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Posts tagged “Doug Pullen

Things I Learned From Cancer 101 (7)

by Sandra Pullen on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at 8:08pm

What has gone so terribly wrong in this world that newborn babies in their mother’s arms, get cancer?

How does that happen?

The types of cancer are many and varied.  Osteosarcomas, Neuroblastomas, Lymphomas, and so many other technical names that are too difficult to pronounce and impossible to spell. 

I simply call “it” the Beast.

The word beast is defined as a cruelly rapacious animal. A living organism.  Fits cancer perfectly.  A cruel beast.

The damage done by the beast is visible and sometimes, obvious.  Austins’ precious little bald head is something I will never forget.  Nor will I forget the first time, his Aunt Shelley saw him as his hair was beginning to fall out.   Her face crumpled as she got out of her car and came around to hold him. We all felt the same way.  The pictures tell the story much better than I can.  They are put away.  Out of sight, out of mind.   So we hope.

When the cancer beast entered my life and world, I never looked at it as a punishment.  It never occurred to me to feel “picked on” or  singled out.

It did however make me more determined to live my life in such a way that others would know, the beast can be beaten.

Now, having said that, never think that for one second,   all stories have the “happily ever after” ending. 

Sometimes the beast wins, and that is what breaks my heart.

When Austin was diagnosed, I admit, I did question…….Why my baby?  Why Austin?

The Pullen Grandchildren

Doug and Sandra Pullen's Grandchildren

One trip to St. Jude and I assure you,  you will not be the same person you were before. It’s one of those places that should be sad, and sometimes it is……..very!

  I will never forget the first visit we had with our Austin there. 

We were so happy to see him!  It had been three weeks.  I was so excited that I ran in and grabbed him up, leaving my purse sitting on a table in the common living room. 

He wanted Papa and I to take him outside to the playground, and of course, we did.  He played on the slide and ran around like he had never met the beast.  The only indication that he was sick was his pallor.

After about an hour, I realized that I had left my purse inside.  Oh no!   Inside were my credit cards,  check book and money.

Doug hurried inside, hopefully it had not been stolen. 

When he came back to the playground, he had the strangest look on his face and my purse in his hands.  

“What’s the matter?”  I asked. 

I will never forget his words.

“It was right where you left it.  Sandra, down here, I don’t think it’s about money. What these kids need, money can’t buy”

You’re right, more tears.

The leaving was torture.  I remember sobbing as he stood in the doorway of the Ronald McDonald house, his little arm waving bye bye to Nana and Papa.  I left my heart there. 

On the interstate, traveling home, all I could feel was heartbreak.  I cried until I couldn’t see. And all at once, I remembered, I had left my purse!

We turned around and went back. 

This time when I had to leave my baby, he was sleeping so peacefully.  It wasn’t easier, but it wasn’t quite as painful to leave him this time.

Yes, you would expect St. Jude to be a sad place.

But with so many little children gathered there, it is filled with giggles and smiles. The play room is awesome, the playground  is a wonderful place for them to explore and just be…………..NORMAL

Cancer patients have only one need, and that is a cure.  We know logically, that the beast can rear it’s ugly head at any moment in time.   After  nine years, it’s still the first thing I think of when I open my eyes, every morning. 

For a split second, I question.  It only lasts for a second, then I’m up and off to start my day.

With the talent and money in this country, why are we still trying to find a cure for this disease?  Jonas Salk did it. But so many  diseases have NO cure.  Oh, they  have treatments, Alzheimers, Diabetes, Hypertension, Asthma, and the list is endless.

There are only treatments.   Why? 

I have no answers.   Only questions. 

The beast is not pretty, and it’s painful. It’s after effects never go away. To this very day, I can’t drink from an aluminum can. Chemotherapy makes your mouth taste like you have been sucking on copper pennies.   The metallic taste is very fresh in my memory. 

Some times, I smell a scent and am immediately transported back to the Cancer Center.   It’s funny how a scent can trigger a memory. 

Austin wont eat anything that smells like grape. So much of his medicine was grape flavored.

The beast causes a chain reaction. Not only does it affect the patient.  It affects the parents, the siblings, the grandparents, the aunts, the uncles and on and on.

Austin’s big brother was only 4 when the beast entered.   He wasn’t old enough to understand why his mommy was away.

I can never forget how my heart broke for him.  He woke up one night, crying with an ear ache, and all he wanted was his mommy.

How do you explain cancer to a four year old?   He did not understand that it was not his fault.  He asked, “Aunt Shelley, if I’m a good boy tomorrow, can I see my mommy?”

How can the human heart deal with such hurt? How will I ever over come so much heart break?  How could I watch Austin suffer? How could I watch his parents go through this???? My heart HURT!   How could my heart survive this much pain?

Now I know….

Just as easily as it can love unconditionally.

Just as it accepts and loves with out question.

Just as easily as it bears your hurts and pain.

Just like Jesus did for us.

Without a doubt.

With unconditional LOVE

And that is another gift of cancer…………To LOVE

 *************************************************************************************************


The Pullen grandchildren…

form the circle of life.

The Pullen Grandchildren

Doug and Sandra Pullen's Grandchildren


The funny thing about cancer is…

Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart

NOTHING!

Things I learned from Cancer 101 (5)

by Sandra Pullen on Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 12:40pm

 The funny thing about cancer is….oh wait……..there is nothing funny about cancer! But, there is no rule that says one can’t laugh AT it!

And that is what I did.

Humor is a wonderful way to feed the spirit.  There is a rule at Nana’s house, if Nana thinks it’s funny, nobody is in trouble.

The problem with that is ….I think everything is funny.

Humor is found in circumstances that sometimes seem difficult to face, whether you believe it or not.  It just made dealing with my situation easier. I knew that if I did OK, then so would my family. They were watching me.

So, if I smiled, they smiled. It was a learning process.  I had never dealt with this before, so I just took it breathe by breathe. Some days I couldn’t even see day by day, it had to be one breathe at a time.

After surgery, the hospital sent a counselor or a helper or a busy body, I’m not really sure what to call her, but my friendly “counselor” came by my room just to discuss recovery options and prosthesis.  She brought me an attachment to wear home.

It never entered my mind that I would need something like that to look “normal” on my way home. 

It was just a small cushion that fit under my arm so that the front of my body resembled a normal female’s. Now I have always been blessed with curves, shall we say, so when I put the little cushion on , Doug and I both burst out laughing!

It was so obvious that this little cushion was not my size!  I looked at Doug and said ” they brought me 32 petite instead of a 34 long”   I still have that “little” (little being the key word here) cushion.

Laughter truly is the best medicine! To smile when you are concentrating on NOT throwing up is a real gift!

I used to tell my oncologist that I am the only person I know, who for six months, twice a week took chemo treatments and threw up on a regular basis and STILL gained forty pounds! 

Now, I don’t care who ya are, that right there is funny!

Steroids will do that to you, so they tell me.

The chemo room, or family room setting where our infusions took place was a huge, sunny room filled with recliners all around the room.

Some were big lazy boy types and others were small, petite ones.  So I made it a point to always find the small ones, because I could let my feet actually touch the floor.

While getting my labs done, (blood drawn) I asked Doug to go ahead of me and “reserve” my chair.

When I finished and got to the room, I saw an older man who was small in stature like myself.

I had seen him many times before but he always had a scowl on his face that made him unapproachable.

On this day, I determined that I would introduce myself and just see what happened.

Boldly I walked right up to  where he was sitting with his wife and said ‘hello, my name is Sandra, how are you today?”

Still scowling he looked at his wife and said ” Yeah, this is the lady that always steals my chair”

Now I just told you , that I find humor in strange places, so instead of being offended, I just smiled sweetly in return and said  ”  OK, you big baby, if you want your silly old chair, you can have it!”

Wait for it………………………………………..

The biggest grin spread across his face and I honestly thought he was going to laugh out loud!!

From that day on we enjoyed prodding each other with good natured insults. As it turns out, he was not such an ogre after all. He just wanted to be talked to and have fun.

In his own way, he was coping with the “beast”.

It is true, you really never know the things a person is dealing with or how they feel unless you actually get involved.

His is gone now, as are so many faces that sat in that room at that time.

I wish somehow he could know what an impression he made on me that day.

I had one of the sweetest nurses. Her name is Kim. I have lots of wonderful people in my life named KIM! Go figure!

On the first day of my first infusion, she was explaining how the chemo worked.

In an off hand way, she explained that it would make me sterile. Now at the age of 46, being sterile was not the tragedy that it might have been for some one else, so I just looked her in the eye and said with a grin……”Sweetie, you better hope it does, because if I get pregnant, somebody is gonna go broke around here!”

She still laughs about it to this day!

Laughter is defined as … the display of merriment through sound.  I love that!! 

I usually don’t wake up every morning with the intentions of being an ass that day, how ever circumstances often cause that result. But by nature, I am not generally in a bad mood.  I try very hard not to  project my moods onto others, and I hope that I have been successful.

Oh wait, except for that one time in Walmart to that lady who broke in the check out lane if front of me. Now that was a circumstance beyond my control. I had an out of body experience and while I was gone my evil twin, Julie took over and well, let’s just say…..even the cashier was apologizing by the time she left.

BUT, I did smile at her as she was leaving and told her to have a nice day.

Now that counts for something, right?

Oh, well maybe not.

My poor oncologist….poor Dr. Patel!

Not even he was spared my humor!  It didn’t help that my sister works for him. That only made him more vulnerable because we tag teamed him!

She would tell him that there was a lady in room two that just could not wait to see him, so of course when he came in I would take over.

I told him that he was the only man other than my husband who could get me to take my shirt off!  Being of Indian ancestry, I could never be sure, but I think he blushed!!

 I know that some of you may think it odd that I find humor in a life threatening situation, but let me tell you, each of us has the ability to see the silver lining!

It may take a while, but it’s there. Sometimes you have to look really hard to find it.

My diagnosis came right after September 11, 2001. The whole country was shocked. Every one was in a  state of disbelief.

You can imagine how, after all that had happened, how frightened I was.

I had to deal with the beast in my own way.

I discovered that laughter heals the spirit. A body is simply a house, but your SPIRIT is where you LIVE.

A sick body is sad to see, but a sick spirit is heartbreaking. The defeated attitude can sneak in before you know it, so one has to always be on guard.

It would have been so easy to sit and cry. To just give up and give in. Oh, trust me, I tried that. Not the way I wanted to live the rest of my life, but had I done that, I feel like I would have been letting down every person who loved me. My husband, my parents, my children. All the people who loved me and that I loved right back and more!

So, I just decided one day after my hair started to fall out that I would just stick my tongue out at cancer and get on with living.

The lessons I have learned from cancer are so valuable! How else would I have known how strong I am, or how much my body can endure without quitting?

How else would I have obtained the gift of compassion for others who are suffering, or the ability to show others that cancer is just a word, not a sentence?

How else would I have become who I am today without the tough schooling by cancer?

No, cancer is not what I would have chosen for myself, but without it, I would not be the ME, that I am today!

And the me that I am is not perfect but I’m not done yet.

I am not what I was yesterday, and not what I will be tomorrow, but I am me today! and the one thing I want all of my friend to know, without a doubt is this…………………..

If I die today, you are to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was HAPPY today!!!!  That is how I want to be remembered.

My children have been informed that I want a “drive-by” funeral.  Every body is to drive my  grave side and blow me a kiss then go home  and …………..LAUGH !

The next thing I learned from cancer is to laugh in the face of fear. I love to laugh. I believe even GOD  has a sense of humor.

If you don’t believe me just look at some of the animals he created. A hammer head shark?  Are you kidding me???

How funny looking is that?

A squid????? An octopus???  Come now, you gotta admit, that’s funny!!!!!!!!!!!!

LAUGHTER…..The display of merriment through sound!!!!!!!!!!!  ENJOY YOUR MOMENTS!  Even the ones tainted by cancer. I believe it pleases God, much like it would any parent to hear the joy in their child’s laughter!


Savor your moments…

and make them last.

Things I learned from Cancer 101 (3)

by Sandra Pullen on Thursday, December 30, 2010 at 6:28am

To savor means to enjoy something with unhurried appreciation.  My diagnosis came at the age of 46. I know, not so young but I was still reveling in the joy of being a Nana.  My grand daughter Ryleigh had just turned two and my grandson, Trey was only 9 months old.  His giggle echos to this day in my head as  I remember how he loved to jump in my lap as I sang “Five Little Monkeys” Such a happy time.

The night before my mastectomy, I sat in the floor and played with them, crying and “savoring” them. I knew it would be a while before I could hold them so I “savored” them in my arms. They were so unaware. The blessed innocence of

Pullen Grands

The Circle of Life

childhood. The un-knowing-ness  (If that’s not a word, it should be) of their play was so sweet.

Not one of us knew with certainty what the outcome of the next day would be.  Had the cancer spread? Were the lymph nodes involved?  Was there other cancer?  Would these two precious little wonders remember me if I should die?  Who would tell them how very much they were loved by their Nana?  Would they really ever know how much I loved them?  I was  afraid, not of dying, that is the one certainty in life, but of being forgotten. To just be one of the faces that disappeared and was no more. I could not bear the thought of being forgotten. I knew how special a grandmother was, I had mine until I was 55 years old, and , oh how I loved her! I so wanted to be here for them.

  The grand babies were going to be fine, but what of my children?  My daughter and two sons were scared. It showed on their faces, but they were young.  My Mother and my little Daddy were another story. I was supposed to be around to help take care of them.  What if I wasn’t able to do that?  My daddy cried every time I looked at him. My precious mother had a shell shocked expression. She doesn’t handle fear well at all. I just wanted to take care of them all, and I was terrified that I was not going to be around to do it.  My husband, my sweet Doug, never missed a treatment. Would go and bring back burgers for anybody who needed one. In sickness and in health and he proved himself to be faithful. He is truly my better half.  But what if????   What would he do without me?  Who would tell him to pick up his dirty clothes?  Who would remind him to cap the toothpaste, or remind him to take his medicine?  The little things became so much more important and the big things that we used to worry about faded away.

  What were we going to do about cancer? So many thoughts, emotions, fears to face.  Talk about emotional overload, I was eat up with it!!

So surgery the next morning. I don’t remember much about that time, this is the part that gets a little fuzzy, thank heaven for good drugs. I had an incision from the center of my chest ,across and under my left arm.   And drain tubes, oh my goodness, THE  DRAIN TUBES!!!

People let me tell you………..drain tubes are created by Satan, straight from the bowels of Hell!!!

For those of you blissfully unaware of what those evil things are, allow me to enlighten you……..picture this….two small plastic bottles with caps, from which a tube extends. Now this tube travels into my body, up my chest and into the front part of my arm, a good foot and a half of tubing.  The way this works is like this..  The bottle is compressed and capped while collapsed, so as it expands the suction pulls fluid from the chest which allows the muscle to reattach itself to the chest wall.  I know sounds gross, but you should of been there! So the fluid drains. Now you get to keep these nifty little gadgets until no fluid is collected.  For me that was about 8 weeks for one tube and 10 weeks for the other.  After that amount of time, the incision that holds the tubing in has healed.  So has everything else, which means the tubing is stuck in my chest wall and guess how the Dr. takes it out????????????  Oh yeah,  he says “take a deep breathe”  and proceeds to PULL it out.  Oh yes!! with a mighty yank, out it comes. I could have sworn it was wrapped around a wisdom tooth, it hurt so bad!!

   I have never had to have another person tell me to breathe, but on that day, Doug had to shake me and yell breathe!!!  Not fun, and not something I ever want to do again. 

So, the healing began. Long days of ignoring the left side of my chest. Just pretending that if I didn’t look at it, it was OK. The longer I ignored it, I could delay the inevitable.  I knew I had to face the fact that my body was different, but I was not ready. When the time came, after drain tubes were out, the bandages came off.  Reality would not be ignored any longer.  I had decided to take a bath. So with the tub filled with a wonderful scented bubble powder and refusing to look in the mirror, I stepped in.  I took a deep breathe…….and looked down.  I remember putting the wash cloth over my mouth so Doug would not hear me cry….but he did.   This giant man knelt down beside the tub and said ” Mama, it’s not so bad, really it’s not.  It’s OK!  I knew, I finally knew,  I could do this. The first step in reconciling my heart and my head to deal with cancer had been taken. I can do this. I CAN DO THIS!   And I have. Cancer may win in the end, but I’ll die trying to kick it’s butt!

The days of waiting for results was agonizing.  The tests to see if I had lymph node involvement was agonizing.  Patience, hurry up and wait. Not my strongest attribute.  I hate waiting.  The news was good. Thank you GOD!  Finally, something was going in my favor!!  No involvement. Now onward to chemo!!  I figured, the sooner I got started, the sooner I would be finished.  I learned this about myself……….I am a fighter!   Now let’s get this show on the road!

The next thing cancer taught me was……I am strong!  I am a much stronger person than I ever believed it possible to be. I know where I get it, it comes from my Father.  Without his strength, I have no power. I am woman, hear me roar.  Patience, strength and courage, that became my prayer.  When I knew something was going to be particularly painful,  I said my mantra over and over in my head.  Never once did HE fail me.  Not one time when I asked did HE say no.  I am such a lucky child that my Father loves me so much.  This I know!!   I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  

   The next lesson cancer taught me was   I AM STRONG  IN HIM!   Fear, to Savor each day,  and where my strength is found, just the beginning of lessons learned.