Monday, August 8, 2011

The Worst Year Ever??

Sitting in my house about to enjoy a grilled steak and a St. Louis Cardinal game on TV on an otherwise ordinary Southern California night. Not very exciting but exactly where I was one year ago when I got the call that Big Don was sick, I mean really sick not just poop sick and whining about it, but really you should go to the hospital sick. The days and weeks to come provided quite a few kicks to the groin, but I will always remember exactly what was going on when mom called that night. I guess you always remember details like that when you experience something big, good or bad it seems like time stands still forever a snapshot in your life.

I have thought a lot about that night and the last 12 months lately. Big Don is doing great, one in a million they told him at the surgeons office at his follow up, a description less than surprising to me and most everyone that knows Big Don than the surgeons and staff we had to peel off from hugging Big Don. He is recovering each day able to eat more and sleep less. His stomach still makes funny noises but so does mine and just about every Dulle stomach out there. I'm not sure how we will ever thank Dr. Selby and his team, what a gift Big Don has been given, I suppose the best way is for Big Don to keep getting better and living life, a specialty of his. He will go back to Arizona this week and to the Mayo clinic to meet with the oncologist and decide how to proceed wiht more chemo and treatment. We don't know exactly what to expect, but he will almost certainly have to do some chemo even though they still think they got all of the tumor during surgery. Unfortunately this disease is not one that quits easily and we know cancer will always be a part of Big Don and all of our lives. This is something that he will have to get checked and rechecked for years to come. But you see I said years and damn that sounds good.
On that night one year ago you couldn't help but search the internet to find out things about pancreatic cancer. The numbers were disheartening to say the least, and quite frankly 'years' was not a term that was used very much. I even had some notes in the margin of my medical books from back in school that said in capital letters "DONT GET THIS ONE" next to the section on pancreatic cancer. It became so depressing that we all had to stop looking and get busy fighting. At that time we got some of the best advice we would get from a wonderful woman who herself is fighting and beating cancer. She said "Don't let Big Don become a statistic, (he is a living breathing, very much alive person)". So we didn't. Pancreas cancer has no blueprint. Even the doctors sometimes scratch their heads, so we just kept moving forward. I'm not sure we did everything right, or even most things right, but we know just how lucky we are to still be in the fight and we are happy because Big Don is still a living, breathing, very much alive person (whose stomach makes some really funny noises). There are so many memories from the last year and some I will leave out, but I guess this is our blueprint for year one.
Get out of Montana, move into my future in-laws house, throw up a burger at in and out, chemo at the Mayo, more funny sounds from Big Don's stomach, pool parties at the Kirks, a heart attack by Senior Don and heart surgery in Arizona, pregame on the field at the Arizona Cardinals game, a fight and escort out of the Indian casino, Thanksgiving at Benihana, a new apartment in AZ to check out chicks, radiation at the Mayo, a half marathon for Kay, Mary, and Bobby with Big Don at the finish line, moving back to Montana and commuting to the Mayo for chemo, news of a new baby coming in the fall from Bob and Tess, a bachelor party funded by Big Don but not attended due to his bad behavior at the Indian casino, a wedding (awesome if I do say so myself and thankfully Big Don's stomach did not make any inappropriate funny noises), a meeting with a new surgeon, preparation for surgery including a four mile hike the weekend before followed by a trip to the waterslides, a 14 hour surgery, 22 days in the hospital, an incredibly strong wife, extremely proud kids and kid-in-laws, great friends and family, more than a few prayers, and one tough SOB in Big Don.
I am not sure what the future will bring, I hazard even a guess. 12 months ago I expected a year full of tears and sadness, self pity and anger, long days and nights. I expected the worst year ever, but a funny thing happened on the way to our worst year ever, it turned out to be our very BEST.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

On Second Thought it's an A

It's day 17 at USC and so far we have celebrated 4th of July, a few birthdays, the All-Star game, a 3 1/2 hour LA car chase that past by the hospital 3 times, a new grand baby for Grandma and Grandpa Whitey (#32 we think), and Carmageddon here on the LA freeways.  None, however, has been as exciting for the Dulle's as the news Dr. Selby gave us yesterday, although we are very happy for Uncle Gerry and family and Uncle Big Don looks forward to watching him play football.

Big Don has never been a straight A student he as always gotten by with B's and C's and has done pretty well for himself.  As they say B's get degrees, but for this surgery we were looking for an A, because we aren't sure if B's get rid of cancer.  So we were a little nervous when Dr. Selby came out to talk to us after surgery and he said that he was concerned that he wasn't able to quite get all of the tumor off the main artery.  He said there may be some cancer cells left and he only gave himself a B- grade for the surgery.  He did say that there was a possibility that the cells weren't cancer so after we splashed some water on Bobby's face and thanked God for getting Big Don through 15 hours of surgery we started praying that the cells weren't cancer.  And someone was listening because the pathology finally came back this week and all the samples off the artery were negative for cancer cells.  The main tumor was of course adenocarcinoma but the margins were all clear for cancer.  This means that there was no evidence for cancer left behind.  It doesn't mean that Big Don is completely our of the woods.  There is a possibility that there are some microscopic cancer cells and he most likely will still get chemo and may even need radiation, unfortunately cancer will always be part of Big Don's life. But this is great news, exactly what we were looking for with the surgery, and quite frankly exactly what we all expected from Big Don in this fight.

So the days are definitely dragging here at the hospital but each day is a step closer to breaking out of this joint.  He is making some small farts for anyone that is wondering from the last post, and I know what your thinking, yes Mary said they definitely stink.  Big Don is still doing work on the computer and the doctors think he is progressing each day.  He even went outside on a walk this weekend.  Hopefully he will get out sometime in the next week or so and he will continue to recover down here in Southern California for a while.  It seems like Big Don found a way to up his grade because when Dr. Selby came in to explain things he changed from that B- to an A.  An A that will hopefully allow for more 4th of July's, car chases, birthdays, and All-star games.  And we aren't sure if there will be any more grandkids for Grandma and Grandpa Whitey but definitely great grandkids and one in particular that Big Don, I mean Grandpa Big Don is pretty excited to see this fall. (#1 we think)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pull my Finger

A fart is pretty funny no matter who you are.  Whether its your brother letting one rip at the dinner table, the guy in the stall next to you playing a tune, grandpa squeaking a few out on the way to the ball game, or the priest letting one slide during the homily, a well timed fart will have me rolling now and I hope for as long as I am on this earth.  The same can be said for Big Don, but I never thought we would see the day that we were waiting on Big Don to work up a fart.  As I have mentioned before the Dulle's generally don't have any problems with matters of flatulence or bowel movements, but then again he did just get opened up for 14 hours and as Dr. Selby says he had one of the biggest general surgery procedures you could ever imagine.  So all things considered he is doing really well.  Each day he is getting more and more tubes removed, walking further, and getting closer to a big glass of ice water.  We are still waiting on the results of all of the final reports from surgery, they took a lot of samples so it takes a lot of time to compile all of the information,  He will probably be in the hospital for the rest of the week but is moving much faster than anticipated, well anticipated by the doctors, I'm pretty sure all of us expected him to be breaking the door down to leave. 

He of course has the support of my mom faithfully there each day, I wish I could think of more elegant words to describe her support but suffice it to say that she definitely heard when the priest said "in sickness and in health"  32 years ago when they got married.  The rest of the family have definitely put in time with him as well and I'm pretty sure we are at least part owners of the parking garage and cafeteria over at USC.  Big Don stays busy watching the Cardinals on his Ipad and keeping up with work emails.  They sent out 5000 cases over the weekend up in the Flathead Valley so just because he isn't in town don't think he isn't keeping tabs on whose drinkng Budweiser up there.  The rest of his time is spent I'm sure thinking about getting something to drink and busting out.  He is getting everything through the IV now but today was allowed some ice and water and when he finally works up that fart he will be able to get more food.  The support and prayers have carried him through and we can't thank everyone enough.  We continue to need all of the support and if you have time throw in a prayer for that fart and we will keep pulling on his finger.  And yes I plan on laughing when he finally does.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tumor Out

Big Don is out of surgery and into the ICU.  He made it through surgery well and was stable the whole time.  He had a huge operation 14 hours and will take time to recover.  The bulk of the tumor was removed.  We have to wait for the labs and pathology to come back over the next week to determine if there is any microscopic disease, but the primary tumor is out.  As we knew he will still need some chemo and possibly radiation but with the main tumor out our chances of beating it our much much greater.  It seems as if the 18 hours today here at USC have zapped my sense of humor, but we are all in good spirits and waiting to see him in the ICU.  Thank God for diet coke, ipads, sportscenter, Uncle Billy, and all of the wonderful people here at USC that have helped us through this difficult day, but mostly thank everyone for the constant support and prayers that we have gotten today and over the last year.  I'm not sure who is more tired the Dulle's or Dr. Selby, but I'd be remise in not thanking him for taking care of Big Don.  As I'm sure Big Don would say we have so much to be thankful for, so we continue to fight and be DULLESTRONG.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


According to the online dictionary anxious has several definitions.  Worried, tense, intensely desirous, and eager.  For years we have been giving mom a hard time because she uses the word as a replacement for excited, and when she comes to visit us we don't want her to be anxious, we just want her to be excited.  I guess all those years at Whitefish High School have paid off because she was using the alternative definition obviously, but we continue to give her a hard time anyway.  So for the first time in a long time I think she, along with the rest of the Dulle clan are truly anxious.

Big Don has passed all of his tests, except for cleansing his bowels tomorrow, and I am quite confident in his ability to do that.  I should say continue to do that as he got a head start tonight at the Claim Jumper.  The new CT scan showed the doctors exactly what they wanted to see and his tumor markers are actually at a normal level of 28.  For those of you that are math challenged that is 100 times better than August of last year when they were at 2800 when he was diagnosed.  So he is a prime candidate for surgery.  On Thursday June 30, Dr. Rick Selby and his team at USC will go after the tumor.  They tell us that the surgery could last all day but they feel very confident in Big Don's ability to handle it, they did not mention mine or Bobby's ability to handle it so we will just have to let you know. 

Throughout the whole year Big Don has had an overwhelming amount ot support and love and he will continue to need it as he goes through the next step.  But there is no doubt that everyone's prayers and thoughts are helping and contributing to Big Don continuing to beat the odds.  The tumor let us back in the game, a year ago we were getting our butts kicked and Thursday we finally get to fight back.

So the Dulle's are in Southern California on the next leg of the adventure.  I wish I could say something profound happened tonight as we all ate together, but it was pretty much status quo, we made inappropriate fart and poop jokes, made fun of the waiters name, Fobby?, stared at the people around us, and we tried to make a scene as we left, so generally we had a great time.  I'm not sure if thats the way we are supposed to handle something like this, but I am pretty damn proud that it is and would have it no other way.  So maybe I'm not anxious I'm just gonna be excited for Big Don to kick some ass.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

And a Nintendo

I was going to write a blog about how dorky a conversion van is, and how silly it is to have Budweiser logo plastered on the side, and how annoying it is to get in and drive across the country and waste your vacation in a van with the whole family, and how you really didn't need the built in radar detector because the thing tops out at 70.  But I realized something as I was thinking about those vans, I freaking loved those things and why can't I find one on the internet to buy.

I mean fully plush carpet on the inside, swivel captain chairs, damn near a full bar in the center consol (all real wood as Bob can attest after he did a header into it one time on our way to Florida), a fold out bed in the back, TV/VCR, and a Nintendo.  And the best part was that Big Don used to get a new one every year or so.  So when it was time for a family vacation it wasn't upsetting that half our vacation had to be spent in the van, it was upsetting that half the vacation wasn't going to be in van.  I have to be honest I can't tell you what our hotel room looked like at Disneyland, but I know every corner of the gray Michelob van (van #4) right down to the sliding screen windows in the way back that you could break and stick your hand out of to wave to the other cars.  I'm not sure how mom felt about the vans because they weren't particularly easy on the eyes, but I would proudly ride shotgun any day of the week.

I suppose thats why the Dulle's have always driven everywhere, because half the fun is in the journey.  Every family vacation was driving somewhere.  No planes or trains or bus, just Big Don driving.  I'm sure mom drove some, but mostly Big Don was driver and I was trying to figure out how to fit Bobby through that screen window in the back that I was talking about.  We drove to soccer tournaments, drove on thanksgiving and Christmas, we drove to Montana, we drove to colleges, shout Big Don once just went to the dealership in Montana, bought me a car for college, and drove it straight to California.  Pretty sure he told mom about the time he was going through Salt Lake.  And each time the trip was over we piled back in and drove home.  Never too sad because we knew there were more trips to come.  So naturally Big Don, Kay, Mary, and Candy (the dog) are piled in the car for another trip.  This time on their way down to Phoenix for a CT scan this week and if all goes well onto California for surgery.  Needless to say this trip is probably a little stressful, well not as stressful as the one time we had to stop at the Burger King in the ghetto so mom could go to the bathroom, or the time that we were driving through the grand tetons in a blizzard with a 100 foot drop off the side, or the time we got rear ended by a moose in Canada, or the time I had to stop at the truck stop to take a shower because, well lets just say because I did.  Never mind this trip isn't that stressful.

But perhaps more than ever the most important part of this trip will be going home, because when Big Don goes home hopefully it will be with a little less pancreas and a lot less tumor.  My goal for the next few months is to get Big Don home no matter how tough it is.  So Big Don I hope as you read this you are enjoying your drive and having some laughs remembering all the vans and maybe if you play your cards right we will see if we can't get a nintendo for the ride back.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"I'd have taken the damn helicopter"

At the risk of being philosophical I have a story to pass on to you all.  I don't know who to credit for the story other than I heard it once on an episode of the West Wing.  So I hope I can tell it as eloquently as Martin Sheen did.

A very religious, holy, faithful man (much like many of you who read this) was living in his home that he had been at for decades.  Unfortunately the river not far from where he lived was flooding and his house and his life were in danger.  So he prayed really hard, like he had never prayed before, to God.  And when the police drove around with their bullhorns saying to evacuate he very calmly went outside and said "I will stay in my home because I believe in God and He will save me."  Well of course things got worse and his house was only reachable by boat.  Some rescue personnel came by and urged him to get on the boat before he was swept away by the water.  Again, this time slightly less calm but as earnest as ever, he said "I am staying, I have been praying to God and He will save me;"  The rescuers had a few choice words for him but moved on to help someone else.  He continued to pray and the flood got worse.  So bad he had to sit on his roof.  Soon a coast guard helicopter came and lowered him a rope frantically trying to get him to safety.  The man as steadfast as ever said "I am sure God will save me." And so the helicopter left.  Well tragically the flood waters kept coming and the man drowned.  Well certainly because he was so devout he went to heaven.  When he got there he immediately confronted the man in charge and asked Him why he was left to die after all of the prayers he had made.  God, quite exacerbated  said "I sent you a bullhorn, a boat, and a damn helicopter you fool, what more do you want from me." 

So Big Don and Kay came out to California last week to celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary and thanks to their three wonderful children enjoyed some time on the beach and listened to the waves when they slept (a Big Don favorite).  The other reason for the trip was to see a surgeon at USC who specializes in complex tumors of the liver and pancreas.  Dr. Rick Selby is a Mizzou Tiger alum and a well respected doctor.  And in Big Don's eyes he is also a coast guard helicopter. 

See I told my parents the story of the man who died in the flood and Big Don listened very intently and then in a way that only he could said to me "I'd have taken the damn helicopter."  So it is not a surprise that after our two hour visit with Dr. Selby, where he very clearly drew pictures and showed us the CT scans of Big Don and said that Big Don was his 'dream patient', we had to hold dad back from getting on the operating table right then and there.  I would be remiss by not telling you that the reason he was a dream patient is because he is otherwise healthy, young, a very fit, thin guy, but most importantly because his CT scan showed him exactly what he needed to see to make him a candidate (a statement we had to retell Big Don because as you can imagine he was so proud of the other things he completely missed the part about the CT scan).

But I think the story is so fitting because it really is who Big Don is.  I for one would have been running right behind that police car no questions asked but not Big Don he is gonna ride it out a little bit, and if and when the time is right then he takes the helicopter.  We won't ever know for sure if it is the absolute correct thing to do.  The surgery will be long and risky and certainly there are no guarantees but dammit we have a chance.  So as a family we have decided that June 30th is the right time.  Big Don will finish up two more weeks of chemotherapy and then prep for surgery.  

Like any big game we are all preparing in our own ways, and we again have to thank everyone for the unwavering support that has been given and that we continue to ask for.  There are so many cliche statements I could make, and I am always a sucker for a good "win one for the gipper" speech but I will save you guys the time and just say Big Don is gonna give it a hell of a fight and I hope that the helicopter not only picks him up but also lands safe. 

I will be updating the blog more frequently as we get closer, but again we appreciate every ones thoughts and prayers.