Constance Ore is a retired Teacher, Choir Director, and Organist. And a formidable cook.

May 27, 2009

Filed under: — Constance at 9:08 pm on Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On this 13th day of post-treatment, I have felt nearly as well as I did “in the olden days” before the cancer came. I determined to limit my contacts, and I have been staying away from all places where groups of people gather. I have not gone to church, shopping, movies, or restaurants. I’d like to add large lovely parties, but there were no invitations to such events, so I can’t say that I had to deny myself the experience. We have had a good number of friends come over to share suppers here, and this has been a happy two weeks.

The oncologist decided to forego checking the status of the blood cells each week, saying that one tended to “obsess” over the readings, and feel more anxious about the lack of white and/or red. Instead, I will have the CBC once monthly. If I begin to feel exhausted walking up the stairs, or sick in other ways, I will meet with my GP at the Clinic here in Seward. At first, this seemed startling after all the months of weekly readings and medical reactions, but returning to just plain living has been splendid. It has led me to consider the nature of miracles. I believe I am living one, and even if it doesn’t go on into the future indefinitely, it remains a miracle.

On an evening last week, we invited our neighbors over for a supper together before they left for their summer residence in Montana. The menu featured filet mignon, and the entrée was built around this delicacy. I had marinated the four filets for a bit, and Charles had gotten the grill ready. The table was set and the house looked nice with many bouquets of orchids, lilacs, and spirea – all was in readiness, with the meat on a plate far back on the kitchen counter. When our friends arrived, we all went into the living room for a moment to look out over Sanctuary, and it was then that our previously dear Alphie suffered a lapse into moral turpitude, because in about thirty seconds of time, he hefted his great self up and neatly removed all four of the filets without disturbing any other thing. I came back into the kitchen, looked at the empty plate and said to Charles, “Did you take the meat out to the grill?” and he said, “No, did you put it into the refrigerator?” Since neither of those actions had taken place, we both turned our eyes upon Alphie, who was lying on the kitchen floor, one eye shut, and one eye just a bit open and watching us. He was soundly scolded, but the deed was done. Fortunately, our friends love Alphie also, and have had labs of their own, so we heard stories of other outrageous thefts and behavioral lapses while I reconstructed the supper. I have noticed that since that evening, when we have guests, Alphie slips into the kitchen, nose up and sniffing for more lovely things to eat. For now, we have learned caution and he finds nothing of interest, but sadly, he is a changed creature. Charles says he thinks that until that feasting moment, Alphie didn’t realize just how much better human food tastes than dog food, and from now on, we will have to be on our guard against “Alphie the Snitch” where before we had “Alphie the Good”. Alas.

May 19, 2009

Filed under: — Constance at 2:52 pm on Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Yesterday, when we made the drive returning from Lincoln to our home, I looked out over the roadsides and fields – the colors were so beautiful, I imagined my hand to be like a giant’s hand reaching out and stroking over the soft grasses, following the undulating shape of the hills, and touching the tops of the willows and cottonwood trees in the valleys between. We have had very little rain this spring, but the earth has sent forth its best anyway. I think the early settlers must have seen this season, planted seeds, and assumed that the bounty would come, but instead the dry days and hot winds arrived and reduced everything to exhausted burned out stems by the time summer ended. We have had those times too, and it is possible that this will be such a year, so we must continue to live in the moment and enjoy fully what the present has to offer.

It felt strange to visit with the oncologist and hear the finality in the words, “The chemotherapy treatment did not work this time, and there is nothing more that we can do.” He went on to say that if we wanted to find another opinion, he would be open to that; the discussion continued about what he knows, what information he has been able to gather at conferences, etc., and what people do when they hear these words. He said that he has had several former patients who went to Lourdes, France to ask for a miracle, and some have gone forth to seek out alternative treatments. He talked about how emotions take over, and rational thought seems to flee – and finally we talked about trust. Since he has been my doctor for almost three and a half years now, the trust in his judgment is great, and we are glad.

In a way, it is like the TV program where the contestant stands before three doors and must choose one of them for the grand prize. For me, it might be Door #1 which would be contacting other Cancer centers around the country and pursuing any kind of clinical trials that might be available. Door #2 opens to the present plan of a kind of medically centered hospice; close contact with my GP, calling him when feeling ill, and trying to avoid getting into the pattern of red blood transfusions until absolutely necessary. (According to the oncologist, the body will make adjustments over a little time to deal with less. . . like it does when one goes to a high altitude. So one has to give it a chance to work with a lower red blood count before rushing into the transfusions. Once I begin into those on a regular basis, the inevitable downward spiral increases in velocity.) Door #3 has a bleak and empty place behind it, where the phrase “There is no cure” keeps playing over and over again, and a heaviness settles in. I have peeped behind Doors 1 and 3, and the space behind the first door is seductive – it whispers, “Maybe…” Behind the third door is a place that I find myself every now and then in spite of attempting to keep away and it is very hard to be there. The second Door opens to the space in which we choose to be at this time. A dear friend who has lived this entire scenario with her husband said it best when she commented, “It’s the curse of the disease. When you feel good, life is good, and looks wonderful. When you get sick, which inevitably happens since you have no immunities, you have the hope of returning to feeling well, but you never know if this time will be the last time”.

Like the giant’s hand hovering over the beautiful hills, I truly do feel God’s care and the web of many people’s concern and prayer that is above, below and all around us, and today I feel good, and life is fine.

May 12, 2009

Filed under: — Constance at 8:31 pm on Tuesday, May 12, 2009

To be “neutropenic” can be compared to the person dressed in sheer clothing in the midst of everyone properly covered in armor as all enter a field of battle. One doesn’t have a prayer against the onslaught of possible illnesses, and though I have been wearing a mask as I have gone out and about, I have not been able to avoid getting sick. This time I have had sort of an endless “24 hour flu” which began last Thursday, and is only now beginning to recede. Sadly, once the body no longer responds to the medicines that force the stem cells to make more white blood cells, there is not a lot that can be done. White cells only last 24 hours or so, so it isn’t useful to have transfusions as it is for red blood. It appears that the chemotherapy did nothing at all to improve the blood condition, so once more we are looking at a more severe landscape than we have had before. Again, I am “sick and tired” of being sick and tired.

Always, there is the “meanwhile” part of the story, and this story’s “meanwhile” usually moves to my setting of Sanctuary, where everything within view teems with life. I identified another bird this week, (black and white warbler) and the oriole and the catbird both came on Mother’s Day. Now the list of summer regulars is complete, and the daily drama plays out in front of our windows. Alphie has discovered that there are land crabs under the earth on the path and near the wetland streams. This means that he is suddenly digging holes with chunks of soil flying everywhere, and causing the walking path to be full of potholes waiting to trip up the unwary. This is the first time that he has noticed the life under the surface of the earth in this way, and that began when I would rest at several places on the path. As I sat there viewing the treetops and the scenery in general, at first Alphie would sit quietly next to me, just as a good and faithful dog should. But shortly he began to wander, sniff, and then, dig, dig, dig. It was much better when he would take off in futile pursuit of deer and rabbits. And of course, whatever is living down there is long gone no matter how deep he digs.

“What a Friend” [click to listen]
As life goes forward, I hear in my mind Charles playing his composition, “What A Friend We Have in Jesus” and I replay the words that I loved to sing loudly (complete with the sliding tone between “Je” and “sus”) when I was about eight years old. I hear his exuberant and energetic presentation of that old well-worn hymn and I think, “Oh yes. . . .”

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer.
Oh, what peace we often forfeit; Oh, what needless pain we bear –
All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer!

May 5, 2009

Filed under: — Constance at 1:37 pm on Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The inner workings of my body continue to be a mystery. Without changing my behavior from days past, the morning comes when there is a feeling that somewhere within, a firewall has been breached by the disease. This morning was one of those, with queasiness, exhaustion and aches in all the moving parts. Alphie and I did the morning walk, and rather than the usual complete delight in all the splendors around, it was moving from place to place with inner admonitions. “Keep moving until you get to the walnut tree, then rest”. And so forth. I never quite know if a virus or germ has come past and been invited in, or if another victory for the “other side” is taking place. The blood reading today would indicate the breach rather than a virus, as the numbers are slipping rather than increasing even a tiny bit. Last week the oncologist expressed the possibility that the chemotherapy might bring up the counts, but so far, this is not happening.

On May 1, the wrens came, claiming territories all around Sanctuary. Today, the rose breasted grosbeak arrived, and also the swallows that build inside the porch. By now, the sounds of bird song here are varied, lively, and continuous throughout the daylight hours. Lilacs, dame’s rockets, wood violets, lily-of-the-valley and iris are all blooming now; aren’t those titles splendid? Their scents and sights are wonderful now.

This afternoon, Professor Ore came home with a spring to his step announcing that he had turned in his grades for the semester, thus concluding another season of teaching, and shortly thereafter, Yardman Ore came down the steps in jeans preparing to haul the crushed rock which he’d had delivered last week for the purpose of refreshing the driveway and the walks near the house. In between, Philosopher Ore sat down and sternly rebuked me for saying that I was in the demographic of the “elderly with chronic, incurable illnesses” as referred to in discussions about our health care systems. (That 80% of resources are spent on people such as myself, and that this is something that needs to be addressed). He did move me out of the “elderly” category very convincingly, and make me laugh in the process. C’est la vie.