Thursday, September 17, 2009

Like Mother, Like Dog

Spackle has been suffering from Basset Hound disease for a little over a week. That's what I'll call it, because that's what it looks like: Not the ear part of the Basset Hound (that would be weird), but the eye part. His lower lids have been puffy and droopy, showing off the whites of his eyes, which have been rather red and sad-looking. I know that I am totally anthropomorphizing to say that Spackle is sad, because the truth is, he really doesn't seem to notice that anything is amiss. I have seen him paw at his eyes a total of two times in the last 9 days. He is maybe slightly squinty in the sun, but he is still eating his 1 ¾ cups of dog food, morning and night, in 30 seconds flat; he's still jumping into the back of the car whenever we invite him to join us on a trip; and he's still obsessed with racing after his tennis ball, as long as he can get someone to throw it for him. Still, dogs probably more than any other animal outside primates can stand up to being anthropomorphized—after all, haven't we humans spent thousands of years trying to get them to live with us?

Anyway, what I'm probably really doing is projecting, and I'm projecting sadness most likely because I'm a little depressed that my own eye is still acting up. I have wondered if Spackle's eye issue is not so much his, but just an energy he picked up in the house and is manifesting. Dr Mortimer, our vet, didn't say much about that theory, but I did get a reaction when I told him about the needle in the eyeball that I myself got to experience just a few months ago. That made him shudder. Anyway, he diagnosed an inflammation of the tissue between the cornea and the iris, which has a specific medical name which I can't remember, which could indicate something more serious going on systemically, but doesn't really seem to in Spackle's case. And so, we're treating the symptoms: redness and puffiness. And one of the drops we're using is the EXACT same as one of mine. Ian already carefully wrote "Spackle's Drops" on the first bottle we brought home, to add to the dozen I have; we were careful to label this one, too, even though the prednisolone has been discontinued for me for the time being.

I thought about saving the $15 for the prescription by just giving him mine, but what stopped me was not whether or not I should use the drops after they've been used in a dog's eye, but rather whether or not I may have contaminated the drops by touching the bottle to my eye accidently, and therefore might cause more injury to my dog. So now there are three entries for our family at the pharmacy up the street: for Calin, Ian, and Spackle Taylor.

Back to Good

I should say that, when I wrote my last entry, I was in the middle of feeling scared of everything about my world. While this is definitely something that happens, and I was in the throes of it the other day, it is not something that I deal with all the time. That is to say, I often feel strange aches and pains, see distortions, and have alarming thoughts: I do not always have to try hard to convince myself that I'm safe. Nevertheless, even when I'm feeling predominantly optimistic and happy, I still don't really trust myself to know what is significant—i.e. should be monitored by a medical doctor—and what is simply part of life. The episodes of anxiety seem to be decreasing, which is much appreciated by me, and I'm sure by Ian as well. I did go horseback riding yesterday—a horse whose withers (the part where the mane reaches the back) is about 5'10" high (i.e. taller than me)—and, as usual, I completely loved it.

It also always helps to get news like yesterday's: My tumor markers have gone down again, putting me securely in the "normal" range, even though the last actual chemotherapy I received was in early July. I quote from my nurse:

They look wonderful!
CA 27/29 was 35, now 29  normal  0-37
CEA  was 1.3     now 1.2  normal 0-5.0
 Keep doing whatever you are doing."

Enjoy the last few days of sunlight, folks. I will be.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Ian suggested yesterday that it might be helpful for me to find someone who has actually been diagnosed with PTSD and see if some of the ways I feel occasionally could simply be symptoms of a psychological condition, brought about by living through extremely difficult times. It seems likely that I am dealing with a bit of this.

One of my doctors yesterday emailed to ask if I would be willing to talk to a patient who is about 16 months behind me in terms of disease and care (i.e. just diagnosed with breast cancer mets and about to start treatments), and of course I would be, but when I first read the letter a totally unexpected wave of vertigo passed over me and I was glad to be sitting down.

Also, I feel a bit like I can't stay still. In part, it really is simply the joy of being strong and healthy and able-bodied, but in part, I feel that, as long as I am in motion, I am safe. As long as I am producing, as long as I am exercising/cooking/creating/running errands/on the go, I am proving to myself that I'm not dying—that I am here to stay. But I need to keep going, to keep staying.

I knit a lot of caps for people, and this past year I've been sewing a lot of glitter bags—like, maybe 40 by now. And as I finish each one, I think okay, another person has something I've made. As with activity in general, I do enjoy sewing and knitting and creating. But I also recognize that, as long as I can do these things, I'm here, in this world, alive. And as long as I can give away these things that I've made, I'm here, in this world, in the hearts of people I know. Fatalistic? Definitely. Discomfiting? Undeniably. Reasonable? Definitely not. Understandable? Of course.

People who have lived through wars hear a car backfire down the block and dive for cover. I sit, hunched over a sewing machine for an hour guiding glitter vinyl with cramped hands, get a twinge in the muscle at the top of my head, and immediately have to convince myself it's not a tumor. Much of my day is spent in reassuring myself that all is as it should be, and that "as it should be" means I am well.

I have no reason, other than having lived through the last 16 months (added, I suppose, to the last ten years), to be worried about myself right now. But I am constantly in negotiations with myself, the one absolute exception being when I am on horseback. Then, I finally feel so completely, uncompromisingly alive that I no longer think about it. I just am.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Judgment about what is good for me, physically, or probably more to the point in my case, lack thereof.

I am in a surprisingly difficult place in my recovery right now, where I feel pretty much fantastic, and therefore have no real sense of what my limitations are, and when I should take it easy. I am physically in better shape than I can remember being in for some time—probably years. I'm lean, strong, fit. When I last got my oxygen levels and heart rate measured at the UW (10 days ago with my MRI), oxygen was at 99 (as high as it can go) and heart rate was 67! Last year was something like 88 and 125. I have, as I explained to Taya the other day, passed another threshold of fitness. The first threshold was back in March where I was trotting and posting in my riding lesson and suddenly realized I was doing it. And then felt like I could continue trotting forever. My lessons stopped ending when I was too tired, and started ending when the lesson was over.

This second threshold seems to have been leapt over in mid-July when I was in Idaho and found myself exercising pretty intensively for about 4 hours per day. I came back to Seattle energized (well, after my initial day or two of recovery), and have found that my level of fitness is now self-perpetuating: meaning, not only can I post for 45 minutes if need be; I am seeking out ways to really revel in the strength and speed and flexibility and endurance of my body.

This has already led to a couple issues. One was last week, when I went rock climbing for the first time in awhile. It seemed easy to haul myself up walls, and even though I hadn't done it in awhile, my added strength really helped me. However, I seem to have stretched one leg too far on one wall, and then flexed it to propel me up, and pulled my hip so that when I stood up or sat down, turned to pick something up, or occasionally when I walked with Hoover, it felt like it was about to pop out of the socket. Taya fixed me on Saturday.

On Monday, Witch Doctor Dan fixed me first—helped me integrate with my new supplements, and reminded my brain (and, this time, specifically my thalamus) of the ways it should behave to keep my body healthy, as he does. It was a pretty intense appointment, and I came home and slept profoundly, crosswise on the bed, for a drooling, snorting hour. Yesterday, much recovered from all my reawakenings and reintegrations, I reorganized the basement storage shelves, then felt well enough to do some Dance Dance Revolution—you know, get my heart rate up, put out a bit of a sweat, and hear some fabulous Japanese pop music while I was doing it. Well . . . it seems my thalamus wasn't quite ready. I didn't actually break any of Dan's work, but I did seem to push it back a bit. Evidently, the thalamus is the part of the brain where sensation passes through on its way to becoming conscious thought (which seems like evidence for why it is associated with migraines) . . . and for a thalamus that was a bit taxed already and perhaps wanting to focus on some quiet contemplation, Dance Dance Revolution was a sensational NIGHTMARE. By the time I was done, after about 30 minutes, I had the beginnings of a migraine (yes, the migraine that kept me from shopping with my SIL and niece), which turned out to be HIDEOUS, complete with head pain and nausea, which mine usually don't have, and which s u c k e d.

I took a Tylenol PM at 10, which didn't knock me out immediately, and did allow me to wake up to piddle at 5am, but did keep me pretty well zonked until 9 this morning when I had to get up to go riding. And, as usual, the ride was wonderful and I felt much better having spent my morning on a horse.

So, all in all, this was a pretty quick recovery. And I'm trying, I really am, to listen to my body and what it needs and wants, and give it those things. It's just that its needs and wants are different now than the last time I felt fit, because it is different now, and became that way more rapidly than if I hadn't had the cancer and all these changes had just been left to aging. And so, body, hang in there. I love you very much, and I'm doing my best to keep you happy.

On the Schedule

It looks like I am going to have my oophorectomy surgery on Monday, 19 October. I will probably have to take a couple weeks off from riding to recover (takes a lot of core strength, this horsing around), but I have up to 21 days of riding between now and then. I'm hoping to want the break.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Similar Schedules

Several times recently I've attempted to make plans with some of my girlfriends who are new mothers. It's worked a couple times, but more often it hasn't. In part this is because infants, no matter how Type A you are, really try their darndest not to be schedulized. Inlaws are also occasionally difficult to schedulize, as are various other friends and relatives of the bouncy new babe. Clearly, these moms have a lot of personnel to manage. However, possibly the greater part of the trouble following through on get-togethers is my own obvious inability to schedulize my own life. It seems that people going through cancer recovery can be about as rock solid on plans as can parents of new babies, which is to say, really not at all.

I do like all these people I've been trying to meet up with, and I am, without exception, looking forward to the events we have planned (hint: most of them involve shopping). But sometimes, even still, after about two months without the worst of the worst, i.e. chemotherapy, I can't get to sleep until 3 am and so, to approach my 9-hour preferred minimum, I sleep until at least 10. And then I have to call and cancel brunch. There are also various ailments that crop up at various times, both physical and psychological. Today I was lucky in that the changes were not entirely my fault—my niece didn't go down for her nap until about the time I was planning to leave home to meet them . . . but right around the same time I had a migraine which turned, annoyingly, into a second migraine (after my own nap), and so, after all, I had to cancel what would've been merely delayed.

All of this gives me an acute sense of forgiveness and understanding for people who have to change plans or cancel them, even at the last minute. So far everyone has been treating me the same, which I do appreciate. I really wish I could make an appointment and know I can stick with it . . . but I guess, as illustrated by that metaphorical bus that could kill us all at any moment, we can't ever know. I'm just in a position to appreciate that particularly intensely.