Blog Archive

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Can't Wait!

I'm so excited for the Thanksgiving holiday--not only because I get to make a delicious meal but also because we get to spend 4 whole days with my parents and our doggies. (They've had to stay with my in-laws every weekend thus far.) We've seen my parents every weekend for the last, what, 6 weeks, but it is always so brief and we're always so busy. This time we'll (hopefully) have some down-time to hang around together in the family room with a firing going. There are some holiday movies out that my mom is interested in maybe a movie, too. We'll see.

Last weekend Dave and I took a huge cooler full of all the Thanksgiving ingredients we've been hoarding away in our deep freeze over the last year. I'm making an almost-completely locally grown meal. The turkey is a heritage variety from the Central Valley; all the fruit for pies is from my in-laws orchard or wildlands around their house; many of the herbs are from my garden; the greens are from my garden and from a farm in Winters; we'll make homemade bread for the stuffing; wild mushrooms picked up in Gualala. It is going to be delicious! We can even drink home-pressed mulled apple cider.

Dave has to work a full day up in Gualala today and won't get into Davis until about 10pm. I have TONS of lab work to do (so why am I wasting time writing a blog post?) and an experiment to run before I leave tonight. I could have put it off even longer and waited until next week but I just want to get it done.

Ok...time for a meeting...then class...then lunch...then back to the lab to leach my composts with salt solution. Fun! Have a great Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bye Bye Hair

This weekend was another spent in Livermore. Friday night, though, Dave and I went out to sushi with some friends here in Davis. It was a nice change of pace, for sure.

Saturday evening Mommy and I went to Anita's salon. When the stylist realized that Mommy's hair had been falling out for a few days, she asked the owner (Mark) to come talk to my mom about her options. My mom thought that she'd have a couple more weeks to deal with her hair before it fell out completely. Unfortunately, Mark explained, she probably wouldn't make it one more week without losing all her hair. The people at Anita's certainly didn't force her to cut all her hair off, but did recommend it so she wouldn't have to deal with clumps of it falling out at home.

So...she agreed to have Mark shave her head down to about 1/8th of an inch. She winced while he did it, which made me feel sad for her. After she put her glasses back on and surveyed her head she just rolled her eyes, chuckled a little, and asked me to pick out some hats for her to wear. We picked a cute pink night cap, a plain brown beanie, a nice light blue scarf/cap thing, and a pretty pink floral cap. After a long head massage/shampooing (with shampoo specially made for chemo patients) she bravely pulled on her cap and we headed up to the register.

She didn't want me to tell my dad or Dave about her bald head--she wanted to walk into the house and see how long it would take for them to notice! Haha! We ended up meeting them at Emil Villa's (where else?) in the parking lot. They both did a double-take when they saw her and then smiled. Like she said "it is only hair and it will grow back."

This weekend I became "Nurse Julie" at the house. On Sunday she took a shower while I read an Oprah magazine in the bedroom in case she needed help. She hadn't been able to shower since October and she was a little nervous about it. We installed a shower stool and a hose for the shower head so she wouldn't have to move her arms too much. First I had to cover up the chest catheter with tape and Saran wrap so it wouldn't get wet. The after the shower I changed the dressing on the chest wound from her lung drainage tube. The wound looks like a bullet hole in her chest. It is about the size of a nickel and is filled with white goop--not puss, I don't think, but probably surgical adhesive. Still, it was a little gross. I made my dad look at it in case it gets worse he'll have something to compare it to.

The rest of my weekend was full of cooking meals, eating, washing dishes, doing laundry, changing bedsheets and bathroom towels, and generally tending to my mom's needs. It is a lot of work being the "woman of the house" for two households! But I'm glad to do it. I admit, though, that I couldn't stand doing all this without having Dave with me each weekend. The first weekend I went to Livermore to see my mom Dave had to work. I was so stressed out and depressed after that weekend. Since then my stress level has lightened greatly (despite all the other crap that has come up--like the sudden disappearance of my school funding) and I'm feeling much more upbeat. Every weekend gets a little easier but I know it wouldn't be as nice without Dave. Just knowing he's around makes all the difference. Plus he's a HUGE help to my dad with all the cleaning...and my mom absolutely loves having him around. But who wouldn't? =o) (I love you, my baby.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mommy's New 'Do

In all my life, my mom has had long, dark hair. It has been rumored that in high school she had very short, curly hair like all other 1960's teens...but I'm not so sure I believe it. But now it is short and sweet.

Until the last day of her 5 week hospital stay, she had a drainage tube coming out of her back and she was connected to a fluid collection box all the time. It was a nuisance for her to walk further than the sink to brush her teeth or use her portable commode so she didn't shower at all. (She did bathe, but her hair was never truly washed. A few times the nurses used a dry shampoo shower cap thing on her hair but it do anything to degrease her hair. I'm pretty sure those caps are completely useless.)

In downtown Livermore there's a great little salon called Anita's Salon & Scalp Clinic that specializes in cancer patients and other people losing their hair (they are a full salon, too, if you just want a cut or color). They fit people for wigs and have all sorts of products for irritated scalps. The ladies there are so wonderful, patient, and understanding.

My mom's hair was still in the braids I'd made two weeks previously, so we weren't yet sure if her hair was falling out from the chemo. After it was combed, we tugged at her scalp but didn't see any hair coming out.

So the lady washed my mom's hair about 4 times with yummy-smelling minty stuff. My mom was in absolute heaven, let me tell you. She just laid back in the comfy chair and closed her eye as the lady massaged her scalp. Once it was clean, she moved back to the big chair and had her hair cut into a really cute, short bob. The layering in the back make it look much fuller.

I think it looks fabulous. She looks really gaunt in this picture, which I guess she is these days, but it isn't nearly as obvious in person:
I made her a standing appointment at the salon for every Saturday afternoon to have her hair/head washed. (I'll ask the lady to give her a good 40 minute she can bliss out for a while.)


Monday, November 17, 2008

Mommy is Home!

Dave and I got to pick my mom up from the hospital on Friday night after eating dinner with my dad at Emil Villa's (where else would we eat?).

Her chest drainage tube was removed on Thursday after the third medication injection did its magic and stopped the fluid build-up. By the time we arrived in her hospital room she'd already packed up her stuff into a box and a few grocery bags labeled "personal belongings." She was still in her hospital gown because the nurse still needed to remove the needle from her breast where the chemotherapy is pumped in.

After all that was taken care of the nurse came in with a bunch of papers for her to sign and review--things like OTC medications to purchase, doctors' phone numbers, and when she should schedule appointments with her new collection of physicians. I will have to scan them later so we'll have a more permanent record--all these forms are hard to read carbon copies.

I can't say that she was super excited to leave the hospital. In fact, she admitted to trying to convince the doctor to let her stay another night but he wouldn't let her! She said being in the hospital was so nice because it was like being in a hotel. I keep reassuring her that I will take care of cleaning the house every weekend and she won't have to prepare her own meals. In time she'll see that being back at the house will be calm and relaxing for her.

While she was gone at the hospital my dad, Dave, and I tackled the HUGE mess that was our house. My mom had basically never thrown anything out since I was born. Most rooms were so cluttered that they were impassable. I honestly don't know where it all came from--the house wasn't that cluttered when I was in high school. Anyway, we worked for about 10 hours a day for 4 full weekends. And the house is looking darn near perfect. We still have two rooms to deal with, but we're so close. I was a little worried that she'd be angry when she saw that all the stuff was gone (mostly thrown away or donated; only useful and sentimental stuff kept) but she seemed really pleased. I think it was so close to completely cleaned that she figured there was no use in complaining. She actually got into the spirit and helped me clear out her medicine cabinets and go through old clothes in her closet!

We were very careful and considerate when rearranging the furnishings in the house, keeping in mind her preferences. I made her room look like a bed-and-breakfast, complete with wall sconces, an antique secretary, and floral pictures. She really, really liked it. She always wanted a fancy guest room in the house so we turned Edward's room into one, using her parent' matching maple bed frame and dresser, which we paired with my other grandparents' maple nightstands and brass lamps.

My old bedroom is my dad's new computer and ammunition reloading room (charming, I know). The room has no windows, only a skylight so it is good for projects and less good for sleeping-in, trust me. We'll get an oak Murphy Bed for Dave and me to sleep on when we visit (I'm becoming very familiar with all things Murphy it seems!). I've requested a queen size since our dogs will insist on sleeping with us in the bed.

Having my mom home has been so wonderful for me. I love hearing her shuffle around the house because it makes me remember that cancer is not her most overwhelming trait. Hearing her doing regular things around the house like chat on the phone, get a glass of water, flip through a magazine, and brush her teeth remind me that cancer does not define her.

She's still very weak and becomes short of breath when she walks around the house. Her strength will return as she gains weight and continues to exercise her muscles by walking around.

Prayers are still needed as she continues to receive her chemo treatments, and cards sent to her in the mail are always welcome. I appreciate the kind words and prayers from everyone that we've received so far. It has has helped so, so much.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Murphey's Law

Everyone knows about Murphey's Law: "everything that can go wrong, will go wrong." In my case, it seems to have happened all at once. Allow me to recount my recent misfortunes:

1. My great uncle passed away. The day after we returned from his funeral...

2. My mom ended up in the hospital and has been there for over a month so far, then...

3. The pump in my parents' well quit working while we were in the midst of cleaning their house in preparation for my mom's (eventual) return home. This required us to have a lovely weekend of flushing toilets with buckets of rainwater, washing our hands with rainwater, not showering, and not doing dishes (no complaints here!). My dad then had to dedicate too much time contacting various well companies and dealing with replacing the pump. But I'm happy to report that they have water once again.

4. Then we hear that Edward hurt his ankle playing soccer. This doesn't affect me so much, but it still sucks.

Just when I thought things couldn't get worse (that's a line from a Shania Twain song...) Edward, Dave, and I decided to go on a cheap cruise over the holidays since we've all been so distracted lately. Apparently, right when I was making the reservations this afternoon, Mr. Murphey decided to have a little more fun with me...

When I got home from baby sitting this evening, my labmate/housemate, Eric, was standing in the driveway looking really pissed off. He asked me if our other labmate, Rebecca, had called me when I was baby sitting. I got worried, thinking she was hurt or something. She's fine he assured me, but...

6. We've all been laid off. Rebecca and I are the other ones who are still on the payroll because we're students and our stipends were set aside for the whole quarter. So after December I guess I have no job in my lab. Without money for my student fees/tuition I can't even remain a student for the next quarter. Hopefully I will be able to find a TA position or another source of funding (like with another professor, although lots of other labs have lost funding recently, too, because many funding agencies in CA have put their grants on an indefinite hold until the economy recovers). If all else fails I'll baby sit full time or work for my father-in-law.

So now I'm left wondering what else bad can possibly happen? There are of course numerous things that can go wrong at any given time but I won't list them because that's just depressing. Instead I'm going to go make up a huge batch of Cook Su to put into the freezer for lunches next week and watch some old episodes of Desperate Housewives until Dave gets here.

All in all, I'm very grateful to be in a position where I can laugh at most of my misfortune. There are many, many people suffering job loss, disease, war, etc. right now and I'm thankful that I'm not one of them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"How's Jane?"

People are always asking me "how's your mom?" and sometimes I just don't know how to answer. My canned (but honest) response is that she's in good spirits and is much more comfortable now that she can breathe again. But then I mention the caveat that she has stage four cancer and her lung won't stop over-producing fluid.

She's been in the hospital now for over a month. Here's the long-winded version of how she's doing:

She's in high spirits and her body is doing really well with the chemotherapy treatments. So far she's had 3 treatments. They give her a bunch of medications for nausea so she hasn't felt the ill effects yet. She was told that her hair would start falling out after the 2nd treatment...but since she refuses to have anything more than a sponge bath while in the hospital (for over a month!!!), she doesn't yet know if her hair is indeed falling out. For the first few weekends I was home, I'd spend most of our ~2 hour hospital visits brushing and braiding her hair (she loves it when people do her hair). This last visit I didn't...I think because the greasiness of her hair grossed me out and because I was afraid it would all fall out. She said she'd like to get a really short hair cut when she gets home and then just shave later her head to avoid the whole issue.

I finally spoke to the oncologist today (not because I didn't trust what my mom was telling me but because I wanted to hear it "from the horse's mouth" and find out if there was any other information that didn't get passed on). He confirmed that she's in stage 4 metastatic breast cancer (stage 4 means metastatic so that's a bit redundant--it means that the breast cancer is the origin of the cancer but it has spread to other locations, her lungs and bones). The chemo treatments are being done not to "cure" the cancer but simply to halt the progression. She'll receive the chemo for a few months, then they'll redo all the x-rays to determine if it has worked.

The only reason she is still in the hospital is because they need to wait until her lung fluid stops accumulating. I think she'll probably be home in time for Thanksgiving, but no one can be sure. It'll be quite an adjustment for her to be at home though since we've removed like 90% of the "stuff" from the house (mostly garbage she never threw away and old clothes she was keeping for unknown reasons). We've also found all of my and Edward's old baby clothes and baby toys. Many are in mint condition (even brand new in the packaging!) so we're keeping all that stuff stashed away for when we have our own kids. Since I was the only girl in the family, my grandma made me tons of clothes...poor Edward wore hand-me-downs from the Jones Family so most of his clothing didn't survive being piled-up for 20+ years. Hopefully at least one of us will have a baby girl because Lord knows we have enough gorgeous dresses and rompers for one!

Because she's not walked more than the two steps to her commode in the last month, she is much weaker now than before (muscle atrophy) but the doctor says that'll probably go away once she's not confined to the lung-drainage gizmo and she can walk around again. Her hands shake like crazy when she tries to lift anything heavier than the telephone. This freaked me out at first but today the doctor said that's probably just from lack of exercise.

She'll probably be able to drive when she gets out of the hospital (although not to her chemo treatments), but first we'll have to get her a newer vehicle and she'll have to regain her strength. For the last 22 years she's been driving what our family calls the Swedish Death Star--her tan 1986 Volvo sedan that just won't quit. (It has been in accidents, had pieces fall off of it, the seats, doors, clutch, and AC have all been replaced multiple times and the DMV even changed it's status to "totaled" after one accident but she bought it back from them anyway and got my dad to make it drivable.) We'll get her a minivan or something that doesn't require climbing into the cab (like my parents' truck) or any knee bending to get into a sitting position (like most sedans). It'll have air conditioning, a working speedometer, heat, defrost, working locks and door handles--you know, all the "regular" functions you expect from a car but which her current car lacks.

My ultimate question to the doctor was if he knew how long she would live. He said there is no way to pinpoint a timeline for any given patient but that on average (notice the bold font) patients with stage 4 breast cancer live ~3 years--many live less than that and many live more than that. He encouraged me to remain in school full-time right now since we don't and can't know what will happen until we see how she does with her treatments.

This is all I know, and it turns out to be exactly what my mom had told us all along. I feel much better after talking to the doctor--it sounds like we should hope for the best (she can return to a normal but modified life at home while undergoing treatment) but thinking about preparing for the worst (getting the house ready for a wheelchair, hospital bed, getting finances in order, etc.).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day

Since today is a UC holiday, I got to baby sit little Teo all day. We had a fabulous day together...I don't know where our 9 hours went!

In the morning I put him in the backpack and hauled him around the kitchen while I made a loaf of olive bread. Then after his morning nap we loaded all the plastic recycling into the stroller and walked over to the Second Street recycling place. I brought all of my own plastic recycling stuff, too, but inadvertently left it in my bike basket so I'll have to drop mine off tomorrow. It sure would be nice if we could dump ALL plastics into the curbside bins. I don't know about other cities but in Davis the garbage people only pick up numbers 1 and 2. It's not that big of a deal but I eat a lot of cottage cheese and yogurt and all those containers are number 6.

As most of you know by now, Dave and I spend every weekend in Livermore now. We're there to see my mom for a few hours everyday in the hospital and the rest of our time is spent cleaning out her house. I can't even count the number of bags of trash and donation stuff we've hauled away. Once all the junk is gone we're left with pretty much a blank slate in each room--we decided a new couch was in order for the family room since the one we had was old, orange, and falling apart. I love shopping for home furnishings--so much so that Dave has to keep reminding me to "focus!" and stop looking for stuff for our own house.

I did buy one thing for our house: an amazing wooden rocking chair. It is big and has great back support. I looooooooooooooooove it. I've been keeping an eye out for a nice one for when we have a baby (don't get your hopes up...we're not having a baby any time soon...I just like to plan ahead). Many rocking chairs and gliders sold at baby stores are cheaply made, fall apart in a short amount of time, and are too small for bottle feeding or nursing. When I worked at the church baby nursery in college we had various gliders from Babys R Us and they were such junk! The support rails fell off, the hardware broke, and they were too small to hold a grown woman, a boppy pillow, and a baby all at the same time. Ridicilous, if you ask me. Anyway, my new rocking chair is sturdy, comfortable, and large. Dave helped me haul it into the living room on Sunday before he drove up to Gualala. I've been enjoying it while watching TV ever since.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Halloween 2008

Since we actually had a Halloween party to go to this year (and I didn't have a midterm the next morning like other years), I really wanted to dress up like Beauty and the Beast with Dave. But circumstances changed and I didn't have time or inclination to find a costume rental place.

So we dressed up as a pair of electrons. I was down spin and he was up spin and together we were a perfectly matched pair. Just like in real life. =)

Don't make fun of us. You know you're jealous.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Mom's Hospitalization

My mom FINALLY told her brother about her hospitalization. He's been on vacation overseas for the last few weeks and she wanted to make sure that he heard about it from her first, which is why I hadn't posted much about it or leaked too many details on Facebook, lest my Halliday relatives get the bad news that way.

I will post a time-line of the whole thing later on, so I can document my reactions along the way. It has been an interesting (albeit distressful and heart-wrenching) experience and my reactions have evolved a lot over the last three weeks. And it isn't over yet.

Here's the email I sent out to everyone. If you didn't receive my email it is probably because I don't have your address. My apologies.

Dear friends and family,

I just wanted to write everyone a quick note about my mom's recent hospitalization.

On Sunday, October 12 she was admitted to the hospital due to fluid build-up in her chest, which had caused her discomfort and difficulty breathing for a long time. Her health began to deteriorate rapidly over the last few months to the point that she was unable to walk, stand, or even speak without wheezing and struggling to breathe. A group of her friends (along with her pastor) confronted her that Sunday and urged her to seek medical treatment. Without that intervention, she would probably not be with us today.

The root of her breathing problem appears to be advanced breast cancer, which has spread to her lungs and bones. She has now been in the hospital for over 3 weeks and she will have to remain there until the fluid build-up in her chest has been mediated. She may undergo a surgical procedure later this week to remove the malfunctioning pleural cavity so that her left lung can work at full capacity once again. (A handful of other treatments have been tried, but to no avail.)

Her weekly chemotherapy treatments began last Monday. We're all hopeful that these treatments will do their magic and halt the spread of cancer. We're also hopeful that she'll be able to come home soon (until then we're busy readying the house for the possibility of wheelchair accessibility and sit-down showering).

The support from my mom's Livermore friends has been amazing--she actually had so many visitors her first week in the hospital that she complained to me about not having time for a nap!

As you know, my mom *loves* receiving short notes and cards in the mail. If you would like to send her a get-well-soon note you can mail it to my parents' house in Livermore. (If you would like her address, please leave a comment on the blog or email me.)

My entire family would benefit from the power of positive thinking and prayer from all of you right now. My mom needs "get well" wishes while the rest of our family could use prayers for concentration on our regular work/school duties.

Thanks in advance for keeping my mom in your thoughts,