Friday, June 28, 2013

Mini-Spa Day

What better way to celebrate a happy prognosis than with a sumptuous facial and mini-massage? My dear friends, Mary and Klaus, who have been through the proverbial wringer these past two years as Klaus battled esophageal cancer that effectively closed his throat and caused him incredible abdominal pain, have received the thrilling news after months of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy that Klaus’s recent PET/CT scan is now showing "nothing of concern". Group sessions at a day-hospital and a new eating regimen courtesy of Baltimore nutritionist/herbalist Rebecca Snow have restored Klaus to such robust health that his oncology team is thrilled at the metamorphosis.
One of the side effects for Klaus of a restricted esophageal passage has been a constant, voracious and near-insatiable hunger, torturous and anxiety-inducing in its intensity, the body’s reaction, no doubt, to primal fear that sustenance would no longer be forthcoming. His initial meeting with the nutritionist a few weeks ago was a revelation. Ms. Snow suggested supplement-laden smoothies made from kale and other whole foods twice daily, accompanied by meals packed with powerhouse fruits, vegetables and legumes. After just a week on the new diet, Klaus saw his constant "roaring hunger" disappear, along with the associated distress. He has regained the weight he lost during the cancer treatments and his skin has resumed a healthy glow. Not only that, his jovial and witty personality has returned. The old Klaus is back!

Mary, left, Klaus, and I visit in their living room before driving
to our spa treatments a short distance away.
So the three of us celebrated Sunday by having facials and massages at the Steiner Institute of Esthetics (Steiner Institute), a "beauty school" hidden at the back of a sprawling office complex near the Baltimore-Washington International airport. Mary and Klaus are no strangers to this school and were eager to introduce me to their favorite estheticians. After filling out forms designed to reveal product allergies or skin issues, each of us was assigned to a student who led us into a vast communal area filled with massage tables covered in soft white sheets.

As a steam machine gently opened my pores, my esthetician, longtime nursing assistant, Kelly Thomas, quietly described the apricot masque and mango scrub she would be using on my face. Heavenly scents filled my nostrils as each step of the facial was applied, followed by a soothing massage of my neck, shoulders, arms and hands that left me feeling as though I had not a care in the world.

Alas, I was forbidden to take any photos at the school out of privacy concerns for the other clients, but I can attest to the quality of the service I received from my esthetician, who will graduate in October. Mary and Klaus are equally enamored of their respective skin-care students, vowing to attend the graduation ceremony of Klaus’s beloved esthetician in two weeks’ time, and to follow her to her first paying job as a graduate.

Maressa with her husband, Tommy, and sons, Jack, and Nick
At a time of extreme distress around any cancer diagnosis, we tend to pull back into our nuclear family units, so traumatic is life’s disruption by a monster that strikes so indiscriminately.  The beast is currently attacking my dear cousin Diana’s daughter-in-law, Maressa, who is valiantly battling glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a rare form of brain cancer.  Maressa just began a clinical trial yesterday in which she has a 50-50 chance of being given a newly designed drug called Rindopepimut.  Or maybe a placebo.  The near constant doctor appointments and medical regimens were an overwhelming burden on Mary and Klaus, so Mary reached out.  Regular readers of my blog might recall that, for two months last fall, I picked Klaus up every Tuesday on my way to work at the Library of Congress and dropped him off at his hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatments. Other friends either dropped Klaus off or picked him up on alternate days. In this small way, many hands came together to help Mary and Klaus deal with the exhausting toll that caregiving exacts on a patient and his loved ones. It made me feel good to help, Mary got some much-needed relief, and Klaus had somebody new to talk to on his daily commutes to therapy. Talk about win-win!

A friend of Tommy and Maressa's,
professional photographer
Christine Plamann, captured
this incredibly romantic image
My cousin’s son, Tommy, and his wife, Maressa, are also reaching out. They are a young couple, with two adorable sons not yet in grade school. Having such an aggressive brain cancer strike Maressa at such a tender stage in all their lives seems especially cruel. It is truly fortunate that both Tommy and Maressa have a large support system of friends and relatives in their native Milwaukee who have stepped forward to help with transportation, meals and babysitting. But there is more to do.

Maressa has just completed her first round of chemo and radiation treatments and was very lucky to be accepted into a clinical trial pertaining to this particular cancer. And there is another therapy, available only in Germany, which would require Maressa to stay in Cologne for the four-month duration of the treatment. Tommy and Maressa’s friends and family have started a fund to help raise money for Maressa’s mounting medical expenses, including the dendritic cell therapy in Germany if it should come to that.  We are hoping it won't.

Interestingly, Mary and Klaus have spent a lot of time in Germany and have contacts in that country. Mary was one of my first friends to volunteer to translate for Tommy and Maressa, place want-ads in the newspaper there for a place to rent, and otherwise help find a place for Maressa to stay if she ends up having to go to Germany for treatment. Fascinating how fighting the instinct to keep all the turmoil and tension close to the chest and instead reaching out for help brings humanity together in such beautiful ways, crossing family lines, state lines, time zones and even continents.

Maressa battles her cancer with
grace and beauty 
If you would like to make a donation to help Tommy and Maressa with their medical bills, you can do so at this site (teammaressa). I made a donation, and it felt really good.

My dream is for Tommy and Maressa to one day go out for facials and massages to celebrate the remission of Maressa’s cancer, just as Mary and Klaus and I did on Sunday afternoon.  It was a perfect way to celebrate a happy prognosis. I want Tommy and Maressa to experience this quiet luxury, too.

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