Lump pt. IV – an unexpected journey

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Pulmonary embolism: the sudden blockage of a major blood vessel (artery) in the lung, usually by a blood clot. In most cases, the clots are small and are not deadly, but they can damage the lung. But if the clot is large and stops blood flow to the lung, it can be deadly. Quick treatment could save your life or reduce the risk of future problems.


She was feeling weak.  She was feeling short of breath.  Going down the outside stairs winded her.  Going up the outside stairs exhausted her.  At first she thought it was a cold.  She saw her GP, who gave her antibiotics.  But the symptoms persisted.

And then we were at the ER.

She never had any of the horrible symptoms – never had the sharp chest pains, never coughed up bloody mucus.  She was just weak and easily fatigued by such normally mundane activities as walking from one end of the house to the other.

She had “substantial” pulmonary embolisms in both lungs.

I never found out exactly what that meant – whether it was a couple of giant clots or a whole bunch of small ones or how much clot it took to make “substantial” clotting. It’s one of those terms that is both alarmingly specific and vague enough to allow the imagination free reign.

Emergency Room workers are very calm and friendly.  No matter what you are in for, they always seem to have that attitude that you have a cold, are staying home from school, and they are kindly grandparents who will bring you soup and make sure you are all tucked in and warm.  So when she was diagnosed and the doctor came in to discuss the matter, it was in the manner of helping her decide whether she wanted a sandwich or soup for lunch.  She was going to be admitted.  They were going to keep her overnight for observation.  Her condition was serious.  The whole thing was related to us in that gentle, matter-of-fact manner that would have lulled me to sleep if it hadn’t been such dire news.

So they admitted her.  I went home to take care of a few things.  While I was gone, they moved her to Intensive Care.  I got the notice.  I almost lost it.  In the parlance, “shit got real.”

Sophie heads for ICU

Back to the hospital.  This time into ICU. ICU is what everyone dreams of hospital care being like – it is quiet (but that’s because most patients are too sick to make much noise), rooms are spacious (because crash teams need room to work), and the staff to patient ratio is 1/1 (because disaster can strike at any time).  She had been moved to ICU for 24-hour monitoring because of the possibility of a blood clot breaking loose from her lung, lodging in her heart, and sending her into cardiac arrest.  She was now hooked up to many machines that went whir and beep and ping.  There was a monitor over her head with lots of wavy lines and numbers.  She had several shunts in her arms and hand.

Eventually a doctor came in – an internal medicine specialist this time, not an ER doc.  The new doctor explained that there were two ways to treat pulmonary embolisms.

  1. Anticoagulants (AKA blood thinners).  These work by preventing existing blood clots from growing, and new blood clots from forming.  They rely on the body’s own defenses to eventually dissolve existing blood clots
  2. Thrombolitic medications (AKA clot busters).  these actually dissolve existing blood clots, but there is a risk of excessive bleeding, particularly in the brain.  The chance is around 2%.

At present, given her blood pressure and condition, the risk/benefits were about the same for each – for anticoagulants there was a mild risk as long as the clots were in place of a clot migrating to the heart and causing a coronary event.  BUT, modern medicine knows a fair bit about treating coronary events.  Thrombolitics would eliminate this threat, but instead carried the small risk of a stroke.  Stokes = bad.  We can’t fix strokes.

At one point the doctor asked her what she thought.  Then the doctor asked me what I thought.

I hadn’t the faintest idea.  The doctor would have gotten more information out of me by asking what I thought the optimal parameters for a Mars orbital insertion were.  Unaccountably, I felt for just an instant that I should have paid more attention to those medicine commercials on TV.  Had I missed one?  “When YOU have pulmonary embolism, ask your doctor about…”

Needless to say I could offer no advice.  It still bothers me that I was asked.

The doctor decided to go with the blood thinners.

That night when I got home, I thought about my feelings almost a year ago when she was first diagnosed with cancer.  “Holy shit!” I thought then, “there is a measurable chance that Lump could kill her in a year or less!”.  Then we hit chemo and I thought “Holy shit!  There is a small but measurable chance that chemo could kill her over the next few weeks!”

That night it was “Holy shit!  There is a chance, a real honest-to-God chance that my phone could ring at 3:00 am and inform me that she had died – TONIGHT!”

This caused me to lose a LOT of sleep during the subsequent nights.  As I am writing this it is causing me to lose sleep still.

“Mutants and Masterminds” is not the sort of game to run in a hospital.

The thing about hospital stays is that they are largely quite boring.  Of course this is by both circumstance and design – usually by the time one is in the hospital, particularly ICU, one is in pretty horrible shape, so such activities as dancing, marathon, and holding a book for extended periods are beyond one’s capabilities (though the advent of Kindle – smaller and lighter than a book – has mitigated the latter somewhat).  Hospitals also try to reduce the stress and strain on each individual patient, so things like group singalongs, yodeling competitions, and dramatic readings from WEB du Bois are generally frowned upon.  Entertainment consists mostly of sleeping, watching small televisions that are mounted too far away, listening to machines go whir and beep and ping, and occasional visits by someone who will stab you and draw your blood while making amiable small talk.  Hospital tray tables are far too small for most games and frequently have medical supplies on them in any event.

So mostly what one does in a hospital is lie there.  Or in the case of visitors, sit there.

“Fun” is not a word much used to describe this situation.

After a couple of days in ICU, she was moved to TCU (“Transitional Care Unit”).  TCU is what most people think of when they think of hospital visits.  The staff/patient ratio is considerably smaller, rooms are smaller and packed closer together, the patients are in better shape overall and so more fractious, and when you ring the nursing station with a problem or one of your machines starts going ping or beep or whir insistently it may be 10 minutes before anyone comes to see what is going on.  It’s louder both because the patients are more active, because the staff has to talk to one another up and down the hallway, and because there are more alarms going off for longer periods.

I was still worried about the prospect of coronary arrest, so TCU scared the living hell out of me.  Probably it shouldn’t have – she was largely out of danger (“largely” in my mind, meant “THERE IS STILL SOME DANGER!!!!”) and the staff of TCU seemed to be competent and compassionate.  But it was strange – TCU felt more like emergency care than the emergency room and ICU did.  I suppose it’s because in all those medical dramas there is always something going on causing the staff to run around and alarms to sound and the like, whereas in REAL emergency rooms and ICU there is a great effort made to keep everything calm and quiet.

There were a couple of patients in TCU who had some form of dementia.  I imagine that it isn’t uncommon.  They made a lot of noise and were generally less than cooperative.  One kept trying to escape.  I thought of how terrifying it must be, over and above just the terror of dementia and confusion, to find yourself in a room in a place where you know no one, plugged into a bunch of machines that go ping and whir and beep, with no idea where you are or how you got there or why, dressed in a gown that could not have been better designed to make you feel helpless and vulnerable.  Many horror movies start out like this.

On her second day in TCU I am able to take a walk with her up and down the hallway.  It isn’t exactly romantic what with medical personnel going back and forth (one hovering nearby to prevent a fall) and equipment parked here and there.  And of course the privacy in the rooms approaches zero so I have to keep my eyes rigidly focused on the end of the hallway so as not to see into other people’s rooms.  And I think to myself “This is someday.  There will come that day, sometime in the future, where this isn’t a thing to get over, when this isn’t a few steps on the road to recovery.  There will come a day, for her or for me or for both of us, when this is the best there is – a short stroll down a hospital corridor arm-in-arm.”  And there is, I admit, a certain romance in that.  One born of many other walks, long and short, over the years, through so many other places.  A certain apprehension, of course, with the realization that we have likely taken our longest walks together, that if we are not closer to the end than the beginning (which is what it feels like) we are at best very much in the middle.  The clock ticks more loudly, the calendar pages turn more swiftly.  But there is also comfort in knowing that we will not face those last walks alone.

And then they let her go and I drive her home again.



What’s Next for Lump?

We are now at the point where the pace of treatment and the pace of developments for Lump has slowed considerably.  Barring some sort of catastrophe I will be writing Lump posts occasionally, but not at anything like the rate that things have been written in the past.

For the new year I am hoping to finish up “-isms and Me” with the most important entry – the one about my experiences, and then make it an occasional series based on all the shit that I anticipate going down because of the incoming administration.  I also want to move the “Jesus Can’t Have Nice Things” stuff that I currently use “Two She-Bears” for over to this site as a regular feature.  I am guessing there is enough material to make it weekly, but you never know.

For all of those who have followed my journey through Lump so far, thank you.  For those of you who haven’t, why on earth are you reading this?

Lump pt. 3 -The Day After Last

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She’s done with radiation therapy.

More or less.

There are still the radiation burns to heal.  There is still an open blister to treat.  There are still the side effects of fatigue and pain to be dealt with.  Some of them will go away quickly – five to seven days.  A few will take longer, possibly years.  One or two, such as scarring, may never go away at all.

Stretching on into the future, there is more to come.  There are continued Herceptin infusions until the middle of next year.  There is hormone therapy for three years.  There will be more frequent check-ups and follow-ups and blood tests and monitoring.  There will be increased worry, additional concern, nagging doubt, insecurity.

There will be frequent reminders of mortality, that comes for us all.

But the pace changes now.  Things are no longer in crisis mode.  In the near future treatment and sickness and side-effects will no longer be a part of our daily lives.  She will still have a constant reminder of her body’s fragility, of course.  But we can once again start thinking of things like travel and camping and attending KublaCon and visiting her family.

We don’t have the faintest idea of what to do now.

She and I talked about it last night.  Despite the fact that she had just finished her treatments and we had reached an awesome milestone, we both felt sad, and somewhat bewildered.  Neither one of us knew what to do now.  There is a whole lifestyle tempo change staring us in the face after almost a year of dealing with Lump.  And we haven’t really prepared for it.  We’ve been so busy dealing with things day-by-day that there hasn’t really been much chance to think of any future plans.  We’re barely out of the hospital grind when we discover we are suddenly stuck in a rut.

Maybe that shouldn’t surprise us.  In a way its rather funny actually.  When she first discovered Lump she acted without hesitation, without letting fear hamper her decisions.  We moved into crisis mode not effortlessly, but decisively and with determination.  Now we find ourselves moving out of crisis mode, and that level of decisiveness and determination seems suddenly to have left us – we made it to, if not the finish line then at least a finish line, and have found ourselves taken by surprise that the race goes on and our determination gas tanks are near empty.  We’re not sure what to make of this – at a time when we should be giddy with excitement and relief, at a time where she of all people should be feeling pride in her accomplishment, satisfaction in the positive outcome made possible in large part because of her determination to beat Lump, she is instead both melancholy and deflated.  Part of this can be attributed to her treatment side-effects: she is uncomfortable much of the time and lacks energy.  Part of it is because of other medical problems she has at the moment that have had their treatment delayed by radiation therapy, which are now impinging on the holidays and threatening to make them less enjoyable.

Part of it is just change.

People are pretty good about changing when they have to.  I, at least, am terrible about changing when I don’t have to.  And who likes change when they are sick?  It’s hard to remember at this time when things should be so encouraging, but she’s still sick and weak and struggling.  Lump and chemicals and surgery and radiation have kicked her around for the better part of a year like a soccer ball at the World Cup finals.  And she has taken it.  She has taken everything that they have thrown at her – all the parts that have been poisoned and cut and burned out, all the hair loss and nausea and loss of appetite, all the weakness and discomfort and pain, all the needles and exams and tests, all the changing rooms and hospital gowns and covering her head in public, all the explanations to friends and loved ones – and the next explanations and the next explanations and the clarifications of explanations and the revisions and the next step explanations, all necessary and important to keep our support network up to date but all tiring particularly when repeated for the nth time.  She has been brave and loyal and true throughout it all – a veritable paladin who was able to look beyond what she was going through and be a friend and adviser to others going through the same thing.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that she is tired now.

Tonight we are going out for dinner to celebrate.  It’s important to celebrate the victories.  And this is a victory.  Her victory.  I get to share in it though, for which I am very grateful.  We’ll see what the future brings.  For now, we HAVE a future, and I think that is what we are just starting to realize again.  We haven’t reached for it yet, but it’s there waiting for us.  It’s what she fought for.  Its what she endured for.  It’s what she put up with all sorts of indignity and inconvenience and discomfort and sickness for.  And if it takes us a few days to realize that the fruits of all her labor are dangling before us, and that we can now reach out and take them, that’s okay.

She deserves her moment of relaxation.  She deserves some time to recover.  She deserves a bit of a rest.

She saved our future.  Let her catch her breath.


Lump pt. 3 – Blindsided!

“Oh, I almost forgot,” she says.  We are at D & S’s place, having just finished an enjoyable day of board games, a movie, and dinner.  I’m tired, complacent, and a little bit nauseous (I didn’t say it was a great dinner).  I’m thinking about the drive home and whether I will need to use the can of energy drink I brought along, and whether I should go to the bathroom before we leave.  I’m only vaguely listening because I am already mentally out the door.

“I need you two to witness my Patient Advance Care Directive,” she says.

It’s as if my mental state was glass, and someone swung at it with a hammer.  I would swear there was a chiming, tinkling sound as the entire mood of the day fell in a thousand sparkling shards to land in a heap.  I am suddenly shaken to the core, jolted back from my pleasant, relaxing, and enjoyable day of Tokaido and Yggdrasil and Arrival to the foundation of our current reality.


Awful, insidious. potentially murderous Lump.

Patient advance care directives are good things to have.  I am glad that she has one, and I am glad that she was smart enough to remember to get the witness signatures.  I am not suggesting that it was a bad idea.  It’s a relief to me that it is now taken care of.

But it’s an example of how life with Lump can sneak up, can catch me off guard if I am not prepared, can suddenly throw a gigantic black cloud over everything.  Its part of the reality of living with Lump.  Its a reminder that Lump is down now, but Lump may not be down forever.  It points out that waiting out there somewhere further ahead in time there may be hard choices, bad consequences, lousy trade-offs, painful decisions.  And they can sneak up any time.  There’s no safety – there’s no assurance.  It isn’t possible to say “today is a good day” anymore – we can only judge yesterday.

Of course, it was never possible to judge a day before it was done.  But as we grow older, the chances of something happening to suddenly ruin a perfectly good day increase, little by little.  The bad surprises increase.  And the possibility of bad surprises becomes more concrete, more real to us as we experience others succumbing to them over the course of our lives.  That should have made me more ready for this, and maybe it did.  I didn’t fall shrieking to the floor.  I didn’t panic.  I didn’t audibly gasp or go white or even say something to delay or deflect the process like “it’s late and I am tired, could we do this some other time?”

Instead I just quietly excused myself as if I had to go to the bathroom, went into the hallway where no one could see me, sat down with D & S’s dog for a few minutes, shed a few tears as quietly as I could, pulled myself together, and went back out and watched the process.  By the time it was over I was back in control of my emotions and ready to face traffic on the way home.

And I didn’t even need my energy drink – I was absolutely wide awake.


Lump pt. 3 – Waiting Room

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The person who sits quietly, reading a handheld electronic device.

The busy person, working away on a laptop.

The person who sits quietly, reading an actual paper book.

The ancient person, looking rumpled.

The young person, wearing neon shoes.

The middle-aged person who actually thumbs through the magazines.

The person who works sudoku puzzles, muttering.

The person who seems far too sick to be the one in the waiting room.

The person who comes dressed for jogging.

The couple who exchange few words.

The couple who chat amiably.

The couple who say nothing at all.

The person here for the first time, who can’t help looking around.

The person who has been here before, disinterested.

The person here for what they hope to be the last time, radiating suppressed excitement and relief.

The person who is amazed at how quickly it goes.

The person who is bored and thinks it is taking forever.

The person who slouches in the chair, struggling to stay awake.

The person who sits prim and erect, eyes forward, like a statue.

The person dressed in a ripped and stained tee and sweatpants.

The person who is dressed as if they were in church.

The person who is dressed for work.

The family discussing things.

The family just making conversation.

The family keeping an eye on the young ones.

The friend who drove someone here.

The friend who came along in the Redi-Wheels van.

The friend who came to give support.

The black person.

The yellow person.

The red person.

The white person.

The gay person.

The straight person.

The bi person.

The asexual person.

English speaker.

Chinese speaker.

Spanish speaker.

The Russian speaker.


These are the people like me.

These are the people of the waiting room.

These are the people who are the spectators, the supporters, the cheerleaders.  Not the people with Lump, but the people who love someone with Lump.

We’re all different.

We’re all the same.

Whatever our age, however we dress, no matter what we do to pass the time, we keep one eye – always – on the doorway through which our loved ones pass on their way to get treatment.  Waiting for their return to us from the mysterious world into which they disappear to get treatment for the silent and terrifying illness for which we can do nothing but be there.

We watch each other as well.  Even those who fiddle with their hand held devices and read their books and try to seem disinterested watch one another.  We catch one another’s eye from time to time and we smile at one another and we communicate with our eyes and our body language and sometimes occasionally by speaking “Yes, I am there too.  No, there’s nothing wrong with you.  I feel sad like you feel sad and I feel worried like you feel worried and I’m here to be supportive like you are here to be supportive.  And I’m scared too and there is nothing wrong with you and I hope your person is all right.”  We nod.  We smile.  We note one another’s cancer pins and we feel less alone.

And then the door opens and eyes flick in that direction to see who it is coming out and we all start our internal checklist:  face set in a positive smile?  Check.  No sign of worry?  Check.  Eyes dry?  Check.  Because this is our moment.  This is what we are here for.  Our someone will be coming through that door and it is our job, our ONLY job at that moment, to make them feel loved and special and wanted in the aftermath of being stripped, stuffed into a machine, and having radiation shot into their boob or prostate or brain.  And because we only have a second – less than a second – to make sure we do it right, we develop that little checklist to make sure we give the first impression that we are there to give, the reassurance that is our purpose, we have the checklist.  And after the first few times in the waiting room, the checklist becomes instinct when the door opens.  We want to radiate that same sense of support, or serenity, of positive regard, for everyone who comes out that door.  It’s partially Pavlovian – the sound of the door triggering an automatic response.  But mostly I think it’s solidarity.  The people coming out through that door are all dealing with Lump.  We want to give them every chance, every support, no matter who they are.

And so the heads swivel, each of us put on that supportive look, just for an instant, and then go back to waiting for our someone to come through the door.

Lump pt. 3 – Truckin’

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She’s started radiation therapy.  It is extremely boring.

Five days a week we have to drive to the radiation center where she goes in with the other patients to get radiant and I sit in the waiting room with all the other pensive loved ones.  I am always among the youngest people there (aside from the occasional offspring).  I fiddle with my Kindle Fire or read my Paperwhite or stare at the coffee table books (“The Australian Landscape and its Artists” – where did THAT come from?”).  It only takes a few minutes – no more than 15-20 and she is out again and ready to go.  Not even time to get really into a good book.

I am a child of the cold war, so there is something about radiation that makes me feel uneasy.  Having spent my first couple of years of school diving under my desk periodically before everyone in authority decided that fuck it, all the kids are going to be dead anyway so why waste school time drilling them, I knew much more about how much radiation it took to kill you than how much radiation it took to keep you alive.  It didn’t come in tiny measured doses focused on destroying only very specific areas of tissue – it was flung at you across the poles in megaton packages by inscrutable Russians and Chinese.

And the comic book promise that it could give you super powers?  Totally a lie.

Aside from that, however, it has been a breeze compared to chemo and the run up to surgery.  Fifteen minutes of “bzzap!” and done for the day.  She isn’t suffering much in terms of side effects (though the skin in the area remains sensitive and is starting to sunburn) and an online friend, SJ, who has been through radiation treatment, sent her some moisturizing cream that helps.

I think we have finally achieved the new normal.  The normal where it doesn’t seem strange anymore that she wears a scarf on her head every day (though her eyebrows and eyelashes are back, and the short stubble on her head is a deep brown).  Where cooking restrictions (much reduced in any event) are just part of the meal planning.  The daily trips to radiation therapy are just a part of the daily schedule.

You get used to almost anything, I suppose.

Lump pt. 2 – It’s Not About Politics (sometimes)

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It’s 3:00 am and I am walking to a mailbox near our house.  She’s asleep at home.  I waited until then to go because I didn’t want her to know, and I didn’t want her to see.*

Before she ever met me she came to this country looking to get some international job experience.  She never expected to stay.  But things happened the way things do and we met and we got married and we made a life together and had good times and wonderful times and bad times and awful times and here we are, 20 years later.  But in all that time she was proudly Canadian, and never seriously considered becoming a U.S. citizen until this year.

This year we got Lump and a crazy person as the Republican nominee.

She does not like the crazy person who is the Republican nominee.  She dislikes the crazy person so much that this year she decided to do what she resisted doing for decades – become a U.S. citizen so she could vote in this year’s presidential election.

I think about that and I am a little surprised.  There have been a lot of people running for President of the United States in the last 20 years.  She has never shown much interest in voting for or against any of them.  She bitches about the ridiculously long election cycle we have here in the United States, complains and bemoans certain winners and losers, and is keenly interested in how policies affect women, minorities, and the LGBT community.  But she has never wanted to become an American citizen until now.

Until the crazy person who is the Republican nominee came along.  The crazy person who is the Republican nominee is, to her, something uniquely and specially horrible – something that is unlike any previous presidential nominee.  The crazy person who is the Republican nominee pushes all her buttons.  She loathes the crazy person so much that she made the decision to go through the naturalization process, while battling cancer at the same time, just to vote against the crazy person.

The streetlights cast cold beams onto the damp sidewalk..  A jet lumbers into the air from SFO**, its roar echoing throughout the entire area. I can see the mailbox two blocks down.  Overhead, Orion casts his watchful gaze on me.  I’m older these days, so I hope he protects me from muggers.

Despite the difficulties involved, she decided to become a US citizen this year to vote against the crazy person and for the person who is not crazy who is the Democratic nominee.  Unfortunately for her, she turned out not to be the only person who hated the crazy person who is the Republican nominee.  LOTS of people turned out to hate the crazy person who is the Republican nominee.  Lots of resident alien people turned out to hate the crazy person who is the Republican nominee – probably because the crazy person said lots of mean things about resident non-citizens and suggested that when the election was over and the crazy person was President a lot of them would be arrested and tossed out of the country. Those people had the same idea that she did to become citizens so that they could vote against the crazy person in the upcoming election.  So many people had this idea and decided to act on it that the government agency in charge of turning resident alien people into citizen people could not wave it’s bureaucratic wand fast enough to transform them all.  A big backlog developed, and she was caught up in it.

She will not get her citizenship in time.

I don’t like the crazy person who is the Republican nominee either.

I also don’t particularly want to vote for the person who is not crazy who is the Democratic nominee.  I’m not going to go into why here, but suffice to say I have reasons that seem good and appropriate to me to feel uncomfortable voting for the person who is not crazy who is the Democratic nominee.  I’ve talked about it with lots of people, argued about it with a few, and gotten into nasty Facebook screaming matches with one or two, but for most of this election cycle my plan has been to vote for the crazy person who is the Green party nominee or the somewhat odd person who is the Peace and Freedom party nominee because while I don’t like them I know I don’t have to worry about them actually winning, and I do like their parties and want them to have ballot access for the next four years and FEC funding..

I get to the mailbox, open the slot, drop in the envelope, and close it with the particular, instantly recognizable metalic *whump* sound that all public mailboxes seem to make.

In the envelope is my ballot.  On the ballot there is a mark next to the name of the person who is not crazy who is the Democratic nominee.

I turn to walk back, and I am still mulling it over in my mind, even though the decision is made, and is now irrevocable.  After months of researching my position, arguing it, defending it, refining it, have I thrown my convictions away?  I am already anticipating getting shit from people.  Maybe some of it will be deserved – politics always brings out the worst in me.

This is important to her.  Important enough for her to break with 20 years of tradition.  Important enough for her to take on the headaches and the paperwork and the additional appointments even while carrying around Lump.  Its a symbol to her, more than it is to me, of taking control, of leaving a legacy, of fighting for what is right.  She really believes in the person who is not crazy who is the Democratic nominee.  More than I believe in the crazy person who is the Green party nominee, or the somewhat odd person who is the Peace and Freedom party nominee.

She has fought Lump to a standstill.  She has taken on everything that Lump and chemotherapy and surgery could throw at her.  Now she is preparing to tackle radiation therapy, stalwart and defiant.  And yet, because there are not enough bureaucratic wands to wave around, she will not be transformed into a person who can vote until after the election.  And she is bitter about this.

That’s a word she used:  “bitter”.  She is unhappy that she cannot vote for the person who is not crazy.  She is not happy that she will be powerless in this, what she must consider to be the most important election during her time in the US.  And she is bitter that I, who can vote, am in her opinion throwing my vote away by voting for the Crazy Green person or the somewhat odd Peace and Freedom party person.

“Bitter” is the word that got to me.  Its the word that made me sit up and take notice.  Because I can live with her disagreeing with me on politics, and I am comfortable with my position on why I am choosing to vote the way I am.  But “bitter” is too much for me.  “Bitter” is something I do not want for her, cannot stand for her to have, cannot imagine that she deserves after all she has been through this year.


The word haunted me for days.

the government agency in charge of turning resident alien people into citizen people can’t give her the thing that will prevent her bitterness.  But I can.

Because she has already had enough stress and disappointment this year.

Because she deserves it.

Because when it comes right down to it, if it is something she feels so strongly about that it makes her change a position that she has held for 20 years, then it means more to her than it does to me.

Because in this important time, I don’t want her to feel like a helpless bystander.

She really wants the person who is not crazy who is the Democratic nominee to win.  She wants to be part of that winning.  And she wants the crazy person who is the Republican nominee to be stomped into the dustbin of history, never to rise again.  And she wants to be part of that stomping.

So this year, for the only time in my life, I voted for someone else.

(Apparently, like the crazy person who is the Republican nominee, I have been ensnared by a foreign power.)

Am I doing something immoral?  Am I disrespecting the franchise?  Am I acting in a manner not in accordance with the Democratic process?  I don’t know.  I admit that I certainly feel a little strange casting a vote for a person that I don’t particularly want to support.  It doesn’t feel like those old civic responsibility movies and public service announcements we saw as kids.

I’m reading a book right now by S. Jacoby, entitled “Strange Gods” – it’s a book about the social process of conversion from one religion to another.  Jacoby points out that contrary to the myth sold to us by major religions, most conversions historically have not been due to persuasive argumentation or divine intervention, but based on pragmatic decisions about  benefit.  I suspect that voting is much the same.  People generally don’t vote the way they vote because of ideology, but because of the way they perceive their vote will benefit them – whether pragmatically such as lower taxes, or socially because their family and friends vote that way.  One thing this decision has taught me is that people vote for a variety of reasons, and I no longer think that civic responsibility is the only one.  Perhaps it isn’t even the most important one.  There can be no single strategy for voting because there is no single goal for voting.  You can vote out of civic pride, out of a sense of responsibility, out of habit.  You can choose to vote based on who you want to win, how you want to affect election politics, by party rote, because the person on the ballot is your friend or looks like they could be.

This year I am not voting for a POTUS candidate due to ideology or political theory or policy or because I am scared of the other POTUS candidate.  My vote is much simpler than that.  I am voting for the person who is not crazy who is the Democratic nominee because it will make her happy, because she wants me to, because despite her best efforts she can’t do it for herself even though in a just world she should be able to, and because she 100% deserves it for all she has done, all she has dreamed, all that she has worked for and because of who she is.  Because when it comes right down to it, within the United States with all its millions, she and I are a nation of two.

I step back into the house.  I can hear her breathing in her sleep.  It’s a good sound.  Its a sound of us.

The rest of the country can take care of itself.


*Also because it is more dramatic this way, and makes for a better story.  I could have just waited until she was napping in the afternoon and done it then, but there is something satisfying and thematically appropriate about waiting until the middle of the night and then slipping off.

I’m a bit of a drama queen.

**I carefully timed my walk to include this jet in the narrative.  It is my nemesis.  Years of living near the airport, and this one particular flight still wakes me in the middle of the night.

Lump pt. 2 – In-Joke

Image result for joker card

We are sitting in the office of the cancer surgeon, who intimidates me.  The first time we met my cell phone went off during the appointment, and the cancer surgeon gave me a cold look that said very clearly “Don’t you realize how important this is?”*  Today, however, we are post-surgery, and everyone is smiles.  The surgery went well, the cancer surgeon says.  There were no problems, and no complications.  Then the cancer surgeon gives us a surprise gift – the biopsy report is back.

There is no cancer detected in the lymph nodes.

There is no cancer detected in the chest wall.

It appears that Lump did not metastasize.

We were not expecting the biopsy report back for another several days, so we are surprised and overjoyed by the news – I am almost giddy with happiness that we have tangible proof now that the things that she went through, that I watched her go through, had an effect, that they worked, that Lump was beaten by chemo and on the ropes, that surgery removed what was left of Lump, and that no baby Lumps were found anywhere.  This is not the end of course – there may still be micro-Lumps of cancer cells hiding in the tissue of her breast.  She will have to undergo radiation treatment, and continued hormone therapy.

Examination rooms, I note, are way too small to run around in circles waving my arms and yelling “WOO HOO!” at the top of my lungs.  And the cancer surgeon does not look like the sort of person who would enjoy a big sloppy kiss.  So I sit there and am quietly happy.

The cancer surgeon talks about post-operative care of the two surgical incisions, therapy, and what to expect for the future.  In passing she mentions that the sites where blue dye was injected to help locate Lump “may disappear over the next few years, or may be permanent.”

And suddenly I am transported back more than twenty years.  We were in that giddy, heady, getting-to-know-you period of our relationship.  We were still learning about one another.  I cannot remember the exact context, but at some point in a conversation the subject of tattoos came up.  I mentioned offhandedly that I thought tattoos were kind of sexy.  She mentioned in response that she had no desire and no interest in getting tattooed.  And that was pretty much the end of the conversation about tattoos and we moved on to other things.  Just a few moments in another day of chatting as we explored one another the way people do.

The next time we were intimate, I discovered not one but several tattoos in various places.

I was horrified.  I was ashamed.  I felt by turns flattered and horrified that she had gone to the trouble and discomfort of having tattoos done just for me.

The look on my face in that moment, was, apparently, priceless.

She laughed and laughed, and only with difficulty managed to gasp out that the tattoos were temporary, that they would wash right off, and that she would always, always remember my reaction.  We both laughed then, the way lovers do at a joke that only we two shared.

“Well,” I say to her.  “You finally got that tattoo.”

She smiles at me, radiant with relief at the good news, and fond memories of the past.  And for the first time in a long while I really feel that everything is going to be all right.


*Irony.  The ringer of my cell phone is almost never on.  I only turn it on for special occasions.  I had turned it on that day because D. was texting me and wanting updates, and I forgot to turn it off again.

Lump pt. 2 – The Tenth Day

The day arrives.  We get up, get in the car, and go to the hospital.  She hasn’t had anything to eat for the last 12 hours, so I also skip breakfast, vowing to have something after she has gone into surgery.

There is no alien invasion.

The San Andreas fault gives nary a tremble.

She does not have a heart attack on the table and die.

There are no complications resulting in the transformation of the surgery into a radical mastectomy.

The worst – the VERY worst thing that happens is that she forgets her Kaiser card and sends me back home to get it.  I can’t find it (turns out to be under some papers on her desk).

D. comes to keep me company.  I am mildly resentful until D. gets there because what I want to do is just sit quietly and be frightened.  But its the right call, and D.’s presence for the several hours of the operation and the recovery is a great comfort to me, as well as a distraction that prevents me from, well, sitting quietly and being frightened.

The surgical waiting room is a dreary, depressing place.  It is in the old wing of the hospital and is close, stuffy, disorganized, and without windows to the outside world.  The entire area feels a bit weird and unsettling, I think because being part of the oldest portion of the hospital it isn’t laid out like the parts I have been in.  The person who is supposed to be keeping track of the surgeries and alerting people to when they can go in and see their loved ones keeps wandering in and out, sometimes for as long as half an hour.  No lie, when the phone rings from surgery to announce that so-and-so is out of surgery, a random waiting person has to answer it.  I feel a certain amount of sympathy for the person who keeps wandering in and out:  its obviously a boring job just having to sit there and answer the phone a couple of times an hour.  Still, I don’t feel that random people should be answering the phone and giving updates to other random people.  That just doesn’t seem professional.

Three hours pass while she is prepped and taken into surgery.  Surgery lasts 2 hours and 5 minutes.  There’s a tv screen that shows the status of each patient.  It’s color coded, though as D. points out the color coding does not seem entirely accurate.  Every so often it crashes and someone has to jiggle the mouse to get it back in working order.  There is also a television that plays insipid game shows.

At some point I get something to eat with D.

(Yes, D. also manages to keep me from starving myself while I wait).

Eventually the surgery is over and she gets moved into Recovery 1.  The person who keeps wandering in and out tells me that I can’t see her yet, even though the sign on the wall says that patients can have one visitor in Recovery 1.  D. asks if I want to push for it, but I say “no”.  I don’t want to make a scene, and I am so wired up and tense that if I start anything any resistance to my request will quickly reduce me to hysteria.  I am actually doing well, but I know I’m still on edge.

After an hour’s wait she is moved into Recovery 2.  A random person answers the phone and lets me know that I can see her now.  And I do.

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Yeah, I know what you are thinking, but to me she never looked more beautiful than right this minute.

We talk for awhile and the nurse gives us a rundown of the various things that she is and isn’t supposed to do post-surgery.  The nurse mentions that she will need some drugs at the pharmacy, and thinking of D. still waiting I volunteer to go get them and give D. a chance to visit.

Now comes the SECOND worst thing to happen.

D. isn’t in the waiting room.

I wait for a few minutes, thinking she might have gone to the bathroom, but then the person who wanders in and out wanders in and I ask about D.  The person who wanders in and out hasn’t seen D.  I explain that I need to go to the pharmacy and could the person who wanders in and out please let D. know that it’s possible to go in for a visit now?  The person who wanders in and out says “of course”.  I go the the pharmacy, get the drugs (along with around $5,000.00 worth of other drugs that the pharmacy does not notice have been cancelled and later won’t take back).  Knowing that she is having a nice visit with D. I decide to take a side trip and get something to drink.  Then I head back for surgery and I FIND D. IN THE HALLWAY!  The person who wanders in and out did not give my message to D. because D. was on the phone.

I do not murder the person who wanders in and out.

So I send D. back for a visit and sit in the waiting room again,  fiddling with my phone and watching the person who wanders in and out wander in and out and trying to guess from the expressions and body language of the other people there how serious their loved one’s surgery is and finally the phone rings and a random person answers it and calls my name, telling me that it is okay for me to go back and see her now.

So she and I and D. have a nice visit until the nurse tells us that she can go home now.  I get the car and D. gets her out to the pickup point and she gets in.  Then D. takes us all out for Japanese food, which again is really nice of D., and she drinks miso soup and has sushi and then we say goodbye to D. and we go home and we live happily ever after, at least for a few days.

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Lump pt. 2 – The Calm Before

Image result for rockaway beach pacifica


Next week is unknown.

Next week could bring good news or bad.

Next week everything could go to shit.

Next week everything could be all right.

And there is nothing whatsoever that we can do about it today.

In a few days things will start happening fast – there will be consults and tests and evaluations.  Her genetic scan will come back, and may change everything or nothing.  Her medication regimen will change in the run up to surgery.  There will be special antiseptic cleansing and no food after a certain point and the (almost) final time for the surgery will be set.  Then comes the big day and we will go to the hospital at the appointed time and she will be whisked away from me and off to surgery and I will spend a couple of hours staring at the clock and fiddling with my phone and wishing I hadn’t finished the good book I was reading (though if I hadn’t I still wouldn’t be reading it).  Then I will get to see her and she will rest for awhile and then we will go home.

We went out for dinner tonight.  It was a nice place – probably nicer than we could afford (we owe a lot of people money) but we were frugal in our choices.  She still doesn’t have much appetite since her last chemo, though that was weeks ago, so she made do with an appetizer and some clam chowder.  I had fish and chips.  We split a dessert.  It was fun and charming and romantic and above all normal except for the scarf.  There’s still a scarf.

After dinner we went for a walk along the waterfront.  It’s hard, in a way, to do that.  I used to go for long beach walks, and hikes, and camping with her and now a five-minute walk on flat, paved ground leaves her needing to rest and that’s painful to see.  But at the same time it was nice and romantic to sit on a bench together, just the two of us, watching the sky dim (Bay Area fog = no real sunset), watching a couple play with their dogs, watching the waves on the rocks and the pelicans and that one lone, stubborn surfer who just wouldn’t come in until catching one last wave.  Chatting about inconsequential things.  Being close.  Sharing warmth.  Sharing history.

It was nice.

Sometimes you just have to let tomorrow be tomorrow.

Sometimes you just have to live in the moment.

Sometimes, even knowing that bad times are ahead, you have to focus on the good time that is now.

Sometimes you need to acknowledge the the moment, savor it, use it to (re)build your strength.

Sometimes you just have to let yourself have fun, no matter how dire the future is.

Misha B

Just your friendly neighborhood ego striker.

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