The homestretch

For some time now I have had the surreal feeling that I am in a horse race. I can feel the power of the horse beneath me, legs stretching, hooves pounding, sweat flying. It’s been a long race and both my horse and I are growing weary. We round the last corner and I look to the finish line…only to find it has been moved. Ugh. What can I do? I must stay in the race. So I loosen my grip slightly on the reins, crouch a little lower and give the horse his head. At some point I realize I can not control it all, and that is OK.

The stark reality is that life is not a horse race, until you die there is no finish line. There is always that next thing up ahead, both good and bad. For over a year “the finish line” has been the end of my job. When I reach that milestone I will accomplish X and Y and Z. Wrap it up, put a bow on it. And then my mother’s Alzheimers worsened …

Things that had been easy to laugh at were suddenly serious. This is not amusing anymore. Things are rapidly becoming more than my 88-year-old father can be expected to handle. Difficult decisions must be made. Life changing decisions affecting both my mother and my father. Let’s bump that finish line out a couple more laps. I tuck my knees into the horse’s side and push through. OK, my job is going to end giving me more time and capacity to get my mother placed in memory care; my dad placed in an independent living community and disperse the contents of their home. At that point I will head to the winners circle and collect the purse. What? My husband has cancer? Are you fucking kidding me?

100% honesty here. After the shock wore off I was pissed. Angry in a selfish, poor me, kind of way. I had plans! I had this forced retirement all mapped out! My to-do list was a mile long! And then it hit me. Life is not about control. Life does not present itself in a neat package complete with a well written instruction manual. If we are provided any guide at all it looks more like something from an IKEA manual – what exactly is that chubby little guy trying to tell me?!? Life is not always an easy journey.

I have to adjust my plans. I have to cut that to-do list down to what really matters. Mike’s surgeon said something to us that touched a spark in my very soul. “After your surgery you need to plan on being off work for six weeks. Technically, even with your line of work, you could probably go back sooner, however, you have many years to work…take six weeks off to heal from cancer.” 

How often do we push through? Get back to work as soon as possible? Grip the reins and steer the horse? What if…? What if we not only give the horse his head but also relax our knees and sit upright? Or maybe we need to let go completely and lay boneless against the horse’s neck, arms dangling to each side, trusting that the horse will find its way back to the barn?

Mike is going to take his six weeks off to heal from cancer and guess what? I’m going to do the same. This is not a vacation, there are things that will need to be done, but my approach will be different. I will move forward with settling my parents; I will need to do whatever needs to be done for Mike; I will also do what needs to be done for me. I will ask for help as necessary, I will admit when I am not strong. For the first time in 30 years I will not have to meet the challenges of life while also managing a career.

I urge you all to assess what is important at this time in your life and focus your energy there. Let the other stuff fade in importance or even fall completely away. What is important will be different for each of you. Don’t judge yourself by what is important to your friends and family. Realize that over the years what is important will change often so be flexible. I’m winding down and am at the end of my career years, but for some of you, your career and building financial stability for your family may  be important now. Maybe finishing school is high on your list. Maybe building relationships, or focusing on health or paying off debt is on top for you. Make room for the things that matter.

You have many years (or not) to do X, Y and Z…but you only have a limited time to [insert priority items here]. You define your winner’s circle. You, and you alone.

Fuck the C-word.

My husband has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. So, there’s that. I know it is hard to hear but I have decided there is no way to slip that delicately into casual conversation or ease it into a post.

In this post my goal is to just give you the details as we know them and the promise to return often to tell more of our story. A lot has happened between and during each step below. We encourage you to share this journey with us and feel free to ask questions; we welcome the chance to share what we know. Knowledge is power.

It begins:

  • Mike had a blood test that showed elevated PSA levels – moderate but not off the charts.
  • Then a second blood test – slightly higher PSA, hmmmmm, we need “next steps”, which means a biopsy.
  • A prostate biopsy is a minimally invasive, 20 minute, office procedure. Mike calls bullshit on that statement. He was on the business end of having 12 core samples taken from his prostate. He was awake for this procedure. He says “Minimally invasive my ass!” Literally.

The results:

  • They found indications of cancer in the 12 core samples. In each instance of cancer that they found they ranked the severity from 1 low to 5 high. The majority of what they found was at stage 3 but there were some occurrences  of stage four giving Mike a Gleason score of 3 + 4 = 7 which is better than a 4 + 3 = 7 as that would mean the majority was 4 with lesser amounts having 3. So, that’s a win for our team.
  • Statistically he is young for this stage of prostate cancer and to do nothing is not an option. The choices are either radiation or surgery.

The options and final decision.

Surgery pros:

  • It is done, one fell swoop. Remove the prostate.
  • They remove the surrounding lymph nodes and test them as well.
  • They get a visual of what is going on inside you and can take additional tissues samples if there is any indication the cancer was not contained to the prostate.
  • Afterwards you have an expected PSA level of zero and testing routines to detect additional cancer or reoccurrence. If not, prostate cancer cells are on the loose.

Surgery cons:

  • Very invasive. One or two day hospital stay.
  • Catheter for two weeks. (Mike is thrilled about that one!)
  • Six weeks off work. (Did I mention Mike just started a new job at the end of January?!? No sick leave, no FMLA coverage.)
  • All the normal risks of surgery.

Radiation pros:

  • Less invasive.
  • Equally as effective as surgery.

Radiation cons:

  • Treatment is 5 days a week for 9 weeks. I love my husband, but ya’all know that he is NOT a patient, long-haul kind of guy.
  • If not successful it makes surgery a more difficult process.
  • Ongoing benchmarks and testing are more difficult. PSA levels can fluctuate, therefore, not being a good indicator of additional cancer or reoccurrence. It can create many false positive situations.

The decision.

Oregon Urology and OHSU (more on their role in a future post) agree that Mike, as a younger, healthier man would be better served by surgery and we agree. Radiation is a better choice for someone older or whose health would be compromised by an invasive surgery.

Yesterday we met with the surgeon we selected, Dr. Kollmorgan with Oregon Urology Institute. We feel very fortunate to have him. He has done over 600 prostate removals and will be assisted by another physician who is just as skilled as he is. Mike is scheduled for surgery at RiverBend Hospital on April 5th.

The game is on.

NFQ*

*Never Fucking Quit. You will see this a lot in my blog and on Facebook… both in my posts and in many of my friends’ posts… in honor of our friend and the fiercest cancer fighter ever, Chris Olafson. It was his mantra and we carry it on in his memory.

 

 

This is a test…this is only a test

This morning I decided to do a test of the Jeanneine Miller Temporary Retirement System and felt I should attempt something I have never tried before. So, yes people, I went to Winco. At 7am. On a Monday. I know, crazy, right?!?

I wasn’t going for the full effect so I didn’t wear my pajama pants and slippers, but here are some other things I didn’t do:

  • I didn’t wash and fix my hair first.
  • I didn’t put on makeup.
  • I wore my camping comfy jeans but DID NOT wear Spanx for tummy control.

I learned something that is going to be very helpful during my temporary retirement – I have some undies that are too big. Without Spanx to hold those puppies in place by the end of my shopping trip the waistband was situated uncomfortably under my butt cheeks. Finding myself alone in an aisle I looked around and was tempted to hike those suckers up…but I refrained. It’s the price I had to pay to ensure the lesson was learned. Unless push comes to shove I absolutely will not buy new underwear. So now I see my next test…JC Penney’s at 10am on a Thursday!

By the way, for sanity’s sake, this is the way a Winco parking lot should look before you venture in.

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It was a calm, successful experience.

T-minus 1 month

We are one month away from the former Pacific Continental Bank data systems merging with and converting to Columbia Bank.

At some point during the valley of despair many of the “systems people” will do what we have never done before…

It is a bitter-sweet time for everyone, but especially for those of us who have developed, monitored and cussed these systems for years.

As with any conversion things are heating up fast during the pre-conversion frenzy. There will be training to learn new systems and new processes. Groups will be running mock tests of the data to be converted, making updates so it can flow into the new banking systems.  Client communication, client communication and more client communication will be happening. The terror and dread will build to a crescendo and in one month it will break loose into the utter chaos of conversion weekend. Heads will be down in reports, scanning for errors and inconsistency, fingers will be flying over keyboards correcting data and inputting items that could not be imported into the new system. It is fully in the hands of the back office people. Boxes will be checked as each system is validated. Once all those boxes are checked, systems will be brought online and handed over to the clients and our client facing employees.

If we are lucky we will hover in the eye of the storm…calm, for an hour? Maybe two? The length of our reprieve depends on what time we go live. On Monday morning businesses will be anxious to get in and see their new banking tools. Employees will be adjusting to their new equipment and navigating still unfamiliar systems. And then the hurricane will unleash at full force. Login problems, navigation problems…the phones will ring off the hook, email systems will bulge with questions. Internal and external issues will both be vying for the attention of limited support resources. We will live in the midst of this storm for several days.

And then fatigue will set in, tempers will flare. Squalls will blow through as clients need to process individual functions necessary to complete their business cycle. And then, my friends, we enter the valley of despair. It is a slog. Hot spots flare up and are extinguished as vendors write new code, run correcting programs against misinterpreted data and employees manually fix things that cannot be automated. Client facing employees will guide clients through the usage of their new tools.

It. Is. A. Grind.

At some point during the valley of despair many of the “systems people” will do what we have never done before. We, who are used to being the last men standing during conversion or crisis, will get up, clear out our desks and walk away. The job won’t be finished but it will be handed over to our capable counterparts at Columbia Bank.

For those who remain, you need to know, the valley of despair will get better. The chaos will subside. Many of you worry about not having the people who have supported you for so long. We’ve had our moments… but you’ve known you could depend on us, trust us with the care of your clients and you have valued the knowledge and skill we brought to the table. You will build new bridges, interact with your new counterparts, discover the wealth of resources your new systems will offer.

And then it will be back to business as usual.

Reality sets in

A8FB282B-9892-45AE-B1F5-88904745CC4EMy mom, sitting on the edge of the tub. Dried blood under her nose and chin. Cotton shoved hastily up her nose. Nervously fiddling with her fingernails. She’s not sure if she had a bloody nose but states very confidently to me “I hab codton up my nodes.”

Dad enters the room and says that mom had a bloody nose and wouldn’t quit picking at it so he put the cotton up her nose so she would stop. It worked. You just have to find what works.

“Mom, let’s clean you up and I’ll trim your nails.” I say. Sitting side by side on the edge of the tub chatting like this is normal…just another day. We finish up and I leave her to use the restroom before we head out for her appointment.

Out in the hallway I say, “Dad, she seems a little worse today” Yes, he is frustrated with the medication. It isn’t helping, maybe it is part of the problem. Then he says…”If I’m going to lose her I’d just as soon lose her, not see her live like this.” There it is, out in the open. The thing we think, the thing we hate, the thing that causes shame. And then he cries. For the third time in two weeks to my face, how often alone?

Better safe than sorry.

Mom has been experiencing atrial fibrillation, or rapid heart rate. We’ve been working with a cardiologist at OHVI. The medication has not been working so the doctor scheduled an ultrasound. The day of the appointment rolled around and I loaded Mom and Dad up in my car and we headed off to the clinic.

We roll up to the front door and find a wheelchair for Mom. If you have been to any medical clinic lately you know the wheelchairs are getting larger and larger. I have Continue reading “Better safe than sorry.”

Welcome!

Welcome to my blog. This is a place for me but I hope it also becomes a place for you. Writing has always been a solace for me, reflecting my mood and allowing me to process often jumbled thoughts…sometimes through humor, sometimes through tears, always from my heart. On this page, and the pages to follow, there will be irreverence, sincerity, inappropriate thoughts, honesty, bad language, recipes, memes, photos of alcohol and real life as seen through my eyes.

I hope that as you read this you will laugh, ponder, nod your head in understanding, shake your head in consternation and realize that you are not alone. We all have our own stories, our own perspective, our own value system…and guess what? That is OK.