Tag Archives: cancer

The Storm Warning

Storm Warning

In 1996 my family moved from America to Yorkshire, England.  The kids were seven, five, and three years old, my husband and I just beginning our thirties.  That’s nearly twenty years ago, which is bizarre to consider.  But what is stranger, although not at all frightening, is how I have changed since then.  Well, it’s certainly good that I’ve changed, no one wants to be the same year after year.  But growth was rife in Britain, not just for my small children.

I became a different person while living in the UK.

Looking back on some photographs my husband recently scanned, I am reminded of some of what altered me, and it wasn’t merely tea and the BBC affording the changes.  I could say that 2014 was a year of upheaval, what with Dad and chemotherapy, quilts muscling novels off the page, and grandkids on the way.  But some of that was expected; no one undergoes chemo like it’s a walk in the park.  While I wasn’t thinking I’d be an abuela, that’s a joyful addition to my retinue.  And I love sewing, although I miss writing.  And I’m far more comfortable with how life ebbs and flows.

For all I thought I knew when I was thirty-one, I didn’t know jack-squat.

Today, going through those photos, I noted what my hubby had named each one, sometimes hearkening to where the picture was taken, or just his interpretation of the photograph.  The Storm Warning was his idea, but it recalled how two-thirds into 1997, our lives were rocked to the core; my brother killed himself.  Joe was a meth addict who had lived with Type 1 diabetes since he was twelve, so his death wasn’t a total surprise, but no one is ever prepared to deal with the suicide of one so beloved.  Even all these years later, when I see these shots, I know how they relate to the person I am now.


My brother died three days before his twenty-fifth birthday, and I was never the same.

But, change is good.  It’s necessary, it’s part of life.  Death, as unpleasant as it is, is also part of living.  I have two grandchildren on the way, and my father is unwell, and yes, I do wonder if he will live to see both of those great-grandbabies.  But then I muse how he has outlived one of his own children.  There is no rhyme or reason to parts of this life, it simply is what it is.

Tomorrow my father has a thoracic MRI, to accompany the lumbar and SI MRIs he underwent on Friday.  Wednesday he’ll see his doc, and we’ll learn the results, which might provide information as to why Dad feels so crappy.  It could be late effects of chemo, or it could be something else.  But unlike how I reacted to my brother’s death over seventeen years ago, I am older now, maybe wiser.  At least I am more in touch with my faith, which enables me to appreciate all facets of living, even dying.


And this time, the storm warning isn’t a terrifying clang or cluster of disasters.  That picture is of the back field behind the second house we lived in during our expatriate days.  Often sheep and cows graced the land, sometimes a hot air balloon decorated the horizon.  It was where my youngsters frolicked, where snow fell, where sun peeked from behind abundant clouds.  It was where I watched the sun rise on the morning I learned of Joe’s death, wondering what in the hell this world was all about.

Many years later, I have a smidgen more knowledge than I did back then.  The Storm Warning is just to pay attention.  Don’t lose any precious moments along the way.

A Year of Quilts

When I think back to 2014, several items stick in my mind; my father’s bout with chemotherapy, an invasion of grandchildren; minimal writing (although what I did accomplish concerned just one novel, which in itself is quite unique), the San Francisco Giants winning their third World Series in five years (lol), and road trips.  Oh, and one other fascination.

My initial efforts, way back in February, before I had any clue to a quarter-inch seam.

My initial efforts, way back in February, before I had any clue to a quarter-inch seam.

2014 was the year I fell in love with quilting.

Okay, sewing.  I fell in love with sewing, which to my mind means quilting.  All I sew are quilts, well, mostly quilts.  I’ve made a few pillowcases, amped up some burp cloths, zig-zagged the edges of fraying hand and bath towels.  But honestly, my foray into the world of sewing revolves around quilts.  This hobby hit me like a ton of bricks, but in a soft, cottony manner that eased other truths that have been drizzling like a cold, miserable storm.

Dad in March, awaiting another round of Taxotere.

Dad in March, awaiting another round of Taxotere while snuggling under his new blanket.

My father’s health is failing, and we’re not exactly sure why.  Mom is calling the doc today, to discern what Dad’s persistent and chemo-less caused nausea is all about.  Dad has MRIs this week, and I’ll be there, for support.  Next week we’ll get the results, and while the news might be less than stellar, I hope we learn why Dad is suffering.

At this point, truth is better than ignorance.

Scrappy's Big Sister from early July; I love the green strips between the rows.

Scrappy’s Big Sister from early July; I love the green strips between the rows.

As for this whole quilting gig, Dad started it.  Well, his quilt was first, to stave off the chemotherapy chills, but my eldest is the instigator, much like she was for the writing.  On the first of February, that young woman and I went to a local fabric store, and I left with a horde of fat quarters that led to a nearly all hand-sewn effort that was given to my father.  Dads are great for overlooking the flaws, of which there were many in that project.  And that quilt led to many others, which were easy to piece together in a fragmented year that saw road trips overtake time spent at my computer.  Stories were thrust to the back burner as blankets came to life, for it was less taxing on my aging brain to sew than to write.

A batik treasure for one of my girls, from October.

A batik treasure for one of my girls, from October.

But it wasn’t just that I couldn’t write; running a rotary cutter through layers of fabrics was calming.  Choosing coordinating cottons soothed, plotting patterns on the quilt wall beat trying to sort a behemoth of a novel that still teases.  I have no idea what 2015 will bring, other than a couple of babies whom I ache to hold.  More grandchildren are due, which makes me wonder just what is going to happen with my father.

Burp cloths from October; can't wait to lay one of these over my shoulder, hehehe!

Burp cloths from November; can’t wait to lay one of these over my shoulder, hehehe!

This is the joy and mystery of life; no one knows what truly lies ahead.

In the meantime, I can’t begrudge anything that occurred this year, for each and every event adds to the whole that is today, 29 December 2014.  I received a new cutting mat for Christmas, which shall facilitate baby quilts I need to make, yay!  I also have some reading to catch up on, my own books to revise, plus a couple of biographies, one about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who also played his part in my quilting adventures.  And if asked which of these initial blankets captures my heart most, I’m led back to two particular quilts sewn early in the year, when I was still a complete noob; my father’s chemo quilt, and the Mijos comforter, which Buttercup loves.  (My daughter and son-in-law like it too.)

Napping in the warm sun, oh that girl....

Napping in the warm spring sun, oh that girl….

Not only is the Mijos quilt for that cluster of children, but it was sewn during Lent, when Dietrich and his beloved Maria were much on my mind.  I could say Dietrich Bonhoeffer was another 2014 obsession, but when compared to everything else this year wrought, Bonhoeffer slips down to the bottom of this post.  But that quilt remains one of my most pleasing accomplishments.

In May, I snapped this quilt at my daughter's house; I still am awed that I managed those corner squares as precisely as I did....

In May, I snapped this quilt at my daughter’s house; I still am awed that I managed those corner squares as precisely as I did….

And of course, Buttercup agrees.  What could be better than that?  Small joys of a happily napping hound pave the way for 2015.  More on those expected grandkids soon, and hopefully some concrete answers about my dad’s health.  I won’t even attempt to speculate on all that 2015 will present.  At least I don’t have to assume the Giants will take the pennant.  I have a whole year for them to sort out another championship, bless their hearts.  I wish for you a peaceful and fulfilling 2015.  It may not happen in a manner you would expect, but that’s the wonder of life.

The Radium 223 Road Trip Part One


If my life were longer, say another couple hundred years, I’d write a novel based upon this entry’s title.  But even if I live to my nineties, most likely the last few days will remain as a memory, barely touched on within this and the accompanying post.  So many things happened over the last few days that snatches will waft through me, until as Julie Brown once said, I can’t recall them anymore.

But obscure pop culture references aside, I want to recount a few tidbits of my recent days, because while life is meant to be lived in the here and now, what we pass along to others matters too, be it in the confines of doctor’s offices or over ice cream, or even when alone, conversing with a creator who made the whole kit’n’kaboodle.  At times, time is frozen, like the sign at a Bakersfield liquor store, advertising the sale of film, sandwiches and picnic supplies.  When I saw that sign, I had to pull out the phone, capturing that piece of a bygone era.  Who sells film, or even notes its sale, anymore?

(Later I learned that no, they don’t sell film.  But I’m glad they still have the sign.)

When Dad saw his oncologist a few weeks back, radium was already on the proverbial treatment table.  His visit to the UC Davis Medical Center last week was the preliminary step, introductions between Dad, Mum, me, and a very personable doc who thought Radium 223 was Dad’s best option, assuming Dad isn’t anemic.  Radium 223 is relatively new, approved by the FDA in early 2013 after very promising trials.  It’s infused right into the bloodstream, going straight for the bones.  Fatigue and diarrhea will be the main side effects, but Dad was optimistic, especially after hearing that the next treatments were Jevtana, the bully-chemo-cousin to Taxotere, or another hormone pill that probably wouldn’t do Dad much good, coming too close on the heels of his days with Zytiga.  We might consider Xtandi later on, well after his encounter with Radium 223 is over, but right now Radium 223 will be enough to ponder.  Dad won’t be radioactive, the doc noted with a smile, so hugs are strongly encouraged.

After the low-down was discussed, we were sent to the lab, so Dad could give blood, to make sure among other things that he’s not anemic.  This has become so much of his life now that he doesn’t flinch, even made the doc laugh when Dad said they could poke him wherever they wanted.  “You’re at a university hospital,” the doc slyly smiled.  “Don’t go saying that around here.”  We all chuckled as Dad was called back to give blood.  Mom nibbled on a granola bar while I considered my next activities; we all had miles to go before we slept.  Dad wasn’t in there long, and slowly we approached the main entrance.  The facilities at UC Davis Medical Center were excellent, and everyone was pleasant and upbeat.  As usual Dad was his charming self, which I know bolsters not only his health, but the rest of us too.  Several times the doc noted this wasn’t a curative therapy.  It’s solely to give Dad, and us, as much time as possible.

And again Dad noted that he felt he had another couple of decades.  What more can we ask for?

While my parents had to navigate Sacramento freeways to get back home, I took another route, not one returning me to Silicon Valley.  The Central Valley was my destination, so we didn’t linger long, saying our goodbyes, which are temporary, for Dad will be back in Sac in a few weeks, possibly sooner, depending on the results of his labs.  If his white blood count and platelets are normal, and he’s not anemic, the first infusion of Radium 223 could take place ASAP.  These treatments will continue every four weeks for six months, unless his PSA skyrockets, in which case this option will be dropped.  But the doc noted that PSA’s are no longer the be-all end-all markers of prostate cancer.  In the last five years, PSA’s have mattered less, as long as the patient is feeling well.  With bone cancer now in the picture, not to mention Dad’s COPD, a host of ailments hover.  Dad himself said that prostate cancer isn’t usually what kills, and some men live for years with the condition.  Dad’s thinking another twenty of those years, and we’ll take it day by day to see.

Day by day is all any of us have, whether we’re seventy, forty-eight, or twenty-two, with another life eager to enter the world.  My next stop on the road trip was to see my youngest’s best friend, the mum-to-be of Master Z.  I was also on a quilt-delivery mission, but that destination was at the tail-end of Highway 99.  Before I closed my eyes on that day, Bakersfield, California was awaiting me.  I hugged and kissed my parents, walked to my car, then started the engine.  Pulling out of the UC Davis parking garage, I made my way for US 50, which would take me to 99 South, for Fresno the sign said.  I smiled; many cities and small towns between Sac and Fresno, and a few more separating Fresno and my final stop for the day…

Some of Life’s Mysteries

Batik fat quarter in sage.

Batik fat quarter in sage.

Over the last few days I have begun a project, which I have been waiting to start for months.  This quilt is for a young woman dear to my heart, these fabrics collected since late spring.  Now it’s early autumn, time for this blanket to come together.

Another batik, this time in beige.

Another batik, this time in beige.

Some projects are like that, eagerly anticipated yet made to wait.  Others hit like a truck, but not always do I know why I feel flattened in the middle of the road.

And sometimes, there isn’t an answer, for as I pulled these fabrics from the closet, salivating over them, I learned some initially distressing news; the family for whom I had a pile of quilts was gone.  I don’t know to where, or how to reach them.  I spent part of a day ruminating over this information, wondering if I had sewn more quickly or not made quilts for the parents…  But at the end of the day, I accepted that perhaps this was a blessing I hadn’t considered all those days of cutting, piecing, and quilting.  Maybe all my thoughts for them were prayers of a sort, taking them to a better place of residence where a bevy of quilts wasn’t altogether necessary.

These were bought at Eddie's Quilting Bee in Sunnyvale; I think these two are some of my very favourite fabrics.

These were bought at Eddie’s Quilting Bee in Sunnyvale; I think these two are some of my very favourite fabrics.

A bevy of quilts; sounds better than a flock.  And of that bevy, all have been granted new homes, which lifts my heart.  The sister quilts were the hardest to place, but they will go to our church in December, landing under the giving tree for two girls who need a bright splash of warm colour.  No quilt goes unclaimed on my watch.

Add a splash of green from Beverly's in Campbell, and now we're cooking with gas.

Add a splash of green from Beverly’s in Campbell, and now we’re cooking with gas.

But back to this beloved project, which will be called a Bestie Far Away.  Not my bestie, but a bestie to someone close to my heart, which means a bestie to me, in a way.  These fabrics, many batiks, were part of the birthday pressie collection, plus a few I picked up along the way.  But as soon as I received them I knew for whom they were destined.  Yet, other quilts loitered in the queue ahead of this one, a fall quilt, autumnal in nature.  And now, the first day of October, it’s time.

Thank you lord, it’s finally time!

The completed stack; some those on top will also be incorporated into another project, hehehe....

The completed stack; some those on top will also be incorporated into another project, hehehe….

There was A LOT of fabric to cut, two hundred fifty-five squares worth, plus more for good measure.  And that doesn’t include the sashes, which will make this comforter seventeen by nineteen four-inch blocks, or sixty-eight by seventy-six inches.  That’s no small quilt, let me say, especially after my foray into baby blankets.  But fifteen by seventeen fits on my quilt wall (just), and that’s what matters.

If it fits on the quilt, bring on the piecing!

And now the hard part; which square goes where...

And now the hard part; which square goes where…

Lately I’ve been doing the actual quilting on my smaller table, where my sewing machine most often resides.  I’m thinking for this baby, sashes included, it’s going to be quilted on my big table, here in the grotto.  How shall it be quilted remains to be seen.  I’d *like* to try something different; I’ve stitched in the ditch myself nearly to tears.  But that’s a few weeks away, for today is a road trip for Dad’s next step in the battle against cancer, not a fight he can win, but more of a scrap to see who outlasts the other.  Either Dad will tire of the tussle, or cancer will concede to let nature take its course, which might sound erroneous, but sometimes life surprises us.

That family of quilts wasn’t for one particular clan after all.  Who knows where Dad’s journey on this path will take him?

About halfway; I was sending these to my eldest, getting her opinion.  She was pretty pleased.

About halfway; I was sending these to my eldest, getting her opinion. She was pretty pleased.

But this I do know; once pieced, then rows sewn, then sashed, then sandwiched, then quilted, this project will land in the arms of a lady so beautiful and amazing, it gives me profound pleasure even thinking about her and this quilt.  It hearkens back to when I was finishing Dad’s blanket, my very first quilt, and how happy I was to give him something necessary in his chemo adventure, also a gift from my own hands.  That is a large part of why I love quilting, writing too.  It comes from my hands, head, and heart.  In this rather modern world, it’s a precious blessing to pass along.

The finished quilt, which will now decorate (and keep watch over) the grotto in my absence.

The finished quilt, which will now decorate (and keep watch over) the grotto in my absence.

Nothing virtual about a quilt, I’ll say.  It’s about as tactile as one’s soul gets, and even better when it rests in another’s grasp.  Another mystery, best left unsolved.

And just in case they try to escape, those tucked in the far right corner have been documented.  Sorry kids, but you're not going anywhere but under my sewing machine...

And just in case they try to escape, those tucked in the far right corner have been documented. Sorry kids, but you’re not going anywhere but under my sewing machine…

Another Twenty-Five Years

On Monday, I sat with my parents at the oncologist’s office, waiting to learn Dad’s most recent PSA results, plus those of bone and CT scans.  As we chatted, Dad mentioned that if you asked him that day how much longer he would live, he’d have to say another twenty-five years.

Twenty-five years, my father smiled, then continued rambling.  Dad loves to talk, but those words struck me, staring at the fluff growing out along the back and sides of his head, although his mustache will be a while in filling out.  He’s still skinny, but food tastes good, even his beloved ice cream, which since February had been off the menu.  Other than his wobbly balance, and the probability of losing two big toenails, a post-chemo life has returned in full.

When the doc stepped into the room, Dad’s two-inch thick folder under that man’s arm, I wondered if Dad’s feelings towards his longevity would be borne out by the results waiting in that manila folder.  First off we learned the CT scan was clear, whew!  But the bone scan showed some worsening, although not to any internal organs, another hurdle cleared.  The PSA however, had jumped from sixteen to thirty-six.  Which isn’t all that bad, but it’s not the way a PSA after nine rounds of Taxotere should be behaving.

Which meant that next week we are all heading to Sacramento, to the UC Davis Medical Center, probably for radium treatments.  Although before the doc had joined us, Dad noted that in the ten months since he’d been to UCSF, who knew what sorts of advances had been made?

And from a man who feels he still has another quarter of a century to live, I can’t argue with him.

The visit wasn’t a long one; after the results were made known, the chit-chat centered on that impending trip to Sacramento.  As we left the office, Dad inquired about his Lupron shot, which they could administer that day.  We all trooped to the waiting area, where Dad gripped his prescription for more pain meds.  He had started that day feeling rough, but by ten a.m. was feeling well enough to consider another couple of decades.  But I noted his age at the top of the paper; 70.  And as he groused about a few aches and pains, I reminded him of that number; it’s not only cancer in the equation.  None of us are getting younger, to which he smiled.  “Yeah, I’ll be taking a sitz bath, then look over in the mirror and wonder who that old fart is staring back at me.”  We chuckled, then he was called for the shot.  Mom and I discussed Thanksgiving dinner; she would like to have it at their place this year, easier for Dad to relax in his easy chair.  When he emerged, I mentioned that plan, and he agreed, but not for his comfort.  He prefers his own stuffing to those made by my siblings.

As we left, Dad walked slowly, maybe due to the slight ache from the shot, probably from weariness, age, and yes, cancer.  But his voice was sprightly, maybe he was thinking about making his own turkey, of which he can be rather possessive, or that the results were in, or that even if the PSA had jumped twenty points, he was feeling another twenty-five years were possible.  I was considering how wonderful it was that chemo was over, for that also rang in his tone.  Food tastes good again.  His legs are stronger, even his hair, or as he laughed, the little he used to have, was growing back.  His poor balance might take another nine months to clear, nerves the doc said, that had been rattled by Taxotere.  Two lost toenails were also small potatoes; Dad has bigger fish to fry, or a turkey to roast.  I don’t know how long he’ll have, nothing in this life is certain, other than death and taxes.  But throughout Dad’s cancer journey, I have been reminded that life isn’t the long view.  It’s right now, and on Monday, it was right then; right then, Dad had places to be, Mom did too.  They had arrived in separate vehicles, and all three of us said our goodbyes, until next week, when they will travel together to Sac, where I will meet them.

And in the meantime, there are quilts to finish, like the one for a special little girl.  Life is constantly evolving, rolling from one second to the next.  Another doctor’s appointment down, which leads to another binding to attach.  That will be my plan today, after having pinned that little quilt to within an inch of its sandwich life.  The quilting went well, I must say, and I was hardly stabbed in the process.

And thinking about it, who knows?  Dad could live another couple of decades, by which time the little girl for whom this is being made could be a mum herself.  Such are the mysteries of this life, which is why any of us are here in the first place.