Tuesday, September 4, 2018

On Learning Curves and Other Things

The learning curve that I have been experiencing during the past six weeks since my surgery has been beyond my wildest imagination. The trip from surgery to colosotomy to chemo has been a long and arduous road, and the path has been steep. I am a person who values getting organized, having a plan, figuring out what needs to be done, and then moving forward. Unfortunately, life does not always move according to my plans, and now I am learning to adapt to my new normal. I am learning to deal with the frustration and indignities of realizing that I am not in charge of much of anything, much less my life or my bodily functions.

Even though I have never been a fan of sophomoric bathroom humor, I can now give my middle school grandsons a run for their money with poop and fart jokes. While most of us never even think about the number of times we pass gas during the day, it is a completely different reality for me now. I can often feel my shirt start to move on its own as a result of gas, feeling as though someone is popping bubble wrap on my stomach. Yes, this is my new normal.

While all of this is somewhat funny now, I will spare you some of the realities of the poop bag leaks, the raw skin under my colostomy bag, the anxiety of trying not to get too far from home for fear of accidents, and the list goes on and on. I realize that one of these days, I will adapt to all of this, but for now, I am still learning, which has given me the time to think about a lot of important stuff.

Interestingly enough, our young minister came over to visit last week. Being a cradle Episcopalian, I am uncomfortable with lots of “churchy” stuff, so I was not sure what to make of his visit. I told him that I hoped he hadn’t come to perform Last Rites. He assured me that that was not the case. After that, we talked about everything from politics to theology, but he caught us both up short when he asked us the question that everyone asks, but which sounded different coming from a rector: How ARE you doing?

Donna and I are both pretty practical, and neither of us spends much time feeling sorry for ourselves or wallowing about our lot in life. We figure out a plan and then deal with stuff as it comes our way. However, his question (How ARE you doing?) caused us to have a serious discussion about the issues and the potential dark spaces that lie ahead. While such conversations are never easy, they are conversations that need to be had, and we will have more of them.

Needless to say, this chapter of my life has been challenging, and I do not pretend to know what lies ahead, nor do I know how my story will end, but I will try to live the rest of my life with as much dignity, humor, and grace as I can.

Friday, August 10, 2018

When You Come to a Fork in the Road

SPOILER ALERT: This has not been a fun week, so this is not a funny post!

Now that my latest surgery is nearly a month in the rear view mirror, I am beginning to wrap my head around all that has happened. This chapter has been daunting because I have been forced to experience epic life changes at warp speed. When I went to the ER a month ago, I knew that I wasn’t feeling good, but I didn’t anticipate surgery or a colostomy appliance or a new bout with cancer in my life’s lesson plans.

Usually, once I know the facts of a situation, I am pretty good at adapting to a the situation and figuring out what I have to do next. However, all of these changes have come so quickly that I am still processing it all. Having said that, I began this round of chemotherapy a few days ago, and even though this treatment doesn’t seem any better or worse than my last round, my spirits had descended to a new low, and I wondered if I had the emotional and physical wherewithal to contend with everything.

As many of you know, my 75th birthday was on August 7th. Since my mother always made a big deal about our birthdays, I have always loved celebrating my birthday. Because I was not feeling up to a big party, several of my friends stopped by, and we had some good laughs and some good conversation and some rhubarb pie. However,  knowing that I had chemo the next day and knowing that I did not have the strength to take the Bush Boys on our annual Cubs’ game this year was definitely not a good place for me. I am not usually a defeatist, but I was feeling as though life had kicked me to the curb way too many times.

Given the fact that my head was not in a good space did not help. Feeling borderline nauseated and having an accident with my colostomy bag before my chemo began did not help. Once we cleaned up the mess, the anti-nausea drugs began to kick in. While I still didn’t feel that great, I at least felt borderline functional. By the time the infusion was finished, we came home with a new boatload of drugs and instructions, and I felt overwhelmed.

The good news is that I finally had more energy and started to feel more like myself and ready to take on whatever lies ahead. Donna and I spent a lot of time setting up a chart for my pills and for my food intake so that I can make sense out of everything. When I have a plan, I can cope with most anything. While this plan is still going to take some tweaking, at the very least, my life feels a little more in control. Next week I will have more lab work done to see if this latest treatment is on the right track.

While none of this is going to be a walk in the park, I have so much for which to be thankful. I have Donna at my side to do all of the heavy lifting--both physically and emotionally--and I have family and friends who are supporting me in ways both large and small.

In the words of Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Monday, July 16, 2018

I Didn't See That One Coming

I am usually pretty good at anticipating consequences, but  I definitely didn't see this coming.  In a previous blog, I was happy to report that my PET scan looked clean, and I was good to go. However, life often has a funny way of pulling the rug out from under us when we least expect it.  Despite the fact that my scan looked good, my abdominal area still continued to bother me.  Pretty much everything that I have eaten has made me feel queasy and less than great.  After visiting several of my docs and after I had taken several prescriptions, I was still not feeling much better.  Finally, on Thursday morning when I woke up, my stomach really hurt, and I was doubled over with stomach cramps. Even though I hate the idea of going to the Emergency Room, I was at a point where I didn't know what else to do.
                      Hi, ho, hi ho, it's off to the er we go.

Once we got to the hospital,  I had the usual rounds of tests, and still the docs and the techs could not figure out what the heck was going on. My first doc said that since there didn't seem to be anything that he could see, he thought it might be a good idea for me to spend the night in the hospital for observation--just in case.  So, I agreed.  Interestingly enough, by mid-afternoon, the hospitalist in charge came in and went over my charts again.  Then he casually said that he saw some evidence of cancer (in the stomach lining).  Well, now!  While I realize that cancer is the gift that keeps on giving, this was a gift that I hadn't expected.  That evening the head of the colorectal team came in, and after going over all of my options (such as they are), we decided that he would perform a colostomy and then send the nodes to pathology to find out what my next steps need to be.  Well, there you are.

Since I have a pretty good sized incision in my abdomen now, my most immediate task at hand is learning how to get out of bed with the grace of a beached whale.  On top of this, the new fangled beds at the hospital yell at me.  THE CARE TEAM IS COMING!  DO NOT GET OUT OF BED!  Geez, first it was Siri, then Alexa, and now hospital Hannah bossing me around.

So now my goals are to learn how to deal with my new circumstances of living with a colostomy bag.  I have heard that they come in many shapes and sizes and designs;  I am hoping to find a Cubs' design.  I also need to learn how to get in and of bed without pulling out my staples and screaming in pain.  The good news is that I have been to this rodeo before, so I pretty much know the chemo drill--even if it is slightly different this time.

Despite being served yet another crap sandwich, I have to admit that I am luckier than most people.  I have loving and supportive family and friends who have been doing much to help with my recovery.  I have a strong will, and I have lots of good reasons to keep putting one foot in front the other and keep on trucking.  

It's just another Manic Monday!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

If It's Not One Thing, It's Another. It's Always Something!

Lately, my life has been a “shit storm.” Our old dog Max Quigley was knocking at death’s door for nearly five weeks, and now he seems to have turned the corner and is back to his old diva self. We are considering renaming him Lazarus. During a rousing game of miniature golf with my grandsons, I lost my footing and fell in slow motion into a pile of faux boulders, and I did a pretty good job of wrenching my back. On top of that, much like Max Quigley, I have been experiencing some abdominal issues. A couple of weeks ago, my CA 125 (the blood work that acts as a cancer tumor marker) was elevated.

Since cancer is the gift that keeps on giving, I contacted my oncologist, and we decided that another PET scan was in order just to make sure that cancer schmantzer had not decided to come back with another of its greatest hits.

On Tuesday morning I had my scan, and as is per usual, I had to hurry up and wait until today to find out the results. Donna and I had prepared ourselves for the worst. If cancer had decided to rear its ugly head again, we knew the drill, so we were reasonably sure about what to expect. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I was mentally arranging my calendar so that I could get all of the things done that needed to be done because I always need to have a plan.

The good news is that my doc said that my PET scan looked good.

While that was a huge relief,  I realize that there is still much left on my to do list. Given the soul crushing headlines in the news--the border debacle, the Supreme Court rulings against unions and Muslims, and the news of Justice Kennedy’s retirement--many of the human rights that have been so hard won are now in jeopardy. While those who hate politics do not want to hear about these issues and while others are applauding these moves, I am not, and I will not sit still and allow that which I know is wrong to happen without my speaking out.  I find the prospect of what may lie ahead to be frightening, but as a tax-paying, voting citizen, I know that it is part of my civic responsibility to stay awake, informed, and engaged. I know that I must do my part. I know that I do not have the luxury of looking away.

Even though my back is still killing me, I plan to get off my heating pad and go out and canvass for the candidates whose positions I support. I plan to support them with my time and with my dollars. I plan to continue having respectful conversations with people whose opinions differ from mine; however, I also plan to call BS when those people are spewing unsubstantiated talking points.

In short, I am back, and I plan to kick ass and take names.

     Credit for the above picture goes to Kurt Reigel:  https://www.facebook.com/kurtriegel

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Archers Got the Power and Other Things

During these dark days when it seems as though reason and civility and kindness have completely disappeared from the planet, I have been heartened at the empathy expressed by many former Archers. Just like any "family," we don't always agree all of the time...and yet, even those with whom I disagree generally express their opinions respectfully.
What I loved about South Side was that we were a big, dysfunctional family. There were times when people made me crazy, and I wanted to smack them, but if anyone said anything about South Side or the people therein, I was ready "to go all South Side" on them. Such is the nature of families. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned. We do not have to agree with others to care about their well being.
All of this reminds me of some favorite lines:

Within the circularity of it all,
the cosmic riddle of life and death and life again,
Each swan is always a swan with all its beauty and grace.
No frog would induce a jay to live its way.
Perhaps, therein lies the secret to peaceful coexistence.
-Author Unknown

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Cancer Schmantzer: The Next Chapter

I wrote my first blog one year ago today. For those who have not committed this ground breaking, earth-shaking blogpost to memory, here are the first two paragraphs:

      There is a cancer in the body politic. Our lawmakers seem more intent on playing to the voters they choose rather than on serving all of their constituents. We have grown to expect that the Super Majorities will be more concerned with consolidating and maintaining power and control than with with governance. At this point, I see very little chance for a cure of this cancer.

     There is also a cancer in the body of Phyllis Bush. On Friday, April 7th, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Even though what lies before me feels like a kick in the teeth, I have chosen to be annoyed rather than bummed; in fact, this diagnosis has allowed me to give new meaning to the word pissment. I usually share my middle school mean girl thoughts and potty mouth only with my friends; however, when I was in recovery after my surgery and my doctor gave me the word, all I could think to say was the F word.

Cancer Schmantzer! Here is where I am today. I had my 3 month PET scan exactly a month ago, and the results showed that the chemo has held my cancer at bay--or at least until my next PET scan this summer.

While I am still the same person that I was when I started this unplanned adventure, I have learned a lot during the past year and a half. Despite the fact that there is still a cancer in the body politic, most of those who populate my world are good and kind and thoughtful. People (both friends and those I hardly know) have said and written lovely things. I have been blown away by the unexpected gestures of thoughtfulness that have been shown to me.

While carpe diem (seize the day) is a common theme throughout literature, rather than teaching that theme, I am trying to live it. Last July we took my grandsons to see a Cubs’ game, and as they went down close to the field to watch the teams warm up and as they walked away from me, I remember thinking that that might be the last time I would ever go to a Cubs’ game with them, and I was filled with sadness. However, now that I have a reprieve (at least for awhile), I realize that tomorrow is promised to no one. I plan to make the most of whatever time I have left on this planet. If I want to do something, I will find a way to do it. If I want to go somewhere, I will find a way to make that happen. If someone or something makes me crazy, I know that I can choose to walk away.

I often become impatient with people who whine and complain and do nothing to change their situation. However, I have lived the past 74 (nearly 75) years on my own terms, and I will continue to do so. I will continue to speak and write about issues that are of concern to me. I will continue to canvass for candidates in whom I believe. I will continue to open my home and my heart to those I love and care about.

In the words of Woody Allen, “Eighty percent of life is showing up.”
...and that is my plan. I will continue to show up.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

On PET Scans and Other Things

Last Monday I had a three month follow up exam with my oncologist to get the results of my PET scan; the purpose of the scan is to find out whether the chemo treatments had worked. My stomach had been in knots since I had the scan the Thursday before, and I am happy to report that my doc said that everything looks good. My first reaction was “Are you sure?” He said, “Yes,” to which I replied, “I love you.”

Before I left Parkview, I stopped by the infusion lab to tell some of the oncology nurses the good news. While I was glad to let them know, I was aware that there are a lot of patients in that infusion area who were not going to be getting good news any time soon, so I made a point of keeping my happiness restrained.

While some people think that cancer, especially Stage 4, is a death sentence, in many cases, cancer is considered to be a chronic disease. Whether or not it is chronic, a person with cancer is never out of the woods. The good news is that I now have a reprieve. I will go back for a check up in June and another PET scan later this summer, but for now, all is good.

Right now I am flooded by emotions that I am still trying to process. I dodged the bullet this time. No chemo--at least for now. I am hoping that my next PET scan will be positive as well, but I also am realistic enough to know that cancer can rear its ugly head any time it damn well wants to.

I thought that I would have been doing happy dances all week, but oddly enough, I haven't been. While I never made a plan to use stoicism as a strategy, my m.o. has been simply to put one foot in front of the other, to deal with whatever happened when it happened, and to try to not get ahead of myself by anticipating outcomes. Apparently, having the sword of Damocles hanging over my head for all of that time must have taken its toll because I have been exhausted all week. Last week’s drama with Max Quigley, the firefighters, EMS, and my Women of Grace speech did not help quash my exhaustion level.  (https://qbg1.blogspot.com/2018/03/my-women-of-grace-speech.html)

So, what have I learned from my odyssey through cancer world?

The first thing that comes to mind is patience. I am not by nature a patient person, and cancer doesn’t give a care whether you are a Type A person or obsessive-compulsive or anal-retentive. Stuff is just going to happen when it happens, and I have gotten pretty good at learning how to hurry up and wait.

Another thing that I have learned is that the folks who work in oncology are incredibly smart and incredibly kind.

As a person who always has liked to get things done yesterday and who likes to do most things myself, I have found that as I have needed help, my friends and family have stepped up to the plate and have been incredibly supportive and caring. Having a friend and caregiver like Donna Roof has been a gift that I can never repay, especially since she puts up with me when I am not being very put-up-withable. I am also grateful for all of the former students who have shown up in my life. Whether they sent flowers or brought dinner or sent lovely cards and notes, I am extremely grateful.

Sadly, I no longer have an excuse to use the handicapped carts at the grocery store because I had a lot of fun zipping around Kroger. However, I may find it necessary to break a rule or two and zip around the grocery store for old time’s sake.  Who’s going to know? Better yet, who’s going to stop me?

Of all of the life lessons that I have learned is that I have been given a second chance. If there are places to go or things to do that are on my radar, then I will do them.

If there are people or things that I don’t want to deal with, then I won’t. Life is too short to deal with unnecessary and irrelevant stuff.

If there are things that need to be said to the people that I love, I will say them.

For those of you who have been following my cancer-schmantzer odyssey for the past year, I really appreciate all of your kind words and support. Thank you!