Sunday, May 29, 2011

First Descents a-go-go

Packing this electric blue suitcase has meant, all but one time (when I packed it almost precisely one decade ago to tour Europe), that I am soon to board a plane to hell. That my destination holds pain, sickness, fear and uncertainty. I remember vividly hauling it down the steps and out of my home that hot, sticky morning last August when Phil and I left for Houston. It is high time, I believe, to create some new memories.  Let's get moving.

After weeks of meticulously hunting down the necessary items to pack (Scree Pants anyone?) and several hours organizing and labeling my three (yes, THREE one gallon size- see the orange backpack? 80% of the space in that bag is occupied by pill bottles) bags of medications, finally tonight I feel excited. A touch nervous (mostly about not screwing up and getting on the wrong flight and ending up in Siberia), yes, but overwhelmingly excited. A happy excited, like a kid feels before a field trip. This is an uncomfortable feeling for me, as though my mind and body have to remember how to feel something other than dread and anxiety. It's so, so strange. I know this feeling, but it's been so long that it feels new again. Truth is, I'm allowed (read: must allow myself) to feel happy now. I'm allowed to enjoy my life, this beautiful life. And I'm going to do my fucking hardest to savor every moment.

I will be departing for Estes Park, CO bright and early tomorrow (Sunday) morning to spend six days pushing my limits, connecting with other patients and survivors, facing some very intense fears and breaking through (well, maybe just cracking the wall) to the other side of the hell I've been living for two and a half years (been chillin' in the ninth circle for the past nine months or so). Oh yeah, and being filmed doing all of it (as if there weren't enough to stress about). We will be climbing, rock climbing in fact, repelling, hiking and having a jolly good time being alive. It is my hope that after this adventure I will start to feel like a survivor. Though, you know what? If I don't, even if I just feel pride in the achievement of flying by myself for the first time in my life, I will have accomplished something.

Before cancer, the B.C. me (ha, interesting how that works) was a chicken. Insecure, doubtful of the strength of this body, uncertain of the fortitude of my spirit, fearful of being unable to connect with others, afraid of embarassment. Hell, this After Cancer me still feels all of those things BUT this is the first time in my entire life where I've taken these things by the balls and held on tight. Taken control and taken a leap holding on to them. This trip with this amazing organization may just be my first step out of those cycles.

My hope, aside from my own physical and emotional goals, is that I experience a sense of community in the Young Adult Cancer Community. I've not met many of us, though there are far too many out there (some of you read this blog- holla!). Those that I have had the honor of knowing I hold dear. Like some sort of warped fraternal bond, I would expect that the group I am about to be immersed in will be no different.

Though it seems as though I have a great number of expectations for this experience, and I do, these expectations really fall on me. I have the expectation of myself that I will drop into this experience and extract as much as possible from it.

Some things it may be helpful for me to come clean about to put my nerves in perspective. Please don't laugh, judge away, just don't laugh;) :

  • Mountains make me uncomfortable. There is probably some deep psychological reason for this but, nonetheless, I am totally bugged out by them (something about isolation maybe). During my time in the Alps (a decade ago) I was unsettled the whole time.
  • I have never flown alone anywhere. 
  • While doing this on my own is extremely important to doing this deep, personal work, I really wish Phil were coming along. I anticipate missing him terribly. We've been separated too much this past year...
  • This is the first time that I am doing anything (by choice) that I know NOTHING, nada, zilch about (WTF is a carabiner anyway?) and have never even seen done in person.
  • This is the first time that I will be with a group of people, for an extended amount of time, where I know not a soul. Time to make new friends :)!
  • After looking at the pictures on First Descents Facebook page of past camps, I am thoroughly convinced that I am so not cool enough to be doing this.
 Because we'll be up in the clouds, and we all know what that does to WiFi and cell phone reception, I will not be updating until I return.  Instead, and this is something I'm really excited about doing, I'll be keeping a written and photo journal. Hey, it will even been on film (cue nervous laughter).

Thank you to my dear husband, family and friends for supporting me in this adventure and, of course to First Descents for providing this amazing opportunity.

Much love, dear friends (especially you, Sarah D.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sunday Morning in the ER

Now, before you freak...YES, P and I spent Sunday morning in the emergency room.  

The Veterinary Emergency Room.

Yeah, uh huh.

You've met our cat, Ike before, no? Just in case, here is our little boy Ike in his favorite spot, on top of the dry cleaning, in a sunny bedroom window:
I'll give you some back story and then please allow me take you on the adventure Ike embarked on early Sunday morning. ::Deep breath::

Our cats are indoor cats. STRICTLY indoor cats (blame my paranoia of parasites, cars, other cats, racoons, unknown poisonous kittynoms, alien abductions, and a past encounter with a woman who titled herself 'cat trapper' who had three cats with their ears clipped off). This point is nonnegotiable, no matter how desperately they try to negotiate with me. Allowing them to sit in the window(s) is the compromise to this point. Always with a screen or storm window in, they seem happy, though they have been known to get their claws caught in screens while in pursuit of a bug or bird (that reminds me, have I shared the 'bird in the kitchen' story from a few months ago?) or phantom or whatever it is that they see. This has always made me a little nervous, especially when one of them (usually Ike) does this in the upstairs windows (our bedroom windows) which are four stories high. Those windows are generally kept shut, especially the one next to Ike's favorite spot on the laundry basket because that window has no screen. 

This brings me to Sunday morning (can you guess where I'm going with this?).

The night before, Saturday night, Phil and I made dinner on the grill (which is next to our steps, tucked next to the house) and then fell asleep early. Phil got up Sunday morning, early, to put the grill away and run out to grab coffee. His cousin was getting married that afternoon at a location about three hours from our home so we needed to get moving early. Anyway, Phil is outside messing around with the grill when he hears a cat mewing in pain. He said that he looked around in the grill (thinking that maybe a neighbors cat had climbed inside), around the neighbors yard, and then finally, behind the grill. There, up against the house and wedged under the electric meters, was a black cat. A black cat who was bleeding from the mouth. A black cat who looked just like Ike. But Ike was inside, cozy with me on the foot of the bed. Yeah, or not.

Phil came running into the house, screaming (sorry babe, yes, you were screaming) up the stairs to me to look around for Ike because 'There's a cat outside who looks just like him but bloodied". My mind and heart were racing: Was he still up there with me? (to which I initially answered 'yes' because he had JUST been there, I had no idea he wasn't on the bed with me anymore) Was he in one of his many hiding spots? No, not on the dryer, in the closet, under the bed or in the leopard hide-y hole)...

But that window, the one with no screen, the one at the highest point in the house, his favorite window...was hanging open, the top of it having fallen down and hidden behind the blinds so we couldn't see.
It was at this point (only seconds later) that we both nearly lost it (and nearly tripped one another running down the stairs, through the house and out the door.

There he was, and as long as I live I will NEVER get this image out of my mind, against the house bleeding, howling, shaking, eyes wide in fear and panic. I screamed for Phil to stay there (he arrived only milliseconds before I) and bolted inside to get a towel to wrap him in. He needed to be taken to the vet ASAP. When I returned (still in my skimpy PJs, carrying a 'bra' tank top and pants over my shoulder) Ike had crawled out and wedged himself between Phil's knees, still howling and shaking. We couldn't really see the extent of his injuries, besides the blood dripping from his mouth, so we wrapped him carefully in the towel and ran for the car. Phil scrambled to get his carrier for fear of him being jostled on the ride or panicking in the car and hurting himself further.

Sitting in the car, holding this shaking, bleeding animal, praying to every deity I could think of for him to live, were the scariest few moments of my life so far. I know. Screw leukemia and a bone marrow transplant and GVHD. THIS was the most awful, terrifying, gut wrenching thing either of us has ever experienced. We commented later that parents must never sleep, must always be a wreck about their children- how can we parent when we lose ourselves completely when our pet is injured?

Phil helped me gently slide Ike into his carrier and we took off for the emergency vet located a few miles from our home. To add a touch of lightness to this part of the story: in my panic and haste, I realized that I needed to put on the clothing I had thrown on the floor of the car (not doing so may have resulted in an indecent exposure charge...well...doing so may have as well) and, without really thinking, I stripped down and changed. Right there in the car. Flying down the road in plain view. To anyone who may have had the unfortunate luck to have seen the mostly naked puffy-headed and crying woman early on Sunday morning: I'm sorry.

Arriving at the vet, Ike was whisked away and into an exam room and we were placed in a quiet room to wait. And cry. And silently repeat to myself 'he HAS to be OK', 'we CANNOT lose this little guy', 'oh my god he must be in so much pain', 'why didn't I notice that he was climbing out the window?!'....and any number of other horrible things.

After far too long, the vet returned to ask what he would have landed on if he went out of that window. Pavement. He landed on pavement. Just typing that turns my stomach. Then she asked how long he had been outside before we discovered him. Well, and this also turns my stomach, it had been at least and hour or two since either of us had actually seen him in the house, so....ugh. She nods and returns to Ike's room. Another vet tech comes into the room to have us sign wavers for his treatment. Oh jesus, we forgot about the paying for this part...cats (well not this one, yet...) don't have health insurance.  We quickly decided that it didn't matter, we would make it work no matter what. We love this little dude, we'll do anything for him.

Finally the vet returns to tell us that Ike has what is called 'high-rise syndrome' (yes, that is a real thing) and is VERY lucky to be alive. Apparently, when cats fall, or in Ike's case JUMP, out of a window, they need a certain number of feet between them and impact in order to position their bodies to survive and prevent as many injuries as possible. The window Ike jumped out of (and we do believe he jumped out after a bird) is just at the lower threshold of where a cat can survive. We learned that any lower, yes, I said lower, and he would not have been able to correct his position and would have sustained some bad breaks and certain internal injury from a poorly positioned landing. Any higher and he would have been able to position himself correctly, but would have broken many bones.

Our Ike? Well, he clearly landed on his feet, front feet to be exact, so there are some cuts and scrapes to his pads there. It appears that he smacked his face fairly well, thus the bloody lip (he bit his own cheek too, which is swollen), but has NO BROKEN JAW OR TEETH (the vet was surprised). He popped a blood vessel in his eye on the side where he took most of the impact but there is no damage to his facial or cranial bones. In fact, he has NO BROKEN BONES AT ALL. No internal injuries AT ALL. What.

This damn cat is blessed. BLESSED I tell you. The x-rays did reveal that his heart is very slightly enlarged (but we always knew he has a big heart- AWWWWW) but this is not related to the fall and is easily treated with kitty meds (hence our plans for cat insurance).

Ike was prescribed pain meds (given orally via syringe), an antibiotic (also via syringe- this one is banana flavored!) and goopy eye gel- all of which he takes like a champ. He's pretty looped out from his kitty morphine and clearly still stiff (wouldn't you be from falling four stories?!), but he's been chowing down, running around, JUMPING OFF OF THINGS (asshole) just like normal non-smooshed Ike. In fact, this morning he tried to climb up the clothing hanging in my closet and fell out, taking most of the closet with him. Again, he's FINE.

As for Phil and I...well, we're still pretty shaken up- the last few nights have been filled with fitful sleep with both of us agreeing that the image of him falling and landing keeps playing in our minds. We made it to the wedding (reception, we didn't return from the vet in time to make it to the ceremony but heard it was gorgeous- Congratulations Ryan and Agnes!) but were both terribly worried the whole time. Phil's mom and friend stopped by the house to check on the little stuntman and reported back that he was purring, woozy and happy.

I had planned to be writing about the anticipation of next week's adventure to Colorado, which I will still do, but this was just...oh, hell. Besides being the biggest damn thing in our lives right now, it's sort of a good story (and ONLY because he's OK). In his year and a half on this earth this cat has: been abandoned in a driveway by his momma, been accidentally squished in a door hinge (the vet said he should have had a broken arm from that), stuck under a bathtub for a day (I had to yank him out by the hind legs), attempted to jump into an oven (which was on), climbed in the dryer and almost went unnoticed AND fallen four stories to a driveway. And is relatively unscathed from all of it. I'm looking into purchasing bubblewrap to make a kitty suite out of. Sigh.

Being nearly precisely one year after freezing our little freezerbabies, Phil and I are sufficiently terrified of being parents. Thank the good lord that those little infantsicles can stay frozen for a long while. Or at least until with figure out how to rig the cat with a Kevlar vest and parachute. Our other kitty, Hope (who would never do such a thing, she is quite afraid of heights)? We're not sure she even knows something happened....though she did stare at the three of us with intense concern on Sunday night.  Well, and she gave Ike and extra long, extra creepy tongue bath. Gross.

Just to make this trip into hell more vividly scary, here is a picture with the view out of the window he superman-ed from. No, that crap on the side of the other house isn't ours. Yes, Ike is very lucky that that truck wasn't parked there when he fell.

Of course this story couldn't possibely be complete without a picture of Ike, high as an....Ike (lol), on kitty morphine. Sorry little dude, Mom posted a pic of herself high on morphine. Fair is fair.
See his little scar? So sad:(

Now that the dust as settled a bit from this, I feel comfortable and confident in making this joke: My dear husband is of the belief that our Ike was, in fact, the only one raptured. However, God realized how ridiculous this would look to the rest of the world and changed his mind when Ike was halfway there. So...well, you know the rest. In't my hubby so funny. Funny hubby.

Much love, y'all. Will check in before heading out!

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Rapture (a decidedly un-cancery post)

...Would be way more believable (terrifying) if it actually involved raptors.

Also, how fucked up would that be if it were tomorrow (6pm my time, sorry Australian readers, you're in for it in a few hours)? I mean, come on Big Guy! Some of us are just getting started down here!!

I'm only 266 days into this new life! Gimme a break....

P.S. I am very sorry if you read this blog and are offended in my disbelief of the coming Judgement Day. Besides, if you are reading this and you DO believe...uh, thanks for spending a few of your final moments reading my dribble.

Much Love!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Video Blog...for a Good Reason

Here's what's up:)

Much Love (oh, and sorry for the super long delay in posting!)