Monthly Archives: March 2010

A wet and merry March day

In our small town, or, because it is in New England, village, they sound a horn once at noon every day.  The same horn sounds three or four times in a row if there is a fire, as much of the department is volunteer.  Just as I sat down to write this, I heard the single noon horn.

The only other sound is the rain.  Yesterday at this time there was a large wild turkey in the yard, but today I only spy a sopping wet squirrel.

David has been in Marfa for a week now, so It’s just me, Pete and Buddy.  The lump on Buddy’s jaw was a deep infection that may precede a cancer, but after several courses of antibiotics, he seems to be his rowdy old self.  Pete is really busy between school, track and guitar lessons.  He will turn thirteen in a few weeks, and I can sense his teenager coming on.  When I picked him up at the bus stop the other day, I inquired as to his day.  After a mumbled reply, he allowed he didn’t want to talk about it.  Then (I was really treading on thin ice now) I said that his sister had mentioned that he had a crush on someone, and I was wondering what her name was.  He really didn’t want to talk about that either (duh, mom).  So then I asked (mimicking the very thing he would say in greeting to those who telephoned him when he was younger), “so, what do you want to talk about?”

His response:  “If you don’t mind, I’d really rather read.”  Said politely enough, so I abandoned my efforts at conversation.

He’s a great kid, but, just as he should, he’s moving farther into his own world.

It’s a good thing.  When I was diagnosed, it was just before his eighth birthday. He was so young, and though I knew that my illness was a disaster for each of my children, it was perhaps doubly so for Pete because of his tender years.  My sister Bink and I had a very frank talk once about my death and it’s impact on Peter and she counseled me that there was some very real value in just trying to hang on as long as possible.  Well, I have, and she was right.  I can now see the actual foundations of the strong and able adult he will be, and that is hugely comforting.

I feel as if I’ve moved a bit into my own world as well; in a good way.  I’m definitely a contender for late-bloomer poster child status.  It’d be funny if it wasn’t so tragic, (and I can still laugh at the irony) how my illness has really given me that nudge to get on with things.  Most notably, painting.  For some twenty-five years (or as long as I’ve been a parent) I have struggled with my identity as an artist.  I used to joke that it was what I put down as my profession because there was really nothing else I was good at.  The truth is, as I wasn’t really producing anything, actress may have been a better job description.

But now I really, truly, finally feel like an artist, as I am painting almost every single day.  Better yet, When I’m not painting, I feel the way I used to feel when my children were wee babies and were sleeping.  I would want them to wake up, as I missed them so.

The semantics of cancer: to fight, or not to fight

I’ve been home from my travels for almost a week now.  One of the first things I did was to survey all the changes in the landscape since my departure several weeks hence.  The woods are no longer clotted with snow, making passage much easier.  Three trees are down in our yard; there was a tremendous storm the weekend before my return.  Ice has been breaking up on the lake, with clear water where a month ago small clusters of bob huts (used for ice fishing) stood. Evidently a few of those huts were not towed away soon enough, and Peter said they broke through the thinning ice and that only their roof tops were visible.

This is also the time of year for maple sugaring, and many of the trees lining our road have been tapped. Robins and redwing blackbirds have returned north, and the buds on the trees have begun to swell.  It is raining; the thawed soil running to mud.

Yesterday morning found me on the road to Boston for a day of appointments. At the hospital I ran into Bill Shuette, who is also participating in the PF-02341066 trial and who was featured on ABC news in November.  He was rosy cheeked and healthy looking and said he’s feeling great.  Yea for our team.

It was a long day for me, as I had an appointment in the afternooon with the thoracic social worker as well as an interview for an in-house film for MGH (spreading the good news).  When I got back to Meredith, I stopped to pick up the New York Times at a local shop that saves them for me on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays (we can’t get home delivery in our neck of the woods).  I failed to notice that it was a Monday, not a Tuesday, but I was handed a bundled newspaper anyway.  It wasn’t until I was almost through perusing said paper that I realized I was literally reading old news:  the paper was dated March 16.  Oh well.  There were some stories in there that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss, including a piece in the science section by Dana Jennings entitled “With Cancer, Let’s Face It, Words Are Inadequate”.

Dana Jennings has been chronicling his experience with prostate cancer for some time now, and he writes very well.  In this particular post, he posits that many of the semantics used to describe the cancer experience are both cliched and inaccurate.  In particular he takes on the warlike metaphors, stating in conclusion that “…no, cancer isn’t a battle, a fight.  It’s simply life–life raised to a higher power.”

Nor does he feel that the words brave, victim, or survivor are appropriate; and he finds the notion of  a “good cancer” (I guess that would be prostate) particularly cringe-inducing.  I certainly sympathize with some of these viewpoints, but I strongly disagree with others.

Dana speaks of leading a life “post-cancer”.  That has never been an option for some of us.

Cancer is a very serious illness and in many cases is life threatening.  Even if caught at an early stage and treated successfully, fears of recurrence can linger.   Beyond that point though, cancers are not created equally and although there is no good cancer, some are indeed worse: offering less hope or perhaps promising more suffering.

I got a ‘bad’ cancer at an early or ‘good’ stage.  However, as it is often wont to do, that bad cancer returned and is now considered terminal.  I am in treatment and will be for the rest of my undoubtedly shortened life.

It was when I began my latest treatment in a phase I clinical trial, that I really began to embrace the notion that I was at war.  It seemed not only apt, but strangely comforting.  As I began to communicate and share my experience from the front line with my fellow ‘soldiers’, I felt an incredible solidarity.  This wasn’t just a personal battle, but rather a fight being waged against cancer by many, for many.  As is inevitable in any war, there are causalities.  But, perhaps like those men and women who serve in the armed forces, I feel as if there is a greater meaning to what we are fighting for than our individual losses, and that makes me feel braver at those moments when I might indeed lose courage.

There was a time when I never could have imagined myself a soldier.  I certainly wouldn’t have volunteered for service, but if you will, I was drafted.  I’ve been at this war for almost five years now, and it is one battle I am willing to wage.

Final week of vacation: Colorado

John, Bink and I landed at Denver International on Tuesday afternoon.  We drove to Broomfield where John lives, and then Bink and I continued on to her home in Fort Collins.  Bink and her husband Greg had to head right out the door for a soccer game, as my nieces Mesa and Zola are both on the varsity squad at their high school.  It was an outdoor game, and quite cold, so I begged off and went to bed early.  I slept a well needed twelve hours.

On Wednesday morning I was treated to what is the standard breakfast at my sister’s house; lattes and fruit and spinach smoothies.  Bink is an interior/exterior designer, and I accompanied her to her latest project, a lounge, kitchen and conference area in the basement of the Armstrong Hotel, for which she has also done the design.

In the afternoon we cruised through a couple of flea markets, and then went to dinner at the Rio Grande, a restaurant I started waiting tables at on the day they opened some twenty four years ago. I even had a sentimental margararita (rocks, no salt).

On Thursday morning I visited with my good friends Claire and Andre (Andre was one of the original owners of the Rio).  I found that even though we’d spent more time apart than together in the past two decades, that original bond was as tight as ever.  I then got a chance to hang out for awhile with our son August, who I also see far too little of.  Bink and Mesa had to fly back to Las Vegas that afternoon for a soccer tournament, so Greg, Zola and I had pizza in.

Friday was more time with August, and Greg and Zola joined us for the early showing of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.  It was at a groovy movie theatre which is housed in an old dry cleaning business and is called the Lyric.  You can sit on couches and sip cold beer on tap while viewing the film.  Mexican food followed.

Saturday morning found me headed to Boulder where my youngest sister Rosalie lives with her husband Brian.  The three of us had breakfast with Brian’s parents, and then Brian went off for a day of sky diving while Ro and I walked around the Pearl Street  Mall and soaked up the Colorado sunshine.  Dinner was at an Ethiopian restaurant, which was an entirely new cuisine experience for me.

On Sunday morning we reviewed Brian’s skydiving videos from the day before (he has a camera mounted in his helmet).  For those of who who like to live vicariously, click here to see one for yourself (uncensored moment included).  I then booked it over to my Aunt Claudine’s one hour late, as my vacation mode had left me completely unaware that because of daylight savings, time had sprung forward.

Assembled at my Aunt’s house were my various cousins and their families, as well as Ro and Brian and my brother John.  We spent a lot of time together as children, and it is always great to reassemble.

That evening I drove back to Fort Collins, and Bink and Mesa flew in from Vegas. The next morning John picked me up and I said my goodbyes to Bink and family. John and I stopped at New Belgium Brewery (both his and Greg’s employer) for some swag, and then by August’s house to say goodbye for now.  After a morning of cruising flea markets, we were joined by John’s daughter Shannon, and the three of us went to see Crazy Heart and then out to dinner.  John then dropped me off at my Cousin Leigh’s for an insanely short visit, and picked me up again in the morning for a ride to the airport.

And now, after two and a half weeks of whirlwind travel, I’m back home in Hew Hampshire.  In my absence, winter seems to have quietly slipped away.  Now only one thing lies between us and spring, and that is mud season.

St. George, Utah

On Saturday morning I landed in Las Vegas, where I was met by my sister Bink and brother John. We rented a car and after a mandatory stop at In and Out Burger (John’s mandate), we headed to St. George, Utah.  That is where our mom, Ev and stepfather Jim live.

For two days we visited and reminisced while going through all the old photo albums.  John had some business in Vegas, but Bink and I had the chance to go to Zion National Park with Jim and Ev.

It had been raining, and much of the rock was slicked black with moisture and waterfalls were everywhere.  The higher cliffs moved in and out of low clouds. There were also no crowds, which made it a really special day on which to see Zion.

We bade farewell to Jim and Mom on Tuesday morning, as we were flying from Vegas to Denver.  I spent the majority of my youth in Colorado, and still have a good deal of family there.  The coming week would be chock full of reunions.

Two days in San Francisco

On Thursday afternoon, David, Pete and I arrived at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. We toured the visiting King Tut exhibit, which was great for Pete, as he had recently concluded a unit on the Ancient Egyptians in school. Afterwards we met up with some friends we’ve seen all too little of in the last fifteen or so years; Tommy and Roy and their daughter Emma. We did all the catching up we could stuff into an hour and a half.

We then popped over to the Noe Valley home of my friend Kate and her husband Dave. Dave prepared an amazing meal for the five of us and a friend of his.  The menu was:  tuna tartar, frog leg picatta, spicy shrimp, miso glazed cod, and oxtail stuffed pasta and sauce, complimented by some excellent wines.  Oh, California. I was proud of Pete, as he gamely tried everything.

After breakfast on Friday morning, David and Pete flew back to New Hampshire, whereas Kate and I spent the day checking out some shops on Hayes street and talking, talking, talking.  That evening, Dave and Kate treated me to an exquisite meal at Delfina.

After a lazy morning of yet more talk, Kate drove me to the airport in their little Mini Cooper (the perfect car for San Francisco where parking is always a challenge), as it was time for the Utah leg of my trip.

Beneath my feet in San Francisco: one

Beneath my feet in San Francisco: two

One big tree in a forest of many

Our next stop was to be San Francisco, but we drove through miles of redwood forest on the way.  I asked David to stop adjacent to this particular behemoth, so that I could get in a quick hug.

Second half of week one: Mendocino

On Sunday morning, we kissed Wendy and Cristina goodbye and drove up the coast to Mendocino. For three full days we walked (and walked, and walked) along the bluffs, gathered beach glass, explored tide pools and enjoyed both sunshine and intermittent rain. We had hoped to whale watch and David and Peter also wanted to fish for Humboldt squid, but the seas were too high for boats to go out.  The guys were pretty bummed about the fishing, but luckily we were able to spy whales from the shore.  Peter also spotted seals, sea urchins, starfish, anemones and even some baby moray eels.

One morning at low tide and sunrise, David accompanied me to the beach where I searched for tumbled shards of glass and pottery.  It soon began to rain but the sun popped through and a rainbow filled the sky.  Just another universal yes.

On our final morning in Mendocino, we made one last trip to the beach to return any gathered glass we had culled from our collection.  To get to the beach we had to walk down a path lined with wild onions and brambles.  Red wing black birds, doves, song sparrows and robins were all singing their morning songs, and both the smell of the onions and the sound of the birds filled the air.  To say it was glorious would be an understatement.

Vacation: week one

It has been one week now since we snuck out of New Hampshire just ahead of a fierce nor’easter.

For the first few days of our California adventure, we bunked in Palo Alto with Wendy and Cristina (who live in a way cool Eichler). On Friday, the five of us headed south to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  It is an amazing place; one which we’ve visited often through the years.  I never fail to be awed by the extraordinary beauty and variety of the creatures who inhabit our planet’s oceans.  Here are a few shots from our visit:

We finished out the day with a drive back up the coast, a quick stop at a beach (the Pacific ocean, yes!), and dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Duartes, a Portuguese Tavern in Pescadero.

On Saturday we drove up to San Francisco for lunch at The Slanted Door and then rounded out our Palo Alto portion of the trip just hanging out at W & C’s.  Next stop, Mendocino.