Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Hair-Raising Tale

I'm going to let this be pretty much a photo entry, except occasionally, because I think the photos are powerful enough.  Let me start by saying that whenever you see movies about women with cancer, there is usually that moment, after starting chemotherapy, when they wake up and find a long golden lock of hair on their pillow. Well, it doesn't exactly happen that way.  

Yesterday, I noticed that Peach's hair looked "different." By "different," I meant that the consistency seemed different.  Not alive, really, if that makes sense.  That afternoon, she told me she was "shedding."  Her clothes looked like she'd just held a shedding dog in her lap.

This morning she got out of the shower and said that two clumps of hair had fallen out.  We knew it was time to take matters into her own hands.

Today, this day before Thanksgiving, we came to Kristie and Tom's house, where we would make preparations for tomorrow's Thanksgiving dinner.  Kristie would also shave Peach's head.

First she tried on some knit caps to wear afterwards.

The first picture was right after she had her hair cut at Mallard Place last week, the second is shortly after we arrived at Kristie's (notice how the hair has lost its "rich" look?) and the third was a few minutes later, after trying on some caps and discovering how much of her hair had come off when she removed the cap.

So Kris poured her some wine and started the process.

When it was over, Bob was there.

She chose a cap to wear

And the two of us shared a glass of wine.

Later, all the family got food ready for tomorrow, but that is a story for another day.  The deed is done and another indignity of cancer has taken place.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why Don't You...?

I have a good hearted, well meaning casual friend who always knows what I should do, whether it's where to eat, what Netflix videos I should watch, which airline I should fly, or how to deal with my mother. She has a wealth of information and is not shy about pushing her suggestions on me, though I never ask for her advice.
The problem is that rarely will her suggestions work for me.  She does not have insight into the intricacies of my personal life, what my mother (whom she has never met) is really like, or what my taste in movies is (as I said, this is a casual friend!) 
I listen, thank her for her advice and then usually ignore her because I'm going to do what works best for me.
This line of thinking came up in the first place because of the Question of the Day on "What's My Answer" this morning:  Have you ever faced a difficult situation when you had to choose between sorting it out yourself, or asking someone else for an easy fix? What did you choose — and would you make the same choice today?

I thought about her as Peach and I talked about her meeting with the doctor yesterday and the options which were explained to her.  In truth, I don't even know what I would advise her, but I watch her seriously thinking about the pros and cons of continuing chemo or stopping it.  She will know more after her next round of treatment next week, but there are very serious considerations that will enter into her decision, Bob's physical and mental condition foremost among them, added to her age and chance for longevity if the cancer had not been part of the equation in the first place. And of course that all important quality of life.

What is clear after yesterday is that she has people in her corner, knowledgeable medical people, who will support whatever choices she makes along this strange new journey on which she has embarked.

We had a busy afternoon.  Tom came for lunch and then he, Peach and I went to the hospital to see the surgeon.  Fluid had collected at the surgery again and needed to be drained.

You can see the little spout that is inserted in Peach's surgery site, where more fluid is leaking, as Dr. Sevaride empties the syringe.  Last week he removed 215 cc of fluid, this time it was 350 cc.  He says eventually the fluid will become clear, that everything is normal, and that she just needs to come back whenever she needs a draining.

There was time after the appointment to stop by Durable Medical Equipment to modify the mastectomy bras Peach had and check out other supplies.

With all that happening, we still got back to Mallard Point in time to catch almost all of the concert by Monty King, who is a preacher, and who performs at four facilities around this area (Monty and his wife live at Mallard Point).

Monty had a surprise for Peach and, inspired by Peach & Bob's tale of interacting with Humphrey the Wayward Whale back in 1985, he played "Sweet Caroline" for them, the song they had playing on a loop on their boat when Humphrey decided to follow them.

After the concert we headed right into the dining room for a classic comfort food dinner of celery with peanut butter, cream of tomato soup, toasted cheese sandwiches, and bread pudding.  I felt like I was a kid back in my parents flat again!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Real Happy Thanksgiving

I'm getting used to Sophie coming in from outside in the morning and licking me awake.  Sheila will politely lick me once if she needs to go outside.  Sophie is in for the full face cleaning.  It's especially memorable if it has snowed all night (as it did last night) and the dogs are cold and wet.

I was so incredibly proud of Peach today.

Tom and Kris picked us up at 8:30.  It's in the 20s and it didn't seem that cold until later in the day when we had the wind too.  Then it was cold.

Tom dropped us off at the cancer center and we waited for "the arm lady."  It turned out that we got the date wrong and her appointment was before next week's chemo session, but Kathy had time for us today, so she took Peach anyway.

I like this lady so much and both of the appointments I've been to have been so positive.

She had positive things to say about the new accumulation of fluid (to be drained tomorrow), she went over again the things Peach needs to do and best of all, she got her on the exam table and gave her good massage, which relaxed her so much that by the time she got to the doctor's office, her blood pressure was lower than it usually is...not low enough to worry, but enough to be a significant decrease.

After a long wait (we are learning that part of the routine of cancer care is waiting.  waiting.  waiting), we were taken back for the routine blood draw.

The other times they have tried to draw blood from the inserted port in her chest, they have had to work hard at getting anything.  The first time they had to take it by the old fashioned way, with needles into veins.  Last time they got her contorted into all sorts of positions to get the blood started.  This time it responded perfectly.  Good blood.

Then it was time to meet Dr. Nadi.  We waited forEVer in the exam room (after having waited forever for the blood draw), but when he came in, Peach took charge.  She was informed, well-read, and had good questions to ask.  Also, the social worker she had seen last week came into the room for support (Dr. Nadi was taken aback by the size of her support group!).  And he listened while she explained her concerns and asked her questions.

Basically she said she is 75 years old and she wanted to know what were her chances of surviving this cancer with and without chemotherapy, and what were her chance for a recurrence with and without chemo.  She explained about her fear (stressed "fear" more than once), and the hell her first week had been, talked about her quality of life and the difficulty of caring for Bob when she is feeling so bad.  

She laid it all out and he answered her honestly.

He admitted that if she were 80, he might advise her differently.  He did agree with her figures about surviving with and without treatment, the biggest point seeming to be that if she survives 5 years without chemo and if the cancer were to pop up again in another organ in 5 years, chemo then night not be effective without treatment now.  But he freely admitted that this was a decision she alone had to make.  He agreed that "quality of life" is an important consideration and only she could decide that question.

He said that he's fairly certain that subsequent treatments aren't going to be as horrible as the first one was because he has altered her regimen.

Best of all, he decided that since Thanksgiving is Thursday, he would skip her chemo treatment this week so that she would be able to enjoy the holiday.  Her next treatment is not scheduled until December 3, the day after I leave.

So the connections to the port were removed and she's free to enjoy Thanksgiving week. And that alone is enough reason to give thanks.  Decisions about what happens next can be made after she sees how the next round goes.

We came home and she took a 2 hour nap and said it was the best sleep she's had in more that 2 weeks.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Heat Wave

It has warmed up to 40 today.

We sat in the living room with the door opened!  The dogs loved it and the cool air felt very good.

They tell me that this is really what Iowa is typically like in November.  The weather report for the coming week is all over the place, so who knows what it's going to be like.

As you can see, this little room has 2 chairs and a couch.  But I have to share the couch with the other 4-footed people who live here.

Sophie lets me have the couch at night, but when the daylight is out, it's first come first serve.  I do love it, though, when Peach lets her out in the morning while I am still half awake.  Sophie comes in and makes a bee-line for me, wagging her tail.  She has accepted me as part of the family.

Today was another good day.  We had breakfast in the apartment and then Peach made it down to the dining room for "dinner".

There was a planned saxophone concert in the afternoon that we were going to attend, but Kris, Tom and Matthew came to bring supplies.

The concert was to start at 2:30, so we decided they could stay till 3 so we could visit, and we would then catch the last half of the concert, only by the time they left, we decided we really didn't want to go down there after all...and then found out later they only played until 3:30, so we would have missed most of it anyway.

(At least they spelled "quartet" right!)

Bob has become intrigued with my journal (though he has difficulty reading and comprehending, so he hasn't asked to read it), and always want to know how I think of something to write each day.  I tell him that sometimes I know what I'm going to write and other days I don't have a clue until I start writing, and then it just happens.

Guess which day today is!

Oh yeah...and this...

I thought the least Mike could have done now that he has nothing pressing to occupy him, would be to help Cal win this year's Big Game.  Guess not.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Feeling Normal

Peach was up, bathed, dressed, and ready to walk Bob to his exercise class.  "Today is the first day I feel normal," she said.  And it showed on her face.

After we dropped Bob off at exercise, we headed for the beauty parlor on the third floor.  She had decided to get her hair cut short, so it won't be so much of a bother...or a shock, if she begins to lose it.

I decided to take a "before" picture, but my camera was giving me a "disk malfunction" message.  I went back to the apartment to get the back up disk, but the original disk appears a lost cause.  I am hoping that I will be able to retrieve the photos I have taken thus far.  The important ones have been published on this journal, but in small form and there are lots that have not been published.

But at least I had a back-up disk with me.  The beauty shop is charming.  Eileen shares the space with a reflexologist, and the whole shop overlooks the scenery outside.

I watched the whole transformation take place.

And when it was all over, I had to take a picture of Peach with the woman who had transformed her.

Eileen wished her well, gave her a hug and sent her on her way.  When we arrived at the dining room, it was a repeat of yesterday, with everyone lining up to welcome her back to "dinner" with them ("dinner" is the noon (largest) meal, and "supper" is what you have at the end of the day).

When Bob saw Peach in her new hair do, his face lit up like I have not seen it since I have been here.  He looked like a teenager who was picking her up for a special date.  It was heartwarming to see.

 "Feeling Normal" is wonderful.  There are two more days and then her next chemo treatment.  If the second goes the way the first went, she will have two days after that before reaction sets in.  Four days of "feeling normal" is wonderful to contemplate.  

Maybe the next treatment won't be as bad as the last one, since it will be only 1/3 as strong.

I'm an eternal optimist.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Come Up and Skype Me Sometime

We finally got Skype up and working on a day when Peach was feeling better than she has since this whole thing started.

Maybe we'll convince my mother that there is some benefit to these modern gadgets after all!  

We found another use for Bob's walker, putting my iPad on it to wheel it from me to Peach to Bob and back to Peach again.

Bob was interested to find out if Walt had any information on the raise for federal government retirees (Walt didn't).

My mother wanted to know how Peach was feeling and, more importantly, when she was going to send me home.

It might have been easier for her to understand why I'm still here if we had done this on one of Peach's bad days, but not really.  This was fun.  We teased her about all the retired farm boys that live here and my mother assured us that the last thing she wanted at this stage in her life was a farm boy!

It was kind of an electronic kind of day from the get go.  In the morning, Peach was in the bedroom getting dressed, I was in the kitchen washing the dishes and Bob was sitting in his recliner.  The TV remotes were on a table, with nobody around them and suddenly the TV reception went off.  No TV.  No internet connection.

Peach immediately got on the phone trying to figure out what was wrong.  No connection meant to cop show marathons, no Netflix movies, no Facebook or e-mail.  Potential catastrophe.

Nothing seemed to work and I was resorting to checking Facebook with the 3G connection (the one we pay for).  And then, suddenly everything was back again.  We don't know what the problem was, but whatever, it is solved.

It was a very harrowing 5 minutes.

The rest of the morning was spent the same way I spend it at home...letting the dogs in and out.  It was in the low 20s and actually it felt kind of good letting in the dog (and the cold air) into this warm apartment.

There was a trivia quiz at lunch and the first question was which night of the week the Texaco Hour with Milton Berle was on, only the young thing reading the question stumbled over it and called him "Milton Burley."

Later in the afternoon, a package arrived, with a voice recorder for Peach.  She is going to be writing a book about this whole cancer experience and we figured that if she could dictate things as she is going through them, when she is feeling awful and doesn't have to think about writing, it would be a good start for this project.

Walt had sent my recorder for her to try out, but it didn't come with a manual (I don't know where mine is), so now she has a recorder of her own (so I can take mine home) plus the instructions for how to work it properly.

She's done so well the past couple of days that I dread Monday, when we start the whole chemotherapy treatment all over again.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Queen P

Today I have almost nothing to report about Peach.  Which is a very. good. thing.  Today she ate breakfast, got dressed, and actually went to lunch.  It was like a visit from royalty.  Instead of Queen Bee, she was the Queen P.

Sadly (for me), I had left my camera in the apartment.  I would love to have taken pictures of the number of people who came up to give her hugs and welcome her back to the dining room.

She had a small lunch and stayed for all of the lunch time.  By the time we returned to the apartment, she was exhausted and went right to bed.  I don't know why I was tired, but I took a nap too.

So the excited report was that today was boring and may we have many more of them.  Heck, even the weather was boring, after yesterday's 3 degrees, being in the balmy low 20s. Sophie found her place in the sun.

Almost makes you want to go out and buy a bikini.

I am trying to remember some of the people I am meeting here.
This is the lady you want to see at lunch each day.  Her name is Mika and she is the one who takes a large basket around to every table and gives each diner a freshly baked yeast roll.

(Tomorrow there will be home made cinnamon rolls.  I had them last week and they are fabulous)

The thing that is great here is that everything is freshly home made.  I could even tell from the taste of the macaroni and cheese that it was home made, not from a mix.  Today's chili was wonderful. 

Though I wonder how prevalent Mexican food is here in Iowa.  Last night the dinner was quesadillas.  Most people seemed suspicious and made alternate choices.

I overheard someone asking the server what a "quesadiLLa" was and she hemmed and hawed and said it was "kind of a triangle like thing."

There are sing-alongs occasionally in one section of the dining room, before lunch.  This lady at the right is the pianist and I imagine that she is like dear little Ida Sue at Atria, who used to be a wonderful accompanist, but whose dementia has robbed her of that skill.  The last time we went to her sing-along, she could barely pluck out a tune with one finger.  I think the sing-alongs have stopped now.

The lady in the back is someone of whom I hope to eventually get a better photo.  This is Renee, whose mother's name is "Bev," so she always calls me by name.  Not only is she one of the servers at lunch, but she also cleans this apartment one day a week. 

Like everyone else here, she has Peach's best interest at heart.  The lady in the apartment next door to Peach and Bob is dying of pancreatic cancer.  They are hoping she will last until Thanksgiving, when all the family plans to be here.  

Renee stopped me today and told me she had talked with a massage therapist they hired for the woman and learned that if a doctor prescribes massage, insurance will probably pay for it.  So I'm going to ask the doctor about it when we go for the next treatment on Monday and see if we can get Peach a free massage, which I think will help a lot (based on how much the brief massage by the Occupational therapist yesterday helped relieve the tension in her shoulders.

So today was boring.  Let's hope tomorrow is just as boring.