Sunday, December 20, 2015

The 5th Web Based. . .

"Occasionally" Annual Salmon Beach Bulletin

I've got to tell you, my friends, that this is the first year of my life that every day has been better than the one before, no matter what "niggling little things" may have gone wrong that particular day!  (If you don't know why already, just look at the previous post, a fairly short one right below this one, before continuing on.)   Hopefully, I will not have another year like last 4 months of 2014, and the first 8 months of this year, but it's nice to have gotten through it, without having lost anything of value, except the time, and with everything steadily improving, I couldn't ask for more.  So, enough of that and on to some of the things that have made this year so wonderful!

I guess the most important thing is that for the 3rd time this year, I have just been awarded a "Cancer Free Zone" designation!  And, after waiting for over a year, my taste buds have mostly returned, allowing me to really enjoy the Thanksgiving meal which I missed last year, and I'm joyfully anticipating the upcoming Christmas feast.  All 3 of my oncologists said that the taste buds that are still MIA should return to the fold in the next 6 months or so, so I still have a bit to look forward to, when it comes to my health.  "You don't miss the water 'til the well runs dry."

At the end of April, I had a visit from couple of “kids” from Pennsylvania, one of whom is the child of “ex-students” who became friends, and moved to Salmon Beach for a couple of years back in ’73/4. In 1980, after our wedding, Laurie and I rode the 450 cc Suzuki motorcycle down to Chula Vista, California (right by the Mexican border), to visit them.  That ride was what convinced me I needed a bigger bike (the 750 cc Yamaha Seca), which I bought a year later, and kept until buying the “new” bike, a 1300 cc Yamaha FJR, back in ’08.  Can’t get much bigger or faster (0-60 in 2.6 seconds, although I have not done that!), so I figure that this will probably be my last bike!  Anyway, his folks have remained my friends, and Ian and I have developed our own friendship, and this is the second time he’s been out to see me, although the main motivation for his trip out here was Phil Lesh’s (bass player for the Grateful Dead) 76th birthday party; both of these kids are died-in-the-wool “Deadheads”, which, I have to admit I do not understand, although I do enjoy the Dead’s music.  They stayed with me for a few days, and the highlight of the visit was a hike on Mt. Rainier, up towards Paradise; I was surprised and pleased,  that I could keep up with these guys, whose legs were practically as long as I am tall!
That outboard is now history, as that was the 8th time that I’d been out in the boat since getting it repaired, and only once  did I not have to row home.  Luckily, this time, I had a pair of soft leather gloves with me that prevented me from getting blisters, and Angel didn’t seem the least bit upset by the inconvenience.  3 days later, as I was walking up the hill, I ran into a neighbor who bought a new boat this year, and had 2007 15 hp 2 stroke Evinrude  (the last year that they made them), that he was willing to part with, so again, what could have been a real bummer, wound up being no big deal!  However, I do seem to have picked up an aversion to taking the boat out, as I have not yet worked up the nerve to head out for a prolonged trip!  Luckily, I still have enough dry wood to get me through this winter, although, because of the air pollution which is getting worse around here, so far, I'm getting along with the heated floor in the kitchen and baths, as my main heat source.  

At the start of May, I was on the phone one day, and noticed that the white "shears" that cover the stained glass window upstairs, seemed to be discolored, so I got up and walked over to take a closer look, and lo and behold, I discovered that it was "New Roof Time"; oh joy!  The curtains were water stained, as was the wall above it, so it was obvious that the roof was leaking.  In all that had gone on, the previous year, I had forgotten that back in '92, when I did it the last time, that I figured that it would need redoing, just about now, and although I could do it myself, I thought it would probably take me most of the summer to get 10 squares of 3-tab (50 bundles @ 75 lbs. apiece!) down the hill and up on the roof, and then install it, and decided that it would be worth it to have a good, reputable company do it for me!  Luckily, there was no structural damage, so the roof itself didn't need repair.

While I was talking to the roofing guy, going over the colors and materials they had to offer, I spotted a metal roof, and decided to go for that.  There was no "tear off" to deal with, and a month later, they got started on a Thursday morning, and were done, the following Monday night.  

So, on to the next little project, which was to refill the wood supply for the wood stove, which was over half-empty, since little was done last year, in the aftermath of the diagnosis.  Since the motor hadn't been run for about 2 years, somewhere in the throttle linkage, something had frozen up, and I took it in to be "tuned up", and when I got it back, it seemed to run fine, so I popped it back onto the boat, and after 5 minutes of it idling while tied up to a piling, I took off toward the south end of The Beach at a sedate pace, and, turning around and running with the tide, I headed toward the north end.  Almost there, the motor just stopped!  So, I broke out the oars, and it only took me 20 minutes of rowing against the tide, and a nice blister on the little finger of my right hand to get back home.  My neighbor brought over his gas tank, with new gas, and it fired right up and ran fine for about 20 minutes, so I figured that the gas with ethanol, had separated, and my motor got a big gulp of water.

The next day, on my way to work, I bought a new plastic gas tank, fuel line and some fresh gas and was off to the races. . . NOT!  The following morning, I got up early and had the boat in the water by 10, and at 10:10 I was rowing back home, again!  As I was approaching the end of The Beach, on my way out, all of a sudden, the motor just went. . . "uuuuunnnnh!", and came to a stop.  I squeezed the priming bulb and couldn’t get any pressure, so I looked back and thought that the hose just hadn’t made a good connection, and went back to push it back on, and discovered that it had just broken off at the stem. . .  Out came the oars again, and I got home and put the other new connector on, but since I bought them both at the same time, it occurred to me that it they may have been made out of a bad batch of plastic, so, after running around for another 15 minutes out front, I pulled the boat back up onto the deck until I could go get another couple of fittings, which I will carry with me, after this. And, of course, there wouldn't be favorable tides for wood gathering for another 3 weeks or so. . .

Much to my amazement, I really wasn’t that upset; I was still riding the crest of the wave that appeared the first time that my doc labeled me a “Cancer Free Zone”; every problem that has popped up in my life since then, has been pretty minor, in the grand scheme of things, and very easy to deal with! Even finding out that I was going to have to start filing quarterly reports to Uncle Sam, along with a check, and having to write a fairly large check that I still owed from 2014.  A couple of years ago, that might have sent me into a blue funk from which I might still be recovering!  Like we used to say, "Don't sweat the small stuff!"

After my second "clean" report, I celebrated by buying a new full-frame Sony A99 camera, that's absolutely wonderful; cameras seem to be kind of like guitars; one just isn't enough!

In July, I hired my god-son to give me a hand on finishing up the "3 Year Project" (deck replacement) that I started . . .oh, maybe 15 years ago (don't want to rush into things!), and it looks great!  Of course, we ran into another "little niggler" which would have thrown me a few years ago.  During those intervening years between the start and the end of this project, Trex quit making the material I had been using, and not only does the new stuff look different, it's almost half the thickness that it used to be!  To get a material that even came close to matching the older deck, I had to lay out about half again what I thought it would cost.  No big deal. . .

At the end of August, riding high on my rapidly improving health, the completion of the deck, and a new roof, I once again turned my attention to filling the wood shed, so on a Friday morning, at about 7, I headed out in the boat again.  And, once again, suffered a small “setback”, when my outboard motor had a “coronary”. and I had to row back, again!  It was kind of ironic, as I had gone quite a ways from home, looking for logs (my only reason for going out in the boat!), and didn’t find any, so at least I didn’t have to lose any “booty”.  But I had just finished. . . well, I was in the middle of the thought, “This has been a great day, even if I didn’t find any firewood, because the motor has been working just . . . “, and there was an incredibly loud, “CRACK!” and the motor stopped, and smoke was boiling out of the cowling.  I was so shocked at the timing, that I almost burst out laughing!  So, an hour and a half and 3 miles of rowing later, I pulled up to the house. It could have been much worse, as the tide, which was, of course, going against me, was extremely slow running, and the temp here was only about 70•.  

In October, my friends from Paso Robles, Ca., who's wedding inspired my trip south in the spring of '14, visited for a couple of days, and we had a great time.  Up to Mt. Rainier again, but no hiking this time!  We took a "wrong turn", and after about 20 miles did a U-turn to get back to the right road home, but things like that are what make adventures fun, and it was a beautiful day, so "all's well. .  ."  

A couple of weeks ago, after my 3rd "CFZ" designation, I    celebrated, again, by treating myself to a 16-35mm wide angle lens for the new camera, that I had been lusting after for the last 2 years, and while I was out with it the first day, discovered this beautiful old hand water pump in one of Tacoma's parks.  I don't know why I like this pic so much, but I do.  And, to top it all off, this was about the last truly beautiful day that we've had for a couple of weeks, so I keep coming back to it to see the sunlight!

By now, you must all be thinking, "Sheesh!  How long is he going to keep going?", so, let me wrap it up by wishing you all a "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!", and add this little reminder by my favorite cartoonist, Berkeley Breathed, of "Bloom County" and "Outland" fame:


 And, this, to bid, "Adieu" to 2015!



Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Journey. . .

Many of you may have wondered, last year, why the "Occasionally Annual Salmon Beach Bulletin" ended with my return home from Arizona, at the end of April, so I guess that it's time to let you in on something that I've been playing fairly close to the vest.  I really had no intention of writing this, but I've been chastised pretty severely by a couple of friends who I recently told.  The only people I told ahead of time were my students, because I had to quit teaching for about 3 months, and the neighbors, upon whom fell the responsibility of taking care of my "grrrrrrls" for me.  I'll make it as concise as I can for you, so buckle up!

A year ago today (8/30/'15), I awoke at the University of Washington Medical Center, after spending 9 hours on an operating table, and another 11 hours in an "induced coma".  During the first week of May, I lay down to take a nap before heading off to work, and when I went in to shave, there was a lump, about 1 1/2" long, by 3/4" wide, and about 1/4" tall, just under my ear, by the angle of my jawbone.  My reaction was, "How odd. . .", but I didn't think too much about it; I mean, c'mon, nothing serious happens in an hour, right?  I did, however, try to make an appointment with my doctor at Multicare, but was informed by his receptionist, that since I hadn't seen him in about 4 years, the insurance company insisted classing me as a new patient, and that the soonest they could schedule me was September 9th, so I made an appointment, and. . . off to work.

 A month later, I was supposed to go to a wedding, and on the day of the wedding, again, I went to shave, only to discover that "My Rider" (yeah, I had named it! :)  ) had grown, and I dropped my friend an email, saying that rather than attending the wedding, I was going to spend the afternoon at the "doc in a box".  The doc took a look at me, excused herself, and returned a few minutes later to tell me that I had an appointment the following Monday with an ear, eyes and nose specialist in Gig Harbor.

The "ENT" guy put a scope up my nose, and said that he wanted to aspirate the lump the next day, which we did, and the results were "inconclusive", so he did a biopsy that Friday, and it too came back the next week,  inconclusive.  On the day that they did the biopsy, they also did either a PET scan or a CAT scan (don't ask the difference, because I don't know!)  When I went to get the results, he told me that while he was scoping me, that he had found a small lesion under my tongue that he was more concerned with than "My Rider", and that I had some decisions to make.  He said there were 3 options available to me:
      1.  I could do nothing, but he said that he could almost guarantee that that would lead to some                          
           serious consequences that I would regret.
       2.  I could have the lump removed under a local anesthetic and take my chances with the lesion;    
            again, not an option that he would  recommend.  And, since he had not done that operation for
            over 10 years, he was going to send me to a guy here in Tacoma.  Or. . .
        3.  I could elect to undergo an operation that would take care of both.

I came home and called a friend of mine who's a surgeon, to bounce the whole situation off of him, and he told me to hang on, that he'd call me back.  A half hour later, he called me back and said that I was to call the UW Med Center, to make an appointment with the leading research surgeon in their oncology department, which I did, and in July I met with the team of doctors and nurses who would be taking over the reins of my Life, for the remainder of the year.

I was diagnosed with a "squamish cell carcinoma" (yeah, the "Big C") underneath my tongue, which had spread to a lymph node on the right side, which was "contained", and another, on the left hand side , which was "not contained",  and on the 29th of August, I went under the knife at 10 a.m., and woke up on the 30th at about 11 a.m.  I guess that was the 2nd time I woke, but I don't remember the first time, when they removed the breathing tube. . . Thank God!

Four days later, they kicked me out of the hospital, and gave me 6 weeks to recuperate and decide on the course of treatments that we'd pursue.  They told me that if I had to have cancer, I was lucky, because the "cure" rate of this strain is about 80%, with a combination of chemo and radiation.  I debated until the day before treatment was to start, whether to go for the chemo, because one of the possible side effects of the chemo is deafness, and another is loss of feeling in the hands, and being both a guitar player and photographer, they were talking about 90% of my Life!

Coming to this decision was tough, because up to now, I felt as good as I had ever felt in my life and was in better shape, and I knew that somewhere in the near future, that would more than likely change drastically.  I finally decided to toss the dice and live with the consequences, since either treatment without the other is less effective.

Over the next 7 weeks, I had radiation treatments every morning, 5 days a week, and 3 different chemo treatments.  For the first chemo treatment, and the first 3 weeks of radiation, I felt fine, and the recuperation each day was made easier by the friendship and sanctuary in Seattle, provided to me by my long time friend, Michelline, in her home and beautiful yard:

After that, I felt compelled to move back to The Beach, and the second chemo treatment kicked my legs out from under me, and although I never felt "sick", my energy level dropped to the point where I had to stop several times to rest, climbing the 200 stairs each day, between The Beach and the parking lot.

I think that the worst part of this whole trip was that my taste buds went "MIA" about the 4th week of treatments, and anything I put in my mouth felt like cardboard, and had absolutely no taste!  The doctors had wanted to insert a "feeding tube" directly into my stomach, and I had vetoed that, because, with a dog and 3 cats, I saw that as simply another possible source of infection.  The doctors told me that I wouldn't be able to eat, and I told them that I would force myself, but I had no idea what was coming, and the only thing that saved me from suffering the installation of the tube, was my nutritionist telling me that a liquid diet of Boost VHC (YUK; it's the consistency of thick oil or paint!) would sustain me, and what a blessing that was.  I had dropped from 150 lbs. to 138 lbs. in 5 days, because of a case of "thrush", due to the antibiotics that they gave me for the operation.  From the middle of November until the second week in January, Boost and 10-15 glasses of water were all that I "ate", and I considered myself lucky, because just before I started in on the liquid diet, it took me an hour to get through just a small apple!

For an idea of what it's like to not be able to taste anything, dissolve a couple of tablespoons of salt in a glass of water and take a sip; it tasted like plain water to me; I couldn't taste the salt for a couple of months after the cessation of the treatments!  When I could, it was a beautiful bright spot in my existence, because I knew that the loss of taste wasn't going to be permanent.  Now, 10 months later, most of the taste buds are functioning, although not 100%, because anything with tomato sauce doesn't taste right, and neither do sweets, which eliminates 2 of my major food groups: pizza and ice cream.  That's OK, because the reason for watching my weight has flipped 180•; I used to have to watch my caloric intake because I have a tendency toward putting on weight, and now I have to watch it to make sure that I'm not losing weight.  Eating is not as enjoyable as it used to be, but, week by week, it seems to be improving, and I'm definitely looking forward to the holiday season, this year!

As of now, I've been declared a "Cancer Free Zone" twice, with 2 more follow ups still left this year.  I do realize that I'm on a "5 Year Clock" before I can consider myself cured, but with my energy back to it's usual "over the top" level, and no fluctuating mood swings that I suffered for a couple of months, I don't think much about it, except to appreciate every single day more than I used to.

A couple of years ago, I posted that you all should stop, every once and awhile, and count your blessings, and take the time to appreciate all that you've been granted in this Life, because things can change in an instant.  That was right after my 6 year old cat, Kassie, died unexpectedly, and I had no reason to believe that the lesson would be reinforced, a couple of years later!  This is the second time that I've had a close up look at my own mortality, and I can tell you that the whole world takes on a little different complexion when it happens; colors are a little more vibrant, and it seems as though everything is in just a bit sharper focus.

I apologize to those of you who might feel. . . "shorted"(?), because I didn't share this before, but, as you know, I'm one of those kind of private individuals, and I didn't want to worry my friends with something that I was pretty darned sure was going to have a positive ending (no pun intended!).  I also didn't want to spend a lot of time talking about it, and even with the relatively few people that knew, it got to be a boring subject, very quickly, so. . .

'Nuff said; onward & upward!