Saturday, September 27, 2008

Just an Incredible Day

Lead with the best, or save it for last? Begin at the beginning or work back from the end? Devour dessert first or graze leisurely through the courses, savoring every bite? I'll label the parts of the day for you, friend, and you may choose.

Saturday. Not any Saturday, but a Saturday in late September. That means blue skies, warm breezes and a day long enough to pack in some adventure. Our destination was somewhat low-key (see entry on "doing nothing all weekend" below) yet decidedly fun: we were going to Moss Beach to visit the 3 Zero Cafe. It was a scouting trip to see if the location would be suitable for Gracie's upcoming 9th birthday celebration. The main party event will center on tide-pooling under the guidance of our marine biologist cousin Dean. Lunch for a half-dozen girls in a fun, coastside location? Tiny airports are entertaining, and they are famous for having yummy food. We had high expectations.

Puppy Boy Roscoe could not be left behind, however, despite his recent gnoshing on the van's rear seat. We decided to bring him along and try out the new canvas travel crate Danny and I spotted at PetSmart a few days ago. The crate would make the half-hour journey safe for dog, humans and van; once there, Joe and I figured we'd take turns eating while the other held the leash.

So, off we head, happy to be together. Roscoe was the least happy member until he settled down with a Smelly Bone. Now, traffic might have been thick on such a beautiful Saturday during High Pumpkin Season, being that Half Moon Bay is the land of all things pumpkin patchy. We guessed we lucked out because at least 500 million people must have been circling San Francisco trying to get into the opening of the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. (See, there is some justice for having to take it easy and do almost nothing.)

When we arrived at 3 Zero Cafe I had a flash: what if that dog-loving coast had a dog-loving airport cafe? Before unloading the crew, I walked into the funky restaurant, through the lobby and out the back to the airport side where people were sitting at picnic tables. Sure enough, I spotted one dog under a table. Then, another. Yes! A dog patio! Joe and the kids, and I'm including Roscoe here, settled at a table while I checked in at the front. A thin layer of fog edged the hills around the airport as we watched planes take off and land. Roscoe took delight in his Nasty Bone, happy to be included in a human adventure. And we soon learned why the cafe has been rated, as the menu declared, best breakfast joint on the coast for some 10 years running. The chocolate milk arrived with thick whipped cream piled high; the orange juice was freshly squeezed and sporting seeds to prove it; french toast, fresh fruit, eggs and coffee did not disappoint. We spoke to the manager about having the birthday lunch there and it's a go.

Main Course
After convincing Roscoe to allow his puppyness to be recrated, we drove north to Poplar Beach, a coastal access point and entry to the bluffs. The trail stretches for miles along the coast, thanks to conservation efforts of many to snap up land and place it into trusts for recreation. I parked myself on a bench at the head of the trail, with a view of the ocean looking north along the coast. Ann Patchett's Run kept me great company while the rest of the family headed south for a Pup Walk. When I'm off nothing duty I'll return with Roscoe as this is one of our favorite walks.

As I'm reading, looking up now and then to check out a passing pooch or toddler, I'm conscious of an everywhere kind of happiness. This is normal. It isn't a big deal or a special thing we're doing. We're all taking for granted that we can have a Saturday together, as a family. The kids are down the trail but they'll be back and full of news about the horse poop that Roscoe ate and which dogs he seemed eager to chase. I'm resting but it isn't because I'm sick; I'm healing and will be back to full-speed in a week or so. I take note. I'm grateful. Life is so very sweet.

A familiar voice brings my head up. A young friend of Danny and Gracie's is on a bike riding with his parents. I call out to them. They come over, we talk about their new school, Roscoe, our breakfast at 3 Zero. How wonderful a day it has been, and the unexpected meeting anoints it.

Back home, I am stretched on the sofa with my novel, doing more nothing. Joe has taken the kids to the new Redwood Shores Library for some down time. Just before 4:00 pm the phone rings and, letting it go to the machine, I hear my SIL Cory breathlessly announce that her daughter will be delivering her first child by emergency c-section in about 30 minutes. I make it to the phone in time to catch her, telling her I'll be there. The baby is early but we knew he would be. He has made it to 35 weeks.

Hayden Miles entered the world safely today. He is only 2lbs, 13.5 ounces and 14 inches long. He is breathing without help, though; his lungs are okay. He is feisty, strong and incredibly beautiful in the way only new life can be. His mother is exhausted and recovering. She may wonder why her aunt insisted on hanging around the hospital, peering through the nursery glass and haunting the hallway.

Through the glass of the nursery my children saw their new cousin on the day of his birth. They saw him get his first bath from a neonatal nurse wielding a washcloth. They saw him hold his mom's hand. They celebrated his birthday with Lauren, Hayden's 7-year-old aunt (his mom's baby sister) over pizza at Toto's. While laughing and sipping lemonade we talked about what we would tell Hayden about the day he was born. Driving back to the hospital, we stopped at Shaw's candy store so we could bring back chocolate cigars for new father Owen.

After Dinner Mint
Being present. Bearing witness. Defining family and marking passage. These are the things we offer one another as proof of our love.

Amen. And wecome to the family, Hayden Miles.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I've Been Revised

Tuesday was the last reconstruction surgery, known as The Revision. When having the DIEP the plastic surgeon mentions that within several months you will be having a second surgery, to "revise" the big deelybop surgery. It makes sense, really. The first surgery is all about moving mass to a new location. There are bound to be issues to address, nips to tuck, flops to flip. And so with me.

We scheduled the surgery to take advantage of the full school days, not realizing that there would be half days this week on account of Back to School night. Drat. SIL Sandy stepped in to help with childcare coverage, Joe took a few days off work, and I breezed through a 2 1/2 hour surgery and overnight recovery. Very little pain. Doc promised this would be the easiest of the scalpel sessions to date and he was right.

This time there were three drains. One was removed in the hospital and two are my constant buddies. For the uninitiated, drains are tubes attached to fairly large collection bulbs. They remove fluid from wounds to prevent seratomas. Patient activity increases fluid; the drains can be removed, in my case, when the collection level is less than 30 ml in 24 hours. This morning, the high bulb was 50 ml.

Nothing happens on a weekend. I'm sitting here, doing my best to do nothing, so my fluid level can decrease to the desired level by Monday. That's 3 1/2 days and many fun activities away. Did you know that the new California Academy of Sciences is opening tomorrow? And that there is a Pet Parade in Burlingame that Roscoe would love to attend? We want to check out the Three Zero Airport Cafe and the park in Half Moon Bay for Gracie's birthday party, too. Sigh. I think I may just have to read a few books instead. Wouldn't hurt to update this blog. Maybe get some photos in an album.

Or I could curl up for a nap until it's time to pick up the kids.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Not a Model Patient

Face it, we all want to be liked. When it comes to having a serious illness, we want our doctors to really like us. Would it be so bad if our surgeon or oncologist had a little daydream about our tumor and how they were going to annihilate it? Nope, nada. Dream on, docs. And we would love it if our doctors remembered the specifics of our cases without having to be corrected during appointments. "No, I can't have the drug to induce menopause; I had my ovaries removed last year, remember?" But I digress.

I'm not a model patient. I don't pretend to be "glass half full" when I really feel like I'm dragging around a load of concrete. I want to be listened to with respect when I speak even if I pause longer than normal to retrieve a word from a treatment-impaired brain. I want a treatment plan tailored to me, to my specific cancer state and characteristics. I reserve the right to decline a recommended course of treatment and do not expect disparaging looks or comments from the medical professionals involved in my care. And while I'm up here on my high horse I would really, really appreciate a helping hand back down to Mama Earth.

You see, I spoke to my Agent of Doom tonight. He's actually Doom #2, since Doom #1 proved to be more condescending than I could tolerate. I had to let her go. The current Agent is in the same practice, or "Cancer Center," because there are simply no other options short of changing my medical group. (HMO Blues, let me tell you. I could switch to Stanford or UCSF but would then have to travel 15 miles+ just to see a primary care doc.) ANYWAY, the Agent of Doom was calling to discuss my request to see a gynecologic oncologist for regular GYN care. I had a specific one, out of network, in mind. Even without ovaries I still need GYN exams, and it makes sense to me, at least, to see a specialist.

We spent a bit of time while I provided reasons to justify why I needed to see a specialist. This was for the benefit of the HMO, apparently. Agent #2 assumed the role of "processing clerk" which made me wonder, Does he really think he has to mollify me? Toss me a bone? There's nothing like defending my position to tweak my Bawling Babe gene. Instead of shedding tears I confessed: I stopped Arimidex. Would that be a good reason to see the specialist?

Silence. I imagined him cursing Agent #1 for palming off a cancer patient with a suicide wish. When he spoke it was to ask why I stopped the drug. I mentioned my hands, the all-over-body pain, a sense of diminishing health. In Bawling Babe mode, all my words sound lame, my reasoning foolish and irrational. (Ooh, that was another reason: I couldn't think on Arimidex.) I seem unable to muster the strength to say how much thought went into the decision, and how I am trying to replace the estrogen-suppression action of the drug with changes in nutrition, supplements, exercise and acupuncture. He doesn't pursue it or tell me, as he has in previous conversations, how rare my side-effects are, and I am spared the need to disagree. I feel plenty stupid anyhow, and definitely Not a Model Patient. I can almost hear his voice, a year or two from now, holding me responsible for a recurrence.

After our lovely chat I sat on the bedroom floor, in the midst of my clear-the-office-and-prepare-to-write project, snagged Nikko the fluffy gray feline and let loose with the tears. We need the Agents to be on our sides, to listen to us. Somewhere in this effing universe there must be a scientific study to prove that doctors who disapprove of their patients inflict damage far beyond the disease they are treating.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Anywhere But Here

Clarity is a cancer byproduct. It's easy to see what's important, what doesn't fit anymore when the diagnosis first hits. Harder is making that clarity a companion on the road of daily life.

Here's what I do to keep the clarity muscle in shape. Say I'm at a social function. An acquaintance is rude, the event tiresome. I ask myself, "Would I rather be cleaning the toilet?" If that option is appealing, I make a graceful exit. I do not, however, go home and clean the toilet.

Lately I've been considering income opportunities. I flip-flopped the toilet question and started asking myself, "Would I rather be writing?" while imagining myself doing every conceivable job. So far writing is what has me leaving the party.

I have even come up with a kind of writing I believe I can earn money doing. A little more research and maybe I'll get started.