21 September 2013
Dear friends and family,
John and Polly and their children want to share with those of you who are close and special to them some recent significant developments in their lives since John and Polly’s Christmas card last year.
In January, John had an obstruction in his bowel. his resulted in an emergency surgery to remove part his colon and adjacent lymph nodes. After this major abdominal surgery, John recovered well physically. A side benefit was that he came down an inch or two in waist size. Unfortunately, a biopsy found that the mass was a malignant, high grade colon cancer (carcinoma), with extension into the removed lymph nodes. Since his recovery from surgery, John has been on chemotherapy for four months to prevent the cancer from spreading. The chemotherapy has had relatively limited side effects, primarily some mild fatigue.
Soon after John’s wounds had healed, while Polly was having an injection for her spinal stenosis, her doctors identified an atrial fibrillation in her heart. A set of tests and scans in April led to emergency open heart surgery to remove a 4-5 cm mass from her left atrium. The surgery went well. Polly’s positive attitude and “can do” tenacity had her up and walking within a few days, actively articipating in her physical therapy and leading to a remarkable physical recovery.
Unfortunately, the mass in Polly’s heart was found to be a rare, aggressive cancer (leiomyosarcoma). She has been through a course of radiation and chemotherapy since. However, a recent scan revealed that the chemotherapy has not been effective, her cancer has spread further, and some of the tumors have grown quite rapidly. Polly is now undergoing further radiation treatment. Of the many lessons we have learned as a family this year, one is that medicine is as much an art as it is a science. Her oncologist cannot provide a firm prognosis. If the cancer that has spread responds well to the radiation, she may have another 5-6 months to live, but it is more likely to be closer to 2-3 months.
Last week, a CT scan indicated that John’s cancer has also spread. He will be moving to a higher toxicity chemotherapy and a targeted biological regime in a few weeks’ time. We anticipate stronger side effects. But given the cancer has metastasized the way that it has, this treatment is palliative e.g., likely to only slow the growth and spread of the cancer, versus cure it.
As you can imagine, the last nine months have been an emotional and physical rollercoaster for Polly, John and their children. Our faith has helped us during this period, as has a focus on the many
blessings we have shared as family. We have been fortunate in that each of the children have been able to spend time with John and Polly in Los Angeles a number of times. In addition, John and Polly were able to spend time with each of their 16 grandchildren during visits this summer.
At this point, we are operating almost day to day. John and Polly have round-the-clock caregivers in the home. The children are passing the baton in a series of visits every couple of weeks. Polly’s routine is now considerably constrained. She is up and about in the house on a daily basis, and we try to get her out a couple times a week for short periods. But Polly’s physical descent has been
quite rapid during these past two months. She will likely soon transition to the in-home hospice (pain management) phase of care.
Some of you have asked what you can do, and what would Polly and John value most at this point.
First, they want to share with you these most recent developments, as over the years they have shared the many happy milestones and events they have created and that have shaped their very full lives. John is 82, and Polly will celebrate her 79th early next month. They have now been together for over 54 years and have experienced the blessing of full and vibrant lives.
Second, they want to thank you for the friendship, fellowship and love that you have shared with them over the years-- from their university days and the time they have lived in Japan, Alabama, Hawaii and Los Angeles. As you know, these personal relationships have been an important and valued part of the tapestry of their lives, and they continue to treasure them.
Thank you for all your thoughts, prayers, support and friendship through the years, and especially over these past few months.
Best wishes and our love to you and yours,
John and Polly
(and John, Michael, Margaret, Stephen and Mary)