Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mostly at DT

Hi all--I am, ideally, going to be over at The Dilettante Traveler for the next couple months. Come along for the ride!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Practicing Enjoying Life

I had my late-evening MRI last week, and it turned out to be pretty much late-night by the time I was done—I guess the whole day had been one urgency after another at the hospital, and even the people who were inpatients were getting scanned late. So instead of getting started at 8:00pm I got started after 8:30pm, and the scan was long—maybe 1 ½ hours. I never really remember how long a spinal cord scan is, but it naturally has to be long, because the spinal cord is long, as almost all of us can personally attest; at least, long compared to the brain. Anyway, Ian had driven me to the hospital in an act of very sweet moral support and, at my suggestion, stayed in the waiting room to put in some of his work while I put in some of mine—instead of driving another 5 minutes to his office. I had imagined that it wouldn't be worth his time, that I'd be in and out in just over an hour. Ha ha. Aside from running late, though, the night was pretty uneventful.

The next morning, Wednesday, Ian put in a call to Nurse Sarah to let her know the scan had taken place, and then Thursday morning we got up early and left for a fantastic wedding weekend on Orcas Island, where we didn't have cell coverage or internet and were forced, instead, to hang out with dear friends and have long walks and hikes and rock skipping (or just increasingly frustrating rock throwing, if you're me) sessions, drinks by fireplaces, dancing and barbecue and festal breakfasts, and Ian's second brilliantly performed marriage ceremony. Really, the man's a born secular minister. Keeping in mind my aftermaths from Austin, I didn't abuse myself quite so flagrantly with the Jack Daniels as I could've, and I still had a great time, and I came home tired but well. I thought about my MRI once, but never was I in any position to try and call home and see if messages had been left, and indeed, none had.

Nurse Sarah called yesterday with the news that my MRI looked A-OK. Which is to say, just like the last one, so some evidence of stuff in bones, but perfectly clear spinal cord fluid, so nothing in particular to watch out for whilst traveling in tropical paradises. And today, healthy me went rock climbing at Stone Gardens, and actually climbed a V-2, and it's only my 3rd day (sort of) back!

Strong. Healthy. Well.

It All Plays Together

Note: I began writing this post about 10 days ago, but the message is still valid so here I go completing it, and sending it off anyway.


Austin was, as has been my experience during my previous two visits, a hedonistic smorgasbord of pleasures to suit every mood. This time, mid September instead of February or May, was also HOT-HOT-HOT, and HUMID-HUMID-HUMID-HUMID, which really only got in the way of the pleasure of sleep, because the air conditioner was on 24/7 struggling to keep the house as cool as 80 degrees, which meant we Seattleites were a long way from taking advantage of the lovely duvet, and the fan droned in our ears all night. Nevertheless, the mattress itself was very comfortable, and Ian and I seemed to take turns sleeping through the night and getting up early. Actually, what I pretty much did was go to bed on Seattle time and wake up on Austin time, which meant I wasn't getting my usual 9 ½ hours. Nevertheless, it is a home away from home, and whoever was up first made extra-strong coffee and went to lounge in a living room eerily similar to ours (the built-in bookcases flanking the brick fireplace, the white-painted mantel, even many of the same books).

Our friends in Austin are the kind of people who go out for a barbecue lunch at the Salt Lick in Driftwood, TX ("You can smell our pits for miles"), and revel messily in smoky, spicy meat . . . and then hours later, when we're coming out of our food stupors and a supper of salad and freshly made cornbread is suggested, are just as happy to follow my suggestion instead—and go to Amy's Ice Creams for Milkshake Dinner. OMG, that dark chocolate malt was the best thing ever. And the secondary caffeine in the chocolate kept me up for several hours.

And the next day—I won't lie to you—I did have some gastrointestinal issues probably related to the flagrant disregard of good alimentary sense the day before. And I'll probably do it again someday.

Other pleasures included a 5 ½-month-old baby who is just learning to mimic others and be aware of food, beginning to watch all us adults carry things from our plates and put them into our mouths. At the Salt Lick, she got a bit of a bare toe in some barbecue sauce—it can't have been difficult there—and the next thing we knew, she was doubled over in her Bumbo chair sucking her toes. She continued to suck her toes at random intervals—hoping beyond hope for more of that delectable flavor, I assume—for the remainder of our stay in Austin. It led to several—well, at least two—adults attempting the same thing: both JP and I successfully brought our toes to our mouths. We did not look as cute in the posture. Baby DP is also trying out her language range with quite successful production of alveolar clicks, along with the more expected—for English speakers rather than Xhosa—MAMAMAMAs and high-pitched squeaks and grunts. She is a happy, healthy, and easy-going baby, and Ian and I had the pleasure of a couple hours of her all to ourselves whilst both her parents went about other things.

We also had outings to swim—both in a pool owned by a friend, and in a municipal pool, and on our last day, before our flight back home, we went to a park and played Frisbee and then croquet, with the best croquet set ever created, with a picnic of leftover Tex-Mex from the night before, followed by a giant pitcher of Pimms back at home before getting on the plane back to Seattle.

What all of this hedonistic joy led to for me was a giant crash, skidding into home on my head, which promptly issued a migraine which followed the latest trend of turning into nausea and a massive headache. Sigh. Nevertheless, I could hardly be surprised—if you want the sweeping, vertiginous heights, you must be prepared to balance things out with the crashing, excruciating depths. What I had going for me was an already pre-scheduled massage with the peerless Luata.

Luata pointed out that the Universe does seem to look out for me, as I was there in her office, prepared to have C1 put back in place in my neck mere hours after it had gone on walkabout, and I mused to her about the causal relationship in my migraines. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"Well," I said, "do I get a migraine because my vertebra has moved out of position? Or does my vertebra somehow move out of position because I'm having the migraine?"

Luata was thoughtful for a minute, then she asked me a question. "When you go to the symphony, and you hear the beautiful music sweeping over you, what instrument is it that is the cause of that beauty?" She paused for me to think about it. "Exactly," she said, "there isn't just one instrument. It all plays together to make that beautiful experience. The body is just like that. We can't say what one thing causes a migraine, or anything else—it doesn't work that way."

It all plays together.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Endless Opportunity

I had an MRI earlier this week, the first since June. I think three months was maybe the outside Dr Jason wanted to wait, and I kept that in mind and called to make sure I would get something scheduled, because as we know my life over the next few months is taking place away from here at least as much as it's taking place here. At my last visit with Dr Specht, she'd mentioned that she and Dr Jason hadn't been talking about me much recently (always a good sign for me, but it meant trouble for somebody else), but as much as I wanted to just run with it and let them remember me sometime, it seemed to be a good idea to take it upon myself to get on the schedule.

Well, I got on the schedule at 7:30 in the morning on Tuesday—which is pretty much a guarantee that I'll have no conflicts, provided I'm in town—and after the usual 20+ minutes of sound-battered somnolence in the MRI tube, I headed over into the examining room to meet with Nurse Sarah and Dr Jason.

I passed all my neurological tests with flying colors—I am incredibly strong, and balanced, and clear-headed—and I've been feeling really well lately (aside from a pudgy ring finger, but that's rather inconsequential in the scheme of things—and, in fact, not being able to get my wedding rings off really shouldn't make me feel panicky when Ian is so A W E S O M E) . . . and yet, when I went with Dr Jason to look at my scan, he pointed out a new spot in my brain that first appeared in June and seems to have not quite doubled in size since then. It's still very small—smaller than a pencil eraser; larger than the nib of a pen—but my brain at the moment isn't showing any signs of irritation at it (that's up to my consciousness, I guess), and so we're going to watch and wait. Because I'm planning a trip to Africa in a month, I am going to be having a spinal cord MRI (this one scheduled at 8pm, which seems sort of pleasingly atypical for scans) to make sure I'm not likely to suddenly lose the function of my legs whilst climbing one of the Seychelles' granite mountains—a precaution taken at this stage only because of the travel, therefore, I say, a small price to pay. There are no current plans to deal with the brain spot—it's too small, and too single, to cause much concern (on the part of Dr Jason) at the moment.

Yesterday during my extra long infusion, however, I got my CA 27 tumor marker score back and I'm now better than normal—40, when the top score really should be only 37, up from 30 in May. From my experience with my own body and this particular test, anything over 25 or 6 means scan-readable cancer in my body somewhere, and so 40 presumably means scan-readable cancer in my body in more somewheres than just one.

This slightly elevated tumor marker, much lower than the 1009 original from 2008, has been slowly rising since going on the Xeloda, which is a chemotherapy that is supposed to be slowing it down—ideally reducing it back to normal. This reversal of hope and expectation is not something I want to see, and herein lies my opportunity.

My first response to these bits of news is, of course, entirely human, and entirely knee-jerk (although I think various chemos in my past have long-since destroyed that actual physical reflex in me). I am angry, afraid, frustrated, annoyed, and, damn it, PISSED OFF that I can't just go to a tropical paradise with only the glowing equatorial sun hanging over my head. But no, I go with my mortality hanging over my head.

On the other hand, as Ian points out, and as I know from personal experience, I am one of the strongest, fittest, wellest, people I know—and the only reason I don't feel that way right now is the fear. And fear is, in fact, something I can, theoretically, control.

So, what if I get over my knee-jerk reactions and, instead, learn to blow the fear off? The thing about cancer for me is that it's going to be perpetual and endless, and if I don't want to crash every time a scan implies activity, I'm going to have to figure out a different way to process my life. A more thoughtful way, perhaps. I'm going to have to learn to focus on the certainties—that I am strong and talented and smart and, yes, healthy—and let the uncertainties take the bit parts, the cameos, the walk-ons, that they deserve in this drama of my life.

I have an idea that it's going to take me some time to master this new art—of brushing the fears aside and focusing on the obvious truths of how I live, how I LIVE, but fortunately the cancer seems to be awarding me endless opportunities to practice.

So, Thank you, Cancer. In your face.