Category Archives: Cancer

A novel in 30 days!

Today is the start of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I just completed my first 1,667 of 50,000 words! I did not even know until yesterday what I was going to write about and that only developed by picking Steve’s brain on one of our gas-wasting late afternoon rides. I am cheating because I am using a character out of my very first novel, “Anne,” and naturally that means I’m using the same setting. It picks up where “Anne” left off with a different protagonist. And that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I do have a title: “It Takes A Village Store.” (I hope Hillary likes it.) It was Steve’s idea to base it on the village store. I believe in giving credit where credit is due…..

This past Monday I started a four-week memoir writing class in Lebanon offered by the Women’s Resource Center at DHMC. It’s tricky juggling three writing projects (NaNoWriMo, memoir writing, and my writing group) but I can only produce with deadlines and commitments so this is a good thing! And I gain one whole hour tonight because we set the clocks back–and I’m using it to write this long overdue blog post.

I started a project late this summer of having my picture taken at every one of the 235 historic markers in New Hampshire, with the goal to do additional research about each and every one of them then post the information on my blog. Seemed like a good idea at the time. So far I’ve visited 13 and most of

Alderbrook Historic Marker

Alderbrook Historic Marker

those we hit in one day on a trip down to the Lake Sunapee region. Even with directions off the State of NH web site, we had a difficult time locating a number of them, somehow driving by them a few times before seeing them right in front of our eyes. I’m proud to say we got through the day with nary an argument (easy to say weeks after our adventure!). Doubt if we’ll get through the remaining 222 before we leave for Arizona but it’s nice to have goals, isn’t it? Alderbrook is the first one I took a photo of–I was alone on my way back from a DAR meeting in Whitefield. Interestingly, neither Hanover nor Lebanon have any historic markers….

This afternoon we saw “The Judge” at the Nugget Theater in Hanover. Steve and I both enjoyed it, which doesn’t always happen when there are tears involved. If you haven’t seen it, do, despite the 2 1/2 stars it received!

Not enough time to write!!??

Blasphemy for a writer–and embarrassing–to admit. After all, I am retired. I should have unlimited time to write. It all comes down to priorities, retired or not. But I’ve had a busy summer! (Is it really over?)

We spent an incredible three days at the Cape with Jesse and Joy and families…..only wish Jennifer and her family could have joined us. We spent one day at Breakwater Beach in Brewster and one at Mayflower in Dennis. We went mini golfing and ate seafood. At the pond at Joy’s campground the kids fished and were entertained by three prehistoric-looking huge snapping turtles.

Minute Men Monument and North Bridge, Concord, MA

Minute Men Monument and North Bridge, Concord, MA

On the way home, Steve and I revisited the North Bridge at Concord, MA, where the Revolutionary War started on April 19, 1775. He convinced me to tour the Old Manse, the house that overlooks the bridge and the surrounding field, whose occupants were witness to the birth of our nation. Bronson Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, were some of the famous philosophers and writers to either live or spend time there. The Hawthornes rented the house, which did not deter Sophia from etching with her engagement ring poems into the soft glass of the windows.

We spent a week in CT babysitting Tyler and Haley (Lucas was in VA). While the kids were at day camp we took a few day trips. At East Haddam we crossed the swing bridge over the CT River just to see the old Goodspeed Opera House–and got stuck there when the bridge opened to allow a boat through. An amazing feat of engineering.

Seeking inspiration from Mark Twain

Seeking inspiration from Mark Twain

We toured the home of Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens in Hartford. We loved, loved, loved the house. His writing desk is in the same room as his beloved billiards table. He ended up turning his desk away from the table to face the wall–otherwise all he wanted to do was play billiards. I can identify with that.

The Homestead-Emily Dickinson's Home

The Homestead-Emily Dickinson’s Home

Another day was spent at the homes of Emily Dickinson and her brother, Austin, in Amherst, MA. Their homes were nowhere near the pristine condition of Mark Twain’s. We wonder why, Amherst College.

In a few short weeks I touched the same bannisters that some very famous authors held onto many years ago as they walked up the same stairs that I did. Was this the inspiration to submit a complete short story to my writing group–a story that is now receiving a major revision? I’m not even certain I like it. What would Hawthorne or Twain do–persevere or trash it??

I’ve always wanted to visit Moosehead Lake in Maine and we finally went there for one night. Waiting to check into our inn, we took a three hour boat tour on the Katahdin. Or so we thought. We happened to be there on the two days a month it is four and a half hours long….we were so ready to disembark when we finally docked at five p.m. I can check that off my list!

On the medical front, I have a new oncologist–Dr. Ernstoff has moved on to the Cleveland Clinic. Because my mitotane level has dropped dramatically since May, I have upped the dosage from three pills a day to five. Unfortunately, at five pills I only feel well soon after eating. So I am eating what seems like continuously. Time for a trip to the outlets in North Conway….

Home again

Sheffield's Pre-school graduation

Sheffield’s Pre-school graduation

I’ve been home almost a month now. And, like most New Englanders, I’ve spent most of that time focused on the weather–either complaining about it or planning my life around it. It seems as though we have fluctuated between winter and summer these past four weeks. Maybe that is what spring is in New Hampshire. Monday I was sitting out on the deck, trying to see my laptop screen in the bright sunshine. It was almost too hot to be outside and it wasn’t quite eleven a.m. The day before, for our Father’s Day celebration, it was too cold for most of the day to be outside.

The day after arriving home from Virginia, eighteen months to the day following my surgery for adrenal cancer, I visited DHMC for my three-month CT scan and doctors’ visits. Great news–still no evidence of disease!! My endocrinologist made some changes to my medication but other than that it was a routine visit. My mitotane level came back at the high end of the therapeutic range, which explains why I was feeling nauseous, so I took a mitotane holiday for the weekend and have cut back to just two pills a day for three weeks. Now I am back up to three a day in preparation for my blood tests and visit with my oncologist on Friday. It’s amazing how quickly four weeks go by.

And what have I accomplished in those four weeks? Without work as a gauge, it’s hard to quantify. I/we did get our brand new kitchen organized. I am working on a short story that was inspired by our month at Jennifer’s in Williamsburg. We have toiled in the yard to get it under control. Snails and bugs have taken over, damaging many of our plants. Steve has mowed the lawn a thousand times already. I’ve submitted my application to the Daughters of the American Revolution and attended my first meeting. We attended Sheffield’s pre-school graduation and Elise and Sheffield’s gymnastics show. Life is back to NH normal.

After spending five months with no responsibilities, it has been an adjustment to take responsibility for yard work (and we have a large yard and numerous gardens) and the cleaning, and maintenance of our house. Every time we drive by the campground near our house I point out the fifth-wheel that is for sale. Steve just shakes his head and says “will you make up your mind?” I’ve never been very good at that.

Making myself “right”

Making myself write

Making myself write

I told my daughter, Jennifer, that I was going upstairs to “make myself write.” She thought I meant I was going to “make myself right.” If only I could do that. If only any of us with adrenal cancer (or depression or heart disease) could just make ourselves better by announcing we were going to do just that.

Coincidentally, (and I am not certain that there are any coincidences), my granddaughter, Laurel, is studying homophones in second grade. Words that sound the same but are spelled differently and may have different meanings. “Right” and “write” definitely qualify.

Writing may not cure my cancer but it does help make things right in my head. I feel better about myself when I put words down on the page, even if it’s just garbage. And as we writers know, what looks like garbage today might shine like gold tomorrow.

Coincidentally, (again!), I am reading “The Right to Write” by Julia Cameron. Actually, I am rereading it. It was published in 1999 so it may have been 15 years since I first read it! I gave my original book to my sister-in-law and by chance ran into a used one at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, AZ. At the bargain price of $6.95, I was lured into buying it. When I got home, I found out it had once belonged to (an unknown to me) M. J. Reck, who had made notes and underlined sections in the first two chapters of the book.  Then nothing. I am usually loath to mark up my books but M. J. seems to have given me permission to do just that.

I have discovered that reading the book relaxes me. I don’t remember it having that effect the first time around (I was much too earnest) but now, when I am amped up over Candy Crush or Words with Friends, I can read this book and literally feel my blood pressure drop.

What I particularly like about Cameron’s approach is that you don’t need to have a large block of time to write. Train yourself to grab your ten minutes here and your half-hour there of writing time throughout the day. It’s a luxury to have hours at a time to write.

Yet I have those hours and still don’t write. I know the problem. I’m a perfectionist, which leads to procrastination…..Maybe if I only allow myself ten minutes to write, I won’t expect perfection. Haven’t we already been down this road? (July 27, 2013 post “Perfection Paralysis”)

Almost Home

Biltmore Estate

Biltmore Estate

In case you were wondering, we did make it to Virginia the day before Easter. It was a long trip but we enjoyed several of our stops, especially the Petrified Forest in Arizona, Nashville and Asheville. On Judy’s recommendation, we visited the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville. So glad we did–it’s a massive resort with beautiful indoor gardens and waterfalls.

Jesse secured us the family discount at the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC. A one hundred year old magnificent hotel with manned elevators–two of which are in Ripley’s Believe It or Not for being inside the chimney of the massive fireplaces. And we rode in them!

The absolute highlight of the trip was a visit to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. (Unfortunately, we toured it with what felt like thousands of other people–it was the Friday of Easter weekend.) Downton Abbey in the US for sure. The PBS series helped me relate to what life at the Biltmore would have been like (and vice versa). As we wandered the property, I kept thinking how much I would have enjoyed being a guest there. I hope to get to another estate–Mount Vernon–before we leave Virginia.

I am still recuperating from my long weekend at Malice Domestic in Bethesda. It was great to reconnect with Eleanor, Heidi, and Linda after almost five months away from my writing group. My niece, Casey, and her boyfriend, Andrew, joined us for lunch on Sunday. As they live in DC, I did get some inspiration to resurrect my NaNoWriMo novel, “Alex.” The good news/bad news is that I am now thinking about linking my other two novels, “Anne” and “Claire.” And making “Anne” into a murder mystery. Somehow. That’s what happens when you spend three days with mystery writers, the majority of whom have written series. I’m making notes and attempting to process this concept but will rely on my writing group to help me decide if this is even worth putting any effort into.

Waiting to hear what my last mitotane level was. It’s been over two weeks since I had the labs done. This is what happens when you’re away from your regular doctor and medical facility. Must say the medical part has been what has caused me the most stress this winter.

Steve is anxious to get back to NH. I’m not. He wants to golf more than anything–but he claims he wants to do things like use his pressure washer (that he got for Father’s Day last year!). I am happy to  be responsible for just a wee bit of living space. Right now it’s a bedroom and bathroom. I don’t have to worry that the floors need to be vacuumed or the dishwasher emptied though I do try to do my share of cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Babysitting is not a chore! But I am anxious to get back to my NH family (Elise and Sheffield!!) and friends. Maybe buying the fifth-wheel was the thing to do…..

But it’s a dry heat…..

Time to get in the pool!

Time to get in the pool!

In case you haven’t been keeping up with the weather forecast in Arizona (not to rub it in to our friends and family back East), we hit 95 today, the first ninety degree temperatures of 2014. And it will last through Friday. It may even flirt with 100 degrees. But, as they like to say here, it’s a dry heat.

We just happen to be heading north to Las Vegas on Wednesday where it is forecasted to be much cooler–the low nineties. As I recall from my one and only visit to Las Vegas (granted, it was August), that is one hot city. And it just feels more like the desert than Chandler, Arizona does.

We are flying up for the night to see Elton John perform at Caesars Palace. A short one hour five-minute flight. Granted, we’ll miss the Hoover Dam experience by not driving up but the flight is free. (Thanks to my Southwest VISA card!)

I am so excited to show Steve Las Vegas. Not that we are gamblers or drinkers. OK–I could get addicted to the slots but I can depend on Steve to drag me away.

To prepare him for the trip, we watched “Last Vegas” via our Apple TV. Definitely worthy of an Academy award. NOT! But it was entertaining. It probably helps to be our age to appreciate the movie. The other day we actually “argued” about what day of the week it was–forgetting to check either our watches or our iPhones! I imagine our children are wondering if it is time to check out nursing homes but I can assure them it is way too early for that! (They all have guest rooms, don’t they?)

Have to admit we are enjoying retirement. I especially like playing Candy Crush (93 million people a day play it) and Words with Friends and reading as late as I want (Steve doesn’t even complain), which means sleeping as late as I want (again, no complaints), drinking a leisurely cup or two of coffee, going to lunch (Sunday it was San Tan Brewing Company–jalapeno bratwurst hash for brunch–almost as hot as the weather) and then heading out to wherever we want (after brunch it was WestWorld in Scottsdale celebrating Arizona Bike Week). Steve is painting and enjoying the weather.

We leave for Virginia next week, stopping in Albuquerque, Nashville, and Ashville along the way. Looking forward to spending time with Jennifer and family in Williamsburg, meeting up with the ladies from my writing group at Malice Domestic in Bethesda, MD, and visiting Joy and family in CT. And then HOME (after almost five months away) just in time for my CT scan at DHMC. Eighteen months to the day from my surgery for adrenal cancer. Fingers crossed!

“That’s the biggest black widow spider I’ve ever seen!”

Luke AFB Air Show

With AZ grandkids at Luke AFB Air Show

Which is what you don’t want to hear your daughter say when you are standing by the door to the casita (guest house). After we all admired it, Joy killed it with a sandal. No more leaving the front door wide open!

We had just finished entertaining Joy and family with our photos from our trip to Hawaii. The kids enjoyed the whale watch photos and we adults found ourselves discussing Pearl Harbor and the similarities to 9/11. I particularly was drawn to the pictures of the ocean, which conjured fond memories of me floating on the waves…..

Saturday Steve and I and the three kids spent three hours in the car traveling to Luke Air Force Base to brave the 100,000+ crowd at the air show. It was a production getting to the flight line but we all agreed it was worth it just to see the Thunderbirds perform. I wore my NaNoWriMo 2011 Winners Circle t-shirt for writing motivation.

And it worked. Sunday, instead of going to see Mr. Peabody and Sherman with Joy and Haley or Need for Speed with the men/boys, I stationed myself at Paradise Bakery and, like a real author, wrote. Longhand in a composition notebook. Granted, if a movie would have been playing that I wanted to see, I might have found myself inside a dark theater rather than outside enjoying the sunshine under an umbrella eating black bean soup and writing. And eavesdropping on the couple next to me–something about Boston and three-inch heels and snow.

I free wrote for a few pages (most likely stuff for a blog post that I should be checking right now!) and then I started on Claire. I outlined three different scenarios for the climax, already knowing which one I will go with. And already knowing that easily could change. After the movies, Steve and I took Lucas to purchase his tenth birthday present (a skateboard). He writes fantasy and loves to read. I presented my elevator spiel. Steve said he likes it (and he’s not just saying that) and when am I going to finish it?? Lucas seemed interested in the plot and asked that I change one of the main characters’ names to Lucas.

Since our return from Hawaii and my resumption of mitotane, I find that I am nauseous frequently. Except when I am eating, naturally. I don’t want to buy a new wardrobe one size larger–I just bought one for our trip. I have blood work on Tuesday for my endocrinologist in NH and on Friday I see the oncologist where I will have my mitotane level drawn. It’s possible I am in the toxic level again. Last doctor’s appointment before I return to my “home” at DHMC in May for my quarterly CT scan. (April’s blood work will be done in Virginia.)

Hard to believe our winter is coming to an end….Joy and family leave for CT in ten days while we will stay on for a few weeks. That now may be dependent upon how many black widows have made their home outside our door.

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