Timing is Everything

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

“I know.”

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

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

“I know.”

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

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

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

Status Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll post again tomorrow with what I know.

Click for Next Post  |  Click for Previous Post

One Lenten Season

HDU_LentSorry to get so Catholic on you but we are in the Lenten season.   For those not of the Catholic persuasion, parts of the world are locked in a 40 days and 40 nights spiritual closet, excluding Sundays, with only bread and water as creature comforts.

In the Hook household, we’re off sugar and alcohol.  Those have always been our creature comforts but giving them up hasn’t been the challenge I thought it would be.   After reading some of my older posts, I realized I’ve written about drinking champagne, beer and wine and tequila a lot.  It was hard not to think, Wow, I sound like a drunk.   Somehow I needed to reassure myself that I was still an upstanding citizen or a citizen standing up.  One or the other.  When choosing my penance during this time of repentance, I chose to give up alcohol for Lent.   Yes, even cafeteria Catholics like me practice Lent.  The Pope said cafeteria Catholics are ignorant, but since he quit his day job and I still have mine, let’s pretend I know what I’m talking about.

Penance the Punishment

pen·ance [pen-uhns] noun
1. a punishment undergone in token of penitence for sin.

For those not in the U.S., there’s been a story in the news about a drunk driving accident in Austin that occurred almost two years ago.  The case only made it to trial in the Texas court system earlier this year.  Fresh wounds have been re-opened as the State of Texas versus Gabrielle Nestande closed just yesterday in the hit and run and fatal death of Courtney Griffin.

I’ve no opinion on this case that I plan to share here.  No worries that I’m going to spew rabid thoughts on Nestande or try to wrangle your heart for Griffin or vice versa.   But since timing is everything, how odd that during this horrific trial we are also in the time of Lent, a time of doing penance for repentance.  My own penance is the absence of alcohol while the overabundance of alcohol was at the root of the Nestande-Griffin accident.

Repentance the Sorrow

re·pent·ance [ri-pen-tns, -pen-tuhns] noun
1. deep sorrow, compunction, or contrition for a past sin, or wrongdoing.
2. regret for any past action.

It is not for me to judge what penance Nestande should have to bear or even whether her regret is genuine.  It is toward the Griffin family I find myself drawn in almost an involuntary way.  I empathize with the siblings of Courtney Griffin while at the same time wishing I were unfamiliar with such sorrow.  The reminder of Griffin’s death brought the tragedy of my brother Paul’s death back to me from 15 years ago.

Paul wasn’t hit by a drunk driver.  His was a hit and run of another kind.  But time really does heal the deepest of the wounds.  It just doesn’t do it overnight.

I can still hear Paul’s laugh, that boisterous bubbling that came from deep, strong lungs.  People would laugh with Paul even before they knew why he was laughing; it was that infectious.  His Hollywood smile was my personal envy:  perfectly straight, pearly whites.  My parents paid an orthodontist to fix my teeth, but they didn’t have to do that for Paul’s.   His trademark smile is now found on the face of the eldest daughter he left behind.

In tribute to the Griffin siblings, I share this poem from so many years ago:

Just Not Today©

It always takes me by surprise
When I allow myself to remember
A rising thump of panic sets in
Worse than that first day

I’ve had to learn what it means
Not to have you here anymore
Feeling those memories surface
Your absence like a blanket over it all

Still, I know you understand
As you watch from your new place
While fear sometimes engulfs
And a fire begins to rage

Regrets and promises and sorrow
Of a life so unfulfilled
What Ifs and Whys and Wonder
Had you chosen a different way

Then as though with a hose of water
I wear down a burning flame
Instead of an empty shell leftover
I construct from the pain

Your death did not leave me hollow
In foundation or in frame
Losing you gave life new meaning
Only not today,
Just not today

 Rosemary Guzman Hook. Copyright 1998. Poems for Paul

Let’s End on an Upper

I don’t want to end on a downer so let me share some good news:

  • Hook’s CAT scans came back clear and clean.  This means that so far no leftover tumors can be seen lounging around his insides.   The question of whether he’ll resume chemotherapy treatment is TBD.  His body is not strong enough today to withstand the treatment short term.  My vote is no more chemo no matter what, but Hook will be the final decision-maker.
  • Hook has resumed taking supplements to strengthen his body back up.  He stopped taking these a week before the surgery in December but now that his body is healing and he needs the extra oomph, his surgeon said it was okay for him to start taking these again.
  • Hook’s university re-approved his sabbatical and the receiving university in Perth, Western Australia has indicated they are still interested in sponsoring us for a year.
  • As of today, we are on for Austin to Australia in August 2013.

Lent or no Lent, Catholic or non-Catholic, the goal for all of us is to one day find joy again.  That’s what the Hooks are inching toward as we make our way through this alcohol-free Lenten Season.

This blog is dedicated to the memories of Courtney Paige Griffin, Austin, Texas, 1981 – 2011, and Paul Joseph Guzman, Saginaw, Michigan, 1963 – 1998.

Click for Next PostClick for Previous Post

Merry Christmas Mates!

Many of you have enjoyed Hook’s unique bug Christmas cards for the last dozen years or so.   For 2012, we still have an insect to share by way of a public Christmas card to our family, friends, and all the good people of the world who have been keeping up with our blog (72 countries total!).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The 2012 Hook Christmas Card

HDU_pseudomyrmexontree

Photo taken by Dr. Allan Hook: An acacia ant, species of Pseudomyrmex, on an acacia plant in Chiapas, Mexico, 2009.

From the Hook home to yours this Christmas season, we wish you abundant health, happiness, and a good friend to share it with.

Speaking of friends, this acacia ant, a species of Pseudomyrmex, shares a unique relationship with the acacia plant.   The plant provides swollen, hollow thorns as a nest site for the ant to lay its eggs, and the light colored nodes you see on the leaf tips provide food for the ant.   What the ant provides is protection via a very painful sting to plant-eating animals that would otherwise harm the health of the plant.

Protect the health of your family and friends and may you enjoy a prosperous life.

Photo taken by Dr. Allan W. Hook, El Panchon in Palenque, Chiapas MEXICO, 2009.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Click for Next Post  |  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

South Center to Hope Street

We appreciate that we have so many people interested in renting our house – really we do — but can I mention how incredibly inconvenient it is to have the house always looking as though we don’t really live there?

There’s how we pretend to live (show house), how we wish we lived (surface clean show house where we hide towels and toss our messes into closets), and how we really live — piles of papers everywhere, books half opened throughout all three bathrooms, Hook’s water glass obsession obvious in the empty glasses found in almost every room in our home.  Our greatest inconvenience though is our struggle via la commode.  In the Hook house, we do our part to conserve water and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Last week we had five male 20-somethings look at the house.  The only thing that saved us from their rental was the indication on the application that there would be a big dog and our requirements forbid any big dogs.   Today, three young female 20-somethings showed up who looked like they’d like nothing better than to spill tequila and rum all over the floors and run up and down the stairs in spiked high heeled shoes that would tear at the Berber carpet all the while being chased by half naked 20-something males.

We had hoped that by putting a high rental price on the house, we could avoid any 20-somethings, but we hadn’t counted on roommate situations.   I wish I would have had the foresight to “accidentally” vomit on the floor this morning, thus turning off the young females altogether.

The location of our home in south Austin, so close to downtown, would be a dream party house to 20-somethings.  We can discriminate against big dogs, but we cannot discriminate based on age and perceived stupidity.

What we would really like, what we keep hoping for is a nice male “couple,” two males who are “partners.”   Or, how about a mid-30s married couple with a husband who has a yard fixation and uses tending-to-the-lawn as a ‘cave’ escape?

We don’t sound very renter friendly, I know, but we’ve been kind to our home, and we’d like that whoever moves into our house to be as kind as we have been to the unblemished hardwood floors, the flowing backyard of green lawn, and the newly painted colorful walls.   We want someone who enjoys weeding out the bed surrounding the Mexican oak tree.   We want a renting miracle.

Enough about what we’re leaving.   Here’s where we’re headed to:  43 Hope Street in Watersman Bay just north of Perth.

Hook had originally set up a one week’s stay at the Drake Apartments in Perth, and for an extra $10 Australian dollars a day, we could have a vehicle with the rental.  Yes, Australia is on the dollar, too, and the exchange is about even.  The difference lies in the high standard of living.  I’ve heard cheeseburgers cost $30.  I’m assuming that is a monster cheeseburger at a really nice restaurant and who wants to eat a burger at a nice restaurant.  Not us.

But then, our academic contact at Curtin University of Technology where Hook will be a visiting professor connected us with a Curtin colleague who has been in the process of moving out of their old house into their newly built home on the same property.  They have a fully-furnished, 3-bedroom, 2-bath home for an unbelievable $400/week.  Fully furnished as in not only furniture but towels and dishes, all the stuff you forget you need to have a functional home.  We said, “good-bye Drake, hello Hope Street.”

I know what you’re thinking.  $400/week — did they use to rent to hookers?   The Australians give all rates by the week instead of by the month.  Who knows why; who cares why.  The cherry-on-top news is that 43 Hope Street is walking distance to a nature preserve  on one side then walking distance to the ocean on the other side.  Walking distance to the ocean!!!!   I may have to walk a couple of blocks to catch a bus that will drop me off at a train station that will take me to the heart of downtown Perth, but I’ll have easy access to the Indian Ocean.

The best news of the day is that the small profit we’ll make on renting out South Center will mean we’ll end up paying less to live in Australia than in Austin.  It doesn’t get much better than that for a year’s sabbatical.

Bring on the college kids so long as they pay the rent on time and do not burn down the house.   The rest we’ll just have to deal with when we return in July 2013.

Next Post:  Technology and Tenants  | Previous Post:  Immunizations