Until Further Notice …

With Margaret’s last post revealing that she has achieved her primary goal of “no evidence of active disease,” we have agreed that it is time to suspend regular medical updates on her cancer journey at this time.

We will post again when there is a significant change – positive or negative.

Last Saturday was the first anniversary of her official diagnosis of Stage IV Breast Cancer, and this past year has been Hell – with the single distraction of Megan’s lovely wedding to a very fine young man! We cannot continue to live from day to day on an emotional roller-coaster, anxiously awaiting test results and doctor visits … so we are doing our best of adjust to “a new normal” in the face of a chronic, often fatal disease.

It has not been easy or comfortable for us to chronicle this journey publicly, but we do also know how deeply many care and deserve to know what has transpired. We do sincerely and humbly thank you for your well-wishes, caring, “likes” on Facebook, comments, meals, visits, phone calls and other expressions of kindness. We thank God for all of you – and hope you will be with us throughout the continued journey.

As Margaret wrote in her last post, the disease is never going away. There is no cure for her cancer, but hopefully she has many happy years left on this planet. She is greatly diminished and weakened by treatment, and she is now focused on getting stronger, healthier and heavier!

FYI This blog (jhbelljr.net), which was my professional blog until Margaret’s illness, will be used in the future to post mostly family-oriented matters of interest. I have started a new blog for professional purposes, and I hope you will subscribe to that! It’s located at johnhenrybell.com. I hope it will be of interest! Add me! 😉


This is from Margaret:

Dearest Family and Friends,

A year ago tomorrow (October 24), I was officially diagnosed with the most aggressive form of Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. At the time of my diagnosis, it had spread throughout my lymph system and onto some bones, in particular, my spine and sacrum. Only 6% of women are initially diagnosed at Stage IV.

There is no cure for Stage IV metastatic breast cancer.

At Stage IV the cancer is managed or treated as a chronic disease. The goal for the past year has been to achieve “no evidence of active disease.” It is with an incredibly grateful heart that last week – after a year of brutal treatment – my oncologist declared that we have achieved our primary goal!

Like Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz, I am now awake and at home and everything is in color. Your prayers, friendship, notes of encouragement, care, concern, overwhelming love and support have sustained us. My “Yellow Brick Road” has been – and will continue to be – full of challenges and celebrations.

Friends, I am ALIVE, and we are celebrating!

Every journey also offers us opportunity to learn (about ourselves and others and people and places), to gain new perspective, and to experience home in a new way – perhaps with a new vision. I have more questions than answers. This is where I am now.

We know that, unlike most breast cancer survivors, my active, daily treatment will continue for the rest of my life. The chemo port in my arm which transports chemicals to my heart will never come out. I take daily medications, I receive an chemical infusion once a month, and I receive a nasty shot every three months to keep the disease under control for as long as possible. My doctor talks about what we will do next when (not “if”) this treatment starts to fail. I will anxiously get a PET scan every three months to determine if the cancer is advancing. I finally decided that I am unable to work full time and quit my job.

However, I am hopeful that I have many years left on this planet, but we know that is in God’s hands. Fortunately, my oncologist shares my optimism for being able to treat this nasty disease for years (hopefully many!).

People are not statistics. Everyone’s cancer experience, their diagnosis and prognosis, is unique. With that said, we always seem to want to know, “What about me?” I was told I have a little better than a five year survival rate. However, my oncologist shared that one of his patients with a similar diagnosis lived for 22 years — and died from a heart attack. Those stories are powerful medicine! Only God knows!

A good friend asked me recently how I was, and it shocked me to find myself in tears as I said, “I am doing well – really I am.” Like Dorothy I have survived a wicked tornado, and I have a stronger appreciation, understanding, and love for those dearest to me.

My life looks different yet my faith, my beloved husband, my family, and my friends near and far are more real and precious to me now than ever before.

My jelly bean and bucket list are in full focus.

Our hearts are full of abundant gratitude for successfully reaching this milestone and it is with fierce determination and renewed hope for joy filled and meaningful living in the years ahead which inspires us to dream new dreams for our future.

Thank YOU!

Love, Margaret

PET Scan #3 Results

This will be short and quick, because I am headed out to Canada in the morning to fish for fish (not people which is my normal job), but we are aware many of you have been praying and wondering for the results of Margaret’s PET scan last week. She met with her oncologist today, and he went over the highlights of the results among other things.

The good news – the very good news! – is that nothing “lit up” in the PET scan, suggesting that the chemotherapy and radiation have been effective and the metastatic cancer is not active. Thus, she was graded out as “no evidence of active metastatic cancer.” She is scheduled for a bone scan tomorrow to look for cancer that would not show up on a PET scan … so the champagne is still on ice.

There were some new concerns, which is what we have come to expect with cancer. There is some suspicious activity in her liver and spleen, but her oncologist said “not to worry” about that. Right! We spent some time this evening googling medical terms and gleaning more information. It’s hard not to be a little bit anxious frankly.

I will stop short of interpreting all this for you and how it is impacting us emotionally and spiritually, but suffice it to say that we are generally pleased with what we learned today, but are definitely still “cautiously optimistic.” Bottom-line? Nothing we learned today should change her treatment or prognosis, and we believe that is basically a good thing. Maybe. Probably.

So she lives to fight another day!

Radiation? Check!

A quick post to say that Margaret has now completed the proscribed path of treatment for stage four breast cancer.

Hip Hip Hurrah!

This morning, she walked out of Dr. Jewell’s torture chamber office about 11:30 wearing a new sporty dress and a big smile. She left the office with “release” papers to hugs and handshakes from nurses, office staff and medical techs.

Dr. Jewell called her the model patient.

Of course, she’ll be back in his office in a month to decide what she will need to do next, but tonight we are celebrating this milestone. The champagne is on ice. Do we have to wait until 5:00 pm? (Yes, because I have a wedding rehearsal!)

To review, she started having “problems” last spring which led to an eventual diagnosis of breast cancer which had metastasized on her bones – primarily her spine and sacrum. She had a double mastectomy in November, followed by chemotherapy. Then a PET scan revealed that she additionally had thyroid cancer, which resulted in partial (half) thyroid-ectomy. And now she has completed 7 weeks (35 days) of daily radiation on her neck, chest and spine.

She is seriously burned, worn out and lost a lot of weight, but greatly relieved to be at this point.

Radiation was much harder on her than we expected, particularly the radiation on the spine, which wreaked havoc on her digestive and nervous systems. Of course, the beauty of modern medicine is pain management. Better living through chemicals? She just popped a few more pain pills and plowed through.

Did I say that her doctor said she was the model patient? Her strength should return slowly.

What’s next? She has a regime of daily pills, she gets a monthly infusion to strengthen her bones and she gets a really nasty shot with a really, really long needle once every three months. She may have one more area on her spine radiated after Megan’s wedding, but we will make that decision later. She will continue this path until … it doesn’t work anymore. Then, her optimistic oncologist says we have 12 more options that are proven effective! No worries! Riiiiiight.

Of course, anxiety will remain until the next PET scan which should take place in late August.

So … a round of applause for Margaret for staying strong and pushing through. Clap, clap, clap.

Did I say she’s the model patient?

Megan’s wedding is in two weeks! Let the wedding party begin!

A Little Celebration!

Last night, Margaret and I went to her favorite French restaurant in Denver, Bistro Vendome, to celebrate Thursday’s doctors’ appointments and reports. As you know, we have not had much cause for celebration over the past few months, so we were not going to miss this one!

The thyroid concern is a thing of the past. Hallelujah! The doctor said she took half of it, but the pathology report suggests that she will not need to take the other half. This will or should benefit Margaret’s overall physical condition – in particular, her energy level and her bones, since the cancer was found on her bones. One of her para-thyroid glands (Who knew of those?) was also taken out, because the doc suspected it was the source of trouble. [Using my language, she simply said that gland was “bad.” I said “I understand what ‘bad’ means morally, but what does it mean medically?”]

Of interest to Wellshire folks, on the way in to see the endocrinologist, we bumped into Wellshire associate pastor, Katie Robb Davis, and her husband with Coulter who was there to get his six-month check-up! You may remember he was born on the same day and in the same hospital at roughly the same time as Margaret’s double mastectomy. A clear sign of God’s presence and providence …

She also saw her oncologist yesterday who pledged to schedule another PET scan before Megan’s wedding, so that – prayerfully, hopefully – Margaret can gleefully breeze through the wedding weekend (It’s more like a wedding “movement.”), knowing that she has no evidence of (active) disease and is in remission – that’s the stated goal for the summer. Prayer warriors? Put that on your list.

Of note, both the endocrinologist and the oncologist – and their aides – were all absolutely incredulous at how quickly she bounced back from surgery last week. The surgeon said that she didn’t think she had seen anyone doing so well just a week out. She even declared, “Wow! You’ve even got your divot back!” We don’t have any idea what “a divot” is, but we assume it has something to do with the throat and is good news. So last night we clinked glasses and cheered the return of her divot.

Margaret now moves on to radiation. She was outfitted this week and tattooed. She will do a trial run next week, and, if all goes well, she will being six weeks of daily radiation on any remaining cancer.

That’s all for now!

Thank you for your interest, concern, prayers, and affection. We love you all!

Cinco de Mayo Update!

11048722_830416930369881_7720948642069963144_oHappy Cinco de Mayo from sunny Pensacola, Florida!

Let’s catch up.

Margaret and I are at the beach for a few days recovering from the Mobile, Alabama, wedding of Matthew Griffith and Lauren Bayly at the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion. It was truly an elegant, wonderful affair – from start to finish. Megan, Joe, and Katie came down to welcome their new sister Lauren into the family, and I was honored to officiate. There was not a dry eye in the yard under a canopy of century-old oak trees, when, after dancing the first half of the groom-mother dance with Jan Griffith, Matt asked Margaret to dance the second half of the dance to … ? You guessed it, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” – right out of the Wizard of Oz.10659349_10153294382662002_6095420485141685038_n

Unfortunately, Margaret wasn’t wearing red shoes.


At the beach, we have had the absolute JOY of catching up with some friends that we had lost touch with over the years. Tim and Kim Ward were our absolute “besties” for a decade early in our marriage but they moved to Washington DC and we moved several times and we lost touch. They recently moved back to Alabama, so we invited them down. We were like giddy junior high school girls, closing down the eatery and laughing to the point of exhaustion. We pledged to keep it up!

001Of some difficulty, two weeks ago our beloved 11-year old Rottweiler, Deacon, was diagnosed with bone cancer.

Adoption Day!

Adoption Day!

He went downhill fairly rapidly, and we put him “to sleep” about 10 days ago. We had a vet come to the house. Katie, Margaret and I surrounded him with love. It was tender and very tough. ‘Nuff said.

Margaret’s health, of course, remains a challenge. It seems we have a handle on the thyroid issue at the moment. It does appear that she has thyroid cancer (as opposed to breast cancer in her thyroid) but the very good news is that it does not appear to have metastasized. Therefore, she is scheduled to have thyroid surgery next Tuesday. Hopefully, the surgeon will not feel as if the whole thyroid has to come out, since the concern is clearly only on the left side. This pushes the start of radiation back a couple of weeks, but her team of doctors agree this is the right thing to do.

Margaret’s spirits remain high and positive, but her patience is definitely being tried at times. The last 2-3 weeks have been particularly challenging as several tests were done and redone 2-3 times. One of our daughter’s reminded us of a section of a book that we used to read to them when they were impatient, and I’ll close with those words.

As always, thank you for your love and support of our family. You all inspire us.

From Dr. Seuss’ “Oh the Places You’ll Go”:

You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.

The Waiting Place… for people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting for a Yes or No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for the wind to fly a kite or waiting around for Friday night or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jack or a pot to boil, or a Better Break or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance. Everyone is just waiting.

No! That’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying. You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing. With banner flip-flapping, once more you’ll ride high! Ready for anything under the sky.

So, remember (me too!) …

So, will you succeed?

Yes! You will, indeed!

Kid, you’ll move mountains!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So… get on your way!