Friday, October 31, 2008

Counting down to 40

Steve turns 40 on Nov. 4!

As much faith, hope and determination as we have had since his first MRI last December, we are still relieved beyond description to be celebrating four decades of Steve.

From his first decade

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A little low

It took two days and eight sticks, but enough blood was finally drawn for an adequate sample.

Yesterday Steve sat through seven needle sticks, yielding one vial of blood, not two. And that vial wasn't handled exactly right, so there were no valid results -- just a whole bunch of bruises on his arms.

So today he tried again. Thank goodness the lab tech got a vein in the first try.

Some counts are a little low -- red blood count, hemoglobin, hematocrit. His lymph count is low enough to warrant another round of antibiotics. He'll begin taking them Wednesday night.

He has been worn out the past few days. We're continuing to choose which activities he can handle and which he needs to avoid.

Cooper and Katie are so flexible and understanding. This weekend, for example, I took them to a special breakfast out and then to a Cub Scout event. I was hesitant to take Katie, thinking she wouldn't enjoy an outdoor event geared toward elementary-age boys. But Steve and I didn't think it was a good idea to leave her with him. He was just too tired.

After a special pancake breakfast

Katie had a wonderful time at the Scouting event, proving that I need to have a more open mind about what she can handle. She launched a rocket, shot at a target with a Nerf bow and arrow, painted a rock, flew paper airplanes and completed an obstacle course. Cooper did all that and more. We missed Steve, but we also enjoyed telling him about our adventures later that morning when we picked him up and took him to Cooper's soccer game.

Flying paper airplanes

Monday, October 27, 2008

Weekend love

At Cooper's soccer game Saturday morning

At Central Market on Saturday night, enjoying a late dinner outside

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Excellent news: Detailed version

Steve's MRI this morning shows:
1. There are no new cancerous areas.
2. There is no growth on the current tumor.
3. The cystic part of the tumor is ever so slightly smaller.
4. The swelling and disturbance around the tumor is the same size.


Steve did well with both needle sticks -- one for contrast media during the MRI and another for the blood draw. Both techs needed just one stick to get in each time.

Dr. M was, as always, positive and encouraging.

She explained that the cystic part of the tumor (the inside of the whole bad Spot) is a tiny bit smaller. The swelling around the tumor, which shows up as a sort of cloud on the MRI, is the same size. Steve's brain is continuing to heal, slowly ridding itself of the dead tumor cells. We expect that to continue and eventually for the disturbed area around the tumor to get a little smaller, too.

To keep attacking the cancer, Steve will continue taking chemotherapy. We're hoping for at least six more cycles -- seven days on, seven days off. He'll start cycle seven on Monday. As we expected after last week's drop in counts, the Temodar dose will be lower. He'll be back to 200 mg instead of 240 mg.

We'll return at the end of cycle seven for a routine check-up. The next MRI will be the week before Christmas. My list for Santa will be very short, and I'll ask for early delivery!

Steve has lost three more pounds since last month's visit with Dr. M. He's about 15 pounds lighter than his typical pre-cancer weight. I'm going to add protein powder to his morning smoothies and pack him a snack for work every day to help maintain his weight.

Steve and I celebrated the awesome MRI news with lunch out. Then we picked up Sprinkles cupcakes for all four of us to enjoy later today. (As a bonus, maybe Steve will gain a pound today!)

Another excellent scan

Steve's MRI this morning shows:
1. There are no new cancerous areas.
2. There is no growth on the current tumor.
3. The cystic part of the tumor is ever so slightly smaller.
4. The swelling and disturbance around the tumor is the same size.

Such great, welcome, amazing news!

I will update later today or tonight with more details. Thanks for your prayers and support!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Expecting good news

We'll be up early Wednesday morning to get Cooper and Katie ready for school and drop them off at two different houses to await transportation. (Thanks, Celeste and Zita!)

Then Steve and I will head south to UT-Southwestern for Steve's next MRI.

We don't expect anything but good news. We're looking for a scan that shows the tumor isn't any bigger and that shows there are no new cancerous spots. As a bonus, we'd love to see an even smaller tumor! Even the slightest reduction is big news.

Based on his blood work and the scans, we'll learn when he can start chemotherapy again -- and what the dose will be. He's finished six cycles of chemo. He needs to get through at least six more cycles.

As always, we rely a great deal on your prayers and faith and belief in miracles.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Guest blogger: See Spot Run racers

See Spot Run racers,

Hi there! How's your training going? It is eight weeks until the big day, SUNDAY, DEC. 14! If you have not yet, please register for the race. IT WILL SELL OUT! Race officials say this year's race is already outselling last year's.

Below is a list of people who have contacted me about the race. If your name should be on here, or if you have any changes, please e-mail me.

Running the full marathon:
Mark T.

Running the half:
Tyra D.
Allison E.
Jim D.
Paul D.
John W.
Sharon G.
Sally S.
Greg W.
Will P.

Relay team (in no particular order, to be registered together):
Holly B.
Brandie W.
Andy L.
Randy L.
Melanie D.

Jim and Betty Damm have graciously offered to host a pre-run pasta dinner for the runners and their families. It will be on Saturday, Dec. 13, in the afternoon. Please let me know if you and your family will be able to attend.

For all of you who want to contribute to the team but aren't runners, there are many opportunities. We need people to shuttle the relay team back and forth, make signs and cheer on the team at various points along the course. Please contact me if any of those sounds like something you can contribute. The runners will need our support!

I am still lining up the shirts but I haven't heard from everyone yet. If you want a shirt, please e-mail me with how many and the sizes.

So in short:
1. Register for the race! Prices go up Oct. 31.
2. Are you on the running list? Please let me know if you should be but you're not.
3. Can you be a member of the support crew?
4. Please RSVP to the pasta dinner.
5.If you want shirts, let me know how many and which sizes.

I know Steve has been touched by everyone's support. Let's keep that spot on the run!

-- Liz

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Helping hands

Steve and I are constantly impressed by the creative ways you all have helped us since December. In today's Briefing column I shared a short list of ways to help friends in need -- all drawn from the generosity of our awesome support system. I couldn't include everything in 600 words, of course -- that would take a book.

You can read the column by clicking here.

Thanks for helping us fight the Damm Spot!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Back to work

Dr. M gave Steve clearance yesteday to emerge from seclusion. He felt well enough this morning to return to the office. He's moving around much better, with just a slight wobble. He'll still probably need to lay low most of the weekend.

His next blood count check will be Wednesday, the same day as his next MRI and visit with Dr. M.

We wish you all a happy weekend!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Counts up, energy down

Great news! Steve's white blood cells and neutrophils quickly rebounded since Monday's test and the subsequent neupogen injections.

Today's results: WBC is 10.2 with an expected range of 4.0-10.5, up from 1.7 on Monday.

Absolute neutrophils are 8.8 with an expected range of 1.8-7.8, up from 0.8 on Monday.

With those results, Dr. M's office instructed him to stop taking the antibiotic and the neupogen shots.

Despite the excellent lab results, Steve has had a rough day. He's even more lethargic and worn out than earlier this week. He's taken advantage of the quiet house today and spent many hours sleeping. It is a perfect day for napping -- cool, gray and rainy.

We're both anxious for next Wednesday's MRI, though we agree there's no reason to worry. He has no new symptoms -- just samplings of old favorites. Still, we'll both feel better when we get another good report next week.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Alert status

After two cycles of increased chemotherapy, Steve's body is saying, "Slow down!"

His labs today show alert levels on white blood count and absolute neutrophils. The numbers were confirmation of the exhaustion he's been feeling the past few days.

The WBC is 1.7, with expected range of 4.0-10.5. Neutrophils are 0.8, with expected range of 1.8-7.8. These low numbers indicate that his immune system is compromised. His body isn't able to protect itself against germs right now.

Longtime readers will remember that this happened July 4 weekend this year. The protocol is the same -- preventive course of antibiotics, neupogen injections (which stimulates neutrophil growth) and seclusion from too many people until his counts are higher.

Because he was so tired today, he didn't work in the office. I drove him to the office so he could have blood drawn. (How lucky that he can have this chore taken care of by friendly co-workers?!) Then he rested at home while the kids, Betty and I spent the day at the State Fair. (I'm sure some of you were there, too -- it was the most crowded day I've ever seen in all my fair-going life.)

Tisa, our neighbor and friend who is also a highly skilled home-health care nurse, came by the house tonight to administer the neupogen -- two injections in his stomach.

He'll spend tomorrow at home and return to work Wednesday morning for another blood draw. Based on the Wednesday results, we'll know if he can stop the neupogen shots and be around people again.

When we meet with his oncologist next week, I expect we'll discuss dropping the chemotherapy dose back to 200 mg.

In the meantime, we'll pray for a quick return to normal counts, protection from infection and renewed strength.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Steve started strong this weekend, attending Cooper's soccer game. (Go, Dolphins!) He was understandably tired when we returned home and rested while the kids and I went to a pumpkin patch birthday party. (Happy 3rd, Reese!) He started feeling queasy Saturday night and has been eating just a few bland foods and resting when he can ever since. He did help his brother celebrate his birthday this afternoon. (Happy 42nd, Uncle Jim!)

Steve will have his weekly blood draw Monday, and we'll get a good picture of his counts then. As always, we're praying for counts in range.

Sometimes when one of us is feeling low, we say something silly like, "I'm feeling like a worm with a hat and one shoe." We're alluding to Lowly Worm, a favorite Richard Scarry character. Here's hoping tomorrow is brighter and less lowly!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Steve & Katie

From this afternoon
Isn't Steve looking great?!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Our dear friend Jamie was here visiting a few weeks ago and commented that Margie, our dog, needed more blog time. She's right!

The story of Margie is yet another example of how everything works out and how there's often a plan that we don't quite realize until we can step back and view it with perspective.

In January 2007, our sweet Scottie dog Emma died. Steve and I were Emma's humans for almost as long as we had been married. She was a wee puppy with large satellite ears when she joined us in our tiny Lubbock duplex in September 1994. We rescued another Scottie, Mac, to be her companion two years later. They moved with us to the Dallas area in 1997 and tolerated the addition of Cooper to our family in 2001.

Sweet Mac died when Cooper was a toddler. The Damm house was a sad house for quite a while. Emma recovered and carried on without him. She was super laid back by the time Katie was born.

When Emma passed away, the four of us were heart broken. We missed rubbing her pink belly and scratching her between the ears. We missed her sounds, her fuzziness, her presence.

After a few weeks with no dog in the house, we began to consider another. Cooper, who was 5 and in kindergarten, was particularly distraught without Emma. We didn't want to "replace" her right away, as that didn't seem to honor what she meant to us. But it was clear that all of us wanted to find another furry baby.

I found a Scottie rescue group in Mesquite and began corresponding with the director. He was prickly. He didn't seem all that interested in placing a dog in a home with two young children. I persisted and he eventually relented, allowing us to visit his house to meet some available Scotties.

On our scheduled Saturday in late February 2007, Steve woke up feeling strange. He was worn out, recovering from a high fever earlier in the week. When he tried to drink coffee that morning, he couldn't. It dribbled out of the side of his mouth. By noon, the right side of his face was droopy. By mid-afternoon, when we were driving to Mesquite in a Lubbock-style sandstorm, the right side of his face was paralyzed.

Still, we visited with some dogs, including a spry Scottie named Katie Margaret. She was by far our favorite, and the four of us left knowing that we wanted to take her home -- if the rescue group approved our application.

Katie Margaret, in need of a home

But first we had to get to the emergency room to find out what was wrong with Steve's face. The diagnosis was Bell's palsy. He couldn't close his right eye completely or drink well or speak normally for about a month. And then most of the issues resolved, although I could always detect a tiny droopiness that never seemed to recover.

By the time the palsy seemed to be gone, the Scottie rescue group approved us -- after multiple e-mails, phone calls and a house visit. These folks are thorough! We adopted Katie Margaret and promptly started calling her Margie. (We couldn't have Katie the girl and Katie the dog.)

Margie and Katie, 2007

Margie can be wild. She thinks an open door is an invitation to run free. Those first few months, we chased her all over the neighborhood. She still plots to escape through the front door -- we're just sneakier about how we open and close the door. She runs laps around the house. She barks incessantly at the wild rabbits that live in our bushes and hang out on our front porch.

Cooper, Margie and Steve, this afternoon

She's gentle with Cooper and Katie and loves walks and playing in the back yard. She's also extra protective of Steve. After his biopsy in January, Margie would lie next to him and lick his head, as if trying to heal the wounds. She seeks him out no matter where he is in the house -- upstairs on the exercise bike, resting on the green chair in the family room, napping in the bedroom. She says goodnight by wrapping her body around his and licking him as much as he'll allow.

Her timing is just one example of the intricate relationships and connections that piece our story together. I've written before that I suspect Steve's tumor may have started back in February 2007, caused by a virus that first manifested with a high fever and Bell's palsy. I'm fascinated that his palsy symptoms began the same day we met Margie, who has become such a comfort to our family -- especially to Steve.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Yay! Another week of chemo

Steve's labs are back from today, and though some counts out of range, nothing is critical. He gets another week of chemotherapy at 240 mg. Woo hoo!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Flu shots

The whole Damm family received flu shots this week. Like everyone else, we're hoping the vaccine matches the actual strains this year!

We received so many helpful hints on making the process easier for the kids. We avoided the nasal spray because it contains a weakened live virus, and we didn't want to take any chances with Steve's immune system.

The key for us was hiding our destination until we got there. Cooper and Katie had just three minutes to fret. Katie went first, cried for seconds and recovered with a lollipop. We had more trouble getting Cooper on the exam table, but he didn't hide under the bench as in previous visits. He wanted to see the needle and the serum and then relented. (He's the opposite of me. I have no interest in seeing needles in advace.) Our nurse was super quick, and he says he didn't even feel the shot.

Steve, as always, has more needles in his future. He'll have blood drawn at work tomorrow. We're looking forward to good counts so that he can start another week of Damm Spot-killing chemotherapy.

He recovered from his sore throat earlier this week but remained tired. Still, he didn't miss a day of work and, with the stabilizing help of a little extra steroid, watched Cooper's soccer team win its game Saturday. He did stay home today to rest and recharge for the week.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Feeling lowly

Yesterday Steve started feeling ill with cold or allergy symptoms. He has an awful sore throat and is very tired. He started taking an antibiotic yesterday, just to be safe, and took a long nap this afternoon.

Ragweed, fungus and grass are at high levels in the Dallas area. The kids and I are having allergy symptoms also, but we're not struggling as much as Steve.

For some reason -- related to medication we're thinking -- Steve's body is really cold all the time. We kept the A/C at 80 almost all summer, and he was still freezing. While friends and I were in Whitefish, Mt., this weekend, Liz and I found a great fleece pullover for Steve to wear around the house. It's fuzzy and soft on the inside and includes cozy pockets. He's worn it around the house ever since I came home Monday afternoon.

Ami flew back to Austin yesterday, after spending a week taking care of everyone. She cooked pots of soup to stock the freezer, spruced up the front porch and beds with fall flowers, cleaned out the pantry, treated Katie to her first manicure, drove all over North Texas and much more.

My favorite destination of the weekend was Glacier National Park. Here is one reason why:

Avalanche Gorge, Glacier National Park