Hola de España! or, Push It Redux

Estoy teniendo un tiempo maravilloso aquí en Avilés en Asturias en el festival Celsius 232*

No, I don’t actually speak Spanish that well. But I wish I did and I’ve decided I’m going to. Every time I go to a non-English-speaking country, I fall in love with the language, whatever it is. I used to learn languages as a hobby and Old Eternal’s side of our family is blessed with the gift of tongues. I have found to my great joy that even though I’m much older than I was when I first set out to learn Russian and German and Mandarin, it’s not harder for me to pick up another language, provided I devote enough time  and concentration to it. 
(I also want to learn Finnish. Considering that I grew up in a town with such a large Finnish population that we had a branch of the Finnish embassy, I’m almost embarrassed that I haven’t. And I want to learn Japanese, too––considering I’ve just won the Seiun Award for short fiction in translation, and considering I have a son who has been learning the language while getting his MA in Japanese Cultural Studies [with merit, no less!], it’s kind of embarrassing that I haven’t. I love learning languages. Pero estoy divagando.**)

But today I would just like to speak Spanish while walking around without back pain––which is where the “Push It Redux” comes in. This beautiful hotel has a small gym, and the small gym has a lovely recumbent bike and yesterday, I fully intended to rise before dawn today to use it. But that was before I did so much walking around. Well, it’s a lot for me. And I decided that riding a recumbent bike is something I can do at home. Here I am, in beautiful Avilés where I have been plodding up and down inclines and stairs and my back has been really liking it…not during, of course, but afterwards. Last night, after enjoying some vino and wonderful company and listening to stories that made me laugh so hard it engaged my core muscles, I found myself walking back to the hotel with my cane still folded up in my shoulder bag and my back feeling like it did when I was 9 and taking ballet lessons (just to be clear: I took feeling that good for granted).

And to think I had actually toyed with the idea of cancelling because I’m still not very rehabilitated physically.

¡Si, es cierto!***

I was seriously considering wimping out and then decided to honour my commitment instead, and I’m so glad I did. I knew that any physical help I needed would be available to me on request so there was nothing to worry about on that score. But would I be up to the socialising? I love to give a convention or a conference their money’s worth.

Well, the people here make it easy to rise to the occasion. Spanish fans are sensational––friendly, welcoming––they are the kind of people who, when you meet them, you realise they are friends you just didn’t know before. If I can come back here on my own next year––if I’m solvent enough and physically able enough––I will. 

This is one more reminder: Push through the fatigue. Push through the inertia. Push throught the uncertainty. Push through the physical discomfort.  Push through the anxiety. Otherwise, you might miss one of those life-savours.

*I’m having a wonderful time here in Avilés in Asturias at the Celsius 232 festival 
[Celsius 232 = Fahrenheit 451]

**But I digress.

***Yes, it’s true!

Status Unchanged: Cancer Is Still My Bitch

Today I saw the oncologist, the team leader; the one who never smiles unless she has something to smile about.

She was smiling.

The cancer is at the same level it was when I last came in for a check-up. It’s not gone and never will be, but for the time being, it has stabilised. This is a win.

There are no guarantees, of course, but really––are there ever?

Hello, Hormones, You Tricksy Little Things, You

I’ve spent the last month taking hormones that the oncologist hopes will keep the cancer cowering at a low level for a very long period of time. I have an appointment later this month so they can check on how well this is working. And in the meantime, I’ve been re-introduced to hormonal side-effects.

Back when I was taking Hormone Replacement Therapy, I became so attuned to my physical condition that when something went a little wonky, I could tell whether it was the HRT or the antidepressants that needed adjusting. Eventually I tapered off the HRT and never gave it another thought. I’d been off HRT for seven years when I was diagnosed with my first bout of uterine cancer in 2013.

So when the oncologist told me they were going to try hormone therapy in the hope that I’m one of the women for whom this treatment will successfully prevent further growth of cancer cells, I simply added the prescription to my nightly pill regimen, figuring that way I could sleep through most of the side effects.

Nobody sleeps through night sweats, not even me. But night sweats are just weird, not serious like deep vein thrombosis, and it wasn’t long before they tapered off. There was the occasional unexpected nausea but my anti-nausea meds took care of it. (The anti-nausea medications for chemo patients these days are prima. For those who have told me they are about to start chemo and they’re a little nervous: when it comes to nausea, they’ve got you covered.)

Once or twice I had a little trouble getting to sleep but that didn’t last. No blood clots, no stroke, no heart-attack, not for Super-Duper-Recumbent-Bike-Riding Woman and her above-average circulatory system! I figured I had everything under control.

And then one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, after I had been working for a little while, I felt something I had not felt in at least five years: a mood swing, down. (When I have mood swings, they only go in one direction: down, down, down.) The first time it happened, I thought it was either low blood sugar or low potassium; I ate a piece of fruit and it went away. But then it kept happening. Not every day but too often to be random.

Now, I’m on a very quirky cocktail of antidepressants; even my psychiatrist says she has never had a patient on this combination. But it has been working for at least five years with no tweaking. I feel so normal on it that sometimes when I’ve been giving a medical history, I’ve almost forgotten to add the meds I take for clicnical depression. So the sudden dip was both disheartening and worrying. The last thing I need right now is for my anti-depressants to crap out on me. Except this didn’t really feel like an anti-depressant problem. 

Then I remembered I was taking hormones. I had a look at the package insert and yes, there it was on the list of side effects: depression. And when I thought about it some more, I realised that I didn’t have dips on those days when I went to the gym.

So here’s a tip for my fellow travellers in Cancerland who may also be taking hormones––or, hell, maybe for anyone who experiences hormonal fluctuations great enough to get them all bent out of shape: exercise.

I know, I know: when you hear that word, or read that word, you immediately get this picture in your head of hard-bodied young women doing push-ups outdoors at some get-a-bikini-body boot-camp––and smiling. Yeah, I hate those shiny-happy bitches, too and I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. The recumbent bike––my cardio of choice––allows you to sit up straight, with the added benefit that you don’t need padded bike shorts because you won’t get saddle-sore. On the other hand, some people like a regular bike, one that they can ride around outside. If that’s you, you don’t have to ride it like you’re in the Tour de France––you can just take a nice, leusurely ride, enjoy the weather or the flowers or whatever.

Or you can try a rowing machine, which will work all your parts. Once again, you don’t have to thrash away like you’re in the final qualifying round for the Olympics––you just have to move for a while. Or maybe you like lifting weights instead.

Or maybe you aren’t cursed with a back like mine and you can take a walk. Take a walk with a friend. Take a wlk with your sweetheart and hold hands. Go shopping––that’s walking, too.

You can even pull down all the shades, put on MTV, and try twerking. Just trying it, even if you can’t get it right, is probably some seriously good cardio.

I know, I’m repeating a lot of what I’ve already said about exercise and maybe simply reading it is making you feel exxhausted. But it’s important just to move. I like the social feeling of going to a gym and I have never once been fat-shamed or made to feel like I should be hiding at home. Other people prefer privacy; still others would rather be outdoors. There is no one true way to take care of yourself. You only have to find the way that works for you.

Push It

So I’ve just returned from a college reunion. Or rather, a college-within-a-college reunion. Many, many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away––in western Massachusetts––the University of Massachusetts set up something called Project 10 and I signed up for it. Naturally, it changed the course of my life, as these things do. It changed the course of many lives, and there have been a few reunions in the past, though none I was ever able to attend until now.

The brilliant and beautiful K, my roommate from that time, suggested that, if my health permitted, we road-trip from her place in Virginia. My health did (and does) permit even if I am not yet up to a lot of heavy lifting or long distance walking, and this sounded good to me. Besides, she works as a public defender so if it all went pear-shaped, I figured I was in good hands. And the timing was good––it was something like two months since my final round of chemo, with no recurrence of anaemia.

The seven-or-so-hour drive north was really pleasant, not at all gruelling. Of course, I wasn’t driving. K managed to miss that portion of my life during which I had a driver’s license. But lawyers and writers are people used to doing things for seven straight hours or longer. Plus as old hippies, we embody Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The pleasures of a long car ride can’t be over-estimated. K and I once drove all over the Massachusetts coast looking for a beach that met our exacting standards. We followed signs to a place called Sippiewissit and discovered to our amusement that it was not a Lake Winnipesaukee kind of place but a trailer park. Didn’t matter––the journey was the destination. (The drive back took almost twelve hours, with lousy weather and long delays due to construction.)

The reunion was a fascinating experience. We watched the famous 1971 Mayday in Washington DC video, which I had seen only parts of. I was there and got my head split open when a cop whacked me with a billyclub, although I failed to get arrested. This still rates as the scariest experience of my life. Yeah, scarier than cancer. Maybe I’ll talk about why in another entry.

I didn’t overdo. I couldn’t have if I’d wanted to––I don’t have enough energy. But I did push myself; it was time. At some point in physical recovery, you have to do that. Exactly when is hard to say because everybody is different and one size does not fit all. But you start by pushing a little bit, and after a while, a little more, until eventually, you have periods when you’re functioning at a pre-illness level or close to it.

How you can tell it’s time to push yourself hard to say. It’s all in how you feel, physically, psychologically, emotionally, or all of the above. I felt physically ready. Then I looked in the mirror and saw that my eyebrows were coming back. By the end of the trip, they were almost all filled in again.

My head hair has gone from fuzz to real hair, and it’s not all white. There’s a fair amount of brown. I’ve heard it may come in curly at first. Some of the longer sections look like they might be coming in that way but really, it’s still too short to tell. Nonetheless, I can feel that it’s a little bit thicker all the time and even my husband, who sees me all the time, says he can tell the difference from day to day. Hair growth is a sign of life.

Last December, my oncologist told me I might have about two years, which leaves me with a little less than a year and a half of her original estimate. That means every day after the end of December 2016 will be a gift.

I’ve decided I can recover from cancer, even if I can’t be cured.