My Sixth (6th) Cancerversary

 

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Six is Six Anywhere

Yup!  We’re talking about the number six (6) here, as in 3+3, half a dozen, one boxcar of the gaming craps pair.  I wanted to go on and on and bowl you over with my mathematical prowess but I fought the feeling.  Six years is six years in any language and definitely longer than eight months.  This month of June marks the sixth year I have survived adenocarcinoma non-small-cell lung cancer Stage 4.

In the year 2012, I was quietly minding my own business when cancer came knocking at the door of my existence.  Actually, barging in would be more accurate.  First, a tell-tale sign it might barge showed up.  A dry cough harassed me.  I called it allergy, hay fever, asthma, scratchy throat.  The word cancer was not in my vocabulary then.  Long story short, a visit with a Nursing Practitioner that June led to – in quick succession – an x-ray, a CTscan, a PET scan, a biopsy, a lung cancer diagnosis, an aborted surgery, and finally, an oncologist’s prognosis:  Without treatment, 8 months of breathing left in me.  With treatment, 11 months maybe a year.  The news shook me to the core and brought tears to the eyes of the two men in my life at that time.

Being a veteran of conflicts, I simply squared my shoulders after the unpleasant surprise sank in.  I faced the future with aplomb with a view toward fighting.  Since time immemorial I had been fighting.  Over two decades and two continents, I fought for my place in the engineering and construction world. Which meant I also had to fight laziness.  The truth be known, during lulls in the battlefield, my imagination teemed with hammocks in exotic shores where I sipped toddies from glasses with tiny colorful umbrellas.  Carousing in balmy breeze instead of fighting for survival in the workplace

I prepared for the battlefield at hand.  I read as much as I could to learn about lung cancer.  Knowledge of the enemy gave me power over it.  It was my catharsis.  I maintained my sense of humor.  Laughter is also cathartic, excellent for the lungs.  My booming laugh probably unleashed each time intensity 9 tremor to the undesirable characters  in there.  I took chances.  I entered a clinical trial for an experimental drug and wrote a blog about it to entertain myself and share the experience. I covered every event in the trial, both good and bad.  The good ones outdid the bad ones such as the drug-induced diabetes and the consequent loss of appetite.  In time the worst event resolved.  The diabetes disappeared and the appetite returned. Feeding my face again was so exhilarating that it inspired me to post “Stoke That Appetite,” a rip roaring account of my medical marijuana adventure.

Whoohoo! It’s been six years since June 2012. In the span of those six years,  I experienced important family milestones I would have missed had I dropped dead on or before the Onc-proclaimed expiration date.  On the other hand, who knows what exciting happenings I might have missed had I keeled over dead and floated to the other side of the Pearly Gates? Fortunately, everybody – without exception – gets to participate in those events sooner or later, preferably later.

For now I’ll talk about what I know.  I’ll reiterate a couple of developments I’m glad I witnessed after beating the prognosis. I saw my only grandchild, a boy, develop from a 6-year-old kid who was unclear on the concept of rhyming to a gifted pre-teen who’ll one day in the future say earth-shattering things.  I saw my only biological child, a son, a schooled artist and architect, transition professionally from starvation mode to a commercially competitive sculptor.  There’s always hope!

Live, learn, laugh. That’s what I’ve been doing.

Please share your thoughts or ask a question if you like.

 

 

 

 

The Sculptor’s Mother

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The Author and Her Son Thomas, circa 1976….We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

I’m so excited!
I just can’t hide it!

Remember the opening of that popular Pointer Sisters’ song?  I’m going through the emotion right now.  What happened was, my son, a professional artist, was selected as one of three finalists among over a hundred entrants in a sculptors’ competition for “One Per Cent for the Art” in a $6M New Mexico animal care facility.  Then he emerged as the winner!  It was his first attempt.

OMG! I have become an insufferable stage mother.  I now refer to him as my Son the Sculptor with capital letter S.  I can’t decide what to do right now.  Should I buy a sequined gown to wear at the unveiling of the sculpture?  Should I throw a big bash and invite anybody who cares to listen about the art-world-shattering news? I already made a big fat announcement on the retirement resort bus. The decrepit old people just looked at each other bewildered.

My Son the Sculptor has finally arrived as an artist.  The events of the days when he was a struggling new artist are forever etched in my head.  The clearest memory is of his first commercial solo exhibition.

I remember that morning vividly.  I was pacing the kitchen floor frantically in my baby doll lingerie.  Do you have a problem? Asked my concerned late husband Tom, the first in the widowhood series.  He was eating refried pinto beans, bacon and over-easy eggs smothered with red chili.   Yes, I do, I replied emphatically.  Our son’s exhibit formally opens tonight and if he doesn’t sell a single painting, I’d die a couple of hundred deaths.  I need to do something.  He laughed. Don’t worry. I got that covered.  I gave Tim $300 to go to the exhibit, pretend to be an art connoisseur and buy Son’s most expensive framed painting.

We cracked up at the clever scheme. Our unsuspecting son, the starving artist, had just been guaranteed at least one sale and the highest-priced to boot.  I was so relieved by the plan that an unseen force pushed me to plant a smashing wet kiss on Tom’s forehead.  Mwah! You’re a genius, I exclaimed.

At the show, before the guests arrived, I gave our son a piece of advice:  Put a red “SOLD” sticker on your favorite piece so you have a primer, just like the street musician’s see-through tip jar containing his own dollars.  When the guests started to arrive, I smiled sweetly at anyone who made eye contact.  I was wearing a name tag that identified me as Artist’s Mother.  Okay, got it: shameless self-promotion.  An unfamiliar face approached me and struck a conversation: Pleased to meet the artist’s mother.  He shook my hand. I preferred that he kissed it, like my European suitor did when I was a young  hottie engineer in the Philippines. The distinguished looking man continued his line: You must be an artist yourself.  I worked it demurely.  No I’m not an artist.  I’m a civil engineer.  I’m into sewers.

Tim, our designated art buyer, was the fittest-looking of the small-business men with whom we drank libations at the local watering hole after work hours.  Nobody ever built a beer belly on Southern Comfort.  The problem was, Tom forgot to give Tim a crash course on how to act as an art aficionado.  Tim came to the showroom more like a man sent by his wife to buy a loaf of white bread in a grocery store.  He strode in the show room with a sense of urgency, picked the most expensive art piece, and paid for it.  No perusing of the art work, no questions for the proud artist, no idle talk with the artist’s drama mama, nothing.

Our son got wind of the well-meant scheme.  Who wouldn’t after watching Tim’s flop of a performance?  His Southern Comfort breath might also have wafted in the showroom. After the exhibition ended, our son handed the $300 back to his dad.  I can’t accept this, Dad, he said.  What a guy!  He did sell some paintings on his own merits.

Now Son the Sculptor talks about expanding his horizon. He plans to enter national competitions.  Imagine how stressful that would be for the mother.

Fortunately, stress becomes me.  So go ahead. Bring it on.  Share your stage mother (or father) moment. I’m listening.

For those possessed of the time and the inclination to see the winning piece, here is the link https://thomastomlinsonart.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senior Citizenship

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Senior citizenship has oodles of privileges.  I began to look into all these privileges when I turned 49 many moons ago, long before I became an official senior citizen. Yes, I admit. I have a proclivity to plan way ahead especially when it comes to reaping benefits.  Even these days I read about the senior citizen programs  in other countries just in case a new and improved lifestyle outside the US might enhance my existence in the twilight years.  I love the free first-run movies in air-conditioned theaters for seniors in the Philippines and the free bus rides for seniors in Costa Rica where I’d be bestowed the title “aciudadano de oro.”  It sure sounds important.  In the US each state has interesting generous programs for senior citizens. I’m still hoping to find a state that distributes free string bikinis to qualified senior babes.

One great benefit of the USA senior citizen is the free income tax preparation offered ,by the AARP, a US-based group that focuses on the elderly and how they can continue to live well after retirement.  In the retirement resort where I live, AARP tax preparation volunteers open shop in time to help seniors file their income tax returns no later than April 15th.

Last year, 2017, on the sixth month of my residency in the community, I availed myself of the AARP services.  I went through the motions of setting up an appointment date, gathering the previous year’s income tax return, all the latest income statements from banks, pension funds, and Social Security Administration (SSA), and when it was all said and done, I finally made it front and center of a volunteer.  A senior herself, the volunteer, a Chinese lady whose serious, non-cosmetically-enhanced face screamed “retired bean counter,” studied my personal information as if she was seeing something that required in-depth scrutiny.  You filed a joint return last year? she asked. I answered, Yes I did. She contnued, You are filing a separate return this year?  No, I replied. My husband died last year so I am a widow this year.  Her Chinese eyes opened wide, my Filipino eyes opened even wider.  She said, You might not need to file this year because you are a new widow, but I’m not so sure.  I’ll call my supervisor.  The volunteer sounded excited.  She had no idea how much more excited she got me.  When the supervisor arrived, she looked at a chart of allowable and exempt conditions for new widows then confirmed what I wanted to hear:  You don’t have to file this year, but check again next year.

How about that!  New widowhood has its own privilege.  This year 2018, last year’s next year, I tried to invoke my new-widow income tax non-filer privilege.  I toyed with the notion there might be a chance I could use it every year until I become an old widow.  Wishful thinking warms the aging heart.

No, no, no, you have to file this year, declared this year’s volunteer, a senior citizen male whose silver mustache covering his upper lip matched the silver hair on his head.  And you also should have filed last year.

Oh dear, I gasped.  Now I am a tax evader.  I did my disarming best to get the volunteer to get off the kick of correcting my last year’s non filing and just proceed to this year’s filing.  I succeeded.

But I don’t see your 2017 SSA Statement of Benefits, he declared.  It dawned on me that I had not received my SSA statements in two years.  It’s a good thing I’m retired and a new widow.  I have an excuse for being clueless.  He instructed me: Go to the SSA office now and you’ll be back here in a couple of hours.  I protested: I can’t.  I save the environment from pollution.  I take the bus.  He warned:  Today is AARP’s last day here.

The disarming senior babe went to work.  Then please get me an extension from the IRS, I implored, my rapidly blinking brown eyes drilled on his hazel eyes.  That will give me time to update my personal information on file with the IRS and get replacements for SSA 1099 statements.  He caved in.  He filed electronically for an extension and gave me his card.  See you at the end of summer, he said.

Two days later I was so relieved to get all the SSA requirements done without leaving my minimalist manor:  my personal information updated by phone and my 2017 Statement of Benefits to be replaced through snail mail.  It took 45 minutes, but I had dedicated a whole day for that.  Hey, I’m retired.

Now I can focus on assembling my pool wardrobe for summer and hope this year’s AARP tax volunteer would still be up to the task of helping this poor helpless senior with her income tax filing in August.

Meanwhile……happy dance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Medical Professionals Who Do Bones

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Lefty’s Bruises Are Gone Now But Full Range of Motion Has Not Yet Returned

Okay folks.  Let’s add Orthopedic Surgeon and Physical Therapist to the long list of medical professionals to whom I have been referred since I turned 65, my start in the serious phase of getting old.  The most recent referral however had nothing to do with aging but with a vehicle/pedestrian accident.  I was the pedestrian in that collision.

The traffic accident I survived in December of 2017 sent me to the emergency room  of a trauma hospital. There, a lovely 50ish Asian woman ER physician (Dr ER) had x-rays of my left shoulder – which the Grand Marquis car had hit from the back –  taken to see the extent of the injury.  As soon as the image became available, she projected it on a computer monitor.  My face grimaced at the sight of the junction of my thin arm bone and the left shoulder area.  Skeletons! They form a part of the 206 bones that make up a human adult.

The humerus bone is broken but it is not broken, said Dr ER, beaming. She expounded: The ball of the arm bone that goes into the shoulder socket is broken but it is not shattered or dislocated. No surgery is needed.  The crack will eventually close and heal.  How lucky, I gushed.  DR ER recommended that I find an Orthopedic Surgeon (OS) for follow-up consultation.  The ER doctor’s job is to perform the minimum required care and move the patient out of the ER as quickly as possible to make room for new emergency cases.

The process of getting an OS involved my Primary Care Physician (PCP), who was so glad to get in on the action.  He gets a big kick out of finding what’s medically wrong with me then referring me to a specialist.  This time he referred me to Dr OS, a cheerful red-head middle-aged man.

Dr OS ordered x-rays of my left shoulder and arm then reviewed the images with me.  His verdict echoed Dr ER’s.  This is broken but it is not broken and that is a good thing, Dr OS proclaimed.  But  I’m in pain, I disagreed.  He expounded: The bones will fuse together eventually.  I’ll see you in three weeks.

The next three weeks tested my dexterity.   Bathing, showering, taking off and putting on clothes with one arm were challenging.  I learned new wiggling motions.

I’d heard of the expression “One hand does not know what the other hand is doing.”   I disagreed.   Having my left arm in a sling 24/7, I learned my right hand (Righty) knew exactly what my left hand (Lefty) was doing.  Nothing.  Doing nothing. It just lolled inside a hammock, the shape of the sling. So, Righty, in tandem with my brain, took over quite a bit of responsibilities.  Righty did not have issues about monopolizing the tasks it had once shared with Lefty, as if things had always been that way. What a hero! Of course Lefty was not totally worthless. It lent Righty a hand – pardon the expression. While doing dishes, Lefty propped the plate without pressure on itself, allowing Righty to scrub diligently.  In other words, they had each other’s back – or front. One performed token work, the other the real grunt work.

There were just certain tasks where Righty had to go it alone, like applying deodorant to both underarms. Imagine the contortions Righty had to go through to cover the right armpit.

I learned to orchestrate Lefty and Righty to attract attention for help in depositing household trash in the neighborhood trash bins.  Any able-bodied person who passed by the bin area was fair game.  A certain smile, a timid hello, a little drama by Righty struggling to lift the bin lid – they all did the trick.  The old folks in the retirement resort were genuinely happy to assist the helpless senior babe.

After two months, Dr OS told me, Lose the sling. You don’t need it anymore.  As directed, I stopped wearing the sling.  Friends unaware of the accident and happy to see me often slapped my sore left arm.

Dr OS referred me to a Physical Therapy clinic (PTC) to start the process of loosening up my left shoulder and make way for Lefty to regain full range of motion.

The intent of my first appointment was to determine how much physical therapy would be needed for my situation.  While waiting, I overheard a 40ish Hispanic woman named Michele and a 20-something named Valerie conversing about me.  Valerie asked, Is she the one? She doesn’t look like……(her voice tapered off).  I could not tell if she meant I did not look my age, I did not look like Nancy Kwan, or I did not look like an accident victim.  One tough lady, Michele commented.

During the assessment session I learned more about the physical therapy profession.  I thought everybody who works in a PTC is a physical therapist who bends arms and legs.  As Michele gently massaged my left shoulder, I drummed up a conversation: So did you need a massage background to get this job?  She laughed and said, Actually I’m a doctor.  I felt like a heel.  My turn to laugh.  What do I know? I said.  I am a retired engineer.  I only knew sewers.

Michele explained that in a PTC there are different gradations of physical therapists, ranging from on-the-job trainees to college graduates, but there’s only  one doctor. In that clinic she is the doctor.  I notice she is the only one who can massage me. All others count or time me as I rotate my shoulders, pull pulleys or rubber bands, lift weights with my left hand.

Lefty is still working to regain full range of motion.

I think I’ll put on my string bikini, soak in one of the retirement resort’s five hot whirlpools, and do some serious positive thinking.

Have you or someone you know had a broken shoulder?  How long did it take to go back to normal?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Osteoporosis

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In the middle of this February, my Smart Phone made a funny sound, alerting me to check on a new voice message.  I listened to the message.  It was from the nurse of my Primary Care Physician (PCP), the doctor whose mission is to find everything medical that is wrong with me. I thought, Now what? Our next consult is scheduled in March.  What does he want from me this early?

I found out soon enough.  The Orthopedic Surgeon (OS) who is attending to my broken left shoulder that resulted from the recent car/pedestrian collision accident, had given his report to PCP.  OS wanted PCP to get me a bone density test. The bone density test result would be a factor in determining the speed of my recovery from the accident in case the attorneys specialized in compensation for pain and suffering ask him.

I told PCP, At your insistence I subjected my bones to a density test very recently.  Why not give OS those results? He answered, That’s different.  The bone density test needed by OS is one taken after your traffic accident.  And I also need a new one to see how the medicine I prescribed to you has affected your osteoporosis.  What medicine? I asked,  beady brown eyes widened.  My reaction took him by surprise.  You didn’t get the pills?  I want to prescribe the latest good drug for your osteoporosis after I prove to your insurance company that the pills I prescribed to you did not work.  Instead of arguing,  I declared the snafu was his fault and we agreed his prescription for osteoporosis fell in the cracks because of all his referrals to the podiatrist, ophthalmologist, gastroenterologist, etc, plus orders for flu shot, pneumonia shot, shingles shot etc.  He gave me a prescription again.

I visited my colleague Dr Google and asked him about osteoporosis.  He said it is a medical condition in which the bones become brittle from loss of tissue, typically as a result of hormonal changes, or deficiency of calcium or vitamin D.

I wondered what kind of osteoporosis I have, if in fact the diagnosis is correct.  I remember the Grand Marquis car in the December 26th vehicle-pedestrian collision accident smacked  my left shoulder from the back, tossed me, and drove my face down on another paved lane.  I thought the impact of the moving car followed by the impact of the rigid pavement were enough to reduce my poor decrepit little body to a small heap of broken bones.  But no.  I shimmied out of the accident scene with a hairline fracture on the slightly dislocated left shoulder requiring no surgery.  What about the brittle bones?  My son thinks years of yoga practice have made me pliable.  I think the fish heads and rice in my diet get the credit.

Okay, whatev.  I’ll add Osteoporosis to the long list of maladies and medical terms that I have researched since turning 65.  It joins the ranks of adenocarcinoma, bunions, cancer, cataracts, colonoscopy, pneumonia, Varicella-Zoster, etc.  Love that last one in the series.  It sounds impressive but it means shingles.  Having experienced all of them and then some, I can proudly crow: Getting old is not for amateurs!

My left shoulder has loosened up and physical therapy continues until my left arm regains its full range of motion.  Then I’ll be able to tie the strings of my bikini swimsuits by myself again.  Meanwhile, I have the retirement resort’s limo pick me up and take me to a scenic area where I walk uphill then downhill then to my favorite sushi place.  This brings back memories of my days in Albuquerque city hall when I was an employed young woman engineer shunned by the exclusive world of male engineers, long before it dawned on them how awesome I was.  The draftsmen and I would eat our sack lunches in the drafting room. For dessert, we’d have Fig Newtons.  At the end of the main course, usually a home-made sandwich, I’d raise my hand with the dessert and exult: “High standard of living!” and we’d all crack up.  My happiness has always come from within.

I’d love to hear what you think.

Dusting Myself Again

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The Author Won’t be Competing in a Speed-Typing Event Anytime Soon

If you’ve been wondering why I hadn’t updated this blog sooner, here is a clue: I’m dusting myself all over again.

What happened was, on the evening of the day after Christmas 2017, I was involved in a traffic accident in a busy Southern Orange County road.  It was a car-versus-pedestrian kind of collision. Yup. I was the pedestrian in that conflict.

I was cautiously crossing the major road, the green light in my favor, when suddenly a formidable object, which turned out to be a Grand Marquis, swiped my back left shoulder and tossed me like a rag doll.  Hey, I’m only a svelte 112-pound senior babe.  I thought, OMG I have been hit!  Next thing I knew I was in a cobra yoga position, raising my bloody face from the hard asphalt pavement, determined to get the culprit’s license plate number in case the accident was a hit-and-run situation.  It happens when the blogger has seen too many True Crime TV stories.  And then it dawned on me:  This is absolutely amazing, quite incredible, and super fortunate.  I have my wits! I live to tell the tale!  I was shocked.

An ambulance ride ensued.  Later the sheriff interviewed the driver, who did not hit and run, a witness, and me.  It became abundantly clear that the accident was a liability issue against the driver.  According to my research later, the insured driver is a US doctor of Middle East origin.  Why can’t I stay away from doctors?

I’d like to tell the story in excruciating detail but it is best to keep my mouth shut while lawyers from both sides are hashing things out.

Thank you for your interest.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

CT Scans After 11 Months on Tagrisso

Okay, no photos for this post, just milestone dates:

December 8, 2017  CT Scans day

May 5, 2017  Last previous CT Scan day

January 15, 2017   Swallowed first 80mg Tagrisso pill

Whoa.  That’s seven (7) months between scans! Was I apprehensive on December 8, 2017? Nope.  I was more concerned that my cabbie might not show up in time or at all. I don’t believe taxi drivers will show up until they show up.

Non-emergency medical cab rides are subsidized by my city in California.  I like it.  The $45 round-trip costs me $8 plus a small tip dictated by my mood and the driver’s attitude.  The subsidy has nothing to do with the resident’s financial status.  The city simply loves its adorable seniors.  Had I known about the subsidy sooner, I would have not gotten lost looking for doctor’s offices using the public transportation system. It always happens to the new kid in town.  But hey! I learned something new in each of those bad-hair sweaty days plus they provided fodder for my blog.  Always looking at the bright side!

My one-man-band Onc, Dr Smiley, does things differently from the Oncs in teaching hospitals.  First he orders the blood tests then we do a face-to-face talk to discuss the results.  This time, he said all the readings were fine except my liver enzymes were high.  What could that be, I asked.  It could be an infection, it could be cancer, he said.  What! I’ve had those high liver enzymes before and they were caused by neither infection nor cancer.  I remember returning to my alma mater Google University to find out more about AST’s and ALT’s and I came up with all things that were music to my ears. I wanted to tell him that but I didn’t.  I simply smiled to match the built-in smile on his face.  Then he scheduled my chest and abdomen CT Scans at a hospital with which his practice connects.

This hospital does things differently too.  They had me drink this chalky barium concoction over a two-hour period prior to the CT Scans. Then came the CT Scan motions.

The scans took place on a Friday.  The following Monday morning a message from Dr Smiley lit my smart phone, which is always on Mute so that I’ll miss all calls and appear important.  The results must be in, I presumed.  The phone also indicated there was a text message from my son.  I checked that one first.  Priorities.  In response to my text, he said he had used two kinds of sauces on the fried tofu that he served me in his house the day before Thanksgiving.  I fought the feeling of perpetuating the culinary arts conversation.  I had to move on to listen to Dr Smiley’s voice message.

The message actually came through the female secretary’s voice.  Everything is fine, she said. The chest is good, the abdomen is good.  The tiny nodules too many to count still showed up in both lungs but they are stable.  If you have any questions, give me a call.  I thought, here we go again.  The nameless dots in my lungs aren’t going nowhere.  In my mind I declared them scar tissues.

Here’s another thing that the good doctor does differently: No face-to-face meeting to discuss good scans results.  I find that strange, but holy guacamole, good news is good news which ever way it is shared.