Saturday, April 30, 2016

Her Light Burst Out

On Sunday, April 24, 2016, the following obituary appeared in a local newspaper:

Robin Deana Eslinger, age 46, passed away peacefully at her home in Belmont, MI, on March 30, 2016, surrounded by family and friends, following a 2 ½ year battle against appendiceal cancer.  Robin is survived by her husband, Paul Eslinger, daughters Brianna and Amanda Eslinger, grand-daughter Leah Skeel, all of Belmont, MI; her parents, Roscoe and Julia Specht of Rantoul, IL; sister Joy Specht, and brother Roy (Misty) Specht, and a multitude of extended family and friends.  Robin represented the People of the State of Michigan for 19 years as a Senior Assistant Prosecuting Attorney for Kent County, and was universally respected by her peers as a fierce advocate, a loyal friend, an exceptional wife and mother, loving sister, daughter, and mentor.  

A Memorial Service for Robin will be held on April 30th at 11 a.m., with visitation preceding from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Northlawn United Methodist Church, 1157 Northlawn St NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505.  In lieu of flowers, donations will be accepted toward an engraved bench or other similar memorial to be placed in Robin’s name with information available at:

A few facts about one's life - name, age, date of death, who was left to live without said loved one, and perhaps a sentence or two about a career - meant to neatly encapsulate a person's life. But we know that life - however loving and grand - is rarely, if ever, neat.  Robin asked me to write her obituary and speak at her memorial service.  Robin knew well that I, too, am rarely, if ever, neat.  Rarely, if ever, traditional.  So here, dear reader, is my unapologetic, unabridged obituary for my wonderful friend:

On Wednesday, March 30, 2016, at 4:40 a.m., an immensely kind soul flew up and away from any pain or suffering, and surrounded us with love.  Robin Deana Specht Eslinger, 46, was born on June 30, 1969, to Roscoe and Julia Specht in a farmland area of Illinois known as Rantoul.  Robin was the middle child a/k/a peacemaker, growing up on a farm with her older sister Joy and younger brother Roy, albeit blissfully with a rhyme free name. After an 80's montage of idyllic teenage years that included band geekdom (playing flute and ordering her peers around as drum major), and stage (including the portrayal of Nurse Ruth Kelly in Rantoul High's production of Harvey), Robin joined the workforce where she fell for her classic car-loving coworker, Paul Eslinger.  Given that they worked at Menards, the two of course decided to build things together - a marriage, home, family, and life, appropriately in that order, and, during their more than 22 years of marriage, they were doubly blessed with gorgeous daughters, Brianna and Amanda, and then granddaughter Leah Grace. 
In her career, Robin ultimately donned a white hat as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Kent County, using her combination of kindness and tenacity to secure justice for victims and offenders for nearly 20 years.  As a prosecutor, Robin was extremely organized and methodical, carefully highlighting the facts in each case necessary to prove a defendant's guilt yet she married those skills with an empathy that could be felt by the victims in her cases.  Our Prosecutor, Bill Forsyth, described Robin well, "She was such a genuine person.  I think people could see that in her and it helped her relate to victims, to witnesses and to juries." 
Robin is beloved by her friends and coworkers in the Prosecutor's Office, as I know she is also loved by court staff, police officers, the defense bar, her church family and community.  She never hesitated to provide an ear, or shoulder, or trip to Culver's when needed.  Indeed, even in the midst of her struggle with this vile disease, it was nearly impossible to leave her office without her turning the interaction around - "But how are you?  What is going on with you?"  Her experience - both in criminal law and in life - was invaluable and her heart immense.  She truly was the heart of our office.
Even as she was rising in the ranks of assistant prosecuting attorneys at the office, Robin raised two beautiful daughters with the help of husband Paul.  Her first-born, Brianna, is named after a cherished character in Robin's favorite book series - Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - and developed a talent and love for art. Robin's office walls are adorned with wonderful examples of Bri's art.  And Bri also inherited her mother's incredible heart and empathetic nature, which she is now passing on to her own child.  Robin's youngest, Amanda, inherited her mother's perfectionist nature and strives to excel at every study or activity she undertakes; and, like her mother, typically succeeds.  Both have their mother's beauty; both have her sense of humor and love of life. I have no doubt that Robin lives on in the two of them.
In September 2013, Robin began her fight against the appendiceal cancer that ultimately took her life.  Yet 2 ½ years of rigorous cancer treatment did nothing to alter her basic core of kindness, empathy, and faith.  And what a bright shining core.  You see, Robin understood the meaning of life.  To live. To love. To share your light with the world.  And she did this every single day. 
Robin was universally respected by both coworkers and opposing counsel.  She treated everyone with kindness and fairness.  And those aspects of her personality were evident no matter the context in which you encountered her.  She was a fierce advocate, a loyal friend, an exceptional wife and mother, a loving sister and daughter.  And a mentor to everyone in her life.  She was, quite simply, an ideal human being.  If you noticed a bit more kindness around you on March 30, 2016, it was her light bursting out and flying free from our spinning blue orb.  So as we celebrate her life and honor her memory, please "Keep On, Keeping On", and let kindness guide you along the way.

As I share this with you today, I'm reminded of one of those first doctor's appointments over two years ago, when she introduced the doctor to those who were with her: "This is my mom, Julie; this is my husband, Paul; and this is my best friend, Kim."  Best friend.  In truth, the phrase caught me off-guard because I was used to hearing it in school - grade-school, high-school, even college - but it had been a long time since I'd been labeled that way.  And I can't quite describe how immensely proud I am to have held that title in her life for even a short time. 

Today, I'll share the above obituary at her memorial service.  I know that she is with us.  I know that she will hear us, laugh with us, shake her head in a self-depreciating way, and wonder why on earth so many people felt the need to gather on a Saturday just because of her. 

Beauty + kindness + empathy + intelligence + a love of really good desserts.  That's why. 

We can only hope that our own lives inspire others in such a way. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Barring Any Difficulties

I begin a new chemotherapy drug today - Taxol - which means I have 12 weeks left of chemotherapy (barring any difficulties).  Ha. It seems I have to add that disclaimer to the end of everything related to my treatment. 

"barring any difficulties"

Used in this way, the word is a preposition (ah, high school English) and means "except for; if not for," which is funny in a sad way since the only thing you'll, at times, feel comes from chemotherapy IS difficulties. 

I've been told (by my oncologist) that Taxol is generally easier for patients than the AC portion of treatment, which I ended April 15, 2016.  A day of celebration rather than the dreaded tax day this year. 
Barring any difficulties.
Hey, funny story ... last week a new side effect from the AC treatment reared its ugly head.  Toward the end of the week, I was generally feeling better but kept thinking that I was getting several blisters on my feet.  See, the day after my chemo, I generally feel pretty good so I've gotten into the habit of doing things - shopping, cleaning, getting some MUCH needed exercise - and this past Saturday, that included walking over 18,000 steps.  GO ME!  Gosh ... I must have REALLY walked, right, to be getting blisters like that. 
Except that what I was feeling was actually the red devil a/k/a Doxorubicin a/k/a the A part of AC treatment leaking into the capillaries of my feet because of heat and friction.  You remember the red devil?  The drug that can cause 3rd degree burns if it touches your bare skin?  It seems that sometimes it can make its way through those tiny blood vessels and damage the skin tissue that way as well.  You should avoid friction - because THAT's easy to do with your hands and feet - and avoid heat to minimize your chances of developing this nasty side effect. 


It's called Hand and Foot Syndrome.  Thankfully, I *think* I've caught it early, i.e., before actual blisters, and have been slathering the creamiest of creams on my tootsies in the hopes to minimize damage.  Dr V's office will check me this morning to make sure I'm good to go on the next set of chemotherapy but I'm not anticipating a delay.  But I WILL be having many talks with them about updating their take home instructions for chemo patients to include specifics about this POSSIBLY AVOIDABLE CONDITION.  [I'm actually much more calm about this now - you should have heard me last week.]

Unfortunately, did you notice Taxol on that list of drugs known to cause this condition?  Yep.  And once you've developed it one time, apparently you're more likely to the next time as well. 

What can I do for it?  What will cure it?

Stopping chemotherapy.

I have TWELVE weeks left of chemotherapy.  So Cetaphil Cream is my new best friend for the next three months.  That and less walking.  Because THAT will help my weight gain explosion.

[Sorry, my sarcasm is strong this morning.]

I actually didn't sit down to write about my feet.

I sat down to write because it usually helps me deal with my fear and anxiety over my cancer treatment.  And because I'm starting a new drug, that fear is pretty hefty at the moment.

So back to the new drug.  Taxol.  Again, Dr. V has told me that most of her patients feel better on the Taxol than the other two drugs that I just finished.  Yay!  You know ....

Barring any difficulties.

You see, with any of these powerful chemotherapy drugs, there's a risk of an adverse reaction.  An allergic reaction.  And, although unlikely, it can kill you.  Piece of advice:  If you're getting ready to start any new treatment, the Internet is both your enemy and your friend.  While you can find many supportive communities out there in which you can share your experiences with other cancer patients and see tips on how to cope, you'll also hear the worst of the worst in horror stories and, I think, you'll likely begin to think that the rare side effects are more common than they really are.


There is the tiny part of me that can't escape the idea that I could die today.  That I could have one of those reactions, that the counter drugs won't work quickly enough, and that this morning could be my last.  If cancer does nothing else, it makes you face your own mortality. 

The reality is ... I could die any day.  You could die any day (sorry).  Any of us COULD die any day simply by walking out our door through any number of evils. 

A careless driver. 
A crazed ex brandishing a weapon. 
A madman with a bomb. 
Donald Trump.

I know, I know .... I meant to only include scary yet unlikely causes of death.  That last one is TRULY terrifying and incomprehensibly growing more likely every day.  Remember Hitler?  DO NOT ELECT HITLER!

But I digress.

Way too much.

I'm scared.  The truth is that everyone is different and I don't know how I'll react to Taxol until it is coursing through my veins and that terrifies me.  I hope that I'm with the "many" patients who Dr. V says tolerates it well.  I hope I don't develop neuropathy badly.  I hope the bone pain isn't bad (I thought I'd left THAT behind with the Neulasta shots).  I hope I don't lose my eyebrows (but that's a definitely possibility).

I hope July comes soon.

So please take a moment and send some good thoughts my way today.  A prayer is appreciated.  Wearing your lucky shirt, tie, or underwear is appreciated.  Good karma is appreciated.

Barring any difficulties, you'll hear from me tomorrow.  Actually, even if the unthinkable were to happen, I *think* you'll hear from me tomorrow because I *think* I've figured out how to schedule a post.  And tomorrow's post is my obituary for Robin.  Her memorial service is tomorrow and I'm scheduled to speak at it so .... barring any difficulties, that's where I'll be.

If the unthinkable were to happen?  Then know that I'm okay.  No, really, I'm good.  But for C, I'm happy.  I love my life and I'm pretty confident that what comes next is going to be even better.  I'm not ready to leave by any means but whatever comes, whatever I can't avoid, well ... I'll be okay.

SEE WHAT I MEAN?  I'm a bit nervous.

In the end, just do two things for me.

1) Don't let my mother near my bedside table


Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Little Cranberry Never Hurt Anyone

So my Mom came up Thursday night; she took me to chemo for the first time Friday.  Actually, this was the first time my mother has seen me in person since my diagnosis.  Mom winters in Florida - snowbird that she is - and just got back a little over a week ago.

My first chemo day, back on March 4, she sent me a long prayer via text.  As in "Dear Lord, ....." - honestly, I was pretty impressed with the sheer length of it given my Mom's old-school phone.  No flip out keyboard action even. 

I sent my Mom a picture when I first got my hair short ... the magenta mohawk caused some initial confusion:

I thought my mother knew me better than to think I'd revisit the early 80's in THAT way. *shudder*

Every few days, I'd get another, "How r u feeling?" type text and a request that I type out what the doctor said for her.  Seriously, Mom has the texting thing down. 

My third chemo appointment brought another prayer text but just a tad shorter than the first:

Quite the sense of humor, eh? Oh, is it cold up there in Michigan while you wait for poison to go into your veins, young one? Well, I'm praying for you by the pool. Actually, though, it was meant in no such way.  She was just stating the facts.  It didn't stop me from laughing and calling her out on it though. 

So Mom headed up Thursday night for her first chemotherapy experience.  One of my biggest worries was her in-person reaction to my bald head. 

Actually, perhaps I'm not alone in this fear.  Yes, I'm going through a tough year.  My surgeries and treatment have not been fun.  But - as I've told you all before - I'm lucky, extremely lucky, that my cancer was caught early.  My tumor was relatively small, there's no indication that any got out into my lymph nodes, and I'm stage 1.  If you're in the same boat with me, perhaps you will recognize this scenario: 
You see a friend or acquaintance for the first time in a few months or more, for the first time since your cancer diagnosis and treatment began.  They may or may not know about it yet.  Regardless, they see you and you get that look.  That look that says, "Oh, that's right. Oh, dear.  Oh, you have the cancer. Oh, you're dying, aren't you? You could be dying, couldn't you? Oh dear. I pity you. Oh, but look how brave you're being. You be brave, little one.  You be brave."
That look ... although it comes from a place of caring ... that look just sucks, good people.  That look makes me feel like I need to comfort YOU because of MY disease.  Comfort that person, instead of being able to receive comfort.  I hope I'm explaining this well.  I truly don't mean to come across as offensive or unappreciative.  I guess I'm wanting to share this so that when you come across that person who is going through or about to go through a serious medical fight, you can provide optimism instead of pity.  Tell them that you're sorry that they are going through this - yes - but also tell them that you'll be there for whatever they need and that you KNOW that they will make it through.  Sometimes, honestly, simply saying ... "Well .... THIS sucks!" is a beautiful thing.  Providing you don't have the above-mentioned look on your face.

Things can suck, truly suck, yet not be fatal.  I hoped not to see that look on my mother's face.  And bless her, I didn't.  She did fine.  We had dinner at Panera, picked up muffins for the morning, and grabbed some excellent dessert at Spoonlickers

I did don my extra special leggings and Princess Leia wig for Chemo #4 and Mom took it all in stride.  In fact, she demanded a picture. 

So Leia is going through a phase perhaps.

This was the last of my AC chemotherapy. Yay!!! In my best Sméagol voice, "we HATES the nasty AC, precious, yes we do!"  No more red drug for me.  No more peeing red for a couple days (seriously).  Everything went smoothly.  Dr. V. told me my blood counts are still good, and we talked about starting Taxol on April 29th.  The hope is that I will feel better - most do apparently - on Taxol than AC.  Although I'll be getting it every Friday instead of every other Friday.  I'm a bit concerned about that and how long the bad days will last, how many good days I'll have before heading back in for another round.  We'll see.

What was the title of this post? 

Oh right .... this was also my last Neulasta shot. Yay! YAY!! I'm thankful for the higher white blood cell count, for sure, but DAMN, I'm glad to leave the bone aches behind.  My aches are mostly in my skull and sternum.  But given the lower dose of Taxol I'll be taking each week, I'll no longer need to get the Neulasta shot the day after.  I was so happy to have my last AC treatment behind me that I nearly forgot to even get the last shot.

Can't imagine why I'd forget to have someone stick a needle in my stomach.
 I was heading to my favorite Real Food Café when my stepmom reminded me of my Neulasta appointment.  Dammit! Wait ... I can still do this.  I can still get my breakfast and make it to the shot on time.  I told my server my rush and she expedited things nicely.  I ordered quickly, and paid early.  I sipped on my cranberry juice and relaxed, reading while waiting on my omelet.  My server was pleased to bring my breakfast quickly and as she said, "Here you go, you have plenty of time......." she promptly knocked my cranberry juice with my hot breakfast plate and dumped the juice into my lap.

Onto my light gray top.  Yep. 

"Oh NO!  Oh NO!  Oh you were going to be on time and I RUINED IT!!! I RUINED IT!! I'M SO SORRY!!" 

At this point, the almighty perspective of cancer slowly looks over at the scene and smirks.  Honestly.  Cranberry juice?  Who the hell cares about cranberry juice?  Who the hell cares about one light gray cami that can be replaced for $8 at Kohl's (on a sale day obviously but ... aren't they ALL sale days)?  Cancer gives perspective to everything else in my life.

"It's fine.  Don't worry about it.  Seriously .... don't worry about it.  It's no problem." We talked over each other.  Poor dear.  She felt horrible and I really wish she didn't.  It's just not that big of a deal.

It's cranberry juice.  It's red but it's not burn your soul red like .... you know.

A little cranberry never hurt anyone.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Cancer Journey, My Ass

Forgive me, reader, my mind is all over the place this morning.

Last Friday was my 3rd AC chemotherapy infusion.  [The AC refers to the two drugs I receive, commonly shorthanded as AC, but I think of them as the red mutherf##### and the one after.]  Everything went smoothly. My stepmom was up again overnight and then one of my sisters came up Friday.  I mentioned before that Saturday is my eye of the chemo storm?  I felt good enough Saturday to head into Planet Fitness for the first time in months and get my treadmill/water massage table game on. 

And it felt good.  Sunday ... not so much.  Monday, meh.  Tuesday, come one!

Wednesday, yesterday ... I hit my limit.

I was supposed to be feeling BETTER by then.  But I didn't.  My breakfast sandwich didn't sit well.  My Chinese buffet lunch (yeah, yeah, I know) certainly didn't sit well.  And then a pressure point massage at my chiropractor nearly had me unconscious.  As in passed out.

As in "FINE ... UNCLE!  I give, I give!"
I had a bad day. *shrug*
It happens.

But do you know what else happened in those 24 hours?

I wore my Princess Leia wig (gift from Jenna) with my Hogwarts fleece to have dinner Tuesday night with a dear friend, Tisha, who ....

.... gave me this AWESOME CAP!!! Honestly ... I have a Yoda cap made by Sara Makes Hats (seriously, check her out, she's fabulous).  Pretty sure life is complete.  But wait, there's more ...

Culver's commented on my Facebook link to Robin's post:

Culver's is good people. 

          And then ...

I got to work on that ill-feeling Wednesday to find an HD DVD of one of my lovely friend Robin's last big trials so that I can watch her in her element anytime I want - all courtesy of my friend/coworker Dan (imagine, if you will, Grumpy Cat in human prosecuting form with a hidden post-Christmas Grinch heart - that's Dan).  Meanwhile, a sympathy card from my best college friend Amy waited for me in the mail. I've got such good people!

When I called it a day ... when I gave in and told my boss I needed to head home, I rounded the corner to pick up my coat and found a package sitting on my office chair.  I was nearly at my emotional limit already and found this inside:

Well, shit.  I give, people! I closed my office door and had a good cry.  I try to be tough (as my Daddy would urge), I try to lock this shit down, but couple me with some nausea, innards rumbling, bald bloatedness, and fatigue, shake me around with all sorts of kindness and support and I'm ...

Well ... I'm a mess.  Oh, I'm a badass as well.  But at that moment, I was simply a mess. 

I took the time to stop in and leak all over the sender (Laura) then headed home.

Home.  Where I found another package waiting for me ...

... containing the fruitiest brightest leggings I've every seen!  And extra points for the guffaw that "tall" gave me.  Emily is one of my little sister's friends.  Different than my little sister's friends who sent me the beautiful flowers post surgery.  [Lil sis has excellent taste in friends.]

Well, you can imagine the water works started all over again.  I was a delicate flower last night.

I delicate fruity flower.

I really can't thank you all enough.  You're making this shit bearable.  I'll never forget your kindness.

And you realize what this means, don't you? 

Not only does it mean I have the best support system in the freakin' WORLD, but it means when my Mom gets back from Florida and heads up here to take me to chemo #4, I get to watch her HORROR as I don fruity leggings with a Hogwarts fleece and my Princess Leia wig to be switched out with my Yoda cap for the trip.  Let's not forget my Star Wars chemo quilt that has accompanied me to every infusion. 

Why, yes, I'm an adult. 

As I said this morning ... Cancer journey, my ass.  This is my life journey.  Cancer can fuck off, and drop and roll like the hobo it is from MY train.  Oh, is that a ravine?  Plummet and poof like Wile E. Coyote, mutherf#####!

Yep. Totally an adult.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

"Let's Go to Culver's."

"Is it good?"

I imagine this exchange at some point in my past.  We went so many times together after that first question that I no longer remember the beginning.  I totally blame Robin for my addiction to Culver's.  I do remember the Culver's workers asking where my tall blonde friend was these days.  "She's fighting Stage Four Appendiceal Cancer."  And then asking how she's doing at later visits.

And I remember telling them yesterday that she has passed away this week.

Robin Deanna Eslinger and I became friends gradually after I began working at the Kent County Prosecutor's Office in November 2005.  I don't recall our first meeting - I wish I did now - but my first impression was of kindness.  That was Robin's core attribute.  She was, quite simply, kind.  To friends, to strangers, to opposing counsel.  She was an immensely strong woman, strong in faith, in conviction, in intelligence, manners, humor, love, and kindness.

As Robin and I became friends, we began noticing odd similarities in our lives.  We both grew up in "I" mid-western states - I in Indiana and she in Illinois.  We were from farming communities and went to small high schools.  We both played flute.  We both became drum majors in high school.

Of course, we both went to law school and became prosecuting attorneys, working for Kent County.

We both played the same part in our high school productions of "Harvey" - Nurse Ruth Kelly.  No, really.

And we both entered this world in a breech position with the cord wrapped around us.  Me around my neck.  I don't remember now how entangled my friend was but to say we didn't know which way we wanted to go isn't an understatement.

I'd joke that with all of our similarities, Robin took all of the height. She was right around 6 foot; I'm a bit above 5 foot.

As you can see ... height was NOT well distributed here.

But see ... she took far too much of her share of the cancer as well.

Robin was diagnosed with (first) ovarian cancer in early September 2013.  Her first major surgery was October 14, 2013, and it was only after that first cut that the doctor realized her tumors had not originated with her ovaries; instead, they had metastasized from her appendix of all useless organs. She was diagnosed with appendiceal cancer.   The link really says it all ... this wasn't something that occurred because my dear friend was unhealthy.  On the contrary, she was one of the healthiest individuals I knew - with the exception, perhaps, of her large love for Culver's butter burgers with the works.  And unfortunately, she had the most aggressive form of the already aggressive appendiceal cancer - signet ring cells.  She was stage 4.

She underwent six rounds of chemotherapy after that first surgery and then went under the knife again in February 2014.  This operation went amazingly well.  The surgeon removed the appendix and a small portion of her colon but was able to "hook" everything back up without her needing an endoscopy bag and he was amazed that he was only scraping dead cancer cells out of her.  The chemotherapy had seemingly done its job.  She still underwent the HIPEC procedure during her surgery to give her an even better chance at survival.  During HIPEC, heated chemotherapy drugs are put directly into the abdomen where they can reach a maximum amount of surface cells in and around the organs.  This surgery and this procedure gained my friend a remission and a return to work in July 2014.

Robin continued on a maintenance level of chemotherapy even as she returned to work.  Every two weeks, she would head in to Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion where she would begin one drug and she'd leave with a little fannie pack carrying another drug that took about 46 hours to finish.  She'd then go back in two days later to have the bag removed and her port flushed. 

And during this time, she not only returned to work but she returned to trials and she was promoted to senior attorney near the end of 2014.  Talk about taking names and kicking ass.

Also as 2014 was coming to a close, she told her doctor that she had noticed a knot, lump, ball, near her groin area.  At first, the doctor was not too concerned and focused on the scans showing no new areas of cancer.  Eventually, however, the spot became painful and Robin insisted that it be removed.  Also near that time in spring 2015, she received scan results showing possible spots on her lungs.  The spots were too small to biopsy and, with a second opinion suggesting that the spots could be an infection rather than cancer, Robin opted to have her painful groin lump removed.  This required some time off of the chemotherapy, which, honestly, was a break she relished.

The results of the groin lump testing and a scan in July 2015 confirmed that the groin spot had indeed been cancer and the spots on her lungs had increased in size, further suggesting that her cancer had returned and metastasized to her lungs.  My friend was not surprised.  She knew how she was feeling and it made sense to her that this was one of the reasons.  Where I had continued to be optimistic that the July scan would confirm that the lung spots were only an infection (if they had not grown in size), she was just as sure that it would show a return of the cancer - I say return but it of course had never truly left. 

Robin began full chemotherapy once more in the hope that it would succeed in much the same way as it had in the beginning.  Unfortunately, her body decided that it was DONE - thank you very much - with one of her main chemotherapy drugs and reacted rather violently.  A new drug was chosen, with little success, and yet another drug was chosen.  With each chemotherapy drug, Robin's body had to adjust, or try to adjust, and throughout her regimen, Robin had varying levels of nausea and diarrhea. 

I say varying ... varying between "wow, this sucks" and "HOLY F*&^ WHAT IS HAPPENING!?" *
* The bad word is my take - Robin rarely cursed

While Robin's cancer was indeed returning with a vengeance, it was the nausea and diarrhea that she felt would be her demise.  She was not able to get the nutrition she desperately needed. 

Robin left work in January 2016 to focus on her treatment.  Yet even as she continued her struggle, she was there for me at the beginning of mine.  I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2016.  She took up the cheer-leading role immediately.  Despite what was happening to her body, she cheered each bit of good news I received.  My cancer was caught early.  It's a well known type (breast) and survivorship is at an all-time high.  I'm Stage 1 to her Stage 4.  But she nevertheless hoped with me for every ease in my own treatment - that I wouldn't need chemo (I do), that it wouldn't muck up my travel plans this fall (it did).  Such little gripes of mine, she wholeheartedly validated and hoped with me for every little success.  Such a wonderful friend. 

Such a wonderful friend, living through such a terrible disease.  It had taken such a toll on her body.  Robin entered into the hospital in late March due to a partial blockage in her abdominal track, and, after being told that chemotherapy and surgery were no longer options, she made the incredibly difficult decision to return home to hospice care on March 29, 2016.  Her in-home hospice care only lasted roughly 12 hours.

-In this next part of my post, I'll be talking a bit about Robin's last hours.  My goal is to be both respectful and honest.  Please be forewarned that this could be difficult to read -

The hospice nurse - Jan - who is also one of Robin's pastors - said something that has stuck with me through this past week:  "We labor to enter into this world, and we also labor to enter into the next."

Oh, how true.  My beautiful friend had labored not only to come into this world over 46 years ago, but she fought tooth and nail to stay here as long as possible for herself, for her daughters, her granddaughter, her husband, her parents, siblings, friends, loved ones.  She fought.  She labored.  And even as she returned home, knowing that medicine would no longer be a cure, she labored. 

When Jan arrived, she examined Robin and knew that she was already nearing her final hours.  She told us what to expect, what to look for, when and how to give her medication to ease any pain and any anxiety.  She helped us dress her, make her bed, and I'm forever grateful for her help.  I witnessed Robin's husband, Paul, who has watched her so closely these last few years and who had just spent days in the hospital with her, continue by her side at home.  He slept a bit while friends took over but was there at the times she called out his name.  He helped her stand up to get a hug, and to give hugs to her daughters.  He talked to her, assuring her that she had done enough and that she deserved to rest.

I watched her daughter Brianna spend hours by her side, talking to her, telling her how much she loved her, and helping to keep Robin clean.  I have no doubt whatsoever that Robin heard her and that the interaction immensely comforted her as she left this world. 

I'm not going to lie. That night at the Eslingers' was one of the hardest nights of my life. No matter the medications, leaving this world is truly a labor. I found myself feeling completely inadequate at times, wishing there was something more I could do for her.  She had times of complete lucidity - as when our friend Monica arrived.  I told her, "Robin, Monica is here to see you," and she opened her eyes, locked onto Monica and said, "What time is it?"  Talk about two friends frantically searching for a clock.  INDEED - WHAT TIME IS IT!?  And our friend and coworker Dan was able to coax some smiles from her as only he ever could, talking about a recent case, one on which Robin had worked before she left.  I know that Robin was, and will continue to be, his mentor. 

Then there were other times. Times in which, honestly, I think she was already seeing something else.  There was a period in which I could have sworn she was arguing with someone.  I couldn't understand exactly what she was saying but I envisioned her making a case for staying a bit longer.  Can't you picture it?  Robin making her argument, final argument, that she have just a bit more time here.  She had things to do yet.  Robin waiting for the verdict.  And accepting the decision with grace (and a red nose - I swear, all the blood would rush to her nose when she received a verdict, good or bad).  One final argument.  Jan had also told us to expect this - that it might seem as if she is talking to someone that isn't there.  And that is truly what it seemed to be to me.

In the end, after one last stand, another hug from Paul, some clean sheets, and some medication, Robin reclined back and seemed to calm down more and more.  This is the time I think I'll remember the most.  And cherish the most.  A long time family friend, Deb, who had been there the whole night, taking care of her, was there by her side as well.  We talked to Robin about resting.  About it all being okay.  I am so so grateful that I was able to talk to her at that moment and remind her about our discussions about what we believe happens when we die.  I reminded her that I believe we all have that perfect clarity when we pass away that everything will be okay.  That our loved ones, all of them, will be okay.  That life is beautiful, that people are waiting for her.  That her daughters will be okay, that she'll still be with them, still be watching them. 

It was a blessing to be there for her last breath in this world at 4:40 a.m., March 30, 2016, and her first in the next. 

My beautiful, kind friend.  You took too much of your share of the cancer.  You were grace personified. I'll forever miss you, until we meet again.  

I expect some Culver's upon arrival.  You know how I take it - a single with cheese, ketchup, mustard, and onion, fries, and a diet root beer.  And a chocolate custard with Reese's peanut butter cups and hot fudge.  I'll spring for yours - a single with the works, fries, and an iced tea (or more likely a full sugar Coke). 

RIP Robin D. Eslinger