“Snake Ranch”

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(Ray Wylie Hubbard reference)

This one really has nothing much to do with cancer, if anything at all. It is more about Christmas. I guess the hope is that someone who is in pain or fear will read it and laugh, and I only write it because I was chatting with another cancer survivor earlier this morning and she indicated that it made her laugh.

It may be that she has an odd sense of humor. I know I do.

Here is the cancer connection, to satisfy the purists: I cannot eat goose meat anymore. At least, I cannot eat it now, and I have not been able to do so for the last three years, for reasons that are apparent to anyone that has followed this blog.

I had never eaten goose meat before I married. I had eaten a few exotic meats, including bear and moose and duck, but not goose. It simply never showed up on the family menu or in any of the fine establishments we habituated back then, me the oldest of six kids whose dad was in the US Navy and whose mom did not work outside of the home, if you catch my drift, and I think you do: we were not into swank.

And, we didn’t eat goose. It never even crossed my mind to eat a goose. Every year, at Thanksgiving, we had turkey. Every year at Christmas, we had turkey. And every year at Easter, we had ham. I thought it was part of our religion, I really did. Just as surely as fish sticks were on for Friday night :).

When I married, the first Christmas I spent with my in-laws (my first Christmas as a married man, by the way), they had all kinds of weird stuff on the table. They had these long green things that looked to me like mutant weeds. They called them asparagus. They had something called potato filling. Don’t ask. I still do not know what is in potato filling. Suffice it that if there were laws for abusing perfectly good potatoes, my mother in law would be doing 40-to-life.

There were these cheeseballs??? They were rather white, but covered in pecans or something. My brother-in-law swallowed them like they were a cure for something. I tried one and nearly gagged. They were cheeseballs, I think they call them. Cream cheese (which I have never liked) rolled in pecan, um, stuff.

An exotic time for me, for sure. And there was the meat. The darkest meat I had ever seen. And I already knew that her dad ate some pretty weird stuff, like Rocky Mountain oysters, and cow brain, and turtle soup, and fried frog legs, and just about anything, frankly, that would gross out normal people.

Did I mention the time the cow’s tongue was lying on a plate in front of us? If I did not, it is because I am trying to block it out.

And there was the dark, greasy meat.

It was goose meat. One platter of goose meat, one platter of turkey meat, as I recall. I opted, for the most part, for the turkey, but thought I should try everything, so I slid a couple of small pieces of goose meat onto my plate, along with one of those cheese balls, along with one of those weird looking asparagus spears, along with potato filling, and, I think, everything, a little bit of everything, on the table. I did not, under any circumstances, want to upset the natives, especially my in-laws.

It turns out that my brother-in-law can have all of the cheeseballs he wants. I loathe them. It turns out that I am not particularly covetous of potato filling, although I eat it and it is not so bad with goose gravy on it.

It turns out that those asparagus spears are pretty darned good, and I DO covet them. It turns out that the rolls are sweet and succulent and that the goose meat is the best meat I have ever eaten (in a family setting).

It turns out that if you cook a goose correctly, something my new mother-in-law apparently does with distinction, people will KILL to eat your goose!

No one is killing, of course. We are all polite. Except for me. I am forking more of the goose every chance I get, I am pouring more of the goose giblet gravy onto my other stuff every chance I get. I am being a troll, a beast, a Viking, a rude dude.

But I do it politely, and, of course, my mother-in-law appears to be eating it up, pardon the pun.

Let me tell you how much I enjoyed that goose: within a year or so, there was not one, no, there were two geese being cooked at that house if we were there. That is how much I enjoyed the goose.

And here is something else: after Christmas dinner, later in the evening, when people were fixing leftovers, I had a sandwich. It was two pieces of bread, goose meat, asparagus, potato filling, and mayo. I might have had two. I was in love all over again.

They were rather forced from then on to cook two geese, so that I could have one, including leftovers, and they could enjoy the other among them.<We now flash forward to quite a few years later. Maybe 10. I am in Texas. My family, that is, the side of the family that is my mom and dad and brothers and sisters, we are all in Texas. A minor miracle to get us all there, but there we are.

My brother is renting a place out in the country. He is gifted in ways that I will never imagine. He is great with his hands, an excellent mechanic, plumber, carpenter, whatever needs to be done, it seems he can do it. And he is intelligent, beyond all of that. My little brother is living in this place and has bought some incubated chicks, and is now raising chickens on the place! That is the kind of guy he is.

Some of you will wonder, so what's the deal? But he had never done it before, decided to do it, and did it well. The eggs he ate came from his own coop.

That is beside the point, but I am really proud of the little fellow. He's done good for himself.

Now, my in-laws are coming down for Christmas, and we decide to do something special, and we, my wife and I, my wife principally, buy a couple of geese. They are alive. They have webbed feet, and feathers and beaks, and they squawk and they run: they are alive.

Naturally, we take them to my brother's little farm, and ask him to care for them until right before Christmas, and he agrees. So he deals with these creatures, which are, frankly, genetically ornery, I think, for several weeks prior to the arrival of my in-laws from far-off Virginia.

He never does tell me all of the hell he has gone through, my brother, in raising these beasts. In retrospect, I suspect he went through a lot. They are BEASTS.

If I remember correctly, we arrive at Bill’s house (that is my brother’s name, not Bill’s house…just Bill) the day before Christmas, and are there to do the birds, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. If you are misconstruing, then shame on you :).

The first order of business is to catch them. It seems easy enough. But, well, (wince) in Texas we do things a bit differently. Or at least we did then. At least WE did :). Catching the geese required that we first drink a few beers. Quite a few. None of us had cut off a goose’s head, ever, although Billy had fried chicken all the time. I’m just saying.

They were out in the coop enjoying their time on Earth, and I was drinking beer and making a lasso, of all things, and I finally went out into the coop and tried to wrangle me a goose!

That is Texas. Honestly. That sort of thing happens in Texas. It is not all steer and rodeo and buckin’ bronco. There is a huge heaping of stupidity, too. At least there was when I lived there :).

Maybe it has diminished in my absence.

I went into the coop and started chasing geese. Now, the first thing you have to do, if you are chasing geese with a lasso, is to decide which goose you are chasing. I had some problems with that due to their strategic and tactical maneuvering. While they, therefore, were optimizing their opportunities, minimizing movement and fooling the heck out of me with jukes and jumps, I was running myself out of breath. And this was long before anyone even remotely thought of taking a lobe from my right lung.

I chased them in true Pecos Bill fashion, and everyone was laughing so hard they were regurgitating breakfast, some of them, and … I finally gave up on the rope, realizing that the one thing that separated me from these geese was my inferior technology. I was not a gaucho, I was not a cowboy, in other words, I was simply a warrior. I decided to use my hands.

Some of the same problems continued to present themselves, in that the geese were more agile, quicker, and less drunk.

Not necessarily in that order, I assure, as I occasionally stopped to replenish the liquids in my body, albeit, I knew, for a very brief time (due to dehydration), thus the necessity to continuously stop and replenish.

I finally got one of the geese. Finally. I do not know how, but I finally grabbed one by the neck, at which time I discovered they had the strength, in their necks alone, of any 10 men I’d ever come across.

Holding on to a goose’s neck is like holding on to a boa constrictor, one that is about 40 feet long, one that is 40 feet long and angry, one that is 40 feet long, angry, and hungry, one that is 40 feet long, angry, hungry, and you are the only meal in miles.

I held on, gentle readers. I did.

Did you know that geese can bite? Just wondering.

I didn’t. Not until then.

But I held on.

We took him or her, I never checked, as he/she never gave me the opportunity, to the chopping block, and I left it to others to do the next deed.

As a friend on this site pointed out, you never want to give names to creatures that you are going to eat, and I never named the geese, but if I had, given the subsequent experience, this one would have been named SOB. All caps.

Eventually, both animals were, um, ready, in so far as they did not have heads anymore, and we had the issue of plucking them. Everyone had ideas, and we used them all. Getting rid of the big feathers was not a big deal. The pin feathers, however, proved to be a problem.

We boiled, we waxed, we blackened, we skinned…heck…a lot of women (and men, I suppose) would pay big money for the kind of treatment these geese got as we tried to remove pin feathers (okay, maybe not the skinning, but you never know, do you?).

Finally, we decided, I guess, that we were getting hungry. The primitive was coming out in us. We cooked them. Mmmm… they smelled great. My mother-in-law CAN cook a goose.

BUT…eating them proved to be an entirely new experience, as we were constantly having to pull pin feather nubs from our teeth. Not mom-in-law’s fault, of course, but that of us he-men, and especially me, who had decided on this lunatic idea.

It is the only bad goose I have ever eaten. My mother-in-law can flat out cook a goose (or two). But it is a cherished Christmas memory, one I will never forget, one that brings me to tears of laughter, nearly, every time I think about it.

Cowboy Joe, Goose Wrangler.

Merry Christmas, friends!

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“So this is Christmas”

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(John Lennon reference)

It is THAT time of the year, a sad time even for some people who have not lost loved ones, who are not losing loved ones, who are not worrying about making early exits themselves.

It can be a depressing time, for sure, and that is well documented.

This year, my wife and I, our family, will be dealing with the loss of my father-in-law. So far, my wife, her brother, and their mom, they have done an awesome job with that. I suspect that the dam is about to break, but I have thought that before and they were stronger than I thought they would be.

Until he died, my wife had me to worry about, as I was in the hospital at the same time as my father-in-law, and even beat him to the punch in that regard. In fact, he came to visit me before he ended up, ultimately, in the same hospital. And she kept working. And I am convinced, I really am, that having someone pass over an extended period of time, while not easier in terms of toil and sweat, is probably easier in terms of coping.

I think that you begin to accept, or most of us do, as time goes by, and as our loved one goes deeper into the abyss, if you will.

That is just a theory, and has nothing to do with Christmas.

My father-in-law looked like Santa Claus, Santa Claus as most of us envision him in the United States, I think, a jolly old man with a white beard and all of that.

Early in their lives, both of my kids were convinced, or at least hesitant not to believe, that he WAS Santa Claus.

But he didn’t want to be Santa Claus. Or so he said. Can you imagine, every time you go into a store of some kind and being gawked at by children and even parents? 🙂

He acted like he didn’t like it. I think he did. But he would never dress up as the Jolly Old Elf, for whatever reason, and now he is gone.

He was my personal Santa Claus, by the way. You reach a certain age and you simply stop getting toys. But not with Harv, not with my father-in-law. I got BB guns, I got a multitude of remote control cars, trucks and such …. there was always a toy. A toy for me.

I will be honest. At first I thought it was kind of weird. At first we had no children of our own, so I didn’t understand the wonder of it the way he did. It was wonderful. It really was. I came to look forward to the toy each year. What would he get me that was different, that was not a tie or a sweater or a shirt or something else practical and useful?

I should add that Mrs. Claus, his wife, has been delivering musical instrument ornaments to me every year since I married into the family, and that this gets harder and harder for her each year :).

We are going to miss Santa Claus this year.

I do not know how we are going to deal with it.

I know that I am going to her house, Mrs. Claus’ house, tomorrow, to put up her Christmas tree, to take decorations out of the attic, to put the lights up. It forced me to do the same for myself (well, I am still working on the outside lights). I would not put up someone else’s tree, even Mrs. Claus’s, without getting my own tree up :).

I told Santa Claus, while he was in his last throes, in a hospital bed, that I would take care of Mrs. Claus. And of his elf :).

I do not think I have done a good job of that to be honest. Part of it, of course, is that I have had a few issues to deal with myself. That is no excuse. I have to do better.

Starting in the morning.

I leave you with this Christmas story, a true one:

I am the oldest of six children, and my dad was in the US Navy back when they didn’t pay very well, and I cannot say that we did not have wonderful Christmases because we did, but when I was 13 or 14, I was part of a small group of guys and girls, mainly guys, that went to this Catholic Church for Midnight Mass on the 24th. I was permitted to open one gift, as always, on Christmas Eve, and this time, I was pointed to a particular one.

It was a shirt, the ugliest shirt I have ever seen. Seriously. And that was the shirt I was to wear to Midnight mass. I cried. I cried in shame.

I told my mom that they were tears of happiness, because I did not want to hurt her feelings. I then wore that shirt, with other clothes of course, including a tie, to the Midnight Mass.

You know, I promise you: that became my favorite shirt. I think before then I didn’t know what Christmas was all about. That night I realized: it was about sitting in the balcony and spitting on bald guys’ heads in the pews below.

🙂

Merry Christmas, every one. I wasn’t sure I would get here, and some of you have doubts about the next one, I know. I’ll see you there.

“You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant”

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Arlo Guthrie reference)

I love these prescription warnings. Don’t you?

You know. The ones that say:

You should be able to sleep naked in a bathtub next to your naked spouse in an adjacent bathtub or perhaps a neighbor naked in the adjacent bathtub if your spouse is not up for it, as much good as it might do you since you are, literally, bathtubs apart and only staring out at an empty lake and what is the good in that, but please be advised that this drug may cause constipation, diarrhea, flatulence, flaccidness, obesity, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, high cholesterol, low cholesterol, anemia, liver dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, all KINDS of dysfunction the likes of which you have never imagined, kidney failure, heart disease, brain aneurysm, anxiety, depression, the compulsion to kill yourself, the urge to eat kitty litter, AND … amnesia.

Where was I going with this? I forget.

Oh, yeah, as soon as I get back from the bathroom, I will tell you…

It seems I got a liquid antibiotic for my thumb, since my wife decided I could not swallow the Keflex. This one, read the above, has some issues.

I may be spending some time on the porcelain throne.

It is gross, I know.

Geez. We take these all the time, and half the time I think they are experiments. Most of the time, I laugh at the warnings like the man that I am: I defy you, you silly warnings! And most of the time that seems to work.

Talk to you later. I have to go.

“I’ll be dancin’ on a pony keg”

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(Johnny and June Cash reference)

Today, we went to see our personal warden, otherwise known as Onco Man. If you keep up with me, you know that I was a bit worried, a tad anxious about this. I think the cough more than anything disturbed me, because it was the impetus for that original boondoggle. I thought it might happen again.

I have mentioned that my wife has been worried sick about the whole thing. There is not much that I can do about that. When I tell her that I am not worried, she is irritated with me (I am being diplomatic), and if I say that I am worried, then she worries even more. It is a no-win situation for me (can I use the word diplomatic again?)

My appointment was at 11:45 this morning. I think I mentioned that. I was up for a lot of the night but did manage to sleep. Not enough. But enough. You know?

Took my third or fourth bath/shower of the last two weeks (I know! At this rate I will be the model of good hygiene before you know it!). Shaved a bit, under the jaw line, where a bit is starting to sprout on the left side but not the right, where it will probably never sprout again, as that side has been sufficiently nuked, I think, to be called Chinobyl. Sorry, bad pun.

What makes that sort of operative is that I am taking Coumadin to thin my blood. A nick right now might turn into a gusher. I have scabs and scratches and little blood spots on my hands to prove it, to say nothing of the now-legendary Halloween Party incident (to me anyway). I do not want to slit my throat by nicking my chin :). I should also stay away from rose bushes for the time being, as they seem to have something against me. But I did shave. Applied some cologne. Nothing happening here, everybody please move along.

I wore clothes that were not soccer-related, which is sort of different. Not warmups, not a hoodie from the tournament in 2001. Not even any Virginia Tech football stuff. I dressed like I was going to work. And, in a sense, I was. This has been my job of late.

My wife said that she would meet me there. My son woke early, unusual for him, and was busy cleaning and trying to help me find things, unusual for him. Not that he doesn’t work hard and all of that, but he is generally not all that chipper first thing in the morning. I think we can assume that he was worried.

In the meantime, Corrine had set the alarm for me, afraid that I would sleep through one of the most important meetings of my life, and also called twice to get assurance that I was awake, without talking to me personally to confirm it. The answer, both times, was yes.

I was busy primping and preening.

Rain was coming down fairly hard. If this were a novel, that would be a bad omen. It was a bad omen. The sky was grey, the rain was pounding, the street was empty, and even those danged ducks were holing up under neighborhood trees. Not the most auspicious way to start this event.

At least it wasn’t windy. Yet.

I left early, as I always do when I go at all, and made it to the Chemo Palace in plenty of time. Why, I do not know. It does no good. We all know: “The waiting is the hardest part.”

In that front area I would call a foyer if I knew what a foyer was, or maybe not, if I knew what a foyer was, they were selling things, part of some sort of charity event. I walked right by all of that, even though I recognized a couple of the nurses from my time in the Chemo Room. They were busy, and I was preoccupied.

I will tell you, and I really mean this, there is nothing finer than to walk up to the counter at the Chemo Palace, and even before I show them ID or, more importantly, my medical credit card, one of them addresses me by name, even though I haven’t been there for some time. I do not even tip them, I swear!

It almost literally warms my heart.

(Luckily, it doesn’t.)

It turns out, beyond that most personal experience, they now have these buzzers that you carry with you to your chair, while you read or pick your nose and wait for the buzzer to buzz. So much for the personal aspect of it.

I tell you, though, the warmth remained. I was not bummed about the buzzer. I have seen them before, have been handed them before. Whatever it takes to keep me from waiting.

My wife showed up in her nurse gear and told me that she loved me so much she walked right by the charity sale without buying anything. However, she advised, when I went in for blood work, she was going to hit the tables.

I got my blood work, and they took four vials and, for good measure, a slender one for the coumadin check. I remarked to the young lady that it did not hurt as the ones for the CAT scan did. She could see my bruises, of course, as they have remained for more than a week. She said “Sharper needles,” and smiled. The truth is that CatManDude has to use a much larger needle, has to be able to stick stuff in rather than get stuff out, but still, it was clever on her part. If my wife had not been waiting for me outside, well, who knows what might have happened?

Oh yeah, I would have been directed to the doctor’s waiting area, just as I was.

Someone showed up, someone that used to work with my wife, and someone, it turns out, who injected me prior to my first surgery. I did not remember her. I do not remember what I ate yesterday, so that is no surprise. But I did not remember her. That was sort of disappointing to me, as I really want the people who have provided me care to know that I care in return. But I can’t fake it.

I do think that lifted my wife’s spirits. It helped further that I have gained eight pounds, when before I had been slipping in the other direction. I wanted to tell my nurse, as we then walked to The Room, that the beer is really paying off, but decided not to go that way.

Believe it or not, I kept my mouth shut :).

No need to complicate things.

BP good, pulse good, the usual. I wonder, though, and wondered today, as she held the results of the scan in her hand, why we couldn’t talk about those selfsame results THEN. Who needs a doc? Let’s get it over with!!!!

But no.

We waited. And waited. My wife thinks it is funny when I start looking at my watch. She waits, she WAITS for me to say, well, he is 30 minutes late…is his time more important than mine?

She waits for that and I always comply and so she laughed today when I said it again.

Onco Man knocked on the door, but it was not Onco Man. It was Resident Man. Someone hanging out and learning. Someone who has not read my history, knows nothing of it, and never will. He has good intentions, but they turn out to be frightening.

He says How are you doing? and I say Fine, except for this thumb, and I show him the thumb which is red and infected, and my wife already knows that and told me to show (geez), and he says See your family doctor about that Pronto, and she pipes up with He’s not good about that (geez).

I tell him about the cramps on the left side of my neck, and he feels it and has no conclusion other than that I should drink seltzer water for the quanine (sp?). How about that? I did not know that. I will do it, for sure, because he cited a study and also downed my wife’s suggestion re sodium (:)).

Sodium, incidentally, may CAUSE cramps, it turns out, or at least help them along.

But I am not here for cramps or infections. I am here for results. CAT scan results. Live or Die results. This is where Resident Man runs into some problems, since he doesn’t know my history.

He clearly has not read my results, and more clearly than that, as I mentioned, he doesn’t know my history. As he rather blathers about what is going on, I interrupt and ask, What do the results say?

He proceeds to go through them item by item, literally reading them from the sheet to us, and even my wife, the medical professional of some standing, asks him to give us that same information in English.

He goes from top to bottom, from head to pelvis. I have something in the right side of my neck that may be a cancerous lymph node or a surgical scar. Later, my wife and I would agree that we immediately thought, WHAT? That has always been the surgical and radiation scarring. What is up now?

My lungs look good except for an anomaly in the right lung.

My pelvis and abdomen are fine: no metastisis there.

But he talks about the next stage of chemotherapy. What the heck is he talking about? What next stage? He says I should be good to go with that if Onco Man approves it, and I ask, again, What chemo? I haven’t BEEN on chemo for a couple of months!

He says Onco Man will clear that up.

He adds that I have diverticulitis in the colon and some swollen lymph nodes in the abdominal area.

He says not to worry about the lymph nodes, as they have been watching them, and they probably swelled up as a result of treatment (well, he doesn’t say it that clearly, but I know what he is trying to say) and that the diverticulitis is usually the result of old age or lack of fiber.

Thanks for that one, hombre :).

Of course, being on mostly a tube feeding diet for three (I will delete the word myself) years, of COURSE the fiber is lacking! I can take care of that. I can. I mean it. I am eating now. A lot. This has nothing to do with old age, Resident Man!

Maybe it does. He cited another study. The guy has studies coming out of his colon!

Still, he has a nice, if unknowing, manner.

My real problem is with my wife, who has been a nurse now for longer than the United States has been independent (okay, when we WERE independent), I think, and who smells fresh prey when a new resident is in the room.

She has to ask him questions I do not care about the answers to, she has to tell him, even, that I cannot take the Keflex he is recommending for my infected thumb! I do finally harumph enough, well, shout her name, actually, and she quiets down momentarily.

We have an agreement whereby this is my cancer, not hers :). She has broken the contract.

He, Resident Man, leaves, promising that Onco Man will be in soon. Corrine asks, What do you think? That is good news, right? And I say, I don’t know any more than I did before he came in!

She says, sadly, I know, but it SEEMS promising. And I promise not to say anything when Onco Man comes in. I know I (diplomatically) made you angry.

I say okay.

We wait. We wait. We wait.

Onco Man finally comes, bringing Resident Man with him. We shake hands and he says I am very pleased with the results!

In that case, so am I!!!

He doesn’t mention my colon, he doesn’t mention a lymph node swelling in the abdomen, he doesn’t mention a lymph node in the neck. He says: I AM PLEASED.

I am all clear.

My wife starts asking questions again. I salute her for her efforts but I have to remind her subtly (diplomacy here) that it is MY danged cancer!

I think, truthfully, that is the problem that Onco Man and she have. They are both know-it-alls, while I am the accommodater, the enabler.

I am all clear! I have to take some antibiotic for my thumb, but that is all cool. The fact they went down and checked the abdomen and pelvis for potential metastisis and found none, that is a bonus!

I am good to go, at least for another three months. Onco Man says, I would like to put you on a yearly check, but because we still don’t know if the lung cancer is original or metastisis, I have to check you every three months. I say, I’m good with that. I like that. I like being checked right now. Let’s go with it.

They did find some fatty tissue in my liver. That might, according to my wife, be caused by drinking beer (geez).

It’s going to get a little bit fatter tonight.

“I’ll never get out of this world alive”

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(Hank Williams, Sr. reference)

It is 1:23 in the morning of December 11, 2008. I feel kind of like Sean Penn in that movie about a guy on Death Row. That is too dramatic, I know, since his fate was sealed and mine is not, but I keep thinking of that movie and his long walk (it was called Dead Man Walking, I think).

I do not think I am a dead man walking. I called myself that last year, when OncoMan said my days, weeks, and months were numbered. But I do not feel that way.

I think I do not feel that way.

My wife came home from work ill today. Maybe she is sick. Maybe she is sick from worrying. She said to me tonight, “I am worried that he will say what he said last time, and I don’t know if I can handle that.” Last time, the time she refers to, June of ’07, he said I was dying. He said that I had a minimum of 10 months to live, whatever that means.

I am not as worried as she is. But I feel for her. I would rather be me than her, and that is the truth. I would not say that if I did not know she loved me. If she did not love me, I am sure that my travails would top hers easily. But since she loves me, her heart breaks. On more occasions than anyone has a right to expect. If our positions were reversed, I hope that I could be half the person she is, half the person she has been.

I am fairly certain that I would eventually fail that comparison.

I think of the calloused fingers I used to have, from playing the guitar so frequently, how it hardened my fingers and made it easier to play. I know it better now, now that they are soft again, that the frequent playing, the callousing, was good, made me better able to handle the instrument, better able to do what I wanted to do, what I needed to do.

And so it is with her to some extent, I think. I think that all of her years in the nursing business have hardened her to some degree. They have certainly made it easier for her to know what to do with me, to know how to deal with me, to know what emotions to expect of me and of herself (although I fool her). I do not mean that she is hard-hearted. Nothing could be further from the truth. I simply suggest that she has had practice with some of what is happening.

Still, she cried tonight, and she is ill.

Because it is me.

We talked.

She said she didn’t know what she would do if OncoMan gave a pronouncement like that last one. She added that she didn’t think he would, that I look more alive than I have for quite some time. I agree, as funny as that sounds.  I agree.

I told her I had this cough again, and that was something to consider, but that regardless of what he said, I was not going to worry. If it was bad news, of the kind we got a year and half ago, then I would seek another scan, another opinion. I do not feel like I am dying.

Isn’t that a funny thing to say?  I mean, really?  Raise your hand if you know someone that asks that of themselves on a fairly frequent basis.  Okay.  Put your hands down if you do not know a cancer survivor or are not a cancer survivor.  That is what I thought.

It is just me and you.

I am worried, just a tad. This week, after quite a battle to get my sleep cycle back to normal, I have been up again, haunting the CSN site in the early morning hours, or trying to sleep and reading and hoping the book is boring enough to put me to sleep, or even that it becomes blurred words if I continue reading. But I have read two books already this week, neither really worth mentioning.

Twice my wife has awakened and found me, eyes wide shut, awake and trying to sleep on the sofa in the den, glasses on, book on chest. Maybe I am worrying more than I think. It is, after all, nearly 2AM now, and I am still trying to explain this, knowing I have an appointment at 11:45.

Noon might have been more appropriate, now that I think about it, High Noon.

That aside aside, I went into the CSN Chat Room I suppose seeking some comfort and some pity and some sympathy and all of that stuff, and there was someone there contemplating the death of a spouse.

I am merely contemplating a bad review, if you will, and this person is worrying about losing a beloved spouse. It puts things into perspective.

I brought it up every chance I got, of course, like the little boy everyone else in class hates, raising his hand to answer the question, “I know! I know! Oh! Pick me!” Trying to get some attention, I think it is called. 🙂

There is really nothing to worry about.

It is what it is.

Still, I wrestle with these emotions and with this anxiety and with the knowledge that it is impacting my wife greatly, probably my son as well, probably my daughter, too, maybe even my son-in-law.

The last time, when I got the bombshell that I was dying, we were not expecting it. I think that is what worries us most now. I know that is what worries my wife most, as she said as much.

We now know that we cannot anticipate anything, we cannot assume anything. It is the unknown, I suppose, that worries us most.

Some have asked me how I could stand to wait for results, and I have replied pretty much that I have no reason to hurry. If it is good news, then it is good news. If it is bad news, then the wait was well worth it.

I am rambling, I know.

My wife is a nurse. She can access my records any time she wants to. She says that she has not done so, for ethical/professional reasons, and I believe her. I think. Otherwise, her crying would really bum me out, as you might understand if you think about it.

It will be fine, and this little missive will turn out to be way too dramatic.

But I now understand clearly why people hate to go in for that 3-month, that 6-month, exam, especially early on. We should be thankful, of course, that we make it to these rounds.

We forget that in the passion of the moment.

“Living and dying in ¾ time”

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(Jimmy Buffett reference)

I thought I was over all of this. June a year ago they said I had so many months to live, and then they admitted they were wrong, and I pretty much thought we were done with it.

But we never are, really. Every cough, every sore, every sniffle, every illness, makes us wonder if the Big Boy is back. It is not something to worry about. But we do. It does not take much.

Does it?

A friend of mine on this site, a retired professional hockey player (she is an NHL survivor, so what else am I to think?) recently had a scary several weeks wondering if it had come back. She is not alone, of course. I would venture that most of us spend the rest of our lives after cancer wondering if it is coming back, depending, of course, on the cancer.

Me, I thought I would not worry about it after the first go-round. They took it, they cooked me, they marinated me, and it was time to move on and fuggedaboutit. The lung thing changed that.

I realized it was still lurking in there, inside of me, and that it might strike at any time. Cancer is, in that way, the ultimate terrorist. Like most survivors, I refuse to bow down to its demands, refuse to live in fear of it. Mostly.

Thursday I will see Onco Man to go over my CAT scan of last week. Friday, ENT man will stick his rubber flashlight down my nostril.

I am not saying that I am worried. I am not, really. Que Sera Sera, and all of that. Whatever will be will be.
It is what it is.

But let’s face it. Thursday, sometime Thursday, Onco Man will be handing out a sentence. I will be told that I will live, or I will be told that I will die. That is pretty awesome to contemplate, and it is no wonder that some people freak out every time they go to see Onco Man or whomever makes the pronouncements for them. It is no wonder that mammograms are scarier than just the physical part of it. It is no wonder that prostate exams are MUCH scarier for the physical part, but also for the mental aspects :).

(Clearly, though, it is a good idea to have those exams before you get to where I am, to where many of us on this site are. Avoid the cancer. It is not fun.)

In the meantime, I will find out Thursday how the CAT scan went. I am not worried about Friday so much. By then, I am pretty sure, I think, that I will have a fairly clear view of the future.

“T-R-O-U-B-L-E”

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(Travis Tritt reference)

Not long ago, I wrote about sex and just beat around the bush, pardon the unintended pun.

I talked about the effects of body modifications and the like, and a very dear friend told me that she read it and found it to be right on the mark. I appreciated that. I was concerned about that one because of the subject matter and, largely, because I discussed how cancer does some things to many of us that we do not want to think about.

But I did beat around the bush.

I am a man, and we tend not to want to talk about such matters, unless we are bragging, but the truth of the matter is that cancer and the subsequent drugs provided for whatever reasons do affect us, just as they do women. And the impact on our self-image does have a negative effect as well, whether we want to recognize it or not.

I had a life-altering moment as a very young man. My child died, full term, the most beautiful baby in the world (except for her sister and brother, one who came before and one who came after, who matched her in beauty), while I stood there, unable to do anything but wonder what was going on, why there was this splash of orange on the floor, why they kicked me out of the OR, why my wife was on her way in an ambulance with our baby to a hospital in downtown Boston, why I was sitting in the last chair, the chair we left in the apartment as we were moving away, and crying in the darkness.

Why they were calling to ask if we would consider transplants.

I realized that I was not always in control.

That can be devastating, and I am sure it was for me. The United States Air Force made the unfortunate error of giving me 30 days of emergency leave, well-intentioned as it was, and I spent that time burying my child and drinking beer. I buried Amanda once, but drank the rest of the time.

I did get over that, the drinking, more or less.

Still, it was not a good idea to give me that freedom.  Maybe I did not get over it, more or less.  It runs in the family.

The point, though, is that I, for the first time, felt completely out of control. Before that, I knew, I absolutely knew, that there was nothing I could not dig myself out of it, no matter how deep, how deep, the ditch I dug. I was that good. I was that confident. I was that much in control.

And I was right. Until then.

What does this have to do with sex, you are thinking.

After Amanda’s death, we had a son. A son we love dearly. Good things can come from bad things, you know?

I love my wife now more probably than I ever have in our 30 years of marriage, although I would not tell her that. It is so. I think it is.

I do not know if it is the cancer deal or simply age and time together, but my feelings for her have grown rather than diminished. I love her and respect her.

Right now, we are in rarefied air, however. First, most people must know that if you lose a child, especially while you are still young yourselves as parents, you are not going to make it. The odds are against you. In fact, they are against you no matter how old you are and how long you have lived together. You are not going to make it, you are going to get divorced. The gamblers would bet against you.

Most of the time, they would win.

Statistically.

Hell, even without the loss of a child, how many people make it 30 years these days?

And, you know, we gave that a go from time to time, fighting and tugging and pulling and pushing, and it sometimes only got worse before it got better.

It was never about Amanda, our daughter, the daughter who died. I never blamed Corrine for it, and she, thankfully, did not blame me. To be honest, if either of us was complicit in her death, it was probably me. I did things in high school, especially, that might impact your gene pool. I do not know that for sure, but I suspect it.

Still, Amanda was born full-term and would have been a healthy beautiful baby if not for this matter of a twisted, wrapped umbilical cord. Guilt is probably not an issue, but we had it. That is what you do: you examine your life and wonder what you might have done to change things. That is, if you give a damn and your wife is in the hospital with your dying baby and they are calling you for organs (not yours, of course).

What does that have to do with sex? I’ll get there, I suppose.

It hit my wife harder than it hit me, even though I was the one in the empty room in the vacated apartment howling at the gods. I strongly believe, I have a theory, in fact, that women are more mature than men because they have little versions of themselves running around in the world, as a rule. Not to belittle women who do not have children, and it is clearly not so that all women who have children are up to the challenge of raising them, but I think that, for the most part, women who have children have a different perspective of the world, and I used to consider that just in terms of men, but now I include women who have not had children.

What I mean is that having a child sort of puts that new version of you, ME 2.0, out into the world. That was a terrible reference, but hopefully people will get it. A man provides an important component, without doubt, and hopefully that includes love, but the woman carries this entity, this being, for nine months or so, and then experiences all of this pain and then instant joy, and sees herself in this little one.

The man, the guy, if he is a good one, he understands this, and he also sees himself in this child, but he cannot ever be as close to this child, physically, as the person who nurtured him/her through utero. You know? I do not want to get into all of that right here, but wanted to start that thought process.

Do not get me wrong. My daughter’s death devastated me. I was the one who went pretty much on a 30 day binge at the government’s request. But, while I was impacted, my wife was impacted more.

She gained weight. And when we decided to go for it again, as they say (and were so glad to welcome Ryan into the world successfully!) she was overweight before, and even more overweight after.

And could not lose it.

It did not matter to me. I came from the wanna-be-hippie school of the mid 70s, and appearance didn’t matter. But it did. Eventually it did.

What is now funny to me is that eventually I also ballooned. For my wife, I think it was depression and relieving it with eating. For me, I think it was beer … and depression.

I look back at pictures of those last days before the original diagnosis and I think to myself that cancer saved me.

Had it not been for cancer, I am fairly convinced I would have died of a heart attack within a year. It looked like my head wanted to explode, to be honest. You know the type: I was not a 330-pounder; no, I was your typically offensive vein-pulsing, eye-popping, face-reddening 215-pound man on a mission.

What you call a Type A personality, but one of those Type A’s that just doesn’t get the entire picture.

I had always thought, I really did, from the time I was 16 years old, that I wanted to die having sex. I could think of no better way to die. I still can’t, to be honest with you.

I did not want to die of cancer.

I wanted to die of a sex-induced heart attack. I still do.

It is something of a literary miracle that I got through this entire diatribe without actually talking about sex until the previous sentence. Perhaps I am more prudish than I thought I was. Perhaps I simply do not want to offend. Perhaps I want to keep this going for one more round, for better or worse.

In the meantime, it is true, what I said about cancer saving my life.  I am convinced of it.  I have listened to others tell me the same thing, if for different and more poignant reasons:  cancer saved their lives.  Because they had a cancer test, or while doctors were digging around inside of them, they discovered some other, potentially life-ending, problem that got corrected as a result. 

“Cat Scratch Fever”

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(Ted Nugent reference)

Last night I drank something called barium sulfate. It looked to be about a quart of the stuff. It was not as bad as I remember from the barium swallow days. It was rather minty. But it was still barium sulfate.

I did this on orders from OncoMan, and it was sort of like receiving an audit notice from the IRS, just as painful in the same psychic sort of way and from someone I hadn’t thought about for a while. You know, you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong, but you feel guilty just the same? Similar deal here: I don’t think anything is wrong but I am concerned nonetheless.

It was a prelude to a CAT Scan performed earlier today, which makes it understandable, except that I cannot remember ever taking this stuff before for a CAT Scan, and I have had countless CAT Scans, all of them, I think, with contrast involved. However, it is typically injected while I am hanging out in the tube (okay lying in the tube, not hanging out, geez!).

I drank the barium sulfate last night and woke dark and early this morning and headed for the big hospital, with my wife following in her car, since she would be staying for the day in order to provide us with steady income and a great source for future recommendations re doctors, if ever needed. She met me in the admissions joint, where the guy was just getting around to asking me if I had drunk my two bottles of barium sulfate (I think they call it dye, or contrast, I’m not sure which. Frankly, if I worked in a hospital, I would NOT call anything dye, if you know what I mean and I think you do, but that’s just me.).

If you have been paying attention, you will wonder why I didn’t mention the second bottle of barium sulfate before now. That would be a discerning catch. I did not mention the second bottle of barium sulfate because I did not know about the second bottle of barium sulfate and therefore did not drink the second bottle of barium sulfate, which resides comfortably, still, as I write this, on the kitchen counter.

My wife said “You know, at the stoplight at South Boulevard I thought of that and then thought, “Oh, he must have taken it!”. We will not discuss my thoughts. This is a family show.

In any case, I eventually found my way into Radiology Room, and was offered another bottle of barium sulfate, this time with a straw, as if it were a milkshake.

As if!

I sucked it down pretty quickly, dismissing the straw entirely, and my wife, in an aside, suggested that it is amazing how previously learned life skills come to the forefront when you least expect them. In response to my quizzical look, she replied, “You guzzled that down like it was beer.”

Funny girl.

I finally got into CAT Land and onto the slab that slides into the tube. CatManDude did what he does, sticking me in the vein, not once but twice, and offering that I was probably dehydrated, which was his way of shifting the blame to me, I suspect, and each stick felt worse than the previous. I am here to tell you that if you get stuck enough times, unlike other things in life, it does not get easier. You come to dread it, you want to avoid it, and it really starts to hurt. But do not worry until after about the 1,000th jab. Then you can start worrying. (You might also be eligible for a free toaster, though, so what the hell?)

And I am being a baby, of course.

But it did hurt.

I’m just saying.

It turns out I was made to swallow the barium sulfate because OncoMan, in his infinite wisdom, decided that I needed not just a head/neck scan, not just a head/neck and chest scan, but a head/neck, chest and abdominal/pelvic exam. This will worry me eventually. For now, I am glad that he is covering all bases (well, except for toe cancer).

What these people do not know because no one in their right minds would cart around the entirety of my growing medical chart is that just prior to my last cancer diagnosis, I was scheduled to get some surgery for a torn rotator cuff. To be followed by another in the opposing arm. I put this off so that I could play golf until the season ended, only to be detoured by the lung junk. I bring this up only because they made me lift my arms over my head, as is the usual case, and keep them there, as is the usual case, forever, which is not the usual case.

It begins to hurt after awhile. I am not being a baby on this one, folks. It begins to really hurt, and they don’t know, and being a stubborn male I do not report my duress, instead choosing to follow my orders to HOLD YOUR BREATH…BREATHE…HOLD YOUR BREATHE…BREATHE… I wonder what would happen to me if the voice thing stopped working between HOLD YOUR BREATH and BREATHE? I would probably die from stupidity .

Here is something else: I have been told not to eat from midnight right up through the scan. I am a person who really, since all of this began, needs to eat, needs to have something in the belly in the morning. Otherwise, I am sort of shaky. Yes, before you ask, they have checked my insulin levels and all of that, especially during the staph infection episode, and I am not diabetic, or so they say, but I get shaky, really shaky, and it is not DTs either, so do not go there.

Being advised to be very still while in the catacomb has the exact opposite effect that was intended, I believe. Before CatManDude said that, I was quite complacent. After he said it, I was shaking like a leaf, or thought I was. I am fairly certain that the head/neck image is going to be one blurry furry fellow, frankly.

I did survive, of course. It is not painful, even when the IV is stretched to its limits as you reach the far end while they scan your pelvis. It is not painful, even though you might be on Coumadin, a blood thinner, and bound to bleed to death if they get the stick-and-wrap wrong. It is not even a problem if you are claustrophobic. No. All of the scary stuff comes later:  the next day, the next week, when OncoMan looks at the pictures and tells you what he sees.

It is like being on a game show. OncoMan is the host, OncoMan is the guy who waits that extra moment, building suspense, before telling you, “You live!”.

Or not.

“Let’s chase each other ’round the room tonight “

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Merle Haggard reference)

Sex and cancer do not seem to go together.

Cancer is all about sickness and weakness and psychic and physical changes, while sex is about vibrancy and youth and life and activity.

Okay, maybe not youth.

My mom (geez, mom, I’m talking about you in a passage about sex, and I am not even from West Virginia) (just joking, my sweet WVA friends!), my mom was in her late 30s when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. That was in 1974. It was my first year of college. They told me, my dad told me, to stay in school, that I couldn’t help. So I did. I stayed in school.

Later I saw my mom, saw how the cancer and the surgery had aged her. I saw the scars. Whether it was the United States Navy or just the practice of the day, it appeared they had taken a chainsaw to the upper right part of her torso.

Disfigurement.

How does a marring physical effect not impact your mind? How does it not make you feel like less a human being? How does it not make you feel ugly, to be blunt about it, a transmogrification of your former self?

And how does your significant other react to that? How does she or he deal with that significant change to your physical presence, your external image?

In our jaded times, it is a corny word, but I would advise that the answer is Love. (I am puking, myself, right now, trust me, but it is so.)

My dad stuck by my mom right to the end, some 20, 25, years later. And I believe, for whatever reason, that it was in the last days, the last year, I should say, that they loved each other most, that they realized what they meant to each other.

But that is, really, a digression, too. That has nothing to do with sex, and I do not want to talk about sex and my parents. I really do not.

I suppose I wanted to point out that they hung together, even if, as I must admit, they were like a rabid dog and a ticked off cat from time to time.

Me? I was born for sex, so it is ironic that I married a nun.

But, to be honest, here is the real irony: we all know that men reach their primes in their late teens or early 20s while women hit the mark much later. And we all know that drugs put a damper on sexual activity. Don’t we?

For those who do not, let me explain that anti-depressants and chemotherapy, to name but two, have an impact on sexual drive. Add things like blood thinners, as the case may be, and you can see how it could be a problem, although just a small one.

In other words, my wife has taken off her clerical vestments at the same time I am putting on the stiff collar.

Again, though, I digress.

Physical disfigurement is a problem and an issue. How does a man deal with his wife when she is scarred, potentially forever? How does a woman accept a man whose tongue is gone, or nearly so, or whose testicles have been altered forever. How does anyone accept a partner wearing a bag?

We can try to push it under the carpet, but it is the real deal.

On one hand, you have someone who feels that they are ugly, even when they are not. They are monsters, even when they are not. They are not themselves, even though they are.

On the other hand, you have someone who is completely outside of that emotional loop, someone who, even if they truly love you, is thinking you are not who you were yesterday.

Hopefully, you look inside. Surface people will not, but most of us will look inside, as we always have, and we will see the beauty that attracted us to one another to begin with. Hopefully, we will realize, as a friend of mine tried to point out today, that flaws are not all external. We all have flaws, and it is how we deal with them that make us what we are.

Bad Moon Rising

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(Credence Clearwater Revival reference)

I have a CAT scan scheduled for tomorrow. This does not mean I will make it, but I will do my best.

If I have ever had a night-before drink of whatever to go with it, I do not remember such an occasion (a medical drink, I mean). Tonight I will drink some stuff and not eat or drink again until after the CAT scan. I am not sure they know that I have to eat. It is something I do to survive, and I am on a timer, frankly.

Not in terms of survival, but in terms of eating.

Then again, we are all on a timer, aren’t we?

That is a digression.

I have a CAT scan scheduled for tomorrow morning. It is not a problem. It is what it is.

I have a niggling little issue, I must admit. The last time I had a little cough, I had to pretty much insist that I get a scan, and when I did, they said I had 10 months to live, more or less, they being OncoMan.

They were wrong, of course, because I am still here, but I have this very strong sense that he is a much smarter man than I have given him credit for (and I really think he is a smart guy, by the way), and this time he will say “Hah! Told you so!”

I do not know why that is. But I have that feeling.

Right now, the wind is raging. It is howling, to be honest. I can hear it buffet against the gutters and the shutters. It seems like a bad omen.