27 October 2013

Fall Color

We've had an unusually colorful fall here in Seattle this year, because instead of rains and winds beating all the leaves off the trees, we've had mild foggy mornings and warmer afternoons. On strolls with Spackle I've enjoyed watching leaves lazily circling through the still air, as opposed to slapping me wetly in the face. Here are a few recent shots:

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20 October 2013


Time heals all wounds, and I'm feeling more circumspect and hopeful today about our prospects for a long, fruitful, and satisfying future.

On Friday afternoon I had an appointment in Lake Stevens for craniosacral work to help me recover from Gamma Knife, the dentist, and the snotty, snotty flu-like cold. It had been less than 24 hours since discovering the massive change I would need to make to my style of living, and I was still throbbing in the aftermath of the blow. I sobbed out various hurts to Debbie as she worked, and after an hour and a half of highly skilled labor on her part, and a draining of my emotional tanks, I felt like a new (albeit rag-doll) person. I really got my money's worth--a newly crucial goal in all my transactions.

Taya arrived out in the office as Debbie's next client went back to the massage room, and we sat to chat about my upcoming treatment plan and the state of my life. I've known Taya for several years now, and as she's got about 20 years on me, she often sees situations in a different light.

I told her about my new awareness of the loss of utter financial freedom, and that I was still smarting a bit from the loss of my Gorilla Tape blindfold, and she interrupted me.

"Don't beat yourself up," she said. "You have not ripped a blindfold off; you've just looked up."


"You were living really in the moment before," she went on. "You weren't sure you were going to live long enough to need to save your money, so you spent it. Now you are sure."

Now I AM sure.

I ruminated on that.

Here's what I think: I am not SURE that I am going to live long enough to need a huge amount of money, but I EXPECT to live a long time. Cancer doesn't loom over my existence anymore; it snaps annoyingly around my ankles, occasionally tripping me up, but mostly just being one of those things that makes us human and alive. We don't live in a snapshot of perfection; we live in a process.

Full moons and eclipses are believed to spike the influence of celestial energy on earthly circumstances. The effects we humans feel are accentuated by an open awareness and an eagerness to feel them. This is an awareness that I have been encouraging, with my tarot and my I Ching, my astrology newsletter and my meditation. I was not surprised, therefore, by the depths of my despair on Thursday evening, as that night we experienced an eclipsed full moon. But depths of despair are balanced by heights of hope, and the Universe works in mysterious ways.

Ian and I decided, about six weeks ago, that Orcas Home needed a truck rather than a 4-Runner. I had tarted up my car at Elephant Super Carwash and gone shopping at Toyota of Seattle for a Tacoma, with a list of things I wanted, including various paint colors and other optionals. Well, over that day, I decided that what I really wanted was BLUE first, and other things second. Of all the hundreds of pick-up options available in the region, it turned out there was only one that would work for me. There was not a single 2013 blue Tacoma left, anywhere, even as far away as Montana. "No problem," I said. "I'll wait. It'll come at the right time."

"They're changing the colors for 2014," I was warned by the sales manager.

"Is there going to be a blue?" I asked. There was. So. I'll wait.

The 2014s began trickling in late in September, in the standard, boring colors of the auto industry as a whole. Black, white, silver. Yawn. I wasn't paying much attention. They weren't my truck.

Well. I had just published Just Starting Out, mourning my awareness-change, and not ten minutes later, when I was racing around trying to leave for Lake Stevens (late), my cell phone rang. It was my salesperson from Toyota of Seattle, saying my Tacoma had just rolled off the trailer into their yard, and it was beautiful. "It's a Double Cab, and it's gorgeous! You were right to wait!"

"Sorry," I said, "I wanted the Access Cab. The Double is too big."

"Oh! That's right," said Shay, deflating. "Well, they're starting to come in, at any rate. I'll call you soon."

I shifted back into high leaving-the-house gear, slapped a sandwich together, filled my water bottle, made sure the checkbook was in my purse, collected Spackle and his leash. My phone rang again, a peal of insistent whinnying making me jump.

"Hello," I said, breathless, my heart racing.

"I found your truck," said Shay. "It's in Centralia, and we're trading the Double Cab. How soon can you be in?"

The Ship of Life crested the wave and started racing exhilaratingly down the other side, and I felt a burble of laughter at the preposterousness of it all (because I had no fear or doubt--I was going to buy this truck).

"I'm on my way out the door right now, late for an appointment in Lake Stevens. How late are you there tonight?"

"I can be here until nine. How about coming in at seven?"

"Great! See you then!"

Because I'd wanted this specific truck, because I'd kept in touch (I sent Shay an actual paper note thanking him for taking the time with me after my first visit), they knew I was serious and they'd initiated the trade before I'd signed any papers--something car dealerships don't do. And so, soon after Ian and I arrived at Toyota, before getting a trade-in value on the 4-Runner, before getting a credit report, before discussing just how much this new Tacoma was going to put us out, before they even looked at our licenses, I was driving up 99, putting Newblue through her paces. She felt absolutely right, and she's gorgeous.

A Toyota Tacoma is probably the best value for money one can get in a mid-sized pickup, and she's going to be with me for a long time.

Meet Nublu!

18 October 2013

Just Starting Out

Ian and I have known, theoretically, since making our decision in July and embarking on our Orcas project, that building our house in the islands is going to have a significant effect on our spending habits.

We had a phone meeting this past week with our financial managers, and said goodbye feeling optimistic--what they were telling us--that building our home would take all of our remaining cash and that, therefore, we would be required to make a major lifestyle change--was entirely consistent with our own beliefs. "I'm not talking about just a 10 or 15% reduction in spending," said Phillip. "Most of our clients, when they need to reduce, find that amount hard enough."

"Oh, I know," I said, laughing. "We are talking about a major change here. I find it kind of exhilarating in a way, though," I went on. "I feel like I've been spending flagrantly, frittering away my money for a long time, and it will be a relief to have that option taken away."

Earlier this week in the depths of my illness, I spent an afternoon on the sofa downstairs watching the movie Uptown Girls, which I love. It's light and pretty and heartwarming in an uncomplicated way, and I sobbed--SOBBED--as the princess lost her tower, and her financial support, and her naive, ingenuous trust in how her world worked--but I really broke down when she, ultimately (and with the help of some dear friends), learned how to stand on her own two feet, and define herself, and actively choose and embark on her new path. I passed off the intensity of this reaction to exhaustion, but niggling deep in my mind was a suspicion that I was mourning my own coming change of circumstances. We're not exactly the same, me and Molly--my dad was a French horn player, not a rock star, and I was the one who absconded with my inheritance--but the similarities were enough to strike a deeply resonant note.

Last night Ian and I sat down in our living room and had what I now understand was our first ever real look at our spending habits. I've known for a long time that we were playing an unsustainable, and in some ways uncomfortable, game. I look in my closet, for example, and see stack upon stack of cashmere hoodies in a rainbow of colors. It's a large closet but I can't step in the door because the floor is littered in boots, shoes, flip-flops, and slippers. Shirts and pants and dresses and skirts and non-cashmere sweaters bulge from shelves and hangers. The rest of our house is not much different--books and art and artifacts and mugs and tchotchkes and unfinished projects abound. I grew up in an environment of judicious abundance--a great plenty of simple food, direct experience, and intellectual stimulation; but reserve and rationality when it came to discretionary spending. I meant what I said to Phillip: I do feel uncomfortably that I have been frittering my boon away.

I have not been wrong. We discovered, last night, that we, simply in living what has come to be our day-to-day lives, are hemorrhaging money. I have been moderately more active in spending the money and receiving the ostensible largesse than Ian, but we are partners and this is our challenge together. Not only can we no longer afford any discretionary spending; it is not clear that we can afford all of what we believe is necessary spending. I looked in shock--actual, literal, body-chilling, heartbeat-skipping shock-- at the total we spent last year on truly unnecessary things, and how much on things we believe are necessary, and how poorly those totals relate to how much money we are actually bringing into the house. I felt my house, my sense of self, my reality, my unconscious and frantically gripped safety net--pitch and yaw and groan and crash and pitch and yaw again. I felt nauseated, and then I REALLY burst into tears.

I don't know who I am right now. I don't know what, if any, of the beautiful, splendid, things in my life I can claim as mine anymore, as things that the fundamental, ur-me would choose. I have spent 20 years making impulsive rather than discerning choices, and I don't know how often I hit on something real. Everything looks different this morning.

I know that I did make some important long-term decisions about where to put my inheritance, and I understand that my newly-perceived penury is lifestyle-changing, not life-threatening (and only penury in hyperbolic, hysterical comparison to recent habits). I recognize that I am, still, unbelievably more fortunate than most humans, in most ways.

In fact, coming to this realization at this time still gives Ian and me the option to make a major choice, open to few. We still get to build our dream house, or at least a comfortable facsimile, and go live in paradise.  Our home will be funded by our parents and ancestors, which is not an unheard-of position to be in. And, with that solid foundation, we will be set free on the world, to make our ways and our fortunes responsibly and independently.

But oh! My blindfold had been made of layer upon layer of Gorilla Tape instead of silk, and the act of ripping it off still smarts, and I'm still too blinded by the light of my future to see any of the details.

17 October 2013


I woke up this morning just before 5:00 am. I had to pee, and I was thirsty. The endless cycle that interrupts one's sleep, with greater and greater regularity, as one ages. As I snuggled back into bed--clean flannel sheets and the perfect combination of wool mattress topper and fall-weight down comforter--I realized that I was breathing effortlessly and deeply. I lay there for some minutes simply enjoying being alive, and then realized, with some amusement, that my October has not been unlike that of my government.

This has been a month when I've really had to buckle down and do some hard labor. While I don't believe I had to reach quite the same crisis point to make that decision, I have been experiencing some unpleasant days.

It wasn't all bad--on Sunday last week, just a couple days after Gamma Knife, we took our (almost) annual boat trip out through the Locks (working with a partial crew during the shutdown, but we still breezed through), onto Puget Sound. It was the perfect fall day--bright and crisp and not too cold--and we went to Blake Island where we ate a gourmet picnic lunch that S had prepared. After lunch we meandered around the island for a short time, S and I reminiscing about childhood camping trips there with my dad and the boat (we camped; he slept in his comfy V-berth). I skippered us back across the shipping lanes and up to Shilshole.

It's always a touch exhilarating to be crossing the shipping lanes in a 19-foot open ski boat, and after an utterly terrifying wall-of-wake experience near the mouth of Hood Canal a couple years ago I have decided to always wear my life jacket when cruising salt water. There are massive container ships, tug boats towing barges on long, almost invisible cables, cruise vessels, ferries and other boaters, not to mention winds and currents. On Sunday we had the added excitement of meeting the wake of a giant tug heading in our direction back to port--which is to say, a boat with a massive, ponderous displacement, hauling ass at 25 knots (which feels super fast on the water). This very slightly out-paced us, and, while there was a lot of space for us to move out of the way and brace ourselves, there was no way of completely avoiding the 11 (or 1100)-ft wake the Pacific Titan kicked out.

It was petrifying, and it had to be done at speed. The crests could easily have swamped us when we were down in the troughs if we weren't doing our best to skitter along the top of the water. I had to fight the urge to race for the shore, which would've ended in disaster as we were dashed against the rocks at the base of Magnolia. I gritted my teeth, headed for the mountain looming for me, and we flew up and crashed down. And flew up and crashed down. At one point in our traverse of this range of mountains we were heading straight for a cliff of water at least 10 feet high. We know this because L saw it and reported it afterwards; Ian and S were looking elsewhere, and I was trying to cower down near the floor, and strongly remonstrating myself that I ABSOLUTELY HAD TO SIT UP AND DRIVE THE BOAT.

Well, we made it through just fine. The Sea Ray bobs like a cork, I have learned some skills in the past years of skippership, and the gods smiled on us. (Incidentally, Ian and I watched Life of Pi a night or two later and I can say with absolute certainty that I will never, NEVER go to open sea, on any size boat. NEVER.)

But back to buckling down. It seems that filling one's body with the toxins and radiation of modern cancer treatment, and then heading out into the wide world and flushing that weakened, recovering vessel with wave upon wave of terror and adrenaline, combine in unpredictably (well, I didn't predict this) noxious ways, and I came down with the flu.

And so, my recovery this week has been prolonged and stunted. My sinuses, already compromised by the pressure of the head-gear pins, filled enthusiastically with snot, blurring the line between Gamma Knife symptoms and sickness symptoms. The toothache I'd seen the dentist for last week added a piquancy to my experiences.

But last night, the US Government reached an agreement with itself, and when I awoke this morning, I realized that all of my problems were resolving as well.

With good sense, practicality, patience, and reserve, we can do anything!

THIS IS A LINK:  see pictures from our outing here

11 October 2013

Heady Stuff

Here we go again . . .

My head feels slightly less awesome today than it did a couple weeks ago, because yesterday I went in for Gamma Knife Radio Surgery for the third time.

I had a brain MRI last June, after about 5 months of no cancer treatment, and even though I felt fine, Dr Jason didn't like the looks of the scans. He suggested I get Gamma Knife within the next couple months, ideally by the end of July. To play the insurance game, he was going to put in a request for coverage right then (with my approval), before we found out, from the following week's scheduled CT, if anything serious was going on in the rest of my body. Gamma Knife on the brain is one of those new-fangled, super-expensive therapies that the insurance is loath to cover anyway, and extremely likely to deny if there is evidence of broader systemic disease.

In the event, I decided I'd rather not subject myself to a CT at that time, nor was I interested in getting Gamma Knife over the summer. I filled out the acid-green end-of-life desires form (Do Not Resuscitate) and posted it on the refrigerator for everyone (EMTs called to the house for an emergency) to see.

You see, I had planned out several months of summer vacation, and was not yet ready to return to the drudgery of clinic work.

The summer was delicious, with a week-long visit from my 9-year-old friend P to go to horse camp and then a few days with the rest of her family; cousins traveling with me to Orcas for a mini-retreat; a visit from my best friend from the days of linguistics; and ten days on Orcas with our boat, among other things. Just before our trip to Orcas in August we decided to put in motion our plans to build our dream home.

Ian, strong, stalwart, loving, sensitive, and direct, asked me if building on Orcas, if actively working toward the goal of our future home together, was enough for me to consider using Western medicine again, if it appeared there were still some things in it that theoretically could help me extend my life. Yes, it turned out, our Orcas home was the kind of goal I could wrap my soul around.

In late August, after reestablishing my dedication to our land, I had a blood draw that showed my tumor markers had gone up, but not, in my personal experience, a huge amount. I requested staging scans for six weeks later, when my port would be due for another flush. I would discuss a treatment plan then based on what those scans uncovered. I contacted Dr Jason to get an MRI at the same time, which happened last week.

Ian has been on furlough since 1 October. We're lucky about this because one: he already knows he's going to be paid his salary for this time (someday). But two: we have a pretty big financial buffer, so the only discomfort we've felt with the situation was a brief stepping-on-of-each-others-toes for the first couple days. He was on vacation; I was still at work. Since then I've delegated some of the householding exercises to him, but then three happened: my six-weeks-to-port-flush was up and scans and medical issues leapt back into the spotlight. It's been a blessing and a delight having my sweet companion lock-step with me through this latest part of our journey.

I've discussed in past posts my yearning to be a good student--to ace the exams, to impress the authorities, to SHOW THEM what I can do on my own. That kind of attitude makes objectivity in the face of information difficult, however, so I've been spending some time working on changing my thinking. I decided that, instead of looking at these scan results as some judgment on my character or prediction about my life, I would look at them as prerequisites for allowing me to choose Western medical therapies. There is a lot to be said for the brilliance and dedication of the scientists and doctors who work with the physics and chemistry of modern medicine, but the methodology of accessing this brilliance is likewise scientific rather than personal.

That said, my results were personal rather than the expected norm: while my MRI showed one relatively serious spot near a ventricle and a somewhat larger spot in a less serious location, the six other blips that showed up on the screen were, to Dr Jason's surprise, pretty innocuous considering the lack of care and attention they'd been given for several months (arguably, because of the vagaries of the blood/brain barrier, I haven't had brain treatment since December of 2011).

Since he was free, Ian had driven me to my MRI and follow-up last week, and he and I decided together to go ahead with Gamma Knife, as soon as we could get on the schedule. Things fell tightly and serendipitously into place this week like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle: (Monday)Car Toys-Witch Doctor-Urban Float-(Tuesday)PET/CT-(Wednesday)Piano Tuning-Witch Doctor-Dentist-Mom&Marsh for dinner/movie-(Thursday)Gamma Knife-Dr Specht for PET/CT review. We never felt hurried, we just felt that things were right. And my PET/CT also had personal results: a bit more activity in long-term bone sites, but no new sites, and no soft tissue involvement. In other words, also pretty surprising for Dr Specht, considering my last TDM1 was almost 8 months ago. In a couple weeks I'll probably go back in for some more TDM1 (with premeds), but we'll decide for sure in a couple weeks.

In the meantime, I woke up this morning feeling almost euphoric after yesterday's events. I think I said it best to Dr Jason, in my first email of the day:

"Hi there--just wanted to let you know that I feel--psychologically--really good about yesterday. I (with the help of Ian) made the choice to do Gamma Knife directly when and because I felt it was right, instead of just doing it when you, who I trust, thought it was right. Subtle difference, but boy, I feel empowered."

Enjoy the pictures Ian took here.