Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Hello everyone—that is, if anyone is still reading—and Season's Greetings (what a ridiculously meaningless phrase, no?) to everyone! I'm sorry it's been so long (15 days!) since I've posted any information about myself, but that's really because there hasn't been much new to tell. Mostly I've been doing my typical Christmas season stuff, which means sewing mittens and knitting hats, some of them even for other people, and baking cookies, and generally keeping myself busy way too many hours for someone with no job who's not on chemo, let alone someone who is on chemo.

It finally caught up with me a little bit last Monday when I woke up feeling pretty sick to my stomach. I took a Compazine and went back to sleep and got up at 11:00, when I thought I was feeling somewhat better so I ate two pieces of excellent banana-oat-blueberry bread that I'd just made the night before. They stayed with me until about 1:00pm, then forcibly ejected themselves from my body. I went back to bed. I slept off and on all day, had some ginger ale around 6:00pm, threw up again at 7:00pm, then watched a movie and went back to bed for good. I had a slight fever at the height of it—about 99.6.

Tuesday was to have been my infusion day, but it seemed like a bad idea to bring my bugs into the clinic, and also to add poisons to a system already taxed, so it was postponed (I had hoped to be able to skip it entirely, but no go). I felt pretty good though—no stomach pain, although I still didn't want to eat much—so I continued the last bits of frenetic activity I wanted to finish before the next day, then went to a party in West Seattle with Ian and several dear friends.

Wednesday morning, Christmas Eve, the day we were celebrating with my family, I woke up—not surprisingly—feeling a bit ill again. I soldiered through, though with the help of the stronger anti-nausea Zofran, and Ian and I prepared a breakfast quiche (lamb sausage, sharp cheddar, sautéed mushrooms and green onions), fruit salad, and eggnog lattes, and ate only about two hours after we'd intended. Mom and Marsh actually drove in from Hobart; when they finally made it home around 9:00 or so that night, they called and told us it had snowed another 10 inches while they were away! We had a few extra family members over for dinner, including Cousin S (lamb, potatoes, salad, Brussels sprouts, pecan pie, lemon chiffon pie). Mom and Marsh made it up their driveway after only about twenty minutes of digging.

Thursday morning, Christmas Day, the day we were celebrating with Ian's family, I woke up feeling much better. We served them French toast and bacon, and more of the cinnamon rolls Mom had brought the day before, as well as a fruit salad and eggnog lattes and mimosas, and I was actually able to eat a reasonable portion.

This morning I felt like one of those people who had to go to work at 8:00am, when my alarm went off in the dark and I hurried off to the clinic. I got 500ml of extra saline today because I'd been sick, and I do think it helped. It was certainly obvious that I needed it when, in the four hours I was there, I only piddled once.

In weather news, we've loved the recent snowfalls. The 4-Runner is an excellent, excellent snow beast, so if we wanted to go somewhere we could. If we didn't, however, the weather offered a perfect excuse. I felt worse and worse as the days progressed for all those people who really did need to be somewhere and really couldn't make it. But still—snow! On several days in a row! In the middle of the city! I loved it.

I really can't believe 2008 is already winding down. It's certainly been a momentous year for me in a lot of ways . . . and pleasingly calm for many of the same reasons. I certainly feel that I learn more about life with every breath. Be gentle with yourself, and be gentle with others. And ask for what you want—that's the only way for the universe to know.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tumor Marker

It was 81, so 37 down from last time. Not bad!

Ho Ho Ho Merry Exhilarating Christmas

I had a Shakespeare teacher tell me once that the difference between comedy and tragedy in Shakespeare's time was not so much that a comedy made you laugh more than a tragedy, but rather that comedy had a happy ending and tragedy a sad one. Perhaps it's also true that a comedy is a situation that makes you laugh in relief.

At any rate, we had a bit of a comedy, as it turned out, on Sunday afternoon. We went out to Maple Valley for our annual tree-buying expedition—me, Ian, L&S, Dr. T, her former mate R, and their two kids, M&D, and Cousin S. Mom and Marsh cooked us a fabulous breakfast, as always (that's one of the main reasons we keep coming back), then we headed off to their neighbors' (who own a cut-your-own tree farm) to cut our tree.

Well, the morning had been relatively dry—misty, with a few small showers. As soon as we trekked off into the rows of trees, however, the monsoon hit. Except it was 42 degrees, not 90 degrees. Nevertheless, soaking wet, we all got trees. Friend Dr. T chose a corpulent Grand fir, and Ian threw it up onto the roof of our car with our more modest Fraser fir. I stayed pretty firmly indoors, or outdoors under my umbrella, while all this was going on. Anyway, after the milling about and the almost endless goodbyes, we got on the road, Dr. T and Cousin S following us to Dr. T's house in Dr. T's car.

All went well until we got on I-90 to return to Seattle.

Ian accelerated up the on-ramp, and suddenly shouted "OH SHIT", with a great deal of alarm in his voice. I immediately dropped my knitting, quick enough to turn and see Dr. T's tree bouncing down the middle of the freeway behind us. "What do we do?!?" Ian cried, as I fumbled around the car, frantically looking for my cell phone.

"I'm calling 911," I said. "Let's get off at the next exit." So as Ian drove us off the freeway and into holiday strip mall traffic, I called 911 and reported a tree in the middle of I-90 that had fallen off of our car. I then called Cousin S. "Hey there," I said. "Did you see T's tree fly off our car?"

"We sure did!" said Cousin S, then "and we have it already on the side of the road. Just drive around and get back on the freeway and we can put it back on the car." There was some conference between Cousin S and Dr. T, then Cousin S came back on. "We're going to try to stuff it in the back seat," she said, "but come around anyway". They already had the tree? They were going to stuff it in the back seat of Dr. T's Corolla?

I called 911 back and told them the tree was out of the road (thanks to Dr. T, who, with great derring do, ran across two lanes of freeway), and then we drove back around to pick it up. While we were standing on the side of the road (amazing how loud it is when you're not in a car), a police officer came up behind us. He took Ian's license and the car registration, and our insurance information (in case of any calls—sounds like one truck hit the tree before T reTREEved it), let us off with a warning (otherwise it would've been a $216 ticket), and told us that, had the situation been much worse and someone actually injured by the thing falling off our car, Ian would've been charged with a felony. I can totally understand why, but it would've been very bad for Ian's career as a government scientist.

ANYway. The cop suggested we carry the tree/drive our cars up the road a hundred yards or so where we could pull off at a wider shoulder. This we did, and we got the tree on and I drove uneventfully the rest of the way.

Oh, and Hoover somehow really scraped up a leg out at Mom's, and so he's Mister Cone Head right now because he won't stop licking. Poor silly pup.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I have been trying not to expect much over the last six months. I have been focusing my energy on living each day as it comes, and not planning too strenuously for the future. I have been pleased—grateful—to have recovered as much as I have. I have loved the return of energy, which allows me to do so many things that bring me joy—both selfish, like the horseback riding and Gyrotonic, and generous, like making soup for Ian to take to school (he can't quite give up the weekly lunch ritual, even though he's no longer a student) because he was exhausted—and I wasn't!

I've sort of been expecting, though, based on my prior experiences, that I would go through chemo for some amount of time, the cancer would all disappear from my body, and I'd be in complete remission again, as I have been three times before. It may not work that way, however. Yes, my response to treatments heretofore has been very good. However, there is a chance that the cancer will stop responding, and may even start to grow again. This has happened to people. In that case, there are other chemotherapies, including oral ones which wouldn't involve needles at all—but it would definitely suck to have to look at it that way.

There is also a chance that my neuropathy (which seems to have stabilized in a state where I really don't notice it in my feet; my thumbs, first and middle fingers have some numb spots and some tingling; and my bowels seem to be unaffected) could get bad enough that it's necessary to take me off the chemo, even if I am still responding to it.

My bones will probably always bear the marks of the cancer, through scarring at the very least. And yes, those bone scars are weaker than bones normally are. I can help support my skeleton by having a lot of muscular strength, but jumping—on a horse that is—may not ever again be something I should do, not only because of the risk of breaking a bone if I fall and the time it would take to heal, but also because, if I do have a break, it will always, ever after, look suspicious on scans. I promised I would not jump for the time being. I can't promise I will never jump again.

And so, though I wasn't consciously yearning for my old life back, I was assuming—expecting—that it would come at some time, with only alterations so minor I maybe would'nt even have noticed them. Hmmm.

It's just another reminder to live fully in the moment—because now is all we ever have.

Yes, Yesterday’s Appointment Had Not Enough Information

I've had some pretty obvious psoas pain (what an awesome spelling!) in the lower left side of my back for the last couple weeks (haven't been able to get in to see Taya yet and have it fixed), and so when the resident said something yesterday about a new spot showing up in my bone scan, what had been an annoying but perfectly familiar pain in the ass became, for about 24 hours, the onset of a new outbreak of cancer.

It is not. According to Dr Specht, the CT is much more useful in a lot of ways than the bone scan in determining what's going on with the bones, and it continues to show lots of lesions, but they're all looking sclerotic these days (which means they're looking like scar tissue). My lungs still show some disease, but much, much less. Spots that had appeared on one adrenal gland and one ovary last spring have disappeared. And, yes, my brain lesions are doing better as well. Unfortunately, neither me nor my mom nor Ian could remember exactly what my new tumor marker number is (aren't three people between then supposed to remember the important information?), but it's somewhere in the 80s, which shows another drop.

Dr Specht thinks that the reason the bone scan showed new patches (a few—certainly more than the one mentioned yesterday) is because of the GCSF shots. The shots that I'm giving myself directly stimulate the bone marrow, and so frequently there is unusual activity in the bones, and it shows up on the scan. My descriptions of how I'm feeling and my other tests combine to make her think I'm in pretty good shape and not to worry.

It brings up an interesting question—did the resident yesterday act inappropriately by telling me the results of my tests, including that the bone scan showed new activity? I really don't know. Obviously, I left that appointment feeling nervous about my health, and now, given the right information, I no longer am. But he knew the results, so it seems appropriate that he share them. It might just be that a resident is still learning, and that in the future he'll know better how to recognize potentially frightening information, and collect more data before he speaks. I really don't know. As Ian pointed out, there is something particularly nice about being nervous before getting the good news—the news seems all the gooder. And, I was a little nervous. More so than I was all summer, actually.

My MUGA also looked good—heart's beating along normally.

I'll post this now, to set your minds at ease before I launch into my next topic . . .

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Probably Not Enough Information

Today I had a brain MRI and met with Dr Jason after. My brain continues to improve—we were able to see the last scan and today's scan side by side, and even I, with my totally untrained eye, could tell that most of the spots looked better, none looked worse, and a couple were maybe staying the same, maybe very slightly better. There is still some concern about the lesion at the base of my cerebellum, simply because of its location and the fact that it hasn't gone away completely. But it, too, is smaller. My neurological tests were, as usual, easy to pass (although I could only walk five steps in a perfect row heel-to-toe and then I veered off a bit).

It occurred to me that I really had no idea what to expect about my brain mets—were they behaving the way they were supposed to? I mean, how long does it typically take for them to go away, if they are? So I asked Dr Jason where I stood on the statistical scale—knowing, of course, that the statistics meant nothing about me individually. He said that my response was better than average, taking into account the continuing regular shrinking.

We will test again in 2 to 2 ½ months—if, at some point, it becomes clear that the lesions aren't shrinking anymore, we want to know that as soon as possible because then the gamma knife might be a good thing to choose. But as long as things go as they are, we'll stay the course.

The thing that I probably don't have enough information about is this: since I've had a bunch of tests done in the last week, Dr Jason's resident checked out those scans as well as this morning's MRI, so that he could get a full picture of where I'm at. He said the CT looked good, looked "stable", I think, but I don't really know what that means. Things didn't start growing again, but they didn't shrink either? Because if that's the case, I'd rather not have "stable". Also, he said there was a new spot that showed up on my bone scan, on the low spine. Now, for about two weeks I've been having some left-side pelvis and low-back issues—a little bit of pain and stiffness, particularly when I first stand up, or after I've been walking around for a bit. It seems to have been improving over the last couple days, but it's still there.

We asked Dr Jason if he could elaborate—does it ever happen that lesions appear during treatment, on the way to complete disappearance? He hadn't looked at the scans, but suggested that the spot could be arthritis, and said that, when my next tumor-marker blood tests are available, that would help give us more information. If they're up from last time, that's not a good sign. If they're down again, though, it's likely the spot is something other than a new lesion. The part of the spine affected is the part, I believe, that I smashed a little tiny bit when I was thrown against the wall in a riding lesson several years ago—there is some possibility that it's showing up on a bone scan not because a new tumor has started up there, but because there's some remnant injury that was exacerbated by my recent activity. Anyway, Dr. Specht is the one who knows best, and I'll see her tomorrow afternoon.

One thought: If I were going to die from this cancer this time, wouldn't it have been much easier to do me in last summer? Certainly much more likely, statistically speaking.

On a lighter note, at a surreal confluence of sales (mark-down, additional percentage off in stores, additional percentage off that with a card sent to me in the mail) I bought four this-season items at J Crew today that would've been $193.05 but that I got for $42.31. Crazy.

A Lot Like Me

I was sitting in the blood draw waiting room yesterday morning when I heard a young voice bantering with the check-in guy. The girl had evidently left her green card behind, and they were joking about someone stealing it and pretending to be the girl so that she could get a blood draw instead. They laughed, then the guy asked her when her birthdate was, to look her up in the system. "November 5, 1980," she said.

November 5, 1980. Not only did the girl almost share my birthday, she was also only 28 (hence me calling her a girl—I mean, if I'm still a girl, anyone 8 years younger than me sure is.). And yet she seemed to be taking her situation in stride. I was proud of her.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mangy Cur

We recently noticed a bit of a bald spot on Hoover, up where the ear meets the head. It took us a few days to recognize that it was a bald spot and not just a cowlick in the ear/head crease; today I finally looked closely at it, and it was actually about the size of a quarter (camouflaged by other hair), and had little red bumps in it. I looked at my calendar and realized that, if I were going to get him in to a vet, I would need to do it today or two weeks from now, and called our friends at Green Lake Animal Hospital. Someone could see him at 5:00pm.

It turns out Hoover has Demodectic mange, which is caused by a teeny parasite called the Demodectic mite, which lives in hair follicles. It is not transferrable to humans, and rarely, if ever, transferred to other dogs in the house. For the most part, it is transferred exclusively from mom dog to pup. His immune system seems to be dealing with the problem—the vet found only three mites in the scraped sample she took, and all were adults and dead. There is a drug we can give him if the situation doesn't resolve or if it spreads—basically a pesticide—but it would be better to simply let his immune system deal with it. It is not recommended to dip your dog in motor oil in hopes of a cure.

The things we inherit from our mothers.

Note: My last line seems to imply a bitterly humorous irony about my breast cancer. It's actually very unlikely that I inherited my vast facility with breast cancer from my mother, although I will probably have the genetic tests done to determine this sometime in the next month. No, I was referring to things like the inability to burp without following up by saying "Burp!", and the need to compliment my own cooking during a dinner party.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Statistical Individual (i.e. an oxymoron)

I just found out last night that the daughter-in-law (basically—you know how complicated modern relationships are) of a friend has breast cancer. She was diagnosed at Stage 3, with three tumors in her breast and lymph nodes infected as well. Her doctors recommended a plan of attack and told her she has about a 50% chance of survival. Rather than start her treatments immediately, she instead flew to Chicago for a weekend to watch one of her daughters graduate from boot camp. The doctors did not think this was such a good idea.

I, on the other hand, think it was great. Life is, after all, for living. And watching your daughter graduate is a big deal. And I also want to point out, as I believe I have before, that the statistic her doctors quoted her—that she has a 50% chance of survival—does not actually apply to her. Statistics are very useful in determining a trend, but say not a single thing about the individual. She is 100% alive while she's alive—and that's really the only important thing to think about.

Not one of my doctors has quoted statistics at me this summer, which I've appreciated. It may just be that they didn't think I was going to survive anyway, and so why bother; I don't know. But I do know I wouldn't have cared.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Growing Up Again

Ian and I went to a symphony concert last week, to hear Gershwin's Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra and Beethoven's Symphony Number Seven. When I bought the tickets, last summer, the guest artist was supposed to be Sir Andre Previn, who was to do a two-week residency with the Seattle Symphony this fall, culminating in this program. I believe he was going to play the Gershwin and conduct the Beethoven. In the event, when we arrived at the symphony, the program was the same but the performer and conductor were not. For the most part it was nevertheless a fine experience. I found the trumpet solos in the Gershwin to be ever so slightly too sharp on the high notes—not quite enough for an involuntary cringe, but close. The rest of the music was excellent, and I correctly identified the theme to Beethoven's 7th before we went back in to hear it after intermission, so that was fun.

We decided, however, that we're good on live performances of the symphony for the next several years (unless there happens to be another performance of Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto, in which case I'll go), because the audience is an inevitable part of the show, and it turns out I'm a bit of an old stick-in-the-mud. We were sitting in the Founder's Tier, in the center of the third row, and the usher pointed the way to our seats. There were four people already seated in our way; we politely excused ourselves. The first two—no problem. The man of the second couple, however, said "Why didn't you go the other way? I'd think that you should have." "We came the way the usher directed," I said, and sat myself down. I then leaned forward and looked to my right, the way we hadn't come, and saw a line of 10 people already seated—a longer line of seats than there was to my left, the way we had come. Grrr. Of course there were all the people who coughed in the quiet places, and clapped between movements. And then, for the entire second half of the evening, the people sitting directly in front of me kept talking and laughing. I couldn't actually hear them, but every 30 seconds or so when one would have something new to say to the other, they would lean their heads together and completely block my view. I wanted to ask them very kindly, after the show, if it was the first time they'd ever been to the symphony. I did not.

This, however, is more about the symphony that I meant to write—my intended theme for this post was the sort of "rebirth" I've gone through this summer and fall, directly associated with the path of the cancer. In the hospital, for example, I was completely at the mercy of the people around me to take care of my needs, even the most basic (infancy). When I left the hospital and came home, I was still very weak and, while I didn't have to learn how to walk again, I certainly had to build up the strength to do so (toddlery). I couldn't write very well for a while—even the muscles in my hands had atrophied. So I learned to write (age 5-7), reread the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder series (age 6-12), pulled out all the old Calvin and Hobbes books (high school and college), and bought tickets to see a symphony. The last time I listened to classical music with any regularity was probably 1995, and it was at the symphony that the "rebirth" cycle came to my attention. I seem to be done going through personal eras, though. I'm not, for instance, finding any desire to pull out my old linguistics books. And I'm not finding it necessary to replay my swingin' single days, either.

Big weeks coming up for me: On Monday I meet with a genetics counselor to see about whether or not I have a particular gene mutation that has made my cancer more likely. If I do, there might be some implications for Mom's health, or Deane's future children's health. For me, of course, it's kind of academic—I have had cancer, four times, and so a genetic marker isn't really going to do much to predict whether or not it will happen at this point. Anyway, they'll probably draw some blood for DNA testing, and I'll hear sometime. I don't know how long it takes.

On Tuesday I have a MUGA, the one that looks at whether or not my heart is functioning well. I don't usually feel my heart pounding, but in general it definitely beats faster these days than it did in the past—like, 120 beats per minute when I'm just standing. Sitting or lying down it's usually upper 80s to mid-90s. I'll be interested to see what the MUGA says.

On Wednesday I have a bone scan and a neck-to-pelvis CT, followed by my chemo (put off by a day because of the MUGA and my horseback riding schedule). I'll be at the clinic about 9-6 next Wednesday. Then it's Thanksgiving Weekend.

Then, on Wednesday 3 December I have my next brain MRI and meet with Dr Jason, then on the 4th I meet with Dr Specht. So I will have more information in the next two weeks. Whether it will be enough information to estimate when I am "done" with treatments remains to be seen.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I seem to remember, dimly in the past, taking showers pretty regularly. My hair was very straight and fine, and showed the oil pretty quickly, although, for the sake of its long-term health, I didn't wash it daily. For a long time I would wear it down on the clean day and up on the next day . . . although even then, even though I wasn't washing my hair daily, I still showered. Hmmm. You see, I don't really shower all that often anymore—maybe just two or three times a week. I've assumed it was because of my hair—why bother to get the rest of the body clean, I've assumed my thinking was, when the most obvious potentially regularly dirty part of me—my hair—is noticeably in absentia.

I suppose another reason I haven't been showering much is that I don't get sweaty very often. I'm not spending long hours (okay, it was only ever long minutes) on the treadmill these days, so I only really sweat on Mondays at my riding lesson. In Gyrotonic I get a little warm—but the purpose is not to sweat, it's to make your strength lengthy and flexible. Anyway, I took the dogs on a long walk this afternoon (1.8 miles, courtesy of Google Maps line measuring tool), and actually did get a little sweaty by the time I was done climbing up and down the hills and being dragged around (much less, it's true—he seems to be maturing ever so slowly) by Hoover.

Anyway, for this week, I bathed at Olympus Spa on Monday night . . . and I'm pretty sure that's the last time I got more than my hands wet. And what is it, Thursday? I might be very smelly and just not aware of it—you know, familiarity and all—but Ian hasn't been complaining, nor have the dogs. Of course, familiarity might cover them as well. And it's not like it takes a long time—without the long hair to wash and the legs to shave . . . Ah HA! I think I've just figured it out! In general, I like a nice, smooth leg (on me). And my leg hairs, in general, grow fast and thick. They're not doing that right now! In fact, there's hardly any hair left on my legs at all. I do give them a nominal shave periodically, but nothing like the daily shave they used to receive.

Well. Thanks, Internet, for being a sounding board that led to the solution of this latest mystery of the cancer-recovery process.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

1 Down, 17 To Go

Last night I took my last Keppra pill. Keppra is the one that was helping me not have seizures; the fact that Dr. Jason deemed a new prescription unnecessary when the refills ran out seems like a good thing to me. I haven't had a new brain MRI yet, but I will in about two weeks. With Keppra gone, my medicine list now reads as follows:

Primary Therapies:


1. Herceptin: Engineered antibody, for Her2NEU positive cancers.

2. Taxol: Traditional chemo, made from yew trees

3. Navelbine: Traditional chemo


4. Pamidronate: For bone density

5. Lupron: To block ovarian function (keep estrogen down)

Premeds, so I tolerate Primary Therapies:


6. Dexamethazone: Keeps me from feeling like I have the flu with Taxol

7. Zofran: Blocks nausea

8. Ranitidine: Blocks stomach acid

9. Benadryl: Keeps me from having an allergic reaction to Taxol (also makes me LOOPY)

Things I am taking to counteract side effects:

3 times/day:

10. Glutamine powder: to assuage neuropathy, which makes my fingers and toes tingly and a little painful

11. Vitamin B-6: Same as glutamine

1 time/day

12. Bactrim: Sulfa antibiotic as a prophylactic against a pneumonia recurrence

13. Protonix: Keeps stomach acid down

5 times/week

14. Neupogen: The shot I give myself to boost white cell production


15. Epotin: Given at the clinic to boost red cell production

Meds for Specific, Finite issues


16. Fluconazole: 10 days, for a relapse of thrush (probably brought on by the juice I was drinking 3Xday with my glutamine. I have started mixing the glutamine just with water, which is gross, but less gross than a throat full of scales I can feel when I swallow)


17. Iron Sucrose: 4 times, to help my blood accept the Epotin to build more red cells. It looks like coffee in the drip bag. That is, it looks like the coffee I make. It looks like a double espresso. Fortunately, it didn't feel like that.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ian's Pictures From Tacoma

You can check out a small selection of Ian's photos here if you'd like. Really, a lovely town.

Monday, November 10, 2008


I turned 36 yesterday, and even though I unmercifully mocked Ian for wanting at least a small get-together with his friends when he turned 34 last month (we actually attended a fabulous wedding on the day) I did, after all, really appreciate all the sweet birthday wishes I received, and, I'm embarrassed to admit, I called out those friends who forgot, or even only appeared to forget. Which kind of makes me cringe right now, because you'd think 36 would be mature enough to act like it.

Anyway, I did have a great weekend. Ian and I took Mom and Marsh to Tacoma for a mini-break.

Now that you've stopped either laughing or waiting, in disbelief, for me to go on and tell you where we really went, I will. We went to Tacoma for the weekend. It was fantastic. The purpose of the trip was primarily to thank Mom and Marsh, and mostly Marsh (because Mom was off gallivanting around Europe for a couple weeks), for watching our dogs all summer while I was either in the hospital or convalescing too much to really want to deal with an exuberant puppy. They refused to let us pay them, and in fact didn't even let us pay for food, or the kennel that was eventually deemed necessary to keep Hoover home. In fact, if you need dogsitting, they're AWESOME.

Anyway, two nights in a nice hotel was way cheaper than weeks of the Barking Lounge (where Hoover likes to hang out for short stays, including this last weekend; Spackle is mature and relatively predictable so we're willing to pawn him off on friends who we believe will still be friends after the experience), so it was a pleasure to be able to give those nights to Mom and Marsh.

We all met up Friday evening (Ian and I, very cleverly we thought, took 509 all the way down and around Dash Point instead of getting on the parking lot of I-5 on a Friday at rush hour—the route was only a little more distance, and much more interesting) and had dinner at Katie Downs on the waterfront at Ruston Way. We had a nightcap in our hotel bar—the Hotel Murano, naturally—afterwards.

Saturday morning we spent some time in the hot shop at the Museum of Glass—Mom and I were both agitated the whole time, because it's really hot down there and anything could happen. Someone kept spraying water from a squirt bottle on people and things, and various bits of damp newspaper that they were using to shape cylinders of glass kept drying out and sparking or even catching fire. In their bare hands. We ate lunch at the museum, had a stroll around the old downtown (including a stop to look at fabulous colored stones at 67-year-old Le Roy Jewelers—that is, Mom and I stopped to look at stones—the boys went to start their naps early), naps, wine hour at the hotel, and a fabulous birthday dinner for both Ian and me, treated by Mom, at the Pacific Grill.

Sunday, my actual birthday, after we checked out, we went on a bit of a driving tour with the destination of Point Defiance Park. We stopped by Stadium High School (set for the movie, which I love, 10 Things I Hate About You) on the way, then made it down to the water at Point Defiance, and then saw the ferry that runs from there to Vashon. Ian and I had a eureka moment—we would go home via ferries and Vashon! We ate a somewhat early lunch at the Antique Sandwich Company—reubens all around—took Mom and Marsh back to their car at the hotel, and parted ways.

We had a bit of time to wait before the ferry, so Ian and I went back to Point Defiance Park and spent some time looking at an amazing duck pond. We recognized at least four different species of duck-like bird (including, of course, the ubiquitous mallards), and a couple different species of sea gull (yes, yes, I know there is no particular bird that is officially called the sea gull). In fact, I was interested enough in all the birds—those who know me well will agree that this was a surprise—that I wanted an information board telling me what the different species were. Alas, there wasn't one, and as Ian said "this was maybe the only time in your life that the universe had a chance of educating you about birds, and it missed out." This is probably true.

We enjoyed our ferry ride from Point Defiance to Tahlequah, stopped once in the middle of the island for a snack of Cheese Mix crackers and chips and hickory almonds, caught a ferry to Fauntleroy, picked up Hoover, and were back home around 5pm. When L&S dropped off Spackle, they invited us to join them for an early dinner at the Palace Kitchen—normally something I would totally go for. But we'd had a really great meal only the night before, and I was in the mood for something simpler. So we went to the Wing Dome instead, where I had a pint of Manny's and 10 (well, 9 because Ian had one) Four-Alarm classic wings with blue cheese and two pieces of celery to round it out. We then took the dogs to Woodland Park to run around in the dark (not the zoo part of the park), then came home and had chocolate rootbeer floats and watched the new Get Smart.

In all, a really really great weekend.

Oh yes—Mom wanted me to say that she really enjoyed the art gallery part of the hotel—each floor features a different glass artist, with a piece of work, plus several pictures of the artist in the hot shop creating.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

But I Just Feel Like Me

I had lunch yesterday with Debra Jarvis, who used to be a chaplain at the SCCA and is now on to different things, all of them hugely in support of life and connection and finding the joy in living. I hadn't seen her for over three months, since I'd been in the hospital. She brought a camera (which we forgot to use), because she wanted to take a picture of us together. Because I am the only person she has ever known—out of hundreds of cancer patients—to get intubated in the ICU and come out of it.

This is why Dr. Specht calls me Miracle Girl, I suppose. And maybe it is a miracle—I don't know. I haven't felt anything drastic or shocking—from my perspective, I am simply, comfortably myself.

Okay, Seriously Now.

About a month ago I took a class in marketing myself and my writing. The idea was that, since the economic slowdown (crashdown, rather), I should be bringing in some cash instead of always just letting it out. Ian and I revamped our budget—that is, we actually drew up a budget designed to control our spending instead of just describe it—and that helped quite a bit (do I really need to spend $500 at Anthropologie most months? Do we have to have $150 worth of books from Amazon each month, simply because it's free to ship?). We have had, for several years now, the habit of simply buying whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted it. It's never been a long-term sustainable practice, but it's much less sustainable these days.

Anyway, I realize that I am particularly lucky to be in this position—to have time to figure out how to make some money—but lucky or not, I'd really like to continue not having to have a 9-5 office job that allows me a mere two weeks and Christmas Day off each year. If I had had such a job, I would've had to take a leave of absence or just quit over the summer, because such a schedule was completely unsustainable with the way my health was. Sure, I'm particularly healthy-feeling right now for the activities that I'm taking part in—horseback riding and Gyrotonic, taking the dogs to Magnussen and walking them to the beach—but part of the reason I can do these things is that I have lots of time to rest and recover before and afterwards.

What I want to do to earn money is write. Getting some essays published, which will lead to getting a book published, these are my Big Plans, mentioned obliquely in this blog several weeks ago. I feel that I have a lot of powerful writing in this blog, for starters, that could really help people, or at least entertain them, and pay me a bit of a salary. In fact, I have almost ten years of writing about my experiences with cancer in various places on our computer, dealing with me and this disease and how I've felt about it from Day One.

The problem is figuring out where to start, what to tell, how to tell it. I've written half of one essay so far since deciding to buckle down, and it was weeks ago. As you may have noticed, I haven't even been writing my blog entries consistently since I sat a month ago in class and decided to write. Part of it is simple childish contrariness, but regardless, the result is that I'm actually working less well now than I was before I decided to work.

I'm not sure at this point how to solve this internal struggle aside from just buckling down and doing it . . . so that's what I'm going to do.

If any of you have any connections with editors or publishers though, let me know. Yes, I am totally willing to exploit my relationships with you all. Totally.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ian the Internet Search God

Ian has a gift for finding things on the internet. If you want to know if there's an ice cream shop in Oakland, he finds one on his phone—with directions—while we're stuck in traffic heading south on I-83 (he had a strawberry cheesecake shake; I had a chocolate one with bits of chocolate in it). Trying to find the most environmental large pick-up truck? He found the Dodge "Contractor Special"; a diesel hybrid that had outlets—powered by the diesel engine/generator—that ran your power tools. Unfortunately, Dodge did not actually follow through and produce the Contractor Special. Have a hankering for a good octopus video? He can find the ones that haven't even made it to You Tube yet.

And, he found me instructions for unsaving a Mahjong game. You go to my computer, C drive, users, my user name, saved games, Microsoft games, Mahjong titans, and then you delete the saved game. A touch inconvenient, but it worked. And now, I no longer have to go through the extra step of hitting "no" all—let's say 3 per week—times that I open the game.

Note: I just read the comment on my previous post and saw that Joel is also clearly an internet search god. Thank you, Joel.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dell Legacy

The, oh, third guy I talked to with Dell a couple weeks ago, as soon as we'd opened the communication and he was controlling my computer, asked if he could close down my programs, then asked if I wanted my Mahjong game saved. I said sure, close down the programs but no, don't bother saving the game. But he said "No, I save it anyway," and he did, and now every time I open Mahjong, which is much more often than I'm going to admit to, it asks me if I want to open my saved game.

The first time, I said sure, I'll open my saved game. I completed the puzzle, went on to other games, closed Mahjong at the end of the night and thought nothing more of it. The next time I opened the program, it asked if I'd like to open my saved game. I said sure, completed the puzzle, went on to other games, closed Mahjong at the end of the night and thought nothing more of it. The third time I opened the program, it asked me if I'd like to open my saved game and I said yes, then realized that I already knew this game—I had already won it twice. I went into the Help section, to see what it had to say about unsaving games, and here is where I came upon yet another mildly so but still irritating feature of Windows Vista: there is no way to unsave a game. There are instructions on saving games, which is distressingly easy it turns out, but nothing about making them go away once you have successfully completed them.

So from now on, evidently every time I open Mahjong, it will ask me if I want to open my saved game. I say no.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Inadvertent Week Off

I totally did not mean to be off the airwaves (fiber optic cables?) for so long. I'll give a quick run-down of what I've been up to though, since last Wednesday. Okay—Wednesday we signed a new mortgage, which makes us feel like we have a lot of extra cash. You know there's the grace period of one month before you start paying, and then, since we refinanced in October, our property taxes had to be paid by the mortgage company, which we rolled into the loan amount, so we don't have to pay those out of pocket, either. That's a total of close to $2500 not going out—plus, somehow, we got $100 back after closing. So all in all, last Wednesday was a good day.

Thursday I cooked my first roast beef, and we had three dear and dorky friends (you all can decide if you're one or the other or both) join us. We made purple mashed potatoes (mashed potatoes out of purple potatoes that is, no dye involved), which looked kind of like Muppet food, and I couldn't really decide if that meant Muppets ate it or it was made out of Muppets. At any rate, VERY purple. I highly recommend them. Oh, and they were tasty, too—a feast for the palate as well as the eye. We also had sautéed Brussels sprouts and mushrooms, and a salad. I made a pear and raspberry pie for dessert, but E&J brought cupcakes, so we just had tiny slivers of pie and I sent home big pieces with the guests. And Ian and I finished it when we arrived back home Sunday night. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

At some point Thursday morning it occurred to me to wonder why I had decided to throw a small dinner party the night before we went on a trip . . . but there is no reasonable explanation. Anyway, Friday morning we drove down to SeaTac and left our car, and flew to Oakland and picked up a different car, filled it with our friend S and her two daughters P&A and all the accoutrements of travel with toddlers, and our one shared bag, and we drove to the Anderson Valley (home of an excellent organic brewery) for a wedding weekend extravaganza of a dear college friend. The weekend included a barbeque Friday night, the ceremony on Saturday afternoon and reception following (and Ian turned 34 woot!), and a brunch Sunday morning before we drove back to Oakland, stopping briefly for milkshakes, and returned home. All events were fabulous and romantic and heartfelt and just what they should be.

Monday I had my riding lesson then took the back roads through Duvall, Carnation and Fall City to Mom's to pick up Hoover and Spackle and help Mom and Marsh with some computer and cell phone issues, then Ian took the bus out from Seattle (the novelty didn't quite wear off by the time he arrived in the booming metropolis of Maple Valley 1 ½ hours after getting off work), we ate a tasty dinner and came home.

Yesterday I had my chemo and got my blood test results and my new tumor markers and then I came home and slept off my Benadryl; the dex kicked in then around 11:30pm when I turned off my light and after an hour I got up and voted, then cleaned the dining room and read some Harper's; this morning we met with Dr. Specht to discuss the test results.

They were very good. My markers made another precipitous drop, from 196 to 118 (out of 37), and we found out that when I started last May, I was at a stellar 1,008! I don't know what the clinic record is, but I feel that I must have been pretty close, because at that level it seems like my blood must have been mostly cancer.

My oxygen levels, when I remember to check them now (which isn't often), are at 99, so that's good too.

And now my hours of awakeness last night have caught up with me, and I am tired.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Birthday Boy at the Start of the Big Adventure

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Seattle From the Other Side

On Sunday Ian and I took the day, and our boat, and L&S (I told you S and I were still friends—I truly have recovered from the 8th-grade-underpants-as-a-birthday-gift-in-algebra debacle) and went through the locks and into Elliot Bay. Ian had asked to go through the locks and up the Duwamish River for his birthday, and as it is next weekend and we're attending the wedding of some dear friends in central California, we had our adventure this last weekend instead.

It was spectacular from start to finish. First of all, it was a misty morning, with thick gray clouds hanging just over the surface of the water. Hints of buildings and other boats, the bridges, and golden fall trees showed through the mist from time to time, somehow making us feel even more alone. L kept saying it all looked post-apocalyptic. It really did, except the mist smelled of saltwater and not burning buildings and other disturbing things.

S had been through the locks a few times with my family when we were kids; she remembered my dad saying that locks time was "no nonsense" time. Don't joke with him, don't play around, and jump to obey if he issues an order. Locks time was no nonsense time for us, too, but with much less stress. We went through the big lock, as the small lock is still under repair from some damage that happened to one of the doors this summer, but as we were almost the smallest boat, we rafted on to other larger boats and didn't have to be in charge of minding the lines as we floated up or down. On our way out to sea, the smallest boat in the lock was a dinghy about 10 feet long with a 9 horse engine. The guy could almost have just portaged it around.

The first thing we noticed once getting through to salt water was that the mist over the salt water was much rawer and colder. We gassed up at Shilshole, then ran around the point of Discovery Park and through the middle of Elliot Bay to the Duwamish. It was pretty neat to see all the industry up and down the Duwamish—marinas and ship builders/repairers (a small ferry in a dry dock); tug boat companies; cranes hovering over docks where container ships come in; the (now pretty ramshackle) building that used to house the marina office of the now non-existent dry dock where we stored a childhood boat; a barge on its way to Alaska stacked high with containers and a couple trucks on top including a cement truck; a metal scrap yard; a cement factory; a couple of dilapidated houses and some cute ones; two or three bald eagles; several riverside pocket parks. We went up past the South Park Marina to an unknown marina, then decided without a depth finder we'd best turn back around and see sea again.

We then had lunch in West Seattle, then sped over to Blake Island, where we circumnavigated the island (saw a couple sea lions), then moored for a pit stop. While we were there, the daily Argosy tour boat departed, then returned 10 minutes later to pick up two last stragglers, then departed again. In the summer, if you miss your boat it usually doesn't matter, as there are several sailings a day. But in the off season, the next sailing is a week away. And Ian, poor guy, was shat upon by a cormorant high up in a tree.

The fog had burned off by lunchtime, and the wind was mostly calm, so we sped pretty much directly back to Shilshole and the locks on our way home. We did encounter an interesting (read: would've been bad to go over on a plane at 35mph) wave formation: a section of water that looked like it was full of big boxes, from the juxtaposition of a ferry wake crossing a container ship wake.

My overall impressions were these: The lakes are very safe, and very domestic. Seattle and the neighborhoods surrounding Lake Washington and Lake Union look tamed and posh. But immediately upon arriving in salt water, the whole tenor of the city changes. There's a wildness, a grittiness to Seattle as seen from sea. It's connected to the rest of the world—there is nothing but your own good sense keeping you from heading straight across the Pacific to Japan. The water felt different, too. I can't say I could tell a difference in the buoyancy of the boat, but it did respond to a lot more kinetic energy than will even be in Lake Washington. Lake Washington is either turbulent from boat traffic or from wind; Elliot Bay has both those things (and the wind can be quite bad over such a wide expanse of even inland water), but it also has currents. Currents affect the way you dock, the way you drive, the way wakes and wind waves come at you. It's very exciting, and we were thrilled with our day. To see some pictures (Ian took about 500 but he's culled quite a bit so don't worry), go to Ian's photo page. Did I mention it was cold?

All in all, it was a relatively inexpensive birthday present, costing us only about $60 in fuel for the day (L bought the lunch) . . . until today, when the price doubled after Ian replaced the bed that Hoover ate—evidently all over the back yard—while we were gone for 9 ½ hours. Sigh.

It Seems the Drugs Do Deserve Some of the Credit

So here it is, 2:37 in the morning, and I'm wide awake. This week Ian is here, and we went to bed at a reasonable time (about 11:30). I turned off my light a little after midnight, then lay there in bed, getting awaker and awaker, until I finally gave up around 1:30 and just got out of bed. I made a list of things to do and people to call, ate a couple slices of bread and butter and two pieces of really, really stale licorice, and now I'm blogging. I'm not tired or sleepy at all, so I think I can forgive myself for what appeared to be total self-indulgence last week in the matter of 30 Rock and the 3:20 am finishing time, and just assume that even a mere 2 mg of dexamethazone is 2 too many for me to sleep.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I was walking around Fred Meyer this afternoon, carrying three pairs of underpants and on my way to search for Lexol and malted milk, when a middle-aged man came up and spoke to me. I've stopped wearing thong underwear for the most part, since I've found these Maidenform hipsters which are comfortable for riding as well as day-to-day wear, so it wasn't that embarrassing. They weren't fancy colors, either, just two beiges and a black, so he may not have even noticed. It's not the first time in my life that I've had new underwear in public anyway (and the lingerie department doesn't count, although the produce section of Fred Meyer does), and by far the least humiliating. The most humiliating was in 8th grade when my best friend, S (of S&L—yes, we're still friends—I've recovered somewhat since this harrowing experience) called to ask my mother what I wanted for my birthday, and my mother told her I needed underpants, and S BOUGHT THEM FOR ME. AND THEN GAVE ME THE BOX IN ALGEBRA CLASS. WHERE I SAT IN FRONT OF A BOY I HAD A CRUSH ON. And then, even though S said "Maybe you don't want to open this box here . . ." I OPENED THE BOX. I tell you, for a short time, I was in beet red, agonizing, 13-year-old hell.

The man today, who looked like a really nice man—short gray hair, no beard or moustache, clean-smelling clothes—asked if I was sporting a "chemo cut".

I was wearing one of my homemade calico headscarves (note: scarves? don't hide the fact that I'm bald.) "Yes, I am," I replied.

"Can I give you a hug?" the man asked.

"Sure," I said. As he hugged me, I felt care, and yes, love in his energy.

"How far along in your treatments are you?" he asked, stepping back.

"Um," I said, "that's a little complicated." I gave him a 30-second run down of my summer, and ended with "I'm doing really well, but I have no idea how much longer this will be going on."

"Do you need any help, any help at all?" he asked. "Someone to mow the lawn or walk dogs or anything?"

"I don't," I said, smiling at him, "nothing at all. I've got a really great support system and everything is well taken care of. Why do you ask?"

"Well," he said, "I lost someone very dear to me."

I said I was very sorry, and thanked him for his offer and kindness, and we parted ways. And then I spent the next ten minutes misty-eyed, carrying my underpants around Fred Meyer. I eventually remembered what I was looking for, but I didn't find either item.

Graduated . . . Sort Of.

Hoover, who is outside on the porch banging the empty food bowls around because I heard a crunch earlier and found him perched under the dining room table chewing on a strip of oak from the heater's air-intake grate in the dining room, graduated from Intermediate Training Class last night. We were late to class because we got stuck behind the Fremont Bridge, which did not open on the ½ hour but rather five minutes later, and then stayed open for 10 minutes, and so everyone (the other three dogs, that is) had done the graduation course already by the time we arrived. I hadn't seen the course last week because I was on the phone with Dell, but Hoover had seen it and so we made it through pretty well. It went something like this: A sit-stay on one end of the room, I walk across the room and release him and have him come. He does something called a finish which ends with him sitting by my side. He then heels through a right-angled course of about a dozen orange cones, does an automatic sit at the end, goes to his rug, heels up and over a 2X12 bridge, sit-stays and then releases through a hoop, then does a stand-stay, then a down-stay, then I go back to my seat and release him and he comes to me, all off-leash. This actually does sound like quite a bit of stuff—however, since he's entirely food-motivated, it's pretty easy, with a treat in hand, to get him to do pretty much anything. What gets tedious is getting him to do pretty much anything without a treat in hand. Anyway, we made it through the course successfully, the dogs were all released from their leashes to play, and Hoover immediately went over to the counter where the "Big Cookie Certificates" were, put his paws up and helped himself to his cookie.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Today the resolution to my DVD problems arrived in the mail in the form of a program called PowerDVD. Yes, at long last, I can watch Baby Mama! Of course, after last night's marathon session of 30Rock, I feel like I'm related to Tina Fey. It turns out I'm not so good at self-regulating. Without Ian here, I didn't even try to go to bed—just watched episode after episode until I finished season 1—at 3:20am. Spackle slept pretty soundly through it all, there on Torpid in the basement; Hoover lay by my feet next to the couch and periodically stretched and looked up at me as if to say "are you [bleeping] crazy?!? Why are we still down here???" And, since I can't watch even good TV without doing something, I finished knitting two hats, too!

I tell you, even 2mg of Dex is a lot.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

All Alone

The dogs and I dropped Ian off at the airport this evening so that he could fly down to San Diego for a conference. On fish, of course. And math. He's going to be presenting something, and so he spent most of the weekend and a couple evenings last week working on it.

I'm not scared to be here in the house alone, although when I arrived home I discovered that the back door not only hadn't been locked, it hadn't even been closed all the way. If we'd had a strong wind (as evidently happened last weekend when we were in Idaho), it would've just swung open—an invitation to all the crooks and baddies in our neighborhood. But the house looked completely undisturbed.

It has actually been broken into before, maybe five years ago. We had left around noon to drive to Kamloops for a ski week at Sun Peaks (fantastic resort! Highly recommended!), and our housesitters, who arrived after dark around 9:00pm, found glass on the floor in the guest bedroom. There's an exterior door into that room (which is now my office), mullioned from top to bottom, which opens into the backyard. The glass was from the pane next to the handle (of course), and was the only sign of disturbance, and as evidently no one had opened the door, the alarm hadn't been tripped. If only the would-be thief had known, he or she could've saved themselves the trouble and noise of breaking glass. At the time, the handle and lock system on the door was simply broken, and they could've taken it apart with a Q-Tip.

The two things about that experience that gave me the willies were that it seemed like someone had been watching us pack up our car, because we were clearly going on a trip and not going to be around for awhile, and that maybe the housesitters scared him or her away. I don't like the idea of people we care about surprising crooks who might be violent.

Anyway, contrary to the tenor of this post up 'til now, I'm not actually worried about anyone breaking in or otherwise disturbing my sense of security. What I'm worried about is the fact that Ian, for a few months now, has been getting up every morning at 7:30 and feeding the dogs, then himself, then taking the dogs on a walk and putting them outside, and leaving me in peace to sleep for another 2 hours. Dogs have uncannily reliable internal clocks, and I am not—I repeat I AM NOT—intending to take over Ian's schedule with them, even though I will be taking over their feeding and exercise.

They seemed to be aware after we'd returned home and they'd eaten dinner tonight that one of their parents was missing. They'll be really aware tomorrow morning at 7:30 when I growl at them and go back to sleep until 9:30, ignoring their bladders and hunger pangs. Friday evening when Ian comes home, they'll be in raptures. And so will I.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dell Update

Because this is of course the topic most compelling to everyone reading this blog, I thought I'd let you know what happened during my phone call with Dell last night.

Not much.

I was on the phone 112 minutes this time (still longer than the movie), and even the Level Two Resolution Specialist was unable to help. On Monday afternoon I will be called by his supervisor, a Lever Three Resolution Specialist, who will maybe send me some software.

The most interesting part of the phone call—which started at 9:30pm—was when my technician, presumably to check other multimedia hardware on my computer, briefly turned on the webcam. Of course, maybe he just wanted to see who he was talking to once every 17 minutes, and breathing into the ear of the rest of the time. It was pretty uncomfortable, actually, to see my bald self in half-silhouette because of the light slightly behind and slightly above my head, knitting, right there in the middle of my screen.

At least I had already closed down the Us Weekly windows.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


I would like to watch the movie "Baby Mama," starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. It looks like it will be very funny, from what I have seen of the scenes that slideshow through the main menu. In part I want to watch it because Tina Fey, with her uncanny resemblance to Sarah Palin, is so sought after right now, but mostly it just looks like it'll make me laugh, and laughter is supposed to be the best medicine, as they say.

I cannot currently watch "Baby Mama," however, even though I am currently in possession of two copies, because both copies are Blu Ray format and neither one of them plays on my new computer with the Blu Ray player. That is to say, neither one of them plays past the blue screen with the film ratings information (this movie is PG-13: Parents, be aware that there may be strong language and adult jokes), where my computer locks up and everything stops. Thank you, Netflix, for sending me a replacement disk so immediately when the first one didn't play—it has come in handy already, to verify that it is not the problem of the disk itself. Even though I have to say, as of yet it hasn't been very entertaining as a movie.

I realize that technology changes rapidly, but I'm having a hard time believing that a movie released on DVD last week has already outstripped the abilities of the computer I purchased at the end of June. However, having spent a total of 208 minutes (158 of those this evening, the rest yesterday) on the phone with Dell Technical Support and having reached no resolution, I'm finding my belief system starting to deteriorate.

It's interesting to spend two hours and 38 minutes in a row on the phone with someone in India—or rather it's not interesting at all. Using some new system called "Dell Connect," my technician was able to see my desktop and manipulate my computer from afar—that was interesting for about three minutes, then embarrassing for about five, because he could see what I could see: Us Weekly's daily newsletter, and two other windows of Us "news" showing items of interest I'd clicked on; a mah jongg game in progress; a picture of Ian and Spackle, wet and miserable, camping outside Bellingham next to train tracks one May.

You might imagine that having someone in tech support for a major computer company controlling your computer would mean that windows would pop open and closed and things would be uploaded and downloaded and installed and uninstalled at break-neck speed. You would be wrong. Tech support may have more ideas of where to look for solutions than you, but that's it. It's still not a fast process.

Fortunately Ian came home soon after the beginning of my call and delivered the mail including—wait for it—the current paper issue of Us Weekly (jeez—don't I read anything else???). I was able to update myself of the goings on of Taylor Swift and that Jonas brother (split!), Miley Cyrus (sweet 16 at Disneyland! Two months before she turns 16! New Maltipoo pup!), Halle Berry (sexiest woman! at 40! and after having a kid!), and many other important people in my life. Then I had to pee, so I handed Ian the phone during one of the brief times that my technician had put me on hold, instead of just breathing endlessly in my ear the way I was breathing endlessly into his. I got the phone back before the hold music ended. Then Ian had to leave for Hoover's second-to-last puppy training class without me (at the time, it seemed better to see this through to the end); then I went downstairs and got my knitting.

Then, eventually, after much installing and uninstalling and restarting and reconnecting with India my technician spoke again: "I am sorry, I have no more ideas. I think right now we should end, and tomorrow night we should begin again. It will probably not be me, however, it will probably be a Level Two Resolution Specialist, who can give you a call back at the time of your choosing, after 8 o'clock or 9 o'clock at night."

"Uh, okay, how about 9 o'clock." What better way to spend a Friday night (after dinner with friends, that is), then sitting at home, patently not watching a movie I really want to see?

At least I'll be working with a Resolution Specialist, though, and not the Dragging-Out-The-Process specialist I was evidently working with today. It gives me hope, that one day at last I will get to enjoy "Baby Mama".

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Puppy energy
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Proof positive. Me, Shadow and Sadie in the Maple Creek (pronounced "crick") meadow.
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Please throw this stick for me!
Gross. I am not touching that stick.
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My temporary handicapped parking pass (red, rather than blue, to mark its temporariness) expires in January, six months after I received it. I no longer feel particularly handicapped—I'm not short of breath walking across a parking lot anymore—and since I rode horses for two hours Sunday and had a ½ hour lesson yesterday, I'm pretty sure not many other people would think I am handicapped anymore either. But because of all that horsing around (ha ha), I was stiff enough today before my infusion that I quite gladly took the last handicapped parking space on level A of the garage at the SCCA. I have to say, with my gimpy, stiff-legged gait, I looked pretty much like I needed it.

Lost and Found

We were in Idaho over the weekend, visiting K&A, who happen to be the parents of Dr. Jason. It was actually a little funny in my appointment a couple weeks ago with Jason, when, after much official, formal doctor discussion with him and with a resident, he asked if I had any other questions and I said "Yes, actually, we're thinking of visiting your parents in a couple weeks—will that be okay?" I didn't look at the resident's face, but I assume he was at least bemused.

Anyway, where K&A live, outside Harvard, Idaho, and pretty much just past the eastern edge of the Palouse, is a forested and fielded paradise for humans, horses, and dogs alike. For the first several years when we (and occasionally just I) went over, Spackle (our 7-year-old Lab) would always come on horse rides with us and Kit, their Australian shepherd. It's great fun for the dogs—they tear around the woods, following scent trails for elk and deer, bear and wild turkeys, but alas it turned out to be too much fun for Spackle's weak leg joints. One year he tore his ACL, and after the $3,000 to repair that (and we'd already spent twice that on repairing his two dysplasia-ed hips), we decide leaping and racing around through the woods after horses for several miles and several hours at a time was too much for him (and our pocketbooks).

Kit died late last winter (the first of Spackle's close friends to go, and he missed him when we were out this weekend), and K&A's new dog, Sadie, is about 2 years old now. She and Hoover get along great with their puppy energy, so we decided they would both accompany me, Ian and K on our Sunday ride (Saturday it poured rain), and A would stay at home and keep Spackle company.

The first thing that happened was that Sadie ran to the front of the line of horses, and Hoover, afraid to pass too close to them, stayed at the back of the line, distressed. "Ar, ar, ar, ar, ar, ar, ar, ar, ar," he hooted, in time with his running. We finally figured out what was wrong—he wanted to be with Sadie but was afraid to get to her—and I, on the lead horse (Shadow hates to be behind anyone), called back that it was okay, and he could come up. He girded his loins, put on a burst of speed, and raced past us to catch up with Sadie. He immediately shut up. The horses, of course, took no notice of him at all.

We continued on our ride, and the two dogs took off into the woods. After about five minutes, Sadie came back. No Hoover, and even after we paused to discuss, still no Hoover. K was of the opinion that Hoover would either catch up with us (we were going to be taking a big loop, around the bit of forest that the dogs had gone into) or go back home; it seemed reasonable to me that that was the case, and Ian reluctantly agreed to go on instead of going back. We periodically shouted for Hoover, but he didn't show up at all.

Finally, just as we arrived in the yard at home, K and Sikem (A's horse, which means "horse" in Nez Perce) saw Hoover behind us. A and Spackle had come out of the house to greet us, and as Hoover approached the driveway from the other side of the Jerome Creek Road, we all started yelling for him. He came tearing down to the cattle grate crossing Jerome Creek and stopped, afraid to walk across and too tired to jump (which he'd done on the way out—at least a 4-ft lateral jump, from practically a stand-still), and unaware of the board placed across the cattle grate for humans and dogs to use. We all turned our horses toward the grate so that we could go help him, and he took one look at us and leaped away into the woods up the road. The dog was, it seems, completely wigged out. Here he'd been lost in the woods, now he was at a place he recognized but he couldn't quite get to, and he heard voices he recognized but they seemed to be coming from these weird Giant Dogs and he couldn't take it. I quickly dismounted so I looked more familiar and ran down to the grate. He came back pretty quickly when he saw that I was, in fact, still human, and that I had a dog treat in my hand. He was too jittery to learn how to walk the plank, however, and I was starting to wonder what to do (I knew I couldn't carry a 55-lb wriggling mass across the plank myself—my legs felt pretty tired from the ride as it was), when Spackle rushed in and saved the day.

For Spackle, any excuse to enter water serves, and so he forded the creek below the bridge and showed Hoover how to get home that way. Let me tell you—that was one relieved puppy, and four relieved adults. K then suggested a bit more riding, this around their property (84 acres), and we all, including Spackle, obliged. Hoover stuck pretty close to his older brother, and looked back frequently at the horses, for about the first half of that ride. Then he saw elk and had to chase them (that's his "job" out at Mom's—no matter how hard we try we can't get him to stop badgering the herd that wanders around her place) and he disappeared again. I took it upon myself to stay in one place until he returned. He'd gone through a barbed wire fence in chasing the elk and pretended to not be able to figure out how to get back through, but he rejoined us quickly enough and stuck more or less around for the remainder of the excursion. We're all pretty sure he's figured it out now, and he'll be the fine trail dog whenever we're there.

In all, a good weekend.

I started my official riding lessons yesterday, and I was glad to only go for 30 minutes. My legs (and crotch) were already stiff and sore from the couple hours of riding the day before; fortunately, I think they're a little less so today. And I'm sure I'll be completely recovered by next Monday. So now, for the foreseeable future, my infusions will be on Tuesdays.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

All’s Well That Ends Well

Yesterday friends L and T and I went out for a glorious early fall afternoon on the boat. We were able to pull into one of the slips at Agua Verde and get take out (two Tacos de Bagre and one Burrito Puerco), which we then took out to the middle of Lake Washington between the two floating bridges. The water was glassy calm, so we went really fast. We stopped at Luther Burbank park to use the toilets. I've been several times since we got the boat, and each time it's easier to climb up the steep hill to the facilities. Yesterday I was hardly breathing hard at all.

After we returned the boat, T drove me to Ballard to pick up my car, poor dear 4-Runner, at the body shop, where L had helped me drop it off the day before.

Yes, it's true, I smashed up, very, very slightly (but oh, it felt painful to me!) the panels in both the driver's door and the passenger door on the left side of my car. This happened in the SCCA garage about ten days ago, after my infusion, when I was pulling out (of a handicapped spot no less) to go home. I didn't see the pillar behind me, and as I backed and turned, I slid right into it, scraping white paint in about a 6-inch oval on the two doors of the car. I also scraped the running board, but as that didn't involve a large spot of white paint on a red car, but just some almost invisible scratching, I decided to let it go.

I was embarrassed about the whole thing, because I'd just written such a glowing account of my own abilities as a driver. The truth is, though, that this is only the 3rd time in my life as a driver that I've driven into anything, the first time being when I was 15 and driving our '63 Galaxie convertible and I ran (slowly) into an alder sapling as I turned into a driveway (Mom: "You're going to hit that tree!" Me: "No I'm not!" CRASH!); the second being when I pulled a borrowed car into the garage of the house I was housesitting and crunched part of its doorframe against a boulder (note—there was an identical crunch two inches away on the same door frame).

Anyway, before I could decide whether or not to tell anyone aside from immediate family, Ian outed me to Dr. Jason in my appointment with him. Now, Dr. Jason had only just granted me permission to drive anyway, so I was a little hesitant to let him know that maybe he'd been hasty. But he just laughed and said that that accident wasn't my fault—it was entirely the fault of the engineering of the parking garage. And really, it is a very difficult garage.

Fortunately, it didn't cost much to get the blemishes repaired, however, and the car came home last night looking like new.

And now no one else will ever have to know.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

Something I Quite Enjoyed Seeing

Our drive up to Anacortes yesterday was accompanied by several groups of motorcyclists, the largest being about 15. It was impressive to see them fall into formation in one lane, staggered right-left-right-left etc, one behind the other. It was particularly neat to drive behind them and see the long straight lines. They were definitely behaving as a single organism, not as a bunch of individuals, though, so it threw off both Ian's and my normal driving styles. One isn't used to a vehicle as long as three semis in Washington State, although from what I understand a semi can still be itself and pull two trailers behind it on the interstates in Oregon. Believe me, it's scary to drive a Civic when one of those is on the road. It's scary enough to drive a 4-Runner.

A group of bikers got off I-5 just behind us when we exited to take SR 20 to the boat, a group we'd passed on the road earlier. One of the men (I think it was a man—he had man legs) was wearing a helmet with crazy gray hair attached to it. Well, once I stopped the car at the light at the end of the off ramp and looked in the rearview mirror, I saw that the man (this is why I can't be sure it was a man) was also wearing a skull face mask with his, we now decided, crazy death head helmet. Hoover, who likes to look at the "road movie" unwinding behind him as we drive, noticed the man right after I did. His ears, already perky, tensed. "wwwWOOF," he said. "WOOF!" "WOOF!" Scaredy cat.

We found out when we reached Anacortes that we had happened upon a Classic Motorcycle Show, which they hold there every year the same weekend. I swear, it looked like Sturgis. There were bikers there from Fairbanks, bikers from the Northwest, and bikers from the Mid West. We saw lots of Bikers for Christ (lots of denominations), and a mobile tattoo unit. We did not see any Hell's Angels, which was a bit of a disappointment. Two really, really cute things were a German shepherd lying in the shade of his owners cycle, next to his customized dog trailer; and two riders we saw from the back as they rode down the street, and the one holding on behind had short, curly, little old lady hair.

We were able to see the bikers and take a quick tour of the show because we were two hours earlier to our sailing than we'd meant to be, because I could've SWORN that the schedule changed from summer to fall on the 29th, not the 28th. But no, it changed yesterday and so we arrived just before 9:30am for a 12:05pm sailing. A lot of people who spent the beautiful weekend on the island were probably even more annoyed than me—I at least could drive back to town and look at some good choppers—but they all got stuck waiting many extra hours and extra boats to get home because a couple sailings had been removed.

Anyway, Orcas was beautiful, as always. Our trees that we and friend E planted in April all survived the summer of inattention from us (the cherries were a bit stressed to not have been coddled but they were hanging in there, and E's nuts—I mean nut trees—were all gorgeous—one chestnut had even fruited!), THANK YOU VERY MUCH everyone who watered them and talked to them. We're very, very happy about them. Ian's parents came over from Bellingham with us and stayed to camp last night; we ate blackberries and the four yellow plums our inherited plum tree produced; Spackle and Hoover swam at the (smelly, smelly) mudflats in Anacortes and tore around the property until they were exhausted; Ian and I replanted a lilac that appeared to have been pushed over, but not actually destroyed, by the mower; we killed some paper wasps nesting in the eaves of our outhouse, way too close to bare bottoms; we ate a fancy dinner at the Orcas Hotel before getting on our ferry home; we drove back through Anacortes at 9:10pm and nary a motorbike was to be seen.

It was the farthest afield I've been since May—fitting, really, that it was back to Orcas. Next trip: Jerome Creek, Idaho, home of Dr. Jason's parents and my favorite horse in the world.

Something I DIDN’T Need to See

Yesterday, on our drive up to Orcas Island, we passed a giant pick-up on the freeway with a chrome scrotum, complete with balls, hanging from the tow "package", as it were, and swaying slightly in the motion of the vehicle. Nice.

This was not particularly related to a summer of cancer treatments, except that it was unexpected, a little unsettling, and a touch nauseating as well.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


For the most part this summer, I have been entirely without fear. This has surprised me, at least as much as it's surprised the people around me, if not more. I think I've had much less fear for my own health and long life than most everyone who's dealt with me. I was briefly afraid last spring when Dr. Specht called, after viewing my first brain MRI, and asked me to go immediately to the ER. Having your doctor call you and tell you your life is in danger is, in fact, scary. But even that fear lasted only a short time. I told myself that I was not appreciably different than I had been before the phone call—whatever tumors were there now had been there before, whatever danger I was in was no different than it had been—the only difference was knowledge. The only difference was that I now had a name to put on my only symptoms, the puking in the mornings. There was no real reason why knowledge would make me more likely to have a seizure, or die, than a lack of knowledge had, and the logic of that made sense to me, and I stopped being scared.

I am feeling a bit of fear now, though. The thrill of a quick response to treatments, the pleasure in shocking my doctors by my continued health in the face of dangers, the satisfaction in being the only intubated PCP (pneumocystis pneumonia) patient not in a coma . . . those have faded a bit. I realized several years ago—maybe only after I turned 30—that I was too old to be a prodigy anymore, in anything. I'd missed my chance to write a bestselling novel in my teens. No matter how much I practiced, I wasn't going to be a shockingly young concert pianist. Although I'm a good home cook, it was too late for me to be the next wunderkind chef. Not that I ever really wanted to be a prodigy, anyway—I didn't want to work that hard. Being relatively competent at a variety of activities was enough for me.

This summer, though, I have felt a bit like a healing prodigy—I've set myself big hurdles to overcome—brain tumors, life-threatening pneumonia—and I've been smartly overcoming them, much to the pleased amazement of everyone around me (including me, of course). It's been a lot of fun to be so good at what I do—namely, heal from cancer. But now that the initial uncertainty about whether or not I would actually live has faded, now that I can plan a vacation four or five months away with a reasonable amount of surety that I'll be alive to enjoy it, now that I'm free to drive and free to horseback ride and free, to the extent that I have the energy, to do whatever I want to do, I'm a little afraid.

When all I had to focus on was healing, it was surprisingly, shockingly (when I thought about it), easy to do without fear. There was so much at stake—my life—that there didn't seem to be anything at stake at all. I had one narrow path, and I took it. And I didn't worry about where it was going to lead me.

But now the path is wider. I have healed to a large extent. I feel better in a lot of ways than I did even early last spring. Mom keeps being impressed by not necessarily what I can do, but what I have the energy to even think about doing. It's true—last spring I barely had the energy to go about the things that I knew I loved—horseback riding, walking the dogs, day-to-day life stuff. In recent weeks, on the other hand, I've cleaned out several messes in the house, collected the components to complete some long-term projects, and come up with some Plans for how I intend to use my brain and my skills in the future. I feel good, I feel energized, and even though I take more naps and sleep longer and spend one day a week (usually—this last week it was three days) at the clinic, I know I am healthier than I was seven months ago.

And therein lies the risk. When I was really, truly ill, there wasn't any point in being afraid, because I appeared to have two options—Life or Death. Now that I have Life, I have a lot more options—riding again, taking care of my house and dogs and husband, cooking, doing projects, The Plans. And I desperately want to keep on with the richnesses of Life that have been, again, miraculously, regifted to me.

And so I also have fear.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

End of an Air-a

(this title's for Gregory)

Ian and I met with Dr. Specht this afternoon, and she was, again, quite pleased with how I'm doing, both in tests and in real life. I didn't have any more imaging this time—no bone scan, no chest CT (we'll do those at the end of November, sounds like), but my tumor marker blood tests both improved. One of them, the one with the small number, actually put me at normal—1.9 out of a recommended score of 0.0-2.0 (at last viewing it was 6.2). The other test wasn't quite so munificent, giving me 196 out of a high of 37. However, 196 is still down from 215, where it was last time four weeks ago. And I am feeling much better—setting up riding lessons and Gyrotonic, and starting to play Dance Dance Revolution with Ian again—and we have been given permission to remove the Oxygen R2 from the hallway, and return Moxy so she can be used by some other needy person (note—all the tubing that spent time in my occasionally snotty and occasionally bloody nose will be thrown away. Unfortunately, all the tubing that spent time merely in our house will probably be thrown away as well. Anyone want 50 yards of oxygen tubing?).