lucky

I’ve been unemployed for a couple of months, but I’ve been putting the time to good use.  In fact, it’s been nice.  Ryan and the kids have all been home since the outbreak, so we’ve been spending a lot of time together as a family and we still all like each other.

Take-out and delivery meals are expensive, so I’ve been cooking pretty much every meal and I’m enjoying it.  I haven’t been experimenting as much as I’d like to, but I’m maintaining a routine and usually have plans for at least two days ahead.  I’ve always liked cooking.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be as good as a professional chef, but practice makes perfect.  Mostly, I just like being sure that everyone is fed.

Having Ryan home is reminding me of why I love him.  He’s working hard from home and I think would forget to eat, so I bring him his breakfast and lunch.  When his day is over, we relax and watch TV.  This last week, we’ve been watching filmed versions of Broadway musicals with Kate.  Before I met Ryan, I had no knowledge of musicals, but he grew up loving show tunes and he introduced me to all the big ones:  Les Mis, Phantom of the Opera, Evita.

Since high school when I started to enjoy writing, I’ve had ideas in my head, never fully formed enough to write a novel, but seeds of stories, and about a year ago I figured out a way to bring them together.  It’s coming along slowly, but more reliably now that I’m home every day.  I find that my protagonist has a mind of her own, though, and I’m having to wrangle her a bit.  Sometimes I’m more inspired by random things that end up as short stories.

The world outside our home is a scary place currently, so I’m grateful that we have each other inside.

the cruelest month

Unfortunately, the news isn’t so good.

Three months ago, a notable jump in tumor markers in my blood prompted a change in strategy, including a switch to a harsher chemotherapy drug called capecitebine, in the hopes of turning the tide.

Yesterday, I was called in at the last minute for another CAT scan and bone scan, when my latest bloodwork saw those numbers double in the last month. In addition to those markers, the cancer in my bones is now spreading and the troublesome spots in my liver are growing. Add in a few more aches and pains lately and the overall trend is troubling.

We still have a few options to try, which is good, but I will also need a liver biopsy to be sure that we’re not dealing with a different problem than the one that first emerged in 2012.

Starting next week, I will be receiving another type of treatment, this one in the chemo room again.  I was hoping I’d never have to go back in there.  I still have memories of getting the “red devil” (adriamycin) and feel queasy at the sight of ice chips.  I met interesting people in the chemo room, though, and have thought about writing about them. Now we’ll be spending time together again.

I lost my job at the beginning of March, when this whole COVID-19 thing started to happen.  I won’t have a hard time getting back and forth to treatment but things are difficult without my income.  I’ll need to get another job, but I have to see how well I tolerate treatment.

It’s hard to feel optimistic on any kind of level these days.  Even my daughter’s college graduation is bittersweet.  She’s so happy to be done but sad that we can’t celebrate, at least not right now. At least our middle kid isn’t at all broken up about his postponed high school graduation.

I’m starting to think about what will happen to my family when I’m gone.  I tried so hard not to think about that before.  I thought that if I thought about it, I’d just make myself sicker.  I’m actually imagining my memorial service.

I’m frustrated now that so much time was wasted between November and January.  That’s when things started to accelerate.  As much as I loved our vacation, I wonder if I accidentally hurt myself.  I just have to make up for it now.

 

how i met your father

I was hoping to meet a guy in Hawaii. I wasn’t counting on it, though.

I moved to Hawaii from a small town in Florida in 1993. I knew that I didn’t want to spend my life there. There was so much out there that I needed to see; besides, I needed to be away, so I could date whomever I wanted without judgment from my family.

My husband Ryan walked into the cafeteria (and my life) the day before classes started at the University of Hawaii at Hilo in January 1994. He was wearing slacks and a dress shirt and slacks. He looked older, like a grad student. I was sitting with my group of friends, all women, when a male friend of the group came to our table with him. He looked so interesting. He spoke confidently about computers and was showing us something he’d done on his computer.

He was fascinating. He was so different from everyone else I’d met in Hawaii. I caught myself staring at him and I didn’t know why. I looked at him and I swore I was looking at my future. The only problem was that he had to have had a girlfriend and I didn’t know who she was, because he hung out with a lot of girls. One day he mentioned that he lived in the room that had “a bunch of green stickers on the door”. I found myself going back to my dorm the long way around to see if I could find his room. Meanwhile, we chatted whenever he’s join us at dinner.

This was around the time that “Schindler’s List” came out. I had seen it with my friend Sherry and she talked about it at dinner when Ryan was around. He said, “Oh, I haven’t seen that yet. I’d like to”.

That was my chance! I knew I had to act fast because I didn’t think the film would be playing for much longer. I kept an eye out for Ryan, waiting for my chance to get to talk to him. The gods were on my side, because I caught him the very next day at lunch. I approached him, where he was sitting with a girl.

“Sorry to bother you. I was wondering if I could come by later.”

He said sure and told me where his room was. I was so nervous, like I was about to skydive. To me, he felt inevitable. I was sure he liked me, too. This was my future.

I asked him to see the movie with me. He said yes, and we made plans. He asked if I’d like to get dinner before the show, because he knew this nice Mexican place. I said that sounded great.

We went out, and it felt like he was an old friend who I was catching up with. The conversation went on all evening and I felt so comfortable with him.

He started coming over, just to hang out. We watched The Simpsons, talked about music, went for walks. But we were just friends. Just friends. Everybody knew we were just friends. The thing was, though, was when he wasn’t around I missed him. It was nice just to talk to him, because he was so smart and interesting.

He told me about his ex-girlfriend who also lived on campus. He didn’t like to talk about her but I knew it was possible that maybe he wasn’t over it yet. I started to feel jealous of her. In fact, I got so jealous of her I nearly went crazy.

Spring break came and I had plans to go to Maui with one of my girlfriends and a guy who had a crush on her. I hadn’t been to Maui before and was excited. Unfortunately, I was also sick. I had come down with a bad cold. On the day before we left, I was still pretty sick, so Ryan came over with a cup of soup. That did it. I had fallen,

We drove around the island on the first day and came to a place where O’ahu was visible on the horizon. Ryan had gone back to Honolulu to visit his family. I looked out to O’ahu and wondered what he was doing. As we drove around, listening to the car radio, I realized that I missed him. I decided to see him on Sunday night as soon as we came back. I went over to his room and we talked til after midnight. I was exhausted the next day, but it was worth it.

By now our friends knew we were together, but somehow we didn’t. We hung out together all the time and he started telling me about his friends back home and they me. One night, the group planned to drive up to Volcano and one by one everybody cancelled but our friend Sherry, Ryan and me. We decided instead to just have dinner at Ken’s. About halfway into the conversation, Sherry asked us, “Are you guys together?”.

He and I looked at each other. I was afraid he would say no. He was afraid of the same thing.

I finally said, “I would say so, yeah”.

We quietly agreed to talk about the conversation with Sherry. We went back to my room together a little after midnight. We ratified our relationship.

The next day, we spent the day at Hapuna beach on the Kona coast. We played in the sun until after sundown.

side effects have been reported

So I finally did see the doctor.  As usual, my procrastination and fear of bad news bit me in the ass, and I’m back here to say that more changes are ahead.

The fulvestrant hasn’t been working for the last few months.  Initially, it was working very well, and then in September the bloodwork figures started creeping back up.  The situation was not helped by my oncologist leaving last fall, nor by our vacation.  The result was a one-month break from treatment and a lot of lost ground and some considerable fat off my body.

My appetite has been bad.  My anniversary ring is threatening to slide off my finger and I no longer have pants that fit.  Most women would be thrilled at this development, but all I can do is gaze at food and wish that I wanted to eat it.  I have a coconut cream pie in the fridge right now and I’m hoping to eat it later, if I don’t fall asleep too early.

I’m not doing well emotionally, and I don’t like sharing that.  I feel like I’m supposed to be a beacon of hope and good vibes to people who read this blog, but right now, I’m a little lost.  Especially because I felt good and thought things were okay.  I chalked my weight loss up to my activity at work without really noticing that I barely ate most days.

When I finally reached my doctor on the phone, he sounded shaken to the core.  I can’t figure out if it’s because he’s young (he’s my age) or if the situation is really that bad.  I remember the day I was diagnosed and the sound of my then-doctor’s voice.  It was the same.

I’ll be getting a new chemo drug in pill form. My doctor says that the side effects are minimal and that it’s been effective.  Sounds simple.  Too good to be true?

February and March have been crappy months for me the last few years.  The anniversary of Mom’s passing is coming up.

Grief never really ends.

World Turned Upside Down

After getting the news that my prognosis had changed, Ryan told me that he would do his best to allow us to check as many items off my bucket list as we could.  We went to New York City two years ago, and this year we elected to do a kind of American Revolution tour.  We’d visit Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C., stopping in New York again briefly to catch Hamilton.

We had a great time, but the best discovery was that I just love traveling with Ryan.  He has a knack for plotting visits and making plans.  When I’m feeling worn down, he doesn’t mind taking it easy.  He gets just as excited about things as I do.

We flew into Boston but did a quick turn around to Washington.  We spent a whole day at the Smithsonian museums and didn’t even scratch the surface.  We ran into a demonstration across from the White House.  Washington, at first glance, is hip and younger than I anticipated.  I also didn’t expect as much city, weirdly. We stayed at this hotel called the Pod, which boasts small rooms and fewer bells and whistles.  It turned out to be just what we needed.

After that, we were off to Philadelphia.  We took Amtrak, which I had never done before, believe it or not.  It had been a long time since I’d seen that part of the country and seeing it in the autumn, with all the bare trees and signs of winter coming on, was lovely.  In Philadelphia, we did the Liberty Bell (which was quite small, actually) and the tour of the historical buildings.  Ryan had managed to snag not only tickets to Hamilton in New York, but also to the last show in Philly.  We caught the show and headed straight to the train for New York.

I really fell in love with New York.  Alas, we were there just long enough to see the show and then got on the train to Boston.

Boston was my favorite. Our stay was cut a little short because of the detour to New York, but that’s okay.  We were in town long enough to do the Freedom Trail and a great dinner on the North End.  Boston is incredibly beautiful.  I remember very little of Massachusetts from my childhood.

I’m hoping that for our 25th anniversary, we can go to England. It’s been my #1 bucket list item since I was a child.

 

 

Considering

Life is continuing.

I’m glad you’re still reading.  I like writing and sharing but sometimes it’s hard to open up about my illness.  I’ve said that before but now that my cancer is metastatic, I feel sometimes like I’m being pursued by something horrible with claws and talking about it wakes it up.  I feel like if I ignore things, it’ll go away, which I know is very unhealthy.

Today all the stuff I usually sweep under the rug came crawling out, rushing toward me in a big way, and I started crying at breakfast, convinced I was having an emotional breakdown.  A song playing on the restaurant’s PA reminded me of the day I had the biopsy, and I was also reminded that it’s coming up on the second anniversary of losing my mom, and I just started blubbering.

So I’m here, hoping to gain some clarity.

I miss my mom like crazy.  She was my confidante and my conscience, letting me know when I was being ridiculous.  She loved me exactly for who I was, never judging.  Nobody will ever love me like she did.  It hurts so much when I realize that I can’t call or text her.

I so need to see my doctor.  Isn’t it crazy how someone could be afraid to see someone who is trying to help her?  I’m not even having a particularly hard time with the treatments.  I’m getting a new treatment, basically a shot in each hip once a month.  There are some signs of progression in my bones, but not much.  The bloodwork has been improving overall.  I just had a rough patch last summer when I was experiencing pain.  I’m also on Ibrance.

Sometimes, the kids will all end up in the room while I’m relaxing or reading or whatever and we’ll all sit around and talk about nothing in particular and laugh.  Those are the times I live for.  I feel thankful that I still have them.  They are doing so well.  Kate is graduating from college and Zac from high school.  I know they all love me.

I’m still working.

I like work.  It keeps me going.  I’ve met great people.  My best days at work are when I’ve truly helped someone.  I had a customer the other day ask for a hug after I’d helped her.  She was a young woman, trying to patch a hole in a wall, and I had a suspicion about how it got there, but I didn’t ask, and her relief told me a lot of things.

Every single person I know at work makes things better.  I am friends with all of my coworkers.

Except for one.

When I know that I’ll be working with this particular person, I literally feel sick to my stomach.  This person makes me feel like at best, like a naughty third grader, and at worst, like gum on the bottom of a shoe.  I realize that there are horrible people at every workplace, but this person has the power to not only get under my skin, but also ruin everything for me.

I’m good at my job. I kick ass. I work with good people at a good company. I know I shouldn’t let one person ruin a good thing but the dread I feel on the days this person works is so visceral.

I’ve gone to HR about this person. Many others have cited this person in their exit interviews. I know this person drives turnover in an already tight job market.

I guess this is the downside for a company that’s loyal to all of its employees.

 

 

 

Kettle Black

So much has happened. It’s lame to start an entry that way, but so much has happened in the last 20 months that I don’t even know where to start.

My dad died. Then my mom died. In fact, my mom died because my dad died. She ostensibly died of cancer, but she really died of a broken heart. I was able to visit her in November, and then near the end of her life in January, and it’s something that I will never get over. I dream of them almost every night, and in my dreams there might be a way to save them if I try but I can’t quite do it. I know that in reality I could never save them; that she needed him and she was just waiting to be with him again.

I spent the last weekend of her life with her, just sitting with her, feeding her, bathing her, and it was the most profound few days I’ve ever experienced. I’ll never forget them.

lorraine

My in-laws, who have always loved and cared for me, helped me to say goodbye.  They organized a memorial service for her.  They invited all of the aunts and uncles and cousins, made all the food, and prepared remarks.  I felt very blessed.

I left my job. I’m much happier now. Though I miss my friends there, I’m being a housewife again, and things are so much better. I’m focused on the kids, and they are getting good grades, and I put a hot home-cooked meal on the table every night. I’m cooking and I’m liking it. I have a huge collection of cookbooks that I largely ignored while I was working but have turned to once more to find inspiration. I have a fantasy of cooking my way through Alton Brown’s books and blogging about it.  In the meantime, though, I’m tweaking old recipes and trying new ones.

Part of the reason for this change in employment status was that I was in constant pain, and in the course of my treatment, I’d become a little bit too fond of my pain medication. The pills were helping me get through the day while I was working, which was not an ideal state of affairs. I would take them just to feel normal.  I was making money, but I was constantly exhausted.

Here at home, I am attempting to kick the habit. I’m hovering just over half the daily dose I started with. Ryan has had to play bad cop, which can’t be fun, but he helped get things under control (spreadsheet and all). Most recently, though, I am making progress through herb-based pharmaceuticals, if you catch my drift.

Medical marijuana is legal here in Hawaii, and with a medical record two inches thick, I was able to get a card. From there, all one needs to do to obtain it is to find a dispensary. I looked at reviews and heard from friends, and picked one. I’ve tried different products and varying delivery methods, limited as they are in Hawaii. I’m figuring out what works and what doesn’t, but cannabis is more complicated than I anticipated… and of course much more expensive than those tiny white pills.

Because I have led a square, boring-ass existence up until this point, I have very little experience with drugs. I started with homemade brownies from a friend, which were a delicious introduction. Then I got some gummies from another friend, and they were very high in THC, but because I’m a dummy, I didn’t realize how potent they’d be. Using them has been an exercise in learning about my tolerance.  I’m not looking to get loaded.

Between the constant ache in my joints and the anxiety I have, I need something, but obviously, opioids aren’t the answer.  It’s hard for me to get used to the idea of using pot though, because I grew up in the age of ‘Just Say No.’  I’ve never liked feeling drunk or high or out of control to start with.  Through experimenting, I have learned that I don’t need to feel high. There’s a balance that I’m finding that keeps the pain down and my mood relaxed and mellow, and I’m usually able to skip the last pill of the day.

Another lifestyle change is my gym membership. One condition of my staying home was that I exercise three times a week. Through a program at Kaiser, the membership is basically free after forty-five visits. I just got the notice today that I hit the target and that they’re sending us a check. I got there a lot sooner in the year than I expected.

I don’t know if I’ve lost any weight, but I feel accomplished, which counts for a lot.  Sometimes I even feel a little sore after workouts and I’ve come to like that feeling.

Thank you, Sally Field

To combat the holes in my bones from the cancer, I have a new drug regimen.  I’m on Reclast, which I will receive quarterly.  I had my first treatment last week.

It was painful.  Not the infusion itself, but the aftereffects.  I experienced growing pains all over again, writ way large.  Luckily, I had the following day off from work as well.

The process of the infusion itself was interesting.  I was expecting to receive it in the chemo room, but when I got to the hospital, they directed me to a much cushier suite of private rooms on the second floor.  I had a very comfy chair and a TV, as well as a nurse named Ro who was very friendly and professional.

anniversary-at-hys
This month we celebrated our 19th anniversary.

I couldn’t help but remember chemo and the time period around it.  Even smells remind me of the months of chemo treatment.  At the time, we had cherry blossom-scented soap in our bathroom, and whenever Ryan would give me Neulasta shots he’d wash his hands with the soap.  If I smell the scent of cherry blossoms on someone now, I can feel my stubbly scalp in my hands and feel the needle in my belly.

I am also on a new estrogen blocking drug, called anastrozole.  I’ve had a couple of queasy days on it.  My doctor also prescribed an anti-nausea medication.  The nausea wouldn’t be a big issue if I didn’t have to work.  I dread being sick at work.

My biggest fear going into this second round was that it would render me incapable of pulling my weight at my job.  So far, everyone has been supportive.

Reminders

adriamycin-matisSometimes I think about the things that brought me here.

I’ve been introduced recently to someone who is newly diagnosed. She is starting chemotherapy soon. She is getting a drug called adriamycin, as I did. Adriamycin is known in some circles as “red devil.” At the time I was told about my drug regimen, I was unaware of adriamycin’s reputation.

It is so potent and so dangerous that it can only be administered by a nurse wearing a full nasty-stuff getup: mask, apron, gloves. When a patient gets it, he or she must chew on ice chips, lest they break out with nasty mouth sores.

At that time, I was not in a good place, emotionally. I think I might have had post-traumatic stress. So when I heard my new friend’s news, I was briefly brought back to that time. I started to feel anxious, stressed-out. I was wondering if I was headed back down that spiral. I was legitimately afraid.

oncology-cropI snapped out of it, and now, I have to say, I feel pretty grateful. I saw my oncologist again yesterday and the news continues to be good.

I am no longer on Tamoxifen, the side effects of which were a problem the first time around. Instead, I’ve been switched to Anastrazole, which I only have to take once a day.

It’s more powerful and only for patients who are post-menopausal… which, having had my ovaries removed, includes me. I managed to avoid symptoms on Tamoxifen, but I’m starting to get hot flashes after only a day on the new drug.

Because there has probably been damage to my bones, my doctor also wants to start me on an IV osteoporosis drug. I’ll have to go in quarterly for a two-hour-or-so infusion.

I am just so lucky that I’m not facing more chemo. I think of my new friend and hope she makes it through okay.

The things in between

katie-and-meI suppose I should talk about what went on in between my diagnoses.

I won’t lie; things got really dark around the time I started chemo. Luckily, some kind of switch went off when radiation ended and I made peace with my life in a way I never thought I would. For four years, I was carefree, enjoying my new lease on life.

I had reconstructive surgery in 2013.  That was a messy affair.  In retrospect, I probably had the surgery too early.  The radiation thinned my skin considerably and made the area difficult to heal fully.  I had to see my surgeon for repairs two or three times, but eventually, it was done.  I don’t regret having the surgery, not at all, but it never hurts to wait a bit. That’s one lesson I learned.

At the end of 2013, I got my first job since having a family.  I’m fortunate to be with a company that is involved in several charities, including the American Cancer Society.  I even participated in the Relay for Life when my company organized a team.  This job made me fit–walking around and carrying boxes is great exercise.  I was loving that, but I noticed that every day, it was harder and harder to recover from the day at work.  The constant joint soreness is what lead me to the see the doctor and my second diagnosis.

I feel now that I am better equipped to handle this fight than I was before.  In the last few years, I think I’ve learned to not sweat the small stuff.  And I’m hoping I’ve passed some of my wisdom onto my children.  Recently, I’ve been watching friends renew their own personal battles with cancer.  I know that despite all of the complications, I’m lucky.

As I make this journey, I’m determined to stay close to Katie.  Being a woman in this word is hard enough without having his disease looming over the horizon, as it will since there’s a hereditary consideration.  I’ve worked hard these last few years to teach her how to be herself, with no apologies.  I hope if my children, all of them, learn nothing else from this experience, it’s compassion.