Sunday, September 19, 2010

A final update for Martha, from Joe and Pam,

Dear Friends and Family,

Martha’s eighteen month journey with breast cancer has ended and it is now time for us to write a last blog entry for her. As she wished, Martha died peacefully at home on July 16th, 2010 surrounded by; Joe, her husband; Janaya, Joey, Michael, her children; and Pam, her sister.

From the day Martha was diagnosed on, November 13, 2008, our family worked as a team to find the best medical professionals possible. The family always shared our thoughts and then with a confident plan, we moved forward towards the best option for finding a cure. Martha faced every test, treatment, and surgery with a strong drive of beating the cancer. Her breast cancer was relentless and Martha never had a break. The disease was aggressive and progressed in spite of every effort to beat it. The outcome of this battle is not as any of us wished, however we are all at peace knowing that we tried our best and worked with the best doctors available as we sought the elusive cure. When we knew that we had tried everything humanly possible and that there wasn’t a cure to be found, we worked on helping Martha live every moment to the fullest and made as many memories as possible for the kids and family. Near the end of Martha’s journey, we found comfort in inviting Hospice of the Valley to our home with the goal to help make Martha as comfortable as possible. They not only made her comfortable, but they guided all of us through a very difficult time. With rhe support of her doctors, it was Martha who made the decision to stop further treatment and contact Hospice. We had heard of numerous stories of families that “waited too long” to call Hospice. We supported her in this very difficult decision. From the first day that Hospice arrived at our home and through every visit they made, we found comfort knowing that we had contacted Hospice at the right time. Hospice assisted the whole family in making the most of Martha’s last two months of life. For that we will be forever thankful.

Even if you never met Martha, we do not need to explain her courage, strength and determination to beat the cancer because it is already expressed in her writings on this blog. We do not need to tell of her love of family, for it is visible in her updates and pictures. She was strong for all of us. She loved each and every one of us for being a part of her life. Martha regularly shared that she was in awe of the love and support that surrounded her on this journey. So, as each one of us tries to figure out life without Martha’s presence here on earth, we will do as she requested and will always carry her in our hearts.

As Martha always said,

“Love you all tons,”

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summertime Fun!

Hi, everyone! Again, it has been a little while since I last wrote. This is for a combination of reasons; one not feeling well and up to it many days, and two wanting to make the most of the days I do feel well! Here is a bit of an update as to what the Hitzel family has been up to.

Not long after Michael's graduation and Pam's family and Joe's parents leaving to go back to NJ, Joe's sister, Susie and her two thirteen year old twins had been planning to come out for a visit. They had been waiting for school to finish and for Katie to participate in a week-long volleyball camp. During this time, I began to struggle a bit more physically. I asked Susie to please not bring the kids. I was hesitant for them to come see me when I was doing so poorly. Most of my problems centered around increased swelling of my entire body and increased back pain. My wonderful hospice nurse, Wendy, was doing everything she could to help with the back pain and a lymphedema specialist was scheduled to come in and do massages to help with the swelling. The pain, however, seemed to just increase and we ended up calling hospice one evening in what they described as a "pain crisis!" I was admitted for two nights to the local hospice inpatient care center and within hours they had my pain under control with morphine. I was sent home on a portable morphine drip that gives me a set amount of pain medication each hour and then also gives me the ability to get extra bolus doses if needed. Like I said, I was home in a day and a half, all fixed up. I continue to be constantly amazed at the quality of care provided by the Hospice of the Valley organization. Several different people who have been through this experience with a family member have mentioned how they felt like they had waited too long to contact Hospice. I am grateful everyday that we made the decision to enter hospice when we did and grateful to Dr.Livingston to not hesitate to give us that option at the time he did. If I were to somehow turn some miraculous corner and feel like my body was up to trying more treatment, that option is always to me. However, we all know that is not going to happen.

Susie arrived the day after I was admitted to the hospice center and by that point I was feeling much better and it probably would have been ok if Katie and Jonnie had come to visit. I'm still hopeful we may get a visit together in.

With Susie here, we were able to convince Pam to take a break and go home to see her family. It worked out perfectly because it was the 4th of July weekend and her birthday is on the 5th. Also, her daughter, Mary's, 13th birthday is later this month and they were able to work on redoing her room as her birthday present. It came out great! I love the colors she picked out, very cool and sophisticated, yet at the same time young and teenagerish, too.

We had great time during Susie's visit. Sue and I have been friends since our senior year of high school and it was actually through my friendship with her that I met and ended up together with Joe! Both Sue and her mom are great cooks and Sue worked nonstop to keep us well-fed during her visit. Michael - the absolute pickiest eater on Earth - even ate tomatoes! Now, this might not seem like a huge feat to most people, but for Michael! Unheard of!

Susie also makes the absolute best chocolate chip cookies anywhere. As you can see from the picture below, I was treated to a pre-baking taste sampling! :>) MMMmmm . . . Yummmmm!

As you can also see from this picture, we decided to move in a hospital bed. I'd been having trouble for a while and had been sleeping on the couch in the living room. Wendy gently suggested a hospital bed a couple of times, but I was resistant to the idea. Then, after my "pain crisis" and the kids and Joe pointing out to me that there was room for them to cuddle with me on the bed in the evening with them as we watched TV or a movie, I was convinced. And, it really has been wonderful. I sleep 100 times better on it. We set it up in the living room under the windows, so it is in a pretty place, but out of the way and not immediately apparant when visitors first come into the house.

A funny cooking story. Joe's mom has the very best chocolate cake recipe. The icing tastes like the richest, creamiest chocolate fudge! When she was out for her recent visit, she made one for us. It was delicious, but she had a very difficult time. The cake was crumbly and didn't want to come out of the pan. However, once it was all glued together with the icing, no one could tell from the outside. And, it tasted just as good as ever.

On the last day of Susie's visit, she decided that she, too, would make us one of these cakes (can you tell they are one of my favorite things?). Well, we don't know whether it was a difference in altitude or our oven wasn't heating correctly or what, but poor Susie had even more problem with the cake than her mom did. Here's proof I'm not exaggerating:

After Susie left, it was just Joe, Michael, and me for a couple of days. We spent a quiet 4th of July and decided not to even make the trek out to see the fireworks. Joe did, however, get a chance to put up a flag that his mom had sent to us several years ago and we'd never taken the time to get out of the box.

Since I have not been feeling as well lately and don't often feel like going out, contingents of the Margarita Express have been stopping by the house and we've had our own little happy hours here. We decided we would start a new brand of M&M - margarita and morphine. Wendy thought this was funny, but said there was no sharing of my morphine. :>( Sorry girls! The other day, Carol, Norma, and Ruthie came for a visit and we had a great time talking and laughing!

Pam was back for Father's Day and she, Joe, and I decided to spend it up at our cabin in Payson. We had not been able to get up there since September and when we arrived, we discovered that a family of mice had come in and made themselves completely at home. We (well, Pam and Joe, with me supervising) spent the first two to three hours just cleaning and changing sheets. The weather was beautiful! We sat out on the back porch Sunday morning for breakfast and then decided it was so nice to try and stay out for a while. Joe helped me get set up in my hammock chair and then pulled a chair up next to me and we sat and talked for about twenty minutes.

Then, the edge of the chair began to cut into my legs due to the swelling and Joe went to change places with me. He got me situated in the chair he had been sitting in and then went to sit in the hammock chair himself. Well, as he went to lift himself back into the chair, it came crashing down to the ground! The branch that the chair had been suspended from had broken off. Joe hit the ground - HARD! And then, the branch came crashing down on top of him. OMGosh! What a scary experience. Unbelievably, Joe came through with just some severe tenderness and bruising to his pelvis area. We can't even begin to imagine what would have happened if it had fallen while I was sitting in it!

Later that day, before we headed out for home, Joe and I placed two wooden bears we had bought for the cabin back in September out in front. I've always loved these wooden bears and love how they look out front.

That evening, safely at home, we gave Joe his present - an iPad which he absolutely loves and has used constantly since he got it.

Well, that's what happens when I don't write for a while. My posts get pretty long-winded. Thanks for checking in and love youall tons!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Good Friends/Good Times

Hi, everyone. No big news to share, but just thought I'd write about the last couple of weeks. I'm sorry I don't get my blog updated more often, but by the time the evenings arrive and I think about working on it, I'm pretty tired out. This is actually a good thing because although some of the exhaustion is related to the effects that cancer is having on my body, more of it has to do with my trying to do as much as I can with my family and friends.

The rest of our visit with Joe's parents and Pam's family went great. We had great family dinners with lots of conversation and laughter. On Sunday, we all went to the Tempe Rock Gym for the afternoon. This was our first time there and everyone had a great time. I, of course, was not up to physically participating, but did enjoy my role as photographer and cheerleader.

Even though Joe and Jim were at least twice as old as most of the other people in the gym, they did a great job climbing and provided lots of laughs.

After rappeling down the wall, Janaya comes to a safe landing in her Daddy's arms.

Michael and Connor enjoyed working together as a team.

The girls take a break.

Michael demonstrates that he hasn't evolved all that far from the chimpanzee!

Evenings were spent gathering around the pool and swimming.

On this night, the girls enjoyed happy hour poolside, while the men cooked up a scrumptious dinner.

The men take a break from slaving over the hot stove to join us.

One last picture of the cousins together before Joey has to leave to go back up to Flagstaff.

This is a little out of order, but my school, Gilbert Elementary, has an award ceremony each year during the last week of school. Awards are given out to students for a variety of positive behaviors and character traits. Things such as kindness, sportsmanship, improvement in academics. This year, my principal, Sheila, decided to establish an annual award given in my name. It is titled The Martha Hitzel Sunflower Award. Sheila said it would be given each year to a 4th rader who had "blossomed" in academics and character, and sows the seeds of friendship and caring. The student will be given a plaque and a savings bond for their future education. I am so honored to have this award established in my honor! It was given out for the first time this year and Sheila asked Joe and Janaya to present it.

The award was given to one of the children from my class and I couldn't think of a student who better exemplifies the characteristics of the award. I am so proud of him!

Last weekend, Joe, Michael, Pam, and I went up to Flagstaff. Joe went to orientation at NAU with Michael. Pam and I went with Joey to help him get registered for a couple of classes at Coconino Community College. He is working as a cook at Black Bart's Steak House in Flagstaff and absolutely loves it. He has decided to work towards his Hotel and Restaurant Management degree. Thursday night, Michael stayed overnight in the dorm on campus. Joey came and hung out at the hotel room with us. We got pizza and watched the Lakers/Celtics game. At half-time, we had to run out for Baskin Robbins ice cream - the best ice cream ever! Friday, we went to a movie matinee and then out to dinner at Joey's restaurant. It was easy to see why he enjoys working there so much. The people were so very nice and friendly and all commented on how much they enjoyed working with Joey. We had originally planned a short hike on Saturday, something I would usually love doing, however I wasn't up to it physically. One of the most frustrating things about this cancer is that mentally I still feel able to do all the things I normally would, but my body just isn't able to cooperate. Joe, Pam, and I ended up coming home. Michael stayed with Joey and the two of them went to a Rap concert Saturday night. I am so excited that they are going to be in Flagstaff together this fall and have the opportunity to do things together.

This past Monday, Joe's cousin, Mary Monica, came to visit from California. She is celebrating 5 years as a breast cancer survivor. She planned a wonderful ceremony for all of her family and friends to celebrate her life and to thank them for the support they have shown her during her journey. Mary Monica has been a wonderful emotional support to Joe and me since our journey started a year and a half ago and we both so wanted to be able to go and participate in her celebration. However, with my health being kind of precarious, we were very hesitant to travel. So, instead, Mary Monica came to visit me! It felt so good to finally be able to wrap our arms around each other and exchange a heartfelt hug. We laughed and cried and had a wonderful visit. I was sad to say goodbye, but so glad I had the chance to visit with her.

On Thursday, my mom came in from Pennsylvannia and we had lunch and a nice time together.

I was also able to go to my monthly bookclub meeting this month and had a wonderful time visiting with friends I hadn't seen in a while. I'd missed the last two meetings. I was exhausted when I got home, but it was worth it to get to spend time with my friends.

So, as you can see, the last couple of weeks have been filled with good times with family and friends. I'd be lying if I said there weren't days when my decision to pursue hospice care doesn't scare me and make me sad. It is hard not to second guess myself and worry that I gave up the fight too soon. However, I am staying focused, as much as I possibly can, on living in each moment and celebrating it. The hospice nurse assigned to me is absolutely wonderful and she does everything she can to help me achieve the goals I set. They are also doing a great job of helping me keep my discomfort under control. That makes a huge difference in my ability to enjoy the things I am able to do. So, deep in my heart, I do know that I've made the right decision and am comfortable with it. I'm so enjoying each day right now and that is totally because I have such wonderful family and friends.

I love each of you and hold you close in my heart!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

What a Wonderful Week!

Hi, everyone! It has been a wonderful week filled with fantastic times with my family. Joe's parents arrived Monday evening and Pam's family arrived Wednesday evening and it has been non-stop good times since! Everyone leaves tomorrow, but I am so excited to share the fun things we've done that I couldn't wait to post.

Even though Pam and I have raised our families on oppostite sides of the country, we have worked very hard over the years to get our families together as often as we could. It definitely hasn't been the same as if we had raised our kids in the same town, but the relationships they share and the love they have for each other couldn't be much better even if we had. The wonderful thing about this is that each time we get together, there is absolutely no awkwardness or time spent getting comfortable with each other again. It may have been a couple of months since we all last saw each other, but it feels like it could have been a couple of days.

It is also much the same with Joe's family. They have always included Pam and her family in everything we've done as a Hitzel family and it truly feels like we are all one big family, not in-laws. We are reaping the rewards of this, this week.

Michael's graduation was Thursday evening. My principal, Sheila, arranged for us to have VIP parking and for a golf cart to take me from the parking lot to the stadium. It's not that I couldn't have walked in by myself, but I do get really short of breath and tire out pretty easily, so this was a huge help. She also arranged for me to have preferential seating. I didn't want to sit by myself, however, and planned to climb up into the stands so I could share the experience with my family. When Sheila learned of this she spoke to the vice-principal in charge of graduation and arranged for all twelve of us to have preferential seating! We all literally had side-line seats! It had been a bit of a rough week, physically, leading up to to this and there had been points where I wasn't even sure with all the extra help that I was going to make it to the ceremony. I not only made it, but had an absolutely fantastic time. Sitting there surrounded by the best family anyone could ask for and watching our youngest graduate high school just filled me with so much joy and pride. Thank you, Sheila, for being the amazing friend that you are!

Michael entering the stadium and spotting us on the sidelines.

I was the first one to get to Michael to give him a congratulatory hug!

Michael, Janaya, and Joey.

The cousins.

Grandma and Granddaddy.

Proud Mom and Dad!

After graduation, it was back to our house for vanilla ice cream and Grandma's famous hot fudge sauce. Yumm!!! Next, (drum roll please!) time to open presents. This is the big surprise I wrote about at the end of my last post. Michael uses my iTouch periodically to play games or check his Facebook page. Last week, when I was in Tuscon, I opened up Facebook and for some reason it went to Michael's inbox instead of mine. I started reading the first message and in it he mentions to a friend who is going to turn 18 how he turned 18 a while ago, but has always wanted to go skydiving. I had absolutely no clue! As far as Joe and I can remember, he had never said anything about this to us. So, I secretly set up for him to go skydiving the Friday morning after graduation. But first, after talking about it with Pam, I decided it would be more fun if he had someone to jump with; someone to share the experience with. I asked Joe. "No." I asked Joey. "No." Finally, I asked Janaya. "Absolutely! If Michael is going to jump out of a plane, I'm jumping with him!" So first thing Friday morning, the whole family packed up and drove out to Casa Grande to watch them skydive. They loved it! I'm amazed at how absolutely fearless the two of them were. They were 100% excited! Here are a few pictures.


So, that is all I'm going to write about for now. Everyone is out and about and I have some time to recharge my batteries for the evening. More updates later.

Much love to everyone!

Monday, May 24, 2010

A New Puppy!

Hi, everyone. I'm sorry it has been a while since my last posting. We've been pretty busy around here with medical issues since I last wrote and I just haven't had the energy to write.

My cancer continues to be unrelenting in its attack on my body and nothing Dr. Livingston has tried has helped. I had trouble tolerating the chemo he tried initially on learning that my cancer had spread. They have to give you a ton of fluid with it to flush out your kidneys and my body just couldn't handle it. There was also no sign that it was having any effect against the cancer. He then went back to the chemo I was on when he originally started seeing me. We were happy with this plan because we knew that at that point it had been at least partially effective and I knew what I was getting into with it as far as side effects go. I had my first dose of it last Wednesday and was supposed to return this Wednesday for my second weekly dose. However, again, over this past week, I have noticed a gradual increase in my symptoms rather than any improvement. I was really tired last night and not feeling well and spent some time reflecting. Joe's parents and Pam's family are arriving to visit this week and Michael's graduation is Thursday evening. The whole idea of trying this chemo again was to give me more quality time with my family. Instead, I was dealing with the tiredness and icky feeling that comes with being on chemo and not seeing any improvement. I made the decision that I am not going to do any more chemo. I emailed Dr. Livingston this morning and discussed my decision and the factors that had gone into making it with him and he agreed and was very supportive. Now, our complete focus can be on managing the side effects of the cancer and allowing me to enjoy the time I have with my family. It is an emotional decision and of course has involved quite a few tears, but one, now that it is made, I and my family feel very comfortable with. One of the most positive things about this decision is that I will never, ever have to do chemo again! That is something to celebrate!

In the midst of all that has been going on with my health, a couple of good things have happened, too. Joe's brother, George, lives in Florida and is a pilot for United Airlines. He doesn't usually fly into Phoenix, but was able to arrange to do so last week. We hadn't seen him since our trip to Alaska, so it was a real treat to have the opportunity. I wasn't up for dinner out, but he and Joe and Michael and Janaya all went out to dinner and had a great time visiting.

Joe and George

George with Janaya and Michael

The second good thing to happen many of you might already know from my Facebook page. Janaya and her boyfriend, Andrew, have been wanting to get a puppy for quite a while now, but were waiting until the school year finished so they would have time to spend taking care of and training it. School finished for them two Wednesdays ago and on Saturday they got a new Boxer puppy. Her name is Lucy and she is the cutest, sweetest, most adorable thing! Both Andrew and Janaya had to work double shifts on the Sunday after they got her, so Joe and I got to "puppy" sit. I was excited, but also a little hesitant about how much energy it would take to watch a nine week old puppy for an entire day. It was no problem at all! She was so much fun.

Well, that is it, again, for now. This week promises to be filled with lots of family time and good memories, so as long as I'm feeling well, it won't be so long until my next post. Graduation pictures, plus a big, top-secret surprise! Stay tuned!

Love you all!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Good Times Just Keep Coming!

Hi, everyone. It's been another great week. Pam arrived Monday evening which always improves my spirits! I finished up my radiation treatments to my spinal column Wednesday night which means Joe and I don't have to drive up to Scottsdale every evening. A visit to Tucson on Thursday and Friday to see Dr. Livingston with no new bad news and the good news that the cancer has not spread to my liver! My blood counts were a little low to recieve my chemo, so we have to head back up there on Monday. I feel bad for Joe having to do so much driving back and forth, but we all really feel comfortable with the treatment I recieve there.

On Friday evening, I was honored as the Gilbert School District Elementary School Teacher of the Year. I was so surprised and humbled when I was told of this award. I work with the most amazing group of teachers, staff, administration, students, and families. The staff at my school care so much about the whole child and strive each day to care for their minds and spirits and help them grow into smart, caring, well-rounded young people. And they are successful! They are true caring professionals who do extraordinary work every day. They inspire me to be the best that I can be as a teacher and as a person. Just to be counted as an equal among them is an honor to me. To be chosen for special recognition by my students and group of peers was beyond my imagining. All I can say is thank you from deep in my heart. I love you all!

Recieving my award.

The family.

My amazing principal, Sheila!

All the people who came out to support me!

Saturday was Senior Day for Michael's lacrosse team. It was their last regular game of the season. There are seventeen seniors on his team and most of them have played together since junior high for a total of six years. They are the nicest group of young men you could meet. So, this was a special and bittersweet day for all of us. Before the game started, they announced each senior and then they walked onto the field with their parents. The boys had a carnation to give to their moms and they recieved a picture of all the seniors and a program that had their lacrosse pictures in it, a baby picture, and quotes from them. It was really special. I think even with not feeling well, I cheered louder for the boys at this game than any other game. I will definitely miss lacrosse season.

Two proud parents walking their senior out onto the field!

Signing the Farewell Seniors banner after the game.

Joe, Michael, and Pam in front of the Go Tigers! poster.

Today, Janaya called up and said she was going to come and get Brewski to take to the dog park. I said I would like to go with her and she replied she was worried about exposing me to the germs there. I told her not to worry, I would try to stay away from the dogs and would wash up when I got home. So off we went! With everything else going on at home, poor Brewski has been a very neglected dog. He was so excited to get in the car and arrive at the park! He was off running, playing in the water and with the other dogs. Janaya and I sat down on the concrete ledge when all of a sudden this dog comes up behind me, lifts his leg, and pees on me! Then, two other dogs come up and slobber all over my shirt and pants. So much for staying away from the germs! Anyway, Brewski, Janaya, and I all ended up having a great time. Both Brewski and I got a bath when we got home. Janaya stayed around for a while and she and her dad put her trunk together, so now all three are assembled and ready to have books put in them. They are all absolutely gorgeous.

So, that is it for the Hitzel household this week! The thing is, all this wonderful stuff was going on before. I've just learned to really hold on tight to it and treasure it just a bit more than I might have in the past.

Love you all!