Sunday, January 29, 2012


Rockhound Park, New Mexico
Rockhound State Park, Deming, New Mexico

I thoroughly enjoyed my drive across New Mexico yesterday.  It was cool, but the sky was clear and the sun, warm.  The views were breathtaking.  I felt privileged to be allowed to enjoy the beauty of the day.  I enjoyed it even more because I knew my days of freedom are numbered - for now.

I found this little state park near Las Cruces by using the very selective method of choosing one that actually had a spot available on a Saturday night that also happened to be on my route to Arizona.  I wasn't disappointed.  As I turned off the main road, a road runner crossed my path.  I took that as a good sign  (I don't know why I was surprised to see they're smaller than the guy in the cartoons - like I thought Wil E. Coyote was a reality show?)

They had a lovely 2.5 mile hiking trail.  Visitors to the park are allowed to take up to fifteen pounds of rock back out of the park with them, but I'll admit I didn't look very closely for rocks.  I figured the trails were pretty much picked over long before I arrived.  The ground off the trails had lots of cacti and spiny undergrowth that looked like perfect snake habitat.  My hiking shoes are not boots, and I've never heard of rattlers having any problems biting through blue jeans.  So, I let the snakes keep their pretty rocks, and I stuck to the trails.

Sunset, Rockhound Park
It was enough for me.  I walked alone in the silence, the only sound that of my boots crunching overly loudly on the gravel.  The hills around were almost bare; piles of dirt and rock carelessly left here and there around the valley.  It would scare me to try to live in a place so hostile; I wondered anew at the courage of those who first settled the land.

Shortly after I returned to the camper, I got to watch the sun set.  God Is, indeed.  As day turned to night I could clearly see the twinkle of the lights scattered across the valley, mirroring the lights from above.  Some were miles away, none were close enough to mar the illusion of an earthbound star field.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "It has to be dark before you can see the stars."  I know I have some dark days coming.  I know I will find stars there.

Friday, January 27, 2012

State of Denial

Endless Sky, New Mexico
My oncologist called today; the last of the test results have come in and he wanted to discuss treatment options with me.  He asked me if I wanted to come in for a meeting, or if I felt comfortable discussing it on the phone.  I told him that since I was in the middle of New Mexico, I thought perhaps a phone consultation would be best. 

He sounded a bit surprised to hear where I was.  (I guess his staff hadn't talked with him - I DID check with them before I left...)  Apparently most newly diagnosed cancer patients don't take off for the two weeks between appointments and surgery.  Although I'll bet they would if they could.

The final decision on treatment is that I will have a bi-lateral mastectomy done; the surgery is still set for 2/15.  We won't know more about further treatment until after the surgery is complete and the pathology of the tumor is known.  And now on to the interesting part of my week.

I left Kansas City yesterday, and drove through most of Kansas, taking 54, which runs on a diagonal through the state.  The problem with the route I took is that there are no good places to stop in the Flint Hills to take pictures.  And the RV parks are few and far between.  For this first time in the camper van, I ended up spending the night at a truck stop in Meade, Kansas.  It wasn't bad - the noise of the trucks rumbling reminded me of riding home at night after family gatherings up in Browerville in the back of the station wagon as a kid.  I drifted right off to sleep.

I was up bright and early, with the trucks pulling out.  I decided not to take advantage of the breakfast at the local cafe - I'm sure it would have been a carboholic's feast, but it would have sent me straight into a carb coma, and I wouldn't have hit the road until after noon.  I spent a good part of the day driving - I cut across the Oklahoma, the panhandle of Texas, and through New Mexico to Albuquerque.

A few years back, I discovered I could get into the beauty of the plains.  It was windy today, so I got to see a lot of tumbleweeds on their way from where to there.  It made me sad to see so many of them get snagged on the fence that bordered much of the east side of the road.  I wanted to set them free!  Early on, I saw a wolf loping across the road.  (It wasn't a dog, and was too big to be a coyote, so wolf is my best guess.)  He was making good time on his way to whatever appointment he needed to keep.

I was struck by the difference between my drive today and those I'd done just before getting off the road in December.  Out east, if you drive more than two or three hours, you'll miss a beautiful someplace.  Out here, if you drive for two to three hours, you've just gone from nowhere to nowhere else.  The distances are long, the sky stretches to the horizons.  It is a different beauty, one that calls to trucks that can cover the distance and haul the loads.  Not much room for econo-cars out on the plains.

It's a good place to be alone with your thoughts, especially if you have a lot of thoughts that need thinking, as I have these days.  The drives these last few days were long, yes.  But they gave me the room I needed to settle some things in my head. 

Stop.  Breathe.  Relax.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Apartment? Check!

Missouri Winter, Jan 2012
I can't believe it's been less than a month since Christmas.  My whole world's turned topsy-turvy since then!

Cancer?  check.    ** sigh **
Apartment?  Check.
Job?  Check.  (I didn't want to say anything until I had the papers in hand)
Car?  Not yet.  I can only handle making so many decisions at once.

so many changes, all at once.  my head is spinning.

On the morning of the same day I had my mammogram, I had a job interview.  It went well, and I left there with a handshake agreement that the job was mine.  Then came the bombshell effect of the afternoon and the seemingly endless wait to hear the results of the biopsy.

On hearing it was, indeed, cancer, I called back the school where I'd interviewed.  I told her I had additional information.  I was still excited to work there, but I needed to let her know that I would be missing a lot of days of work this year due to sick time.  I wanted to give her a chance to change her mind about hiring me, and begin the interview process anew.

Instead of putting me aside, she thought for a minute and said, "Life happens to all of us.  I still want you to work here.  We will work with you through your illness; things like this are easier to get through if you have a team behind you."

It was the only time I cried on the day I got the news.

The contract arrived in the mail a couple of days ago - I'll be starting as Director of Information Technology at a local high school in mid-March (assuming all goes well with my recovery from surgery).  I'll have an eleven month work year - this will give me a month each year to complete my camper van trip.  It'll take longer this way, but I will be able to get 'er done!

Given that I'll be in town for a while I decided I needed to find an apartment.  I looked at a few online, drove around to get a feel for places, wasn't having much luck finding a place I could settle into.  Then, I called the real estate agent who brought the buyers for my house.  I knew her group worked a lot with leases in the condo market in the area.  Sure enough, the first place she showed me was great.  It needed a good cleaning job and a coat of paint, but the space was perfect for what I need for this next year.

After some negotiation, I signed the lease on Saturday.  I'll move in after my two week break from reality, and before my surgery on the 15th.  I spent Sunday and Monday painting and cleaning, with some help from one of Joe's friends.  It's a one bedroom condo with a fireplace and whirlpool tub.  It has a small balcony and lots of big windows.  I've always wanted to try condo living - this will be my chance to see if I like it!

I'm so glad I'll get to hit the road for a few weeks before my scheduled car wreck.  It'll give me a chance to properly say good-bye to my much-loved life of freedom on the road.  It was beautiful while it lasted - and I thank God I got to experience it at all, even if it did end too soon.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

We Interrupt Your Detour...

Missouri Sunset, Jan 2012
We are sorry for any irrational joy this may cause, but we are interrupting your detour for a short return to your camper van trip.

I met with the oncologist yesterday - he isn't planning to plan anything until the pathology is available, and that won't be until after surgery is complete.

The test results I was waiting on came back as inconclusive, so they're running the test again, using a more comprehensive version of it.  Those results won't be available for another week and a bit, but they had no problem with the concept of a phone consultation instead of my showing up at the office.

The last appointment I have scheduled is a pre-op meeting with the surgeon's team next Wednesday.  I checked with everyone I can think of, and they said they don't need to see me between then and a few days before surgery, as long as I promise to answer my phone should questions come up in the interim, so...

Hasta la vista, baby!  I am SO outta here.

I figure that gives me two weeks to climb back into the van and head to the southwest.  It's probably best for my relationships with family and friends that I go.  I'm already climbing the walls - I can't imagine I'll get any better as time goes on.  Time in the van, driving, thinking, stopping, breathing, space to come to terms with the changes to come as best I can; sounds like what the doctors would order for everyone if they could.  (They were MOST supportive of my plan...)

My favorite was the oncologist.  I asked if there was any reason I shouldn't hit the road, and he thought for a minute, then asked, "Do you have enough money?  Is your transportation in good order?  Yes?  Well, then, no, I can't think of a reason you shouldn't go."


Thursday, January 19, 2012


I obviously didn't give my options enough thought before meeting with the plastic surgeon yesterday.

Bigger, smaller?  Saline, silicone, or via natural tissue transplants from other spots on my body?  The details of the gyrations required to recreate these things makes me shudder, but I'll get over it.  really.  (I took the girls for granted all these years.  They're really quite an engineering marvel!)

I was boring, and told him I'd just like to recreate what I have today, but last night as I was tossing and turning and trying to fall asleep, my mind kept wandering.  I'll likely lose some weight with this thing, perhaps the tiny Twiggy look?  Hmmmm...  How about major centerfold-like bazoombas?  The mental images, most of them exaggerated to the point of absurd, kept me awake for some time - I couldn't quit laughing.

Sometimes, boring is best.  Especially when you get to perk things up a bit, if you know what I mean.

I liked the surgeon - and one of my good friends was able to join me at the appointment, so I have someone to check back with when I can't remember all he told me.  His nurse showed us some pictures of his past work.  If he can do for me what he did for them, I will be a happy woman.

I have a date for my surgery (my mind keep insisting on inserting car wreck into this blank).

February 15th.

I will most probably stay in the hospital overnight, and be released to the tender care of my friends the following day.  I'll leave the hospital with drainage tubes and the beginnings of my new girls already in place.  The tubes stay in place for two weeks.  (Fortunately for the finer sensibilities of those around me, I can shower after 48 hours.)  The entire process will take 6-8 months; the time is needed for my body to adjust to the changes.

Tomorrow, I talk to the medical onocologist team, to begin to flesh out the rest of the story.  Still waiting on the results of assorted tests before any final decisions can be made.

P.S.  The kitten didn't quite pass muster at the vet's - he has feline leukemia.  But then he started purring at us again, and his new owner is going to give him another chance.  (The disease may or may not cause him troubles personally; it just means he will live his life in isolation so he can't pass it on to other cats.)  He left the vet's with the worst of the mats cut out of his fur, dewormed and on antibiotics.  If his diarrhea clears up in the next week, and he's able to put on and keep on some weight, he's got a good chance to make it.  The report from his new home last night says he's on the mend.  I'm sure he thinks the good spirits have entered his life.  Warm, fed, secure, worst of the matted fur cut out, nasty bugs on the run, able to sleep without fear of attack.  Life is Good!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Free to a Good Home
Fortunately, I've had the kitten in this picture to distract me a bit.  I certainly can't dwell full time on my fears with him outside waiting for another chunk of chicken.  Besides, taking care of him is a great way to honor Martin Luther King Jr.: 

"Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way."

He first showed up the day before yesterday - I found him when I went outside to see what was scaring the birds away from the feeder.

He's half-grown, half-starving - and quite affectionate.  His fur is badly matted, and he has worms.  All that, and assuming he passes muster at the vet's tomorrow, I've found him a home.  I have great friends, even if they're not always overly practical.  (I really wanted to keep him, but my allergies won't allow me to keep a long-haired cat.)  If he doesn't pass muster - well, at least he won't die of starvation and sickness alone out in the cold...

I'll see the plastic surgeon tomorrow afternoon - find out a bit more about what the reconstruction will entail.  I meet the medical oncologist on Friday - we'll begin to map out a plan.  But Thursday's meeting with the breast surgeon was cancelled - since the MRI contained no nasty surprises lurking, there's really nothing more for us to talk about until the results of the rest of the tests come in - and that may well take until early next week.

I'm doing well for the most part, but this waiting is killing me.  I feel almost as if I have an appointment for a car wreck scheduled.  Please show up on time and in your favorite car.  It'll hurt just a bit, but I promise, it's all in your long term best interests.  We'll get those dents hammered back out in no time - and you should see what we can do with Bondo these days!

I mean, come on.  If we're going to do it, can't we just DO IT?!?!?! 

No, logic has nothing to do with this.  No, I don't really care to proceed until I have the best information gathered.  And no, I definitely don't want to have to go back to surgery because we jumped the gun, and didn't wait until all the ducks were safely lined up.  But, still!

As my mother always told me, "Patience is a virtue."  Still working on it, Mom.  Still not a stellar example of the virtue.   **sigh**

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I'm Angry Now (and Scared)

Winter Beauty, Jan 2012
Or, at least I was at 4:00 this morning.

The problem was that there's really nothing besides Asmodeus to focus my anger on, and I wanted something external.  Preferably something I could punch.

But I can't be mad at me - I certainly didn't cause this mess.  I can't be mad at my mother - who knew?  I can't be mad at the doctors - they've been wonderful thus far, and are working hard and quickly to pull a team together that will pull me through this.  And I'm certainly not mad at my friends - you all are THERE!

So, who do I hit?  Before this detour plunked itself smack dab into my path, I was having the time of my life.  I mean, if it HAD to happen, it could have waited another six months, don't you think?  What was so important about me being sick that it couldn't have waited until I finished touring the west coast?
** Harumph **

Really, I think, under the anger, I'm mostly scared.

Usually, when people go in for surgery, they're already in pain, and the surgery is the first step in getting the pain to go away.  That isn't the case here.  Except for the lump, which doesn't hurt, I feel fine. 

I know that sometime in the few weeks, I'll present myself to the hospital, properly fasted and without benefit of my morning caffeine, to be put under, then cut open.  Once the operation is over, it'll be several months before I feel this good again.

It's hard to convince me it's all in a good cause.  Even though I know better, I have to admit it - I REALLY want to cut and run here.  Logic has nothing on a good dose of fight-or-flight adrenaline coursing through the veins, and mine's been screaming for flight for a good week now.  I guess I can hope I'm running out of the stuff, and perhaps by the time they're ready to move ahead I'll be too tired to think about anything but getting through it to the other side.

The path ahead is hard.  And I don't like to do hard things.
Ah, well.  At least, at the other end of it, there will be lattes again.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Winter Geese, Gallatin, MO
You all have been calling me courageous, but I sure didn't feel that way earlier today.  Mostly, I felt cold, very cold.

The MRI tech forgot to put a blanket on me before we started, and I was too busy breathing and trying not to panic (I'm not fond of small spaces) to notice until about ten minutes into the procedure.  By then, it was too late - if I had moved, we'd have had to start the whole darn thing over again, so I decided to just keep concentrating on breathing and staying still.

By the time she finished, my fingers were ice cold.  I was shaky and close to passing out.  I sat for a moment, then got dressed and went back to the waiting room to make myself a cup of hot tea with sugar.  The volunteer had a chocolate bar in her purse, and donated it to the cause (thank you, Marta).  About 20 minutes later, I was feeling close to OK again, and got in the car to drive on home.

That's when the pity party started.  I was still cold to my bones, and not at all happy about this detour I'm on.  Tears flowed freely as I drove.

But then my thoughts turned to Bronia.

Bronia was a Holocaust survivor I met several years back.  The kids and I went to her house several times - to talk, and to help her out a little.  A couple of times, she honored us by telling bits of her story:

She was taken from her home in Poland by the Nazis when she was just fourteen, and incarcerated in Auschwitz.  As the war ground on, her strength waned and she grew thin and sickly.  One morning, she didn't pass muster at roll call, and she was selected to go with a group from Auschwitz (the work camp) to Birkenau (the death camp).  It was winter, and she was stripped and told to get in the back of a truck with the others selected to die that day.  She got in the truck, and was sitting near the tailgate with a friend of hers.  The guards left them there for a bit, and she turned to her friend and said, "Come on, let's go!  I want to live!"

But her friend was frightened, discouraged and scared; she said she was resigned to her fate.  She remained on the truck, and died that day.  Bronia was not resigned to anything, so jumped out of the truck and buried herself in the snow.   She was severely undernourished, naked, and it was winter in Poland.  She knew the people who lived nearby wouldn't help; if she went to them, they would just turn her back in.  So, she did the only thing she could think to do.  She hid in the snowbank until sunset, then snuck back into Auschwitz.  (The guards were looking for people getting out, not in.)

As I thought of her story, my tears stopped.  Compared to what she survived, I only thought I was cold.  And if she could go through what she did to live, I could certainly endure a case of the shivers.

"I want to live!"

P.S.  I got an after-five on Friday afternoon call from the MRI center.  Since it was good news, she wanted to ease my weekend a bit.  (Thank you, Donna.)  The scan showed one tiny additional bit of cancer, but it's right next to the known mass.  They still can't declare my lymph nodes clear until after surgery, but the scan showed no signs of involvement, and the other breast shows no signs of the disease. 
** Breathe **

Thursday, January 12, 2012

For Bad News, the News Is Good.

The rest of the biopsy results show the cancer I have is the kind that is very responsive to treatment.

Stop.  Breathe.  This is the good news part.  Asmodeus is not overly aggressive, and is responsive to hormones, which means the chemo should be easier on me.

But I still have several tests to go through before they're ready to do surgery.

They drew blood today to run the genetic test for the cancer gene.  I still don't have enough trust in insurance companies to publish the official results here (or anywhere semi-public), but let's just say the odds are good that the test will show I have the gene, and my treatment will follow accordingly.

What's next?  More doctor's visits in the next few weeks than I've had in the previous five years.  or more.

I have an MRI tomorrow - this will help pinpoint what exactly it is we are dealing with here; the results are more detailed than they can get from a sonogram or mammogram.

Next week, I have appointments with a plastic surgeon, the breast cancer surgeon (again) and the medical oncology team.  The MRI results will be in early next week, and so we can begin to plot out our plan of attack.  The plan won't be finalized until the results of the genetic testing come in, early the following week.

and that's about all I have energy for tonight.  It's been a long day.

It means more to me than you can know, to know I don't walk this road alone.  Since I sent out notice that I've taken this detour, I've been flooded with e-mails offering prayers and support.  Some I've managed to actually reply to, others have just gotten a mental 'thank you'.  All are appreciated.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Caution! Detour Ahead!

My travels this year will not be down the road I'd planned as of just a short week ago.  Instead of moving around the country visiting beautiful places, I'll be staying in Kansas City, visiting doctors.

I went in for a mammogram last week.  They didn't like what they saw, so I went next for a sonogram, then to the biopsy room.

I got the results of the biopsy back today - it's cancer.

The doctor who called wouldn't e-mail me the lab report; he said I would get it from the surgeon during our consultation Thursday morning; I'm sure surgery will follow shortly thereafter.

What I did get out of him:
  • The biopsy showed a combination of Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and Ductal Carcinoma in Situ
  • Imaging shows nothing abnormal in the armpit, so if it's spread to the lymph nodes, it's < 5mm (this is a good news part). 
  • The results of the hormone test on the biopsy are not yet available, but the surgeon will have them when we meet.
I've decided to name my demon - I have long been told it is easier to fight one's demons if one can name them.  I found his name in the the book of Tobit; it's Asmodeus (always handy to have a priest around when naming demons), which make my champion the angel Raphael, patron saint of healers.

From the exegesis:
"I increase men's evil-doing throughout the world.  I plot against the newlywed:  I mar the beauty of maidens and I estrange their hearts. ... Through the stars I spread madness among women, and then it spreads itself in great waves; and I have killed up to seven." [third century A.D. Testament of
Solomon 5.7-8]  In that writing, Asmodeus is depicted as an offspring of fallen angels and his angelic opponent is said to be Raphael. --  Joseph A. Fitzmyer

In the story in Tobit, Raphael works with Tobiah to force the demon to flee Sarah's body.  (The demon had been wreaking havoc by killing her husbands before the marriages could be consummated - he was up to seven.)  Raphael then chased Asmodeus into the desert of Northern Egypt, tied him hand and foot, and left him there to rot.  Sounds like a good resolution to me!

I thought about starting a new blog to chronicle this new, unexpected path.  But this is not the end of my camper van travels, rather a detour.  I may not find the time again to travel for months at a time as I had been doing, but I have half the country left to see, and I intend to see it. So there!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Rules for the Shower

It didn't take long, once I hit the road, for me to learn to appreciate a good, clean shower.

For the most part, the showers I've run into have been OK - but there have been a few...  At one of the campgrounds with the best showers (the one on Cape Cod), a fellow camper and I discussed the shower rules:

Rule 1:  To the best of your ability, never, ever, under any circumstance allow any part of your body to touch the shower curtain.   If it does, re-soap the affected part.  Most of the campgrounds do a pretty good job of swiping down the walls, but the shower curtain may or may not have had any cleansing solution near it in quite some time.

Rule 2:  Always bring quarters to the shower with you.  The campground may or may not let you know it charges for the shower.  I don't mind paying a quarter or two for some nice hot water - and it does ensure that the eight-year old kid who just walked out didn't use all the hot water in their 45 minute stay in the shower stall.  But it's most annoying to trek all the way across the campground, sticky, dirty and ready for a shower, only to open the stall and realize you now have to trek back to the camper to get quarters.

Rule 3:  You don't mind paying a (relative) lot of money for a shower if you're desperate.  For me, the most welcome shower of the trip was the one I took after I made my way off of Dorr Mountain in Acadia Park.  After I got off the trail, I had to wait some ten minutes for the bus, then it was a 20 minute ride back to the campground.  By this time, I was stiff and cold to the bone.  The shower was two dollars for four minutes of hot water - and it was worth every penny.  (And I was quite smug when I managed to get my shower in during the allotted time - though I had another set of quarters at the ready, in case I hadn't managed to finish.)

Rule 4:  If there are just a few of them, ignore those stray hairs that aren't yours.  You know, the ones clinging to the walls and in the corners of the floor.  They won't hurt you, and are highly unlikely to carry any diseases.  On the other hand, if there are a lot of them, extend the shower curtain rule to the walls and floor of the shower - in that case, it's pretty certain the shower hasn't had a good cleaning in a while.   ewww!

Rule 5:  Carry the minimum amount of gear to the shower with you - and carry it in a bag with a strap.  You never know when the hooks will be torn out of the walls, and you'll find yourself trying to hang all your gear over the door in such a manner it doesn't actually touch anything more than necessary (see the shower curtain rule, above). 

Rule 6:  Practice flexibility.  There seems to be an unwritten rule that says the smaller the available shower space, the more suspect the condition of the walls in the changing area.  I can manage to get dressed in a 2x2 foot area without allowing any body part to directly touch either the walls or the floor.  Trust me.

and last but not least, Rule 7:  If you happen to come across the person who cleans the showers (assuming the showers are clean), thank them.  It's a grubby job, cleaning up other people's stray hairs and tissue bits, and from the reactions I've gotten, very few people take the time to appreciate that someone else has done this distasteful task for them.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


I'll admit it - I've never met a used book store I didn't like.

I had a pretty good filing system going in the house - the books I've read here; the new ones over there.  However, over 23 years, there were a number of books that ended up misfiled; stored with the books I'd read, when I'd never actually read them.

As I packed the house, I gathered these lost books into a couple of boxes.  The boxes went with me to my temporary summer home, then into the van.

You see, the theory was that as I read the books, I'd drop them off; turn them loose into the wild for other people to read, and thus free up the space in the van.

It was a good theory.

The problem comes in when you realize that a lot of the campgrounds have informal lending libraries.  You drop off a book, you can pick up a book.  So, as I finish reading a book, I drop it off.  Then I can't help but look the shelves over to see what other people have dropped off.  And most times, I find a good book or two that I haven't read yet, so I pick them up.  I mean, it's even better than the used bookstores - they're FREE!  How could I be expected to resist?

I have managed, over almost four months, to get rid of half of one of the two boxes of books by forcing myself to follow one rule - I'm not allowed to pick up more books than I'm dropping off.   That's not so bad, eh?  and if I don't manage to get through the boxes by the time I have to get off the road, well, I'll need some bookshelves anyhow, and they look so lonely if they don't have some books on them...

incorrigible.  that's me.  at least when it comes to books.