Dependable Erection

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Lost Year

Around this time a year ago, i recall Mrs. D saying something about being happy to see the back end of 2010. I agreed with the thought, as the last 2 months of the year were filled with her mom's failing health. Had i known then what i know now . . .

The elder Mrs. D continued her decline through the early part of the year, and passed in mid-March. She spent her last days receiving hospice care at Carillon Assisted Living in Hillsborough.

After she died it was time, we thought, to get back to our lives. My buddy Jeff and i took a road trip up to DC and Baltimore to catch some baseball. He was happy, because that early in the season the Orioles hadn't started totally sucking, and actually beat the Red Sox. The Mets lost to the Nationals, which was a harbinger of a mediocre season. (For the record, the Mets finished 8 under .500 at 77-85, 25 games behind the Phils. The O's? 69-93, 28 games back of the Yankees.)

But it was a phone call on the trip that ended up being most significant. Mrs. D called while we were stopped for gas (either a few minutes before or just after i had saved a flock of baby geese from being run over by some speeding moron behind me.) The radiologist had seen something he didn't like on her mammogram, and while it was probably nothing, could she come back in for another one in the next few weeks?

As it turned it, it wasn't nothing, and the past 8 months have become an ongoing lesson in the vocabulary, diagnosis, history, and treatment of breast cancer in the early 21st Century. Which, thank goodness, is light years ahead of where it was even in the latter years of the previous century. There are 3 ways of dealing with cancer - surgery for removing localized tumors; radiation for killing stray cells in the affected organ; and chemicals for disrupting the metabolic and reproductive processes of cancer cells in both the affected organ and anywhere else in the body they may have migrated. The organ of origin, degree of development, and the specific mutations of the DNA of the tumor determine which of the treatments are recommended. Mrs. D got very lucky and hit the trifecta - 2 surgeries in June, 6 weeks of radiation in July and August, and 3 months of chemo from October through December. The doctors didn't learn about the oncotype of the tumor until after her radiation treatments had started. It's apparently unusual to have radiation before chemo, but the original plan had not included chemotherapy, so that's why the sequence of treatments went the way they did.

It's never been in my thoughts to be a cancer blogger or a cancer diarist. From the very first conversations with the folks at Duke Hospital, there has been a high degree of confidence that the cancer was found early enough to be treated, and that this wasn't going to be a life threatening experience. Rather, an 8 month pain in the ass that was going to impact every aspect of our daily lives and pocketbooks, but one with a well-defined roadmap and a knowable destination, even if that map leads you through pretty dark places. And the destination, although knowable, is not a guarantee. Mrs. D's been a trouper these 8 months. But i know she'd prefer to put the map away and never have to look at it again. I guess everyone who hears those words from a doctor has to come to their own bargain with mortality. I'm thankful that Mrs. D's should end up with her living out a normal allotment of years. So that's the bulk of the journey we've been on the past 8 months, and if there are any of you out there who i haven't seen in the real world who've been missing my sparkling wit, now you know where it's been hiding.

But of course that wasn't our only experience with the health care system this year. On Halloween, being the middle aged guy i am, i went into the clinic for a routine colonoscopy. (I'm no more interested in cancer treatments now than i was a year ago, despite the increased familiarity with the process.) No cancer, but i did have a small polyp (a serrated adenoma, if you must know) removed from my ascending colon. No big deal; this kind of thing happens to hundreds of people every day.

But only a few of them (maybe 1 in 500 or so) gets to bleed out through the wound the following day. And of those, only an even scanter handful actually pass a couple of liters of blood. Fortunately, i made the call to hit the ER early on in the sequence, and was already being seen when the largest part of the hemorrhage occurred. Two days later, with a new plug in my cecum (more like a staple, actually) and a refill, i was given back to the real world. So the folks at Duke Emergency will have my gratitude for a long time, even those doctors who asked if i wanted my heart to be restarted should it stop while they were working on me; the surgeon who told me that, if the stapling effort didn't work that he'd probably be going in to take my colon home for display; and whoever it was who asked, before another needle full of sedation, if i wanted to speak with a chaplain. (I told the surgeon that i had checked my calendar before coming to the hospital, and that colon removal was not on my to-do list that day; to the chaplain question i merely responded "why?")

2011 wasn't all bad news, although, as the kewl kids say, the bad news rather dominated the narrative. Mrs. D and i finally got our shit together long enough to find a house up near the Eno River, and we've left the continuing deterioration of the Avondale Drive corridor in the hands of the city of Durham its Neighborhood Improvement Services Department, and the various shitty landlords who own those properties. A quick glance at real estate trends shows that 4 houses on the east side of Avondale sold for around $30,000 over the past 12 months or so. On my block, several houses went on the market on 2011 for under $100/square foot (about half of what comparable houses sell for in Old West Durham or Trinity Park); as of this writing, neither had sold. We were lucky enough to have family members who wanted to live in the neighborhood, so we're not dealing with either unknown tenants or the vagaries of the resale market just yet. With any luck, things will pick up enough in 2012 that selling the house at any sort of profit becomes possible.

The other bit of news on the plus side of the ledger also involved the older daughter and her husband - not only have they traded in Minnesota winters for North Carolina summers, but they'll be bringing a baby into the world come May 2012. Not that grampahood was ever anything i planned for. but as Mrs. D said, as long as we're dealing with all this other crap that comes with the getting older territory, we might as well have a baby to look after once in a while.

So as it turns out, the very first entry in Dependable Erection was posted 6 years ago today. I guess it's fitting to post this, which will be last entry in the blog, today. I never had any expectations for this blog. I mentioned once or twice that the only audience i ever had in mind was myself, and i wanted to have something that i could look at 4 or 10 years down the road and remember what i was thinking back then. But if i made anyone laugh, or think, or say, what the fuck, well, that was a bonus. The new phase in my life doesn't involve having to deal with the incompetence of the city of Durham (for which i am immeasurably grateful), inconsiderate neighbors (ditto), and, with any luck, health issues. I'll have some things to say in the New Year, some images to share, and, if you have any interest in what that might be, check back in a couple of weeks for a link to the new site.

Have a Happy New Year.

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  • Wow Barry! I am speechless! I had no idea that all this was going on as I've been a bit distant with all things Durham as well (grad school and more responsibilities at work can do that).

    I am so thankful for your bravery in posting this entry. I for one have truly enjoyed having you as a neighbor in the greater Durham community. As one of the first activists I met when I moved to Durham, you certainly left an impression on me! Don't worry, it was a good one.

    Your wit and down to earth practicality mixed with sarcasm are hallmarks of your style and will truly be missed in this neck of the woods. The eno are should be pretty but don't abandon Durham all together. I can understand leaving the crap behind, but I hope you'll visit on occasion for the best that Durham offers....great food, friends and lively convo with some yahoos. :)

    By Blogger A C, at 8:48 AM  

  • Thank you. I haven't checked out of Durham completely, and both Mrs. D and i appreciate the good things in town even more now that we don't need to deal with the bullshit on a daily basis. We're looking forward to Duke Oncology not being the central locus of our social life in 2012.

    There's a couple of things on the ballot in May (Amendment One and the Democratic Primary for our County Commissioners) that i hope to have the time to work on over the next few months. Hopefully, my future granddaughter will forgive me for taking that time.

    By Blogger Barry, at 8:58 AM  

  • What a year that was. I'm glad you and Claire made it through, although I'm still sad you're not in the neighborhood.

    Best wishes for a happy and prosperous 2012, and congratulations on your impending Gramps-dom.


    By Blogger David, at 10:55 AM  

  • Barry--Thanks for posting this, and all the other things over the years. I have enjoyed it, and particularly enjoyed the fact that through the blog thing we got to know each other a little in person. Keep fighting the good fights.

    My best to you, Mrs, D, and your expanding family in the year to come.

    By Blogger Brian, at 12:28 PM  

  • Barry, your Dependable Erection was fun while it, well, you know.

    Here's to turning a new corner for you and Mrs. D this Saturday night!

    By Blogger Tony, at 2:50 PM  

  • "But if i made anyone laugh, or think, or say, what the fuck, well, that was a bonus"

    At least one out of three, sir :-)

    More importantly, your blog is part of the chain that got us to meet. Bonus for me, for sure.

    By Blogger Marsosudiro, at 6:49 PM  

  • Would it be in bad taste to post this cartoon then?

    By Blogger Jape, at 1:12 AM  

  • I'm sorry to see DE come to a conclusion, for it's brought me and your friends in Durham such a great deal of humor and insight for so long. I'm heartened that you and Mrs. D have made it through the year with your wits intact and health on the upswing. Thanks for sharing all the highs and lows. Here's to no more lost years! Happy New Year, Pop-Pop.

    By Blogger toastie, at 10:55 AM  

  • JP - I'd have posted that myself had i only known.

    By Blogger Barry, at 4:19 PM  

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