Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Sometimes it's like housework...

"It's not all beer and skittles", they say, and it's true. Sometimes, life is harder than we'd like it to be, the cards we are dealt are not the cards we'd like. I was talking to a poker-playing friend once, and I wondered aloud how the heck anyone could want to play a game where the odds are apparently stacked against you. His response was fairly simple. He said that in poker you get to fold, take a little loss, and come back in the next hand. That and you can work out the odds, or you can bluff and still win with a poorer hand.

The hand I currently hold doesn't seem to be entirely a strong one. I have an Ace of hearts in Christine, a Queen of hearts in Tess (who is 10½), but for the most part, I feel that I have dross in the rest of my hand. Not that I'm going to fold, not that I'm going to lose entirely, but playing the hand right is important for me and the rest of the family.

Christine is treatment-weary, the chemo is hard on her both physically and mentally. I'm treatment-weary too, just in a different way. One of the things that I am finding as a carer is that I feel I should always be doing stuff. If it's not making drinks, or meals, or juice, it's laundry or housekeeping or shopping. If I'm not doing one of these things, I tend to feel guilty. I fret if I'm sitting and relaxing. I agonise if I sit down to write.

I was talking with my sister-in-law a few days ago, and she came up with an expression that I'm going to share here. To put it into its proper context, we were talking about why some doctors really seem to enjoy their jobs, and some don't. Part of her reply was this - I think lots don't enjoy it because it isn't what they thought. They thought they would make people better. But it turns out to be messy and complex and the person gets sick again, damn it. It's like housework.

Well, what do you know. That's just like looking after someone with cancer. You do a thing, and do it well, only to have to do it all over again soon afterward. Chemo is like dusting. While it's going on, it seems never to end. There's always more tiredness, always more painful and inconvenient symptoms, always the fatigue. What respite there may be after a few days is too short-lived. The dust will be back on the bookcase all too soon, and out comes the feather duster once more.

This is how it is - if Christine stays in, I stay in unless there's an errand to run. Once she goes out, then I feel free to go out myself.

That's the tiring bit, that doing it all over. So why do we do it? I don't know about doctors, but I do know this. Looking after Christine (and Tess too) is a lot more rewarding than you might think. We know right now that Christine has no evidence of disease (NED, nice acronym from her oncologist), and the last round of three sessions is an insurance policy. Whilst it's expensive (in terms of the short-term suffering), it's worthwhile in the long term. Even if all this means just a few years (and we're hoping to beat all the odds), it will be worth it.

I am starting to realise that the way to tackle this is not to try and do it all at once. Vacuum the living room carpet, have a cup of tea. Tidy those books away, sit and read a few chapters. Make the bed with clean sheets, treat yourself to a wee snooze, not forgetting to set an alarm. For the love and the pride and the honour and the joy, I carry on. I just need to remember to take some time to look after me, too.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Spit or Swallow? Truly a beer to cheer.

So here's a funny thing. I recently wrote an article on the topic of American beer, having sampled many exotic beers in the past few years. Imagine my was utter delight when I stumbled upon (I avoided saying "came across") this delightful label in the Davis Food Co-op.

Now I'm not normally given to judging a book by its binding, any more than I buy a beer based on the label. This time, however, the New York Shmaltz Brewing Company did it for me, with one of their "Freak Beer" brews.

Now did I say "exotic" or "erotic" earlier? Because here's a practically pornographic freak snake blow-job fetishist beer label from Hell, that manages to hide a beer that is almost certainly from Heaven.

Thankfully, the label is not the only thing that stands out. The beer itself is reminiscent of Hoegaarden, a weissbier-styled lager with a sweet and slightly spicy finish. It's malty enough for me, and hoppy enough to stay balanced from the first sniff to the last swallow, and with a 22-ounce bottle, there is, thankfully, plenty of swallow to go around.

I managed to procure the last two in the store, one of which I gave as a birthday gift to a friend (Hi, Tom!), one of which four of us demolished at home. Sadly, that wasn't enough, and I eagerly await the arrival of the next batch at the Co-op, so that I may chase the snake to my heart's content.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Fingernails and whatnot; it's all about the chemo

So we're down to the last round of three chemo treatments, which will start in a little over a week. Meantime, Christine gets a week off (no chemo this Friday!) and I will be taking three weeks of leave to nurse her through those last few dreadful days.

Chemotherapy is hard, let no-one deceive you by saying otherwise. In addition to the reduction in skin growth (tender skin and a painful and less-effective digestive system), there's neuropathy (a reduction in peripheral nerve sensation), hair loss and now, to cap it all, painful fingernails. Yes, her fingernails are not growing properly. Her nail beds are painful, so picking things up, cooking, typing - all these things are now painful. Oh, and did I mention mouth sores? Shame on me.

It's hard to be a carer. Watching the one you love suffering because everything hurts, there's a lot of emotional pain that goes along with that. Coupled with the fact that the medical bills are flowing in at a time when the State of California has enforced two furlough days a month to save money, and everything's under stress.

What could be worse? Well, how about my being suspended from work for three days? Yes, that's what's happened. This was after I had been called into work on my day off for the disciplinary meeting. Truly it was Saint Bastard's Day. So now I have a few days to kick about at home, wondering what happens when the disciplinary action is re-opened, and what happens when (if?) I am able to return to work. Time to worry about paying bills, putting food on the table, time to worry about Christine's future (both health- and job-wise). Time to make a new start? Possibly. Watch this space.

On the upside, the trees are starting to show green, shoots and flowers are appearing all over the oche, and life is rearing its delightful head. Hope? Always.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Scribble. Like Scrabble, only sillier.

One of the great joys of holidays is being able to relax and enjoy the scenery. Now today is Lincoln's birthday, and we're up stayng with friends in the delightful Capay Valley, and right just now I'm enjoying a game of Scrabble, which is in itself a great joy, provided it's not taken too seriously, which as you can see from the picture above, it's not.

Getting to confound my American friends with British English spellings and usages is also part of the fun, but Jim trumped me with "Plutoish"; a planet resembling Pluto. Well done.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

The last few rounds

So we had some good news recently. In short, Christine's cancer seems to be on the run, at least for the moment. When she was first diagnosed, we were devastated to learn that we the docs weren't looking to cure it, rather to manage it as a "chronic disease". Since then, the various chemo drugs have taken their toll. She's tired, her body aches, she's nauseous and has little appetite.

The change from the original Taxol drug to the newer Paclitaxel NAD has given us a couple of breaks. Firstly, the Paclitxel does seem to produce less neuropathy, so the feeling in her feet and toes is returning. Secondly, it turns out that the new drug gives a better response rate, which is good for the long-term outlook.

All this means that Christine can carry on her ballet lessons. In fact (and I'm proud of her for this!) she recently did some pointe work for the first time. Given that this was a long-term dream for her, see why I'm so proud of the acheivement, not just that she did it, but did it partway through a long and arduous chemotherapy regime. It may not sound like much, but from the look on her face it was worth every moment and every penny, by gum.

After thanking Doctors Dollbaum and Laptalo, I'd like to reserve a moment of silence for the insurance company. Silence, because I lack the words to describe how I feel about you, Anthem Healthcare. Thank you for picking up the Paclitxel, no thanks for declining the anti-nausea drug. Having a wife whose belly is in turmoil is no picnic, and taking a swipe at her quality of life over a few dollars strikes me as pretty bloody poor. They say that the new regime causes less nausea. Well, they are right, but the statistics show that 3% of patients suffer extreme nausea and vomiting. Guess what? Christine is in that 3%, you unspeakable gits.

Speaking of quality of life, I find myself struggling at this point. Goodness knows how Christine is coping, fraught with worries about the future, and with a body poised on the brink of falling apart from the inside. All I have to do is make a few meals, juice her now and again, and try to keep her spirits up. God knows I try, and God knows I fail all too often.

I'm angry. Angry that the damned cancer came back, angry over the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies squeezing every penny for their shareholders. Angry that we have to fight for better treatment, angry that we fail. Angry at myself for failing to cope, angry that I'm probably not looking after myself as I should, which means that ultimately, I'm not best able to look after my family.

I find myself snapping at them, snarling at the world outside, being grouchy and grumpy. And inevitably, we fight. Every weekend, Christine tells me. I have to take her word for this, as I'm not tracking. Only today really exists. Yesterday is a ghost of time, tomorrow is so uncertain.

Finally, I'm sorry. Sorry I rant. Sorry I shout. Sorry I vent and want to throw things. Sorry I'm not caring as I feel I should.