Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Good News!

Hello Everyone!
Well, the world traveler has returned home and has some wonderful news to share with each of you!
Sherri and I arrived at home Friday evening after some flight delays due to poor weather. We were greeted by friends with silly string at the airport, drove home, and tried over the weekend to recover from jet lag and a 6 hour time difference. We went to church on Sunday, which was like returning home. It felt so awesome to be standing in church again, worshipping God. It was such an incredibly wonderful feeling and just so right and perfect. Pastor Thomas told the congregation in both services of Sherri’s and my return home from our European trip, and explained why the trip was necessary, about my upcoming stem cell transplant, and then invited me to stand before the congregation (in both services) surrounded by all the cancer survivors in the congregation, and they all prayed over me. It did my soul such good to be again surrounded by my family – my church family – after 6 weeks of separation. I had missed being in their presence as we together seek God’s presence. Truly, nothing can replace that.
On Monday morning (the 24th) I had a PET/CT scan scheduled at Hillman. Dr. Agha wanted to get this scan done prior to the scheduled Stem Cell Transplant in order to reassess the disease progression before admitting me on Wednesday the 26th, as planned. This morning, Tuesday the 25th, I had an appointment with Dr. Agha to review the results of the scan.
Dr. Agha and his team walked into the exam room smiling. He welcomed me back and asked all about the trip…where had I gone, what had I done, how did I feel, etc. I told him the various places and adventures that Sherri and I had gone on, and impressed him with the extent of the physical activities I had done, from hiking to kayaking, to rock-climbing, to canyoning, and everything in between. He asked me, rather pointedly, if I had drank any red wine. I assured him that I hadn’t, that I don’t like the taste of wine. He inquired if I had been taking any supplements or medications on the trip. No, I stated that I hadn’t. He did the rest of his typical routine, throughout which he and his team asked me a few more times about drinking red wine. After again confirming that I hadn’t had any, Dr. Agha sat down in front of me, stating that he had personally reviewed the PET/CT scan himself since the radiologist hadn’t prepared a report of it yet. Then he told me very simply that the tumors have begun to shrink. He said that although he isn’t a radiologist, he can read a scan and has done so many times, and that indeed, the tumors were smaller! He said that he wanted to wait for an official report from the radiologist before postponing the stem cell transplant, but that he expected the radiologist report to state the same and that he fully anticipated that a stem cell transplant at this time isn’t necessary. He said that his team would call me later this evening, one way or the other, and let me know the results of the official report, and whether I would need to be admitted to the hospital the following morning.
Around 10 pm tonight, I called the hospital answering service and soon received a follow-up call from Dr. Agha…inadvertently, the individual responsible for calling me tonight forgot…but Dr. Agha told me that he had indeed reviewed the radiologist’s report by that time and that yes, the tumors had shrunk! He said that we will not proceed with the transplant, that the donor would be put on a hold (so that he is still reserved for me if I do need him at some point in the near future), and that he wants me to wait two months and have a follow-up PET/CT scan.
I believe that this is the beginning of the supernatural healing that has been prayed for by so many people. I believe that this reversal of the disease, this shrinking of the tumors, is God alone. I believe this, for one, because I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and through that relationship know that God is able to do anything, that He truly is all powerful, and that He truly is in control. (He doesn’t just take control when it isn’t given to Him, and He isn’t always responsible, but He is always able, and He is always bigger and greater than our comprehension.) Secondly, I believe that this is a miraculous healing because there is nothing else that it can be attributed to. The doctors are stumped and want to believe that it is because of some red wine (which I didn’t even drink!). It isn’t due to medical treatment, because I haven’t had any since January when I had radiation (and previous scans showed that the tumors grew and increased in number since then). It isn’t due to changes in my diet, because although I did try a special “Macrobiotic” diet for about 4 months, I ended this diet prior to leaving for Europe because I didn’t want to be restricted when on vacation. While on the diet, I had a PET/CT scan that showed an increase in the tumors. While on vacation, I indulged in sweets and other foods known to be foods that certainly don’t aid in eliminating cancer, but rather promote cancer. So diet is certainly not a reason to explain the sudden regression of the tumors.
All Dr. Agha could say is that sometimes diseases such as this will experience a spontaneous regression and a change in their biological state. True, but even that doesn’t state ‘why,’ but rather only ‘what.’
Judge for yourself, but I believe this to be God’s hand at work. And Praise God for it! Throughout these two years since being diagnosed, I have praised God continually. I do so all the more now! This is the work of God alone, in response to the thousands of prayers that have gone up on my behalf.
To Him who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly more than we could ask or think, to Him be the Glory!
I look forward to writing you another letter in two months!
Much love and blessings, Amy

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Italy - Our day today!

Hi All,
It has been a beautiful blue sky, cloudless day here in Cinque Terra, Italy. We had a phenomenal breakfast of bread, fruit and omeletts!!! Yum!!! Typically we get bread only!!!! And juice, tea and coffee of course - Jen, Erika and Liz need their coffee!!! I (Sherri) was excited to have hot chocolate with my breakfast - mmmmmmmm!!!! Then it was off to a boat - we were planning to explore the 5 cities that make up the Italian Riviera or Cinque Terre! Plans change, as usual - but this was a great day. When we got to the one city, to our pleasant surprise we could rent kayaks! So Amy and I set out in a double kayak and Erika and Jennifer each had their own kayak. (We never did make it to any of the other cities!) We so enjoyed the teal, teal water with the blue blue sky reflecting on the surface of the water. And then there was the rock face that jutted out into the water at different intervals, with the buildings of the towns clinging to the edges of the cliff faces and other beautiful views all about us. We paddled to a beach about 45 minutes away where there was a natural fresh water waterfall right at the beach. We swam over to it and climbed the rocks - very fun - and stood under the VERY COLD waterfall. (Peggy, Amy says it wasn't near as cold as in Puerto Rico! ) We even filled our water bottles in the waterfall - YUM!!!!
On returning we switched kayaks and Amy and I each had an individual and Erika and Jennifer had the double. We switched because you could enjoy a swim from the single kayaks from the middle of the sea, but the double, you could only get out on shore. It was very enjoyable to be in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, swimming like a fish!
In the meantime, Liz shopped and enjoyed one of the small towns called Vernazza - known as the "Jewel of Cinque Terre".
So that is about it! It is off to dessert now - we have gotten really good at dessert!

Love you all very much and miss you too!
Sherri and Amy!

PS We are having memory card issues and it won't let us upload the images - sorry! Maybe next time!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Adventures in Germany, the sequel!

Hi everyone...
We're back! The girls aren't as travel weary as Sherri and I are, so they've been cracking the sight-seeing whip on us....waking us at early hours and keeping us up past our bedtimes...and certainly keeping us too busy to find a spare moment to say "Hi" to you all!

So, since the last time we said hi, we've explored a little more of Germany. As Sherri said last time, Mom got to revisit some childhood places. What a great experience that was. She was so blessed by God the way that each memory and each place unfolded. She didn't stop smiling for days and Erika and I really got some unique glimpses into her life before us.

The evening after visiting her old apartment, we tackled another exciting adventure on my "life list," something that none of us other than Sherri had ever done before....a hot-air balloon ride! We took off from the country-side near Munich after helping to prepare the balloon, and floated over fields, small towns, forests and lakes. Aside from Munich and the Alps in the distance, the scenery below looked a lot like home... It was so beautiful and picturesque...What a great time. We landed in a field that appeared to be growing nothing but mosquitos, and had to help deflate the balloon and pack it and the basket back up again. By the end, the mosquitos were quite fat and happy!!! But, the balloon folks drove us back to the biergarten (beer-garden) where they had champagne waiting for us. After that and a great dinner, we were just as fat and happy as the mosquitos!!!

While in Germany, we also visited Fussen where two great castles, Neuschwanstein and Hohenshaungau (I really have no idea how to spell these!!) are located in the forested hills where they have beautiful valley and lake views. Neuschwanstein is the famous castle that the Disneyworld castle is modeled after. We took a tour of Hohenshaungau, which was pretty interesting and a new experience. The four of us girls also rented bikes while mom had fun shopping in town, and we biked the georgeous paths along one of the many lakes in the region. That is, until a torrential thunderstorm caught up with us and sent us racing back into the town in a downpour. We were soaked!!! Sherri and I were riding with our rain ponchos on, which did little more than catch the wind and make us look like blown-up jelly fish! Ah, fun times!!!

We left Fussen after two days and headed for Italy on the night train. Don't let any romantic images of train travel delude you...night trains are certainly the exception to any sort of romantic notion. They are cramped...imagine 6 people, in 6 small cots stacked 3 high on two walls, in a room the size of your bathroom...and that is a pretty good picture of our room in the sleeping car. Add to that, the sway of the train, the abrupt stops and starts (no wonder they put crash rails on the bunks to keep you from rolling is a distinct possibility), and random people in the same room as you...some of whom snore. Loudly! This is why ear plugs were invented!

We landed in Florence and spent 3 great days there. Florence is a beautiful city overflowing with history and ambiance and interesting things to see and do. It certainly redeemed Italy in our eyes after our Varenna experience. Some of the highlights included seeing Michelangelo's David in person, climbing inside the dome of Florence's Cathedral and seeing the view from the top after climbing 463 steep stairs, the beautiful candlelit restaurants that we dined in, and shopping in the local outdoor market place where you could find inexpensive but beautiful and authentic Italian goods. It brought out the shop-aholic in all of us!! Especially Mom Liz!

Ok, the internet cafe that we landed in tonight here in Cinque Terre, our second to last town on our European adventure, is almost closed. Time to sign off so we can get some pictures on here for you!

Hopefully we'll write again soon!
Our final stop after this is Venice...
And then back home again on the 21st!
See you all soon!!!

Love, Amy and Sherri

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Long Time No Write!!!!

Hi All,

Sorry for our absence, no we are not stuck in the train station or lost and Lizzie is in the next room, we have not lost her either! All of the other ladies arrived the other day and we have been busy with nostalgia ever since... it has been awesome. First, we bummed around Paris or as they say - 'Pareee' for a day and then off on a night train (otherwise known as our sardine can) to Germany, to a little town called Bogen where Liz vacationed as a child. We met the woman that owned a Bed and Breakfast where Liz and her Grandparents stayed. We also met the owner's father as well, who, it turned out, had played with Liz's Great Uncle as a child. Gerlinda, the owner, and her family have owned this establishment for 4 generations. She proceeded to spoil us rotten and her and Liz told many stories back and forth.

We hiked up to a little country church where miracles are known to happen - there we had a prayer pow wow, for Amy's health first and foremost, but many other things as well.

Next was Munich, Germany where Liz grew up until age 9. We went to her old neighborhood and walked down her old street while she told us stories of her childhood. Erika videotaped it all! When we got to her old apartment building we were surprised and pleased that the street level door opened with an easy turn and we then walked the hall to the back courtyard and heard more stories! We climbed the stairs to the 2nd floor (what we would count as the third froor in the US) and stood in the doorway.. We wanted Liz to knock on the door and see if anyone would answer and she didn't want to... but with some coaxing and Erika hitting the buzzer, a woman came to the door. Liz tried, with cracked voice and broken German to explain to the bewildered woman why there were 5 Americans on her doorstep. Once she did, the woman kindly let us in and Liz got to explore the rooms where she grew up as a child. It turned out the woman, Elfriede, helped take care of Liz's grandmother (who raised her while she lived in Germany) in her last years. We spent much time going from room to room and listening to story upon story --- that we could not understand because it was in German!

Thankfully Erika and Jen videotaped it all and we hope to have Liz translate at a later date. Both the Bogen and Munich experiences were God blessings with the absolute favor of God on how things worked out. Elfriede told us later that she thought we were Jehovah's Witnesses and contemplated not answering her door!Yesterday we rented bicycles and roamed the lakeside and countryside and ended up in a thunderstorm -- it was great fun - We got drenched while Miss Liz shopped! Always an adventure!!!!Today we went to the top of Germany by train and cable car and got to do a little more rock climbing with Liz's not so enthusiastic blessings!!! We are now awaiting yet another night train, this time we will land in the morning in Florence, Italy for the final leg of our trip.Amy and I realized yesterday that we have been traveling now for one month and one day. Not sure about Amy since her whole family is here, but I am getting a little homesick! But I am still having the time of my life and not ready for this to be over!!!

Love you all, sure hope to get back to you sooner next time!
Sherri and Amy

Sorry - no pictures today - this internet cafe doesn't give us access.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Anecdotes from Abroad

Hi! Here we are in Reims, France. Two days ago we successfully arrived on the train in Reims, which is where we had been hoping to land. Fortunately, all the train connections from Switzerland worked out just fine, and once we arrived, a nice French gentleman in the train station who spoke only a little English pointed us in the direction of some hotels - or as he said, "few many hotels". We found a comfortable room with no problem on a very pleasant pedestrian street with lots of fun cafes and restaurants. Yesterday, we did some sightseeing around here and today it is off to Paris.

We wanted to share with you some of the interesting lessons that we have learned while traveling in Europe...some of the things not mentioned in the travel guide books!

1. Computer keyboards in each country are different...the letters and symbols are in all different places and typing is not easy! Hunting and pecking is required!
2. In the hotels there are no wash cloths or shower curtains in any of the showers!
3. Every shower is a hand held shower!
4. If you get a room with twin beds, they are right next to one another and there is no such thing as a room with two double beds!
5. Most hotel rooms must be locked with a key from the inside (they don't believe in building codes) and skeleton keys are typical!
6. French dressing is actually ranch dressing - everywhere but in France, where dressing is a mix of mayo, mustard, oil and vinegar!
7. Bacon bits are real bacon, still steaming from the grill!
8. People are nice in France, but not in Italy, at least not in Varenna, which is exactly the opposite of what we heard!
9. But nowhere in Europe do people move out of your way on the sidewalk. (Sherri wants to test this, but doesn't want to lose a shoulder!)
10. EVERYTHING closes for 3 hours each afternoon!
11. All music in restaurants and shops is American, from oldies to rap to country, but all American!
12. Nearly every restaurant has an outdoor patio, which is very pleasant!
13. When you are finished with your meal at a restaurant, you nearly have to beg the waiter for the check!
14. Tipping at restaurants is not a common thing.
15. In the culture here in Europe, every day begins and ends VERY late! Dinner is often beginning around 9pm!

So, these are the things we know! Not much to be sure, but should give you a good chuckle nonetheless!

Looking forward to meeting up with Mom Lizzie, Erika and Jennifer tomorrow to explore Germany and Italy!

Talk to you soon! All our love, Amy and Sherri

ps Sorry, no pics today. We forgot the card reader - oops!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Climbing, Canyoning....and the top of Europe!!!

Wow, it has been a few fun-filled, action-packed, adventurous days since we last said hi to all of you! Where to begin...

The day after we jumped off the mountainside, we decided to see it a little more up close and personal, but no less precarious. (Oh, and mom, the first picture of the two of us paragliding in the last post was taken by me (Amy) and showed my wing and Sherri waaayyyy off in the distance...) On Wednesday, Sherri and I did a climbing course called Via Ferrata, which means "with iron" and is a sort of climbing obstacle course that spans from a town called Murren and descends about 1000 feet to the town we were staying in, Gimmelwald. The course took about two hours and included FUN stuff like rock climbing, tight rope walking over a waterfall, a zipline over a waterfall, and a long and narrow suspension bridge over a VERY high canyon! Don't worry, we had a guide and we were strapped into harnesses that were constantly secured to the guide cable attached to the mountain (thus the reason it is called Via Ferrata). It was danger....but a safe sort of danger! :)

On Thursday, as if we hadn't tested our muscles enough yet, we went canyoning in Grimsel Canyon. It was AWESOME and FREEZING cold, even with a thick wetsuit on. We rappelled around 150 feet into the canyon, where we immediately plunged into rushing water that had just melted off of a glacier at the top of the peak. COLD!!!! or as the Swiss like to call it, "refreshing." But let's just say that at the end of two hours, my hands were blue and about to fall off!! After the rappel down, we climbed on rocks, slid on our bottoms down smooth boulders and waterfalls (on purpose), and rode a zipline over the edge of the waterfall where we then dropped about 15' into the frigid pool below.

We also jumped off of a cliff about 30' into the base of a waterfall, too! Talk about an adrenaline rush!!! After we were done, they rewarded us with a meager lunch of bread, cheese, and beer! (We bought pictures of the adventure, but sadly, they are being mailed so we don't have any to post.)

The next day, we decided to rest our weary and aching banged up bodies a little by sleeping in. But we couldn't take an entire day off from we took the train up to the very top of Europe. When we chose to stay in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, we had no idea that the highest point in Europe was right above us, only a two hour train ride up, up and up. So we couldn't be here and not experience that, could we? The highest point that people can get (aside from the crazy professional climbers who think its fun to freeze their behinds off actually climbing to the peak) is called Jungfraujoch, at 11,333 feet above sea level. Sherri and I layered up with all the warm clothes we had...each of us was wearing 3 shirts and our fleeces, and Sherri even put on two pairs of pants. The temperature at the top was a balmy 24 degrees farenheit! We ventured out on to the various observation decks, but that wasn't enough. We walked out onto the portion of the glacier that people are allowed on and threw a few snowballs at each other!

Today, we have decided to take off, even though today is Switzerland's National Day and the fireworks are tonight. We will miss them, but we couldn't find a place here to sleep. So we are hopping the next train to France...hoping that we will make it as far as Reims or Paris, but not quite sure where we will land or where we will sleep. Ahhh, adventures!!! Not to worry though...we'll find a bed somewhere, rather than a bench in a train station. Now we feel like real backpakers....just hopping trains and figuring it all out as we go!

So, until next time....
Auf Wiedersehen (or goodbye to all you English speakers).
Love, Amy and Sherri