Monday, September 17, 2012

Infusion Room

Well, we are fully in the process now. Upon arriving, you check yourself in at a kiosk and proceed to the lab. You sign in again, the nurse calls, and your blood is drawn to determine whether you have enough white blood cells to withstand having some more poison dumped in your veins. The blood chemistry takes an hour or so to process. In the meantime, we sometimes meet with the doctor to get a status. It's always the same, so far; things are going very well. Meaning, you haven't died from chemo and you seem not to have allergies. Actually, in Mom's case, it's even better than that. The doc recommended coming once a week for a smaller dose on the grounds that many patients have reported much more manageable side effects. That's surely true for her -- with the exception of the thinning of her gorgeous hair, she feels great. No tingling, no nausea, no mouth sores, no crippling constipation, no taste like metal. It's truly miraculous.

When you leave the lab, they give you a beeper, so you know when you will be called back for infusion. Once it goes off, you walk through a swinging door into quite a sight -- a cancer ward out of your nightmares. There are 32 chemo chairs in the room, which is huge and brightly lit and filled with nurses. People range from age from the 20s on up, but it's pretty clear that age is the predominant predisposer to cancer -- 60% at least are over the age of 60. Or they look it anyway.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Cancer, Not Tropics

It was mid-October when my 79 year old mother told me she'd had vaginal bleeding. She told me she was going to the gynecologist, in two weeks, to have it checked out. This was big. My mom hadn't had a gynecologist appointment since my birth. Seriously. Oh, of course I encouraged her to go and have Pap tests, but she was somehow convinced that her lack of sexual activity and bubble baths would pickle her reproductive organs safely for all time. She told me outright that she'd die from a stroke in her mid-80s, like her mother, and never would get cancer. I stopped trying to encourage an appointment years ago.

I'm glad you're going, I said. Either I'm dying, or ready to have a baby she said, joking. I told her either way it was fixable. Apparently, even the blood alone didn't scare her off entirely --the final straw had been running into her primary care doctor when he came to visit her elderly cousin, for whom she's been caring. She mentioned to him she'd been bleeding. "I don't want to scare you, D., but that's usually cancer," he told her. That is what it took to get her to make her very first appointment, ever.

The day before I told her to call me immediately afterwards. She didn't get a chance. The doctor called me first. He told me she had a very large tumor that scared him so he didn't want to biopsy it in her small town. He was sending her off in an ambulance to a large regional facility and into the care of a surgeon, because that's what she would need. He was kind and concerned and straightforward in telling me this was very serious, and she needed to go, now. The regional facility is an hour from where she lives and an hour from where I live. Convenient. She was immediately admitted, two Thursdays before Thanksgiving. I spoke to my husband and we immediately assume the worst. You start to prepare yourself for what's ahead and it's daunting.

She ended up having emergency surgery that Monday. In the time between I spoke to doctors and arranged for a holographic will, a medical power of attorney and numerous other things. All the side effects of illness aren't physical, you see, they are actually legal. I have a brother who is likely an actual psychopath (though not of the physically dangerous ilk) and we had to move quickly to assure he would neither get involved in her treatment nor her finances. And yet, somehow, I have to arrange to take care of him. Sigh.

By that Friday, she was discharged and I took her home with me, so she could recover through Thanksgiving. She was a perfect guest and patient. Too strong to take the painkillers, too grateful to complain about anything. She got stronger and more confident every day. The surgeon told me he got everything he saw in the tumor. The tension dissipated as we started to anticipate the end of treatment and contemplate a relatively happy future.

Then I took her for the follow-up. They removed the surgical staples, complimented her looks and her quick recovery. Then they introduced the pathology report by saying it's complicated. The tumor was largely a relatively common endometrial cancer which did make some headway into the uterine wall and is, accordingly, Stage II. But the bad news is that a part of the tumor appears to have started to become a more dangerous carcinosarcoma. Very aggressive. Hell. They aren't sure what it is. But the lymph nodes they sampled were clear. Good. And the surrounding tissues. Good. What the hell does this mean? No one is sure.

She was quiet after that appointment. Now, it's worry again. The recommendation for treatment is a combination of chemotherapy and radiation and now we need to talk logistics. I don't want her driving through the winter or being driven by my idiot brother to the regional medical center. She lacks confidence in the doctors in her town and in either event I can't be there to take care of her if she has a hard time with the side effects. Instead, I persuade her to come here to Philadelphia for treatment. My neighbor is the former head of the Fox Chase Cancer Center, and I'm reasonably sure she'll be well treated. She agrees to think about it; contemplating how much her life is about to change for maybe the last time.

I dropped her at her home so she could prepare for the traditional "7 Fish" of Christmas Eve and gather her wits. She is concerned, yes, but also transparently happy and somehow, surprised that I've stepped up to the plate to help her. She and I have butted heads frequently; in large measure over her religion and her lack of rational behaviour, her need to criticize to show love and concern and her need to protect her son from anyone who might, you know, hold him accountable. And I certainly try to provoke her.

But something about this feels different. This is the chance we have to make it right, to sweep old problems under the rug and make a clean breast of it. We've thought she was dying, and fine, and dying, and fine, and have had no clue what's happening all in the space of a month. Roller coasters bond you. No matter how different or similar you are.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Back and Pissed.

Ok. So I went away and now came back. It's been eventful. But I must jump in where angels fear to tread -- the defense of Barrack Obama and the Great Oil Spill. Oh, I know, MMS is a disaster, and should have done a better job. And though he inherited a crappy crowd and policies from Bush, he could and should have cleaned up that agency.

But Jesus H. Christ when did we start holding the President of the United States as the guarantor of the ecological health of the nation and the guy who is supposed to restore entire ways of life? Katrina was a terrible disaster followed by a logistical failure -- the simple rescue, and delivery of food, water and housing. Much of that is properly laid on the government. This is an engineering disaster -- made by a third party -- in conditions which are difficult and probably subject to some scientific dispute.

What precisely is he not doing that he's supposed to? How is he supposed to fix this? Put on a suit and dive into it? Clean off birds? Shoot a CEO? This is a terrible thing that happened, and surely the US has a role in fixing it and making sure it doesn't happen again. What role did the President have in rebuilding Chicago after the fire? San Francisco after the earthquake? What role did the President play in cleaning up after the Exxon Valdez?

Call me crazy, but I don't remember anyone complaining that the President (or Congress) needed to go to Prince William Sound and make it better. This is Obama's problem because the far left is upset with him for being a pragmatist. The right is staying quiet, letting the left do the damage. Because Democrats are idiots -- always eating their own no matter the rationale.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Late Neighbors

When we moved here 15 years ago, we admired their style. Though in their early 70s, the couple was preternatrually attractive. He was tall and thin, with cobalt blue eyes. She was tiny, bleached grey-blonde and perfectly turned out -- her mouth an artistic triumph of thoughtfully chosen lipstick over thin flesh. In fact, I was told she modeled still as "Grandmother of the Bride" or "Older Woman" in New York shows. Every time I saw her, she was wearing a St. John Knit suit (a cool $1000, if purchased on sale).

They have an interesting house -- modern. Like a house designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright it sits low on the lot, but it's one and a half stories and two distinct wings. In the backyard, maybe 100 yards from the house, is a freestanding square deck, lit from below with spotlights. There's terrific sculpture visible from that vantage point too -- a red metal structure that looks like an extended concertina, a smear of metallic yellos in another corner. (I saw it all while chasing our then-young and curious dog through all the yards in the neighborhood). Some days, I'd see him down at their springhouse, doing garden work. All in all, I remember thinking to myself: "This is so unlike most old people!"

When the lights are on you could see the bright colors of the interior, orange and metal and picture perfect 1950s style. Apparently, they've lived long enough for their views to come back in style.

We met them at neighborhood barbecues, or we'd see him walking their old cocker spaniel past our house for our dog to meet. He greeted our Samoyed as "Whitey!" and pet her happily. They drove a convertible in most weather, and my heart jumped whenever I saw them head out; she with a headscarf and glasses like a surviving Grace Kelly and he with a devilish gleam and their golf clubs in the backseat. I saw them and prayed, prayed, that my "sunset years" would look like theirs -- blessed with health and looks and fun.

Lately I've seen how much changes in time. About 10 years ago, the fire department had to be called when they put a not entirely extinguished cigarette in the kitchen garbage. Over the last year or two, I've seen him outside multiple times, dressed inappropriately for the weather, looking confused. I saw her once, looking for their dog, and the beautiful mouth was a slash of misapplied vermillion wax. She was hunched over and hysterical. I called their next door neighbors, who are durable, decent, interesting people a decade or so younger. They told me they were also worried, but that the couple's children were involved, and would step in. But I never saw them.

This Spring, on one of my early-morning perambulations, I found pages of their brokerage statements in front of their house and blown about for blocks. I tracked it all down, every page of it containing social security numbers and account information, gathered it up, put a rubber band on it and returned it with their morning Newspaper. I wonder if they noticed.

My husband saw him wandering aimlessly a few months ago about 10 blocks from home. He offered a ride home. The man accepted, and kept introducing himself to my husband, who said just once, "We've been neighbors for 15 years." He didn't remember. He still walks a dog (they seem to adopt elderly cockers) past our house, but has become afraid of Whitey, who is too beset by arthritis to get within 30 feet. He's cursed at us for not locking her up, and appears genuinely afraid. We didn't know what to do anymore -- I don't know the names of their children, I don't want to burden the neighbors, I don't want to insult them. But it's increasingly obvious they can't care for themselves.

Yesterday when I came home from work I saw some more papers strewn in a perfect arc from their neighbor's house to theirs. I stopped the car and gathered a manila folder and some stapled sheets. Clipped to the folder was a card of the Admissions Director of our newest area "Care Center." Its a gorgeous place, with first rate facilities and stunning views of the local Black Angus and sheep farm. On the one hand, I'm thrilled -- they need help and this is precisely the sort of place they belong, where other interesting people who are having difficulty congregate. But I know in my heart that as they approached the house, he (or she) threw the folder out the window, seeing its contents as the beginning of the end, the prison from which they will never escape. For these intelligent, free-spirited people, this very last part of their lives must be the worst. Their considerable beauty is gone, their bodies shrunken, their sanity and freedom on the run. They don't want to give up the afternoons in the convertible. I can't blame them.

Friday, September 07, 2007

I Hate My Job.

This is not unusual. I've hated a lot of jobs. What sucks is that I am a "Big Mahoff" and make a lot of money here. But the business' owner is a jerk. I call him Mr. "Dog with a Flashlight" because he chases each "bright shining object" without anything approaching an overall perspective or understanding. He's also passive aggressive and not bright. I used the word "waif" today in conversation and he asked me what it meant. He also tried to blame me last week for something someone else did. An evil, self-centered and altogether too rich little man.

Today he fired someone I like. Not for bad reasons, though not for particularly good reasons either. The guy is young, his wife is pregnant, and his undeniable screw-ups were not nearly as bad as a lot of other people in the business. This was all about "feeding the wolves" -- the people who kiss his ass who he knows are smarter than he. And who were jealous, and snarky about this fellow. At 6, I was asked to meet up for a drink. I thought we were drinking with the fired guy. Instead, it was an informal "celebration" -- at least I can find no other explanation. I am disgusted.

Send me your pie orders. I need out.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

An Homage to Claude Scales

Those of you who read Claude's engaging blog, Self-Absorbed Boomer (see link over there on the right), know of his dry wit, wry observations and exceptional photographs, particularly those of ships/boats/water things. They always inspire me and make me wish I were on a boat, wind behind, spinnaker up and headed for someplace with alcohol and crabs. The kind you eat.

The one I let run away but not fast enough was a sailor, and through him I got to both subsidize a boat on Cape Cod and learn how to sail (a little). For the latter, I thank him still. The former was just another in a litany of things I accepted because I thought it had to be. It didn't.

Anyway, since then, I've loved the way boats, but particularly sailboats, look. On our recent trip to da Vineyard, I had lots of opportunity, both from the ferry and the beach, to indulge. So these are for you, Claude:

Yep -- gratuituous sunset shot. But from a boat, heading back to Woods Hole. Someone tell me again why I don't live up there?