Saturday, December 28, 2013

Assiversary the Second

It was on this fateful day two years ago that cancer entered my world. My life has changed in so many ways. Some was immediate, some slower, and still the change continues. As hard as this journey has proven itself, in some ways I am thankful for the experience. I gained a renewed sense of awe and appreciation for this life around me. Just at a time when age and routine were beginning to throw their weight around. And I now have the freedom to spend time on whatever warms my heart most.

The other way to look at the timeline is that this is the beginning of my third year as a cancer survivor. However, using this perspective reminds me of the five-year survival rate chart that hangs in the dark shadows of my mind. Conversely also renewing my commitment to being fully present and enmeshed in each day and its moments.

I don't have much to directly say to cancer this year. Though I was thinking that this was a good "kiss-off" song to send along to it.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

All I want for Christmas...

... is a clean PET scan. And I got it. Best. Present. Ever.

First post-N.E.D., six-month PET scan was the shortest, clearest report yet. No suspicious uptake, no problems, no nothing. I was so relieved that I almost burst into tears immediately. This surprised me, though I suppose it shouldn't have. I had done an excellent job at keeping the "scan-xiety" at bay since having the scan itself three weeks ago. Been out of town a lot and doing the holidays thing with friends and family and tribe. It's been very busy but also very delightful. My blood pressure this morning was normal and low so my body was not showing any stress about the news. But a heavy weight was lifted from my heart when I read those beautiful words.

Perhaps you would think that the worst fears would be behind me now that I'm no longer facing the realities of cancer on a daily basis. And for the most part that is true. But there is a dark voice in my head that whispers hard words when I let myself be still enough to hear it. I use that voice to inspire me to greet each day with vivacity, to love more voraciously, to do my best, and to hold special everything that I am lucky enough to be afforded.

It has been an odd few days in my head though. I had an eye appointment last Friday with a new optometrist and in looking over my chart he said "I see you had a little cancer scare." And the off-handedness with which he expressed it seemed at such complete odds with my experience that my internal hackles lifted and I had to consciously soften my voice before responding with "I wouldn't say little." But then I immediately recognized that having a medical history with some cancer in it is becoming a far too common circumstance. My ire quickly turned into sympathy for all the other cancer fighters and survivors. And I sat in consideration of my initial reaction and emotion for a while. The next day one my girlfriends had their first baby; new life, new beginnings. The following day while fiddling about on Facebook, the name of a friend who died last year popped up while I was typing a post. So my mind has been pondering many things about birth, death and all the in-between, encouraged and emphasized by my current very Christmas-y disposition as well as the approach of the new year and my diagnosis anniversary. For now, however, I feel a little freer. Energized again to continue taking on the world.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Life Achievement Unlocked

My passport now has its first stamp. Just the thought of it was making me giddy before the trip began. And the thought of it after the fact is no less satisfying. Japan was, in a word, amazing. I would happily go back again.

I will admit that it wasn't the easiest choice for a first trip abroad. Akin to being thrown into the deep end of the pool. But we learned and swam. The obvious first, and largest, obstacle was the language. Not only do we not speak more than a dozen words of Japanese, but very few of them speak English or know more than a dozen words themselves. Nevertheless, the population is very friendly and several comical exchanges were extraordinarily helpful here and there. The written language is an entirely different situation. Japanese kanji is all symbols and was entirely alien to us. It was impossible to guess what a sign might say unless it happened to have a picture alongside. There was a good amount of English sprinkled here and there, and more so in the tourist areas. But even google maps showed kanji and made attempting to get our bearings very difficult many times. Needless to say, there were plenty of wrong turns and quite a few stops in doorways to consult all the maps. Luckily we were never unduly lost. Generally just turned around and off by a wee bit. We mostly rolled with it, understanding that this was bound to happen, but there were a few moments of frustration. When it's dark in a small mountain town, the last bus out leaves in less than twenty minutes, it's another three hours by train to the evening accommodation, you've only *just* remembered to retrieve your luggage from the luggage service who was staying open for you, and you've missed your turn... well, it was a moment. (We did not miss the bus.)

I was jointly alarmed and comforted when our guidebook stated that even locals get lost in the Tokyo metro station labyrinths. They are relatively well signed and this is a place where there is enough English to get you by. But it took a few stations to figure out where to look and how to stop in the flow of people without creating a traffic jam. It took me nearly the entire trip to remember to walk on the left-hand side. And by then we were back in Tokyo where every third station or staircase had a sign telling you to walk on the right. Ack! At first I felt idiotic for ruining the traffic pattern, but realized by day three that even if you walk on the correct side you are just as likely to get bowled over by a local in a rush. I learned that you just have to move with purpose as if you know where you are headed. The "just keep walking" idea often got us to a right place (bus stop, metro station, large "you are here" map), which could get us to the right place. I planned the itinerary by evening accommodation only, so the days were open to explore whatever was interesting. And often if you just keep walking in Japan you will very soon find yourself at a temple gate or running across some seemingly random bit of beauty.

I planned the trip to be evenly divided between time in cities and time in the country. Though we could have easily spent more time everywhere we went. Between taking copious amounts of pictures and exploring every nook and cranny, we were far slower than most of the walking maps inferred. After just one day I recognized that we would only get to an exceedingly small portion of the many things to see. I also recognized that it would be like that on every trip I take, especially those abroad. You cannot explore a country or place in a couple of short weeks. And the majority of tourists we saw at the sights were Japanese. So even living there doesn't necessarily allow you the opportunity. We could have easily spent the entire two weeks in just Tokyo or Kyoto and been satisfied. And although we spent many hours on trains traveling between places, I am very glad we traveled around. If I never find the opportunity to return, I know I enjoyed a good variety of what Japan has to offer.

There is, of course, much more to share about the trip. And I will do so in a couple of days. I am heading out in an hour to visit family and eat my portion of the grand turkey massacre tomorrow. Pictures, stories, top fives are still to come. Meanwhile, I had my first post-clear follow-up PET scan yesterday morning. I won't get the results for three weeks (Dec 17), and I will let you all know as soon as I do. The plan is to proudly proclaim another clean report. In the interim I will attempt to distract myself and keep busy in order to stave off the scanxiety. Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 8, 2013

I'm Heading Out

Well, well, well. I'm finally off for my first big international adventure. Heading off to the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan. I will return with copious amounts of pictures and catching up to do. It's late and I need to get up early to drive to the airport. So this is simply a short and sweet update. I have the capability to update this (yay Bluetooth keyboard!), and will attempt to do so at least once on this grand trip. See you on the other side of the dateline.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Busy Little Bee

Months ago I was hoping that I could regularly keep up with this blog in the "after-life" of cancer. It appears that hopeful thinking has not come to fruition. I find my best ideas for posts come to me when I am far from my laptop or right before I have to head out the door for something. That always seems to be the way it goes with great ideas. Kind of nice to know that some things never change.

Of course I have been busy lately. Seems to be the m.o. for this new normal. Although retirement does bring more space and time to my hands, I'm quick to give it away and book myself silly even on most of my free days. Lately I have been grappling with the keen propensity to do all the things. I am somewhat overeager and often overwhelmed with the myriad choices I've presented to myself. This is not a new phenomenon, but the sensibility of it has changed. I know I have written of this here before. About that underlying urgency that I now feel. As if cancer is a neighbor's hostile dog that is just waiting to scare and attack me when I step outside the front door. I know all cancer survivors live under this shadow for a time. My challenge is to live bigger than the small space within that shadow; to not feel bogged down or let paranoia keep me in a static state.

I actually get to spend this coming weekend at home. It will be the first one all month, and the last one for another month following. I've been playing travel agent all this week. A time consumptive, but exciting process. My Japan trip is just over two weeks away. And then it's two weeks in the land of the rising sun. I've got all the locations decided upon. Now to fit it all into an itinerary that still has some space for whim and chance. There is an awful damn lot of amazing places to see there. Choosing just a few has proven difficult. The plan is to spend the first couple of days in Tokyo before heading out to Nikko for a day. Then we're headed to the Nagano region and a hike through the Kiso Valley before landing in Kyoto for a couple of days. Then it is up to Mt. Koya and a Buddhist temple stay for two nights. We'll complete the circular route stopping by Mount Fuji for a night before arriving back in Tokyo for the flight home. I'm trying to leave space in there for the possibility of additional stops or side trips along the way. The train system in Japan seems pretty extensive and should make the possibility of options easy.

Being inclined to immersion, I'm sure to find myself watching a few Japanese films over the next couple of weeks. I'll be buying at least one guide to Japan this weekend. And having never read Shogun, I figure this is a prime opportunity to do so. Still haven't decided whether to borrow it from a friend or just buy it for my Kindle. The Kindle will be easier to pack along with me, so I'm leaning that way. Especially since I won't have a lot of time for reading beforehand since I'm leaving next Wednesday for TeslaCon with several friends. Five days out of town again, for what I am certain will be a grand time. I'd go into more detail about that, but need to get back to the internet research and reservation making. Plus, it leaves me something to talk about within the next week.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Catching Up

Another expanse of time has passed between posts. Things have been busy around here lately and will continue to be for the next couple of months. In years past October was always a busy month because it was fund drive month at the public radio station where I worked. Seems like that tradition of a busy October is slated to continue despite my retirement. As a matter of fact I'll only be home for one weekend in this whole month. It seems crazy sometimes how the days just slip by. I'm finally back into an almost daily yoga practice, and am dragging my lazy ass outside for walks as well. Though the latter isn't as regular as I would like yet. The cooler weather is coming on quickly and I'd like to take advantage of the sun's warmth while it is still around for a little while.

I booked a pair of tickets to Tokyo for November 9th. So the two-week trip to Japan is officially in the works! Still working on making reservations and plans, but I'm very excited for my first trip abroad. Finally time to get that passport stamped and start my world travels. I was up early this morning to see my regular doctor for the first of the my vaccination shots. There isn't really much needed for travel to Japan right now. Updated my flu shot for the year and started the two-part Hepatitis A vaccine. I'll get the shot for Japanese Encephalitis tomorrow and the second part of the Hep A the day before we leave.

There are several crafty projects for me to work on right now. Finishing up some lucet work for a mixed display in a couple of weeks. Lots of little things to work on to prep for TeslaCon at the end of the month. Three whole days of steampunk outfits means some minor tailoring and lots of cool "steamy" accessories to work out. And an ongoing embroidery project for my nephew which I need to move into the living room so that I spend more time on it.

Time has probably been the item foremost on my mind lately. I have yet to create any sort of daily schedule for myself and have begun to feel like this might be a needed change. I tend to move back and forth between many multiple things in a day, and often in an inefficient manner. I'm not really enamored of the idea of a daily schedule. But some sort of loose framework is probably going to work best. Now to come up with something that I can impose without feeling constrained, that's the dilemma.

No medical news to comment on. And hopefully none to come in the future. PET scan in late November with results a couple of weeks later. But other than these follow-up appointments every three months I shouldn't have anything to report. That's the best kind of news though. However it does seem to be bad news for me keeping up with this blog. I'll continue to try to stay recent. Another item to add to that loose schedule.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mile Marker One

I had my first N.E.D. follow-up appointment yesterday. There was blood work, a visit with my doctor, and a port flush. Everything looked good. My white blood cell counts are a little low right now, but everything else was in normal ranges. The number I was most concerned with was my CEA. Short for carcinoembryonic antigen, this is a tumor marker in the blood that helps predict outlook in patients with colorectal cancer. Lower is better, and anything under 3 is considered good. My CEA is 0.5. This is a bloody brilliant number. I was only mildly anxious before the appointment. And that continued until I received the CEA number this morning. But I have to admit that it feels really good to receive this first clean continued bill of health.

Of course you can only tell so much from a physical exam and blood work. I feel like the first "real" test of my continued NED-ness will be with my first follow-up PET scan at the end of November. It will be six months out from treatment at that point. And I'm pretty certain that I will be distressingly anxious about that one. But... I will take these rare moments of anxiety over treatment and daily considerations of mortality. Only four and three-quarter years to go before I can "officially" be on the other side of this mess.

In the meanwhile I've been reading quite a bit. Just finished a new book called "The Cancer Chronicles" which was released last month. It takes a fascinating look at cancer through history (even dinosaurs had it!) and to the latest research and medical work that is happening. Most of my experience in reading it was relatively depressing. I find myself in an odd quandary when it comes to reading about and researching cancer. I absolutely feel that forewarned is forearmed. But it is difficult to keep my thoughts from wandering and from often seeing the darkest side of every conclusion. To some extent, this book reinforced my idea that cancer treatment is a "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" type of situation. Doctors, biologists, physicists, geneticists (etc.) are daily discovering more about cell mutation, metastatic development, genetic markers, and hundreds of other cancer-related studies. Turning those discoveries into treatment options is tremendously slow and sometimes moot. And you again come to the problem that not every person responds the same. We are each complex systems dealing with a particular complex system of cancer, and what works in one system does not necessarily translate to another. It can make this kind of reading maddening.

Another book I just finished, and would recommend to all, is "The Meaning of Life" by Terry Eagleton. This short (under 150 pages) book is a dense little philosophical tome examining the phrase 'the meaning of life.' It starts with an examination of the word meaning before moving on to the larger phrase. Not light reading, but most assuredly enlightening. At one point in a discussion about modernist philosophers he uses the following phrase: "the fatiguing, unglamorous business of staying biologically afloat." I was immediately struck by this line, and took a few minutes away from the book to consider how extraordinarily well that can describe cancer treatment. The book as a whole had me thinking for several days about my standing in regards to life.

I often struggle when writing here. Trying to balance honesty and the state of my being (physical, mental and emotional) with hopefulness and a particular zest for living. But every day is not sunshine. Some of you have had those longer conversations with me where you can see the balancing act I sometimes play between fear of life and death. I expect that other cancer survivors understand this without explanation. How there is this crazy, ineffable mental track between pure despondency and true hope. One train of thought leads you toward the incurable certainty of death. Followed immediately by the powerful instinct to live, and do so without reserve. I have expressed concern regarding your reaction to the "low" moments. But I wholly believe that one cannot fully recognize the heights of happiness without perceiving it from the angles of both top and bottom. Life holds more meaning when held up against the spectrous shadow of Death.

And we cannot disavow the uncomfortable truth that cancer, and living itself, occasionally sucks. We can choose, however, which side of the track that we want to mentally house ourselves. The large majority of the time, I find myself on the side of hope and positivity. If I can somehow encourage the same in others, then I have made my significant mark on the world.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Peek in the Closet

Long awaited greetings friends. I have clearly been keeping busy and not getting around to checking in here lately. Also been having some issues accessing the blog for the last couple of days. Finally found a go-around, and am hoping that the issue is fixed on the server side of things soon.

Spent three solid days cooking last week. I've started to restock the freezer with the bounty of summer produce from the local farmer's market. It's about half full now and I have the makings for another two batches of vegetable stock, which will finish filling one of the shelves. Also spent a day and a half of that time making meals for a friend who just had hip surgery this week. She will be off her feet for a little while, so I got together with one of my best girlfriends and we made a week's worth of meals for her and her family. And I realized in the process that this may be a reason why I've been so inordinately lucky with my friends and support over the last year and a half. This is not the first time I've helped out a friend in need, and will certainly not be the last. I try to be there for those I care about, and in return they have been there for me. You get what you give.

My sister, brother-in-law and nephew came down for a day visit last week as well. We went to the Air Zoo and had a really good time seeing everything and riding the rides. It was, surprisingly, my first time there even though I've been here in Kalamazoo for thirteen years. We had some good visiting, went to the best pizza place in town, and generally enjoyed one another. My nephew just keeps growing and getting stronger. I suspect he will be walking sometime in the next month or so. Not talking yet, but I am looking forward to that development.

Many of you who follow this blog likely know that part of the initial surgery to remove my rectal tumor left me with a permanent colostomy. I've been relatively open about this fact in face-to-face conversations, but have hesitated to talk about it in this space. In the last few months I've gotten even more comfortable revealing this fact and decided that it was time to just "come out" completely. This has been a very large change in my day to day life, and a major change to my body and my body image. The surgery was in May of last year, and it took me several months to acclimate to this new normal. It's been over a year now and I figure that it was time to finally just let go. As with any major physical change there have been ups and downs and a variety of frustrations. I won't go into any of the stinky details, but needless to say, I've had to deal with many challenges in becoming an ostomate. However, it is partly because of this change that I am still here and in good health. If you didn't know about this already, or are interested in knowing more, please feel free to contact me or find me face-to-face and I'll be happy to chat about it and answer any questions.

I'll leave you all with that big reveal. I've got quite a bit on my mind lately and will likely post again in the next couple of days.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Come Away With Me

This has been a pretty busy year of traveling so far. Typically the trips are only 2-4 hours from home, but multiple nights away. I don't even put my duffel back in the attic anymore after unpacking. Just simpler to leave it in my dressing room waiting for the next trip which is rarely more than two weeks in the waiting. This last weekend of August will be my only one here at home. And yet even within this weekend I'll be heading up to a concert in Grand Rapids tonight (Reverend Horton Heat!) and likely all day Sunday spent at an event just over an hour northeast. I certainly seem to be rather adept at keeping myself busy and the calendar filled.

Had a beautiful day in Saugatuck and at the beach last Wednesday. Temps were in the low 80's with sunshine all day and the Lake Michigan water was cold enough to startle the body. Armed with sun hat, sunglasses and sunscreen, it was a relaxing and lovely mini road trip. Left town the very next day with one of my best girlfriends to see Depeche Mode in concert on the east side of the state. So much fun, and also tremendously interesting to see such a large group of my peer age getting into the concert groove again. Spent the next day visiting some shops and the zoo. Perfectly warm, not-too-hot (at least for my taste), day again and the animals were being very cooperative and picture friendly. Got all dolled up first thing Saturday morning and made our way out to the Renaissance Faire in Holly. Yet another good weather day, especially for one spent corseted and in layers. Headed out that evening to Ypsilanti to stay with one of my favorite families. Spent Sunday prepping for a casual wedding shower garden party for two wonderful, beautiful people. Board games, great food, croquet, sangria, bocce - rather a delightful way to end the weekend.

Looking back on just this month, I realize that I've spent a lot of really good time in these 30 days with almost everyone that is important to me. And I recognize, once again, how very lucky and blessed I am to have so many beautiful souls willing to share their love, time, generosity, and goodness with me. It is quite an honour to have the opportunity to live such a life. I do not take it for granted. I try to notice and remark upon it within my mind and heart every day. If there was ever a reason to fight for years of life, or to stay in high spirits despite the difficulties - this is one excellent reason.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I Won't Back Down

In the past week's time I've heard about two deaths from cancer among the family/friends of my friends. It feels like cancer is popping up everywhere, at an increasing rate with every month that goes by. I wonder how much of this is just confirmation bias, where I am simply seeing the world through the filter of cancer and therefore all connections to cancer seem to scream out at me as if in all caps and bold. Is there truly more cancer in the world now? Have we manipulated our world, our food, our environment, ourselves, into the perfect real estate for this biological mutation to take residence? Are we simply going to the doctor more, getting tested more, recognizing the disease before it (or something related) kills us? This isn't a new plague. It's been around for ages just like many other health issues that we never paid much attention to before. Is this a crisis of cancer or a crisis of diagnosis?

We are also curing more than ever before. So many people are living well, and long, in the wake of their treatment. I don't know the big numbers of cancer diagnoses versus cancer cures on a year-to-year or decade-to-decade basis. Probably not statistics that would make for a very fun day of exploring for me. But the logical side of my brain is curious to know if the big numbers are just getting bigger on a parallel, or if there is actual divergence. And if there is divergence, to which side of the coin does it weigh? But to most of my brain it doesn't really matter what the answer is. The fact is that I seem to see/find cancer everywhere; that it is becoming inescapable and encompassing in my world. And we can only approach the world through our personal perspective.

My newest metaphor (oh how I love a metaphor) for cancer survival is like having Nelson from The Simpsons sitting on a bench in my Id. You're going along just fine, strolling through the days of your life, when sporadically and out of nowhere you hear "Ha Ha!" and turn around to see the evil finger of cancer pointing at your very soul. Always disconcerting, impossible to ignore, certainly annoying, and difficult to just shake off. But shake it off I do. That is my modus operandi after all: optimism, enthusiasm, stubborn refusal to give in. "Smile and the world smiles with you." On a road trip several days ago I heard the Tom Petty song "I Won't Back Down" on the radio. I own several Petty albums, so it's not like the song was new to me. But something about hearing it on that day made me wish to take it up as a personal anthem. That is one of the great things about music. It really speaks to you sometimes, stands out in sharp relief and insists upon recognition. (Those of you musically inclined have likely noticed my preponderance toward using song names and lines as blog titles.)

So where is my mind this week? Certainly a bit better than last. I'm not past any fears, but they run on a mutable muzak track for now. I've started the research process for a November trip abroad. Looks like we're going to Japan, unless the cost begins to look too steep. I don't want to dig too deeply into the pocket of my retirement for the first trip. My plan is to spread that money out over a couple of years and multiple excursions. But it is pretty darn exciting to start the planning. And as beautiful as Michigan can be in the fall, I'm thinking that fall in Japan will knock its socks off.

Tomorrow is beach day! Summer has returned with some lovely warm days again and I'm taking full advantage of the sun with a trip to the sand. Wander the dunes, check out a beachside town, eat something indulgent, road trip with the windows down. Yes. Then it's a long weekend with one of my best girls in which we will rock out, dress up, see the sights, and hang with lots of friends. The world may be full of cancer, but my world is also full of fantastic and wonderful things.

Monday, August 12, 2013

And So It Goes

Another busy week has passed. I'm looking forward to what should be a quiet week with some solid time spent in my own house. My nephew picked up a virus at daycare and was home bound all last week. I traveled up to help babysit on Thursday and Friday. Then spent an extra day just hanging out with the family. Always, always a good and relaxing time. My nephew is growing and becoming more and more a little guy each time I see him. I suspect he'll start having a small vocabulary very soon. It's a pretty amazing process to watch and I'm very glad that I have the opportunity to be such a part of his life. Then spent yesterday helping my mom clear out more of the house and my grandparent's things. We emptied out a file cabinet, a large hutch, got started on the box piles, and cleared most of one room. Still a lot more to be done to de-clutter the house. But progress is being made and it sounds like a garage sale is on the near horizon.

Been struggling in my head space since returning from holiday. Starting to deal with the niggling fears that crop up after a NED diagnosis. From what I've heard and read from other cancer survivors, this is how the process goes. Pains and problems that are probably just from everyday life (sleeping on an air mattress for two weeks, post-chemo side effects, being forty, etc.) make me worry that something might be wrong, that it might be new tumors causing the pain. Logically I know that I am in a fear phase, that I just need to accept the thoughts and let them go. But they are persistent little fuckers and fear is a strong emotion. Although I am hopeful that we have cured this forever, I still feel absolutely certain that it will come back. And I feel pinned in by the five year table. That horrible table that just says "negligible percentage" for the five-year survival rate of a stage four rectal cancer. It consumes me in certain moments and I am drowned by waves of regret and sadness.

It keeps me moving and keeps me filling my calendar with item after item. I want to take advantage of every opportunity to be with friends and family. To smile and love and make wonderful memories. I find it difficult to leave at the end of visits. Wishing that I could somehow break myself into many pieces and leave one piece with all the people I love so that I don't miss any moments. Even when I give myself the chance to slow down I feel compelled to do "all the things!" There are too many things that interest me and there will never be the time to get to it all because I keep adding wants to the interest list. And I used to be okay with that in the past. It felt encouraging to know that there were heaps of books, projects, films, music, encounters, places, and people waiting out there. Like grapes hanging heavy on a vine, just waiting for me to stroll by and pick from the plentitude. But now that abundance feels something like a burden. A Sisyphean venture. And I have to tune out the booming "tick-tock" of the countdown clock in my head.

We have this instinctual mental defense mechanism that disallows us from really thinking about our mortality on a regular basis. Perhaps the chemo dulled that mechanism along with the rest of my brain functions. Though I know, with crushing reality, that this is just part of the cancer process. My girl Lori even talked about this in her most recent blog post (Breast Cancer is My Bitch). And she is almost two years clear. I may not have the physical struggles of cancer anymore, but the mental one is only hitting its stride. I have to get stronger, be more willful, stay mindful. I hesitate to be so open about my mind state here. I don't want to worry anyone or bring them down. But this is the place for it. This is where I decided to chronicle the good, the bad and the ugly. And I won't shy away from the truth of this journey.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Long time coming...

Been quite the span of time since my last post. And with only two posts in all of July, it looks like I've been slacking. I had fully intended on writing up a blog while on vacation, even took my Kindle Fire with that express intent. But clearly that did not happen. Spent all my vacation time enjoying the vacation in various ways. Although, I've wondered if you can call it vacation when you're retired? Perhaps I should start using the British term "holiday" instead. I've always liked that.

So... on my holiday to the great Pennsic War, there was lots to do and I only got to a small portion of it, as always. I've been attending for fourteen years and am far from bored with it yet. This year we got to camp in one of the best campsites, with electricity and sewer lines for a fantastic new shower system with on demand water heaters. Taking a hot shower under the open sky and morning sun, with a little chill still in the air - absolutely amazing. The first week was pretty mellow, and I spent a lot of my time embroidering while listening to audiobooks or chatting with friends. Late afternoon would find me looking for dinner and making a pitcher of sangria or chilling several beers for folks to share. A few nights of wandering and people watching, but mostly sitting in camp by lamplight or firelight hanging out with my wonderful camp mates. First night after set up our camp had a scotch night and I think we all hurt ourselves a little with an overabundance of great scotches. Tempered our indulgence for a few days.

By Friday the War started to truly fill up (9900 people in attendance this year), and with the Royals arriving the days' schedules got busy. It was terrific watching two of my closest friends have a great time being the King and Queen. They looked fantastic, and were full of smiles most of the time. Everything went very smoothly with only the smallest bumps in the road that were quickly remedied. I got to spend one night in the dance tent and dragged some newer gentlemen through a couple of dances. Also attended a hafla that evening with the best musicians at Pennsic. A few more nights out rambling the parties and visiting with more far-flung friends. A couple of mornings on the battlefield watching, recording and taking pictures. Spent one day cooking and preparing for an amazing Roman dinner for all the attending royals. And quite a bit of time throughout the week running back and forth on various royal errands. Overall, a busy but very fun time.

I am also extremely happy to report that the cancer conversation never came up. There were a couple of comments here and there, but otherwise it was also a vacation from that topic. And I would like to thank all of my friends that were there for that. Life has moved on. And although I am taking all of the cancer lessons with me, I am doing my best to live without it.

Still a lot of things coming this summer, places to be, people to see and memories to make. But I'll leave those for later posts. Must give myself good reasons to come here and chat at you all. See you in a few days. Ciao!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I could get used to this...

Figured I should sit myself down and get to working on this week's blog post. Thought about it last night, but couldn't come up with anything epiphanic to say. Was having the same issue this evening. And upon thinking how much more difficult it is now that I don't have health issues to talk about regularly, I realized that I hadn't thought about cancer in several days. It may even have been an entire week without some block of my mental capacity being spent on that treacherous subject. This feels like some kind of psychological progress. Of course, the realization brought about cancer thoughts. And that shadow worry of recurrence piped up and said "for now..." But, for now, I am clearly moving on past this illness and taking my life back in all capacities. Go me.

You're probably asking yourself, "so what else have you been doing since you've clearly been doing fine and busy enough not to think about horrible things?" Lots of things. Spent most of last week at my sister's. Did one day on babysitting duty then the rest of the long weekend hanging out, road-tripping, playing games, drinking sangria (summer of sangria, baby!), swimming, and lots of sitting on the deck enjoying the summer sun. It was a grand time. Since returning home it has been prepping for a two week camping trip to the Pennsic War. Those of you who know about the SCA know exactly what I'm talking about. Everyone else, that's what Google is for. Mostly this has involved sewing so far. The first couple of days this week were spent at the Western (WMU) costume shop cutting things out, serging said items, and helping on a larger project with several others. And the last couple of days I've had the wonderful opportunity to set up a little sewing shop at one of my best girlfriends' homes and hang out with her while we get things accomplished. I'd say that I've gotten three quarters of the sewing projects on my to-do list completed. (Go me.) One more good day of sewing tomorrow ought to get me to ninety percent done with a full week left to wrap up the final little bits. All the needed pieces for an embroidery project are ready to go and I have two full weeks to work on it. Absolutely no stress involved and still a little time for relaxing in the meantime.

I believe that will wrap up this edition of Hopeful. Soon as I'm less busy it is possible that the mental action will get back on track.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Thing About Stuff

It's been a relatively uneventful week around here. Was actually home for the first weekend in about a month and spent the evenings of it hanging out with many of my girlfriends. Got most of my "core support" crew together for an informal celebration dinner on Thursday. Good food, great conversation and a wonderful reason to bring everyone together. I am visiting family this week and taking my first turn at daylong babysitting duty for the nephew.

Spent much of yesterday helping my mother out with a couple of projects around her house. One of which was going through some of my grandmother's things. Not often an easy task... clearing the stuff of the dead. Especially when the loss is still recent. And my mom even said that it could sometimes feel like she was "throwing [her] out the window." I told her that grandma isn't in the stuff. But she's still not quite ready to let things go.

It got me to thinking about our stuff. Whether we have very little or a veritable ton, we imbue our things with ourselves. We make choices about whether or not to bring things into our spaces, and whether those things are worth keeping for any number of reasons: utility, pleasure, memory, sensation, sheer likability. We place a value onto these items and allow them to surround us in our, often limited, environments. Nothing of our true Self is conveyed to these objects. Yet they linger with some essence long after we are gone.

Perhaps it is something like the seven degrees of separation game. Although you may be able to somehow link yourself in under seven relationships to Kevin Bacon, it means nothing about a relationship between you and Mr. Bacon. However, you may feel somehow connected to him because you can trace that path. And if it is under four degrees that feeling can be enhanced. You may find yourself watching Footloose on cable without realizing it is because of some sense of false intimacy. That or because of the dance montages, can't beat a good dance montage. So it also seems to be with our stuff. A set of silverware owned by the Queen of England will sell for far more than the other five hundred identical sets of silverware made by the same company in the same factory. Even silverware can possess some majesty in our minds.

When a person leaves this plane of existence, all that those of us left behind have are memories and the things they touched. These items hold memories often better than our minds. We may not recall the detail of a particular aspect of the dearly departed, but a scarf or the scent off a perfume bottle brings the sense of them right back in front of us. Holding these objects is the closest we can physically get to them again. No more hugs, or kisses, or soft embraces. Until we pass ourselves and there truly is a realm for the dead: Heaven, Hades, Valhalla, the Summerland. Or our souls come back in the form of another and we somehow find our path's crossing once more.

I don't know why it was easier for me to help clear through my grandmother's things. I just absolutely know that there is nothing of her soul in the stuff she left behind. I carry that piece of her within me. I can take it out and put my piece together with the pieces that my mother and sister and other family and friends carry. But we can never make her whole again. This saddens me, but I accept it. The only solid bet you can make in this life is that it will end. We have to make the best of what is here, what's in front of us, and hold the ones you love as close as you can today.

I've gained a stronger sense of pragmatism through this cancer journey. I put a lot less stock into objects and the owning of things than I used to (not that I had a lot of stock beforehand). I have also come to the personal conclusion that it really is all about the people and the relationships and the time you spend with others. These moments are the memories that will sustain your existence in their minds and hearts. To quote a great musical (Spring Awakening): "We've all got our junk, and my junk is you."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Milestone Time!

This is my 100th post in this here blog. Tomorrow will be one full year since the creation. And what a year! Posts have been slightly sparser over the last couple of months. And I suspect that the once-a-week posting will be the new norm around here. Though I'm certain to occasionally have something amazing to say/share more often than that. Medical news will be rare (yay!) and you'll get to hear more about my daily doings. Probably not a real 'exciting' change, but a welcome one for me. So a brief "thank you" to all of you for your support, interest and attention. Now back to this week's regularly scheduled post...

Busy times around here folks. Got back from a third weekend in a row of camping. And pretty lucky weather for all of them. There was a brief storm this past Saturday night which got us into bed early and curtailed any nighttime wandering. But by the time we were ready to pack up the next morning the tent was dry, so all was good to go. It was a bit warmer this weekend, but I love being roasty toasty warm in the summer. Sure beats feeling cold all the time. Didn't think about sunscreen in the packing up Sunday morning and now there's a nice pink expanse under my freckles. Not enough of a burn to feel, so a little extra moisturizing and it's fading back to a light shade of ivory versus lily white. That's as "tan" as I get.

Was invited over to pick my pleasure of cherries from a friend's tree yesterday. Picking cherries was new to me, but a rather pleasant time. Got 7-8 quarts and my fingers are still cherry-stained from pitting for a couple of hours last night. Most of it went in the freezer for later use. And at least a pint went directly into my belly while pitting. Goes very nicely next to the 5 quarts or so of strawberries that another friend invited me to pick last week. Fresh summer fruit from friendly sources is quite the lovely treat.

The first week of being declared cancer-free has been liberating. I was very happy to see so many of my friends and acquaintances experience the joy with me. Outside of surgeries and treatments I've tried to keep myself active over the last year and a half. So the rhythm of my days hasn't altered all that much with the good news. Still lots of projects to work on, especially to prepare for two solid weeks of camping next month. Even though there's less traveling in the next few weeks, I feel like there is more than ever to do. I really like the lack of doctor's appointments on my calendar however. The days feel more "mine" now and each morning I am eager to fill the day with projects and pleasures.

I did want to share one very quick moment of annoyance. Going through today's mail, there was a letter/invitation from a local cemetery about planning a plot purchase. First thought was "Hell no," way too soon! And secondarily annoyed because somehow they got my name off some list somewhere. I'm not a fan of unrequested solicitation to start with. And I just won this fight, not the time to be reminded of the dark side of cancer. I've made a lot of pragmatic adult decisions and arrangements in the last year regarding wills, life insurance, estate planning and the like. Time for a break. So, one brief moment of anger and then it simply got tipped into the recycling.

Dear Death: our brief chats this last year were enlightening, but we don't need to see each other again for a very long time.

Dear Cancer: Fuck off! Preferably forever. Don't make me break out the ass-kicking again.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Shiny!

Well... it is official. I am currently at no evidence of disease (N.E.D.). It appears that we have successfully kicked cancer out of my ass, and the rest of me as well! My latest PET scan is unequivocally clean and my blood counts are already very close to normal levels.

Virtual high-five to all!

My oncologist wants to see me every three months for an examination and a blood draw. They'll now be watching for CEA tumor markers in my blood work. If they start to rise then there is possible trouble. This is especially good for catching cancer activity in the liver, which is a prime location for more metastases. I will get a PET scan every six months. We'll continue on this regimen until, as my doctor said this morning, "we get bored." At least a couple of years. If things go the way we want them to, then all of these regular appointments will show nothing new and I'm cured of this bloody disease. The huge shadow of cancer has now lifted from my worldview. However it has left a smaller, very insidious, smaller shadow called recurrence. That is a fear that I will have to learn to live around. I've already accepted it in some ways, but the grip of it is still too strong on my heart. I yet have work to do.

It's extraordinarily weird to be here. I expected this news and was just waiting for my suspicion to be confirmed. But now that I have it, I don't really know what to do with it. Cancer has defined my days for a long time. Time to move on to another "new normal." I've kind of already been doing that. Taking my days and doing what I wish with them. Summer plans all over the place. And I have the freedom to start planning bigger trips now. It is actually a bit overwhelming, this new phase.

For now I think I'll focus on the victory. We did it folks! I'm cancer free and nearly fully healthy again. Of course I got a sore throat yesterday that is persisting; but that is balance for you. My new best friend NED and I are going to spread the news and be joyous.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Hello Mudder, Hello Fahder...

Camping trip number one for the summer was a success. Forgot a few little things; realized the batteries from last year were lacking oomph; packed too much food; didn't need the bug spray; no sunburns. Not too bad for a "first run." Had a few minutes where I couldn't remember which stakes went down first, and a couple of tries to get things folded back up at the end. But it's been almost two years since putting the pavilion up and some amount of a re-learning curve was to be expected. Had a pretty good time though. Arrived with just enough daylight left to get the tent up and everything inside and set up. The weather Saturday was just lovely. Not too warm and just sunny enough. Spent most of the day hanging out with some of my girls. Even enjoyed a couple of midday mimosas. Most everyone brought food for the evening grill and table spread. Ate more than my share of chicken and hummous and other goodies. There was a rather good bardic circle in the evening that several of us attended. And of course a late night party at the "pirate" ship where I might have had a "wee draught" too many. But I woke up chipper at 7ish in the morning and made quick work of packing up the tent. The rain that was possibly going to hit us during tear down decided not to happen. And it was a lovely not-too-sunny day for driving home.

I'm heading out again for another camping adventure on Thursday. So it feels like quite a short week around here. Utilized yesterday as an R&R day to catch up from the weekend. And spent most of today prepping for all the madness of this weekend. Last weekend was just north of Chicago in Wisconsin and I didn't have too many responsibilities. This weekend is much closer to home in Ionia and I'm more involved in a few things. Participating in a weekend long potluck (breakfasts and dinners) and helping out with a snow-cone and bake sale fundraiser. Made half a dozen bottles of snow-cone syrup today (hibiscus and rose - yum!), with enough leftover from each to keep a couple of small bottles for myself and summer cocktails. I'm thinking a white sangria with hibiscus syrup sounds positively amazing (peaches, lemon slices, cointreau, sparkling water).

Spent most of the day in the kitchen today. Made a compote of the last of the rhubarb hanging out in the fridge and made some small rustic tarts out of it. Eastern inspired dinner of chutney baked chicken with peppered brown rice and stir-fried cabbage. Tomorrow I'll be baking and packaging up some cherry chocolate chip blondies for the bake sale. It may take a lot of dishwashing and extra heat, but I find it very satisfying to spend my time in the kitchen and making tasty things. Especially when I know that I'll be sharing that food with many others. Cooking is one of the few things I truly consider myself good at, and that I enjoy it as well just makes it that much better.

Since I'm heading out a day early for this weekend's camping event, I'm looking forward to a casual, laid-back, listen to the birds, lay in the grass kind of day on Friday. There is something I find so compelling and pleasing about waking up in a canvas tent. They warm up more slowly than a nylon tent, and the ten-foot height of our pavilion makes it feel quite spacious. So there is this filtered light as the sun shines down in the morning, the sounds of nature all around, a slow warming of the air about you. It is a pretty fantastic start to your day. I'll get up at my leisure, enjoy a shared breakfast with friends, lounge and walk about for the day, and welcome more friends as the evening wears on. Sounds like a pretty grand start to the weekend. And now you all understand why I missed the camping so much last year.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Summer Luminosity

I was driving around town about a week ago and was absolutely amazed by the lushness of everything in the sunshine. The trees were completely filled out and the leaves had gained that deep green summer hue. Irises were blooming everywhere. The downtown park was full of flowers and plant formations. And I was slightly startled by how amazed I was with the abundant flora. It was as if I hadn't been audience to the first flush of summer before. And I realized after a bit of thinking that I completely missed this part of the season last year. I was housebound with a butt full of staples for a month at the end of May and beginning of June. So it -was- new to me in a way. I also hope that it is the continuance of my ability to truly be in the moment, to see and appreciate the things around me.

Of the things that I missed last year, camping was one of my most bemoaned. And I'm making up for it in spades this summer. Just in June I'll be camping for three weekends. And then there's the full two weeks of camping at the end of July. I expect it all to be glorious. Took a good long walk along the bicentennial trail in Portage yesterday. Stopped about halfway and spent a good chunk of time just laying on a bench under the sun listening to the birds. Being outside in the warmth is very rejuvenating, right down to my soul. And I'm looking forward to more time just sitting, or laying in the grass, feeling the sun on my skin and hearing nothing but nature. I'm also hoping to find some time on/in the water this summer. Whether canoeing or boating or just visiting the beach.

I've been recovering rather well from the last chemo treatment. Still a slight bit of cold sensitivity left, but it's dissipating and doesn't keep me from eating/drinking most anything now. Pretty much caught up on my rest after the crazy Memorial Day weekend of traveling. Don't seem to have any other lingering issues that I've noticed yet. So it seems like I survived this last (hopefully last forever!) treatment pretty well and not too much worse for the wear. Still have a couple of weeks before I meet with my doctor to get the results from my PET scan. I'm pretty hopeful and optimistic about it. But of course it just hanging out there in the unknown does occasionally rattle my mind. A fellow colon cancer fighter I follow online calls it "scanxiety," which is a really good term.

For the most part I am feeling pretty good about the results of this last year and half. I'm confident we've done the best we can to kick cancer's ass with as much aggression and positivity that I and my doctors could muster. I expect a few grand years of fulfilling all my dreams and seeing all I can of the world. But I'll admit that I just don't look too far forward. The fellow colon cancer fighter I mentioned above (her blog is listed as Mission: Remission on the right) is dealing with recurrence and having a tough time of things. She just took another hit in cancer's favor and it really rattles me to watch her journey. In my cancer blog immersion phase last November, I found four ladies diagnosed with colo-rectal cancer in their 20's to 40's. Only one of them is still alive. The recurrence rate is extraordinarily high, especially with rectal cancer specifically. And it's typically within five years of the initial diagnosis. That weighs heavily on my mind and I spend too much time considering those numbers.

But I've spoken of our lack of promise of a tomorrow. Anything can happen to any of us at any time. What we have is today. And I still awake each morning considering how I can make the best of it. I continue to revel in everything, no matter how big or small. And I take plenty of opportunities to do things that best please me. I spend what time I can with friends and family and I put all the love I can onto them. This, THIS, is the best way that I fight cancer. It can't take anything away from me; it will not rule me; it will not make life any less grand; it cannot overtake love.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Whirlwind Days

What a busy week this has been. Finished up my last chemo treatment on Thursday and wasn't feeling too awfully bad. Came home to pack my bags and then made the drive to Detroit for a very early morning flight on Friday. Scheduled the same flight as my sister and her husband and the nephew. So we had a nice night in a hotel across from the airport, and the baby was a perfect alarm clock at 4 a.m. when we needed to get up and ready. The flights were uneventful, and the nephew handled them beautifully. We all wore sweatshirts or coats for the traveling, and dumped them quickly after arriving in Louisiana. It was nice and warm and sunny, the kind of weather I've been waiting for.

Checked into the hotel and so started the family visiting. There were lots of us staying at the same place, so we kept taking over the front porch area. The day was going pretty well until my sister started feeling sick late in the afternoon. Nausea and diarrhea kicked in and stayed with her for a couple of hours. Her husband took her to the hospital and they loaded her up with some anti-nausea medication and a couple of bags of fluids. They couldn't find anything wrong with her really, likely a cause of stress, plus the heat and a fried lunch. But by Saturday morning she was feeling much better. The viewing was Friday evening and was full of family and family friends. Late Saturday morning was the memorial and burial. I was tapped to do the eulogy at the memorial. I hadn't written anything but a couple of thoughts, so it was extemporaneous. I managed to keep it together pretty well, with only a slight bit of keening at the beginning. Don't remember half of what I said, but got plenty of good words from everyone about it. It was quite an honor to speak for the family and I hope that I did my MaMa proud.

The flights back home on Saturday evening were all running late. Still made it with time for my connection in Dallas, but even that one waited for another half hour on the tarmac. It was pretty darn late getting back to Detroit. But I had been able to sleep through most of the two flights and was rather awake for the drive home. Another early morning on Sunday for an event near Chicago. Busy, busy.

I was surprised and pleased with how relatively well I felt through most of the weekend. Was a bit tired by Sunday, but held up rather well mostly. The days caught up with me yesterday however. Literally slept away most of the day and was feeling pretty "off" and a bit of dizziness through the afternoon and evening (when I wasn't sleeping). Could not seem to get warm all day either. We brought up the space heater and I settled in to my own personal sauna under a blanket over the heater. Took a while, but eventually I warmed up and stayed close to the heater all evening. Had a bout of diarrhea and throwing up in the middle of the night which was pretty rough. But it must have cleared my system because I was feeling mildly better this morning.

Today was PET scan day (radioactive = 4, superpowers = 0). Unfortunately I won't see my doctor again until June 18, so that's three weeks to wait for results. I'm sure the radiologists will read it and have the report done soon. So I'll likely call the cancer center and try to get a copy of the PET report by the end of next week. That's such a long time to wait for what I hope are really good results. If it is clear of anything cancer, then that means we are finally done with all the treatments and I get to take back my life.

Still feeling tired today, which really isn't surprising when I consider the whirlwind I just went through; but seems weird after around 18 hours of sleep yesterday/night. Started feeling a bit better after a late lunch, and even better after some dinner. Clearly food was needed. Not much else on the schedule for this week, so plenty of time to rest and recuperate. Going to just follow my body these next couple of days.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

This is the end of everything...

It's been a momentous week. Left for my mother's a day early due to news that my grandmother was declining quickly. Was able to spend several hours there with her Thursday, and all of Friday. She wasn't looking very well when I arrived. But rallied and had rather a good day on Friday. Lots of lucidity and awake quite a bit, even asked to eat a couple of times. We all ended the day feeling pretty good about things. Unfortunately she had a bad evening and passed in the early afternoon on Saturday. She did pass without any pain and surrounded by all her daughters. I take comfort in her lack of suffering and knowing that she was ready to join her beloved husband in the afterlife. She has always been one of the most beautiful people I know. It was an inner beauty and warmth that pervaded every home she lived in, and was shared with those she loved. I feel lucky to have shared in that warm light for much of my life.

My grandparents (on my mother's side) were a huge part of my childhood, and I spent an accumulation of many years being raised by them. Every summer of my youth was months of time with them, and I have an extensive cache of wonderful memories. My PaPa (pronounced paw paw in the southern way) was the best father figure I had. And MaMa (maw maw) was a solid rock of peace, kindness and love. They are the best people I've ever known.

I have been tremendously lucky not to have had a lot of death close to me throughout my life. I didn't even know about the death of my first pet (Cocoa the Lhasa Apsa puppy) until twenty years after the fact when my mother finally revealed that they found him dead in the street and decided Dad would tump him into a dumpster rather than deal with an 8-year old's heartbreak. They still dealt with heartache though, and a couple of months of tear filled prayers to God every night to keep Cocoa safe. A close family friend died when I was thirteen. And I wasn't taken to the funeral, but was brought to a family gathering at their house. I was so overwhelmed with the emotions of the people around me that I went outside, sat on a hay bale and tried to sort it all out. I tried to empathize with what they may be feeling by imagining if it was my grandmother that died. And I had a really big sob sitting with those thoughts. But then it wasn't until I was much older that I had to deal with death again. That was four summers ago when my PaPa passed from cancer.

So early Friday morning I'll make the journey down to Louisiana again. I will see lots of family that I haven't seen in four years or longer. There will be hugs, tears, smiles, memories shared, good food, warm weather. But I will remain painfully aware that two pillars of my life have fallen.I truly believe that all the goodness I carry within was given to me through my MaMa and PaPa. I thank them for that, and when I look to the stars at night I will always send up a wish and my eternal love.

I don't know how to transition from that. So... on to the medical news. Which is better news. I'm currently on my VERY LAST chemo treatment! My blood counts were actually better this week than before my last treatment. Which surprised my doctor. But then I told him that I used the trick he had mentioned in our last visit. Apparently your body keeps a small cache of white blood cells in reserve. And when you exercise and adrenaline starts moving through your body, that cache is released and can temporarily boost your numbers. They've used this trick before when medical insurance won't cover certain chemo treatments unless a patient's WBC count is in the four thousands or better. Having a patient do a couple trips up and down stairs to raise their heart rate enough can up to double the WBC count. So I made sure to get to the center five minutes early and went down to the fitness room and put in those five minutes on the elliptical machine right before having my blood drawn. Must have worked because my counts have always gone down from one treatment to the next. And they were almost double from two weeks ago. My doctor laughed and said I was a quick study.

But the result is that I was cleared for chemo and am currently carrying around a very obstinate pump. Of course I would run in to issues the last time around. Last night one of the connections to the catheter came off and I awoke with a small puddle of chemo drug and blood on me and the sheets. We quickly cleaned up and got it reconnected. Threw the sheets and mattress liner in the wash (nothing on the mattress luckily) and changed the bed. Kind of freaky. Then was awakened early this morning by the pump beeping with a "high pressure" error. No kinks or other issues to be found. So called the cancer center, got dressed and went in to have it fixed. A couple of quick saline flushes cleared the extra blood that was in the line and slowing things up. They got it started back up and I was out of there within fifteen minutes. Did follow up with a lovely breakfast at my favorite restaurant though. So that was a bonus of an early morning. And napped pretty immediately after getting home.

Feeling tired of course, but not as out of sorts as after the last time. Pump comes off tomorrow and hopefully I won't have to ever have chemo again. Or at least not for many years down the line. Already have my next PET scan scheduled so we can see where things are. My hope is that it is nice and clear and we can finally be done with all of this. Of course there will be regular scans every few months for a while to make sure that I stay clear. And a five year wait of no evidence of disease before they actually call me in remission. But I'm almost that one step closer and am happy for it.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Upswing-ing

First off, the kitty is doing oh so much better. Turns out she got out of the house Sunday evening and ended up chewing on a bad plant outside. Took her to our vet yesterday morning, where they gave her an antibiotic and steroid shot plus some fluids. Since she hadn't eaten or drank for a couple of days we were all worried about dehydration. Vet said to look for 20% improvement per day and that we could pretty much stop worrying once she was interested in eating again. She improved *far* more than 20% yesterday: less lethargic, had at least one pee in the box, vocalizing more like she typically does, moving about more normally, even ate a little bit of food. Needless to say, we are very pleased and no longer so worried. Confident that she in on her way to a full recovery.

As for me, I'm doing pretty good. Back up in the 90th percentile area today. Some slight dizziness yesterday, but likely mostly due to not enough sleep the night before. Slept in a bit today and so far am feeling well. Which is good, because I now have travel plans for the weekend that I didn't have before. My grandmother has been having a variety of health issues that have increased over the last six months. She's had another downturn and I'm joining more of my family for a visit. Two of my aunts have journeyed far to the north from their home states of Texas and Mississippi. Sounds to me like the Mother's Day phone calls spurred them into making the trips. So it is off to Mom's house tomorrow morning and staying on the overnights at my sister's place. Will be nice to see some family that I haven't visited with in about four years.

I'm hoping that some of my traveling adventures start later in the summer with some road trips to see family. Was planning on heading south, since that's where the majority of them live. But also over to Vermont to see another grandmother. Likely head east first, since heading down Texas way in August is a sweaty proposition. Will likely hold off on that one until October when it has had a chance to cool off a bit. If it all shapes up right, a busy summer will turn into a busy fall. And I'll find some time to relax at home for a little while just in time for the holiday craziness of winter.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Scaredy Cat

It continues to be a slow recovery this time around. Still feeling tired and out of sorts physically. Typically by a full week out from treatment I am feeling pretty good. Apparently the accumulation has finally built up and caught up to me. Ah well. Ideally only a couple more weeks to go and then I will have all the time in the world to truly recover back to a hundred percent.

It's been a pretty boring couple of days around here since I've not felt up for much of anything. Did have quite a bit of unhappy excitement last night. Our youngest kitty had some sort of episode and we had to rush her to the emergency vet. The doctor didn't really find anything wrong with her, other than she was clearly very stressed. Her vitals all checked out, and the x-ray showed everything looked normal. They sent us home with an antibiotic and said just to keep an eye on her. She's been very reserved since then, but hasn't shown any signs of being in more pain. She is typically the feisty kitty around the house; running about causing mayhem, being noisy, and eating like a pig. But she hasn't really eaten in more than a day now and is quietly just curling up in various spaces. It was a very scary evening for a little while, and I continue to be pretty worried about her. Hoping that she peps up soon as well. But she's content to lie in my lap, and I'm content to laze about; so it's a mutually useful place for us both to be in for now.

Lethargy is definitely the word of the day. Even my mind is lazy today. The weather has warmed up again, and as much as I'd like to, I just don't have the energy to get out there and do anything in the sunshine. But the windows are up, and a nice warm breeze is blowing through the house. So I'm reveling in the spring in a simpler way. I accept that; I find some joy in it. Nothing wrong with a simple, lazy day. And so I am off. Going to throw a super quick and easy Italian casserole in the oven and go sit some more with my kitten.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Pep is Pooped

Recovery is a little slower each round. Spent a lot of these last few days feeling tired and out of sorts. Been relying on the prescription meds to keep things under control. Not my favorite option, but a far more comfortable one. My appetite has finally succumbed to the treatment. I'm still eating, but the shadow of nausea is keeping me down to smaller more infrequent meals. I've not really lost any weight yet, so I'm not concerned about dropping a little at this point. And I haven't actually thrown up which is awfully nice. I'm grateful that it didn't start to really kick my butt until this point. I made it through two-thirds of this round before it started to cause annoying issues. And I can deal with a tough slog through the last of it. It will be worth it in the end.

Despite feeling out of sorts, it's been a nice weekend. Rode out with friends to an event on Saturday. Took it pretty easy and mostly just socialized with good people. It was a relatively casual day and it felt good to mostly just be along for the ride. Had some back pain issues first thing this morning, but kicked it with meds and some extra sleeping in. Out for brunch and then joined a great group of gals for some crafting in the early afternoon. We got our project done in quick time and enjoyed tea and snacks before going our separate ways. The evening has been a simple, tasty dinner, a movie, some relaxing. Just taking it easy.

Hopefully will be feeling a bit better this week and can get some more spring culling happening through the house. Attacked the attic a bit a couple of days ago. Still more to go through up there. We did a good attic culling about three years ago, and somehow there's as much stuff as before. Still trying to decide where all the stuff will end up. I suspect some of you will be offered items as I think they'll be utilized or appreciated. I'm kind of using the criteria that if I haven't used/read/thought about something in two years or more, there might not be much reason to keep it around cluttering up space. Simplification.

A late Happy Mother's Day for all the mom's out there. Even those with just furry kids. Truly, where would we all be without our moms.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Post Chemo Update

Home and feeling pretty wiped out after chemo treatment number five. This means there is only ONE MORE TO GO! And, yeah, I'm a little excited about that.

My blood counts were pretty poor today. They were poor last treatment, but they've tanked a bit more since then. We went from marked L for low, to marked LL for "holy double low Batman." They're looking very similar to the numbers during last summer's chemo. This is how it works... breaking me down to build back up again. "We have the technology." But my doctor told me that studies of breast cancer patients in adjuvant therapy shows that continuing treatment, rather than adding in delays for counts to rise, has a better success rate in the long run. I don't have breast cancer, and they haven't done equivalent studies for rectal cancer. But he believes that there would be parallels and was inclined to continue with treatment today. Of course I want to stay on schedule and get this over with, and I was happy to agree with him. We just have to be aware that I am VERY highly susceptible to infections right now. So we continue the rest and relax regimen and avoid all sick or potentially sick people. Should be easier now that the warmer weather is here and flu and cold season is abating.

Was not a very exciting chemo session at all. I was a bit tired to start out with. The massage therapist was right there when I sat down and gave me a lovely hand massage while we talked about world travels. Soon as they accessed me and started fluids, I ordered up some shawarma for lunch. It arrived not long after the Ativan shot, which really started to make me feel tired. Soon as I was done eating I pulled on some headphones and pretty promptly fell asleep for nearly an hour. Could have slept more but the nurse needed to wake me. Was able to barely keep awake for the last half hour and the final push and pump hook up. My ride arrived perfectly (thanks John!) and was able to carry my bag out for me.

Set myself up on the couch and put on the television. Made it about half an hour before falling out for a two-hour nap. Could have slept longer for that one too. But the cats were insistent that it was dinner time, and the incessant meowing and pawing at my head was a little difficult to ignore. Tried to lay back down again, and although my body is tired, my mind was not ready for more sleep. So you get this lovely update instead.

I hope everyone out there in internet land is doing well and strong in their own daily battles. I am getting so very close to the end of this big one. It makes staying positive that much easier. And I'm growing in gratefulness for all the good things in my life. That I am able to be "retired" and take all the time needed to recoup after these treatment sessions. That I have terrifically amazing people around me to support and lift me up. That the spring is here and bringing warmer days to keep my neuropathy at an acceptable level. That I have a pantry full of various tasty teas while I can only drink warm things. That the farmer's market has opened and I'll be able to visit it this weekend and start a summer full of yummy local fruit and veg. That I have family that loves me so intently, and I right back at them. And so much more...

This is a pretty good life I've got going. Cancer is just an alley full of speed humps along my path. But I'm making my way through it nice and slow and easy. Maybe a few more faded scars in the end. Mostly only I'll notice them anyway. And the road is clear ahead.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Looking Forward

Had the wonderful opportunity to watch two of my closest friends become royalty in our weekend hobby yesterday. Went in to Chicago for the event and had a great weekend overall. Avoided most of the traffic on the way in Friday. Arrived with plenty of time to go check out the new Iron Man movie and found an absolutely terrific sushi place just around the corner from our rather nice hotel. Everything went off well on Saturday and it was a beautiful day to be out and about. Lots of time to spend with many friends throughout the day and evening hours. An uneventful drive home today and a good nap to top it all off.

I am adoring the warmer weather and the rapidly increasing signs of spring. Looking forward to a nice bike ride tomorrow in the sunshine. Taking advantage of the good weather and my last good day for this week. It's chemo Tuesday again. As long as my blood counts are good and treatment is a go, then we're finally in the homestretch for this last round. Only two more to go folks. And I can't wait for this to all be over and done with. I've got quite a busy summer planned, and I'm looking forward to the celebratory sensibility that will be with me through the months ahead.

I was reminded today that I should probably start working on my upcoming world travel plans. Especially if I want to be abroad in the late fall as I've pictured. So it's time to start researching where the nice weather is for October and November. Greece is still my top pick for first trip. But there are really so many places I'd like to visit that it doesn't really matter where I start. I have talked about my travel plans often, but have thus far been disinclined to start making them. I've been waiting for it to all be over before I started spending money and making reservations. There is a lot of uncertainty that comes with still being in treatment and I don't want to end up stuck with an unrefundable plane ticket. But my confidence in the outcome of all this is increasing. And now that the end is near I think I can afford to start getting excited about the next steps forward in my life.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Back in the Saddle

Spring has finally sprung and it appears to actually be here to stay. This pleases me inordinately. It is my favorite season after all. I love the loamy smell as new shoots break from the earth, the dusting of green on the trees as buds emerge, all the birds making their music, the general energy as everything comes in to full life again. The feeling of possibility is palpable and intoxicating.

Got to spend some time in the beautiful outdoors on Saturday with my sister and her husband's family, and a quick visit to see our family as well. A little light fishing, picnic food, a cloudless sky, a mini road trip; rather a lovely day. Felt pretty good throughout the weekend as well. My nephew just keeps growing and getting bigger and cuter. He is giving full smiles and even laughs now, and it just melts your heart to see it. He's four months at this point and I know he'll be changed that much more when I see him again in another month or two. As always, I had a comfortable, loving, relaxing time visiting and look forward to the next one.

So, we pulled my bicycle out last week hoping to take advantage of the nice weather. Got the cobwebs dusted off and the tires aired up, but didn't end up having the time to take it out. Today, however, I took it for a few spins around the neighborhood. I haven't ridden since before the surgery on my ass, and I was wondering if there would be any issues. I am very happy to report that there are none whatsoever. Still pretty out of shape, so I won't be riding all around town quite yet. But getting out a bit every day the weather allows, and I feel up for it, should put me back in shape and cruising speed relatively quickly.

The end is feeling closer and closer. And the good weather only increases my optimism about the end of treatment. Getting back on the bike makes me feel that much more normal as well. I will be stronger at the end of this in so many ways. I'll be a little weak and sore in the legs tomorrow for the work I put in today. But it's just like the radiation, the surgeries and the chemo. It will hurt a little for a little while, but I'm better in the end for having gone through the effort.

In the early days I heard that cancer would take a year of my life. I'm still adding days and weeks to that initial year. It is looking more like a year and a half at this point. But the days slip by, faster as the sun now chases them down, and I truly am learning a little patience. I keep talking about the end... now the light at the end of the tunnel is the summer sun beckoning me to come out and play. The subtle warmth of spring on my neck hastens my blood and my thoughts. I can't help but feel the pull and the excitement and the nearness of the finish line. Luckily there are projects and distractions to keep my mind from being completely consumed in the thought of it. But it is a dominant thought in many of my recent days. So I'll beg your indulgence in future commentary to come.

I know there will be new fears, and challenges, and adjustment to another "new normal." My adaptation skills have stood me well so far; I will continue to keep them close at hand. But this end is coming at a beautiful time and I'm almost ready to start counting the days. There's the sun to bask in, and roads yet to ride... I'm ready.