Saturday, October 2, 2010


It was a crazy day at the doctor's office. We were there for a check up and to
get the results of his most recent PET scan (the test that shows if there is any cancer
in your body). The place was packed and we were shuffled from place
to place, surrounded by an extraordinary number of people in the same boat.

Our favorite nurse, a sparky late 60s something, called us in from the waiting room and
took Andrew's vitals. "How's the belly-dancing going?' he joked with he. She laughed
and quipped back, "It the kinky sex that keeps me going." Their usual banter.

She dropped us off at the waiting area for the infusion room which
was standing room only. Ann our favorite nurse there, flushed out Andrew's
port, took a blood sample, and put us in an examination room to wait for
Dr. G. Twenty minutes later his physicians assistant came in to do the
pre-game warm up -- listened to his lungs, asked a few questions.

When she left we we're both getting impatient. We had read all the magazines worth
reading (drew the line at Golf Digest) and we'd been there close to an hour
and a half. . . Final the door flew open and our lovely Dr. G. blew in. "So good to see you both."
he said warmly as he grabbed a hand shake from each of us.

He started talking about how we'd see him every three months from now on.
A few sentences later we realized that he wasn't talking about more treatment.
We gave each other the look --"Did he forget to fill us in on something?"
He realized at the same time that we didn't know what was going on.
"Nobody told you about the results of your PET scan yet have they?" We
both just shook our heads. "Well the news is very good--- no sign of cancer--
we'll just have to keep an eye on you from now on." We both looked at
each other incredulously. Was he saying what we thought he was saying?
Then he used the remission word. Sure enough he was!

Holy mackeral!!! Success!! It was so unexpected, that we both didn't know
what to do with that information. I went from smiling to laughing to crying
in five minutes. "Wow! wow, wow , wow, wow . . ." That's all I could say.
In Andrew's typical fashion, he just carried on, "Well I got to go teach school
now. . . " We left the office and I kissed him goodbye and I swear
he felt different-- more solid, more real, definitely more permanent.

It was pouring rain that day, but when I got home I immediately went
to the back yard to thank my PVM (personal Virgin Mary) who I had asked
for back up the day before. "Good work" I told her as I petted her hands
and head, "Damn good work."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

live it. . .

I knew after listening to only three chords that it was going to be good.
Andrew had dragged us out to listen to the band Donna the Buffalo who was playing at a
fundraiser in the nearby town of Cazenovia. Seems like we had been just missing
Donna for years. Every time we arrived in our favorite vacation place Ocracoke Island
our friends there would say "Donna Buffalo played here last week-- they were great- you
just missed them." When Andrew saw the banner across the road in Cazenovia that
announced Donna's concert, I knew we would have to go.

Now "dragged" might seem to be strong word to use here, but
to get me out at night after 8 p.m. after a tough week at work
takes a pretty formidable effort. He sold the idea by insisting,
and rightly so, to the group of us 30-50 somethings that we
need to do some of those things we "used to do, but didn't do
anymore"--- like going out and listening to some music.

And that strategy worked. That and of course the fact that you
always humor people who are going through treatments for cancer.
("Lets go up to Alaska tonight to see the Northern lights." -
"Sure Honey, why not. ..)

Nonetheless, I was stifling continuous yawns by the time we got in the car and headed east and the thought that kept running through my head as we wandered through the milling crowd waiting for the band to start was that I'd never stay awake.
But then the band did start. . . and like I said, only three chords in I knew it was going to be great. The crowd immediately started moving irresistably to the rhythm of the six piece band. Andrew turned to me and said with his accent " Its going to be a rocka'" - and a a rocker it was. The band warmed up with a swaying Cajun rythym that got everybody's attention, but by the second song we all could see what they could do.

Now most of my students have heard me wax poetic over the rock and roll of my youth when I teach about the 60's and 70's. They've heard me rant about the amazing Jim Morrison and the Doors and know I keep a poster of him on my office wall (compliments of my beloved sophomore class of 2007). They might even know who the top 5 guitarists of all time are based on my instruction (Hendrix, Santana, Clapton, Knopfler, Vaughn), but they still might not be aware, as most people are not, of my true passion for good rock and roll. That stuff really does it for me. . . and for Andrew too.Its one of the many things we bond about.. . . within minutes we were comparing notes:"They are really tight aren't they? the lead guitarist has the nuance and phrasing of Knopfler". .."yeah
but the narrative rythym of Jerry Garcia." etc., etc.

By song three we were done comparing notes and just swaying to the music -- transported in five
minutes back to what I will call our "wild days." Days we weren't so responsible, weren't so burdened
and weren't so damn serious. The days when when we still worked hard, but we played hard too.
I had forgotten what it felt like to stand in a crowd of people, all dancing, with the taste of bad draft beer in my month and the smell of sweat, patchouli and other exotic substances in the air --- listeningto amazingly good rock and roll. Our kind of what I like to call "physical" rock and roll -- the kind that gets into your bones and stays there-- the kind that makes you break into an irresistable smile when the just right chords are played-- the kind that makes you forget whatever it was you were so concerned about just
minutes before. We hooted, we hollered, we danced and we clapped.

It was amazing fun! the kind of fun we had almost forgotten about and certainly hadn't experienced in a while.

Toward the end of the set the band sent out a dedication to the victims of a bad
accident on they saw on the road on their trip up to the gig. "The best tribute we all
can give to those that we've lost, is to just live life to the fullest," their lead guitarist told us.
"That's our mantra," I thought -- at least we've been talking that talk.
Seems like it took a little Donna the Buffalo to show us how to walk the walk though.

"We should do this more often" A said on the trip home. "Couldn't agree more. . ." I replied.

Just live it. . .

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Just Another Day

O.K. I know i've been very remiss in keeping this blog updated!

I realized the other day that this is because cancer has just become a part of our everyday lives. Going to the doctor, having tests, chemotherapy, just another item on our to-do list. Monday: meeting at 10 a.m., exercise at 11 and take Andrew to get hooked up for his 6th chemo treatment at noon, go back to work, take him home at 3 p.m., cook dinner, watch t.v. go to bed.

Andrew has it figured out that while doing chemo that he can drive until lunchtime on day two; three days in - no dog walking, four days in not much of anything; Two day's after the chemo's done he knows he'll start to feel better. Driving and dog walking on day three. By seven days out he'll be pretty much back to normal. During the most recent rotation through he taught school on day three after treatment. Nobody knew. People all say "Andrew you look so normal, its hard to remember what you are going through." I came home on day two of this session and found him upstairs painting the sunporch. I'm so tired I can barely keep up with my life but he just keeps acting like the Energizer bunny. But I'm not complaining.

Having him be so normal, of course, makes it easy to forget that cancer is in our lives. And everyday we think as little about it as we have to--- and some days its not much at all. These past fews weeks we have been enjoying another "cooling off period." Soon after we got back from vacation he had the PET Scan, endoscopy, and biopsy that verified that the treatment was working. Tumor shrinking, no cancer cells in biopsy--- looking good. Doctor decided two more courses of chemo, which he just completed.

Our doctor also sent us to see another surgeon to see if maybe that might be an option now. But no go on that! The surgery would be very difficult and the results would maim and disfigure him for life. Voice box, swallowing mechanism, windpipe and pretty much everything between the top of the tongue to just below the tumor would have to go. (The thought of Andrew without a voice was far more than I could get my head around.) So we opted not. Especially since even after all that no one could guarantee that it would be a cure.

Chemo now is our only weapon --- and it seems to be doing its job. Next week he'll go back and be retested and we'll know for sure. So in the meantime we'll just keep plugging away: go to work, walk the dogs, make dinner, watch t.v., tend the garden, laugh with friends. . . nothing special going on here ---.but I promise, I'll let you know if there is.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Headed in the right direction. . .

So this will be quick.
Andrew went back for his tests this week.
Here's what we have to report.

Tumor is reduced in size by over40%
No signs of cancer anywhere else in the body.

Doctor G is prescribing at least three more rounds of chemo
(Andrew not so excited about this but ready to go).

New talks after that with new surgeons about
the possibility of removing the smaller tumor.

We are headed in the right direction!!!

We are in good spirits.

Thanks all for your prayers and good thoughts. . .
Keep 'em coming!!!!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Healing Time

Vacations, at their best, allow the time to gain perspective. The pushes and pulls of everyday life fall away and simply"being" replaces our usual never ending state of endlessly "becoming." Our hectic daily activities are replaced by more static indulgences such as staring at waves, reading novels, sleeping on the beach and thoughtful meanders. Yeah its good stuff! A friend I vacationed in Mexico with once, told me she could see my face change in a dramatic way, loosing its tension and angst and settling into a far more attractive calm every day we were there. After four weeks of beach and mountains we are looking pretty good!

For the relaxation that we knew we needed we headed to the places that we knew would do it best for us. . .for Andrew it is the beach, and particularly the Ocracoke Island, NC a place he's been going to for nearly 30 years, and the only
spot I've ever seen him be content at just doing nothing. He can sit on the beach for hours just looking at things: the birds, the waves, the shells, the colors and be totally happy.

For me it is the mountains and particularly
Seneca Rocks, WV. There is absolutely nothing that makes me feel as good as hiking up a trail and sitting in the sunshine on a ledge on that crag with like minded friends, enjoying that perpetual present tense that is climbing.

But we don't get to do either the beach or the mountains much any more, so their therapeutic effects were even more pronounced this time; and missed even more.

At one point I thought that nearly four weeks of vacation was pretty indulgent; but when you dealing with stresses like cancer, you have to pull out the big guns. Honestly, as I see it now, four weeks was barely enough. The perspective that vacation has allowed me is that it's just not the cancer,
but three years of transition, moving, new jobs and a
lifetime of work that has worn us both down. And we know we are not the only ones in that boat.

These questions kept coming into my mind, "How do you keep a grip on the present tense? How do you not let the good work that vacations do slip away? How can you do a better job of taking care of yourself and take time for yourself--everyday--not just vacation days?

And those are the questions that frame the spirit of our return home: How can we do this life thing better?

When you are sick, especially having cancer, being well becomes the primary goal of your existence. Every day is about trying to be as healthy as you can. But when you are well (or think you are well) your health and well-being take a back seat.
Work, family obligations, projects, bad habits grab the forefront. And the anxieties that come with them are accepted as the norm not the exception.

We all know that there is something very wrong with that picture, but nonetheless I can already see the importance of my daily walk or exercise being diminished by the importance of reading my email or tending to work related projects. The quiet time in both our heads is being replaced by lists of thing we need to remember to do. The time that was totally our own, no longer is.

. . .or is it?

This week Andrew goes back to be retested to see where he stands --to see if the treatment did any good or if it did not. It seems momentous and I can feel my stress level raising daily thinking about it. The other day when I was out walking I was fretting about this and told myself I might as well brace for the worst and get my head around that. Two or three steps later I had a flash of insight and the profound realization that that was really stupid. What good did imagining the worst (or the best) really do? Would it really make me better prepared for whatever lay ahead? In reality it was just making me more anxious and tainting a perfectly good day. My thoughts were just shaping me, not shaping the outcome of
anything that would happen next week.

How much to we all do this to ourselves?
How do we keep a hold on the more simple, joyful "being" rather than constantly thinking about what's next.
How do we do what is best for us EVERY DAY, not just when we have time for it?

In someways, this poses a far greater challenge than fighting cancer, but like fighting cancer it begins with gaining the understanding of what you are up against. . .

We all know, deep inside, what we need to do. . . we just need to do it. . .
and we need to support each other in doing those things.
So if want to know what you can do for us today--- just go do something for yourself that you ordinarily wouldn't do-- that's fun or healthy or just lazy.
In the end, I am certain it will be good for all of us!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

One for the Zipper. . .

The news of Mr. Zippy's gentle, but sad, demise hit me hard. We found out that our friend Jim had to part with his beloved cocker spaniel "partner in crime" of 12 years via Facebook as we were driving east on the NY State Thruway headed toward my Dad's. I turned from my iPhone to Andrew and said quietly "Mr. Zippy's gone" . . . and then the tears started coming. . .and coming. . .and coming. . . 50 miles later there were still full body sobs and Andrew and my own pups Sophie and the (newly renamed) Stanley sitting in the back seat were all looking at me with concern.

Now this might seem weird, considering I never met the Zip. But I felt like I knew him nonetheless and sure did know of his relationship with Jim through the numerous pictures and stories about him Jim lovingly shared with us. As dog lovers to dog lover we could relate. And having just put down our beloved lab George last year, I knew what Jim was going through. Oh its so sad and so tough. . .

But I also knew the tears were more. . . Four months of holding my emotions in had just abruptly come to an end. Crying about Mr. Zippy was o.k. --- and the big dam of propriety and holding onself together that had been firmly in place for so long had crumbled.

And I think that was a good thing.

I came out on the other side of it about an hour later with that heightened sense of that makes you especially appreciate the present tense and everything going on in it ---Andrew feeling chipper enough to drive the 3 hour trip and looking good; a gorgeous day; the love of my own pets, my husband and my father now a 1/2 hour away; a break from work---- I rolled down the windows of the car and let my dogs put their heads out in the wind --- ears flapping, noses up--- it was a doggie 21 gun salute for Mr. Zip and a simple reminder of what unqualifed joy and delight looks and feels like!

That's the image I'm going to keep in my mind as we take a six-week vacation from this cancer process. Twelve weeks of grueling treatment is now done! And we don't have to do anything medically related until after July 6 when Andrew will be retested to see how well the treament worked. I am happy to report that he has bounced back amazingly in the past week since his last round of chemo. . . . far better than the time before this. He's looking a little leaner, his hair is a little thinner and swallowing is still tough, but the energy and stamina are back, and when you see him he'll have a hard time believing he's been through what he's been through. It gave us both a great sense of relief as we left the hospital for the last time on Wednesday after he got his feeding tube removed. (Andrew convinced the doctor's this was necessary for full beach enjoyment). Leaving it behind for awhile sure feels great!

So this update is going to be short, because we got some relaxing to do! Goodbye hospitals, doctors, chemo, radiation and hello Richmond, Ocracoke, Seneca Rocks, beach, mountains, fishing, climbing and just being. Look for us as we make our tour of the South in the next few weeks and help us celebrate! Richmond friends we'll be there on June 10 -12 and back again two weeks later on the 28-30. Look for Andrew at the Penny Lane Pub on the 11th watching the England vs. US in the soccer World Cup. We go from there to Ocracoke from June 12 - 27, and then back to Richmond briefly, and then on to Seneca Rocks from June 30 through July 6. Seneca friends who are now scattered all over the place I hope so much we can see you there!
So bye for now. . .I got a margarita I've got to go drink--to honor this beautiful day, my friend's Zeke's birthday, getting this far, feeling this good, and especially Jim and Mr. Zippy. . . .

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Each year spring in Syracuse teaches the lessons of resilience. Compared to Richmond, Virginia, where we lived for many years and where spring just happened in one day or one weekend, Syracuse springs are gargantuan efforts that take weeks to unfold. Our infamous winters in Siberacuse are rough, and while most of us just bundle up and jump into it, nature takes a wicked beating. Things are frozen, covered with pounds of snow, salt and dirt, bent over by strong winds and broken by ice storms and blizzards. The persistence gray of the sky can make you feel less than optimistic. Its hard to believe that anything can come back from this. When the thaw does come, which if eventually does, it leaves behind a barren landscape of mud, dead grass and leafless trees. Very gloomy.

But, then finally spring sneaks in. Subtly at first. You may notice the occasional crocus, a few buds on the trees, the grass turning greener. The leaves on the trees stay in an emergent state so long that it creates interested veils of chartreuse green and orange-red that hang in the air for a week or so. And then one day you notice (like today) that spring is finally fully here. Leaves on all the trees, gardens teaming with spring flowers, grass six inches high and needing a mow. Add three days straight of sunshine and you can't help but feel good.

In the dead of winter it is hard to believe that
this is possible. Resilience is an amazing thing.

We experience it in our own bodies as well. Hair grows back, sunburns fade, scrapes and bruises heal, bones mend, the headache of the hangover fades. . .minor miracles every day.

These past weeks I have seen the miracle of resilience play out in Andrew. As you might have surmised from my last post, things have been rough. Round number 3 of chemo in conjunction with the final radiation treatments really knocked him down. Down as far as I've seen so far. Yes it was great that he could do his treatment at home, but that also meant that I got to see first hand and hourly what the treatment was doing to him. By the time I took him back to the doctor's to get the chemo pump removed (an amazingly small apparatus that fit in a fanny pack-- one of our few comic reliefs was making jokes about him looking like an 1980s tourist) he could barely walk and could talk but sure didn't want to. The nurse that checked him in was perky and kept trying to engage Andrew in witty banter. He never said a word back to her and just fixed her with a murderous stare instead.

In that time period we shifted from him being able to eat anything he wanted, to just soft foods, to blended liquids, to clear liquids, to nothing. It just hurt too damn much to put anything down his throat. The acid reflux was killing him also, so not only did it hurt going down it hurt coming back up. Once again I thank God or whoever for the Fox Soccer channel and his conversations with his brother Neil (made the trip from Sweden to be with us) who provided the only diversions he could handle and got him through the bad days.

But then by a week later, you could see the signs of spring. He started to be able to drink Ensure, and then eat yogurt. Mushy food was back on the menu and by the weekend he was able to eat a hamburger with great relish. The tee shirt and sweat pants were
replaced by button downs and jeans, faced was shaved, hair cut. He began making excursions out to walk the dogs, then to school, then started driving, then started socializing. He ventured out to student crits, the annual S.U. Fashion show, and my faculty's end of year party. And when he started agonizing about which tie to wear to the fashion show and insisted that the buttons on his waistcoat HAD to be changed out from blue to chartreuse green in time to wear it that night --- yep, I knew-- he's back to normal! As sure as the leaves on the trees and flowers in full bloom, spring was here. Although I would have had a hard time believing it possible ten days ago, he's back in full form.

So, I'm going to hold my knowledge and understanding of his resilience in the forefront of my brain as we enter the final round of chemo on Monday.
If cancer is the earthquake or hurricane that enters your life unexpectedly, the treatment is the like the mudslide or tornado that happens in its wake, creating a perfect storm of destruction. Both disease and treatment pound on you from all sides. Its our resilience---of body and mind-- that cures us. And that happens every day, right?