Living in the Realm of Possibilities

23 August. I grow impatient hearing nothing about the biopsy and call the Oncology Department to tell the person answering the phone that if nobody there can take care of me, I’m going somewhere else. Person tells me that if the doctor had wanted to hurry things along, he would have written stat on his orders. She promises to call the scheduling department and get back to me by end of business today. I’m a little consoled that the doctor didn’t write stat on my orders.

She doesn’t call back.

24 August. When I take the dogs outside this morning, a neighbor is resurfacing his garage floor and toxic fumes fill the air. Terrible odor. I feel protective of my lungs and the dogs’ lungs, and hurry back inside. Polluting the air with chemicals should be against the law. When I go out an hour later, the odor is gone.

When I took possession of this house in November 2018, the previous owner had an alarm system, which I didn’t think I needed. The alarm goes off this afternoon and I can’t figure out how to turn it off. Clang! Clang! Clang! The poor dogs are nervous wrecks. They want to run away, but can’t leave me. Can’t find previous owner’s phone number to get code to turn off alarm. I hail a young neighbor and he comes to help. I call the security company and a representative tells me how to do it. The house goes silent.

26 August. Alarm goes off again—this time it’s a rhythmic hammering sound. I find the previous owner’s phone number, get the code, and turn it off, hopefully for good. I want to rip out the alarm system. Ryan tells me to leave it alone, that a pre-wired alarm system is a plus when selling a house.

27 August. I call the oncologist’s office and say telling a patient she has cancer and needs a biopsy with no further communication is cold and heartless. Woman says the time between the diagnosis and scheduling the biopsy is the longest part of the treatment. I ask why. She has no answer. I feel like I’m carrying a bomb inside me.

28 August. Still waiting for call from scheduling department. Sinus headache today.

29 August. Hallelujah! My biopsy is scheduled for September 5 at Methodist Hospital in downtown Indianapolis. No food or drink after midnight. The delay was caused by the radiologist at the hospital sending my test to a radiologist at Methodist Hospital where there’s computer topography to better read the test. Informing patients doesn’t seem to be a priority.

Nights, I’ve been watching Silent Witness, a British series about a female pathologist who has love affairs and solves crimes. Many scenes take place in the autopsy room. I’ve grown accustomed to looking at pretend corpses.

Next post: Biopsy delayed

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Living in the Realm of Possibilities

August 19: PET scan day. Two days ago, someone from the Oncology Department called to say I could eat and drink before six-thirty the morning of the scan, which is scheduled for10:30. I ate one half of a Rice Krispy Treat at six, took my morning medications, and went out to the garage.

The garage door wouldn’t open.

(Ryan would fix the problem later; It was an outlet problem. Last night’s storm had tripped something or other.) I panic and call Ryan, who takes me to the hospital.

I get to the hospital with little time to spare. The PET scan takes place in a trailer outside the hospital. I am lifted inside by a little outside elevator. When the technician learns I had half a Rice Krispy Treat, he is alarmed: I should have been fasting since midnight. Apparently, sugar can throw the test off. He tests my blood. It’s okay—I can go ahead with the scan. I’m totally flustered—the garage door, the rush to the hospital, incorrect information from the Oncology Department. The technician is kind, soft-spoken. I calm down. I have the PET scan. The technician walks me back into the hospital to hand me over to Ryan, who we see walking toward us. Ryan, focused on finding a seat near Radiology and unused to seeing me in the company of a man, walks past. “Ryan,” I say. He turns. “Grandma!”

Ryan and I eat lunch at a restaurant on the way home. As soon as he leaves my house, I pour a glass of iced tea, the glass slips, I grab it in my right hand and CRUSH it, cutting my middle finger. I take a blood thinner. Blood, all over. I think of calling Ryan, but know I can handle this. I wind a tourniquet (wide rubber band from kitchen desk drawer) around my finger to stop the bleeding, then treat the gash with an antiseptic, and wrap it in gauze and tape. I wipe up the blood, pick up the glass shards, and vacuum the floor. I’m proud of myself for not calling Ryan.

August 20: There’s a storm during the night. My dogs are petrified of storms. They both jump in bed with me. I cram Schatzi under the covers because she’s better off not hearing the thunder god. BoPeep prefers to sit up, so she can escape if necessary. When the storm is over, she lies down on top of the quilt, falls asleep.

When I get up at seven, I’m glad I cleaned up the broken glass and that my kitchen is spotless.  My finger hurts, but I ignore the pain.

I put on a little makeup. I’m still in a daze about the cancer.

The oncologist calls with the PET scan results in late afternoon. The spot on my lung lit up and so did a small lymph node. Good news: Nothing else lit up. His office will call to schedule a biopsy.

August 21: Wish the oncologist’s office would call. I’m walking around with cancer inside me. Help! Is the cancer growing? It must be. How long was it there before the CT scan found it? Let’s start getting rid of it!

Next Post: Literally, alarm bells go off

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Living in the Realm of Possibilities

16 August. Each morning, I wake up thinking “I have lung cancer.” I have no symptoms, but since I’m highly suggestible, I feel pain in my left lung. I have no idea what my treatment will be. I have no idea what the effects of the treatments will be. Though a trained librarian, as well as a writer, I don’t conduct my own research. For now, the unknown is preferable to what I might discover without guidance online. I’m angry because the oncology department didn’t provide information or support. I worry about needing help. I have so many adverse drug reactions. What if I can’t take care of my dogs, clean my house, cook my food, drive my car?

I saw my shadow yesterday. If I die, I’ll have no shadow. Can I be a groundhog and hide because I saw my shadow?

I’m working on a rewrite of a mystery novel. I’m trying to be disciplined, but there’s that lung-shaped arborvitae tree outside my window: it’s eaten up by bagworms. Metaphorically, it is my lung and the stripped foliage is my cancer. I didn’t catch the bagworms in time and lost the tree.

Get a grip, Lynne!

My grandson Ryan promises to accompany me to any procedure where I’ll need him. My grandson Jeff says that if I have surgery and need help, he’ll try to drive down from the Chicago area and work from my house for a few days. I am blessed.

My dogs, Schatzi and BoPeep, hover. BoPeep seems more intuitive than Schatzi; she climbs into the Big Chair, comes close to my face, and stares, perhaps asking; are you okay? When my dark mood lifts, the pups return to their daily routine—eating, sleeping, walks, playing, and cuddling in the Big Chair I bought to hold us all. At twenty-three pounds, Schatzi has always been a determined lap dog; but BoPeep, who came to live with me as a puppy, thinks she’s still a puppy and wants on my lap, too. She weighs over forty pounds.

Occasionally, Ryan visits with newborn son, Colton. Sitting in the rocking chair, I sing songs to my great-grandson that I sang to my own children and to some of my grandchildren. The songs have never gone from my heart and a baby in my arms is a natural fit. The past swoops up, and though I don’t let my thoughts linger on my children, from whom I’ve been long estranged, the muscle memory is there.

Since I’m on a truth-telling mission, I’d have to say I do think of my children, and their infant faces swirl like reflected images in a kaleidoscope.

Next post: The PET Scan

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I didn’t think I’d ever have cancer. Nearly forty years ago, I stopped smoking; my health problems have been identical to my father’s—hypertension, heart, strokes; and cancer does not run in my family. When a cardiologist recently ordered a CT scan of my carotids, I assumed we’d learn that more plaque had built up. As it turned out, the carotids were in good shape, but the scan found a cancerous spot on my left lung.


August 13. Emotionally numb, I take notes on what the cardiologist is saying, and go to the oncologist’s office, where he confirms the spot is cancerous and schedules a PET scan for August 19. I leave the oncologist’s office with no literature, no instruction on the PET scan, no information except that I seem healthy enough to treat the cancer aggressively. I step outside the hospital doors feeling the sky is too vast, too empty. I feel small, alone, lost. I don’t think people should feel that way after being told they have cancer. I feel sorry for myself.

(The no-frills oncology center in the hospital is not operated by the hospital, but by a health insurance company. The doctors are employees. They are not in charge of people who work there—the health insurance company is. Other departments in this hospital are run by a network of hospitals.)

Not only do I feel lost over my cancer diagnosis, I feel ashamed, vulnerable, and weak. I shouldn’t have smoked. I remember why I started smoking. My former husband, eight years my senior, thought I’d look more sophisticated if I smoked. (He was ashamed of my farm girl background.) I tell only my grandsons, sister, and two friends about the cancer. I caution them to secrecy.

Then historical romance writer Cindy Nord changed my mind about hiding my condition.

As I began my journey as a cancer patient, Cindy, a Facebook friend whom I never met in person, is sharing online her experiences with breast cancer. I didn’t know her when she started her journey, but when she had a recurrence, she shared uplifting messages and plans for the future—a new novel, research trips along the Ohio River, gatherings with friends.

Last Monday afternoon, she passed. Rest in peace, sweet lady Cindy Nord.

I decided to share my own cancer experience. I’m not a religious person who thinks in terms of a beneficent God. I am, however, a spiritual person, who lives comfortably in the realm of possibilities.

Next post: The magic of little babies and puppy dogs

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Learning From Other Authors

I’ve spent the past few days reading Nancy Pickard’s novel, The Scent of Rain and Lightning. Not only did I enjoy it thoroughly—it’s a page turner—I also learned from it.

Pickard set the novel in the ranch lands of western Kansas. As I read, I absorbed the locale into my bones, and wondered if someone born and raised in an urban setting would feel the same. (Will some urbanite please read it and tell me?)

In Pickard’s novel, Rose, Kansas is a small town, miles away from any city. People use plain speech, and the author sometimes uses metaphors, like tense as fresh strung barbed wire, to convey state of being or action, and a sense of setting. A horrendous storm comes in from the west, serving as the musical score for a tale of violence and death. Rose is a dying town. Hard work is valued. A female character bakes wonderful pies.

I grew up in Benton County, Indiana, one hundred miles south of Chicago, its western edge on the Illinois/Indiana state line. Our farmhouse faced north. Banks of storm clouds rolled in from the flat lands of the west and slammed against the kitchen windows. A mile away, the little town of Freeland Park slid into oblivion when the railroad diverted to another town. Grain elevators were the skyscrapers of the prairies. My mother was known for the flakiness of her piecrust.

Here is a sentence from the first chapter of The Scent of Rain and Lightning:

A person could, for instance, belong to a nice family living an ordinary life in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and on some innocent Saturday night, violent men could drop in like those tornadoes and turn those nice people into the dead stars of a Truman Capote book.

What a masterful sentence! Setting, culture, language, foreshadowing, and the metaphor: dead stars of a Truman Capote book.

The light of dead stars can be seen long after death.

Memories. Makes you think of In Cold Blood.

Pickard is the genius who thought up the CASTS formula: Conflict, Action, Senses, Turn, Surprise. I re-read her first chapter to find each component, and sure enough, they were all there. Conflict: Jody’s boyfriend, Red, loves her and she doesn’t love him, and her three bossy uncles are downstairs, and she’s in bed with Red, who works for them. Action: Jody and Red jump out of bed and into their clothes, and the three uncles, dressed in their Sunday best, enter her house. Senses: the smell of honeysuckle; tastes of mint and hot sauce; truck doors slamming; the feel of cowboy skin, all banged up, healed over, raw; sights of sky, furniture, uncles. Turn: the interruption in the day—Jody and Red making love and her three uncles showing up unexpectedly, wearing their best straw hats (Where have they been?) Surprise: the uncles tell Jody that the man sent to prison for killing her father, and maybe her mother twenty-three years ago, was let out of prison that morning. And that was only Chapter One.

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