Sunday, October 28, 2012

kind of funny.

As previously mentioned, Mike and I are on a quest to recover successfully from the cancer journey.  This is a many faceted task, but in our research this quest took us to see Dr. Todd Frisch in St. Louis in September.  We were most interested in finding help for Mike's irritating post-radiation side effects.  I have also been aware that my immune system had taken a real hit.
 (Cancer Journey + Move + New Baby + Wedding = Not as vibrant Karen)

It would be hard to sum up the scope of this kind & brilliant man's work.  But he brought clarity and insights that we needed, and shed much light where we had no answers.  I could write pages and pages... but this is what I wanted to share in today's post: 

Part of Dr. Frisch's examination included having adrenal tests - which is having our saliva tested.  We had to put a small pad in our mouths at specified times throughout a 24 hour period.  We sent them off in the little glass tubes and awaited the lab results.

In a nutshell, Mike got an almost perfect report.  To quote Dr. Todd on the report that arrived later "Your test is remarkably good considering your health scare." Also "amazing and quite unexpected!"

And the funny part (well, not really) was that my report of concerns was almost two pages long.  I have an elevated cortisol load and depressed 17-OH progesterone to name a few. This totally synced with the not-as-vibrant symptoms I had been having.  I guess it was comforting that Dr. Frisch said that it was very common for him to see these imbalances for the caretaker after a medical roller coaster ride.  Thankfully, we have a good plan in place to get me up and running again.

Let us just say - we are extremely thankful that in God's good providence we discovered Dr. Todd Frisch.  The world would be a better place if there were more doctors like him in practice.  Please feel free to visit his web site if you are interested at  And if you live in the St. Louis area you might want to make an appointment.

Friday, September 7, 2012

another great report.

 This photo was taken just outside Dr. Haughey's Ear, Nose & Throat office on the 11th floor of the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis.  See the St. Louis Arch on the skyline in the background between us? Right by my cheek.
 Dr. Haughey's darling and intelligent staff - at least part of them.

We love our St. Louis routine. Starts with a 45 minute Southwest flight.  We hop off the plane and onto the Metro Link to the Central West End stop. Then straight to Dr. H's office on the Barnes Hospital / Washington University campus, suitcases and all.  (This trip three people asked "Are you moving in?")

The post-surgery visits are similar.  They nasal spray Mike at the start of the check to numb up the passageway.  Dr. Haughey comes in after a bit and does a visual examination, then a 'massage like' exam of his neck area.  He can tell immediately if there is something out of place.  Then he scopes Mike by inserting a video camera device on the end of a long tube into his throat cavity through his right nostril. (Yes, that is correct.)  I marvel every time how Mike manages this so bravely.  Dr. Haughey gives a verbal report that his RN types into the computer during this entire process.  You hear words like "soft palpation, good", "no lesions seen", "base of tongue normal".  I felt sheer delight and felt my body let out a huge sigh of relief when I heard him proclaim at the end "Looks 100%".

For some reason, this visit felt even more affirming to me. Maybe because Dr. H has said the same good report three times now.  Maybe it was because the nurses took time to talk with us at the end of the appointment and said things like "You know, Mike really looks good.  He is really healing well.  We see a lot of people, and he really looks good." Maybe because in the waiting room this visit every other person in the waiting room had a very serious deformity from their head & neck cancer.  I walked away from our day with an overwhelmingly thankful heart.

Another sweet thing happened.  Precursor to the story: I had been telling Mike that it might be a good idea for him to try to get more sleep to help him recover from the lingering radiation side effects.  I am sure Mike deeply respects everything that I say... (I am smiling)

But Dr. Haughey happened to say: "Sleep is your best aly.  We know that the growth hormone is only secreted during sleep. Get 8 hours to be protective."

Straight from Dr. Haughey. The advice just got elevated to important. I quickly added that I did not pay him to say that, and Dr. H added he said it off the cuff.  This bit of wisdom coupled with the good report were worth their weight in gold.

A fun side note was after Dr. H checked Mike's shoulder muscles for loss of strength, Mike added that he had officially started working out again - and he was up to 30 pull-ups.  He got a rousing 'whoa' which I am confident will spur him on with his workouts.

In the same way that we did extensive research to find the best way to remove Mike's cancer (which resulted in finding Dr. Bruce Haughey), we are now embarking on a journey of how to best recover the immune system from radiation.  Western medicine does an excellent job of targeting and eradicating most cancers, but does not provide much insight in how to recover from treatment side effects.  We are on our way to recovering vibrant health... but that is another story for another day.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

check up time.

It is that time again. We are sitting in the waiting room at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes Hospital Washington University School of Medicine... Waiting to see the doctor we are so thankful for. We will let you know what Dr. Haughey has to say after our appointment.

May we say thank you for your prayers.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

we love fremont dental group.

This is the woman, along with Dr. Emily McCarthy, who found Mike's suspicious lymph node during a routine dental exam that led to us discovering Mike's cancer in his throat.  Her name is Shelly Steinkruger and we will be forever grateful for her.  Not only are her routine examinations thorough enough to detect this detail, but her compassion and care are off the charts.  (She still cries when she hears about Mike's journey.)

I had my routine teeth cleaning this week and the girls at Fremont Dental Group had asked to see Mike's radiation mask so Mike sent it with me.  This explains why Shelly is holding it in the pic.

Besides sharing our profound thanks for the excellent dental care we receive at Fremont Dental Group, this post is to encourage you to get the BEST dentist that you can find and keep regular dental care appointments.  Dentist chairs are where head & neck cancers can be found in the early stages.  And while no one wants any cancer in the early stages, it is a far cry better than discovering a cancer in the later stages.  When is your next dental check-up?

The number for Fremont Dental Group is 402-727-9100 if you are in this area.

8 more.

I realized this week that I left out some fun information about Mike's checkup in early April with Dr. Bruce Haughey at the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis.

1.  Mike put on 8 pounds since his December 20, 2011 checkup!

2.  Dr. H also said that Mike's salivary function should improve over a year, which we would love.

We are in the midst of conducting our own post-radiation research right now, as Mike is riddled with itchy red spots on his body.  They are the size of small to medium bug bites and itch like heck.  I know it is bad because Mike weathered his surgeries without a peep of complaining and very few peeps were muttered through his radiation series - but he is peeping about these spots.  We thought they were in random places because they are basically all over -  but our knowledgeable massage therapist Tara Currier said they are actually along Mike's meridian lines. So now we are thinking that his liver might be working to cleanse his body of the radiation toxins.  Just so you know, Mike has been to Dr. Martin twice for the itchy spots and has had a whole series of blood work done and it all came back clean.  He was treated for mites as well - but it wasn't that.  Antihistamines do help and sometimes Mike takes them to tone the itching down so he can sleep.

We covet your prayers for this - and we are doing more research.  We plan to see an Integrative Medicine doctor in St. Louis sooner rather than later. We will keep you posted.

Monday, April 23, 2012

amy and psalm 139.

I was re-reading some correspondence from a dear friend you battled cancer with grace and diligence.  May I share her insights that enrich the meaning of the glorious Psalm 139?

You will laugh when I tell you that I used Psalm 139 as my "spiritual imaging" psalm. Think about being shoved into one of the giant "machines" (bone scan, CT scan, PET scan) and then read the psalm. It's God's spiritual "machine"! He sees deeper, better, more comprehensively than any of our high-tech machines. They can't even interpret the liver lesion on my CT scan or decide whether the primary tumors in my breast are enlarging. But God sees and knows exactly what is inside us-- physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, etc. He even sees beyond time to before we were born! I love the last stanza; I keep telling God that it is one thing for the doctors to find spots of cancer in my body, but it's more important that He find the spots of spiritual cancer in my soul. That's the report I need to pay attention to!! 
Amy Sternberg - from an email written September 15, 2006

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


We continue to be more thankful than words can express adequately for Dr. Bruce Haughey and his staff.  And we are overwhelmingly thankful today to hear him say "can't find anything the matter".  During Mike's scope I only heard words like "it's good" or "it's great"... music to our ears.  Dr. H also reported that Mike still has a fair amount of saliva - which is encouraging.  Mike is always noticing the lack of it, but comparatively it looks like we should be in the thankful camp.

Dr. Haughey was telling us about some of his current research data which ultimately will put the treatment plans in line with Mike's kind of cancer (instead of the old smokers' version that still dictates the protocol.)   Bruce shared that this kind of cancer is fought by our own immune systems very well so the goal of treatments is to make the disease burden so tiny that your own immune system can attack and conquer.  We are so thankful for the care we have received and Dr. Haughey's continued research.

st. louis welcomed us.

We got an ALL GOOD report today, and St. Louis welcomed us.  The weather was intoxicating - fresh & crisp with everything in bloom.  We did lots of walking today and it was refreshing. Our good news was such a blessed relief that we both took a serious nap - Mike is still asleep.

Now our home-away-from-home is filled with amazing fragrances... Tom cooking Bolognase lasagna made with freshly made lasagna noodles made with fresh garden spinach. Ahhhhhh.  And Italian Prosecco.  A blessed day.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

one year anniversary.

Well, today marks one year since Mike's first cancer surgery in St. Louis.  I put on my blue band again for part of the day in honor of that part of the journey.  A big sweet thank you to friend and blog follower Jennifer Henson in West Virginia for even helping us to remember to mark the date.  We don't like to look back too much... but remembering is important.

"Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and grandsons."  Deuteronomy 4:9

Said another way
 "Be very careful never to forget what you have seen the Lord do for you.  Do not let these things escape from your mind as long as you live!  And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren."  Deuteronomy 4:9

We head back to St. Louis next week for a regular checkup with Dr. Bruce Haughey on Tuesday, April 10th at 1pm.  While we are always excited to go and be under Dr. H's excellent care, it is a tiny bit scary too.  Cancer is unpredictable and we are tired of it.  We are praying to hear good, healthy words from Dr. Haughey's mouth.  The only C-word we want to hear is 'C-ome back to see me in a few months.'

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

48 hours of prayer & panalog.

Wow.  Next time we are asking for prayer sooner.  Take a look at the healing that has happened on Mike's neck.  Thank you to so many of you out there who read this blog and faithfully pray for us.  It is humbling.  The other thing Mike did (probably as a result of people praying) was start using what our family knows as "wound dressing" or Panalog on the refuse-to-heal sore.

As you might know, Mike's dad Dr. Harold "Buck" Blanc was our town's veterinarian for years and years.  Their family grew up enjoying the wonders of this magic yellow lotion that seems to heal just about everything it touches.  It is only technically available through an animal care professional for your pet, but I personally recommend 'borrowing some' from your pet. I could not count the number of times the kids had 'something' that we would turn to each other and say "time to try some wound dressing on it".  Once again, it - coupled with the prayers of the saints - has worked wonders.

I happened to ask our pharmacist about it today while showing him the before and after photos of Mike's sore.  He wisely said that it is not that the panalog is not safe for humans, it is just that human medical care is more about politics now than providing what people really need. I am just glad to see that awful thing healed.  I am thankful for prayer... and the magic yellow goo in the tiny bottle with the red cap. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

radiation recall.

Radiation Recall or Radiation Sucks. You pick the title.  Yes, I should probably be continually thankful for the radiation that potentially obliterated the cancer with everything else in its path, but radiation of the head and neck is tough stuff.  I do not have an obsession with posting gross pictures.  Rather I wanted to ask for prayer.  This spot on Mike's neck at the edge of the radiation field only gets bigger and does not seem to heal so I am posting the photos to say we would covet your prayers.  We visited Dr. Lydiatt's office at UNMC when we saw the swallowing specialist last month and were told it is a breakdown in his epidermis (skin) called 'radiation recall'.  Let's ask God to recall it. It worries me.

Also glad we have an appointment with Dr. Bruce Haughey in St. Louis on April 10th.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

hard to swallow.

We spend the bulk of today at the University of Nebraska Medical Center for two reasons.  Besides having an appointment with a swallowing specialist, Mike had a sore on his neck (in the radiation field) that was not healing and we were concerned enough to want to have it looked at.

This morning we saw Dr. Bill Lydiatt's Physican Assistant, Jennelea Montanez.  She was a familiar face and comforted us with her words something to the effect that she does not believe this is related to cancer.  We tend to think everything is these days. Can you blame us?  She said that Mike's skin is still suffering the effects of the radiation and called this sort of thing "radiation recall".  Technically she called it a musositis, or breakdown of the epidermal surface due to radiation.  We are to continue with the sulfa cream, and we were encouraged to keep Tara's organic moisturizing oils on his poor skin.  She assessed that the skin might have been irritated because it is located at a "bony prominence" at the base of his neck.  We laughed because he does have some bony prominences with his weight loss, but...

We were encouraged that when we did the tradition "weigh in" Mike showed some weight gain! He is up to 166 pounds - but we wanted to add that he is in need of a haircut so it might be closer to 165 - ha.

This afternoon we met with a swallowing specialist and found it very, very helpful.  Mike was encouraged by how many things he had "figured out" on his own - for instance, "adding extra juice, broth, gravy, butter and oil to your foods help it go down".  Not only did she clearly explain why swallowing is so difficult following a bout of radiation but she also gave Mike a series of exercises & stretches to do every day.  I call it "head & neck yoga".  The goal is to tone the swallowing mechanism.  Mike is totally jazzed about this because he is acutely aware of how helpful it will be.

This week Mike started Tony Horton's 10 Minute Workout to prepare himself for more extensive body conditioning at Anytime Fitness.  And today he added his head & neck pilates regime.  I have always admired Mike's discipline.  He is on the way to rebuilding his muscles all over the place.

I have said this before, but spending time around the head & neck oncology center is exhausting. But today we are super thankful for our good news about the "red spot that wasn't getting better".  That was news that wasn't hard to swallow.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

somebody is feeling better.

I was going to make a post about how I have noticed in dozens of little ways that I think Mike is finally starting to feel a bit more like himself... in the brightness of his eyes, his energy level, his ability to eat, how long he can eat without tiring, his looks, his mannerisms, his spunk... a myriad of tiny wonderful improvements.

  And on Valentines Day I got some more proof.  I knew that Mike felt guilty (even though I told him a hundred times it didn't matter) that gifts for my last birthday and Christmas were below his normal standards.  My most recent birthday fell on the day before his last radiation treatment. We were both doing good to survive and honestly something like 'celebrate' sounded ridiculous.  The Christmas holiday wiped us both out more than we anticipated.

Anyway, last night Mike surprised me with diamond  earrings for Valentines Day.  And not only that, it was complete with a story AND one of his made-with-love-and-meaning cards!  Proof that the real Mike is making his comeback!

You want more details? Oh, OK... We have a pink heart tucked into our bathroom mirror that says "I love you" in my handwriting on one side and Mike's on the other.  We have flipped it back and forth every day for about six month now.  The paper is almost worn out. The cover of his card had a color copy cut-out of each side - and the inside read: "Everyday is a Valentine's Day with you..." 
The earring story? In 1956, the year of Mike's birth, Mike's dad gave his mom a watch with two diamonds on it.  They later had a ring made for him with these diamonds and a shark's tooth keepsake.  He took the ring to Borsheims to have the diamonds set in earrings for me, but because there were antique and flat, it was more cost effective to get me new, sparkly ones! (They are so colorful and bright!) He also knew I was tired of the chinky hoop earrings that I wear everyday and want to throw away.

He has always been one of the most thoughtful gift givers... and he is back.

Monday, January 23, 2012


I am wondering where we get the idea that it is easy to put on extra pounds.  It seems like an insurmountable task with Michael John Blanc.  I just returned from yet another January trip   - cannot miss the grand baby showers in Dallas!  Mike was already in bed when I got home from the airport since the snow storm required a 45 mph pace.  But this morning I stated "I think you are putting on some weight" which proved to be wishful thinking when Mike told me he weighed 157 when he stepped on a scale at work yesterday.  From my calculations, this is a record low.  Except when he was in high school.  But he does feel good, for which we are very, very thankful.

He's doing the work (to eat) but he is also doing the work. ha.  Mike might be skinny for a while.

I put on some weight this month with all my traveling, for what that is worth.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

blood work back.

We are thankful to report that Mike's blood work came back "clean".  The only thing they noticed was a Vitamin D deficiency.   Makes the upcoming trip to Florida seem like "doctor's orders".  Love it.

I need to wait patiently with a thankful heart for God's timing for strength and vibrant health for Mike.

Monday, January 9, 2012

update... and 165.

Thought I would check in with our blue-band riders...  Radiation side effects continue to take their toll.  We replay Dr. Haughey's reassuring words about the absence of anything-cancer in our minds as Mike still struggles to eat and put on weight.  We agreed that he should check in with our local physician again to see if "Dr. Karen's" assessment that Mike is malnourished and possibly anemic is correct.  Mike saw Dr. Tracie Martin on Friday and had blood work done on Saturday. We are still awaiting the results.  But we did find out that Mike weighed one pound less than he did the last time he saw Dr. Martin, which was two weeks after he completed his radiation treatments.  (If you remember, the radiation side effects kicked into high gear 2-3 weeks after the radiation was completed.  This was when Mike had trouble eating anything at all and he started on a "survival mode" diet.  This consisted of 4 Orgain protein drinks per day and 2000 ml of water, and this sustained Mike for about three weeks.)

We are learning that when your weight loss eats into your fat reserves and your muscles, it takes a long time to rebuild and restore your strength and weight.  It is one thing when someone tells you that it will take a while to rebuild... but it really seems like a long time when you are in it waiting for the weight to come back.

We are very thankful to have a trip this weekend to refresh and rejuvenate.  My wonderful company schedules their leadership training in exotic places and I am heading to the Disney Yacht & Beach Club at Walt Disney World in Orlando on Wednesday, and Mike will join me on Friday.  We have met some of our dearest couple friends from around the country at CM events.  We are especially excited to spend time with Nile & Leigh Ernst from Carlsbad, CA this weekend.  Nile weathered an intense cancer battle himself two years before Mike's journey. When I asked Mike what he wanted to do to celebrate the completion of radiation treatments, he said 'spend time with Nile.'  When Leigh and I are soaking up some excellent training on how to help people manage with photo loads, Mike and Nile will be soaking up the sun by the pool!  Then the four of us are spending all day Sunday park-hopping the Disney theme parks like kids.  We are calling it an old-fashion double date! 

It was 3 days before the 2011 CM Leadership training in Cancun last year that we found out about Mike's cancer on February 4th.  I was highly distracted by that sobering news last year.  I am hoping to be distracted by fun this year.  Again, thank you for your continued prayers.