Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New Girl on the Squad

Okay, so you all know I didn't really think that my cheering was what actually grew back those all-important white cells? Right?
Right? (well, maybe I thought so just a little, if only because It made me happy to imagine it were true, not to mention the excuse it gave me to bust out my old moves and incessantly chant "BE AGGRESSIVE ..." over and over and over and over. And over. Really. I am obnoxious.)
Well, whether or not my pony-tailed, short-skirted, spirit-fingered trot down memory lane had anything to do with white cell growth is irrelevant.
Dr. B told us today that the wait-a-week-and-see-what-happens strategy is not one we'll be repeating. Seems that in the time the good cells grow back, Mr. Rogue Cancer Cell can find his way back in, too.
So-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o, while I will not stop cheering (really? give up a perfectly good excuse to dance around with Nurse Tilly and be irritating? I think not.), it seems we will be adding a new member to the squad.
Her name is Neulasta. Just that. Like Madonna. Or Cher. Or CatCon.
I'm told she's pretty tough, so I think we'll put her on the bottom of the pyramid, and I'll hop my dainty little self up to the top ... Wait? What? Okay, Tilly has just pointed out that she is a petite 17 pounds to my ... well, all you need to know is there'll be spirit-paws instead of fingers in the top perch.
But I'm taking the middle.
"Go Neulasta! Go, go, Neulasta! Go Neulasta! Go, go, Neulasta!"

Monday, June 29, 2009

Samuel L. Chemo

We are in round two of aggressive chemotherapy.

I feel compelled to continually use that modifier, simply because I only imagine that if our protocol is described to us in that manner, then others must be hearing modifiers as well. Modifiers less -- or more -- threatening than aggressive. Like mild or moderate -- or perhaps, intense.

Or is mild chemotherapy an oxymoron?

And, is calling chemotherapy intense simply redundant?

I also can't help but anthropomorphize aggressive. When I hear it, I think aggressive personality. And then I can't help but wonder if, like personalities, there are assertive, vivacious, friendly, or even shy chemotherapies.

But would you want a shy chemo?

"Um, hello. Uh, hi there ... If it's not too much trouble, Mr. Rogue Cancer cell, um, er, would you mind ... but only if it's OK with you ... would you, um, mind, uh ... just going away? Please? No? Um, but, listen ... I'm just trying to do my job. Come on, please don't make me have to go back and tell my boss that I can't get you to leave. Really. 'Cause he'll wanna come on in here himself, and um, well, uh ... he's kinda ... um, mean. OH! How mean? Um, he's uh ... well ... um, well ... I don't know if I can say. What? Well, um, yeah, I can say, but, um, uh, I feel kinda funny using that, um, uh ... well, language. What? Well, if you really wanna know, my boss is ... well ... um, uh ... My boss is well, um ... he's a meanie. Are you laughing at me? OK. Well then, I'll just say it. OK. My boss is an um, uh ... (blushes) ... um, uh ... an a-hole. OK. You made me say it. Are you happy? Now, please Mr. Rogue Cancer cell, would you please just let me do my job? Would you please just go away? OK, now you're laughing again. That's not cool. Really. You know, you're kinda ... um, uh ... well, you're kinda an a-hole, too. Quit laughing at me! What? You want to meet my boss? Um ... well ... I guess I could go back and tell him ... OK. I'll send him in."

No. Just no.

For this job, I want aggressive:
"Get the fuck out ... DID I STUTTER? GET. THE. FUCK. OUT."

Yeah. That's more like it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

My Childhood's Crossing The Rainbow Bridge

I don't feel old. Usually. But today I do. It's not physical; I don't feel tired, or worn-down, even if maybe I should. My body is chronologically 41 years old, at least according to the calendar. I shudder to think what one of those how-old-are-you-really? quizzes would reveal. Years of smoking (no, not anymore), alcohol (far more sporadic than in my youth, but I do have a shot of Firefly in my tea right now), rich food (yep, carrying far, far, more pounds than recommended), and not enough exercise (too much sitting on my ass) would certainly skew results in a direction I'd rather not see. That's why I don't take those quizzes. And even though I most often feel mentally closer to 30 (20?) than 40 (ok,14), today, I feel old. How is it possible that Charlie's hottest Angel is dead? How is it possible that the kid whose house my sisters and I used to imagine was around every corner in the greater Gary-Indiana-area is dead? Farrah Fawcett is supposed to have, well, Farrah-hair. She can't have been bald and decimated by anal cancer. Anal cancer? Ass cancer isn't sexy. (says the girl who's had ginormous polyps removed, is due for a five-year-fingers-crossed-all-clear colonoscopy, and, just for added kicks, juggles a wicked case of IBS) How the hell did that happen? To either of us? Michael Jackson wasn't supposed to be a lot of things that he ended up being, but he sure as hell wasn't supposed to be on an autopsy table. He's supposed to be moonwalking toward his comeback. Hell, he just started showing his kids without scarves over their faces. I had hopes for him circling back to (somewhere closer to) normal. I have been changing the channel during Farrah tributes, just as I had been over the past few months once the death watch was underway. No easy feat, mind you, as I am a major underwriter of the entertainment media, what with my serious jones for glossy supermarket tabloids and my dangerously addictive channelsurfing of news, music, and pop culture programming. I am just not up for watching Ryan O'Neal* -- or anyone, right now -- express how they are not ready to let the love of their life go to cancer. (*AND, shouldn't HE only have to have one iconic goodbye in his lifetime? Really? Not fair.) Michael Jackson, however, I can't ignore. No one can. Even my Led Zeppelin-loving husband has been watching coverage with me, albeit through a Phenergan-induced haze. Earlier, I had VH1 Classic's video marathon on while I was writing. Jamie was out cold, asleep, or so I thought. But then, I heard the familiar refrain of Thriller and I looked up. What I saw wasn't just a red-leathered MJ, but also my husband -- eyes barely open -- with his hands lifted and swaying back and forth along with the zombie choreography. That's transcendent. And that's why I'm not ready for my childhood to die. Because I'm not ready to yet.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ready? OH-KAY!

BE! AGGRESSIVE! BEE! EEE! AGGRESSIVE! B-E! A-G-G! R-E-S-S! I-V-E! Metaphorical, my sweet ass. When I cheer? It works. Jamie's white cell count jumped from a point-5-whatever-it-is they're-measuring to a 4-point-whatever-it-is-they're-measuring. The magic number is 1-point-whatever-it-is-they're-measuring. So, in my mind, that's starting with 500 little infection-fighting-thingies and needing 1,000 little infection-fighting-thingies and getting 4,000 little infection-fighting-thingies. Take that, you aggressive chemotherapy molecules racing through my husband's veins, randomly knocking off bad and good cells. We grew some good ones back. I may not have much (any) talent in mathematics, but even I know four kicks one's ass. YEAH!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Lazing Away Again in Chemoritaville ...

... Watching the slow drip of the I-V / You might think that it's a he-e-e-l-l-l of a pain / (doo-doo-dee-doo) / But we know ... / (da-da-da-da-da) / How much worse it could be / (doo-doo-dee-doo)" No beach, but we do have sunshine and cool breezes. No tequila, but we do have Ativan. And no sharks or parrots, but we do have fish tanks and flowers. Life is pretty damn good.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I Heart My Yummy-Tummy Solstice Buddies

Any of you who are regular readers of my little ramblings here at Half-Glassed Life, first of all: um, thanks! Secondly, you already know how much I love my Solstice Kitchen & Wine Bar.
Today after meeting with Dr. Hunka-Hunka-Burnin'-Blue-Eyes and scheduling a three-month follow-up (YES! No news=good news), we were ready for some good eats. Dose one of round two of chemo begins tomorrow, and we have no clue when a decent appetite will return.
We decided to make the most of this round's last supper, and as usual, Solstice delivered not only the most fantabulous (Yes, it's a word. Because I said so.) food, wine, and ale; but, better yet: the best bunch of people you could ever hope to spend the evening with before getting hooked up to an IV drip of medically prescribed poison designed to kill rogue cancer cells. (I'm just sayin'...if you ever find yourself in the same state...good times.)
Thank you, Stephany.
Thank you, Brady.
Thank you, Ricky, for not packing it in and leaving the Northeast.
We love you guys. You give the best medicine we could ever hope for.

God's Waiting Room

Today is a checkup with Dr. C. Quick quiz for those paying attention. Dr. C is:
  1. a Yankee imported to SC for the purpose of fixing men's manly parts
  2. a triple-threatening urological oncological surgeon (boom! boom! boom!)
  3. a grade-A smartass who sits in a turbo-powered mood swing
  4. in possession of Newmanesque blue eyes (sorry, but you can't NOT notice them)
  5. the man with the hands that saved my husband's life
  6. all of the above
Doo-doo-doodoo-doo-doo-doo ... DING, DING, DING! If you picked 6, you have won the supreme self-satisfaction that comes with knowing you chose the correct answer. If you chose any other selection, you have earned the bitter echo of "Ohhhhh .... SO close!" If you are looking for any other prize, you have forgotten that I am unemployed and writing for ego strokes. And, if ego strokes are not your drug of choice, well ... you ARE an interesting specimen. Please contact me, as I would like to study you. (Is it easier in your world? I have long suspected that not needing constant validation would be a much calmer existence ... a bit boring perhaps, but easier. Attention-whoring does take so much time and energy.) So, back to Dr. C. It should be noted that however else they may seem, those quiz choices are by no means intended to be insulting. I, too, am a first-class smartass who rides a mood swing with rocket boosters. I am also a Yankee lured to SC, but only by one manly man. So I can appreciate Dr. C's disposition to some degree, and I thoroughly enjoy his sarcasm. While I may be all too familiar with moods that change with the wind, I can't claim that mine are the cause of having to tell some other wide-eyed wife that her husband's news isn't so happy. I cannot imagine what those blue eyes have seen. And I don't want to try. But I trust those eyes. And I forever will be grateful for his hands that sliced, diced, and disposed of nastiness in nether regions. And as beautiful as those eyes are (Newman. Really.), if I never had cause to look into them again, that would be just fine with me. Really.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Home Game

I am not spending Fathers Day with my Dad this year, and that is unusual. To be fair, I didn't trek to the homestead this year on Mothers Day, either, and that also was unusual. The reason is the same, and I feel sure (or at least hope) my parents understand. On the second Sunday in May, Jamie was recovering from a third surgery, building strength to begin chemotherapy, and needed my help. This third Sunday in June finds him resting up and growing those much needed white cells so we can resume chemo in a few days. Jamie is doing well, if a bit tired, and does not need me at his side constantly. He keeps full bottles of fluid at his side (and drinks them like he should) and can make his own meals (and clears his plate and cleans his dishes). While he is able, he prefers to do such things for himself. In days like these, I suppose, I am a cheerleader; and, one who is reluctant to look away, lest some game-changing play happens while I'm not paying attention. I know that my cheering is purely metaphorical. I could yell until I was hoarse, jump up and down in my old beribboned pigtails, and even land the cartwheel I never quite could at 16. You could give me a "W - H - I - T " and "E," and throw in the "C - E - L - L's," too. I could even stretch these 41-year-old legs back into old familiar splits and grin until my cheeks ached. My husband's bone marrow will not be impressed. That doesn't stop me, in my heart, from trying. It doesn't stop me from thinking that if I am here, clapping my hands and then holding his, the heat of my blood will stimulate something in his. It doesn't stop me from thinking that if I sing one more goofy song or dance one more silly dance that makes him laugh, those just might be the endorphins that push us into the positive. And it doesn't stop me from wishing like hell that I could come off the sidelines, get in the game, and be able to do more than I know I'm physically capable of doing. Because this is the only way I know how to love. And that's why I think my parents must understand why I am here. I had to learn it somewhere.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

It's a Happy Tomato Kind of Day

My favorite food hands-down (and I've tasted plenty to compare) is tomatoes. I am, in fact, a tomato snob. I would rather go without than eat a sub-par, off-season, mealy, refrigerated (oh, the horror!) sorry excuse for my beloved red globes of joy. This morning, Jamie and I went to market. I now have a ceramic bowl on my counter overflowing with tomatoes in various stages of ripeness, just waiting to make me happy. This is not an adult-acquired taste, but rather one cultivated at an early age in the dark, black soil of the Calumet Region of Northern Indiana. My sweetest childhood memories are of gathering that day's vegetable yield from my Papa's garden. Snap beans, green onions, peppers, radishes, zucchini, and more would be plucked from their plants, each selected by Papa's knowing eye. The tomatoes, however, held no mystery. I knew exactly which were ready to pluck, which were salvageable from the ground, and which would be ready tomorrow. Best of all, I knew which ones would never make it across the yard and into the sink for washing. Those were carefully wiped with Papa's handkerchief and handed to me. They felt firm but tender in my hand, and with the warmth of the sun, I think I imagined them pulsing with life. I would lift them to my face with both hands. Mouth open as wide as possible, I'd bite the fragile skin and feel the fruit explode in my mouth, laughing and slurping as it squirted everywhere. I close my eyes and can still feel the hot black earth between my toes, the calloused skin of Papa's hands, and the sun on my skin. I smell a comforting melange of dirt, onions, and pipe tobacco. I hear the whir of dragonflies, chirping of birds, the creak of a screen door, and Nana's voice call out, "Reg!" And I taste heaven.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Procrastination for World Peace

One of my earliest writing mentors advised me to counter writer's block by just starting a stream of consciousness thread. Whatever ideas come to mind, put them on paper, no idea is too bad, it might connect to something somewhere, just get it out, out of your mind, out of the pencil, onto the paper ... Yeeaaahhhh ... Mmmmm, no. *delete*delete*delete*delete*delete* Clancie had the right idea, but I just whipped up a wordstorm bigger than I'm willing to wrangle today. So, in the interest of full disclosure:
  • Yes, yes, I did have writer's block. (Yes, writer's block IS the not-so-bright cousin of overthinking and procrastination -- bless her heart -- but we don't mention that in polite company, okay, sugar?)
  • Yes, I did come up with something to write, but I'm enjoying a lazy Friday & quite frankly, I do not want to think.
  • You also may be enjoying a lazy Friday & do not want to think.
  • What kind of an inspiration would I be if I went around futzing up people's Fridays? That's not nice.
  • I'm trying very, very hard not to be mean.
  • It would be mean to ruin someone's perfectly good Friday.
  • I won't be -- I just can't be -- that person.
  • I shouldn't write today.
  • I won't write today.
And there you have it. Procrastination for the greater good. Cancer will still be there tomorrow (or the day after). I'm logging off. The last thing I want to be is the jerk that ruined Friday for making you think. So, have an absolutely awesome weekend. Go do a little bit of everything or a whole lot of nothing, and find something that makes you smile. Just don't go futzing up anyone's Friday. People do NOT like that.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fill This Glass to the Top, Please ...

I'm getting ready for a date night. Yeah, you read right: Date. Night. Last weekend, my dear friend H very gingerly asked if it would be at all possible to meet up tonight for martinis. Jamie was scheduled to start round two of chemo this week, but we found out Tuesday that his white count was still too low. When we began treatment, sweet Nurse Tess stressed that while we did have a planned schedule of doses, nothing is ever set in stone. Everything was dependent on how Jamie's body reacted to the side effects of the chemicals coursing through his veins. So, we now are scheduled for dose one of round two next week, then dose two a week later, then an injection to boost white cells 24 hours after that. On one hand, I am nervous. Low white cells can't be good. On the other hand, apparently, this is not unexpected. Right now, it's difficult to see that anything might be wrong. Jamie's energy is high and his appetite is strong. He's worked his way through a box of Drumstick ice cream cones in a day and that makes me happy. He's developed a craving for dill pickles and, given that I've eaten every pickle off this man's plate for the past 12 years, that has me scratching my head ... but it makes me happy. He's swilling Gatorade like it's going out of style, and after a week of forcing fluids, that makes me happy. And that the first thing he said to me after the clinic rescheduled his chemo was, "Let's go out with H Thursday night," makes me very, very happy. To hell with half-full glasses, being nervous, and second-guessing. Here's to full glasses of Gatorade, cocktails, and hope. Fill 'er up, please.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Nurse Tilly

I have a very vivid imagination. I can create whole scenarios in my mind starring an almost-eight-year-old purebred Rat Terrier. I point out that she's pedigreed simply because although she has papers that name her "Atilla the One," she is the farthest thing you can imagine from a show dog and is known to her many fans as Tilly. Or I should say, Tilly! She is a wiggling, wagging, hopping, climbing, grinning exclamation point come to life. Her latest adventures find her functioning (quite well) as a home health care provider. Thumbs would be a big help, but even sans those primal tools, she provides the best nursing money can't buy. She even has her own assistant, her buddy Piggy, the highly skilled hand-holder who steps in while Nurse T trots off to fetch a fresh bottle of Gatorade, a clean cloth, or a sleeve of saltines. She charges nothing more than a kind word and a backscratch for her services, but she'll happily accept tips of MilkBones, Isaboo's Nutrish, rawhide chewies, or of course, a wee nip of whatever that is you're having. Really. Whatever that is. YOU'RE! HAVING! I and Jamie both imagine many, many, many things when it comes to Tilly(!). But that feeling of unconditional, unqualified, absolute adoration you see in those soulful brown eyes above? You can't make that up. And you can't find it anywhere (anywhere!) else.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Half-Full? More Like Running Over

One of the most pleasant side effects of starting this site is connecting with other folks out here in Bloggerville with common experiences. Golf Gal found me right away, and I am grateful for it. She has buoyed my spirits almost every day with comments and encouragement. Today, I've tried to do the same for another blogista, but honestly, if I've got a half-glass of optimism, this gal is holding the pitcher. Mrs. Newlywed is the cute and clever voice of Misadventures of a Newlywed, the self-described
... twenty-something sorority girl who is married to her college sweetheart, has an addiction to online shopping, and hates cleaning more than anything else in the world... (and) East Coast wife living in the South with her Midwestern husband and two pets in Misadventure Manor [an 800 sq foot apartment]...
Oh, what's not to love? I was originally turned on to her site by my dear friend S, publicist of the chi-chi puglebrity EloisethePug, and my source for much fun and frivolity. So imagine my surprise today as I am scrolling through updates of my favorite sites, and the message "Mrs. Newlywed surgery update ..." pops up. Wha...? So I clicked on over to Misadventure Manor, and found this. I can't begin to do it justice with a synopsis, so I urge -- no, I insist* -- you check it out for your daily dose of a look at the bright side. *Seriously. Go. Now. What are you waiting for? You can come back here (please do). This chick rocks. Big time. And she's reminded me that the time has come to share my own girly-girl scares, surgeries and strolls toward Half-Glass Land. Well ... soon, anyway. Keep coming back.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Can't Keep A Good Man Down

Jamie is 46 years old with Stage 3 bladder cancer.
We are told this is an old man's cancer. Jamie has every intention of becoming an old man who had cancer.
Bladder cancer is not a common diagnosis. But, as you'll see, there is nothing common about Jamie.
There is no telling why it hit him. The greatest risk factor is smoking. Well, yeah, there is that. He smoked from his early teens up until the diagnosis. But it is still a rare formation of cells. Millions upon millions of people smoke and not very many have bladder cancer. Hell, they don't all even develop lung cancer, much less this one.
One suspicion is that his urinary tract may have been susceptible because of a birth defect.
Jamie was born with a moderate spina bifida. With damage to and underdevelopment of his urinary and gastrointestinal tracts and pelvic nerves, it was possible he would not live to be a teenager. He became a teenager with frequent kidney infections. It was possible he would not live to see his 20s. By 20, the kidney problems had stopped and he continued to live his life. Spina bifida still affects him, but not in any way to which he hasn't adapted.
Growing up as a red-blooded American boy may not have been easy, but it was real. And it was fun. And there was real fun. Jamie's mother Wilma, God bless her and rest her soul, was determined that if her son was on this earth then he would have as normal a childhood as possible. Jamie grew up playing football, basketball, swam competitively and played varsity baseball while still in middle school.
And he played stuntman. At the age of 12, Jamie and friends stood on the roof of a house under construction and wondered who could jump off and hit the sandpile below. Jamie went first, overshot the pile, and broke his ankle.
The joint was reconstructed, but as 12-year-old boys do, Jamie continued to grow. And as he did, the bones were rebuilt again and again, resulting in more than five surgeries over seven years. His 20s were not plagued with the systemic problems of his childhood, but rather osteoarthritis and a lowered immunity from years of surgeries. By 34, osteomyelitis was unbeatable and his left foot was amputated.
Jamie's reaction: "Hell, I should have done this years ago!"
I tell you all this because my husband has been a survivor all his life. A hole at the base of his spinal cord did not stop him. Bones broken and rebroken again and again did not stop him. An amputation and a prosthetic foot does not slow him down.
And cancer will not stop him.
I am sure of it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Thank You

What a week it's been. This blog went live 10 days ago. In that time, I've heard from family (far and wide ... we're a big one), friends (old, new, local, far-flung and I-don't-even-know-exactly-where-you-are), fans (OK — WOW!) and fellow cancer warriors (YOU ROCK!).
  • worst-case scenario: I'd have an online journal
  • lower-middle-case scenario: Family & friends could check in to see how we're doing
  • middle-middle-case scenario: Someone might get a laugh or two out of it
  • upper-middle-case scenario: Someone might find a little inspiration in it
  • best-case scenario: Not sharing that one yet ... see fear of jinxes, please
(Why, yes! Overthinking IS evil bitch procrastination's ugly twin sister. Thanks for asking!)
And here we are, just getting started, with folks requesting their daily splash in my glass be delivered to their inboxes; receiving RSS feeds on their desktops; and redistributing the link on their own sites, on their Facebook walls and to their e-mail buddies.
You guys sure know how to make this amateur optimist feel like a pro, and to inspire my half-glassed self to, well, keep trying to do a whole-glassed job.
Thanks. It means more than you could ever know.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, BOOM!

One of the advantages to having your child eat and drink out of bowls on the kitchen floor is that she can get herself a snack whenever she wants. It's also nice when she snoozes the whole day away, even burrowing her head under a pillow when her parents get to be a little too much to bear. File this under Reason 672 it's a good thing Cathleen & Jamie didn't reproduce:
Saturdays spent playing video games, reading trashy magazines and reliving the past three decades in song.
While I brainstormed what to write today (lazed on the couch in front of a fan & read UsWeekly), Jamie caught up on the latest news online (checked the posts on his favorite UGA sports message board) and stumbled upon (clicked faster than you can say HOLY NAPSTER, BATMAN) a free music site. The next three (four?) hours were spent building quite the catalog. I dozed off to Robert Plant rambling on and awoke to Michael Stipe imploring me not to go back to Rockville. I sang along (badly) to R.E.M., U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alice in Chains, Guadalcanal Diary, the Meatpuppets and more. Jamie regaled me with tales of nights long before we met spent in clubs, at concerts, or ahh...elsewhere..., listening live to the evolution of modern Alt-Rock. (deep contented sigh) Right now, Jamie is wrapping up a coaching session in the virtual SEC on his PlayStation. I am still lazing on the couch, balancing a laptop on my knees, tap-tap-tapping away. Our little girl, Tilly the Terrier, is snoring at the opposite end of the sofa. She'll probably wake up when the pizza gets here. Chemoville seems a long, long -- long -- way from this place. Yeah. It's the end of the world as we know it. But I feel fine.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Girl Date Day

I am being sent on forced recreation this afternoon. Mmmmmm ... okay! Earlier this week, after my friend J (amazing girlfriend of the amazing K) had been making suggestions for some girl time, I bit and we made plans to meet up this evening. Then came Tuesday's great fever escapade and I immediately put it on hold. Well, as soon as fever stabilized yesterday morning, Jamie insisted I keep fun on the schedule. I agreed, but still thought that if needed, I'd bail. I am happy to report that there will be no bailing. I am also happy to report that while I was still headed out with a temp hovering at 99+, I finally heard that perky proclamation of "Ninety-eight-point-six!" this morning. Straight-up chick time is on the agenda: First, a matinee viewing of My Life in Ruins, the new flick from Nia Vardalos of My Fat Greek Wedding fame. Love her! Then, happy hour with the fine folks at Solstice Kitchen & Wine Bar. Love them! Then, J will be off to spend the evening with her honey. And I will head home to spend the evening with mine. Love it!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Time for a Tune-Up

Today I took my machine in for its regularly scheduled bimonthly maintenance. And by machine, I mean mind. And by maintenance, I mean therapy. It's something that, in one form or another, has been a part of my life for 25 years. I've gone years without it. And I've gone years when I couldn't have lived without it. For the past six months, though, twice a month is neither too little nor too much. It is just right. I have had to skip some of those Thursday afternoon appointments. But the very reasons that I skip them are why I make sure I keep going back.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Maternal Instincts

Jamie and I do not have children. We are, however, aunt and uncle to seven nieces and four nephews, all of whom we absolutely adore. I am fond of saying that I love all of my kids — and I love giving them back. My ego does not permit the patience, nor the absolute sacrifice, that is required to be a parent. I already had planned to write about this today, but after last night, it seems particularly appropriate. I also had planned to incorporate the gist of a relevant e-mail correspondence with my dear friend B, so I went into my inbox to find the message thread. After reading, I think it will speak for itself:
time: early March, three weeks post-op; events referred to: chemotherapy, originally scheduled for eight weeks post-op; persons referred to: H, our goddaughter and niece, daughter of my older sister Christine; Dr. B, our oncologist Jamie is getting stronger every day and adjusting well to ostomy. Incisions are healing well & stoma is healthy. We start "aggressive" chemo — not sure if there is simply an "assertive" option, or even "friendly" or "shy" — on April 9. Tomorrow afternoon we have a teaching session with nurses. I'll be honest with you, this part scares the hell out of me. Two weeks ago, when we went to meet with oncologist to discuss chemo protocol, I kept getting the hot spits and that gray feeling right before you pass out. Every time the doctor said "toxic" and "kill" and "nausea" and "difficult"....you get the picture. The analogy may sound weird, but stick with me: what kept me upright is I kept repeating to myself, "No one else can take care of this baby." I never used to believe mothers when they said that changing diapers, taking care of sick children, was "different when it was your own," but when H came along (18 years ago, GAH!!), I finally knew what they meant. Whenever I had her to myself, nothing fazed me; some instinct kicked in and I knew she was helpless and relying on me and that no one else could take care of that baby. But you know what I mean — you're a mother. A wonderful mother, who as I recall, was afraid to hold babies until she had her own ;-). Anyway, so far, there's been far worse to care for around here than I ever encountered with H, and I haven't had to talk myself through anything yet, so I'm certain I can face chemo and anything it throws at us, too. I'm just grateful he's here and there is something called chemo to help us fight whatever there is in there to fight. But I'm also not afraid to say it: It really does scare the hell out of me.
Back to the present. It is early June, and we have just completed our first round of chemo, which didn’t begin until May 26. It continued to scare the hell out of me until they put the first needle in his arm. Since that moment, I have handled everything it has thrown at us, and yesterday we went in for a routine blood draw and check-in with Dr. B. Jamie’s blood pressure was good, his temperature normal, and he’s even gained back four of the seven pounds he dropped in the first week on the drip. His white cell count, though, is low. How low, I don’t know. Low enough for Dr. B to write a prescription for antibiotics. Just in case. If Jamie’s temperature were to rise above 100.5 during our scheduled week-long break, we were to start the seven-day course. Since we started chemo, we check Jamie’s temperature daily. It has never been above 99.3, only registering above normal once in 15 days. Dr. B advised we get the prescription filled. Just in case. Yesterday afternoon, I left a lethargic and mildly nauseated (and medicated) man drowsing while I went to market. I returned just a little over an hour later to find Jamie under covers, his skin bright red and hot like sunburn literally from his head to his toes. I popped the digital thermometer into a very grumpy mouth under eyes and brows that I know how to read only too well. They were saying, You are overreacting. It is Columbia, SC, in June. Of course I’m freakin’ hot, but I will wait for the beep so I can prove to you how overcautious you are. Yes, his looks really can say all that. In fact, that was a pretty short statement for them. BEEP. No prideful announcement of “Ninety. Eight. Point. Six.” Rather, a matter-of-fact “One hundred and two” came out. Jamie’s temperature peaked at 102.5 at midnight, falling to 100 at 7 a.m. and 99.5 at 9 a.m. We have our just-in-case antibiotics and 20 hours after the first dose, they seem to be taking effect. I am a caregiver to an adult who may be sometimes cranky, but is a much better patient than I ever would have predicted. He can communicate what he is feeling, where it hurts and whether or not what I am doing is helping. I cannot imagine the same scenario happening with a child, especially an infant or toddler, and my possessing any level of calm. Mom, Christine, Caryn (my younger sister) — and you, too, B — I already knew what wonderful mothers you all are. I never will know the full measure of just how difficult it is. I am in awe of what you do.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I Can Feel the Love

Somebody, somewhere, must be reading this, because I've received requests for subscription information. Wow. Just wow. Take a gander to your right and you'll see easy-peasy ways to receive notifications when there's a splash in the glass. Also, if you'd like, take a sec to scroll down and declare yourself a follower. I thank you. Jamie thanks you. Nurse Tilly thanks you. (You'll meet her soon enough.) Be well & LIVESTRONG.


I've always loved the term holiday when used to refer to time off. The word vacation conjures up memories of road trips, Coppertone, sandy feet and more. Fantastic! A holiday, though, is fabulous. Holidays are decadent, languorous, indulgent. Holidays are slowly sipped wine while the sun sets; vacations are beers drained on the beach. Holidays are sundresses and sandals; vacations are tank tops and flip-flops. Holidays are slowly prepared meals of richly layered flavors; vacations are drive-throughs and Sno-Cones. Vacations are fun, and I am a big fan of fun. But holidays are divine, and like most terms borrowed from the Brits, evoke a feeling of sophistication and refinement that "va-cay" can't touch. Today marks the beginning of a one-week chemo break. Much as I love to spend the summer slathered in oil, slurping down an ice-cold brew while the grill fires up, kicking off my flip-flops as soon my feet hit the sand, that's not in the plans this week. But ... I'm wearing a sundress and have cold mineral water bubbling in a glass. And as soon as I finish this post, I shall slip into my espadrilles, twist my hair into a chignon and put on my sunglasses. I'm headed to the Farmers' Market, where I will select the most fragrant fruit, the ripest vegetables and enough flowers to fill at least four vases. We are on holiday.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Milestone Mondays

On Day Seven of the LIVESTRONG Chronicle, I logged on to Facebook, ready to post Team Wedding's status update. Actually, I should say, not ready. Jamie had only been home two days, and they'd been intense. It was just the two of us, and it hadn't been easy -- or pretty -- but we'd made it. My husband is a fiercely independent man -- with good reason -- but that's another story for another day. (Keep hanging around here ... I've got lots to tell.) For him to have surrendered his pride in those early days was no small feat. But it meant the world to me and was necessary for us to build the symbiotic system that's second nature to us now. But that morning, I was spent. I knew I had family and friends waiting to hear how we were doing and those Facebook updates were the easiest way to do it. I didn't have a pithy dose of positivity in me. I also knew if I didn't post, I ran the risk of never logging on again and letting myself be swallowed up by isolated days that morphed into the next and the next and the next ... I may not have been much of a Little Mary Sunshine -- ever -- but I did know enough to know that I couldn't let myself slide like that. Then I realized it had been seven days. HOLY CRAP! That's a week. We'd made it a week. So that's what I posted:
"Cathleen is thinking on DAY 7, 'One week down, one long(!) lifetime to go!' LIVESTRONG!"
Then next Monday came, and I realized it had been two weeks. Being the good lapsed-Catholic-but-still-have-enough-superstition-in-me-to-pave-the-way-to-hell-and-back that I am, I knew a jinx when I saw one. (Yeah...that's another story, too. I'm telling you, stick around.) So I posted:
"Cathleen is thinking on DAY 14, 'TWO weeks down, one long(!) lifetime to go!' LIVESTRONG!"
You get the picture. Today is Day 112. And I'm thinking, "Sixteen weeks down, one long(!) lifetime to go!" LIVESTRONG.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Happy National Cancer Survivors Day (yes, this means you!)

Today is National Cancer Survivors Day. What's that you say? You didn't get your Cancer Cards out on time? You don't know any Cancer Carols? You didn't hang your Cancer Stocking last night or find gifts under your Cancer Tree this morning? 

'Fess up. You didn't know it was National Cancer Survivors Day. Neither did I. You probably don't think it applies to you, either. Neither did I. 

We were both wrong.

"The National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation defines a 'survivor' as anyone living with a history of cancer -- from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life."
If you are one of the millions of people who has ever heard the "C" word as a label for anything growing on or in your body, I hate to burst your bubble, but it needs to be done: You. Are. A. Cancer. Survivor.

And if you're someone who actually uses the phrase the "C" word, you probably also think there's cancer and cancer. Cancer is cancer is cancer. Stick with me, please. Because while it is simple, I am not naive enough to think it is that simple. Cancer is a complex animal with many levels of invasion, treatment and survival. Hell, why else do all those terms stage, grade, spread, size and myriad other qualifiers exist? The depths of that, though, are a topic for another day.

Today, cancer is cancer is cancer. Cancer is learning about that funky mole you just had scooped out. Cancer is learning that those funky cells somewhere inside you need to be removed before they grow. Cancer is learning that the funky pain that won't go away isn't going to go away. 

A survivor starts paying attention and isn't scared to have tests. A survivor isn't afraid to have surgery that removes vulnerable tissues or organs. A survivor accepts that life as it once was will never be again, but there is still life.

Survivors talk about cancer. And that's how we live with it.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The LIVESTRONG Chronicle

Today is DAY 109. Day one was Monday, February 16, 2009. I could wax poetic, or draw on a few obvious cliches to describe what happened that day, but I'll keep it simple: My heart broke that day. And just as quickly, it scabbed over. Two months earlier, Jamie had been diagnosed with Stage 2 bladder cancer, and no matter how many questions we asked, nor how many people we asked, the answer was the same: to save his life, his life would be forever altered. The prognosis was good, but the journey was not predicted to be pretty. A radical cystectomy, prostatectomy and ileal conduit construction was needed. For those of you not fluent in cancerese (a language nobody picks as an elective), I'll break it down for you: the entire bladder, prostate and all the tubes, canals, connective tissues with names that you'd recognize but would make you blush? Gots to go. "All of them?" Gots to go. "All the nerves?" Gots to go. "So how will he, you know, go (insert-your-favorite-clinical-vulgar-childish-term here) ... 'cause, you know, well, he's gots to go ..." Yeah. In a bag. Connected to a hole. In his tummy. Hmmm. Okay. "But that will get the cancer?" Yup*. "All of it?" Yup*. "And you'll take the lymph nodes, too?" Yup*. Lymph nodes are one of the universal elements of cancer that everyone seems to recognize: "Oh! It wasn't/was in the lymph nodes -- that's great/terrible!" I don't know that anyone knows why those frisky nodes are so important, they just know that they are. Yup*. I know you've noticed them. Those little asterisks attached to each of the seemingly breezy "yups." I think asterisks are deceptively perky. They sit there all happy-looking, like stars, or fireworks, when they really are little bombs with a fuse hidden in the fine print. Good things are never connected to asterisks. If the fine print were good news, it wouldn't be all tiny at the bottom of the page, just begging to be read at the mind-numbing speed of a radio announcer on crack who gets paid in rocks according to the number of words he fits into a 15-second spurt. If the fine print were good news, it'd be in a big honking look-at-my-fabulous-self headline. Like this: BASED ON THE INFORMATION WE HAVE NOW, I AM ANSWERING "YUP." WE WILL NOT KNOW THE FULL STORY UNTIL I ACTUALLY LOOK AROUND INSIDE, TAKE EVERYTHING OUT AND HAVE THE GEEKS IN PATHOLOGY CONFIRM WHAT I'M PRETTY SURE I SAW WITH MY EXPERT EYES WHILE YOU WERE SPLAYED OPEN. "And we can ask all the questions, pose all the hypotheticals, 'what-if' you until we're all annoyed, but it really comes down to the fact that we just need to trust you and let you do what we all agree you are an expert at doing?" Yup. No asterisks. Which brings us back to February 16. The big, bad surgery had been a success. Dr. C was looking like a god. Jamie was, in just four short days, impressing the staff of the 3rd Surgical Ward who were discovering that a 46-year-old man with a 70-year-old-man's disease is not to be pitied, but enjoyed. I was tripping along in the rhythm learned only by those who have their other half living under a separate antiseptic roof, and happily listened to the nurses tell me what a good night and morning was had by all. In walks Dr. C, and with one short utterance, dropped the turd in the punchbowl at our Party de Denial. The pathology reports were in. The cancer wasn't Stage 2, but Stage 3. Yes, the lymph nodes were removed, but there was evidence of carcinoma in one of them. No, it hadn't spread to any other organs. That accompanying thud? Just the sound of my heart hitting the floor. But this is a story about the scab, not the stab. After a deep breath and a promise to myself not to pass out (no small feat, I'm sad to say), I found my voice: "Stage 3 is not Stage 4. One lymph node is not two. No spread means no spread. Tell us what we have to do." I'm not going to pretend that at that moment I found an impenetrable strength and forged ahead with a singular vision of healing. No. I sat with Jamie while he ate his lunch, accompanied him on his midday walk and watched him take his pain meds and start to drowse. Then I kissed him and said I was going to go out to get some fresh air while he napped. I walked down the hall, turned the corner, called my best friend, told him where to find me and had to wait no more than 10 minutes for him to arrive at my side. And I sobbed in his arms. The rest of the day went by in a numb blur. I returned to the 3rd floor, picked up my rhythm right where I stepped out of it and then headed home to curl up with my sister Chrisie who had driven 90 miles so I didn't have to have to be alone that night. Jump ahead to eight o'clock that next morning. I logged on to Facebook and posted: "Cathleen thinks cancer has no idea who it's dealing with and has grossly underestimated Jamie Wedding. DAY 1 of OPERATION SURVIVAL, here we come. LIVESTRONG!" And we haven't looked back. Today is DAY 109. And I'm starting this blog about 90 days after I said I would (yeah, procrastination is an evil bitch) but I intend to nurture it with the same dedication that has fueled the uninterrupted LIVESTRONG messages. With them, I have connected with old friends and family, made new friends from across the country and across the ocean, and -- most importantly -- preserved my own sanity by reminding myself each day that we are still here. The Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) is the source of the ubiquitous yellow bracelets and LIVESTRONG mantra. LAF's motto is "Unity is strength, knowledge is power, and attitude is everything." Huh. Jamie and I both have been told that we each have plenty of attitude; indeed, sometimes, bad attitudes. Well, cancer was getting ready to see our badass attitude.

Friday, June 5, 2009

This is for you, Cat Con

I have always detested the question, "Is the glass half-full or half-empty?" 

It depends. It always depends. I am no neophyte in the arena of cleverly (or not-so-cleverly) phrased questions designed to gauge one's mental state. Supposedly this glass question is the ultimate diagnostic device of pessimism or optimism, and is often espoused as quite telling by the arbiters of such things.

I can be anything at any time and often both at all times: cautiously cheerful, cynically hopeful, and always — always — open to interpretation. My hypothetical H2O is at half-measure, sloshing around curves and up and down the roller coaster that is my world, with tracks that pass inspection, but remain consistently in need of some level of repair. And while I've done a great deal of self-maintenance, I've always known there was someone standing by to catch me when I stepped off and slid down to the ground. For the past 12 years, that person has been my husband Jamie.  His arms are strong — and they've needed to be. I'm not easy. I'm worth it, but I'm not easy. You try maintaining this mixed metaphor of water in a coaster car. Yeah, that's what I thought.

I never once doubted Jamie would always be there for me. Better or for worse, sickness and in health, richer or for poorer ... yada, yada, yada ... yeah. Then came December 15, 2008, and every one of those phrases began taunting us at once. Jamie was diagnosed with bladder cancer and needed radical surgery. I was unemployed and the economy was in the toilet. So there's the sickness and the poorer for you. Then the real surprise came, and it wasn't the worse. It was the better. And it shocked the hell out of me.

I'm trying to figure it out, as well as recognize this woman in the mirror who seems awfully strong. I've never seen her until now. But I like her. 

And you might, too.

Welcome to my half-glassed life. Jump on in. The water is well, tepid.

Jamie lost his fight with cancer 
November 1, 2010, only two weeks 
after surprising metastasis 
to his pelvis was discovered. 
My half-glassed life continues 
to memorialize his life and love.
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