Thursday, June 14, 2018

Marking the last day of normal~

Today marks one year since the last day of normal. One year ago today, we were both busy working and life actually seemed near perfect. We went to bed concerned about the mysterious bruising and that was the last time we slept in our bed in our old life. I did have an ominous feeling that week. But, I certainly couldn't begin to imagine how life would unfold this next year.

It feels like yesterday, and it feels so long ago.

In those first days, I'd imagined that by one year, we'd be back to normal. Of course in between imagining we'd be back to normal, there were moments of terror that things would never be the same.
And putting one foot in front of the other, we have handled more than we ever imagined we could handle. That first week in the hospital, I couldn't imagine spending a whole month in the hospital. I couldn't imagine putting our life on hold for a whole month. And now, it's a year. By my calculations, Dom has spent nearly exactly half a year living in the hospital. I could never have wrapped my mind around that the first week. But, time has a way of preparing us. And there's really no manual, no friendly word of advice that is better at preparing us than time.

The very first nurse we had was pregnant when she met this completely shattered couple. I just ran into her in the hall for the first time since then. (If you remember waaaaaay back almost a year ago, I shared how they moved us into a new room literally in the middle of the night, and Dominic had his first ride in a wheel chair that may have felt a little more like teenagers pushing each other in grocery carts down dark alleys than a grievously ill patient in a wheel chair. We moved to another ward and never saw that nurse again.) I asked the nurse about her new baby, which is now already 8 months old!!! How can that be? This little life that wasn't even in the world when we started is now probably crawling. 

And the little one that I was helping out with is a whole year older. The little baby I just adore has turned into a little girl, who loves to go to preschool and thankfully, has not forgotten her auntie.

Since we first entered this hospital, they have opened a cafeteria. It opened 3 days after we were discharged from the transplant. Is that a silver lining to returning to the hospital unexpectedly? I get to check out the new cafeteria? It's a pretty thin silver lining, but I'll take it. I do feel weird eating from the salad bar, when I have avoided public food nearly a year now. I'd think a hospital would be the last place I'd want to dip into the trough. But salad. I need green in this land of beige.

Reflecting on the first months here, I am astonished at how timid I was. I realized there was a Starbucks just one block away, but I couldn't leave Dom's side long enough to find it. I think I also felt like it would be frivolous given our circumstances. But there it was. Right around the corner, and I never visited. We found a gluten free bakery that was just two blocks from our temporary home, and about 1.3 miles from the hospital. I guess it's well enough that we didn't know it was there until he was able to eat outside food. I walked there last weekend from the hospital and bought some treats. I reflected as I walked that day that the first week I had been lost and driven down that very road, and it felt so foreign. And now, I was walking there, feeling at home.

If the cafeteria is a thin silver lining, the thick silver lining is the way we've been held throughout this year.

There are people we can never repay. There are gifts in suffering.

There are people who have met us through all the twists and turns. There are people who were only quiet until we needed them and then they were johnny on the spot. Through the wonder of technology, I've met so many amazing people. I got to bond with my sister in law, though gosh I wish it could have been another way. I've reconnected with long lost friends who have brought so much to me. We've made new friends on this journey and Dom's been so fortunate to connect with mentors who have walked this path before him.

Dominic and I have also had long interesting discussions about spirituality. Sometimes, those discussions don't happen when life is "normal." Being the person I am, I thrive on deep discussions, and delving into the deep.

So, today marks the new normal. The new normal is, Dominic and I have a new appreciation for life. We have a new appreciation for the human body. We are able to weather the storms with a little less angst and a little more courage. The new normal means I'm going to be real open about how things are, and it is out of my control how other people receive me. The new normal means I have it in me to step up and gitter done. I'd rather be taken care of and pampered and only break a sweat in a hot yoga class, but now I see, I can start an engine on a burly weed mower with a pull cord, (which is no easy thing) and push that beast up and down hills. I will admit, my new normal does not include driving the tractor. At least not yet. And that is why the new normal also includes receiving with so much thankfulness so much help that we are both so humbled by. We never ever could have done this on our own. The new normal is remembering with greater clarity we are never alone.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Practice makes perfect

Just as we had begun to reach some sort of normalcy, some hint of a little more freedom, it's back in to the hospital.
Dom's beep, beep, beeping through the night, and thanks for the reminder seestor, I'm shooting several panicked glances toward the lock in the public restroom that opens directly to the family room.

It's hard to believe, it's been nearly a year since this whole thing started. Just 3 weeks shy of. We haven't been in the hospital for 5 months and we've been home for 3. After 7 1/2 months of being back and forth between home and hospital and even fire refugees and another 2 months living in Sacramento, I realize we spent collectively nearly 5 months not in our home this past year. And adding days as I type.

I have so many mixed feelings. My strongest feeling is utter relief that professionals are taking care of Dominic. For two weeks I wondered what to do. Should I make him eat? Is eating bad? When do I call the doctor(again)? When will it stop? It was a grueling 2 weeks of sickness for Dom. Being already spent emotionally, having scraped my account over the past year, I was at my wit's end.

So, while we'd rather be home, we are both so grateful to be more directly under the doctor's care.

There's no sign on the door that declares chemo or transplant. The nurses no longer glove up to protect themselves from chemo poisons coming out of Dom's body, though they do still glove up for hygiene.

And I find that after nearly a year of this business, I'm also flowing a little more easily. I'm crying more easily as well, but of course. It's an entirely different thing to be admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis looming and the not knowing when he will have a transplant, and then will the transplant take, and then where will we live in another city....? This feels easier, but it is still excruciatingly difficult.

I spoke with the social worker just after our arrival, and she asked if our room was okay. She knows I prefer a cot over the slippery slidey couch bed. I thanked her for her concern, but told her it's fine. This is just a blip. It could be a long blip yet, but we're on the other side. There's so much relief being on this side of treatment. (I've also figured out that if I shove a couple pillows between the slippery layers of the bench of the couch and the fold out cushions on top, I am nestled in and prevented from being deposited on the floor.)

I don't totally understand the human mind and the plasticity of thoughts. Fears do creep in. We're on the other side, but that assumes there's "sides". It's not as simple as all that. There's still biopsies to be had, still the body adjusting to the new stem cells, still the body dealing with the aftermath of a chemical cocktail of chemo so strong it could kill. Still the stress even of recovery time. I still find myself worrying and whatiffing, and I have to actively banish any thought that only serves to panic or wear me down.

Tomorrow brings with it whatever it will bring and it is absolute hubris to think that any bit of my worrying will take away any challenging thing. And so, I try and dwell on what seems good. Of course, that's also an interesting balance. You see, I'd been been dwelling on the fact that his White Count finally went past that scary place it had been for months. I was dwelling on the fact that he could finally eat blueberries, (which he did) and we could maybe have some friends over for a meal, and I could finally visit my friend with all the kids or attend a yoga class, and maybe some friends could come and see how they began a cleanup that I would continue and we could marvel at all our hard work and enjoy a relaxing day. And's a funny place to be, hopeful and yet not overly disappointed when I realize that all those things will be on the back burner again. It's a dance; building a future and holding it in my hand with open fingers so whatever needs to slip through can. And whatever does slip through, all in good time, I can pick it up again, if it's right and good and worth while.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's an art to be hopeful in the future, grateful and present in the now, and not too disappointed when things do not go as planned. It's an art I haven't mastered; but I suppose practice makes perfect.

I will be back and forth with a little more freedom this stay. I have to keep our life in a forward motion right now. I never wanted to leave him when everything was looming. I never wanted him to feel alone in the darkness of chemo and the mystery of transplant. And I could not leave him alone for long in the ensuing months of low WBC. It's no difficult thing to be so tethered to him, since he is my love and best friend and joy to be around. But he's in good hands. I'll look forward to us being back home together. We'll hopefully pick up where we left off, and continue to look forward.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Cultivating the space you have

It's been over two months since we've been home now. The time to write is thinning. But sometimes, when I'm doing the other things, the words are swirling. If you follow the blog to keep up with Dominic's recovery, there's probably not much new information here. It's a slow, up hill climb and we celebrate every victory.

Today's thoughts are not necessarily about the journey, though the experiences of the last year contribute to them.

I spent this morning with the strimmer and a rake. As you know, who have followed this saga, not only did we survive cancer this past year, we survived a fire that crept right up practically to our doorstep as well. I am constantly in awe of the symbolism. And I've been on a dual pronged quest ever since. The quest to keep Dom healthy in body and soul and the quest to get our home as fire safe as possible. I've referred to it prior to the fire as our little match box; but I do not want that to be the case!

I've shared before how I tackled a lot of shrubs and I've been mowing and cutting like crazy. There's a pile of lumber too near our little house and I've hated it for 20  years now. About a decade ago I filled up one of those huge extra long chevy creeper vans to the roof with old wood for the property owner to take to the dump. He asked if maybe next time I leave him some room to breathe. It was literally wedged in to the top. But over the years, I watched as various improvements on the ranch included various offerings to the wood pile. And it swelled again. Dominic and I took another load to the dump a couple years ago....and I watch the wood pile grow again. It's like it breeds.

My social media friends know my Mom and I had a rattle snake encounter last week. There he was, (for the snake rescuer told us it was a he), sunning himself in the driveway. My mom was walking up the drive from the barn and he gave her a good warning rattle and reared up at her. Once she backed off, he retreated to the underside of a cart. If he only knew just feet away was a huge pile of wood he could get lost in, and live in, and terrify me forever. Thankfully, he stayed put until Al came with his salad tong sized snake gripper and lifted the very angry snake from his refuge. I said goodbye to the snake (after I thanked it for clearing out some vermin for it was quite fat) and put it in my mind that the wood pile has to go. All of it. Needs to be gone.

It does literally need to be moved because it's too close to a propane tank. I watched a Cal Fire video last week that informed me that propane tanks must be cleared of combustibles at least ten feet. So, if it's moving ten feet, it may as well move ten thousand. That is a project for another day.

Today's project was inspired by the same informational video and where I'll get a little personal. They mentioned in the video that the undersides of decks should be free of leaf matter and twigs. I didn't intend to go back there and start raking. It just happened. Let me tell you a little about my dilemma. I am surrounded by oak trees. Beautiful, giant oak trees. I've done some research, and they don't like packed ground, and they don't like over-watering under their canopy during the summer, and they do like their leaf litter to decompose back into the ground for nutrients. It's a bummer for these big magnificent trees that my house sits right between them, I'm sure that would be considered packed ground.....And so, I'm very protective of their leaf littler now. But, it's also a fire hazard. So. What to do? What to do...

I tried to have a garden in my little back yard 20 years ago, but it was a big no go. Between the deer and the shade of sprouting oaks, it flopped. I dreamed about having a lawn and mowing it myself, but the whole no water under the canopy thing voided that idea. Basically, my yard has to be in its natural state. So, for 20 years, I've mostly ignored the space. It had an occasional weed trimmer come through. Once my mom raked all the weeds down. I think I was depressed and I think she didn't know how to help me except to do the work I should be doing myself. I think she hoped it would inspire me to work. But it didn't.

It took flames at my door step to inspire me.

So, as I raked under the deck and under the shrubs (that I don't water at all, and have ignored for 20 years as they grew from 3 feet to 9 feet, and that we massively cut back last month), I got to thinking there in the quiet with my rake in hand. I got to thinking as I pulled things out from under the deck that I knew blew under and I just ignored. I got to thinking in the unruliness of it all.

It couldn't do what I wanted it to do, so I let it go.

Not in the Frozen Elsa kind of way where I relaxed in a good way.

I let it go in a Sanford and Son kind of way.

Is that hitting you in any way close to the ton of bricks that hit me?

It couldn't do what I wanted it to do, so I just let it go. I ignored it. I closed the door on it.

I allowed refuse to pile up.

And as much as I love nature and the outdoors; it is good to keep a grip on home.

I thought today as I raked years and years of leaves how easy it would be if I'd done this each year. I thought about all the years in my own life that were left uncultivated because they didn't look like I wanted them to. If I could have accepted that even though I can't have a lawn in the back, I can keep it neat and tidy and rake the leaves and tend the space, I wouldn't have such a daunting task ahead of me now.  And then, I came in for a water break and sat down and started writing.

The thing about this past year is it's put some incentive in me I didn't even know I possessed. It's too bad it took nearly losing my husband and my home in the same year to give me a kick in the pants. But, here we are.

Visually, the back won't be too much different than any other time. The weeds will turn brown in the summer, they'll grow back in the winter, and (now), I'll mow them down in the spring. (Instead of waiting for them to just dry out and fall over.)

But, there is a path around my house again. For years, branches were in the way. Weeds were over grown, and it was just scary. It's mowed back, cut back and raked up. *I'm editing to add here: The day after I did all this work, the water heater putzed out. We had to have a plumber replace the water heater, and for the first time in forever, a handcart could freely be pushed to the back of the house, and not a day too soon. And so, the cleanup story takes a new turn.

Because, since the plumber needed more room to work in the little shed, true to form, I didn't just make him a little more space. I emptied the shed, cleaned it out, and put it back together after he left. When I moved in some 20 years ago, the shed held the owner's forgotten papers and detritus of life. Over the years, I've tackled it, piece by piece. With his permission, some ten years ago, I emptied the file cabinets and had a bonfire. Later, Dom and I flipped a file cabinet on its back, painted it the same color as the barn and planted tomatoes in it. Even though I'd cleaned out the cabinets, I still found a canceled check dated 1976 this week under a pallet. You would not believe what pack rats deem acceptable housing material. The shed is not enclosed entirely, so it's a dream home to critters. A heavy pendulum to an old clock had been carried from one corner to the opposite. I'm not sure how cozy a cold hard object can be, perhaps the critter thought of it as a shield.

All of this to say, that while there are things in our lives that need attention, sometimes we find ourselves cleaning other people's messes. Do it anyway.

And back to the great outdoors, the added bonus is a wild cherry plum tree has been discovered. When everything was overgrown, I'd never noticed the plum tree sprouting up. There were a few down by the barn, and I'm sure a bird dropped a plum by my house. Last autumn, in response to the fires, we had a tree guy come out and do some work to safeguard the house and preserve the beautiful trees. He opened the area around the plum tree a little, but I still didn't notice it until we moved back home and I saw blossoms for the first time. And, I'm sure you can gather, after this past year, all signs of new life are deeply meaningful to me. When my family and I cut back the saplings and brush, we opened up the space for the plum tree to really shine. Today, as I worked my way around the house, I noticed for the first time little cherry plums heavy on the branches. Literal fruit of our labors.

And I wonder how much else in life needs to be mowed back, cut back and raked up? Nothing like a little trauma to get one wondering. I can't change anything in the past, and I can't change everything today, but just as surely as I can walk on the path without getting hung up on branches or worrying every step that a snake is hiding in the weeds, I can tend to my life as it is. We can all tend to our lives just as they are. My journey may not include the lawn I'd always dreamed of. It may not be an English garden with boxwoods perfectly carved in the shape of animals, it may not have topiaries and fountains and rose bushes, but at the very least, it can be cultivated to be the best and safest place it can be. It was oppressive for a while. I felt like I had no say, that the branches were bigger than me and the lack of tidy edges and designated living areas ruled the day. But I found my clippers, and I got to work and I'm embracing everything for what it is.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Seems like it's time

We've been home over a month now and it still feels weird. It feels great, and it feels weird.
The white blood count has not budged, so we're still a bit isolated. I'm not looking up friends to catch up with just yet, and Dominic is still in full recovery mode.

I'm every day grateful so may people have supported us emotionally and financially, as I just had no idea how long this whole process would stretch. Dominic is chomping at the bit to work, but his body is still saying no.

He was able to facilitate hiring a day worker to come and do some of the work we normally do on the "ranch." I was happy to leave that to him.
My mom is also an incredible worker bee. She has taken hold of Dom's weed whacker and made a good dent. We had a mother daughter day, she pushing the mower and I got hold of a wand myself. The weeds seem to have been given an extra zeal for life after the fires. The field just behind our home that was burned to save our home grew I think 2 feet in one week of rain. It stands above waist high in some places. Little by little, we'll get it cut back like a new recruit.

I may have also gone a little wild. Brad and Dominic have bees behind our house. Brad started with one hive and then brought Dominic on board a couple Christmases ago. We enjoyed the first harvest of honey last fall, and I can't wait until Dominic is free to sample the goods. (Honey is still on the no no list.) Bees seem to be very sensitive to plant poisons, so what to do about the poison oak growing in our back yard? I really didn't want to spray poison so close to the hive. So, with a wild hare, I woke one morning, dressed head to toe, rubber gloves, goggles and a mask. I hand pulled yards and yards of poison oak. I had no idea that a little three inch plant would be part of a system of root that stretched at least three yards. I folded it like Christmas lights as I pulled and pulled. I filled a large trash bag with poison oak, and dropped it in the bin, thinking it would be a nasty surprise if we still lived in Sacramento.
My gift of the task was a little bit of rash on my forearms where my sleeves had pulled away and a stripe from my eye to hairline where I'm sure my hair brushed some oak and then my face. Not too bad for getting the job done.

I still haven't returned to yoga since we've been home. I miss going and being in a dedicated space with the temperature cranked up. All in good time though. Skipping classes has afforded me more time to work outside. And heaven knows, this property we care-take needs lots and lots of work. And the risks of bringing home germs are just still too great.

New realities are setting in, and sometimes they're ones we'd like to run away from. They're definitely not things people like to talk about. I think on some level, Dominic and I saw us going back to normal a little more quickly. I think a lot of people have seen the 100 days that way. We thought after 100 days, he'd be right as rain. That hasn't been the case, and it's been an adjustment. As I mentioned above, the white blood count wont' budge. Yesterday it was at just 1. I feel like I'm beating a dead horse mentioning this, and then again, I find I have to explain this in awkward situations. This is the part of the blog that just gets so's the part where I'm not thinking about our support group as much as I'm thinking about someone else going through this in the future and how I can support them. It's not anyone's responsibility to know how dire this situation is. I cannot and do not expect people to understand what a 1 means for the white blood count. But, I find, I will have to get explicit at times. I will have to say no to things that hurt to say no to.

Here is what a 1 means:
A 1 means Dominic is incredibly fatigued. A 1 means he is so very vulnerable to germs. A 1 means he has virtually no immunity. A 1 means the simplest cold could result in death. I find I have to explain this to people who ask me should he not catch a cold because it will last longer? Oh, if only it were that simple! I'm sure Dominic would love to get back to his old life if the only repercussions were he may catch a cold that would last longer than most. With no immunity, a cold could take hold and lead to sepsis. At this juncture, this is not a mere inconvenience, it is life and death.

It's difficult to share all this and not feel like I'm complaining or scolding.  But, I am compelled to share this with the thoughts that this is bigger than me. This is bigger than my discomfort in over-sharing, or pride in holding it all together.

So, this is where we are after being home a full month. We still see the doctor once a week. He would let us come every other but for the low White Blood Count. Dominic has to get a shot every week to stimulate production. He gets poked first for blood draw and then poked again for the shot.
We had 8 am appointments the whole time until the tri-fusion came out.This meant we got there when they opened, we'd be scooped up into a private cubicle, we were almost always seated right across from the nurses station because we like to banter with the nurses and they like to remark on Dom's hair and eyebrows. We'd stay there until the doctor came by, and then we'd be off to home.
Now, we don't get there until 9 and we have to sit in the waiting room. The appointment times are not precise, so we sit and wait. We wait in the waiting room until the lab results are in. Once the results are in, we originally would just go to the doctor's office, but because of the need for shots, we go back to the nurses and get a shot. We've been so spoiled spending all our time in the comfort of our own little room surrounded by the nurses. This thing of being in the waiting room next to the humanity is new. Yesterday, the single mom wanted everyone to know that she should have special treatment because she's a single mom and it's hard. She was not there as a cancer patient. I am sure being a single mom is hard. Very hard. And we would have gladly given up our spot so she could be on her way. But I looked around the room at the people in line before her. Masks and green faces ready to be ill, people bent with age and unable to walk in a straight line. Perspective is an interesting thing, if one can afford to take the time and have some. Sometimes, we're so balled up in what is happening to us now, it's hard to re-frame.
And that is why it's so difficult for me to share my hard bits, my realities. For fear my perspective needs re-framing.

But here are the fun bits. The doctor doesn't seem phased at all by the low WBC. He breezes in, says yep, still low, still need to come once a week. Then some other topic comes up. Last week he asked Dominic if he got a hair cut! Ha ha! Dominic thought he was joking, and responded in kind and they both kind of stared at each other. Being the interpreter, I told Dominic he was in earnest, and we all chuckled awkwardly. One day, Dominic will need a hair cut. That day has not arrived. And, I am trying to coax him into a photo......not yet, he says.
Last week, I made him car sick the last leg of our journey home. He had to share this with the doctor which prompted stories of wives and driving and perhaps Dominic will be driving home from now on.

So, it's not all low WBC and woe is me. The doctor seems untroubled by this low count. All the other numbers look good. We just have to be patient. Is that why patients are called patients? We're so happy to be home. It's not back to normal, but it's also home. Our only upstairs neighbors are the occasional hyper squirrel and maybe a fox or rat....The peony is blooming! And the tomatoes are in. The cats are, well, they're cats. It's as if we never left.

We so look forward to connecting with friends. All in good time.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Home is

We are so thrilled to be home.
To sleep in our own bed. To be surrounded by our comforts. Our stuff of life.The scenery out our windows. Our furry creatures. Each a part of what makes home home.

Home is an interesting concept. I wrote before, home is where Dominic and I are together. (And where I have ziplock bags.) And yes, that is true. But home is also that place where you have everything just so. We each have a bedside lamp at home. We each have a place to rest our coffee in the morning and our water at night. We have a place for books and remotes and tech and the various bottles of prescriptions or sleep aids or painkillers.
Here is that place at our temporary home.

The wonder of the box. Cats sit in them. I lie next to them. I brought my own lamp. A sticker marked fragile is wrapped around the corner. Indeed. So true. Glamorous living.

We're working toward normalcy. It will take time. We know that. We talk about it. The fatigue is still a very real thing for Dom. The steroids did mask the fatigue, so now he rides the tide in and out, day by day. He's still neutropenic, which means we're still careful about the foods he eats. We have to think through things, being sure to eat safely while keeping in mind magnesium and potassium rich foods. Can I get an amen for dark chocolate? Rich in magnesium. Who knew?

I feel like I'm looking over my shoulder. I don't feel like something bad is going to happen. (It already did?) It's just after all this time of hospital stays and infusion center visits, it's a strange thing to be home and not anticipating a 5 day or 3 month stay. I can't shake it.
I know I will.

Over time.

There's so much to do at home also. There was much to do before that terrible day back in June. I've spent the last several days cutting back trees and pulling weeds. The neighbor goats are delighted with branch after branch of new oak cuttings. I have been resistant to cutting back the many saplings around our house, but last year's devastating fire changed my mind about that. There is a young oak tree just outside our bedroom window on the other side of the fence separating us from the former horse field. As I came up to the tree, I noticed a shrub below had burned and the flames reached up and burned a section of the tree. My gratefulness for all the people who saved our home bubbled up again. The acknowledgement of how precarious this past year has been washed over me as it does periodically, sometimes with rhyme and reason, sometimes with none. I have exponentially experienced the fragility of life this past year, and it causes me to simultaneously hold on tighter and relax my grip.

I do believe the transition has been complicated by this experience of the fires. The final months leading up to transplant day were colored by waiting and hoping for rain, and feeling so incredibly vulnerable.

I'll likely always feel vulnerable. I'll also always feel grateful and strong and capable and cared for. Life is complicated. This past year just added some incredible facets to the prism I see the world through.

And so now, we're settling into yet another temporary rhythm. A rhythm of first 3 days in one week to the infusion center, then 2 days, and hopefully soon just one and then none. The week of 3 visits tore me up. We've had our longest vacation this weekend. We've normally been  driving to Sacramento every Monday and Thursday, but this week, we don't return until Tuesday. I had four days in a row to settle. Four days that afforded me the time to work on the great outdoors and catch up on office work and watch some movies with Dom.

There's still bouts of discomfort for him. Constant little reminders of all he's been through, and all that lies ahead. We constantly hope and pray that he'll have little after effects, but it's all still a mystery how things will shake out.

We haven't been very sociable. We're still keeping pretty much to ourselves until his WBC goes up. My neighbor dropped something by while I was taking a walk last night, and I was kind of excessively sad I missed her. I almost called her back. I'm mostly an introvert, and a home body, but this has been a long haul. I could very possibly find myself enjoying small talk at this juncture.

I think it will all feel a little less transitory when summer comes. I love the winter. I love bundling up and snuggling under blankets. But I'm hoping by summer, Dominic will have his WBC back on track. I'm hoping he'll have more energy to be out and about. I'm hoping his windows of experience open wider. I think home is not just where we have our comforts but also where we feel safe to thrive. I think I'll feel more at home when Dominic can return to his camera and his rhythms of life.

We're astonished we're already here, we've already come this far. We can continue to make the slow transition and learn to thrive again.

Now, off to bed for his big day tomorrow! No more tri-fusion! No more ports in his body! A long shower without worry about getting the bandages wet is on the list of things to do tomorrow. For the first time in months, no Saran Wrap and tape. (Yep. He was like leftover veg, wrapped in kitchen plastic roll.) Tomorrow is yet another milestone of so many.

Forever grateful.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

jiggity jig

The news is out. We are home! We are officially home. After one hundred plus days, the temporary home story is over and the transition to home sweet home begins.

I wish I had taken the time to sit and write so many thoughts...but it has been a whirlwind!

We began the transition back in February. We talked about what to do as our commitment to the house in Sacramento was coming to an end and the neighbor's ability to not tromp across the floors at 3 am was not coming to an end.

We made arrangements for friends to be with Dom while I spent a weekend getting our little cottage ready. I'd let the cats have free reign in our bedroom and after 3 months of their indoor/outdoor fur-bodies lounging on the bed, it was not pretty. Everything came off the bed and got a good wash. And, call me crazy, but I started spring cleaning from one corner of the room, all the way through the house. No, I'm not content to just vacuum, dust, and mop. I must go through every drawer and basket and cupboard and spring clean.

But I have to back up. You see, I was not the first person around here to spring clean. The tractor shed is attached to our home, and over the years, the shed became the final resting place for a lot of junk. (The homeowner's, not mine! I have plenty of junk myself, but perhaps not a garage door motor circa 1970.) Over the months we'd been gone, some special people had been weeding and cutting back bushes. And one day, a group of very special people spent love day cleaning out this space! No small feat. I parked, ready to tackle everything all at once, in the back of my mind knowing I would also tackle this space soon was already tackled! It was cleaned out! And, as I got closer to our porch, I saw pretty flowers fresh planted! My heart was swelling and racing. I felt so very loved.
It was like an Easter egg hunt, that's what I thought, as I walked around the house and found once empty flower pots and ceramics filled lovingly with flowers and succulents. And a young man had spent his day weed mowing until he ran out of string. I was so touched that the son of a friend would spend his day caring for us so tangibly. Our firewood was stacked neatly, and as I have stacked firewood myself, I know that was no small job. Everything looked so incredible. Our dear friends did what would take me weeks to do in one day. I still get a little verklempt thinking about it.

And they are dreaming of outdoor spaces with us. Dreaming of a summer spent outside in beauty, quite the opposite of this past summer. And I could not have better people in my life if I tried. I attribute it to Dom and his winning personality.

So, armed with all those good feelings, I set into the house. I covered the table in items that would be happier in other homes. I packed the last of Christmas away. I of course cuddled the kitties. And I vacillated between can this really be happening and we are coming home soon.

I spent the first day and a half doing the purge thing. There was an added layer of looking to replace things my Mom had lost in the fire and finding things I was so relieved were not lost. My heart still hurts when I think about the fire. It's crazy to me to think back to where we were that October. Dom was on round 6, the dreaded even round of chemo, and we still had not found a donor. There were possibilities, but no one clearly committed. I think we were as low as could be. And waking up to the terrible news that our city was on fire, our home was under threat, a beloved home lost already, and Dom not able to lift his head off the pillow, those were dark days. Those days, it was very difficult to imagine that someone would donate their stem cells and we'd find a place to live in Sacramento, and we'd make it through the 100 days.

And there I was. Preparing our nest that survived the fire, for my man who also survived his own fire. 100 days nearly complete and pretty little flowers to welcome us home.

And wouldn't you know, if I wasn't already emotional enough, my Aunt was doing some spring cleaning and purging of her own, and offered to send me some of my Grandma's things she'd been keeping. In figure, I am a carbon copy of her. My aunt sent me a couple pictures to see if I'd like the items or not. The black rain coat that was my Grandma's last coat I remember her wearing immediately brought tears to my eyes. There was just something about the cuffs that instead of buttons had little bows. The coat spoke to me also of the adventures my Grandma went on. She wore this coat to Switzerland and Chicago. She'd traveled Europe straight out of high school in 1938. Her steamer trunk with stickers from each country she visited sits in my house complete with much of her travel attire. She continued to travel as she could throughout her life. Somehow, that coat held so much Grandma, whom I love dearly. I'd already shared all this with my Mom, shared with her how I cried when the photo came, and cried again even as I shared this with her. I cried as I opened the box of treasures cleaning weekend, and shortly thereafter, Mom showed up. The coat fit her perfectly. It's raining even as I share this, and it makes me so happy that my Mom should have my Grandma's coat. (This Grandma is my Dad's mother.) But for my mom to have her coat just felt right in the midst of all that has happened.

And all of the above is to say, if you didn't already guess, this is an emotional time! But, I welcome the emotion. I welcome the connections and the history and the memories and the dreaming of better days and making new memories.

I scurried around for 2 nights and 3 days and with the help of Mom and friends, got it done. I feathered the nest and returned to Sacramento to scoop up Dominic. He'd had a great weekend with friends.

I packed up our little mini to the roof. (We'd arranged to pick up the rest, which also turned out to be to the roof, on our next doctor visit.) Dom stayed in the car as the first thing I packed up is his work computer. Once I could not shove a single other thing inside, we set off for home. I wondered how he'd feel heading home after 3 months of being away. We were mostly excited and relieved to be saying goodbye to the noisy house. No more elephants up stairs. No more metal kitchen with 20 pound flat ware clanging loudly every time we ate. And we were so longing for home. And, we were nervous as we weren't technically freed to go home. We just decided it was time. But, a part of us worried as we didn't want to jeopardize anything we'd worked so hard for.

Dom felt the same shock and awe I did as he walked up the path and saw all the work that had been done. He looked up at our green hills that were once brown from the fires. He scanned the tree line taking in the ones that burned down, and the ones that look like they'll make a comeback. He masked up and took a walk.

And now that we're "officially" home, the sweet relief can really settle in. Now that the doctor said it's "okay", we are sleeping like babies. He is extra fatigued right now, as the steroids he'd been on gave him energy. He's completely off steroids now, and the doctor cut out another medication yesterday. Each cut is a sign of moving forward. So, he's settling in slowly. I'd imagine it's bitter sweet to be home. Mostly sweet. But there's still limitations. We're still taking precautions as his White Blood Count is taking its sweet time rallying. It will be some time before he can integrate back in to work, and even more time before he can work in the garden or do things he'd normally do around here. But for now, he can wander around outside. He can set up his office and be inspired by tutorials and past images he's shot.

And I've already gotten my fingers in the soil. My neighbor took me on a surprise adventure and bought me a plant to put in the ground with all the fixings. She'd done some research and took me to just the spot for what was needed. We spent the next morning weeding out a spot that was once a jumble of pots, and carved out a plot for sweet peas and peonies.

Looking back, time did fly and move like molasses. I did not know what to expect, but I think things went better than expected. I bought Dominic a bell for Christmas, thinking he'd be an invalid barely able to move, and that was certainly not the case. He's been so strong, and has received so many compliments from the doctor and nurses for what a good patient he has been.

We still have many trips to Sacramento. There's still many tests and blood draws. But we're home! And the first tests returned very good results. Dom has just returned from a morning walk and our noisy black kitty is telling us what's what.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Numbers and Valentines

As I stood in the pantry that's really not my pantry last night, looking at the stores of food I've amassed, I felt a moment of embarrassment. I'm one of those socially awkward people that thinks about the weirdest things. Like, it looks like I've lived in this temporary house a long doesn't look like I'm planning jail break in 2 weeks. I did bring all our food from home that would expire before March.  Some random flours and sugars Dom's experimenting with. My food is wedged in between the home's appliances and pots and pans in the pantry.  I feel awkward about these things because for instance, my neighbor saw me carrying in our dear friend's sleeping bag for when she stayed the night and teased me about where are we fitting all the stuff we're moving in to just a temporary house. Call me self conscious.

I love Dominic more than ice cream.

Anyway, when I looked at the pantry full of food, and let the embarrassment pass, I started counting (again). I count every day. How many days until we go home is number one. But then I count how many days we've actually been in Sacramento. 83 days. That's how many days since Dominic has been in his home. 77 days since transplant. They told us in the beginning we'd become fixated on the numbers of his CBC (complete blood count), but now I'm fixated on days too.

Staring at the food, I counted some other numbers. We've been in this apartment for 57 days. That means we've had 171 meals here. Well, actually, 169 1/2. It's not dinner time yet and my friend took me out for dinner one night. (Thanks friend!) Then I started trying to figure out how many meals I've eaten out since the diagnosis. Dominic's number is easy. Zero. He has eaten at a restaurant 0 times since June 15. It was just easier once he began chemo to isolate and eat neutropenic all the time. (Neutropenic describes both a patient's immunity and a very restrictive diet.) He also has not had a cappuccino since June. I believe the first thing we will do on March 8 is go out for a cappuccino.

I have eaten at a restaurant twice since June. Both times with the same friend. It's only fitting I should eat out with one of my foodiest friends. I've also had another friend bring me a giant delicious burrito, and that was nice. My Mom has brought me Chinese and pizza on my quick trips home. Our over night guest with the sleeping bag left some pizza here for me, and it may as well have been from a restaurant. ohmygoshitwassogood.
I have had the odd cup of coffee from Starbucks. I collect points from our ground coffee and redeem them for free cups of coffee. Don't hate my penny pinching ways!
So mostly all our meals that were not in a hospital have been at home. Two of Dom's meals were made by another friend with items fresh from his garden. See, I can't stop counting.

And it doesn't seem like a big deal at all until I scroll through social media and see how reliant people are on fast food to get through the day, or eating out to mark an event, or eating out because it's nice to, or eating out because they can, and I realize it really is kind of a big deal, this thing we're doing.

And honestly, I'm not chomping at the bit to eat out. I do look forward to it. I look forward to the day Dom and I can just decide we've had a long day and maybe someone else can cook and clean up. Not that I mind cooking or the clean up. Not that we went out much before. We really didn't. But to know that we can. That will be fun.

But for now, he continues to experiment with soups. (That's his thing right now. Next week, it could be something else.) We're grateful he even has an appetite. And we're grateful for every morsel of food.  And we're grateful to be on this journey together. I can't think of anything more romantic than standing by my man through thick and thin. I can't think of anything more romantic than this fight he has fought so hard, in part for me. This just might be the best Valentine's Day ever.
All these numbers, and there is no way to count the ways I love and am loved.