His and Her Dreams

I’m a dreamer not in the John Lennon sort of way but in The Cranberries’ Dreams sort of way.  My dreams are never quite as they seem.   Sometimes in my dreams, I watch what I believe is my own life except the main female character doesn’t look like me and the main male character doesn’t look like Hook.  But, they act like us, using our mannerisms, saying what we would say.   As the non-me female lead, I feel what she’s feeling.

HDU_DreamingWhen I have these dreams, it usually means I’m worried about something or I ate too many bread products just before going to bed.   I do recall shoving baked potato chips into my mouth that I’d discovered in the pantry the night before.  Hook’s been trying to sneak snacks into the house which is fine so long as he sticks to our silent agreement to hide all snacks from me so I won’t eat them.  He’s also supposed to hide all junk food in general so I won’t nag him about eating stuff which will make his digestive system work harder than it needs to.

Too many chips meant not enough sleep and too many dreams.

Hook’s Dreams

Hook doesn’t dream often but when he does it usually includes throwing a bug net around or fishing with friends.  He’ll wake up on any given morning and say he dreamt he was on the coast and caught a red fish or that he had been in the field collecting.  He never seems to wake up frustrated even though sometimes he doesn’t catch anything or wakes up just before he’s going to catch “a big one.”  If there were other people fishing or bugging with him and he can identify them by name, I’ll always ask, “Could you see their faces?”

This question confuses Hook.  He replies that if he couldn’t see their faces, how would he know it was them?   In his dreams, the people are clear and real and the places he goes to actually exist.  While Hook’s dreams are exact and definite with a lot of action, mine are fuzzy and indistinct with a lot of feeling.   In Hook’s dreams, he’s doing things he wants to do again.  In my dreams, I’m feeling things I don’t want to feel anymore.

Dream Lessons from Freud

Do our minds continually send us back to learn a lesson that we did not learn the first time it was placed before us?  That’s my question not Freud’s.

Freud said that we are all of the characters in our dreams.  In order to understand the purpose of a dream (wish fulfillment or resolving conflict), we have to decide or figure out which character we represent or if we represent all of them.  Sometimes, we’re not even who we think we are in our own dream.  My Rosemary character in my dreams may not actually be me but represent someone else or something else that is unresolved or unfulfilled.

I’d visited Freud’s house in Vienna, Austria, back in 1995.  The house had what Americans would call, “a comfy feeling to it.”  The furniture was decorated in velvet burgundy giving the impression of intimacy and warmth.  Book shelves crowded Freud’s analysis room so that it felt cozy like all good reading rooms should.  Definitely a place you’d want to lounge around in while chatting over Vienna coffee and pastries.   I doubt Freud fed his patients anything but his bizarre analysis but I’m still going to guess what he might have concluded from our dreams:

  • I’m confused about what is next for us.  I say, “Austin to Australia in August,” because that is what Hook says but I know we’ve no way of knowing if it will be 100% certain until we’re about 30 days away from departure.   It’s that known unknown again.
  • Hook needs to go fishing.  He also needs to swing a bug net around and catch something interesting and exciting.  He did not get out of the country last year at all when normally he would have been gone for an entire summer in Trinidad. The man needs to catch some fish so he can come home excited which will in turn help his body to heal faster.

Hooks for Hook

Hook’s university started a scholarship fundraiser called Hooks for Hook.  They asked students and faculty to buy a gold hook like a jewelry hook with a clasp that pins to a lapel or a hat.   The fundraiser kicked off the Allan Hook Wild Basin Scholar which will be awarded to one student a semester who will study at Wild Basin Preserve in Austin, Texas.

The fundraiser sold out of the initial 100 Hooks for Hook, but in anticipation of your question — Can we still donate? —  why yes you may because there is no end date to donations.   If you click on the Hook Wild Basin link above, it’ll take you directly to the donation page.

St. Edward’s students and faculty were the original donors to the fundraiser with an average donation of $5 per person.  I was a little leery about using this blog to $olicit moola, but I was both touched and impressed that Hook’s department thought up the idea after his students said they wanted to do something nice for him because of what he’s been through.  When I told Hook I was going to add the donation link into this blog, he said, “You’re dreaming if you think people are going to donate.”  Then he said not to tell you the average donation was only $5 in case you wanted to donate more.   What a fundraising hog!

I can think of other dreams I’d rather be having.  I want Hook’s dreams, the kind where you’re in action, doing things you love, excited at the challenge ahead of you.

Maybe we all need Hook’s dreams.   Or, maybe we just need a couple of shots of good Vienna coffee.

Click for Next Post  |  Click for Previous Post

Austin and Australia Hook-Up

HDU_AustralianPieDayBoomerang

There is a slogan heard throughout my city:  Keep Austin Weird.  I’ll admit we are a strange brew, an idiosyncratic bunch, concocting good times acceptable only to those who live here.  But never in all of my city’s weirdness did I expect to find that my other favorite weird place, Australia, has been tangled up with the freaks in Austin via an establishment that serves meat pies.  Ah, before you judge, think of a juicy chicken pot pie.  Yum, right?

So next Saturday, January 26th, I’m going to drive Hook and myself to a place called Boomerangs while they host their sixth annual Australia Day Party in Austin.   It’ll be like the Hooks are down under when really we’ll just be on the Drag.  Boomerangs will have to suffice until we can hop on a plane this summer.

Yes, our long-term plans still include trying to make it to Australia for Hook’s research sabbatical.   Fingers crossed, we’ll be on a plane as early as July 1st.  Worst case scenario, we hop on a plane as late as August.  Every day, Hook improves and he gains strength and his appetite increases.  As long as this continues, Hook wants to keep Australia a possibility for us.   I put the option of removing Australia off our radar for a year and he said, “No, I want to go.”  Last year it was me who needed the idea of Australia.  This year, it’s Hook.

His lack of an appetite is not a small concern for me because Dr. No is skinny, like Abraham Lincoln skinny.  (I call Hook ‘Dr. No’ because he says, “No,” to everything even when he means ‘Yes Dear.’)   Just yesterday, Hook said, “I need your appetite,” and I said, “Yeah, and I need your stomach.”  What a wonderful switch that would make.  Instead, I’ll take Hook to the pie eating place to fatten him up and see what this whole Australia Day thing is all about.

Hook’s True Handicap

On Friday, I rounded up a short-term temporary handicap placard so Hook could park closer to his building at the university.   Something as simple as walking 200 feet can wear Hook down which makes it harder for him to do whatever it is he needs to do whenever he goes to wherever he needs to go.  HDU_HandicapPlacard

I try to drive him when I can, but since he’s only taking pain medication as needed, he’s less likely to turn over the car keys to me.  Try pulling the car keys out of a man’s hand who is determined to drive while he thrives.  I almost didn’t mention the handicap decal in this blog because I was a little worried people might think we were taking advantage of his situation.  Then I realized we were completely taking advantage of his situation and I thought, good for us.   Hook really does get winded, and the fact that the man was full of a bunch of wind to begin with, well …

The Good and Bad of Australia

Before I end this week’s blog, I’d like to share two Australia-related links.  I always have my eyes and ears peeled for anything and everything Australia.  It’s like when you’re getting ready to buy a new car.  As soon as you decide on a make, model, and color, you see that car everywhere you go.  That’s what it’s been like for Hook and me since we decided on Australia as a sabbatical destination spot.  Whenever I read, see, or hear Australia, the word Pops! out at me.   Have you noticed in the last couple of years how everything is Pop! this and POP! that.  Make it Pop!  Well, pop these links open and have some good reads:

  • Good Aussies:  Australians Can Do Attitude.  If you’ve been having a tough time kick-starting your 2013, or if you’re like me and you need to walk before you can run, then this article will jump start all that feel good, I-can-do-anything, attitude you’ve been looking for.  Just click:  http://bit.ly/XycFHP
  • Bad Aussies:  Oz Has Its Crazies, Too.  Given that Aussies have a questionable cultural history, is it any wonder that they have their share of crazies, too.  I wouldn’t want my fellow Americans to think only we have the loose and ludicrous.  Oz has their fair share.  Read on:  http://bit.ly/T6675G

Hooks Down Under Blog Schedule

I’ve decided to go weekly with this blog and you can faithfully expect an updated post early Saturday mornings unlike today which is a late Sunday post.

During Hook’s hospital stay, I was manic with my posts.  I wrote an abnormal amount, but that was because I was spending an inordinate amount of time in a hospital with nothing to do except fret, write, and waste time on Facebook.   I didn’t mind the over posting because I understood people wanted and needed a Hook update.  But, I’d put my business on hold for December and January and now I need to get back on track with my Hook The Talent events coming up.

For those who are wondering how to keep up when we post, if you click on the Follow Blog Via Email at the top of the page, all posts are automatically pushed out to you via email.  (Some of the more tech-savvy readers are rolling their eyes at the blog-challenged, but just never mind them.)  I’m happy that people are interested enough to read and are willing to keep track with us as we struggle to answer the big question:  Will The Hooks Make It To Australia?

Someday, some way, somehow, Austin will meet Australia in Oz.  Until then, I’m going to drive Hook and myself to Boomerang’s next Saturday.  If you’re in Austin, hook up with the Hooks as we eat some Australian meat pies.  Look for the red handicap parking sticker and you’ll know we are there!

Click For Next Blog  |  Click for Previous Blog

Falling Down and Getting Back Up Again

Hook hasn’t fallen down so no worries there.  That title actually applies to me and I’ll get to that in a moment, but first a quick update on Hook for all those Hook groupies out there.

The Amazing Power of Hook’s Body

The last of the I.V.s was removed on Friday when Hook met with his surgeon for his post hospital, double-release check-up.  At the appointment, Hook shared some of his concerns with the surgeon about what he felt was still a failure to thrive (he’s kind of stuck on that).  The doctor told him, “Walking a block for you right now is the equivalent of running a half marathon for someone else.”

HDU_menAbs

This is not Hook’s real stomach but it could be!

That was eye-opening for Hook and his surgeon’s remark put his progress into perspective.  He’s been frustrated with not being able to do more. He’s not able to drive liked he used to, he’s not able to eat whatever he wants, he’s not able to do a lot of the things he used to do before.  But he’s healing every day, getting stronger, and I might add, getting back to some of his ornery ways which I take as a very good sign.

And, I just peeked at his stomach and am happy to report that he still has the abs of a 20-year old.   Although there is a visible incision on his abdomen, it is so diminished since that first day after surgery that I only expect the slightest hint of a scar when he’s fully healed.  Ditto for the holes on the sides of his stomach–yes, holes– where tubes came out to extract stuff you don’t want me to describe.  Now I can barely notice there were ever any holes at all.

For those of you wondering whether to email/text Hook, I think he would enjoy hearing from you.  If he doesn’t respond right away, it’s because he has a ton of work email to catch up on.

The Amazing Power of The Mind

A few months agRunners and joggers on the hike and bike trail town lake austin, Texas, USAo, I fell while running the Town Lake trail.  Actually, it was a stumble that turned into a fall as my left knee scraped across the dirt trail while both of my hands slid forward and my left elbow smashed into a rock jutting out from the trail.

HDU_TownLakearm

This is my real arm before the bacteria started to multiply!

From the photo Hook took of my forearm, it might be tough for you to imagine how deep the wound in my elbow was which had to be treated for an infection with antibiotics because green pus starting coming out of it within 24 hours.   That’s how people get gangrene and are forced to have limbs amputated at least that’s what I was running around the house saying to frighten myself into seeing a doctor.  It didn’t help that Hook fanned the flames of my fear by telling me that bacterial cells divide every twenty minutes.  This meant that my infected cells (approximately 100,000) were multiplying by the “hundreds of thousands” the longer I waited to get started on antibiotics.  Such were the wild bacterial times in the Hook house.

I mention the fall because after I fell the first time, I waited for a couple of weeks before returning to the trail.  When I returned, I fell again.  It was almost comical the second time as my foot slipped on that same damn rock.  My mouth started to form an O-shape, all of it happening in slow motion, with a thought floating through my head: I can’t believe I’m going to fall again.  It was more a trip that second time but my hands still slammed onto the ground. A week after that second fall I tripped, for the third time, in almost the exact same spot.  I did one of those numbers where you lose balance and you have to put your hands out in front of your body to steady yourself.   There was nothing wrong with the trail.  I’ve run that spot on and off for the past 12 years.  I just wasn’t ready to run yet.

If You Can’t Run Then Walk

Once Hook was discharged from the hospital the first time, I slowly and I mean slooowly went back to a walking regimen, not a running one, because I knew I needed to walk before I could run.  I’m not intentionally trying to sound like a cliche, but quite frankly, I was plain afraid of falling even while walking.  Part of my job as Hook’s caretaker, though, was to get him outside to walk once to twice a day.  In the beginning that was tough because all Hook wanted to do was sleep, a major side affect of his medications, and all I wanted to do was not fall.  Eventually, we got into a groove with Hook walking to regain strength and me walking to regain balance.

It’s hard for me to resist writing some feel good platitudes about this whole falling phase because who falls three times in the same place except a drunk person.  But I was worn down mentally and physically and I wasn’t even the one going through chemo and radiation.  If I was that worn down, what must Hook have been feeling and all of it before an incredibly invasive surgery.

So I’m writing today to tell you to walk until you can run.   By walking, I mean do whatever it is that you need to do to keep making progress, however you define progress for yourself.  And if you’re searching for the strength to get back on a trail or a particular path in your life, remember there’s a guy in Austin, Texas, named Hook who struggles every day to be just a little bit stronger by walking two street blocks which his doctor has said is another man’s marathon.   There’s also a woman in Austin, Texas, who is a major klutz but who needed to fall three times before she finally took a big, fat break.

No worries if you fall so long as you keep getting back up again and you keep trying.

Click for Next Post  |  Click for Previous Post

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 …  😀 😀 😀

Click for Next Blog  |  Click for Previous Post

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.

Click for Next PostClick for Previous Post

From Funk to Super: The Hook-Australian Update

The Olympics came and went, August came and went and now, if I’m not careful, September will come and go, too.

My lackadaisical attitude hit right after my last blog posting.  I’d been in a bit of a funk, the kind where you have all these different directions you could go but none of them are completely where you want to go.  Instead of going anywhere, you decide to go nowhere.  You come to a dead stop like slamming on the brakes in the middle of the road even though there’s no car in front of you.

Some of you know what I mean.

August required some Brothers Johnson to help me get the funk outta my face.  Snoop Dog wouldn’t do.   And to help this process along, I did what any self-respecting, mature woman of 47 would do:  I ran away from home.

Running Away From Home

When I was 14 years old, my father, Lou, took a stand against my late night talks on the phone with my then boyfriend.   Remember the kitchen wall phone with the long, winding cord that you could twirl around your fingers as you talked?  I would sit on the steps leading down to the basement with the door between the kitchen and the basement partially closed so I could giggle in private.  Exercising his patriarchal rights, Lou took away my phone privileges.  In an act of teenage defiance, I hopped a bus from Saginaw to Flint. 45 miles away, learning the hard way that $10 dollars doesn’t go very far when you have to buy a $4.50 bus ticket.  I was gone for what felt like an entire week but was really only three days.  I chose Flint because I had a friend who lived there and it felt brave to my 14-year old self.

Flint, Michael Moore’s Flint of Roger & Me, is not a place people run to but away from.  No one runs to Saginaw either but at least Saginaw had one thing going for it – it wasn’t Flint.  I was taking a stand (so was Lou), fed up (so was Lou), and I meant to take drastic measures (again, Lou).

Running away from home when you’re 14 is eye-opening.   Running away when you’re 47 is just another charge on the credit card in San Antonio which is where I ran to.   My tastes and my friends have changed, but my lifelong desire not to be stifled has not.

I sent a text to Hook the next day just in case he hadn’t realized I wasn’t there anymore.   Poor Lou agonized over my absence.   Hook probably didn’t notice until I didn’t show up for dinner … the next day.

After getting our lives back in order, Hook’s and mine, I realized that I hadn’t taken a break.  Oh sure, we’d spent weeks and half weeks on and off in Port Aransas but that was more for Hook’s decompression.  Beach or no beach, I still worked doing my virtual recruiting and career coaching.

Within a three-month period, we went from planning a life overseas to planning to save Hook’s life to redesigning what our new, temporary lives would be.   In a bad case situation, it’s the best of circumstances.  No sane person could ask for more and that’s not just a repressed Pollyanna talking.   We really couldn’t ask for things to be better.

But the summer came and went and I missed it somehow and then Hook said something he shouldn’t have said (what husband doesn’t?) so I waited until he left for work one Friday morning, just like I’d waited for Lou to leave that morning back in 1979, and I packed a bag and ran away.

And it felt great.   Just like it had before.  And this time I could drive myself, so there.

I know most women, if presented with the right amount of alcohol in small intervals, would admit to the secret desire to walk onto a train, hop in a car, get on a plane and just go.  No note, no call.   Nothing to anyone.   Ppfft.   Figure it out for yourself.

 And What Does Any of This Have To Do With Being Down Under?

Well everything actually.  One of the allures of Australia, and one of the reasons we are still determined to get there, is that Aussies have this knack for going with the flow.  It’s different than say with the French who pretend to care only about wine and taking it easy but who are closet tight asses and whose weather can really suck.  Or even the Mexicans who claim to live on a mañana schedule in siesta time which feels great initially but the flow still needs to flow at some point and the whole mañana thing eventually gets on your nerves.

We chose Australia because it is on the other side of the world with an 11-hour difference, sometimes 12 depending on how we are monkeying with our clocks.  When Americans are sleeping, Australians are awake.  When we’re working, they’re dreaming.   People in Perth have the Outback in their backyard and they rest against the Indian Ocean.  We here in Austin have some incredible parks and Lady Bird Lake.   I love Austin but there’s just no comparison to the beauty of Australia.

One of the gift books I’d received, Mutant Message Down Under, was written by Marlo Morgan, an American woman who takes a four month walkabout in the Australian Outback.  There was some controversy surrounding the book because the author wrote it as fiction but then later said it was non-fiction but then changed her mind again and said it was fiction.  Fiction schmiction.  That woman did a walkabout and she convinced wellness gurus Og Mandino, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, and Wayne Dyer to write praises for her book.  Then Harper Collins turned around and published a million copies.

Here’s what we know:  there was a woman, there was an Outback, she walked.    And I want to walk, too, in the Outback in 2013; we think/hope/are planning.  “We,” remember?  Everything is ‘we’ now.

The Super Hook Update

Hook has passed through six weeks of intravenous chemo and is now onto daily radiation with chemo pills as a chaser.   The radiation with chemo sandwich will continue through the rest of September and the first week of October.   Then his body will take a rest from all the drugs with surgery planned for November.

Hook is doing great, a teensy tiny bit on the tired side, but otherwise great.  Or “Super!” as one of our nurse practitioner/advisors/doctor’s assistants (I have no clue what she is) says to us every, single time we meet.  “Do you feel tired or do you feel super?”

You cannot ask Hook if he feels tired because his automatic answer is, “Tired?  Well, yes, yes I do feel a little tired.”   And then I have to butt in with, “No, he’s not tired.   He sleeps a little more in the morning but his energy is the same.   He’s still swimming and bugging and fishing.”

“Super!”  Our assistant doctor-like person says.   She is who the doctors have us meet with so we’ll feel like we’re meeting with them.  We only actually get to see the doctor every third visit.  Do they really think we can’t tell the difference?  Our person is bubbly but annoying, perky but forgetful, genuinely nice but eternally distracted so much so that I want to punch her in the face before her mouth ever opens to save us both the hassle of conversing.

But I keep my hands to myself, screaming only in my head, when our practitioner/advisor forgets to tell us what we really need to know or says things like, “I just can’t keep all these prescriptions straight.”  And how does she think we do it? Or, she forgets to set up a “very important appointment” that is so important she cannot tell us why it’s important or who it is going to be with.   “It just is.  Trust me.”   Super!

You should have seen Hook’s oncologist and radiologist fist-bumping him after the first set of test results came in.  That’s how excited they were that the chemo was killing off what it was supposed to, and the radiation was not burning a hole in his skin.

The doctors exclude me from their excitement; they do not raise their closed fists to me because we are not on the same team.  I am on a maybe-surgery-won’t-be-necessary team, and they are on a he’s-almost-ready-to-be-cut-open team.   I’d have a little more faith in the process, in the medical system, if it seemed everyone was reading from the same game play.  But we meet and re-meet and discuss and re-discuss and have the same conversations over and over and over again that it takes everything in me not to punch them all in the face and say, SUPER.  But I don’t.  I am antsy but quiet; stoic with a wide-eyed hysterical look which I’m quite certain doesn’t look super.

2013 Australia Plans

Our plans are still on for Oz-land in 2013, so much so that Hook will meet with an academic guest from Curtin University of Technology this month.   The Curtin contact will be in Dallas and a connection to a connection to a connection was made and viola, they will stop in Austin to meet.

Why It’s All Going to Work Out

Four months ago, when Hook and I received the soap opera-like phone call about his diagnosis from a nurse who couldn’t answer any of our questions, we sat down side-by-side and scrolled through websites together to read what we could about pancreatic cancer, the stages, and the possible outcomes.

My first thought after reading was, Okay. This is going to be okay.  Hook read the same sites and thought, I have six months.

We communicate like all married couples communicate– we don’t– and our initial reactions to the situation were comical:  Hook wanted to update beneficiaries; I wanted to update our plane tickets.

We did update the beneficiaries and we cancelled the plane tickets but only because I didn’t listen to my instinct, and my instinct is this:  The only thing that’s ever going to kill Hook is me.

It’s all super!   And I am keeping the funk outta of our face(s).

Click for Next Post   |  Click for Previous Post

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.

Click for Next Post   |  Click for Previous Post