Taking Care of Business

The cats. The car. The dentist. The pancreatic enzymes. It was a week that typically isn’t. As often as my credit card was swiped these past few days, I’m amazed its magnetic strip is still magnetized. To quote my deceased mother, Celia: “It’s enough already.”

Oh well, what’s done is done, though it definitely needed doing. And aside from the fact that I didn’t have the actual money, fortunately I had the available credit, which I was grateful to have had. I mean, how long can you put off necessary evils/expenditures before they rear their ugly consequences? And though money doesn’t grow on trees (linen actually), credit seems to, and so the to-do list now has some cross-outs/”has-dones” finally.

Now the anxiety about neglecting the “to-dos” is replaced by the worry about the cost/needing-to-pay the “having-dones.” Nevertheless, the cats have had their vaccinations shot current. The car now has a passenger window that goes down – and back up, a check-engine light that no longer illuminates, a blower that will now provide heat in the winter and a defogger when needed, and as it turns out a bit of unexpected air conditioning. The dentist has referred me to an oral surgeon (since the teeth were both “unrestorable“/not root canal candidates) who will extract two teeth from my mouth and hundreds more from my bank account/probably credit card – again, but no doubt get me back on a course of dental correction. The pancreatic enzymes, the most expensive bottle of pills I buy (I consume upwards of 55 pills per day) is an expense I incur every three months and does something to help my immune system keep the lung cancer in-check, a priority if there ever was one.

Paying to keep on playing (so to speak), by maintaining this kind of normalcy enhances the feeling that life is indeed still being played. And not that my attitude/philosophy in such responsibilities is totally affected by yours truly having been diagnosed with a “terminal” form of cancer: non-small cell lung cancer, stage IV, to be specific, but as the old punchline says: “It doesn’t hurt.” And avoiding hurt is definitely part of the fighting-cancer strategy; along with avoiding stress, eating healthy, exercising and boosting one’s immune system.

I guess what I’m realizing that I have two lives, sort of, the usual and customary life: work, play, day-to-day stuff and the cancer life: lab work, chemotherapy, scans, oncologist, pills, lifestyle changes, etc. On some days, they are parallel. On other days, they intersect. And though they may be separate, they are inter-related. What benefits one is likely to positively affect the other. Additionally, a negative in one life will  likewise have an adverse consequence in the other. However, the requirements to maintain their respective lives is different. Yet balance/co-existence must be maintained in order for one to remain “twogether.” Two separate halves will not make for a responsible whole, but rather lead to an emotional one. And if there’s one attribute that a cancer patient/survivor must have, it is emotional wherewithal. Failure to do so in one’s cancer life will likely spill over into the non-cancer life (and vice-versa) and cause a kind of an adult version of failure to thrive. Cancer might win the battle in the end but you can’t let it win the battle in the interim. Fulfilling your every-day responsibilities helps give that life the kind of accomplishment that aids and abets in your fight against your cancer life. Moreover, handling your cancer life gives you the confidence and optimism to live your non-cancer life.

Granted, the two lives might not exactly be the best of friends, but they must be partners of a sort. The sort that is independent, appreciative, respectful and considerate.


And So It Begins

For the first time in almost exactly 25 years: bathroom demolition, times two. With financial assistance from my father-in-law, along with use of our home equity line, we have committed to and contracted for, a complete renovation of our two full bathrooms (‘full’ meaning: tub/shower, commode, sink, vanity, mirror, shelves, lights/fixtures, counter top, floor and shower tile, and paint). Ergo, over the next eight to 12 weeks, our house will officially become a construction site.

Never having experienced this level of upheaval and chaos in any of our previous homes before, we are looking forward since we have no reference looking backward. We know one thing for sure: our five indoor cats will be miserable and scared and likely hiding for days on end. Considering that the workers will be in our home from 7:30 am to 5 pm, I don’t know when the cats are going to feel like eating since their routine will have been completely thrown off having so many new people in the house for so many hours per day. (I don’t even want to think about the litter box implications.)

Nevertheless, time marches forward, and given that our home is historic/over 250 years-old, its bathrooms, though not exactly pre-Colonial, definitely are showing their age. Their design, form, function, efficiency and attractiveness barely blip the radar. Both bathrooms are old, and that’s the only compliment I can give them.

I imagine the next two to three months will likely be a journey of discovery; Columbus-like in that we will be discovering a new world with modern bathroom amenities and conveniences, color coordination and functionality, many of which we’ve not been the beneficiaries of in over 25 years. Our kitchen remains as it has been all those years ago: large but clearly deficient in many ways compared to modern kitchens. As a matter of fact, as the designer, project manager and I walked into the kitchen looking for the access panel to the adjacent bathroom, I said, “As you can see, our kitchen need work, too. Any chance you all offer a ‘BOGO? Buy one, get one free?” Of course, they both laughed and shook their head. They didn’t have to say “No.” It was more a rhetorical question anyway.

Considering the time we’ve all had together, we have no doubt the contractor and his workers know what they’re doing. We’re not sure however, as homeowners that we know what we’re doing. From our first meeting, a few months back, the process has seemed clear enough as do the drawings/design ideas we’ve now seen/decided upon do. Still, when it goes from their paper to our property, how will it all transfer? They seem confident and complimentary which certainly has been reassuring but we’re novices in this transformation. For us each step forward is yet another step into the great unknown. And since we can only take it one step at a time, we have no choice but to live and learn and hopefully not regret and decisions we’ve already made (although changes can still be made).

So far, and it’s not very far, so good. However, it’s the process of starting and ultimately finishing that worries me. Not that I run on a schedule (heck, I can barely walk), but my wife, Dina, sort of does; and it seems as if she and the workers might be occupying the same space at the same time. I suppose the timing and all eventually works itself out but it’s the interim with which I’m concerned. I realize there are no guarantees in any of this. I guess I just have to deal with it as I do with my having cancer: take the bad with the good, keep a sense of humor and try to remain positive. Doing so has kept me alive for eight years and four months. I’d like to think I can manage for another eight to 12 weeks.

A Near Catastrophe, Always

As I bring our two cat carriers up from the basement in order for “The Buff Boys” to acclimate in anticipation of their impending visit to the Veterinarian, I can’t help but think back to the spring of 1976. That’s when an appointment to mend my male cat, Tillie, nearly went very wrong. To this day, the circumstances still haunt me.

Tillie had been a surprise birthday gift given to me in September of 1975, along with a puppy I named Gus (both named after a W.C. Fields’ movie entitled, “Tillie and Gus”). Tillie was an all-black domestic short hair. Gus was a German Shepard/St. Bernard mix. (He was beautiful. He had a white-ish beige coat, floppy ears and a curly tail.) Introduced to one another at six weeks old, Tillie and Gus were the best of friends/siblings. Though I made sure they spent their evenings inside, during the day, both were outside. (We had a fenced-in yard so Gus was confined. Tillie however, as you might imagine was not. He had the run of the neighborhood.)

Sure enough, one day, Tillie got into a cat fight. His tail had been bitten and was beginning to abscess. I knew I had to take him to the Veterinarian. However, I was in college and had very little money to spare. Nor did I have a credit card either. (Those were the days before credit card companies solicited college students.) In a financial bind, I called my parents and asked for money (I did work in the dining hall all through college but lived in a house off campus and had the usual room and board-type expenses). They sent me $25. (In my mind, I can still see the check.) In addition to whatever other money I could scrape together, I guess it was enough so I took Tillie to the “Vet.” for repair. He stayed overnight. The next day I got the call that he was ready for pick-up. That’s when the event occurred that has affected me/my animal-owning life going on four decades plus.

I went by myself. I had a car; a 1970 Ford Maverick, but no cat carrier. I was, apparently, planning on simply holding Tillie in my arms as I had done the day before. However, the pick-up was not nearly as uneventful as the drop-off. Once I got outside the building, Tillie began squirming (his tail had been shaved and had stitches where the abscess/bite had been inflicted) and broke free from my grasp. He ran off about 20 yards or so to the rear of this modest one-story building and stopped just shy of a chain-link fence which separated where we all were to another neighborhood – beyond my reach. My fear: had Tillie climbed over that fence somehow, he likely would have been gone forever.

Slowly I approached Tillie, repeatedly calling his name as quietly and reassuringly as I could, trying not to rattle, startle or scare him in any way; presuming post-surgery, in an unfamiliar place, possibly in pain, it might not take much from his father to cause him to scamper off and disappear. As I casually walked toward him, amazingly, Tillie sort of stood still, enough for me to scoop him up. Which I did and then carefully walked back to my car and drove us both home without any further adieu – except for the rest of my taking-cats-to-the-“Vet.” life.

And yes, that means now. And though I’m not stupid enough to transport cats without cat carriers anymore, I am only at ease once we’re back home and have let the cats out of their boxes and released them into the house (all our cats are indoor cats). Throughout this process, I must check the latches on their carriers a half-a-dozen times; in the house, in the car, in the parking lot outside the “Vet’s” office, in the waiting room, in the examining room and then again after wards; back in the waiting room while I pay, in the car on the way home and finally in the driveway as I prepare to carry the carriers/cats across the yard and into the house. Once inside with the cats/carriers in hand, finally I can relax. Home at last.

Forty-one years ago; it seems like yesterday, or maybe tomorrow if the “Vet.” can see us. And that’s what worries me. Been there and unfortunately, have done that.

Not An Auto-Matic Fix

But a fix nonetheless, of our 17-year-old backup car, a 2000 model year Honda Accord. On balance, since inheriting it from mother in 2008, it has been an exceptionally reliable and reasonably-priced second car and one which I’m happy to own. I drive it approximately 7,000 miles per year and not over long stretches. In effect, it is our local car. And considering there is no monthly car payment and the insurance/maintenance costs are low, as a non-car guy who only wants to get from point “A” to point “B”, I can live with it “Big time,” to quote our current President.

Now I’m at a bit of a crossroads, however. (And not that this is a “cancer” column per se, but it is a column affected by yours truly being a cancer “diagnosee.”) I am dropping the car off at my local mechanic, Tony, later today because there are some warning signs and idiot lights suggesting I do so. First, the infamous “check engine” light is illuminated. Its yellow which Tony said is not as bad/urgent as if it were red. Nevertheless, to turn it off/fix the underlying problem (since it doesn’t appear to be the gas cap) will likely cost hundreds. The preliminary assessment is that the fault is emission related.

The second area of concern is temperature, specifically how poorly my car’s air conditioner is cooling and how loud the fan controlling it is when engaged even when one/low is selected. Adding insult to summertime discomfort, the passenger-side window doesn’t slide down, either when using its own power-window switch or the master control on the driver’s side. To summarize, I have one window (the driver’ side) that can go down and extremely limited air conditioning. I wouldn’t say it’s hot in the car, but I’m sure any normal person would. Having had previous conversations with Tony about these repairs, I know the dollars needed to right these wrongs might not make any sense given the age and mileage on the car and the diagnosis of its owner. Yet here I am trying think long term, not cancer term. What to do?

I don’t want to be miserable driving the Honda anymore (and it is me who’s driving it). But I only need the air conditioning for another six to eight weeks or so – and not every day, and rarely at night. I do need to open the windows though for eight to 10 months, not so much during the winter and rarely on cold nights, but opportunities do present themselves. Spending the hundreds/possibly thousands of dollars for all repairs now however might make me miserable, too. The question persists then for any of us who own/want to maintain older cars: when are you throwing good money after bad? Ergo: when is enough, enough? (I sound like Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex and the City.”)

Would I be better off spending the repair money on a newer car and enjoy whatever warranty protection I could muster and thus minimize future repair bills or not? The only problem with buying that ‘newer car: it’s likely (heck, there’s no ‘likely’ about it) there will be a monthly car payment which at present I do not have, and in so having one will definitely make me miserable.

Factor in my health status and I can’t stop asking myself: do I solve a problem that affects the quality of my life today at the expense of tomorrow (pun intended) or do I plan/repair for tomorrow and suffer the consequences of having done so today?

As a stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer patient originally characterized by my oncologist as “terminal” and given a “13-month to twoyear” prognosis to boot back in late Feb., 2009, I’ve always tried to live my life and make decisions as if I had a future beyond what I was told.

And for the past eight years and four months, I have pretty consistently maintained that approach. Still, the longer I live, the more my underlying medical diagnosis impacts my thinking/judgment. Unfortunately, worlds sometimes collide and reality is up for grabs. And occasionally decisions are made in a “bizarro” kind of way where topsy is turvy and vice versa. Welcome to my whirled.