Category Archives: Cancer

Embracing Mobility

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This week, I have been focused on finishing one of my enjoyable reading challenges. It’s a great feeling to meet a challenge one sets for oneself!  However, it’s another level of good feeling to meet a major challenge that Life throws at you. In the last month, my husband has been faced with another major physical and mental challenge related to his Stage IV metastasized cancer.

One month ago, he finished the radiation treatment he underwent to hopefully lessen the pain in his hip caused by the bone metastasis there. He walked into the five-day treatment on the first day, unaided but limping from his sore hip. Unfortunately, by the end of the five days, he was suffering from a not-so-common side effect from the treatment called a “pain flare, ”  which is an inflammation of the lining of the bone due to the radiation. And it is extremely painful. So for his final treatment, I had to wheel him into the building in a wheel chair.

The inflammation was treated, the pain has slowly lessened throughout the month, and Byron has worked hard to regain his mobility. Truly a challenge! But he has embraced each step in this process, which started with the arrival of a cane we ordered on the day after that final treatment because he could not walk unsupported. A few days later, a simple walker was delivered to our porch, a surprise ordered by his primary care physician! He was delighted with it because he was much steadier getting around the house and could now do some limited walking outdoors. After a week with that more limited walker, we went shopping for his “off road walker,” as he calls it. And he was thrilled with the new walker we found!

So now, he does laps around the house with his fancy walker. We load it in the car and walk the sidewalks around the campus here in this university town. And the more he walks, the better he feels, even though energy and endurance are limited. It was not the kind of month we expected, but I am so proud of the way my husband faced the pain and the setback, and embraced the challenge to return to better mobility, one level at a time.

 

Joseph Conrad Nailed It

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My husband has long admired Joseph Conrad’s writing. Conrad’s stories are both powerful and profound, and his writing is impressively beautiful, especially considering that English was not his first language. Byron’s old, yellowed copy of Heart of Darkness sits on our coffee table these days rather than on the bookshelf.

So I wasn’t surprised the other day when Byron asked me to read a quote from Conrad’s, Lord Jim. He had just run across the quote in his handwritten reading notebook, copied down from his reading of the book in 2018, and told me that the quote described what having terminal cancer is like for him. He said that Conrad nailed it. It is heart-wrenching to read, but I’m glad that he shared these really deep emotions with me, through the words of one of his favorite authors.

I decided to share this quote with you, because I think it perfectly demonstrates a big part of why we read — to find those nuggets of truth that explain, give an understanding of, or put into words what we are going through in life at the moment.

Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, Chapter 2

There are many shades in the danger of adventures and gales, and it is only now and then that there appears on the face of facts a sinister violence of intention—that indefinable something which forces it upon the mind and the heart of a man, that this complication of accidents or these elemental furies are coming at him with a purpose of malice, with a strength beyond control, with an unbridled cruelty that means to tear out of him his hope and his fear, the pain of his fatigue and his longing for rest: which means to smash, to destroy, to annihilate all he has seen, known, loved, enjoyed, or hated; all that is priceless and necessary—the sunshine, the memories, the future,—which means to sweep the whole precious world utterly away from his sight by the simple and appalling act of taking his life.

August Reflections 2021

August turned out to be a very busy month. It was filled with doctors appointments and treatments for my husband, lingering summer heat, beautiful flowers in the garden, and some enjoyable reading. I am hopeful that, in September, we will spend less time in waiting rooms and more time in our reading chairs or in the garden. We’ll see.

I hope your August was full of good reads and happy summer activities!

Waiting Room Reading

While waiting for my husband’s radiation treatments this week, I read and/or listened to two books and a short story. In all honesty, I did not sit in the waiting room (Covid restrictions), but found a very nice bench for my waiting right outside the clinic.

I started my RIP-XVI challenge early because of this opportune time to read, and I actually enjoyed my waiting time. This challenge is divided into different “Perils” you can choose — “Peril of the Fiction;”  “Peril of the Short Story;”  “Peril of the Screen;”  “Peril of the Group Read;”  “Peril of the Listen;” and “Peril of the Real.”  So obviously, there’s room for all kinds of spooky and mysterious reading and viewing choices!

For “Peril of the Fiction,” I read another book in a fun mystery series that I’m slowly rereading.  Mrs. Pollifax and the Second Thief, by Dorothy Gilman, was the 10th book in the series. Many of the usual characters from earlier in the series showed up in this one, with some fun twists. Mrs. Pollifax, elderly member of the local garden club and accomplished spy, was up to her usual brilliant mystery solving. I laughed out loud in the scene where she karate-chopped (one at a time) a whole group of bad guys trying to push their way into the safe haven she and her colleagues were sheltering in. Mrs. Pollifax is a trained operative that should not be messed with!

For “Peril of the Short Story,”  I listened to the short story, Hero, by Susan Hill. It’s a back-story to her Simon Serrailler series, and tells the story of an event that happened when Simon was a rookie cop. I really enjoyed it. No, I haven’t read the series yet, so I thought I’d start with this short story. I’ve read a number of other books by Susan Hill and like her writing very much, so I look forward to reading this series at some point.

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In the evenings this week, Hubby and I have been watching a Korean urban dark fantasy series called “Tale of the Nine-Tailed,” and it fits right in with “Peril of the Screen.” It is a story based on Korean folklore about  “mythical nine-tailed fox, or gumiho, Lee Yeon had to settle in the city many centuries ago. Able to transform into human form, he eradicates supernatural beings that threaten the mortal world. His real aim is to find the reincarnation of his lost first love.”  It’s been a great entertainment during a busy and stressful week.

Mid-August and Hunkered Down

Birdwatching and watching the birdwatchers. Plus, smoky air!

We are well into mid-August and the usual heat of summer has been replaced by the especially miserable record-breaking heat, drought, fire, and smoky air. We do all our errands in the early morning, occasionally picking up a cup of coffee at Starbucks and then hanging out at Fern Hill Wetlands watching the birds and the birdwatchers. Then, it’s home to hunker down as the heat of the day builds up and the air becomes worse. And I must add that the hunkering down is also part of our daily protection plan for my husband’s compromised immune system during this time of raging variants!

So, all that sounds pretty grim, but the nice thing about it all is that we are getting a lot of reading done, are enjoying watching our current K-drama during the day instead of after dinner, and are having fun trying out new recipes. Adjust and Adapt!

Woman Reading, by Henri Ottmann

Books read and enjoyed in the last few weeks:

A Song for Lonely Wolves, by Lee Evie. The first book in a new mystery/detective series that takes place during the Joseon Dynasty in Korean history. The main character is a talented young female detective during a period of time when women were not valued. A very interesting historical fiction mystery. I’m looking forward to reading on in the series when the new books come out.

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Notes on Grief is a short book by Chimamanga Ngozi Adichie about the death of her father during the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown last year. (He did not die of Covid.) It is a beautifully written account of his sudden death and the grief that followed, complicated by the restrictions of the pandemic. “I am writing about my father in the past tense, and I cannot believe I am writing about my father in the past tense.”  It is a deeply personal, yet completely universal, story, and I appreciated her honesty and her sharing her grief with us. I wrote down many quotes from this book because I know they will give me strength later on.   “Grief was the celebration of love, those who could feel real grief were lucky to have loved.”

My emotions are like a roller coaster these days, since my husband’s diagnosis. We have days that are “mostly normal” and days where waves of sadness hit us hard. So after reading Notes on Grief, I decided to return to the kind and gentle world of Miss Read’s Fairacre. I picked up the 15th volume in the series, Village Centenary, and read it through in a short few days. It was an absolute delight, and exactly what my soul needed. In this book, the village celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the village school. Most of the residents of Fairacre went to the school, and the town comes together to honor the old school with a wonderful celebration at the end of the year. “There was no doubt about it, Fairacre School was the heart of our village, and memories of their own schooldays quickened the adults’ response to this tribute to its hundred years.”  What a lovely series, and this was one of my favorites of the ones I’ve read so far.

We are currently enjoying watching the South Korean drama, Bossam: Steal the Fate. It’s a highly entertaining series about a man of the Joseon Dynasty who mistakenly kidnaps the widowed daughter of the king. Bossam” was a “customary remarriage procedure” during that period of time. “A widow could not remarry. A single man or widower would kidnap the widow and marry her. Some of the kidnappings were agreed upon in advance and others were by force.” So a man could be hired to do the kidnapping, but things went awry with this particular job!  It is both humorous and serious, with wonderful acting, costuming, and filming — just a fun and very addictive historical drama.

Aside from reading and watching historical South Korean dramas, keeping my garden alive in the heat this summer has been a full-time job. I have to get it all watered before the heat builds up, so I start early and finish before noon. Fortunately, my zinnias like the heat!

 

 

Diagnosis

Last fall, my husband received a devastating diagnosis. He has Stage IV metastasized prostate cancer. Although this news packs a powerful punch, and there is no soft, kind way to share it, I need to let you know about this major change in my life, dear friends. I am sorry for the pain such news causes.

We have had time now to process the initial shock, to learn much more about what happened and is happening to his body, to begin the process of “getting everything in order,” and to start letting people know about it (although he’s a very private person). And in the middle of all the adjustments and doctor appointments, we are living our new life, which now has a one to four year time limit to it.

We have entered a new world — the world of cancer patients, survivors, caretakers, doctors, nurses, technicians, counselors. Cancer has become the kernel of truth within our daily lives now. Ever-present.

Cancer is a tremendous opportunity to have your face pressed right up against the glass of your mortality.” But what patients see through the glass is not a world outside cancer, but a world taken over by it—cancer reflected endlessly around them like a hall of mirrors.

~ from The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

My husband describes the first months of his disease as “surreal.” Surreal because he felt mostly healthy and normal except for the side effects of his treatment medications, and some pain that came occasionally. His body has been tolerating his treatments well so the cancer has been controlled for the time being. That is slowly changing as this disease finds new ways to get around treatments, but the inevitable decline has not started, yet.

Cancer is an expansionist disease; it invades through tissues, sets up colonies in hostile landscapes, seeking “sanctuary” in one organ and then immigrating to another. It lives desperately, inventively, fiercely, territorially, cannily, and defensively—at times, as if teaching us how to survive. To confront cancer is to encounter a parallel species, one perhaps more adapted to survival than even we are.

~ from The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

He entered this disease in excellent health, with excellent vital signs for his age, and no “co-morbidities,” using the term we’ve heard so often during this Covid-19 pandemic. He was, and still tries to be, active and fit. He feels his best when he is out on his bicycle. Genetic testing showed no genetic mutations that would have caused this to happen, and that, gratefully, are not something our children and my husband’s brothers need to worry about. It just happened. It is real…but it is not yet “real”. Surreal.

Right now, we are deeply grateful and profoundly sad. Grateful that we have time left to be together, to live life together. Grateful that we can face this disease side by side, as we have faced every other challenge in our 52 years together. Grateful for each day that he wakes up in the morning and is “mostly well.” At the same time, we are both profoundly sad, and the sadness comes in waves between otherwise “mostly normal” days.  We are seeing everything in life now through this new lens of impending loss, and are living each moment with crystal clarity. 

And from this vantage point, with deep feeling, I want to ask you to please cherish those you love. Please cherish yourself. Please cherish the daily-ness of your lives. Please cherish all the little things, because, as they say, those are truly the biggest and most important things. Live your life to its fullest, each day, because “today is all of time,” as my grandmother wrote in one of her poems. Today is all of time.