Sunday, August 30, 2009

I Wish I Were a Fox on a Trampoline

One of my Facebook friends found this video. I am jealous of the curious fox. Also, are there any other grownups who wish they had a private trampoline that they could jump on with nobody watching?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Indelibly Etched...

 May 24, 2009

It is May, and I'm arriving back at SeaTac airport late on a Saturday afternoon. I've just spent a week in Italy with my daughter -- a trip of frequent flier miles and cheap hotels, museums and cathedrals, the Sistine Chapel and the Coliseum. Evenings spent gossiping and giggling in the piazza with her roommates. A girly week, completely wonderful, and now I'm glad to be home. She has one more week of classes, so I'm alone on the flight.

I have to smile when I get through customs. Unexpectedly, all of "my boys" are waiting for me at baggage claim -- my husband and both our sons. Our oldest son in particular has his own life now, especially on a Saturday evening, so I'm surprised and happy to see him here. The four of us collect my luggage and head out to the car, chatting about my trip. Later, I will be amazed that I didn't pick up on anything unusual, but I somehow just...don't.

Before we leave the parking garage, I jog over to the the garbage can to get rid of my gum. When I come back, my guys aren't waiting in the car like I expected. Instead they are all gathered around the back bumper, and they're all looking at me. And I realize, at last, that something is not right.

My husband says, out of the blue, "You know that testicular cancer is one of the most curable cancers there is. Ninety-five percent." And I am clueless. I have no idea what he's talking about. I wonder if he has gotten bad news about my dad, who is at an age where cancer isn't unexpected. And then I wonder if he is talking about himself.

Then I look at my older son's face, equal parts frightened and embarrassed. Suddenly, painfully, I understand. And the safe, happy cocoon of my life implodes.

They have known for three days, all three of them, and they made a joint, wise decision to wait until I got home to tell me. Surgery has already been scheduled for Wednesday morning.

And I am fine with the news, just fine, for five or ten minutes, until about the time we get on the highway. I even spend this time sitting there in the car thinking, "I will be good at being supportive. I am handling this...fine."

And then the reality sinks in. My son has cancer. People die from cancer. Ninety-five percent surviving means that five percent...don't. And the most positive odds in the universe make no difference if the person you love is on the other side.

And even if he's in that 95 percent, what then? Can he stay in school? Will he be able to have children? How will he get health insurance? Will the treatments hurt him? Is the life he was heading towards before this still even possible?

Against my will, I begin to sob. I feel horrible for doing this to him, yet the tears are uncontrollable, from someplace much deeper than volitional action. I want to stop them, I try desperately, but the shock on top of nineteen hours of travel are just too much. So I keep turning around toward him, facing him in the back seat and apologizing. "I'm sorry," I sob. "I'm really sorry." He keeps telling me it's okay, like it's perfectly normal that he should be comforting me in this situation.

And the whole time, the words that keep playing in my mind, over and over, are "Not my son! Not my son! Not my son!" My young, healthy, athletic son can't have cancer. It just can't happen. My mind travels back and he is three again, the little boy with the imaginary friend, the child who would sit on my lap and play with Ninja turtles.

Please, oh, please, God, I'll do anything. Just...not my son.

And then we are home. Everybody grabs a bag, and my husband puts his arm around me as we head into the house. It's thirty degrees cooler here than it was in Rome, and I lean against him to try soak up his warmth and stop my shivering. The tears have subsided, but I feel dazed and exhausted and inadequate. It's only six p.m. and the night seems endless. Words catch in my throat and every action is an effort. I wonder how people can get news like this and even continue breathing, let alone doing anything else.

And yet what's the alternative? So we spend the next few minutes going through the motions of being normal, which in this case means focusing on the practical: My husband and youngest son will bring in Chinese, from our favorite restaurant in the next town over. I don't think any of us has much appetite, and I realize that this is more about wanting to give my son and me a chance to talk than it is about getting food.

A great idea, in theory, yet once the two extroverts are gone, neither of our introvert selves knows quite what to say. It's a painful diagnosis and a difficult cancer for a young man, and there is so much that neither of us can make ourselves talk about, at least not yet. If there's a manual for being the mom of a testicular cancer patient, nobody's given it to me.

And so we verbally stumble between awkward conversation and awkward silence. "How are you feeling?" "Um...fine." "Have you told anybody?" "Just a couple of people." "Are you going to tell anyone else?" "I don't know." "But you're feeling...okay...?"

Finally, for no reason except to fill in a silence, I say, "Sounders are playing tonight."  It's not a suggestion. Because surely this night should be more substantial than a soccer game?

Yes, but... Soccer has always been what we've shared, he and I. Something we've had together. Playing, watching. Connecting over World Cup and Fox Soccer Channel and USL Sounders. And this year our new MLS team, Sounders FC, which we've both embraced with passion.

"You want to watch?" he asks. His voice is, oddly, hopeful; I realize with surprise that there is nothing at this moment that either of us wants more than this.

"Do you?" I ask.

"Um...yeah, I wouldn't mind."

So we sit on the couch, and the game begins. My husband and youngest son return, but they're not soccer fans, so we're on our own in front of the TV. And that's okay.

We make gentle, aimless conversation, each word a lifeline tossed into the void. Will Montero break his slump? Freddie's still out with migraines? Can the team overcome? Will they play better tonight than in the past few weeks? Was the long-ago fantastic start to the season a fluke?

In a perfect world, our team would somehow sense their role in our lives tonight and be magnificent. Instead they play badly, their passes awkward and disconnected. They're troubled by the altitude, and they desperately miss their star player, Freddie Ljungberg.

Somehow, though, Fredy Montero, our Colombian striker, manages to score first, on a misplaced strike that rebounds off the post and back to his head, allowing him to drive the ball into the net, perfectly. It's the first time he's scored in weeks.

Our euphoria is short-lived, however. Colorado strikes back, not once but twice. And given the lackluster way the Sounders are playing tonight, this would seem to be the end. (Unless, of course, Colorado scores again, which we both agree seems possible.)

Yet we're wrong. In the 75th minute our Nate Jaqua strikes. Against the odds, against the run of play, Sounders have tied it up. And that's how the game will remain: 2-2, a draw.

It's not a perfect game, not well-played. Not pretty. Our guys were not the better team. But some days that's what you get. You take the equalizer, you take the point, you feel gratitude that you did not lose, and you move forward.

And so we do.

What this has been about, I realize later, wasn't the winning or losing, or even the game itself. What we've experienced has been the blessed ability to feel normal again, if only for a couple of hours. A realization that even as our lives turn inside out, we will still have things to return to, these small oases of normal life.  Whatever happens, we still have Sounders. And for tonight, that is something to hold onto.

Tonight, I will sleep thirteen hours, beating back the jet lag and preparing for whatever comes next.

Tomorrow I will begin the research. Tomorrow, I will work on the questions to ask the doctor. Tomorrow I will start figuring out the kinds of things a mom of a cancer patient should say and do. And tomorrow I will begin to collect the stories from people who have been where we are and gotten through it. I will gather them up and string them together to be looked at over and over, like gemstones on a bracelet: "My cousin, twenty years ago, doing fine." "My brother, who now has three kids." "Lance Armstrong." "Tom Greene." "My uncle." "My friend." A first, big step in figuring out our family's new normal.

For tonight, though?

For tonight, we have watched the game, together, and Nate Jaqua has scored the equalizer.

And somehow, for tonight, that is enough.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Thing About Stained Glass

This quote was in a book at the "cancer library" at University of Washington Hospital:

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.
-- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

I think it was destiny that I was drawn to designing a quilt like this one, where the light is in the fabric itself.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Because I Can't Just Write "Eating a Sandwich Now"

So I've changed my mind about Facebook. It's not so bad. And I can say this despite the fact that my fourteen-year-old son has twice as many friends as I do and he's been on Facebook a month less. I'm just waiting for it to catch on among my set. Pretty sure.

I like it because it helps me keep in touch with people I wouldn't otherwise see. Like, I learned that someone I know is in the hospital without going to church. Which felt all kinds of both wonderful and wrong. Because when Facebook replaces church, I'm pretty sure the whole world is going to hell.

Or something.

The problem is, most of my friends don't update their status all that often. I, on the other hand, do update my status, at least once a day. Even when there is nothing going on. Which there usually isn't. And since I can't make myself type something like, "Eating a turkey sandwich" because that is JUST SO BORING, instead I type things like this:

Laurie had tons of fun taking A and S to an all-girls Sounders game last night, even if they lost. And for the record, [A's mom], I was not technically encouraging her to yell "Let him die! Let him die!" at opposing players faking injury to waste time. I was merely informing her of what OTHER people might be yelling. It was entirely...educational. ;-)

Or this:

The most compelling reason to have breast implants: so that when your ex-husband the reality TV star murders you and stuffs your body in a suitcase, the police can identify you by the serial numbers. (Damn, I live a sheltered life.)

Or this:

There is a lake in Canada named "Lake Minnewanka." I probably should not find this funny, but...I do.

Or worst and most embarrassing admission of all, this:

Laurie has a tragic statement about what her life has become. She just watched ten minutes of Golden Girls for the first time in twenty years and found herself coveting Bea Arthur's clothes!

And not only that, I'm a good friend, too. Take a look at what I wrote on a friend's update about going to Vegas with her just-turned-21-yo-daughter:

When I was in Vegas, our cab driver was a former male stripper. This was a MUCH less positive experience than one would expect.

A young woman from church who used to babysit my kids (and who kindly agreed to my friend request despite my being of her mom's generation) wrote on one of the above posts:

Your status updates are my favorite.

I'm really not sure she should encourage me like that.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Only Answer to Ignorance This Profound...

In a recent poll, Americans were asked if they thought "Government should stay out of Medicare."

(Keep in mind that this is an impossibility, since Medicare is an entirely government-run program created to ensure the elderly can afford health care at a time in their lives when their expenses will almost certainly overrun any private market insurer's ability/willingness to pay for them.)

The results?

Among Republicans, 62% say the government should stay out of Medicare, compared to only 24% of Democrats and 31% of independents who agree.

The only response to ignorance this profound should be to refund these people any money the government hasn't already paid out on their behalf, then cheerfully wave goodbye as we wish them luck in finding their health insurance in an unregulated open market.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Why I Hate My Alarm Clock

I am really, really tired tonight, because I had to get up to get my son to his chemo appointment, so I set my alarm. Except that instead of the alarm clock giving me lovely peace of mind -- allowing me to sleep well, secure in the knowledge that I would wake up exactly when I needed to -- all night long I was waking up and thinking, "Is it time yet? What if I miss the alarm?" I woke up (for the tenth or so time) half an hour before it was time to get up and just shut the stupid thing off.

Or technically? I actually just unplugged it.

Because... Well, I will be honest here: I cannot for the life of me figure out how to turn off my alarm. For the past year or so, I have been going through what I thought were all the correct motions to shut it off. And it will lull me into thinking it's turned off by going temporarily quiet. But really? It is just messing with my head.

Because the next day, same time, it will go off again. And then the next day. And the day after that. Over and over and over, morning after morning. Until I get ticked off and just unplug the damn thing. Or throw it out the window, which has been something that has been considered, particularly on days like the day after Easter, when I really don't need to get up at the same time I needed to get up to go to the sunrise service.

Pretty sure the stupid thing used to work. Long ago.

Maybe I need to buy a new alarm clock?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Is This the Coolest Quilty Thing Ever or What?

Check this out. It's Seattle Streets, the pattern I designed a few years back, but not exactly a quilt. Instead it's a "stained glass" backdrop for a church cross in Ohio, made by Holly.

For the "quilt" I used batiks.and a Bali black as my leading. It is not a true "quilt" as there is not batting and backing. I knew I had to fill a total of 12 panels in the midst of the white molding at the front of the church. We had "burlap" covered mesh that use to allow the sound of the organ to come out into the church. We no longer use that organ, and I wanted to add some color to the front. When I found your pattern a couple of years ago, I knew that was going to be my solution, so I started collecting batiks. I really wanted it to look like stained glass.

You are right, the white strips are the molding. To "mount" the stained glass to the panels, we cut 1" insulation board about 1/4" to 1/2" smaller than the size of each panel (and unfortunately, all 12 panels were a little different in size.). I then took a staple gun and stapled the excess fabric to the back after making sure I had centered everything. Oh... I put a 3" strip of black around each of the 12 panels so that I would have enough black to pull to the back.

I like this idea so much I'm considering doing something similar for the wall over our stairs.

I do find it interesting that Holly sent this pick-me-up photo to me this week, i.e. the first week of son's chemo, which I think everybody has probably figured out has not been my Favorite Week Ever.

Divine inspiration, perhaps?

Friday, August 14, 2009

It's Okay! I've Got Kinsey Millhone on my Side!

So I wake up this morning to discover that somehow my big 80 lb. black lab did not get latched into his crate/bed last night. This means, of course, that after we were all asleep, he snuck out and raided the garbage. Because despite the fact that he spends 98% of the time being the sweetest dog in the universe... Well, when food is involved, he's just all kinds of sneaky and clever.

I truly believe that labradors could solve all the world's problems -- I'm talking global warming, cure for cancer, the Mariner's inability to make it to the World Series -- if we could just figure out how to let them know that they would be rewarded with food when they got the job done.

Sad part is, I was even thinking, right before I went to bed, "Wow. The garbage is pretty full! Maybe I should take it out!" And then I thought, "It's been a long week. I'm tired. Screw it. I'll get it tomorrow." I believe the bloody pot roast wrappers and stryofoam shreds and all of the Tootsie Pop sticks and wrappers and all of the old icky shreds of napkins and paper towels on my floor this morning are God's punishment for procrastination.

Actually, I'm fairly certain there is a Proverb about that.

But it's okay. I can handle it. Because I've got Kinsey Millhone on my side.

For those of you unfamiliar with Kinsey, she is a fictional character who is actually me. Pretty sure. (Seriously, there's one scene in one of the middle books where she wants to look dressed up, but since she never buys clothes she has nothing to wear, so she takes a crocheted table runner off the dresser and shakes all the dust out, then wraps it around her neck as a scarf. I can so see myself doing that.)

She's the main character of twenty books so far, starting with "A is for Alibi" and currently going through "T is for Trespass." ("U" comes out in December.) And she and the King County Library System are together working to get me through my son's chemo.

Currently on "E." Waiting for "F." Already read "G" because it was there.

I wonder, when all this is done, if I will want nothing more to do with Kinsey, the way some people dump the person who gets them through a traumatic time because being with him/her is a constant reminder of something they'd rather forget.

I don't think so.

'Cause turning my back on Kinsey? Well, how can you turn your back on yourself?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chemo Tales

My son is playing soccer tonight. Because that's apparently how you react to three days of chemo. You go play soccer. The sport being, I believe, the figurative finger you give to the disease they call "cancer."

I was pleased that he at least asked the nurse beforehand. And even moreso when she said yes. With the caveat that one of the drugs they've given can affect the lungs, so he should stop immediately if he feels short of breath.

Pretty sure he actually will.



Hospitals are odd places. Societal microcosms, where first generation immigrants and the impoverished rub shoulders with the society matrons with the gold jewelry and the wide-eyed, multiple facelift faces.

Because disease is an equal opportunity thing that even the rich can't protect themselves from.

On a practical level, the thing that surprises me most about chemo is how Incredibly. Freaking. Boring it is. Seven to nine hours of just lying on a bed. Or sitting and watching someone lie on a bed, if you're a parent. First they insert the IV, then they run blod tests, then they pre-hydrate: A full liter of liquids. Drip, drip, drip. Then they run two or three drugs, one at a time, one or two hours apiece. Drip, drip, drip. Then they post-hydrate, to keep the drugs from hanging out in the kidneys for too long and causing damage. Drip, drip, drip.

For seven to nine hours. Drip, drip, drip.

Fortunately he's three days in and there's no nausea to speak of. (Which would partially explain the soccer.) They're great at the hospital about staying on top of the side effects while you're getting the chemo, with the strongest and newest anti-nausea drug injected right into the IV along with the fluids and drugs. (Drip, drip, drip.)

That's all supposed to change toward the end of the week or the early part of next week. The effects are cumulative, and each day is supposed to get a little harder, so that by the end of the six weeks you feel like you've been to hell and back. The end of this week/beginnning of next week is also when the hair is supposed to go. Which will, of course, suck.

But for tonight?


Read between the lines.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

My New Happy Song

I downloaded this song from iTunes about three weeks ago. I don't think there is a number big enough to describe how many times I have listened to it since then.

(I think the video was filmed in Rio?)

Friday, August 07, 2009

Crying. In Starbucks.

I cried in Starbucks today.

Not in a collapsing, boohoohoo kind of way. But definitely a "the cashier looks as me funny as I wipe away the tear that just slipped out" kind of thing.

What triggered this?

Two separate people allowed me to go in front of them in line.

And it wasn't even anything related to me. The first person was talking to somebody on the sidewalk and wasn't ready to end the conversation, so she cheerfully waved me ahead. And the guy in front of me then realized he knew the people in the doorway and wanted to go back and chat with them. So I got bumped up two places in line. Which made me cry.

I know, right? I am currently a basket case.

The reason I was at Starbucks, a place I rarely go these days, was that I had to arrive at the vitamin shop right at its 10:00 opening so I could buy ginger supplements to get them back home to my son to take before he had to leave for his pre-chemo appointment at the hospital.

You see, ginger was recently shown to have strong anti-nausea properties for patients going through chemo. Thing is, though, you have to start it at least three days in advance. Today would be the closing of the window.

I got to the vitamin shop at 9:56. All was dark. Rather than wait, I decided to go to Starbucks in the same strip mall. Got there only to discover a line so long I wasn't sure I could stay, since my son had to leave by 10:20.

And that's when I was waved ahead in line by these people. I got my coffee, got my ginger, and was home by 10:20.

I am crying now, remembering. Like I said, I am a basket case.

I fully expect this to wear off in a week or so. I was like this right after the initial diagnosis, and then cancer became the "new normal," and our summer since them has been pretty average. So the same thing will probably happen once my son starts chemo. Right?

The thing is, though, that I don't want this. I don't want to see toxic chemicals pumping through my son's body. I don't want to see him exhausted and immune-impaired and nauseated. I don't want his hair to fall out, with his bald head being a declaration to the cold and curious universe that yes, this guy is a cancer patient, thanks for staring.

After my husband's father died, I reflected on the benefits of previous eras that came from wearing mourning clothes -- the fact that they are a declaration to the world: "I am Fragile. Handle With Care."

Now I realize that it's not just people in mourning who need this. It's a lot of people, suffering through a lot of traumas.

Today I am one of them.

When this is all over, I think I'll make a habit of letting people go ahead of me at Starbucks.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Are You Next? Or Will It Be Me?

I don't even have to stretch for a whole bunch of reasons we need health reform. I just have to look within my own middle- to upper middle-class family.

-- My healthy 22-year-old daughter just graduated from the best college in the state. Because of the job market, she's having to continue to work in her student retail job. Continuing to keep her on our insurance through COBRA will cost $450 a month. Her job allows employees to sign up for health insurance, but only once a year. She missed this year's window.

-- Her boyfriend, who has a degree in mechanical engineering, also from the best college in the state, is working at Jiffy Lube due to the economy and can't afford health insurance. (Ironically, his dad is an orthopedic surgeon.)

-- My husband's cousin has been separated for several years from a husband she never sees and rarely talks to. She can't get a divorce because she's in her fifties and self-employed and has no other way to get health insurance.

-- Her twin brother is also self-employed and has no health insurance whatsoever because he can't afford it. He's hoping and praying that he just won't get sick or injured.

-- My parents are both 75. I am the child who would be best able to help them as they age, but I'm 1500 miles away. They wouldn't mind moving, but my dad's retirement comes with healthcare benefits and their insurer does not operate in Seattle. Since they both have pre-existing conditions, they can't afford to move.

-- And of course there is my son who, as I've described before, will be undergoing chemo for a cancer that has a very low chance of coming back. He'll be doing this solely because if it did come back he would be too old to be on our insurance and will be uninsurable on his own due to his pre-existing condition.

And yet right-wing extremists, driven by talk-show zealots and people who made their money in healthcare and don't want change, are disrupting every opportunity this country has to even discuss the issue, even resorting to violence to keep the other side from being heard.

How can these people not see that our current system is unsustainable? It's not affecting just the working class any more. It's affecting everybody.

So are you going to be the next one to lose health insurance because these zealots won't even allow the issues to be discussed? Or will it be me?

A Couple More Gorgeous Seattle Streets Quilts

I got an email from Diana last month with a photo of a Seattle Streets quilt she made. I thought I accidentally deleted the email, but discovered yesterday that I had actually been efficient instead. (Imagine that.) The email was filed in my "quilting" file. Now that I've found it again, I can share with you the photo from that email plus the one she sent in the follow-up -- both of which are gorgeous!

First was the quilt for her daughter, here:

Second is the quilt she made for her son and his wife, who saw the one above and wanted one for themselves.

What's really fun about this particular email for me is the story of how this came about. I originally created the pattern and decided to give it away for free to see where it ended up. I first sent it out to about 150 people on 5 continents through a quilting Yahoo group. (Every continent but Africa and Antarctica.) I also sent it to Nikki at UFOrphanage, who kindly offered to host it on her site, so anybody who wants it can print it out from there.

Since then I've heard from several quilters who've made the quilt, but I think they've mostly been part of the original group I sent it to, or connected to them in some way. Diana is the first person I've heard from to see a quilt made up at a quilt show, google the name, come up with the pattern, and make the quilt. I hope she's not the last!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

My Newest Guilty Pleasure

So here's my newest guilty pleasure:

Vie de Merde.

Not sure if I should translate, but literally? "Life of "S**t," en français. Although, for the record, s**t has about as much shock value in France as "tabernacle" has in the US.

"Vie de Merde" is the French version of the English-language site "F My Life," where average people tell about reasons their lives are geniunely, truly bad. An FML example:

Today, I was on my couch when my landlord walked in. He asked what I was doing there. I responded with the same question. Apparently my roommate forgot to call me and tell me that our lease ended three days ago. I am now standing in the parking lot with all my belongings, and it is raining. FML

WARNING: Not all are so G-rated.

(Also? Must confess that this site was recommended to me by my daughter. Not sure what this says about my family.)

F My Life is entertaining, but it's obviously fluff. With Vie de Merde, however? Well, let me just give you an example:

Aujourd'hui, après une nuit passée à l'improviste chez mon copain, ce dernier me propose d'emprunter une culotte à sa colocataire, plutôt menue. Je lui signale subtilement que je doute de pouvoir y glisser mes hanches. Il me rassure : "Mais si, elle aussi, elle a un gros cul." VDM

Loose translation:

Today, after an night passed unexpectedly at my friend's place, he proposed that I borrow shorts from his flatmate, who is petite. I subtly informed him that I doubted that I would be able to pull them over my hips. He assured me: "But she has a big butt too!" VDM

I had to look up "unexpectedly," "borrow," and "flatmate." Because of this, I am QUITE certain that this is not just mindless, tawdry voyeurism. Instead it''s... It's foreign language study!