Dad and his battle with Cancer

Dad’s status — July 29, 1936 to July 3, 2012  — See July 3

 

By Mark Challender – mark@challender.com

Other children are : jackielee@challender.com and julia@challender.com – Dad’s email is jack@challender.com

Mark arrived in AZ on Feb 25 — Dad has been diagnosed with lung cancer, he is currently in the hospital and his status is below.

Note:  The blog was started on Feb. 25 and a chronological log is below.

December 2011 – mid month, a doctor heard a lung noise, suggested X-ray, X-ray was done before the end of the year, and a mass was seen.  Only Mom and Dad knew about this appointment.

January 26 – needle biopsy, must wait for results — Dad told me and others.

Feb 2 – results are in, diagnosed cancer – Dad let all of us know.

Feb 6 – Oncologist – The diagnosis of lung cancer was a shock.  The visit to the oncologist was more of a shock since he said dad may live only 2 to 5 months if he has no treatment.  Oncologist suggests surgery may be an option.  Surgeon appointment is scheduled – now, more family members are finding out.

Feb 15 – surgeon says he can probably get it.  Dad “wants it out” – surgery is scheduled.

Feb 17 – CT of head done to see if any cancer in brain.  No results communicated.

Feb 21 – surgery performed.  After surgeon gets in and he sees more cancer than he can deal with the surgeon gives mom two choices – take out lung, causing dad to live with virtually no lung power and have no quality of life or back out and try other options.  Mom chooses to allow dad to move around and have some quality of life.

Dad comes out of surgery, my oldest daughter, Catherine, is in AZ for a previously scheduled visit.  Dad is responsive, but hurting.

Feb 22 – doing Ok, responsive, but in a lot of pain, morphine increased and pain meds increased.

Feb 23 – not well, mostly unresponsive, may be due to the narcotics

Feb 24 – not well, mostly unresponsive, narcotics are reduced in an effort to help Dad be more responsive

Feb 25 – not well, mostly unresponsive, miscommunication from hospital indicates Dad is unresponsive, mom needs to sign a DNR soon, mom calls pastor, believes end is near – Mark calls hospital and learns that nurse miscommunicated request and simply wants family to make decisions regarding resuscitation orders because that was not discussed when dad was admitted.  Mark was planning on going to AZ on Feb 26 but changes plans and comes on Feb 25.  Mark arrives at 11:30 pm.

Feb 26 – AM —  Dad is confused, able to answer questions with one word answers and makes requests with eyes and one word statements, thinks he is in WA, does not know why he is in hospital, doctors recommending Hospice, ammonia buildup and narcotics and other drugs may be causing confusion.  Doctors will make an effort to change drugs to help situation

PM – 2:00, heading to hospital. Stayed at hospital for about an hour, pretty good visit.  Dad wanted kisses and Mom obliged, they talked, told each other they loved each other and Dad wanted mom to stay and sleep with him for the night.  She said she could not and he said it would be good for them.  Mom kind of lost it and had to leave the room.  I stayed with dad for a bit and he told me “Dying of cancer sucks.”  He knows the doctors have given him two to five months to live and he knows that he is in the hospital.  He thinks he is dying of cancer and not recovering from the surgery.  He said he did not have surgery and they did nothing.  I reminded him that he had surgery and that they could not do anything and that he is in the hospital recovering from the surgery.  He wanted to know how mom was handling all of this and I told him she was very sad, misses him terribly and did not want things to be this way.  He asked about my sister and brother and wanted to know how they were doing – lots of tears and lots of sadness was all I could tell him.

Dad was slipping in and out of reality and at the end of my visit told me he saw a guy walk past the door and look at him.  The problem was that he was looking at a wall.  I asked him if he knew where he was and he said he was on a golf course.  I asked him how he shot (Dad and I share a love of golf) and he said he shot three over.  This means he had shot a 75.  I congratulated him on shooting his age and he thanked me.  I said goodbye for the day by telling him I loved him and he told me he loved me.

This is very hard to deal with but my family and I are feeling lots of love.

My sister Julie is likely coming down here tomorrow.  My brother Jack is trying to wrap up some business and will be down as soon as he can.

By the way, we resolved the question of a “Do not Resusictate” order by making it very clear that we want them to do whatever is necessary to keep dad alive in the event that he needs their intervention.  We then will get a phone call and will be able to evaluate our next decision.  While this all sounds really bad please understand that Dad is very sick, is having serious problems and is fighting the fight of his life.  His chances of winning this fight are virtually none.  We have hope that he will get stronger but this is a very difficult fight and likely a losing battle.

Feb 27 – 6:11 Am – I woke up to mom and a familiar voice.  Dad and Mom were talking to each other on the phone.  Mom has to use the speaker phone so it was a little loud.  Dad is confused a little, wanted to know if he played in Tucson yesterday and if he was supposed to play in a USGA tournament this weekend.  But, he was able to call mom, talk to mom and tell her where things were and talked to me.  It was a huge change from the last several days.  More as we talk to him at the hospital later this morning.

11:08 AM – at the hospital, Dad is doing very well, knows why he is in the hospital, called his surgeon “stupid” and was able to talk with us.  We are going to get a durable power of attorney for mom and I to take care of their business.  Dad is still a bit confused and has asked me to call the USGA to let them know why he did not show up n Tuscon for the tournament.  He said he does not want to be penalized for future tournaments.  He loves golf and yesterday’s PGA tournament was in Tuscon.  So, he must have been thinking he was playing in that tournament.  He remembers his logins and passwords for the bank accounts and we should be able to deal with the finances with not too much trouble.

Those of you who know Dad will know that his comments about the surgeon mean he is feeling well enough to be a bit obnoxious.   More as we know it.

2:30 – Here’s more.  Dad’s chest tube was removed.  He is still very alert and talking and understanding things.  He signed a Durable General Power of Attorney naming mom and I as his agents.  This will help a lot for us to be able to handle the household finances and almost anything else that comes up.  He asked that I draft a will – his last will was in 1969 when he went to Vietnam for one of his tours overseas.  He said he should have done all of this before he went in for surgery.  He talked to me alone and asked me to take care of mom, and make sure she is going to be OK.  He still understands that he has lung cancer, does not know how it could have gotten so bad so quickly, wants to fight the cancer and hopes he has time to fight it.  He knows everything the doctors have told him – two to five months to live without getting the cancer out of his body, the fact that the surgery was not a success, and that the cancer is worse than originally thought and has spread to most of his right lung, some of his chest wall, some lymph nodes.  In short, dad is seeing his own mortality.  One of his comments today was “I don’t know how this could have gotten so bad so quickly.”  And “I guess we all have an expiration date.”  And, “Life is terminal.”  Dad gets it.  He knows many of you reading this will not understand, will be sad and I am sure he would want you to know that he is going to try and fight this disease. A disease I NEVER thought I would be writing about, especially writing about my Dad……. A man I have always admired, been proud to call my dad and been lucky to have as my friend as I got older.  Many of you know his accomplishments and I won’t write them down now, but I will write them down at some point.  They are considerable and include being a veteran of the United States Navy with outstanding service.

Now, on to to some good news.  Dad walked about 50 feet today, only 8 feet yesterday and nothing in previous days.  We are encouraged.

 

2-28 – morning – It was almost a normal visit with Dad.  We all had a visit with the oncologist.  Dad’s cancer is type 3 and can be treated with chemo and radiation.  Dad needs to get stronger before the treatment can begin.  He may get discharged to a care center where he would continue recuperating and getting stronger.  We left when nurses came in to change him and give him a sponge bath.  Mom and I decided to go get him some better reading glasses.  When we got back he told me asked the nurses if their mothers knew they undressed old men for a living.

Mom made me play nine holes of golf with the neighborhood (a weekly outing that Dad has been participating in) and then I had to go to dinner with the neighbors.  Mom went and visited Dad with a couple of their friends.  Mom said dad was OK, but having some memory problems.  I REALLY enjoyed myself and felt very refreshed after shooting a 43 (my first round of golf in four months) and I had a good time with the neighbors.  They are really lucky to have friends like them.

More on Leap day.

Feb 29 – Mom and I visited Dad in the morning.  He was generally alert, feeling pretty good but not wanting to eat a lot of food.   His surgeon visited and confirmed to Dad that he must get strong if he is going to be able to fight the cancer.  We left and went to lunch and into Glendale so I could visit Ham Radio Outlet – a “toy” store for amateur radio operators.  Then we went to the airport to get my “little” sister who turns fifty at the end of March.

In the afternoon all three of us visited Dad.  He was very happy to see us.  We had a good visit.  Dad was alert and interested in talking.  I feel like he is depressed – duh, really? – and wondering about his mortality – again, really? Who would have guessed – and is trying to deal with all of this.  He is a quiet man when it comes to his feelings and has some difficulty expressing them openly.  I may try to get him to talk a bit if I get some time alone with him.  He did tell me he appreciated everything I was doing for mom and how I was making decisions on their financial matters.  He also told me he believed that the financial stuff was causing him a lot of stress.  Mom has expressed some concern that he may have been having some memory issues before the surgery and I have noticed some times when he had forgotten what he had told me and repeated the same story several times in as many days.

A surgery like he has had can, evidently, cause issues in elderly patients because of the anesthesia as well as the stress on the body – let’s face it older people don’t heal as well as younger people.  How many of us who are over fifty feel stiff for absolutely no reason at times let alone after a surgery or some other injury?

Our family can only hope that dad will be able to recover well enough to make a fight of this thing we call cancer…….. an insidious disease that affects so many people and their families.  Well, there I go again (remember Reagan using that line (actually “there you go again”) in the debates?) – being a little melancholy.  The emotions I have been experiencing have been a virtual roller coaster.  The weekend was very scary and he is certainly better but with some minor issues.  Recovery from surgery is important right now.

 

March 1st – Mom, Julie and I went to visit Dad.  He was sitting up and watching Jaws.  Julie remembers being thirteen when the movie came out and Dad wanted Mom to go to see the show.  Mom hates scary shows so Dad took Julie.  She said she loved it.  Dad was very talkative, complaining about the nurses, the food and being in the hospital.  The hospital is trying to get rid of a urinary tract infection and then they will discharge him to a care center (read Rehab Center, intermediate care center, anything but the hospital) so he can continue his recovery and get stronger.  I think the nurses will miss him.  Dad does not want us to bring him any outside food – even though his doctor said we could – so we told him we were going to go get In-n-Out burgers in the hopes he will want us to bring one back for him.

Dad is depressed, see paragraphs above for yesterday, and is still dealing with everything.  He is so used to doing what he wants and doing it when he wants that this is a difficult stay.  Tomorrow will be ten days at the hospital.   His recovery will continue to be his greatest challenge in the past thirty years.

March 2 – We visited Dad in the morning but he was sleeping.  We woke him up said hi and he stayed awake for just a few minutes.  We stayed for a little bit longer but he stayed asleep.  We left.

In the afternoon he called us and wondered why we did not come and visit him.  Evidently he was pretty tired.  He knew he was being “kicked out” of the hospital today and was really antsy to get out and get to a new place so he could be more comfortable.

At 3:30 today he was moved to a beautiful facility so he could begin the next phase of his journey.  His room is very nice and the staff were very receptive to our requests.  Mom wanted to make sure that Dad was not allowed to eat in his room (mom wants him to get out and be social), Julie wanted to make sure that the staff knew that Dad could be a little sarcastic (an excellent warning) and I wanted them to know that he would welcome the challenge of their toughest physical therapist (I guess I am just evil and want to make sure Dad is forced to work his butt off).

To Dad’s credit, he got up out of a chair, used his walker, and moved across the room to his recliner before any of us really knew he was moving.  It really was great.

At any rate, the change from last Thursday, Friday and Saturday and even part of Sunday has given his family and friends hope that he will be able to meet the challenge that cancer presents.

Dad is at http://www.ahcfacilities.com/ in Scottsdale.  He is going to move to Mesa when there is space available.  Mom and Dad are grateful for their health insurance that they have as a result of Dad’s service in the US Navy because his care is covered.  This is a huge relief.  Mom picked the care center and Dad was very worried about the cost.  When Dad learned that it was covered by his military insurance and Medicare he actually smiled and said he loved it.  He also told mom “it was a damned good reason to have stayed in the military.”  Mom did good.

March 3 – Mom, Julie (baby sister who turns 50 on March 24,  — 523 Pine Street #806, Seattle, WA 98101 – I am sure she will kill me but send her cards) – all had lunch with Dad.  Then we watched the WA Huskies lose to UCLA – can’t those guys play defense in the last three minutes of the game?  Dad is walking and getting around quite well.  He jokes that he is “certified” to walk around his room without help.  When we came to see him he was walking down the hall.  He really is doing better.

March 4 – dad is progressing.  We visited him for about an hour and he was “dad” – except for the fact he is in a rehab center.  He is working on getting around and wanting to do things on his own.  There is no word on when he will be able to come home but his milestones are being able to get around and manage himself and not need a lot of assistance with the basics, like getting up, waling, taking care of himself.  Don’t misread any of this, Dad is not an invalid and is doing very well for someone with a ten inch incision and who has just had a major surgery less than two weeks ago.  If you have his cell phone number please call him and tell him you appreciate how he has affected your life.

 

March 5 – Dad had a good physical therapy session, is walking around his room using the walker and is eating well.  He seemed a little apprehensive about his cancer and is understanding that the cancer was a bit more than everyone thought.  His spirits are still up and he is having a good attitude.  Mom has wanted to go to her favorite soda shop so we went into old Scottsdale and I had a meatloaf sandwich while mom had most of a salad and a gigantic strawberry soda.  Then we went off in search of a yarn store so I could get some yarn and knit an infinity scarf for my sister.  The store was closed.  Mom and I are enjoying each other and just making our way through each day as we wait and see how quickly Dad progresses.  I would like to be here until he gets home but just don’t know what we are going to do.

 

March 6 – Dad said he is a bit fatigued today.  He should be.  He had Physical Therapy, a shower, several visitors and used his computer yesterday.  We reminded him that he only had surgery two weeks ago.  When we got there today he had the occupational therapist there.  I asked if he was going back to work.  He just kind of smiled at me and said no.  Later, I asked him if he had seen the golf carts and I suggested that he ought to try and con his therapist into letting him drive a golf cart around the property.  He said he didn’t think that was going to happen.  We visited him with two friends he has known for a very long time, Noreen and Donna.  Noreen and Dad went to school together and she lives just two houses away while Donna lives across the street and has known the family for about 54 years.  He told the therapist that he has known me all my life…..

His progress from last week is amazing.  We found out he will be in Rehab for at least two more weeks and that he may not be going to a closer facility – Mesa – because there are not many beds available there.  He may be in Scottsdale for the entire time.  Mom and I go once a day and it is a round trip of about 75 miles.  It takes about 40 minutes to drive there so Mom and I are finding fun things to do while we are out.  The other day we went to the Sugar Bowl in old Scottsdale – did you know Scottsdale used to be Orangedale in 1894?  How about this: the Sugar Bowl is featured in a famous cartoon.  Which one?  Look at http://blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com/bella/2012/02/eleven_favorite_ice_cream_shop.php  and check out #9.  Mom loves the strawberry soda.  Did you know there are different colors of turquoise and the color depends on which mine the turquoise came from?  More tomorrow.

 

March 7 – Dad is out of quarantine, this means no more rubber gloves, no more gowns, and Dad can mingle with the rest of the patients.  When we arrived he was sitting in the dining room having lunch.  He enjoyed half a Cornish game hen, vegetables and even some sugar free ice cream.  We visited for a bit after we got to the room because his physical therapy is a bit tiring.  Dad is doing well but is experiencing some low blood pressure.  The doctor is not that concerned about the low blood pressure because he has been losing a lot of fluids over the last several days or so.  When the doctor was in the room she was talking about how well he is doing and that he may get released in about ten days.  Dad told someone he may get released a week from tomorrow.  We will confirm.

Also, during the visit we learned that we needed to make an appointment with his surgeon and that we can bust him out for a few hours and take him to the appointment.  So, Dad will get to go to see his surgeon next Tuesday at about 9:30.

He also will be seeing his oncologist and his pulmonologist to begin talking about the next phases of treatment.  We asked Dad if he wants to fight this thing aggressively and he said, “What choice do I have?”  I said “you always have choices.”  I also said, “you can fight or just accept what happens.”  He said he wants to fight this aggressively.  Mom and I are glad he wants to fight but hope that the treatment is kind to him.

 

March 8 – False alarm!  We don’t know where Dad got the information about coming home next week.  But, it looks like this was a false alarm.  We still get to bust him ut on Tuesday but we do not know when he is coming home.  He is getting very strong and doing very well.  Today Dad and Mom’s good friends Don and Barb Rabbitt and Mom and I had lunch with Dad in the “private” dining room.  Then, just as we were finishing up Dallas and Carol Adkins came in and visited with us.  All in all, it was a good visit.

I’ll keep you updated on the move from rehab to home – sorry for the false alarm but Dad was positive he was going to be going home.  He still may be but we need to confirm.

By the way, I got this idea from my training I have been taking in Amateur Radio and my work with the local Sheriff’s office and the FEMA training.  This blog is a lot like being a public information officer for my family.  So many people have said they love this communication and I am very happy to be able to share my love of technology by doing this blog.

A lesson was learned today, though, confirm before announcing.

 

March 9 – Good visit.  We met up with Dad at about 1:00 pm, and just kind of hung out with him, watched some TV, laid on his bed (me – he has a very nice tempurpedic mattress) – and we just talked.  We went to the ice cream social and enjoyed lemon sorbet and several other flavors of ice cream.

One worry that may be getting solved is the mystery of Dad’s low blood pressure – 90/40 when standing and 110/78 when sitting or lying down.  We found out he was on Metropolol, a drug used to keep heart rates from racing and a drug that can reduce blood pressure, and that it was given to Dad in the hospital and continued at the rehab center.  Dad is going to refuse that drug and it will be removed from his list of drugs to take.  Everyone seems to think that will help him have more energy.

Dad is getting around his room without the walker and said he was going to go down to the ice cream social without his walker.  I could see the twinkle in his eye as he was trying to get a rise out of us.  I suggested he may need to rest going down the hall and may not want to make the nurses nervous.  He used the walker.

I am happy to see his progress and see him begin to be his old self.  We bust him out for a doctor visit next Tuesday so that could be fun.

 

March 10 – Another great visit.  It was just like visiting my parents when Dad and Mom are both at home.  I laid on Dad’s bed, took a nap, Dad took a nap, Mom sat and watched golf by herself.  Dad is doing fine, walking more and more each day and it looks like his blood pressure is getting under control.   We are just waiting for when we can bring him home.   Maybe we bring him home and then take him back to the center.  I wonder what the center would do.

 

March 11 – Was it formed?  Dad, Mom and I had a scampi bake with buttered carrots and an apple crisp for dessert at lunch today.  Dad walked from his room to the dining room – about 125 feet.  He is still tired and fatigues easily……. probably something that would happen to all of us!  We watched the golf tournament, got sleepy, stayed awake and had a visit from Don Rabbitt.  Dad likes visitors.  It seems to help him stay conn –ected.

One effect of the extra bacteria in his intestines has been loose bowel movements.  Every day when we are there the nurses come in and ask how the bowel movements have been.  About ten minutes after we got to Dad’s room Dad said, “Guess what?”  We could not guess so he told us he had two solid poops.  I asked him if they went “plop, plop” and he laughed and said yes.   Well, when the nurse came in after lunch she asked him if he had a bowel movement and after Dad said yes, she asked if it was formed, hence the opening question “Was it formed?”

Dad said yes…… and of course, I had to ask if it was formed into a little puppy or a boa constrictor.   I got a pretty good laugh, even though it hurt Dad to laugh.

 

March 12 – Coming home!  Dad will be home Thursday, March 15.  We have to get him by 11 AM that day.  Today, Mom has a small luncheon, cute pansies in spring colored flower pots (potted by yours truly this morning), and on the menu is crab quiche and bread pudding.  I will be going out to golf at Apache Creek so we can be out of everyone’s hair.  More about the visit we get to have with Dad this evening later.

We got there this afternoon at about 4 pm, just in time to go down and watch him do physical therapy.  After PT we visited for a bit.  Dad is real happy to be coming home on Thursday .  He said he is very ready.

 

March 13 – We took dad to the surgeon where the decision to leave things alone was confirmed.  He stated, “I don’t think you would be here today if I had taken your lung out.”   So, even though Dad has had a very difficult time with recovery he is likely alive due to the decision Mom and the surgeon made on February 21st – so long ago…. It feels like forever anyway.

Dad enjoyed being outside, his first time since going into the hospital but he got tired quickly.

If you remember, we had previously identified metropolol as a drug that was started in the hospital and one that lowers blood pressure.  Today I got to read the notes form the care center and I recognized mexitelene – a beta blocker and a drug used to treat arrhythmias – was being given to him.   I talked to the nurses who said they would have a doctor come in and talk to us.  He came in 20 minutes later and we discussed the two drugs, he was a little impressed that we even knew how to pronounce the drugs let alone knew that the drugs had the side effects that we were noticing – lethargy, low blood pressure, a general malaise as well as some light headed and real fuzzy feelings.

So, Dad was told to refuse and the nurses are going to remind him to refuse these two drugs that were given to him in the hospital and drugs he was not taking prior to going in the hospital.  I asked why the drugs were not reviewed and was told that the hospital doctors typically check the boxes that say “continue as directed” and pass the patient on.  That seems a little irresponsible but I understand why it happens.

There was a time I was put on a similar beta blocker but experienced the exact same symptoms.  My doctor took me off the drug for the same reason.  It looks like our family’s experience with Long QT as well as the various drugs used to treat long QT is coming in handy.

Dad has to check out by 11 am on Thursday so we will have him home in about 52 hours.

 

March 14 – We had a good two-part visit with Dad today.  We were there this morning for about an hour before he had to go to physical therapy and then for lunch.  Mom and I went into Scottsdale so she could have a strawberry soda.  I had a very nice chili burger and half of Mom’s corn chowder. Then we went back to visit Dad for another hour until he had to go to occupational therapy.

Dad had a shock from his defibrillator last night and then another one this afternoon.  I still suspect that mexiletene is the culprit.  I’m trying to convince a doctor to actually listen to me while I help them understand that this drug will work fine in a patient who does not have conduction problems in the heart already.  Our family has a congenital genetic defect called Long QT.  It is a potassium ion channel deficiency in the heart.  It is a conduction problem.  The FDA advisory on mexiletene indicates problems can occur if the drug is used in patients like us.

Now, if I can just get someone to listen.  (this was written at about 6 pm)

6:56 PM – Dad’s cardiologist just called.  Communication is key in everything we do in life.  The Dr. was asked if the care center should give mexiletene because off some ventricular tachycardia – he answered yes.  I just talked to him and he agrees that this drug is not right and that the communication was incomplete from the care center.  I suggested a different drug like nadolol (a beta blocker) so that we can control the heart rate.  Mexiletene will increase the QT interval and increase the chance of ventricular tachycardia.  The doctor was grateful that I took the time to call him and talk to him and appreciated me telling him what I knew.  I explained that I knew doctors make decisions based on information given to them at the time and that additional information is necessary to make a good decision.  He appreciated hearing that.

So, Dad is being transferred to the heart hospital where he will be evaluated and then we will see about bringing him home soon, maybe not tomorrow like we thought.

The cardiologist said he would also like to get the oncologist up to see Dad and make plans to get going on treatment sooner rather than later.  Whew, things are happening fast.  I am taking mom out for a bite to eat so we will be closer to the hospital and keep her a bit calmer.  More soon.

 

10:25 PM – Dad got settled at the hospital emergency room (first step to getting admitted) and we went to see him.  While we were there he had two episodes of ventricular tachycardia (Vtach) and got shocked each time by his defibrillator.  We left after he got somewhat stabilized and will go back tomorrow to see him.  The doctor had the new orders from his cardiologist so things should start improving as soon as they can stabilize him.  He has had four shocks from his defibrillator today.

March 15 – Dad’s new beta blocker is working well.  He had no more events after last night and rested well.  He was in good spirits today and they took him off the IV beta blocker and introduced an oral beta blocker.  He needs to tolerate this drug well before they will release him.  It is possible that he could be released home tomorrow but more likely on Saturday.  We hope he will be home tomorrow.

 

March 16 – Dad got home at about 6:00 PM.  His family – Jack Jr., Julia, Jeanne (his wife of almost 56 years) and I — are very happy to get him home where he can begin to get more treatment.  He had Stir Fry a la Mark with crunchy noodles and is sitting in his recliner watching Survivor.  It feels almost normal.  This blog will become less frequent with just highlights of the treatment and other important milestones.  Thank you to everyone who have expressed their support to our family.

March 20 – Oncologist and pulmonologist appointments today.  The oncology appointment is expected to give us some answers on forms and schedule of treatment.

Dad has gone outside to walk a little and is not using his walker.  He stated he was not going to use “that thing” when he got home.

I am going to the oncologist and then playing nine holes later with the neighborhood group.  The three of us may go to dinner at a local restaurant – first time out since before surgery.  The neighbors will be surprised.

More info will be posted as it becomes available.

11:30 AM – we just got back from the oncologist.  Here is what we learned:  The cancer is treatable, outcome of treatment is unknown at this time.  Dad has an appointment with a radiation specialist tomorrow at 4:00 pm to decide on the next steps.  It is likely, with the simulations, CAT scans, physics setup and all that goes with radiation that treatment can start in two weeks.  Chemotherapy will also be administered once a week.  Radiation is every day except for weekends for six weeks as is chemotherapy.

Dad should not lose his hair with the chemo, but may be a bit nauseous.  The radiation may cause some redness, some fatigue and some irritation of his esophagus as well as his left lung while reducing the cancer in his right lung and the rest of his chest.

The image I had of the treatment as well as the image I had of Dad and his treatments were significantly reduced by what the Dr. told us.  My imagination was of a cancer patient shuffling to and fro with no hair, vomiting and wasting away.  The image painted by the doctor, while not entirely rosy was almost 180 degrees opposite my images.

Dad is ready to fight.  Now, we are home.  Mom is making egg salad sandwiches and we are getting ready to watch one of the many recorded TV shows.

Life is almost normal.

 

March 23 – I’ve been home now for two days.  Dad had his simulation appointment and everything is proceeding towards him starting radiation and chemotherapy in a week or so.   I am very happy to be home.

 

March 25 – 6:45 PM – Mom just called and said an aid car was there to take Dad to the hospital.  He is having some ventricular tachycardia.  His defibrillator did not go off.

I’ll provide more information as it becomes available.

8:15 pm – dad has now been shocked twice in the emergency room – he is being admitted.   More as we know it.

March 28 —  Dad is still in the hospital.  There has been some bad news.  His latest PET scan – a CAT scan that looks for the tumors – has shown that his main tumor has grown, the lymph nodes in his chest are involved and he has probable cancer on his pelvic bone.  This all means that the cancer is growing and that the cells are in his blood stream.

The radiation oncologist as well as the regular oncologist are declining to treat Dad at this time because of Dad’s heart.

Dad’s heart is holding steady over the last 24 hours but there is a worry that he may still have more ventricular tachycardia leading to him getting shocked.  The oncologists need Dad’s heart to be stable – we don’t know how long it has to be stable – before they can start treatment because the treatment can stress the heart.

Dad seems to be in good spirits but has been becoming more and more resigned to the fact – as he said in early March – that “it sucks to be dying of cancer.”  He wants to fight but is a bit worried that the option may be kept from him.

 

March 29 and 30 – Dad was taken back to ICU.   His heart had more ventricular tachycardia (fast heart rates over 200 beats per minute) and he was shocked multiple times by his internal defibrillator.  I am not keeping track but it seems like he has been shocked more than a dozen times.  Many of you reading this will know what defibrillation is but for those of you who do not know it is a life saving shock that takes the heart out of ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation.  Essentially the high heart rates are like a cardiac arrest and defibrillation is like what you see on TV when the doctors put the pads on your chest, yell charge to 300, then clear and the patient gets a shock.

Dad has had his life saved by his defibrillator.  But, there is a bit of a problem.  Dad has decided that defibrillation is good but only to a point.  Consider the following scenario:  Dad is at home and he has a problem, his defibrillator goes off and it saves his life.  All is good, right?  Well, not quite.  If his defibrillator fails to work, then he would need CPR or someone with an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) to help him.  But, there is another problem.

CPR or an AED needs to be used within a few minutes (two to three minutes) or brain damage can occur.  Brain damage leads to a lot of other problems and lack of CPR or AED will lead to death.

So, here’s how Dad has solved the problem – he has directed the hospital to allow his internal defibrillator to do its job and that they are not to use an external defibrillator on him.  He has decided that if his defibrillator fails then he wants to die naturally and that there are to be no heroic efforts used to save his life.

Some of you may not agree with what he has done but if you look at our family and also look at how our family’s genetic heart defect – Long QT (type 2) – affects a lot of people then you will see that this decision is really the only decision that Dad can make.  Let me try and explain.

LongQT2 (LQT) is a genetic defect that affects the conduction system of the heart.  For us it is a potassium ion channel deficiency that leads to the Q and T waves having a longer than normal interval such that when the heart beats fast, say 150 beats per minute, our heart can begin to beat on top of itself which leads to a faster heart rate and eventually the ventricular tachycardia (V-tach) that causes the defibrillator to shock us and cause the heart to get back to a normal rhythm.  The normal heart’s QT interval will actually shorten as the heart beats faster where our hearts will tend to get a longer QT exacerbating the problem.

Dad has had issues when he was younger with fainting.  We have heard stories of him fainting when he was out fishing.  He would catch a fish, pass out, then wake up and resume fishing.  Those events are similar to what is happening to Dad now except his heart naturally converted to a normal heart rate when he was younger.

Those of you who know our family will remember Jeffery fainting many times, then getting the aid car called several times and finally going to children’s Hospital in Seattle where our family was diagnosed with LQT in 1976.  We were the first with this syndrome that the head cardiologist had seen and we were part of several studies where the mutation was discovered.   But, I digressed a bit here.  Jeffery was finally fitted with a pacemaker (internal defibrillators were not yet invented and the pacemaker seemed to control what was happening with him.  Jeffery was ten when diagnosed and lived for about 18 more years.  He was found dead by the state patrol on the side of the freeway in his truck.

Michael was the baby of the family and was born just about the time I was graduating from High School.  He helped Mom and Dad get through Dad’s alcoholism and dad’s recovery was maybe a little easier knowing that he had a young son who would sit on his lap and point out and name every dinosaur in his books.  Michael helped Mom and Dad be young and enjoy life.

Michael died just before he was to graduate from High School.  Michael had one episode.  He fainted and nobody did CPR on him.  Michael and Jeffery’s deaths were VERY hard on Mom, Dad, Julie, Jack and me.

Now, let me get back to Dad.

Dad has essentially had a dozen or more episodes like the one that killed Michael.  Jeffery had a bunch of episodes that should have killed him when he was ten but died after one episode where his heart could not recover.   An internal defibrillator saved my daughter’s life about 18 months ago.  An internal defibrillator has saved my sister, Julie’s life many times.  But the defibrillator only works so long.

Dad is being realistic and knows that if he cannot be defibrillated he cannot live.  But, he cannot be defibrillated ALL the time.  Imagine being shocked with a force so p[ainful that it causes your body to tense up and afterwards you feel like you have been kicked in the chest by a horse.  Now, imagine that happening four times in a day and even a dozen times over a week or so.

At some point the pain of defibrillation has to stop and Dad has made the decision that if his defibrillator quits then he is ready to accept death.  He has told me that he has lived a long and wonderful life full of things that many people will ever experience.  Dad knows that the cancer will kill him or the heart will kill him (I am sorry for the straight talk and if this bothers anyone I am really sorry) and he has decided how he wants to be treated.

Those of you who know Dad know that he is a Vietnam veteran with a purple heart and several medals for meritorious service.  He served on the staff of Admiral Zumwalt in Vietnam (google the admiral and you will see what a big deal that was) and he has seen combat.  He served on several ships and advanced from an enlisted man to an officer.  That does not just happen.  He has done a lot of things that could have caused his heart to kill him but until a couple of weeks ago he had no issues except for the fainting when he was young.  At this point I am sure most of you will see why Dad has decided what he wants done.

If anyone sees Dad or talks to Dad I respectfully request that there be no discussion about the “right” thing to do – in your opinion – so that Dad can be fully supported.  Mom has accepted this and, while it may be hard for you, the reader of this blog, to accept Dad’s decision you need to remember it is ONLY Dad’s decision.

 

April 2 – A lot of stuff happened March 30, Dad had told the doctors that he wanted them to turn his defibrillator off.  This would have meant that Dad would have died if he had deven one more V-Tach.  Mom called me late (well, late for her; it was about 9:15 PM on Saturday) and Mom and I talked for about 45 minutes.  She was very upset and very scared.  If you read the last day’s entry you will see that Dad and his family had agreed that Dad would allow his internal defibrillator to work but that he did not want the hospital staff to defibrillate him.   So, Dad’s statement that he wanted his defibrillator was quite a shock to all of us (yes, the pun was intended, and in a moment you will see why our mood is better.)

Mom asked me to come back to Arizona, and while I was on the phone Ruby had started to find me a plane flight.  I was able to tell Mom when I was going to arrive when we said “good-night” to each other.

So, I arrived Sunday, April 1st at 5 PM and was picked up by my brother Jack and Mom and we went to the hospital.  (A lot of “and” in that last sentence – Iapologize to the English teachers reading this!)

I was able to talk to Dad, find out that he was so scared and very pissed that he was getting shocked so many times that he told the staff to “just make it stop” and to “turn the damn thing off” if they had to.  He hated the pain and hated what was going on.  Dad and I talked about what he actually wanted and we got things clarified.  I asked a nurse to come in to verify what Dad wanted.  We got it worked out.

Then, along comes today.  Dad is looking great, feeling good, and happy to be alive.  The doctors have worked out the drugs and he is taking some lower (much lower) doses of the medicines I was worried about.  The doctors did further research and learned more about the drugs they wanted to use and were able to tailor the doses to match how they wanted to treat Dad.

Now, on to why we are feeling so much better tonight, as if the above wasn’t enough to celebrate.  Dad’s defibrillator was tested and its battery level is down to where a doctor can make a decision to replace it.  Dad wanted them to replace it tonight.  They could not get organized that quickly so it is likely going to be replaced tomorrow.

This means that Dad will have a new defibrillator with enough battery life to protect him for years.

The surgery is minor – my defibrillator replacement in December took about 90 minutes (I went into surgery at 8:00 , was out in about 90 minutes and actually released to go home by noon.)  Dad will likely be kept in the hospital overnight to ensure that he continues to be stable.

One factor that is a little bit of a concern to me – mom does not use a computer so she won’t read this – is that the surgeon needs to test the defibrillator so they actually have to make Dad’s heart go into V-tach and let the defibrillator do its job.  Fortunately, Dad will actually be put out for the test and so he won’t actually feel the shock.

We will visit Dad in the morning and will learn when he gets his defibrillator at that time.  I actually made Dad laugh when I told him I was still going to play nine holes in the afternoon.

 

April 3 – Now, we find out that the defibrillator cannot be replaced because the doctors need to prove that Dad can live for at least a year.  This is evidently a Medicare policy.

So, the doctors are trying to get approval.  The existing defibrillator is expected to be OK for anywhere from 4 to 6 months, possibly longer.

We may get him home tomorrow.

 

8:42 PM – Dad is HOME!!  We got a call at dinner that they decided to kick him out.

 

April 4 – We just finished  eating a nice dinner fixed by my brother, Jack.  He made us Coq au Vin, roasted potatoes with parmesan and rosemary with green beans, fresh raised dinner rolls, and for dessert we had a nice fruit dish with blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and mascarpone cheese blended with whipped cream.  We had good friends – the Rabbitts, Noreen Beatty and four Challenders (Mom, Dad, Jack and myself – we wish Julia could have been here – for dinner.

Dad’s had a good day.  He has pretty low energy but has been getting up and moving around nicely.  It sure is good to have him home.

 

April 7 – More normal.   We’ve been watching the Master’s.  Dad went for a ride today while we picked up a few things.  He is doing fine.

 

April 11 – We saw the regular oncologist yesterday.  He does not feel it would be safe to start chemo due to the chance of messing up Dad’s electrolyte balance.  But, we saw the radiation oncologist today.  He wanted to start radiation this evening.  Dad was real pleased and said yes, of course.  So, at 5:15 or so this evening, Dad was irradiated.  He told the technicians that he wanted to chant “die tumor die” and they laughed.

The radiation oncologist used the BIG C word today – cure – when he told us that he thought he could cure Dad’s cancer.

Dad will have 35 treatments – one every week day – and at week four may experience some burning in his esophagus (because the cancer is located centrally in his chest) and he may not be able to swallow real well at that time.

All in all it really seems like the mood and general attitude is better around home……. Such that Dad wonders if he will glow in the dark.

 

April 13 – It is Friday and good news is all around us.  After we saw the radiation oncologist we saw the cardiologist the next day.  He was pleased to hear of the better prognosis from the oncologist and now believes he can replace the defibrillator.  We are expecting this to happen soon.  I weaned mom and dad yesterday and sent them to the radiation treatment on their own.  I’m pleased to tell everyone that they behaved well and were able to find their way to the doctor’s office and back home (mom is amazing actually – she has a map of the area in her head and can recite the order of all the streets and give instructions just like a GPS.)

I played 18 holes while they were gone (first full round since last September) and was pleased to shoot 88…….. I must be recovering from “the avocado incident” and getting back in the swing of things.  (The avocado incident was in February 2011 when I encountered an avocado that was particularly active.  It seems that avocadoes move if not held properly and when using a sharp knife one should not use the point to try and get the pit out.  It also seems that knife points will pierce the skin and sever an artery and partially sever a nerve causing one to have hand surgery that takes a long time to heal (numbness still exists in the left index finger and hand strength is getting better.)

So, I leave tomorrow, will come back down if necessary but am hoping that life (the new normal for Mom and Dad) is a whole lot less exciting than it has been these last seven weeks.  I hear the Pacific Northwest is beautiful in the spring.  All sarcasm and kidding aside it has been wonderful to hear from those of you reading this blog.  I forward many of the emails I receive from you to Dad and have shared the expressions of love and support with Mom.  They have felt loved and supported because of those emails.

Just a reminder that dad’s email is jack@challender.com and my email is mark@challender.com – if you want to email my brother Jack he is jackielee@challender.com and my sister Julia is Julia@challender.com (even though she is Julia McLean. Her husband Mark has also been very supportive.)

Thanks for reading.  I will update as often as possible after I get home.

 

April 22, 2012 – I’ve spoken with Dad on the phone and on the computer – He has been scheduled to get his new defibrillator on May 1st – this is really good news and will allow him and mom the luxury of KNOWING that his heart will be protected.  Both of them sound better and their attitudes are likely attributed to being able to get some radiation treatment and having some hope that radiation will help.  At the halfway point the oncologist will re-assess the cancer and see if radiation is helping.

 

May 5 – Dad had his defibrillator replaced on May 1st.   I’m sorry the blog has not been updated recently but work has been keeping me busy and it seems like a treat to not have to worry too much about “the parents”.   Email addresses are above.  Give Dad a shout on Email or even call and see how they are doing.  They love to hear from their friends and family.

May 14 – Yesterday was Mother’s Day and Dad got Mom some beautiful roses and, according to mom wrote the sweetest, kindest note thanking her for helping him.  It was such a nice note that mom said she was crying.  Dad is doing OK, has clearance to drive, and is getting his radiation.  His esophagus is swollen and giving him trouble but the doctor said this would happen.

 

All in all, the treatment is going well.  We do not know yet if the tumor is shrinking but Dad is about half way through his treatment.  More later.

 

May 27 – Wow!  It’s been almost two weeks since I wrote anything.  As you may be guessing it is because there has been nothing to write about.  Even now the only news to tell all of you is that Mom and Dad are doing OK.  Dad has not had any radiation for about a week because the radiation device has malfunctioned.  The doctor is not too worried because Dad is done with his radiation in four or five treatments.  The other day Dad had an injection in his back to help it feel better and to give his leg some relief from the nerve that has bothered him for years.   He thinks he could play golf if his legs were stronger.  He has set a goal to be able to play golf by September 1.

So, no real news except to say that Mom and Dad are in pretty good spirits and they love to hear from their friends.

 

June 6, 2012

Dad finished his last of 35 radiation treatments.  He will have a CT scan tomorrow to see if they can see anything in his left leg, hip that may be causing him so much pain.  I’ve asked Dad to write something for the blog and for his students.  Many of you will not know that he has an email list of about 540 students who have requested information from him at one time or another.  Dad wrote the following – he is a man who has begun to show a much softer side in the last ten years or so.  This entry will likely make many of you tear up.  As a young boy I wanted to be like my Dad, when I was a teenager – not so much – even though I loved him and respected him.  (It is no secret that he has been sober for more than 35 years and I am sure his time in Vietnam affected him more than he wanted to admit – he came back in 1970 (the year I started high school) and his fight with alcohol went on for almost ten.  I moved out of the family home in 1975.

It is safe to say that when I grow older I want to be like my Dad.  (One of my favorite songs is by Jimmy Buffett when he sings about growing older but not up.)  Growing up seems like it might be boring.

I started this blog, as I have said earlier, because our family needed a way to communicate with the vast number of people who were calling, emailing and wanting to know how their friend and family member was doing.   I appreciate Dad thanking me and suggesting that all of you reading email me and tell me what you think but I do not need that.  I did what I thought would help Mom and Dad be able to concentrate on Dad and them getting through this awful disease.

I did this because I love them.  I am sure that my brother Jack and sister Julie would have done the same thing if they were geeks.  Many people are thankful that they are not.  One geek is enough in a family.

 

Here’s Dad’s entry:

Jack Challender

June News

 

June 5, 2012

Good afternoon folks, I am sitting here on a beautiful sunny day sending my first communication to you since about last January or maybe even December. That is a time period where I do not remember much about anything.

If you have read my son Mark’s blog on my condition (www.challender.com/dad) you would be current with what is going on.

Essentially, I have been home for over a month and I am still in the recuperation mode. I will be doing another radiation treatment this afternoon and that will be the last of the series of 35 radiation sessions. The sessions were 5 days a week at 4:30 PM.

Because I am still on pain pills, Jeanne insists that she will do the driving so she has been to every single treatment. The radiation itself only takes about 15 minutes but the drive is 17 miles one way.

She has been a real trooper through all these visits and I certainly appreciate what she is doing for me.

Anyway, now that the radiation is over, I get another CT scan to find out what the radiation has done to the cancer. I am sure that there is still some residual disease in there, in different places but the doctors will handle it, probably with some chemo therapy.

With all this treatment going on, I have not been able to even pick up a golf club let alone swing one. I watch training movies and the golf channel so at least I am keeping the golf swing in my conscious mind. I play rounds of golf in my head using shots from time past. I have had some great rounds doing this.

My left leg is currently giving me a lot of pain and I cannot walk without my walker. We are looking for the cause but so far nothing has showed up. The problem is when I go see a doctor he wants me to get a CT scan, blood work, and other tests. Then when I go visit, they have no answers except to try stuff that frankly, I have already tried.

So, I change doctors and guess what, they want me to do the same stuff that I just finished. No wonder medical care is so expensive.

I think the current plan is to keep working on the cancer and then we will see what we can do about the leg when the cancer treatment is finished, if it ever is. Then I will get back to my golf game.

If anyone feels the need for a lesson I will be able to give a lesson but I will not be able to demonstrate the swing. All lessons will only be $50 as long as I am required to sit for them. I don’t want to do more than a couple lessons a day and then only for those who feel they really need it.

Hopefully by mid fall I will be playing golf again and giving all the lessons that I can for you.

This is probably a great time to say thank you to Jeanne, my wife of 56 years. She has stayed beside me the entire time during my illness. I do not know what I would have done without her, but she gives new meaning to tender loving care. I have loved this woman since I was 16 years old, married her at 20 and I have never looked back.

She is special just about any way you can look at it, and still as beautiful as ever. What a lucky guy I am. You can drop me a line at my email address (jack@challender.com).

If you enjoyed reading the blog that Mark wrote to keep you up to date, why not drop him a line and tell him how much you enjoyed his information. I really appreciated him keeping you folks informed. Thanks Mark.

June 13, 2012 – This is Mark again.  Dad had a CT scan of his pelvic and left leg area in an attempt to see what might be causing his leg to be weak and not allow Dad to get around easily.  The doctors had suspected that his cancer had spread before they started radiation two months ago.  The CT confirmed this.  Dad has some cancer on his left side in the upper leg, left pelvic bone area.  They will be doing ten days of radiation and then will consider chemo therapy after that.  Dad reported that the main tumor appears to be considerably smaller after his radiation treatments and he was feeling very upbeat about this news.  As always Dad is hoping to beat this thing.

A good friend of our family – Charles Robert Hankins, husband of Donna Hankins, passed away from advanced cancer.  He was diagnosed in late March of this year and went to hospice about a week ago where he was placed into a drug induced coma.

Our hearts go out to the family.

June 15 – Dad is trying to cut costs on DirectTV and is exploring Netflix.  He and I have talked about how he would be able to see movies on the television.  I suggested that he get an internet capable Blu-Ray DVD player – he was telling me how he just spent $800 on Mom’s car and was going to have to wait.  I reminded him that Father’s day is coming and that he should start hinting about what he wanted for Father’s day.  Dad hinted that he wanted an internet capable DVD player.  It arrived on their door step yesterday.  So, mom and dad are getting a little techy.

I’ve been trying to get Dad to write some stuff on his and Mom’s life but nothing has happened so far so I am asking that stories about Mom and Dad be sent to mark@challender.com – I’ll do my best to compile them and maybe if we get enough stories I will be able to post all of them as a Challender Family history.

So, get writing, send lots of stories.  I’ll credit each story.

 

June 29, 2012 – I have always tried to be honest and direct when writing this blog.

Dad is in hospice and is not expected to live more than a week or so.

I wrote that last sentence not to shock you but to tell you the truth.  His last week at home has been very difficult for him as well as for Mom.  There were a few falls, some messes due to uncontrolled bowels and finally a realization by Dad that Mom could not take care of him any longer.  Dad’s left arm and left leg had been giving him trouble.  He was worried that he was having a heart attack (he did not) or that he had a stroke (he did not) but did have a CAT scan to see what was going on.

The CAT scan showed that his lung cancer had spread.  (If you have been reading this blog you may have had hope, like us, that his tumor was shrinking.  That is what Dad had been telling us.)  In fact his cancer has been spreading.

The cancer has grown to include more of his chest, his pelvic bone, his left leg, his neck, shoulder and left arm.  His health has dramatically declined in the last week.

Dad went into hospice on Tuesday and Ruby and I started driving at about 1:30 Tuesday afternoon.  We arrived Thursday evening.

A visit with Dad last night went well and he recognized us and tried to talk to us.   Today, though, Dad had trouble with conversations and “staying in the moment” – his health had declined overnight.

Dad and Mom have talked about what to do after he dies.

Dad will be cremated, a memorial service will be held in Gold Canyon and then a second service will be held in Washington at Maple Valley as soon as possible.

Many of you may be thinking that the above few sentences may be a little callous.  I have re-read them and want to remind you that I am being honest and direct.  I’m sorry if it hurts any of you to read the above but it is important that all of you reading this understand that the cancer and Dad’s health has become critical.

Dad’s defibrillator has been turned off, he is not eating well, his mental acuity has declined and he is becoming less and less able to participate in his daily activities.

 

If you are reading this blog you know I have asked for stories and pictures.  Dad was going to start writing about his life, but he never got started.  So, please send me your stories about Mom and Dad as well as your pictures.

 

July 2, 2012 – Dad is sinking deeper and deeper into death and is less and less able to stay with us.  He recognizes all of us, however, and puckers up for Mom when she tries to kiss him.  The hospice nurses are saying that he may have just a few days left.

I walked into the room and said “Hi dad!”  He said, “What the hell?”  Kind of funny.  My daughters were able to skype with him and tell him they loved him.  When Melissa said she loved him he said, “That’s nice.”  She had a good laugh.

Julie, Mom and Ruby have each been able to hug and kiss him.  He seems to like the attention.  Julie’s husband (Mark) and I are relegated to a tiny wave.

At any rate, many of you are likely very sad to see this blog and to hear this news.  Many of you have known Mom and Dad for years and will have a story or two to tell.  I am probably going to have to talk at the memorial services and I would love your stories.  I believe I may be able to put them in a booklet that could be a nice keepsake for people attending.  (Please don’t hold me to having it done – I will try – but I may have to take people’s email addresses in the guest book and email the compilation at a later date.)

So, picture, stories, funny things that happened when you were out golfing, fishing, or whatever, will be greatly appreciated.

 

July 3, 2012 – Dad died at 1:00 pm today.  He died peacefully.

 

Here is a little something I wrote to memorialize Dad.

At 1:00 pm today Dad died.
He was retired US Navy LT. CMDR and spent 21 years serving our country,
His awards included:
Purple Heart — Shrapnel wounds from Vietcong Mortar, 30 Nov 68, Vong Ro Bay, RVN; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (Korea), secretary of the Navy Commendation with combat “V” (Second Award), Navy Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Commendation, Meritorious Unit Commendation, National Defense Service Medal, Viet Nam Civic action ribbon with Palm, Vietnam Presidential Unit Citation, Viet Nam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with 12 Bronze Stars, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Clasp, Surface warfare officer insignia, Patrol Craft Insignia.
In Addition he was a Golf Pro teaching golf for the last 15 years and has shot his age from age 65 to 68.
Dad loved Mom for over 60 years and was married to her for just over 56 years.
Dad also showed courage by admitting that he was an alcoholic and has been sober over 35 years.
He was president of Inglewood Golf and Country Club, Washington State Golf Association (three years) and president of the Washington Fly Fishing Association.
He was a man who showed me how to be a man.
I loved him a lot and will miss my times on the golf course where we could talk about many things and never get tired of each other.

 

July 8, 2012 – Wow, so many things to do after someone dies,  We were able to get forms for the funeral home in their hands about one hour after Dad died and the funeral home was able to get their paperwork done quickly.  We picked Dad up from the funeral home (his ashes) on Friday and the funeral director said it was likely the “fastest”  any one had been processed.

I dealt with government agencies and national cemeteries, banks, and all types of other details so that I could be sure that Mom was going to be OK.  There were some surprises but, like anything, that happens.

Death certificates are needed now to deal with some of the other details and to put mom on a solid financial footing.  There is no life insurance, the house, because of the real estate market crash, is worth less than they owe, but Mom will have Social Security and some of Dad’s Navy retirement coming in.  With some careful budgeting Mom will be OK and should be able to save a little each month allowing her to live in Arizona and travel to Washington a coupe of times a year.

We had an open house and asked friends to bring food on Friday.  It went well, even though there were lots of tears and lots of people having a lot of trouble believing Dad was really gone.

Dad will be laid to rest at the Tahoma National Cemetery on July 19 at 1:15 – we will have a reception following at a location to be determined.  It will be someplace close.

While going through mom and dad’s things we found a lot of good memories and mom is giving each of us “kids” some things that will help ease the pain of losing Dad.

We found many of dad’s navy citations and letters from friends – it was a comfort to mom to begin to remember the really good things about dad.  In the past several years Dad has had difficulty “balancing the books” of mom and his finances.  Fortunately there is an Arizona law that will absolve mom of those financing decisions where mom was not a signer or user of that credit.

Many people will perhaps criticize me for “airing dirty laundry” but this blog has been about truth and honesty and my feelings as well as giving you, the reader (and our friends and family), the information you cannot get because you are unable to be near and because you cannot see these things I am seeing.  (this blog may even be part of a book I am contemplating writing about our family.

We have tons of pictures, lots of things that would make for a great memory book.  We’ve been many places and done many things and the memories tend to fade.  I think a book about our family may be a good thing to do.  I am trying to convince myself and suppose, like this blog, it is a matter of doing a little each day or week.  Who would have known that this little blog would get to more than 12,00 words?

Ruby and I leave tomorrow to head back north to our home and mom will follow a week from today.  There is still a lot to do but much can be done from my home.  I’ve loved the stories I have received and there have been many emails from the last news letter I sent.

 

July 19, 2012 – Dad’s service was held today at Tahoma National Cemetery.  A lot of pictures are on Facebook – go ahead and friend me if you want.  Here are a few pictures in case FaceBook is not your thing.

 

 

 

The service was well done, very respectful of a military man and very emotional.  There were several moment where I was sure I was going to lose it and begin crying like a blubbering fool.  A deep breath after a few of those moments and I was OK again.  My sister Julie was sitting next to me and we avoided all contact, physical and eye, so we would not cause the other to lose it……. There were friends from all over and family from near and far.  It seems like family should get together more often but never does except for things like this.

I know there were many other people who wanted to come but were unable to for various reasons.  Your stories are still welcome.  I am more resolute than ever about writing about our family.  Mom has saved her annual calendars and some of her journals from 1991 to the present……  we have Dad’s military records and of course this blog but there are memories that only people who knew our family can share.  Please send your memories to mark@challender.com so I can use them on our book.  No memory is too stupid or insignificant.  Do you remember me playing baseball, babysitting your kids, or Julie being the subject of your son’s crush?  Do you remember Jackie, Michael or Jeffery doing funny things?  Do you remember a party you went to at Mom and Dad’s house?  What did you feel when we lost Michael or Jeffery?  How did Dad’s death affect you?  Write it down, send it to me.

This blog has, apparently helped a lot of people get through Dad’s fight with cancer.  Maybe I can bring some happiness to you with some other stories.  I’m willing to give it a try.  If the stories are electronic I can just copy and paste, do a little editing and turn this blog into something really nice.

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2 Responses to Dad and his battle with Cancer

  1. Larry Hedgren says:

    Mark, what a beautiful tribute to your Dad. I read from start to finish and it brought back many memories. I moved to Centralia from Oregon and started the 3rd grade at Edison Grade School. I lived at 723 F St so was only a couple of blocks from Jacks boyhood home. We played baseball together-but only sandlot games. I wasn’t that good to be on the school teams.
    Now that you reminded me, I recall Jack fainting some times in class. Very rare but it did scare us kids.
    My profession was Optometry and because I fit so many pairs of a new bifocal contact lens I was invited to attend a “Seniors Gold Tournament” at Inglewood some years ago. The contact lens company sponsored two Seniors golfers, Dale Davis and Jim Faree (sp?) so I followed them around the course as they played. That evening a goup of us invitees had dinner with them then golf the next morning. My first and last game. While I was in the Inglewood Clubhouse waiting for our game to start I saw a picture of Jack as an ex-club president. Wow! What a surprise. In those days after graduation and college I saw Jack and Jeanne just every five years at the class of 1954 reunions.
    About 3 or 4 years ago I flew into Phoenix and drove to your parents home for a mini-class reunion of a few classmates that lived nearby or were visiting. A great time.
    Jack and Jeanne came to Albuquerque where we live so we got to have dinner with them a couple of times some years back, also.
    I talked to Jack just a couple of weeks before his passing. He sounded great and he even invited me to come visit and stay there at their house.
    The date of the service, and I was really working on attending, I got a call a few days prior concerning my uncle in Idaho perhaps having his leg amputated. I needed to make that rush trip to Boise and make doctor visits with him.
    You have good a fantastic job with this chronicle of the last few months. Your Dad was someone I greatly admired with all that he had achieved and overcame. Please let me know where your Dads ashes are placed. I hope to visit Seattle one day and I want to visit Jack’s resting place.

    Larry Hedgren

    • Larry,

      Thank you for these memories. Dad’s ashes are at the Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent, WA:

      CHALLENDER, JACK LEE
      LCDR US NAVY
      KOREA, VIETNAM
      DATE OF BIRTH: 07/29/1936
      DATE OF DEATH: 07/03/2012
      BURIED AT: SECTION D ROW A SITE 140
      TAHOMA NATIONAL CEMETERY
      18600 SE 240TH ST KENT, WA 98042-4868
      (425) 413-9614

      Mark

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