Sunday, December 28, 2008

Home Again

We arrived back in Maryland this afternoon and stopped by the hospital to see Grandma E. before we went home. She's doing much better today after being unable to talk or eat food for the past week. Yesterday the lady in the same room passed away and no one removed her body for several hours. When someone could find a nurse to ask the hospital to please remove the body, they were unresponsive. Finally, Aunt Carol called some patient care hotline and someone showed up to move the lady. It was a very uncomfortable situation that the hospital will definitely hear about (plus the nurses didn't check on Grandma for at least 4 hours.

Our final day in Austin yesterday was nice. Mike's seriously contemplating doing the Longhorn Half Ironman next October so we grabbed his cousin Jason and drove out to Decker Lake to see the course. Unfortunately, the park service charges $8 a vehicle to get into the lake and from what I could see, it wasn't worth an $8 admission fee - especially to be there for less than an hour! We called Gail and she listed the bike course over the phone (we forgot to print out the map) so we drove the 56 mile bike course. It's got some pretty steep hills and some pretty bumpy roads. Mike's going to have to do some research to find out what kind of tires other racers typically use on this course or his thin tires will most definitely pop. We tried to capture the route by taking pictures with our camera, but I don't know if the steepness of the hills will be that obvious in the pictures. It was a picturesque drive through the countryside. We saw longhorn cattle, horses, goats, and a Brahma bull. Mike and Jason had never seen a bull that big before - they can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Miraculously, out in the middle of nowhere, we found a professional-looking sand volleyball court with seven nets, lights, showers, and nice (is there such a thing?) port-a-johns. We almost drove right by, but I spotted it and so we stopped to take a look.
That's a picture of the course - notice the ruts in the road and the long hill...

When we got home, we soaked in Gail's hot tub for a while (until I broke out in hives from the hot water - this happens to me now post-chemo). We also went to dinner with Gail and Michael and enjoyed some really tasty ribs at Cheddar's. MMMM, they were good.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth

We wish you a very Merry Christmas and lots of Christmas love! We hope you are enjoying the holiday with family and friends and hope Santa brought you something nice!

It's a beautiful day in Austin - temps about 55 degrees. Mike's sitting poolside doing a crossword puzzle and I'm enjoying sitting inside with the door open. Earlier we went for a run - I ran 36 minutes and Mike ran about 45 minutes. It's nice to run alongside quiet roads that were bustling with cars just yesterday. Nothing is open (except, surprisingly, Starbucks around the corner) and all is calm. There were a few other runners and bicyclists enjoying some Austin beauty too. We plan to eat around 4 or 5pm, as soon as the turkey is ready. I made two apple pies yesterday, Shaunda's mom brought sweet potato pie, and I'll be making green bean casserole and sweet potato casserole soon. Mmmmm, good!
Here's a picture of the table...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Two Days 'Til Christmas

Today we braved the crowds and traffic to go shopping - ugh. The roads are jammed here in Austin and because every corner has an ill-timed traffic light, it took us a long time to get into the parking lot. Once inside, Sam's was surprisingly not too busy and we were able to make a quick purchase and get the heck out of dodge. On the way over to Steinmart's (loooove that store), Mike stopped at Scooter's for me so I could have a chai latte (he's a great guy). I've been itching to go to Scooter's since I arrived, but that location has been closed for renovations and finally opened yesterday (I know, I've been checking every time I drive by!)

I was supposed to drive to San Antonio this morning to see Aunt Kathy, Grandma, and my cousin Heston (and his 4 kids), but Kathy called this morning because it was really foggy and wet out there. I decided to hold off on my trip because it was foggy last Thursday and some tractor trailer overturned, causing a 2 hour delay in Buda - which I pass through on my way south to San Antonio. I'm hoping to make the trip on Friday or Saturday.

Meanwhile, I saw on the Internet and CNN that back home a 60" pipe burst on River Rd. in Bethesda this morning. I couldn't believe the pictures - it looked like white water rapids. I watched a video of a brave helicopter rescue of two ladies trapped in their SUV. I don't know how they managed to climb out of their car into the cold, wet, metal basket hanging below the helicopter. It's 17 degrees there today and I can't imagine how cold that water must be. I'm glad everyone trapped in the water is okay and only had mild hypothermia at most.

Michael, Shaunda, and her parents came down to Austin for dinner. Since Gail's not feeling up to moving around too much, they stopped by here before dinner. We went to Pappadeux on the north side of Austin for some Cajun seafood and Greek salad (me). I haven't seen Shaunda's parents since her wedding and it was great to see them again. We enjoyed some good food, wine, and company. After dinner, we got stuck in a major traffic jam on I-35, but we jumped the curb and took a side road home!

I'm making apple and pumpkin pies tomorrow and doing some other Christmas dinner preparations. Tomorrow night, I'm dragging Mike to Zilker Park for the Christmas lights. We saw them from the road on the way to dinner tonight and it looks beautiful. We're also supposed to go to Michael's parents for fondue tomorrow night (before lights?)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cold and Breezy in Buda

Yesterday was fantastic - near 80 and somewhat sunny. It was so nice, Mike and I sat in Gail's hot tub. Today is another story. It dropped back down to about 40 degrees. Brrrr, who brought winter?

We met up with cousin Gina, her son Robert, and cousin Hunter in Buda. Aunt Kathy and Uncle Robert drove up from San Antonio to join us for dinner at Cracker Barrel. Buda is about 30 minutes south of Gail's house and it's known for its Cabela's - right off I-35 (next to the Walmart). Cabela's is a massive outdoor store and people come from miles around to shop there. Here's a pic of the Cabela's tower (not from today! I found it on flickr).

It was a nice visit. Hunter got a 35 ft. RV this summer so we took a tour of it. It's very luxurious. I could definitely live in it for a while! His family's going to Gatlinburg, TN after Christmas to go skiing for a week. Mike also wanted to see Hunter's boat since we hadn't seen it yet. Gina brought Macho, her Jack Russell, who is the coolest Jack I've ever met. When we drove up this afternoon, Robert and his friend, Colton, were outside playing with his RV car and Macho was tied to the truck hitch. He wagged his tail when we walked over to pet him. Macho is one cool dude and the quickest mouser I've ever seen. He definitely has a great time catching mice on Gina's ranch.

We hung out for a while and Hunter showed off his gun collection. He's got quite a few of them. Hunter loves to hunt and was in a couple of bow-hunting videos years ago when he was younger. Mike and the guys went off to Cabela's (see, you just have to go if you're in Buda!) while Gina and I stayed back to wait for her parents to arrive. She's doing better these days since her health scare last week. I can't remember what her illness was, but she can't absorb iron like most people so she had an iron injection last year and takes a lot of iron supplements every day. Next time she's ready for treatment, she'll have an iron IV infusion. I'm glad she's doing better. At one point, we were in the hospital the same week.

Robert & Kathy met us at the Cracker Barrel for dinner and we talked about the economy (it sucks), the oil industry, the auto bailout... Uncle Robert loooooves talking about this stuff. It's always interesting talking to him to get the "outside DC" perspective on things. Living in DC, I think one way about things and forget about how things are viewed in other parts of the country. Robert was a ranch manager for years and years and after things didn't work out with the new owner (the new owner is a jerk, to put it politely), he now builds houses for a living. Things were good for a while, but now it's a lot slower. Aunt Kathy works for a fancy furniture store in San Antonio (after years of raising seven kids, running the ranch house, and ferrying kids to rodeos all around the state) and her job is slow now too. They lived on a 35,000 acre ranch for years and now they're in a 2 bedroom apartment. Times are tough for everyone.

We're back at Gail's in Austin relaxing and watching TV. I hope it's going to be warmer tomorrow, especially since I'm running 2-3 miles with Mike in the morning.

Friday, December 19, 2008


My grandmother (my dad's mom) is recovering from surgery in Maryland. She was admitted to the hospital on Monday because she needed a blood transfusion, something that has become pretty common this year. She suffers from diverticulitis which causes her to feel really weak and then she needs to have a transfusion. While she was admitted, they must have run a CT because Mom called yesterday to say they found a mass in her colon and would need to operate today to remove it. It may or may not be cancerous, but they'll biopsy the mass to be sure. I called Dad and the surgery went well, but she'll be recovering for a while so they're not allowing any visitors today. I'll call Grandma tomorrow after she recuperates a bit. The biopsy results could take three days. I pray that it's not cancerous because if she has to go through chemo, I know she won't be able to handle it. Chemo is tough on your body. However, right now I'm thankful she made it through the surgery with no complicants and that they were able to remove the whole mass - now we just wait for the biopsy results.

Today it is beautiful and warm in Austin. We went for a 3 mile run on a nearby trail. I struggled a bit because I'm not used to the heat yet. I think it's about 75 degrees, but I've been running in 30 degree weather at home! The trail was nice and wound around some neighborhood, but we never saw any houses. There were a few baseball and soccer fields. We crossed over a dried up stream and passed by lots of cactus and mesquite trees. It was a nice run. We rewarded ourselves by stopping at Starbucks at the end of the run before walking back to Gail's. I'm only allowing myself one or two Starbucks/Scooter's Coffee (a local chain) stops so I try to really enjoy it when I get it!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Texas Two Step

We arrived yesterday after a fairly uneventful flight. They lost one of our suitcases, which I thought was pretty difficult since we didn't change planes during the flight from Dulles to here (although we stopped in Chicago). It turns out that my suitcase never made it on the plane in Dulles. This has happened to me before so I know the drill. This time worked out much better than the previous 2 times and they brought the suitcase to Gail's house around 9pm last night. It's chillier than we thought but it's supposed to be in the 70s soon. I haven't even put a toe in the hot tub yet and it's calling my name when it gets warmer!

We worked on Mike's resume last night and I worked the phones and the Internet in the afternoon trying to figure out the myriad of benefits options that are offered to me. I called each insurance company to get more detailed information and I'll say that one of them has the worst automated phone system ever. Since I'm not a member or provider, it didn't understand what to do with me. I finally reached an operator who transferred me to another automated phone system that wanted my tax ID. Since I didn't give it one, it hung up on me! I realize after looking at all my options, CSCI did offer really great benefits and I'm going to miss it a lot.

I've found a new career for Mike if things don't work out with this IT thing - personal coach/trainer. We went for a run today in a nice little park nearby. Mike's idea was to do a "warm up" run over to the park - nice and slow. I felt pretty good when we arrived at the park, I felt pretty good and we decided to do some interval training. One loop around the park is a mile. I had hope to do about 3 miles today, but would have been fine with 2 or 2.5. Our first loop included running fast for 2 minutes, running slow for 2 minutes. I couldn't hack it so we dropped it down to running for 1.5 minutes a little slower. My slow runs turned to walking with Mike pushing me to "keep going" (he's evil, that one!) I was sucking wind after 1 loop, but we did another lap. This time my knee started hurting. At the end of the 2nd loop, we walked over to an open basketball court and Mike decided I was going to run sprints. All he needed was a whistle!
Mike's very good at encouraging people to push themselves. I've seen him sneak an extra 1/2 mile out of his other running partners or work someone a little harder at volleyball. It's not like we can't handle the extra push, but gosh darn it, sometimes we want to be a little lazy! That won't happen with Mike around. Don't count on taking a nice leisurely stroll with Mike, especially if he knows you can do more. If you tell him your goal, he will coax you to reach that goal by any means necessary! It's all good. Because of Mike, I did three 5Ks this year and am probably in better shape than I was before chemo. I won't complain about the results, but man is it torture getting in shape! :-)

Monday, December 15, 2008

CSCI = Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch

Mike's layoff has certainly put a damper on our Christmas this year. We've had to realign our priorities and plan to save now in case this turns into a long haul. We're leaving for Texas tomorrow. Originally, Mike didn't have enough vacation to go early and I was going to leave tomorrow to help take care of his mom while she recovers from knee surgery. He was going to join me on Friday. Thanks to Southwest, we were able to change flights with no charge so he moved his flight to tomorrow and I moved mine to earlier tomorrow morning so we could be on the same flight - that's not so bad.

The whole layoff thing leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I'm thankful he wasn't there on Thursday because the way CSCI handled it was tacky, tasteless, and lacked class. After the big meeting with everyone, the select few were asked to meet in a conference room without knowing that the axe was about to befall them. The corporate lawyer read from a piece of paper that their services were no longer required. Thank you very much. Pack up your stuff. Turn in your badge and we'll escort you to the door. The others weren't supposed to talk to them (but they did when Mike went in on Friday to sign the paperwork and pack up his stuff). Everyone received no severance, no matter how many years of service. Also, they won't receive their vacation payouts until the February paycheck. Let me get this straight: these people have been laid off right before the holidays, they have holiday plans, and maybe kids who wanted Ants in my Pants Elmo. So, now they have no job, no severance, and they won't even get the vacation money owed to them until TWO MONTHS from now. Let me tell them straight: CSCI YOU SUCK. Ms. CEO YOU SUCK too.

I'm so glad we're going to Texas to get out of here for a while. Of course, I've got to pour over my benefits information tomorrow after we land in Austin so I can decide what health benefits are available to me because Mike's insurance ends Dec. 31. Of course, my company's benefits website is down until the end of the month so I'm going to have to call my benefits people ASAP to select my health care plan over the phone before I don't have health insurance. Also, my cancer history could put a monkey wrench in things with that pesky "pre-existing condidtion". This is not what I wanted for Christmas.

I know we're in this bad situation and I truly feel awful for his other co-workers who may be in worse shape than us. My heart goes out to everyone else who was laid off, or for that matter anyone else going through tough times. Peace be with you.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bitter with the Sweet

This day has been a complete roller coaster of highs and lows. It's rainy and cold again, after such a nice day in the 60s yesterday. We also had great news today, followed by really bad news.

Sweet stuff: The CT scan was clean. Yippee! Phlebotomy wasn't bad. I didn't feel the needle stick too much, everyone was sweet and full of hugs, and I found out that dear, sweet Mattie retired last month. Good for her. I also had a much better experience than last time getting the IV for the CT - not too bad either. She was quick and relatively pain free. I had the slowest machine in the place, but who can complain about a 5 minute test versus a 3 minute test. No big deal. The doctor's visit was short and sweet (except for the hour-long wait), but they came in with GREAT news so no complaints there.

Bitter pill: Mike lost his job this afternoon. He got a call last night on our way home asking him to come to work today for a very important meeting. He explained that he would be at NIH with me so they said it was okay if he didn't come in. He called around to other co-workers seeing if they knew what was up, but they didn't. I speculated that his company was acquired. Today at NIH he couldn't get a phone signal, but he was able to get out a text asking what happened. The response was simply "28". Later, we understood that meant 28 people had been let go. When Mike was finally able to get a signal, he talked to people to ask what happend, but they assured him his name didn't come up. However, his boss hadn't returned his call. I assured Mike that they wouldn't expect him to show up at work tomorrow and then tell him. Then the phone rang. His boss called to tell him he'd been let go. They asked him to go in tomorrow to talk to HR and pick up his stuff.

It's hard to be happy for me while being sad for Mike. As my accupuncturist said, "Your health is your wealth." So true. I am thankful and grateful for my health. Now Mike needs a job.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Time to Post Something

It certainly has been a long time since I've posted and it's already time for my next CT scan. Yep, my check-up is tomorrow at NIH. I've been so busy at work that I haven't even had time to think about it, much less worry. That's a good thing. Anyhow, it's here and I'll know tomorrow if I'm still cancer free. Here's to a clean scan!

Twelve weeks ago, I started training for a 5K race with a program at Fleet Feet because I wanted to prove to myself - a cancer survivor - that I could do it. I was never really that athletic and if you told me at 9 that I would willingly run 3.2 miles for fun at 39, I would have looked at you like you were crazy. At 9, I hated running the stupid mile for gym class. I barely ran and walked most of the dreaded mile. I did okay in those physical fitness tests because I could rock the sit-ups (I held the school record for the most sit-ups in 2 minutes), but run a mile in under 15 minutes. Yeah right.

Our running group started off walking 3 minutes/running 1 minute then progressed to walk 2/run 2 and walk 1/run 4 until we ran our first actual mile. I did fine with the interval training, but running the miles was a little tough at first. In November, Mike convinced me to do another 5K in Rockville just to see what I could do. My plan was to run for at least 4 minutes and walk when necessary because that's what I had been doing. Four minutes turned into five, six, seven minutes until I was at my first mile. I felt pretty good so I kept on going until I finished. Not bad! I finished in about 32 minutes so my goal for my actual 5k race I was training for became to finish in under 30 minutes.

Some of those training runs were brutal - it got cold and windy around here. There were days I just wanted to stay home but I stuck with it. During my runs at that critical moment when I wanted to stop, I'd remind myself that I beat cancer or that a year ago I could barely walk a mile and now I was running. It worked and I continued my training. Mike also joined our group a few weeks ago to help the running coach keep track of all of us since we were either fast runners or slow runners and she was stressing herself out trying to keep an eye out for everyone.

I ran the 5K Jingle Bell Run for arthritis this past Saturday. It was cold - 22 degrees. I thought about staying in bed, but I layered on my clothes and set out for the race. People were decked out in santa hats, jingle bells attached to their shoes, or in other holiday attire. Some crazy person wore shorts. Our group met inside the warm Frederick Armory building for the pre-race activities and photos. We also gave ourselves a pep talk to remain strong, despite the weather. Soon, it was race time. My run went great. I started off strong and took the lead in my running group. One of the guys who I usually ran with, stayed just behind me, but we kept encouraging each other. After we crossed the finish line, he told me he had stayed behind me because he didn't want to catch up for fear I'd make him run at my pace! I finished the race at 29 minutes, 31 seconds - YEE HAW - under 30 minutes. It was awesome.

I'm already planning my next 5K - the Cherry Blossom 5K on April 5. That's also marks the 2nd year "anniversary" of my cancer diagnosis. Once again, I'm just proving to myself that I'm a strong woman who beat cancer. It's kind of my victory lap.