Summer Days (by the phone)


It’s a lovely summer afternoon – the birds are singing the frogs are sunning and an enterprising chipmunk and squirrel are busy stripping my tomato plants on the deck of their promising green fruit.

Six weeks, six Taxol treatments done. Six more to go…

The weeks have fallen into a pattern of sorts and has been pretty quiet overall.

Angie has Monday, Wednesday and Friday appointments. Monday: fitness kinesiology and pool. Wednesday: physiotherapy and Friday: Sports injury massage. She is loving these outings. he has become an expert at coordinating her rides with the TransCollines service and is enjoying meeting a variety of local people who act as drivers. She saw her surgeon last Friday for another follow up. Her x-rays continue to show solid healing. He was delighted with her progress. Next follow up in three months. This was very affirming for her given how committed she’s been to working on her recovery.

For me, the main action is on Monday and Tuesday. Blood test and chemo. First thing Monday I present myself at the CLSC in Masham where Chantal, the nurse, takes my blood for the all-important pre-chemo check. She also changes my PICC line dressing and flushes the line. She’s found the dressing type and cleaner that works for my sensitive ‘peaches and cream’ skin. Iodine. Tried and true. That takes about thirty minutes. Then I come home and hover by the phone by the rest of the day – willing it NOT to ring. If my blood counts are too low, the hospital will ring to let me know that chemo can’t proceed, pending another blood test in the morning.

So far, the phone hasn’t rung over the last six weeks. But it’s getting to be a close-run thing, as my white blood count in particular has been going down like a slow leak in a bicycle tire.

In response, Angie and I have redoubled our efforts on ‘the broth’ – her in the making and me in the consuming.

We've become scientists in the production of gelatinous beef broth, the only kind that seems to have been associated with an increase or stabilization in my blood counts. Having juggled various large pots, we finally bought a proper, 16quart stock pot. When I checked around, I found out that one can spend $750 on an elaborate stock pot - or $59.98 (marked down from $159.98) for the utilitarian and humble model from Canadian Tire that now fills the gap in our pot collection. I’ve found it interesting to learn more about the types of bones (jointy, meaty and marrow) and the ideal ratio of bones to water along with various things like blanching and soaking. Angie does the actual making.

Last week – in response we like to think - my white blood count stabilized (still right on the threshold) and my hemoglobin and platelets went up which was a happy by-product. That said, we admit that the ‘broth thing’ is still a working hypothesis. With no guidance on how much of it to drink (except ‘lots’) its an imprecise science. However, its been interesting to observe Blood and Broth emerge as the main characters in my chemo story. No doubt it is also a landing spot, or displacement of our stress and worry about the cancer and treatment. Asking ‘did the broth gel’ is much easier than asking ‘is the chemo working’. And, if nothing else, it is a super-healthy food – as many people have affirmed with recollections and stories of their own

Tuesday is chemo-day. My appointment times vary (in theory) between 11.00AM and 12.30PM for about the three hours of action. I get weighed in and my blood pressure checked (it’s clocking over at 115/70) and then (eventually) get called to go upstairs to the chemo room – a large space divided into six bays each with about 6 lazy—boy style chairs. My infusion takes 2.5 hours. In practice, I always seem to finish around 4.30 or 5.00PM. The mix begins with Benadryl and Zantac and is followed by a steroid, Dexamethasone. One side causes drowsiness then, and the other, insomnia. Go figure. While that’s going on, I ponder Commissario Brunetti’s current murder or do a cryptic crossword. After a 30 minute wait, the Taxol goes in for an hour, during which time I’ll listen to music and will the chemo to do its’ work. As to which, we won’t know more until I have more scans done after completing chemo (by the end of August if I stay on schedule).

As I’ve become ‘a regular’ at chemo each week I’ve also started to notice others around me. Not everyone is doing as well as me. This is sobering. Some are new, having their first round of chemo. Seeing them takes me back to the first tumultuous frightening weeks of this experience. I feel so sorry that others (and there are many others) are also going through this. More prosaically, I’ve compared PICC line covers and dressings with other ‘veterans’. I’ve become familiar with the volunteers and nurses. I have an overall feeling of being well cared for in a tight, well-run system. I see the oncologist every three weeks and she thinks that things are proceeding well. I continue to be able to manage the side-effects (including a new set of skin spots/rash) and I’m grateful that I can do so and to have time and space from work. In fact, my work brain is firmly switched off, surprising me (and many others!)

Wednesday is a Very Slow Day. The chemo gives me rosy red cheeks but this fades by Friday. I try to pick up my walking again – I have a lovely 2.5km trail that takes me along the water and up a wooded path back to the road. I build in time to sit on our dock drinking in the beauty of the Gatineau River in its many moods. Angie is also back walking early mornings – almost up to her two hours/10 km and she is packing in lots of physio exercises at home in between her treatments. She is progressing by leaps and bounds, albeit on the millimeter scale. She is also back on meals. Thursday is broth making day. A measure of Angie’s progress is that she found a way to maneuver a full stock pot (7lbs of bones, tons of veggies and 8 quarts of water) from floor to stove last week while I was out an appointment). By Friday, following its’ 20-hour simmer, I’m back on the broth.

Shared activities along the way might include a visit to the Wakefield Farmers and Artisans Market, a visit from the kids, reading, or dinner with friends. Hanging out a home also allows us to see what simply goes on around us in the woods. One phenomenon has been ‘the crows and the fox’. Angie first noticed this and I’ve since seen it as well. If there is a huge ruckus of crow cawing that comes from a distance and continues through our property, it’s a sign that the fox is afoot, it’s chances of quietly sneaking up on dinner thoroughly thwarted. Said Fox has also been seen around the bird-feeder. As always, it has been fun to see mother ducks and their ducklings and even, as Angie reported, a tiny deer and her fawn (safely) crossing the road. The deer who have noshed on my just-producing bean plants and thinned the hostas, operates under cover of darkness, thereby sparing themselves the spectacle of a raving woman with the slightest layer of white fuzzy hair jumping up and down and waving her hands resplendent in dark blue nail polish. After one false start, we’ve found someone who can come each week to wrestle the overgrowth in the garden, along with some friends popping in with trowels in hand. It’s looking soothing and lovely (particularly from a distance). Volunteers still welcome.

The low white blood count has meant less time in groups and much care to avoid infection. It is also reaffirming the need for me to rest – a point I keep needing to learn. Grinding out ‘paperwork’ related to our situations has also required more time and attention than I’d expected. That said, last week, we had a lovely dinner ride on a friend’s pontoon boat. I was able to go up for an overnight at the godchildren’s cottage on 31 Mile Lake (and learned Nellie’s rules for Snap!). I’ve packed in a lot of weekend Golf Television as well. Helps to have the fabulous kiwi, Lydia Ko, and the amazing Canadian, Brooke Henderson often in contention on the LPGA. The taut weekend rounds between Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson in men’s British Open proved (despite popular opinion) that golf TV can be riveting! Angie continues her friendly rivalry on the mini-golf links with her pal Janice.

I’ve read one (last) World War I novel (the new book by Helen Simonson, The Summer Before the War) with its predictable horror and heartbreak. I didn’t mean to read it – I literally thought it was about the summer before the war and I’d liked her first book, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand). I’ve had a long-term attraction to WW1 – novels and poetry. Likely because of the silent but lingering ghosts from my grandfather having been a baker in one of the NZ Battalions in France. However, having read through all of Pat Barker on WWI and various other novels over the years and now hitting this one, I think I’m finally done with that strand of literary trauma. Lots of alternatives on my bulging bookcase.

Well, it is the end of the day, Monday. No call. We will see what numbers tomorrow brings. Meanwhile I’ll look forward to stroking off one more Taxol on my blackboard grid. Then it will be only five more to go!

We hope that your summer is going well. We’d love to hear your news or musings.

With our love,

Ps. Cute or varmint?

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About Us

On January 22, 2016 I went for a mammogram, to confirm that a lump in my right breast was a cyst. It was. And it saved my life. Because I was overdue for my breast screening, imaging was also done on my left breast  The mammogram and ultrasound came back “highly suspicious” for breast cancer...

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