Thursday, January 31, 2013

sigh. again.

I went to my chemo appointment today. The doctor checked my lymph nodes, my throat, my ankles, my rash (or lack of a rash), asked a lot of questions and we commenced with Paclitaxel.

I did not have the rare but not unexpected side effect of trouble breathing and red face. I told Regis to be on alert for the ruddy complexion and I would be alert for the breathing problems. Kerry told me what they would do and she did not seem alarmed at all that this could, although probably would not, occur.

I'm not sure how I would have been alert enough to notice labored breathing since they had given me 50mg of bendryl and told me it "might make me drowsy". Might make me drowsy is a great euphemism for kick your ass into the middle of next week. I felt like I had a bottle of wine without the speech was slow, my thinking was slow, and I listed to the left when I went to the bathroom. I completely missed my pod partner leaving.

After I realized I had made it through the taxol without the dreaded side effects I felt strong enough to ask about the future. I have taken all of this cancer business one step at a time. Asking questions about the last phase of treatment was something I couldn't wrap my brain cells around before today. With one phase, the A&C, done, I felt ready.

I knew there was radiation but in my mind, I was thinking 3-4 treatments, one a week. Some easy schedule like that, but who knows where I got that notion. I ask. Oh, no. Judy says more like 30. One every day for 30 days. WTF. WTF!

I won't finish the taxol until April 18th if I don't miss a week because of my white count. I'll get two weeks off, then start the radiation which begins with simulation. Simulation of radiation is where they tattoo your skin so they know where to aim the deadly ray gun so as not to irradiate your healthy parts along with your sick parts.

Thirty days of that, not taking into account some days off to rest because of skin burns (What???) That means I'll finish up, if I'm lucky, about June 14th. Again, I say...wait, wait...what the fuck?

You can see there were a lot of profane words, exclamations, and rhetorical questions going through my mind. Good thing most of them did not come out my mouth.

I came home and took a nap. I'll wallow in my misery tonight, then I will pick myself up off the floor and go on tomorrow. It could always be worse, as my Norwegian relatives say. It could always be worse. This much I know is true.

no snow days for chemo

I'm sitting in my cozy living room drinking coffee when I hear that schools in St. Peter are starting two hours late and Mankato schools are closed due to the way below zero wind chills. I remember the days when a late start or a close gave me a little tingle of excitement. One downside to retirement: I still have to go out on days like this. There are no snow days for chemo.

Yesterday, Mary Smith from Mary's Flowers delivered a little pot of daffodils because I knew the answer to her Facebook quiz: William Wordsworth. It's always fun to see Mary almost any day. She is a ray of sunshine herself and sometimes delivers flowers with a song. She told me she includes me in her prayers every night which is a nice thing.

In the interest of full disclosure I am posting the picture Mary took. I'm dressed in my exercise clothes, my hat is cocked, and you can see my messy kitchen. Oh, hell. There are worse things, right?

I will say that is my Valentine's Day tree and not my Christmas tree. Although, I'm not saying I might not be lazy enough to leave my Christmas tree up until February. The tree will get one more costume change for St. Patrick's Day before it goes away for the summer.

I have to plan my attired carefully today. I have to wear something warm enough that I don't freeze to death on my way to the car, something I can exercise gently in, and something that will give the nurses access to my port. That's a lot of criteria and I haven't even considered foot wear yet. I need a fashion spreadsheet.

My relatives are gathering in a small town in North Dakota today to say goodbye to my brother, Steve. The windchill will be 40 degrees below zero there. I worry about them driving in this bitter cold. It will be a long day for them and I'll be thinking about them all.

Off to my first Paclitaxel treatment. The link is interesting if you want to know more about it. It's a taxane and was originally made from the yew tree. Now it's produced synthetically. It stops cancer my preventing cells from dividing.

Stay warm, my friends!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

anxiety dreams

Regis and I both woke up at 3 am. He checked the status of the Winterfest Medallion (found) and I tried to read. I went back to sleep at 4 am and had the fitful and dream-filled sleep. It was awful. I woke agitated, sweaty, and with a headache. I'm not sure it was worth it.

I have read about twenty mystery novels in the last month. At this point, Inspector Lewis, Jim Chee, and Cork O'Connor are all mixed up in my head. Are the Ojibwe and the kachinas looking for a murderer in London and drinking Scotch in the evenings while they make their plans? It's painful. And I watch Doc Martin at night, so add Marty and Joan to this cocktail and you have the stuff of crazy dreams.

After two days above freezing, our sidewalks are a mess. It didn't get warm enough to actually rid us of any snow and ice, it just melted and formed a thick, impenetrable coat of frozen muck on all horizontal surfaces. No wonder people get depressed. A few years ago, I sold our ice chipper at a garage sale. Don't ask me why. Clearly, a mistake.

I threw four old photo albums in the trash the other day. They were from my college and early teaching days. I ransacked them for a few pictures to keep, then put them in a plastic garbage bag in the dumpster. Regis came back into the house with them the other day after taking the garbage down, intent on looking through them. For evidence of my exciting youth, no doubt. I told him those albums had one week to live and if he hadn't looked at them by next Monday, they were going back in the trash. No reprieve this time.

It's below zero this morning, at least I think it is. I've grown weary of checking the weather. Who cares when its the end of January. It's the dog days of winter. The doldrums. Spring seems like a long way off, nearly impossible to survive this gray winter until then. I can hear the chimes in the front yard which means the wind is rearing its ugly head. Lovely. I have lost my sense of humor about this winter. Hell is not hot, it's subzero.

We are going off to exercise this morning. Tomorrow, I start my twelve-week round of Paclitaxel, which may account for the anxiety dreams. I am looking forward to the Lorna Doones, however.

On the mornings when school is late or cancelled, I still get an automated call. I admit to a tiny bit of pleasure, as if I were still a teacher and got to enjoy another hour at home, but a phone call at 5:30 am is not really a pleasant thing. I told my friend, Joanne, if she could track down the keeper of the list and get me off of it, I would be forever grateful.

It's like stuff on your medical record. Every time I go in, they look at a list and ask me if I have a hiatel hernia. Every time, I tell them no, that I have never heard that diagnosis from any medical professional. They say they will take it off but the next time, there it is again. The ghost hiatel hernia.

Gus is curled up on the couch. If I hadn't spent so much time in bed yesterday, I would take his lead and crawl back in myself. It's a comfortable place to spend a gray winter day. It's probably not mentally healthy to do that very often, imagining what Doc Martin would say. I'll try to stay vertical today, promise.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

cheeseburger therapy

When I went to exercise class yesterday, I told the physiologist that I was going to be a good test of his mood elevating properties of exercise theory. I told him that my mood, given the gray weather of late, was about a 3 on the mood scale with 1 being crappy and 10 being giddy.

By the end of the hour, I was about a 7. Not giddy but not ready to hitchhike to a southern climate either.

I have been craving cheeseburgers. Every day I wake up and start scheming about how I can achieve a cheeseburger that day. After exercise class, we stopped at Guenther's and I had my cheeseburger fix. They make a great one...hand made patty, nice toasted bun, ketchup, mustard, pickles. A simple pleasure.

Here's a view from the last booth, of which there are only three. You don't want to go here when it's the peak busy time, like at noon. We go around 10:30 so you can still have breakfast but you can get lunch if you'd rather and you don't have to fight anybody for a booth.


Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between “green thread”
and “broccoli” you find
that you have penciled “sunlight.”

Resting on the page, the word
is as beautiful, it touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent you from some place distant
as this morning — to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing,

that also needs accomplishing.
~ from “The Word,” by Tony Hoagland

I was looking at my blog posts from last year and found this poem. I thought it was time to resurrect it. I love reading old blog posts. Usually, I don't remember them (there are almost 2,000) and it seems like somebody else wrote it. Sometimes I laugh out loud. That's pretty good if you can crack yourself up with a goofy post you wrote years ago.

A little sunlight would be nice. It's after 7 and it still looks like Siberia out there. I'm surprised there aren't more crimes of passion in the winter. But once I have written that, I decide it makes sense. Who could work up enough passion to commit a crime when it's gray all day and dark all night? I have enough trouble working up the energy to do the dishes.

Regis just asked if I am in the winter doldrums. Yes, I would say. I'm going to haul out all the doldrum cures today: yoga, scented candles, music, exercise. Reading and writing are good but if I sit in my chair and stare out on the bleak landscape, it makes me want to go back to bed.

Regis is taking Gus out. I told him when he comes back I want to talk about February and things to look forward to. He is a minute-to-minute guy but he tolerates my love of planning. A guy has to do something to combat the winter blues.

Monday, January 28, 2013

sometimes the apples don't fall too far from the family tree

Bruce sent this picture of his grand-daughter, Darby, dressed up for her birthday party. She would be my grand-niece but that sounds like a blue-haired old lady thing so I don't like to use that phrase. This is a girl after my own heart. She put together quite a look here. Then I started thinking...

Here I am dressed to go to the St. Patrick's Day parade. I wore this to a party with Regis when he worked at a costume company and I wore it to school a couple times (with a longer skirt and no wine) and passed out gold-wrapped chocolates from a black cauldron.

I celebrated one of my recent birthdays with my mom. She has a long history of dressing up on Halloween. One year she put on a gorilla mask before getting into bed to scare my dad. He didn't even blink.

Ella loves costumery. She's in her glory if we dig out long dresses, sparkly jewelry, scarves, and hats. She has a good eye for the outrageous and I appreciate that. You can see her dramatic pose.

I think we're due for a costume afternoon, Ella. Too bad we can't all get together for a party!

I am feeling the effects of being cooped upest, partly because yesterday was not a day to venture out. It started with rain, then ice, then snow, then back to rain. The sidewalks were treacherous. Even with my YakTrax, it was rough going.

My rash is gone. It started disappearing on Friday and by Saturday, no signs of it. Probably better that my last treatment was cancelled, though...I might have been an itching mess by today. I'm taking this as a positive sign for going ahead with the taxol on Thursday. My doc says most people tolerate taxol better than A&C. I seem to be an outlier, numerically distant from the rest of the data...less than 2% suffer with a rash. Just my luck.

Many of my thoughts today are cranky, or at least gloomy. Best to not impart them on others.

My can of whoop ass for the day is the beautiful women in my life who wear striped tights and hats and crazy glasses. Here's to you all!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

snow angels galore

Dakota sends her Auntie Teresa a snow angel!

Here is the evidence. Every kid should know how to make snow angels!

Brooklyn send her Auntie Teresa a snow angel!

Rachel sends her Auntie Teresa a snow angel!

Thanks, lovely young ladies, for all the snow angels. I love them. I'm afraid I might have been sent one here or there that I misplaced. Instagram or text message are the hardest for me. I see it and then forget to do anything about it.

This morning when Regis came to the Pulse, I told him I had done 15 minutes on the wind mill. I meant tread mill. My brain, my brain. Sometimes the chemo makes it chug to a halt.

It's been one of those days when you want to go back to bed and pull the covers over your head until the sun comes out and it warms up. We've had rain, freezing rain, snow and lots of gray skies. Ugh.

I think I have cabin fever. I should suppress it for today because it will be a busy week.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

two-bit rash and what I do with all my free time

After writing that optimistic post about feeling safe at chemotherapy, I had a bit of a disappointment on Thursday.

I've had this rash. It started out on my shoulders about a week after my last treatment. It didn't itch...just looked weird. The next day, I had blotches over my thighs and arms. I stopped in the clinic when I went to exercise and the doc and the research nurse both looked at it. The doc didn't think it was related to the chemo but said to keep an eye on it.

So, of course, on Thursday when I go in for my last of four A&C treatments, they want to see the rash which is no better and in fact, slightly worse. Still doesn't itch but looks bad.

The doctor is concerned that it is related to the chemo. He leaves the room to make a call to a man in Rochester who is a double-ologist in breast cancer research. They confer over the kind of cancer I have, the number of lymph nodes involved, the chemo I have had so far and what I have coming in the future...and they decide I shouldn't have the last treatment.

With allergic reactions, they can get progressively worse, triggering things like your throat swelling shut. (Bad thing.)The double-ologist feels that I have enough of a chemical shit storm going on that the last treatment is not that important. There is another arm of the study, what is also considered a standard of care, that doesn't even give the Adriomyacin at all.

But I have a mini-panic attack on the way home. Isn't more medicine better? Have I been cheated, by a two-bit rash, out of medicine that could help me? Really, I can deal with the rash.

Regis helps me slow down and remember that one thing I trust most about my medical team is that they never operate alone. They are always talking and collaborating so I need to trust this decision.

Judy, the research nurse, called yesterday and we talked through my concerns. She said it's common to feel anxiety when what you think is the course of treatment changes. She said what I already work and research. Decisions are not made without careful thought about risk and benefit. Deep breath. It will be fine.

This changes the timing, too. Because I had my last A&C two weeks ago and now we want to start the taxol, it has to be more than two weeks but less than three weeks. Not much flexibility. I'll start the taxol treatments on Thursday, the 31st. Twelve of them, one a week.

The good news is that, except for the rash, I tolerated the A&C much better than most people so we are optimistic that the taxol will go as well.

With all of this chemo stuff, compromised immune system, and threat of flu in its various forms, I have been spending a lot of time at home. We go out on occasion but usually at times when there are not crowds of people. Here's what I do with my time:

  • We've been watching the British comedy series, Doc Martin. It's full of wacky characters so I love it.
  • I've burned through a lot of William Kent Kruger's books...about two a week. 
  • Last night I started one of Tony Hillerman's books. He writes mysteries involving the Zuni and Navajo people in the same way WKK does the Ojibwe. I like his writing a lot.
  • I'm knitting my sixth scarf. I have one for Mom ready to go in the mail and I'm working on one for Jill. Thank God it's been a cold winter. I tried to talk my cousin into a scarf but she said in Arizona, there isn't much need.
  • I have been making cards. The problem with this hobby is that it's messy and I don't have a lot of room. I organized things (I know...what the hell.) into plastic boxes but when I want to work on something, I have to drag all the boxes out. It's daunting.
  • I tried some games to stimulate my brain activity but my brain was resistant.
So, there you go. It's Saturday which doesn't really matter to me but I like to recognize it just the same. We have a quiet day planned and it might even involve a nap. Happy weekend!

Friday, January 25, 2013


My baby brother, Steve, on the left in the photo of my four brothers, died last night at 51. The past few years have been full of turmoil for him but he was at peace when he passed. It's a tragedy for him to die so young...for my mother, for his siblings, for his children, and for him. His daughter, Nicole, said he was a man with many talents and a big heart and he was all of that. He donated his body to the medical school at UND, a selfless act at the end of his life.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

having cancer...feeling safe

I told Joanne in an email today that I enjoy going to my chemotherapy appointments. I had to think about why that is.

All of the professionals I see are concerned for my welfare: the research nurse, the social worker, the oncologist, the radiologist, the nurses. Everyone wants to know how I'm doing and what they can do to help me. It's comforting.

In the same way, I like the exercise class. They take my blood pressure, my pulse, my weight. They want to know if I have any pain, they ask if I have any pain, or if my medication has changed. A nurse comes around as I exercise to take my pulse again and to ask how hard I'm working.

Normally, this would be irritating. It would feel intrusive to have someone all up in my business every minute but in the scary world of cancer, all of this makes me feel safe.

I've been obsessed the past few days with the word remission. I want to know if, at the end of my treatments, I will be in remission or if I will be cured. I know it probably doesn't really matter but yesterday...and today, it matters to me.

I've read that doctors rarely talk about cures with cancer. As long as there is a remote possibility of the cancer coming back, even many years in the future, they consider your cancer to be in remission...not cured. Too bad. I like the sound of cured better than remission.

My oncologist told me that my tumor is the lazy kind. I can't remember what it was that indicated laziness as opposed to aggressive, but he seemed to think it was good news. It might come back, but it might take fifteen years.

Now that I've swept that worry from the dusty shelves of my cluttered mind, I can move on to other things.

I also look forward to treatment days because they have little packages of Lorna Doone shortbread cookies in the treat basket. Life's small pleasures.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

finding things and taking naps

About a month ago, I lost two things: syringes for my Vitamin B and my checkbook. Since it was right before Christmas, I assumed they had both ended up in the same sweep and would be discovered together but I found my checkbook in my gym bag and the syringes in the glove box of the car. I had vague memories of putting them a little thread of memory that I couldn't quite grasp until now.

I have been sleeping so much better knock on wood. Yesterday I went into the bedroom and turned on the heated mattress pad and the humidifier, rubbed my nose with Vicks, and took a nap at 8 am. I hadn't even been awake that long. Maybe that qualifies as going back to bed rather than a nap. I took another nap mid-afternoon. Both were blissful. I've been sleeping well at night, too, waking for a short period but going quickly back to sleep.

Regis and I got up early today to buy groceries. We dropped Gus at the Paw to get some exercise while we did errands and went to geriatric exercise class. The grocery store was quiet and we got done in record time.  We had a few extra minutes to get coffee at Smiley's.

We had about an inch of snow today. Huge flakes that look like the snow you would find in department store display windows. Beautiful but not enough of it to make snow angels.

Tomorrow is my last A&C treatment. I have some questions to ask the doctor. How do we know this is working? When I'm done, do we call it remission or do we call it cured or do we not call it anything? (I have looked this up on google and just want to make sure his answer matches What's the next step in terms of radiation details? I think this is the first time I've had questions. It's pretty much been a blur up until now.

I forgot to post this photo because it was late appearing on the Shufflefunction blog. In September, we were radio programmers for the day, controlling the musical destiny of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. We're working on another gig now. Regis is so much better at the radio patter than I am. I need to have things written down, word for word, which doesn't work so well in a spontaneous radio atmosphere.

Well, that's it for today. In all ways, it was a good day.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

when there's nothin' going on and life is still good

Yesterday, it didn't get above zero in Minnesota. The high, the low, and the current were negative numbers all day. This morning, when I put my zip code into the weather channel search bar, it keeps giving me this: Hmmm, the page you are looking for can't be found. There's a message for you.

Regis goes out in this frigid weather without a hat on, in tennis shoes. It makes me crazy. He's been in Minnesota long enough to know the drill. Even my oncologist wears a hat in the winter. I know this because his hair is always sticking straight up when I see him. Nothing like hat hair in the winter. One advantage to being worries about hat hair.

Yesterday when I saw the doctor, it took me ten minutes to get the many layers of clothes off so I could get into the blue gown. The rash, if you are interested, goes undiagnosed. It has spread to my arms and legs but it doesn't itch and it hasn't blistered. The doctor told the nurse to document it thoroughly in my chart. Like Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Did anybody check out google images for rash? Aren't you sorry if you did? That shit will give you nightmares.

I am so grateful that my sleeping seems better. I take a short nap in the afternoon and I sleep all night, maybe waking once briefly but going right back to sleep. It's bliss.

We're meeting Peter and April at the Taj Mahal, a new Indian restaurant in Mankato on Friday. I have never eaten Indian food so I'm studying the menu. If you have a recommendation for me after looking at the menu, feel free to leave a comment. I'm Norwegian so I tend to like white food...potatoes, lefse, bread, fish. I have branched out and like a lot of hot peppers now but I have little experience with curry and such.

I see there is no parade scheduled for the Winterfest celebration. Harrumph. Marie, I think we should plan a parade, spread the word, make it performance art. What do you think? I love a Winterfest Parade!

Richie, thanks for the soup. It was wonderful to enjoy my glass of wine in front of the fireplace and have a bowl of chicken soup with no work! Bless your heart.

Anita, a special ed teacher friend of mine, stopped by for a visit yesterday. She talked about school for a while using terms like IEP, present levels of performance, and self-monitoring. Wait, wait...what? I stared into space. It's like that was in another lifetime and I have completely wiped clean the slate.

It's eight o'clock and school is starting somewhere, everywhere. I am sitting in my flannel nightgown and slippers, sipping coffee and eating an English muffin with butter and honey. I can go back to my warm bed and read for a while. I can spend the afternoon making Scotch broth from Meat Mike's soup bones. I don't have to leave the house or I can go to Pinot and Pizza at Chankaska Creek in the middle of the afternoon. Life could not be better today.

Monday, January 21, 2013

fight like a girl

Ella came over yesterday afternoon and we had a fine time. We put on our "fight like a girl" aprons, thanks to Katy in Georgia) and posed for some photos before playing a blistering round of tic-tac-to, doing some arts and crafts, and knitting. Gus likes to be in the pictures, too. He thinks when the camera comes out, it must be for him.

This one is for Gonzo. It says: A girl's BFF, whatever that means. Haha! It looks like Gonzo on her shirt. I loved the picture of Gonzo perching on the guy's foot, Tom. Of course, he wouldn't put his delicate hinder on the sand.

Regis and I are going to exercise today. I'm going to stop and see my nurse about the mystery rash and mild sore throat. I should finish the A&C this week and start the taxol next week. I figure the sooner I get on with it, the sooner I'm done.

It's really too cold to go anywhere today. The temp is 9 below zero and the windchill is 32 below. This is not weather for fashion. Garrison Keillor says we go back to basics in weather like this. Nobody worries about their hair or how goofy their hat looks. You just want to live to get to the next place with heat. You wear fifty pounds of clothes and everybody trudges. Uff da.

Stay warm. I'll be back.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

my daily can of whoop ass

I have some new hobbies. I find I have a lot of time to sit around lately so I needed something to do. I still read a lot but I looked for something else. I may have written about my trip through Hobby Lobby looking at  drawing kits and paint by number kits.

Card making is big sport now in the hobby shops. Aisles and aisles of specialty paper, fancy scissors, stamps, stickers, and all manner of thing. I randomly bought some blank cards and some stickers. Oh, and a package of crocheted stuff. I'm not Martha Stewart and nobody would ever mistake my cards for something made by a professional but they're fun. I'm currently working on some Valentines.

My other new hobby is knitting. Mom taught me to knit when I was very young...maybe 7 or 8. At one time in my life I knew how to make mittens and made them by the sackful for little kids in Minneapolis who didn't have mittens. I'm not sure I could handle that many needles anymore but I like making scarves.

I made one for Tiffany before Christmas. It was made from red chunky yarn and I made it into a cowl which is my favorite pattern because there is no pattern. The one on the left below is shades of purple and I made it for Latisha. The one on the right is teal and I made it for Kathy.

Here's one I'm starting for mom. If I really go to town, I can finish one in three days. If you need a scarf, let me know. Marilyn? Nancy? Betty? Jill? Richie? I know big wooly cowls don't sound good to my warm climate friends but when the wind chill is 16 below like it is here, you die if you fall down on your way out with the trash so you've got to dress warm. This place ain't for sissies.

I asked my friends on Facebook to come over and smack me in the head if I ever start talking about making refrigerator magnets with googly eyes.

I hate it when I write two letters down, get distracted, then come back and can't remember what I was going to write. I need sticky notes for my brain.

Speaking of brain. I read on some website that playing games helps your brain. Does this mean any kind of game? Yahtzee? I tried one where you find the thing that's different between two pictures. Boy, did I suck at that. It figures your IQ as you go and I was in the negative numbers when I quit. I'll find something else.

I'm making cinnamon rolls this morning. I should have summoned the gumption to make the dough last night, but alas, I was wallowing in my slothful ways. Nobody said you have to eat a cinnamon roll at the crack of dawn anyway so what the hell.

I'm adding tea to the list of things I want to learn. I bought this tea pot online this morning and a sampling of flowering teas. I've always liked the idea of tea but I have trouble finding one for which I like the taste. Coffee just isn't doing it for me right now.

Busy week. Last round of A&C then onto a new chemical cocktail. I've been so lucky to have so few side effects, or maybe I should say I'm grateful for the knowledge of my doctors that they can put me through this with so few side effects. Although...

I think the chemo maybe affecting my brain. Yesterday, I looked at Mapquest to plan a 1500 mile road trip. Regis just rolled his eyes. If you know me, I don't drive to Minneapolis without a map and a suitcase. I have been known to weep after three hours in the car. We'll have to wait and see what transpires. I didn't realize that the trip meant driving through mountains and that is a bit of a deterrent as I don't like heights.

Better get my sorry butt into the kitchen and start rattling some pots and pans.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

hyper-vigilant about stupid health stuff: hypochondria alert

Yesterday when I got out of the shower I noticed I had a rash across the top of my shoulders. Bright red spots...not raised or blistered. Do not ever...ever...put rash in google and click images. Oh, my God. Disgusting. Anyway, I called the oncology nurse who said I didn't need to be concerned unless I develop a fever but should watch it. It doesn't itch but I keep touching it to see if it's still there. Today I am trying to decide if my throat is sore. I know if I call and tell the on-call oncologist that I have a rash and a sore throat, I will be headed to the ER. I use Regis as my "is this insane?" monitor. I describe my symptoms and he tells me if it's something to worry about or not. So far, he says not. I took two benadryl and I'm going to take a nap. Naps, and Vicks, are the cure-alls. Mom, I always throw my jar of Vicks into my bag when I go to chemo. It's my can of whoop ass on those days.

Friday, January 18, 2013

my ode to regis

My husband is my Rock of Gibralter. My Pillar of Hercules.
He does the dishes without complaint.
He takes the dog to the dog park and keeps track of his Heartguard and Frontline.
He keeps complicated records of our car maintenance. He knows when an oil change is due.
He can fix the toilet.
He restores my soul.
He lets me choose the movie even if its something he might hate.
He keeps me in book lists.
He remembers when I wear the first pair of earrings he ever sent me.
He brings me coffee in the morning and a glass of wine at night.
He does my laundry.
He shaves my head gently and cleans the small hairs that fall to the rug.
He worries about my symptoms and examines my stitches and my rash.
He holds my hand as we walk into the clinic.
He has a hearty laugh.
He makes up words to songs to make me laugh.
He has a jukebox in his head. He sings and sometimes the songs are stuck in my head for days.
He lifts me up when I am down.
He carries the heavy things and tells me not to clean up after the dog. He will do it.
He is my Mount Everest. Tall, tough, and beautiful.
He picks me up at the sidewalk when the driveway is icy.
He lets me pick the restaurant and only says he would like it to have popcorn. He doesn't complain if I don't eat all my food.
He keeps me in batteries of every size and kind.
He fixes stuff. He knows about electrical things like outlets. He knows what to do when a car breaks down.
He cares about my welfare. He wants me to be happy.
He makes the best scrambled eggs.
He is my Lake Superior. Deep clear, and cool.
He will do anything so I get better. He takes me to appointments and wait for four hours while I have chemo. He goes down the hall to get me coffee and a scone.
He is my right hand. My best of everything. My only.
This is my ode to Regis.

i look good and feel better

I had a nice day yesterday. Regis and I went to the exercise class in the morning where we are progressing well. I can do squats with five pound weights! Chip says I should be back to my old habits with maybe even bigger weights in a month.

I went with Regis to one of the ologist appointments. The ologist looks more like a Viking warrior (tall and strapping with huge hands) than a doctor but he was very thorough. He explained a lot of the medical mysteries to us and wished us well. Back to that ologist in six months.

I stopped at the yarn shop and stocked up on yarn for my prodigious scarf making. Anybody who needs a scarf should let me know. I pretty much have one design...and a very easy pattern. I buy bulky yarn, cast an odd number of stitches onto big needles, and knit until I am almost out of yard. Sometimes I stitch the ends together so it makes a big cowl scarf.

The picture at the top is my haul from the American Cancer Society's Look Good Feel Better class last night. I wasn't sure how it would be but I enjoyed it a lot. There were ten women in all stages of cancer diagnosis and treatment. We each got a bag of very nice and expensive cosmetic products and the instructor showed us how to use each of them. She also gave times on skin care, nails, head coverings, etc. It was fun to see people transformed by make-up and laughter.

My newly revised mental health plan is as follows:

  • Limit carbs (wine and lefse are permitted)
  • Exercise daily
  • Change the books I'm reading. Agatha Christie is ponderous. I read forty pages last night where they wrapped up every clue in the damn book. Gads. I suppose they had a lot of ponder before DNA and finger prints.
  • Watch only funny movies or light romantic comedies. This is a problem. Regis and I most often watch movies together. 
  • Here is what he likes:
    • Science Fiction
    • Action/adventure with bad guys
    • Car chases
    • Loud guns and bombs
    • Intrigue
    • Thought-provoking
    • Plot
  • Here is what I like (or don't) in a movie:
    • Characters, the more eccentric the better
    • A gentle plot that does not include violence or gratuitous sex
    • No loud noises
    • No scary stuff
    • Resolution in the end
    • No really bad people that could be real
  • Movies we have both liked:
    • Skyfall
    • Fargo (The first James Bond movie I liked.)
    • The Giant Mechanical Man
    • Uncle Buck
    • Argo
    • The Dancing Outlaw
    • Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus
    • Death at a Funeral
  • Movies one of us disliked intensely although I am more vocal than Regis:
    • No Country for Old Men (me)
    • Sherlock Holmes (me)
    • Inception (me)
    • Lord of the Rings (me)
    • Priscilla Queen of the Desert (Regis)
    • Tender Mercies (Regis)
You can see my list is longer than my husband's list. He says there are certain movies I think I won't like and I'm not open to watching them. He is right about that. One thing I liked about Netflix is that they made recommendations based on what you liked in the past.

Well, that was a pretty deep subject.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

exaggeration for effect: it's a literary device

Apparently I alarmed some friends and family with my blog post earlier today. The one where I wrote about feeling quarantined and having the blues. Some people thought is was a cry for help. It wasn't. It was just a bitey and sarcastic piece of drivel, similar to what comes off my keyboard at least once a week.

I should issue a disclaimer with every post, that I do not always write strictly the facts. Sometimes, not often, I make stuff up. Sometimes, often, I exaggerate. Sometimes, most often, I embellish, especially if it will make a better story.

I like to use hyperbole for dramatic or comic effect. I never promised that this blog would contain only non-fiction. I implied creative non-fiction. More latitude. Less fact checking. More fun.

Do not ever use the information posted here for research purposes or to compose a report for your middle school history class. Do not ever list me as a source of information in a bibliography. I am what they call an unreliable source even though I am published on the internet.

So...regarding the blues and the quarantine: I am not poised to jump off the Minnesota River bridge down by Whiskey River so don't send the rescue boats. I'd be more apt, if I got that far, to wander into the bar and order a glass of wine and a cheeseburger.

I still have a fairly firm grip on reality even though some days reality sucks. Who wants to read a blog that only spouts that Pollyanna sunshine BS all the time? That ain't real life, sister. It ain't all silver saddles and Sunday parades, as Johnny Bush used to say.

Tomorrow will be better. Hell, today will probably be better.

the blue-tinged week slips by

I've struggled with the blues this week. I tried mightily on Tuesday with all the things they recommend (No guided imagery of which I am not a fan. Those things should have warning labels like this: Listening to this CD may cause your symptoms to worsen. Call your doctor if you get the urge to put a steak knife in your ear.) but all the others: tea, yoga, music, candles, friends, nap, book.  Yesterday was a bit better but at 4 o'clock when it was snowing and raining and icy and the worst kind of maudlin gray outside, I had had it.

I convinced Regis we should go to a local pizza parlor for dinner. It was early so no flu-ridden crowds, and the place is fairly new so there aren't layers of germs lingering on the tables. It lacks a bit in atmosphere...gym clothes hanging all over the walls in an attempt, I would guess, to attract the high school crowd. We'll skip that next time. I don't want to look at wrestling shorts while I eat.

I'm under quarantine. I have to avoid crowds and places where I could be exposed to germs. For the next six weeks? Time to increase the Zoloft.

It feels like we do things therapeutically but not for fun. We go to the geriatric exercise class and we go to appointments. The main topic of conversation at those places is called Name Your Symptoms. Tonight I'm going to a make-up class at the cancer center. I hope they will have some advice for head moisturizing. Suddenly, I have hit a stage of life for which I was not quite prepared. I hope it's temporary.

Yesterday, honest to God, we were excited because we found a good deal on toilet paper at Walgreen's and made a plan to go back today to get more. We have a coupon. It's pitiful.

I wandered around Hobby Lobby the other day, looking at paint by number and learn to draw kits. I resisted those because they looked hard (for ages 8+) but I did buy some yarn and some supplies to make cards.

Next summer, when this cancer shit is mostly over, I think I'll take belly dancing lessons.

Happy 35 years old young regis...from the old people

Thirty five years ago, the oldest off-spring in our blended family was born. I love this picture of baby and dad, who looks like a cross between Mr. Green Jeans and Jerry Garcia. Hey, it was the 70's. Regis also has that stunned look of a new parent...lack of sleep, crying, constant feedings. Ah, glad those years are past.

This is the kid a few years later and already making a fashion statement.

Today he is taller still but with less hair..but a good kid. Happy birthday, Regis! Good to have you just down the street from the old people!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

unveiling the lefse angel

I told you angels walked among us. Yesterday, I received a gift from the lefse angel but didn't know the angel's identity. Regis called Norsland Lefse Company and found out her name. You can see she wears sunglasses and a seat belt. Glad the lefse angels stress safety. Thanks, Melanie!

Ned Butler also sent happy thoughts my way yesterday. I think Ned was keeping a close eye on Deb while she made orange shortbread cookies.

It's been a good day. We went to our geriatric exercise class this morning, stopped at Guenther's for an egg and toast, did some errands at Walgreen's, and came on home. We've had a snow/rain mix all day. Lots of slush. Lots of gray. Ugh. Good thing I feel better or I'd have to get in the round room.

i fear i have lost my taste for wine and coffee...two staples of life

But thank God I still have a taste for lefse. I think I'll write this up for JAMA: Woman makes it through cancer treatments by living on lefse, cheeseburgers, and chili!

I woke up with the blues yesterday. I did everything I knew to make it better...tea, soft music, yoga (well, I meant to do yoga), a warm bath, conversation with Deb on the phone, lunch with Jill, turkey soup, To no avail. I had to come home quickly after lunch (Jill saw that I was fading fast) and crawl into bed. I was sooo tired.

I woke up feeling groggy and funny. We went downtown to pay a bill but I wasn't recovering. I came home and took some Tylenol and got into my pajamas. We watched a movie called The Giant Mechanical Man, which I loved. Finally, I started to feel better.

I'm only telling this long tale of woe to illustrate how my mind runs during an episode like this. I have turned into a hypochondriac and not only that but a hypochondriac of the future. These were my thoughts over the course of the afternoon:

  • I can't drink wine anymore. Wine caused me to feel like this.
  • Or maybe it was the coffee in the morning that made me sick.
  • I have the flu.
  • I will have to go to the ER and will be admitted to the hospital. All this in the absence of a temperature.
  • I won't be able to go to my class tomorrow.
  • I looked at my calendar and determined that I won't be able to go anywhere for the next two months.
  • I'll have to miss the next two birthday parties in February.
  • I only want to eat lefse, shortbread cookies, and cheeseburgers.
  • I am a whack-a-doo.
By 7 o'clock I was feeling better. Who knows what this was about except for extreme weirdness.

I had the most wonderful surprise about 5 o'clock. The Spee-Dee delivery van pulled into the driveway. I asked Regis to go to the door since I was not wearing my head covering and I was in pajamas. No need to frighten the guy. He opened the door as the dude was sprinting down the sidewalk hollering, "I've got lefse for Teresa!" A lefse angel!

This lefse is by far the best next to homemade. My cousin Deb has sent two shipments of homemade lefse that have been wonderful and so I suspected her of this surprise but she claims no knowledge. I had a piece last night before bed. Nothing like making sweet dreams with good lefse.

My mom also claims she was not the perpetrator of the lefse drop. Whoever did it...thank you! It was a wonderful surprise.

Jill and I had a nice lunch...I had a cheeseburger and chili, of course. We talked and talked until I started to list to the left and she took me home. A guy can never see enough of good friends.

I slept well last night and today already feels like a winner. I'll work on that.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

my writer's notebook

When I was a teacher, my favorite thing to teach was writing. Not to adults so much because they had their giant sets of nasty fears fed by red pens for all the years of their writing education. It was hard for them to get past that. The monkey mind, Natalie Goldberg calls it.

Adults had fears that they would make a mistake (Oh, God! A dangling participle!) or something would sound stupid. It was nearly impossible to get them to let go and just write.

If you could to kids in time, before the pestilence of the five paragraph essay had them in its death grip, they could learn to enjoy writing, to think of it as just thinking on paper, as mental gymnastics or self-expression.

My friend, Jill, and I did a lot of staff development for teachers of writing, much of it unsuccessful in the ling run, but still fun. We had a lot of conversations in the car on the way to wherever, about writing and teaching writing. Some of the favorite memories of my teaching life.

Once, we had to beat a hasty retreat from a small town up north were the teachers turned not only restive but downright hostile. They wanted something different! They wanted grammar rules! They wanted margins to be measured and spelling mistakes to be counted! They wanted us run out of town on a rail! We escaped, but barely. It was like the Old West with no six-shooters.

Who would think that teachers would be so obstinate in their thinking about learning?

Anyway, by way of long-winded explanation, this is my writer's notebook. It's like an artist's sketchbook or a sculptor's idea book. Not saying I am any kind of artist, but sitting here every morning as I have for more than six years now, composing blog posts is a form of exercise I love.

Throughout the day, things in my head get sorted into little piles...forget that, remember this, good blog material. In the morning, or sometimes as I go to sleep, I try to massage the things for the blog into a theme, but not usually. Usually, I just start writing.

In the end, it's just my thoughts. Written down. It doesn't have to be of any high quality. I have looked back and liked some posts much better than others. Some made me laugh out loud again. Some made me wish I'd had another cup of coffee and forgotten about the posting for that day. Some were stupid. It doesn't matter.

Jill and I had fantasies about buying a Willie Nelson bus and going around the country teaching people to write and to love writing. We would have been good at it but we ran out of energy for it and we never had the money. Just think, we could have pulled into your town, set out some cold lemonade and cookies, and spent an afternoon writing down your memories. What fun that would have been.

My week with cancer update: I had my third A & C treatment last Thursday. I slept a lot for three days but now I'm back to feeling more energetic. Regis and I are going to the Exercise Is Medicine program through Mayo so we're getting regular exercise. Tomorrow night I am going to a program at the clinic for which I cannot remember the name. Something clever. They give you lots of samples of make-up and teach you how to take care of your skin. I signed up for this?

Jill and I are having lunch today, I'm going for a walk if it isn't too cold outside, and I have a few errands to run. My mom has been so good about sending me little surprise packages in the mail and I want to return the favor. It will be a good day.

Monday, January 14, 2013

the back of my head and cancer

I've never owned a hand mirror. I had no interest in the back of my hair, always having a style that didn't require a lot of fussing. I figured, too, if somebody didn't like the way the back of my hair was arranged, the could avert their eyes.

Now, I need a hand mirror. As my hair has made it's exit, I am left with some patchy and itchy stuff on the back of my head. Where I can't see it. As I've gotten more comfortable with baring my bald head in public and as it's become more necessary, as when my body temperature goes through the roof, I want to know what's back there.

The strange things we worry about.

I'm thinking this morning about what marks the passage of time in my life. Tiffany will be 28 this March and Peter will be 26 in April. Reg will be 35 in a couple weeks. How can we be old enough to have children approaching their 30's and 40's? Ella turned 7 on her recent birthday and she was asking, already, about when she could learn to drive. Life goes by at warp speed, my friends.

I've read that cancer can be like that...a marker in your life. Before I was diagnosed and after I was diagnosed. Like the lives of people who have lived and died with it. My dad's death from caner, and my grandma's death from cancer, both stand out as memorable, and painful, times in my life but also as times when relationships and events were crystallized in some way. I can recall conversations I had with my grandma about her favorite tea cups and her other possessions with amazing clarity. Something about dying, or the awareness of it, brings things into focus in a way nothing else can.

The other day I thought that my cancer diagnosis was like the tornado. At first, my mind could only take in small parts of it. I looked into the back yard and noticed the bird feeder tipped over by the wind. Then I noticed the tree limbs waist deep all over the yard. It took days to notice that one had smashed my car right in front of the house. Longer still to see the devastation suffered by the neighbors across the street.

My view of cancer has broadened in much the same way. At first it was a wound right in the pit of my stomach. I didn't know if I should try to spit it out or swallow it deeper into my body. Cover it up. Try to ignore it. I didn't want to hear the word cancer, I didn't want to hear about other people who had it and survived, or not. I didn't want to know anything about all those words like markers and receptors. I've grown accustomed to it now, it just lies there, but it does let me notice other people with cancer, it lets me understand conversations about my treatment and my prognosis, it lets me go on with my life with cancer as a sidelight, not the main show.

Maybe I should think of the back of my head like that. It ain't the main show, friends. It's one thing, maybe a patchy scaly thing, but it's not me. It's just my head. Just like it's only my cancer.

This is my Valentine tree which will serve as my can of whoop ass for the week!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

a floor angel!

Callum and Amanda McGregor didn't let a little ice storm and residual mud stop them from making an angel! Thanks for your contribution to the snow angel project!

my chemo fugue state

For a few days after my treatment, I wander around in a fugue state. I don't think I am in any danger of trying to establish a new identity but the memory loss and wandering has me concerned. I wasn't vertical very many hours yesterday although I did manage to make a delicious beef stew with dumplings for dinner.

I took my first nap by 9 am, my second shortly after noon, and a third about 3 o'clock. It feels so good to sleep that I don't berate myself for it. Today is the last day for the big nausea drugs so tomorrow I should be more alert. Here's hoping.

This morning, I woke at 3 am, tired of being in bed. I came out to light the Christmas tree, the little fireplace, and to make coffee. I read for a while, had coffee and a scone, and when it was still dark, I went back to bed for a while. Now I have been up for a half hour again, and it is still dark. It's 7:10 and it is still pitch dark.

Maybe a person not enduring chemo would be confused and wandering with this kind of schedule. That is something to consider.

It's time to take the ornaments off the Christmas tree but I'm not making any promises that will get done today. In fact, I would say very likely not today. That would mean getting out the Valentine's Day ornaments and doing the re-decoration. Too much.

I was thinking last night that my feelings about having cancer have changed. In the beginning, I was angry and sad and very frustrated. I don't feel that way anymore. It just seems like cancer is shit that some people get and this happens to be mine. I wasn't singled happens to lots of people. I seem to be able to live my life pretty much the way I want to in spite of cancer and I am optimistic that I will recover and life will go on as it did in the past.

I can hear the train whistle, a mournful tune on a dark, January morning. Regis hates the sound but I like it. It reminds me of traveling by train a few times when I was a little girl.

My friend, Cynthia Bradbury, sent this darling snow angel baby picture.

This is my niece, Nicole, making a snow angel. She has her own set of worries right now so that she took the time and found the joy to make snow angels is touching.

They must have had a layer of fresh snow in Fargo...this is a beauty! This is an angel with vigor!

This is the snow angel I made at Chankaska Creek Winery on New Year's Eve. We didn't take the picture until more than a week later so it doesn't look bad considering that our snow badly needs to be refreshed. I know you have to look hard to see the angel...but it's old snow and it's an angel. It shouldn't be easy.

That's enough of my early morning ramblings. It's finally light enough to see across the street. I think I'll wander back to the kitchen to find some more coffee. I can feel a burst of energy coming on today. We'll see what transpires.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

pickin' out the bad cells and knockin' 'em on the head

This was in my head when I woke up this morning. I don't think I can remember the rest of the words but if I could, it would make a heck of a cancer song. The toxins are coursing through my system and knocking those cancer cells on their heads. Sometimes they get a good cell, too, because they don't have effective night vision, and that explains the loss of hair and other side effects.

There are some days I can forget I have cancer, but not many. The outward signs are harder to ignore than the inward signs. The bald head, the scars, the port. Those are visible and I see them or feel them almost constantly. I wonder how they know it's working.

Regis thought I used the worst photo of my shoes because it didn't show the true colors. I like this shot because it shows my leopard chair. I could get dressed in all my animal gear and you would even be able to see me in this chair. Don't worry about me walking anywhere in these shoes, Mom...they are only for sitting. Wearing shoes like this to walk around is considered high risk behavior in women over 60.

If you put "how to walk in platform heels" into google, you'll find out everything you always wanted to know. I think I'll stick with sitting.

We woke up very early, had some eggs and toast, and now I'm ready for a nap.

Friday, January 11, 2013

chemo in pictures

I didn't have much gumption yesterday. I tried turning on the television but I forgot to watch it and turned it off again. I did some knitting and some visiting but mostly what I did was sit in my big chemo chair and take pictures to document the event. 

The control on my big chair. I can have a heated massage!

Television remote control...and my hat.

I'm usually cold when I get there so I wear boots and I ask for a heated blanket.

The little door there is how my chemicals come from the pharmacy. It's a big suction device like they have at banks. Wooshhhh...and there they are.

What the chemicals look like on the IV pole.

Almost done with Peter's scarf.

At some point during this mess, I get a hot flash and have to strip my boots, my hat and scarf, and lose the blanket.

Where Regis sits to keep me company.

Here I am with the bear Tom got me for my birthday this year. I like to take comfort things.

See how bad my eyes look?

Regis told me to make sure I had my eyes open.

Almost done. I'm more comfortable with my head now. I even bared it at the restaurant when we went out for lunch.

Done with third treatment!

When we got home, these lovely shoes were in the mail. Regis ordered them for me as a surprise. A friend of mine asked if they were hard to walk in and I said these are not walking around shoes. These are shoes for sitting in a chair and looking elegant.

My friend, Caroline in Boston, made snow angels on the beach for me.

Hurray for Caroline!

I had a pod mate named Arlene. She is 91 years old and told me about learning to drive the horses on the farm and what a treat it was to finally get a tractor. She is the head of the prayer chain at her church and said they will pray for me. I thought that was sweet. Arlene will be in two weeks from now for her transfusion so we said we would look for each other.

All in all, a good day. Thanks for all the encouraging words and prayers.