Sunday, July 08, 2012

First Chapter Completed



This is a photograph of Earnest Hemingway's writing desk in his Key West home.

Notice the small table and chair, a typewriter, and a room full of books.

I don't see a radio, a phone, a computer, or any board games to distract him. 



So ... today I put it to the test. I took my laptop to a different room in our home. Plugged in my laptop, closed the blinds, pulled up the footstool to one of these rockers and assumed the typing position.

It didn't take long before my thoughts poured out and before I knew it, those 81 little words I worked so hard on yesterday grew into 582 and a decent first chapter.

Oh yay!

Friday, July 06, 2012

I Get The Message!



I started this 1,000-piece puzzle back in March while I was still undergoing chemo. I love the challenge of doing complex puzzles and this one was quite therapeutic. Unfortunately, it proved to be a bit too much even for me. I quit working on it when I got to the last three sections of trees. All the pieces looked the same and none of them seem to fit.  

Patience has never been my strongest quality so consequently, the puzzle is still on my desk waiting for day when I decide to work on it again.

I will, you know.

After putting so much time and effort into solving it, I just don’t have the heart to put back in the box. 

Writing for me has been much like this puzzle. I have three novels that I drafted years ago and a fourth one outlined. They're all waiting for me to finish them too. Between one thing or another, the writing bug left me just over a year ago and to make matters worse, I didn’t care.  

I'm now down to the last eight days of radiation treatment. Life seems to have finally settled into a new norm and guess what, the light at the end of the tunnel isn't a train. It's the bright realization that one of these days soon I'll wake up and without thinking about anything except doing the things I enjoy.

The urge to write has started to tug on my sleeve a litter harder these days so for weeks now I’ve been telling myself and anyone who cared to listen that I’m ready. After much thought, I decided to blow the dust off a novel I wrote in 2005 to see what, if any part of this first draft was salvageable. Keep in mind that my first novel wasn’t published until 2007 so anything I wrote prior to that is still in a raw state and in dire need of an edit. 

I didn’t have to read past the first paragraphs of a number of chapters to know each was pointless, the dialogue is stiff, and the narrative telling.  Yet in spite of the flaws, the basic plot—the killer’s motivation, is worth exploring which brings me to what I’ve been doing these pasts few days.

To reacquaint myself with the storyline, I began studying the content of each chapter and making a list of the key elements contained in each. Of the original 48 chapters, I eliminated six as well as three characters, and a subplot that threatened to take over the plot.  As excited I was to actually concentrate on the task, this burst of energy didn't seem to be enough to keep me focused.  Easily distracted with one too many computer games, my creative juices slip away...again.  

Ironically, as I read through my friends’ posts on Face Book yesterday morning, I found a quote that hit me hard between the eyes. It read as follows:
“There is no such thing as writer’s block. You WILL write.
You WILL put something on the screen.
Writers write, while procrastinators bitch and moan.
You. WILL. Write.”
Okay, so it's not an earth-shattering statement, but it was what I needed to read at that particular moment.

I spent the next several hours working on developing a new first chapter—all 81 words of it. You may laugh, but those are the hardest 81 words I’ve written in a very long time. At least I DID force myself into the chair and DID write 81 words to a new beginning.  

Later that afternoon, I had to leave for an appointment.  On my way home I drove past a church. Its sign offered a message that read:  
 “Start where you are. Do what you can.”
Good grief! Do you suppose someone is trying to tell me something?  ;)




Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ten Days & Counting

I'm totally flattered that so many have asked about my writing and the next possible book. Sadly it will be some time before my next publication becomes a reality.  Consider this, it took me a year to write my last book, ten months to find an agent and she's had it for over a year without bites. The reality is that so much has happened on the home front since I wrote that book that it's not on my top ten things to worry about at the moment. It takes an eternity to go from the first draft to a published work. Still, warms the heart to know readers are interested.

My three other novels in various stages of completion and the several attempts I've made to work on a couple of them recently have been futile. Too much on my plate, too many things to work through for the creative juices to flow. I was thrilled to get a call from Kim yesterday. It's not uncommon for us to talk for hours about everything from family and work to writing.  She told me not to worry about the writing and that one of these days, it will flow again.  I certainly hope so.

My publisher announced earlier this month that as of May of this year they are an exclusively e-book publisher. I supposed this means I need to break down and buy a Kindle Fire.  The publisher returned the paperback writes to their authors so now what? Anyway, I'm not sure how long the paperback version of my novels will continue to be available through Amazon.  For now, they are though. I'll admit this news forced me to do some serious thinking about the future of my writing and publishing options. I have a few decisions to make, but frankly I don't want to make any until I've cleared my mind of the clutter.


I've tried to be positive about my cancer and continue to feel nothing but grateful on countless levels.  Since my last post which was written the day after my third chemo treatment I haven't really been myself.  The final treatment on was April 13 and although the chemo is expelled from the body (mine was after three weeks) the affects continue to build up. Thankfully I was never ill and was able to continue to work, but by around seven in the evening I was literally exhausted and void of any energy and desire to do the things I normally enjoy doing. There were evenings I didn't even turn on my computer or checked my e-mail. What's worse, I didn't miss it.

After several weeks, I was starting to feel like myself again when I began my 33 daily radiation treatments. Thus far I've had 22 and had hoped to be done by next week.  Unfortunately, the second-degree burns that have resulted on my skin, especially in and around my armpit area, have earned me a week off the radiation as well as work. I normally have a very high tolerance to pain, but to be honest, it and my patience with this whole mess are quickly bottoming out.


On the upside of things--and yes, there's always an upside, Rick had his feeding tube removed a couple of weeks ago and is doing great.  His balance comes and goes--still gets around with the aid of a walker. He may never fully recuperate from the stroke, but it is what it is and we've come to accept it as our new "normal."  At least, and thank God for it, he is finally able to enjoy solid food again. Consequently, he has also begun to gain some much needed weight and muscle mass and is feeling stronger every day.

I nearly jumped out of my skin this week when he announced that he was going to drive the car around the block. He hasn't driven since his stroke in June 2011. He only drove a few blocks around our neighborhood and practiced a bit in the high school parking lot. Needless to say, I was more than a bit nervous about it, but admit he did well. At least no pedestrians, vehicles, mailboxes, or animals were hurt in the process.


In spite of everything, we've managed to do quite a bit of yard work too this spring. Our son Tracy and I created a few new paths, Rick had a beautiful pergola built in the side yard so we could expand the patio area beneath it as well as the adjacent flower beds.  I've taken tons of photos of the garden to post on this blog and hope to download them soon. Regrettably, this heat wave is keeping us in most of the time except in the early morning and evening when it's time to water. Fortunately, the perennials will survive. Survival seems to be the on-going theme of the year.

I hate that my cancer treatment countdown has been temporarily halted, but the skin has to heal. It's an all consuming task at the moment. I'll start counting down again soon enough.



Saturday, March 24, 2012

Round Three Went Well!

I've had a fantastic three weeks since my last chemo on March 2. Lots of energy, very productive weeks at work and home. In fact, aside from my taste buds that continue to act very wacky, I've had very few negative side affects.  They include sore gums and itching on my arms and hands, but I continue to drink at least 4 16oz. bottles of water a day and that helps tremendously!

Went in for my third treatment yesterday afternoon and for some reason, it only took four hours instead of five like the first two.  Let's hope I got everything I was supposed to get. Ha! I'm sure they did. The nurses at the Cancer Center are great, but still ... the thought did cross my mind. After all, I've been living (and dealing) with Murphy's Law for the last 10 months.  Know what I mean?

The best part of this experience has been sharing it with my friends.   Shelia F, another dear friend from work who I've known for 33 years, accompanied me yesterday to chemo. Had lunch together first and then spent an afternoon doing some much needed catching up on life. Shared lots of stories, but I especially enjoyed talking with her about our mutual experiences as caregivers to our husbands. Trust me, care giving is not for the faint of heart and it's always good to know we're not alone in our day-to-day experiences. The amazing thing about Shelia is that throughout the years of her husband's long-term illness and more than one difficult situation, I never once saw her without her trademark smile and upbeat attitude. She said it was an honor to accompany me, but honestly, the honor was all mine.  It takes a special person to volunteer to take time to sit in a straight back chair for 4 hours for someone else. She's a trouper, an amazing woman and it was nothing short of pure pleasure to have her at my side.:)

The the immediate reaction to the last treatment was an incredible need to sleep. In fact, except to take care of life necessities, I slept for three days straight.  I expect the same to happen this weekend. So I don't know how long I'll be "conscious" today before I nod off.  I'm definitely taking it easy through Monday.  I have a few things to do this morning before sleep comes over me like going to the bank and the grocery. After that, all bets are off on what I'll manage to do aside from fluffing up my pillow and getting some shut eye. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Small Nuggets of Joy

The natural flow of life was quickly disrupted after my husband's stroke last June.  After a month in the hospital, he still couldn't get up from a sitting position on his own.  Even a trip to the market had to be carefully planned to ensure someone remained home with him.

What a difference a few months makes. Rick still has a feeding tube, but we are working with a dietitian to gradually introduce solid foods with the goal of getting him off his liquid diet of Glucerna.  Another huge improvement is that he now gets around with the aid of a walker and manages on his own quite well.

In spite of how chaotic our lives have been these past 10 months, at least we can't complain about the weather.  We only had a few days of snow and ice this winter which makes me think we must have broken a record or two.  I mean, here we are in the middle of March and it's 78 degrees tonight. LOVE IT!


My daffodils are all in bloom and within a few days, the tulips will follow. 
 
Yesterday we had the carpeting in our living room removed and to my surprise the hard wood floors are in great shape. I took this photo moments after our handyman took it up.  It took me 2-3 weeks to rip out the carpeting in our bedroom last fall and refinish floors so imagine how thrilled I was to know all this floor will need is a good wash and wax.  Needless to say, on my way home from work tonight I'd started to make plans to work on them. When I pulled into the driveway though, my thoughts wandered off  to my flower beds and how badly they need to be rake. Okay, so I can't do it all and certainly not at one time, but I'm full of energy right now and love home projects.

By the time I changed clothes, checked the mail, and grabbed something to eat, I decide the floors could wait until morning.

A wonderful breeze was coming in from the open windows, the sky was clear and it was just too beautiful outside to waste another minute indoors.  So after supper, Rick and I went to our favorite ice cream parlor.  It was only while we were enjoying our treats that that I realized this was the first time in 10 months that he and I had gone out to "eat" together.

Okay, so this is a seemingly small and perhaps insignificant thing. It's something we've done a million times throughout our 31 years of marriage, but this has been anything but a normal year and when it comes right down to it, it's the little things like the early spring weather, the daffodils, the great hardwood floors that don't need refinishing, and the satisfaction of enjoying a dish of ice cream with my hubby that helps get us over the next hurdle.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Good Bye, Sweet Candy

No, I'm not talking about chocolates, Candy was our very camera shy mini Doxie we rescued about five years ago from an abusive home along with our other mini Doxie, Moo.  At the time we had two  Boston Bulls and yes, although four dogs seemed like a lot, our home is large and the four small dogs had plenty of room play or hide. 

One of the things we noticed on Candy when we brought her home was a small spot in the middle of her back where the hair hadn't grown correctly.  Our vet indicated it looked as if she'd been hurt at some point. The thought of an animal being abused makes my blood boil.  


The reality of that injury came two years later when we were getting ready to walk the dogs in the morning before work and Candy couldn't get up.  She pulled herself out of her bed with her hind legs dragging. That was the most horrifying thing to watch.  Thankfully, she didn't seem to be in pain--never once cried out.

It turned out she had a badly damaged disk that required immediate surgery. The vet was able to repair the damage but in spite of everyone's efforts and continued of work outs, Candy never walked again. She also lost all control of her bladder and stools and bladder infections were a constant concern. Over time several have asked why I hadn't put her to sleep.  I couldn't. Candy was four years old when that happened and if there was the slightest chance she would eventually walk it was worth a try.

We kept her in a clothes basket filled with towels that had to be changed on a regular basis. The up side of it was that we could take her wherever we went without worrying about accidents. She especially loved going outside and laying in a sunny spot on the grass. 

Sadly, in recent weeks her bladder infections became worse and she seemed to be constantly crying. It got to the point where we had to consider her quality of life and so this past Saturday, I took her to the vet one last time.  I took this photo just before we left.


Moo seemed to know what was happening and acted very lost without her pal. But soon, Izzy will be home again, and things will be hectic again.










Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Note to Self ...

... Don't panic if you wake up in the morning to find your tongue has turned black!

Last week I developed a small rash and a bit of swelling on my right arm at the bend of the elbow for which my oncologist prescribed a mega dose of antibiotics.  I was warned to eat at least a 1/3 cup of food with it to avoid nausea.  So ... last night I got into bed and after a few minutes remembered I hadn't taken the last dose of the day.  Having eaten a good dinner and later a snack I thought I had enough food in my stomach and took the pills.

With in minutes, I started to feel a bit queasy and decided a small dish of cereal and milk would do the trick and it did.

Happy that the relief was almost immediate, I got back into bed and waited for my new best friend, sleep, to come. It wasn't long though before heartburn started to squeeze my chest. Ugh. Another trip into the kitchen for the Pepto Bismol.

I finally went to sleep and woke up this morning to the 5:30 AM alarm feeling really good. Good, that is until I went to brush my teeth and noticed the black coating on my tongue.  I admit, my first thought was, "Oh, hell, what now?" Tongue fungus is a side affect of the chemo, but it's supposed to turn the lining of the mouth white, so needless to say my mind raced backwards to the what I'd eaten the night before: Milk, tuna casserole, broccoli, pears, water, pills, cereal ... Pepto.  Ah, mystery solved. So, note to self,  there's always a logical reason when your tongue turns black. :)

Another thing I discovered this week was the need to conserve energy after a chemo treatment. I was fine Friday night and Saturday morning, but by 1:30 in the afternoon, a blanket of sleep came over me that lasted through Monday evening.  In those three days, I only woke up to eat and take care of life necessities.

I went to work yesterday feeling a bit tired, but that's okay. On those days I just take it slow because the weariness does pass and this morning, I'm feeling pretty much like my old self and ready to go!

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Round Two of Chemo

I went in for my second round of Chemo yesterday afternoon. It took another five hours. Thanks to my good friend Gayla B., from work who "sacrificed" a half day of vacation to have lunch with me then keep me company, the time flew.  Just for the record, we solved the problems of the world, the treatment went well, and I'm doing fine this morning.

While waiting to go in for my treatment yesterday, I ran into a friend of over 30 years, who was waiting for some paper work for her husband who had been diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer this past June. Sadly, while I was writing this post, I received a text from her that he passed away early this morning.  We're very saddened by his passing. Pete was a wonderful husband, father, coach, and friend.

When I was in the hospital the week of February 13, I was basically treated for my cold. Granted, once you are taking Chemo the rules change. Infection of any type is very dangerous and taken seriously, but the point is, as I walked down the halls some patients were waiting for Hospice while other families were gathered around the clock by their loved one's bedside. I truly felt that I was taking up a bed that someone else needed more.

Every time I go to the Cancer Center, I see new faces--some young, some old. Each has his or her own story to tell that we'll never know about. Some may be an open book like me, but too many others refuse to talk about their condition which makes it difficult for friends and family to help them get through the tough times.

For this reason, I'm truly touched and humbled by the many warm comments I received on my post of February 27. In truth, however, my cancer is nothing more than a bump in the road compared to what thousands of other people have gone through or are going through now.

I'm not courageous or a hero. I'm simple one woman sharing her story in the hopes that through my strength others will find theirs.

Our prayers are with the Cook family.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

A Review From a Fellow Writer and Friend

I was very pleasently surprised to open an e-mail earlier this week to discover that my good friend and fellow author, Ron Adams, had written a reivew of my first novel, "Silenced Cry."  Goodness, this novel was published in 2007! So, yeah, very pleased!

Ron is one of the authors in my collective writer's bog, Murder By 4 who says of himself, "I'm writer, author, part-time home cook, fulltime dad and physical therapist."  

Like Ron, I too snatch precious minutes from a busy day to write. Sadly that's been impossible for me for several months. But his review makes me realize that I need to hurry up and get back in the writer's chair.  If not for my readers (of course, it's always for my readers), for the sake of my soul. :)


Ron is the author of two mystery novels. Both are available on Amazon.com



"Key Lime Squeeze" - Buffalo PI Joe Banks travels to Key West in search of a runaway husband, but nothing is ever that easy...

... and






"Lake Efffect" The first Joe Banks novel pits the Buffalo PI against a family full of deadly secrets.








And now, Ron's thoughts about "Silenced Cry."

I last wrote about my 50 page rule, how I give every book 50 pages to capture my interest. However, every once in a while in a while, in the very back of my mind, there comes this wee soft whisper that says, “Go ahead, try that one again. You’re ready.”
I was in the middle of editing one novel, still working through another in progress, and wound up picking up a crime/mystery novel of such depth and complexity, I was too distracted to appreciate it. So, following my own advice, I put it down after the obligatory 50 pages. And then came the voice, and I have to tell you, I’m so glad I listened to it.

In the interest of full disclosure, “Silenced Cry” is the first in the Sam Harper mystery series by my friend and colleague, Marta Stephens. You who have read her many contributions here know what an extraordinary talent she is. Trust me, her novels are even better.
When Detective Sam Harper's partner, Frank Gillies, gets a tip a suspect in a high profile drug case they’ve been following is hanging out in a seedy dive bar, they hurry to apprehend him. In an instant, the bust goes sour and faster than anyone can think, Gillies and the suspect are lying on a rain-puddled street, awash in their own blood.

To prevent Harper from going off on a vendetta against the drug kingpin responsible for his partner’s death, the precinct captain transfers him from Narcotics to Homicide, trying to bury him away under a pile of cold case files. But even the new assignment doesn’t deter Harper from sticking his nose in the investigation that killed his friend and mentor. Each discovery leads to another unanswered question about Gillies' past and his connection to the criminals they were chasing.  Sam tries to move forward, but becomes irate when he's teamed with a new partner, David Mann, who hails from a notorious precinct, ripe with corruption. While not convinced of his new partner’s honesty, Harper and Mann learn to tolerate each other. Their first case calls them to a construction site to investigate remains found in a sealed up wall, a baby placed in the concrete casket shortly after birth.
The case begins to consume Harper and Mann, who dig into the past with a new found determination. Not content to let his old case die, he finds strange connections with his and Gillies' past, and soon learns there is a connection even to the dead baby in the wall. The search for answers brings the readers along for a breakneck rollercoaster ride, where nothing is as it seems, and Harper is forced to stand alone as everything he thought he knew is called into question.

The climax is among the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had at the end of a book. In the end, I broke my own rules to come back to a book and character I truly have come to admire, and an artist and wordsmith I respect and learn from every chance I get.

***
For more information about me, the writer, visit http://www.martastephens-author.com/"Silenced Cry" and "The Devil Can Wait" are available in paperback and downloadable e-book.  Visit my publisher's site for the best price.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Moment of Truth

I recall an incident during my high school years when one of my older sisters agreed to "trim" my hair. I should mention that in the '70s, it was thick, straight and hung down to the middle of my back. By the time I realized her idea of a trim was different from mine it was several inches too late.

I cried for days, but eventually got over it when the layered look came into style. :)

Little did I know at sweet 16 that 41 years later I would face a challenge worth a few tears. However, to prove that I'm tougher than the affliction, I want to share a series of photos taken of me since last Friday, February 24.

Let's begin with one taken of me on February 2, days after my last hair cut.  According to my daughter, I had a nice salt and pepper thing going there. One friend even called is a sassy cut.  :) The point, however, behind getting the pixie cut was that I knew it would soon begin to fall out and thought it would be a less drastic change if it were short to begin with.

The information I received from the Cancer Center indicated that I could expect the hair loss between three and six weeks after the first treatment. Last Friday, February 24, was exactly three week and the first day I noticed the clumps of hair on the shower floor. I won't lie, I said something like, "Oh crap." I don't know, I might have used a few stronger words. At any rate by Saturday morning the situation got worse.  I showered again, lost more hair, and when I blew it dry, I had to vacuum every surface in the bathroom; sink, floor, window sills, tub.  It was truly hideous.

This is what I looked like by Saturday evening (24 hours later).

Impressive, huh? Oh, it gets better. This is when I started to get a bit desperate. I knew two agencies in town provided services to cancer patients, but I had no idea how much red tape would be involved in getting a wig and/or how quickly I could get one. That's when my thoughts wandered off to Monday morning, going to work, and how I'd deal with it. 

Sunday I decided to wear a scarf around the house for no other reason than it was really getting disgusting. One sweep of a comb produced a handful of hair. My shoulders were constantly cover with it, and the prospect of going out on that windy day made me feel like a dandelion seed head fearing the slightest breeze.

This morning I showered as usual, blew dry my hair, then proceeded to vacuum the bathroom. By this time, I had some patches of beautiful scalp starting to show. Naturally, I didn't dare comb it. Instead, I gave my new do and extra bit of hair spray and went to work.

I decided to lay low at work and stay in my office as much as possible. If any of my co-workers noticed my bald spots the few times I ventured into the copy room or down the hall for something, they didn't mention it. Thanks guys! :)

I took the afternoon off to see about getting a wig  so after lunch, Jessica and I went to the Little Red Door.  This organization has been in town for as long as I can remember and depends on donations.  To my relief, I was only asked to fill out a short form after which a very nice lady led us into a room full of wigs that were nicely displayed.  Okay, I have to say, it was a blast trying them on.  I'm a sucker for trying on hats too. LOL  Anyway, I was thrilled to find two that seemed as if they would work. In fact, Jessica and I were both impressed at how great they looked.

When we got home, I was more than ready for the next step.  Jessica hadn't seen me in about a week so imagine her shock when I started to comb it out one clump at a time. This next photograph was taken late this afternoon. Lovely, huh?  Only one thing to do...



Keep scrolling ....







Keep scrolling ....








So is bald really beautiful?  It is when you feel this good inside. To be honest, it felt great to get what little was left  buzzed off.  Jessica was the designated beautician who kept saying, "On mom, I'm so sorry." but never stopped cutting. Tracy, on the other hand, chuckled in the background while he took some of these photographs.  Did I mention laughter is the best medicine?  Believe me, there is always a bright side no matter how horrible the situation may appear to be and today was certainly one of the brightest!

So much has happened since mid November when I first learned of the stage 2 breast cancer. Decisions had to be made quickly and no matter how right I knew those choices were, they didn't come without the fear of the unknown.  The next chemo treatment is this Friday, March 2, with two more to follow and although I know I'll have some rough days, I'm thankful the worst is behind me. No fear, no pain, no doubt.

But wait, that's not the end of my story. After all I did mention I walked out of The Little Red Doors with two wigs, right?   So...what do you think?

By the way, I was warned that my lashes and eyebrows might be next to go and if they do, so be it.  Hmmm, never wore false lashes before. ;)  2012 is certainly a year of firsts!

My deepest gratitude to the great team of doctors on my side and the wonderful folks at The Little Red Door!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

More Water, Please!

Yesterday I learned a valuable lesson in hydration.

While in the hospital the week before last, my oncologist told me he wanted me to drink a liter of water a day. Yeah, like I can do that, right? Unless I'm really thirsty, water tends to upset my stomach so although I do drink it, I can't drink as much of it as the experts say we should.

So after having a fairly good last week, I came home Friday after work and grew increasingly tired. By Saturday morning, it was all I could do to drag myself around the house. I naturally still blamed this cold that's hung on since February 8, and continued to take my medicine but still felt increasingly lethargic. 

My first thought was that I needed to build up my strength through proper nutrition which I'm usually pretty good at anyway.  I'm supposed to be on a high-protein diet to increase my red blood cells, so I thought perhaps I needed to up the protein. For breakfast I had cereal with a sprinkling of nuts, V8, coffee, toast with peanut butter, and my collection of vitamins which I've never stopped taking! Lunch was a spinach omelet and half of a baked sweet potato. For a snack I had pears and cheddar cheese.  I started feeling a bit better but not totally.

That's when I decided to go back and read through the stack of reading materials I received from the doctor. There in black and white it said to drink 2-3 quarts of water withing 24-hour. 

That's 2 cups to a pint, 2 pints to a quart = 8-12 cups of water per day.

Fortunately I have a small pitcher that holds just about one quart so the math wasn't too challenge for my poor little grey cells--drink 2-3 pitchers of water and I'll be on the mend. 

I took a 2-1/2 hour nap in the afternoon and noticed I felt pretty good when I woke up. I finally finished the third pitcher of water before going to bed.  It's amazing how much better I feel today.

Note to self, idiot--keep the water coming!

Friday, February 24, 2012

The First Fourteen Days

It's two weeks today that I began chemo treatment. I'm actually feeling okay. Although I do feel a little more tired in the evening, I've had a very productive week at work.

I noticed the first big change this morning when I washed my hair ... a significant clump of hair (a good handful) in the drain.

I was hoping that I'd be one of the many people I'd heard of who didn't lose their hair. Evidently it's not to be. Fortunately I have a thick head of hair so maybe it won't be too obvious right away.

So ... I'm thinking it's time to shop for wigs--have a little fun with it. Will also have to invest in several bottles of drain cleaner.

In the whole scheme of things, this is just one more hurdle to deal with. A small price to pay though for the peace of mind that all will be well. June can't come fast enough.

The next treatment is March 2, 2012.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Good Day

Life is full of ups and downs, but every day is a blessing. 
A good day is icing on the cake.
I'm looking forward to another sweet day.

When I checked my e-mail this morning, I had a note from our dear next door neighbor that he had read my post and was shocked to learn that I'd been in the hospital.  To be honest, things happened so quickly that we never thought to call anyone.  However, it proved the worth in updating my blog!

My return to work yesterday felt pretty good and it was a very productive day.  The cold will take a few more days, but is getting better, the voice is coming back, and so is my sense of taste.

Tracy popped in a small pork roast in the oven yesterday after he got home from classes so dinner was basically done by the time I got home at five. It was the first meal in over a week that I could taste and enjoy. After dinner, Rick and I just kicked back and watch a movie then off to bed. That's as normal as life has been lately, but it does move on. In fact, as I write this, I'm distracted by the huge folder on my desk with all our tax information that I need to sort through. I'll probably try to tackle that tonight.  I always feel a huge load taken off my mind once I have that done so there's no point in putting it off any longer.


PS:  Neil, for future reference, if you don't see my office light on in the early morning hours, you'll know something is up. LOL

Sunday, February 19, 2012

An Interesting Week


I meant to posted several days ago but have been a guest at our local hospital until yesterday afternoon. Ugh.

At least it was a very nice private room.
I had progressively felt worse as last weekend drew to a close, but on Monday I had an appointment to see the doctor to get an injection that would boost my white cells and thought all would be well. By the time I arrived at his office I was literally dragging myself around. Those who know me, understand this is not the norm for me. I'm generally pretty high energy and ready to jump from one project or task to the next. Words can't express how frustrating it was to feel like that.

I'd been warned that the side affects to the injection would give me flu-like symptoms. How bad could that be, right?  Always think positively, I say...but the truth is, it produced sharp shooting pains in all the major joints and across my torso. Not fun.

The doctor put me on an antibiotic on Monday for the chest cold and I thought okay, that's that. The following day (Tuesday), things got worse and by four in the afternoon, my fever reached 102.5.  My chemo instructions indicated that I needed to call the doctor if I ever had a fever over 100.5.

By 9:00 PM, I was admitted into the Oncology ward at Ball Memorial Hospital and there I stayed until yesterday Saturday, February 18.  All the blood work, chest x-rays, and whatever other lab work they did all came back negative for any type of infection, but the fever didn't break until late Thursday.

I know the other patients on the floor were in far worse shape than I was. One family was considering placing their loved on in Hospice and here I was, being treated for the chest cold.  I felt like crap about it, but I'm told the game changes once you begin chemo treatments and the slightest cold or sign of infection could lead to something much worse.

The hot shower I took last night did me wonders--those sponge baths just don't quite do it for me. And this morning I slept until 9 AM.  Still have bit of the cold hanging on and plan to take it easy today, but over all, I'm feeling pretty well.

Once again, Jessica and Tracy stepped up to the plate to take care of mom and dad. God I love them!

Guys, I promise, one of these days we'll get our lives back. Besides, we have a wedding to plan!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

And so it begins ...

Let's just say it's been an interesting two days here at home. I had my first chemo treatment this past Friday afternoon.  Thank goodness our daughter Jessica came with me. We are never at a loss for things to talk about and that's good because what was supposed to have been a three-four hour procedure turned out to be a solid five.

We start with the standard blood work and vitals check. Then came the IV bag and a half of saline, a small bag of anti-nausea medication, and another of one of steroids. Once those were administered I was given two types of chemo medication one IV bag at a time. I finally floated out of the Cancer Center a litter after 6 PM. Literally--it took me 18 months to lose 30 pounds and gain five pounds of fluids in a single sitting.

I was planning a quiet evening at home, but based on how chaotic life has been these past nine months, I should have known better.  We weren't yet out of the building when I received a
panicked call from our son Tracy that his dad wasn't feeling well. We've all had a cold this week, but Rick seemed to have survived the bug or at least hadn't yet shown signs of it.  It only took me about ten minutes to get home from the center, but to my horror, when I arrived, Rick had a temperature of 103, his hands shook, and he'd lost the strength to even get up from a sitting position.  Turned out he has a sinus infection, a relatively "simple" thing to treat unless you've had a stroke, can't swallow, and are a diabetic. Our doctor got him started on a liquid Z-pack. He's been on it since Friday along with Tylenol around the clock.  He has gotten some of his strength back, but is back in the wheel chair for now. His temperature continues to fluctuate--I'm hoping it'll break today. At least it's down to 99.1 for now. 

Oh but we make a pair these days.

As for me, I didn't immediately feel anything different after the treatment yesterday other than feeling quite bloated and tired. The huge change came the following day. The steroids I've been taking for three days (no more now until the next treatment on 3/2/12) leave a horrible sensation in my mouth. I felt terribly tired and to be honest, a bit disoriented. It's so frustrating. I'm the list person around here--usually well-organized and yet I couldn't even think straight enough to write out my grocery list.  Jessica to the rescue again. God bless her. She's going to do my shopping today. :)

Feeling a bit better this morning, but in spite of having slept well, I find that I can do one task (laundry, make the bed, fix a meal--little things) and, have to sit down and rest.

It's been an overwhelming four-month experience to say the least.  The long list of information thrown at me about the many side affect to the treatments, things I must do to over come them, and the endless list of things to avoid just make my head spin.

I can't say what tomorrow will bring except that it will be one day closer to getting well.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012



I reached a milestone of sorts yesterday.  It was my first day at work after a three-week leave since my surgery. Believe it or not, it felt good to get back into the rhythm of a work day.  Crazy, I know, but it's hard to give up a 40-year routine. And ... okay, I'll admit it. I was starting to miss everyone.


The weather certainly didn't hurt my recovery time. Can't believe how unseasonably balmy it's been in Indiana these past few weeks.  We're about an hour north of Indianapolis so if you were visiting our Hoosier state during Super Bowl weekend, you know what I'm talking about. Daffodils and crocuses have popped up out of the ground throughout the yard. I'm so ready to get to work on our flower beds. Alas, it is Indiana. Today the temperature dipped into the 30's and tonight we're in for about an inch of snow.

Now that the stress and worry of the past few months have been put to rest, I started to make a list of the things I want to do--things I hadn't done in years like sewing. My mother was an amazing seamstress so from the time I was little, I've sewn. Of course back then (30-40 years ago), making our own clothes was cost-effective.  I nearly fainted when I saw the price of a pattern these days minimum $16!!  Holy cow!  Oh well, I bought a pattern and a couple of different fabrics and enjoyed the experience all the same.  I've also been thinking of getting my oil paints out. Can't remember the last time I painted. It seems all my "hobbies" got pushed aside 10-12 years ago when I started to write fiction. Sadly the stress of the past several months sucked the life out of my creativity ... I'm pretty sure my oils are dried up too.
Note to self: Go to art supply store.


On the bright side, working on this blog lit a spark. I'm embarrassed to say how long I've been working on the third Harper novel. Suffice to say much too long. I rewrote it twice, typed myself into a corner, and can't seem to get out of the edit mode. However, I did manage to write a few new chapters last week. All I need now is the momentum to stay with it. Maybe, if all goes as planned, this is the year it'll happen and Harper can finally solve that case once and for all.

Thursday, January 26, 2012




Eighteen month old Izzy came to visit this week. She's a rambunctious English Bull with a lot of puppy still in her. Jessica has been taking care of her for us while hubby recuperates from his stroke.





She certainly made Rick's day. She's calmed down a lot and we're hoping to bring her back home this summer. We'll need to fence in a portion of the yard though for her to run in. Not the brightest when it comes to watching out for cars and we live on a corner lot. And look at those paws. She can easily knock you down, but is as gentle as they come.

I just got back from the doctor's office a few minutes ago. According the the surgeon, everything looks great. Had the staples removed and am now sporting several butterfly bandages.  Removing them wasn't nearly as painful as I thought it would be.  As the incision heals though, the skin and tissue around it pulls. My movements are still very restricted—can’t lift anything heavier than a half gallon of milk and I can’t bend over (it pulls the incision terribly).     



I did, however, find a handy tool my mother-in-law, who used to live with us, left in the closet.

I didn't realize how clumsy I was until the moment I couldn't bend over to pick things up. The old "claw" has been a life saver! LOL

 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Finally, after months of not writing, I looked through the third book in my Harper series, Grave Witness, that’s been in perpetual progress for what seems like an eternity and began to write again.

Granted, the creative juices didn’t flow back in all at once.  No, it was more like a trickle, drop by drop until I found my voice and got back into the character’s head again. 

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. My writing was always in the back of my mind. Its absence was as painful as the anticipation welling inside a child's head while he sits in his doctor's office waiting to get a shot. I knew my return wouldn't be easy and I was right. It took a lot more than desire to force myself into the old chair in front of my computer to concentrate on the plot.

Just like a runner warms up before getting on the track, I had to prep my mind which had turned to mush over the past several months I spent dealing with matters that had nothing to do with writing. Life and family comes first and don't we all know it.

At any rate, the best way to “prep” is by reading. Sometimes, I’ll read random chapters from my favorite novels and let the author's words soak in.   I also love reading about unsolved crimes and turn the clues around in my head and wonder why.  It makes for a great, “what if.” And then there are the how-to books and journals.  I have more than I can count and a few of my favorite are stacked up on my desk now as I write to remind me that if I did it before, I will do it again.
 
Sadly, that first chapter I’d written months before—the one that seemed so perfect didn’t feel terribly right any more.  It’s not a bad chapter. In fact, I actually like it. It's just not the perfect beginning. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with it. It’ll probably get bumped down possibly to third or fourth. The important thing though is that after a few days, I wrote a new beginning. It's short and may not the best--it is after all a first draft. Ironically, but not news to any writer, I spent more time on the opening paragraph—that all important portal to the rest of the book, than I did on the remaining 800 words.

Time will tell if they are the perfect opening words. Still, I tend to beat myself up when I can’t get it “right” and when that happens, I love reading quotes about writing from other author. That's when I know I'm not alone. 

Consider these little gems a pep talk.
“Never polish the first chapter until the last chapter is written.” –Tony Hillerman
“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” –Earnest Hemmingway.

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” –Sylvia Plath

“The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. There is the illusion of aliveness.” –Tim O’Brien

“To write it, it took three months; to conceive it three minutes; to collect the data in it all my life.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Writer's block…a lot of howling nonsense would be avoided if, in every sentence containing the word WRITER, that word was taken out and the word PLUMBER substituted; and the result examined for the sense it makes. Do plumbers get plumber's block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day?


The fact is that writing is hard work, and sometimes you don't want to do it, and you can't think of what to write next, and you're fed up with the whole damn business. Do you think plumbers don't feel like that about their work from time to time? Of course there will be days when the stuff is not flowing freely. What you do then is MAKE IT UP. I like the reply of the composer Shostakovich to a student who complained that he couldn't find a theme for his second movement. “Never mind the theme! Just write the movement!” he said.


Writer's block is a condition that affects amateurs and people who aren't serious about writing. So is the opposite, namely inspiration, which amateurs are also very fond of. Putting it another way: a professional writer is someone who writes just as well when they're not inspired as when they are.” ― Philip Pullman
“Writing is finally about one thing: going into a room alone and doing it. Putting words on paper that have never been there in quite that way before. And although you are physically by yourself, the haunting Demon never leaves you, that Demon being the knowledge of your own terrible limitations, your hopeless inadequacy, the impossibility of ever getting it right. No matter how diamond-bright your ideas are dancing in your brain, on paper they are earthbound.” ― William Goldman

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A New Day



We were under a winter storm watch yesterday afternoon. It started to sleet around 4 PM just about the time our son Tracy and I returned from the market. Woke up this morning to what looks like about 2-3 inches of snow. It's freezing, but the temperature is supposed to get up into the 40s tomorrow. That's how it is here in Indiana. If you don't like the weather, just stick around a minute or two.

A few days ago, I mentioned neighbors and friends and how great they've been to my family, especially over the pasts several months. As I was working on the post, I heard a snow blower outside my window. Our next door neighbor, Neil, had our front sidewalk and the walk leading up to our front door cleared off. So sweet of him. He's not in the best of health either, but that's the type of person he is. 

Jessica has been caring for our 50-pound puppy (will be 2 in July), Izzy, since last summer. She's my husband's dog and was/is more than we could handle after he went into the hospital. Izzy is well ... massive and doesn't understand she's not a lap dog--granted she gets away with it. Anyway, Jess took her to the vet this morning for her annual check up and shots. Doing well--still holding her girlish figure.




Moo is mine. :)







I started to work on my novel again this week. It's the first time since May that I've had the clarity of mind to do so and I'm feeling quite good about it. So wonderful to finally feel as if the worse is behind us.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Angel of Courage




Great news today!

The pathology report came back negative on the six additional lymph nodes they removed on 1/12.  Now it’s on to the next step in the process--the first round of chemo in about four weeks.

The surgeon removed the drainage tubes from my side about an hour ago which were causing me discomfort this week. Feels SO much better.

Our daughter Jessica gave me this angel of courage the day before my mastectomy. Today it's doing a victory dance!!

I have to admit I still can't quite wrap my head around this. All I know is that I've received a new lease on life I didn't even know I needed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Friends

Where would we be without them? 

I've lived in Muncie since I was 13 and have worked at the local university for 31 years. In that time, you might say I've met a few people. Some have been passing acquaintances while others have become dear friends.

From the first day I took Rick to the hospital on June 3, to the day I announced I had cancer in November, my work colleagues have been absolutely amazing. Everyday someone would bring in a piece of pie or soup, some brought in casseroles for me to take home so I wouldn't have to cook. Some days I'd go into my office to find a card on my desk.

One friend bought me Danielle and Oliver Follmi's, "Latin American Wisdom for Every Day Revelations" ... just because... (she knows of my Spanish heritage and knew I'd love it)  while another gave me a 2012 daily planner that includes a daily biblical verse. It's already jam packed with appointments through March. :)  Nearly every day, one of my work pals has stopped by to ask about Rick and/or Jessica and Tracy. Often our talks end with a hug.  I returned to work in December after my first surgery to find a beautiful Poinsettia and card from my co-workers. Imagine the ripples my latest news caused.

Sometimes friends are waiting for us in the least expected places. One of my regular stops on campus is the post office located in our student center. I usually go there at least every other week and over time, I've gotten to know the ladies who work there on a casual basis. Our conversations usually revolve around the weather, etc. A few weeks ago, I needed to drop off some mail which included several payments to doctors, etc. I told the attendant about Rick's stroke, she shared a similar experience with a loved one. We chatted a bit more while I waited for my change, and then  went back to my office. Two or three days later, I opened my mail at home to find a note from her assuring me 2012 would be better and a gift certificate for a free coffee. I hardly know her, but the fact that she took to the time to show her concern is more heart-warming than I can possible say.

These are a few of the cards I've recently received from family and friends. Some are hilarious! Love them!

When I began to write fiction in 2002-03 I joined numerous online writers groups. Over the years, several of these writers and I became friends. Most I've never met, some I've talked to on the phone, but for the most part, our friendships have developed and grown through the wonder of e-mails.We've shared in each others joys and triumphs as well the losses over the years. We've exchanged photos of our children, pets, and gardens. We've helped each other edit our books and shared a few jokes.  The point is, every morning I wake up to countless encouraging e-mails from people I've never met, know like the palm of my hand, and who simple want me to know I'm in their prayers. One of my writer friends, has sent me a card on a weekly basis. Wow!

No list of friends would be complete without a mention of our fantastic neighbors. Not a day goes by when one of them doesn't call or e-mail or offers to run an errand, or take one of us to the doctor, etc. Love you guys!!

So I have to laugh whenever I pre-register at the hospital for a procedure and they asked, "Do you live in a safe environment? Do you have a support system?" God love them, if they only knew.

Thank you all for your kindness!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

In typical Indiana style, the weather has been crazy. A bitter four degrees on Sunday, a high of 54 by the end of the week. This morning I woke up to the sound of pouring rain. I think I'll do some writing today. It's time.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The days leading up to the surgery on Friday morning were far worse than the surgery itself. Within two hours, I was in recovery and when I came to, I was amazed at how well I felt--no pain, no nausea or dizziness. Yay! I spent the night in the outpatient surgery center--lucky me I was the only patient in the ward and slept like a baby.  It's amazing what rest can do to lower your blood pressure. It dropped from 154/70 to 113/35 which  is normal for me. I have to say the only discomfort I have are the two drainage tubes/bulbs that thankfully keep fluids from pooling in my body.

By early Saturday afternoon, the temperature had remained at a steady 14 degrees, but the house was filled with the smell of the pot roast that had been cooking in the crock pot since around ten that morning. I sent out a few e-mails to several nieces/nephews and friends after which I spent a wonderful leisurely day playing Monopoly and watching movies with my family.

It was still bitter cold here in Indiana yesterday. At least the sun was out and for a few hours in the afternoon, I sat near a sunny window reading, "Writing Lessons You Can Learn From The Master ... Write Like Hemingway."  It actually reads more like a biography, but it's interesting. I have so many books stacked up and waiting to be read. Thought I'd start with this one in the hopes it would inspire me to write again.

I'm seeing the surgeon again today. Hope he's able to remove the tubes.