12.15.2016

Message in a Bottle

Today marks the day I got my last message from "Uncle Geoffy" two years ago. And in the spirit of our favorite rouge Brit, here's a recap of our annual trek to his beloved Cayman with my favorite fearless and future dive master.
On the water - where he belongs.
Just saw his first green morey while snorkeling.
He was born for this, and reminds me every time I drag him out in the snow that he's moving to the beach when he graduates from high school. 

Headed to snorkel over the USS Kittiwake. He will be able to get his junior open water dive certification next fall. 
Sting Ray City is still his favorite stop. The blob in the water would be one of those sting rays. The other blob would be Mick trying to force feed it squid.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, school has started. 
Heading out to Starfish Point, and like any good mother I make him do all the hard work.
Starfish Point - minus any starfish because visibility was so bad.

During his fall conference, his teacher passively (and slightly aggressively) asked if he would be missing any more school this year because of travel. I slyly asked what he meant by "this year." If he was referring to just 2016, maaaaaybe. If he was referring to the school year, I played coy. I think he was referencing a potential trip to Dubai I might have mentioned at the start of school, and the chance I might drag Mick with me.

It's not so much that I would be dragging him onto a 20-hour flight half-way around the world, but that Mick expects to go with me, as he expects to go on every trip I take. It's the price you pay when you are my adventuring companion.

And considering that I value experience and travel over anything school has to offer, the perfect attendance award will probably never be given to either of my kids.


12.11.2016

6 Weeks in Rashville

The perks of switching chemotherapy drugs after all these years include having hair again, and not feeling sick every other weekend. One doesn't appreciate feeling normal until they've spent almost every other weekend for the last 5 years playing a game of feeling-crappy-roulette.

I also don't have to drag around That Damn Pump. I'm giving the ol' oral chemo another try, despite throwing in the towel almost 2 years ago when my hands and feet just couldn't handle rotting off. It's simply the pump in pill form, and at a lower dose than my previous attempt. May my hands and feet schluff off with far more grace this time, as we gradually raise my dose to find the most tolerable point.

Relatively speaking, it's not that bad.
The one side effect that I both dreaded and anticipated with my switch to Erbitux was the infamous acne-like rash it is known for. Having battled my skin throughout adulthood, one doesn't look forward to getting out-of-control acne in the many places it might appear. It gave me another reason to love winter, as I enter my 6 weeks in Rashville during the time of beanies and scarves. The catch here, or so I hear, is that you want the rash. Apparently it's a sign that the drug is actually working - so welcome you pimply pustules.

I say 6 weeks, as I've been assured by the infusion room pharmacist that the rash should only stick around for that long before crusting over and going away. I'm 2+ weeks in, and as expected, I woke up to a cluster of teenage angst on my chin before the first week was done. By evening my nose was erupting like an overcooked creme brûlée. There are no better words to describe what was happening to every pore available on my nose. I was told not to pop them, but asking me to not pop a pimple is like expecting me to walk past a bowl of M&Ms without dumping them all in my mouth at once.

Two weeks from my first pimple sighting and I'd say the rash is most evident on my chest. My nose has calmed considerably, my scalp hurts, and my nose and face is now plagued by dry, chapped skin that I like to coat in Aquaphor multiple times a day. I also give it a dose of vitamin E oil, and a few other treats at night when I get home. My pillow cases are well moisturized and probably ruined.

But over all a little rash and some intensely dry skin is easy to live with given that I get to feel so good. I met with my oncologist on Friday, and short of him seeing the radiating glow glistening off my greased up face, he could tell I was very pleased with my new regime.

12.06.2016

I Would Walk 500 Miles

Death is inevitable, and for those of us in the metastatic cancer world, it might be a little more inevitable than for others. Not that any one of us can't walk out the front door today and get hit by a bus, but I think people with cancer take a far longer look at mortality than the average Joe.

Working in the cancer world has brought some of the most amazing people across my path. I've gotten to know, and if fortunate, meet people that knock my skinny jeans right off of me. These are people that don't have the years or rounds of treatment under their belt that I have, but wake up every day with greater challenges than I have ever known on this path.

My dear friend Marvin once casually asked me what type of pain meds I took. Mildly confused, I told him I didn't own any, but I guess I would buy Advil if I needed it. What he quickly made me understand was that he wasn't asking what I took to get rid of the occasional caffeine headache, but to deal with the pain caused by my cancer.

Huh?

I felt guilty having to tell him that I'd never had any pain.

It never occurred to me that some of these people that surround me weren't totally like me. They didn't get up everyday and have to remind themselves that they happen to have cancer while running around like the Energizer Bunny. They get up every day and are reminded by their own bodies that they have cancer. I don't have to put on a brave face, as I don't feel like I'm doing anything that requires bravery. But to get up everyday and constantly be reminded by your own body that there is something evil inside making everyday moments miserable - that takes guts.

As enriched and blessed as I have been to have met my people, there is that horrible downside. Many are on a path far steeper than my own, and I often times don't even realize it.

I've had to grieve the news of yet another friend whose death came as a complete shock. We met through Facebook, and it didn't take long for us both to realize that we were avid lovers of fresh air, mind-clearing walks, the power of the great outdoors, and our FitBits. Weekly I'd expect a FitBit challenge from him, usually to see who could get the most steps in each week. Given that we were both on active treatment, it was nice to find someone like myself who possessed the willpower to push the fatigue aside to hit the open road.

We'd often swap photos from our walks and hikes - him comparing the rural Pacific Northwest to my urban trails of Minneapolis. Though half a country apart, I always felt like I had a hiking companion right beside me as I ventured out solo on the trails.

When I left the metastatic colorectal cancer conference in Arizona last month, I hugged people knowing I may not see them ever again. That's just the reality of this world, and the price you have to pay to be in it. But when I hugged him, I never imagined it would be both our first and last time meeting. We immediately started discussing plans to see each other again in the spring at another conference - a conversation that continued into the next week.

As I type this, it's been a week since he passed. I've been monitoring my list of friends on my FitBit app, and watched as his step count has slowly declined. I know I will look soon enough and he won't be there. This is his end of watch.

I had the privilege of attending his funeral over the weekend, and though I was only there for an hour, I know it did wonders for my soul to attend and to hug his wife. During the service someone mentioned him walking despite the pain, and it further impressed me to know one more person who silently suffered for the sake of inspiring others. He never complained or mentioned pain to me, but he was always right there to walk with me and push others forward.