All posts by Annette

Where there’s a will

The thing about owning old-style crafted anything – like desks, for instance – is that when it comes to repair and you don’t have a full woodworking studio and all the tools that come with it, sometimes you have to improvise.

One of the drawers has been sticking, badly, and I finally got fed up with it tonight. I unloaded it and found the sides of the drawer were bowing out of their joints at the front. There are no nails or screws in the construction of the drawers except in the handles: the sides were simply groove cut in a tight fit and glued. So, to get them back in order, I brought out my handy wood glue. On a tangent here,I also use the glue on the joints of the bee frames when I’m building those, as well, to supplement the staples, as the bees propolize everything and the top joints get the most pressure when you’re trying to get them out for inspection. Tangent over.

I reglued the joints and then used some heavy things I happen to have around instead of going outside for (wet) bricks. Books, of course. After this dries, I’ll turn it over to do the other side, using the same weights. There’s a notch toward the front so a metal frame for folders can be placed, but the frame joints are 1/4 inch, and the notches are slightly smaller than that – no doubt this is what has caused the tops portions of the sides of the drawer to lose their grip and not seat firmly in their joints. Luckily, I do have a 1/4 inch wood chisel to open those notches just a hair in order to get the metal frame to sit evenly.

Once this is repaired, it won’t be such an ordeal to get the drawer open and then closed once more, and that is a Good Thing.

 

Reinsertion

We’ve had the circus in town at the ranch: a few weeks of my sister, her toddler, and her three month old, in from Germany, staying here. That, naturally, brings in my other sister, her son, and HER toddler to the ranch on an almost daily basis, as everyone visits.  It’s a little insane.

Tuesday now, and the trio is off for the many-houred flights to get back across the ocean, the other trio is settling back into their usual routine, and the ranch is quiet again (except for the snoring of the big guy under my chair).

That should mean a return to my routine as well, but my routine has been, as we all know, shot to hell this year.

Saturday now – four days after I started typing this up, thanks to this or that, but mainly other, like heading to the hospital yesterday to actually walk into the medical records office because no one can find the fax we sent over a week ago for the records from this year to be sent to Mayo. It’s amazing in this day and age – and more amazing, considering the primary field I’m in – that records are still faxed hither and yon. Until there’s a unified, encrypted way to get records electronically from point a to point b, I guess we’re stuck with it.

Otherwise, this is how my spring/early summer life is going.

In previous years, I’d have been up to my elbows in cukes by Memorial Day, but that whole February incident really put me behind. The cukes, however, decided they didn’t give a rat’s ass when they were sown, just that they were.

The first to come in loaded are the gherkins. We don’t really do sweet pickles here – like, eat them out of the jar sort of deal – but we do go through a ton of sweet relish. So that’s what I do: a three day, lots of steps process to go from cuke to relish. That up there is the batch about to start the process (black pot). The silver pot next to it on the stove is sugar syrup I had made for the bees, and the far left is the canner.

The cukes destined for relish get two pickling salt brines, like this, the first one.

After the second saltwater brine:

A bit duller green, yes. How would you feel about 24 hours in saltwater? After this, they all get some poking to allow the first of the vinegar/sugar/spice mix to start infiltrating their tender, defenseless bodies, and into the hot pot they go. The spice bundle there is celery seed, pickling spice, whole allspice seeds, cinnamon sticks) and the color in the vinegar/sugar mix is turmeric.

For large batches like this, I use the bottom from one of the canners to lay over the cukes, because it’s the perfect size. A ziplock of water goes on that as the weight to keep the cukes submerged – you don’t want any air getting to them in this, they’ll get moldy and gross and be unsuitable for eating.

After a few more iterations of the vinegar/sugar soak, the cukes have lost a significant amount of volume, and the weight sits more deeply in the pot each time. This is the last one before they’re ready for the canning.

Then, the next tedious steps: chopping (by hand), filling jars, and topping off with the heated vinegar/sugar/spice mixture.

Final step after packing: processing in the canner – just a boiling water bath, as these are acidic enough to not require pressure canning.

And there you have it: relish. I’d guess this is why most people don’t make their own: it’s tedious, hard, hot work. It’s worth it to me, though, as everyone who can eat the stuff – not me, of course – likes it a lot.

 

The very definition of

Fitful sleeping.

I don’t sleep much or well. This dates back to my high school days, that I can remember. Tonight, though, is one of those really bad nights, where I sleep for at most an hour, but usually wake up after a much shorter time, anywhere from half an hour to (what I’ve measured right now) twelve minutes. The strange thing about this is that my mind thinks it has been a much longer time. In the current episode, I woke up after twelve minutes and my mind figured it had been at least two hours. My gut chimed in with some gas bubbles escaping around the stoma for the tube, so here I am, feeding at 3 AM, trying to get that calmed down, and thinking it would be really nice to get four hours of uninterrupted sleep. Such is the life of an insomniac: some nights are better than others, and this is one of those others.

Saturday ramble

After working in the gardens again today (more on that in another post), and now chilling out with a dinner of Tex-Mex rice and beans and a shake with weight gain powder to try to lift me back up above the 92-pound mark (a whopping 325 calories in just half a scoop, plus the calories in the tablespoon and a half of peanut butter I add to it), I was catching up on some cooking-related shows. I never really paid attention to some of these things before, but as time goes by, there are some things that are simply annoying.

Let’s go first with a segment on a show I’m watching now, about Cincinnati chili.  For those unaware, Cincinnati chili is spaghetti noodles topped with chili and cheese, usually cheddar. An owner of a place serving it in (of course) Cincinnati opines that nobody seems to know why it works, but it does. Well, I can tell him why: it’s basically spaghetti with meat sauce, duh. It’s just a little spicier than your average spaghetti, and the parm is swapped out for cheddar. This is not rocket science.

Another thing that makes me roll my eyes is the insistence that there is some kind of secret in a recipe. This can come with or without the old saw “I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you.” nonsense. What’s the problem with telling people the ingredients in something? The thing that matters is not the ingredients themselves, it’s the amounts of each one that makes the difference. For instance, here is the list of ingredients in my barbecue sauce: salt, pepper, garlic powder, brown sugar, honey, white sugar, paprika, ground chipotle pepper, allspice, nutmeg, onion powder, apple cider vinegar, poultry seasoning, oregano, ground yellow mustard seed, ginger, liquid smoke, rum, cayenne, ketchup, ground cloves, ground lemon peel, worcestershire sauce, molasses, and ground orange peel.

Now, in theory, someone could experiment and get to the point where they could duplicate my bbq sauce, but it’s unlikely, just as it’s unlikely people could duplicate exactly whatever it is these people on these shows make, unless there are only three or so ingredients. Add to that the fact that most people are not going to take the time to do any of the experimenting to figure it out, and the recipes are perfectly safe. The only thing I think of when someone says this is that the person saying it has a need to make themselves feel important and possibly make themselves feel indispensable if only they know it, which makes no sense to me. After all, if they get hit by a bus or a meteor or fall into a sinkhole that goes to the center of the earth, how is the remaining staff supposed to carry on without knowing the super secret recipe that was only in that person’s head?

Another annoying thing is when the host of any of these shows shoves one bite of a dish into their face and does an instantaneous swoon over it as if it’s the best thing they ever ate. Bonus annoying points for anyone who drops their fork or spoon on the plate/bowl/whatever, as if they’ve lost their motor control because of the awesomeness of that one bite. It takes more than a nanosecond to derive the full taste of that bite, and not everything is the best thing they’ve ever eaten, nor worthy of a utensil drop. Ditto for diners who are eating something and do these things. They get additional points for hamming it up on tv.

Speaking of people having foodgasms over things: why do some of these people act like something they’re eating is something no one thought of before and it’s the best thing they’ve ever had (until they eat the next thing, which becomes the best thing they’ve ever had)? A woman on one of these shows was enthusing about bacon with mussels. “Who thinks of that?” she asks. Anyone who has ever had seafood, I’d think. Seafood often has a sweet taste,  and combining sweet and savory/salty is not new. Has she never heard of bacon-wrapped scallops or shrimp? Seafood chowder with bacon? Clams casino? Come on!

Finally, can we please get rid of the “the secret ingredient is love” or “it’s made with love” or any of the other “love” stuff. We get it, you don’t want to share your so-called “secret ingredient” (see above), or you think saying it’s “made with love” makes you special in some way. Anyone who really does enjoy cooking, and moreover enjoys cooking for other people, is doing the same thing you are.

Deep breath. On we go. I have brioche dough rising, and after it’s doubled, I’ll stick it in the fridge for shaping, proofing, and baking tomorrow. Later today: bananas foster banana bread. Yes, it’s all made with love.

The next experiment

I’ve always wanted to make sourdough bread with a starter I’ve made. When I could eat bread, I loved the tangy/acidic taste and chewiness of a good sourdough loaf and the fact that I was literally eating a piece of history via the piece of the mother starter in the loaf.

But I’ve never actually made a starter and nursed it and then used it to make any of the breads I’ve made, from rolls to focaccia to pizza dough or anything else in my repertoire. I decided to change that and tonight made two different starters: one with all purpose flour, and one with whole wheat. Tomorrow, I’ll feed both of them, then again the next day, and so on until I’ve a five day old mother of each, to be fed at intervals so they can be used to make something tasty for others to eat.

No pics of the first day starter, because really it’s just a small ball of wet dough at this point. I’ll begin tomorrow at the first feeding of the dough to document some of it in photos.

Gonna be some delicioso stuff baking at the ranch!

To medicate or not to medicate, that is the question

For years, my blood pressure has been high every time I stepped foot into a doctor’s office or hospital. Not just a little high, but HIGH: anywhere from 150-170 over 100-130. The kind of readings that forever make the person taking my vitals ask me if I’m on blood pressure meds. “No,” I say. “Never have been, because my blood pressure is never high except when I come to see you.”

During the dark days of February this year, while I was in the hospital, my blood pressure sometimes rocketed up into the 180s (systolic – that’s the top number), at least once up to 200,  and the nurses would look at that, then look at me, ask me if I had a headache, dizziness,  or chest pain (no), and the doctors would order something to lower that to a better range ASAP. After all, on their charts, readings over 180 are in the emergency care bracket; i.e., the “is this person about to have a heart attack or stroke out on us?” range. While I was there, the med generally shot into my IV was hydralazine, which I found made me jumpy and anxious. So, on top of that, down went a xanax, to keep me calm. About an hour-ish later, they would take my blood pressure again, and the readings were anywhere from 110 to 130 (systolic), and that made them happy.

Fast forward to being discharged from the hospital, with two meds for blood pressure and an order to check in with my primary care physician. One was amlodipine, taken once and day, and the other was hydralazine, three times a day. My primary care doctor dropped the hydralazine and replaced it with a one per day lisinopril. I found my bp still bounced around, despite the meds, but a lot of times, when taking my bp, it was low. Very low: often the systolic was under 100 and the diastolic under 80. While this falls into the “normal” range, sometimes it was as low as 75/48 – far too low, and what it read Friday morning at 11:30, according to the record book I’m keeping.

Why does this matter? Because Friday afternoon, after feeling pretty good (although requiring a break that morning after 11:30, as I’d been out weeding), by Friday afternoon I was getting the hot/cold alternating feeling and a queasiness that told me I was in for a round of puking – or, in my case, dry heaving, which is what I mostly do. I had an orange just after 1 PM, and my bp was 94/57. Somewhere between 3 and 4 PM, when those alternating waves of hot/cold had started, the heaving began. It went on for over four hours. Ironically, when it began, I had just begun grinding up the anti-nausea meds I take, but had not managed to get down the tube. Once the heaving starts, it’s too late. So, for those hours, I sailed between contracting just about every muscle in my body as it tried to expel whatever it thought it needed to expel (but couldn’t) and napping in exhaustion briefly before the next round started.

The bad thing about all this is that the combined birthday party for the MonkeyBoy and the Soul Eating Baby was set for Saturday, and I was supposed to be smoking a couple of butt and making a batch of barbeque sauce. That, of course, absolutely did not happen, even though by Friday evening the waves of heaving had finally passed.

I finally managed to get the anti-nausea meds plus the other things I’m supposed to take down the tube, get some water in me, and basically slept on and off into Saturday morning. yesterday was much better, and today even more so, although I’d planned to climb into the bee suit today and do a quick, non-strenuous check of the hives. Tomorrow may be better for it.

I know you’re not supposed to do this, but I dropped the bp meds completely, beginning Saturday morning. I’ve found if I take my bp right when I wake up, it tends to be a bit high, but the rest of the time, it has been low: 99/67 this evening at 6 PM, before a tube feeding. Remember kids: it really isn’t advised to go off your meds without your doctor’s stamp of approval, and even though I did it in this instance (because I am the Captain) I do not recommend it.

So, things are a bit weird on ranch in the blood pressure arena, and there is going to have to be another chat with the doctor about this business, as this should not be something to have to worry about in addition to all the other things swirling around in this  current medical non-crisis-but-annoying-thing in March.

Also, fuck you, cancer, for making me so susceptible to aspiration pneumonia.

Stinger

Strawberry planting day at the ranch. Instead of black plastic, we use plastic flowerpots with the bottoms cut off. These go into the soil, with about two inches clear above the soil line. They are filled with soil to that two inch mark, and the strawberries go in. As they grow, we will train them over the rim. This will keep various insect type critters from going after the berries as easily as they would were the berries growing directly on the soil. It also helps with soil rot damage to the berries from the rain/watering then drying cycles we go through.

While Mom handled those, yours truly did another weeding run. When I am well, I can spend hours weeding if the gardens call for it (and right now they do) but at this moment, I pull enough weeds to fill one yard waste bag (basically, just a trash bag, but thinner), as that’s about as much as I can manage. Today I went after thistles that came up to my hip, with tons of puffball seeds just waiting to break loose and bury themselves in other areas of the garden. The simplest way to deal with seeding thistle: gently bend the stem with the puffballs – very, very gently, so as to not knock the puffballs yourself – and then use pruners to snip the stem about six inches or so under the puffballs. If the stem has already branched, snip six inches or so under the branch. Once snipped, gently – very gently – shove the clipped stem puffball first into a bag. Repeat as necessary. Once the puffballs are gone, snip the plant into manageable pieces and bag those, then pull the remainder of the plant up by the root.

In one area where I was pulling thistle, I encountered some stinging nettle. I reached for it before I realized what I was going for, and luckily, I did not grab a whole handful of it. The only stings I got were on my left index finger and the pad of my right hand. Yes, I weed bare-handed. I find that I just can’t grasp the weeds and pull them entirely, with their roots, out of the soil. For nettle, though, I made an exception, got my gloves, and pulled the giant thing out. Nettle spreads by rhizomes it sends out, so the actual root area can take some work to get to, as you have to work through the outer areas of the thing before you can pull the rest of it out and get the root. While stinging nettle does have some medicinal use, we do not grow it intentionally here, just as we do not grow purslane, which was the weed of the year when we first put in the gardens. This time around, the weeds of the year appear to be thistle and hawkweed, neither of which we want hanging around. There are masses of them, and I’m considering hiring some day labor to get all the weeding done, as there is no way I’ll be able to get it all done so my  plants can be put out.

Switching gears: those of you who stumbled across this here blog because of searches for oral cancer and/or tube feeding and/or medical things: welcome! A tip for those feeding via PEG, if you’re like me and have to do it slowly: when feeding the rather thick usual formula using the gravity drip method by  syringe, once you’ve poured some formula in, pour in some water as well. The water will help dilute the formula and prevent the formula from gumming up the tube opening (and the syringe opening).

(My dog Einstein grabbing a nap in the background.)

Once that run completes, pour about 20 ml or so of water down the tube as a mild flush to get any formula residue out of the tube opening. That way, the next round in about 10-15 minutes won’t encounter any blockages when you pour it down. This also helps keep your fluid uptake up, which will be better for you and keep the doctors happy. I run formula at a rate of 20-30 ml plus water every 15 minutes. One can of the formula I use is 237 ml, so it takes about two hours to complete a feed session with formula for me. In good sessions when I don’t feel like I’m going to burst or throw up (dry heaves, really), I can press that interval down to about five minutes or so.When the feeding session is complete, flush the tube with more water.

Another tip for those stuck with a PEG who have, or had oral cancer, and have to undergo radiation to the head and neck: keep eating and drinking by mouth if at all possible – even if it takes pain meds to do it – and do exercises to keep your mouth opening as wide as possible. Eating and drinking keeps the muscles working and helps deal with the inevitable scar tissue buildup, and also helps keep your gallbladder happy, by giving it something to do.  Since I didn’t, when I went back to eating by mouth after nine months on the tube, my gallbladder had basically turned into a bag of stones, and the pain from it trying to do anything was excruciating, ultimately resulting in another surgery to have it removed. The mouth opening exercises are as simple as continuing to open your mouth as wide as you can and holding it for ten seconds, doing five to ten reps of that, four or five times a day. Trismus is a horrible consequence of radiation therapy, and you don’t want to wind up with a seriously limited opening like I have, at about 13 mm. If you’re already past all the treatment, and you are dealing with trismus, do stretching exercises every day. In both cases, working with multiple sets every day instead of one set once a day seems to be better, based on the various papers I’ve read. Most utility treatment recommendations involve tongue depressors, but I have used a Therabite previously. Unfortunately, I have not been diligent in using it over the years. Since my unexpected hospital stay, however, I’m getting myself in order on that, and I’m now using it while I feed. I am aiming for five sessions a day, with ten reps per session, holding my mouth open for seven seconds each time. It can be painful, but the benefits far outweigh something that can be dealt with  by taking Advil/Tylenol or pain meds. There are other things you can do to make an effort to prevent trismus or help with it if you have developed it. A tip for Therabite use: once the pads are on the mouthpiece, I slip a sandwich bag over them when using it. That way, I avoid the necessity of changing the pads often due to slobber/drool/mucous all over them. Teeth in or teeth out? That’s up to you. Since my opening is so limited, I have to use it with teeth out, as I can’t fit it in my mouth when wearing them.

Time for another feed. Be well, peeps, and I’ll catch you next time.

Saturday ramble

Typing this up after a long day at the ranch, with Julie & Julia playing in the background. I love this movie, in both parts: Amy Adams does a great job as a foodie stuck in a soul-sucking job, cooking her way through a classic, and Meryl Streep is, well, Meryl Streep, nailing Julia Child. I read the original blog, and the movie is not half bad at reflecting it. The lobster scene (Julie) is hysterical.

Most of the long day was consumed by actual work work. For some reason, although weekends are generally slack, there were a ton (relatively speaking) of people popping up with issues that needed to be resolved. Such is life – after all, it isn’t as if I’m well enough to be spending an entire day in the gardens and with the bees, working on all the things that need to be done. But! I did manage one bag of pulled weeds, so that’s a start.

I had thought I’d go back out and do another, but my abs and my back put the kibosh on that idea.

Yesterday, one of the buttons that secures the feeding tube fell out of my lap when I stood up. This is not a huge deal, as they have to be snipped  off anyway (and I have an appointment with the GI dude next month to do just that).

The sutures connect the button to the flat part of the tube apparatus on the outside and on the inside, to another button holding the balloon. There are four buttons, or there were: this one I found, and when I did, I realized another one had also come off by its own, but I’ve no idea where that one landed. What happens to the inside button? What usually happens to stuff inside your stomach that the stomach acids are unable to digest? Yep. But I’m not digging around for them on the other end. I’m going to trust that the body knows what it’s doing. At least most of the time.

Someone asked about the tzatziki sauce I made the weekend after escaping the hospital.

It’s a very simple sauce, and one that could go with almost anything, not just gyros or other Greek food. A combination of cucumbers, greek yogurt, lemon, garlic, dill, and a bit of salt and pepper – that’s it!

Here’s your ingredient list:

One cucumber, seeded, finely diced and drained. A cup of plain Greek yogurt. Two teaspoons of lemon juice (plus a little zest, if you like). Two tablespoons of fresh dill, chopped, OR two teaspoons of dried, chopped or powdered dill. Two cloves of garlic, or a bit more if you love a good garlicky sauce (I used four). Salt and pepper to taste.

Mix all ingredients together except the salt and pepper very well. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss it into the fridge to chill out for a bit, then  slather it on stuff you’re eating. Simple!

Meanwhile, late this afternoon, Mom whipped up a pan of shepherd’s pie, which was lovely, and guess who ate a bit?

Delicious. And yes, that is a toddler-sized bowl. Got a problem with it?

Moving on, one of the interesting things about having a feeding tube is gas bubbles. Now, we all know that usually gas bubbles escape out one end or the other, one end at times perhaps creating a bit of social awkwardness. With the tube, sometimes the gas bubbles want to escape where the tube enters the abdomen. And they do, in fact, escape, with a second or two of intense pain as the bubble works its way through the very small, almost invisible gap between tube and skin. This does not mean the fitting is leaking even with the gas is getting out through that tiny space. A little bit of schmutz does build up around the perimeter of the tube, but that, while kind of gross, is easy enough to clean off. The escaping gas is something I’ve taken to mean that my stomach is somewhat empty and ready for another feeding. At this time of night, will be formula. It’s also time for meds.

 

Now, I don’t take all of these all the time, nor all at the same time of the ones I have to take on certain schedules except for the first round in the morning. I never imagined, ever, that I would be the one in the family with a drawer full of meds, but here we are, two cancers, one gallbladder removal, one neck surgery, and one extended pneumonia-created hospital stay later. The cans there on the right are the formula that I pour down the tube, one can per feeding. The mortar and pestle is for grinding the tablets into powder so they can be mixed with water and swallowed – or, in my current situation, poured through the tube. The benadryl is to help keep the mucositis and the sinus drainage to a dull roar and from choking me with goo in my throat. This is your life after cancer, surgery, chemo, and radiation. I’d recommend not having it.

With that, I’ll wrap up this entry and get myself set up for a feeding. It sounds simple, but it’s rather involved, and the actual feeding takes almost two hours. I’ll take a picture once I’m set up this evening so you can see what a life on this side of food is like.

 

Life is complicated

The last post about these irritating medical issues was rather optimistic about the eating regularly again (by mouth) and using the feeding tube as a supplemental agent to that. We’ll discuss that, but first, a bit about the chicken I mentioned.

It was delicious. Seriously good, after marinating for 24 hours in a mix of greek yogurt, olive oil, crushed garlic, salt, and pepper. I seared those off on the stovetop in a hot pan, then transferred them to the oven to finish. While they were finishing, I made a tzatziki sauce to go with them, and it turned out fantastically – amazing, given that it’s been forever since I made one. I added extra garlic, and it was, quite literally, the best I’ve ever had. I’m not slapping myself on the back as the best cook ever, but I could eat a bowl of the stuff on its own and be happy, and even my mother, who is not normally one for this sort of thing, judged it to be be excellent. I managed some chicken and the rice I’d made on the side, helped along by the tzatziki to get it swallowed. One thing about dysphagia and mucositis, if you, gentle reader, have stumbled across this during a search: sauces and gravies are generally your friend. (Note: I am not a doctor or medical professional – do not take what I write here as medical advice of any sort, and check with your doctor(s) about stuff, not random things you read on the internet).

That was this past Friday. I think I’d had a couple of cans of the formula in addition to the chicken and rice, and an orange or two. Saturday, I had some of the leftovers, along with a couple more cans. Sunday, more cans. And we ran out of cans from the first delivery. This is where things start going badly.

We’d ordered more formula from the folks who handle that on Friday, and thought from the way they talked the couple of cases we’d ordered would be arriving on Monday. That turned out not to be the case. On Monday, I was feeling worse because I’d not been able to take down enough by mouth. I also had to head out to get some bloodwork done to recheck my kidney function, as of course one of the issues with not eating/malnutrition can be kidney function problems. They had been abnormal in the hospital, but had been improving once the tube was in place and I was on continuous feeding. Off we went, and they took blood and had me pee in a cup. Idiotically, I’d not even thought about the latter, but it makes perfect sense, of course: kidneys, duh! Fortunately, I managed to give them just enough to deal with. Then, back home, where I continued to feel like total crap because I couldn’t get enough into my piehole.

Tuesday, I had an appointment to finally get the stitches out of my neck, one day shy of a month after the surgery and three weeks past the original removal date. I was feeling so weak I wondered if we should call them and reschedule, but we decided they really needed to come out, so, with the help of my sister, who has been a rock through all this, mom took me up to the hospital, and my sister had commandeered a wheelchair so I didn’t have to totter around in my state to get to where we needed to be. The building where this appointment was has a cafeteria on the ground floor opposite the entrance to the part of the building where my doctors are, and the smell of whatever they were cooking was overpowering and made me ant to vomit. Through my reading, I’ve found this can be a problem for people recovering from things like this. But, we made it through that, made it through stitch removal, and the doctor said flat out he is at a loss about this lump. All the scans have shown nothing, the biopsy was negative, etc. – in effect, he’s unable to fix something that does not show a problem. If I’d had the energy, I’d have told him I knew that issue quite well, given the type of work I do. He suggested another PET scan – this uses nuclear tracers to light up possible cancerous areas, as cancer cells glom on to every bit of sugar they can get their greedy suckers on – but since I just had one a couple months ago, it wouldn’t be possible to have another for at least another three months. That’s fine, because even if it had already been six months, there’s no way I’d be able to do one right now anyway. So, the lump thing is a wait and watch thing.

Stitches out, we returned home, and thankfully, the case of formula had been delivered and was waiting for me. I immediately went back on the feeding schedule, or as close as I can get to it: five cans a day.

Now, the thing about feeling so badly those couple of days is this: it’s incredibly scary. When I weighed myself after getting home from hospital, I was 92 pounds. When I weighed myself this past Saturday, I was 90 pounds. That is the completely wrong direction, and I was shocked at that, because I thought things were going better. Clearly, they were not, and as things progressed, obviously not good. Now that I’m back on the feeding train, when I weighed myself today, it said 94.5 pounds. I have more energy, I don’t feel like I’m so weak I can’t walk, and while this does not mean I’m going to be able to get out to the gardens and start the huge catchup work that needs to be done, it does mean I can take some laps around the inside of the house. Moving is one of the keys to recovery: if you decide to put it off until you “feel better” you’re not going to feel better. Get up. Move around. Don’t try to do 50 laps on the first go. The first couple of days, I could only do two laps through before I had to sit back down. Now I can do more, and also do things like get the dogs’ water bowl up, clean it, refill it, and get it back in place. It doesn’t sound like much to most people, and the previously active me would not think such a thing would be a big chore, but it is a victory for me in my current state.

The mental side: I had a bit of an existential crisis during the days I felt so incredibly weak and shaky, and wondered – for the very first time – if I was going to be able to make it back from this. Even with the first cancer diagnosis, I never thought for a minute that I would die. But at the beginning of this week, it was something weighing heavily on my mind: was it possible that things were too far gone for me to recover? I’d no thoughts of giving up and ending it all, so don’t worry about that, friends and readers (in fact, it never actually occurred to me for an instant). My mental state is not generally fragile, as people who know me would be able to confirm, but because of all the things going on and the very physical signs that are so very easy to see of the condition I’m in, for those couple of days I went to the edge of the abyss of wondering about the possibility of failure and very nearly fell in. To be honest, it scared the shit out of me. And during that little crisis, what I thought was the stupidest thing ever (at the time) bubbled to the top of my mind: I had grand plans for the gardens and bees this year, which are now out the window. I’ve no idea why that came to the forefront of my mind at that very moment. Perhaps it was because these things are important to me, and it was an attempt by my brain to help me recognize these are things I would want to fight for, and not to completely give in to the hopeless feeling that had flowed up to envelop me in its grasp. It still felt silly and stupid at the time, and I do recognize that this is going to be another lost season for the most part, but this acknowledgement is not a sledgehammer driving me into a depression, just a recognition that this is the way life happens sometimes.

So, where do we stand now? I’ve just finished another tube feed, and in a few hours, I’ll do another. It’s very much like being on a newborn baby’s schedule: wake up, eat, wait a bit, eat, wait a bit, eat, maybe nap here and there, and so on. If that’s what it takes to get the weight back on my frame and head back to the healthier me, then that oddball schedule is what I’ll do.

Remember, if you are someone going through cancer treatment, or dealing with the aftermath of it, or having issues thanks to radiation, the gift that keeps on giving pretty much forever, or just in general feeling that you’ve lost the point of it all somewhere: life is worth fighting for. There is, and only ever will be, one you, in the history of the universe. Find something that is special to you, the unique you, and hold to that as your anchor. The seas of adversity may be rough sometimes, but hold fast to your anchor and do not let the waves overtake you. You, and the people who love and care for you, will be better off for it.

A note for those thinking that nothing is worth it, and waving a flag of surrender is the only option to whatever problems have invaded your life, be they medical or other: please talk to someone before considering doing yourself any harm. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7, at 1-800-273-8255 if your friends, family, or medical contacts are unavailable or if you want to talk to someone anonymously.

Until next time, peeps: be well.