Jodi’s Going To Africa 2020

What’s Africa 2020?

It started a few weeks ago actually.  I was watching the news, and there was a news story regarding a young lady climbing both the incline and Pike’s Peak with no legs.  You can read about her here.  In a news interview she stated her next goal was to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  It peaked my interest, because I can’t really run anymore, I wanted to find new goals to achieve.  So I started searching the internet, and I found this article on a cancer survivor, who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with his doctor.  And then I got really interested.  I googled a bunch on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and about what it would take to climb such a mountain.  My dream has always been to go to Africa with my camera, and take pictures of my favorite animals in the wild.  This put a new dimension to my dream of going on an African Photographic Safari (I would never go on a hunting safari, as I do not believe in shooting guns).  I am going to climb Kilimanjaro in 2020.

Why Africa Though? And Why 2020?

I share a lot on social media, but not really a lot.  I always have had some odd connection to Africa.  I don’t even know how to explain it.  The first book I read was, “Born Free.”  I have a vast collection of things made in Kenya, if I see jewelry made in Africa I buy it.  My favorite rides, parks, restaurants, and resorts at Disney World are at the Animal Kingdom.  I love the culture, the food, the people, and the animals in Africa.  And before the Animal Kingdom in Disney opened, I loved the African stores at Busch Gardens in Tampa.  I have wanted to visit the real thing since I was eight.

My favorite animal has always been a lion.  My favorite Disney movie is “The Lion King,” my favorite musical the same.  When I was 21, I had my first, and only, close-encounter with a lion, I got to pet and hold lion cubs in a Mexican Zoo that had not yet opened.  The lion was just like a cat, it snuggled in my arms, and purred.  I will never forget it.  I have always had a hunger to see the Lions in their natural habitat.  I see myself as a Lion has I battle cancer.

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I chose June-July 2020, because this will give me enough time to heal my body, mind, and spirit.  As of right now, my cancer is on the decline.  I am receiving an experimental treatment that has made me feel better than I have in a LONG time.  This will give me the time to train, to do other climbs.  There are 14 peaks in Colorado that are above 14,000 feet.  My intention is to do a few of those before attempting my big climb.

Besides healing my mind, I have a LOT of work to do on my body.  I have been given steroids for most of the last two years.  I gained weight, a lot of weight.  I am trying to get down to a reasonable weight.  I also have start eating healthier and I have to train.  The training alone will help me get down to a fit weight.  I plan on starting to run again, just not marathons.

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I look forward to showing everyone my progress, and pictures as I make my dream of going to Africa, seeing her people, cultures, and animals a reality.

 

The Road Ahead

Hello Friends,

The last six months, have been a full six months.  Full of awesome highs (nearly no evidence of disease, and starting a maintenance drug), and full of valley lows (losing one of my closest new friends to this awful disease).  After Christmas, my blood counts were so low, that I thought I was going to die (literally).  I never have felt so close to death as I did between Christmas and New Years.  I even started to write letters to my children regarding how I wanted to be remembered by them.  I had consistent bloody noses that would take hours to stop up.  I eventually went into the hospital, and got some blood.  I was counting down the infusions until the end of Gemzar and Cisplatin– the beginning of February.

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Mountains Near Breckenridge

In February, my sister-in-law and nephews came out for a visit.  Colorado was not kind to them.  My youngest nephew started throwing up before the trip, and my eldest nephew, who has Type I Diabetes got food poisoning towards the end.  The poor child couldn’t get out of bed.  I was running a fever, had a cough, and felt generally shitty.  I knew since my counts were low, it would take forever to recover from my cold, which ended up being Influenza A (found that out after my son caught it).  After we both got over the flu, we ended up going to Snow Mountain Ranch (YMCA of the Rockies), and rented a nice secluded cabin in the woods.  I still was not up to skiing, and hung out mostly in the lodge.

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YMCA of the Rockies

In March we found ourselves back at Disney World and visiting my mom for Spring Break and Easter.  I did not bring my camera then, but I have a ton of beautiful iPhone pictures of Disney.  When we returned to Colorado it was time to trek up to Denver and see Dr. Corr at UCH Aurora campus.  We found out that my CA-125 had increased to over 600!  Since my symptoms coincided with a possible aneurysm, I was given an emergency CT Scan.  I did end up getting my Avastin infusion (maintenance drug), and the next day found out that my two spots had turned into 5 spots with the largest on my rectum.  On April 7th, I signed the paperwork to start a clinical trial.

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Crestwood Falls at Crestwood State Park

I made several trips to and from Denver to participate in the clinical trial.  I had a CT scan, a brain MRI, a biopsy, and more vials of blood drawn than one could imagine.  By the time I began the trial my CA-125 was over 900.  The clinical trial is a immunotherapy drug called Durvalumab and a vaccine therapy (immune system booster) called IPH2202.  The Durvalumab is supposed to highlight a protein to the immune system in the cancer, and IPH2202 is supposed increase my bodies immune reaction.  So far the side effects are very minimal, and I feel great.

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California Poppies Growing Wild

As of today, I have had two infusions.  I have no increase of cancer symptoms (the symptoms have remained stable– no increase is a very good sign, as I have not had chemotherapy in over 4 months!), I have good energy, and I feel wonderful.  In two days I will be embarking on a photography adventure road trip, and I will be documenting it photographically and on my blog!

We are traveling to the Grand Canyon.  I will be witnessing the a sunrise over the Grand Canyon.  After that, we will be traveling to Las Vegas.  Where I will be photographing the strip, going to the fountain show at the Bellagio, and the pirate show.  I, of course, will play a few games of chance ;).  From there I will be heading on Rt 66 to California.  I have never been on the West Coast.  We will be in Malibu, at Disneyland, visiting an old friend from our time at Vilseck/Rose Barracks, and then trying to see a few stars :D.  Then from LA, we will be driving north along the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco (some of the highway is closed, but I’ll see enough of it.  From San Fran, we will travel northward to the Redwood National Forest, where the Ewoks live :).  Finally, we travel back east going through Oregon, Nevada, and Utah to the Arches National Park, and back home.  My goal is to master the manual setting on my camera.

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Purple Wildflowers

Cancer has given me a new appreciation for life.  It is hard to know that one day I will die from this disease and follow the path of my sisters before me.  Life is fleeting…

Rest In Peace:

Jessica Gladstone
Jann Lenhart
Tracey Young
Sue Alvarez
Lori Hamilton
Sarah McGerrtrick
Eileen Albert
Betty Burnell
Leigh Reel English (Liver Cancer)

Song of the Post:  “I’ll Stand By You” Rachel Platten

Losing My Religion

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“That’s me in the corner, That’s me in the spotlight, Losing my Religion…”

Move over Rover, Cancer has taken over…

I’m almost done with my fourth line of treatment (technically my third line of chemotherapy).  This one is doing what every other regimen has done, kept me stable, and kept the cancer at bay.  I should be satisfied, but I am not.  I want it gone.  Since camp I have lost four friends to this insidious disease.  I hate what it has done, not just to me, but to my family.  Things that are certain, are no longer certain.  I think the most disruptive thing it did was cause me to question my religion.

I have always heard that God never gives you more than you can handle.  Then the first uncertain thing happened.  My son was diagnosed with autism when he was two.  I read a blog post, or a poem, called “A Trip To Holland,” so instead of Italy, we are going to Holland, land of Tulips and wooden clogs.  Holland had many adventures– to include adverse affects from immunizations, seizures, child abuse at school, etc…  But there was always God and Jesus to take the burdens.

Then my dad died.  It was unexpected, but expected.  Dad was not very good at taking care of himself.  He believed in miracles.  He made his dreams come true.  He lived in the best place in the world, Disney.  He loved and lived.  He passed away from a heart attack. This put our family into a tailspin.  I stayed with my mom a few weeks, and my daughter stayed there for a little bit longer.  My mom was thrown into widowhood, and I was thrown into a slight depression.  At this time, I started to notice that my back pain from 2014 was returning.  I thought it was from switching from outdoor running to treadmill running in the humid summer.

In October, my daughter started stating that she was going to commit suicide.  She would have tantrums that turned violent.  I was kicked in the face at one point.  She started to put on weight.  It was unreal.  We eventually had to have her hospitalized at nine years old.  We discovered that she had ADHD.  Again, ADHD is something we can handle.

In November and December, I started to feel more and more symptoms.  I felt tired all the time, I would go running, and feel done.  I wrote it off as stress, depression, whatever you can call it.  I also felt a huge amount of guilt.  I was too tired to do my normal routine.  Looking back on the schedule– I got my daughter into counseling appointments, Occupational Therapy, sleep studies, and eating counseling; Ryan needed ABA therapy, OT, ST, and Neurology every three months, which was a drive to Pensacola Beach; and I was seeing a personal therapist and marital counseling.

In January, I went in again to complain about whatever was going on.  I was tired, I was having difficulty breathing, I had a backache.  Something was wrong.  I ended up leaving in tears, after the doctor forgot about my appointment.  I switched to Tricare Standard.  Saw a new doctor.  She ended up suspecting that I had a silent heart attack.  I had an odd heartbeat, and she could hear fluid in my lungs.  I got a lung x-ray.  I had a large pleural effusion in my right lung.  Within two days, I was diagnosed with cancer, stage IV.

Every day since then, I prayed and begged God for my life.  I prayed that He would cure me.  That He would take this burden from me.  I prayed that my children would not be left motherless.  I have seen, and experienced what happens to children when a parent dies.  Even at 40, it is difficult, but kids are 12 and soon-to-be 14.  I can’t take the thoughts what it’s going to be like without me– I know it sounds selfish, but that’s the thought that depresses me the most.  I don’t want to die early.  I want to see the milestones– I want to see my son walk the graduation walk, I want to see my daughter get into her dream college (which right now is “the best college ever” for math and engineering), I want to see my daughter married, I want to meet my grandkids.  I don’t want to be the picture in the corner, or the person that people will tell my kids to get over already (I have heard someone say that to a child of a cancer patient).  I don’t want them to tailspin out of control.  And God is not listening.  He has stolen four friends on this Earth.  And now none of the treatments are working completely, but it is not gone.  I hop from one treatment to another.  I have been abandoned and my children are being abandoned.  How can I believe in someone who is not supposed to give me more than I can handle, when I cannot handle this?  How can I feel that He has this, and the burden is not mine, when it is hurting my family?  So here I am sitting in my corner, in my spotlight, slowly losing my religion…

I Have A Confession…

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I’m going through a really dark period right now.  I have lost my mojo.  I have lost my desire to write anymore, my desire to take photographs, and a lot of happiness.  I am doing fine physically.  My CA-125 (the cancer marker) has been slowly decreasing every three weeks.  I am going to be taken a much needed break, and see if the mojo comes back.

Just an FYI– if you are a caretaker, or family member of a cancer patient, do not do an emotional intervention with said cancer patient in the middle of a harsh chemotherapy, particularly when said thing you are intervening about is five years old…  The longterm effects are incredibly negative.  Thanks…

 

Oh Deer!

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When we first bought our new home in Colorado, I was so excited about all the wild life that our neighbors talked about.  Of course they were a little less than excited about some of the animals that visit our home.  Particularly, the Mule Deer (a little larger than white tail), that often rub their antlers on the budding trees.  But supposedly, we have a moose cow, a bear, and the deer.

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Last week, I got my 30-something-th chemotherapy infusion, and I was dragging after getting a wonderful injection of neulesta.  I laid down to take a nap, but Thor, my Golden Retriever, decided to bark and bark and bark.  I was irritated, so I yelled at him to STFU.  Yeah, I know my language isn’t the best when I feel like I do post-chemo.

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My daughter said, “Mom, get your camera, there are deer looking in the window.”  Deer looking in the window?!  Why would deer want to look in the window. Sure enough, I looked out my window, and saw the two doe above eating grass in our neighbor’s yard.  I snuck outside, and captured these photos of the beautiful buck that accompanied three doe.

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I’m 90% sure this is lovely 10-point buck that ruined one of our brand new pine trees that we planted earlier this year.  But who knows.  He sure liked to pose.  I got about 2-3 yards away from the herd before he pushed the doe away, and took off across the street.  I did manage to get a few more pictures.

I took a total of 30 pictures…

Some prints are available for sale, and I am making a new 2018 calendar.  My photographs are available for sale at Jodi Vetter Photography, the calendar, and other products will be soon available on a new Etsy Storefront.  A percentage of all sales goes towards Camp Mak-A-Dream outside of Missoula, MT.

Time Flies When You Are Having Fun

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Immediately after I was released from the hospital, we went to celebrate Shane’s 20th reunion at the Air Force Academy.  Twenty years have flown by.  In twenty years, we moved around twelve times (thirteen if you count extended TDYs)– Minnesota to Colorado Springs to Oklahoma to New Mexico (me) and Louisiana (him) to North Dakota (both) to Germany to North Dakota to Virginia to Ohio to Florida to Colorado Springs. We have survived five years of separation, and four deployments (two combat).  And now we are back where it all began.

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Thursday, we went to Antlers, a local hotel, and picked up our tickets.  One thing about the reunion is it’s quite expensive (the tune of $900!).  The registration alone was $100 each.  It included a dinner and free drinks on Thursday night.  There we met up with friends we hadn’t seen in years.  I found out that several people Shane sang with in Catholic Choir were living here locally.  It was so nice to see people I hadn’t seen in 20 years, and being asked to come hang out!

On Friday, we went to the actual Academy and toured it.  We went to Shane’s old squadron.  Talked to the cadets.  We learned interesting statistics about the new class.  The greatest statistic was the cadet class in 1997 was only 10% female, while the cadet class in 2021 is 30% female!  It was so nice to see such a change in environment at the Academy.  Most of the women at the academy are studying STEMM majors.  So it’s not just “fuzzy” majors.  These women are going to be the future leaders in Engineering and Math career fields.

We also found out that Shane’s boss in Florida, General Silvaria is now the Superintendent at the Air Force Academy.  It was nice to see him and his wife again.

At the end of the day we went to the memorial service.  There were several deaths in the four reunion classes (1972, 1992, 1997, and 2007).  They read the names of the deceased this year (including one senior) in each class.  Played Taps, and the Missing Man formation of A-10s.  The clouds have begun to roll in, and the angels began to cry during the formation.  It was beautiful and sad at the same time.  There was one guy in Shane’s class that died this year in combat.  It made this ceremony extra special, as the family was there to lay roses on his name.  There was not a dry eye in the crowd.

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At the end of the ceremony, I caught this nice fellow watching with his friend.  He is a PTSD service dog, who was attending with a 2007 graduate.  It’s a stark reminder of the sacrifices that living veterans are making.  It has changed my attitude about being a veteran.  I am considered a disabled veteran, and for years I was not proud of my service.  I didn’t deploy.  When I left the service I got someone else’s going away gift, and I felt like I didn’t sacrifice.  But recognizing those that did make the ultimate sacrifice, and seeing the PTSD dog made me feel blessed, that even though I have service connected cancer, I did experience what my husband and other vets have experienced.

The weekend ended with the football game.  I don’t have any pictures from this event.  I brought my camera, but decided to put it back in the car.  The game was a close one, but our Falcons could not pull it out in the end.  Anyway, the kids, Shane, and I went to the class tailgate, where we met a friend from both Shane’s squadron AND pilot training, Ryan.  Turns out Ryan is a published author, so I got his card to discuss with him how to get published (I have kind of decided to publish my book as a collection of short stories and novellas).  When we got to our seats, it started raining.  The rain started out lightly, then the wind picked up, and by 9:00 minutes into the game, it was 48-degrees, with driving rain, and 30 mph winds.  We watched the Falcons score first, and then we decided to leave.

As we left, my son, decided to hit every puddle.  We got home, fired up the fireplaces, and turned on the game.  Luckily we left, as the game was on an 80-minute lightening delay.  We flipped from various Big Ten games, drank hot chocolate, and ate chips and dip.  All-in-all we really enjoyed ourselves at the reunion.

 

July Camping

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In July we went camping.  It was our first Colorado camping trip and we had a great time.  We went to Eleven Mile State Park.  I don’t even know how to describe where it is, but it’s on the other side of Pike’s Peak.  The reservoir runs along a river fed by snow melt.  The lake has Northern Pike, Salmon, Trout, Bass, and Crawdaddies.

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Yes, that’s right Crawdaddies, Mudbugs, or crawfish, the little red delights that are often found in the French Quarter on Mardi Gras.  They were in season when we got there.  Some of the park rangers were having a weekend seafood boil.    We were surprised to say the least.  Unfortunately, our boat is broken, and Shane had to take it to the shop after we got home.

While the kids and Shane went fishing, I walked around camp, and took some pictures of camp. I found one of the Colorado Springs Rocks.  The staff from a beauty salon in town had hidden rocks throughout the park.  There were a lot of song birds too.  The top two pictures posed for me on the picnic table.  The other bird and rabbit were regular visitors to our campsite.

 

And flowers galore!  We took hikes on the third day through the pine and birch trails.  I have traded tropical flowers for wild flowers.  Succulents, red poisonous berries, and other fragrant flowers.

 

And of course a new toy.  I sucked it up and bought a super wide angel lens.  It took perfect pictures of the landscapes around our camp.  I could get full mountains without turning my camera all sorts of different directions.  I still haven’t figured out astrophotography.   But hopefully I will be able to take pics when I get out of the hospital.

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And we had our security system.  She LOVED sleeping outside, and getting in touch with her wild side (chasing ground squirrels and birds).  Thor didn’t pose for me.  He would walk up to me every time I put up my camera.  The only time I can get a good picture of him is if I am at the end of the yard, and he’s running towards me.