Superhero Quilt

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Another finished quilt! This one is a little special. I threw a baby shower for Mom and baby back in January and had the ladies at the shower write or draw messages on fabric squares to be made into a quilt. I took those squares and arranged them into a checkerboard design with some sashing. This is the finished result, finally ready to be presented to baby and Mommy. Quilt measures 33.5″x37.5″ and used an assortment of fabrics, mostly Rocket Age by October Afternoon for Riley Blake. I saw this fabric at my local quilt shop and absolutely fell in love! It’s so adorable! I did FMQ loop de loops with white thread on top and blue thread on bottom. I’m so loving FMQ!

rocket age

I also used some Batman fabric and some flannel train fabric, both picked up from Joann’s. Here’s the back of the quilt:

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Closeup of the quilting:

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Love that stripey binding!

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Big News…

First ultrasoundWell, in the midst of all this big news with Michael’s health (could anything be bigger?) Mike and I received some great news. We’re expecting a baby!

Our journey to get to this point in our marriage has been a long one. When Michael and I first began dating 13 years ago (when we were 17 and 18) we both wanted to have a family and have children. As I matured, went to college and had new experiences, I began feeling like children were something I didn’t want. I wanted to be able to travel, focus on myself and my interests and not have to put someone else’s needs first. I wanted to be selfish and I felt like I was doing the right thing by recognizing that and not bringing a child into the world. Mike continued to want children and hoped I would change my mind one day.

After Mike’s first cancer treatment in 2001-2002, he began participating in survivorship clinics at City of Hope and did so until his second cancer diagnosis in 2013. They were great because it was essentially free healthcare for participating in studies analyzing his remission and recovery. One of these studies measured his sperm count; for a cancer survivor it was great, but for a regular person they weren’t good. We figured if we did ever decide to get pregnant, it would probably be difficult but not impossible.

Fast forward to January 2015. When we were told that Mike would not be having a simple laprascopic surgery but would have to undergo chemotherapy treatment again, we knew that if we ever wanted to have children this may make things even more difficult, maybe even impossible if Mike did not survive treatment. Here is an article that discusses male fertility and cancer treatment.

I had a difficult decision to make with no time to make it in. I was sitting in the doctor’s office after doctors told us Mike had to undergo chemotherapy again and I asked myself: was I OK with the possibility of never having Mike’s children?

To my surprise, the answer immediately came: No. If there was anything I could do to avoid that fate, anything I could do to make Mike’s life happier for however much longer he has on this earth, I was going to do it. I realized that the biggest regrets in my life were the things I was too scared to do. I’m not one of those people that says I never regret things I’ve done (St. Patty’s day 2006 comes to mind), but the ones that stick out the most are the things I was too afraid to try because I thought I might fail. I didn’t want to look back in ten years and realize I never started this journey because I was too scared to try.

We had approximately ten days between the day we received the news and the day he would need to start chemotherapy to try. I have never been good about keeping track of my cycle as it has always been regular, so I had no idea if I was ovulating or if this was the right time or what. It didn’t occur to me to buy one of those ovulation kits. We just tried. We figured if it works, then great. If not, at least we’ll know we tried.

Positive result!Two weeks later on Feb 6th I took an early predictor pregnancy test. Since I didn’t keep track of my cycle, I figured I was either a week late for my period or it should be arriving any day. To my surprise, the test was positive! Mike was ecstatic. I started researching local OBGYNs (I wasn’t in love with my current doctor and figured now was as good a time as any to switch).

As of today I am 13 weeks along and just starting the second trimester. Doctor says I will be able to find out the sex in 5-6 weeks! I had some pretty bad fatigue and nausea (morning sickness–but all the time!!) the first trimester, but I’m starting to feel more like my old self these days… except a little thicker in the waist! :)

I know for many this would be considered the worst time to embark on this adventure. Sometimes I have wondered what I’ve gotten myself into! But Mike and I have come to terms with the fact that cancer may be a permanent part of our lives now. We can’t keep postponing our lives until Mike feels better or until the cancer is over… that may never happen. We have to do as much as we can now, everyday. At the end at least I can look back and say that I did everything I could, and if I can do that then I think I won’t have any regrets, no matter the outcome of Mike’s treatment. This pregnancy keeps us staying positive and gives us something happy to think about and look forward to. Mike is so excited about being a dad he can hardly stand it.

Watching and feeling my body go through these pregnancy changes has been amazing and overwhelming. I’m constantly amazed at my body’s ability not only to grow this little person from nothing, with me not needing to do much other than try not to poison it (goodbye, alcohol and sushi!). It’s such a stark contrast to my husband, whose body has to fight every second of every day just to keep his one life going. It’s been a humbling experience and I can only imagine it will be more profound as the pregnancy progresses. But we are looking forward to Oct 14th (my current due date) when we can meet our lil’ peanut!

Cancer: Again

Been a long time since I’ve updated and I’m sure no one reads this but me, but even so it’s good for me to write it all down. When we last left Mike’s cancer story, he was recovering from surgery and radiation therapy administered after doctors found another tumor on his back. This was his second cancer diagnosis. Doctors determined the cancer was a radiation-induced sarcoma; basically, his cancer was caused by the radiation treatment he had received for his synovial sarcoma diagnosis back in 2001-2002. It’s extremely rare, although becoming more common as cancer survivors live longer lives after surviving cancer. Here is a great article about it.

In September 2014 we went to City of Hope for a checkup with Michael’s doctors. At that time they did MRI scans and saw something in his spleen but decided to monitor it for the time being. Otherwise they were very happy with his progress. Michael and I were doing very well. In July 2014 we sold our catering company and Mike continued on as the executive chef. The new parent company took over all administrative duties, thereby dissolving my position and my involvement in the company (which I am very happy for).

On December 2, 2014 we returned to City of Hope for his 3 month checkup. Scans revealed the “something” in his spleen had grown significantly in size. Biopsy was ordered for December 15, 2014 and we received results in early Jan 2015: it was cancerous. Unfortunately, the biopsy results were inconclusive as to the type of cancer it was. It could be a re occurrence of the synovial sarcoma he had in 2001, unlikely as it is extremely rare for a re occurrence of that cancer to appear in an organ. It could be a metastatic cancer spread from his diagnosis in 2013. Or it could be a third, completely new type of cancer.

As the spleen is not an organ vital to living, the decision was made for Mike to undergo laparoscopic surgery to have his spleen removed and then from there to decide whether further treatment would be required. Unfortunately, during his pre-surgery scans four additional lesions were discovered in his liver. Surgery was postponed and Michael began chemotherapy treatment to hopefully eliminate the lesions in his liver (as well as any other tumors not detected by scans) and reduce the size of the tumor in his spleen. Without treatment, Mike was given 3-4 months to live and treatment was given a 30-40% success rate.

Michael began chemotherapy on January 26, 2015. It is a once a week outpatient treatment with a 3 week cycle. On day 1, he receives gemcitabine. On day 8, he returns to hospital and receives a dose of gemcitabine followed by a dose of taxotere. On day 9 he receives a Neulasta shot to help support his immune system and help his body produce white blood cells. On day 14 he has a checkup with doctors (no chemo) and then the process starts again the next week.

The first treatment Mike received caused him to have an allergic reaction and he broke out in hives. We administered steroids, which caused steroid acne, and he recovered. After his second treatment he almost lost the entire use of his legs. He could not walk without assistance for 3-4 days. He also began experiencing tingling in his hands. By the third treatment he was losing a lot of hair, we ended up shaving his whole head (beard and hair).

When we arrived at the hospital for his fourth treatment on February 23, doctors noticed his back was very swollen and some open sores had yellow pus. Turns out Mike had developed an infection around the hardware on his back from his surgery in 2013. He was immediately admitted into the hospital and chemotherapy was put on hold. That Thursday Mike underwent surgery on his back (yet again) so doctors could correct the infection and chemotherapy could continue. It was determined that after receiving radiation treatment in the Spring of 2014, the muscle and skin the plastic surgeons had placed over the hardware had deteriorated so much that the bolts in Mike’s spine were puncturing the skin.

2015-02-26 08.26.13-1 Michael was very excited about this surgery, he had been complaining to his doctors for months that the bolts on his back were very uncomfortable and he was looking forward to the problem being corrected and being more comfortable in the future. Doctors cleaned out the infection, drilled his bolts a further 12-15mm into his spine to prevent further protrusion, and a new muscle flap was placed over the hardware. Doctors expected to need to do another skin flap or skin graft over the site as irradiated skin does not typically heal up again, but Mike’s skin reacted well enough that neither of these procedures were necessary. Surgery was just 8 hours long and Mike was in the hospital for 10 days, longer than anticipated but he had problems with pain management and fevers.

Once Mike returned home we had to continue administering antibiotics intravenously every 8 hours for 30 days (these were cefepime and cubicin). Luckily, since Mike had a portacath installed for chemotherapy, nurses could install an access needle with a short line. All we had to do was push the antibiotics in with a syringe.

Recovery was not all smooth sailing, unfortunately. When we went home his back was leaking a lot of fluid from a portion of his incision that had come open. Doctors installed a catheter with a bulb drain and stitched up the incision. Eventually Mike was draining over 400ML a day and doctors determined it was likely spinal fluid leaking, which caused Michael terrible headaches and nausea. Since so much work had just been done around his spine, it was likely a small tear formed in his spinal membrane which was leaking spinal fluid. The drain was (blessedly) removed and Michael began to feel much better. Our bodies produce more spinal fluid everyday so once it stopped draining, Mike’s body could catch up. Doctors were concerned a seroma would form, which could run the risk of becoming infected again but there is not much that can be done to prevent it.

Finally, on March 26th Michael was given the OK to start chemotherapy again! He has completed one cycle so far. We expect to continue for at least 3-4 months or until scans show no lesions in Mike’s liver. The tumor on his spleen was quite large so I am expecting he will undergo a splenectomy once doctors finish chemotherapy treatment. Mike is ready to get this chapter behind him as we have something big to get ready for… (to be continued)

Baby Studdert Quilt

Another baby quilt finish! This quilt was created for some friends expecting their first baby. The pattern is called “Baby Bliss” and was featured in the December 2012 issue of Quilter’s World magazine. I used Kona Snow for the white fabric and various pinks, greens and browns from my stash for the bowtie blocks. I also used some fabrics from my stash for the binding and the backing fabrics. It finished at 47.5″x36″.

I quilted a kind of pinwheel pattern I made up in the areas between the bowties. On the bowties and the borders I did FMQ loop-de-loops.

Close up of the quilting.

Close up of the quilting.

The front of the quilt.

The front of the quilt.

You can see on the front of the quilt I placed one of the bowtie blocks the wrong way. Oops!! Oh well, guess that’s how you know it’s handmade. ;)

The back of the quilt.

The back of the quilt.

I was also able to deliver the quilt in person to the new mom and dad, they loved it! Thanks for reading!

Baby Lee Quilt

Another quilt finish for 2014! This is a quilt for my cousin who is having her first child later this year. The baby is going to be a girl. I love working on girl quilts with lots of pink fabrics! I wanted to use some high quality fabrics for this one, so I ordered a fat quarter bundle of Butterfly Dance fabrics by Cinderberry Stitches for Riley Blake:


I used the pattern “Oh Buoy!” by Elizabeth Tisinger Beese featured in a supplement to American Patchwork & Quilting magazine, August 2014 issue. It was a pretty easy pattern to follow, perfect for me since I had just a couple of weeks to start and finish the quilt. I was very happy with how it turned out! I used almost the entire bundle on this quilt, using any fat quarters I didn’t cut into for the front, on the back. I also cut into the fat quarters for the binding. I think there are a couple more green fat quarters in my stash that didn’t fit in this one, and I bought way too much of the white fabric, but it will be a nice addition to my stash.

The front of the quilt.

The front of the quilt.

The back of the quilt.

The back of the quilt.

Closeup of the quilting.

Closeup of the quilting.

This was my first time doing free motion quilting on a quilt of this scale and I was very happy with how it turned out. I used a lot more thread than I usually do, and I hit a few snags, but overall I felt that the quilting process moved much more quickly using FMQ. I did some loop-de-loops in the main pattern area and did a simple stipple pattern on the border. I forgot to measure the finished product, but it was just about the size of a crib quilt batting, 46.76″x58.5″ was the finish size on the pattern.

I was so happy to be able to travel to Long Island and deliver this baby quilt in person!

Future Mommy & me!

Future Mommy & me!

I really enjoyed this quilt and I’m LOVING FMQ! Hope you like it!

Baby Granny Squares Quilt

Another finished quilt for me, hooray! I made this quilt for a friend who just had her first baby, a girl. This was another scraps and stash buster, no new materials bought for this project. I did run out of Kona Snow for the sashing and had to buy more, and found the binding material in the remnants bin while I was at the store. I really like the scrappy border around the outside of the squares. Mommy is not too fond of pink so I tried to restrain myself, which is so hard… I love making pink quilts for girls! Hopefully Mommy and baby both enjoy this one.

The front of the quilt.

The front of the quilt.

The back of the quilt

The back of the quilt

The quilt finishes at 49″x36″. I used straight line stitching on this one.

Machine Binding Your Quilt

My most recent binding fabric! Binding is one of the final steps to finishing a quilt AND one of my least favorites! In the beginning I hand bound all of my quilts, which is such a slow going process, not to mention I wasn’t very good at it! Machine binding has made this hated step go MUCH more quickly, thank heaven. Lately I’ve been into lots of white sashing and white bindings on my quilts, but this time I decided to try out a fun print for my binding. We’ll see how it turns out :)

As for my method, usually I cut 2.5″ strips for my bindings. I love Rita from Red Pepper Quilts’ suggestion to sew a zig zag stitch along the edges of the binding to keep it from puckering! Adds another step but helps SO much. Amy from Diary of a Quilter’s method of mitering the corners works best for me, I never understood mitering until I read her post actually!! I like joining the strips together at a 45 degree angle but I have done it just “straight,” too. Both ways work but the angle definitely cuts down on the bulk. I still haven’t mastered “squaring” up my quilt before binding so my edges tend to be a bit wavy :)

I’m just about done with another quilt (!!!) so I will take photos & post once that’s done :)

Juliette’s Quilt

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I started this quilt back in October 2012 with no real purpose in mind other than reducing my rapidly accumulating scraps stash. Then we moved in November 2012 and I got side tracked. I worked on it now and then, here and there without making a ton of progress.

Finally, towards the end of 2013, my sister announced that she was having another baby, this time a girl! I decided to get my butt in gear and finish this quilt for her and the baby, and this past week I finally did. It’s been so long since I finished a quilt (the last was Granny Squares back in 2012, no finishes in 2013!) that I forgot to measure it or anything. I can tell you I did a machine binding with white fabric, and a simple diamond pattern quilting with white thread.

Here’s another view of the front:
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And the back, these are all flannel remnants from the bin at Joann’s:
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Feels good to be quilting again :)

The Recovery Post.

This is a continuation of Mike’s cancer story. Read parts 1 and 2 here and here.

Mike and our dog, Jetty, relaxing on his hospital bed.

Mike and our dog, Jetty, relaxing on his hospital bed.

On January 14, after 27 days in the hospital, Michael was finally released to go home. We had a hospital bed set up in our living room at home for him to watch TV. Once his back started healing, he was able to lay on it as well as his left side, to give the right side of his body some relief. He had been laying on his right side exclusively since the surgery a month before. We were both extremely happy to be home!

Michael starting seeing a physical therapist to start building up his strength again. His left arm and neck were affected by all of the muscle removed in surgery, but the rest of his body was weak, too from all of the time spent in bed in the hospital. He progressed quickly though and was ready to get back to normal. We had lots of friends and family come by to visit and cheer us up.

2014-03-19 13.56.16-2Unfortunately, the doctors were not able to remove as wide a margin around the cancer as they would have liked. It was decided that although radiation treatment was what caused this cancer, Mike would have to undergo radiation treatment again. If he did not, the likelihood of it returning would be greater and the treatment options would be limited.

Michael and his brother, Greg

Michael and his brother, Greg at the fundraiser.

On Mar 6, we went to the hospital for Michael’s first radiation treatment. It was the first day of daily treatments that would continue for the next six weeks. Unfortunately, the machine broke down and he was unable to receive treatment that day. He did receive treatment the next day and we went home for the weekend. That weekend, a local winery we work with hosted a fundraiser party for Mike’s treatment. So many people have helped us get through this time, and we are so grateful!

The next six weeks found us following a strange routine: Mondays we would pack up and drive to City of Hope and check in to our room at Hope Village, where we would stay for the week while Mike received his daily radiation treatments. I would stay with Mike Monday through Wednesday, then I would drive home to go to work Thurs-Sun. One of Mike’s parents or one of his aunts usually came to stay with him Thursday and Friday.

Unfortunately, the radiation treatment was really tough on Mike. His esophagus and throat became raw and sore, making eating a painful process. His stomach was upset and nauseous a good portion of the time. As a result he lost a lot of weight during treatment. The treatment itself takes 500 calories each time, so in order to just maintain his weight, he would need to ingest 2500 calories a day. Some days we were lucky if we could get him to keep 1500 calories down. He drank a lot of protein shakes during his treatment, since protein was also essential for continued healing.

Here are some picures I took during our stay at City of Hope:

They gave Mike a medal for completing radiation treatment. My hero!

They gave Mike a medal for completing radiation treatment. My hero!

April 17th was Mike’s last day of radiation treatment and we were able to go home to stay, finally! Unfortunately during treatment, Mike’s skin graft on his back opened up a lot so the healing he did prior to radiation was reversed somewhat. Now it’s been about 4 weeks since Mike completed treatment and the healing on his back is almost completely done. There is just a small area that is still open, but otherwise looks great.

We are on the tail end of this thing and we couldn’t be happier. I am so grateful to all the doctors, nurses, PCAs and other staff that helped us during Mike’s treatment. It was so incredibly difficult, but we tried to take it just one day at a time and we got through it. Mike has started driving again and we’re both looking forward to getting back to the things we love doing!

The Hospital Post.

This is a continuation of Mike’s cancer story. Read the first part here.

On December 18th, 2013 Mike went in for surgery to remove the cancer on his back. Since we were expecting to be in the hospital for Christmas, we celebrated with our friends and family early. The night before surgery we went and had a really nice dinner at The Bazaar in Beverly Hills (I’ll make a separate post about that later).

His surgery took 21 hours, although it went long, it went smoothly and there were no complications. He didn’t even require a blood transfusion during the surgery. By the time I was allowed to see him it was 5AM and I had been awake for over 24 hours. Unfortunately, there was a breakdown in communication between the surgery team and the ICU staff, who had laid him on his back when he was not supposed to be. This caused his flap to become congested (the blood not to flow out) and the plastic surgeons started a leech therapy regimen on him to prevent necrosis of the flap (this is a great article explaining the process).

Seeing Mike come out of surgery was a scary and sobering experience. He had goggles on his eyes to keep them protected during surgery, a breathing tube down his throat and a forced air warming “blanket” (like this) on him to bring up his body temperature. I couldn’t talk with him, touch him, I had no idea how to help him. All I could do was be his advocate in an impersonal hospital system, and that was a full-time job.

Christmas tree on the ICU floor at the hospital.

Christmas tree on the ICU floor at the hospital.

Mike was in ICU for the next 20 days. On December 24, 2013 Christmas Eve, they took him off sedation and removed the breathing tube. He was very sore and in a lot of pain, which they treated with Dilaudid. Unfortunately, that pain medication gave him hallucinations and nightmares so we changed to OxyContin.

Unfortunately, Mike’s flap took much longer to heal than the doctors anticipated. They kept him on leech therapy until Jan 9th, 2014. Fortunately he was able to move out of ICU on Jan 7th. On Jan 14th we got the OK to go home after 27 days in the hospital.

I’m truly, truly grateful to City of Hope¬†and all of our doctors and nurses there for saving Michael’s life and helping him to recover. I don’t know that any other hospital or any other team could have done it. But that doesn’t mean it was all smooth sailing. When Michael’s hallucinations were so severe, he told me he’d rather be in pain than continue taking Dilaudid to manage it, I was the one who had to fight his doctors to make his wishes known. When nurses didn’t monitor the leeches properly and they ended up crawling all over his body while he was sedated, I was the one that had to reprimand them and demand new nursing staff. When, after almost 3 weeks in the hospital, the plastic surgery team told my husband that they wouldn’t be changing his treatment regimen over the weekend because they “had the weekend off,” it was me that had to complain to hospital administration about the callous way they treated us.

For the most part hospital staff tries hard to help the patients and make them comfortable, and help them get out of the hospital as soon as possible. For the most part they are very compassionate people and do their best to listen to your concerns. But sometimes you have to be forceful to get your concerns heard and that was very, very hard for me to do.

View from the ICU floor on Christmas Eve.

View from the ICU floor on Christmas Eve.

By day 14 in the hospital, I was emotionally and physically drained. We missed spending Christmas with our friends and family. The cafeteria closed early that day, even though it was advertised that it would be open until 1:30PM, so my Christmas dinner ended up being a sandwich from the bistro. We missed celebrating New Year’s Eve. Our 5 year wedding anniversary was just 6 days after we were released from the hospital, but there was no special dinner out or even exchange of presents. Every cent we have is spent on gas traveling to and from the hospital (which is over 70mi from our home), paying hospital and doctor co-pays, paying for motel rooms for me and food (hospital food isn’t so great), etc etc.

Mike in the hospital

Mike in the hospital

It’s been hard, by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Not only was I having to take care of my husband, I had to keep our catering company afloat. Luckily January and February is a slow time of year for us and we have a great management team to help pick up the slack. I’ve been so thankful to them for all of their help as well as our family and friends, who have been there for us every step of the way. We couldn’t have come this far without them.

And now we start the slow process of recovery. (To be continued)