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Monday, November 1

Luck is in the heart of the beholden.

Now, where were we?

It was August and I was doing the Elmwood show, hoping to make enough money so that our annual trip across the country would be a good one. It was and it was.

Well, for a bit, anyway.

This is gonna be a long one, get refreshments.

Our rental in Oregon was a contemporary flat with an open floor plan, floods of sunlight and a good kitchen (always important to me) and a big cozy bed. We reunited with the kids, planned a birthday party for our 3 year old grandson. I made big pots of spaghetti and huge salads for everyone and we sat around the table and laughed and ate and drank. We would take residence at the beach house the next week and we were all really excited.

But when the birthday party came, a couple of days later, I was barely able to get the food done before I had to excuse myself and take to that big cozy bed. I listened to the party happening from behind the closed door and wondered what was wrong. Truth be told, I hadn't felt well for a while, but I didn't want to spoil our vacation. It could wait. Not.

The next sentence is not for the queasy:

The next day, trying valiantly to soldier on, my body rebelled and, trying to keep the flat's furniture unsoiled, I aspirated vomit into both lungs.

Within an hour or so, my ability to breathe was so compromised that Russell rushed me to the emergency room. I could only manage teeny bits of air and I could not talk at all. An odd calm came over me. I focused on the road, on seeing the lights of the hospital come into view, on the wheelchair that magically appeared, on the immediate admittance to a treatment room, on the bustle of the uniforms around me, on the different masks that were pressed to my face to force air and blessed oxygen into my lungs.

After that, no matter what happened, I would accept it with equanimity and calm. The gift of breath had changed me in some immeasurable way that I have been looking to describe ever since.

This, of course, is not the story. Except to tell you that the staff told Russell he had gotten me there just in time. Another 20 minutes, and there would have been a much different outcome. They might not have been able to save me.

So, I was lucky. Very lucky.

Of course, the doctors now needed to find out what had caused me to be so sick. There were tests, a CAT scan, a tube in my nose, in my bladder, in my arms. I hummed complacently. Waiting.

The kind-eyed doctor told me there was a blockage. It might be Krohns, it might be scar tissue, it might be...."cancer?" I asked.

Most likely, he answered, but survivable. Survivable, he repeated.

OK, I said calmly.

It was cancer, of course. But he leaned over me in recovery and told me that he had removed it all and that from what he could see while playing around in there, there was no more. It would depend on the lymph nodes.

Lucky once again.

And then so many staff asked us over the next few days how we had managed to get that surgeon and it turns out he is their best, people wait months to get him. He is never in the ER, but that night he was. He took an interest in my case for some reason and signed on to do the surgery.


Because of where the blockage was and how he was able to remove it, I was spared needing a colostomy bag.

So lucky.

There was no pain after surgery, I had an epidural for a few days. By the time they took it out, it was over. They stood by with Vicodin, but I never needed it.

I will skim past the next six days except to report that because I had no appetite for a while (I was hungry but the meds made food taste like metal shavings or something)and they were insisting I ingest something, I opted for a container of chocolate milk that was so sweet and soothing and lush I have craved it ever since. The obsession has been calming down a bit, but I still keep a half gallon of low fat chocolate in the fridge. It comforts me.

And during those days I was kept company by my Russell, of course. He even slept in a chair by my bed during the worst of it. But I was also blessed by seeing the children several times. They smiled at me and joked and I could see the worry behind the smiles and I felt loved. Some friends we usually see once a year but who live in our hearts daily, came by, sat and chatted. The phone rang and rang. My family, Russell's family, friends. Phone lines carrying concern and love, warming me. Russell's family sent a generous gift to make sure we stopped often enough at the right kinds of hotel on the journey home.

My son hopped a plane literally hours after hearing the news and he stayed with me a few days, asking all the right questions of the doctors and using the correct terminology so that even if he got the answer right in front of me I had no clue what had been said. At first I had not wanted him to come. I would be OK. I didn't want to bother him. But having him there, my sonshine, brought me such joy.

In contrast, the sweet older lady next to me couldn't rouse anyone to just bring her some clothes to go home in. I still think about her.

And it reminds me how lucky I am.

So, as it turns out, there were lymph nodes affected and I would want chemo, the surgeon said. I was "too young" to skip it. I glowed under the mantle of "too young" for a bit. And tried not to worry. He asked again where I lived. A lot of folks in the Pacific Northwest respond to the info that you are from New York as if you had said "the 4th ring of Saturn". Not this doctor. He smiled and said "Buffalo! Roswell!" and I smiled back. Yes, Roswell.


Then it was time to go home. And home was 3000 miles away. I was 6 days post-op with a stapled together zipper up my belly that spanned from above the belly button to lower than a bikini bottom would start. (Like I would even know where that was. Pfft.) At this point I had only walked with a PT guy holding onto a woven belt that he had strapped across my chest. He followed behind me as if he was walking a chubby llama in hospital garb that might bolt at any minute. But we navigated the nurse's station and the next day I walked up 4 stairs and he was glowing with accomplishment. "where do you live again?" he asked. And he paled at the response.

But home we went. To test my ability to be safe outside the warm cocoon of Good Samaritan Hospital, we only traveled to Portland that first day. Our dear buddy, Linda, offered her guest room and veggie lasagna and off we went.

But first, we stopped at WalMart. I had to. I needed sweat pants with a loose waist to pull up over my zipper. And slip-on shoes. Picture this. Jammie pants with a torn bottom and stains from the ordeal, an oversized Sabres Jersey, slipper socks from the hospital because my feet were too swollen for shoes, multi colored wrist bands I had forgotten I was wearing, a borrowed cane that was spray painted gold and had skateboard logos on it that looked slightly sinister, hair that hadn't been washed in over a week.

And nobody in WalMart looked at me twice.

Once I was outfitted, we continued on, slowly, minding the bumps in the road, the seat belt fastened over a pillow resting on my zipper. Quincy was safely penned behind a travel gate, taking up the entire 3rd row of seats. Whenever Russell expressed sadness at the dog's exile, I reminded him that the dog had considerably more room than I.

Linda's Portland condo was warm and welcoming and cozy. The lasagna was stellar. I made it up an entire flight of stairs without a problem and settled into her lush guest bed and welcomed sleep without beeps or 4am wake-ups for blood pressure checks. We had a lazy breakfast and take-off and I was relaxed, knowing we could do it.

How lucky to have such a friend.

So, off we went, Cross country in a few more days than normal. Seat belt fastened over the pillow. We tried to stop early every night because I found that too many hours in the car made me tired and uncomfortable.
Russell was my dresser and aide, running for anything I needed, tending to my zipper, helping me get around. I do wish, though, that I had video of him valiantly to get the surgical stockings on my swollen legs. Priceless. Luckily that swelling thing didn't last long. After a couple of days, food started to taste good again and we made a Herculean effort to find restaurants along the interstate that served healthy food. That was a futile exercise, but we did find out that Denny's has two for one specials on Thursday for us geezers.

I looked at him over our Senior grilled cheese and tomato soup and wondered at how I got so lucky.

No, not lucky. Blessed. Mightily blessed.

Almost home, but first a stop in Ann Arbor to stay a couple of days with my boy and his fiance. I was feeling almost normal by then and so we went out for lunch with Leisha followed by grocery shopping and then I made dinner for us all. Cooking makes me feel like all is right with the world, and while we sat and ate and talked and laughed at the dogs trying every trick they knew to get us to drop something, it felt that way. Like nothing was wrong. I watched the love flow between them and it filled me with joy. They had waited a dozen years to come back together and here they were, in their cozy MIchigan home, planning an August wedding.

Grace surrounded us all that night.

But reality waited. Home. Doctors. Scans. Tests. Odds. Answers. Questions. Fear. Optimism. Resignation. Defiance. Hope. I wanted to never get there. I wanted to get there now. I wanted to know. I never wanted to know.

First stop was my Mom's house. She needed to see me, touch me, know I was well. My brother and his wife came and he hugged me tight and kissed and kissed me. We were all happy to be in each other's company.

I called Roswell the next morning and they made me an appointment. A month away. I was floored. But they had volumes of info, DVD's, reports, probably my permanent record from Junior High. They knew what they were doing.

I tried to use the 4 weeks to refresh and relax. I found it hard to plan for my upcoming shows because everything after October 24th was a huge, black, throbbing question mark that I couldn't see past. I had an appointment with my regular Dr and he unstapled my zipper, thank you very much, and pronounced me healthy and strong. He was advising me on diet and when he heard that we already ate that way (vegetarian except for fish, in love with broccoli and spinach, etc) he remarked that was "probably why the tumor didn't
take off".

I replayed that phrase in my head a lot. A lot. It didn't take off. :)

Finally the first appointment came and it was OK, actually. Not too much poking and prodding, mostly conversation. A kindly, soft-spoken Oncologist and his equally charming partner. There would be chemo because without it this cancer recurs in 70% after 5 years. WIth it, Less than 30. Considering our diet, less than that. OK then. I pondered whether I would get a short wig or go glam.

Then he said that this chemo has few side effects. No hair loss. Probably no nausea but they would give me a prescription to have on hand just in case. The worst would be sensitivity to the cold.


Now I'm wondering when this amazing run of luck would run out and he said I would go up for a scan, dye would be injected. Cancer cells would glow. If they found anything in the organs (God forbid, he whispered) they would adjust the treatment. Aha, I thought. This is it. The moment I overdraw the Karma bank.

So, I was dyed and scanned and handed my chemo schedule and sent on my way. As if I had been there for a mani/pedi.

And, finally, we are at today. If you are still with me, that is.

First was a short visit to my clinic for a look over before chemo.

I handed over my schedule and the nurse asked if anyone had gone over my scan report with me. No. So, that's why you're here, she said and I felt my gut clench and my foot started tapping.

After waiting in silence except for the thrumming in my ears, Karen came in. A sweet, caring PA who explained to me that if they did a scan on HER right now they would find odd little lumps and bumps and scars and oddities that would be of no concern at all. And then she said that my scan was like that. Nothing untoward. A scar on my kidney probably really old. Nothing.

I felt the huge balloon that had been crowding my gut deflate and life became real again.

They say some people, when faced with a serious illness, cry "why me?" I never felt that. Why NOT me?

But this. This run of blessings has me asking why I was gifted with so much luck. I look around at some of the other people in this Hospital and ...well, you know.

The journey is not over. Anything can happen. I know that. But right now, this chilly Autumn night is filled with hope and grace and gratitude.

And that is where I have been.

This is not going to be a cancer blog. We shall return to our regularly scheduled meanderings. Illness will be in the footnotes, not the topic.

I am getting ready for 2 Christmas shows in the next 3 weeks and then we are having Thanksgiving with the family of my future daughter-in-law so that we can all get to know each other. And then another show.

The next few entries will be about that and about my visit to Hollanders in Ann Arbor. Mecca for book artists. Gorgeous papers, tools, books about books. I may have made a fool of myself there but I was prepared to reveal my zipper if anyone questioned my sanity.

Funny thing about u-turns. While you're reversing direction, you might notice some things that you missed while driving headlong straight away. Things you knew were there, but they blur in the periphery of what you thought was important.

I have been turned around, made to look and to say thank you. For all of it. For all of them.


Whimsical Creations said...

My oh my! You have been through so much!! Great big hugs and prayers!!

Peg Cherre said...

Pat, you are truly one amazing woman. Have you been blessed? Yes, but I'm sure it's all incredibly well deserved. The kindness and generosity you've shown me is surely how you deal with others on a regular basis.

I look forward to seeing you in a few weeks, and giving you a big hug.


betty said...

I am so relieved to read this blog post. I am sorry for what you have been going through, but happy to hear it is now going so well. Glad to see you back- I have missed your posts. I love your attitude!!

BlissBeader said...

Pat, your post is beautiful.You're an inspiration. I'm happy to have been able to give you a big hug in person yesterday.

JudyOlson said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I have missed you and I'm happy you are back. As Betty said, "I love your attitude!" SO inspirational. You help light up this sometimes very dark world.

Jolene said...

Thrilled to see you back here, you beautiful capable caring woman of substance you!

Stefani said...

Oh Pat, I'm so happy that I'm getting to know you. You're so smart and wise and talented and funny. I like you and I wish nothing but the best for you. This was a great entry (once I stopped holding my breath). Well written!

Louise's Son-in-law said...

Brings back memories! There does seem to be pretty normal life after! All our love to you both. Hope to see you again soon!

Terry said...

I am so glad you are back, you have a wonderfull attitude and I have missed your posts. Can't wait to see you.. Terry