Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Day to Day

Yesterday we had leftovers.

Mom and I puttered around the kitchen, tucking items into the oven and shoving others in the microwave before arranging bits and pieces on the table and calling Dad to join us.

We've learned nothing new. A social worker called. I talked to several receptionists about moving Mom's surgical consult earlier as the mass is so small that I hate to let it grow before getting it out and away.

Dad's growing - we're all growing, I suppose - increasingly nervous about the oncology appointment tomorrow. The options - or lack thereof - concern me.

"How are you staying so calm?" Mom asked while we waited for the FDG to distribute before his PET scan.

I looked up from a People magazine (I've learned So Much about celebrities) and shrugged. "I trust that God loves us and is in control," I offered. "And I'm in denial, I think. Trying to just deal with the next step for both of you and not think about worst case scenarios."

She nodded. And reached for my hand as we waited together there in the silent waiting room in the basement of the diagnostic center.

"Do you have everything?" I asked the girls this morning, having pulled hair into ponytails and checked homework and bundled both of them in my Jeep. Mom had gone for an early prayer meeting and Dad waved to us from the window while we set off for school.

Little One brought home cards she'd had her class make for my folks. It was terribly sweet and moving - the kids know them as they take playground duty and help with classroom activities. And those folded pieces of multi-color construction paper made me feel much as I do when filling out medical forms.

This is really happening to us. Much as I wish it otherwise, those cells that multiply too quickly are our reality.

Smallest One and I escape into the iPad, playing games with dinosaurs and cavemen.

"You're villagers are hungry," I tell her absently as I glance at the screen.

"I know," she replies before tapping the cauldron for her little community.

"Fire," I warned her later and she moved to tap the animated flames and the little people on screen rushed over with buckets of water.

I pressed my check to the crown of her head and blinked back tears, eyes darting around the room to make sure nobody notices. I had a panic attack the other night over Blackie - the Katie-named '77 Chevy truck that Dad has had forever. Would I take it home? Fit it in my garage? If Mom comes to live with me, there won't be room. And I have to take care of Blackie.

So I read books and do work and always have a television on so that I can distract myself as much as possible. I sleep and stay close, immersing myself in their daily lives until I can figure out how to change them to better handle this.

Tomorrow we know.

And the knowledge that I may not be capable of hiding from that knowing terrifies me.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


"What did he say?" Mom asked, looking up from her Kindle after I pressed a button to end the call on my Blackberry.

"Hmmm?" I asked, still staring at the phone before I blinked up at her.

"Dad's doctor," she repeated as I glanced between my parents. "What did he say?"

He'd said there was no reason to rush to the oncologist when I'd pressed him for an earlier appointment than Thursday of this week. That he'd not spoken with adequate candor when we saw him earlier in the week. That the biopsy meant this was bad. Really bad. That there was nothing we could do to fix it and therefore waiting another few days for an appointment made no difference.

I understood that he was saying we were basically waiting for my father - who poured me cereal and hugged me when I cried and applauded at various graduations - to die from the cancer throughout his digestive system.

"He said next week was fine for the appointment," I finally said out loud, hating myself for being less than honest.

"I told her to stop being so pushy," Dad complained and I clenched my teeth as his criticism of the morning continued.

"Katie," Mom demanded, "he talked for a long time. What did he say?"

So I made something up.

And, later that afternoon, I prayed as we waited in the GI specialist's office. Let him be kind, I repeated. Please let him say something good. And please let me be right about there being nothing grossly abnormal about Mom's MRI.

As I stared at the floor, talking silently to God, I remembered my glasses being tugged by the magnetic field as I leaned into the bore to hold Mom's hand. I pushed the frames up in memory and glanced across the gleaming expanse of floor to my parents as they held hands.

GI Guy was perfection (thanks be to God) - he explained the seriousness of the condition, answered questions and offered hope. Said there would be times of anger and depression and denial, but that - at the end of the day - one must fight. Consider quality of life versus quantity. Find an oncologist we like and trust. Get a second opinion on treatment options.

"But there's something we can do?" Dad asked after he advised against surgery. (He said there were drugs. That help with some people.)

"What is it?" Mom asked, her voice breaking. "We know the golf ball one on the pancreas, but is it one big mass on the liver?" (The pancreas is the most obvious lesion, though the liver has several spots as well. It's stage IV, obviously.)

"Is stage IV the worst?" Dad asked on the drive home. I nodded in response and explained that once it left the stomach, it had spread and was considered stage IV. That it was hard to detect these types early.

"So Mom has stage I?" he asked and I nodded in response.

"When they called about the MRI results, they didn't see any results of it spreading. Just that 5mm lesion they biopsied."

"Good," he replied, glancing at her in the rearview mirror. "That's really good."

That was Thursday. And, having considered them stable, I came home.

I return tomorrow and the thought - God forgive me - has me nearly panicked with dread and denial. It's normal here. And it's not normal there. I don't know the right answers or next steps or when to accept and when to argue.

I remind them to drink water and sigh when Mom weeps after hanging up the phone - canceling playground duty for the rest of the year, calling clubs to let them know she'll no longer attend. I remind Dad he can take a pain pill when he winces and shifts or rubs at his belly. I say I'm hungry at meal times and watch bad television.

"I miss you," Mom said when I called today to check in and let them know I'd return in about 24 hours.

And I know she does. And that's why I'm making the trip south, cat and dog in tow this time, with dress clothes that will encourage people to take me more seriously than when I show up in capri jeans and borrowed t-shirts from airport gift shops.

Tomorrow. I'll go tomorrow. And until then, hope I stop feeling sick and shaky.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Up-Dad(and Mom)-te

As bad as situations can be, people are startlingly, beautifully kind.

"I feel under control," Mom offered when we were alone in the car together, "but then someone offers sympathy or comfort and I just lose it."

I nodded in agreement, for the rare moments when I've been moved to tears have been triggered by people in my life, not theirs. When Adam called and told me to disconnect from work and he'd cover for me until I was ready to return. When I read your comments, feeling a desperate need to beg Friend for help, but emotionally incapable of accepting it. As I read and deleted emails from colleagues, feeling utterly grateful for the prayers and well-wishes but hoping hard that I can just forget all this ever happened.

It is increasingly difficult to pretend this could be fine as we watch a parade of doctors offer their sympathies when we'd rather have test results. Dealing with cancer is both as horrible and normal as I anticipated it would be, sitting as I did on the periphery of the environment during my academic research.

I keep writing blog posts in my head, but have hesitated to think long enough to put words online. Instead I do work. I sleep. I fetch water and soda and run random errands. Play games and watch cartoons and pick up the Ones from school. I filed my parents' taxes. I call doctors and visit their offices. And we're slowly making progress toward a plan.

Dad's biopsy was like Mom's - depressingly positive. Our GI specialist indicated he disagreed with the radiology report and believes it's stomach - not pancreatic - cancer. The CT did indicate abnormalities on the pancreas and liver.

Our family doctor listened to all 3 of us and wrote the requested prescriptions (by me) for Vicodin and Valium. "You will take them if you need them," I told Dad and Mom, respectively. "There's no reason for pain or extreme stress right now when we can fix it."

Then our family doctor - who I find mostly useless - prayed for us. That we'd find comfort in our love for each other, in our friends and family and community's support. That there would be hope and joy and good communication as we understood our challenges and options. And we three said amen and walked out of the office to face what's next.

Mom and I go for an MRI tomorrow morning. Unlike CT scans, I can read an MRI so if I can convince someone to let me see it, I'll know more about her soon. "You have to be OK," I told her. "I just can't..."

Dad sees his GI guy on Thursday and our PCP is arranging for an oncologist. He stares into space and worries. He's not sleeping well. And he visits the bathroom with worrying regularity. But once we understand options, we'll pick one. And go from there.

I called my neighbor to check on poor Mr. Sprout, who was once again left alone. Brother oscillates between gentle love and selfish rage and I soothe and support as necessary.

"You have to show up when you say you're planning to be here," I told him tonight. "Dad watches for you - moves his chair so he's just gazing up the street. It makes me sad. So don't make promises you won't keep."

And I wish - guiltily - for home. For the quiet and the order and the pleasure of looking after only me. I planned to leave tonight. Then tomorrow. Just for a couple days - to fetch Sprout. Clean clothes. To pick up and prepare to be gone rather than fleeing in a panic after a weepy call from my mother. But it's not to be.

So instead of curling on my loveseat to watch television, I sit at the table with Dad and we put pills in his dispensers for the week. I curl up next to Mom and watch stars dance (on television, not the sky). And I sleep fitfully in a bed that's too small without enough pillows because it's across the hall from my parents. And they need me for now.

(Again, though - thank you for your comments and emails and lovely prayers and thoughts. I really don't know how to express my gratitude for moments spent thinking of us.)

Saturday, March 17, 2012


"I'm going to make a deal with God," Mom said, face wet with tears as she leaned on Dad's stoic shoulder as they sat together on his bed in the emergency room. "I'll go with you."

Mom's breast biopsy came back on Thursday morning - it was positive for breast cancer.

Dad went to the hospital for low hemoglobin levels on Friday - Mom's birthday. His CT scan - ordered to look for a bleed - revealed a large mass on his pancreas, liver and intestines.

We await a maternal MRI and paternal PET and biopsy.

Please pray.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Terminating @ London

After a very nice sleep and breakfast of poached eggs on toast, I set off through the rainy morning to the train station so that I could travel east from Wales.

The lights in the train made a pseudo-mirror of the window and I couldn't avoid my reflection if I wanted to watch over the green hills in my quest to spot sheep.

I sigh over myself, frankly, as I meet my own gaze and don't have a particularly positive reaction to it. I like me - I am (or can be) sweet and funny and bright. But the packaging leaves a bit to be desired, mostly because I can't be bothered to take proper care of myself.

While I'd like to think the kilometers of walking and liters of water (still - never sparkling) would spark a bit of a lifestyle change, I'm likely to revert to Diet Pepsi and cheeseburgers and reruns of sitcoms once back in my normal routine.

I was relieved to alight at Paddington Station, the distractions of London most welcome in light of my depressing introspection. I caught a cab in the sullen rain, admiring the organization as workers arranged the line of travelers so that we could enter taxis with maximum efficiency.

"Your room isn't ready," the receptionist noted and I sighed, though it was just before noon and check-in wasn't until 2.

I walked through the rain, peering from beneath my hood, until I reached Whiteley's. I had some lunch before setting off to buy items. I'm going to travel in my new pajamas as they are the only clothing I currently possess that is clean. I picked up candy for the girls and a couple of stuffed sheep on sale. (They're wearing cardigans of sheep's wool! I love cardigans! Just like my new silly sheep.)

As I was preparing to brave the rain again, I sent a look of apology to my feet surrounded by shoes that had not quite dried and were going to get soggy again. And a woman stopped me beside her cart of pricey cosmetics.

"White people have fewer layers of skin," she told me and I frowned with skepticism. Because that didn't seem right. But after disparaging my normal mineral make-up (which I wasn't wearing) and the people of London (they don't smile), she prepared to cover the redness of my cheeks and even out my skin tone.

"It does look better," I admitted when given a mirror, thinking I'd looked at myself more today than in several weeks combined. But I laughed when she asked for hundreds of pounds for foundation and blush and colors I could use for eyeshadow or lipstick! Foundations and bronzers and exfoliant creams made of diamond dust.

"Nope," I refused as she detailed packages and prices and how very important appearance was.

"You're a pretty girl," she said, "but you do need to refine a bit and this is the best way to do that."

I cocked my head at her and swallowed a comment that I already have a job I like and at which I'm competent. I've more or less given up on dating and love, at least for now. So an extensive routine with bottles and brushes and containers of powder didn't appeal.

Still, as I finished stuffing my belongings into my bag one last time so we could make our way home tomorrow, there was a jar of mineral foundation that made its way into a corner pocket. Because while it hardly solves all my problems, it does help with the redness in my cheeks.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Mostly Like Home

There is little exotic in my ancestry. My maternal grandmother was adopted so there may be some trace of Italian or French or Spanish descent, but we are mostly from the United Kingdom - a bit of Irish, some Scottish and mostly English. I have dark hair and eyes paired with very fair skin prone to burns and blushes. I've heard stories of green fields and farms and ships to America.

I know not whether there is some primitive pull toward the lands of those before me or whether I simply like the UK for random reasons. I suppose it doesn't particularly matter, for I feel very comfortable here - speaking the language, having washcloths, not having bidets (of whose use I remain ignorant), having pens rather than pencils in hotel rooms. Alarm clocks so that I can take the battery out of my travel clock that speaks annoyingly (in French) whenever my belongings shift and depress a button on the blasted device.

There's television and soda and food that is more filling than delicious. And it's lovely.

I have taken up residence on the 3rd floor of a house on Cathedral (Street? Boulevard? Way?) and am finding it utterly charming.

Speaking the language does help. I know this is obvious and freely admit that I did accomplish goals in both France and Italy, but the rapid exchange of information today could not have happened if we didn't share a language. In addition, we skipped over background and went straight to results and future plans - it was efficient and stimulating and delightful.

I rarely spend 6 straight hours learning and thinking and letting my brain organize information into pieces I can use, things I should remember and items to discard. And in moments like that, I remember why I adore my job. Meeting brilliant people and taking in ideas and deciding what makes sense to use.

Having been abandoned by my host, I finished up the meetings and walked back to my hotel through the chilly afternoon. I stopped off at the castle on the way. There may be people who could have walked by without going in and grabbing an audio guide and climbing the steps to the keep. I am not one of those people.

But even as I climbed the steps and took the pictures and sighed over the moat (I've now crossed a moat!), I rested more often as a slightly twisted ankle at the palace in Versailles ends up with an achy leg and spasm-y muscle in a castle in Wales.

I grow weary. I'm blessed and thrilled and lucky and have had such a wonderful trip. I never mean to dismiss the 'right place right time' goodness of having this job and seeing parts of the world I otherwise wouldn't.

But I miss my dog. I'd like to cook rather than eat out. Arrange my piles of pillows as I like. Cuddle the girls and talk to my mom and dad rather than sending quick email with photos attached.

But for now, I'm packed and ready for an English breakfast and train ride in the morning.

And I'm taking a tiny plush dragon home with me, having pinned a daffodil to his glittery chest to make him a bit more friendly. So it's a good day here in the Welsh capital.

A bit more tomorrow from London.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Sans Sheriff

This is how the world appeared to me this morning as I moved through the city before dawn, coat flapping about me like a cape.

Unlike some graceful heroine, however, I was burdened by backpack and bag. I'd slept for about 4 hours. And my nose was running because of the cold wind.

I moved across the street, looking both directions because it's habit to face opposite the direction of London traffic as we Americans travel on the other side of the road. And everything looked garish and tilted and a little scary as my brain struggled to awaken and make sense of another day of travel.

Once I printed my ticket, dutifully offering my pre-ordered code - and found the right set of tracks, I shivered once again. Setting off for the nearest coffee shop, I ordered a large (on which I burnt my tongue) and picked up some shortbread. As I nibbled and sipped, I availed myself of the free signal and answered some emails that had been beyond my capability the night before.

I enjoy the trains - the smooth journey interrupted by the occasional wiggle or pause to change passengers, the ability to read or stand or stare out windows as the landscape zips by pleasantly.

A little keyed up from the excess of coffee, I sipped some water and watched the world go by as we headed north.

The sun was up and shining merrily along the way and I alighted, taking care - as signs directed - to watch my step from the train to the platform. Finding another coffee shop while I waited for my host, I switched it up with a cappuccino and a brownie. And soon felt sick from the caffeine and sugar.

We talked and worked and talked some more. And when finished, we found the car and headed southwest, chasing the setting sun.

"Where are the sheep?" I asked as we followed the motorway. "I like sheep."

"I'm sure they're around," he replied, shifting smoothly and increasing speed as we both grew increasingly tired.

"Sheep are fluffy," I offered, my words slurred and eyelids heavy.

"Like a nice pillow," I continued when he didn't answer after a moment.

"You've never met a sheep, have you, love?" he asked, glancing over at me with a smile.

"Not so much," I grinned back, keeping an eye out for the fluffy creatures as night fell and we arrived to sleep and dream and work another day tomorrow.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Progression of Pretty, Part Final

Perhaps if you study hard and discover truths and achieve greatness, someone will build a statue of you looking thoughtful.

Then a bird will land on the head of that statue and make me giggle. So I win in the end, yes? For greatness is fleeting - I have departed from Venice.

I gave musicians money throughout Italy - I like to think I'm a patron, especially of heavy coins instead of real money made of paper. So violin guy was cool with me taking a photo. I think.

I ate here, more because I was freezing - having left my coat at the hotel with my bags - than anything. The food was OK. The guy in charge was sort of mean.
And the tiramisu - though a bit deconstructed-looking - was delicious. So I win in the end.

With cocoa and sugar on top.

There's a chance that I didn't pay for my second boat ride on the actv line back to the hotel.

Dear Venice - Very sorry. Love, Katie

I did pay for my boat ride to the airport. And flight to CDG. And subsequent flight to LHR. And subsequent car to my hotel so I can sleep for a few hours before catching my train tomorrow morning. (Oh, my life is so hard after spending an exquisite weekend in Venice... Poor Katie...)

Actually, I did have some moderate anxiety issues while there - I just kept pretending it wasn't happening. But more on that when we're away from the pretty, yes?

Progression of Pretty, Part 4

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Progression of Pretty, Part 3

"People in Europe like dogs therefore I like people in Europe," I told a colleague in France, but the trend continues to Italy as canine companions trot about the narrow streets and over the steps on bridges.

I waited impatiently for the light to change as the sun took its leave. It's such a lovely set of moments though, where everything becomes bathed in pastels that deepen into my favorite shade of blue and then to inky black.
My favorite shade of blue... And also a bellini!

"You won't be cold?" the hostess asked when I requested this table outside. 'I will,' I thought though I assured her I was fine, 'but it's worthwhile.'

And it was - the colorful petals on the flowers planted nearby, the shifting colors as night fell, the sound of waves crashing against the bridge as boats passed. It was breathtaking.

By the time I'd finished dinner - Pizza Calzone with ham and mushroom and the most wonderful cheese - the blue had eased and black emerged. So I took the short walk back to my hotel to read and rest and dream.

Progression of Pretty, Part 2

My guidebooks all advised "getting lost in Venice" both literally and figuratively. I finally decided that most people must typically know where they are when traveling. I do not. Therefore, I found the maze of sidewalks and bridges remarkably refreshing.

If there's only one way to go, one cannot really get lost.

I said a prayer of gratitude before taking this - the church was empty except for me and the woman arranging flowers.

These made me smile when I saw them, when I downloaded the photo and when I uploaded it to my blog.

As far as I could tell, the plan was to look at the pretty and shop. So that's what I did.

Oh! Then I was a little tired of seeing the pretty and shopping so I did as advised and found a spot with no tourists and stopped for lunch. This was spinach and cheese tortellini with butter and sage. It was perfection. I'm not sure how I'm going to enjoy food after eating in Italy and appreciating how pasta should taste.

Flowers! I needed something to break up all the photos of buildings and shops.
I seem to be on a 'walk two hours then rest a bit' schedule. So I'm back in my suite, having showered and opened my windows (3 windows!) to the sunshine and fresh air of the lagoon view. I think I may nap a bit before setting out again.

Oops - they've called to clean the room as I arrived back when it was apparently my turn. So I've come to the bar to drink my Coke Zero and await my clean room. (Which I wouldn't have made them do, but it cost the earth and I wanted to show you photos without my clutter marring the pretty.)

Progression of Pretty, Part 1

"I would not want such a pretty guest to get lost," the man at reception said when I returned from my walk this morning and asked - albeit belatedly - for a map. I laughed because I looked thrown-together at best, having awakened before dawn but lazing until the sky started to brighten. At which point I threw on clothes and grabbed my camera so as not to lose the changes in lighting for such a beautiful place.

You'll likely have to indulge me several of these photo posts while I'm here. I like words - perhaps too much - but I find I don't have them when I'm so enchanted. So this is like me grabbing your hand of tugging your sleeve or slipping my arm through yours while walking so I could say, "Look... Isn't it bellissima?"