Side effects came pretty quick

The first day of chemo and radiation left me exhausted and a bit overwhelmed. Lots of information to take in. They sent me home with folders of information, a good thing since my eyes glazed over and my thoughts traveled as the nurses talked. I wanted my mama! After chemo/radiation I was sent to Partners in Health to be adorned with a fanny pack carrying my chemo. We will be be together 24/7 sans the weekend.

Yesterday as nausea set in, the thought of food repulsed me. I reminded myself this is hopefully for only six weeks. I can do this. The strawberry popsicle for dinner hit the spot and I got a good night’s sleep. Meantime, I’m to drink eight glasses of water a day, brush my teeth at least three times to help ward off mouth sores, eat small amounts of nutritious food, cut back on fiber. Other precautions are to wear gloves if gardening and change the water in flower vases daily as it can harbor bacteria. Stay away for sick people – all the things we do to protect a weak immune system.

This morning I popped my nausea medicine immediately and it seems to be working. I was able to get down a breakfast bar. It’s a sunny fall day here in Missoula. At 2:00 I’ll walk the few blocks to St. Pats for radiation. That will be good medicine and plan to do that daily (radiation is at 2:15 M-F) A friend is coming for a visit this evening bringing soup. Another friend is bringing some foods to have on hand, ie: sausage which sounds appealing, something I can cook, cut up and nibble on when needing some protein.

Thankfully I’m at home until mid-October, then to a peaceful cat sit for the rest of the month. I won’t be taking on any dog sits, just kitties, until I am pass the treatment.

I’ve always had compassion and respect for those going through the cancer journey but that is even greater now.

Thanks for reading and all your support. Love, Frances

Keep a look out for love

Port has been implanted. It is a miracle that medicine has come this far, that I will not have to go get poked on regularly for chemo. For some reason, I was really nervous about the procedure. I’ve had a few surgeries: appendicitis, c-section, hysterectomy, knee surgery. For all those, I was out, under anesthesia.

I was awake for the port, given valium and numbed at the site (near right collarbone). The “cocktail” nurse was right by my side offering up any cocktail that might be needed. Another attending nurse, asked if I wanted music, “sure” I said. I was smiling, rocking my feet back and forth, taken back to good times with my high school/college sweetheart as Earth, Wind and Fire sang September. No telling how many times we danced to Earth, Wind and Fire even seeing them live in Memphis. My sweetheart is no longer alive. Maybe it was the valium, but I sensed he was with me, letting me know it would all be OK. I trust him, it was all fine.
Cancer has made me hyper aware of when love is present. Friends from as far back as elementary school have reached out offering support, my community of local friends check in regularly offering any help I may need, house mates take me out for a high protein meal before the pet scan. Packages of goodies show up from an out of town friend. Our house cat who prefers to sleep at the end of my bed (no snuggling) has been making a habit of laying right next to my bum.

Yesterday, a sunny fall day, I walked a few blocks to pick up my car at the hospital. From the middle of the crosswalk, I heard my name blaring out of a car. The boys I occasionally watch were waving arms, yelling, excited to see me in this random place, sharing they had been in the homecoming parade earlier. A couple of more blocks, I ran into a dear friend’s son. We hugged while he announced he would be bringing me houseplants to purify the air.

It’s another clear fall day. I think I’ll take a stroll, watch for love, feed a cat and head to Fact & Fiction at 5:00 for Second Wind reading with Chris LaTray and Mark Schoenfeld.

Chemo/radiation begin tomorrow. I’ve been told side effects may not take effect for a week. Maybe they won’t be too bad.
I have some low key cat sitting gigs lined up. They will be a welcomed distraction.

Thank you all for reading. Watch out for love out there.



Brenda healing my bum

Update: Pet scan results

Good news – the pet scan showed no spread of cancer, only stage 2 anal cancer.

I was to get chemo port implanted tomorrow but it is now on Thursday, September 22nd (some problem with the room they use, my chemo doctor was not happy about that). Chemo and radiation will begin Monday the 26th. Treatment should be for six weeks if all goes well. Radiation is daily Monday-Friday, only for about 15 minutes. It’s a 10 minute walk from where I live, which will make for a nice stroll.

Meantime, I often feel tired, dealing with some pain and digestive issues. Today, a doctor’s appointment and lots of phone calls with doctor’s office to reschedule everything. That takes it out of me.
Self care is resting, drinking lots of water, eating healthy, soaking in the bathtub, reading and streaming series and movies.

A couple of friends from Eugene came through Missoula this week. Our few hours together were filled with hugs, laughter and tears – good medicine. They took snapshots as I gave them a tour of the colorful, funky, one of a kind, historic community building I live in.

I am so thankful for my supportive community, friends and excellent team of medical care.

For ease of communication, I will continue to share updates here.

I’ll leave you with a link to Suleika Jaouad’s Isolation Journals newsletter including writing prompts from guest writers. She is an inspiration as she continues to create through her journey with leukemia.
Isolation Journals

Prompt from Sophie Blackall:

Make a list of things to look forward to. Include big things if you’d like, but also the small everyday things that buoy your spirits, make you laugh, make you feel alive.

She also suggest,

If you have an egg in your house, you can draw a face on it. No one will stop you. Then you will look forward to opening the fridge. 

“Hello, Egg!” you’ll say.

You will amuse yourself no end. Trust me.

Thanks as always for reading.
Frances




Diagnosis

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered I have something in common with Farah Fawcett and Marcia Cross (red head from Desperate Housewives) – anal cancer.
Marcia Cross has become a spokesperson for this becoming more common cancer. It stems from the HPV virus which 80% of us are walking around with. She speaks openly, encouraging others to do the same after learning that many hide their true diagnosis due to embarrassment.
I knew something wasn’t right for a few months. Thought it was hemorrhoids but the pain kept getting worse. My primary care doctor sent me to a surgeon after attempting to do an exam but I almost flew off the table. She did feel a little something. I almost flew off the surgeon’s table too. He scheduled to put me under in order to do the exam.
After the procedure, the person who phoned my friend, who was picking me up, told her the doctor would be talking to me saying, “he did a biopsy and it could be cancer.” Whoever he was needs to read up on his HIPAA – yes I will let the doctor know this happened. The doctor did not speak to me before I left. My friend felt terrible after telling me this. The results I received via email one evening confirmed it. Dr. Acher, the surgeon, phoned the next morning. In his compassionate doctor voice he let me know the treatment is a combo of radiation and chemo. No surgery since it sits right on the sphincter. “The oncologist will be calling to set up your appointment. I will see you for your follow up mid September.”
I’ve met with the chemo doctor, I had her for my iron infusions a year ago. Love her. Later the same day met with my radiation doctor. Love her too. In her southern accent, we discussed dogs, the complexities of the South and photography as much as we talked of treatment.
This Wednesday I have a pet scan with results on Thursday to assure the cancer is contained.
Radiation begins the next Monday, every weekday for about 25 treatments. A port for chemo will be implanted in my chest receiving continuous chemo. (not sure for how long)
There is great success with this combination. Since learning my diagnosis I am learning of others who had this and came out the other side. Though, they all say the process is brutal: digestive issues, fatigue, maybe mouth sores and loss of hair.
I’m getting my ducks in a row in order to rest when needed.

Before my diagnosis, I had registered to hear Mark Nepo speak on his new book, Surviving Storms this past Sunday online. Almost everything he said I needed to hear.
Conversation with Mark Nepo, Surviving Storms

Mind as a Keyhole by Mark Nepo

Beneath the cloud,
everything is grey.

Above the cloud,
everything is light.

Calling the cloud unfair
is being a victim.

Trying to conquer the cloud
is being a hero.

Calling the cloud a cloud
is the beginning of peace.

May we all love each other forward as Mark suggest.
Thanks for reading, Frances

Horses, Art and a Good Cause

Today I’m excited to volunteer at Dunrovin Ranch, walking a horse and showing off artist’s work. The event is a fund raiser for Youth Homes in Missoula.
Local artist paint a design on the horse.
At the end of the day, the painted horses are released into the pasture, a site to behold.
Watch online at: Equine Art Extravaganza 2022
Throughout the week, you can vote on your favorite horse by making a $5 donation.

Thanks for reading, watching and possibly donating.

For the Love Books and Writing

I don’t remember ever being read to as a child. I don’t remember any children’s books around our house. Ask me my favorite book as a child, I don’t know. I do remember a few books stacked on tables for decoration and Mama sometimes reading a mass paperback book.

The first experience I remember with a book was in 3rd grade. Our teacher, Miss Aden, read aloud each day from the Secret Garden. I was transported into the mysterious world of the sick child, the discovery of the neglected garden and the miracle of transformation.

During high school, my older sisters read Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower, The Wolf and the Dove and passed them down to me. They called them crotch burners, as when the character, Heather Simmons, seeks refuge in the arms of a virile and dangerous stranger.

It took me leaving my Southern home and culture to discover my love of books. My first couple of years at the University of Mississippi had been a social endeavor. I was to join a sorority and assure I would have a husband. I don’t remember my parents discussing what I’d like to major in, but I do remember that my mama didn’t speak to me for weeks when I dropped out of sorority rush.

My brother, eleven years older, became a professor at the University of Montana. After a visit, and falling in love with the rivers he took me on and the mountains we hiked, I decided to finish at U of M in 1981. I studied, became interested in books and learning. I discovered writers such as Tom McGuane, Richard Hugo, Ivan Doig and started reading Southern writers, Eudora Welty and Faulkner. I couldn’t get enough of this newly discovered pleasure.

No wonder when reading Welty’s One Writer’s Beginning, I wished I had grown up in her house:
“I learned from age two or three that any room in the house, at any time of day, was there to read in or to be read to. My mother read to me. She’d read to me in the big bedroom in the mornings, when we were in her rocker together, which ticked in rhythm as we rocked, as though we had a cricket accompanying the story. She’d read to me in the dining room on winter afternoons in front of the coal fire, with our cuckoo clock ending the story with “Cuckoo,” and at night when I’d go in my own bed.” Eudora Welty

Welty lived in the same town I grew up in, Jackson, MS. My parents never spoke of her. They were more concerned with our appearances and place in society. Once I had discovered Eudora Welty I remember though getting chills of excitement when Ms Welty and I were both buying underwear at McRaes department store.

In the 90’s, I moved back to Mississippi after a divorce, to be close to family. As fate would have it, Tom McGuane came to Lemuria Bookstore for a reading of Keep the Change. A little piece of Montana in Mississippi. After the signing, I said my hello’s to John, the bookstore owner. We knew each other from earlier years. Our reconnection landed me a job at his beautiful bookstore. John had recently moved his tiny bookstore into a brand new space with room for each genre, a children’s section that felt like its own store and a first editions room where John kept his office. He ran a smooth operation for author signings, promoting them, assuring we had plenty of their books and a special booth for them to sit, converse with readers and sign their books.

I was in heaven, surrounded by books, talking to customers about books, buying and reading so many books. (For the first time, I had to get prescription eye glasses) Meeting the personalities behind the writing was also a treat. I was struck by the kindness of writers I met such as Kaye Gibbons, Lori Moore, John Grisham, Mark Childress, Ellen Gilchrist, Rick Bass, Tim O’Brien, Jim Harrison, Jimmy Buffett and Willie Morris (I loved Willie, what a character) to name a few. If I were working there today, I’d be meeting Jesymn Ward, Kiese Laymon, Angie Thomas, Natasha Trethewey and Ralph Eubanks.

Books are what I spend my “extra” money on. Often buying more than I have time to read. I’m not a fast reader nor do I devour several books every few weeks, but I read consistently. I find delight in the craft of writing and the talent, along with hard work of writers.

I don’t know about God, but what about the miracle of making strokes on paper that become letters, then words, then paragraphs, an entire page, then a book, a story.

A writer has crafted the words and sentences in a way that makes a reader cry, laugh, empathize, feel connected and understood. Or one is taken on a journey, can feel the air, smell the scents, see the sky and all the surroundings described. They are educated about things they would have never know of before reading the book. Their eyes are opened. They see things differently now.

It is nothing short of a miracle.

As always, thanks for reading.

Appreciate the contrast

Sometimes we need contrast to appreciate what we have.
For 20 years, I have been a house/pet sitter. It just happened, those years ago, I cared for someone’s pets while they were away, they gave my name to someone else and so on and so on. Even when I’ve had full time jobs, I’ve house sat on the side.
It has allowed me to travel. A month in Baja caring for a dog and casa, a couple of weeks in Hawaii with a kitty. I’ve gone back to Eugene, OR, my previous home, where I have so many wonderful friends, to house sit. Now that I’m settled in Montana, my calendar stays booked. (but I’m still open to travel to care for pets!)
After an injury at a full time job that I loved, a few years ago, pet sitting in now my full time gig, with a few sidelines, cleaning airbnb, babysitting, selling my photo greeting cards. It works, I love it. It suits my care taking personality, my love of animals. There is variety, the companionship of pets, appreciative clients who if aren’t already friends often become friends, great places to care for. It’s going to be 100 degrees today and the house I’m in has air conditioning. (mine and many older homes in Montana do not)
Two corgis are at my feet as I write this. We will get out for a walk along the river before the heat sets in. There will be inside ball throwing this afternoon and of course, treats throughout the day. There will be reading and writing.
Caring for these corgis and my long time appreciative clients comes on the heals of pet sitting for a couple of dogs who’s owners treated me as if they owned me. I had only cared for these dogs once before, during the cold snowy, icy winter. They lived out from town. They required me to come the first day at 6AM, they demanded I snow shovel large areas, they asked for pictures each day (which I do anyway) but they often would take a day to reply to a question I may have about the house or pets.
I had already agreed to this last pet sit for them. But it will be the last. In a text, I asked their arrival time back home so I could meet with a client. They never responded, I twirled my thumbs all afternoon until they showed up.
I’m lucky, very lucky. I love “my” pets and their owners. I’m thankful many of them are friends. I apprecitate the contrast that keeps me in gratitude.

Take care with thoughts, words and language

More and more, I am convinced we need more story. We need to slow down. We need to listen, listen to ourselves and others.
We move so fast, not listening, not knowing the full story, forming opinions in the fast lane, cutting others off, leaving them stunned and sometimes hurt. Labeling in a split second when a person pulls over in front of us, they are instantly an asshole or insane. Never mind that they may be a very nice person who has a blind spot or at that moment made a bad judgement call.
Aren’t labels for products and diagnosis for doctors.
We need to open our minds, get out of black and white thinking. There are always at least two sides to every story, no right or wrong. We need to understand.
We need to take care with our words and language.
Pat Benatar is setting an example by no longer singing her hit song, Hit Me with Your Best Shot.
These thoughts and call to pay attention came to me while listening to Ocean Vuong talk with Krista Tippett, On Being.
Highly recommend taking the time to listen to this tender, moving, mind opening episode: Ocean Vuong – A Life Worthy of Our Breath

Thanks for reading and listening.

In the footsteps of Norman Maclean

Sunday afternoon, I sat alone in a theater, surrounded by people and cried. There is a lot of sadness in the world. I was listening to writers speak of this sadness, expressing it so eloquently. The power of words and people who craft them perfectly is enough to bring me to tears.

The In the Footsteps of Norman Maclean festival, free to the public, brought Timothy Egan, Shane Morigeau, Debra Magpie Earling, Terry Tempest Williams, Rick Bass, Doug Peacock and more to the stage.
Rick Bass, who I adore, introduced Terry Tempest Williams with humor and tenderness. They are long time friends.

Terry in turn, told a story of how Rick had been there for her when her brother committed suicide a couple of years ago. He rang, she said and started telling me a story. He didn’t say, “I’m sorry for your loss” nor try to say the right thing. He just told story until they hung up.

In keeping with the theme, public lands and sacred ground, Terry shared a story of Willie Grayeyes, a Navajo Utah commissioner candidate who went to court to prove his residency. You can read more of his case in the Salt Lake Tribune. He did win. Terry asked Willie, “what do we do with our anger?”
“Terry, it can no longer be about anger. It has to be about healing.” Willie Grayeyes


I missed the speakers on Saturday. Heard it was excellent, with a tribute to the late William Kittredge. Terry shared a passage from Bill’s book, Hole in the Sky,
“We tell stories to talk out the troubles in our lives, trouble otherwise so often unspeakable. It is one of our main ways of making our lives sensible. Trying to live without stories can make us crazy. They help us to recognize what we believe to be the most valuable in the world, and help us identify what we hold demonic.” William Kittredge

Doug Peacock shared stories and read from his books. I confess I have not read them yet. Listening to him, I’m inclined to read them. Rick mentioned he requires his students to read, The Grizzly Years. That’s now on my “must read” list.

Another take away was a reminder of the work that needs to be done to save Yaak Valley Forest.
“In addition to being the stronghold of the last 25 grizzlies in the Yaak Valley, the northwest corner of Montana holds one of the great stalwarts for any successful plan for the western United States to successfully weather the rising tide of global warming.” Rick Bass, Black Ram Project.

As a high school friend of Rick’s ex-wife, I had the good fortune to visit and stay with them in the Yaak on several occasions. We’ve floated the river, passing moose, walked in the forest, watched the northern lights from a fire tower and sat atop a mountain ridge with the taste of Rick’s freshly baked pie in our mouths as shooting stars were the free of charge showing for the night.
It is, as many places are, a place worth saving.

“The cruel things I did I took to the river.
I begged the current: make me better.” Richard Hugo “The Towns We Know and Leave Behind, The Rivers We Carry With Us”

As always, thanks for reading.

Daddy

Even though my daddy didn’t want another child when I came around, (I’ve been told) I knew he loved me. I can imagine that at 37 years old, he wanted to be done with having children. They already had three and two miscarriages. I can appreciate his practical thinking.
He wasn’t a hands on daddy, but when I did get his attention there was laughter and teasing. The kind of teasing that feels like love.
He was the youngest of four as I was. His father, Frank Scott, attorney, held positions such as chancery clerk and sheriff. His mother, Effie Lee, I understand was adored by many. She died a year before I was born, July 12, 1958.
Daddy’s family held high prestige and had to hold up appearances. But there was a lot of heartache and probably secrets.
I never remember a conversation with my grandfather who lived until 1985, but he had a strong presence when we gathered as family. In his later years he was known for sitting at the local park watching my high school’s cheerleaders and marching girls practice. (kinda creepy)
My grandmother, Effie Lee, lost her three old second son when he ran from her arms and was hit by a trolley car. The newspaper article of the event is graphic and heartbreaking. Her son, Walter Scott, awarded a Purple Heart, silver star and bronze star was killed by Germans. Her son, Charles Scott served, was captured and imprisoned in a Nazi prison camp for 18 months. He was never the same, an angry alcoholic for the remainder of days. My daddy served in the Navy as a pilot.
Effie Lee must have carried grief with grace until she died from stomach cancer at age 64.
Aside from having birth order in common, my daddy and I shared the disease of alcoholism. Only in the last ten years of his life was he sober. As I began to struggle, he was there for me. We went to AA meetings together, a place he was very loved and respected. Resentment was his main offender he shared with me. He never shared the details of that resentment. I can make some guesses. I think he was a creative man who never had a chance to pursue his own dreams. He was molded into who he should be in our Southern culture, becoming an attorney and president of a savings and loan. He was asked to resign from his presidency due to his drinking and manic episodes. He was still loved by those who worked with him. The letter asking him to resign was most kind and full of concern. He was not the disease.
When he took his own life in 1996, I only felt compassion, knowing how he had fought his diseases, alcoholism and manic depression, all of his adult life. As he said in his letter, he was tired.
I miss him. I miss his joking ways, when the phone was for me, he would reply “I think we left her in the monkey cage at the zoo!” I miss his love of dogs (another commonality) love of hunting and fishing, his fried corn, his antics in keeping the squirrels from climbing up the pole to the bird feeder by covering it with vaseline and watching them slide down, him climbing onto the roof setting up the sprinkler to keep the house cool. I love that he tried cross country skiing when he came to visit in Montana, all the while asking where we were going and stopping for a cigarette. How my friends all loved my daddy and thought he was so funny.
Yes, our house had a lot of chaos and dysfunction because of his diseases. He was not the disease. He was a kind, funny, flawed human being.