Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pamela Gay Stott Williams passed away peacefully at her Provo, Utah home on September 29, 2015.  She was 72.

She was born in Portland, Oregon on January 12, 1943, to Verland and Navienne Stott. She loved Oregon; she was raised on wild berries and she loved the rain. She graduated from Jefferson High School in 1961. She received her BA in English from BYU in 1968.

On December 30, 1969, she married her best friend, Roger Kent Williams, in the Salt Lake Temple. They lived in Guam, Iran, and Arizona, before moving to Richfield, Utah in 1976, where they lived for 33 years. In 2009 after retirement, they moved to Provo, Utah.

Pam worked at the Provo Daily Herald, the Pacific Daily News (Guam), and Sevier School District where she wrote district news and tutored budding writers at Red Hills Middle School.  She also taught a few creative writing (evening) classes for Snow College and SUU while in Richfield.

She served in the Eastern States Mission in 1964-65, during which she had the opportunity to serve in the booth at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. She served faithfully in many callings in the Church throughout the years, but her favorite was her 12 years as Gospel Doctrine teacher. Pam and Roger were blessed to live in the Richfield 7th Ward and the Provo Parkway 5th Ward. She served as a worker in the Provo and Manti Temples. Her greatest desire in life was to share her testimony of the beauty of the Restored Gospel and the divinity of the Book of Mormon.

Pam was determined to blossom as a rose in the desert. In Richfield, she founded the Sevier County Commissioners’ Art Show in 1981, which is still an annual event. She was heavily involved in the Tri-County Music Guild, bringing concerts and artists to the area. She wrote, directed, and produced her play “Common Bonds,” and her trilogy of Book of Mormon plays. She directed community plays: “Because of Elizabeth,” “A Day, Night, and a Day,” and “Brother Brigham.” She has written and co-written several family history projects.  In 1997, Pam received the Utah Governor’s Silver Bowl Award for community service. She was a member of many organizations throughout her life, including DAR, Sevier County Community Theater, Sevier County Arts Alliance, American Night Writers Association (LDS), League of Utah Writers, and the Parkway 5th Ward Book Club. 

After moving to Provo, her novels were finally published. “Living it Down,” “What Took You So Long,” and “See You in the Morning” are found at Deseret Book and on Amazon.com. She was diagnosed with breast cancer on the day that her second novel (about breast cancer) was published. She had poems and recipes published, a few of which won awards. She left many unpublished works on her computer.

She was an excellent cook, and her neighbors received annual Christmas presents of delicious, award-winning jams and jellies. Her shelves were always full of bottles she had canned herself. She found comfort and grace in classical music, and it played in her home constantly. She loved to visit with friends and neighbors, attend plays, play games, do puzzles, study the Gospel, do indexing, and read.

She is survived by her husband, Roger; her children, Jennifer (Kevin) Wise; Elin (Randall) Dastrup; and Jordan (Heather) Williams. She has seven practically perfect grandchildren: Preston, Belinda, Ethan, Kayla (serving a mission), Courtney, Coralyn, and our angel Elijah. She is also survived by her siblings Andrea (Tim) Tucker, Lamont (Connie) Stott, Lin (Cindy) Stott, and Craig (Rosie) Stott; and her “Sibs,” the Williams in-laws.  Her brother Bryan and her amazing parents preceded her in death.  She had many beloved, supportive friends, especially Bobbette Shepard (her Richfield visiting teaching companion for 23 years) and Elaine Wayland.

Funeral services will be held at the LDS Church at 2801 W 620 N, Provo on Monday, October 5, at 10:00 a.m. There will be no public viewing, but friends may greet the family prior to the funeral from 8:30-9:30 a.m. Interment will be at the Provo City Cemetery, where she can watch over Elijah.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Thanks For the Mammaries

We had almost finished our book club a couple of Saturdays ago when my daughter and granddaughter came in bringing a "Boob Voyage" party.

We played several games, made a lot of silly boob jokes only women can make or appreciate, and said goodbye to my left breast. Don't want to get maudlin about it, but it has served me well and I've always appreciated it. At the end of the party, my daughter brought out a little poster of the appropriate character from The Lion King doing the hula: It means no worries for the rest of your days... It's a problem-free philosophy... Hakuna M' Tatas. (Don't know where my kids got their bizarre sense of humor--surely not from me.)

After the procedure, the surgeon told me she had to take one lymph node in the armpit. She also found a patch of muscle about the size of a half dollar under the tumor itself which was inflamed, so she took that, too. My family says when I came out of surgery I told them my pain level was a seven on a scale of one to ten. I don't remember that, but when I finally fully woke up in my room I called it a two, and by evening I felt no pain at all, which surprised everyone but me. I always recover quickly. Since then I've felt the tenderness and an occasional stinging sensation when I put pressure on it, like pushing against the arms of a chair to stand up, but I'm still pain-free. I have about a seven-inch horizontal incision where my breast was, and a drain implanted somewhere in my armpit. A little "grenade" at the end of the drain tube catches the fluid, and I have to empty it a couple a times a day, whenever it gets full and record the amount of fluid being siphoned off. It's a plastic bulb that fits in a little pocket on the left side.

Nurses were good. As new ones came on duty and old ones introduced me to the incoming crew, I told them I like my water room-temperature and my door closed. For the most part they remembered.

Being without leg wraps allowed blisters of cellulitis to develop but the fellow from wound care found some compression socks he could pull on to protect the temporarily bandaged wounds. My husband arranged for the fellow from the dermatologist's office to come to the house and re-wrap my legs, which he did as soon as we got home Friday morning. I'm also on antibiotics again.

And I'm on oxygen. Levels in my blood weren't high enough, so they got that all organized for me to have tanks to use when I left the house. They are big and cumbersome and make me not want to go out very much. By simply pulls oxygen out of the air the main machine purifies it for my personal consumption. Moving around with a walker and 50 yards of tubing can really get your knickers in a twist... or your cord in a tangle.

Since I'm not going to church today, I'm just sitting here singing "I left my left breast in American Fork Hospital..." and trying to make it fit the rhythm. Not working too well. It's hubby's birthday today and daughter's tomorrow so we're celebrating by having dinner together later today. Hope I have an appetite by then.


Friday, August 21, 2015

The Certainty of Uncertainty

After our thoroughly pleasant vacation at the Oregon coast in July, I came home to finish three more chemotherapy treatments and face an issue I hadn't wanted to confront before: prognosis.

Since the PET scan revealed that the cancer is greatly reduced, I relaxed a little more, but I know what "inflammatory breast cancer" means. It's only five percent of all breast cancers, no one my age ever gets it, and and it's most common only in black women in their 50s.  I told the oncologist that makes me feel "special." However, we still have a long, hard fight. He gave me an anti-hormone drug, Arimidex, because this kind of cancer is hormone driven and killing the hormones at the source will choke off the supply of cancer cells flowing to the spots where it has metastasized.

So far I'm supporting several doctors in my efforts to control and manage this disease--oncologist; surgeon; dermatologist (cellulitis wraps on my shins apply compression that helps keep the swelling down); podiatrist (thickening and yellowing nails); plus lymphedema therapist, medical supply store, and massage therapist (just because she makes my back feel better). Wow--the upkeep on the human body never ends!

Side effects I'm dealing with: neuropathy in my feet and hands (painful, burning sensation most of the time, but sometimes my feet feel like they're sucking cold up out of the floor); lymphedema (left arm especially holding water, probably because the cancer is on the left side, and the compression sleeve isn't helping much; carrying around a lot of water weight and haven't discovered the magic key or cookie or whatever Alice in Wonderland discovered to get herself out of tight spots; cellulitis leaks when feet and legs swell); diarrhea (haven't identified the triggers, but I know watermelon is one); disfunctional taste buds (sweet stuff is intensely sweet, most things taste bitter or bland, and very few things taste good, all of which is manageable because I don't have much of an appetite anyway); dry hacking cough from the Arimidex; pain in my back that doesn't show up until two hours after I've gone to sleep, so I have to get up and sleep the rest of the night in a chair, which is bad for the edema because my feet need to be elevated to keep the swelling down; finger and toe nails tender, thickening and yellowing; hair growing back but falling out again because of the new drug; ongoing fatigue.

Thus, the misery quotient is high. I love it when people visit, however, because it takes my mind off that stuff, and seeing friends and family always energizes me.

When I saw the surgeon, we talked over the options (i.e. do we or don't we) and I said, "Well, the Bible says that 'if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.'" She didn't quite understand, so I clarified: "Likewise, if thy breast offend thee, pluck it out." She hadn't heard that sort of reasoning before. We scheduled the surgery for next Wednesday, the 26th. I'll be in the hospital two nights. She is hopeful that by removing the tumor and affected glands we can encourage the other treatments to be more efficient and the unaffected lymph glands to do their job. Depending on the pathology report, she said radiation is also a possibility. And if that goes well and the pathology suggests it would be helpful, the oncologist said he may even recommend more chemo later on.

That doesn't change the prognosis (two to five years, the oncologist says) but it doesn't account for the "X" factor--stubbornness. Lots of cancer survivors are still walking around 20 years later when they were given only a few months. My neighbor lived 15 years with pancreatic cancer in remission.

So I keep doing what I do, enjoying life, and loving my family. I'll soon start editing my third book, which is coming out this fall. It takes about two weeks to prepare the raw manuscript for publication, and it involves lots of tedious details and meeting deadlines, but I love the process and look forward to it. Then I have another series to put out there, and family histories to write, and etc. etc. I'm too busy to get slowed down by cancer.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Turning Points

According to my latest PET scan, the cancer in my body has been significantly reduced, so the oncologist says we'll keep doing what's working. However, he consults with the surgeon frequently, and they have decided that I should see her again to determine if we should go ahead with the surgery. I'll have one more consultation with the doctor, and he may or may not decide to do chemo then, depending on how we're managing the side effects.

From my previous consultation with the surgeon, I learned that there's no such thing as a radical mastectomy anymore. In the old days, radical involved taking out lymph glands and muscles and tissue that hadn't been affected by the cancer yet but might be. While we were on our vacation in Oregon, the surgeon's office called to set up an appointment to talk about the next step. I've had a lot of surgeries in my time, so I'm not terribly worried about it. Friends who have had mastectomies recently tell me it's an easy surgery, without a lot of pain involved. I have a history of healing well from surgeries, so that is comforting information. My family "team" and I will visit with the surgeon next week, ask questions, and gather information to make a decision. When the surgeon sees how my tumor and glands have softened and shrunken from the first time she examined me, she may have a new recommendation.

When I met with the oncologist yesterday before treatment # 17, he said it's time to change direction in treatment. After a while, cancer learns to deal with the chemicals and adjusts so it can continue doing its thing. Though it has diminished, that's not a declaration of complete remission. We still have a long way to go. However, he said there's a list three pages long of chemical options he can use to treat breast cancer, and one of the new ones he especially favors is a pill that's taken for 14 days, followed by a seven-day break. That means I wouldn't have to go to the treatment center, although if the two-week treatment isn't as effective, I may go back to the infusions with something other than Taxol. I'm taking potassium because Taxol depletes it, but so far my blood work--white count and platelets--has been good every week.

Lymphedema has been a recurring problem. I got a compression sleeve for my left arm, but it doesn't seem to press much fluid out. I'm also on Lasix which is supposed to pull a lot of water out of the tissues. Interesting that its other name is "furosemide" because with the doubled dose, it does have a furious effect. However, I gained a lot of weight while I was out of town--which I can chalk up to salty restaurant food because I certainly didn't have much of an appetite, and I can't eat fresh fruit or sugar because of how my bowel reacts. This week, after starting on Lasix again, I lost 12 pounds. I also started treatments at the lymphedema clinic twice a week and hope that can bring the desired results. I understand there's lymphedema pump that might help as well. Don't know how that works, but my left arm is so swollen I'm willing to try anything. It may be possible to have the surgery but avoid touching the lymph glands in my armpit, which is a source of swelling after a usual mastectomy. Driving home Saturday from Oregon in one 14-hour push didn't give me much chance for exercise and my legs and feet were quite swollen when I went to have my cellulitis wraps changed on Monday morning.

We had such a wonderful time together on our vacation! Our first night there we all spotted some whales spouting and splashing out beyond the breakers just before sunset, and the next morning when the kids went down to the beach at low tide, a sand bar was exposed, and some sea lions were lounging there in the sun. All the kids got along well, and although it was sometimes hard getting all 12 of us (plus the dog) ready to go, we didn't try to keep a tight schedule--just made it easy on ourselves, planning what was doable with our various limitations.

On Tuesday, the highlight of the day was getting to Tillamook in time for lunch at the Cheese Factory (i.e. Williams' Oregon Coast Mecca), followed by a turn through the gift shop for cheese and fudge and local jams and sweatshirts and ice cream. Some of us went on the tour that shows how cheese is made--I especially love their Vintage White flavor. They have a new S'mores ice cream flavor we all liked a lot, and another one called horchata--fashioned after a popular Spanish/Central/South American almond drink with cinnamon. So refreshing as ice cream! We had miniature waffle cones so we could have little samples of these new flavors we were trying--some can only be purchased at the factory. They don't make blueberry ice cream at all, but they do make Oregon huckleberry flavor, another of our favorites. For the chocolate lovers among us, we go for Tillamook Mudslide, which has several kinds of chocolate in it, and Peanut Butter Chocolate, which has huge ripples of what tastes like peanut butter fudge.

On Wednesday, the highlight was the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. Such a fascinating place. Our 19-month-old granddaughter went nuts identifying every fish to us as Nemo--it's one of her favorite movies, right after Monsters, Inc. We arrived in the afternoon just in time for the seal and sea lion feeding "show." So interesting. Seals have spots, in case you were wondering, and sea lions don't.

On Thursday, we had a little sprinkle of rain as we were cleaning up and getting ready to leave our nice beach house rental in Lincoln City that stood at the top of a cliff with a great view--70 steps down to the beach, lots of birds in the yard including hummingbirds, and a very nice flower garden. I slept quite well there. Doug the dog thoroughly enjoyed playing in the surf and chasing with the kids in the yard. In Portland that evening, we had dinner with a crowd of my family members who live in the area, brothers and their wives and kids, and cousins I haven't seen for a while, a great mini-reunion.

On Friday, I spent time resting and preparing for my book signing event at the Deseret Book store in Lake Oswego, about a mile or so south of the Portland Temple. It was really a rush to have the manager and clerks tell me they had read both my books and loved them, and that customers were reporting how much they enjoyed them as well. I wished I had known then so I could announce it, but the following week I found out the third book in that series will be published this fall. A special treat for me was to meet with a high school classmate I haven't seen since graduation. We had reconnected after all these years through the class website where we both posted profiles. She lives in Lake Oswego.

Since coming home, I have been thinking a lot about how kind and sweet my family is to me. They were so solicitous and watchful, making sure I had a place at the table, helping me in and out of cars, making sure I was comfortable and enjoying myself. I have been thinking about the roles of caretaker and caregiver and wondering about the similarities and differences of each one. All I know is that I have 12 of them (13 if you count the sweet-natured puppy dog) and I feel so loved.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

98.6 and Other Myths

According to weather forecasters, Utah is entering into a period of extreme summer heat. It's supposed to get into three digits by the weekend. I personally wouldn't know the difference because I am always cold. A sluggish thyroid is to blame, but so is cancer.

On chemo day, once the implanted port has been accessed and the infusions begin, I start feeling cold immediately. One of the best things about the treatment center is the heated unit full of blankets. Fortunately the "minions" who accompany me have learned by now that the way the blankets are folded in the heater is lengthwise, making them perfect to cover people six feet tall and 130 pounds... which I am not. Once I get settled into the reclining lounger, my people choose the heavier blankets, rather than the tissue-thin flannel sheets and refold them the other direction so they're wide enough to cover me. They tuck the blankets under my feet and all the way up behind my shoulders. It really helps counteract that cold liquid being infused into my body. I used to bring a book to read, but now I opt for the music stored on my phone. Something serene happens then when I'm warm and listening to my music.

In all my adult life, if my temperature has been 98.6 (normal for everybody else) it's an indication that I'm sick. A couple of times in the past four months of chemotherapy treatment my temperature has gone up to 98.0 and 98.4, but never 98.6. For a day or two after the chemo, I also experience a face flush, making my cheeks feel warm and look pink and healthy, but my temperature never goes up.

Side effects include neuropathy in hands and feet--tingling sensations, sort of like what my nephew once described as "7Up in your fingers." Many of my fingernails have what looks like bruises, but it's blood pooling in the nail beds, making them tender to the touch. I'm grateful that I can still type. Neuropathy in the feet is another issue. My feet feel like blocks of ice, and my poor little piggie toes suffer the sensation of drawing cold out of the floor. Wherever I sit, I try to keep my feet bundled up. Visitors think I'm nuts because they are all sweating and suffering from the heat.

Dressing all bundled up when I go to church makes me look funny, I'm sure--I've been wearing hats for three months to cover my not-quite-bald head, in addition to all those layers of clothes and sweaters. Sometimes I even have to use my "church blankie" to counter the effects of the powerful air conditioning in the building.

Hubby works in the yard early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day, and when he comes back in the house, he turns on the air conditioner and a fan that blows cold air directly on him. If I'm in the same room, I add to my three or four layers of clothing a sweater or jacket, and a couple of quilts. I'm now trying to train him to turn off the fan and the AC when he leaves the house but I haven't succeeded yet in doing that.

When we leave the house together, no matter the temperature outside, I'm always wearing a sweater or jacket. In fact, when we go out on errands, I often sit in the car enjoying the heat when we've finished the major tasks, while hubby runs into another store to pick up the prescriptions or whatever. It's how we roll. It's a good thing we have dual temperature controls in our car. Hubby's is set at 68, and mine is at 75, and I'm usually still shivering. I keep a blanket in there to shield me from the cold blasts of air coming from his side of the car.

We are headed for Oregon in a couple of weeks--all of our family except our missionary in New England--and I am looking forward to a few cool days at the coast, walking in the sand, eating ice cream in Tillamook, watching colorful kites fly, petting anemones in the aquarium, and sitting on the deck till the sun goes down. Apparently weather forecasters say there's going to be a heat wave in Portland that weekend when we go to an extended family dinner party. I won't mind.





Saturday, June 6, 2015

Hair Today, Not So Much Tomorrow

Twelve chemotherapy treatments have left me nearly but not quite hairless. It's a distinguishing side effect because the chemo attacks fast-growing cells, i.e. cancer, and hair follicles. Several friends have made hats for me, which I really appreciate because my head, though not totally bald, gets very cold. I used to take a lot of pride in having my hair done every week and feeling confident in how I looked. Now I settle for cute hats. In the same spirit as last week, when I reprinted an old essay, I'm reprinting the history of my hair--sort of a retrospective, sort of nostalgic, sort of hopeful.

Hair, Not the Musical

2005

         I have old hair. In fact, my hair got old before I did.
       Some people have bad hair days, but I’ve had a bad hair life. I was born with fine, limp, straight, plain brown hair, with a cowlick in the front. [Well, it was blonde for the first few years of my life, but that didn’t last long.] It grows fast and will not be ignored. It has always dictated to me what it wanted to do. In pristine western Oregon where I was raised, in the days before portable hair dryers, you didn’t give a lot of thought to your hair. The water was naturally soft runoff from Mt. Hood, and the climate was temperate. Whenever I washed my hair, I would comb it in place, maybe put a few curlers on the ends, and either sit by an open window to let the sun and breeze dry it, or in front of the roaring fireplace. When my hair was dry, I brushed it, and that was that—not a lot of fuss.
         When I got into high school curls were more socially important, and the fuss quotient increased. I knew by then that I was fighting nature. Through high school I usually wore it collar length, no bangs, often in a French twist or a ponytail. My sister, who has naturally curly hair, wore hers short, did it up in pin curls, and had what was then described as a tossed salad hairdo, right in style. I was so jealous.
         Until I went away to school in Utah, I had never used hand lotion or hair conditioner. The water is hard and the climate is dry in Utah, and I didn’t know what to do. The first time I washed my hair and didn’t use conditioner, I looked like someone who had never fixed her own hair before. It was embarrassing, and I still have the yearbook picture to prove it. Editors used your student ID picture for the yearbook in those days, for freshmen anyway. Lacking the natural drying elements I used at home—sun and fire—I got one of those portable hair dryers with a plastic cap that fit over my curlers so I didn’t have to go out in the cold with wet hair.
         During college I experimented a lot with hairdos. Some were pretty extreme, and observers might have assumed I was a rebel, but the truth was, I was just trying to make peace with my hair.
         Over the years I have not managed my hair as much as it has managed me; sometimes all I could do was give in to its whims. I tried coloring it a few times when I was in my early 20’s, but that turned out to be a treadmill I didn’t want to stay on.
          When we lived on Guam, the tropical climate and the Hair With A Mind of Its Own conspired together to undo me again. This time, curl was impossible because of the damp air. I had collar length hair when I arrive, and when I washed it the next morning, there was a power outage that took out my portable hair dryer. The following week I went to a salon where my hair was coifed and sprayed within an inch of its life. “That’ll show you,” I thought as I inspected the finished product. I strode triumphantly out into the weather again looking fabulous, for about ten minutes. Again the hair had the last laugh. By the time I got home about 20 minutes later it was a sticky, back-combed, shapeless mess. Not long after that, I surrendered to a very short wash-and-wear hairdo known in those days as a pixie cut. I have worn it fairly short ever since, though not always that boyishly short.
         To maintain some semblance of order, I have to get my hair cut every six or seven weeks. It laughs demonically at curling irons, so permanents have been my only hope for an alternative to that look you see in cartoons when someone has touched a live electrical wire. With a perm every three months to give me a little height, and some softness around my angular face, things have gone along pretty well for quite a few years.
         After my children were born, when I was in my late 20’s and mid-30’s, my hair turned a much darker shade of brown. Shortly after my son was born it began to turn gray, which has nothing to do with the fact that he was a boy and also my last child and I wasn’t that far from 40. Actually, my hair has a kind of mink effect, with gray ends and dark roots. People think it costs me a lot of money to keep that up, but I just smile when they suggest such a thing. I’m way too lazy for that.
         At that rate, my hair was almost completely gray by the time I was 60, and is well on its way to white. White hair is beautiful, as is gray, but it is also curl-resistant, no matter what my hairdresser has tried. For a while I surrendered and let my hair do what it wants. I let it grow and pinned it up on top of my head, like a matronly silver halo hovering over me, suggesting to my grandchildren something otherworldly and mysterious. That didn’t last long, and I fear I am doomed to an old age hairstyle that could easily make me a George Washington look-alike.

         Now I am giving some consideration to hats.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tired of Being Tired

Anticipating the conclusion of the present round of chemotherapy in the next two weeks, I imagine myself able to make a To Do list and follow it through to completion. Looking back on the undone tasks now safely tucked into my list of accomplishments is part of my hoped-for return to normalcy.

Fatigue is one of the side effects of chemotherapy, and it has really hit me hard this week. I'm ambitious to plan menus and shop and cook and keep a household running, but I often get into the middle of a task and suddenly feel an overwhelming sense of exhaustion. Then I have to call for rescue. I want to be productive, but sometimes the best I can do is read or converse. Consequently, on some days I simply putter. It reminded me of an essay I wrote some time ago that explores my inclination to fool around and waste time doing things others might find unproductive. For your blog enjoyment, here's a reprint:

A Fine Pestilence

By Pam Williams (2005; revised 2009)

            Winter is the best time to be a putterbutt.
            This is a word I learned from my friend Elaine, and as a serious lover of useful made-up words, I installed it in my vocabulary immediately. It means to just fool around and sort of flirt insincerely with your To Do list, that primary source of proof that you are an adult and can be trusted with Serious Responsibilities. Putterbutting is my form of Attention Deficit Disorder, a diversionary tactic to avoid tackling a task I don’t really want to do. Somehow, when I’m trapped by winter’s tricks, there’s more opportunity, knowing the task has to be done eventually, to put my trust in eventuality and allow my attention to wander shamelessly, aimlessly, toward anything, everything else. That’s putterbutting.
Being a putterbutt helps me keep a positive attitude under gray skies and in white storms. Having been born in Oregon, and raised on nuts and berries like a bear, I have an inclination to hibernate in the winter. Sleep is a putterbutt’s hobby. For that reason, I have never found winter depressing and endless--boring maybe with its frigid sameness--but I believe spring will ultimately win. The tutoring message of winter is introspection, reflective pondering, putterbutting, while the triumphant message of spring is progress, action, resurrection.
A practiced putterbutt knows the unbridled, guilt-free joy of saying No. With experience, a savvy putterbutt knows not to wear a watch or make appointments that will certainly be sabotaged by motivated forgetting.
A putterbutt has an intimate knowledge of procrastination, which can be justified and rationalized despite an inbred work ethic and overgrown sense of duty. Slow-paced low-metabolism winter days with short daylight hours are perfect for putterbutting. Stuck with mostly indoor activities chokingly dull in any season--things like cleaning out drawers and closets, updating the address book, making an inventory of the food storage--I am desperate for interesting alternatives. Being a putterbutt helps me deny the existence of those chores, firm in my conviction that if ignored long enough, they’ll either disappear or become irrelevant. There are plenty of other days when I can prove I’m worthy of my over-21 privileges.
Putterbutting is a proud occupation for one or two, but it’s too personal to be a group activity. It is conducted by the rules of Whatever, guided only by whim and whimsy, curiosity and quizzical wonder. A dedicated putterbutt can spend hours reading greeting cards in the Hallmark store and never buy one, search through bottomless bins of Kmart clearance items she doesn’t need and won’t buy anyway, wander pointlessly the aisles of thrift stores, all motivated only by Because It’s There.
            For a putterbutt all the world’s a museum, opening life to the wonders of serendipity, the unexpected discovery of delightful surprises, sweet moments that make me smile or possibly even giggle, moments that will contribute to sparkling conversation later in the telling. Things discovered serendipitously are like lovely, intriguing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that may fit together sometime in the distant future, but until they do, can be appreciated now for their individuality.
            But I digress, and that’s what makes me a champion putterbutt. Wandering from place to place around the house, or the town, noticing details, nuances, subtleties, shades of differences, I ponder, dissect, deconstruct and reconfigure. I take the leash off my imagination. I ramble over unnumbered unscheduled detours to What If and Hmm. I take pleasure in the vistas on the hill above Maybe Some Day, and make mental reservations to return when I can stay longer.
An occasional day spent in putterbutt limbo can be most satisfying. It is “wasted” only if I allow guilt to intrude with its shameful Should Haves and imperative Oughts who come shaking their scolding fingers dangerously near my sense of responsibility. There will always be other days ripe for taking charge like an adult and rampaging headlong through the To Do list, masterfully checking off jobs as if they won’t have to be done over again in another week or two.
            Putterbutting has a cleansing effect, decontaminating the soul from the anxiety that keeps it earthbound on tooth-gritting deadline days. At the end of a long delicious putterbutt day, not much has been checked off the To Do list, but I’ve been everywhere and thought everything and put all the problems in perspective.

If there were some magic elixir that would cure my seasonal bouts of putterbutting, I would tear up the prescription. I look forward to the appearance of this welcome coping mechanism every winter, my capitulation to the animal hibernation instinct. It’s a disorder that doesn’t strike very often, but when it does, I plan to indulge completely. I refuse to be cured of this fine pestilence.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Sleep: Is It Only An Illusion?

Chemotherapy hasn't been nice to my sleep patterns. This week, after the coma-inducing Benedryl wore off, the energizing steroids took over and I was up all night. It's more than annoying. I want to participate with the rest of the world doing the usual morning, noon and night routines, but the drugs won't allow it. So I go to bed at the "usual" time, then wake up three or four hours later ready to get on with the day, which would be fine if the rest of the world were also ready. It's not. So I spend the early hours of the morning checking and answering email, catching up on the news of the day, planning menus and shopping lists, indexing World War II draft records (or marriages in Colorado or wherever), and writing. And then I nap later in the day when I get tired again.

My hubby/hero/caregiver needs seven or eight hours of sleep each night. Normally I can get along with five or six. But not much is normal these days, although I try mightily to make it so. We muddle through.

Normal? What's that? Maybe I should readjust my expectations. Tiredness comes all at once, like a surprise. I'm in the middle of fixing a meal, reading a book, watching Antiques Roadshow, etc. and suddenly I get droopy, as if a two-by-four had been applied to the side of my head, and I find myself unable to continue. Fortunately, nearby daughter or granddaughter can come by and finish the food projects, but the other stuff just has to wait.

Chemo #10 has come and gone. Sweet Nurse daughter-in-law was there with me for a while. She had come directly from the train after her 12-hour shift so she only stayed a short time until I was hooked up for the infusions and then she went home to sleep.

During my chemo respite last week, Colorado Girl came for a few days and we spent time photographing family heirlooms and recording the history of each. I'm grateful that she cares about her family heritage. Her guest room has a display of things she values--grandmothers' teacups and milk glass, grandfather's leather wallet, parents' wedding gifts, etc.--and she has published a guidebook to identify and establish the history of those things that remind her and her children of who they are and where they came from. It was great to have her here. We celebrated all week.

After chemo #11 on May 26 and #12 on June 2, I'll have another scan of some sort to assess where we are, or more specifically, to see where the cancer is, or isn't. Except for the swelling and the topsy-turvy sleep patterns, I'm feeling okay. Lesions are nearly all gone from my left breast, the tumor is much smaller, and the affected glands have softened considerably.

Big event of the week: I was able to go to the book signing at the LDStorymakers conference at the Utah Valley Convention Center downtown, where my books were available at the temporary bookstore. Writers are book junkies, and while sales are nice, the emphasis at that kind of event is on schmoozing. I met someone willing to review my books and talked with writer friends I haven't seen in a while. I saved up my energy for a couple of days, but I found that making the effort to be there was more energizing than steroids.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Having a Swell Time

Steroids and antihistamines help to buffer the side effects of chemotherapy, and each time I have a treatment, it begins with the infusion of steroids, Benedryl and Zantac. But there are the side effects of those to deal with too--antihistamines make me groggy and stupid, and steroids make me swell up.

I haven't seen the knuckles in my left hand for two weeks. I'm supposed to be wearing a bracelet that identifies me as the recipient of an implanted port where the chemo infusion goes, but it got so tight I was afraid it would cut off the circulation in my wrist so I took it off.

Due to the medication with Unna Boot wraps on my legs, we're seeing lots of improvement in the cellulitis. Because of the swelling, however, the spots that want to weep will do so if we don't keep the compression steady. It's a strategy that's working well. I'll keep getting the wraps until the chemo is finished in June, and then we'll see what happens next.

Chemo #9 is history now. It was a boring visit with the oncologist because I don't have a lot of stuff to report about side effects. Except for the swelling, and the Lasix hasn't really kicked in, so we're taking it another week to see if it'll start working. In fact, it'll be two weeks before I see the doctor again because next week is a "bye," and with no "game" I'm turning my attention to other things.

I have a dentist appointment next week--no mouth sores, but lots of dry mouth, and that can do bad things to the teeth. Colorado Girl is coming for a few days, so there will be some serious playing to do, and I'm walking around without careening off walls, which means I'll want to get out more and go places I haven't been for a while.

We have been doing "Sit and Be Fit" senior exercises for the last couple of weeks, and it helps to stretch and build stamina. I also have a mini-massage every week that has definite benefits. When the muscles are worked that way, I can feel cellular activity in my breast. And with all this treatment, the scaly skin and lesions have actually diminished. In fact, the tumor is much smaller and the glands are much softer, and the doctor is doubting now that I'll need surgery.

Looking forward to having a pedicure on Saturday night, my first since I was diagnosed. We'll cut the legs wraps off a couple days early and I'll soak and get pampered. Ahhhh.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Having a Swell Time

Chemo treatment #8 went very well, although once I sleep off the Benedryl, the steroids kick in and I'm wide awake most of the night. We have a lot of good markers to be grateful for this week. Even the cellulitis is improving tremendously, but now the dreaded swelling and water retention are taking a turn. In spite of that I did lose a couple of pounds--inexplicable how that happens with all that water filling up my cells. Now I'm on Lasix to draw the water out. Its generic name is Furosemide, and its effects can be furious if you aren't close to a bathroom when the call comes. Not much swelling has gone down, but this is only day one.

A very nice side effect today is that I'm walking around the house very successfully without the walker that has been my constant companion since November--I've referred to it as "going steady." This past week I've had pain in my right leg, mirroring what was in my left leg before, but today it's gone. I haven't tried to leave the house and stroll through a grocery store or other public place (saving that for Friday--Sprouts has some deals on berries) but I'm liking the positive signs.

Monday we went to an accessories store (who knew they had those?!) and got some clip-on flowers and bows to frill up and soften the look of my hats (I have 12 now--hubby refers to me as Bartholomew Cubbins) and it seems to have worked. Hats soften the blow for onlookers, but I really need them to keep my head warm.

Utah Boy and Sweet Nurse are probably going to be moved to Utah Valley by May 11. They've leased their home with an option for purchase and have to vacate by then. So grateful for that. They looked at a rental home in our neighborhood last night and we're hoping it works out. He's having interviews and she has started her new job. Seeing Grandbaby C more often is a good thing. She's getting used to me, funny hats and all, and now I'm even getting smiles and kisses. She likes my house because I have lots of BOOKS and a chair that's just her size, so she's starting to warm up. Nice.

We are making plans for our vacation at the Oregon coast in July. It's going to be fabulous. Started the ball rolling to set up a book signing event while I'm there--hope it works out.

A few days ago I heard from a high school classmate who has been following my blog because she's just been through this same experience. It was great to read her email and get that encouragement. My friend Mindy and her home-schooled daughter Zion, whom I've been tutoring in writing for a couple of years, came by on Sunday with a basket full of berries and a "hug monster" they made for me. So many people showering me with love and kindness! Such a blessing! I can actually feel the prayers and positive vibes coming my way.

Sweet moment from chemo day: looking out the treatment room window and seeing the mini tulip festival in the flower beds by the front door of the hospital. Spring in Utah drops these little kindnesses on us, too, and we breathe deep sighs of appreciation.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Silence of the Blog

It's been a while since I've posted, but not because I haven't thought about it. Mainly I'm a gifted procrastinator, and not posting is a manifestation of that gift.

Speed. That's what I've been thinking about lately. Pouring molasses in January. Swimming through a vat of Jell-O. Wading knee-deep in applesauce. Striding through a puddle of ketchup. All of that is how I feel when I wake up in the middle of the night and can't go back to sleep, even when I want to. I visit the bathroom first, automatically, sitting and staring, thinking I ought to get up and be finished now, ought to make myself move, ought not to sit there until my legs go to sleep. I think about the things I ought to be doing. But it's so easy just to keep sitting there. Eventually I talk myself into standing, pulling my pants up, washing my hands, and going on with my life. Sometimes it takes a lot of convincing because speed is highly overrated.

How do you pass the time at 2 a.m. when you'd rather be asleep? I have developed a few strategies for wearing myself out so I can go back to sleep. I go online and catch up on the news. I write emails. I index--New York marriage records are my current favorites. (Found a great name this morning--Fairybelle Hooker. Who names their kid that?) I work on a manuscript if my brain is functioning well enough. I try to clean off my desk, an impossible task since I'm creatively sloppy by nature.

This week I didn't have a chemotherapy treatment, but I did consult with the doctor. He's very personable and isn't afraid to get off topic for a few minutes because life events influence health events. We're undergoing a transition in the family with Utah Boy and his Sweet Nurse wife moving to Utah Valley, and she works in a hospital where my doctor might interact with her sometimes.

So far the treatment seems to be working. My left leg is pain free, and I walked into the doctor's office with the assistance of a cane. That's the first time since November I haven't used a walker to get around. Our plan right now is to reassess progress after the next set of three treatments. That means the second week of May I'll have another test--either PET scan or MRI probably--and be free of chemo side effects while Colorado Girl is visiting again for a few days. We'll have a birthday party for Utah Boy that week as well.

Sweet Nurse performed an act of mercy by trimming my toenails this week, and then she buzzed what's left of my hair. Doctor is surprised I haven't lost it all by now. Without a hat, I now look like the denizen of a concentration camp. Maybe I'm not going to be bald. That sometimes happens.

We started doing a TV exercise program called Sit and Be Fit, which is designed for seniors. I actually feel energized by it, but Hubby pulled a hamstring the second time out. Activity is good. It keeps the juices flowing. I've been having mini-massages, too, and that also helps. I can sit in a chair and the therapist can still do her thing.

Antibiotics are slowing down somewhat the cellulitis on my legs. It wasn't as bad this time when I went to get the wraps removed and replaced. We'll see how long that lasts. Those wraps are tight enough to act as the needed compression for the swelling and water retention that I'm now experiencing. In other news, my dermatologist and his assistant, who have been treating the cellulitis since January, both bought copies of both my books to give to their wives for Mothers Day.

And the second book, What Took You So Long, is being advertised in the Deseret Book spring catalog. So get it, read it, and put a review on Amazon, GoodReads, or Deseret Book.

Bottom line: six treatments down, six to go, feeling as well as can be expected. Life is good.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Halfway Point

Little markers along the way help me assess where I am with my cancer treatment, and every day is a new adventure.

Now that I've had six of the twelve chemotherapy treatments, it's becoming a familiar routine. Check in at the cancer clinic at the hospital, preliminaries with the nurse, get the tube inserted into the port implanted next to my collarbone, have blood drawn, visit with the doctor. We talk about how my week has gone, he looks at the blood test results, determines this week's "cocktail recipe," and infusions begin. It takes 20 or 30 minutes for the benedryl and other fluids to drip, and then the chemo itself takes about an hour.

This week I noticed a lot less pain in my groin area where a spot of cancer had been located. I'm even able to go short distances on my own without the walker that has kept me mobile since last November. I have a lot less arthritis pain in my joints, too.

Unfortunately, the cellulitis on my legs isn't responding to the antibiotics as quickly as I'd like, but my resistance is low. It's slow progress because I'm also experiencing swelling and water retention. This week I'm having issues with cancer-related neuropathy in my feet. That means my feet tingle and hurt and I can't get comfortable for very long when I'm sitting. So I learn to deal with it and tolerate it and feel grateful it's not one of the worse side effects I might be having.

We have started doing a TV exercise program for seniors, "Sit and Be Fit." It's exercises you can do sitting in a chair, or standing behind it while holding on, and it's surprising how many ways you can move your muscles while you're sitting down. It's half an hour that we do on days when we're at home and not otherwise active. Hubby pulled a hamstring muscle (!!!) but I've done well with it.

For my birthday, my kids gave me gift certificates for massages so for the past three weeks I've been taking advantage of that. It's a mini-massage--sitting up since it's so hard for me to move and turn otherwise--but I can actually feel movement in my left breast when my back is massaged, like it's opening pathways for the chemo. And I've noticed that the tightness in my breast is loosening, and the affected glands are softening. It's amazing to feel that difference.

Summary: six treatments down, six to go, and side effects still at a minimum. My hair is almost gone, and I sleep when I'm tired. I keep up with the rest of my normal activities and throw in the daily allowances for cancer. That's my life. It's all about coping.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Measuring Progress

Good platelet levels, good blood pressure reading, less pain and more mobility, tolerating chemo with few side effects--evaluating the status quo shows us what we have to cheer about. Of course, we're still dealing with spring allergies, hair loss, gradually increasing fatigue, creeping cellulitis resulting from diminished resistance to infection, swelling in legs and feet, and secondary dry cough due to blood pressure medication. Now we are liking more and more the word "manageable."

It was great to have Colorado Girl and Utah Boy with me at my treatment last week. They helped me in and out of the car, asked the doctor intelligent questions, talked me through the "benedryl buzz," kept me warm with heated blankets, escorted me to the rest room, and anticipated with me our week at the Oregon coast this summer. We are a busy family, we love each other, and we know how to have a good time together, despite disappointments and setbacks, of which we have had a few.

Also during that week, our daughter-in-law Sweet Nurse got a new job at a big hospital in the Metro area, starting April 13, in the--drum roll please--oncology unit. However, it means they have to put their house up for sale and move to Utah Valley right away. Not that we mind having them closer! It's what we've all hoped for, but this is happening suddenly. I'm hoping I'll feel well enough to help them pack, or at least be a cheerleader while other people do it.

Fifth treatment today--seven to go. It went well. Doctor approved dextromethorphan to control my cough, and will consult with dermatologist to determine what antibiotic dosage will best control the spread of cellulitis on my lower legs.

One of my friends at our book club discussion on Saturday told me she had read my new book, What Took You So Long, and she wondered how I could write so convincingly about having breast cancer when I hadn't been through the experience myself. I told her I had done a lot of research, interviewed survivors, and I put myself inside the character, to imagine her experience as she went through it. Most of all, I wanted that character to be a winner. Now I identify with her. I will be a winner, too.

I had a new nurse in the unit today hooking me up to the drip, and it was a chance to tell somebody else about my book, and the irony of real life echoing fictional life. It turns out this nurse is a member of a book club and would like to read my book.

You see? A grandson goes from glasses to contacts, another grandson gets his first paying job, a missionary granddaughter gets a transfer and soon marks the halfway point of her service, we remember the birthday of another grandson who passed away three years ago, we anticipate his parents and sister moving closer to us for new job opportunities, husband tutors, daughter gets a new church calling, book promotions continue, two beautiful eighth-grade granddaughters growing into women anticipate ninth grade next year--Life. Goes. On. That's how we measure progress.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Hair Today, Hat Tomorrow

Cancer is characterized by fast growth, and cancer-killing drugs are designed to attack cells that grow quickly. Unfortunately, those drugs cannot differentiate between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys. Therefore, fast-growing cells such as hair follicles are victims of side effects. It took a lot of years to make peace with my fine, limp, brown, straight hair, and this is what I get for it--another monkey wrench.

In the last 20 years, I've managed by having frequent perms and weekly attention from a hairdresser. Now that I've had three chemotherapy treatments, I'll soon be back to Square One in developing a hairstyle that works for me.

My hair history is a tale of defiance and rebellion. It laughs demonically at curling irons and readily succumbs to the affects of damp weather. Having been born and raised with the naturally soft water of Western Oregon, I'd never heard of creme rinse. When I went off to school in Utah, my first self-actualized hairdo after washing in hard water was breathtaking, a fact immortalized by my cartoonish finger-in-the-light-socket student ID picture, which landed in that immortal history known as the yearbook. THEN someone told me about conditioner! Ten years later, when we lived on tropical Guam, I surrendered to the only alternative, keeping it very short in what was known then as a pixie cut.

At home I had used natural elements to dry my hair, but at college the Saturday morning ritual of sitting in the sun or in front of the roaring fireplace became impossible. I had to get one of those portable hair dryers with the pliable plastic cap that fit over the curlers so I didn't have to go out in the cold with wet hair.

By the time I had my last child in my mid-30s, gray started creeping in, and over the next 20 years as it developed a mink effect--gray ends with dark roots--my goals became A) not to look like George Washington, and B) not to frighten small children. Fortunately I've found hairdressers who understood how to do that.

My thoughtful daughter, Colorado Girl, found a chemo hat website and had several sent to me. They are delightful and I'm very pleased, especially with the nightcap. Good idea. My friend Bette is handy with the crochet hook and stopped by the other day to have me try on the hat she is making for me.

Not a minute too soon. Hair loss is making itself more obvious. People are used to seeing me nicely coiffed, and I'm used to not worrying much about how my hair looks. Things change with three chemo treatments. A couple of Sundays ago, when I was having an old-fashioned Bad Hair Day, I wore a hat to church, and this week one of my friends said I "really rocked the hat" that day.

This week was my last hair appointment for a while. Quite a lot of hair bailed out while the hairdresser was fixing it so there's no point in curling it anymore. In fact, while I was cooking the other day, I wore a hat to keep hair out of the food.

Thus it begins. Or ends. Some people tell me that when hair grows back after chemo, it sometimes changes in texture and volume from what it was before. Frankly, a year from now I wouldn't mind looking like Little Orphan Annie.

This has been an "off" week, with no chemo so my platelets can build up again, but my two out-of-town children, Colorado Girl and Utah Boy, will act as minions for the Tuesday therapy. They wanted to give Hubby and Provo Girl a break, and I'll be glad to have them here.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Chemo Brain

When you have chemotherapy, the chemistry can have a definite detrimental affect on your brain, and trying to think clearly is sometimes a lost cause. I've tried to describe it unsuccessfully. It's hard to capture in words. But this picture probably says it all:



Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tuesdays With Stupid*

Coming home with a benedryl buzz after a chemo session is like having a lost weekend where you didn't know what you did or why and aren't sure what to regret. We go in at 10 a.m., have a blood draw to learn what the platelet count is, consult with the oncologist, then do the infusion. It starts with benedryl and some sterioids to cut down on the possible allergic reactions to the chemo cocktail. If the platelet count had been under 1.0 I wouldn't have the next chemo. But it was high enough, and so I got plugged in, and then slept through most of it. Fortunately I have minions there to feed me and pile on the heated blankets.

My brain, after I finished the session and went home at 1:30, felt shaken, not stirred. I slept until after 4 and still feel groggy. Tomorrow morning I'll wake up feeling slightly headachy but still functional. Things will get better as the week goes on. It's certainly understandable why the medical professionals tell you not to make important life decisions while you're undergoing chemo. It's a kind of brain fog that lends itself to silliness more than seriousness. But whatever kills the cancer is fine with me.

Next week we have a break to let the platelets build up again, and the week after that, my two out-of-town kids are coming to take their turns as minions for one session. They're bringing other interesting people with them (grandkids, etc.), so we'll have a three-day party while they're here. I'll be in the mood.

*with apologies to "Tuesdays With Morrie" by Mitch Albom, a book everybody should read

Sunday, March 8, 2015

ADDENDUM

To be more precise, the book signing event is Saturday, March 21 at Pioneer Book, 450 West Center, Provo, from 3 to 5 p.m. It's a great place to meet interesting people. Drop in and say hi. We'll sign your books and send you away with a taste of some amazing goodies, the recipes for which you'll find in the back of What Took You So Long.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Keeping Busy, Having Fun

On the off-week from chemotherapy, I'll be doing a book signing event at Pioneer Books, 450 West Center, in Provo, and the immediate world is invited. I'll be there with my new book, What Took You So Long, as well as the first in the series, Living It Down. AND I'll have a couple of writer friends with me--Janet Kay Jensen, author of Gabriel's Daughters, new from Jolly Fish Press, and Robin King, whose YA suspense thriller Remembrandt is out also from my publisher, Walnut Springs Press.

Basically a book signing event is a party. There will be food--some of Aunt Sophie's recipes from the book, don't you know--as well as drawings for some prizes. It's a great place to meet and greet a lot of interesting people, and while you're there take time to browse in that fabulous bookstore. It's a book lover's paradise.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Toleration

My father was a tolerant man--after all he raised six starkly diverse kids--but he used to caution us about striking a balance between tolerance and open-mindedness. Accepting people with their many differences is important, he said, "but don't be so open-minded that your brains fall out." I have depended on that wisdom many times in my life, and it has served me well.

That's been on my mind while I've been undergoing chemotherapy. My oncologist says I seem to be tolerating the treatment well. Tolerance is crucial when it comes to fighting disease, and right now--more than combating flu bugs or allergens or other foreign influences--my body is a major chemical battleground. I like to think that the aches and pains I experience are evidence that the Hero Paclitaxel (therapy drug) is doing battle with the Villain (mean cancer cells), and that my body is welcoming and accommodating the process of the fight.

One of the side effects of the cancer drug is that it tends to make my body retain water. In other words, I have little tolerance for foods that contain salt and sugar. Even some kinds of bread can be very salty, and it's a trick to balance out the intake of salt and sugar with foods that help pull excess water out of the cells. Ironically, drinking water helps, and I'm challenged to drink half a gallon every day. It keeps my kidneys busy, but that's a different story of toleration.

In other good news, the cellulitis on my legs is healing. When I went to the dermatologist this week, he pronounced the right leg healed enough to not need the zinc oxide wrap (Unna boot) anymore, although it does need a daily application of a topical medication. My left leg is still wrapped for another week or two. We cheer for every little step toward progress. That the cellulitis can heal while the cancer battle is going on is progress indeed.

Last night I heard what I thought was my husband puttering around in the garage, but it turned out to be somebody creating a "heart attack" on our front door. When the doorbell rang, we found several dozen hearts with encouraging words written on them, plastered all over the door. It's just the sort of thing that happens in our neighborhood, and I'm so grateful I live here among these good people.

Plans are also going forward for a summer vacation. Our kids are think it's time for another trip to a beach house on the Oregon coast--our favorite place in the world to be--and they are counting on my ability to tolerate the stresses for a week in July. Having goals and incentives helps me deal with the other limitations imposed on my life right now. I'm even planning a book launch signing event for my new novel, What Took You So Long. If all goes well, it'll be in three weeks at a bookstore in Provo. I'll keep you posted.

It takes a village of the right internal chemical environment to fight this battle, and all I can do is introduce elements of nutrition and positive endorphins to accommodate it. But I have had so many more intangibles that have helped as well--prayers, cards, that "heart attack" on our front door, words of encouragement, music, laughter. Yes, laughter helps. My son and his wife recently gave me a card that reminds me of my need to laugh:

May the light always find you on a dreary day;
when you need to be home, may you find your way.
May you always have courage to take a chance,
and may you never find frogs in your underpants.

Our family motto seems to be "Live well, love much, laugh often," and we certainly do.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sabbath

What a blessed Sabbath day! Everything seemed to zero in on peace and comfort, even the hymns. My wonderful bishop sat for a few minutes with his arm around me and listened to me vent my insecurities, and later our home teachers came with a message that seemed written just for me. So many tender mercies today! Rejoicing with gladness and a full heart!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Like the Drip, Drip, Drip of the Hourglass...

Yesterday was my first chemotherapy. So far so good. They gave me some benedryl first, which is supposed to lessen the possibility of being allergic to the drug, but it mainly made me sleepy. Blood is drawn from the same port where the chemo goes in, and that worked well. Also, the doctor ordered a bone-strengthening injection once a month while I'm doing chemo, and that was the most painful part of the whole process.

Talking to the doctor before the treatment began, we learned that he had again changed both the type of drug and the way it will be administered. When we had the chemo class the day before, the nurse said Dr. C had changed the plan from one treatment every three weeks to twelve weekly treatments. Yesterday he said it's going to be three weeks of treatment, then one week off, until I have all twelve. That takes us into June. That said, we will still assess as we go along to determine if that plan needs to be altered. It's going to be fluid (pardon the pun) and uncertain from now on. Like Lainie, the breast cancer survivor in my new book, I've decided to have cancer one day at a time.

Reading more about breast cancer, I learned that the type I have--inflammatory--is uncommon and rare in women my age. It almost made me feel special to learn that. However, when diagnosed, it's automatically at stage III or IV. That's not so special. From the PET scan we learned that mine has been seeding other sites as well--my right shoulder blade, left public bone, lower sternum, and liver have cancer spots, in addition to the breast itself and nearby lymph glands. (Fortunately it hasn't gone to heart or brain.) When chemotherapy attacks those spots, it actually strengthens the bone. What that all means is that we can kill a lot of the cancer with chemo and manage the rest. Surgery is still likely--but maybe not until June--as is more chemo, and radiation isn't out of the picture for later on, but that will depend on how the chemo works. I feel confident as the Utah Cancer Clinic has a close working relationship with the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City.

One outcome of the change in the chemo attack plan is that this drug doesn't have so many side effects. I'll still lose my hair and be tired a lot, and may get mouth sores, but I'm hoping to avoid the vomiting and diarrhea that plague so many cancer victims. Having a one-week break after every third treatment will be helpful I'm sure.

In other good news, the cellulitis on my legs has stopped weeping with the Unna boot treatment. I will continue with that until the redness goes away. It's actually helping because Unna boots provide needed compression, but with the added bulk on my feet, I can't wear regular shoes. Tradeoffs!

Some very nice volunteers came around the clinic yesterday with Kneader's sandwiches at lunch time--heavenly--and then brought me a goodie bag that included bean bags I can heat in the microwave to warm my feet or neck, some soaps and lotions, and a lovely warm throw. I can put a hospital-heated blanket on and then the throw to preserve the warmth. I tend to be cold all the time--typically wear several layers of clothes--so this bit of thoughtfulness is especially appreciated. It's from a breast cancer survivor and her mother. People are just so nice!

Best news of the day: doctors at the fertility clinic have now transplanted two embryos, so it looks like we will have one of two more grandchildren by the end of the year. We are grateful for our brave son and daughter-in-law who have shown such courage through this process--and the Big Sister will be two in December.

I decided to put a wreath on my front door when I'm up to seeing visitors, so if you drive by and see the wreath, stop in and say hello.

And I think my book, What Took You So Long, may be out on the shelves wherever Deseret Books are sold. If you get one, bring it by and I'll sign it for you.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Tick Tock

Remember the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland? He carried a big pocket watch all the time and kept saying, "I'm late for a very important date!" That's kind of how I feel, and yet today is dragging by. That could possibly be because I was awake at four. We had some errands this morning but I took a little nap later and feel great now.

This morning I started the pre-chemo process. I have to take a steroid twice a day, on the day before chemo, the day of, and the day after. My port isn't swollen anymore, as it was for a couple of days right after the implant, so it'll be ready for the first chemo session tomorrow. I have to rub a lidocaine cream on the site in the morning to prepare for that.

This afternoon I'm going to a class at the cancer clinic with my entourage (hubby and daughter) to learn how to use the five other prescriptions Dr. C gave me to deal with chemo and its side effects. If I don't see the oncologist today, I will tomorrow for sure, and we'll talk more about the PET scan results.

Saturday I got a "Get Well" card from the kind and skilled pre-op and OR staff at the hospital. Yeah. Get well for sure. I intend to.

Good news: My pedicure Friday was divine. No low lights and soft music at this place--the girl has to see my feet, after all--but I'm grateful for that service. After two months my feet were getting kind of gross. She is a sweet and loving person.

Other good news: the cellulitis on my legs is no longer weeping. It felt so good to be able to wear normal shoes over the weekend, but I got Unna boots again this morning to continue the healing process, so I'm back to the bedroom slippers that are cruddy with zinc oxide residue from the Unna boots. It's possible the chemo will speed up the healing process.

Or not. We'll see what tricks these chemicals are going to play on me.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

SCAN-dalous

When the oncologist said we needed a PET scan to really diagnose the extent of my cancer, he said it involved injecting a sugar dye into my system. Then the scanner could detect where the cancer had gone in my body. I accepted that, knowing it was important for Dr. C to have all the available information before he could recommend the most effective chemo cocktail. I forgot to ask about how the procedure is done. All they told me was to eat high protein and low carb the day before (which is what I do anyway) and not to get any exercise (which is what I do anyway).

Arriving at the imaging center, I checked in and hubby was told to come back for me in two-and-a-half hours. Whoa. So this is not like standing in front of an x-ray machine for a couple of minutes and holding your breath for a few seconds. A nice technician called me into the inner sanctum, took me to a room to insert an IV into my right arm. He explained that the radioactive sugar dye goes in there, and then we wait 60 or 70 minutes for it to pump through my system before he would put me into the scanner and start taking pictures.

"Well, I'm glad I brought a  book," I told him. I always have a book. I hate to be left with nothing to occupy my brain.

"No," he said, "you need to just sit here and relax. You can sleep if you want, but no reading." He said a teenage boy who came in for this test spent the hour texting on his phone, and the scan showed the muscles in his forearms were "hot," thus skewing the outcome. So... "no book for you," ala Soup Nazi.

Then he gave me a tracer in a bottle of Crystal Lite so the scan could detect what's in my digestive tract. That's why I wasn't supposed to eat for six hours before the test. Nasty stuff. Once I got comfortable in the reclining chair, I realized there was a cold air vent right over my head, and I didn't want the scan to just show pictures of me being annoyed for an hour. So I covered myself with the blanket conveniently left on the side table. Not enough, but that nice technician brought two others. We'd need them later when he put me on the scanner, he explained. Finally I settled on visions of a Zen garden (thanks to the culture section of the Japanese category of Travel Pop) and eventually drifted off to sleep.

After a trip to the bathroom (yes, that's part of the protocol, a natural consequence of the Crystal Lite), I was strapped tightly into the scanner to hold me immobile for 35 minutes of joy-riding back and forth while it took 1500-1800 pictures. I kept my eyes closed to avoid claustrophobia and more easily imagine things that could help me avoid thinking about my itchy nose. PET is positron emission tomography. Sounds so Star Trek. It takes 3-D cross-section images and pinpoints metastasis. Pretty complex gadget. No wonder a PET scan costs $9000.

Then my husband rescued me from the radioactive monster and took me to lunch.

By the way... in case you're tempted to invite me... I have a policy of not playing computer games with anybody but my daughters. That's just enough diversion but not too much obsession for me, thank you very much.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Hurry Up and Wait

I went into the American Fork Hospital yesterday for a 45-minute minor surgical procedure, and left seven hours later. It all started with misinformation.

When the surgeon said we'd do this procedure--installing a port where the chemo can be dripped--it seemed like an easy thing. With this little device, blood samples can be taken and chemo can be administered in the same spot without so many pokes with needles. It's snuggled up next to my right collarbone, and has a small tube that goes up to a vein in my neck, requiring another small incision. But I'm ready for chemo now, which starts Tuesday, and depending on the results of chemo and follow-up surgery, it'll be in place if I have to have more chemo later. I'm told it takes about 15 minutes and local anesthetic to remove the device when I don't need it anymore.

We reported on time--at 7:30 a.m.--to the surgical services floor of the hospital, waited nearly an hour, and then as I was getting prepped, the charge nurse came in with abject apologies, saying he had misread the schedule and the person calling patients about the timing of surgeries had been given the wrong information. We could have come later because the surgeon had a meeting mid-morning and couldn't get to me until later anyway. He handed Roger a coupon good for $5 in the cafeteria. When he went down there for his mid-morning snack, Roger ordered a cheeseburger and got a croissant breakfast sandwich. More zigging and zagging. But we always carry books to read so we don't get stuck with People Magazine, or Sports Illustrated, or (horror of horrors) daytime television. We both read quite a few pages.

A chest x-ray, EKG, and blood samples taken, and at last they were ready for me. Sleepy-bye juice inserted into the IV, a metallic taste in my mouth, and on the way to the OR I was out. Then somebody was telling me to wake up. My throat and neck were sore. We didn't leave the hospital until after 2 p.m. because I wasn't waking up to their satisfaction. I capitulated when the nurse insisted I should have some caffeine. Normally for me that's a no-no. I just don't like what carbonated drinks do to me. But I took a few sips and Roger had the rest. Finally I was awake enough to go home. Having not had anything to eat all day, I wanted to stop on the way for something to eat.

At home I took a two-hour nap. That'll show 'em. I just needed to sleep it off.

Best part of the day: removing the medicated cellulitis wraps on my legs, having a shower and shampooing my hair. Second best part of the day: daughter came over and fixed my floppy hair.

Today's diagnostic test, a PET scan, determines which chemo cocktail I'll get. Monday I go for a chemo class to learn how to use the five prescriptions the oncologist gave me for managing the side effects. On the whole, I'd rather be promoting my new book.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Needled

A gekko is a small lizard, usually about six inches long, that lives in tropical climates. It has little suction cup pads on its paws that let it climb anything vertically and even scamper across ceilings. We encountered these everywhere when we lived on Guam. Gekkos have the unique capability of escaping capture by shedding their tails and growing new ones. In fact I rescued my husband from a ferocious gekko one morning in the shower. He got in, closed the curtain and turned on the water, then felt something crawling up his leg. Without his glasses he couldn't see, so he yelled at me. I brought a container to trap the thing and threw it out the back door. A day in the life of superwoman.

Yesterday, lying on a table at the hospital mammography unit with a radiologist standing next to me, I thought about gekkos. With my left breast under scrutiny of an ultrasound, and then invaded by a needle to retrieve a tissue sample of the offending lump, it seemed ironic to give so much attention to something I'm going to lose anyway. Yes, it's still useful for pinpointing the diagnosis, but I mused that it would be nice if women could re-grow that specialized feminine tissue after cancer treatment, like a gekko re-grows a tail.

If you've never had a deep tissue biopsy, it's a curious experience. A technician with a transducer locates the cancer blob, and the radiologist inserts a hollow needle into it. This specialized needle has a tip that can open, harvest a tissue sample, then cut it off and close. To draw the sample out of the needle, the radiologist uses a small vacuum device that sucks up the sample into a lab jar for later analysis. It took probably 15 or 20 minutes. I didn't feel it very much, but later as the numbing effects wore off, I felt a twinge or two. Not bad.

Ultrasound, needle biopsy, mammogram. Check. Oncologist today, port implanted tomorrow for delivery of the drugs, PET scan Thursday, and chemo starts Tuesday. I even get to have a shower tonight, an activity I've had to suspend for a few weeks while the cellulitis on my legs is being treated with medicated wraps that can't get wet. News flash: spit baths are a highly unsatisfactory alternative.

In the midst of all this poking and prodding, there is a bright spot on Friday: a pedicure. Ahhhhh.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Storm Before the Calm

Every week I look forward to the Sabbath for the spiritual "R&R" it always is. It gets me out of the usual routine, gives me something new to think about and ponder, and lets me renew love and friendship with my wonderful neighbors. This week is especially welcome because starting on Monday, it's a race to get everything in place before the first chemo treatment on February 24.

Monday is an ultrasound and needle biopsy, Tuesday is my second visit with the oncologist who will talk about results of the ultrasound, biopsy and MRI, Wednesday the port will be inserted next to my right collarbone for delivery of the chemo cocktail, and Thursday I have a PET scan to determine if the cancer has spread further than the breast.

Friday is just for me--I finally get the pedicure I've been putting off for a month. During all this time I've been treated for cellulitis, an infection on my legs characterized by weeping sores. It wasn't healing as fast as the dermatologist thought it would, and now he thinks that might be a result of the presence of the cancer. Treatment for cellulitis means wrapping the wound from just above the toes to just below the knee, first is gauze saturated with zinc oxide, then with a layer of cotton, and finally with a bandage to keep it all together. And it really itches under all that wrapping.

Consequently, I have had to wear these awful black backless slippers because my wrapped feet wouldn't fit in shoes, and I couldn't get them wet, which meant I couldn't take a bath. Not gonna lie--I'm here to tell you spit baths are highly unsatisfactory. This week, prior to the PET scan, I will remove the wraps (known to dermatologists and cellulitis sufferers as unaboots), and then I'll be able to sit in the shower till the water runs cold, and soak in the foot bath for my pedicure.

Through all of this, I've been going steady with a wheeled walker because the injured muscle in my left thigh, way up there in the groin with the adductor group, has been so slow to heal, despite several weeks of therapy. All I need now is shingles, or hang nails, or warts on my feet. Oh, wait. I had those, too, but the dermatologist shaved them off before the unaboot was reapplied.

For months now I've looked forward to going to the annual writers conference in Phoenix, schmoozing with friends, and who couldn't use a little dose of Phoenix in February--right? I kept hoping things would smooth out, but getting the pre-authorization for the PET scan took so long I ran out of days to schedule medical procedures. So I had to cancel the flight, the hotel, the conference, AND the launch of my new book. With or without me, however, you'll soon find 'What Took You So Long' in stores where Deseret Books are sold.

Oh, and there's one more thing. Our daughter-in-law is getting ready to do another in vitro implant the following week (23rd--) so they can get a baby this year. We don't know which day yet, but they're doing that in Provo, so they will be staying in our guest room where she can have bed rest for a few days after the implant, and the Most Wonderful Daughter in the World, who lives two streets away, will be bring food, regale us with her wit, and take care of the darling 14-month-old toddler so the sickies can rest. I will be glad to have them here.

Then the chemo begins on the 24th, four doses, one every three weeks, which takes us to the end of April. Three weeks later I'll have the surgery to remove the tumor. I'm told a radical mastectomy isn't what it used to be. They don't take chest, shoulder or arm muscles the way they used to, and there isn't a lot of pain involved. I'll be hospitalized two nights maximum. I've always recovered quickly from previous surgeries and hope this battered body doesn't fail me now because...

In the meantime, my wonderful children have found the best possible way to distract me--planning a vacation for July at a beach house on the Oregon coast, my favorite place on earth. We have been looking at websites for a rental that can sleep at least 12 people. I studied a few before I had the MRI the other day, and while the machine clanked away, I was dreaming of the place I love best. Just hope I'll be ready to travel in July.

Sometimes, with all of this Stuff Going On, I feel like poor beleaguered Job. Therefore, I really need this sabbath. I have many blessings to be grateful for, but so much strength to seek for what's to come. It's my weekly search for serenity, and this time it's the calm before the storm of the next eventful few days.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Burble Through the Tulgey Wood

This whole cancer thing has felt a lot like an Alice in Wonderland interlude until today when I consulted with the surgeon who is going to perform the mastectomy in May, about three weeks after my last dose of chemo.

Dr. T. examined said breast and interpreted the results of the infamous MRI of yesterday's post. I like her a lot. I immediately felt that she cared about me, and she had already consulted with Dr. C., the oncologist, as well as the radiologist who interpreted the MRI.

It's a fairly large tumor, as tumors go--about 1"x2"--and has a few "fingers" that want to reach out and involve more tissue. However, chemo treatment has a dramatic effect on reigning that in and making the borders easier to get when it's time for surgery. That's the word she used--dramatic. That means there won't be so much to remove, but there are a lot of secondary glands involved that have betrayed me and will have to go. She also said there's not a lot of pain involved, and my hospital stay will be one or two nights maximum. That's good; my family won't have to smuggle in so much real food.

All week something Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount has been running through my mind: "If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee..."

I still face another dilemma however: lopsidedness. That's because the kind of cancer I have is not the kind that lends itself easily to reconstruction. Breasts are supposed to be a balanced, matched set, which means I will probably have reduction surgery on the other side so I won't walk around listing starboard.

Before I start chemo on the 24th, Dr. T. will implant a port near my right collarbone, through which Dr. C. can insert the chemo cocktail, and from which blood samples can be taken to monitor the chemo. That eliminates the need for so much poking with needles during the chemo treatment period. Implantation of the port is an outpatient procedure scheduled for the 18th.

Dr. T. allayed some of my fears about chemo. She said it has fewer side effects than it did 15 or 20 years ago, mostly fatigue and hair loss. Well, that'll save me a little on the Personal Upkeep budget, but I'll miss my hairdresser friends. Bottom line: this cancer is highly treatable and the prognosis is excellent.

In other words, I can live with that.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My "Musical" Morning

Spent the morning at the imaging center getting an MRI--magnetic resonance image of afflicted body parts that need attention. This diagnostic test uses magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of organs and structures inside the body. It often provides different information than can be obtained from a CAT scan or other kinds of imaging.

If you've never had an MRI, think John Cage music--an avante garde composer for whom such items as a watering can, a blender, a bathtub, a pop gun, a rubber ducky, and a mechanical fish are musical instruments. To Cage, any sound is music, and an MRI is full of buzzes, whistles, toots, and percussion-like racket. On the whole I'd rather listen to Mahler or Beethoven. I was grateful for the earplugs the technician gave me to protect my hearing.

After about an hour of preliminaries, I was finally placed in the machine face down with my arms above my head, not easy for someone with arthritic shoulders. Picture being strapped onto a rack, something like poor Westley in The Princess Bride. Forty minutes later the "music" stopped and I was liberated.

What occupied my mind while the machine pounded, blared, and crackled? For a while I sang hymns, and for a while I pondered a picture I'd seen in the lobby, a stream in the foreground running into a distant forest, a branch of it going off to the left, and a sinking sun in the distance. It reminded me of the Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken... "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..." Somehow it wouldn't have worked if he'd been following a stream. I can't imagine "A stream diverged in a yellow meadow..." being as powerful as what Frost wrote.

Ah, the irony! My life is full of it just now, and this is all the pondering I can take for one afternoon.

One test down, two to go, prognosis to come when I get deeper into the yellow wood.




Saturday, February 7, 2015

2015: The Year of the Cure

Irony is seeping through my life right now like a leaky faucet. I've just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and my book What Took You So Long will come off the press next Tuesday featuring a main character, Lainie, who is a breast cancer survivor. I had to learn all about it to write about it, but I only had to learn generalities. Now I'm learning specifics.

Lainie's cancer was in her left breast. So is mine. Hers was about the size of a golf ball. So is mine. She had chemotherapy to shrink the tumor prior to surgery. That's the oncologist's plan for me. Lainie defiantly shaved her head before the chemo had a chance to kill it, but I think I'll just start collecting hats.

Because I don't have pains elsewhere or swollen glands under my arms, it looks like it might be a slow-growing type of cancer. That would be the good news. Until I have further diagnostic exams next week and we know the extent of it so the doctor can establish a treatment plan, that's all I know right now. Chemo will probably be four doses, one every three weeks, starting at the end of February and concluding at the end of April, which means surgery will be in May. I may have to have more chemo after that, and possibly radiation treatments, but we won't know until then.

Until things shake out a little more I'm going to follow Lainie's advice. She loves life and appreciates every day, even a bad one. She had a loving and supportive family and friends; so do I. Lainie found something stubborn inside that kept her going. So did I. She knew that stubborn something was going to win. So do I.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Getting the Call

A phone call Tuesday morning stopped my world, or at least slowed it down a little. You tend to put other things on hold when you hear the doctor say "adenoma carcinoma."

Other things become less important, and it's suddenly easier to determine priorities. Fortunately, my book, What Took You So Long, had already gone to press, except for a few back cover details to settle. Ironically, this book's main female character is a breast cancer survivor. I had to do a lot of research for that; her cancer was also in her left breast. I trust the rest of my story will have as happy an outcome as hers did because like her, I've got stuff to do.

In the meantime, there's the visit to the oncologist (Friday) and decisions to make about what he tells me. It's easy to put some activities on hold or cancel them, but I have reservations at the Phoenix Hilton in two weeks for a writers conference I was looking forward to, at which I'm planning to launch my new book, which will be off the press next week. So I hope I don't have to cancel plane, hotel, and conference, but it all depends on what the oncologist advises.

Worst of all is the anticipation of surgery. I'm experienced at that--this will be the lucky number 13th surgery/procedure I've had. Last time was two years ago when I was in the hospital nine days after losing a lot of bowel to emergency surgery because of an old scar tissue problem. "Anesthesia brain" is bad for a writer. It was six months before I could think well enough to read, write, and make decisions about the manuscript I was submitting. I don't like being in suspended animation like that. But I have to say, the best thing about hospitals is the heated blankets. Closet-sized rooms, food, noise, midnight visits from phlebotomists--not so much.

I haven't told anybody outside my family--you're the first to know--because while I appreciate support, I can't talk yet about the things people will want to know--treatment, prognosis, recovery. Chemotherapy is not a happy prospect, and neither is radiation. But my activity schedule will change and people will wonder why. That's it. Adenoma carcinoma. I'll keep you posted.