Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Adventures of a Crash Test Dummy

Posted Nov 30, 2008 5:11pm
The fog has cleared after chemo #3 - one to go!! On Wednesday, my oncologist said she’s quite pleased with how smoothly I’m moving through this (festering head sores notwithstanding, since they healed so quickly). She also said my post-chemo crash was in part a result of being pumped up on steroids. No wonder, “I can’t believe how GREAT I feel!!” for a couple of days. I have to take them for 3 days – prior, during, after chemo - to prevent infection. Even if I take them early, I have difficulty sleeping. By the 2nd day without them I crash – my Sunday “hangover.” After the first two rounds, I also felt achy, groggy and just plain awful and flu-like on that day.

Because of the holiday, chemo was on Tuesday instead of Thursday last week. That meant my crash day would be Friday. So I experimented, and did a detox foot bath on Thanksgiving morning to see if it would affect my usual reaction. I fell asleep ten minutes into the 30 minute treatment, and woke up feeling groggy. Even after a shower, I needed a half hour nap to get my second wind. But after a little primping we were off and running, and enjoyed a wonderful day with Dave’s parents.

The quiet celebration was unusual for that household, where holidays typically bustle with family, friends and “orphans.” Dave’s Mom loves the big party, so I deeply appreciate how gracious and thoughtful she was to keep it private this year to shield me from any risk of picking up a bug. It turned out special for all of us; we spent hours of quality time that would not have been possible in all the hubbub and small talk that is inevitable in a large group, no matter how much we enjoy each other. Dinner was delicious, from our traditional favorites to the new experiments; no drama, nothing was rushed, and it was a delightful day!

I had a brief bout of drowsiness after dinner (who didn’t?!?) and had to lie down for about 10 minutes, but then I was up and puttering around as usual. When we got home about 7:30, neither of us had the energy for neighborhood socializing, and just relaxed for the rest of the evening.

On Friday morning Dave was gone by 6:30 and I slept till 9:00 – four hours past my usual time. I felt slightly queasy, and very tired, but no aches or other symptoms. I had a little yogurt before dragging my blanky to the couch, where I parked until bedtime. It was the strangest feeling – I felt like my mind and body shut off; it was even too much effort to concentrate on TV. For the rest of the day, I alternated between snoozing and sipping soup, my brain operating on autopilot. The difference this time is that I did not feel sick, so the foot bath is definitely on my supportive treatment list.

Some time Friday night I went to bed and slept like a rock until early the next morning, at which point my energy returned to normal. Before our outing, Dave made a partially successful attempt to gain control over the leaves covering the yard while I did laundry and tidied up the house. Around noon we headed towards Auburn, and after a brief drive through crowded Old Town, we took a tour of the Placer County Courthouse and Museum. Although we frequently pass by this beautiful building, we’ve never stopped in, and it is a fascinating place! There is an extensive variety of artifacts, something for everyone, and I highly recommend a visit.

We alternated between highway 80 and route 40 towards Colfax. Our first tour was through Weimar, where we veered off the main road (big surprise), through an foreboding puff of fog and down a “Primitive Road” that was reasonably easy to navigate with my car. After a long stretch of damp, thickly wooded terrain that was spotted with deep moss, soggy old houses and rusty trailers, the forest cleared and the narrowing road descended along dry, craggy cliffs overlooking a narrow stream that was occasionally interrupted with gentle waterfalls.

Before turning one curve, we stopped to read a sign printed on a slab of slate that had been wedged into the ground – “Here lies Joe… He didn’t want to go." We parked the car and scrambled over the rocks, wondering if “Joe’s” remains might be clinging to the cliff! There was a small concrete slab, about 8 feet square, just beyond Joe’s memorial, jutting out over the rocks. What happened to Joe?? Was his humble cabin washed away in the river? Did he fall victim to an altercation? Was he out there having a few too many with his buddies and lose his footing? Ah, the mystery remains…

As the road became steeper, the habitats stranger, and the rare inhabitants more ominous, we decided to turn around and head back up the hill. We continued along route 40, and turned on Iowa Hill Road. (There are some great pics and maps at This narrow, sharply winding road climbs over the mountain for about an hour toward Forest Hill, with breathtaking views of the North Fork of the American River. The highlight of the trip was when we reached visited the Old Iowa Hill Cemetery. It was 4:30, and the setting sun bathed the thick carpet of oak leaves in deep golden warmth. The unique feature of this historical spot is the detailed list in the kiosk about the people that are buried there – not only names and dates, but how they died, and if they were killed, who did the deed! It was interesting that the descriptions differentiated between “murdered” and “killed in an altercation.”

All the older graves faced East, and the headstones varied from granite or stone to wood, amazing that these were still intact for over 100 years. Beyond the older area were newer graves – some as recent as 2005 – many of whom were veterans. These were uniquely personalized – one had two expired parking meters behind the headstone, another had a birdbath, and others had rustic wooden benches for visitors.

Far from being eerie, the brief stories and memorials of those who rested there gave a sense of connection to lives that came before. I felt our visit was welcome, their existence was still real, and their memory was alive because someone took the time to record a little bit about them. Iowa Hill is a hard place to find if you come from Forest Hill, especially since the turnoff from Forest Hill Divide is not marked. Although the narrow road from Colfax takes caution, whatever direction you go, it is well worth it. Bear in mind that it does snow up there, so check the weather before your trip! Once past this area, the road widened, and we drove another half hour to Forest Hill.

We reached Forest Hill just after sunset; unfortunately, the hotel where Dave had planned to have a nice dinner had been taken over by a large wedding party, so we went to the only other place in town, The Red Dirt Saloon and Ore Cart Grill. If the name were not enough to discourage us, we certainly weren’t going to be deterred by the motto on the back of the employees’ T-shirts: “Red Dirt Saloon – We don’t give a **** how the flatlanders do it!” OK then. My Honey not only knows how to show me a great adventure, but he finds all the classy joints to top off the day! We walked into the saloon at the front of the building – silence fell upon the room as all heads turned with a uniform expression of, “You ain’t from around these parts, are ya!?” Then everyone smiled and waved us toward the Exit sign at the back of the room, with instructions that the restaurant would be through the door past the Ladies’ room. Or maybe we’d just drop into the mineshaft…

Lo and behold, the door did lead to a softly lit cozy room with eight sturdy wooden tables and dark walls of brick and knotty pine. The kitchen door is at a 120 degree angle adjacent to the door we entered, so we nearly collided with the waitress as we came in. As we discovered during dinner, this happens every time a server comes from the saloon, so she was unphased by our sudden entrance. It was certainly rustic, and the polished tables were set with blue water glasses and … I’m not kidding… blue speckled metal camping dishes. Judging by the layers of fingerprints, I suspected they are routinely washed in the stream, but the waitress did not look like someone I wanted to grapple with about persnickety details.

No light meals here – the dinners included all the sides, and as the night went on, she eyed me suspiciously after each course for leaving large portions of leftovers. She brought a small loaf of warm sourdough bread and ladled the soup of the day into our humble metal bowls. It was a thick white clam chowder that was quite tasty, although its unusual texture more closely resembled mashed potatoes than soup. This was followed by a hefty salad of thick green curly lettuce, and no sissy dressing-on-the-side. We did request rice pilaf instead of the rice AND baked potato, although we didn’t expect a 4 cup serving to be mounded on each plate. These mountain folks are robust eaters!!!! I ordered a grilled chicken Florentine, “topped with sautéed spinach and a blend of three cheeses.” Silly me - I anticipated a grated blend of parmesan, etc., not the half pound of melted cheddar, jack and mozzarella that smothered the dish. Nonetheless, although I needed two hands to haul the mound of cheese off to the side, everything was yummy. Dave loved his lean prime rib with fresh horseradish and the service was great.

It took another half hour to reach Auburn, and I had no sooner profusely complimented Dave on his amazing sense of direction and his ability to find remote trails when we suddenly found ourselves cornered in a residential cul de sac. Neither of us had any idea how we wandered off the main road, but for the next 10 minutes we had a good laugh as we zigzagged around the tight streets counting the “No outlet” signs. It has been a wonderful holiday weekend!

In the nearly six months since my diagnosis, although it has mostly been life and work as normal, it will never really be normal again. Doctor appointments, insurance statements, accommodating the latest symptoms with new potions, habits and accessories are part of a routine I never thought had any more room in it for another task. But when you are in it, it’s not so overwhelming – you see the problem and look for the solution because every one of our cells is programmed for survival. I am in awe of the people that do this while managing a family and a job – that, to me, is unfathomable. In my comparatively simple life, I accept that life’s too short to not do everything in moderation to stay healthy. It’s also too short to not enjoy a bowl of ice cream every now and then.

As I read articles and blogs of others, it’s encouraging that some beat the cancer once and for all the first time around, but there are too many others that live with recurrences or scares that periodically rear their ugly head. Despite how smoothly everything is going, I can’t help but wonder where the future may lead. Will I be one of those who is grateful to say, “It’s been ___ years since I finished treatment and beat it,” or one of those who is grateful to say, “I’ve been doing this treatment for ____ years – but I’m still beating it?”

The thoughts of taking care, making the most of life, being vigilant, appreciating those I love, sharing what I learn – these are what permeate every moment and go beyond doing to being.

We each live a moment at a time; it’s just some days we are more aware of it than others, and that's the time it's so rich and memorable. So linger a little the next time you share a smile, relish the tickle inside your heart when someone makes you laugh. Stretch the moment. Celebrate. This is life.

Love, Laurie