Friday, July 31, 2009

Out of Gas

Last year Madera Management Company bought a Ford Ranger pickup as a get-around vehicle for our office staff. Lately we had been keeping the truck in our parking lot at night and on weekends. Monday morning last week we arrived at the office to find a suspicious puddle running out from under the truck into the parking lot. Smelled a lot like gasoline.

Sure enough, over the weekend the truck had been gas-jacked. The jack-gas goof-balls couldn't steal gas the old fashioned way with a hose stuck down the gas fill neck. They punched a crude hole in the bottom of the fiberglass gas tank. The $900-to-buy-a-new-one gas tank. Then, to ventilate the tank so the gas would flow out more easily, the goof-balls cut the formed hose running from the fill neck to the tank. Couldn't just take off the gas cap (because, why?). So, to steal $30 of gas the goof-balls did $1,500 of damage to our truck.

So for a week and a half the truck was out of gas and out of service. Dead in the water.

Getting chemo-therapy has had a similar effect on Sue. The chemo really punches a hole in her gas tank and puts her out of service. She's got no get-up-and-go. It makes you wish the medics could figure out a way to get the cancer cells out without destroying the vessel. As progressed as we are, medically speaking, we might still be just this side of the stone age in terms of treating the blood cancers. You kind of wince at the "cure," like watching (reenactments of) the butcher-like (but life-saving) surgical removal of limbs in the civil war battlefield "hospitals."

On the other hand, what are the alternatives? We're grateful for the medical professionals, the medical facilities, the drugs and the advancement of myeloma knowledge and treatments over the past 50 years. The medics aren't malicious goof-balls. They're sincere professionals who've dedicated their lives to the advancement of knowledge and treatment of this killing disease we call cancer.

I'd like to thank all the medical professionals who've treated Sue, and all who've gone before you. As for the goof-balls who gas-jacked our truck .... well .... nah, forget it. My wife's fighting to get a life back. I hope you just get one.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I Love The Flower Girl

When we went to San Francisco to see Dr. Wolf on July 14 the flower girl (left) and I stayed at the Stanyan Park Hotel. It's located on Stanyan at the east end of the Golden Gate Park in the evening shadow of Kezar Stadium and just a stone's throw from the UCSF medical center. Oh, and just a block south of Haight and three blocks west of Ashbury.

You readers too young to remember the sixties won't appreciate the cultural significance of Haight-Ashbury. We walked into the Haight district for dinner. It's a little bizarre, but much tamer now than it was in the hippy days. A lot of guys and gals our age --mostly from Cowsills-tipping places like Butterfield, Minnesota -- wanted their pictures taken at the corner of Haight and Ashbury.

San Francisco's a cool place, man. There's chicks there with flowers in their hair, man, like the flower girl. Man, I love the flower girl. I can't wait to spend a month in San Francisco with her. She's so cool, and hip. She makes me happy, man. But, was she reality, or just a dream to me?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Six-Eyed Sue

One of the many side effects of whamo therapy is that Sue's eyes are dry. Air conditioning, ceiling fans and basically any moving air bothers her eyes. So we purchased this fancy medical appliance at OSH. Three bucks. I wonder if the insurance will cover it.

On the way home from OSH Sue tried out the new goggles. I pulled into the new Foster's Freeze accross from OSH to get a couple of rootbeer floats. You'd've thought the lady at the drive-through window thought we were ax murderers. I think she's kinda cute, don't you?

Friday, July 24, 2009


When you distill it down, life is really nothing but a series of tests. I mean, think about it. From the beginning we are being tested on our likes and dislikes (she doesn't like mashed peas) and our abilities (he can't go through the night without a diaper). We march through the years of school being crammed with information and being constantly tested to see how much we retained, how much we can spit back, how fast and with what clarity.

Social life, too, is a series of tests and testing. Am I accepted? Am I acceptable? Does she like me? Will I make the team? Will I get the part? Will they hire me? Contests are are an integral part of our life. Music festivals. Sports contests. Board games. My grass is greener than your grass. You name it, it's a competition.

What this has to do with testing, or why I repeat it here, are questionable, but I still vividly recall the high school assembly where my boyhood friend, David, stepped to the microphone and, clear as day, called out "testes, testes, one, two, ... three?"

Anyway, Sue's going through about a thousand medical tests this week and all next week to determine if she's progressed enough to have a stem cell transplant next month. She's got "testing, testing, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven ... twenty-five ... sakes alive." Let's hope and pray that she passes these tests, because the ramifications of not being "good enough" are that she has to do more local whamo therapy before she can progress to the stem cell transplant thing in San Francisco. Strange as it may sound, Sue's looking forward to the stem cell transplant. Give's her hope that this whole strange saga may end, and end well.

I have often wondered whether the whole point of life is a grand test of character and allegiance orchestrated and administered by God, the ultimate tester and final judge.

Once More To The Lake

Once More To The Lake is a classic short story by E.B. White. His story is about the lake where he vacationed with his family as a boy. White, now grown, decides to take his own son fishing at said lake. While there he remembers the good times he had there as a boy, when he would "dress softly so as not to wake the others, and sneak out into the sweet outdoors and start out in the canoe, keeping close along the shore in the long shadows of the pines."

White's story is that of many guests of Lakeview Cottages who vacationed at Huntington Lake with their families as children, and who now vacation there with their own children. White had not been to the lake for years, but seeing it again as an adult almost convinced him "beyond any doubt that everything was as it always had been, that the years were a mirage and that there had been no years."

Sitting in a fishing boat at Huntington Lake, or by the fire at night, I can be equally convinced that no time has passed, nor has anything changed, since I first camped there in 1972. Nothing has changed since Sue and I spent glorious summers there courting each other in the late 70's. Nothing has changed since the years when toddler Valerie played naked in the chilly water. Nothing has changed since Jessica caught her first fish. Surely "the years were a mirage."

Of course, there had been years for White, and have been years for us, as well. Time passes, and with it our lives. White’s story ends with White watching his son pull on wet swim trunks as the boy prepared to go swimming. “Languidly, and with no thought of going in, I watched him, his hard little body, skinny and bare, saw him wince slightly as he pulled up around his vitals the small, soggy, icy garment. As he buckled the swollen belt suddenly my groin felt the chill of death.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Blood Harvest

This past year Jessica, Sue and a bunch of the ladies they associate with have been reading the Twilight vampire book series. Jessica organized a Twilight party which was well attended. The attraction women have for these blood-loving characters escapes me.

Tuesday June 14 Sue had an appointment with a blood-loving character of a different kind. Dr. Jeffrey Wolf of the UCSF Medical Center is a specialist in blood and bone marrow cancers and has particular expertise in treating the cancer Sue has, multiple myeloma.

Dr. Wolf says the chemotherapy treatments Sue has received to date have been targeted to get Sue's myeloma cells down to 10% of what they were in April. If her numbers are good enough he wants to hook Sue up to a dialysis machine at the UCSF Medical School hospital in early August and "harvest" some of her good blood stem cells from her and freeze them for future use.

Then, in late August Dr. Wolf wants to re-hospitalize Sue at the UCSF Medical School hospital and, here's where the fun begins, they intend to start her on super toxic chemotherapy until they kill all or almost all of the remaining cancer cells (apparently the chemotherapy treatments she's been receiving to date are mere child's play compared to what they intend to administer). The problem is that this procedure will not only kill all the remaining cancer cells, it will practically kill Sue as well. It will kill all her bone marrow, completely wipe out her immune system, cause all her hair to fall out, and possibly cause myriad complications with her internal organs etc. etc. When this near killing is over (the odds of dying from this procedure are actually quite low) they intend to reintroduce her good stem cells back into her blood stream, which will start the process of her healing.

The second hospital stay will last for 3 to 4 weeks. The recovery period is 3 to 6 months. Dr. Wolf predicted Sue will be back in the classroom by January of 2010.

While he wears a lot of wool sweater vests, it does not seem like this doctor is just some Wolf in sheeps' clothing who's just out to hit up the insurance company and us for a hundred grand. To the contrary, Dr. Wolf claims, and the current literature seems to support (some of the most current literature on the subject is written by Dr. Wolf), that stem cell transplant is the current state of the (still experimental and evolving) art/science in treating mutiple myeloma. He's been performing bone marrow transplants and stem cell transplants -- several thousand to date, for quite a few years

Dr. Wolf is encouraging but makes no guarantees. This is a little like playing Texas Hold 'Em poker, and it looks like Sue's about to go "all in." It bothers me a little that Dr. Wolf has some dark shadows under his eyes. Somewhere in the back of my mind I keep hearing strains of Quenten's Theme.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Lie To Me

Many of us live lives of complicated fabrication. We aren't really equipped to deal with the realities we face, so we ignore reality. We're not qualified and we can't make it but we're going to fake it 'til we make it, or anyway we're going to just fake it. We're going down in flames but we're going to put our best foot forward and put a good face on and yada yada. Blech.

Speaking of reality, I never liked Woody Allen or the "realistic" but insecure and stilted characters he always conjured up. I liked seeing Mariel Hemingway in Allen's movie Manhattan back in the late 70s, though. Before I met Sue I used to wonder if Mariel would ever date a guy like me. Get real.

Can you believe Woody Allen has written, directed and/or acted in 40 movies? Who watches that stuff, anyway? Or anyway, who pays to watch it? It's unnerving and uncomfortable. Who longs to be stilted and insecure? Give us some real heros - like Iron Man. Besides, Woody's a little bit creepy. And he has a huge schnoz.

Back to unreality. Unlike Mariel Hemingway in 1979, sometimes life is just too unpretty to look at squarely. We'd just as soon not know. Honey, do I look as svelte at 205 pounds as I did at 185? Have I lost a step? Am I going to live forever? Shhhh. TMI. Like Cheryl Crow says in her song Strong Enough: "Lie to me, I promise I'll believe."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Disappointing Loss

The men's final of Wimbledon 2009 was played last Sunday. Andy Roddick was the clear underdog. Roddick has won one career grand slam final and was playing for a second. He played the king of tennis, Roger Federer, who was playing for a record 15th grand slam title. Roddick had lost in the final of Wimbledon to, who else, Roger Federer, in 2004 and 2005, and also lost to Federer in the 2006 U.S. Open final.

Sunday Roddick played the match of matches. He won the first set and had 4 set point opportunities in the second set tie breaker. Federer survived the four set points and took the second set, then took the third set. Roddick hung tough and took the fourth set. The fifth set was played even to 6 games all, then 7 all, 8 all, 9 all, 10 all, 11 all, 12 all, 13 all and 14 all. In the entire match to that point, already a record 75 games, Roddick did not lose a single service game.

Federer held serve in his 15th service game, and finally, in the 30th game of the fifth set, Federer broke Roddick's serve for the first time in the whole match to take the set 16 games to 14, and the match three sets to two. After more than four and a quarter hours of true championship tennis Roddick had a huge, disappointing loss.

Sue has spent the past two months progressively experiencing the disappointing loss of her health. This past week Sue has also finally grasped that, with this chronic illness of multiple myeloma comes a second and possibly more profound loss, that of a significant part of her future (at the very least she faces a starkly different future than the one(s) she has imagined heretofore). This week she's been sore and tired and unable to sleep. She's worried about her appointment next week with the specialist in San Francisco. She's sick and tired of being sick. So she grieved today.

Really, though, disappointments and losses are part of life. Who hasn't experienced losses and disappointments of some kind, and grieving? Federer, who also experienced two disappointing losses to Rafael Nadal last year, one at Wimbledon and the other at the Australian Open finals, says this loss will make Roddick stronger. Referring to his 2008 loss to Nadal at the Wimbledon finals Federer said "I came out being horribly sad and it was a tough loss. ... And then I look back, and it's going to be similar this time for Roddick, he's going to look back and think what an amazing match we played. It was so nice to be part of it."

Right now we can only hope Sue's losses make her stronger, and that she will look back on this time and think that it was an amazing time and that it was nice to be a part of it.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Golden Priest

Friends of ours have a pre-teen dog named Priest. The dog is a golden retriever. Priest's owners are on a two week trip to the midwest and our dog-loving daughter volunteered to dog sit. In addition to the visiting dog, Sue's dad, Don, was staying with us for a fourth of July weekend visit.

Susan had two golden retrievers when she was growing up - Nona and Timber. It's amazing how Priest rekindled the memories and fond feelings Sue had for her dogs. As my father in law puts it, all golden retrievers are pretty much cut from the same cloth. Sue and Don may have the poor dog confused because they alternately called it Timber, Priest, Pierce or Nona all weekend long. They also lavished a fair amount of attention on the dog, so the dog didn't seem to mind the myriad name calling.

Anyway, Priest the dog, while reportedly named for a professional football player, is aptly named for its demeanor. This noble dog will sit and look you in the face with trustworthy, knowing brown eyes, and patiently listen to anything you might have to say. He always appears happy to see you, whoever you are. If ever one needed a confessor or confidant, this Priest would serve well.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Broke-Neck Guitar

When I was in high school I bought a new 12 string guitar. I loved the sound of it. One time I'd been playing the guitar and a group of us had been singing around the fire in the lodge at Camp Keola. I took a break from playing, leaned the neck of the guitar against the coffee table and went to get a cup of coffee. While I was gone, someone bumped the guitar or the table and the guitar fell over. When it hit the floor the neck snapped.

I was sick about that broke-neck guitar. I tried several times to glue it, but the pressure of 12 strings correctly tuned was too much, it kept breaking. I finally compromised on the third fix and tuned the guitar a couple of keys lower than it was supposed to be tuned, but it was never quite right after the big break. It broke again and that was the last straw.

We have been wondering, ever since the cancer diagnosis, just how "broke" Sue really is, or will be. Can she be fixed? Will her tuning be right after the fix? How tight can she be strung? Sue read recently that the average life expectency of people diagnosed with multiple myeloma is five years following the diagnosis. Then again, most people don't get diagnosed with it until they are much older than Sue.

On the other side of the fence from the broke-neck guitar are the several good cars we've owned which have been declared by insurance companies to be a "total loss." Valerie currently drives a 2004 V.W. Jetta that was rear-ended when it had less than 700 miles on it. The insurance company declared the car a total loss and we bought it with a salvage title for a little over $4,000 (the car sold new about a month before that for just under $20,000). We fixed that car back to "just like new" for less than half the cost of the dealer price. Valerie has about 60,000 miles on that car now and it's still going strong.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Note To Blog Readers

My blog adviser (daughter Jessica) has redone the settings on this blog so that anyone, registered or not, may comment. Comments may be left anonymously, as well. At left is a picture of Jessica and me following a fishing trip where we got skunked. We bought cherry Icee's on the way home to console ourselves.