Date: Monday, December 8th, 2003
Subject: Breaking News on ...only Diane
OK, I know it's been almost two years since my final "...only Diane" update, but as I said, we looked forward to returning to a more normal lifestyle once again, and with a few notable exceptions, we have. Let's see if I've lost my touch writing updates or if it's like riding a bicycle...
Actually, things have returned mostly to our old routine, albeit not exactly normal! Jessica is in her second year at the University of Wisconsin, and by the end of this year, she will have completed the required courses for her first major in Hebrew and Semitic Studies. She is enjoying college and even though she is here in Madison, we usually only see her when she has no more clean clothes to wear.
Jessica is living in her Alpha Phi sorority house. It was quite a workout moving her in. After making countless trips upstairs (no elevator) to take her things to her third floor room, I finally took a break to catch my breath as I was sweating quite profusely. The house mother asked if I was OK and I responded, while glaring at Jessica and gasping for air, "there ought to be a rule that any resident whose middle name is 'Imelda' shouldn't be assigned to a room on the top floor!"
Next semester Jessica will be in Prague on a special Jewish Studies Program from Charles University which will be not only very interesting, but she will receive 18 transfer credits towards her second major in Jewish Studies with an emphasis in education. We, on the other hand, will receive a bill for several thousand dollars more than would be the case if she stayed on campus in Madison. Oh well, it only defers retirement by another year or so.
Jess continues to plan to go to rabbinical school, so it's an exciting prospect to dream of having another member of our family become a rabbi. Rabbi Leib Kaplun, my great grandfather, was the founding rabbi of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. But I hope she doesn't follow too closely in his tradition as he had a long flowing white beard and smoked cigars.
Meredith is almost 17 and she is so happy almost all of the time. She is quite the athlete, (after all she is a Krasnick) and she loves Special Olympics. Her favorite sport is basketball skills for which she received a medal at the state tournament this year. One of the events is shooting two balls from each of six different positions. Mere put in 11 of 12! It's interesting to watch as she doesn't seem to aim - she gets the ball and instantly shoots it. She also loves bowling, swimming, snow shoeing and track.
As much as Meredith enjoys these activities, the best part is that she has finally made some friends, as the participants really enjoy each other's company. We had a swimming party for several of her Special Olympics friends this summer and Mere loved it.
Most of Meredith's classes at Middleton High School are focused on life skills and work experiences. We still have no idea what she will do after high school in a few years, but we have learned to take one day at a time. The most beautiful part of Mere's life is that she is always so happy. I constantly remind myself that we should not assume our values of quality of life are hers. No worries, no stress, just fun and love. Maybe we all should be envious.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention my favorite mother-in-law, Eve. Mother had been doing quite well until a few weeks ago when she began to suffer severe abdominal pain. Actually, I should say I "think" it began a few weeks ago since she kept making everyone who saw her in pain promise not to tell us. You know, don't worry the kids...
When Diane finally found out, Diane immediately took Mother to the doctor who sent her right to the emergency room. Mother was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis and she also had to have her gall bladder removed. She was put on only IV fluids for four days to allow her pancreas to settle down and then she finally had her gall bladder removed laparoscopically. After three days of recuperation and reintroducing food, she was finally discharged. I don't know what the warranty is on gall bladders, but I guess after 83 years they don't even try to repair them anymore!
Moving on to you know who, unfortunately Diane does continue to have some challenges with peripheral neuropathy in her hands, legs and feet as a lasting side effect from her chemotherapy. But her greatest problem is a worsening lymphedema (swelling from fluid) in her right arm which is a side effect from the mastectomies and removal of many lymph nodes. Every night Diane wraps her right arm tightly with a special bandage which has the effect of a cast to help reduce the swelling, but it is very uncomfortable and warm (which doesn't help a woman who suffers from hot flashes).
Due to Diane's lymphedema, she is at high risk for serious infections in her arm that are potentially life threatening and usually require several days of hospitalization with strong IV antibiotics. This has happened before and happened again this past August. Diane was finishing a long walk with Jessica and fell on her right side and hit her right elbow (twisting so she wouldn't fall flat on her face and risk rupturing her treasured implants). She was immediately worried as she knows that any scratch, puncture or major impact on her right arm can trigger another infection. Sure enough, within two days Diane did not feel well and her entire right arm was extremely swollen, bright red and very hot to the touch. She immediately went to the emergency room and was admitted to the hospital and wound up stayin! g there for five days. Diane felt miserable as she was not only in pain, but she was somewhat depressed that she was back in the hospital. You get to a point that you believe you are finally all better until something like this becomes a dreaded rude awakening and a reminder of past challenges.
One night while I was visiting, Diane desperately needed another pain pill. A nurse quickly brought one and Diane said, "Thank you God." The nurse laughed and said, "you don't have to call me God." I said, "Oh, that must be reserved for the doctors!"
This was the eighth time Diane was hospitalized in just under three years. We know this because we counted our collection of St. Mary's Hospital mugs which you receive in your room with each admission. It was almost funny as we were in the hospital gift shop during her stay (big surprise) and Diane pointed out that you can buy these mugs for $3.00 each. Unfortunately, instead of buying our set of eight mugs in the gift shop for $24.00, I said to the clerk, "Gee, we have eight of these but they probably cost us over $30,000!"
As a nurse was flushing Diane's PIC line with saline solution, Diane said "Ooooooh, that's nice and cool." I commented, "I think we just discovered the fastest and best treatment for hot flashes." Diane and her middle-aged nurse didn't laugh. I know Diane was on drugs, but I don't know what suppressed the nurse's sense of humor.
As we were finally getting ready to leave the hospital, I was helping Diane get dressed as she was quite sore and couldn't use her right arm (her elbow later required emergency surgery to finally eliminate the source of the infection). She asked me to put on her toe ring, one of the "added duties as assigned" that must be in the fine print of our Ketubah (Jewish marriage certificate). As I put the ring on her toe, I instinctively recited "Harei at mikudeshet..." the Hebrew marriage vow I hadn't recited since I placed a ring on her finger during our wedding ceremony 31 years ago!
One of her most enjoyable experiences this past spring was the opportunity Diane successfully pursued to lead the Passover Seder on a Holland America cruise ship, the Ms Veendam, in exchange for a free cruise for two. Diane asked my "favorite" mother-in-law, Eve, to go with her. I think Mother felt a little guilty that I wasn't going along. When the date for the trip was only a few weeks away she asked, "Marc, are you sure you don't want to go along with us on the cruise for a vacation?" I reassuringly responded, "Mother, since you're going with Diane, it will be my vacation!" It's a good thing she already consumed her glass of wine that evening.
Recently, Diane was offered another Passover cruise on the Ms Rotterdam. This will be a thirteen day cruise, starting in Ft. Lauderdale, sailing through the Panama Canal and ending in Baltimore. This time Diane has invited "yours truly" to be her guest, or should I say "groupie." I am not sure if she really wanted my company this time or if her bags would be too heavy for Mother to carry for this longer cruise.
Without a doubt, the happiest I have seen Diane in many years was at a wonderful 25th anniversary party held by our dear friends, Susan & Jonathan Lipp. If you know the Lipps, you know it was no ordinary anniversary party. They invited literally hundreds of their friends to be their guests for a special day at Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Everyone was asked to come in costume and Diane decided to clown around, literally. She not only looked great as "Rainbow the Clown" (see the picture below), but she truly stayed in character the entire time as she entertained everyone there, including many families who weren't even part of the Lipp's party. The greatest compliment she received was from one of the professional clowns who asked if she wanted to work with them at next year's circus parade in Mi! lwaukee. Who knows, maybe in my retirement some day I'll be a "roadie."
Diane shocked me this summer by broadening in other ways... she agreed to go with me to see the Chicago Cubs play in August and she hadn't been to a baseball game in well over 35 years. We had a great time and all the men around us seem to have become her best friends as she "entertained" them throughout the game. The highlight was when Air Force F-16 fighter jets surprised the crowd by flying and roaring over the field several times, as they were practicing for an air show scheduled in Chicago that weekend. After the cheering subsided Diane turned to me and said, "Marc, you're good, but I've never felt the earth move like that before". I was understandably dejected and replied, "Sorry, but I admit the best I can do is make you feel like you went over Niagara Falls in a barrel". Hopefully Diane feels I have other redeeming qualities.
Well, once again we were back to what we thought was a more normal existence, but that too changed as Diane needed some further reconstructive surgery. Her left implant wasn't quite right and was replaced in early November.
One night when Diane, Jessica and I went out for dinner before this surgery, Diane began to cough as she choked on a bite of food. We began to get worried and I said to Jessica, "Hurry and give Mom a Heimlich, and if you accidentally rupture one of her implants, make sure it's the left one!" That's me, always thinking.
In a few months there will be what we hope will be the final procedure, or should I say the "finale." To describe this one, let me put it this way: you can tell Diane is a type "A" personality because if you look at her "To Do" list it says "nipples - March, 2004." Now that's what I call being organized.
Oh yes, I titled this email "Breaking News..." Throughout our challenging year in 2001, I wrote over 120 pages of email updates in response to your requests to be kept informed on Diane's progress and challenges. So many of you provided wonderful support to our family that meant so much to us. We received countless emails and comments in response to these updates and many urged us to publish them.
At long last we did just that. We worked with Kira Henschel, a local publisher's Radiant Heart Press and Janet Pulvermacher, a layout specialist and "...only Diane" is now officially in print! You can see it, and order one if you like, on our new website www.onlyDiane.com. There was a very nice article and some great pictures in a three page spread in a wonderful local magazine for women, ANEW(www.AnewMagazine.com). If interested, you can view the article which is also on our website.
Diane has begun to accept speaking engagements to talk about her victorious battle with breast cancer and how she attributes this to not only quality medical care, but to the tremendous benefit of support from so many loving friends and family, her strong faith, a positive attitude, music and on a good day she may even add the positive impact of my "attempts" at humor as a coping mechanism. She spoke in Minneapolis in November at the biennial convention of the Women of Reform Judaism and her presentation was well received, and signed books at ANEW's Women's Expo, also in November. Coming up, the local chapter of the American Cancer Society and the Dean Clinic in Madison have asked Diane to speak as well.
Diane has been living each day to the fullest these past three years since her battle with cancer began, not that there was ever much grass growing under her feet. She says every day is a blessing. She stays so active that she doesn't have time to be sick anymore. In addition to her home desktop publishing business, Diane continues to tutor Bnai Mitzvah students (which she loves immensely), sings and plays guitar at her students' Bnai Mitzvah services, accompanies our Cantor Debby Martin at some Shabbat services, sings at Shabbat gatherings at two nursing homes each month, served as the High Holiday Cantorial Soloist at Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams, MA for the fourth year (www.CBIweb.org), is a new board member for the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC), and will soon be a volunteer in the American Cancer Society's Reach for Recovery program supporting newly diagnosed breast cancer patients...so as I said, she doesn't have time to be sick anymore.
As I said in my final update, and as is still so true, "and with that I confidently look forward to the future and once again living a normal life, at least as normal as life will ever be with..."