Congruence in Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks

CLICK to enlarge: 200 feet from my back door!

CLICK to enlarge: 200 feet from my back door!

Unlike the Lost Colony that landed in the Outer Banks of North Carolina in 1587, my whereabouts in Kitty Hawk will be well known if only because I am a lone, Texas woman traveling with a cat.  Gatita does not, however, partake of the beach with me on my early morning walks or my end-of-the-day strolls.

I was so anxious to see the ocean on that first day, August 19th, that I emptied as much of the Jeep as I could, hurrying in my sky blue flipflops to the entrance of the beach as though the water might disappear before I got there.

I walked north first, to the Kitty Hawk Pier, my face looking out toward the white swells of water rushing in to greet me.  I swear I could hear, Welcome, we’ve been waiting for you…  A mixed laugh-cry almost escaped with that first view as I felt all the second-guessing of this trip recede with the tide.   And my chest, heavy with joy, almost giddy, and holding the most important part of me, knew that my faith had not been for naught.

This is exactly where I am meant to be.

~   ~   ~

Whatever final tears I hiccupped out as I drove away from Austin on August 13th, I did while saying out loud, almost in defense of myself, “I have to do this!”

The oppressive, 104 degree heat from that last day had not only worn me down, but left me with a dusty smell and a shirt that stuck to my back, while sweaty running shorts continued to crawl up my crotch.  I’d spent the last four hours in Austin shuffling small possessions back and forth between the Hook House and the storage unit while I battled a stuffed up swimmer’s ear that still has not completely gone away. I was starting to feel not as though I’d never get out of Austin, but that I’d never escape the hell of south Austin.  It was 10:30 at night when a drug-free Gatita and I hit the road.  Since I was determined to leave regardless of the late hour, my sister-in-law, Mary Joy, suggested I stop in Waco, so I’d at least be out of Austin but halfway to Dallas.

I took her advice which was easy to do because my eyelids drooped as soon as I left the city.  Since I hadn’t researched venues that accepted pets, I checked into a Motel 6 knowing the price was in my budget.  I assumed a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and requested a room on the bottom floor to easily transport the cat to and from the Jeep. Aside from crying for the first 30-minutes of our trip, Gatita was exceptionally calm at least until we realized that there must have been hookers in the room next to ours. Doors opened and closed all night long, but oddly this motivated me to be freshly showered and on the road by 6:30 am, making for a cool, early morning drive into Little Rock.  The tunnel of green trees lining the highways in Arkansas was a welcomed sight from the browning, burnt foliage in Texas. When we crossed state lines, I whispered, “Good-bye for now,” in anticipation of everything good, especially my first visit with an old friend and colleague from the mid 1990s.

CLICK to enlarge: The blue line is what I've traveled thus far; The red dots where I expect to stop. Question marks are for states I'd like to go but doubtful I'll make it. If Gatita is up for it and I'm far enough along in my writing, I may.

CLICK to enlarge: The blue line is what I’ve traveled thus far; The red dots where I expect to stop. Question marks are for states I’d like to go but doubtful I’ll make it. If Gatita is up for it and I’m far enough along in my writing, I may.

After two nights in Little Rock, I drove east toward Nashville and met up with the daughters of one of my best friends.  My plan was to stay only one night, but I hadn’t booked a long-term stay in Kitty Hawk yet.  Even though I’d already called three realty agencies representing a good portion of the 200-mile stretch of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks, and even though I scoured Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO sites while sitting inside a well decorated, cat-friendly La Quinta (way outside our budget), and even though I spoke with private owners who indicated “pet friendly” on their websites only to openly practice feline discrimination, my options for finding long-term accommodations that would accept a cat were dwindling fast.

There was one more hour before I had to decide whether to re-map a route from Tennessee up to Michigan by way of North I-75, instead of remaining on East I-40 straight into North Carolina.  Although Kitty Hawk was my preferred destination, I’d spent so much time on the internet and the phone that I would have agreed to any place that allowed Gatita. Otherwise, I was going to have to alter my entire 12-month driving route.

~    ~    ~

Sea Kove in Kitty Hawk

Normally, I'm not a paper lover except when it coms to maps & books!

Normally, I’m not a paper lover except when it comes to maps & books!

When the cat and I arrived Kitty Hawk, our heads hummed from the accumulated 1,720 miles I’d driven.  Although she has been an ideal travel companion, her map reading skills are nada, and my brusque, unfolding of paper maps seemed to freak her out at inopportune times.

My co-pilot

My co-pilot

But I want to write, here and now, that I am forever grateful to the travel and cat gods for the presence of Gatita.  I absolutely love having her with me and only slightly more than I love, Love, LOVE living in Kitty Hawk.

Three days before, on the 16th, I’d spoken with Bill, whose kind, southern accent I knew would lead to an elderly gentleman.  He runs a series of rustic cottages called Sea Kove with his artist wife, Cari.  He promised to call me back even though his website clearly states: We are unable to allow any pets.  I explained my sabbatical and how I was looking for a place to write for six weeks, and would he consider allowing me and my cat to rent one of his inns?  I probably said I was quiet, that Gatita wouldn’t be any problem; I may have even offered to breathe less oxygen.  I’ll have to ask him why he altered his long-standing pet policy since I hadn’t dropped the widow card, nor blurted out how this was messing up my plans to create a whole new life.

Bill said that my “kitty cat” was welcomed and that although he didn’t have the same cottage for the full six weeks, he would make sure I had a place at Sea Kove for my entire stay.  The next day, Gatita and I left Tennessee, making an overnight stop in the rural town of Hickory, North Carolina. This halfway point from Nashville to Kitty Hawk allowed me to have dinner with a friend, my first tenant that leased out my home in north Austin during the Mexico sabbatical in 2004; forever spoiling me to expect perfection from future tenants.

And all the foot dragging I did before getting here? It inadvertently helped me to avoid most of the summer beach pricing.  In another week, I’ll be in off-season rates making this a perfect fit for a sabbatical budget.

~    ~    ~

CLICK to enlarge: The view from my back porch.

CLICK to enlarge: The view from my back porch.

In my room of retro wood-paneled walls and vinyl faux tile floors, there is no microwave but wi-fi and cable are free – a television treat I never allowed myself in Austin. Central air does not exist but a personal a/c wall unit above the electric stove, with burners wrapped in tin-foil, keeps my efficiency ice cold.  The rock hard mattresses might squeak when I lay down but not before I say goodnight to the rhythmic sound of the ocean from my private backdoor porch.  While I do this, Gatita takes her nightly dump underneath the cottage on stilts, in what has become her gigantic, sand litter box.

Yes, we are in harmony with our new home.

CLICK to enlarge: Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks

CLICK to enlarge: Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks

In the mornings as the sun beats in from the southeast, I walk out the front door to sit in the long, shaded balcony that connects me with my neighbors. This is where I sipped my coffee that first morning as the cool northern breeze floated in, and where I met Becky, another a widow of only nine months.  She lost her husband of forty-nine years, Big Dave, to congestive heart failure.  I remembered what nine months felt like for me. The only reason my cottage was available to rent was because someone from Becky’s family, who’s been coming to Sea Kove for over 20 years, wasn’t able to make it this summer.

Becky was “Mom” and “Grandma” to her family, but she was a woman with a broken heart to me. Before she left three days later, we exchanged hugs and information about a book, Seven Choices, written by a Texas professor, Dr. Elizabeth Harper Neeld, who lost her husband after only four years of marriage. Seven Choices led me to find the strength to do this sabbatical because even in grief there are multiple junctures where we must choose:  To stay stuck in the past or dare to move forward.

No widow wants to lay in misery, to remain rooted in sadness, but it’s a Sisyphus kind of existence, seeming as though no action will ever lead to a different ending.  HDU_WarriorofLoveI was hardly a woman who was half a person when I met my husband.  I was then as I am now — whole — but when you love someone, you meld into one another.  They do not leave this earth without a part of your own spirit going with them. You don’t even have a say so, and this isn’t something that heals in a year. Harper Neeld gathered research data that indicated — on average — four, long years to move past grief when it is no longer the primary way in which you identify yourself.  In the future, when you meet a widow and she is happy again, know that time does not automatically heal all wounds.  That widow had to work at it.  She is a warrior!  We are all warriors — my widowed friends and me — because we dare every.single.day to make choices that test our emotional boundaries, hoping that these actions will carve a path to a future full of joy again.

~    ~    ~

Had I remained in Austin one more night, I would have insisted on staying in my emptied house, pulling Hook’s thermal sleeping bag from the Jeep, unrolling it upstairs on the shampooed carpets then wetting my pillow with tears until I fell asleep.  Instead, I only wept as I drove away.  I apologized to Allan for not being one of those widows satisfied with starting over where things ended.  Or, maybe there was guilt wrapped up in the fact that if it weren’t for his death, I wouldn’t be taking this sabbatical at all.

In the past when I’ve needed a re-boot, a healing of sorts, I would venture out, leaving my homeland for extended periods of time. This sabbatical is not about the travel, though; It’s about the writing.  In the same way, that it was the spilled words of grief that saw me through the first year, I will write my way into this next phase of my life, doing finally what he and I have been waiting for me to do all along: Set myself free.

The book I’ve chosen as my debut will be the reality fiction story of Ava and Daniel, about love, loss, and the beautiful struggle to find joy again. It’s got Hollywood written all over it. The working title, Down Under (In The Land of Oz?), has little to do with Australia or at least I don’t think it does.  I’ve already written 70,048 words because I’ve been rough drafting on and off since last November.  I’ve yet to plot the timeline or even create descriptions for the characters, so I’ve weeks and weeks of background work to organize to get it to a place where I can move into a second draft.

CLICK to enlarge: My shell booty in less than a week!

CLICK to enlarge: My shell booty in less than a week!

In the meantime, I jump out of bed each morning hoping to hit the sand before 6:30 am.  I give greetings of “Hello!” and “Good Morning!” to my fellow disciples of this liquid healing, sitting in meditative state, or walking with the woosh! of the waves, our only music. We are the new pilgrims of the 21st century, welcoming the sun or saying good-bye to the moon.

At night, my gluteus maximus aches from the twice daily hour of sand trudging. But even though I worry about the intense sun on my adult face, I am a child in wonderment each time I bend over and reach down to collect the black and gray and beige shells littered along the shoreline.  I cannot resist these treasures from the ocean any more than I can hold back the transformation in my heart that is happening.

The second anniversary of Hook’s passing is coming. Until then, Gatita and I are comfortable in our place of contemplation and with life on the Atlantic.  And if I may, I’d like to dedicate this post to those Warriors of Love, whose widowed paths I’ve had the good fortune to cross, who have helped me at various steps along the way: Gail, Greta, Celia, Karron, Cindy, Tomas, Valerye, Kristen, Russell, Felicia, De, Sharon, Laura, Becky in Colorado, Becky in Maryland, Loretta in Arkansas, and the young ones – Erin and Taryn.

And to Megan Ehrisman for recommending the unbelievably, perfect Outer Banks when my original plans for San Diego fell through.

The first shell I found on the beach the day we arrived. I think it's a sign!

The first shell I found on the beach the day we arrived.

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Ruddy Turnstones

HDU_Hook_RuddyTurnstone

Allan Hook: Rumson-Fair Haven High School, senior yearbook photo, 1972.

I’m back on the Texas coast again for reasons I’m not sure I completely understand.  I thought my January visit was the last one for 2014, but then I thought the November trip was my last one forever.  Two weeks ago, I had another crystal clear dream, and I took that as a sign that I needed to drive four hours south so I could think through some things.

In this second dream, I was standing on the beach in Port Aransas, facing north with the ocean to my right.  I could hear and see the swells of white water rushing towards the shore, coming with a little more force than usual.

Hook was not visible but I felt him standing next to me, seeing what I was seeing as I said, surprised, “Port Aransas!”  In the waking world, I’m aware of him watching over me, weaving in and out as would have been his way.  Since his death, I’ve imagined him checking in on me and only leaving to catch bugs … two things which could occupy him fully forever.

In the dream, I saw gray and white overcast skies, but I felt excited when I woke up because an absence of Texas sun meant comfortable runs on the beach.  What was different in this dream, aside from not being able to actually see Hook, is that I heard the waves and smelled the water, that unique ocean aroma which could have very well been the cat breathing into my face while I slept.  But there was no wind.  I could see the water and I could hear it, but I couldn’t feel the wind. I was standing in a place outside of time.

So that was the dream.

Here is the reality:   Port Aransas is mostly sunny and humid when it’s not windy and threatening to rain.  Dump trucks and plows have been on the beach for the last week and a half trying to clear off the unyielding seaweed that is blocking access to the water.  The gulls are happier than I’ve ever seen them because seaweed, I presume, is a smorgasbord of gull food.

Last week after I finished a three-mile run in the morning, I’d taken my shoes and socks off and was wading through the seaweed to get to the water.  I was fighting off waves of sadness that had started in Austin weeks before. They were coming at times when I not only felt I was making great progress but knew that my grieving was more manageable every day. The only reason I stopped running and started walking that morning was because I needed to talk to Hook. I needed to tell him how much I loved him, how much I missed him, and how alone I still felt about moving forward.

Because it was the middle of the week and so early in the day, the beach was empty of people so I whispered, “Are you here?”

I told myself and I told others that I was going to the coast “to write,” but I realized now that I was coming to feel closer to Allan. In response to my crybaby question, a laughing gull started to screech at a high pitch. I glanced towards the sound and saw a black-headed male perched on the backside of a female, flapping his dark gray wings while he squawked endlessly from his red beak. I stared at the female who looked perplexed or perhaps bored.  It was difficult to tell from her beady eyes which like the males were outlined in a thick white before the black hood of feathers took over.

I rolled my eyes and shook my head, annoyed with my husband’s sense of humor in death as I had been in life.  In response to my whimper, he sent me two copulating birds as if to say, “Look what I can do now, honey!” Or, “Hey babe, watch this!”

There have been moments since Hook died that I have sensed his presence, stronger on some days than others.  Lately, I’ve been feeling him moving on … moving away from me … moving further along on his own journey. During these times, I struggle with not begging him to stay, because I know that neither of us can thrive if we remain still. Hook has always understood this better than me. It’s as though he’s nudging me forward, nudging me towards something, nudging me on, but I continue to look back and back and back.

This reminds me of a morning during our honeymoon, in the rainforests of Chiapas, when I’d gotten sick and had to stay in bed all day. We’d slept overnight in a cabin just outside the Palenque ruins. When I woke up that morning and realized I had a fever along with some bodily unmentionables, I knew I would not be able to go exploring with Hook. He’d been excited since the beginning of the trip to take his bug net out and collect on the grounds – an insect haven for any entomologist – but he didn’t want to leave me alone.  He could be a worrywart like that, but he finally agreed to leave if I promised to keep the door bolted at all times.

“Only answer when you hear my voice,” he said.

The first time I heard a rap on the door was only an hour after he left. I unlocked the door and asked, “What? No bugs, honey?”

“I saw a maintenance worker milling around,” he said, “and I didn’t want you in here alone.”

He stayed nearby that entire day while I lied in bed shivering, occasionally dragging myself to the bathroom or to the door to let him in.  From time to time, he’d draw the curtain aside to peer out the window to see where the man was.  If Hook felt the guy was far enough away, he’d go outside with his bug net, but he never strayed farther than 25 feet or so from our door.  In this way, he hovered over me in my sickness, much like I’d done with him throughout most of the last year.

I remembered him saying, more than once, in the final weeks of his life, “Don’t hover.”

But how could I not when I knew he might need me, just as he couldn’t help himself should I have needed him that day in Palenque, and now when I need him the most.

Joint Memory

Other widows forewarned me how the pain never really goes away, how it “just hurts differently forever.”  WTF?

HDU_birdzentagle_v1

Zentangle is meditative doodling or zen doodling. Notice the leaves …

At the time, I’d ignored the counsel assuming, of course, this would not apply to me.  In the last four months, I’ve increased my running schedule, tried my hand at painting and zentangling, listened to storytelling, journaled daily by pen, stalked live musicians, lived an alcohol-free existence for 40 days. I’ve said “Yes” to most social events, increasing my business events, seeing a “grief counselor” weekly who never, ever, ever allows me to have a pity party no matter who died.  I got comfortable with feeling uncomfortable in public, stopped hiding underneath the covers, dealt with the “How are you” questions while spontaneously forgiving those who never even asked.  I’ve taken petite grandma steps forward and sasquatch steps to the side, zigzagging my way toward a north compass, backward, sideways, upside down, right side up.  Anywhere I saw an opening to inch forward in this non-linear journey, I took it, regrouping back to shore when I needed only to encounter surges of sorrow, sometimes coming one on top of another.

So I ask again, WTF?

Each time, I would remind myself – this isn’t permanent – this feeling of not belonging to these things I’m supposed to belong.  And I would always add, Please, to that thought so the universe would know I took nothing for granted.  The scariest thing about losing a spouse is we never actually believe life will feel whole again, and it won’t if what we’re trying to do is get back to the way things used to be. That’s been the big lesson for me so far. Whatever my life was before, it will never be that way again. Whoever I used to be is as gone as Hook is dead.  And however I used to make do in this world — only remnants can be applied to my future.

When the physical pain of missing Hook is accompanied by tears, I frantically write down every Hook memory, every Hook anecdote, every Hook saying so that I don’t forget — never forget, ever — this man and this time in my life.  And I have to do this because my memory or my mind, depending on how you look at it, is going. I was re-reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Tipping Point, and in Chapter 11 he describes a state of being some couples might experience if one of the partners goes away.  It’s called a loss of “transactive memory,” made up from the combined memories of two people.  When one spouse dies, the other in essence feels like they are “losing their mind” because, in a sense, they are by way of having lost a part of their “joint memory.”

Painting for dummies. I'm right-handed but Hook is left handed so I used my left hand to paint.

I’m right-handed but Hook was left-handed so I used my left hand to paint. It was supposed to be a flower but I think it ended up looking like an injured angel. I was the only one in class who used green. Green represents Hook.

You can’t imagine how happy I was to read this especially as 24 hours prior, I’d said out loud, “I think I’m losing my mind,” while sitting at the kitchen table, holding my head in my hands at twelve-thirty in the morning.

It wasn’t just the incessant crying when I’m alone because that’s no longer daily anymore.  I remember the first time I realized, Hey, I didn’t cry yesterday, only to have the tears sweep back in the next day with extra spunk, making me wonder if an overabundance of crying expanded the tear ducts thus making them able to produce even more tears thus making you cry even harder.  Can a person die from too much crying?   Has anyone looked into this?

If the tear duct theory wasn’t valid then my pudgy Aztec toes were sucking up moisture from the earth because otherwise, how in the world could any human being produce this much water from their eyeballs? After reading Gladwell’s chapter I was relieved because I realized I wasn’t going crazy.  I was just losing my mind.  Perfectly normal.  This is all perfectly normal.

And the talking to Hook on the beach?  That’s perfectly normal, too.  I told Allan without words what he already knew:  How miserable I was, how I wasn’t sure what more to do, how this was all too much. And then I said it finally, said it out loud, said it unwillingly.  I said what I know he’s been waiting to hear:

“It’s okay for you to move on,” I whispered through tears, “I know you need to go.”

For all the times a movie has promoted the idea that the dead hold back the living, I’m here to say that it’s usually the living holding back the dead.  We hold them back because we don’t really know how to live anymore without them.  We keep trying to live like we lived before when they were still here.

Hook has work to do, but he won’t move forward if he thinks I still need him.  In holding him back, I hold myself back – keeping us both floating, wading out to a sea of nothing, neither of us alive or dead but stuck in some in-between where we can’t really be together, but we’re never apart either.

When do I stop wearing my rings?

“You’ll know when you’re ready,” another widow says.

I wear my wedding rings even though legally I’m no longer married.  I wear them because I still feel married.  I wear them because even though Hook is not alive, he’s not dead to me either.

Sometimes as I finish getting dressed in the mornings, I’ll announce: “I’m not going to wear my rings today.” During these times, I’ll wear replacement jewelry on the wedding finger.  But I feel false and dishonorable to Hook while at the same time unbelievably alone in my hollowed steps.  When I do wear the rings, I’m not alone; Hook has my back.  There is time yet to make sense of the future.  But I’m still false because wedding rings are for a living, breathing husband and part of mine is scattered in the rainforests of Trinidad.

What I have figured out from my seaweed time here in Port Aransas is that hope is being challenged by despair, like it was on the day I’d won an award from a professional women’s group.  I began the celebratory Saturday at 10 o’clock in the morning laughing and talking with some of the finest women in Austin, joking about my sobriety, making funny faces for photographs. When I left the event in the late afternoon and started to drive home, a groundswell of gloom floated over me the closer I got to the house.  By the time I’d parked Hook’s Jeep and walked into the garage, my shoulders drooped and the emptiness was complete.

During these times, there is nowhere to go to fill the unfillable, to find the one person who can make this feeling go away.  The thing to do when these disruptive waves descend is to wait it out and hope you don’t drown.  If I’m home when it happens, no room in the house feels comfortable and the walls are like the inside of a lung squeezing the breath out of me.

So get out of the house, right?  I thought this, too.  I even thought I could run it out one time – literally – on the Town Lake/ Lady Bird trail, only to find myself halted to a slow walk after one-eighth of a mile.   If I could have hitched a ride from a mom pushing a stroller, I would have hopped on.

It wasn’t just that Hook wasn’t there to share the afternoon with me after I returned from the ceremony.  It’s that he’s never coming home again.  And my joint memory might have forgotten some things, but my arms and my heart haven’t forgotten that.

Hook’s Ruddy Turnstone

Photo compliments of Jean and Lynn Laswell: a Ruddy Turnstone in Port Aransas

Photo compliments of Jean and Lynn Laswell: a Ruddy Turnstone in Port Aransas

I saw a Ruddy Turnstone for the first time a few days after witnessing Hook’s shameless seagull.  When Allan and I would walk the beach in the evenings on our Texas coast trips, he loved to point out the plump sandpipers because of how they skimmed the wet shore with their paper-thin legs.  They forage for insects with an agility that is almost comical.  But the typical sandpiper is skittish and darts away as soon as you approach.

As I walked along the beach one early evening, my head and eyes were down so I could maneuver my bare feet around broken shells and pebbles and seaweed.   In the past, most of the sandpipers I’d seen with Hook had been a beige color or maybe a dirty gray with speckles of black in their white breast.  But the one that was standing on my path, the one that had scurried towards me instead of away as I approached, had a plumage full of a deep rust color mixed with a velvety black.  He had raccoon eyes and skinny orange legs which were longer than the common sandpiper.  Had this breeder not stepped into my line of vision and stopped, I wouldn’t have noticed him at all because the colored pattern of this Ruddy Turnstone blended in with the heaps of seaweed surrounding it.

Allan’s love of insects was second to his romance and fascination with birds.  If he had not become an entomologist, he probably would have studied ornithology unless he could have found a way to make money fishing without actually catching any fish.  Every walk on a beach or a neighborhood street or even through a parking lot was always a chance for Hook to teach me something about the parts of nature that fly.  Most times I was an interested student, sometimes a lazy one.  In all of our walks together, though, Hook had never pointed out a Ruddy Turnstone nor had he ever mentioned them specifically to me when he was alive.  A few weeks after he died, an acquaintance from a networking group read his obituary and realized that her husband graduated from high school with Allan.  She dug out her husband’s yearbook, scanned Hook’s senior portrait and framed it for me.  It was a picture of Allan I had never seen before and in the caption, he referred to himself as a Ruddy Turnstone.

I’m not embarrassed to admit I had to look up what a Ruddy Turnstone was after receiving the photograph.  Recognizing one on this coast trip did not give me peace right away, but it did cause my heart to beat a bit faster.  Was the Turnstone a sign or was Hook the bird?  I don’t know.

It is said that parents and grandparents are our past; siblings and spouses the present, children our future.  The losses of these loved ones affect us based on the depth of our relationship with them at the time that they leave.  I’d fallen in love with my husband all over again in the last months he was alive.  Seeing his vulnerability and him trusting me to take care of him only cemented this bond.  Hook was my best friend, my confidant, my mentor, and my protector.  Now I’m his personal bird watcher.

“I know you need to go,” I say again to Hook, the Turnstone, but it doesn’t leave and neither do I.

Malcolm Gladwell didn’t write anything about whether talking to birds was part of the whole losing-the-mind thing.  Yet there I am on a beach in a mental standoff with a Turnstone thinking, You go first.   But he won’t leave.  He just looks at me as though to say, No you go first. 

I turn away to look out at the water and as I do I whisper, “I’m sorry I’m so sad.”

But I ask nothing of the ocean or the power it represents. There’s what the universe is willing to offer, and there’s what I have to be willing to give up or let go to make room for those offerings. I’m not there yet, and now I understand why I’m here on this coast, and why I’ve stayed this second week.  My first trip back in November was to ask, Help; the second in January to say, Hello. I didn’t know this about either of those visits, just as I didn’t know that this time has been about saying, Goodbye.

In order for me to get to the healing power of the water, I need to sift through this seaweed some more.  And even though this Ruddy Turnstone won’t leave, in time he will, because it is a bird and birds must fly away if they’re to live.

He doesn’t fly off even after I’ve walked by, heading north still.  I think about how if the city dump trucks didn’t remove the seaweed, eventually it would decompose and over time the tide would wash it away.

Eventually, the tide washes everything away.

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Getting Back on Schedule

You all must have been praying double-time because from about 7 o’clock yesterday evening to most of today, Hook’s situation has improved:

  • Sunday 7:00PM: A great second shift weekend nurse, Justin, entered the hospital scene.  I was looking forward to having Nurse Daniel back because I didn’t want to break in another night nurse.   But Justin came, started chatting Hook up, asked him about his surgery and what he did for a living so that when I heard Hook crack a sleepy joke to him, I knew everything was going to be all right.  Hook seemed comfortable with Justin so by 8:30, I headed home and got a full eight hours of sleep.  I felt a little bad that I didn’t ask Justin his story about how he came to be in nursing, but I’ll do that tonight since I’ll hang around until after the nurse shift change.
  • Monday 6:30AM:  Nurse Roy took over for Justin and when I saw him, a sense of relief floated over me.  Roy was the back-up to Nurse Michael when Hook was in the real ICU.  When we met the first time around and he asked if there was anything he could get for me, naturally I said, “Margarita, frozen, no salt,” and Roy replied, “Make mine with salt.”   Roy is like the Edward Scissorhands of nurses.  He whipped Hook’s schedule into shape and within one hour gave me status updates on all liquids, physical therapist appointment, when we can expect to see the surgeon, and how the rest of the morning would look.   The room vibrated (I’m not kidding!!!) from his energy as he zipped around pulling sheets off, hooking things up, punching buttons here and there.  It feels so good to be taken care of!  Even Hook said, “He’s good.”  Roy always knew he would be a nurse growing up.  His mom and two brothers are also in healthcare, and he started volunteering in health service settings when he was 15 years old.  He said he’d thought about medical school but changed his mind after his first pre-med course.  The professor in Hook snickered when he heard that.  (The man even snickers when he’s drowsy!)
  • Monday 9:00am:  In walks Joyce, a 30-year, career physical therapist with a witty sense of humor and a joke bank to back it up.  She immediately went into action, giving Hook a play-by-play of how he was going to pull himself up and off the bed and into a standing position and how she would navigate the whole process.   Joyce has raised three sons, all in their 20s, and she said she enjoys her job even more now that she doesn’t have to worry about soccer practices and laundry.  She’s firm and insistent with her instructions to Hook which is exactly what he’ll need for this next physical stage.
  • Monday 10:30am:  A visit with the surgeon and the big spleen debate.   Our surgeon informs us that Hook is hooked up to more tubes than anyone on the floor and that his goal is to start removing a few.
  • Monday 2:30pm:  One of the outie tubes is removed!

Love is a Many Spleendor Thing 

Since yesterday, when Hook overheard a conversation between one of the weekend nurses and me about the reconstruction of his insides, he has insisted that he still has his spleen.   We’ve been circling this spleen thing ever since.HDU_spleen

You see, even though Hook can answer questions asked of him, he has drifted in and out of a drug stupor for the last five days.   Although he remembers more and more in between his wake-ups, in the first three days, he could recall very little about what was asked of him and what was going on around him.

The first time he asked me how the surgery went, I de-briefed him as the surgeon had de-briefed me.   Hook’s focus then was on the specifics regarding the smaller stomach which made sense given he was looking forward to getting back to eating.  All was fine until yesterday when he piped into my conversation with the nurse and from out of a slumber mumbled,  “No he didn’t,” and I said, “No he didn’t what honey?” and Hook said, “He didn’t take my spleen.”   Then he glanced at me with a sideways look and what I believe to have been a sneer that screamed, you don’t know what you’re talking about.   Then he fell back into a sleep.

Spleens aren’t exactly trending on the internet so here’s a quick paragraph on all you could ever want to know:  http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/spleendiseases.html

“The spleen unfortunately was an innocent bystander,” said our surgeon at the 10:30am meeting.  One of the arteries going into the spleen had suspicious looking nodes and leaving them behind was not an option.  When Hook kept on with more questions, asking about the 10% number regarding his pancreas (he questioned the accuracy of my information on that one as well), the surgeon confirmed that yes he cut away more than he had anticipated.  Hook said, “You didn’t leave me much,” and the surgeon replied, “I left you enough.”

And it will be enough because we will make it enough.

If all goes well the rest of today, Hook might be allowed to enjoy something other than ice chips as an entrée like a frozen ice pop, maybe even some broth, or tea.  But we won’t know that until the late evening.

Before I forget, this joke from Joyce the physical therapist is too good not to share:

A man is lying in bed in the hospital with an oxygen mask over his mouth.  A young nurse comes into his room and says she’s there to sponge his hands and feet.  “Nurse,” the man mumbles from behind the mask, “Are my testicles black?” Embarrassed, the young nurse replies, “I don’t know, I’m only here to wash your hands and feet.”  The man struggles to ask again, “Are my testicles black?”  The nurse pulls back the bed covers, raises the patient’s gown, holds his penis in one hand and his testicles in her other hand and looks closely and says, “No, your testicles are not black.”  Finally, the man pulls off his oxygen mask and replies, “That was very nice but, are… my… test… results… back?

My baby is gaining strength and thanks to our new nurses (Justin will be back tonight!) his body is getting back on track and back on schedule.  If it doesn’t, the nurses and the surgeon will have some exspleening to do …  😀 😀 😀

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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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Australians Are Fun for a Reason

But First:  Vashon Island

I’m drinking coffee on Vashon Island in the Puget Sound while writing this blog post which I find amusing considering I made fun of Seattle in one of my previous posts.  I take back anything I wrote on the state of Washington and instead make claim that I confused it with some other place.

On Vashon, they have these cute little shops and people feed you when you walk in.  Or, I am making this up to hide the fact that I keep buying food wherever I go.  I’m delirious from all of the eating in stores, in the farmer’s market, on tables inside restaurants.

The thing about traveling is that everything looks better.  I bought a pair of black

Yes, I actually paid ca$h for these.

Yes, I actually paid ca$h for these.

sunglasses with pointy lenses and rhinestones outlining the frames which are likely only appropriate for Halloween or if I were to choose prostitution as my next career.   I also bought a handmade, wooden tasting spoon for $18.  Eighteen dollars!  Maybe the spoon cooks the meal for you, too, and then you taste.   I didn’t think to ask.   On Vashon, stores have handwritten signs that read:  We Prefer Cash.  I wish I had thought to leave behind little notes that read:  Me, too!   We have so much in common.  How will I ever leave this place?

While I’ve been stuffing my face on Vashon, Hook and his buddy, Kelly the Canadian, drove down to Port Aransas to do whatever it is that men do on the coast when women aren’t around:  fish, fish, and fish.  The perfect Hook relaxer until we meet with the radiologist on 10/25, the oncologist on 10/26, and the surgeon some time later to find out if and when surgery will be.

Editor’s Note:  I failed to mention where I stayed on Vashon Island  — Sylvan Sanctuary — a little slice of heaven with a gracious host.  Five star experience, three star pricing.  Beat that.  Adding to my failures is my omission of the original Seattle’s Best coffee house  which roasted the most perfect bean ever discovered in the universe.  I bought 20 lbs, some of which I packed in my suitcase, the rest I shipped to my extended family in Michigan.

From Outcasts to Outback

This blog was supposed to be about the history of Australia and an answer to the question:   Why are Australians so fun?    Instead of giving some long drawn out history, I can sum up everything with one word:  convicts.

Australia began as a penal colony when the British shipped off convicts to get them away from England.  And yet, isn’t it interesting that when we think of or speak of Australians, it is with affection.   Maybe all of that law-breaking background laid a  foundation for the Aussie wait awhile attitude.   They either had to get along, wait awhile to get along, or walk into the Outback and get eaten.   There was no where else for them to go.   That might also explain why Americans seem to have an affinity for Aussies.  Both cultures are experienced with learning how to make do with what they have.  A group full of puritans stuck on an icy coast is really no different than a group of convicts stuck on the outskirts of the wild.

We rarely hear anyone say, “That Australian was a jerk.”  We just never hear this.  Usually, the reference is something fun or nice or fun or comical or fun.  But I haven’t gone bonkers on the land down under.   They have their share of strange, too.

Weird Things About Aussies

Readers of the last blog voted, almost unanimously, to have me citizen report on Weird Things About Aussies.

I scoured other blogs and online sites and devoured as much information as I could in a 24-hour period.  Of all the weird things about Aussies that non-Aussies claim, there were really only three that stuck out:

1.  Vegemite:  Aussies slather the condiment, Vegemite, on everything.  Apparently, every single one of them every single day.   Truth?    I don’t know.   I don’t want to know.   Please make it stop.

2.  Barefoot:  One blogger said that most Aussies walk around barefoot and drive barefoot “all the time.”  Surely businessmen are not walking around barefoot but maybe they are removing their shoes when they drive.   Who knows?  I drove barefoot immediately after reading that and thought:  Oh my gawd, this really is fantastic.  It’s almost perverted.  Aussies are convicts and perverts.  I can’t wait to get there!

3.  Estimate driving time in an interesting way.   Another blogger said Aussies estimate driving time by how many beers it takes to get somewhere:  “Was only two beers to get here,” or in Aussie-speak, “…only two beers to get ‘ere.”

Did I say three weird things?  I meant five:

4.  Aussie television stations only show Australian sports on television or will only show international sports if an Australian team is part of the game.  Quite frankly, that just sounds genius.

5.  Australians ride their bikes on the freeway.  This made me wonder if it’s legal to ride a bike on the freeway in Oz and then it made me wonder if it’s legal in the U.S. and it is not (usually).  Legal in Oz?  That I do not know.

Somewhere between drinking and driving and riding on the freeway, it’s a wonder the Australian lifespan isn’t shorter.   Some other less interesting weird facts were that Aussies put BBQ sauce on everything.  In Texas, this is practically a law (BBQ sauce or salsa) so I’m not sure how that is weird.   Another post mentioned how Aussies will wear sunglasses on even the greyest of days. Something about the distance to the sun blahblahblah.  Sunglasses all the time sounds like Hollywood and Hollywood is definitely weird.   Perhaps that should have made the list except it’s not special to Oz so I left it off.

One final Aussie weird is the Friday beer celebration where Friday afternoons are welcomed in with beer even in the workplace.   Are they talking about Australia or Austin?   Beer Fridays ought to be a law everywhere.

The Real Reason Australians Are Fun

They have a sense humor.  I found this snarky advertisement gave more insight into an Aussie’s sense of weird than any list ever could:

This is not a real Queensland Rail ad and it was never meant to be, but in 2010, Queensland Rail offered to let the general public create some new advertisements for them.   Big mistake.  Australian smart alecks like to have fun, too.

If I weren’t feeling so lazy on Vashon, I’d link who said what to which Weird Things Aussies Do, but all of my energy is floating in the water and I won’t be able to pick it up until I take the ferry back to the mainland.   And if you haven’t figured out just how lazy, look at the date:  October 20th.   This blog was supposed to hit October 14th and absolutely no one sent me a note to say:   hey dufus, where’s the blog?

Slackers.

Apparently Australians aren’t the only ones who enjoyed Beer Friday.   We all have our reasons and ways of being fun.  Oh, and there’s nothing to the rumor that they’re feeding babies to dingos.  Where did that come from?

References I was too lazy to link inside the blog:

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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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