D Day

I’ll Be Taking The Walking Path For The Time Being!

The diagnosis of my cancer was PDQ (pretty damn quick), coming immediately after they’d finished my MRI on July 23rd.  At the time I was a bit nonplussed when the ER doc, after one test, made a pretty conclusive initial diagnosis; “Well, you DON’T have Fibromyalgia, you’ve got CANCER.”

After a bit of discussion I understood what me meant was that there were THREE pretty sizable sites of metastasis (spine, back of the neck and lymph nodes) which was as much of a guarantee that I had cancer as anything else they could have seen.  The mystery at that point was, what exactly was the PRIMARY cause of the cancer.

The days between the initial MRI, the lymph node biopsy and the point when the pathology was ready to be addressed were LONG ones.  Only 5 days, but it felt like 5 months, and it weighed very heavily on my psyche.  Those were 5 days of pure fear.

Dexamethasone: All the sweats, hot flashes, puffiness and irascibility of Menopause, now in a convenient PILL!

When my Medical Oncologist, Dr. N, sat us down and told us that I had Stage 4 Diffuse B-Cell Lymphoma, our reaction was SO positive I think it surprised him.  My big fear was that I’d had a large, solid mass tumor somewhere; colon, liver, some terrible place.  And THAT would have been a very difficult diagnosis to process.

But I was extremely lucky.  Lymphoma is a cancer where the word “cure” is actually used.  Yes, I am VERY lucky!

TODAY is another D-Day, at least for me it is.  Today is the day we look at the results of all those tests I’ve been taking this past week, most especially the bone marrow biopsy and lumbar puncture, to see if the cancer has moved into my spinal cord.  I think it’s about as scary as it sounds.

I asked demanded that I have my two more painful tests under anesthesia, and more than ever I’m convinced it was a very good call.  The residual pain I feel in my back and hips from these tests is pretty extreme this week, I would hazard to say that the pain these last few days has been as bad as it was at the start of this adventure in mid-July, which is pretty bad.  The main difference is that this time I have several pain meds I can use to break through this pain, and that’s a mercy.

Dealer’s Choice
So today I have my “long visit” with Dr. N,  where we’ll go over the test results and discuss what may be the next step in this trip.  With absolutely no medical experience or education of any type, my only point of reference is having been Gerry’s caregiver for so many years.

Topical pain relief from Galina!

But the truth is, Gerry is the ‘researcher’ in the family; he goes into his head, he reads stuff, he deals with numbers and percentages, THAT’s his comfort zone.

I’m not dividing my observations into a male/female way of dealing with pain and new medical information, because I know many women who are very numbers oriented (me, for one!) and I know MANY men who approach things in a more “feeling” way.

But in the case of Gerry and myself, I tend to be the “emotions whisperer” with the kids, Gerry tends to put the numbers into some type of structure that we can use to understand them better.

For this reason, when Gerry gets scared, or shows his emotions, it hits me very hard.  I’ve been scared this week, no specific reason, just overall FEAR.  Gerry admitted to me last night that HE is hella scared, too.  His fear paralyzes me, but I never want him NOT to tell me he’s afraid; he keeps SO much stuff bottled up inside as it is, I’m HAPPY that he shares his fears with me, too!

Emotional pain relief from Galina!

Good teams, like our family, will always find a way to regroup and work together, changing roles as each of us changes our outlook or understanding of the disease.  I am DEFINITELY feeling the need for some therapy, though. HealthEast Cancer Care at St. John’s only seems to have ONE Oncology Psychotherapist, and we have an appt for next week.  Apparently she’s exceptional, well loved, and — it being August — has been on vacation.

Note to self: NEVER get cancer in August again if you want to see your care team together in the same week…

I’ve been mentally preparing for The Worst News Scenario, and alternatively preparing for The Best News Scenario.  It’s really all one can do at this point.  Having spent a life in the theater, mostly working backstage, I love the feeling of an audience receiving all the parts of a theatrical production in the “order” that the director, designers and actors choose to present it.  Seeing exposition (back story) presented cleverly and well is a hallmark of exceptional theater.

Rx Pain Relief from the Docs

In terms of my cancer, ALL of the exposition rests in the hands of Doc N, who will reveal precisely what HE understands is happening inside of me later this morning.  In 4-1/2 hours, to be precise.  Which Gerry will want to be.

News when I have it!  Love always!

Strategizing

When Gerry was diagnosed wth his OWN blood cancer (Multiple Myeloma) in April, 2007, we were new folks in a new state (Minnesota!) with a couple of great kids who were newly placed in their brand new schools.

Max was a 4th grader at Randolph Heights elementary, where he quickly found a place with new friends (our neighborhood was LOADED with boys just his age, and he created some wonderful friendships right off the bat.)

Gerry Gazes at Scotland

We felt lucky to get Andy a place at the Linwood A+ school, which had an arts focus, and she did okay there.  Few things are perfect, but it was a lovely school at a tough time in all of our lives, and it was nearby and filled with active, caring parents and teachers.  Really, what more could one really need?

Giving Care
And me? I felt like was running, running, running.  Every day more running, never finished with what needed to be finished, learning to let things go that simply didn’t matter as much as what might be on the horizon.

And THAT was our default mode for years.

Trying to find joy and opportunities for growth for the kids, seeking as little pain and as much hope for Gerry, and me? Just chasing down freelance gigs and jobs that would dovetail with my own duties as Gerry’s caregiver and pay our mortgage was enough of a daily grind for me.

The spotlight that I knowingly focused on my family at this time has been debated online, folks have opinions about the wisdom/good taste of me writing and blogging about Gerry’s illness.

I took heart from the fact that Gerry seemed to love the blog, he was very happy with the book I wrote (basically the blog, plus extra bits) and I think he was proud of me.

We haven’t discussed it in so many words, but after 25 years of marriage, you have a sense of how your partner is accepting something, if you allow yourself to hear with your whole being.

Giving Joy
I was dedicated to not just getting THROUGH Gerry’s cancer journey, but to doing it with love and growth, passion and, yes, Joy.

A few years into our St. Paul adventure I signed up for a workshop at our local Public Access TV Station.  Max had been involved with them through an after-school-work program that the City of St. Paul had set up. Have I mentioned yet today JUST how livable and amazing our adopted town is?

Meta Max

SPNN, St. Paul Neighborhood Network, is an amazing resource, and given Max’s Television DNA* a perfect fit for him.  Watching him grow, and then seeing him learning to lead and teach other young people, THAT was the most amazing part of being a Mom during Max’s journey.

Andy moved in a direction totally new to any of us, which is exactly as it should be!  Once we were able to get both kids involved in the Breakthrough  Program, they found their places and just continued to grow.  We had to FIGHT to get Andy in, her teacher at the time was under the assumption that because, quite frankly, we were white, we had no place in the program.

So she withheld Andy’s application, and didn’t even send it in.  When we discovered this, I spent a few busy afternoons chasing down signatures and talking with program directors, and they promised that Andy would definitely be considered for the program.  Then we heard she was in, and we were so grateful!  It was the start of a very good chapter for both Max AND Andy, setting them up for success in high school and college.

Andy Draws On Her Love of Nature

At it’s heart, Breakthrough St. Paul (BSP) is a program designed to help kids who might fall through the cracks get on the right track and get into college.  Because of the topsy-turvey cancer life we’d been living, some days just feeling BARELY able to keep it together, the assistance that BSP lent us made a huge difference.

For Andy, perhaps the biggest milestone was a week-long canoe trip in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota.  This was arranged through BSP, the kids left from YMCA Camp Menogyn and happily paddled about for a week.

If I’d previously thought of Andy-and-the-outdoors at all, it was taking a bike ride, or a walk through the South Mountain Reservation (back in NJ.)  I did not expect the strong, formidable, brave and beautiful canoe goddess that began to emerge in place of my child.

Beautiful, Fierce Becca!

Each year Andy’s canoeing exploits grew longer, until by high school’s end Andy and 4 other women embarked on an amazing 52-day, 2-canoe trip through the Canadian Arctic, led by brave and resourceful Becca (who eventually became our first “payroll” Part Time Dyer at ModeKnit Yarn!  We’re one big family!)

Each child growing so differently.  So much joy that brings.  Andy went to canoe camp, Max went to debate camp, and life is always an adventure.

Care Taker?
In the same way our kids grow independent, part of a family but also vastly different, Gerry and I have cancer journeys that seem to diverge into a yellow wood.

We’d debated the term—and kicked about the role—of caregiver between us.  When Gerry was at his low point, I was there.  But a few years later when I seemed struck with Fibromyalgia** our story turned inside out a bit and he cared for me SO beautifully.

Now that I’m fighting my OWN blood cancer (Stage 4 B-Cell Lymphoma) my ability to be a care giver is in question, and with the return of Gerry’s cancer last Fall (and the complications from his latest drug therapy, 2 heart attacks in March) Gerry caring for anyone other than Gerry is out of the question.

Gerry’s caring strength rests in comprehending and explaining the ins and outs of our insurance, and he does that VERY well. Ever family should be so lucky to have a steward like him watching out for the asshattery of Insurance Companies as they try to find ways to screw us maximize profits.

<Rant>
We are DAMNED FORTUNATE to be living in Minnesota, where the government really DOES care whether it’s citizens have decent health coverage and, for the most part, refuse to play political games with our health.

This means that I don’t just have insurance, I have DAMNED GOOD insurance. When a state will allow it, the ACA WORKS!  When folks try to throw wrenches in the works simply to prove how much they hate Barack Obama, they do nothing but hurt their own citizens.  What on earth could be LESS patriotic that hurting American Citizens simply to win a political argument?

What I have is what EVERY AMERICAN deserves.  Freedom to pursue the healing plan that my doctor feels is right for me, and the right to question that, augment it, or change it.
</Rant>

But back to our family’s strategy for CANCER II, MOM’S TURN.  We’re still figuring it out.

Enter Andy
Fortunately I have a loving and willing caregiver in the form of Andy, just out of college, not yet employed, filled with love and capability!

In my condition, requiring help with several personal, intimate duties, I will most likely be permitted a PCA (Personal Care Assistant) and, if possible, I’m hoping we can make Andy that person.  I’ll get the help I need, Andy’ll have a paying job, and the school loans can start to get paid back!

It's ALIVE!

Time To Care For Me, Now!

Max will be returning to college soon, and I will miss him.  But at the same time, it’s got to be impossibly difficult for a young man to see his mom in such a physically debilitated state.  Moms & Sons, such a wonderful, yet delicate dance we do.

I don’t have a ton of pride, I’m more of a self-respect type of woman.  The nurses at my various procedures are constantly trying to tie up my gown, or throw another robe on me, scandalized by my milky white rear end  floating like a moon around my bed.

But I will cop to a certain pridefulness in front of my kids when I want to appear to be strong.  Once Max is back at school, I think I’ll be able to relax the standards a bit, not hold myself up quite so high, and I’m glad he won’t be here every day to see my fight through the chemo.

It’s a sad day when simply being CLOTHED is considered a high standard.

Tears
And now, just because I think it’s important for YOU to have a good, relaxing cry this Sunday morning, I bring you a lovely TV ad which features dogs, knitted dolls and love.  You’re welcome.

*Gerry and I have both worked in television, he as a producer-director, me in art & wardrobe departments. It seems we’ve passed this love on to Maxie.

**Did I have Fibromyalgia? DO I have it? Or was it this nascent tumor making itself known EVER THEN?

I’m Sorry..?

Being Sick Sucks.
I’m about to complain about folks being NICE to me. How bitchy does that make me, huh?

I will admit to being the kind of woman who DOES like a bit of the old, “How’re you feeling, Sweetie?” commiseration.

The Bruises Of my IVs

I like sharing with folks what’s up, and hearing their own ailments, and maybe both of us saying something to each other that makes us laugh and feel more okay with being under the weather. I like that kind of human interaction, and I’m not ashamed to say it.

I’m not a stoic. I am not brave. I am terrified of pain, I can be a child, and I’d rather be on my bike any day of the week than get a blood draw. It’s lovely that folks call me brave and stuff, but the truth is, I’m kind of tap dancing through this, I tend to be a funny person, but because I’m cracking jokes doesn’t make me ANY BRAVER than the guy next to me who’s doing this thing more quietly. I’m simply trying to be true to myself.

But here I am. As sick as I’ve ever been, even though I keep forgetting that and doing stupid things like getting up from my chair too quickly. And although it’s just been 2+ weeks, I feel as though I’m falling into a rhythm that might sustain me for a time during my recovery.

Because RECOVER is what I fully intend to do.

I’m not sure that I’m up to BEATING, FIGHTING, KILLING, or CRUSHING the Cancer. I just want to recover. Please.

At the same time, on a daily basis, because of my oddball way of dealing with my illness, it seems that I am disappointing SOMEONE involved in my recovery — sometimes only obliquely as a well wisher on FaceBook — but I ALWAYS seem to be a disappointment.

I am 100% certain that this feeling of being a disappointment is within myself, that I am picking up cues from folks they’re not putting out, I know I can do this, and the pain and fear that have joined me on this journey tend of screw up my ability to ‘read folks’ well.

An Example
Every day for the past 2 weeks I’ve had a radiation treatment.

With Gerry’s cancer, there was no large tumor, so radiation wasn’t one of his therapies. This is the FIRST time I’ve come into contact with a radiation laser, or with my own bizarre side effects involved in this therapy. Hot mouth, dry mouth, hot head, confusion and TOTAL EXHAUSTION.

Just.
Complete.
Absolute.
Inability.
To.
Get.
Up.
And.
Pee.

Which is a hell of a thing to admit in a blog, but there you have it. Perhaps someone, somewhere will find this titillating and might leave our country alone for a few hours?

Pills are pretty

When I get my radiation treatment, I hobble into the room with my walker (actually, Gerry’s walker from 12 years ago, and BABY and I glad we didn’t get rid of it!) then I slip off my robe and use a step stool to sit on the table.

The two technicians, in concert, lift my legs up onto a piece of foam to keep them in place and make me more comfortable. Then, on either side of me, each one takes an arm and they lower me into the correct position. I have sharpie on my chest that they use to anchor the laser, and I hold my arms over my head, grabbing a few plastic dowels, to help my body align in the way it needs for the laser to hit the tumor correctly.

The techs have the ability to take xrays as they work, sort of functioning pictures that help them determine that they’re exactly where they need to be.

Once I’m ‘locked in’ they start the procedure, and the laser arm slowly moves all around the table, sometimes the table moves slightly, and in about 15 minutes I have as much radiation as I can stand and it’s time to go. This is generally when my mouth is so hot I swear I could cook a marshmallow by just blowing on it.

The Radiation Table, which looks like a bistro in Chelsea.

A few days ago—a rough day—when I had a doctor’s appt and I was still on DOUBLE Dexemethesone (which tends to make me a hyper, slightly crazed, emotional mess.) I had one of my treatments that got a little emotional.

So there I was, Little Miss Messy Dexemethesone McMessy, strolling into my treatment, sitting on the table, and one of the techs reached her arm over and tried to bring ONE of my legs up onto the foam.

Because of the placement of the tumor, both legs must be moved together, to move them individually is very painful. Also, I just don’t have the strength to MOVE my legs, someone has to lift both of them, and the other person arranges the piece of foam and rests my legs onto it.

But the tech, either confusing me with a different patient, or forgetting that I can’t move my legs independently, seemed a bit impatient as she motioned for me to ‘get on the foam’

THIS is the point where she may have just been indicating, “Hey, there’s your foam!” but I READ it as, “Get your leg up there!”

So I said, “Um, I can’t move my leg on my own, I need someone to lift up both legs.”

She responded, “You did it YESTERDAY…”

And I totally lost it. I cried. I sobbed. I was a little diaper baby.

I felt so weak, so useless. Maybe I did do it the day before, I don’t remember, but on THIS day my pain and exhaustion were such that I could NOT do it at all.

I’m NOT not using the good mug anymore!

Before there could be too many tears and recriminations, we worked it out and all is well. The tech is lovely, it was simply a misunderstanding with someone (me) who is at a raw and sensitive time in her life and is on high-dose Dex. Maybe the tech is, too, come to think of it…

But I felt — I still feel — guilty for being unable to do what she wanted me to do. I felt guilty for getting weaker. I hate that.

One should not feel guilty for being sick, and I know this (you’re all going to tell me this in the comments, but I DO know this!!)  In short, I felt like a disappointment.

Don’t Knit For Me
The truth is, I really don’t need it…

Next on my hit parade is trying to find ways to tell folks THANK YOU, but the gift they want to give me will probably actually be a bit of a burden, and I don’t think I can deal with that as graciously as I would like to. Then I get resentful for the NEED to be gracious.

Then I realize that being gracious is the one thing that I still can do, even when I can’t walk well, or sleep all day, or knit. Being gracious takes very little effort, and is what will allow me to keep my humanity. And I feel like I’m failing in that department.

Some VERY KIND folks were talking about knitting a blanket for me on an online knitting site, I only heard about it because someone mentioned it in the comments for my blog. Such a lovely gesture, but so wasted on this incredibly hot, hot, woman.

I love the idea of charity knitting, I love the idea of doing something you love to help someone else. It’s a kind thing, and if the recipient needs a blanket then that’s a wonderful gift!

But if the recipient DOESN’T need a blanket, or a hat, or a jacket, or any knitted good at all, then is there a need to knit it up? Is the need about the patient at that point, or about making the person doing the knitting feel good about themselves?

I have MORE WOOL GARMENTS in my home than any other human being in the world. I am actively LOOKING for places to get rid of wool garments. I am HOT all the time, I seldom use blankets (I sleep under a sheet, even for most of the Winter) and a blanket is just a waste for me. In my life very few folks have knit for me, and I treasure each gift. The last thing I want to do is NOT appreciate a knit gift, but I also want to be able to tell folks, THIS MIGHT NOT END WELL IF YOU HAVE GREAT EXPECTATIONS…

Add to that how picky I am about my yarn, how sensitive my skin is right now, and the idea of receiving a box (BTW, opening boxes, extremely hard when you’re exhausted) cataloging a gift, writing a thank you note, finding a place to PUT the gift (Goodwill? A cancer charity?) Well, that’s all a ton of work, and I’d rather someone just message me to say, “Thinking of you, have a great day today!” than saddle me with the extra physical effort.

But when I said, “No blankets, please!” on FaceBook I heard from a few folks that I might have been more ‘gracious’ about it, and perhaps I could just take the blankets and send them to Gilda’s Club or something, and, besides (one woman wrote) that “every stitch in the blanket is a prayer!”

Which means I should — what? — donate it to a church instead of a cancer center?

I’d be happy to, but perhaps the blanket knitter should go to that trouble. I can barely get through a day without adding extra errands to my busy schedule of sleeping, sleeping and climbing onto tables to be lazered.

Don’t Pray For Me
Or, if you do, which is fine and lovely, but I don’t need to know about it.

And this brings me to prayer.

I’m not really a praying person, I have my own beliefs that I would not expect another person to adhere to. If prayer makes you feel more connected with your humanity and eternity, then THAT is exactly what you need.

For me, that is achieved through the repetitive activities I love, like biking, knitting, singing – I find great peace in all of them. Even in beating egg whites. It’s all a lovely, repeating sound echo that can get into my brain and bring me peace.

But sometimes – SOMETIMES – when folks say they’re “praying for you” you just sense that they want something back in terms of fulsome thanks, or a whisper, “Prayer DOES work, you know…” Folks sometimes REALLY need for me to buy into the power of the god of the talking snake, they need it for themselves, they need me to know that they’re prayers are BETTER than ‘good thoughts’ and will make the difference.

But I don’t believe in magic.

Like Mayo, St Mungos Apparently ALSO has Chihuly Glass pieces.

I love Harry Potter, a most EXCELLENT series of books. But I no more believe that Albus Dumbledore is going to get me checked into St. Mungos than I believe a nice guy with wounds in his hands and sides is going to remove my cancer.

I don’t JUDGE folks for believing it, although I realize it can sound that way. If you’ve been raised to believe that what you believe is RIGHT (and I was raised as a pretty firm Fundamentalist Methodist) then any doubting by someone else can sometimes feel as if they’re trying to question, or cut down, your beliefs.

A belief is SUCH a personal thing. You cannot CHOOSE a belief, it is — by definition — what you BELIEVE. I think because of societal pressures, ease of social mobility, the need to just get along in a family and community, some folks DO choose to believe what their family has all believed before them. I choose not to.

My belief is simple; whatever god there is can be found in the action of a human helping another human, or helping make the world a better place. Period.

So pray for me, or don’t, but please don’t feel badly if I would rather put my trust in Minerva McGonagall over Mother Mary. Professor McGonagall is definitely more my jam.

Don’t Cook For Me
Have I mentioned I’m 5?

I’m a picky eater. I eat well, and balanced, meals, but I’m picky. I hate raw tomato (cooked is nice) I’m not a fan of most cheese (too heavy for me) and beans are WAY too rich unless they’re mixed in with something else. Light beans, like green beans and half runners and even navy beans are great, but legumes with more oomph to them (lentils, chick peas, etc.) are just SO rich on my stomach that I’m generally sorry for days that I ate them.

A Nice Stew

I like meat, but not too much. A little bit of chicken, a tiny bit of pork. Just something to give the rice and broccoli flavor.

Spices are to be avoided. I’m a super taster, and when I put something spicy in my mouth I feel it for hours, if not days. I ate some pecans today that were not supposed to be spicy, but 8 hours later and my mouth still burns (see, radiation side effects…)

SO I am VERY hard to cook for. Once you know what I can eat, it’s pretty easy and I’m kind of a boring eater. Often Gerry will make himself and the kids much more exciting stuff, but leave me, happily, with three food items I know and love.

So when folks WANT to cook for me, I am very grateful and happy, but I also am on pins and needles. What if I don’t like what they cook? Will it be bitchy to say, ‘Oh, not a cheese fan!’ – I mean, don’t the ads on TV tell us that EVERYONE loves cheese? I can take it in small doses, and goat cheese is easier for me than cow cheese, but I’m just an oddball.

And, as odd as it sounds, I get SO MUCH JOY FROM MY FOOD that I don’t want to lose any of it, I want to eat what I love, and love what I eat. Once the cancer stuff is done, if you want to cook me a meal and try to get me to experiment, that is great. While I’m on the mend, I’ll just stick to the kinds of food that I’m happy with, that make me happy!

Conclusion
So now you know. I can be an ungrateful bitch, and I’m not thrilled with that aspect of me. But I hate to be beholden to someone for something that I didn’t really want to begin with, and am not really going to use.

One thing that happened today that made me INCREDIBLY GRATEFUL was that my biz partner, Kathleen, arranged for her hair stylist to come to my home and cut my hair SHORT. I’d wanted this for a while, but there is NO WAY I’m going to be able to sit in a salon chair for a haircut, let alone get there.

The cut, lovely, and my face is SO round with the Dex!

So Kathleen’s friend, Janet, cut my hair, and it is without a doubt one of the nicest things that’s ever happened to me!

And during the cut another friend, Beth, came by and gave Jasper a happy, happy walk, which was SUCH a lovely thing to do!

Believe me, I am UNBELIEVABLY grateful for all the love, the care, the gifts, the help with our situation. But I felt it might be important – ? interesting -? to share my feelings about gifts with which I struggle.

Women don’t often speak out like this, we’re supposed to clap our hands and say, “Oh my goodness, you READ my mind! This is EXACTLY what I wanted and I didn’t know it!”

But I’m not always willing or able to say that. And I know it upsets some folks.

And I’m sorry.

Damn. When will I stop saying I’m sorry.

An Open Letter to Mrs. Brokaw

Dear Mrs. Brokaw,

Obviously I don’t know you, we’ve never met, although I – like many Americans – feel that I know your husband. My own husband’s father was a stagehand at NBC for many years, and always mentioned what a mensch your husband was. Stage hands learn pretty fast who is a good guy, and who’s a bit of a prima donna.

So apparently this past Summer you joined the club I joined 7 years ago, spouses of folks with Multiple Myeloma. We also share the fact that our husbands are being treated at the Mayo Clinic, which I consider a very good club to be in, indeed.

You’re in the best hands in the world. When Gerry, my husband, was diagnosed his prognosis was poor, but every year, with new drugs and improved treatment options, his prognosis gets a little better.

Life has never been as precious to us as it as these past few years. We feel amazingly lucky. Excellent work is being done all over the world on this disease, but we’re biased toward the Mayo as we live in Minnesota.

I’m not going to say, “Cancer is a gift” – because it’s not. This is a painful, frightening disease – I hope your husband hasn’t had too much bone damage and subsequent pain.

But what this disease HAS given to our family is a golden opportunity to realize exactly how precious we are to each other, and how wonderful each day we share is. Often at the Mayo we would remark that it felt as though we were on a second honeymoon, except this time with chemo.

You’re not alone. I know it’s presumptive of me to write this note, and by this time you’ve realized everything that I could ever tell you. Know that there are many spouses next to you, standing by your side, all of us loving our husbands and wives, all of us willing to share some strength or just let you know that a prognosis can change for the better, especially with Multiple Myeloma.

All the best wishes for treating this terrible cancer as a chronic condition!

Best,
Annie Modesitt

“I feel like I’m lying…”

Last week was one of the monthly meetings of Gerry’s Stillwater Multiple Myeloma Support Group.

This group has become very important in our lives, the folks involved are lovely – kind, smart, hopeful but not smarmy, a great group to surround ourselves with. We feel fortunate to be part of them.

In the last meeting one member mentioned that he’d been told over 5 years ago that he had ‘probably 2 years’ – very similar to Gerry’s own initial prognosis. He spoke of feeling as if he were “lying” sometimes because he’s outlived the time period he’d told so many folks of when he was first diagnosed.

I feel the same way. Gerry’s here – he’s HERE – I want to go shout it from the rooftops every day because we are so thrilled that HE IS HERE!

But it’s different from our initial expectations.

Folks often stop me and ask about Gerry, or they email; it’s so kind of them. Each time I say some version of the same thing,

“Gerry’s doing well, he’s active, his cancer came back last Summer but we’re handling it with a new drug, and have enough stem cells harvested for 2 more transplants if that’s necessary.”

And all that’s true. But because we’re dealing with the unknown, it also feels like I’m pretending to tell the future, and that feels awkward.

If I were to speak from fear, I’d say, “I’m afraid he won’t be here long.”
If I were to speak from hope, I’d say, “He’s here, and he will be for a long time!”
But between fear and hope is the reality, and many days I don’t know what that is.

Gerry and I at dinner

Gerry and Annie at dinner

Last Summer/Fall Gerry began experiencing some of his initial symptoms again, and his visits to the Mayo Clinic each month weren’t as sunny and optimistic as they’d been in the past.

We both knew the truth, but didn’t know what they meant. It was like watching a very well made mystery, knowing there was going to be a twist, but having NO idea what that twist would be, or where it would lead.

And, of course, EVERY human lives this way. In our case it’s heightened because the immediacy of cancer is different from general, run-of-the-mill ‘growing old’

Every time I hear of a friend’s passing – or, more to the point, hear of a friend’s spouse passing – I feel like some kind of charlatan. I feel like I should apologize for still having a husband (which I know is insane!) I feel guilty.

My husband’s still here, and wait – wasn’t he supposed to be gone? Didn’t we tell everyone six years ago that by this time Gerry would be a picture in an album and not flesh and blood?

As our friend in the MM Support group said, “I feel like I’m lying…”

How is Gerry right now?

Because I’m a Virgo, I can best answer that in a list;

1. He’s here. After the MM came back, his oncologist put him on Revlimid ($9000/month, thank heaven for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the Chronic Disease Fund, who help us with the co-pay!)

Max, Andy & Gerry visiting Carleton

Max, Andy & Gerry visiting Carleton

2. He’s older. And I don’t mean simply 6 years older than he was at diagnosis, he feels more like 26 years older than his 46-year old self. He has the energy levels, strength and vitality of someone in their 70’s (which, these days, isn’t bad at all!)

3. He’s tired. He needs to sleep a lot, but he derives great satisfaction from being an active contributor to family life; he cooks dinner most nights, he does some simple gardening (raking is always good exercise!); he drives the kids around (although I can tell he doesn’t like long drives) and keeps track of our tax information, medical stuff, that kind of family paperwork.

And he takes care of ME! There are days during a fibromyalgia flare up that I feel incapacitated; he helps me get through the rough times, and I am very grateful!

4. He hurts. He has a great deal of pain, it’s constant and even in his sleep I can tell that there are moments of agony. Aside from the Revlimid/Deximethisone cocktail and a probiotic for his digestion, the only medicine Gerry takes on a regular basis is his very strong pain medication.

Gerry & his tall daughter visiting Earlham

Gerry confused by his tall daughter. visiting Earlham

I can tell it bothers him to be ‘on’ oxy and hydro, but we’ve passed the point where he feels guilty about taking them (thank heaven!) and we all understand that to miss a dose is inviting the pain to rise to such a level that it is MUCH harder to quell.

5. He’s Gerry. He’s funny and loving and a pretty wonderful guy. Because of the pain he tends to be more short-tempered than he was before, but given his general sweetness and easy-going nature, it  means he’s STILL nicer than the average human, and we’re so lucky to have him!

This is what the face of Cancer Survival – Multiple Myeloma Survival – looks from one family’s viewpoint.

Ginger the fat cat & Gerry's #1 fan!

Ginger the cat, Gerry’s biggest fan – literally.

The stress of living with the unknown comes and goes, we deal with it, and we try to be as ‘normal’ as we can. We try not to think of every holiday, birthday, event as, “perhaps the last…” because that’s just too emotionally draining and a tad dramatic.

What we DO do is to set goals for ourselves.

We didn’t think Gerry’d be celebrating Max’s Bar Mitzvah, but he did. Next up is Hannah’s graduation from high school, set for June 2014, and all signs point to Gerry’s attendance.

Every day really IS a gift.

Giving Joy

I made a documentary! It’s on the subject of Care Giving, and it’s called Giving Joy.

This summer I was accepted into a program at our local public access TV network (SPNN) called DocU, where we spent 15 weeks learning how to plan, shoot, edit and craft a short, 10 minute documentary.

It’s in a competition right now, and if you’d care to vote for it, I’d be thrilled!

I loved this process. It was exhilarating and exciting, and I feel like I’ve had a door opened into a whole new world.

No surprise, my favorite part was the planning and the editing. The actual shooting was fun, but physically a bit rough some days.

Which brings me to a different subject.

I know I’ve been low profile this Summer. I feel that I’m hermitizing myself — trying not to be in public more than I need to — and of course, that’s not healthy.

That’s one reason the DocU program was so great this Summer,
it was a place I needed to be once a week to see other people
(and it was a reason to get out into the world for shooting).

I’d hesitated to write this, but I feel that I’m slowly disappearing in some ways, and I wanted to explain that it’s not permanent. I just need to figure out how to get on top of the continuing pain from my Fibromyalgia, which wreaks havoc both physically and emotionally.

I felt like a fraud some days when making my documentary, because my health’s been so iffy this Summer that there were days that Gerry was the caregiver, and I was the patient!  I don’t know exactly what is changing, but I do know that my pain levels are increasing and I don’t feel able to control them with biking alone, as I have for 3 years.

I’ve been experimenting with different ride lengths, riding at different times of day, in different temperatures, and it seems that riding between 10-20 miles on a 70-85F degree day is best for me if I want to try to control my pain levels (Yesterday I rode 30 miles, and discovered that it might be a bit far for me).

But bike riding’s not doing the trick it has  for the past few years, I’ve been shaking.

In fact, a few times this Summer I’ve gotten the ‘shakes’ so badly while riding I got off the bike and rested a bit until my hands calmed down. I’ve been ‘shaking’ in various ways for years, usually while I’m yawning or sneezing, but now it’s spilled into other moments, too, and has spread to beyond my hands.

I talked about this shaking with my rheumatologist, and a few years ago all kinds of tests were done (brain scans, other cool things) but there seemed to be no indication of Parkinsons (with which my Aunt Wanda suffered for many years).

Two weekends ago I began shaking while with a friend and our daughters in public, and aside from being humiliating, it was a bit terrifying.

So new appointments are being made, perhaps new meds will be tried. I love my bike, but it’s not doing for me what I have needed for so long (but I’ll never give it up!)

As I write this I realize how damned lucky I truly am! I have a source of income which allows me to work at my own pace when I feel strong, and to rest when I feel that’s necessary. I have a few good designs coming out in the next few weeks (more blogging about them in the next few days!) and, of course, there’s always History on Two Needles (more news about THAT coming up, too!)

I’ve cut down on my teaching because, well, I tire easily and I shake more when I’m exhausted. That doesn’t mean I’m NOT teaching (I’ll be at Interweave Knit Lab in San Mateo in early Nov 1-4) but I’ve definitely cut down on the extended gig trips that I feel may have contributed to my initial Fibromyalgia.