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Archive for April, 2010

My friend's prostate cancer has returned

April 25th, 2010 at 02:39 pm



I just had an impromptu get-together at a local coffee shop with my friend R., who was on his way back from somewhere else and was swinging through my town.

He had recently told me that his PSA levels have become elevated again, this after having a Cyberknife therapy a year ago that's supposed to be 98% effective.

Let me back up a bit. R. is someone I've known for about 20 years now. I met him when i was in my late 20s at a singles event. He was the first man I fell deeply in love with. Outgoing, gregarious, great sense of humor, very smart. We eventually moved in together, but there was a lot of friction, much of it having to do with his insistence on still seeing female "friends" while we were living together. No, he didn't want to double-date, no, he didn't want to introduce me to them or have me come along. You can see why I hated the idea. We had many battles about it, and he would tell me i was just insecure and jealous. This was the man I loved, the first man i could see myself spending my life with.

He wasn't being physically unfaithful, but he had such a way with women, I think it was hard for him to give that up. He could get any woman to share her innermost thoughts and feelings with him in record time.

Eventually, we broke up. This was a major cause of the breakup, but it was also becus he was always (being 12 years older than me) very controlling and very argumentative.

Anyway. We remained friends for all these years and kept in touch. Despite his having caused me so much pain, I never revealed in later years just how much pain he caused me.

Fast forward about a decade or so. Those of you old-timers around this forum may recall my stories of how the woman he ended up marrying late in life left him. (She, too, found him very controlling and domineering.) R. became deeply depressed and went on anti-depressants. He pursued her. Shortly after their divorce was finalized, she had second thoughts. Maybe six months after that, they remarried. Unbelievably, a year or two later, she left him a second time. You can imagine the heartache.

In the past year, she's had some serious medical issues, was in the hospital for many months and even now still has a tube and bag attached to her for fecal and urine output. It started with an obstructed bowel. She's had several surgeries, and may have to have another one. She qualified for disability and gave up a good paying career as a nurse.

Last year, my friend R. had elevated PSA levels, which point to prostate cancer. They kept doing biopsies for many months until they finally found cancer. After much research, he opted for a somewhat new prostate cancer treatment called Cyberknife. It avoids the need for conventional surgery which has a high risk of either incontinence of impotence, or both. R. told me it was 98% effective.

That was last year.

More recently, his PSA levels, having dropped to normal levels following the Cyberknife and high radiation doses, have risen again to where they were when he first tested positive for cancer. He's waiting for the latest biopsy results from last week but is prepared now for another treatment called cyro-something, which involves long needles but again avoids incontinence/impotence risks. He can't have any more radiation cus he's already had the maximum limit. He says he doesn't want to wear diapers for the rest of his life, and he recently bought a very sporty muscle car, cherry red, a Camaro which I saw for the first time today.

Back when he opted for the Cyberknife surgery, his insurance company, a well-known one, declined to pay for the treatment becus they considered it experimental. He sued them and they eventually settled with him out of court. In return for paying for the procedure, they made him sign an agreement saying that if the prostate cancer returned and he needed subsequent treatment for it, they would not pay for it.

Talk about a Orwellian choice. Fortunately, R. has dodged that particular insurance coverage bullet because his wife, as a former nurse at a good hospital here, had an excellent policy which pays 100% of everything, regardless of insurance policy. So he's covered.

Another good thing is that through all the medical crises both he and his wife have experienced in the past two years, she has finally come around to wanting him in her life. She bought her own condo a long time ago and they live apart, but on paper they are married, and he had insisted a ways back when, when she depended on him for taking her to the doctor, and to surgery and for just plain being there for her when she needed it, that she keep him on her insurance plan, mainly for all the trauma she put him through when she ditched him...twice. She agreed. (He's 62 now, I think, and dropped out of f/t corporate career life and is now working 3 p/t jobs. So he needed insurance to get him thru age 65, when Medicare would pick him up.

So now, perhaps facing the reality of spending the rest of her life with colostomy bags and scarred all over, she realizes R. has proven himself worthy of her love. She's also come face to face with his mortality. So she's proposed to him that they remain in each others lives, to what capacity, I'm not sure, but that they would continue to live apart, even while she would not date anyone and she hopes that he wouldn't either.

R. seemed undecided about all that. His parents, he explained, remained together in a traditional marriage for all of their lives.

Anyway, I'm feeling rather depressed about my friend's health. He's been through a lot in his personal relationship, and now it could be a worst case scenario with his own serious medical issue. So far, a CAT scan and MRI have not shown any spread of the cancer beyond the prostate.

I don't have a lot of people in my life, but R., for all his faults, was and has been an important person to me. I would be devastated to lose him.

Spring is for yard work...and gardening!

April 25th, 2010 at 06:18 am


My apple tree in bloom.

It's a rainy, dreary day and I'm feeling rather relieved about that. It gives my body a chance to recover from all the yard work I've been doing, plus I know this is the day I'd better write my freelance assignment since i start training with the Census Bureau on Tuesday. Plus, with the rain, I get a break from my twice daily watering schedule for the grass seed I sowed. It's finally coming up in one section, not in the other, which gets less sun.

Yesterday I accomplished a lot. In the morning, I transplanted a corkscrew willow that had languished for several years in a spot that got plenty of moisture but not enough sun, apparently, and moved it, well, just about 25 feet further inward toward the center of the front yard. Basically, I'm running out of space to plant things, and I know this corkscrew willow can reach 30 feet in height, so I have to be careful not to put it in a spot where it shades out other things I've planted, including my vegetable garden and 5 different viburnums.

Anyway, I dug the new hole, poured some well-aged horse manure it it, then moved and re-erected the deer fencing around it and watered it.


Bleeding heart

Onto the veggie garden. I finished shaking out all the clods of grass, hauling them in a wheelbarrow to the brushy perimeter of the yard and heaving them in a spot where no one will see them.

Then I brought out from the garage 4 more 7-foot-high metal posts and the last of the fencing I'd bought last spring, to expand my veggie garden by about 50%. Becus other shrubs I planted are sort of in the way, I was forced to expand in one direction, and it now makes my garden an L-shaped affair, not a typical square or rectangle.

I put the fence up without too much trouble. (I had laid it out flat for weeks in my garage so the thing wouldn't instantly spring back to a rolled position if I let it go. Having a helper would have made that unnecessary, but I managed.)

I dug up 1 row in the new section of the garden and planted cut up organic red potatoes I had stored in the basement. Hadn't planned on using them as seed potato but they were rapidly sprouting, so I thought what the heck. However, I wanted more potatoes, so I got in the car and headed for Wal-Mart where I remembered seeing small bags of russet seed potatoes the previous week. (I am still learning, and impressed by, the competitive Wal-Mart prices on all sorts of things.)

Brought my russets back home and after reading the package directions, realized i should wait a day or two before planting to allow the potato sections i cut up (1 or 2 eyes per section) to callus over. Not sure what that does, and I'd forgotten to do that with the red potatoes I'd already planted, but oh well, guess we'll see.

I shoveled up a wheelbarrow full of mulch (left over from a pine tree i had taken down, mulched and left in a huge pile of my yard, near the driveway) and shoveled it out parallel to the potatoes I'd planted. The mulched section will be walkway; I wanted to mark it clearly so i don't accidentally step on where I planted. I'll have another walkway in this section with a 2nd row of potatoes against the fence on the other side and a row of tomato plants (4 to 5) going down the middle. So there'll be two walkways in between. I hope to plant the rest of the potatoes on Monday, weather permitting, and the string beans, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, zucchini, etc. will go in 1st weekend in May. They are either seeds or little seedlings i have started.

I will buy the tomato plants, and maybe the bell peppers, and put them in last.


Crabapple in bloom.


Twisted old crabapple.


Lungwort in bloom

My basil seedlings were looking so poorly i bought 2 basil plants yesterday for $2 each and potted them up already. I also potted up 2 elephant ear tubers (another Wal-Mart find, $3 each) in large pots and will be excited to see what they look like. Right now, they look very much like small coconuts!

Wild turkeys have been wandering through my property, sometimes 1, sometimes 2. I can often hear them gobbling in the woods.

Catching up with you

April 23rd, 2010 at 02:13 pm

I've really been enjoying the spring weather these last few weeks, working in the yard at least a little bit on every decent day.

There's so much to do...groan...but at least, if i can't be working now at a paying job, I can work to make my property attractive. I literally work each day I can to the point of exhaustion, and then end up feeling incredibly sore and stiff for the next 2 days. I keep waiting for the point when my body will adjust to the new regimen; my sister, who works as a gardener on a private estate and who is 2 years older than me, said I'm just not used to it. I had thought for a long time that it was just another sign I was getting older, but I'm hoping she's right.

In brief, I'm clearing out some brushy, overgrown areas, rescuing some cherry tree seedlings and possible June berry seedlings from being choked completely by vines. I'm expanding my vegetable garden by roughly 50%. This is so back-breaking, turning over the sod, letting the sun dry the clumps and then shaking each clod out so as not to lose valuable topsoil. (I have the best soil, I must say.) Then i have to trudge with my heavy wheelbarrow full of grass clumps and unload them (I prefer the flinging method) in another brushy area of yard I don't intend to ever "rehabilitate."

I'm also watering the grass seed i planted elsewhere twice daily...a pain, and i still see nothing sprouting after one full week. I'll be ticked off if birds or the occasional wandering turkey has eaten the seed.

Aside from that, I DID have a job interview this morning with a recruiter. It was an editor job for a global hedge fund, a bit of an unusual company. ("Intense," was how she phrased it.) Although I'm not sure if I'd want to work there, given the culture, I believe in keeping my options open for as long as possible so that i end up making as informed a decision as possible. She said she'd send my resume onto the company; i'm guessing, based on other things she told me about the backgrounds of 3 others who were interviewed, that i have no more than a 50/50 chance at being called in for an interview. However, all that being said, the pay would be exceptionally good, probably in the $90K range.

I got a check today for $217 for my participation in a 3-part medical study at Yale. I also wrote the monthly blog post for one of my clients, and since he wants to use that for May, not April, I have another blog post to write for April.

I'll need to do that this weekend as I start my 4 days of training with the Census Bureau Tuesday, and after that, i will be working more or less full time for about 8 weeks, more or less. Yes, they finally called me!

So for that reason, i REALLY want to finish readying the expanded vegetable garden and plant my potatoes this weekend. So I'll cool it on the medical and market research studies as a way to earn cash and focus, for a while, on the Census Bureau work.

I'm still attending the occasional physician lecture/free dinner and enjoy them greatly, I must say! That is my new form of cheap entertainment since i'm really not eating out much these days, even at fast food places. As a result of all this, my personal balance sheet looks pretty decent after over 6 months of unemployment. I haven't touched any savings.

Of course, I'm really anxious to start working again and hope that day comes soon. I want to get back on track with my retirement savings and early mortgage payoff. Those two things, to be totally honest, are what bother me the most, by far, about unemployment.

Another day in the life of....

April 9th, 2010 at 07:44 am

So yesterday was my final trip (for the time being) up to Yale for assorted medical research studies.

I was supposed to hit two of them. Since they were drawing blood at the first one, I had to be there at 8 am. We had to walk over to Yale-New Haven Hospital for the blood draw, but it was a gorgeous day. As per usual, the nurse had a little trouble drawing blood, so she ended up piercing me in the lower arm and it was still flowing very slowly (dehydrated) so she was "milking" my hand all the while. Afterwards, they fed me a full breakfast of pancakes, bacon, cereal, juice and coffee, something they don't do for everyone, but i guess she felt bad for me becus of the trouble with the blood draw. Cool!

I should get a check for $217 in the mail in a few weeks.

So on to my 2nd study. I had specifically asked the young woman where to park, and she mentioned the parking lot directly in front of the building as well as parking garages. Metered street parking I figured wouldn't work well since the study was probably going to be more than 2 hours and i don't think the meters go for more than that. (Honestly, I'm not really sure now, but you'd think the people doing these studies would be able to give accurate, specific info on parking in the city since it can be an issue. It's all students running these studies and since most of them don't need a car to get around, they don't seem to really know themselves.)

I had a little trouble finding the location, and with the one-way streets, had to circle around the city block 3 times before i found it. (This was the first MapQuest screw-up i had.) I found the very small parking lot in front of the building, but contrary to what she'd told me, the sign said permit parking only, all others will be towed. Then i found an adjacent parking lot for the same building, but this one had a gate down. I pulled in to push the button for a parking ticket and the sign said Out of Order. The gate was still down, so i had no choice but to back out onto the very busy road. Not good. I was so stressed after that, and generally stressed after the issues with my blood draw from the first study, that I decided to say the heck with it and just headed home, feeling drained. I called to tell her i wouldn't be there. I was giving up another $40, but oh well, there will be other studies.

Last night a friend and i went to an excellent physician lecture on Woman & Heart Disease. It was a really good talk and the doctor was quite approachable. We chatted a bit as he sat at my table. The yummy free dinner provided by Masonicares included grilled chicken, sauteed zucchini and yellow squash and a cold tortellini salad, plus fruit punch and cookies for dessert.

The last few days were so nice, weather-wise, that I was able to do a lot of yard work. I discovered there are maybe a half dozen "volunteer" cherry tree seedlings growing in a brushy, overgrown area on the north side of my house, nearby the 3 dwarf cherry trees I purchased and planted a number of years ago. I don't bother trying to eat the cherries, they're mostly pit, but the birds, especially the cat birds, relish them, and they planted new seedlings for me.

I would never have noticed them growing in this overgrown area except that they're now in bloom. The biggest seedling is about 6 feet high, but was becoming engulfed in wild grapevine and bittersweet, so I spent a lot of time de-tangling those vines from it, and then pulling out the vines themselves so they wouldn't simply grow back. There's still more to do.

There's also a large barberry, so in preparation for digging that thing out, I clipped back all the branches.

I then had enough plastic fencing and wood stakes to fence in two of the seedlings. I was surprised the deer hadn't already discovered them there, but now that I've cleared much of the overgrown stuff out, they stand out like beacons, i imagine, to hungry deer. I'm happy that at least 3 of the seedlings happened to have sprouted up in locations where I can just leave them to grow, not too close to other plants or in a bad spot, plus they'll all enjoy plenty of springtime water since a drainage outlet pipe is in the vicinity. They'll also help shield the view of my neighbor's house over time.

Got an assignment from a freelance client for the April corporate blog post, so i should try to do that this weekend.

I rolled out my remaining 6-foot-high fencing to see how much I could expand my veggie garden by, and it looks like I have enough to add another 30 square feet. I will, however, have to dig up a big burning bush that's in the wrong place, and I'll need to buy 4 more 7 foot high metal stakes to secure the fencing in the expanded section. This needs to be my next outdoor project becus planting time approaches.

On Sunday, we're going to an annual cactus and succulent show. The first 50 people there get a free plant, so we'll try to be early! I really like cacti and "succulents," ie jade plants and other fleshy-leaves arid-climate loving plants, and admission is free.

On Tuesday i have a borough meeting and hope the contingency i support will succeed in convincing borough leaders they don't need $250,000 of our borough tax dollars in reserve and to cut in half the coming year's tax bill. (This is in addition to town property taxes.) In other words, they have a whole lot of our tax dollars just sitting in a bank account "in case they need it." Don't tax me for no reason!! Grr.

On Wednesday i have another physician lecture and free dinner at an Ethan Allen Inn. I'm really enjoying these.

Tuesday Doings, Aging Parent Issues, Punky Neighbor Kid

April 6th, 2010 at 05:40 am

My builder Ralph made a surprise appearance yesterday after not showing up over the weekend. I was thrilled. We chatted as he worked to relocate my sump pump outlet pipe for better drainage and to cement off two old window wells where the old window frames had rotted.

In the meantime, I worked to pull out brambles and thorny stuff that was overtaking a large, fenced in garden I have. Last year I didn't touch the space and so these brambles really had a chance to spread. There are quite a few nice plants in there, including 3 dwarf cherry trees, 5 blueberry bushes, wild oats and a bunch of perennials like Jacob's Ladder, hosta, bleeding heart, gooseberry, a Peking cotoneaster, lady's mantle, etc.

He's not quite done so let's hope he returns today.

Had a nice Easter lunch with family and hung out afterwards to show my mom how to create her own blog.

Last week I helped my my mother set up a new exhibit at a local library. It was quite a lot of work as she had about 25 pieces, many of them large, to hang. My mom turned 76 this year and still she insists on booking large solo shows like this that are physically demanding to install and disassemble. It's unusual that I am available to help her; sometimes she relies on others, but it's always an iffy thing.

On the way to doing that, my neighbor's punk son tried to run me off the road in retaliation for my complaining last spring to the town that they were operating a commercial lawn-mowing business from their home, which isn't permitted by zoning laws. I don't think he actually intended to hit me but was trying to intimidate me, so when he saw i had just finished pulling out of my driveway and was headed up my road as he was coming down, he approached in his behemoth pick-up and deliberately crossed over the yellow line a good 3 feet, so he was halfway into my lane, forcing me to pull to the right and brake.

I considered calling the cops but couldn't decide if that move would end up escalating the tensions or nipping them in the bud. And, I figured, maybe he should be allowed to "vent" once. I would be pissed in his shoes, too, but your basic game plan shouldn't rest on doing something illegal, and I also can't stand the noise.

So I did nothing, and headed on to help my mom. If he does something like that again, i most certainly will call the cops becus i don't want him to get the idea he can act with impunity. As it is, whenever he goes by my driveway, he always looks to see if i'm outside in the yard, and if i am, he races the engine becus he thinks that annoys me.

I'm more concerned that he might try some anonymous vandalism, like bashing my mailbox or even destroying my vegetable garden, which is in clear view in the front yard.

I'm curious if he'll continue to try to circumvent zoning laws like he did all last summer, even trying to hide their mowers by parking them at another neighbor's house who lives behind me in the woods. At the time, they didn't know it was me who complained. But they strung along the zoning enforcement officer from one month to the next, claiming they "needed more time" to make other accommodations.

Those big mowers have been sitting parked in their backyard all winter. The place generally looks like a dump, but my main concern is i don't want to deal with the noise. So far, nothing's happened with that since mowing season hasn't really started, but it should in another week or two.

If they start up again like last year, I won't hesitate to call the town. I sure hope he doesn't think that running me off the road will soften my feelings about the matter.

I've got a dentist appointment this afternoon. This is one of the few medical visits I'll do while unemployed. I called to see what the price would be for just the cleaning. $91. Very steep.

Later this week I finish up with 2 of my final medical research studies, both on the same day.

I've applied for a few jobs recently that I think I'm very well qualified for, but so far, no call-backs. Still no call from the Census Bureau.

I painted the sun room floor last Thursday, just one coat of very sticky, thick paint. The instructions on the can said it could handle "light traffic" after 2 or 3 days, but to wait a full week for "heavy traffic." I walked on it twice after 3-4 days and the second time it felt sticky. I looked at my sock and there was paint on it from one of the cracks between the wood panels.

My dad was up the day before Easter with his pick-up, to help me cart all the brush from winter prunings to the landfill. I was glad for the help, but also worried about it all being too much for him. He's 77, diabetic and overweight. We made 2 trips, then had lunch at the diner. He didn't want to stay long after that becus he wanted to make sure he got home before dark. He said the macular degeneration is making night vision difficult, and even his daytime vision is worse.

When it finally progresses from the "dry" stage to the "wet" stage, they will be able, he said, to give him an injection that will halt further progression and salvage whatever remaining vision he has. While I was anxious that it finally gets to the point where he can get that shot, he said he wasn't really looking forward to it and would just as soon it never came. Hey, if i can do an injection every day (for my MS), you can do this one shot, I said. What i didn't know is that the injection is straight into his eyeball (!) and he's understandably feeling very squeamish about that.

I really worry about him driving at all. He made the comment that it would be very difficult the day he has to give up driving all together. I told him it wasn't worth the risk of an accident, and privately felt a little relieved that he at last acknowledged he might have to stop driving some day.

It's really too bad that K. is moving out after 15 years together, 5 of them living together, but I could tell she has really been getting on his nerves. In the past, he never really seemed to want to talk much about it while K. talks about anything and everything, including their relationship, so i was getting a one-sided view of things.

I think they'll appreciate each other more when they're not living on top of each other, but i do worry about his health issues and him living alone now. He's too stubborn and independent to ask or accept help.

A good example: he told me that last 4th of July, he and K. had gone to watch the fireworks outside and were sitting on a park bench. They were going to get up, and he was unable to. He was having a "silent" heart attack and K. freaked and said we've got to get you to a hospital and my dad refused and said "relax." After about 20 minutes, he was able to get up and his doctor later confirmed he had a heart attack, the latest of several. I was kind of shocked that my dad would refuse medical treatment, incredulous, in fact. I wanted to say so, but I kept quiet. You see, K. has a kind of pushy, in your face personality, and that really gets on my dad's nerves. I don't want him to respond to me the way he responds to her. But i am still tempted to say something at some future point in time, like, hey dad, don't expect me to do nothing if you have a heart attack in my presence. I'm not going to ask your permission to call 911.

I was thinking, too, if he has to give up driving due to his deteriorating vision, I mulled over the possibility of my driving the 3 hours down to his place to pick him up, bring him back to my place and let him "vacation" with me for a week or more, then driving him back home. These days, he typically drives 3 hours to come out here and then drives back home the same day. He has spent the night, with or without K., a few times, but when i put my house ont he market 3 years ago, i got rid of the old double bed i had in the spare bedroom, so I don't really have an extra bed here. I'd like to get one so he can feel comfortable to stay over. The last time he stayed over, I insisted he take my bed and i slept on the floor of my office. I was miffed, because Luther chose to spend the night with him!

Of course, having my dad over for longer stretches of time would be more doable if I still weren't working, and I'm not sure how he would occupy himself here while i was away at work. I don't know. I just don't want him to start feeling isolated if he can't drive anywhere.

I got a new job!

April 1st, 2010 at 04:42 pm



I'm so excited. I got a job offer from the Philadelphia Zoo as Head Pachyderm Keeper. The pay is good, benefits even better: they said I could take all the elephant poop I can fit in my trunk...no pun intended.... for my vegetable garden!

Sorry, I only get to do that once a year, folks. April Fool's!

It was a gorgeous day, sunny, high of 68, I think. Tomorrow will be even warmer.

I hauled another trunk-load of branches to the landfill and spent about $42 at Stop & Shop but I had oodles of coupons. Filled the trunk again with branches but realizing now i can't swing by the landfill on the way home from the medical study tomorrow because it's Good Friday and I think I saw a sign that they'll be closed.

I made a diced cucumber/tomato/onion, chickpea/feta cheese salad with ranch dressing. Yum. Put up some window screens so the cats could enjoy the breeze.

Painted the sun room floor. I got the gloss paint at Ace a few weeks back before realizing that if you want the gloss, it's not gonna be latex paint, but a "polyurethane xxx alyd" something or other. The main thing is, it doesn't clean up with soap and water, and since i hate having turpentine or other chemicals around the house, I bought some cheapy brushes at Xpect Discounts (.69 each) knowing I'd use them once and throw away with trying to clean them.

As expected, the bristles starting coming out as I painted. I just carefully pulled them out like so many fish bones when i saw them coming loose so they wouldn't get painted onto the floor.

I finished painting at 1 pm and checked it for drying several times today. I don't think I really need a 2nd coat, though I have most of the full gallon I'd purchased. It still looks VERY shiny, which I like a lot. But they say don't subject it to "heavy use" for 7 days, light use ok after 2 or 3 days, depending on temps and humidity levels.

They delivered the 4 x 6 bamboo rug I'd ordered for the sun room, but i saw immediately that while it's a good looking rug, it's NOT the one I ordered. What a nuisance. UPS is to pick it up and return to the company, but of course I have no real idea when they'll be here. I'm hoping not to miss them on their first attempt at pick-up.