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Thursday, July 6, 2017

One person's keepsakes

My mother had an older sister, Louise, who died at the age of 12. Mom was 9 at the time. She kept her sister's doll the rest of her life, and now I have it. No one in the younger generation - meaning my cousins' grown children - wants it. I can understand why, after thinking about it. I only keep it because of Mom. No one wants a keepsake from a great-aunt they never met.

This reminded me of a story a friend told me about an older woman she was friends with, who had a house full of keepsakes and a story for every one. When she died, her sisters threw out all her 'trash.'

I've given away a few keepsakes of mine already. While one will be kept by the friend I gave it to, the two I gave to a different friend's children have already no doubt been broken, lost, or tossed. I've learned my lesson. I'll give away no more of my keepsakes. They are worthless and meaningless to anyone but me. If they all wind up in a landfill when I'm gone, so be it.

A keepsake is an object with memories attached, and therefore is meaningless to anyone who doesn't have the memories. When my favorite earrings all got stolen, that was what hurt the worst. They weren't just jewelry to me. They were favorites because they were also memories, of Christmases and birthdays, vacations and friends. If I just buy a pair of earrings, I rarely wear them. If they were given to me, then they carry a memory of that person. If I buy them on vacation, they carry the memory of that good time. My stolen earrings couldn't be replaced for that reason, though I bought a few new pair after they were gone. Meaningless earrings, that sit in my jewelry box, and the ones I wear are ones I bought while out having fun with friends.

"It's just stuff" has become the rallying cry of the minimalist movement. Some of it is. Just stuff I can toss or give away with no problem. But the keepsakes are so much more than the object itself. Maybe I'm a sentimentalist. Maybe I cling to things too much. Maybe I'm odd in that I attach memories to physical objects. It doesn't matter. This is part of who I am. I'll continue to treasure my keepsakes, knowing that no one else will, and that when I'm dead they'll be trash. And here is part of the human condition: you're not remembered very long when you're gone. If you have kids and grandkids, you'll be remembered until they're gone. Then, for anyone not famous, it's as if you never existed on this earth. Nearly all of us pass unsung and forgotten, and that's the way it is. Even the famous are forgotten after a few generations. All our struggles, all our experiences, all our hopes and dreams and fears, just gone.

I had a cousin named Judy who was a couple years older than me. We played together a lot when I was a toddler. She died unexpectedly at the age of five. I was three. Her parents threw out everything she owned and every picture of her, and declared her name would never again be spoken. That upset me deeply, though I had no means of articulating it at the time. On one level, I never looked at that aunt and uncle the same way again. They just wiped her brief life away as though she had never existed, and I have never forgotten that, or her. Maybe that's why I feel the way I do about keepsakes. It upsets me down to my core that we are so easily forgotten, even though I realize that this is the norm, part of the human condition. Our lives are brief and soon lost to memory.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The cancer came back with a vengeance

The doctors are going to try a combo of radiation and chemo on me this time because the cancer in the lymph nodes had changed. They have to be very careful of the radiation because I had it before, and there's a danger of killing tissue and bone in my mouth. The chemo has to work in tandem with the radiation or it wouldn't do anything.

I'm terrified. Afraid of the cancer coming back, afraid that the treatment won't help or will make things worse, afraid of never being able to eat again. Afraid of dying, and afraid of the process that dying would take. Last night I coughed phlegm until I thought I'd choke or drown in it, and slept very little, so of course I'm wondering if I'll ever sleep normally again. I feel like my life has been ruined, and for what? I have no risk factors for this. There is no 'reason' for me to go through this. I can't see what the purpose is.

I couldn't get through this at all without my good friend Diane B. She's been a sister to me through this.

Written in the rehab center:
June 15, 2017, Thursday
2 weeks exactly in the hospital. Went from ICU to SAC, which is out of ICU but still high-risk, due to a stomach infection I picked up and the trach. This is the second day in the rehab center - I keep trying to call it a nursing home - BAD first night but it's getting steadily better. Having occupational therapy, speech therapy, and physical therapy. Don't know yet how long I'll be here before going home. They wand me on the trach until the swelling goes down in my mouth and throat. I'll be on the feeding tube until I can re-learn how to swallow. My speech is really broken and I drool worse than a jowly dog.

That first night here was horrible. Sick, in pain, exhausted, arrived during shift change so nobody knew anything. Room had nothing as to supplies. No one had notes on what to do with me. Hard to get food and meds and basics like washclothes and towels. Since I can't make myself understood very well and they couldn't understand me when I pressed the call button, they didn't come quickly - sometimes not at all. By morning I was sleep-deprived and had gone through three adult diapers from diarrhea and nobody helped. But yesterday went better - day shift knew more - and today is better yet.

No luck on swallowing yet, but I've had a shower with a great deal of assistance, hair washed, had some walks and a very mild beginner workout. Slept better last night though I haven't slept well since the whole thing started. I still need to take the trach cap off and use the humidifier at night, and have to sleep pretty much sitting up.

Eating, talking and tasting will never be normal again,

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Post-cancer surgery

I had my cancer surgery May 31st, and spent 2 weeks in the hospital, and nearly 2 weeks in rehab. They resectioned my tongue, patched it with a piece of my arm, and then patched the arm with skin off my leg. It's now June 25. The leg is healing enough that the dressing is nearly gone, though the skin is still bright red. The arm looks like Frankenstein and must be covered for quite a while yet. My face and neck are still mostly numb. The doctors had to take a lower front tooth to have room to split my lower jaw open. Now my teeth don't match up right. The patch on my tongue is numb still. I can't swallow yet and will be fed through a tube in my stomach for the foreseeable future, until I can learn to swallow again, if ever. My perfect diction is gone forever, replaced with a garbled speech that requires therapy, and my storytelling days are over.

The tracheotomy tube will come out tomorrow, thank God. I'm hoping the phlegm and coughing subside. I haven't had more than 3 hours sleep at a time between coughing spurts since this began. In addition, something in all this gave me fecal incontinence. That has blessedly eased up. And my type 2 diabetes is now insulin dependent. I've learned to give myself the shots.

Okay, God, I know you think I'm a badass, but enough already.

Wrote this 6 days after surgery:
June 6, Tuesday.

Weird sounds the machines make. In ICU, it sounded like music; cartoon background music from the old Bugs Bunny-type cartoons, and circus music. Yesterday in here one machine sounded like a plover, and I was visioning the seashore for a while because of the hiss of the oxygen machine. Today it sounds like some deranged jungle bird. Wa-hoo, wa-hoo, wa-hoo, then a trill/giggle that is very disturbing.

Saw Rev. Sue this morning, and it was a busy day. They took out the nose feed tube and one of the drainage tubes. The nose feed has been replaced with a stomach feed. Also had a bed bath - finally clean hair! It was disgusting! So good to have it washed. They seem really worried about my blood pressure - it's never been high but evidently now is.

Krys and Diane are going to come by later. I've heard rumors I might be getting a smaller trach tube. I don't know how that will work with all the thick mucus. Trying to cough it up is scary - I feel like I can't get a breath, like the mucus is blocking my air passage.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Cancer Surgery

Tomorrow I go to the hospital at 5:45 in the morning for surgery that will last 18 hours. I have the recurrence of cancer on my tongue, and it's worse this time. Besides losing more of my tongue, and having my neck cut for more lymph nodes, they're going to have to split my lower jaw. I'll have a scar on my face and a titanium plate in my jaw. I'll lose a lower front tooth.

Then, to repair my tongue, they'll take a flap with blood vessels off my arm, and then a flap of skin from my leg to patch the arm. The leg, apparently, is on its own.

And to complete the nightmare add a tracheotomy and a feeding tube through my nose. I'll need rehab to learn how to talk and how to eat.

Besides the fear, I'm so damn angry. I have no risk factors for this kind of cancer. 2 doctors looked at my tongue months ago and told me it couldn't be cancer. Because of them I've gone through months of pain while my cancer grew. It would have been so much easier if it had been treated WHEN I FIRST SAW IT. They didn't listen to me, they wouldn't do a biopsy, even though I'd had this cancer before. Assholes. So now I'm faced with major surgery and a very long recuperation because they just glanced and assumed.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Someday is a lie.

Nothing like knowing for sure and certain that your days are numbered to give you focus. This oral cancer part 2 has no good outcomes. Part 1 gave me a 41% chance of survival. I thought that the fact that I had no risk factors for that kind of cancer gave me an edge. Wrong! Now I have a 28% chance of survival. Best case, I lose more of my tongue but can still talk and eat, and have to undergo more radiation. Worst case of course is death.

My priorities have shaken down. If I could have 5 more years of life and not have to work, I could get 10-20 more books written (using the 'novel in 3 months' method. I've already chosen which ones come first). Finding a cover artist (I'm indie so there's no publisher doing it for me) is a holdup; I've got two books finished & ready, but my dazzlingly brilliant and very affordable cover artist, Donna Casey, lost her own battle with cancer. My attempts at covers look pathetic next to hers. So, the hunt is on.

I also need to save up $2K to get a tombstone ready. My husband has already passed on. His ashes are in an urn that is still sitting in my closet. I want to get my own cremation planned and paid for. The people who love me can throw whatever memorial they choose. Funerals are for the living, not the dead. I won't be there, so I want them to do whatever gives them comfort.

Someday I was going to travel, someday I would write a hundred novels, someday I would find true love. Nope.

There is no someday. You want to do something, do it now.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Oh cancer, my cancer

Cancer. I have cancer. Why doesn't it seem real? I should be frightened. I should be angry - I have no risk factors for this cancer I now have had twice. Maybe I'm in limbo until I know the prognosis and what they're going to have to do to me this time. I know I'll lose more of my tongue. Will I still be able to talk? Eat? Has it spread farther? Has it metastasized? Will I lose part of my face, my jaw? What if it gets into my brain? Instead I'm just going on with my life until I face the doctor. Until they run the tests. How am I supposed to react here?

Terror, first. All Sunday morning I've been fighting back tears. Anger, second. At the two doctors who looked at it, told me it couldn't be cancer, and wouldn't do a biopsy. The first was in the fall. So it's had nearly six months to grow.

Best-case scenario, I lose another chunk of my tongue and have to do more radiation and/or chemo, but can still talk and swallow afterwards. Or I'm left without much tongue and can't speak clearly enough for anyone to understand, and have to be fed in a tube into my stomach. Or it's spread, and besides my tongue I lose the right side of my lower jaw and maybe more teeth and part of my face.
Worst case, it's metastasized and I'm terminal.

Monday I call the doctor's office to find out when my appointment with the oral surgeon is. After tests I'll have my prognosis and know which nightmare will come true.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Cancer, part two

My tongue cancer is back. After being told by two different doctors that the thing on my tongue could not possibly be cancer, so there was no need for a biopsy, after four months of pain during talking, eating, swallowing, I finally see an ear-nose-throat (ENT) doctor who tells me it is cancer. And it's had all these months of pain to grow and spread. I've been referred to UNM Hospital, where tomorrow I'll learn the next step. Most likely a bunch of tests, then surgery, then some sort of follow-up treatment. And learn soon how much more of my tongue will be cut off. Last time I could speak clearly although with an impediment. This time, who knows? Talking, tasting, maybe eating or swallowing altogether might be gone.

Everyone thinks I'm so brave because I'm not a quivering mass of tears. At least, not on the outside. On the inside it's a different story as all the possible futures play out in my head, most of them short and painful. But you go on. What else are you going to do?

Friday, April 14, 2017

How I learned to knit

A friend gave me a bag of yarn she thought I'd like. She's weeding out her stash. This is one of those balls. White background with random bursts of rainbow and white metallic eyelash.



The little ball had 97 yards on it, if I read the weird and possibly foreign label correctly. After looking in vain for a pattern that would match, I decided to knit it up in simple garter stitch and see how far it went. It'll make a decorative scarf.

Knitting this fine yarn on thin needles in garter stitch gave me a flashback to learning how to knit. You see, both my mom and her mom were awesome crocheters, doing everything from lace doilies to afghans. I so wanted to learn, but I just couldn't get the hang of it. Finally I gave up.

I think I was eight when Mom's church group had a project of knitting bandages for a leper colony. If I'm right about my age that would have been sometime around 1961. The bandages had to be knitted from a certain kind of fine cotton yarn on very thin needles. I was fascinated by this process. I asked Mom to teach me that, and she did, but she was rather annoyed. "I hate knitting," she said. "I can teach you to cast on, knit, purl, and bind off, but that's it."

I loved it and knitted half her bandages. Afterwards, I knitted everyone I knew garter stitch scarves out of that good old acrylic Red Heart yarn that was nearly bulletproof. It was the only yarn I knew of at that time. Eventually, when I found some simple patterns, I branched out. When the craft became more popular and I found others who knitted and an amazing variety of yarns, I learned more stitches and more creative projects. Now I can knit lace - haven't yet attempted a doily, but I've found some patterns - and cables, and have knitted sweaters, hats, mittens, leg warmers, socks, toys.

It's the perfect craft for someone like me. I master a new craft and promptly am bored with it. There is no way anyone could learn every single knitting stitch, every technique. There's always something new to try. And it all started with bandages for a leper colony.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

So where's my Manic Pixie Dream Man?

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It’s a common Hollywood trope, though I’ve got to admit I’ve never met one of these women in real life. A man is trudging along in his boring/routine/depressed/dead end life, and Poof! There she is, dropping accidentally into his lap, and for no apparent reason deciding he’s the man she wants. Promptly she sets about dragging him into fun, shaking up his routine, pulling him up from depression, and showing him a brand new way to live. This trope wasn’t given a name until recently, but it’s been around a long time. Example: Bringing Up Baby, 1938, starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. It’s one of my favorite rom-coms. (Baby isn’t a human, it’s a leopard.)

Others include Elizabethtown, I love you, Alice B. Toklas, The Garden State, Butterflies are Free, Almost Famous, and many, many more. The main characteristics include joie de vivre, flakieness, a bit elfin, quirky to a fault. Sadly, this is all there is to these characters. They have no goals, no depth, nothing else to them. They're bubbly, cute, and impulsive. Nothing else.

So where’s the male equivalent? It is actually out there. Sadly, they aren’t as wonderful as the dream girls. The qualities just don’t seem to transfer well, because the Manic Pixie Dream Man is basically Peter Pan. He never grows up. As shallow a character as the Girl, he has no goals and no depth. He’s childish instead of childlike, charming but shallow, and for absolutely no apparent reason is devoted to this woman who frequently doesn’t want him. She may even be committed to someone else. Looks good in a rom-com, but in real life it’s a disaster. In real life, women want more. Shallow wears thin fast. We want men, not perpetual boys. Someone to be a true partner, not one more child to take care of.


But hey, right when your life is boring and routine and seems like a dead end, when you’re depressed and feel hopeless, wouldn’t it be great to have a Sean Spencer (Psych), a Lloyd Dobler (Say Anything) or a Benny (Benny and Joon) come and fill your life up with quirkiness and drag you out to make you have fun, even if it’s just for a while?

Monday, January 2, 2017

Anything's a cat toy

The other day I came home & sat down at the computer in my study to write. Suddenly realizing I still had my bra on, I took it off and dropped it on the floor to take with me when I left. A bit later I come out of the writing zone and hear something odd. When I looked down, I beheld my cat Renee slaying my bra!

Lying on her side and with her front paws wrapped around it, she was biting the daylights out of one cup while eviscerating the other with her back feet. My phone was nowhere near, so I couldn't take a picture. I just watched her for a bit laughing then took it away from her and put it up.

Life would be so dull without cats.

This is Renee, slaying a catnip toy in the same manner.
Post-catnip: