Monday, March 30, 2009

Earth Hour at the Germers'

Scrabble by candlelight with our friends Meredith and Jack.

Friday, March 27, 2009

CA19-9 Counts

Sept 08: over 300
Oct 08: 100
Nov 08:61
Dec 08: 40
Jan 09: 32
Feb 09: 63
Mar 09: 105

So it isn't great news, but what you need to know is that the numbers can go up the thousands, though just to make it more confusing there are two ways of measuring, one of which actually goes up into the tens of thousands. I don't think I'm being measured that way, but in any case, I'd be laughed off the pancreatic cancer discussion boards for complaining about a score of 105. But the trend is there. Dr. Nickerson says that my situation can be judged by three things: the CA19-9, my general well-being, and a CAT scan, scheduled for April 16th.
My well-being has been good, though the past few days I've been a bit under par, perhaps a reaction to the vacation, perhaps a new reaction to the chemo, perhaps not.

Besides the obvious thought, I've had two others.

One is that we all want to be Super Survivor. I remember a beautiful woman in the infusion room. It was her last treatment for breast cancer, and her friends had made her a bright pink cape with Cancer Girl written across the back. I wish I'd taken a picture of her sashaying across the room with her bald head, the cape swirling behind her, and the IV pole dragging along at the end. It symbolized everything we all want to be.
Anything that reminds us that we aren't likely to be superheroes is really unwelcome.

The other is that I've really had an easy time of it so far, except for the times I've ended up in the ER, of course. But even when I haven't felt great, it's usually been something that a Tylenol or Tums can take care of, and if my energy levels are undependable, well, people take siestas in large parts of the civilized world. Most days, I don't focus on the cancer because it isn't really an issue of daily life.

So I've been spoiled, and when the CA19-9 starts to trend in the wrong direction, I'm not ready for it. Common sense fights with panic; so far, common sense is winning.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The palapa

The one in the picture is a two-story palapa, but we spent most of our time in the single-story ones along the beach. Note the mattress suspended by ropes, so that it swings gently back and forth. From my point of view, a palapa was an ideal way to have the beach experience without sitting in the sun. I'm not a sun person. When I was ten I wrote a poem that started

First you're basted, then you sit
Feeling like a chicken on a spit

And my opinions haven't changed much since then. That explains why I've come back with a bit of color, but no sunburn or tan.
A friend last evening said, "Well, it's just as well you didn't get a burn. I mean, you wouldn't want to get skin cancer." There was an awkward silence and then I finally laughed and said, "Like that's my biggest worry."

Monday, March 23, 2009

As philosophical as I can get on vacation

You know that old saying that "I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes until I met someone who had no feet?" I've never quite understood it -- is seeing someone else's misfortune supposed to make me grateful that I, at least, am okay? Am I supposed to be relieved? Gleeful? Laughing like hell?

My only complaint about our vacation was that I had to wear my brace and running shoes, while all the other women had on either glittery flip-flops or clear plastic sandals with spike heels. I couldn't walk easily on sand either barefooted or in my Birks, while if I wore the brace and running shoes I got sand rubbing against my feet. Besides, even to wade I had to take off the whole shebang.

Then I saw the amputee. She seemed to manage fine, either wearing her prosthesis or crutching her way around. Her husband saw my brace, thought it was also a prosthesis, and started a conversation. I asked how the prosthesis was working in the sand, and he said, "Well, it was a bit stiff. We think some sand got into the joint, but I got one of the boys to give it a shot of WD-40, and it's fine now."

I didn't get a chance to talk with her because they left that day, but as I look at my reactions, I realize that I didn't feel any kind of relief of happiness in comparing our situations. What I really wanted to do was talk with her and learn some of her secrets of success. How do you walk in sand? What happens when you slip on the off foot? And most of all, do you ever get envious of the women in their spike heels?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Just another week in paradise

We're back, and it was wonderful. No travel problems, and we found ourselves at a great resort. Hidden Beach has only 41 rooms, but it's next door to a sister resort with over 130. Come to think of it, it's rather like living in Marlborough next to Keene -- all the advantages of quiet and privacy, but we had access to the five restaurants at El Dorado Suites besides the very good one at our resort. One of the pictures above shows the view out of our window looking down on ocean and the dining area.
It's good to be pampered. It's especially good to be pampered by people who think that what I'm speaking is really Spanish. One of the waiters assured me that I had "un accento muy fluido", which I hope doesn't mean "very sloppy." Other guests were from Europe, so Jerry carried on a long conversation with a German, in German, which blew me away, since it's been a few years since he's used the language. I was impressed even after he told me that he hadn't been quite sure what they were talking about.
We met fascinating people -- from the Cockney couple with a small ironing business who'd saved up for the trip all year, to the upper manager at Chase Manhattan Bank who complained that he used to make over $1,000,000/year before bonuses of course, and that recently his salary has been cut and he doesn't get the bonuses. His wife was still wearing some rather nice diamonds, though, so I didn't really feel their pain.
I did yoga every day, the effects of which offset some of the delicious meals. And Jerry joined a couple of the daily water volleyball games. The games got wilder as they went along, because of complicated rules that involved downing tequila shots for hitting the ball out of bounds.
The catamaran pictures were from our only offsite trip, a day of snorkeling -- only four couples on a trip designed for 25 or 30 people, so we had plenty of room to spread out and enjoy. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy snorkeling, just lying on the water and watching the panorama spread out below. Then the crew rigged a spinnaker with a swing dangling from it and whoever wanted to sailed up behind the boat. Jerry loved it.
The other pictures? Jerry in one of the robes provided by the resort, just included to prove that lilac isn't his color; me trying to look vampish on the bed in our room, and not trying for any effect in one of the hammocks hanging around.
It couldn't have been a better vacation.
Best of all, it was a vacation from cancer.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


We're going from this to that. At least, that's the plan.
Last September, while they were prepping me to get the last stent put in, the doctor asked if I had any plans. I said, "Next March we're going to the Mayan Riviera for a week."
He said, in the nicest possible way, "Why are you waiting until then? Wouldn't you rather go sooner?" The two nurses exchanged glances.
I said, "We'll need the vacation more in March. And I plan to be around for it."
The doctor looked doubtful, but one of the nurses gave me a thumbs-up, and the other said, "You go, girl."
We're going. I'll be back, with at least a few more pictures, in about a week.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Wonderful Sunday

The day that started with these beautiful tulips from Cinda and Rob and continued with a trip to Boston to see Luther and Miriam, and experience the Silk Road Project with Yo Yo Ma at Symphony Hall, couldn't even be spoiled by the flat tire on the way home. Just as Jerry was finishing putting on the spare, a Good Samaritan stopped by to make sure we were okay.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

On the other hand....

I definitely do believe in a mind-body connection, though I'd have to be incredibly drunk to go for The Secret -- for everyone except Severine and me, it's basically the idea that whatever your mind fixates on, you get. You want wealth, health, happiness? Just fix your mind on it and it will come to you. Honestly, seventeen months ago, my mind was not fixed on pancreatic cancer. I'd barely heard of it.

However, without going that far and without laying a guilt trip on us all for the bad things that happen, it seems obvious that mind and body don't have a wall between them. On the simplest level, the evenings when I do yoga before I go to bed, I sleep better, wake up refreshed, and look forward to the next day with enthusiasm, which probably leads me to make healthier choices of food and drink, which are also good for my body (and mind).

But it's more complex than that. Today, for example, was the first day this week that was warm enough for me to walk in the morning (I draw the line at 5 degrees F). The early morning sun hit the hoarfrost on the bushes, and the sparkle raised my spirits. Don't know if it did anything for my body, but who cares?

Research at the U of Utah says that women in stressed relationships show more evidence of heart disease, diabetes, stroke: social and psychological stresses can lead to physical problems. This doesn't mean that every woman with diabetes can blame her husband, or herself for not shooting him when she had the chance. It doesn't even mean that if they get counseling her sugar levels will stabilize.

It just means that we don't live in test tubes. Some of what our minds/bodies go through we can do something about, either mentally or behaviorally, and some of it we can't.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Positive Attitude

People tell me I have a positive attitude, and I'm willing to agree that yes, most of the time, I feel good emotionally as well as physically. One of the many ways in which I'm lucky is that I don't have one of the commonest symptoms of pancreatic cancer -- depression. While there are plenty of reasons to feel depressed with this, it's actually a physiological part of the cancer itself, which I just happened to have missed. I'm not complaining.

I read several blogs of other people dealing with different forms of cancer, and recently I read a couple of responses that upset me. In both cases, the responder said something like, "and you have to keep a positive attitude, because that will help cure you." What a burden to put on someone who is already just trying to get through the day! Now, if the cancer marker numbers go up, the person can feel not only scared and miserable, but guilty as well. It's all my fault. If I'd only smiled more. If I hadn't lost my temper with that idiot checker at the supermarket who put the eggs on the bottom. If I'd really, truly laughed through that last bout of nausea.... Probably I really do deserve this.

My general cheerfulness isn't something I work at; it's due to physiology as well as to the fact that, aside from the small matter of the cancer, my life is truly blessed.
Other people deal with it by fighting. I've met some really angry people in the infusion room. I'm sure that their imagery includes robolasers zapping the cancer cells with lots of flashes of light and loud bangs.
And some people are depressed and deal with it by being depressed.

As far as I know,there isn't one attitude or way of behaving that's going to make all the difference. You do what you gotta do; you feel the way you gotta feel.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Our cat died last night. We'd had her for seventeen years, and she was at least a year old when we got her, so it was a long and comfortable life. Over the past few months she'd gotten cranky, yowling at intervals, especially at night, not from pain, thirst, or hunger, but just at life in general. She became totally deaf, which we could sort of tell wasn't her usual ignoring us. She never was an affectionate, in-your-lap (or face) kind of cat, but sometimes, usually when the sun warmed a patch of the floor, she would lie in the light and purr because life was good.
And finally, she stopped eating. She moved more slowly. Yesterday she wasn't able to walk, but just occasionally dragged herself from one part of the room to another, then lay quietly.
Because she didn't seem to be in any discomfort and because she was so terrified of car rides and doctors, we decided to simply let nature take its course. Jerry brought her water, which at first she lapped and then ignored. I petted her; in the morning she moved her head slightly against my hand, but by afternoon she didn't respond. And sometime during the night she died.
It was a peaceful death, for her and for us. This morning we took her body out into the woods for nature to continue to take its course.

But obviously, it isn't as simple as that. Besides our grief for her, there are the parallels that jump out. I'm not saying that my own death is immanent, but it is going to happen, we assume later rather than sooner, which goes without saying. (Look at all the denial in that sentence.) Do I look at Yeltsi's death as a kind of model? I think that anyone would want to die quietly, in little or no pain, with loving people around to give the last comforts.

But right now, there are thoughts I am not ready to think.