Friday, July 30, 2010

If you can live in it….

The oral chemotherapy drugs that our son will be taking within the next few weeks arrived at the house on Wednesday from the specialty pharmacy in St Louis.

The instructions are very specific that the drugs are to be kept away from light... and heat... and in a dry place.

We can do “away from the light,” and possibly “dry,” but “cool” is a bit harder.

We do not have air conditioning in our house.

I will pause here briefly for outpourings of sympathy from those who might understand the implications of summer in the lower Midwest of the United States without air conditioning.

The fruit cellar attached to the walk-in basement is a bit cooler, but even that is not very cool.

So, I thought I better call the pharmacy and find out if I was supposed to store the drugs in the refrigerator.

Now I have a habit sometimes of startling people by laughing when they are not expecting it. I am sure the very nice man I spoke to in St Louis was not expecting a barrage of laughter when he said, “If you can stand living in the house, the pills can stand the heat. Don’t put them in the refrigerator.”

We used to stand it much than we are standing it now – I guess that’s yet another drawback of getting older. My beloved really does need to move installing the air conditioners that are sitting in boxes in the garage to the top of the list.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Goin’ fishin’

It is not always possible for us humans to live in peaceful coexistence with the flora and fauna who want to share our space. It has everything to do with picking your battle and where the line in the sand will be drawn. Some people fight with dandelions in their lawn. I could care less about dandelions, but we do carry on a relentless battle against Japanese honeysuckle, multiflora rose, and poison ivy.

We have not done anything about the little bat that shows up every other day just as the sun rises to hang at the top in the stairwell leading up from the garage to the second story of our house.

It does not seem to poop during the day while it is sleeping, so there is no pile on the floor under where it sleeps. It isn’t hurting anything. Why not let it hang there?

We are fairly tolerant of helpful insects (insects that eat other insects) that find their way indoors. We usually catch and release. We mostly let spiders hang around.

Even this spider.

The piece of wood it is next to is 4 inches wide. I was a bit astonished the first time I spotted it on the concrete blocks of our walk-in basement.

I had no clue what she was, but I was able to find a very nice group of people at Spider who were happy to tell me that this was an adult female Dolomedes tenebrosus, or a fishing spider.

Here she is eating a cricket. I probably would not have allowed her to live in the house with us, but she is OK in the basement.

I think perhaps she has indeed lived up to her name and "gone fishing" because I have not seen her around for several days now.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Can you hear me now?

Something rather funny happened yesterday just as I set out with our son on the 90-mile drive to Springfield to hear what the oncologist had to say

and be checked by the surgeon who removed the 12-cm tumor from his armpit on Monday.

Perhaps it wasn’t really that funny, but something about it just tickled me and I found myself giggling at odd moments for most of the day. Right now in fact, as I write this. He is sitting on the couch “What are you laughing at, Mom....”

We were supposed to leave a 9 a.m. but I told him we needed to leave a few minutes early so I could fill up the car with gas. We have sent off an application to the American Cancer Society for a gas card, but in the meantime, we’re using the green stuff.

Anyway, he got in the car and put on the headphones and fired up the portable CD player he takes with him on these long trips so he can listen to his bagpipe music. Before I turned on the radio, I could hear the music coming from the headphones – one of my favorites, in fact, Scotland the Brave. As I was coasting down the driveway, he begins to shout:


I turned to look at him, a bit startled.

In town, I guess – either at Caseys or Hocker Oil....


I realized then that he couldn’t hear his own voice and he had no idea he was shouting. Like I said, it probably wasn’t that funny, but the laughter came flooding out like water pouring through a hole in the dike.

And as it happened, gas was not cheaper at Mountain Grove – at least not at the stations along the highway.

And it also happened that the oncologist surprised us by telling us there is a drug that may be able to help stop the melanoma coming back in his brain, a drug that is very well tolerated, and he will begin oral chemotherapy with this drug in about 3 weeks. So, I definitely had something to laugh about on the way home.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sprouting unexpectedly

I used to sprout mixtures of seeds (alfalfa, clover, radish, fenugreek, etc.) for salad and sandwiches, and also the heftier mung beans for Asian recipes, in jars with wire mesh lids. For some reason, I gradually stopped sprouting the smaller seeds – and I have no idea why – and I eventually made dahl out of the mung beans.

Sunflower seeds were something I never thought about sprouting, but I did have a nice handful of sunflower sprouts the other day, thanks to...

these little stinkers. 

It seems they do not always take the sunflower seeds they have stuffed in their cheek pouches back to their burrows.

No indeed.

They bury the seeds. In this case, one of them buried the seeds in the lovely topsoil Richard spread to fill in the gaps behind his new decorative wall, right where I planted some tomatoes (which got a late start and are not very far along)...

 and the subsequent watering I gave the tomatoes caused the seeds to sprout.

Richard noticed them sprouting and so I pulled them up carefully and put them in a bowl with the tomatoes from the whiskey barrel garden

 and a drizzle of balsamic. Very tasty too.

I have had always had a hunch that at least some of the sunflower seeds they take away were being wasted. And I wasn’t wrong. But, they are so cute and provide so much entertainment – especially when two of them accidentally meet at the feeding station – that I don’t mind too much. Especially if I get something good to eat in the bargain.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


One expects that hair loss will occur as a result of chemotherapy. We were not exactly prepared that this would happen to our son as a result of radiotherapy, although now that I think about, it seems obvious that it would. If the purpose of the radiation is to kill any remaining cancer cells, hair follicles would likely be killed as well.

This picture was taken on the last day of June...

as we waited for his second radiation treatment.

On Saturday, about 2 weeks later, he brushed his hand through his hair...

and came away with clumps of it in his fingers.

More came out on Sunday.

By the time we walked into the hospital yesterday morning for his second operation, the bald patch on his head told the story of what was happening to him to all who saw it.

His hair continues to retreat. The surgery went well, and tomorrow, when he will be OK to drive again, I think I will suggest that he go to the barber in town and have what hair he has left shaved very close.

Monday, July 19, 2010

That thing with feathers...

Lines from the Emily Dickinson poem came to mind this week.

Hope is that thing with feathers
That perches in the soul...

It’s a lovely little poem. Unfortunately, the problem with things with feathers is that if they are not put in a cage, or locked in a room, or if a wing is not clipped, they have a habit of flying off.

We learned a valuable lesson this week about not trusting too much in the hope that men offer. We were hoping too much in a medical treatment that is not an option now, and for a moment we were left floundering. We didn’t know what to think or what to say, because the oncologist took away our hope.

A little while later, though, I happened to open the Psalms to these verses:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy...

I will wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope....

So, today as we head out to Springfield to wait while our boy undergoes another operation, we once again have hope...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Red all over...

Had something of a scare this morning... but it was just a scare.

Although my overall total cholesterol level is very good, the ratio of good cholesterol (HDL) to bad cholesterol (LDL) is very bad. To try to fix this, my health care provider put me on a regimen of niacin -- starting off at 250 mg once a day for about a month, then to 250 mg twice a day for about a month, and then 500 mg twice a day.

I was tolerating the 250 mg at breakfast and at dinner fairly well -- just a bit of flushing in the face, but not bad at all. Yesterday I began the 500 mg twice daily -- but I spread it out over four doses during the day. Again, not a problem.

This morning I took two 250-mg capsules at breakfast at 7:30, and within an hour I was sporting a prickly, blotchy red rash on my arms and my knees. By the time I arrived at church at 10 am, it was just about gone -- fortunately.

I think perhaps I will not be taking 500 mg of niacin at once any more.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Spider, spider on the wall…

For about a week, a large Daddy Long-Legs spider had staked out a spot on our bathroom wall and was there every day for most of the day. Richard decided we needed to put a 6-inch ruler next to it for scale. So we did, and I was amused when it moved one of its legs to investigate.

I am not sure what it was up to, but we left it alone, mainly because anything that might be willing to feast on cockroaches is welcome in our house. At the moment, the cockroach invasion that began early in the Spring has been quashed, but there are so many of them outside that seem determined to come inside that we must be ever vigilant.

Some time ago there was a report on NPR about a company that makes over-the-counter pesticides for consumers to use in their homes. The company found that when they tried to market their brand of pesticide to eliminate cockroaches and ants in Minnesota, they were forced to redesign the package to emphasize the product’s ability to eliminate ants and downplay that it was also for cockroaches. Apparently in Minnesota, it is OK to have ants, the fact that someone needs a product to eliminate cockroaches is an embarrassment and people were not buying the product.

I once watched a blue-tailed skink scurry across our porch to gobble up a cockroach that was heading for the house, but it is not practical to invite blue-tailed skinks to come in the house.

I am not entirely sure how good of a cockroach catcher the Daddy Long-legs spider would be. One summer several years ago I was sitting on the couch with a bowl of whole cherries (a sister-in-law once sent me a delightful card that said “life is just a chair of bowlies”) my beloved had brought me from the store, and I was spitting the pits into an old pie tin next to me on the couch. All of a sudden, a Daddy Long-leg appeared over the edge of the cushion, walked across my lap, and headed straight for the pie tin. It looked to me like it was eating the bits of cherry left on the pits. I was dumbfounded.

And on an entirely different matter, when I was mulling over the title this post, I began reflecting back on my childhood, growing up in the 50s and being taken to see the full-length Walt Disney cartoons. Many of them had seriously sad and scary parts before the happy ending. Remember the dragon in Sleeping Beauty? Do I need to bring up what happened to poor little Dumbo? And Bambi? And the horrible witch in Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs  with her “Mirror, mirror, on the wall….?”

Were we somehow damaged by seeing these cartoons? Or was it actually a good thing that some of these cartoons had really sad and scary things in them? I dunno.

We saw Despicable Me last weekend, and no, it wasn’t exactly up to Pixar standards, but it was cute, it was funny, and we laughed and laughed, and had a good time. The theater was quite full of parents and grandparents and their children. There was a bit of suspense in the cartoon, but I don’t think anyone was scared. And I think it was a good thing.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Being prepared...

My Grandfather was very active in the Boy Scouts of America. I think he earned a Silver Beaver award. My Dad talked a lot about "being prepared" and often recited a variation of the Boy Scout promise in a funny sing-song voice "I promise to do my duty to God and my country..." and that we should always "be prepared."

Today we were not very prepared....

In the midst of pondering this sentence in a manuscript I am working on... 

In the setting of cardiomyocyte endomitosis, increased expression of survivin as a chromosomal passenger protein may be followed by enhanced formation of cyclinD1/cdk4 complexes because of the survivin-mediated abrogation of the inhibitory effect of p16INK4a on cdk4.

I am interrupted.... Richard comes rushing in. "Sue is at the door," he says and he begins frantically to put his regular shorts on. He runs around in his boxers (the fly is sewn up) most of the day in the summer, so there is really very little difference between them and a pair of cotton shorts, but they are still obviously underwear and he is ill prepared to greet visitors at the door.

 I am also wearing a pair of his boxers (also with the fly sewn up), but my t-shirt is long enough that only a few inches of the material is visible below the hem of the t-shirt.

Sue is indeed at the door, bearing gifts. She has bought a bag of pretzels and about 6 containers of yogurt for our son, who at the moment was sitting on the couch watching a comedy DVD on our mini-DVD player that Sue gave him on Sunday to cheer hm up.

Sue does not come in, because she has milk in the car and it is hot outside, so all of Richard's rushing around to make himself presentable, was for naught. I think I will suggest to him that he keep a pair of shorts in his office so he can quickly change.

It has been amazing to us how gracious and kind people are. One often does not have a chance to recognize depth of character in friends and associates until something happens to bring it out.

Another bit of good news today. The various health care providers that have taken care of our son are beginning to wonder about when they will be paid. I don't blame them. A very quick and not entirely accurate calculation shows his medical bills are at least at $150,000 and have probably sailed right on past that. He called the people who are shepherding his Medicaid claim about what he should do about this, and happened to mention that he had already been approved for Social Security. Suddenly that changed everything. So, we got busy faxing documents and she said he should automatically be approved for Medicaid and that the medical review process that is holding everything up can be stopped in its tracks.

To avoid turning this blog into an ongoing medical bulletin, I have created a page for him at Caring Bridge.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Odd moments with an odd person....

Betty is an odd little woman, who I am guessing is between 65 and 70 years old. She lives within walking distance, and when she first started coming to the church next to our house, about 20 years ago, I became friends with her and did my best to encourage her in her newly found faith. I spent a lot of time at her house. She also called on the phone frequently. I recall quite vividly one phone call when she was upset about the color of her urine. It was rather pale and this alarmed her. I had to reassure her that it was probably just because she had drank a lot of water.

For many years Betty lived in a an ongoing “rough patch”. Her adult children were frequently in major messes, and life with her husband was difficult. He was a chronic alcoholic, and she talked to me a lot about it. About her life and how hard it was living with his disease.

He drank a pint of flavored vodka on the way home from work every day and finished off a 6-pack or more of beer throughout the evening (a 12-pack on the weekends). I guess this was enough to self-medicate, but not enough to make it impossible for him to go to work. So, fortunately for her, he held on to his job for many years, long enough to retire, in fact. But he died last year at 67 of a variety of causes: he had emphysema from years of smoking, cirrhosis of the liver from years of drinking, and cancer of some sort.

We were all rather worried about Betty after he died, wondering if she would be all right once her husband was gone. Betty has always seemed a little “simple minded” to us. We were never sure if she is just a little “slow”, or if she is really very smart but simply uneducated  -- “ignorant” (but not stupid). She is a character, no doubt about it.

In the year and some since he died, it seems Betty is getting along just fine, thank you very much. She seems to be thriving. In fact, I would not be surprised if the death of her husband came as a great liberation for her in a sense.

On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday it is my turn to pick up the box mail at the post office because I am already in town for the aerobics class, and I always arrive at the post office at about 9 am. As it happens, Betty also arrives at the post office at about 9 am to pick up her mail.

Betty is a tiny, skinny little woman with a very loud voice. I am wondering what it is about older women who live alone -- whether widowed like she is or just "alone" like another woman who comes into the post office frequently and does the same thing: They become obsessed with getting their utility bills in the mail and then paying the bill.

I saw Betty every day this week.

On Monday, Betty grabbed my arm as we left the post office together, “WELL, HI THERE LEE AWNEE,” she bellows. (She has never pronounced my name correctly). And she goes on to tell me, with much enthusiasm, how her light bill was only $45 dollars even though she had run the central air. 

I smiled at her, trying to show some enthusiasm for the fact that her bill was only $45, how good it must make her feel to have enough income from her husband’s Social Security that she can live comfortably and pay her bills. Inside I am thinking about issues of life and death.

Then on Wednesday, there she was again. Again, she repeated to me about her electricity bill only being $45, and how she had teased the clerk at the counter about the bill was $180, and now she was fretting a bit about her cable bill, because it had not arrived. She laughs and says, "Well I guess I can't pay the bill if I don't have it," and she is just bubbling over with good cheer about these bills and paying them, and says, “Now you have a good day Lee awnee, and off she goes in her white pick-up truck.

And then a few minutes later, when I pulled into the parking lot at the local market, there she was getting out of her truck at the Dollar Store next door and hollering a greeting at a man she knew who was also going into the Dollar Store.

Again today I saw her at the post office. This time though she did not discuss her utility bills with me. She just greeted me, “You have a nice day now,” she says, and off she went.

We need like-minded people in our lives, kindred spirits to share common experiences, people who we can talk to and bounce ideas off of, and just enjoy ourselves.

And I think we also the Betty Churches of this world to challenge us... to keep us real... a measuring stick to see how well we are progressing in our daily walk, how well we respond to people who are different.... Another friend who also knows her says, “We need the Betty’s to remind us that dogs have fleas....”