Tag Archives: living with lung cancer

Where do I go from here

It’s an interesting question contingent upon several prepositions.

See, I have a problem and the fact that it is a good problem (all things considered), makes it no less daunting. It would appear that I am going to live. Appear being the supposition here, as one can never be too sure. However, if the current trend continues, well, than I have at least a rather immediate future.

This is not something I planned on.

Nope. Stability is a concept I am only beginning to embrace. However, keep in mind, it remains a contingent, suppositional stability. Which is about the same degree of stability that one would experience sleeping in a tree.

Here are the basic facts. I am fifty-eight, almost fifty-nine years old. I am currently in fabulous physical shape but remain in treatment for advanced–aka terminal–lung cancer. That treatment has proved remarkably effective and although my cancer is not gone (70% response) it is gone enough. Better yet, I’ve had a sustained response to my current therapy–four years, three months and counting. The rub? At the moment, this is the end of the road for me–treatment-wise. When (do I dare say if?) this one fails, there is no other. Been there, done that as each time I’ve started a new treatment it has been with the understanding that there were not yet any others. Medical science has thus far managed to keep apace with my cancer but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t weigh on me–life with limited options.

So, there’s that. Cancer. And then there are the side effects of treatment. In my own case, the most debilitating have been the cognitive issues. When it comes to short term memory, I’ve got shit for brains. My own children were skeptical of the severity of my issue. That is, until my son August tried to teach me something. It took his repeating directions countless times and finally writing it down as well before I caught on. This concerned him enough he shared his experience with his younger brother and now I think they both have a little better understanding of what I face.

And although I am not nearly as anxious as I once was (perhaps an inadvertent blessing that goes with loss of short term memory), I am incredibly worried about finances.

I may be one of the few people with terminal lung cancer who does not qualify for disability. This is due to the number of years that had elapsed (stay at home mom) between my last paycheck and diagnosis. Alimony is my income; in an amount insufficient to actually get by and so each month my credit card bill steadily grows. And those checks stop arriving fifteen months and three weeks from yesterday.

I have started reading the classifieds looking for gainful employment. Unfortunately, my own work history is heavy on waitressing, with some other odd jobs mixed in. And although my work in advocacy should qualify me for something better, I am terrified that my short term memory issues are going to make any job difficult to maintain.

Take a deep breath. These are good problems to have.

I

can

do

this.

Bounce

I don’t do things halfway and when I go low, I go low. Take no prisoners, lethal sort of low.

My face couldn’t couldn’t get out of the way soon enough and so I made a minor mess of it. If you’ve never picked your skin you wouldn’t understand, but if you have, you know. Damned if you do, but in some sick way, self damage is an amazing way to relieve stress. However, just like alcohol, it tends to make things worse the following day.

That said, my mood is on the upswing. Sometimes when you hit bottom you bounce. I plan to take that momentum to propel me forward into some healthier activities. Writing (I’m on a roll), working on my health insurance, going to the gym and yes, painting.

It’s been a long time since I’ve held a brush but my easel beckons. And getting my art on might just be the perfect antidote to much of what ails me.

That, and the always amazing outpouring of love and support that a post brings–both here and on Facebook. Thank you. Know that every message goes straight to my heart in the best of all ways and that as alone as I feel at times, I’m really not. Because I’ve got all of you. ❤

Words matter and this one’s gotta go

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Yesterday was National Cancer Survivors Day, and I just went meh. Wait–make that hell no.

I don’t ‘do’ Survivors Day. My lack of enthusiasm is manifold. First of all, cancer is not a damned day. For many of us, there is no life ‘after’ cancer. Nope. As I’ve said before; been there, doing it. This is present tense.

And then there is the word survivor. I loathe it. Survivor is too much, too little, too late. If you haven’t stopped to read the definition of survivor lately, let me refresh your memory:

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Yuck. Who wants to be the ‘person remaining alive after an event in which others have died.’ Or the ‘remainder’. I suppose someone who ‘copes well’ is a good thing but then again, a rather serious understatement when you are talking about cancer.

The word ‘survivor’ is inadequate. It is also implicitly negative/ugly. No one wants to be ‘the sole survivor of a massacre’–we want everyone to survive. Ever wonder where survivor guilt comes from? Look no further.

In the past I have referred to myself as ‘surviving cancer’. The verb vs noun thing seemed to better capture the fact that I am now and likely always will be in treatment.

However, after thirteen years of surviving, I’m sick of this shit.

From now on, I reject both verb and noun in favor of a far more positive/forward thinking term. I am living with lung cancer.

And you know what? There is no guilt associated with being alive. If you’re not already there, join me.

xo

 

Tested

Kumo can run like the wind. Before I knew his given name I was calling him Ghost but felt that Arrow might be a better choice.

I learned from the get go that giving chase is of no use–Kumo can run circles around me and does. He is also smart and wily and careful not to get close enough that his collar can be grabbed.

This dog absolutely will not come when called and is not tempted by a proffered treat. In other words, approach is totally on his own terms.

With Kumo’s history of roaming, I took no chances and had him microchipped during his recent surgery. But even with that precaution, there is no question that being off leash is something that can occur only in contained areas.

Kumo arises early, and our first walk is taken while I am yet a bit groggy.

This morning my thoughts were elsewhere when I had the unsettling realization that the leash in my hands was suddenly connected to nothing–evidently I had not attached it firmly to Kumo’s collar and it had come loose. Kumo was just ahead of me but at the same moment I realized he was free, so did he. And he was off like a shot, an arrow.

I didn’t know what to do and nor did he. The call of the wild and all those mourning doves were pulling him off and away. And yet, he did stop when he was a good distance away to look back. Suddenly he was running toward me again and for one brief second I thought he would return. Rather, he ran wildly to and fro, close to me, away again, exhilarated by his sudden freedom of choice. Because it really was up to him at this point.

As I sat on the pavement in the middle of the parking lot, my heart pounding, tears quietly rolled down my cheek. ‘This is it’ I thought, my dream of a little white dog over. And so I stood back up and walked slowly to the building. Maybe, just maybe he would follow. And if not, I would go get Appa, the great white Pyrenees who is Kumo’s first and best friend at Western Avenue, and try to lure my little wild thing back inside that way.

I shut the glass door behind me and Kumo came closer. The minute I opened it he bolted. When I closed the door a second time he cautiously approached. I opened it just a tiny way this time and to my great surprise and overwhelming relief, he came inside.

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At the moment he is laying beside me on the couch, pressed up against my arm as I type. We’ve had our breakfast now and he’s licked my bowl clean for me.

I think we’re good.

Savannah!

I have a niece who is enrolled at Savannah College of Art and Design and her family credits me with alerting them to the existence of SCAD in the first place–happy to be of service when I can. My niece, Zola, is wrapping up her third year at SCAD and just came home from Lacoste, France and a semester abroad. Fun for me as I too took a semester abroad in Lacoste back in 1979 when the program was affiliated with Sarah Lawrence.

Anyway, as an extravagant way of saying thanks for my tip off per SCAD, my sister Bink took me to Savannah for a long weekend of touring the city and hanging out with Zola.

It was a perfect trip all the way around. Bink got us an RBO in a beautiful Victorian adjacent to a park and within walking distance of everything. And walk we did. Savannah is laid out in the most unique grid fashion, with one block sized park after another. These little parks are filled with aged oaks dripping with Spanish moss and each has a monument in the center. And the parks themselves are ringed with charming homes and churches; Bink pointed out that Savannah wasn’t razed by fire during the Civil War and in fact was presented by General Sherman (impressed by its beauty) to President Lincoln as a Christmas Gift.

Of course we toured the grounds of SCAD as well and I can only say wow—art school has come a long way. Plush, luxurious, well equipped and an all around creative hive, it’s the sort of place that makes anyone want to go (back) to art school. And Zola is kicking butt in her major, advertising.

I was introduced to some fine southern delicacies along the way (we ate so well). Grits, fried corn, collard greens (which I liked so much I requested a second serving for dessert) and the most beautiful little macaroons. One unexpected highlight of the trip was a ride with an uber driver her told us about going on a cruise where they had a $10,000 prize for karaoke, and her disappointment that she’d not signed up. My sister asked her if she had a good voice and she said ‘pretty good’. We bantered a bit more and the uber driver said something about how she ought to sing to us. We thought she was kidding until she said ‘well I best get to it’, and broke into the most gorgeous rendition of Amazing Grace. This little tiny lady driving an uber while simultaneously belting out a hymn. It was magical. As was my entire trip. Thank you Bink, Zola and family! xo

A beautiful weekend away from it all

Sometimes you just need to get away and away is absolutely where I got to last weekend. Forever friend Melinda and I decamped to NYC for thirty-six hours of culture and inspiration. After checking into our amazing hotel in Times Square (The Chatwal–I really could have hung out in the sparkly bathroom with the heated toilet seat a little while longer), we took a cab over to the Metropolitan Opera House, where we had tickets for Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’Amore. Our evening began with dinner at The Grand Tier Restaurant with seats overlooking the winding staircase so that we could people watch to our heart’s content. Our meals were delicious; grilled octopus and duck liver mousse followed by halibut and salmon with trout roe.

First two courses finished and dessert ordered, we found our seats just before the curtain rose. I was entranced—a visual and auditory spectacle all the way around. At the intermission we returned to the Grand Tier for espressos and a baked alaska and chocolate mousse. Twenty minutes later we were back in our seats for the final acts. One of my personal highlights was the tremendous applause received by the tenor playing Nemorino, Mario Chang, at the conclusion of ‘una furtive lagrima‘ (follow link for bizarre/humorous interpretation), the romanza from act 2, scene 8. The following morning we learned that this had been Mario Chang’s premier as Nemorino and that he hails from Guatemala. At any rate, he was much moved by the applause and cheers (bravo!) and it felt like both a personal triumph (for Mario) and one for those of us in the audience as well—that we had been witness to such artistry.

Anyway, all good operas must come to an end and we finished our evening with a quick nightcap (still of the non-alcoholic variety pour moi) in the bar back at the hotel. I was sorry that it was so late as I could have spent several hours reading magazines while snuggled under the voluminous duvet. However, we had more scheduled fun early the next morning.

And that would be….backstage at the Met! What a way to round out my first opera experience. Going backstage was sort of like seeing the inner workings of an automaton. The sheer magnitude of it all! A highly recommended addition to a live performance.

Post tour we caught yet another cab over to the Guggenheim where we had lunch before taking in the Peter Fischli/David Weiss show, ‘How to Work Better.’ Whimsical but also provocative, this collaboration of two Swiss artists is absolutely delightful. It was a bonus when a side gallery revealed several paintings from one of my personal favorites, Kandinsky.

Have I mentioned that this was my first opera ever? And a very special gift from Melinda and her husband Kihan. Also, I had not been in an art museum in New York City since my teens, a situation that required rectifying. Thank you dear friends–it was oh so fun and absolutely magical!

 

By its cover

2016 began rather inauspiciously at a Great Gatsby themed New Year’s Ball. Held in a gorgeous old church, the night looked very promising. However the venue was poorly heat, the drinks insipid and the music far too loud. My grumpiness just made me feel old–not how I wanted to ring in a new year. We left a few minutes prior to midnight and when home I collapsed on the couch with my laptop. I intended to check a few emails before heading to bed but somehow got sucked into a site with before and after plastic surgery photos. Before too long I was looking at photos of Courtney Love. From bad to worse!

Fortunately I had some solid plans for the following day as I was preparing a meal for seven close friends. I’m still a little rusty when it comes to cooking and entertaining–my time management skills are way off–but I dove right in. When it comes to socializing, dinner parties are my absolute favorite. There is something about a table that is a great equalizer as conversation seems to both flow and include all.

I received a number of wonderful gifts that evening in addition to the company of dear friends. A beautiful centerpiece, a patron saint (never can get enough of those), the promise of some art (again, never enough). And a special gift from my friends Machiko and Koichiro; wrapped in indigo cloth. Tucked inside were two little wooden boxes filled with chocolate candy made by Machiko. Underneath that was another package which when opened revealed an onionskin envelope containing some mat board that had a little window cut in the center with a red tongue of paper attached–it reminded me of the advent calendars of my youth. Koichiro instructed me to open the little window and inside was a perfect, tiny platinum print of one his extraordinary photographs. I was so touched and shared with him that just the day before I had thought to myself that one day I would own a Koichiro Kurita (he is an amazing artist collected worldwide, with a photo in the Tate Museum in London). Now my year was looking up.

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This past week I made a point of engaging in all of the activities I wish to focus on in 2016. I roasted a chicken and later made soup; today I will bake some homemade granola. I walked, read, took and edited photos. I opened an instagram account–you can find me under linnoline. I ordered some canvas as I am all set to start painting again (yes!). I wrote (Click here for my latest post for CURE), made plans to get together with some of my lung cancer peeps, and began preparation for my next advocacy venture (DC in March with the American Lung Association). I participated in open studios with my vintage clothing shop–soon I will have an instagram account for that as well. On my to do list–yoga and maybe a gym membership–I’m not going to take this cancer thing lying down.

But back to covers–a highly anticipated book is about to be released–When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Dr. Kalanithi was a young neurosurgeon with a gift for words who sadly contracted lung cancer. In the months after his diagnosis he devoted a great deal of time to working on his autobiography. After Paul passed away his wife Lucy, a physician as well, helped bring his book to completion. She also penned a poignant essay about love and grief for the New York Times that brought me to my knees. It is uncommon to have the perspective of patient and physician in one telling, and although I am certain it is going to be a really difficult book to read, I plan to do so.