Friday, September 7, 2012

Deb's Story

"Did you see the jasmine by the front door?" Deb asks me as we are walking around the back garden. "Kim (her daughter, age 37) brought it here between moves. It was a little healthy thing so I asked the landscaper who was here on a project to pop it in by the front entry. He looked at it and where I wanted to put it and said 'It won’t live.'" She planted it there anyway despite his advice. She took me to the front where the fragrant beauty was stretched to the beams, a flood of delicate white blooms spewing out. And I thought "Just like you, Deb."

Four and a half years ago, on Christmas Eve, my friend Deb Ferse, then 61 years old, got a prognosis, similar to that the landscaper made about the jasmine: a lime-sized glioblastoma was located towards the back of her brain. Five days later, after her children, including Kim and her son Kurt, now age 34, had made a hasty return to Seattle, Deb was operated on at Swedish to remove as much of the tumor as possible. Deb talks about those days with breathtaking honesty. She tells me of how she went with her husband Dick to her family doctor of many years and demanded the honest, non-sugarcoated truth.

Deb, now 65, is a retired nurse. She tells me nurses don’t cry easily. They can't. They have to steel themselves against the sorrow that comes across their workday, fronting strength in the midst of much trauma. The same applies to her husband who is also in the medical profession. But after the frank meeting with the doctor and confirming that Glioblastoma was considered incurable, she came home and sat on Dick's lap where they cried and cried and cried. And then wept some more.

Then she went into treatment with Dr. Foltz and his team at the Ivy Center. Treatment hasn't been easy: radiation, chemotherapy and participation in the critical on-going work at the Center have given us precious time with Deb. She’s been able to travel to beloved places with her family, nurture her family and garden, and have life experiences that she notes are not taken for granted in her "ABC life" (after brain cancer). She even got to throw the first pitch at a Mariner's game last year and Co-Chair the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk last year. She speaks with great fondness and appreciation of the support from the staff and specialists at all levels at the Ivy Center.

Treatment is a necessary intrusion to my vibrant friend's life. As are the monthly MRIs that bring a hellish visitor to her thoughts as she prepares herself for the potential bad news, which, thankfully has not yet come. And in between these visits she nurtures her garden and her family and her friends. We share a love of gardening. It is therapy to move plants around, feel the dirt run through your gloved fingers. Sometimes when I pull a weed out, challenged to get to the bottom of the root before breaking it out I think of Deb's tumor and hope they really did get it out all the way to the roots.
Thankfully, a small return of the tumor last year was successfully managed. But, like the surprising and unidentifiable things that sometimes show up in our gardens, an unidentifiable shadow appeared on another MRI which led to a gamma-knife treatment to check out what appeared to be a return of the tumor (and if so, a harvest of those cells to grow a personalized immunization, one of the several potential treatments that are being developed in the Ivy Center labs). While the shadow turned out not to be new growth, it also meant no tissue for the immunization route and, unfortunately created other complications that required yet another trip into her head to fix the leaks and pressure problems that resulted.

I ask Deb what she thinks about when she gardens. After a moment of thought she tells me "I have this little pendant that was given to me from a favorite place I visit. A spa in Mexico. The pendant says 'I am here.' I am here in my garden. I am here on this earth with my family. With my plants that I love. That’s what I think about. I am here and that is really something, isn’t it?"

She shows me her pendant as I head out the door. Past the gorgeous blooming jasmine that wasn’t supposed to live. I hug my friend under the jasmine's branches and reflect that she is still here. That is really something wonderful, isn't it?

(This story was written for the "Our Stories" section on the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk  website.  Deb is an inspiration and a blessing.


KelleyM said...

Oh Jen - I'm just catching up on this beautiful, beautiful post... You did a fantastic job of telling such a bittersweet story. Cancer is such a vile thing, and I am in such awe of those who bravely, fiercely, and gracefully bear the prognosis and treatment. Thank you for your lovely work - and prayers to Deb and family.

V K Tiwari said...
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