Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Regimen Change

I'm feeling a little low today, a little tired, a little pensive. I've been in high gear recently—the new budgeting (yay for free mint.com!), the excitement of New Plans, the days, newly longer than the nights (although very, very wet— I heard this morning that we need only 1 ½ inches more rain to beat the wettest March on record, and that there is a big storm coming in to grant our wishes—if our wishes are to drown simply standing outside, not even face down in a mud puddle)—and my level of frenetic activity has been unsustainably high.

Part of the problem has been that a lot of the frenetic activity has taken place inside my head, and much of that after 11:00pm when I've gone to bed and should be enjoying, as Bertie Wooster would say, my "eight hours of the dreamless." Coupling high-speed, buzzing thought with the three snoring males I share my room with is too much for me, though, and lately I've been finding myself pottering about the kitchen making midnight snacks of graham crackers and milk and doing crossword puzzles in the guest bed. I don't always stay all night in the guest bed, but one night when I did, Ian got out of our bed the next morning and didn't notice that I wasn't there. He was very careful and quiet when he got up (he told me later), as he usually is, shushing the dogs and trying to keep them (Hoover in particular) from ripping through the walls in their avidity for morning mealtime, and it struck him as odd as he carefully shut the bedroom door, that the dogs paraded into and out of the guest room several times on their way to and from breakfast. Once he'd had his coffee, he figured it out (probably before that. I don't know. I was asleep in the guest bed). In Ian's defense for not immediately noticing the absence of a loving and heat-producing wife, I had left my pillow; our bed cover is a lofty and warm down comforter; I am, of course, as lithe and slender as a young willow; and Ian is a first-class sleeper.

Anyway, many days it doesn't matter if I don't get to sleep until 1:00am or 2:00am, but on Sunday I had my 8-hour Adult/Child/Infant CPR and First Aid certificate class at the Red Cross (I passed. You may have a heart attack in my presence and I will correctly perform CPR. Please do not embed broken glass in your wrist as I will pass out into the remainder of the shards.) and I had to get up at 7, and today I had my regular brain MRI and I had to be at the hospital at 8:30. These early hours, I don't like them. Even if the sun is up (or, the clouds are gray rather than black), my body has clearly put itself on a different schedule.

My MRI was relatively stable—there is still only one apparently active spot in my brain, deep in the cerebellum, and if you look at it every two months, it's hard to tell if it's growing at all. It is possible, of course, to compare today's picture with the one taken last June when the spot was first noticed, and then the growth is visible, but Dr Jason is happy to continue the MRI-at-2-to-2 ½ -months schedule that I've been on this past year and not do anything more drastic (i.e. another Gamma Knife procedure) for the time being.

I also learned that my tumor markers are on the rise again. For the main marker that I'm used to, the 0-37 one, I went from 33 to 39. Yep, out of range. For the other one, I'm still within normal range, but higher than I have been in months and months. But (and here is the regimen change), when I met with Dr Specht 10 days ago, I told her I wanted to start taking the Paw Paw Cell Reg supplement that Witch Doctor Dan recommended. Paw Paw is a fruiting tree that grows in the southeastern US, and it is, evidently, known for its cancer suppressing abilities (much like the yew, which is used to make Taxol, a popular chemo drug that I've been on). I have complicated feelings about deciding to begin yet another supplement.

One: I somehow knew that it was time to try something more, and I was right. Yay!

Two: I somehow knew that it was time to try something more, and I was right. SUCK.

And so, I'm feeling a little low today, a little tired, a little pensive. Not enough sleep followed by mixed news that I've learned to expect, learned to live with, learned to live well with. I met my rock climbing buddy after my appointment today, and my palms and fingers are, as I've been typing this, stiff and abraded and hot and a little clumsy.

But somehow, though I'm not even aware I'm doing it, I haven't yet learned how not to hope for a clean slate. How not to value total, unimpeachable (impossible) health above all else. And so today, in my peerless, beautiful, rich, somewhat implausible life, I'm feeling a little let down.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

New Age

Note: This one's long. You might want to piddle before you start.


In the past week I've experienced a significant shift in . . . focus, I guess, until I can think of a better way to describe it.

You might remember that a few weeks ago I wrote about a major physical house cleaning, finishing with this thought:

"The trick will be—always is—to use this cleanse, this created breathing space, this new awareness—to change the habits that brought on the overflow in the first place."

Well, somehow writing that out, really owning that idea, opened me up to new inspirations. Before I could again quite fill my closets with 17 colors of this season's Old Navy t-shirt (they're really cheap! Because they're made by Chinese children in sweat shops!), I suddenly found myself inspired to create an ACTUAL budget, so that I REALLY knew, and that Ian REALLY knew, what we were spending each month and what we needed to spend, instead of just guessing (me with better accuracy than Ian, but then, I do manage the finances. Or rather, I "manage to spend" the finances.)

I haven't had an actual budget—where you put aside money out of your monthly paycheck for things you hope to do in the future, and have an emergency fund for items such as replacing the hot water heater or your transmission—since I was in high school, and it's arguable that that budget, supplemented with a roof over my head and loving parents, was not quite as realistic as those that most adults my age are dealing with now. When I was going into 8th grade and my brother was going into 5th, our parents decided it was time to teach us how to save money and budget. On a long drive (to, as it happens, Jerome Creek), we tallied up all the things Deane and I needed money for in a year—including week-day lunches (cheaper, but harder from the grocery store), clothes, gifts, and entertainment; divided the numbers by 12, and my parents gave us that amount of money each month. Dad came home from work soon after with ledger books (mine was blue and Deane's was brown, faux leather with gold piping around the edges), and each month I would carry over any balance from the previous month and add in my new $90 (it was the '80s and $90 went a lot farther than it does now . . . although I could probably get a dozen Old Navy t-shirts on a good day today), and keep track of everything I spent, down to the penny.

Deane and I were actually both frugal kids—in part, I'm sure, because before we could drive, there was absolutely nowhere we could go to spend money. There was no corner store (it was a mile away and for a treat it was easier to just suck surreptitious slurps of Hershey's syrup out of the can in the fridge), and there was certainly no amazon.com, Ian's and my current nemesis. Deane and I ended up with regular surpluses. One summer, we cashed in our savings on plane tickets to southern California and visited cousins for a week. Another time, when I was 16 and presumably could've found a place to spend my money on myself, I convinced Deane to withdraw his savings and add it to mine and we snuck off to Renton in the used, cigarette-smelly Ford Escort, and paid off and collected the dive equipment Dad had been slowing buying, with money he'd been budgeting himself, from some neighborhood car repairs he'd been doing.

We drove out to the barn that spring afternoon in 1989 and found Dad, greasy, grimy and hard at work on someone's farm pick-up. We jumped out of the car and slammed the doors, our faces aglow with the surprise.

"What's up, kids?" asked Dad, coming around from the engine of the truck and wiping his hands.

"We took out our savings and we went and got you your wet suit and your oxygen tanks!" I cried.

"You what?" he asked, incredulous.

"We got you your dive stuff!" said Deane, "From Renton! That you had on layaway for months!"

Tears filled his eyes as he shook his head in disbelief. "Wow," he said, marveling. "You kids aren't bad. You kids aren't bad!"

He spent the rest of the afternoon in full gear, breathing slowly at the bottom of our swimming pool.

When Dad died in 1992, Deane and I inherited his share of some family property that ended up in a lucrative sale a few years later, and on my 25th birthday I suddenly gained control of a sizeable chunk of change. I didn't become a Gates or a Hilton by any stretch of the imagination, but when I was diagnosed with breast cancer a year and a half later and my graduate student insurance covered a mere $2,000 of Round 1 (three surgeries, two 3-month stints of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation), I was able to pay for it all without adding financial stress to the baffled horror of being a 20-something cancer patient.

I was in the fortunate position to buy a house in Seattle at the very leading puff into the housing balloon, and I've been able, for the last 13 years, to pretty much have whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it (oh, curse you Amazon Prime for aiding and abetting me so, so seductively with your fulfilled promises of music, books, wine glasses, wool clogs, cameras, glitter fabric, and more!). In part, I have not completely lost the practicality I had as a child and so I bought a top-end 4-Runner instead of a top-end Range Rover, and this has kept my practices relatively sustainable over the years. Also Ian, always looking out for my happiness above all else in our lives, has greeted each new purchase, be it clothes, housewares, or dog toys, with words of praise. "Good job, Sweetie-pie!" he says earnestly. "Isn't that a beautiful sweater/mixing bowl/squeaky shark!"

And it has been lovely, and I do like these things, and I have enjoyed giving in to my shallowest whims and barest inklings of desire. But there's always been an undercurrent of guilt that, try as I might, I haven't been able to completely stomp into submission. No matter how many sweaters from Anthropologie I layer onto the face of this guilt, I have never quite been able to suffocate it. And, frankly, I myself am practically suffocating in sweaters now.

I have tried to use my cancer as a justification to spend what I want—I'm a poor, poor thing who has a difficult challenge and so I should be repaid, or at least rewarded, for my suffering—but to be honest, deep down, I don't buy that (as it were). No, deep down, I know we all have struggles and we all have gifts, and in this world, you don't get monetary rewards for having cancer.

I have claimed to myself that shopping is an artistic outlet—and there is a tiny kernel of truth in that for me—I do find satisfaction in putting together outfits and decorating my house and entertaining my dogs—but that claim also smacks of me doth protesting too much.

Ian and I also don't have kids who need their own clothing or their own food or their own squeaky sharks or future schooling, and so why, I ask myself, shouldn't I have a fourth pair of perfect jeans to go with the three pairs I already love?

Here is why:

Because I have music in my life, and it doesn't give a shit if I'm wearing that J Crew sweater that's the perfect shade of dark orange, a pair of purple cords and one of the Old Navy t-shirts (a nice mushroom-colored one), or simply the red fleece robe my mom made me that, let's face it, I'm in a large proportion of my waking hours.

Because I have nature and animals in my life, both under my daily care and under my periodic care, endlessly entertaining and challenging and thought-provoking, and they don't give a shit if I'm drinking wine out of glasses with daisies embossed on them or the mug someone gave me in college.

Because I have writing in my life, writing which allows me to have a profound relationship with my inner being, and with the inner beings of my friends and relatives, and writing doesn't give a shit if . . . okay, well, writing does actually find the squeaky shark annoying.

The point is, this last week, I watched a performance that tipped me into a new chapter in my life. A friend of mine, competing in a jazz singing contest, got up on stage at Jazz Alley here in Seattle as herself, her true self, doing the thing she loved most, and that she's held onto through her own pretty unbelievably difficult life, and sang her heart out. It was one of the best live performances I have ever experienced, on a completely different plane from the rest of the contestants. I sat blinking back tears, shivers running through me as her music, her soul, filled the room. She didn't win the competition, but I don't see how she could have. She wasn't doing the same thing as the other people at all.

Anyway, I'm tired of filling my house and my life with facsimiles of truth and meaning. I'm tired of giving in to the first impulses of my over-indulged ego. It was fun while it lasted, but I've grown out of it now.

I'm ready to sing out my soul.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Ian, clever boy that he is, decided he'd better start healing before I got tired of being the coddler rather than the coddled, and so he's back on his feet (shoulders?), and able to drive the fun new manual transmission Hot Chocolate Mini Clubman again. Which, SIGH, means that he does drive it, and that I'm back to my big ol'—albeit comfortable—and, I've found, mildly threatening—red 4-Runner. You see, a Mini is small. Smallness is inherent in the name, after all—MINI. And people see a Mini coming up the street that they want to pull out into, and they look the driver in the eyes as she nears, they give a faint sneer, and they pull out, forcing the Mini driver to make evasive maneuvers. In my case, these maneuvers are consistently coupled with honking (the Mini has a fine, musical horn) and creative profanity. No, that's not fair—the profanity isn't creative at all. "WHAT THE F**K?!?" I yell as I hit my brakes/swerve/flip the bird/tootle at the a**hole who is getting in my way—obviously because he or she is insanely jealous of how cool I am in my Mini and must get back at me by being a jerk.

In my big ol' comfortable red 4-Runner, though, people tend, I have noticed, to stay out of the way. I still occasionally honk and swear at them.

The other thing about driving the 4-Runner is that it really is a very slightly more comfortable ride for the dogs, who are my almost constant daily accessories. When Ian and I looked at the Clubman model of Mini, whilst car shopping, we saw that there was plenty of surface space for two largish dogs to lounge comfortably if the back seats were down. After bringing the car home, Ian sewed a two-part, two-tone blue bed for the space, and it really is quite luxurious. Spackle, who can leap with great self-satisfaction into the back of the Mini (someone, at this time invariably me because of Ian's handicap, must always lift 74-pound Spackle into the much taller 4-Runner), feels like a pasha on his palanquin when he's riding with us, because he is a lounging car-rider anyway, and now the windows are low enough that he can see out as we bowl along. All that's missing from his perfect experience is a slave fanning him and languidly feeding him jerky treats, one by one (because too many grapes can be poisonous to dogs).

Hoover, on the other hand, is a very erect car-rider, which in the 4-Runner allows him to survey and comment vociferously on the world around him with ease, but in the Mini gives him a crick in the neck—while he is completely blocking the rear window. Hoover really does make a better door than a window, if a door is pugilistic and barks histrionically at any dog it sees in the world, as well as at people deemed to be off their rockers. In his defense, though, Hoover does seem to have a sense of crazy. I generally agree with him about the dogless pedestrians he barks at—they look bats.

But I digress. Ian is doing very well, with twice-weekly physical therapy and icing (on his shoulder, not the cupcake kind), and is already able to take two dogs for a walk at one time, if he makes sure to have Hoover on the left. He sat on his bike in our sunny, spring-morning back yard today and thought about it, but decided to take another week before attempting cycling on the road. He's needing much less coddling these days, but nevertheless hasn't quite gotten around to recoddling me . . . I can only assume that's just around the corner.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I thought I'd eke the last bit of mileage out of my new haircut--it won't look this good once I go to bed tonight. And no, I haven't had any colorist other than Helios. Blonde streaks are a direct result of spending so much time these last several months in warmer, sunier climes (two of the four of which have experienced major flooding since I've visited them . . . maybe I should start traveling to drought-stricken areas.) If you haven't seen me much since January of 2010, here's what I looked like then.
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Monday, March 7, 2011


This is one of the posts where travel really meets day to day life. So you'll see it both places. Sorry, those of you with a direct feed.

One of the difficult things about being the invalid spouse in a relationship is not actually the part about being an invalid, because I'm not really an invalid. I could be, of course—I could probably come up with enough reasons to sit around and moan and complain and have people wait on me hand and foot and . . . honestly . . . not have very much fun . . . but I'd rather live life to the fullest that I am able, which is pretty full. And so, only slightly more often than I would like to, do I have to take advantage of Ian's kindness and solicitude. Still, it seems a little one sided . . .

In the interests of living life to the fullest, we took Friday off from work (Ian) and horseback riding (me) and went up to Crystal Mountain to ski for the weekend. When I made the reservations a few months ago, it was because this was the first free weekend we had when Ian could possibly get a day off work (his first year is a very busy one). I'm not sure if you all have been reading the snow reports, but it ended up being a fantastic weekend for skiing. Crystal Mountain has the most, and most interesting, terrain close to Seattle, and from 22 February to now they have been hit with 7 or 8 feet of new snow. Basically, after a warming trend beginning in December and ending in mid-February, most area ski slopes were pretty much mud. And now there's a whole new season! This, of course, meant that Saturday and Sunday were very, very full of other people, but the longest lift line we were ever in was about 10 minutes. They're very good at moving people, the Crystal Mountain Resort folks.

We were sobered, though, at Crystal this weekend, because the excellence of the snow for us was just making it all the harder to find the 40-year-old man who went missing there last Tuesday. He hasn't been found. And I just now read that two college boys went missing on Thursday—the helicopter flying around when we arrived Friday morning was searching for them. I don't know if they've been found. Life can't be full without the bitter in the sweet.

Anyway, even though Ian and I didn't ski at all last year, and skied a mere ½ day in both 2009 and 2008, we were pretty fit, and found ourselves able to navigate any terrains we wanted (some more easily than others, as it continued to snow both Friday and Saturday and we were often socked into thick fog) with more or less the skill we remembered having. Ian in particular is a beautiful skier—graceful and fluid, flowing straight down hills, adjusting to bumps as if they're not there. I found myself plowing through more bumps than I'd like to, thighs burning—I felt like I was working REALLY HARD, harder than three years off might signify.

"I need to have a lesson," I suggested to Ian at one pause for breath late Saturday afternoon. "I haven't had one since high school."

"It's true," he said, "a lesson might help, although you don't look like you're working hard. Still, the equipment has changed a lot and someone could probably suggest ways to ski that might be different than they used to be." He looked thoughtfully at me, then said "You don't fall very much. Maybe you just need to fall so that you remember it's not the end of the world."

I was willing to allow that he might have a point. I had recently taken a fall in a riding lesson, on a day when I was having trouble focusing (except for being afraid that I would fall); I went over a jump, landed, and slid accidentally off the side of my horse, rolling onto my back before standing up and brushing off the arena dirt. No pain at all, just a reminder to stay in the moment. It might be true—snow can be soft.

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny (and full of boys clomping about the inn in ski boots at an ungodly 7:00am), and though sore, we packed up our car and headed off up the mountain in good spirits. From the very top we could see, 14 miles away, Mt Rainier at its majestic winter finest, glowing brilliant white. Dormant, we reminded each other. Not extinct. Could erupt at any time. Lovely. We decided to start with a short run down to the nearest upper-mountain lift, and I took off into a huge bowl, Ian close behind me.

Swooshing along, feeling good, I suddenly heard my name yelled, then again. I skidded to a stop and looked back up the hill to see Ian far above me, lying in the snow. I watched for a minute to see if he was going to get up and join me as usual. He was moving around, but he didn't get up.

A father and young daughter skied up to him and stopped to see how he was; I began the long, desperately difficult and sweaty job of sidestepping up a steep run on newly waxed skis. Someone called me from a few yards across the hill; would I mind getting out of the way? They were photographing people and I was right in the . . . oh . . . I was climbing up to that guy? Would I like to just leave my skis with them where they would be visible and out of the way, and just hike?

I popped off my skis and started the climb, infinitely easier in just the stiff boots. The father and daughter slid by and the daughter, maybe 9, told me "he was just going to see about getting his skis back on, but he seems okay." I continued to hike, not too worried.

And there was no need to be too worried; Ian's issue wasn't a new one, and, in fact, taking place in the first run, on what looked to be a gorgeous day for skiing, also wasn't new. He had dislocated his right shoulder, which he had done during Fresh Tracks at Whistler ten years before, the first time we'd ever skied together.

I'm not saying a dislocated shoulder isn't an awful thing to have happen to you, and this is the third time for Ian and this shoulder in the last 15 or so years, and so there's got to be some kind of care and rehab, from what I understand, to make sure it doesn't keep popping out for a coffee when it's not convenient. And Ian was obviously uncomfortable with the weird feeling of his arm dangling from threads, and as the adrenaline wore off and the ski patrol arrived to ship him into a luge, it really started to hurt. "I'm sorry to ruin your day," he said. "You can ski some more if you want to."

"Ian," I said in reply, looking him straight in the eyes, "you are the most important thing on this hill to me. We are done, and we're going home. There is absolutely no question."

I saw him off, hiked back down to my skis and went my own way, and I really did have a fabulous, long, exhilarating run. Ian was brought in to the first aid station at the bottom and his shoulder was manipulated into place and his arm tied with a makeshift sling. And then I got to be the one to return his demo skis and our rented poles (oops—forgot ours in Seattle). I got to be the one to go collect the 4-Runner and pull it into the 5-minute load/unload parking zone close to the ski patrol clinic. I got to be the one to help Ian off with his ski boots, and on with his Sorels. I got to be the one who drove us carefully to Maple Valley to have a bite to eat, say hello to the dogs, and convince Mom and Marsh to keep them for another couple days (Ian won't be walking both of them together any time soon). And, perhaps most excitingly, I got to be the one to drive him to the ER so that he could get an X-ray. Even today there have been some things I've been able to help him with. I love it.

As we were walking yesterday afternoon from the ski patrol clinic to the car, though, over slush and ice, my right arm through his left arm, holding him steady, I did have something to say.


"Yes, Sweetie-pie?"

"I think I'm going to go with my original plan and have a lesson. I don't really think that falling more is the answer."