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.