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Saturday, October 31, 2015

New Normal Meets a Holiday

We've discussed the New Normal, and today it gets put to the test.

You see, today is Halloween - always a family favorite in an extremely secular, cosplay and candy sort of way. There are the usual issues - no nuts for Abby, no chewy for Lizzy - and in addition, the New Normal issues, like hand sanitizer for all guests.

Because in spite of the germs, we're trying to keep things as normal as possible around here (hence school activities and drama classes) and Laston wants the usual suspects for Halloween. We have some of them; a few are not celebrating this year, a few more already had plans. But we have at least a couple of the usual kids, and some parents, and some unassociated grownups to help herd, since Abby's dad is not here this year (why drive for an hour for the priviledge of walking for an hour in the rain?) and Laston's not up to taking them around either (he's taking a nap at the moment, tired man).

Proud of the kids too, because we're kind of strapped for cash what with Laston's last day of his contract being this last week. Abby's dad bought her a few costume-y pieces (and between that and her newly developed makeup skills - thank you Studio East - she has made a seriously creepy Broken Doll costume), and Lizzy's happily dressing in street clothes... that My Little Pony hoodie she got for her birthday, plus pink and purple bottoms and a tiny witch's hat for Twilight Sparkle's alicorn horn.

See what I mean? Abby was not allowed to wear the mask - or carry the toy bloody knife - at school,and Lizzy's group didn't dress up at all. But again, her costume consists of street clothes; she just didn't wear the horn. And they went trick-or-treating in my nice dry work building yesterday (which is good, as Lizzy is still getting over the cold that sent us to the E.R. last week; at least her costume is warm).

Still and all, friends over, food, drink (not that kind; liver cancer plus alcohol is A Bad Thing), trick or treating for the hardier (and younger) types. And Laston in his Breaking Bad hat and probably one of his myriad SCIENCE t-shirts as a cancer survivor / mad scientist. Me? I probably won't bother; I'll just dress in black with the bat clips in my hair as I did yesterday while taking Liz Twilight Sparkle and Abbs Broken China Doll around my workplace.

But it should be fun.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Oof - I Already Need a Break

I'm wiped out, and I'm not the one in chemotherapy.

However, I am the one keeping the household going, with as much help from Laston as he can manage, a fair bit from Abby, a little bit from Lizzy (more on that that later), and tons and tons of help from my mom.

And from my friends; not only have some of them gotten us things from our cancer care wish list (see link to the right) or cash to our GoFundMe (ditto), but some have gone above and beyond, in some pretty big ways.

My friend Aileen is now an emergency contact for both little girls, and has offered myriad times to do other stuff for us. Not to mention quite a lot of propping up my ego she has done here lately. Some of my friends at work have been super supportive, doing everything from feeding me to getting me in contact with the mental health group for my five free counseling sessions (and for that matter, my labor union for getting those sessions in the contract!). You guys have been so very helpful and kind, and encouraging that I can in fact hold it together. I don't know what I'd do without you.

Extra special mention goes to my friend and neighbor (and baker) Carrie, who came by today while we were at work, and cleaned a ton of our living spaces. Those of you who haven't seen my place don't really know what a herculean task this is, and she not only did it by herself, she did it while towing her preschooler around with her. All surfaces and floors in our living areas are now clean, and that's huge.

And now, back to Mom (and Lizzy, as mentioned above). You see, Lizzy is eight, and like most children her age, prone to catching various bugs that go around the school / Brownie troop / wherever. Normally not a big deal, even with a fever, and (I was gratified to find out) she's far ahead in reading, moderately ahead in math, and right on track with everything else at school, so not too many worries about missing it.

But right now - New Normal Time - any high fever (hers was 103F) is cause for alarm, because her father is severely immuno-compromised. So off to the E.R we went. Where they said she had a "childhood upper respiratory virus" (read: "severe head cold"), and is contagious.

That's a big problem.

So we had face masks and fever reducers and juice for a few days. She stayed with mom instead of school. All day. She's going back to school tomorrow, but in the meantime I wanted to curl up and cry, because what the hell, add it to the pile.

I think I need a vacation.

It's just not in the cards right now, for obvious reasons. Even a day at the spa could be tricky to manage, financially if not temporally.

But there are five free sessions with a counselor... and I intend to take advantage of that.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The New Normal...

...is a pain in the ass.

It's not so much the cancer itself, nor the chemotherapy.

Mostly it's the severe exhaustion Laston feels after the chemotherapy, although he did manage to stay up most of today. Which is a definite improvement over yesterday (eight hours in two chunks) and the day before (Friday, when he was able to be upright from 7-10:30, and again from 1:30-3).

And the fact that Lizzy is in school choir and in a Studio East production ('Twas the Night, in which she plays a Toy and a Sugarplum), and Abby is in school choir, school play (Peasant Number Two), and two Studio East productions (Honk! (Mother Swan and assorted other waterfowl) is not yet over but 'Twas... (Caroler) rehearsals have begun). Honk! is pretty great though, and she's making lots of friends and learning a lot more about her chosen craft and also (maybe) going to audition for something that isn't a musical.

This in addition to normal school year stuff, Laston's illness and his layoff, and the holidays coming up is exhausting for everyone (though the kids'll never admit it). Keeping life as normal as possible for the kids is tiring.

If it weren't for my mom we couldn't manage at all. Mom as always gets more kudos than anyone; she feeds them, transports them, cuddles them, etc. Also the good offices of friends and family who have donated to the cause: money, tuition help through Studio East, driving services, babysitting offers, housecleaning offers, cooking offers, and stuff from our Cancer Care Kit Wish List on Amazon.com.

Speaking of which, his cousin Michelle bought him some stuff off that list - the "Breaking Bad hat," the book, and some disinfectant stuff.

Check the lid!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

That Was... Not Terrible


Truly, it was not nearly as bad as the horror stories online, or even as bad as other people who have been through the process have told us it was for them. Laston feels tired and his stomach feels a little upset, but otherwise he feels pretty normal.

We shall see how he feels tomorrow as well.

When he said he was hungry in the middle of getting chemotherapy, we realized that this was a Good Thing, and so I went to the store and got what he was craving (with the oncology staff's blessings) Today that was beets (again) and the sort of Asian BBQ pork with the hot mustard and the sesame seeds. Fred Meyer had both handy in the deli, so score!

One thing I rather liked - although no-one wants to do this all the time - was the air of Friendly Corner Pub going on in the infusion suite. I half expected more than one person to raise a glass and shout, "Norm!"

They didn't, of course, although everyone, patients and staff, was very friendly. Laston's the new guy. He's also the young guy (according to visual evidence). Baldness in the picture is due to neither age nor chemotherapy. It is a nice sharp razor. He said he may as well do it now, just in case.

He also said he needs a Heisenburg hat a la Walter White (Breaking Bad) to go with the "SCIENCE: I am one accident away from being a Super Villain!" t-shirt (he felt it was appropriate).

But Laston seems to feel pretty good, and although the infusion comes loaded with a little pack (called Freddy the Freeloader by our oncology nurse, and That Damn Pump by another patient in the room - and now by us) he has to lug around for a couple of days (it's dripping a little more of the chemo stuff into his USB port for the next 46 or so hours), he looks pretty good too. Certainly better than he did - say - after our Urban Adventure on Saturday... that was an awful lot of walking for a man with anemia and cancer, who also happened to be suffering (though we didn't realize it at the time) from fairly severe caffeine withdrawal.

So That Dam Pump. It's the size of oh, maybe a VHS tape, and comes in a little pouch on a strap. The oncology nurse - nice guy by name of John - asked Laston how he'd like to carry it, as it has to remain attached at all times. Would he like the Football hold (around his hips)? The Purse hold (slung over one shoulder)? The Darth Vader hold (in front like a pendant... of a voder box, I guess)? Or... ah, yes, Mr. Kirkland. The Bike Messenger hold it is (over his left shoulder and under his right arm).

More than one person has asked how they can help, and we so appreciate it. Mom has been invaluable as always, but even more than usual. A family friend donated money (and barf bags, just in case, although so far so good), and another is coming to help me clean on Friday. My workplace has been terrific about schedule adjustments. People have offered to drive the kids all over, and to be an emergency contact to pick them up from school in case the usual suspects are busy. And since the layoff news of yesterday, more than one person has suggested, some in public and some in private, both an Amazon wish list of Useful Things and a crowdfunding account to help us with medical bills and/or the day to day.

As of right now, though, we're doing okay, medically and mentally. That's a Very Good Thing.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Well... Oh, Screw It


Because just to add to the pile of crap karma?

Yeah, the company Laston works for is not renewing his contract after October 30th.

Now, don't go crazy; this is not - I repeat, not - due to his cancer. It's because the 2015 budget is gone and his contract is up. Both his current and former bosses said they would happily give him a glowing reference, and that in January - when the contract is renewed - they would be glad to hire him again. Assuming they have the budget.

This does not help us now.

Oh, he qualifies for unemployment, and he may qualify for disability. But even though his bosses at the consulting company said they'll find him something else ASAP, how do you go into a new job saying, "Oh, by the way, I have to have every other Tuesday off, and maybe sometimes Wednesdays and Thursdays; it depends on how crappy the chemo makes me feel?"

You really can't, at least not until you have some idea how much said chemo will affect the patient.

Not to mention the possibility of surgery in the next few months if the chemo shrinks the tumors enough to cut those bad boys out.

Which leaves unemployment and Social Security Disability. The former is a better bet, because the latter apparently takes months to set up. But it has been suggested to us that we check into it, and that's not a bad idea.

After tomorrow's first chemotherapy appointment. that is.

I just want to say here that people have been lovely; we have had more offers of driving the girls around and cooking and other things to help us through the day to day than we can count. And we appreciate it, so much, especially my mom, who has been an absolute champ, even more than she usually is.

And if I seem to be brushing off offers of help, or if I seem cold or even cavalier about the whole situation, please be aware it's nothing personal. I can talk about it here in my blog to the masses, and I can talk about it with people I barely know; they aren't involved. It's easier in writing than in person or on the phone too.

But talking with people, one on one or in small groups, especially those I know? That's when I fall apart a little. I know it's good for me to do that, but I seem to roll better by dealing with the upset alone, generally with a bit of chocolate and a silly (but well-written; I do have standards) romance novel. These let me escape into Somebody Else's Problems for a while.

And I need that right about now.

Friday, October 16, 2015

And Now for Something Completely Different...

...that is to say, something that is not (primarily) about cancer and how it has begun to shape our lives. It is there, of course, and affects scheduling and logistics if nothing else.

But in general, this post is about something else... the titular gamers' babes.

For one thing, Abby's play starts tonight (although her cast - it's double-cast, which to me always sounds like a wizard doing two spells in a row with no recovery time - does not start until tomorrow night). The play in question is Honk!, and is a musical take on The Ugly Duckling. If I understood what I heard at the parent meeting lo these many weeks ago, it got better reviews than even The Lion King when in London.

Here's a teaser-trailer:


Abby's in Cast B if anyone wants to buy tickets (of course, Cast A rocks too, but if you're reading this you probably want Abby in Cast B). The cast performance schedules are in the Buy Tickets link at www.studio-east.org.

And just to complicate our lives, before all this C-word stuff went down I promised both girls they could audition for the next Studio East production: 'Twas the Night. I don't know yet whether we're allowed to post the results of that casting call on social media so I'm not going to say here, but let me be clear for any of you who feel like some of my family members (and I for that matter) do: For Lizzy, this is a one-off. A big rule in our household is "Don't steal thunder," and Lizzy understands that drama at this level is Abby's thing. Her being allowed to audition for 'Twas is a special thing so she can do something with her big sister, she has her own skill set, and while they do overlap some, drama is her sister's shtick.

Besides, Lizzy herself is going to be tested for Hi-Cap, what our school district calls its accelerated program. Between that and Brownie Scouts, she will not suffer for lack of extra-curricular activities.

She wants to start a "reading club" at school (assuming there is not already such a thing).

That's kind of huge for a second-grader.

And that reminds me; I need to add, "Take Lizzy to Brownies," to our schedule this weekend...

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Random Thoughts In and Around Cancer

In this post last weekend, I said that I didn't know what to do.

Well, now we're still a bit numb, but at least we have a clue and the beginnings of a plan. And if we're not to New Normal yet, we can at least see New Normal from here. It's sort of like Abby's allergy; there's this life-threatening thing, and we just have to work around it. It's a matter of degree, really.

We've also learned quite a bit.

...Stage Four, while still dreaded, is no longer an automatic sentence of Doom. There are treatments for everything, especially as - if I understand it correctly - the only reason Laston's cancer is characterized as Stage Four is that it's in more than one organ.

...on that note, we're sticking with the Western medicine here. That's not to say we don't appreciate some of our friends' and relatives' thoughts on alternative therapies, but if it's something that needs fixing right now, we choose Western. Just as with appendicitis or a broken leg, if it's urgent, we're doing it this way. Anyone who knows me knows that I am more than happy to tout massage therapy and chiropractic and aromatherapy, but to me (and even more so for Laston) those are for relief from pain and other symptoms, maybe even curing something chronic, not for killing cancer cells.

...we have even more friends and others to support us than we realized, to the point where people we haven't seen for decades are popping out of Facebook to say hi and give us a virtual hug. That doesn't even include those nearby who have offered logistic help: driving here and there, babysitting, etc. You guys rock.

...I still loathe underground parking garages. Elevators to and from them, and driving in the city after dark are nearly as bad. Thank Google all non-surgical procedures are up here in the 'burbs, a couple miles from both home and work. Because the city is scary for me and the Hubs. We have enough stress, thanks.

...Laston came through having the chemotherapy port installation with flying colors. No problems with his blood pressure or anything else. He did great. And I guess everything and its brother can be put in and out of that port. It's like a USB; it'll take anything that fits. He can get a flu shot through it, and the iron they're giving him tomorrow, as well as the chemo treatments themselves. That's handy.

...none of the kids have run screaming anywhere with an ax or anything else sharp. And if I'm a little touchy and overtired and stressed, well... I haven't either. Laston just doesn't have the energy to (and likely won't until after his iron infusion).

All in all, it could be worse. We could be in a place with no-one supporting us, no family or friends online or in person. We could have crap doctors.

It still sucks. But at least we're getting a handle on the suckage.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Cancer Sucks.

I don't even know what to say. Or what to do.
dark blue for colon cancer

Laston has cancer, and probably has had for months, although we only found out about it recently. We thought for almost a week that it was Stage One or maybe Two, and only in the colon.Until we found out that it's Stage Four, meaning it has moved, spread to his liver in this case.

All through his liver, making it hard to get rid of it; livers are necessary to human life. So they want to do chemotherapy to get the tumors small enough that they aren't a problem anymore, before anything surgical happens.

Now, thanks to my job, and to the good offices of my union, we have decent medical insurance. And if you have to have cancer, Seattle's second only to Rochester, MN (where the Mayo Clinic is) for good treatment options. We go in Tuesday for more information with the oncologist, and Wednesday for a chemotherapy port to be installed (inserted? applied? What is the correct terminology here?).

(An aside: Am I the only one who thinks that dark (even TARDIS) blue - "the bluest blue that ever was" - as the color for colon cancer is ironic? Most Time Lords are absolute assholes, after all.)

Yeah, I laugh because I dare not cry and all that. Expect more cursing in my blog for the foreseeable future. Gotta keep it together for the kids; I can do my angsting after they're in bed at night.

Speaking of the kids, we're trying to keep things as normal as possible for them. So aside from informing all the other adults in their lives (family members (there are a couple we weren't able to reach though), teachers, school counselors, drama instructors, troop leaders and the like) that there is the potential for any of the kids to lose it and run screaming through the halls or something, we're sticking to our normal routines. Abby's still in drama at Studio East, for instance (as is Lizzy (if she gets in; we just had auditions) only for the Christmas show).

Also Abby plans on doing Relay for Life with some of her classmates this coming spring.

Anyway, we wanted you all to know, and we'll keep you updated as things happen.