Friday, June 12, 2015

Remembering my Dad

Today is the sixth anniversary of my father's passing. We miss him every day, and wish so much that cancer had not robbed us of many more years with him. I know there are many people reading this today, and feeling the same way about a loved one. I admired him for so many reasons, and loved being his little girl. I wanted to share what I wrote to be read at his funeral service, so that others could get to know him, and remember him today.
Remembering My Dad

It is hard to put in to words all the emotions and memories that are flooding my mind. I simply want to say that I sure do love my Dad and will miss him more than words can say. I am so grateful to have had him for so many years, and for being there by his side as he went to be with the Lord.

He will forever be a man of great courage, not only by the way he fought his battle with cancer, but in the way he served his country in Vietnam. He taught us to honor the American flag, love our country, and pray for the troops, wherever they might be. My two brothers even spent time in the Army, following in his footsteps.  I know that made him so proud.

He was a man dedicated to his family, showing us the world during his military career.  We spent so much time together exploring far away places, and experiencing things like water skiing on the Panama Canal and walking up Mt. Vesuvius in Italy. He took us boating and camping that our family might steal away and be together, creating memories that have lasted a lifetime.

He was a man of integrity and honesty and never in my life do I remember him telling a lie. He showed us the value of hard work and never seemed to run out of energy before he had cancer. He was organized and cared for his household in a meticulous way, and we often joked that his garage was neater than our house. He loved his Park Avenue and would refuse to drive it if the forecast called for rain, lest it should get dirty.

He was a dedicated Alumnus and his love for FSU and the Seminoles was apparent in his home, his cars, and certainly in his dress. Even to his last weeks in the hospital and hospice house, he held up his finger and told everyone the Seminoles were number 1.  Bobby Bowden would have been proud to hear the song Dad made up and sang in his honor. Our children grew up wearing garnet and gold and we would often find hidden FSU decals secretly placed on our cars.

He had a sense of humor too, as many of you well know.  We were in stitches thinking back to his antics and I am grateful for his funny side and the memories we have of him laughing.

He considered my Mom the love of his life, married 60 years, and together they showed us children what it meant to be committed for life, till death did they part. Often far away from extended family, they stuck together and made it through many a difficult day. My mother’s care for him during his battle with cancer certainly extended his days, and we are grateful for how she unselfishly served him, stepping up and taking care of many things he had always taken care of.

My Dad also loved his church, his Sunday school classes, his fraternal brothers the Masons, the Eastern Star, his Scottish and Southern heritage, and of course his cat Sheba.

Thank you Dad for leaving a legacy of courage, patriotism, family, integrity, honesty, loyalty, laughter, love and faith.  We will never forget all you taught us, we will take care of Mom and Sheba, and we look forward to seeing you again, in heaven.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Great Day at the IMF Regional Community Workshop in Charlotte, NC

Saturday, June 6, 2015 was a great day in Charlotte, NC for the International Myeloma Foundation's Regional Community Workshop, titled "Living Successfully with Multiple Myeloma". The featured speakers were ones we had never heard before, and we were very impressed:  Dr. Saad Usmani (Dr. Barlogie was his mentor), Director of Plasma Cell Disorders and Clinical Research in Hematologic Malignancies at the Levine Cancer Center/Carolinas Healthcare System, in Charlotte NC, and Dr. Craig Cole, Assistant Professor of Hematology and Oncology at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Charise Gleason, MSN, NP-BC from Emory University Winship Cancer Center, Atlanta, GA also spoke to us on Supportive Care. These doctors are brilliant, and full of hope and energy in regard to the battle against Multiple Myeloma and the exciting advances in science and research! Their work is groundbreaking, and we were privileged to sit under their teaching for the day. The Westin also fed us very well, which never hurts when you are sitting for so long trying to understand very difficult terminology, some of which is familiar and much of which is not.

Unfortunately there were no handouts, so we were writing furiously as they spoke, trying to capture screen shots of charts, graphs and other key bits of information. (I still understand very little of the science associated with MM cells and treatment, so I apologize for keeping it simple, and not sharing more. There are plenty of sites like IMF, MMRF, LLS, Myeloma Beacon, and others, that have comprehensive information for you!) With so much outdated information circulating on the internet, it was encouraging to hear about accurate, up-to-date findings, with promising data from clinical trials, especially Antibody Targeting of Multiple Myeloma (Antibody based therapy) in relapsed or refractory myeloma. Myeloma cells have surface proteins, antibodies attach to surface proteins, multiple natural processes attack the MM cells identified by the antibody! Clinical trials of the following immunotherapy combinations are showing wonderful response rates, fewer side effects (no neuropathy), and increased time until relapse, so we are excited about these trials and combinations and look forward to FDA approval:

Daratumumab + Rev/dex
Elotuzumab + Rev/dex
SAR + Rev/dex

Here was lunch. I told you they fed us well :-)

Below are a few excerpts from my notes that were important to us (I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies):

Dr. Cole stated: "Multiple Myeloma represents 1% of all cancers, 10% of blood cancers, and it is not inherited. The cause remains unknown, though data showing exposure to ionizing radiation, diesel/engine fuel, and pesticides is convincing. The incidence statistics show 3 per 100,000 are Asian, 5 per 100,000 are Caucasian, and 12 per 100,000 are African American.

An essential feature of MM cancer progression is the variability within cancer cells called 'intra-clonal heterogeneity' (ICH). There are 3-6 sub-populations of cells that have different characteristics and aggressiveness. The most aggressive take over...survival of the fittest. 82% of patients have multiple gene definitions; different biological characteristics and treatment reactions. Relapsed MM is so hard to treat because you are dealing with so many different sub-clones! BUT, people ARE getting better, and clinical trials are becoming the standard of care...then, CURE! Great changes are coming quickly with the goal of gaining maximum effectiveness from treatment, with little side effects. Question your doctor, demand more, and take an active role in your treatment decisions. "

Dr. Usmani stated:  "In regard to Myeloma options at diagnosis, MM is not one disease, so one size does not fit all. Individualized therapy by a myeloma expert is critical. Don't ever be afraid to ask for a second opinion. Patients and doctors are a partnership, and must be able to work together as a team. Good and standard risk patients make up 80%, benefiting from novel agents and high dose melphalan/stem cell rescue. 20% are high risk. My goal is to change MM to a chronic illness for the majority, and probably curative for a subset. 85,000 are living with MM in 2015. Your prognosis factors include: 1) tumor burden, 2) tumor biology and 3) patient related factors. Deeper responses to treatment improve overall disease free time. "

Maintenance Strategies (Dr. Usmani) - Revlimid (10mg) and Velcade (sub-subcutaneously) are the two drugs he primarily uses. Revlimid maintenance after ASCT does produce improved overall survival. You get better mileage from Revlimid if you are on maintenance, and don't just use it at relapse. However, it is unclear whether ALL will benefit from maintenance...doctors must tailor the treatment choices. He also mentioned: 1) Ixazomib and Oprozomib 2) Pomalidomide, and 3) Monoclonal antibodies (Elotuzumab, Daratumumab and SAR 65084).

General practitioners need to be taught two screening mechanisms for MM detection in patients over 50: SPEP (serum protein electrophoresis) and FLCS (free light chain survey). Earlier detection is critical. MRIs and PET/CT scans are a much better picture of the bones than skeletal surveys as, according to him, they don't show lesions until 70% progressed (this was shocking news!).

So there you go...our day in a nutshell! It has been forever since I blogged, but wanted you all to know that EZ is well, and continues to be in CR (5th birthday coming up August 25, 2015!). Blessings to all of you! Sure would love to hear from our blog friends. This is us at our son's wedding reception December 20th...dancing the night away!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Happy New Year 2015

I hardly know where to begin, so why not wish everyone a Happy New Year! Right off the bat I'd like to set your minds at ease and say that Big EZ continues to be in complete remission with no detectable M-spike and all other numbers stable. When we haven't heard from fellow bloggers in quite a while, we worry that something is wrong, and often it is. For us, life is just full and busy, so for the most part, a quick Intagram post is about all I can muster! We are extremely grateful that five years post diagnosis, EZ has not relapsed and his numbers continue to look good. 

And now for a quick review of 2014 and four very exciting events in the life of our family: 

1. Our son, Nick, got engaged to the beautiful Anne Davis in March. When EZ was diagnosed in January of 2010, he wondered if he'd live long enough to meet the girl Nick would one day marry. Our prayers were surely answered and we love Anne so much!

 2. In celebration of my 60th birthday, EZ and I took an amazing trip to the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Zion National Park and Las Vegas in April.

 3. We welcomed a new grandson, Will, in May. Big sister, Emery, was beyond excited, and so were we!

Guenthers Christmas 2014

That makes six beautiful grandchildren for us!

 Dews Christmas 2014

4. Nick and Anne got married in Chapel Hill, NC on December 20, 2014!

 The wedding party with EZ serving as Nick's best man. It was such an honor for EZ to stand beside his son on this very special day!

Our five oldest grandchildren all participated in the wedding. Were they ever adorable!
Gigi looks beautiful surrounded by 5 of her great grandchildren!
Beautiful engagement and wedding photos by Robyn Van Dyke Photography
 All Bakers have now married in the month of December, with Nick and Anne marrying on our 39th anniversary! Here we all are at the wedding: Nick and Anne, day one, Leah and Kyle 8 years, Tara and Jamie 14 years, and Ernie and I, 39 years! What a cause for celebration!

 There was so much more to celebrate in 2014, but these are definitely some of the highlights. May you all have a healthy and happy 2015, and hopefully you will hear from us more often! We care very much for those of you who stop by our blog, and would love to hear from you! For now, let's all try to remember these wise words in the new year:

Monday, January 20, 2014

Four Years Ago Today

When you are diagnosed/living with any form of cancer, you can lose hope, forget how to laugh, and immerse yourself in a world where numbers suddenly become the most important thing to you. EZ has always been a "numbers person", but I have always struggled with numbers...I am a people person. You are soon forced to discover a lot of new terminology that you never dreamed you would become proficient with, and you can hardly concentrate on anything but the disease.

Four years ago today we had our first meeting with Oncologist Dr. Alan Kritz, from Cancer Centers of North Carolina. Having the results of EZ's MRI (1/4/10) and sacral biopsy (1/14/10) in hand, Dr. Kritz did a bone marrow biopsy and extensive bloodwork, ordered a 24 hour urinalysis and long bone x-rays (bone survey).   The Bone Marrow Biopsy Report and labwork from 1/20/10 revealed the following: 
  •     M-spike 2, WBC - 7.0, Hemoglobin- 12.0, Platelets - 200 K
  •     20-30% plasma cells, monoclonal IgA kappa plasma cell population
  •   Cytogenic studies revealed trisomy 3, but negative for both a deletion of RB1 on chromosome 13 and a deletion of TP35 on chromosome 17. 
  A Bone Survey from 1/22/10 showed the following:
  • Multiple punched-out lesions involving the skull, bilateral humeri and left femur 
I often look back to my notes from 1/5/10 when we met with our orthopedic doctor to get the results of the MRI. I didn't even know how to spell "myeloma", let alone understand what he was telling us about the suspicion that this mass of abnormal cells (plasmacytoma) on EZ's sacrum most likely indicated some form of blood cancer. Complete shock!

 We were indeed facing Multiple Myeloma, and treatment proceeded in earnest. Radiation to EZ's sacrum began on 1/26/10, a port was surgically implanted on 2/4/10, and chemotherapy and bone strengthener infusions began on 2/5/10. All the while we were trying to educate ourselves about what we were facing and what the prognosis might look like. As many of you know, much of the literature can be outdated and grim, but many new advances are taking place in the world of Multiple Myeloma, and though not curable, it is highly treatable. Wow, how we clung to those words...highly treatable. Our plan was to beat this aggressive blood cancer into remission, and move on to stem cell transplant, and maintenance therapy. Though not without its share of hardships, we accomplished our mission and EZ has remained on maintenance therapy (Revlimid 10mg) for over 3 years now. Under the care of Dr. Kritz, and Dr. Cristina Gasparetto at Duke, he has achieved wonderful results and we are so very grateful. We, of course, are praying that remission continues for a long time to come, though we are not ignorant of the fact that relapse is a very real possibility.

I want to encourage those of you who may have also received very unexpected news at one time or another, that all hope should not be lost. Dig your heels in, educate yourself with up-to-date information about what you are facing, choose your doctors wisely, don't be afraid to seek second opinions, ask questions, surround yourself with family and supportive friends who will "come along side" you in your battle, and never underestimate the power of prayer! All that we have been through has served to strengthen our marriage, deepen our faith, and enlighten us as to the beauty of each day, never taking life for granted. 

We have many fond memories of the past 4 years. We have had 3 grandchildren born (with another on the way) since EZ's diagnosis. We have traveled to Disney World, the Keys, Seattle, Alaska and soon, The Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. We have moved to a new home where life is more manageable (and yard maintenance is provided!). We have met some incredible people, in person and online, who are also battling MM or caring for a loved one with MM, and our lives are richer because of them. We have been humbled by the generosity of many, some of whom we have never met. We have learned to accept help. We have laughed. Most of all, we are even more convinced of how much we are loved by God, who in His faithfulness, has sustained us. 

We look forward to 2014 with hope and excitement, as there will be a new baby boy to meet, and new travel adventures to enjoy with one another. Live life, remain hopeful, and stay positive.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Five Little Blessings with a Sixth on the Way!

Can I just say what a blessing these five little ones are to us? To think that four years ago, when EZ was diagnosed on January 20th of 2010, we had one set of twin grandchildren, Natalie and Nathan. Our daughter Tara was expecting our second set of twin grandchildren, Samantha and Samuel, that February. A year later, our daughter Leah gave birth to our little singleton, Emery, and so there were five. In May, Emery will have a little brother and there will be six! We are beyond ecstatic!

When we were told that EZ had Multiple Myeloma, we were so very uncertain about what the future held. And though the past four years have had their share of peaks and valleys, we can say without a doubt that these five have been the best medicine, and brought the most joy! Their giggles, exuberance, cuddles, and love have brought us smiles on even the most painful of days. We are so grateful for our family and the love we share. This Grandma and Grandpa will never take it for granted, as we treasure each day with them. God is so very good. 

I will sing of the Lord's great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. Psalm 89:1

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Blessed By The Beauty

EZ and I recently spent a week in our cabin over in the beautiful North Carolina mountains. The leaves were definitely peaking and we were so blessed each day as we took excursions to soak in the beauty that surrounded us. In the midst of whatever you might be facing, it is so refreshing to just stop and rejoice over the good in your life. Many people always seem to see the cup half empty, but we seem to see the cup half full. Why not count your blessings, be positive, smile and hold on to hope for a wonderful tomorrow? Enjoy this road trip through the Appalachians and have a great day!