Scans and Musings

It has been quite awhile since I have written about my health. I have been traveling quite a bit and most of it on my own. I did three cardio classes at the YMCA today after my scans this morning at the hospital. It was nice to know that I was missed. One of the older ladies I dance with has a brother who has cancer. I have seen her with him at the cancer center at my hospital in Omaha. The two of them went to the pink out game at Creighton University this past Saturday and watched the basketball game. She brought a pink Creighton vs. Cancer shirt for me today to class. It was so very unexpected and so very appreciated. Now I have something pink to wear during workouts on Valentine’s Day. Anyhow, as one person so aptly put it to me this weekend, “I never thought you would make it this long.” Well, I have and contrary to popular belief, it is a battle every day. No, I am not being hooked up to nasty chemo treatments every week. I have been there and done that. However, the nasty little white pill I take every day and those 2-inch needles in my hip every 4 weeks cause their own havoc in my body. Those side effects I deal with every day. When I watch the news, I have noticed they always lead with the horrible, shock-factor story to grab everyone’s attention. Since I have survived 3 years with a terminal disease, people…friends and acquaintances….and even some family members have stepped away. The horrible shock factor is no longer present….it has been over three years and I didn’t become a bald skeleton and become super sick. I did give up my hair for several months and I was very very sick at first due to a rare reaction to a chemo drug, but I have been fighting to make my story one of a person who fought each day with the cards she was dealt and tried to live her life to the fullest. So, I don’t bother telling most people about my scans anymore…. or treatment days. Those hospital visits used to be like notches on my belt – the things I survived to do again. My Joe was all about supporting me making those notches. I usually have at least one or two tears either in the waiting room or in the scanning machine knowing I won’t be getting a call from him directly afterwards, like he almost always did. A lot of stuff (feel free to insert a stronger word there) has been going on in my life the last few years and people are tired of hearing about my woes. Heck, I am tired of it. It exhausts me to carry it all the time and deal with it daily. So, I understand people stepping away. However, for the handful of people who have stayed with me through thick and thin and all the crap that life has thrown me lately, I want you to know that I truly treasure you. For the rest of you, I ask you not to give up on me. I am so, so tired from everything I have been dealing with lately….so much more than I am willing to share in this forum. I am not up for entertaining visitors or going out. It is just too tiring to try and put on a half-way happy face in public. Life is full of peaks and valleys and currently I am in a valley. However, I am using a photographer’s eye in this valley of my life to look at the beauty around me…. because it is still there. I just have to look harder for it. As for those scans…I don’t have an appointment with my local oncologist yet to hear the results. I have an email into his nurse, who should either release the results to my online chart so I can read it, or maybe she will call to set up an appointment. I will let you know when I know what the results are. Either way, I meet with my sarcoma specialist from the Mayo Clinic next week via zoom to discuss my treatment plan.

I would like to finish with two things that I have found interesting over the last couple of days. One is the lesson of being kind. You never know what battles someone is waging that you don’t know about. When I was driving home from Texas, I stopped at a gas station just south of the Oklahoma border. I filled up my tank and then went in to use the restroom. I have lived in cold weather climates for the better part of my adult life. When you come into a store, especially during the wintertime when there is so much snow, dirt, snirt (snow and dirt mix – if you have ever lived in a northern tier state, you know what I mean!), and salt out there, it is polite to wipe your feet on the mats just inside the door. There wasn’t any snow (although there had been 4 days prior) but out of habit, I voraciously wiped my feet on the mats inside the door. The man behind the counter said to me, “I have a dog that does that in my back yard – right before he shits. You aren’t going to shit on my floor, are you?” I kid you not, this was a direct quote. I know because he repeated himself because I literally just stared at him flabbergasted that he had said this to a complete stranger…and a customer. His coworker, a woman, told him he was weird. I told him, “I was just trying to be nice.” This man had no idea that I had stage IV cancer and CT scans looming over my head in a few days. He had no idea that I lost my oldest son less than a year ago and that I still cry for him every day. This man had no idea that I had just left my parents with my mom being alone for the first time in 55 years and my dad confused in a memory care unit. He didn’t know anything about me. He could have been kind. He wasn’t. I am sure he thought he was being funny. Stuff like that would have gotten a pretty strong retort back a year ago. This time, that stupid comment broke me. I drove down the highway in tears because it was just one more thing. Really, the only thing that snapped me out of it was imagining my Joe decking him, because he would have for someone speaking to his mama that way. Lily and I once went to Sam’s Club years ago. She was little but still remembers the whole thing. I was trying to get one of those gigantic Sam’s Club carts free from the line of carts folded together. I tugged and tugged and got one loose. A woman was behind me waiting her turn to do the same action for her cart. I gave her mine and started tugging on the next one for us to take. I turned around and she was crying. I immediately asked her if she was okay. She had just lost her mom and this tiny act of kindness tipped her over the edge. The world had been going on around her while she was grieving, and no one was being nice to her. So I hugged a complete stranger in the Sam’s Club corral because she needed it. So please, be kind. You never know what someone is dealing with.

The other thought I found interesting was told to me just tonight at my cardio class. The instructor is a pastor’s wife, and she is such a compassionate person. We have ended out class praying over women in the class before. She always ends her class with “exercise for your heart.” She tells us that we have worked our muscles and our heart is a muscle as well. She then will read a story, a quote, or some type of inspirational reading to us to think on for the week to be better people. This is why I always try to attend her class. She only teaches on Monday nights. Tonight, she talked about whether you are a thermometer or a thermostat. A thermometer just reflects the temperature of the room. Is it gossipy or crude? Are we lowering our standards as a person to fit the temperature of the room? Instead, we should be a thermostat: someone who can bring up the room with happiness, thoughtfulness, compassion. The mercury in thermometers is poisonous. Don’t be a thermometer. Be a thermostat and make an impact on people versus letting them control you. I thought that was a pretty interesting concept…so wanted to share it.

Houston Trip

Many of you know I returned on a Friday night (Jan 13th) from Florida. I did laundry, reintroduced myself to Rich, Lily, and Tallinn (although Rich and Lily were gone all weekend with prior engagements) and turned around and drove to Houston that Monday morning. I drove as far as Fort Worth, TX (about 10.5 hours) and stayed there for the night. I purchased tickets online to the Fort Worth Zoo and spent a good majority of my Tuesday there taking pictures of the animals. They happened to have a baby gorilla (so adorable!), a baby Asian elephant, and a baby giraffe. They had all sorts of cool animals and I had a wonderful time just walking around taking photos of the animals. Zoos are my happy place, and I just needed some time walking outside and connecting with my Joe, who I always feel is with me when I am at a zoo. Those photos will be coming later. I arrived in Cypress, TX (just outside of Houston) Tuesday evening. I have since been spending time with my parents and my brother and his family. Craig and Mayra have a 12 year old son who loves basketball. I got to go to a game and a practice. It brought the memories flooding back from when Tim was so into basketball (okay….he still is but I don’t get to go to his practices or games anymore!). They also welcomed a baby girl named Emily Jo on December 20th of 2022. Craig is my Joe’s Godfather and uncle, so they named her in honor of him, which was so very touching to us. She is a peanut….so tiny…but so darn cute. She looks alot like her older brother did when he was a baby. It is entertaining to watch how she has wrapped everyone around her little finger. She definitely rules the house right now. There is also a big infusion of pink in their house, which makes me smile.

The hard part has been helping my mom get my dad ready to move into a memory care facility. Everything needed to be provided….a bed, three sets of sheets, clothes, sofas, chairs, toiletries….everything. We also put a little red truck door hanger on the outside of his door so he will know it is his room. He has a red truck and that was how he knew he was at his house when out walking….he looked for the red truck. We managed to get everything together and this morning a wonderful moving company (I really can’t say enough good things about them) came and moved him to his new place. Although my mom had mentioned to him all the time about moving, I think most of the time he had it in his mind that my mom was moving there with him….so today was hard. I took a photo of him this morning on his spot on the couch, where he has taken up residence watching news everyday for the last few years. I sit here now and look at that worn spot on the couch…my dad’s spot, and it makes the tears start to flow. However, his room looks really nice. It is in a corner of the building so is a bit larger and he has beautiful windows to look out of. He can look out the window and see the American and Texan flag flying. He has a TV with cable set up in his room but we have encouraged the memory care director to have him out with others and doing activities. There are exercise classes three times a day. They have a Bible study once a week. My mom will pick him up and take him to their Bible study at their church for as long as he desires to go.

While my mom was directing the movers on unpacking, etc, I accompanied my dad to his first meal in the dining room. There are cloth tablecloths and cloth napkins at their meals. The executive director of operations started out as a cook many years ago and on Wednesdays he makes a guest appearance in the kitchens and makes omelets for all the residents. We met with him on the way out and he was in a chef’s jacket…so I asked if he was doubling as the chef today. That was when he said he does dabble in the kitchen every now and then…and every Wednesday morning. Dad sat at a table with three other residents. Robert, a Marine Vet, was very talkative and pretty high functioning. He is hard of hearing though, so I must have shouted, “His name is WALT…..about 12 times.” Robert liked sharing the table with another military man and I think the feeling was mutual. I told him I had been in the Air Force and he literally rolled his eyes and pshawed me – as if the Air Force didn’t count as a military service. Dad was given water and pink lemonade to drink and then chicken and gravy, collard greens, and yams. My dad is not fond of yams or anything green….and pink lemonade would not be his first (or fifth) choice of drinks. However, my fussy eater dad ate everything on his plate and washed it down with pink lemonade. He then polished it off with a piece of cake! I got to giggling…I just couldn’t believe it! I asked him how his lunch was and he said, “Pretty good!” I am not sure he remembers my mom’s name because he never really has to say it. But he asked twice at lunch where “she” was. Both my mom and I feel pretty good about the staff. They are friendly and knowledgeable. My dad is very easygoing and polite, so I think he will quickly become a staff favorite. We left after the director took him to the living room to be with everyone else for activities in the afternoon. My mom will go to see him tomorrow afternoon and see how things are going. I will be heading home tomorrow morning. I am just trying to make sure that everything is okay here at home now that my mom will be living alone. My dad’s cognitive decline has been rapid over the last year, but he was always willing to help my mom by carrying the laundry basket, etc, for her. I have ordered one on wheels that will arrive on Friday. Here are a few photos from today’s hard day. As I hugged my dad and told him I was driving back to Nebraska tomorrow, he hugged me tight and told me he loved me. It was a precious lucid moment that I will cherish. I have already talked to my Joe in heaven and asked him to watch over him. Goodness, it has just been a tough year all the way around.

Just in case any of you were wondering, the weather was really bad here yesterday. Although we didn’t get hit by the tornado that landed in the Houston area, we were under a tornado warning a lot of the day and had nearly 6 inches of rain in about a 5 hour timeframe. It was windy and dark and the weatherman said at one point there was 617 lightning strikes in a 10 minute period in this area. Glad we weren’t moving yesterday! Today was sunny…but chilly for here. My brother, who works in Dallas for 4 days a week, had snow as he arrived last night.

Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

Last posting of good camera photos from the Florida trip with Michelle. So we did all things manatee….Harry Potter World and the rest of Universal Studios…but on the last full day, we went to Busch Gardens in Tampa. This was kinda for me. I love to be with animals. If you aren’t familiar with Busch Gardens, it is a huge zoo and with some roller coasters thrown throughout the park. We didn’t ride any roller coasters, but we did have a blast seeing all the animals. Michelle had never seen kangaroos live before. They are weirdly cute little guys (okay, some are not so small). They have long claws….thick tails that they balance on when walking and fighting. We also saw some black swans. I don’t think I had ever seen one in person before. They are just so pretty. There was a black swan couple with a nest with three eggs. We went into an aviary where they had these gorgeous birds called lorikeets. They are a part of the parrot family but are smaller. They were zooming all over the place. One landed on Michelle’s head. To be very honest, I was laughing so hard that I didn’t even get one photo of it. Michelle stayed relatively calm considering there was a very colorful bird sitting on her head. We both decided that Joe was right there laughing with us. We also saw flamingos…so many of them! They were so brightly colored they almost hurt my eyes as they were standing on bright green grass. There was a beautiful pink bird called a Roseate Spoonbill. They almost became extinct at the turn of the century because women wanted their pink feathers for their hats. The color of their feathers are so beautiful….from a blush pink to a hot pink. We saw a few Asian elephants…and got a kick out of one of them who was playing in a spray of water with her trunk. The lion and lionesses were active and putting on a show, which was nice. They had some adorably cute porcupines. Who knew they were so cute and photogenic? Cheetahs….yep…they had them, along with zebras. Michelle and I went on a giraffe safari excursion. It was pretty fun. We had a small group of people and we went out into the acres of their Savannah area standing in the back of an open air truck. We got out there and got swarmed by the giraffes. Evidently we were supposed to calmly hold out our harms away from the truck with lettuce and the giraffes would just simply take them from us. Well, quite quickly we had 5-7 giraffe necks in the back of the truck with us. I had a giraffe neck over my shoulder as he went for the guide’s waist band, where he was holding the lettuce. The guide was relatively calm but kept saying that “This is not how it is supposed to work!” He had to keep holding his hands up in the air with lettuce in them to get the giraffes to lift their heads out of the back of the truck. There was one man who was petrified. There was a grandma (called Nanny by her twenty-something granddaughter) who kept getting the back of her neck nibbled on by a randy giraffe. Some people thought it was a bit much….Michelle and I thought it was a great time with a great story to tell. The guide was a young man who talked with us for quite a while after we got back. He said he has actually gotten a concussion from a giraffe swinging its neck on a tour one time. Michelle told him that was the best “fun fact” story ever! Anyhow, we had a fantastic day. Considering I started out thanking Michelle for suffering through the zoo with me….we both left laughing and she has a lorikeet and giraffe story and got dippin dots (her favorite) – so I think it was a win.

Clearwater Aquarium Visit

After dropping off Michelle at the airport to fly back to Kansas City, I went to the aquarium in Clearwater, Florida. This was the home to Winter, the dolphin that lost her tail and had a prosthetic tail. They made a movie about her. This was her home until her death in 2021. Their residents are marine animals who cannot be released back into the wild. Many of their dolphins have sonar issues….they are deaf and cannot hunt for food and protect themselves from predators. The have the bottle-nosed dolphins that you and I envision when we think of dolphins and they also have two rough-toothed dolphins, Rex and Rudy. They are very different with longer noses and just a different look all the way around.

I went out on a boat ride with one of their marine biologists. They dredged an area in the gulf and then we looked at what they pulled in. It was very interesting. We also went to One Tree Island….home to – you guessed it – one tree and a flagpole. I walked around the aquarium and marveled at the 1.5 million gallon tank…watched divers scrubbing tanks (that is a big job!), and watched the otters play and the sea turtles fly through the water. I love turtles, so got a few good shots of them as well.

The Clearwater Aquarium Center announced this morning that their oldest dolphin, Hemingway, died during the night. I have a couple of photos of him here. They aren’t very good but I saved them to post in his honor. They believed him to be 37 years old. When I saw him two weeks ago, he just looked sad. There are docents all over the aquarium to tell you about the animals. One of them said he was missing his friend, an older dolphin who died a few months ago. He was placed in a tank with a younger male and that rallied his spirits for awhile. My heart goes out to the staff there who obviously love their animals and who are mourning his loss.

TECO Manatee Viewing Center

Tampa Electric Company has long pier that goes out into a bay filled with warm, clean discharge water from their factory. I put a few photos on a former post which were taken with my cell phone. These are more close up photos of the manatees who come into the warm waters during the winter. Michelle and I had already done a clear kayak ride, a snorkeling trip, and this one we were able to stay dry and just look out all dozens of manatees along with some babies. It is free….my recommendation is to definitely go….but arrive early, when they are just opening. I highly recommend it! We learned a lot and they have a sting ray petting tank and a cute gift shop with all things manatee as well. Definitely glad we made the time to stop by! Learn about the floaty potatoes!

Sunset Tour in Clearwater, Florida

I am playing catch up with photo processing pictures from my good camera. I have been travelling quite a bit so I am just getting some down time to go through some photos. Michelle and I went on a sunset tour on a boat in Clearwater, Florida. It was supposed to be an afternoon dolphin tour, but I had a scheduling snafu and so we ended up on the sunset cruise, which was really spectacular. We did happen to see a few dolphins on our way out to the gulf. Prior to going on the cruise, we took off our shoes and walked in the cool, white sand and dipped our toes in the surf and chatted for awhile. It was a relaxing start to our time in Florida! Something I learned about the brown pelican….which are all over the place in central Florida…..when their heads are stained with yellow, they are in the mating season. Brown pelicans are some of the smallest of the pelican family – and they aren’t that small. The heads are yellow on these brown pelicans…so they are in mating season!

Xin Nian Kuai Le

Happy Chinese New Year! This is the beginning of year 4721 on the Chinese calendar – the year of the Rabbit. You are a rabbit if your birth date falls during the following years: 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, and after January 22, 2023. traits of people who were born under the sign of the rabbit: They are affectionate, talented, obliging, always pleasant, value security and tranquility. They can sometimes get too sentimental and superficial. They are cautious and conservative. Famous people born under the year of the rabbit: Albert Einstein, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Bob Hope, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Frank Sinatra.

Chinese New Year starts on the new moon on the 1st day of the new year and ends 15 days later on the full moon (Lantern Festival). Special foods eaten on Chinese New Year: peanuts (long life), oranges (wealth), tangerines (good luck), and noodles (long life). Some of the traditions are wearing the color red (good luck), cleaning the house and then hiding the cleaning materials. People wear new clothes for the new year. There are lots of fireworks, the lion dance is performed, and family gatherings are very popular. Children get red envelopes (hongbao) from elders after bowing 3 times and saying “gongxi” several times. New bills are inside for good luck and wealth in the new year. Everyone stays up late on New Year’s Ever. It is believed that the longer the kids stay up, the longer the parents will live.

For the last 16 years that Lily has been a part of our family, we have celebrated today with Chinese food and cards to close friends and family with a photo of Lily and the animal of the new year. This is the last year I am making her suffer through the photoshoots. She is now 18 and if she chooses to celebrate, she can. Here is her final Chinese New Year photo for 2023.

Universal Studios

Little known fact: Michelle and I are Potter heads. We both really like the magical world of Harry Potter. So, we saved a day to experience Harry Potter World. That was fun. We had frozen butter beer and attempted to not get poked in the eye with rogue wands being waved. We also went through other parts of the park, like Jurassic Park. We put 20,000 steps in and had a great time taking in the sites and just people watching. There were a lot of families all dressed up in Harry Potter costumes of some sort. The weather was great and we spent the day just wandering around. We finished our day at the Chocolate Emporium. I got the biggest and best sugar cookie I have ever had there. I made it last two days! The rest of our trip is mostly caught on my good camera…so it may be a bit before I can get to those, as I am heading to Houston tomorrow (driving). I will try to get them up soon!

Florida Trip – the Manatees!

I flew into Florida last Friday and stayed with Rich’s cousin, John and Kim. They were such gracious hosts as I showed up on their doorstep at near 1 a.m. We spent Saturday morning catching up before I went to the airport to pick up Michelle. She told me years ago that she wrote a report about manatees when she was in the 3rd grade and has loved them ever since. She had never seen one live before. I thought we should change that. We have been talking about this trip for several months now. We decided that the depths of winter would be the best time to get away from the snowy midwest and to reconnect with one another after the tough parts of the holiday season. We went to Clearwater Marina and spent some time soaking in the sun and walking in the sand and getting our feet wet in the surf. We then went on a boat to watch the dolphins play and the sun set in the gulf. I have some photos of that on my good camera, which will come later. We then drove up to Crystal River, where we stayed in an air bnb for two nights. It is a cute little town, and we had a great time eating at local eateries and going to art galleries to see local artwork. On Sunday, we got up and in 42 degree weather, went kayaking in a clear plastic kayak. It was a tandem kayak, so Michelle was in the front and I was in the back. We could see the fauna in the water underneath us as we paddled around Kings Bay. We found some manatees pretty quickly. That afternoon we then went snorkeling with the manatees. I took some photos but the guide in the water with us had a much better view and a much better camera. I bought those photos she took. I am not a good underwater photographer. We also went to the TECO Manatee Viewing Center in Tampa a few days later, where there were dozens of manatees (including babies) in a small bay. They discharge clean, warm water and the manatees love to come in there and warm up. Anyhow, here are some of the manatee photos from our three manatee experiences. Michelle and I were happy that we missed the Manatee Festival (which is going on right now). The winter is the manatee season…and we have decided that we love the phrase, “When life gets stressful, just relax and pretend you are a manatee.” Fun fact: they are huge and incredibly docile creatures. They don’t have an amygdala…the part of your brain that controls your emotions. They don’t get overly upset about anything. They are big swimming potatoes. I actually almost ran right into one, because I thought it was a sea wall. It was a barnacle covered manatee. They also have hair…about 2 inches long. If you ever get the chance to visit them….do it!


Firefighters are just the best!

I have been gone over the last week to Florida. I purposefully did not bring a laptop or tablet to do work on. I wanted to devote my attention to just being in the moment. However, I had so many wonderful moments that now I want to share with you all. Before I move on to Florida stuff (which will be in another post) I wanted to share something very special that happened in the last 24 hours or so.

I flew home on Friday evening. I happened to be sitting next to a retired firefighter/EMT from Norfolk, Nebraska. He and his wife moved down to Clearwater a few years ago after a particularly cold winter snap. My phone screensaver has been Joe’s bunker gear when he graduated from the Olathe Firefighter Academy back in 2021. He asked me about it and I told him about Joe. I told him how incredibly awesome OFD was when he died. They literally carried us through that difficult time along with his army national guard unit. The man sitting next to me told me that Joe was also an awesome person because he, too, was a fireman, and a part of that awesome group of people.

I was in the middle of doing laundry and catching up on bookkeeping from work when the UPS truck dropped off a small package on my doorstep. It was from the Olathe Fire Department. I was blown away by the contents. Love those guys and gals so much. They really step up and do something wonderful when I really need it.