Saturday, October 27, 2018


“Mass shooting at Pittsburgh synagogue.”: NBC news, 27 October 20-18

God’s Chosen People
– the Jews –
have been hunted down through the centuries
and murdered in their innocence.
Is it the jealousy and envy
of those of us on the outside
who want their divine blessing?

Jesus Christ
– God’s own Self –
was hunted down and
murdered in his innocence.

Perhaps those of us called by His name
would kill less
and be martyred more
if we were really true
to His claim on our lives!

27Oct2018 - mshr

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Ringing the Bell

In many cancer centers the custom of ringing the bell marks the end of active treatment for cancer.  Today MarySue had her thirty-fourth and final radiation treatment for lung cancer. Immediately after that treatment, the Zangmeister Cancer Center staff invited her to "ring the bell" to celebrate.  

We realize that the cancer fighting effects of chemotherapy and radiation will continue for several weeks after active treatment.  Thus, we may not know for some time what the results of treatment have been, but she is already experiencing less coughing and easier breathing.  We look forward to the results of a CT scan scheduled for the last week of November.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Memory Stones

Reviewing the river of my life.
It’s a long stream, sometimes flowing placidly
and sometimes roaring rapidly
through varied landscapes and all kinds of weather!
For three-quarters of a century it has surged on gaining strength and character.
The river runs slower now and its bed is more varied,
but it continues to move forward.
I hold in my self a host of memory stones from the past eight weeks
– each colored by cancer –
to throw or drop or skip across that river
enriching its stream bed with new colors:
        -dark gray of fear, personal and borrowed from others
        -pitch black of panic when left alone
        -warm yellow of competent and compassionate care
        -soft white of encouraging words and promises of prayer
        -brown of exhaustion and abject fatigue
        -green of nausea and vomiting
        -burgundy of togetherness and deepening love
        -purple of pain, coughing, and anxiety
        -more white stones as words of encouragement continued to pour in
        -red stones of hope as the cough decreased
        -blue of the constant anorexia and revulsion of food
        -silver and gold of the constant, compassionate care of my angel caregiver husband.
Memory stones from the sharpest bend in the stream of my life
have beautified the river of my existence!
How can that be?

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Life’s Great Leveler

Have you ever allowed yourself to feel self-important, powerful, and irreplaceable?  Spend a few sessions underneath a cancer radiation machine, lying inert and helpless.  You may experience an attitude adjustment.

Have you ever experienced a time of feeling worthless, helpless, and good-for-nothing?  Take some time on a chemotherapy unit receiving the competent and compassionate care of human and mechanical caregivers.  You may come out with a more positive perspective.

Suffering is a universal human experience and life’s great leveler.  Whether the cause of suffering is the growth of cancer cells, a drunken driver, or a 6.5 earthquake, it thrusts us out of our comfortable routines and into a state of chaos.  Everything familiar is stripped away and we feel lost and frightened.

In a book entitled Good is the Flesh: Body, Soul and Christian Faith (Jean Denton, editor), Daniel Sulmasy, OFM, MD, PhD has written an informative article on what suffering does to us when we experience it.  His article is entitled “Suffering, Spirituality, and Health Care” and in it he reminds us “Suffering must be distinguished from pain. Not all suffering is caused by pain and not all pain causes suffering.” Pain, he writes, is the result of negatively stimulated nerves in our bodies.  “Suffering,” in contrast he says  “has less to do with the stimulation of pain fibers than with the experience of persons.  As John Paul II has remarked, ‘What we express by the word ”suffering” seems to be essential to the nature of human beings.’” (pg.83-84).

Sulmasy goes on to share “ simple insight into the spiritual meaning of suffering…. “All suffering may be understood in its root form, as the experience of finitude [limits].”  As human beings we are oriented to limitless good, beauty, health, freedom, and yet we live in a world constantly surrounded by evil, ugliness, illness, and limits. “Human beings are oriented toward the infinite but live in a world that is finite.  ”[pg.87].

In my recent experiences with chemo and radiation therapies for lung cancer, I find Sulmasy’s observations to be both accurate and comforting.  Suffering puts us all in the position of confronting the limits of our human lives. It is, indeed, life’s great leveler.  It puts us all on the same playing field coping with the limits surrounding our human lives.

When I realized that, I decided that if I were wise I could use this “leveling” time of my life to learn and grow emotionally, psychologically and spiritually even if my health is limited.  It’s too late for a total makeover of who I am but there are three areas I can work on: acceptance, appreciation, and gratitude.

I want to become more accepting of other people, whoever they are and whatever they do.  I want to be able to lay aside any judgment of differences and approach each person with openness and positive feelings.  My model will be an African-American woman, whose name I don’t even know, who I regularly see in the radiation therapy waiting room.  She can tell when she looks at me when I am having a bad day and she never fails to give me a huge, compassionate hug and words of encouragement.  What a blessing!

I want to increase my appreciation for the good that surrounds me.  This requires me to turn off the TV news sometimes so I can enjoy the morning sunshine, the fall-coloring leaves, the busy squirrels gathering nuts for their winter stash, the brilliant blue of the sky, the gentle rhythms of the rain, the splashes of color made by the chrysanthemums, and the smiles of (some) of the people I see walking by.

Finally, I want to develop a sense of gratitude.  In the midst of all my aches, pains, and complaints, I want to learn to thank God for life and for all that has made it a cherished gift to me.  I want to give thanks daily for memories, for accomplishments, for ancestors, for mistakes I’ve learned from, for family and friends, and so much more than I can list.  Thank you life, thank you love, and thank you, Lord.  And - this is hard to say - thank You for this, life’s great leveling experience!

MarySue H. Rosenberger

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Home Sweet Healthy Home

The Cancer Treatment Center begins to feel like a “home away from home” as I have visited it five days a week for the past five weeks.  Staff has become familiar; many who have helped me over the rough spots in my journey are like new friends.  But it is not home.

I’m eagerly awaiting the day when I can thank them for their care, bless them on their professional journeys, go home and stay in my own familiar surroundings.  You see, I’m longing for a life that consists of more than just disease treatment!  Days of visiting with family and friends, laughing together, enjoying the out-of-doors, and feeling well.  I guess I’m homesick, not for a place so much as for a feeling of wellness and freedom!

The month before my treatments began, home was a hospitality center.  We enjoyed visits from two dozen or more family members and dear friends.  What a joy!

Home has also been a place of comfort and safety.  Even when Bruce had to be whisked off to the hospital unexpectedly twice, leaving me alone at home, employed companions helped me feel safe and comfortable.

Home provides me with the privacy I need to feel rotten, let my body make the messes it must make, shed all the tears I need to shed, and pray myself back into harmony again.  And all this privacy is filled with hundreds of greeting cards and silent words of encouragement from more friends than I knew I had!

At home I know where to find my shoes, how to turn on (and off) the TV, and which pile of papers on my desk is hiding the one I need.  Home is familiar.  I know where things are and I am surrounded by pictures and items that remind me of happy, healthy times past.

Yes, friends, I am homesick -- for a place and for a state of well-being.  I know where the place is.  Will the state of well-being be there when I get there again?

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Social Security

Most of you are old enough to be well acquainted with the phrase “Social Security.”  You know it is a program of the federal government to help senior citizens save some of their employment earnings to help provide retirement income.

In our household just now, however, that phrase bears a different meaning.  It refers to a small green carry bag of emergency supplies that go with me wherever I go away from home. It is my “Social Security bag”!

You see, I am halfway through a six-week course of concurrent chemo- and radiation-therapy for cancer cells in my lung!  During the past three weeks I have discovered that the treatments (and the anxiety that goes with them!) can make my body do strange things, sometimes in very embarrassing places!  Coughing spells, nausea, vomiting,and diarrhea (sometimes explosive!) can occur suddenly and without warning at home or in public places.  So I need some help close at hand in order to feel “socially secure.”

Therefore, tucked discreetly away in my little green “social security bag” is FIRST, a generous supply of  emesis bags.  They are handy, dandy small blue expandable plastic bags attached to a firm plastic ring around the top.  These modern-day wonders can catch the “wrong way stomach contents” unobtrusively as they exit the mouth and be quickly sealed off and disposed of. 

SECOND, my “social security bag” contains a generous supply of incontinence pads.  These are essential as there are lower GI tract explosions to contain and floods to control.

THIRD,There is a bottle of some type of nutritional support fluid down in that bag which is replaced each time it is used.  I must guard against weight loss in order to keep the treatments on course.

FOURTH, if my serious current level of “chemo brain” ever improves, I will tuck a favorite book or two down into that bag also.  Sometimes the hours of chemotherapy treatments move slowly and having something interesting to focus the mind on helps time pass more quickly.  However, presently my ability to focus my eyes and my thoughts is so impaired that my “husband-angel” gave me a “chemo gift” of an MP3 player loaded with my favorite peaceful spiritual music!  It spares me the need to think, and so, of course, it, too, is tucked away down in my “social security bag.”

So for the next few weeks in our household, the phrase “social security” will not refer to retirement income. Instead, it will refer to more urgent needs and the ways to manage them that are contained in a little green bag that helps me feel more “socially secure”!

Friday, September 28, 2018

Rare, Medium, or Well-done

Have you gotten a little curious about what I do on the “exotic vacation days” I spend at the Cancer Treatment Center?   Well, I’m curious about what’s going on, too, and I’m right there watching it all!  Whirring, clicking machines spitting out radiation and IV bag after IV bag dripping strong chemicals with unpronounceable names into my veins are much too complicated for me to understand.

The closest thing I can think of to compare it all to is a backyard barbecue of a special, precious piece of meat (the meat, that’s me!) First the grill begins the process of preparing the meat.  While I lie motionless on a very hard table, huge machines whir and beep as they move around me in circles.  This step of “searing” the meat only lasts about ten minutes.  But it is done five days a week.

Then, once a week on Mondays, it’s off to get ready for the “marinade” stage.  First, I have to stop by the lab to be sure my implanted port is not plugged up.  Then the lab tech draws a sample of blood to check and see if it is still running as it should. They check the levels of the various blood components and then decide what “spices” to add to my “marinade”.

If all is healthy, then I’m off to the chemo infusion suite (the “marinade” room). There I lie comfortably in a cushy chair for about three or four hours as the nurses pump the various bags of “marinade” into my veins,  I usually sleep during this stage of the “barbeque,” dreaming of what flavor I will become today!

I can already recognize that there has been improvement in my condition: the cough has decreased, my anxiety level has improved, I’m getting more comfortable and trusting with the doctors and the staff.  I hope that means that I am progressing beyond the “rare” stage of my “barbeque” into the “medium” level. As of today, I have completed three of my six weeks treatment plan -  and I have the two week-end days free from my personal “barbeque!”

I am hoping and praying that the treatments will continue to “marinade” and “barbeque” me right into the “well done” stage.  In the meantime, I hope those nasty cancer cells get burned to a crisp! 

28 September 2018 – mshr

Thursday, September 27, 2018

To Bathe or Not to Bathe....

To Bathe or Not to Bathe ….

…. that was our question! The doctor who skillfully inserted the port in the skin below my right collarbone said, “Now, keep that dry for ten days.”

Dry for ten days?  Right!  So how do you shower and shampoo and keep your chest wall dry?

It took us a few days to make a plan.  But we had to figure something out before the house began to smell like a cow stall!  So a day or so later we gave it a try.

I knelt on the bathroom floor outside the bathtub on a thick cushion of towels (in my birthday suit, of course).  I leaned far forward and Bruce held the hand held shower and drenched my head over the bathtub.  When thoroughly wet. I quickly shampooed my hair and he rinsed it.

After a quick towel dry -- thank goodness for short hair! -- I stood up and carefully stepped across into the bathtub.  There I knelt on a stack of folded towels again to save my knees from the hard bathtub floor.  Bruce quickly scrubbed the back parts I couldn’t reach as I cleaned the front!  Not a pretty picture but it worked, and the port on my chest stayed dry.

We perfected this weird routine during the next few days until my ten days were done.  Now we’re thinking of marketing the plan as a new exercise program for seniors: Bath-er-cize, we might call it!

10 September 2018 mshr

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Foreign Travel

It’s been a very long time since I’ve needed to prepare for travel to an unknown and unfamiliar country.  But I’m being told by people who seem to know what they are talking about that it’s time for me to travel to foreign places again.  How shall I prepare?

Oh, the passport, of course; an essential document for any travel across national boundaries.  Apparently I’ll not be crossing such lines, I seem to be headed for a world that cannot be compared with any other!  So I’d better get my documents ready.

But I’ll need not worry about losing my passport on this trip.  My destination nation has its own unique system.  They require that the (access) port be inserted into the chest wall and be sutured in place!  Not much risk of that (access) port getting lost or stolen from such an intimate location!

My ticket for travel, too, is unique.  It’s not paper or cardboard which is so easy to misplace.  It’s not even a e-ticket that can get lost in the internet wilderness.  My ticket is a plastic strip on which are clearly written my name and my birth date and it will quickly be attached to my wrist as a bracelet!  (Unfortunately, that bracelet doesn’t come off as easily as it goes on.)  My hosts apparently want to be sure my travel documents are always available!

I’ll not need to pack many clothes.  There is a standard uniform worn by all guests at this vacation destination.  It’s a large cotton gown with tie closures.  It’s loose and comfortable but not very concealing; a kind of “one size fits nobody” sizing.

Oh, and I must remember to stick in my little ”upchuck utensils.”  There’s no doubt I’ll need them and since I won’t be traveling by air I’ll not be able to hijack a few air sick bags!

I wish I could find a little time to squeeze in some language study before I go.  They tell me they speak the same language in my exotic little foreign ‘get away’ as I do here at home.  I find that hard to believe.  Even their informal conversations are peppered with a secret code I can’t understand.  Most of their secret code consists of 8 to 10 syllable words which include sounds like “–cycline”, “–itis”, “oma”, “milliliters”, “protocol” “–therapy”, “stage...”, “malignant”, and other terrifying words I can’t pronounce.  Maybe I’ll just skip language study in order to avoid depression!

My journey will only last about 6 weeks and I’ll come home every night.  So what’s the big deal, you may wonder?  During my travels into that foreign land, skilled professionals will be shooting me with radioactive rays and dripping high powered and toxic pharmaceuticals into my veins.  Both will be aimed at some sneaky cancer cells that have tried to hide in my lung.  That feels like a big deal to me!

So wish me “Bon Voyage”!  I’ll soon be departing on my trip to that foreign country which is really only half an hour away!  “What are you talking about?” you may wonder.  Well, I’m headed for that romantic, exotic, “vacation par excellence” at the local Cancer Treatment Center!

4 Sept 2018 - mshr

Monday, January 15, 2018

Life on a Leash

Have you ever asked your dog how it feels to live on a leash?  I don’t know how well your canine companion could describe the experience.  But recently I’ve developed some personal sympathy with dogs on leashes, and I can tell you that it makes a world of difference which end of the leash one is attached to! 

The one at the controller end of the leash continues to enjoy life at liberty.  At the other end, the controlled end, life looks and feels very different.  How do I know that?  I’m learning it from personal experience. 

You see, for the past two months I have been living on a leash, not just when I go for a walk, but all the time; 24/7 as they say.  It’s no fun, but, as a friend in advanced stages of black lung disease used to say, “It’s better than a pine box.”

For months – perhaps years – I assumed that being short of breath was an unavoidable part of getting old.  I had never gotten old before, so I didn’t know what to expect.  Then, about Thanksgiving, I could ignore it no longer. 

Seeing my doctor on an urgent basis, she took one look at me and said, “You need oxygen - today!”  The prescriptions she wrote out immediately became my personal leash law!  Finding oxygen supplies on an emergency basis was not easy and we had to guarantee private pay to get it immediately.  But within an hour of getting hooked up to the oxygen concentrator, my shortness of breath was gone and my energy was returning.

A day or two later, the lung doctor named it: “You have pulmonary fibrosis.”  Over the years I have forgotten much of what I learned in nursing school, but I knew what that diagnosis meant.  Some of the little air-exchanging sacs inside my lungs had developed scars and were not working anymore.  In order to take in enough oxygen for my body to function, it had to be piped in from outside.

Thus, when we are at home, our house is filled with the gentle hum of a machine that takes in room air and concentrates the oxygen in it to a higher percentage.  That rich oxygen is continuously pumped down a tube connected directly into my nose, held in place by being wrapped around my ears.  My leash is over 25 feet long so I can wander all over our little condo without getting hung - unless it gets caught on something along the way!

Going away from home is a little more complicated and it has taken us several weeks to get the system perfected.  First, we have to decide how long we’re going to be out.  If we will be gone for several hours, my nose tube (cannula) gets connected to a tank so large that it has to be moved on a wheeled dolly. 

If our “away-from-home adventure” is just for a short time, I get hooked instead to a small (5 pound) portable tank.  A handy-dandy little carrying bag allows me to carry it in my hand or over my shoulder.  But wherever we go and for whatever period of time we are gone, my leash limits my freedom!

So, on behalf of your leash-controlled dog, I will tell you that such a limitation is inconvenient, a nuisance, uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous.  When I accidentally step on my own leash, I am sometimes abruptly pulled into positions I never dreamed of!  When my leash gets wrapped around my leg or foot, I can easily trip myself!  At those times I have sometimes called it some very nasty names!

No, I don’t like it, just as your dog probably doesn’t like the leash.  But far worse than life on a leash would be life confined to bed and unable to function at all!  Erma Bombeck, widely-read humorist, wrote “If you can laugh at it you can live with it!”  I’m discovering that is excellent advice.  Life is full of humor, especially when living on a leash.  I hope your dog can learn to laugh, too!

15Jan2018 - mshr