The Neighbor Dogs are Barking

When she leaned down to retrieve her bag from the passenger floorboard she caught a glimpse of movement in the side mirror. She smiled crookedly as she opened the door, waiting for him to wrap his arms around her, holding her close in that special way that kept her warm in the cold northern nights.

He didn’t, and she turned around, a question on her face. He wasn’t there at all. The movement must have been more of the falling leaves that blanketed the ground as far as she could see, except for her pair of tire tracks weaving among the trees.

She swallowed the lump in her throat and slammed the car door. A tear tracked its way down her left cheek as she stepped carefully around to the back of the truck to gather the grocery bags. Some days, it felt like he’d been gone at least a hundred years, and some days like he had just stepped outside for a quick smoke.

Two bags swinging softly in each hand, she trekked through the yard and onto the front porch, where she spun once, scanning the acres between her steps and the long dirt road to nowhere.

Not a soul.

She sniffed, and rubbed the tear from her face with the back of her hand.

As she unpacked the groceries she realized that she’d bought his favorites once again: mac and cheese and those stupidly expensive all-beef bun-length hot dogs. She left everything where it was on the kitchen counter and walked, head down, to their–her–bedroom to throw herself down on the mattress and sob and sob and sob until she was red and puffy.

It was the next morning when she woke with swollen eyes and a throbbing headache. She opened her eyes and stared at the thin strip of sunlight tapering across the wallpaper next to the bathroom door.

His voice echoed in her head, “just where it gets in my eyes when I try to shave.”

She closed her own eyes again, squeezing them until all she saw was the brilliant kaleidoscope of pressure on her optic nerves. This time, when she opened her eyes, his presence was completely gone.

She kicked off her shoes and went downstairs to finish putting the food away, but had to stop and laugh at the wreck the neighbor’s dog had made of her kitchen. She knew it was old Rider; the devil was lying underneath her kitchen table, tongue hanging out on the floor, shreds of fancy hot dog wrapper scattered around his swollen gut.

“I didn’t give the front door that extra push, did I, boy?” She laughed again, louder. “I forgot how poorly you resist temptation.”

Rider startled awake at the sound of her voice, and began to scramble guiltily to his feet, but she knelt to scratch behind his ears.

“Good boy, Rider. Good boy.”

OLWG #86

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Story Time

So it’s been a while. I didn’t win NaNoWriMo last year. I didn’t get back into posting this month as I had originally planned. I didn’t do a lot of things, but that’s because there’s been some big changes.

I’m on my phone so at this time I’m not going to link to old posts about this stuff, but I may come back and do it when I feel better.

Remember a few years back when they found that adrenal tumor when I had a kidney stone? I was having my annual scans to keep an eye on it, and in June 2017 my endocrinologist called to tell me now I had a tumor in my right lung.

I’ve been seeing an oncologist for that, and for a year and a half he kept telling me it’s not cancer and not to worry about it, we’ll just have an annual look at it for a few years.

In August he said, “oh, has anyone told you about your thyroid?” Direct quote. Uh, no, you’re the one who’s supposed to tell me about it, no one else looks that high in my body. There’s a large cyst on the left and several small ones on the right.

You can probably guess where this is going.

I had my annual follow up with endocrinology, and they scheduled me for a thyroid ultrasound. Then a biopsy because while the right lobe has normal, age-related cysts, the left side has a four centimeter complex cyst that is suspicious. They schedule a fine needle aspiration biopsy.

I got a new primary care doctor last May, and she didn’t like the look of the lung tumor. She referred me to the cancer center at the medical school here. Great place.

I had my first appointment with the pulmonary oncologist in October, and he sent me for a PET scan. Both my lung and thyroid lit up. The oncologist called me and used the word “worrisome.”

I got my thyroid biopsy. Not fun, but in hindsight, a walk in the park. I waited for results.

A pulmonologist called me to discuss scheduling a bronchoscopy to biopsy the lung tumor.

My thyroid biopsy came back inconclusive; they decided to do further testing on the samples.

My bronchoscopy went perfectly well. I was hoarse off and on for a few days but barely had a sore throat. I could, however, feel the spot deep inside my chest where they had poked and poked, trying to get a piece of tumor. That was pretty weird.

The pulmonologist was not entirely confident that they had gotten a representative enough sample, especially considering the tumor was between bronchial branches, not really near either.

My thyroid biopsy came back fine.

The pulmonologist let me know that the Tumor Board was going to discuss my case sooner than expected. I am still tickled pink at the title “Tumor Board.” Anyway, there’s a lot of big shot doctors on this board, and they unanimously agreed that lung tumor needs to come out.

Fortunately, Ian and I had already discussed this amongst ourselves and come to the same conclusion. If they were going to try a surgical biopsy, we were going to ask that they just take the thing out if possible.

We met the cardiothoracic surgeon on December 21. We thought I was going to get a biopsy or wedge resection. He wanted to do a lobectomy. This was when it started getting scarier by the minute.

A surgical biopsy or resection can usually be done with cameras and small incisions. On me, a lobectomy would have to be done by thoracotomy: a large incision from my side wrapping beneath my shoulder blade, a stay in ICU before transfer to a regular room, chest tubes, and an epidural catheter for pain management.

We agreed, and he scheduled the surgery right then and there for January 9.

The only people who knew everything that was going on at that point were my sister and my manager. My parents live with us, and we hadn’t told them yet.

On the 22nd, my stepdad drove three hours to pick up my brother and bring him to our house for Christmas. When they got home, my mom was bragging about her weight loss. I announced that I was losing weight next month, however much a right middle lobe weighs. My mom asked why. I said “cancer,” and shrugged. I don’t think any of them believed me yet, not that I blame them.

How would you spring this on your family? Would you?

My brother had a lot of questions later, as our parents were outside smoking or after they went to bed. I didn’t tell him that I hadn’t told him before because I didn’t want him to freak out and not visit.

My brother-in-law and his family came to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, and he made a joke about a tumor. Later, my husband pulled him to the side and told him what’s going on. Oh, the horror and remorse on his face! I had to repeatedly reassure him that I knew it was a joke, I swear it’s okay.

On Christmas my dad called, and I told him. It was his mother who died from lung cancer a few years ago, and he didn’t take the news well. The next day he called again to tell me he was coming to visit from Colorado.

He spent the weekend with us, and it was nice. He told his side of the family about me, and two of my aunts offered to come and stay with us to help me as long as I needed.

By New Year’s Eve, everyone was back in their own corners of the country, and we were counting down the days until surgery.

My last week at work everyone told me good luck and that I would be fine.

And then it was the day before.

And somehow, someone screwed up and rescheduled me for the 10th without letting me know. That is a whole post of its own. It was nice to have an extra day of eating food and being active, though.

We arrived at the hospital at five in the morning. After I registered, transport took me and two other patients and our families to the surgical unit–at least, she tried. We got stuck in the elevator.

Finally security and cops got us out and we went to another elevator bay. This one worked fine.

I got my IV and my markups and my wipedown and all the normal preop stuff, and then I had to kiss Ian goodbye because it was time for my epidural and then straight to surgery.

From talking to women and googling, my epidural pretty much just shared a name with the epidural women in labor get. The anesthesiologists cleaned me and anesthetized a spot between my shoulder blades and then started poking around. Apparently a thoracic epidural is a lot harder to get exact. But they got it, and wished me luck and wheeled me into surgery.

About five hours later I woke up in ICU without my right lower lobe. It turns out the tumor only appeared to be in the middle lobe because it was in the top of the lower lobe, which shifted up and behind the middle lobe when I would lie down for the scans.

I don’t know how long it was after I woke up before I could say anything besides “shoulder” and “pee.” My right shoulder was agony, and I had to pee. They gave me drugs and told me I had a catheter, and I finally got the picture.

I was so happy to see Ian. He has been my rock through all of this, and I love him so much more than I can ever say.

I had surgery Thursday, I was walking Friday, my Foley catheter came out Sunday, my epidural catheter and dual chest tubes came out Monday, and I came home Tuesday.

I do plan to write a day-by-day, and posts about walking and sitting and pain management and all the different tubes and the cafeteria debacle, but I realize that this post is getting waaay out of hand as far as length.

I came home with two kinds of pain pills, and one has already turned into ibuprofen. I am coming along fantastically, and hold out hope that I will be able to return to light duty at work on January 31.

But it isn’t over. The surgeon called on Wednesday and told us that it was leiomyosarcoma, a soft tissue cancer. The good news is that the margins were all clear, and the lymph nodes he removed were also all clear. The problem is that I have other questionable tumors in my body, and LMS can sometimes lie dormant for years before busting out like the Kool-Aid Man.

I have my surgical follow up next Friday, and they will probably remove the sutures from my chest tubes. My large incision is nearly a foot of nothing but dermabond and tape; my surgeon insisted that the residents closing me up take extra time and care to “make it pretty for the young lady,” with no ugly staple or suture marks. Thank you, Dr White!

The next week I have a follow up with the pulmonary oncologist, and hopefully we can work out a plan for next steps. Do we take out the thyroid and adrenal gland? Do we wait and watch? I say take them all; I have already had the worst, most painful surgery they can throw at me.

I will definitely have to have semi-annual scans whether I have more surgeries or not, but as of right now, it is nearly certain that my lung is already cured. I will most likely not need chemotherapy or radiation.

Last year was hard. The last quarter of last year was the hardest of all, and my primary care doctor and I worked to find a way to ease my depression and anxiety. Just after my bronchoscopy I started taking Buspar for anxiety. I planned to continue until surgery because it did help the anxiety some, even though it caused crazy vivid dreams when it wasn’t causing insomnia. The side effects were my reason for asking to try something else after surgery. At least, that was my plan.

Now I’m home from surgery and still taking the Buspar because it’s different. I’m different. It sounds so cheesy and laughable, but I feel like I have a new lease on life. I feel like I dodged a bullet, and it is one hundred percent attributable to my primary care doctor. I saw her yesterday, and thanked her.

So I keep taking Buspar, and I’m less anxious. I’m less depressed. It’s like they took part of the depression when they took that chunk of lung. I feel grateful, and I want to laugh at myself for becoming one of those born-again cancer survivors.

I am amazed at how I can look back at my life and see the good that came from bad things. I feel better. I have a wonderful husband. I’ve regained a friendship with someone I’ve known for over 25 years but grown apart from. I have blogger friends who have become pillars in my support system.

I am lucky. And I’m glad. Thank you.


Norman the Mole Boy

Today kicks off NaNoWriMo, and I’m participating this year because I have waaay too much stuff going on in my life to not take on a major project to distract myself.

I tell you what, I’m super sick of doctors and specialists.

Anyway, I asked Ian for an idea yesterday because I couldn’t make up my mind between the two ideas I had for this year’s NaNo.

So quick survey, should I write it offline, or should I make a new blog for Norman the Mole Boy and his adventures in life, love, and the underground?

Love y’all.

P.S. I’m aprilvak on NaNo’s website if anyone needs another buddy.


Peter and Vegas

I sat on the old brown leather couch and tried not to move, as the poor thing creaked and squealed with the slightest twitch. I’d never been to Peter’s apartment before; it was the kind of place that girls ‘like me’ didn’t frequent. Peter was more…dirty than that. As in with filth, not just pervy.

I could hear him in the kitchen talking to his roommate, sharing a recipe for butter noodles or splitting up a bag of potato chips, who fucking knew. When I’d met the roommate, he winked at me and told me to call him ‘Vegas’ for some ungodly reason. Vegas was fifty if he was a day. I had no idea what his real name was, but I didn’t really care to know.

I still don’t know why I agreed to go home with Peter that night. Maybe because it felt like an adventure. Maybe because it felt new and different. Maybe just because he was a dirty old man who may or may not have more than enough drugs for both of us.

I shuddered, and the crusty old couch echoed my sentiments.

I remembered the camping trip my father took me on when I was ten. The one where we found a body in the desert, his intestines pulled from a hole in his stomach and tied to the branch of a creosote bush. I’m pretty sure that was the day that I changed from a normal kid with normal potential to something fortunately rarer, something darker.

whiskeyBut back to Peter. He had cheap whiskey, but he had expensive coke. I’m fine either way, but Peter wasn’t. We retired to his bedroom as Vegas retired to his own, and commenced to getting shitfaced. Peter didn’t even finish the whiskey, from a bottle shaped like a human skull, before passing out. More of a gentleman than I’d expected, though: he didn’t even try to cop a feel once he got me in his bedroom. He actually just wanted to talk.

I don’t care about talking, but I’ll listen to you if that’s what you want, if what you’ve got is good enough for me. Anyway, I said Peter was an old man, but I guess he was thirty or so. Not really old in the grand scale of things, but he’d been rode hard and put up wet, so ‘old man’ suited him.

I listened to him snore for about five minutes before I gathered up all the coke and the money that I’d seen stashed in his underwear drawer, of all places. Jeez, Peter, can’t you be a tiny bit original? I shrugged, not really caring.

I listened at the door for any noises that might tell me what Vegas was doing and whether or not he was going to prevent me making a clean getaway. When I couldn’t hear anything, I opened the door and gently closed it behind me. I snagged my jacket from the back of the couch on my way to the front door, and that’s when the yelling started.

I jumped, fearing the worst, but it turned out to be your everyday smidgen of domestic violence in the apartment down the hall. None of my business. Two flights of stairs and I was clean gone, free to live another night  doing whatever the fuck I wanted.

OLWG #69

 

 


Breaktime

gray catWhen she returned to her room from the bathroom, Claire left her door open just a hair, barely enough for her cat, Caroline, to nudge it the rest of the way open. Caroline moseyed in and made her way to Claire at her desk, where she rubbed her side against Claire’s leg until she reached down to pick her up and nuzzle her face into Caroline’s soft gray fur.

“You’re right, sweetie, it’s time for a break,” Claire said. She softly closed her laptop and scooted her chair back, hugging the cat closer as she stood. Once on the stairs, Caroline struggled for freedom, so Claire let her leap to the landing and continued down on her own.

Her sister Melissa was in the kitchen, mixing something foul in the blender. “Mom needs more sugar if you’re going to the store today,” she announced.

“I’ll go to the store if you stop with the stupid smoothie diet,” answered Claire.

Melissa shrugged. “I’ve lost three pounds this month AND my hair has never been healthier. Pick me up some bananas and kale?”

Claire shook her head and trudged to the fridge, where she perused for long enough to let her stomach growl Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. She finally selected the last slice of leftover pizza and decided against microwaving it. Caroline trotted in to see if Claire was eating anything good, but since she was not a fan of veggie pizza, she continued on to her food bowl.

Wiping the crumbs from her hands, Claire grabbed her purse from the kitchen counter and checked her front pocket for her phone. She slid into a pair of flip flops by the front door and snagged her keys from the hook and was out the door before she could talk herself into giving Melissa a piece of her mind.

“Kale, bananas, sugar,” she muttered to herself as she started her car. She wondered if she herself needed anything, but came up with nothing. Claire shrugged. At least the grocery store was only a few blocks away, and she could browse until she figured out what she was cooking for dinner. Tonight was her night to cook for the three of them.

***

Well, I guess it’s about time to get back into this. OLWG #68 You wanna know something even weirder? Today is exactly one year since I participated. Spooky.

 


Fairy Tales

Isn’t it funny that the day I decide to come back and tell you all that I’m alive is the day I log in and WordPress tells me happy seventh blogoversary? Anyway, I’m alive.

***

What’s the earliest thing you remember?

I don’t remember much of my early life. My sister was born when I was three years and eight months old, and I don’t remember anything before her. I think I only remember one thing before kindergarten, and that was moving to our first new house in Oklahoma, something that seems pretty dang memorable.

I remember bits and pieces before I was ten. After that I can remember whole days and weeks, and the months and years have a story flow to them.

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The summer I was nine years old, my grandmother gave me a copy of Oscar Wilde’s Fairy Tales. I dreamed about it last night, about the sound of my aunt Jurate’s voice as she read The Happy Prince aloud to me.

“Swallow, swallow, little swallow…”

I remember her slapping my hand as I sat on the couch next to her, snapping at me not to pick at my toenails, and then returning to the story as though nothing had happened.

I woke up too early this morning, and I knew exactly where the book was. I tried to retrieve it from the shelf as quietly as possible so as not to wake Ian, even though it had an RC helicopter sitting atop it and another knickknack sitting in front of it. I thought I did well until he rolled over. I apologized and read half the book before setting it on the stack on my nightstand to contemplate.

I read The Happy Prince in my aunt’s voice, and I remembered the tears I shed for The Nightingale. I traced the illustrations and remembered how the Charles Mozley influenced my style at the time.

I’m going to go finish reading it now, and to think about how many of my memories revolve around the printed word.

And picking at my nails.