Hook has gained two pounds. I’ve gained five. Who gains weight during chemo? It’s good news of course because Hook had already lost 10 pounds which was one of the red flags that brought us to the Hooks here and now. But I barely reach 5’4” in height so five pounds on me looks like 10 pounds on my body and 15 on my moon face.
I wished I had titled this blog WTF except we no longer feel that way now that we’ve ridden out the Australia-that-never-happened fiasco. Good-bye to a chaotic June, a calm July, and hello to a coffee-filled August.
But just for a moment, can I share all the good that has come out of the chaos?
Three Best Responses to Our Candy Situation:
• Srsly, WTF? (on a card)
• WTF? (via email)
• That sucks! (in person)
(Remember, we’re calling the cancer, “candy“.)
Then there was what Hook deemed my stage of “denial” not of the candy but of our move to Australia. It feels wonderful to laugh about this stuff because it was not funny when I was living it. In my mind, I was already in Australia, had been there for several months, and I wasn’t able to come to a screeching halt as needed.
How It All Went Down
After we’d received the initial medical diagnosis via phone, we went in for our first visit with the oncologist. (Everything is “our” and “we” now like we’re pregnant.)
To the oncologist, I said, “We were supposed to be leaving for Australia in July, for a year. Do you think this will delay us by more than a month?” It wasn’t a question really. I was trying to influence the obvious by stating what I hoped was a fact (denial).
The oncologist glanced at Hook before he answered, “Probably a little longer.”
I persisted with, “What, like two months, three months?” I didn’t get an immediate response but saw a knowing look exchange between Hook and the doctor.
“We’ll have to wait and see how things progress, but I would say at least six months.” The doctor replied to me but his eyes were locked on Hook’s.
These two science brains shared telepathic communique that no doubt relied on a ‘let’s wait and see.’ Hook is a wait-and see person. Medical doctors are wait-and-see people. I’m a hurry-the-hell up person. But it’s not my fault, I swear. It’s just that I was raised to believe a nap and a glass of water cured everything.
It was the appointment with the surgeon that set me straight. When I started in with my same line of questions, the surgeon replied,
“A month? No. Figure a year.” And just like that, Australia was gone.
Will we still go to Oz? We hope so; we expect to. Hook will reapply for a year sabbatical that kicks off in June 2013, a year later than our original plan. He’s already earned the sabbatical so I’m sure his university will re-approve the dates. And, we hope Curtin University in Perth is willing to go through the paperwork nightmare of re-submitting for a year visa for two.
Everything, though, depends on how this chemo + radiation + chemo sandwich treatment prepares Hook’s pancreas for removal (not all of the pancreas just part of it.) Maybe we’ll be lucky and he won’t even need surgery. That’s just me talking and not the surgeon. Surgeons love to cut people open with their oncology cheerleaders on the side rooting them on. Me, I’m not a fan of opening up the body illegally. If blood is flowing unnaturally, somehow that seems illegal.
Your Advice Please
Q. What do I do with all the Australia paraphernalia I’d been collecting or had been given?
People gave me/us things. My former co-workers presented me with an Australia basket full of goodies when I resigned my position from the university. I cannot give this stuff back especially since half of it was edible – we ate and drank it already. It’s like we had a wedding and then annulled the marriage 30 days later. And all the Australia books I’d received, five in total. I stopped reading them because reading them made me want to ask the surgeon if he couldn’t just cut Hook open right now—today, how about 4 o’clock in our living room?—so we could get on that damn plane.
Q. What do I say to all those professionals I reached out to overseas in preparation for our journey to Oz-land, people that I was trying to build a business relationship with?
They don’t want to hear the personal, medical details of my life or Hook’s life and I don’t want to tell them. I mean, think about it, when someone says the word cancer what feelings do you have? What images do you see in your head?
The Hook Health Update:
– Treatments: It’s going great. Really. Hook’s response to his treatments is on schedule and what his oncologist has wanted. Hook will do one more week of chemo (three already finished) then take a week off before heading into five weeks of radiation and chemo combined. (I keep writing chemo instead of chemo-therapy because it’s a dumb word–therapy of poison. Who creates this vocabulary anyway?)
– Supplements: What gets taken out of the body must be put back in. My by-the-book husband has embraced this lite version of alternative medicine by revving his immune system up with some heavy vitamin and nutrient supplements. And even though his western medicine oncologist poo-pooed the idea because God forbid we should include something that doesn’t HAVE A RESEARCH PAPER ATTACHED TO IT (I feel some hysteria coming on) Hook still takes the supplements.
– What next? After receiving five weeks of radiation and chemo combined, which will take us into early September, Hook will go back to a chemo only treatment for three to six weeks. All of this is to prepare his body for surgery in October or November – to remove the mass. Nothing is certain and anything is possible. That’s about as specific as I can be.
And I’d Like to Thank …
During our chaotic June, when we were temporarily living in Pflugerville, Hook stood in a friend’s kitchen with barbeque thongs in his hand, watching me sitting on the sofa drinking gin and tonics and giggling my way into oblivion with the host.
He said, “I’m the cancer patient here, and there are two able-bodied women in this house and I’m the one doing the cooking.” Now that’s just plain funny.
Hook and I would like to say thank you to all of you who didn’t have to help but did, who have very busy lives but stopped for a moment and thought of us, prayed for us, gave us fruit, sent cards, gave us vegetables, got us a discount on something, passed on my name to a business contact, made a connection for us somehow. I can’t possibly mention everyone before the music cues, but I must highlight:
- AK & Chuck, aka Angelica and Charles Kelley: The Kelleys are forever destined to live with cats they do not own. The irony is they work hard to have this incredibly clean home free of hair, yet they keep inheriting animals from family or friends (like us). It was always the plan that they would feline-sit Gatita for our year abroad, but in the midst of our double-move in June, we dumped off our cat with a “We’re not sure when we’ll be back to get her. Soon we hope. Oh, Hook has cancer.” Chuck loved on Gatita and allowed her to hiss and whine at his own cat, Ying, who is like the Kung Fu grasshopper of cats with his bushy white body and almond-shaped, blue eyes. Angelica and Charles had Gatita for a month and when I drove out to Cedar Park to pick her up, she wasn’t all that keen on leaving what she thought was her immaculate, new home. I found out later that Chuck had been sneaking canned food to the little heffer.
Kelly Scott: If you’re a single, hot babe who’s into smart guys who own a condo on the water in Port Aransas, you may be able to help us thank Dr. Scott. Kelly’s condo was ours for the asking and ask-away we did. In between chemo treatments, we rushed down to Port A so Hook could de-stress via hours of fishing, and I could pretend our lives were normal again. If I wasn’t going to be kidnapped from my own life, then water and beach were required. It’s not hard to stay positive when you have a view of the beach on a 24×7 basis. And who knows, with Kelly’s new hot bod (he’s training for something), maybe he’ll get down to Texas from his native Canada to enjoy his own condo instead of letting his friends-with-candy always use it.
Angela Loeb — career angel: Angela is an angel in disguise. She probably received my initial Good News/Bad News email like 9 o’clock at night and started emailing people at 9:01. (I’d sent out an SOS email before my initial blog.) From all of her e-introductions came a connection with someone that began with one conversation and turned into a long-term freelance recruiting gig as a Director of Executive Recruitment. It just doesn’t occur to Angela not to immediately help someone. In her next life, I’m quite certain she will come back as a cat in ancient Egypt, revered because of her wisdom and grace.
Friend of friend, Sandy Bannister, set up a lunch with her friend who was a former pancreatic cancer patient but was now seven years without pancreatic candy even though he’d been diagnosed stage 4 (which Hook is not) and he’d been given six months to “wrap up his affairs.” Sandy’s friend was a walking miracle because he took the management of his health seriously and how could he not since he was also a Ph.D of the sciences. Hook being the intellectual snob that he is would not have been as open to hearing about the use of supplements to combat candy if the advice hadn’t come from another science brain. John is a “survivor” (raise your hand if when you hear the word ‘survivor’ it conjures up freezing in an ocean overnight while holding hands with Leonardo DiCaprio with Celine Dion’s voice singing in the background) and he looks and feels fantastic at 72 years old with the face of a 52-year old. John, not Leonardo.
Honorable mentions: Scores of people emailed links to helpful information (please stop now) and I have gone to every single site sent, followed-up on all suggestions, and read every pancreatic candy survivor story. One business friend who’d survived an overnight freeze in the ocean with Leonardo, too, gave me the run down on candy websites and organizations that she’d used and how certain tools had served her needs. Insider candy info is the best. I’m a bit behind on follow-up calls to people who also spent time in the ocean with Leo, but I will call – I promise.
– Home offers: Two of Hook’s colleagues offered to let us live in their homes while they were traveling during the summer when we weren’t sure whether to rent a house for a year or try to sponge off people’s good nature for a year. It’s kind of a big deal when someone tells you where a hidden house key can be found so you can enter their home while they’re away. It’s an even bigger deal when you don’t use that key to sneak into their home to see if they’d cleaned the toilets before they left.
So many people sent emails or texts with a caveat – no need to respond, just wanted to let you know I was thinking of you. Some people sent wildly inappropriate jokes that made me burst out laughing. One long-time friend, Beth, survived an overnight ocean date with Leonardo’s hands on her breasts —breast candy—and left a looooong voicemail of all the things she’d wished people wouldn’t have said to her while she was going through treatment. Only a candy survivor gets to say that.
But how is anyone to know what to say?
It feels awkward when I run into someone that I don’t know very well or who doesn’t already know our situation and they say, “Why aren’t you in Australia?” Or worse, when they do know and I know that they know, and they know that I know that they know and manners dictate they say something because it’s personal but not overly personal or I wouldn’t be writing this blog.
Suggestions of Things to Say:
- “I’m sorry” is good. And I’m sorry, too, for everyone that feels awkward around a sometimes awkward topic. But I’m mostly sorry we didn’t get to hop on a plane to Australia. %$@#* Clearly I have a problem with letting go …
– “I just heard” works because you leave it open for me to steer the conversation to what I’m willing to talk about in that moment. I mean, I used to have a life before I was the wife of a candy patient and before healthcare became my entertainment (thank you for that saying Kay Bell).
- “We’re praying for you” I like this mainly because I believe in the power of prayer. But if you say it, then you really have to pray, and do the whole sign-of-the-cross thing because then you’ll feel like you really prayed. A priest friend once said to me, in response to my declaration that Hook’s religion was nature, “If his religion is nature then he’s closer to God than most of us.” So yes, please pray for my little wasp-man.
Hook is closer to God than he realizes and getting closer by the minute if he doesn’t quit that damn smoking. He is down to two cigarettes a day which means his nicotine addiction is officially gone. It’s the mental addiction we’re still working on.
If none of the above responses fit with your style, try one of these:
• That sucks.
• Man, that bites.
• Let’s go get that drink finally. I’m buying.
As I come out of hibernation and start to re-engage socially, I’d like people to know that it’s okay for us to never talk about Hook’s candy. It’s okay if you never ask about it. Mostly, that’s my preference. I’m even okay with pretending like it’s not happening. Srsly.
(If I sometimes go on and on about it, feel free to backward-walk away and save me from myself.)
I empathize with people who want to know, need to know, care enough to ask so I struggle with sharing what I sometimes don’t feel like talking about with not being able to shut up about it. Like right now, with this blog.
All the Ways We’ll be Even More Prepared for Australia
It’s been my experience that if you can visualize something, you can make it happen. I guess when I visualized Australia I should have also visualized reading a newspaper, dated July 2012, in the harbor in Perth.
- We’ll have an even deeper knowledge of Perth before we get there. Two years’ worth of initiating contact, introducing oneself, and holding SKYPE calls is even better than only one year.
– More time to get all of our stuff online. Remember how I said Hook was still living in the 20th century? You can imagine how interesting it was for us to plan a sabbatical in the first place.
- Time to read all the books people gave us as going-away gifts. We won’t be able to take all the Australia books but at least they will not go to waste.
– I’ll have more time to stalk literary agents before I leave. I attended an agents’ conference the third week in June because I’d paid a non-refundable fee back in December. Worst timing ever, but a much-needed outlet. Writing is my avocation and the dream of any writer at one of these conferences is that an agent will discover us and we’ll write a best-selling novel and all will be right with the world. What it’s really like is two half days and one full day of agents on panels telling writers how not to piss them off, how to mind their manners, and how to breathe while writing. I was unprepared for the conference because I was being chased by roaches in our rental home and I hadn’t been writing or reading, only taking notes on what chemo does to the body and hey, where is that box with all the stuff that was in my office? I went, I scored, and I am holding my breath and will continue to hold it for at least 12 weeks because that’s how long it takes for a one-page query to be read so who knows how long it takes for 50 pages of a manuscript to be read.
Dear Lord, since you took away Australia in 2012, could you have that agent call me with a “we’d like to represent you” in 2012. Amen.
So yes, the Hooks are gaining: gaining weight, laughs, and strength.