. Nothing about my pancreas cancer has been typical so far….so why would it be now?

Please pray for me and more importantly for my family to have the courage to continue to battle. We firmly believe that is why I am still here. God has more work for me to do. I will lean on Psalm 91 to bring me thru, nestled under His wing feathers is where I will remain.