Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Best Gifts Ever

It's that time of the year... and I really hate being asked for a gift list. ;)

If someone sees something they want me to have, I will appreciate it. Please don't ask me to tell you what to buy. To me that's just you saying you don't want to think of me more than you want to cross my name off of a list. It truly is the thought that counts to me.

Having said that, I've received gifts that have left their mark on me.

The first was a toy I still have after nearly thirty years gone by. My Dad was in the Air Force when I was growing up. We were coming back stateside from Japan just before Christmas in 1979. All of our stuff had been crated up and was taking a slow boat while we were living out of suitcases and holing up with my grandparents as Dad got out of the service. Mom and Dad had known our move home would interrupt Christmas and had planned ahead mailing toys home ahead of us... this was back when the mail could take weeks.

Under the tree that Christmas was the coolest toy ever; a remote controlled R2-D2! There was an American rc R2, but it only had two legs and was cloudy white plastic with a dull silver dome head; totally lame by comparison. My plucky little droid is -still- bright white with dark blue stickers and a mirror-chrome top. He's got -three- legs and his head swivels when he rolls around stopping on command and -shooting- tiddlywink discs! I still have him in his original box. A few years ago I had him appraised at $1400 for a Discovery Channel show but, to me, he's priceless because Mom and Dad had gone to so much trouble to make sure I had him for Christmas that year.

The second gift was a Snap-on 1/2" breaker and a tin can with some sockets in it. When I opened them, I did not understand what they were. Obviously they were tools, but they were clearly worn not to mention they were sizes I already had. Then my folks told me where they'd come from.

Officially, my grandfather died on my 21st birthday. He'd had a stroke several weeks prior and the family rushed to Florida from all corners, including my aunt who had been deployed to Riyahd during Desert Storm. Grampa had been looking us in the eye and able to blink yes and no but was otherwise completely disabled by the stroke... it was heartbreaking. My grandmother told him all their kids were there and she would be okay and when she told him he could stop fighting, he stopped responding to us. I feel that was when he passed despite the agony of the bureaucracy of stopping life support; which he'd been put on with complete disregard for the papers he had signed himself when he was originally admitted for a minor stroke. The major stroke happened in his hospital room.

My grandfathers' tools were supposed to have been split up and passed on to each of his grandsons; a fact I never knew. It had been hidden from me because my uncle had run completely roughshod over his parents home, his own mother's home, taking things before any of Grampas' wishes could be carried out. This heavily damaged my uncle's relationship with his sisters and, to this day, is still a tender subject. My uncle pawned nearly all of the tools I and my cousins were supposed to receive.

Somehow my aunt and her husband wound up with the breaker and the sockets I was holding in my hands. Years had gone by before they came across the tools in a stateside move of their own (Air Force too). They felt these few tools ought to go to me. As my mom told me who they'd belonged to, how they'd escaped the hands of my uncle, and that they were supposed to have been mine many many years ago, I broke down.

Those old sockets and the patina'd breaker bar now hold a very very special spot in my toolbox. They've turned fasteners on my and my friends cars now and made a few trips to different paddocks with me. I think of my grandfather every time I see them and I can feel he is happy knowing they're finally in my hands.

Here is a picture of an Artoo like mine. Give me some time and you may get to see those tools in use on one of your cars.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

quick and painless... until the blood draw that is

Dr. Lee was a bit late this morning, but I did not mind. I gave her a quick update and she agreed I would probably heal up more fully now without the chemo coursing through me being reinforced every other week. I'd had a rough weekend, worst night in about a month. I'm honestly a lot more worn than I want to admit, but I am feeling better. When I asked about getting into a fitness regimen, Dr. Lee saw no problem.

She deferred to Dr. Grasso specifically for any abdominal muscle training. I spoke with him this evening and he suggested I avoid overly stressing my abs and possibly invest in an ab belt for extra support. When I mentioned I may try finding a trainer whom has worked with recovering surgical patients, he thought that would be a good idea. So, that'll be the plan and hopefully my reduced hours will help. Dr. Grasso asked after my bimmer and told me he'd been in surgery today with another doctor working on a 2002. Car guy docs rule!

I'm in a minor holding pattern waiting for a referral for a PET scan on Dec 19th. I'm going to stay on top of this referral and not let it get goofed around with some typo or rejected for the wrong mailing address or, as luck would just have to have it, some inattention because of the holiday this week.

Which brings me to Thanksgiving. Like every year I have a lot to be thankful for if I just stop and think about it. Which is my encouragement to you. Take a little time out and consider your own situation. :)

off to the oncologist

I'll be jumping in the shower shortly and off to see Dr. Lee first thing this morning. Chemo has come to an end so I anticipate we will be scheduling a PET scan to see how our work has paid off.

I'll also be asking her advice on exercising, specifically strength training. I've lost a lot of weight and, as you may have heard me say, I would like to capitalize on it. But I've lost a lot of strength too... and I didn't start off with a great deal. Now that there's no chemo going in, I want to know if it's okay to try building muscle even as the chemo tapers off.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


For some reason, we instinctively hold our breath when something big approaches. It's second nature; a reaction to fear. I wish I had a dollar for every instructor who has told me to breathe or even for every time I've caught myself tensing up, forgetting to do what is guaranteed to keep my head clear and my actions smooth.

Just gotta breathe.

When I don't, I feel it. Often just a bit too late and I knock myself off my rhythm. I brake too soon, turn in too early, knot myself up and make it hurt worse, or psych myself into breaking down. Such was the case Saturday evening, and I've been paying for it since then. Less and less, thankfully, but I can still look back and see where holding my breath put me off my game.

This was supposed to be a good thing. Chemo ended Saturday evening. But I'd held my breath and turned it into this emotional mountain to climb that has upset me for days all because I didn't just swallow those last four pills instead of fixating on them.

So, lesson learned again. I never was the kid who really got it that the burner was hot the first time I touched it. I've always had to burn my hand a second time just to make sure. I need to just let the chemo go now and not get all worked up over my next meet with Dr. Lee. Yes, we'll talk about what happens next, but I do myself no favors trying to hold my breath until then.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

okay now, THIS is cool

Jody and I just had an impromptu video chat through Google and Meebo. With the teeny little webcam and microscopic microphones in my laptop she could see and hear me in real time! So this is that change Obama was all on about! ;)

Pshh... it's probably about time I got up to speed on video messaging. Jody got me a webcam for the desktop last Christmas but I never really put it to use. Who am I going to video chat with? Maybe webcams will appear in some other stockings this year... hehehehe

If you have one and you see me logged into Gmail, chat me up!

I am regrettably pleased to report I am well into my final week of chemo. I had to outline this fact to a few people at work today as Monday found me home, ill. With no more classes in the lab until February, Tuesday being a holiday, and no pressing needs I wallowed one more time (last time?) in the ick and stayed home. No sooner had I hung up the phone after letting my boss know, the phone rang again and there was a customer at the lab needing some machines set up...

I now know I'm going to be okay with the new job. Over the phone, I walked him through the setup and asked him to call me if anything did not work. I pictured each load taking a few minutes to finish and was pretty sure I'd stepped him through everything just right. 'Called him after about 15-20 minutes and all was right with that world. Yeah, I think I'll do just fine. ;)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

doing okay, busy at work

As requested, I am indeed doing okay and I am, happily, busy at work.

Unfortunately, I've also been busy at home too trying to make sense of a hiccup in my long-term disability insurance. To the point, eveything is straightened out but I am not getting what I thought I had purchased.

It was sad to cross over from short-term disability way back in February when the six month anniversary passed. The indignity of applying for social security benefits through a subcontracted nagging service was that much worse. They drilled me every few days over the phone and every week or so with paperwork but I just took it on as part of my new "job" of recovering and getting well and vowed to do my best. Fast forward through some rough times and I thought when I was finally well enough to go back to my day job, I would see more money coming into the bank account. What I didn't realize was the benefits would shrink relative to any money I earned.

Checks had been arriving for months now and the new number was predictable. I abided by my contract and reported my part-time earnings and the benefit check didn't change. I thought it might, but when it didn't I figured that was the other half of my paycheck; the other 20 hours a week my doctor has me resisting.

When September passed without a check, I didn't worry too much. By the time my birthday passed two weeks into October and I hadn't received a return call, I did begin to worry. After figuring out CIGNA had chosen to just stop paying for the flimsiest reason they could find, I went from worried to angry.

My case manager vanished. She may have quit or been fired, croaked dead or been abducted by aliens and forced onto a Elvis diet. She just plain disappeared. Her voicemail still works and her email has never bounced leaving me to think she was getting my pay/leave statements just like normal. But she wasn't and therefore CIGNA wasn't. After weeks with no check, I persevered through their ridiculous robo-phone system to get ahold of her boss who promptly denounced the break in communication as my fault giving them every right to stop paying benefits. Pardon my French, but this pissed me off. I wasn't the one whom had stopped talking, they were. To blame me and use it as an excuse to stop paying was just plain stupid.

You may be able to imagine my reaction. ;)

I bled them for information to get my account current but I was totally stunned to learn my adjusted benefit was more than a thousand dollars less. I could not figure out why. I know I can be thick sometimes, but a grand? For weeks I pored over their spreadsheets trying to make heads or tails of their math. I was certain they'd made a mistake because I piad for coverage to make up half my paycheck; half my gross paycheck! Every month I'd not been working, the benefit arrived fine. The month I started working, fine. The second month? Nothing. Got that straightened out and then the check was a fraction of what I was expecting. Feeling sick, routinely crashing, and being reminded of my age weren't helping either. In the end, I prayed for patience and understanding because I needed this to be over with so I could either adjust for the smaller amount, or get my account settled and back onto the check amounts I'd been expecting.

Now don't go thinking we're having budget problems. Far from it. Jody and I immediately scaled back the budget as soon as we found out I was sick because we did not know what this ordeal would cost. Mercifully, the out of pocket expenses haven't been that bad though I now understand the concept of those pre-tax flexible spending accounts. Taxes this year are going to be interesting... and that's without Obama. ;)

However, I cannot ever earn more than 100% of my old pay; what I earned when I got sick. Some months it will be smaller because I bring home weekly paychecks; twice a year there will be months with five while all the others will only be four. It was very bad timing that September was that first month for me coinciding with my old CIGNA rep going Houdini on me. I just didn't realize my coverage isn't actually for the other half of my paycheck if I'm able to work a little.

Honestly. What do people do who are too sick to keep up with these things?

None of this has really helped my stamina either. On the nights I can rest, I am able to wake up nice and early, have Aaron drive me to his school so he gets some drivers education time, punch in half a day in the lab trying to learn the new job, then collapse or completely crash at home. It's compounding the effects of the chemo with, thank God, ends after next week's final round of poison. Only 56 more pills to go starting Sunday... I think I'll cry when the last ones go down.

Please, oh please, let them have done their job. I don't look forward to the sore muscles after another PET scan or the prep for another colonoscopy, but they will be worth it if someone can tell me they don't see anything any more.

Okay maybe I'll cry now too. :(