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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Gail's Journey

For those of you who are fans of old western films, you will recognize "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly" as an old western from 1966, directed by Sergio Leone that starred the following trio:

Clint Eastwood as "Blondie" (a.k.a. the Man with No Name) –branded as “the Good”, though he is far from that. Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes who plays “The Bad”, a ruthless, unfeeling, and sociopathic mercenary who always finishes a job he is paid for (which is usually finding—and killing—people.) And Eli Wallach, who played “The Ugly”, a Mexican bandit named Tuco Ramirez.

This old western movie, by the way, happens to be one of my husband’s favorites. I’m not a fan :). If Don happens to find it on TV, I seem to always walk into the room at the same point in the movie, near the end. The Mexican bandit, Tuco, is running around a graveyard like a crazy man looking for a tombstone that is to have a bag of gold buried beneath it. I can’t tell you much more about the movie except what I just reviewed on Wikipedia, but I can tell you that the crazy graveyard scene easily sends me to a different room until the movie is over!

I was trying to think of how to describe the last several weeks in a blog. The name of this movie came to my mind as I was originally thinking “Pain and blessings”, but this bizarre movie title seemed more appropriate. If you are a big fan of this old movie, as Don is, ignore the movie substance and go with me on the name.

We began the holidays celebrating the fact that I was still here to celebrate! Last year we received my horrible diagnosis on December 16th right before Don, Andrea, Kristin, and I were going to the Tran Siberian Orchestra concert in Hershey. We decided to go anyway as we love their message, music, and energy! We needed a distraction as we were faced with this devastating news.

As Christmas was rolling around again this year, the 4 of us decided we were going to the same concert again this year to celebrate on December 15th. We got our tickets and were excited as the time drew near! (The good)

I had a lot of our Christmas shopping done thanks to Amazon, which I could enjoy from the warmth and comfort of my couch. (The good) Don and I had been able to go to Baltimore and watch our daughter, Andrea, run a half-marathon on December 2nd, in less than 2 hours, beating the goal she had set! Luckily it was not as cold as it has been recently! Don and I were inside for most of the race due to my cold intolerance from chemotherapy, but got to go outside to see her twice and cheer her on! (The good)

We held to our tradition of cutting down a live Christmas tree with friends that we have done now for 33 years! The temperature was not too cold, and we had a great time. Don, Kristin, and I got our tree decorated that week before my next chemotherapy on Friday, the 8th. It looked beautiful! (The good)

The side effects of the chemotherapy continue to intensify with more fatigue, longer recovery time, swelling, worsening of peripheral neuropathy which has caused loss of most of the feeling in my hands, feet, now progressing up my lower arms and legs. I still feel tingling, pressure and pain, especially due to the cold or touching anything cold…but it’s a trade off to keep the tumors stable as long as it will work, or until God heals me. My typing is very slow now with lots of mistakes. (The bad and the ugly)

On Saturday, December 9th, I was on the couch most of the day, but Don, Kristin, and Andrea set up our extensive Christmas village we call “Hamiltown”, which has grown over the years. It has become a lot of work, but it adds so much and I love it! My family has been caring for me so well! (The good)

But then on Monday, the 11th, the unbelievably and incredibly BAD happened. At age 33, with no warning, Jenna Russell, our close friend, children’s pastor and wife of our pastor, Mike Russell, at our York Haven campus, died suddenly! It was discovered that she had cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart), which caused a fatal rhythm of her heart. The autopsy showed diabetes, which was also unknown. Much pain and grieving has gripped so many.

On Friday, December 15th, Don, Andrea, Kristin, and I went to the Tran Siberian Orchestra concert as planned. (The good) Throughout the concert, we shed tears of celebrating that I was there for another concert one year later, but also tears of sadness and disbelief over Jenna.

Her funeral was on Sunday, the 17th. While still in shock, many celebrated a life well and fully lived, along with her family, including their 5 children. This has brought the ugly and the bad that death brings to those who have to carry on. It brings sadness, loneliness, anger, and the big questions we ask of God, although we know Jenna has received her reward in heaven and new life – the good for those who know and serve Jesus. We miss you, Jenna!

When a loved one dies, it reminds us of our own mortality, especially when fighting an incurable disease such as this cancer. We continue to pray for a miracle of healing, but have to trust God no matter what - even when we are angry, confused, sad, and full of questions. (See Don’s last blog if you didn’t read it, describing his emotional journey over this past month.) We need to remember that this is not heaven yet, thus we live in constant flux between the good, the bad, and the ugly.

On Monday, the 18th, I got to experience a wonderful and priceless time with my 3 sisters, as our wonderful brother sent the 4 of us to the Hershey Spa for a very treasured Christmas gift! Thanks again Jay! (The very good)

The next day, Tuesday the 19th, Don went to the gym in the morning. He came home asking where my stethoscope was. He has a history of Atrial Fibrillation, including 2 ablations in the past (which are long, invasive procedures to burn cells in the heart that are overriding the sinus node - the natural pacemaker of the heart). He can usually feel these irregular faster beats and is on medication to help prevent them. He wanted to wait to see if they would correct themselves before heading off to the hospital (which we have both come to dread as we spend so much time there for me.) He insisted we go to lunch first as previously planned with 2 special couples we have met who are also dealing with pancreatic cancer with hopes his heart would convert on its own, but by the end of the afternoon, he agreed we needed to go to the ER as his symptoms were getting worse. So off to Hershey we went as Kristin drove us to the ER. (The bad)

To make a long story short, he was admitted over night to monitor his heart until they could do a cardioversion the next day. At about noon on Wednesday, they put him to sleep and used the electric paddles to shock his heart back to a normal rhythm. It worked and he got to come home later that day, but it left him very fatigued for the next couple of days, leading right into another day of chemo for me on Friday, the 22nd.

Starting Friday through the weekend, we had family coming in to celebrate Christmas through the next several days. (The good) Don, still trying to be strong for everyone else over Jenna’s passing, had to preach 4 Christmas Eve services before he could truly start dealing with his emotions. (The bad and the ugly)

We enjoyed time with family and friends on Christmas Eve and Day and everyone pitched in to help. (The good) Before any gifts were unwrapped on Christmas morning, our 4 daughters shared more with us and the rest of the family about their recent trip to Southern Asia. There, they had the chance to teach and get to know our Gail’s Girls, along with about 75 other women leaders who have gone through the transformation centers and are bringing physical and spiritual changes, and hope through Jesus to their communities. My brother made a DVD for us of the pictures and videos the girls had taken on their trip. We were all tearful and filled with joy and hope for what God is doing through these women and the entire work He is doing there as the name of Jesus is being spread! (The good) God has used my illness to give us all a chance to be a part of spreading the good news of Jesus to a place where most have not even heard His name! (see www.Gail’ for more information)

Then it was back to Hershey on Tuesday for an injection I have to get after each chemotherapy treatment. (The bad) But the kids were all still home and met us in Hershey to hit the outlets for any after Christmas deals. We also got to take Finn, our grandson, to Chocolate World, which he loved! We enjoyed spending time with all the kids and actually got to spend New Years Eve in Baltimore with friends and family. (The good)

I just had chemo again on Friday and will get the pump of continuous chemo taken off by home nursing in one hour. It has knocked me down again for the next few days, (The bad), but my cancer marker number came down 4.7 points which means the chemo is still working. (The good) Please continue to join us in prayer for a miracle of healing, as we know Jesus is the Great Physician. We know that the accumulation of sin and negative effects in this world cause us to live through the good, the bad, and the ugly, but it’s tougher when it all seems to be hitting at once. But let’s not forget these words:

Lamentations 3:21-23 New International Version (NIV)

21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.