Thursday, November 27, 2008


The list goes on forever. You are all in my heart.
But most of all, I am thankful to be here to be thankful.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Whining again

Thomas Hood, 1844

No sun - no moon!

No morn - no noon -

No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day.

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,

No comfortable feel in any member -

No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,

No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! -


There are times of the year I like better. I think I'm most thankful for Thanksgiving, because it makes the rest of the month almost worth it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Jerry is in really, really good shape

We spent yesterday (Friday) up in Lebanon, this time for Jerry's appointments. Even though his Keene cardiologist had said his heart was healthy, he had the appointments at Dartmouth-Hitchcock-Lebanon for a CAT scan and to see the surgeon who had done the valve job four years ago. Especially so soon after the Keene appointment, he didn't see any reason to drive all that distance, but I insisted.
Most of the morning was actually spent waiting around for the results of, first the test to make sure he wasn't allergic to the dye they use in the CAT scan, then, the results of the scan, and finally to get in to see the cardiologist. I knitted and Jerry did crosswords.
After all that, the cardiologist said that while Jerry's aortic root is enlarged, it's no more enlarged than it was last year at this time, which was no more so than the year before. He says that if he were a betting man, he'd put money on Jerry's never having an aortic aneurism, and that probably there won't be any problem until Jerry's in his 80's when the valve may start to fail, and then they'll just replace it, maybe with something new and wonderful.
And in the mean time, there's no reason for the double checkups each year. Jerry can see his usual cardiologist in Keene and the two of them can talk about music every November (the cardiologist plays tuba).
So it's good news all around; definitely one more thing to be thankful for this year.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Three weeks on, one week off

Monday was my last day of the third cycle of Gemcitabine, and so far, so good. I'm actually gaining weight, though not yet to the point where I have to buy new clothes or think twice about what I'm eating. And it sounds almost un-American to be happy about a couple of pounds more. One of the nice non-side effects of the Gemcitabine for me is that it hasn't changed the taste of food or affected my appetite. If the worst that's happened is that I can't drink coffee or alcohol the way I used to, I can't complain. (Note to LDS friends and relatives: no, I am not sliding sideways into the Church! If I could drink a cup of coffee I'd be thrilled.)

We went in yesterday for Jerry's yearly cardiology checkup, and the doctor pointed out, as he always does, that Jerry is undoubtedly the healthiest person he sees all day. Everything is good; the valve is holding, the aortic root hasn't changed since last year, cholesterol is doing just what it should. So then the cardiologist, a family friend, asked how I was doing. When I told him that I was fine, he said that there's been such a change over the past few years, that now cancer is more and more treated as a chronic condition rather than a crisis.

It fits people dealing with cancer into the same category as those with diabetes or MS, for example: yes, you can die of it, but the real question is how do you live with it without its taking over.

Well, next week is my week off, so except for going in for bloodwork on Monday, I can forget the whole thing. And it's Thanksgiving week. And Cinda will be home, and we'll have almost the whole family together. You can't ask much better than that.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Status report

I thought it was about time for another status report, since I go along assuming that everyone knows just where I am on this journey at all times.
Physically: I really am doing amazingly well, so far. The stomach palaver is intermittent and never so bad that it needs the Tylenol plus codeine that I keep on the shelf just in case. Today, for example, I'm fine, and enjoying the feeling.
I'm able to do about whatever I want -- while I'm nowhere near the workout schedule I was on while I was gearing up for the surgery, Jerry and I still make it in to the Y for 25 min. on the stationary bike and a round of the machines three times a week. No, not very fast on the bike and not very heavy on the machines, but I'm there and able to do it. And I go to Yoga every Thursday evening, which is as good for my soul as my body. Jerry and I do our usual walk every morning, though mine is limited to flat ground, because my brace doesn't bend at the ankle. We go a ways together and then he does the steep loop on his own and I just walk around the neighborhood.
Just as well I do this, because I'm pretty sedentary the rest of the time.
I still don't have the stamina I used to have, and will suddenly lose energy as though someone had pulled a thread and everything leaks out. But a short rest usually takes care of that.
So that's physically. There's been a bit of a change in my psychological state that I find interesting, because it will probably continue as time goes by. That is that I've now beaten the odds. Most people with inoperable pancreatic cancer don't make it past six months. I was diagnosed in February. On the one hand I feel so well that I don't know why I shouldn't go on feeling like this for years. On the other, I know that it is literally a matter of time. As I look ahead part of me thinks that I have exactly as much time as everyone else in the world: right now, and the indefinite future. Part of me mourns what I will never know I've missed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Me on my soapbox

Yesterday at the Y I got into a conversation with an acquaintance who'd heard about my situation. She offered sympathy and then asked, "How did you know you had cancer?" Without waiting for much of an answer, she told me that she's been getting a pain in her lung and she's sure it's lung cancer.
She doesn't dare go in and find out. She had a lot of reasons: she has body image problems and is scared to be seen in a johnny, she knows a couple of people at the local hospital and is afraid they'll read her records and find out about a hospitalization years back for mental problems, and most of all, she is afraid that if she has cancer all sorts of terrible things will happen, from chemo, radiation, and/or surgery to death itself.
Of course I went into cheer leading mode and tried to answer her fears. I pointed out that hospitals are used to people who are scared and do everything they can to make patients more comfortable as they go through tests and procedures. I said that if she told them she was unhappy in a johnny they would probably let her wear two. I said that no one except the doctors and nurses can access your records and even in a small town the hospital doesn't want unauthorized staff finding out and spreading information about you.
But mostly I was horrified that she was willing to spend her days worrying about this but wouldn't go in and get the tests to find out what was going on. For me, not knowing is much more frightening than any diagnosis, especially when you know that putting off the tests could be dangerous or fatal.
I may have come on too strong, but at least at the end she said, "Well, yes.... I really should go in. Maybe I will."

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Now that I have your attention....
Actually, for some time Jerry has been after me to blog about sex in these troubled times. "After all," he points out reasonably, "It's a basic human drive, and one of the things that anyone touched by cancer has to worry about is what happens to the sex life."
Well, as you know, I want nothing more than to add to the sum total of human knowledge, and besides, he dared me to do it.
So here goes:

1. Yes.

2. Of course.

3. Usually.

4. That really depends on a lot of factors.

5. No, I wouldn't say that.

6. Never.

7. Only when the phone rings.

8. About what you'd expect.

9. With infinite tenderness and passion.

10. Why do you ask?

There. That was easier than I thought. Of course, I just put down the answers. It's up to you to figure out what questions go with them. Actually, it's more of a rorschach test than a blog entry, and believe me, your part tells a lot more about you than mine did about me.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Happy Birthday, Jerry

Which is really unfair, because he's been announcing loudly that he wasn't going to have a birthday this year. Too bad, fella. It's worth celebrating.

The best present -- for both of us -- were my latest CA19-9 results. The CA19-9 is a tumor marker. The test measures a certain protein shed by the tumor cells. The lower the number, the less protein is being shed, and the happier the patient.
Well, taDAH, my numbers have continued to go down, from over 300 in September, to 101 in October, to 61 this week.
Dr. Nickerson always reminds me that this marker is merely indicative, but the indications are going in the right direction.

When I looked up the medical literature on the test, I found one article on what it means for someone like me who had non-resectable (i.e. inoperable) cancer. Thanks to a typo in the article, there was a discussion of the problems "evaluating the respectability of pancreatic carcinoma," which made me think of the cancer up on a table with a lampshade on its head doing the hootchy-kootchy.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Day

Last February 20, the day we found out I had pancreatic cancer, I wrote in my journal, migod, if things are really bad, I won't even know how the elections come out.
And here I am, not only alive, but having had the chance to vote in this historic election. Dr. Nickerson told me again on Monday how well I'm doing, so it looks as though I'll have a good opportunity to watch as the political story continues to unfold.
No, it isn't that I want continued health and longer life just so I can participate in politics -- but I am so glad emotionally and philosophically that I was here to see this.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Chemo conversations

Yesterday the talk was all about the election, though, as usual when strangers get together there was little partisanship. What we shared was a feeling of relief that it's finally over combined with a feeling of equal relief that we'd all survived this far to see it.
I talked with one woman, though, who wasn't interested in the election. She'd been diagnosed with breast cancer in April, had gone through surgery and chemo, thought she was fine, and then they'd found some more spots. So now she's just started a three-chemo combination treatment plus radiation. What bothered her most was losing her hair. She was wearing a very nice scarf and full makeup, but she was clearly very depressed. "I haven't even let my husband see me without hair. I just couldn't. I wear these little nightcaps to bed."
Jerry said, "He wouldn't mind seeing you without hair, would he?"
"Oh, he says that he doesn't care, but I just couldn't. And now it's starting to grow back from the last time and I'm going to lose it again."
She was also worried about the radiation, and didn't seem encouraged when I told her how easy (comparatively, and for the breast) it is. "I don't know how I can go through it all."
When I found out that she would be at the Chemo Room for seven and a half hours yesterday, I felt a lot of sympathy for her. She was alone, no one to play Scrabble with, scared and depressed, and stuck there, tethered to the IV pole for an entire day.