Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A scare; but don't worry

Last evening during band rehearsal, I suddenly got about a level 5 pain in my mid-back. Very unusual. Luckily I had Tylenol with me and took some, then just sat out the rest of the rehearsal. On the way home I remembered that I hadn't taken the Pepcid which the gastric surgeon had said I needed twice a day. As soon as I got home I took more Tylenol and the Pepcid. Today I'm pretty much back to normal, and wouldn't even have mentioned this if it weren't for the questions it raises.

Was the pain due to my forgetting the Pepcid? I guess I'll know, if it doesn't come back, because I don't think I'll ever forget to take the Pepcid again.

Was it because of my trying to play for two hours without having practiced much lately? Okay. At all. Maybe I strained my diaphragm or something? Maybe it was just a muscle spasm?

Was it a physical reaction to the fact that the band sounds rather horrible these days? My internal critic in action? A community band has its good years and its bad ones, depending in large part on whether there's at least one strong member in every section to carry the rest of the section. At the moment, we're missing an anchor for trombones, baritones, tuba,and horn; and the trumpet anchor needs to have his psych meds adjusted again, I think. i.e. the brasses suck.

Of course, there's always the ultimate question. As far as I can tell from Dr. Nickerson, who answers any question but doesn't volunteer information, a pain at that level and in that place is only something to worry about if it continues.
Today when I go in for chemo I'll check with the nurse.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

More on the trip

Nothing about this trip was on my bucket list: a windows factory? a glass plant? And definitely not flying in a tiny plane.
What I've decided is that bucket lists are too limiting. They're like those books on 200 places to see before you die. Frankly, and I say it with great love for the area, I don't feel that floating in the Great Salt Lake was one of the high points of my life so far. But I remember a fall day when I was coming out of the library at the University of Utah, and a chance wind caught the leaves of a tree below. The leaves all let loose at once, and a golden shower flew up into the sky.
The wonderful moments are the unexpected ones that come, perhaps, when you're at a place you've been hundreds of times before but see in a new way.
Or when you try something (like that plane ride) you could have sworn would have left you in a literal puddle of fear. And it turns out to be a beautiful, peaceful experience.
Or when your eyes are opened to a different way of life that you would never choose but are glad to see people enjoying. Would I want to live in a company town? Not Warroad. Not Redmond. But I appreciate having seen them.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


(For some reason, all of the pictures came out in reverse order, so please read the pictures from bottom to top and the text from top to bottom.)
When I said I was going to MN on a tour of the Marvin Windows factory, everyone here said, "Ohhh, MinneSOOOta" in a Prairie Home Companion accent. Once our group, which included a Bostonian, an Australian, and a lapsed Utahn, among others, got there, the first thing people said to us was, "My you have interesting accents."

We first toured the Cardinal glass company, in nearby Menomenie, Wisconsin. Basically, they pour sand into a container at one end of the line and take rectangular pieces of glass out of the other. One picture shows Jerry looking into the furnace: over 3000 degrees. Even outside the furnace my earrings were hot. Another picture shows something along the line, I think the molten glass floating along a bed of molten tin. (Nope: this was later, when the glass had cooled and was being carried along by rollers.)

We flew to Warroad in an 18-seater plane, a new experience, and fun, which I hadn't expected it to be. (Me, with major acrophobia, enjoying being up in a tiny plane with nothing between me and the ground!) Warroad is even smaller than Marlborough, but 2700 people work in the Marvin plant. The Marvin family is much in evidence: they gave the library, the fire station, the new assisted living facility, the two hockey rinks.... They take good care of the town, and the town appreciates it.

What else? Good food, and lots of it; good company; and I felt strong enough to do a lot of the walking around the plant (no pictures of the Marvin plant in case I was a corporate spy). Would I go back? Ya, sure.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Good medical news

Saw the doctor today -- results of the CAT scan and blood tests were both back. The CA19-9 is down from 105 to 75, and the CAT scan shows no obvious changes from last September. And, as Dr. Nickerson always points out, how I feel is an important indicator.
I feel good.
Tomorrow: The road to Warroad.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The CAT scan

A CAT scan is also called a CT scan, but CAT scan sounds friendlier, and I'm always in favor of whatever can possibly be interpreted as warm and fuzzy. CAT scan technology uses special x-ray equipment to produce multiple images or pictures of the inside of the body. According to my doctor, “CT imaging provides excellent anatomic information.”
I had to fast for several hours before it, which meant that I could have breakfast at least.When I'd been checked in at the hospital I was given The Drink. The label states optimistically that it tastes like a berry smoothie: that is a foul lie describing a foul drink. One of the web sites on CAT scans says “If the contrast material is swallowed, you may find the taste mildly unpleasant; however, most patients can easily tolerate it.” Easily, but with lots of complaints.
The only thing that can be said in its favor is that it makes putting the IV in seem like a pleasant interlude. They couldn't find my veins, so, tastefully attired in two johnnies (one front, one back) I traipsed through the hospital to the oncology department where they accessed my port (stuck a needle in it). Then back to radiology, where a dye was injected that gave me first a metallic taste in the back of my throat and then the slightly embarrassing feeling of warmth around the pelvis, as though I were back in kindergarten and peeing my pants. And then what was becoming familiar: I was fed into a machine, told when to breathe and when to hold my breath, and eventually was released to spend the rest of the day burping up fake berry smoothie.
We'll get the results next Wednesday, along with my latest CA19-9. Meanwhile, we're off to Minnesota.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Next big trip -- logistics get complicated

I've forgotten to mention our next big trip (i.e. out of New England). This one is a contrast to the Mayan Riviera -- on Saturday we head out to Warroad MN, where Jerry, with me trailing along, will tour the Marvin Windows and Doors Plant (Wood Processing, Double Hung, Casemaster...). We're looking forward to it; it's an all expenses paid to a place neither of us has ever been, and touring manufacturing facilities is always unexpectedly fascinating. We leave Saturday, get back late Tuesday night.
Warroad is about as far north as you can get without running into Canada. I've been googling maps and pictures, but (obviously) will be able to tell you much more when we get back.
Where the logistics get complicated is when you factor in my health. For several weeks I've had low-grade queasiness and pain part of the time; and for two weeks in a row my blood counts have been so low that they gave me only 75% of the usual dose of gemcitabine. Jerry, especially, started worrying. However, yesterday I had my blood tested (it's an off-week for chemo), and the results came out normal (yay!). And I'm feeling normal again, so there is no reason why we shouldn't go.
I have a CAT scan on Thursday. Next Wednesday we have the regular meeting with Dr. Nickerson (oncologist). By then he'll have the results of the scan and the latest CA19-9 tests, and we'll have a better idea of what's going on.
So it will be especially nice to be away from the whole health thing for a few days.
And, while it sounds somewhat obscene, I look forward to becoming an expert on double-hung.

Friday, April 10, 2009

signs of summer

Everyone else in the neighborhood is either optimistically putting in peas and lettuce, or more realistically planning to buy baby plants to put in in a month or so. Above, see The Happy Farmer and his crop.
When we brought in the rosemary last fall, somehow a tomato seed was in the pot, and it germinated and grew, and when the tiny yellow flowers appeared, Jerry took a paintbrush and fertilized them.
And this is the result. Except for a show-and-tell, I'm not sure what the deeper meaning is here. Maybe it's that the unexpected happens, too.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Signs of spring

A good friend, in a similar situation to mine, wrote in her blog that when the first snows fell last winter she was delighted. She hadn't expected to live to see them.

And here I am, watching as the grass greens up. There have been ducks and canada geese on the pond, smells of skunk from our barn, and potholes to complain about.
I bought some of this year's maple syrup from a friend who taps his own trees and boils the sap down himself. The buds are just starting on the trees, but there are crocuses out.

It's a balancing act, loving the moment and not thinking this might be the last time; after all, it's always the last time for any particular moment anyhow. I went through a while, at the beginning of all this, when I got terribly emotional about every colored maple leaf, every snowflake. By this end of winter I've decided there are just too many damned snowflakes to cherish each one. In fact, I'm quite happy to get over winter and on to spring. But I find myself paying attention more to the things I love. And always, the people.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Short pause for a grandmotherly brag

Wonderful weekend visit to Florence MA where we hung out with Max, Anya, and Miles, ate and drank well, and proved that it is impossible to get pictures of the adults in the group without their mugging like mad.
Miles, on the other hand, was a model of charm, intelligence, beauty, humor, and cooperativeness. He also does dishes.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Feeling better; but you didn't know I was feeling worse

For some reason last week's and this week's chemo has hit me harder than usual. Still not too bad -- a couple of days of flulike symptoms, energy levels that extended as far as lying on the couch watching Harry Potter II, but that's about it. I went to band rehearsal on Tuesday evening, which may have been a mistake, since I spent a lot of it sitting listening rather than playing, and that made me feel as though I were a total wimp.
The rising CA19-9 counts are bothersome, as is the fact that my white blood count was so low on Monday that they didn't give me the full dose of gemcitabine. While I know intellectually that these blips happen, I've had such a free ride until now that I just expected it to continue indefinitely.
However, yesterday we went to the Y and I worked out. In a few minutes I will be off to meet with the Top of the Hill Friends and I'm up to going to yoga tonight -- so I'm back to normal.
Part of me doesn't want to even mention the down times. I don't want to worry anyone with things that are a minor part of this process, and I want to keep my reputation for being upbeat; but I also want to be honest when things aren't going perfectly.
I guess I can have it both ways: I'll write however I feel and you just don't read the less-than-cheerful ones.