Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
February started quietly, with a touch of medical. The reason I know Tuesday was quiet is that when I try writing about it on Thursday morning, I draw a blank. That's a good sign, I suppose. The medical task was a video conference with Dr. Erteza, the cardiologist who is evaluating Marianne's tolerance for her new heart pacing pills. The news was all good. EKGs show normal rhythm after the last infusion and the hope is that next week's stronger chemo does not disturb the heart success. It's a contest between maladies.
We finished the day with Adrienne and Rita Zoom cocktails. The chat with Marianne's long-time buddies was particularly varied as medical discussions were forced out, by common agreement. Of course, grandkids became the major focus, as would be expected among grandparents. In this group, everybody is proud of their own, as they should be. Marianne and I see less of ours than the the others do, but that's a function of distance and Covid hyper-vigilance. We all do what we can.
Wednesday brought a return to reality and another chemo infusion. We drove to Kaiser and Marianne went up to "Palm 3", the oncology clinic, while I wandered through the hospital's new landscaping. I took lots of dull pictures, but only include one here. Upstairs, Marianne's medical team did their thing competently, as usual. The nurse did talk about cancer as a chronic disease, one that will require a lifetime of monitoring. That does not constitute news as much as a reminder for us to remember to do what we can during the journey, not waiting for an absolute victory, as one might do with a broken bone's healing.
Immediately after treatment, we went shopping. Why not? At World Market, we picked up imported cookies and scone mix. There are no limits to purchases made coming home from chemotherapy. (Later, I even went back to WM for a new kitchen carpet, replacing our normal hand-made wool rug that costs more to clean than this new polyester piece costs altogether. It looks good!
While she still had energy, Marianne prepared our daily meal, good therapy for her and good food for me. Just as the meal was ending, friend Ted gave us a Facetime call and it was good that he could get a Marianne-condition report direct from the patient's mouth. Ted's smile is remarkable and inspiring, given his injured back and long-haul Covid difficulties. A friend worth having.
From there, it was a bit downhill for the patient. Nothing dramatic, just the expected tiredness that comes from the self-poisoning that constitutes cancer "therapy". We have to believe this process will be deemed cruel and barbarous in a few years, kind of like blood letting.
While Marianne rested and binge-watched Grey's Anatomy on her iPad, I finished my 738-piece map of France. I value the hours and hours of distraction puzzles give me and am particularly in favor of wooden pieces like this set from Liberty Puzzles. (I ordered a couple more, expecting this chemo stuff to be around for awhile.)
Thursday morning started great, with a Peloton session for me and a video call to Dale in Bavaria for Marianne. Gloria came to clean house and I left for the Starbucks office for diary-writing time. What next?
I hung around the freshly-cleaned home and organized another puzzle, while Marianne left for her "haircut." Two years ago, this was more traumatic than it now seems to be, probably because we've seen that it is a temporary condition, but still ...
Resignation is how a lot of this gets addressed now and I think Covid plays a big role in that. Fear of infection keeps us at home, away from big or even little crowds, and colors any plans. In a way, it trumps cancer, at least for what it allows us to do day-to-day. My hope is that Covid and chemo end at the same time.
Friday, 2-2-22, was another normal day: trips to Kaiser for Marianne (hearing and physical therapy), art hut time for her in between and after, a nice dinner and puzzle puttering for me. We wrapped up the day with Zoom games with Brian and Jen, which Geoff missed due to kid duty. There are priorities.
Saturday was all at home as well. A blind(s) lady came by and measured for new curtains in my office. Since the old ones had been falling apart, I had decided on new ones, matching the Roman shades of the dining room. I had forgotten how much those things cost. Ouch! More inheritance the kids will not get.
In the afternoon, we had another Zoom, this time with friends from our days in Kyiv. John and Mary called in from Virginia, Peter and Chin from Florida, and Nancy and Steve from Minnesota. We started out with a health roundup. Nancy and Steve were still in quarantine from a week's worth of Covid, but they seemed to have made it through with just bad-cold symptoms. Peter was in a long recovery from hip repairs, and we simply acknowledged the elephant in our room.
Then it was on to more interesting matters. Kids and grandkids all were doing well, with Chin and Peter's daughter Alysia heading off to a new job as an English professor at a small college in Asheville, NC. She has come a long ways since being Marianne's sixth-grade student in Kyiv.
Speaking of the old country, we asked about rumors and information concerning the prospects of war in our old home town. John, Peter, and Steve had all worked US State Department jobs, but after retirement, no longer get inside information. Aside from second-hand word about the business-as-usual attitude of friends in Ukraine, most of the information exchanged came from the New York Times, The New Yorker, and other general news outlets. We will all be watching.
The evening ran late, with Marianne spending extra time out in the art studio. It has been a relief that this round of chemo only slowed her down for a day or two. The next infusion will be two drugs and our patient is nervous. The caregiver too. For now, I kept busy finishing the new fish puzzle.
On Sunday, Marianne returned to her avocation and I spent a few hours in the yard and gardens on watering and springtime cleaning. We have seen no rain in over a month, so the plants welcomed a little wet attention. As is almost always true, testing of the irrigation pipes revealed the need for several repairs. Trees and plants and flowers in a desert are not easy to maintain.
Monday, it was back to medical care, with blood tests and an EKG to see if Marianne qualifies for her weekly infusion. It feels like the start of a work week. When results come back, we learn Marianne's blood failed the test - not enough white blood cells. This will require a retest on Wednesday morning, just before the planned infusion time. Uncertainty pops up everywhere.
Fresno weather is shifting from not-too-tough winter, to an early Spring. Some cold and wet weather would be preferred, but at least this allows us to start using the patio again. I set out our furniture, featuring seating for at least a couple dozen guests. Too bad it will be just us two for the foreseeable future. (With low white cell count, we are extra, extra careful!)
Marianne returned to the art studio, doing online class work, a painting or two, and a new "coffee table" book to document her current round of studies, with life comments. I'll ask her for permission to add this to the diary, when it is finished enough. For now, here is a glimpse into art life:
Much of my own distraction centers around electric cars, Tesla mostly. I watch hours of YouTube and read Reddit and Facebook postings, commenting when it seems appropriate. My policy on social media comments is to be as respectful as possible, be positive if warranted, and think twice before anything negative.
As a Tesla Full Self Driving "beta" tester, I also need to give new versions of the software a test from time to time, so I headed out on a Tuesday drive to see what version 10.10 was like. I am not as brave as those YouTube testers that pick difficult city traffic. I just headed east on highway 180, mostly straight, but enough curves and intersections for me to see what Carla can do on her own. After a half-hour drive, my impression is that the system is getting better, but "phantom braking" where the car slows down for no obvious reason, remains a problem. I suppose that's much better than cases where there IS a reason to slow down and the car does NOT.
My farmlands drive let me see if Spring had started decorating the orchards. Orange and other citrus are being harvested, so that means winter is about over, but the only blossoms I found were in a plum orchard. I stopped and took pictures of the flowers and bees, something I think I do every year. It was a reminder that I can us this as a distraction too.
Back home, we enjoyed a patio lunch-dinner, finishing in time for Tuesday Zoom Cocktails with Adrienne and Rita. I don't say much in these calls, but I still enjoy the long-time girlfriends chatting about ordinary life. Women do this sort of staying-in-touch much better than men.
The rest of the evening was spent getting ready for Wednesday infusion, and worrying. Marianne will be trying a new cold therapy process to reduce neuropathy, so that's a concern until she does it. Then there is the worry about this round being a stronger dose than the last two weeks, and concern about her heart's response. And, the whole thing might not happen due to low white blood cell numbers.
Wednesday, chemo day. Restful sleep was hard to come by and we were up and out to Kaiser by 7:00 am for a blood test. I left Marianne at the infusion clinic at 8:15, hoping the test results would be good enough (they were), and the rest of the experience would be tolerable. When I picked her up four hours later, after a double-dose of chemo drugs and an extra bag of liquid drugs to help with side effects, her left arm showed signs of the uncomfortable battle searching for a place to feed all these IVs. Nonetheless, she was positive enough, a veteran of these things, and glad that another round was in.
Wednesday afternoon and Thursday we settled into our routines. The patient was tired, but generally felt OK. She puttered a little in the art studio, video-chatted with friends, and rested in Mamo's big recliner. Wednesday dinner was take-out from Moto, around the corner, but our chef had returned to service by the next day.
I did my exercising and started a new zillion-piece wood puzzle. These things take hours and hours, and have become addictive for me, useful since we have so much enforced home time. I do get to get out to visit neighbor Vern and to make a few shopping runs. It was all Covid-normal, with not too much chemo coloring.
On Friday, OK-normal turned to not-so-OK, but still normal I suppose. Marianne woke up light headed and feeling punk. We checked blood pressure and pulse and, thankfully, there was no indication of heart difficulties. 36 to 48 hours after some earlier chemo rounds, heart pacing had become a problem and I think we were waiting for this shoe to drop again. It didn't. It was just chemo lethargy, dealt with by more recliner time and puzzle time and patience.
Saturday came and along with it a return to feeling much better. Marianne spread out her morning pill-taking, and theorized that would help. Whether it did or not, change serves to restore a bit of control to a health life that sometimes has a mind of its own. Whatever works and on this day it worked.
I returned to normal with an hour-long walk, instead of the shorter but tougher Peloton sessions. I walked in the neighborhood and took pictures of anything I saw: flowers, squirrels, neighbors, and bees. Ordinary, unremarkable photos, but I enjoy the process, including the part of adding color to these diaries.
After that it was more calm routine, including a good barbecue steak and then a return to studio for Marianne, and basketball on the tube for me. ("the tube" - I guess televisions have not been tubes for a very long time!)
Sunday was a day of excess - Super Bowl excess. There was no wild party, and not even any (real) beer, wine, or football-themed drinks. Those are all ruled out by Covid restrictions and medicine conflicts. That's OK, we over-munched on chips, chili, desserts, and drank alcohol-free beer. Despite the goodies, the day did qualify as not-so-good for our in-house patient. This chemo-stuff is frustrating, with good days and bad ones all mixed together.
Monday, Valentine's Day, started with a blood draw and EKG, so it didn't seem very romantic. We did have plenty of together time, and even after three decades, we still enjoy that. The effects of last week's chemo were still working themselves though our patient's system, causing tiredness and a shakiness that probably indicates some sort of nerve impact. Maybe the ice packs on hands and feet reduced extremity impact, but that leaves all the other nerves.
The next day was a good one. The shakiness disappeared and energy returned. The ups and downs of chemo do not seem predictable, and there's no choice but to take each day on its own. On this day, Marianne spent plenty of time in the studio, we enjoyed an afternoon patio dinner in unseasonably warm weather, and then had Tuesday Zoom Cocktails with Adrienne. Marianne finished the day with Netflix while I completed the Barcelona puzzle. We'll take days like this.
Of course, Wednesday was another chemical infusion day, worrisome despite this being a "light" treatment of just a single chemical. But, it went well enough, just one failed IV attempt (there were three or four last week), adequate tolerance of the cold packs on feet and hands, and on-schedule completion. Nonetheless, our patient ended tired, shaky and somehow nervous. Where did THAT come from?
We moved on to shopping therapy at Moto, our neighborhood "bodega", where we picked up specialty lunch meats, cheese, and bread pudding. I think these are all healthy (enough) food groups. Afterwards, the art studio called to Marianne, while I delivered the NY Times to neighbor Vern. By the time I returned home, our house artist's mood had been rescued by her art. It's a powerful thing.
I was inspired to try to get some sort of full-moon photo for my own art, such as it is. Moon pictures are surprisingly technical and difficult, and I was not into all the complexity that might be useful, so I stuck with hand-held shots, partly obscured by the back yard trees. We need an overnight in the mountains or desert to do better, but at least this exercised some muscle memory.
How has chemo recovery gone this session? Very well, knock on wood. On Thursday, Marianne managed a full day, starting with a Skype call to Dale in Germany. It was good to be able to report positively, positively enough. From there it was mostly art for our patient and errands for me, including an infrequent haircut. I have thought about a complete shave, to express solidarity in the house, but a trim of my sparse, Norwegian hair may be enough.
When Marianne wore out for the day, I started a very tough puzzle of fantastic flora and fauna. These 1000-piece distractions have been very effective at keeping my mind busy and forgetting about the elephant.
It's about time to end this web page and start another. There's no big reason, just the thought that one page per month might be too long, and I get to choose.
Stay tuned for the next edition,
John and Marianne