Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Two Years Post Diagnosis

On January 29th, 2010, I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. On January 29th, 2012, I stood before the congregation of my home church and testified to God's faithfulness in my life. What a privilege it was to share, from my heart, what the past two years have meant to me.

My brothers and sisters at Stony Hill Baptist Church faithfully prayed for me when I was hospitalized for a month, endured chemo and radiation treatments, had my stem cell transplant, and recovered from my hip pinning surgery. I have been blessed beyond measure by their compassion, kindness, sacrificial acts of service, and prayers. I love the people of this church and was humbled and honored to stand before them on that beautiful Sunday morning.

Two years ago my world was turned upside down in a matter of days, and I went from being an executive in a small company with a stable income and a "normal" life, to someone who was unemployed and in for the fight of my life with a blood cancer. However, with the love and support of my family, my friends, my doctors, and my church, I have gotten through some really rough times and been blessed in more ways than I can count. My prayer is that God would use me to glorify Him and encourage others who are in need. I cannot imagine cancer without Christ.

For me these verses summarize what I have learned on my journey thus far:

I'm not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives my strength.  Philippians 4:11-13

To be 'content' means to be satisfied. I am content that the Lord has supplied all that I need. I am content that whatever my circumstances, it is the Lord who gives me strength to carry on, walking the good walk and fighting the good fight. I am content...not with cancer, but with Christ.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Update: Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Co-Pay Assistance Program

Linda and I just returned from the Cancer Center after again paying the doctor's co-pay. We dropped off a prescription (again), then waited (again) for it to be filled and then (again) said "yes, please" as the pharmacist (again) asked us if we wanted to use express pay for the prescription co-pay. Medical insurance covers the bulk of treatments and prescription costs, but the continuous stream of co-pays really creates a strain on any budget.  

For the past two years, I have received a grant from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Co-Pay Assistance Program. Myeloma did not make the group's title, but it is a significant part of their program. Here is a quick review of the LLS Co-Pay Assistance Program:

Approved applicants can offload/get reimbursed for certain expenses up to $10,000.00 each year. The LLS calendar year runs from July 1 to July 1 and candidates need to apply each year, but you can apply anytime during the year and coverage is retroactive back to the prior July. Candidates must meet the following guidelines to apply:
  • Candidate must have a confirmed diagnosis of  Multiple Myeloma. (Oncologist will provide this)
  • Candidate's household income needs to be at or within 500% above the U.S. Federal Poverty Guidelines. (An example: A family of two has a gross income less than $72,850.00)
  • Candidate must reside in the US or Puerto Rico
  • Candidate must have prescription insurance coverage
The co-pay program provides reimbursement for: 
  • 100% of Medical Insurance Premiums
  • 100% of Medicare Insurance Premiums
  • 100% of Pharmacy Prescription Co-Pays
  • 100% of Cancer Related Doctor/Hospital/Treatment Co-Pays
If you have Multiple Myeloma and meet the guidelines, please look into this program by clicking on the following link and reading more of the details:  LLS Co-Pay Assistance Program.  It certainly has been a huge blessing to Linda and I as we try to stretch every retirement dollar and survive on disability. I hope you find this helpful and if I can be of any assistance navigating, just let me know.

Take care and have a great weekend!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What's For Dinner? Shrimp Pasta in a Foil Package

(Take two on this post...I got it all done Sunday night, scheduled it for Monday morning and when I woke up it was nowhere to be found. Virus! Needless to say, very frustrating! Big EZ got me up and running again this morning, so here we go again. Anyone else ever had that happen?)

Seems like I have been on a Pioneer Woman recipe kick lately and this one was too good not to share. It's called Shrimp Pasta in a Foil Package and it was delicious. The sauce was tasty and the shrimp were very tender. I pretty much halved the recipe (except for using 2 cans of diced tomatoes, and 13.5 ounces of Dreamfield's pasta) and it still made 6-8 servings!

Shrimp Pasta in a Foil Package

1/2 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 whole 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes
1/2 cup white wine
2 pounds jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh parsley, minced ( I used dried)
1 pound linguine, uncooked
Red pepper flakes, to taste

Cook pasta for half the recommended time (it should be somewhat firm), and drain. In a large skillet or pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and saute for a minute. Dump in the tomatoes and wine. Stir the mixture together, season with salt and pepper, and allow to cook for ten minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare a large parcel of heavy duty aluminum foil. It should be large enough to hold the entire pasta dish. Throw the shrimp on the top of the pasta sauce. Throw the drained pasta over the top, then pour the whole dish onto the foil. Tightly wrap the foil into a parcel. Get some good crusty rolls and wrap them in foil as well. Bake both packets at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil on top of pasta when opened (I didn't find this necessary). Unwrap your warm rolls, serve with a tossed salad, and enjoy!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Our Little Winter Wonderland

It's hard to believe that just one week ago my Mom and I were enjoying snow for the second night in a row over in Boone. Having EZ there to enjoy it with us is the only thing that would've made it better!

I have always loved warm temperatures, ocean waves and sand between my toes. On the other hand, EZ loves chilly temperatures, fresh mountain air, and a nice winding trail beneath his feet. (I have to admit I am gravitating over to his side a bit more as we grow older.) Unfortunately his unexpected departure earlier in the week, due to his mom's fractured pelvis, meant he missed out on the beautiful snow. Mom and I were treated to three nights in a row of fluffy flakes and were like children who could hardly sleep waiting to see what the morning would bring. Here are a few shots I captured:

It was so beautifully serene, and we wished we could have stayed longer to soak it all up, but  the time had come for us to head out and rendezvous with EZ in Old Fort. Reality set in as we realized that somehow we had to get our packed, non-four-wheel-drive car up this slippery driveway, a task EZ would have been much more comfortable with than me! Upon failing to find any of our male neighbors home (I was certain that they had much more experience driving in this kind of stuff than I did), we realized we were on our own. After what seemed like an eternity (probably 40 minutes or so), we made it up. I was too shaken to even think about snapping a picture of my tire tracks, but let me just say we were slipping, sliding, spinning and praying our way to the top! (EZ was actually on the phone with AAA to have them come pull me up when I called to say we had made it.) Next time I think we'll just stay put until it melts!

As we were leaving Boone I captured this picture, a scene that repeated itself numerous times as we traveled south. Just gorgeous...

Have a wonderful weekend everyone, wherever you might be! And if you happen to be getting a bit of snow, I pray you stay safe and enjoy every minute of it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

PW Chili with Kim's Corny Cornbread

I don't know what else hits the spot on a chilly winter evening like chili. Just warms you up from the inside out, and when paired with some moist and delicious cornbread, chips, salsa and guacamole, you just can't go wrong! We even threw in a fruit salad just because we love fruit.

While at the cabin recently I decided to try Pioneer Woman's Chili recipe and it did not disappoint. Just the right amount of seasoning... thick and tasty. As for the cornbread, my all time favorite recipe came from my friend Kim. Unlike most cornbread, it is not dry and crumbly. It is moist and light like cake. Here are the recipes. Hope you enjoy!

Simple Perfect Chili
(Makes 6 servings)

2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 pounds ground beef, cooked and drained
1 teaspoon ground oregano
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 Tablespoons chili powder
One 8-oz. can tomato sauce (I used 15 ounce can)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup masa (corn flour, found in Mexican food section)

Optional Ingredients:
1 can pinto beans, drained
1 can kidney beans drained
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
1 can diced tomatoes and chilies (Rotel)

(I added all the optional ingredients except the jalapeno. I may get brave next time I make it!)

Measure all the spices into a small bowl. Cook ground beef with garlic until brown, then drain off excess fat. Pour in spices, tomato sauce, and salt. Stir together well, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. If mixture becomes overly dry, add 1/2 cup water as needed. After an hour, plce themasa in a small bowl. All 1/2 cup water and stir together with a fork. Dump the masa mixture into chili. Stir together well. Taste, adjust seasonings, and add more masa paste and/or water to get the chili to your preferred consistency, or to add more corn flavor. Add the beans, jalapeno and tomatoes if desired. Simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with shredded cheddar, chopped onion and Fritos or Tostitos.

Kim's Corny Cornbread

2 boxes Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
1/2 cup oil
1 can creamed style corn
3 eggs
8 oz. sour cream
1 teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients together in a bowl hand. Pour into a greased 9 x 13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Friday, January 13, 2012

EZ Goes From Patient to Caregiver

On Sunday, January 8th, EZ's Mom, Erna, had a fall. She was in her stocking feet, changing clothes after church, and attempted to step up on a piano bench to reach a shelf in her closet. Needless to say, she slipped and toppled over along with the bench. She got a nasty bruise on her right temple, and was very sore in the area of her right hip, with pain in her right leg when she bore weight or laid on her right side. A real concern for someone who is 87 years old. After an all night visit to the ER, a CT scan, X-rays, and an MRI revealed a fractured pelvis, but the bones were not displaced and would knit back together over time. Miraculously, she was able to return home early Monday morning with prescriptions to help manage pain, and instructions to take it easy.

We happened to be in Boone (after our visit there with Leah and Emery), so we were less than two hours away from the Bakers' home when the accident occurred. After a sleepless night, a quick check of the calendar, a call to reschedule an appointment, and a couple of prescription refills for key medications EZ takes, we were on our way to Black Mountain to drop him off.  In order to transport a lift chair/recliner that either he or his mom could have available to use, I had to leave my Mom and our dogs back at the cabin and return to Boone later that afternoon. We thought it best not to head home, but to stay in Boone in order to be closer to Black Mountain. Just part of being in the "sandwich generation" I suppose...enjoying our daughter and granddaughter in the morning, and worrying about our parents in the evening.

EZ loves his mom, and it doesn't surprise me that, along with a neighbor and friend Lisa, he has been taking excellent care of her, helping her make great strides in just four days. She has mastered the walker, the bump on her forehead is healing, she is eating and sleeping well, and best of all she is only in a little bit of pain when she bears too much weight on her right leg or twists getting in and out of bed. We praise the Lord her injuries weren't worse, perhaps requiring surgery or a lengthy hospital or rehab stay. Just look at her smile as she walks laps in the house...precious! Please keep her in your prayers for a complete recovery.

A loving son with a caring heart, a selfless attitude, a willingness to go and be a caregiver in spite of issues he suffers himself...that is EZ. I miss him here in Boone, but know he wouldn't want to be anywhere else if he could help his mom. Just more reasons why I love him so much. Mom and I plan to load everything up and head over to get him on Sunday, if Erna continues to do so well. I am betting he will sleep ALOT when he gets home! I can't wait to pamper him a bit.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

French Onion Soup and Blueberry Cobbler

When the weather turns cold, French Onion Soup accompanied by a fresh green salad seems to be the perfect dinner. Here is our favorite recipe from my really old Total Woman Cookbook published in 1980. My mom made this batch while Leah, Emery, EZ and I headed out to the park for a chilly walk. Believe me, it tasted as delicious as it looks and did it ever hit the spot when we got home!

French Onion Soup Gratin

5  cups thinly sliced sweet onions (about 5)
¼ Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp oil or bacon drippings
¼ cup sweet butter
1 Tbsp flour
3 10 ½ ounce cans condensed beef or chicken broth, undiluted (we used beef)
3 soup cans of water
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (*we used 3 tablespoons)
Dash of nutmeg
1 glove garlic, minced (*we used 2)
2 dozen slices French bread, cut very thin and toasted or dried in oven
1 ½ cup Swiss or Gruyere cheese, grated (*we used Swiss slices)

1.  Early in the day, sprinkle onion slices with sugar.(*No need to do this early in the day) Sauté slowly in oil and butter until golden. Sprinkle flour over onions and blend in. Add beef or chicken broth, water, salt, pepper, Worcestershire, nutmeg, and garlic. Cover and simmer gently 45 minutes.

2. Put 4 or 5 slices of bread in each individual 12-ounce ovenproof bowl. Fill bowls halfway with the liquid. This is important as bread will soften and absorb some liquid. Keep adding liquid gradually to the bowls, making sure they are filled evenly to the top with liquid. This is very important, as the cheese crust must not sink into the bowl. 

3. Sprinkle cheese on top, without pushing it into liquid, about ¼ cup of cheese per bowl. Press the cheese all around the edges of each bowl so that when it melts it sticks to the sides and forms a crust. Place bowls in 400 degree oven for approximately 35 minutes.

And now for dessert...

I had been wanting to try Pioneer Woman's Blackberry Cobbler. However, blueberries happened to be on sale, so I made Blueberry Cobbler (she also suggests peaches or raspberries). It was scrumptious served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. A perfectly satisfying meal for a chilly night in Boone, or anywhere for that matter. You will have to give these recipes a try!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Time with Little Em

We recently spent a very special three days with Leah and Emery at the cabin. It is amazing how quickly little ones grow and change. Em was already doing new things since we had seen her at Christmas less than two weeks ago! She has a wonderful disposition and is such a happy baby, babbling, pointing, sharing and smiling all the time! Here are pictures I snapped with my iPhone, which was usually more readily available than our SLR camera, though certainly not as clear. There was a bit of snow on the ground when we arrived...the first of 2012 for us!

(Note the monkey feet - Leah's gloves keeping her tootsie's warm!)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Blog Changes in 2012!

So much has happened in our lives since our daughters began this blog in 2010 to chronicle Ernie's journey with blood cancer. We thank both of them so much for working together to design "Walking With Big EZ" and for teaching us how to use it as a vehicle to not only communicate our "goings on" to family and friends, but to connect with others who are battling Multiple Myeloma.

The above photo, taken on July 10, 2010, remains very special to our family, but our newest granddaughter Emery isn't pictured, the other grandchildren have really grown, and EZ no longer needs to use a walker. Obviously it was time to change our header and attempt another family picture over the Christmas holidays. 

Many thanks to a wonderful family friend, John Carter, who came over on December 22nd and 23rd, when we realized we only had a two day window of opportunity where all of us would be together.( John runs a successful DJ, Videography, and Photography business in Raleigh called A Perfect Day DJ). It was a very overcast afternoon, with rain off and on, but we persevered and are so thankful John got some great shots. As you can see by this first picture, it's not easy to get five little ones to smile, look at the camera and walk where we want them to walk. Samuel obviously had other plans!

At 88 and 87 years old, we were so thankful to have EZ's parents come over for Christmas. Just love this hat on Mr. Baker!

My mother moved in with us about a year and a half ago and is a huge part of our family on a daily basis. At 81, we are so thankful for her wisdom and presence in our lives.

EZ's brother Marvin came over to pick up the folks just in time for John to capture a shot of the two of them.

Many thanks not only to John for the pictures, but to our daughter Leah, a graphic designer who spent hours making changes to the blog this past weekend. We are so happy with the way it looks! The information on the tabs is still a work in progress, but you can learn more about us and see additional pictures under "Our Family". We appreciate those of you who comment, send emails, pray for us, and take the time to follow our story as we continue in the battle against Multiple Myeloma. God has truly sustained us and blessed us, and we believe the future looks bright! Out with the old and in with the new...Happy New Year!