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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fear, Marriage and Separation

Before I got cancer, the plan was for Annie and I to get married. The wedding was supposed to be on September 24. It was gearing up to be a pretty big event, with close to 150 guests—over half of that number her relatives—and all of my best friends flying out from California. 
We had booked a venue, a historic Inn that bordered on her brother's property in Greenfield, Mass. We'd met with a caterer, tentatively planned a menu, and gotten all jazzed about serving our guests on compostable plates that would somehow be used to feed local cows the day after the party. I'd even bought a dress, an elegant, ivory-colored BCBG gown that perfectly suited my offbeat-bridal aesthetic. 
And then, less than a week after the dress purchase, came the Cancer Diagnosis. Once that happened, we almost instantly agreed to postpone the wedding. There were too many unknowns ahead, it seemed, to just carry on as planned. I imagined I'd be much too sick from chemo to deal with the stress of planning, not to mention actually getting through the event. And who wants to be a sick person on their wedding day? It seemed like the Obvious Choice to focus on getting through the Cancer Experience, and then come together with all our loved ones to celebrate not only our union, but my survival. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Round 5 Hospital Hijinks

We're keeping things pretty upbeat over here for Round 5. 
First of all, we had two unexpected visitors this week:

Annie and Emma (Great Dane)
Annie and I had already gotten into bed on Wednesday night and were curled up watching So You Think You Can Dance on our ceiling-mounted television set when one of the nurses poked her head in and asked, with a very confused expression, "were you expecting a visitor with a Great Dane?"
"Yes!" Annie called out immediately, not because she had expected it, but because those are her favorite dogs.
"Um, no, not exactly," I said, "but send them up!" 
Who wouldn't want a late-evening visit from a giant Horse-Dog?
It turned out that my mom had been at a meeting with the local hospice, and Emma is one of the dogs that's trained to hang out and cuddle with hospice patients. 
Even though Annie and I are more animated than her usual crowd, she was very sweet and mellow. There wasn't much space for her in our cramped little room, so she just mostly laid on the floor with her head between her paws. Annie immediately got down on the floor with her and cradled her head, while I took pictures and patted her flanks.
It turned out to be a good thing I didn't get too intimate with Emma. The next day my mom called in a panic, saying she'd just heard from Emma's owner that poor Em had been diagnosed that very day with a digestive parasite called Cryptosporidium. Like Giardia, it's a water-borne parasite that causes diarrhea and other abdominal discomfort. It's treatable, but would obviously put a kink in all the cancer-treatment agendas. Luckily, neither Dr. Dad nor my oncologist are overly worried about it. At least I remembered to wash my hands after petting her! 
Kia and Kia (Schnauzer)
The next surprise visit came yesterday, from a much smaller hospice-dog whose name also happens to be Kia. A sweet little Schnauzer, she laid on the bed next to me and panted away under her long white beard and tufty eyebrows. I did play a little kissy-face with her—this was before we got the news about the Crypto—so hopefully she was not carrying any amoebas or other saliva-borne pathogens. 
There really is something heartwarming and uplifting about getting to hang out with animals while one is in an otherwise depressing and cloistered environment. Just stroking their fur, gazing into their deep, dark watery eyes, sharing comforting little cuddles, it brings this cancer patient—and every other kind of patient, I'm sure—an extra dose of life. To hell with hygiene, I say. Bring on the dogs!  

Unfortunately, after the Crypto incident, it does't look like I'll be having any more canine visitors this round. So it was up to Annie and I to entertain ourselves. This was accomplished with the help of a fine old friend of mine—shout out to you, Lydia Osolinsky!—who just happened to have randomly sent me a care package that included stick-on mustaches the very week that my oncologist shaved his off. 
He usually comes by on his rounds around 8 a.m., so this morning at seven thirty, before I was even fully awake, I stuck on my mustache and slipped back under the covers, laying in wait for his arrival. 
The look on his face was pretty priceless when I sat up in bed, sporting a thick furry mustache very much like the one he had so recently parted with. I got a good laugh out of him, but it was the nurses who really got a kick out of it. A small stream of them poked their heads in to see what all the fuss was about, so naturally Annie and I both had to oblige them with a photo session, which I believe they will be printing and posting in the ward. 
Is it Annie? Or famed serial killer H.H. Holmes?
No Stage - I mean - No Stache
Kia as Dr. Havard, with his "you're going to be just fine" expression
An entertaining morning for everyone!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Wonderful World of Fo Stage and No Stage - a little book within a blog

Fo Stage and No Stage have been busy the past three weeks! 

There was one hospital stay, but that was so uneventful it doesn't even get its' own chapter. The only remarkable element was the woman next door, who hollered for the nurse all day, every day we were there.
One day, around 11:00 a.m.,
Lady : "Nurse! Nurse! I poop! I poop!"
Three seconds later : "Nurse! Nuuuuuuuurse! I poop!"
Five seconds later : "Nurse! Get me a cigarette!"
Two seconds later : "Nurse! Please, get me a cigarette, I'm dying for one!" 
Really, that's all there is to say about the hospital.

Far more exciting are the tales of the adventures we have taken, the journeys we have made, the fears we have conquered, and the laughs we have had along the way. 
In the three chapters below, you can follow Fo Stage and No Stage through what have turned out to be some of the best times of their lives. Come along for the ride!

Chapter One: A Camping Trip - With A Buddy!

It was the perfect time for a camping trip. 
I'd been depressed for the entire month of June. Just "giving it time" didn't seem to be helping things. Each morning I'd wake up, contemplate the inevitable expanse of day in front of me, and just cry and cry. So I talked to both sets of doctors about it, and to no big surprise of mine, they recommended anti-depressants. What the hell? I figured. After the depo-provera shot, the Prednisone spikes and, oh yeah, the chemotherapy, I figured one more pharmaceutical would just be another ripple in the pond. If it made me feel better, I'd keep on taking it. By time Scott rolled into town, I had tried and rejected Prozac. (I thought it was amusing though, that after all that aforementioned medicine, the only thing to give me the runs would be freakin' Prozac.) I hadn't started the Paxil by that point, which I am now taking and appears to be doing more good than harm. Still, as soon as our trip began, the little storm cloud that had been following me around magically vanished. We had a spectacular time. 

Chapter Two: Independence Day

July 4 turned out to be a true celebration of independence for Fo Stage & No Stage. 
For reasons that I won't broadcast in this public format, we needed a little space and time away from the family that day. I'd been up most of the night tossing and turning in my frustration, and at 6 a.m. was wide awake, formulating my Plan for the day. 
I woke Annie at 7:00.
"Get up, we're leaving!" I told her. "We're just gonna put the backpack chairs in the car, grab some coffee and go to the river."
For Annie, this little announcement was like being shaken awake on Christmas morning and being told Santa had delivered a new bicycle. A surprise trip to the mountains! On a day that neither of us particularly felt like dragging ass around Visalia. And a holiday to boot!
Plus, being woken up and whisked away on an adventure is not such a bad way to start the day.

Chapter Three: Backcountry

It is Dr. Dad's habit to make a weekly pilgrimage to Yosemite. Each weekend he'll get up at the crack of dawn and drive three hours to get there, push himself up and down a rock slab for six hours or so, and then drive home. He enjoys triple soy lattes in each direction. It is a ritual that makes him happy and refreshes his soul. 
Last weekend was the time between my chemo cycles when my white blood cell count gets low. In cancer-speak, it's my time of being "neutropenic," and it means I'm more susceptible to infection than usual. After some deliberation, Annie and I decided that a camping trip would probably be pushing our luck a little too much, given the general sort of filthiness one accumulates in a weekend of hanging out in the dirt with no shower. Again, I'm not accustomed to caring about germs, but definitely don't want any complications to delay the rest of my chemo treatments or stem-cell procedure. So. Camping was out. But how much harm could one day in Yosemite do? Fresh mountain air, a crisp cool stream, it would do more for my health than another day breathing the Visalia smog. Right?