Timing is Everything

HDU_TimingIsEverything“I haven’t posted a blog in weeks,” I said as he sat down at the kitchen table.

“I know.”

“I don’t know what to say.” My words lingered in the air waiting for his reply.  With a hint of resignation in his voice and as he pushed himself up from the table to stand, he agreed with another, “I know.”

“If I say what’s really going on, people will worry.”

“I know.”

“What should I share?” I asked because not everything gets told in this blog.   We only ever share the basics.  Reality would be too much, too bare, too human.

“I don’t know,” he admitted with a sigh.

“Me either,” I replied, giving in to this business of not knowing what to say and when.  That’s why I haven’t blogged for a month because I didn’t want to lie but I didn’t want to tell the truth either.

Status Update

Will the Hooks make it to Australia isn’t really the question anymore.  Will Hook make it another year is probably more accurate.

That second question circles us constantly now.  Certainly, it questions us tonight or I should say this morning/afternoon because that conversation above didn’t happen today but last week.   That conversation happened because of the continuing weight loss followed by a continuing decline of hemoglobin in Hook’s system.  That conversation happened after Hook’s unexpected blood transfusion two weeks ago followed by the really unexpected second transfusion yesterday or two days ago depending on how accurate you want to be because I started writing this at 10:30 at night in St. David’s emergency room.  Then it was 4:30 in the morning when they wheeled Hook up to his hospital room but now it’s almost 1pm central standard time the next day or today, Saturday, April 13th 2013.

Before the second transfusion, we’d had a disagreement over whether Hook should continue with chemo treatments anymore.

“You won’t have to worry about dying from cancer because you’ll drop dead long before then from malnutrition.  Something is WRONG and we need to find out what it is and we need to STOP these chemo treatments until we know what’s wrong.” My shrill voice rose to meet the hysteria that had been hiding behind all those lingering questions in my mind.  Is he going to make it? Why is he declining?  What are we not doing right?

But back to the emergency room which turned into an overnight hospital stay and my contact lenses that dried out over four hours ago are stuck to dry eyeballs and my brain’s not functioning so great so it’s hard for me to know if I’m making any sense.

  • A blood clot has formed in Hook’s left leg and he’s been admitted so the clot can be thinned and dissolved with a non-invasive, minor procedure.  We’d noticed some swelling last night and it was our good fortune that Hook’s oncologist was the on-call doctor.   His oncologist, who only two days ago impressed upon Hook the necessity of calling him for even the slightest changes in his body, recommended the emergency room right away.
  • Things look okay so far.  Timing is everything.   If we had waited until this morning to call, who knows what would have happened.  Or, if it hadn’t been his oncologist’s on-call weekend and instead we’d gotten another doctor who didn’t know Hook’s history, we probably wouldn’t have been recommended to go to the emergency room.  Timing is everything.

I could have begun this blog with the announcement that Hook was back in the hospital but I needed to ease you into it, because I don’t want you to worry and because timing is everything.

I’ll post again tomorrow with what I know.

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Just How Exciting is Surgery Anyway?

Exciting might be the wrong adjective.  Intense, queasy-filling, thought-vomiting … should I continue?   I had no idea the amount of preparation that goes into even the siHDU_SugeryPreOpPaperworkmplest of surgeries let alone the super duper we-are-going-to-cut-you-MEGAWIDE-open ones.   I had major surgery 15 years ago, so specialized in nature I still can’t pronounce or spell what it was called, but I don’t remember the masochistic surgical paperwork and day long visit to the surgical center before ever checking in.

When the Complex Becomes Even More Complex

In today’s world of surgical pre-op, there are appointments and paper galore, and the telling and re-telling and then telling some more of your medical history.  Has this industry never heard of streamlining the information?  A day full of meeting with surgical internists on what’s going to happen in the surgery room was unenlightening.  In fact, Hook and I probably should have invited them to have appointments with us because it seemed we were correcting their information more than we were being educated.

Thanks to Hook’s surgeon (cell phone manners aside), I can visualize with clarity what’s going to happen in the surgical room.  I know what Hook’s pancreas looks like, I know what it’s supposed to look like, and I know all the different options the surgeon and his surgical co-pilot plan to use.  A good surgeon has a back-up plan going into surgery.   Our surgeon has a plan, a back-up plan, and a back-up to the back-up.  Let’s pray he can execute.

Get Well Cards:  Hospital or Home

For those thinking, ‘Give us details we can use!’ please feel free to send Get Well Dammit cards to:

Allan W. Hook
c/o St. David’s Medical Center
Room #:   pending
919 E 32nd St.
Austin, TX 78705

Or

Allan Hook
P.O. Box 151240
Austin, TX 78715-1240

(Yes, we live in a P.O. Box and there’s not much room for new furniture.)

As soon as I know Hook’s hospital room number, I will update the blog along with some visiting hours information.  I know he will be touched to see get well cards no matter what he may have told folks.   My ornery, old fool can be quite sentimental behind closed doors.

Our schedule tomorrow will look like this:

6:00am:  Check in for surgery

7:00am:  Fawn over Hook and plant quick kisses all over his little curmudgeonly face

8:00am:  Surgery begins

9:00am:  Begin fretting and avoiding contact with the general public and flare my nostrils at every person who answers their cell phone in the waiting room.  Please spare me my phone ringing.  It would be embarrassing to spend an entire morning giving others the evil eye for talking on their cells only to have mine start ringing. 😀

10:00am:  Post blog about how the waiting room needs to be updated ASAP to meet my needs

Surgery exciting?  No, but it is excitable and not the good kind either.  Oh man do I wish I were a crying sort of woman.

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Where a Pancreas and Halloween Collide

Is it kosher to get excited about a pancreas?

We’re not frying it up in a pan or planning to serve it for Thanksgiving or anything, but we are pretty jazzed about Hook’s pancreas right now.   (Those are jazz hands on that tumor by the way.)  And just so you know how excited, this morning’s grocery list looked like this:

  • bananas
  • tequila
  • body lotion

Bananas are our breakfast of choice, the body lotion is for Hook because of the radiation, and the tequila is for momma.  🙂

Last week, Hook and I met with the oncologist and learned that the mass on his pancreas has shrunk and that “everything looks great, better than we expected.” Then yesterday, Hook and I met with the surgeon to hear whether he and his pancreatic posse believed Hook’s pancreas was good enough to be operated on.  The answer was “Yes,” and surgery has been tentatively set for Thursday, December 6th.  We’ll know more after meeting with the oncologist after Thanksgiving.

When we showed up for the appointment with the surgeon, he looked at us both and asked, “So how are things going?”

I answered truthfully, “Well, there’s been some nausea, increasing hair loss, and not much sleep.”

The surgeon replied, “I hadn’t realized he had those side effects.”

“No, no, no,” I said, “Hook hasn’t had any side effects.  I was talking about me.”

Between tossing and turning and waking up regularly at 3:14am in a panic, I would expect to have little to no appetite.  Instead, I keep eating and eating and eating.  It’s the overeating that’s making me nauseated I think.  And my hair, oh sweet Jesus, my hair strands are falling out in such great numbers that one might wonder if I’m the one going through chemo instead of Hook.   It’s the known unknown that’s weighing on me.  I have known something was going to happen (recovery, surgery, decline) but not when or what it would be.  It’s been that looming question mark hanging over our lives that has kept me on edge.   For the first time in my life, I wish I were a woman prone to tears, something, anything to release the stress out of my mind instead of pulling it into my body.

The survival rate for pancreatic candy is something low and not good.  I actually don’t know.  I don’t want to know.  I don’t think I can stand knowing too much.   It’s an odd place to find myself, openly choosing to be ignorant, fearing the unknown.  That’s why I’m counting on you …

Whatever You’ve Been Doing, Keep Doing It!!!

“How is Hook?” people ask.   If I keep telling you he’s great, you’re going to stop praying for him, thinking about him, wishing him well and I so need you to keep doing what you’re doing.  Keep sending blessings his way, good vibes, all your positive thoughts.  IT’S WORKING!!!!!

Writing that just made me want to cry.

Hook has had little to no side effects.  To look at him, you would never guess his body has been ravaged by chemo and radiation for the past five months.  He’s gained 10 pounds, his head looks like it might actually have grown hair, and his energy level has stayed more or less the same.   The only exception to this was toward the last month of treatments when a full work day was capable of tapping him out.

A colleague of Hook’s said he was like a cat with nine lives.   I like the idea of Hook as an alley cat, the kind who never seems to be starving but instead looks like he’s growing stronger, that cat who keeps showing up day after day and you know somehow they’ve figured out how to survive.  That’s my husband.

It helps that Hook takes care of himself.  He has swum five days a week for the last 25 years, and unless we have outside dinner plans, he sits down to a meal of a salad, a meat entrée, and a starch every evening at 6 o’clock.   It used to drive me crazy how programmed he was since I eat half my meals while staring at a laptop or while standing up.  Now, I’m thankful for his lifelong discipline, but I’m most thankful that he chose to bulk up on nutritional supplements especially since the doctors weren’t all that keen on him taking these in the first place.   I find it odd that western doctors are so unwilling to discuss nutrition when it’s so critical to the body’s ability to withstand the infusion of poison and laser beams.  But, Hook has been taking a basketful of supplements every single day for the past five months and I firmly believe that this is what will save his life.  That and your good thoughts.

Toward the end of our visit with the surgeon, the doctor took a long look at Hook and with amazement in his voice said, “Everyone here is bragging about you.  They’re counting on you to survive and look at you, you look great.”

Please, keep doing what you’re doing.   We’re counting on you.  I’m counting on you.  Hook is, too, even if he never says so.

Halloweenie in Australia

What?  I’m only 8 days late.   So I learned something about Australians and Halloween and how there’s been this terrible rumor going on for years and years in Oz that Halloween is a U.S. holiday and that the Aussies are sick and tired of Americans pushing their holidays off on them and yadayadayada.   The yadayada being that some not-so-nice-things were said by Australians about Americans.   To address this, I figured a formal letter was in order:

Dear Australians who detest Halloween,

Some of your fellow Aussies have told a bold-faced lie.   Halloween is not an American holiday.  U.S. employers are not giving their employees a paid day off to go trick or treating.  Halloween didn’t even originate in the U.S.   Someone said it had Celtic origins with the name derivation coming from something pagan, Hallow’s Eve I think, with All Saints for the Christians and dancing nuns or maybe it was dancing witches with autistic feet or autumn’s fest, yes, something to do with harvest and vegetables.  

Whatever.  

Look, the reason Americans celebrate Halloween is because we like to have fun, and we understand, truly we do, that our idea of fun may not be your idea of fun.   For Americans, it’s fun to pass out candy that we know will give kids cavities that we don’t have to pay for.  It’s fun to watch heterosexual men put on make-up and panty hose and pretend it’s a costume.  And it’s fun to say hello to our neighbors with children whose existence we otherwise ignore. 

But gosh Oz, are you really that annoyed at carving pumpkins, hanging spiders, and baking skeleton cookies?  If we had known …

Look, if you don’t want to celebrate a made up, commercialized evening of goughlish fun then don’t.  It’s not a law to party and drink, not like how Cinco de Mayo is.  But to say Halloween is an American holiday just hurts.  We only made up the idea so we could have an excuse to buy more useless stuff and to overindulge.   How can something that feels so right be so wrong?   We always make stuff up.   We thought you knew this about us.   We thought you LIKED that about us.

Oz, we never meant for you to feel pressured into snorting Halloween with us, and believe it or not, there are some Americans who don’t even like Halloween.  Or, at least that’s what we’ve heard, but no one’s ever actually met these people so maybe that’s just a mean rumor, too. 

Signed,

Don’t Make Me Send Hook’s Pancreas Down There

p.s.  We heard about how you put a balloon out to let trick-or-treaters know whether you’re a house that’s handing out “lollies.”  See?  Make it up as you go along, just like we did.

p.s.s. Can I get a Hallelujah for Hook?

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The Great Australian Exploration

When I started this blog back in April 2012, my purpose was to share with readers how the Hooks were preparing for a life overseas, what we were doing to get our lives in order, and how incredibly AWESOME this whole experience felt.

A few short months into it, the blog morphed into a How to Pretend You Are Somewhere Other Than Where You Really Are.  Lately, I’d been wondering whether to kill the blog altogether with a radiation zap instead of letting it stick around like a slow chemo drip.  But then I had a revelation — a three pints of Shiner Bock revelation.  I didn’t even know I had the capability … to drink that many pints in one sitting!

Where the Re-Exploring Began

Earlier this week, I hosted a series of career exploration workshops for a corporate client.  Talking about exploration energizes me because exploration is about discovery.  Exploration is about creating new possibilities.  Exploration is about having choices.

This is where I am, or this is where we are, Hook and I:  We’re creating new choices for ourselves.

Candy or no candy, we can still explore Australia.  Just because we’re not physically down under doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to learn about the Aussies and Oz and to find out why Australians are fun, fun, fun.  For me, learning is next to doing and doing is all that much closer to being.

And maybe, just maybe, sometime in the future, Hook will begin to contribute his own thoughts on this whole Hooks Down Under saga.  Until then, let me share a sense of who Hook is by asking you to click on this link:  Scroll to Page 2 or the 4th page in the link.

Take the Australian Poll

Below is my Australian Topics list, a list of subjects I want to write about, a list which is subject to change as my cycle changes and as the wine supply in the house goes down:

Oct 14th:  Australians Are Fun for a Reason

Oct 28th: What is Halloween Like in Australia?

Nov 11th:  Muriel’s Wedding & More:  The 10 Most Known Australian Faces

Nov 25th: An Australian Thanksgiving

I wrote an entire year’s worth of topics and attached dates to them, but there’s no need for me to torture you with the entire list all at once.  I wrote this list down because in my exploration workshop, I asked all of the attendees to write down their next steps and to commit a date to each.  Then I had each participant shared what they wrote with the class – what next step were they committing to and by when – thus making their workshop mates an immediate accountability group.

It’s no secret that by writing something down, we not only increase the likelihood that we’ll actually do it, but we get clarity and confirmation of what we really want.  And by sharing this clarity with others, we strive harder to meet our goals than we would have if we were the only ones who knew of them.

You are my accountability group.  And to show you that I’m serious and not drinking while I’m writing, I’ve created a poll for you to use to vote.

Vote for the topic you like best or recommend your own topic.   Why?  Why not.  Srsly.   You get a chance to have some input which I may or may not take into consideration (remember:  the cycle) but more importantly, I’ll let others know what voters said (or, I think the poll will automatically show you but I really don’t know — I’ve never done this before.)   And to all those outside of the U.S. who are reading, don’t let us Americans be stingy with our suggested topics.  Have your say! 

Yes, more than just Americans are reading this.  We’ve had over 1000 hits to this blog from 15 different countries including the U.S.   Apparently the world loves the wounded.   Who knew?

This poll is a blatant ploy to get you to inspire me to remain connected, to remain on track of Australia, and to keep exploring.  It’s genius!  If you were trying to get me to coach you, I’d say, “Absolutely!  Let me send you my pricing schedule and you can tell me which option you’d like to start with!”

I need to keep Australia as tangible as possible and this is the only way I know how to do it.  I want Hook to recover and get his health back so we can explore Australia together.  As I wrote in a previous post, I have more time to research Australia before we ever get there but up until now, I haven’t researched anything.  I stopped reading all of my Australia books.  I stopped going to Aussie websites.  We stopped renting movies about Australia.  I don’t know that I’ve really believed it was still within our reach.  Hook believes it, and now he’s the one who talks about Oz all the time.  “When we’re in Australia …” he says, but I stopped saying that a long time ago.

God took my silver lining with him to Australia and now I’m going to recreate it.

The Hook Candy Update

All is well so far with Hook and his pancreas.   Radiation and chemo treatments will temporarily end this week so the oncologist and the surgeon can determine by way of CAT scan(s) whether Hook’s pancreas can be removed and is ready for removal.

If the CAT scan next week shows a shrunken pancreas, then the doctors will probably recommend that Hook’s body take a drug rest for the remainder of October.  No radiation zaps, no chemo drips, no chemo pills.  All of this would be in preparation for surgery in November.  If the scan reveals something other than what the surgeon would like to see, then, I don’t know.  We would go back into treatment I suppose.   We.

I remembered the other day, at the beginning of this medical journey, that our oncologist told Hook he could do his chemo treatments abroad.  The doctor said, “It’s an option.  But is that how you really want to remember Australia, strapped to a chair receiving chemo?”   For all we know, the Aussies might do that for fun, those crazy, cultural convicts.

How the Exploration Panned Out For My Clients

During one of the workshops, an attendee was so overcome with emotion, she left the room to compose herself.  This is not unusual, and in fact is quite common — the welling up of tears when we start talking about change, real change, real differences we want to make in our lives.  When we talk about dreams and desires that motivate us or circumstances that have altered our hopes, it’s a wonder we don’t all burst into tears every day.

What could have been is gone but what could be is still up to me, to you, to all of us.

Come explore Australia with the Hooks Down Under.   Be my accountability group.

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Gaining Everything But Australia

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.
• Damn.
• 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.

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