Going around the bend

Tomorrow, another visit with the oncologist to see what the results of the testing say – hopefully, there will be results and this won’t be another trip into town for nothing.

Today, though: planning. Planning for next season and next year. This afternoon, I managed a tour around the rear garden to see the pitiful state of affairs. Blight has taken hold of several frames of tomatoes, and the bugs are munching on the cukes and zucchini like it’s their personal buffet (although I did manage to squash a few during my brief stay outdoors). The corn is dead, for yet another season, and I’m of half a mind to just give up on that altogether. The new round of lima and green beans are not thriving, as they say, and are either dead or dying. Some of the transplants I managed to get into the frames before going into the hospital are still alive, and even thriving, including a new round of Cherokee Purple tomatoes and some bell peppers. The watermelon and butternut squash transplants don’t look horrible, but they’re skinny things and I’m hoping they make it through.

The other part of planning involves chickens. We decided before I went in for surgery that next year we’re going to raise our own chickens for meat in addition to those we keep as layers. This is not without logistical issues, of course, and it’s likely that only my brother and myself will be able to actually butcher the birds, but that’s fine. Other family members can handle the less gruesome parts, like packaging the birds, whole or pieced out, once they’ve been dressed. That seems like a fair enough division of labor to me.

Since the birds are generally processed at about 12 weeks, and the chicks are available year round, we could do multiple groups per year if it turns out to be worthwhile. I can’t imagine it wouldn’t be, as how often do most people really get the chance to raise their food almost from start to a very definite finish? We’re not quite on the path to hatching our own chicks here, and probably never will be since that would require a rooster, and that simply isn’t happening around here. I’m content enough with ordering chicks even though it isn’t as completely self sufficient as would be the case in a utopian universe. Now, if it really comes does to the end of the world as we know it, complete with zombies, we’ll rethink that part of the equation. Until then, we plan for stocking the freezer with freshly butchered, pasture raised chicken, right off the property. There are, no doubt, worse things in life.


Yesterday was the visit with the oncologist to go over the pathology report and to decide on what course we should take now that I’ve been fileted and stitched back together.

One out of two isn’t bad.

The pathology report says the margins are clear, the lymph node is unremarkable, and so forth, just as we’d heard verbally previously when the oncologist popped into the hospital room to visit for a few minutes. The question as to how to proceed from here is not quite as clear cut, and revolves mainly around whether this lesion was a (very slow) metasasis from the original cancer five years ago, or a new primary lesion – that is, if it’s a groupie or a new act entirely. His reading of things leans him in the direction of it being related to the first cancer rather than a new primary occurrence. As he pointed out, I already had one very rare thing, and to have yet another very rare thing, similar to the first but in a totally different area – well, let’s just say I should be winning the lottery with those sorts of odds working for me.

They sent my tissue out for DNA sampling to try to make the determination. If it is related to the first, then we’re done: the surgery removed it, the margins are clear, and there doesn’t seem to be any lymphatic involvement. If it’s a new primary, then we’re going to have to chart a course, whether that means going back in and removing the entire upper lobe (since wedge removals for primary lung cancers have a higher recurrence rate) and/or radiation and/or chemo. With the former, we’d go back to monitoring, with CAT scans every three months to see if anything else makes an appearance. With the latter, I’d be out of commission again, with another long recovery in front of me. So, we’re hoping for the easier route, especially since I’m healing very well and recovering quickly from the surgery.

The visiting nurse removed my staples today, and except for a couple of tiny tugs here and there toward the end of the incision, I barely felt any of the 31 staples she pulled out, because it’s healing fantastically. In addition, she indicated she heard breath sounds in the upper lobe, and my lungs overall were clear. Those are great indicators that my recovery is very strong. My mom insisted on putting honey over the incision where the little holes from the staples were, as honey is a great curative, so I have a couple of drain bandages on over the butterflies the nurse put in place. It stung a little at first, mostly near the lower end of the incision, since that is both more sensitive skin and and also a bit more ragged, skin-wise, but that has faded into a dull overall ache as the skin begins to slowly stretch from its release.

Last night I made crab stuffed mushrooms with leftover crab meat from yet another seafood night here on Saturday. Not a ton of work, and quite tasty although I had to give up on the mushrooms themselves after two and just eat the stuffing because I kept getting pieces of mushroom hung up everywhere. Tonight, continuing to use up the leftover meat, I made crab and artichoke dip (cream cheese, sour cream, parmiggiano, white cheddar, salt, pepper, garlic, diced onion, smoked paprika, a couple of shots of hot sauce, lemon juice, crab, artichoke, and a couple shots of worcestershire sauce, mixed and baked at 350 until warmed through). Quite good, and it will reheat well for midnight snacking.

Tomorrow: roasted red pepper soup. I am utterly convinced that getting back into the kitchen does wonders for recovery.

The captain versus the cancer: round two

Ever have a day when things are going pretty well? You’re busy, but in a good way, you’ve got a hobby that you’re trying to turn into something more, and by golly, that’s going pretty well too, although with the requisite speed bumps, your family is healthy, you’re eating well enough given whatever particular restrictions you have, works is not completely kicking your tail, and you’ve gone out for a drive, perhaps up tp the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for your next big plan dinner, or maybe even to to the home improvement store for that next little thing for your project. The sun’s out, it’s not blazing hot just yet, you’re feeling productive and indeed you are getting things done, the music is blaring, and overall, you think – well, you’re not thinking much of anything beyond all this, really, because this is a lot to keep in your head all at once.

Then the car runs out of gas and you drift to the side of the road. The dinner guests cancel, a family member calls to tell you a sudden mass of locusts have appeared and have eaten half your plants to the stems, the sun goes behind a bank of clouds so huge it blocks out the entire rest of the sky, lightning strikes right next to the front wheel of the car, the music slides into one of those annoying car ads with the screaming announcer until they get to the fine print. And you run over an egret while getting the car safely off the road.

OK, so it wasn’t that bad. Still, five years to the month from the original cancer diagnosis, here we are again. Those of you who have read the travails of recovery here know pretty much how this came about, but here’s the shorter, mini version for those who don’t: five years again, I was diagnosed with oral cancer despite having no risk factors at all. Surgery, radiation, and chemo later, plus scans over several years, and in July 2009, the date of my last PET scan before all this, I finally got the all clear. Then I started having teeth pulled due to the damage to the jaw and teeth from the radiation, which for me involves hyperbaric dives to promote healing and help prevent necrosis of the jaw bones, to which I am now susceptible due to the aforementioned treatments. As part of those dives, back in October they took a chest xray in addition to an EKG, and saw a slight shadow on the upper right lung, but nothing defined and nothing significant (i.e., it could have just been something on the film, and given my previous scans and all clear, nothing anyone thought was anything).  In May, after another tooth extraction, it was time for another xray because it had been six months. This time, whatever unknown radiologist reviewed it noticed a difference between the old and new (a “new nodularity” as they call it) and thank you to whoever that radiologist was! From there we went to a CAT scan, a PET scan, and a biopsy, which turned out to be inconclusive, probably due to the sample size. Upshot: surgery to remove a wedge of the upper right lung, along with a lymph node against the trachea that looked suspicious.

Why, one might ask, go through the pain of lung surgery for an inconclusive biopsy? As my oncologist pointed out, the way things light up on a PET scan like this dime-sized lesion did are often not anything else. Beyond that, we have my terribly strange history as far as weirdo cancers that I should not have. So, surgery it was, on the 6th, and on Friday the pathology report came back: the lesion was cancerous after all. The lymph node, thankfully on the report, was “unremarkable”, so it appears to have been confined to just that one area. The oncologist said the report indicted the margins were clear, but small – and to my mind, that looks like another round of radiation treatment coming to follow up on the surgery, something we will discuss with him on Monday when we see him. I am guessing that for precautionary reasons, that’s what will be happening. I’m not particularly looking forward to it, because I now have such firsthand, closeup knowledge of how it goes, and because it will delay my fuller recovery process (garden!), but we will follow their recommendation, since that’s what needs to be done.

I’ve been home since Monday, and this week has seen some remarkable work outside by an all-female crew, doing the things I normally would be doing: mowing, weeding, harvesting, cleaning the chicken coop, and so forth. Thanks Gabs, Angie, and StacyP for your sweat equity around the homestead! I owe you.

And now, back to plotting for the fall season, as the universe has once again not been cooperative in giving me a full season with which to work, and the rest of the summer is now a wash. August is garlic time, although I’ll probably store it for a bit before planting as it’s simply too hot down here even in late August for fall garlic planting. Other items can be started in flats, like brussels and whatnot, so they’ll be ready to  put out into the frames in fall. By then, we’ll also be ready to put in the next round of carrots and peas, amongst other things.

Planning around

The great rice experiment of 2010 is a bust. We had thought it would be fun to try to grow our own rice, and set up a couple of bins with some dirt, flooded them, then tossed wild rice in one and brown rice in the other. A few days ago, during a lull in the nonstop rains when we had several clear, very hot days of no rain in a row, I noticed the wild rice bin was dry. I filled it again, and it looked fine, but two days ago, we noticed it was once again dry. The culprit? A leak, not previously noticed, allowing the water to slowly and sneakily drain out. The other bin has no hole, but is looking a little fetid – the problem with not having a large, open-air area with natural breezes and circulation, I suppose. There is, however, a solution to both problems: a new bin sans leaks for one, and a small recirculation system for both, akin to a fishtank aerator setup. Just enough to keep things bubbling along and keep the water from getting scummy. That will have to wait until after the hospital.

Speaking of, I went today for the pre-op ordeal, which is less than an ordeal than it is an exercise in patience. Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork: a consent form for the hospital. A consent form for the doctor. A privacy advisement. Yet another questionnaire about general health, diseases, and meds I’m taking. I notice that the doctors carry their own liability insurance (I suppose so the hospital doesn’t bear the entire responsibility for whatever lawsuits might arise from something or another). A sheet of instructions about the day of the surgery. All of these things are things I’ve seen multiple times before at this point, so I’m talking along with the nurse who is rattling off the same things I’ve heard before.

Then they took four tubes of blood from me and made me pee in a cup. The latter is, I think, another way of covering their butts to make sure I am not pregnant although I have already told them I’m not.

Barring anything strange, we’re on for the 6th, where yours truly is to arrive four hours prior to the scheduled operation time, in order to sign more consent forms and to get prepped for a procedure the surgeon estimates will take about 45 minutes or so. Then they will hold me hostage for several days unless someone manages to smuggle a file in my jello so I can escape. I am not counting on this, as everyone seems to think it would be grand for me to be in forced inactivity for at least a few days.

The upshot of all of this, as we rocket toward surgery, is that I have a massive number of things to do, and little time to do them. Although the rice experiment do-over can wait, there is something else that cannot: the flats of seedlings that are rapidly becoming too large or their starter flats, and which need to be planted out in the frames. Since the seedlings have been outside since they were started, I’m thinking they should be fine in the great outdoors, but I am still leery of putting them out without being able to be here to keep an eye on them and take preventative action (like partially shading them if necessary, assuming the sun ever comes back, from the worst of direct sunlight until they’ve settled themselves). On the other hand, I know that another week plus in the flats is probably not the best thing for them. It’s something I think on while getting some new servers set up and installed so they will be ready before I head in for my version of a vacation.

Today I picked a beefsteak type tomato called Steak Sandwich (Burpee, hybrid), and sliced it open. It smelled, as most tomatoes fresh off the vine smell, like a tomato, with undertones of green vine. It was juicy, with nice, small define pockets of gel and seed, and not grainy at all, as some can be. According to my taste tester, this one could benefit from a touch of salt, unlike the Cherokee Purples we got before they gave up and died on us. Still, it was great to pick a beefsteak, long season tomato before July 4, given all the issues we’ve had around here.

And now, back to work, to continue the server setups and get as much in order as possible before I’m forcibly separated from my laptop and cell phone.