Cancer Free!

It’s confirmed, I’m cancer free.

I only have to go every three months to get checked for awhile.

At the beginning of the year, the New York Times Well section created a 7-day happiness challenge. “For over 80 years researchers at Harvard have studied what makes for a good life. They found one surefire scientifically proven predictor of happiness: developing warmer relationships.” To sum it up, each day suggested an opportunity to nurture new and existing relationships: make the phone call, talk to strangers, share a living eulogy by writing to someone who has meant a lot to you, make friends at work, keep social engagements, identify areas in your life where you’d like to be more connected and keep going.
Another source of inspiration has been the How to Build a Happy Life podcast from The Atlantic.

I’m convinced community is what got me through cancer treatment and recovery. Friends came out of the woodwork from as far back as elementary school, ex co-workers, and pet sitting clients who are now dear friends. Honestly, I’m missing the daily interactions of friends calling, bringing food and staying for a visit. I even miss the gang who administered radiation (not the radiation!) each day, hearing about their kids, telling jokes and what they did over the weekend.
No doubt I am a people person. Although I do like my alone time the older I get. I need it to refuel. Partnership is not what I’m looking for, I love my autonomy. “That party’s over” as a friend once said. Community and purpose are what I’m looking for.
A friend texted me the other day, “what is bringing you joy these days?”
“Good question” I replied. That has been on my mind and now it’s time to get back to joy.
It’s time to play with friends, help others. I’m actively looking into volunteer opportunities with children, really I want to hold babies. Someone has connected me with a new mother who would like me to come do just that.
I’m lucky to have several pet sitting gigs on the calendar and a trip to Santa Monica in February to stay with a long time friend from high school.
Today I feel lucky, thankful for my health and warm friendships.

Love to all and thanks for reading.

Christmas and New Year’s

True to form, I tried to pretend Christmas was just another day. After getting the dog I was caring for out for a walk, I streamed the newest season (all ten episodes) of Emily in Paris on Netflix. It’s mindless, actually kinda silly, the clothes are outrageous but it was perfect for the situation.
I’m happy to be pet sitting regularly again, a sign of healing progress. A client has already booked me for December, 2023!
I still don’t have an appetite and have to make myself eat something. In talking with a friend who went through chemo/radiation she had the same experience. She lost weight after treatment. She assured me it will get better. My energy has improved, maybe a result of acupuncture. Acupuncturist continues to work on digestive issues.
We are on the heels of 2023. I’m not one to make resolutions. However, I am contemplating where I will place my attention in the coming year. This past year I was derailed by the legal process in an attempt to see my grandchildren again, then anal cancer. Certainly the two go hand in hand. 2021 I almost finished my memoir. 2022 I had no energy for it. My hope for 2023 is to complete the last few chapters.
I’ve signed up for my first in person writing class since Covid, Big Truths in Small Spaces through the Missoula Writing Collaborative taught by Barry Maxwell. I’m mainly nervous that is a 6:00 in the evening class. I’ve been falling asleep at 7:30 most nights since treatment. So wish me luck.
New Year’s Day I’ll be at the hotel (no pet sitting) cooking black-eyed peas for good luck and collard greens for prosperity. House mates will gather to share a meal and start the year off on a good note.

Happy New Year
Thanks for reading.

Another fun Thanksgiving

Did it again, used the easy, no fuss turkey recipe. For the 3rd time it did not let us down. I wonder if I’ll ever try another turkey recipe, would there be a reason to? Maybe just for the adventure of it. We will find out in the years to come.


Thanksgiving at the hotel continues to be my favorite day for all of us who live here. It’s a humble holiday, no fan fare required. The only structure is that the turkey will be ready around 4:00 so others plan their cooking around that. Black kitty, Brenda, got about ten meals throughout the day, turkey, turkey innards, and her regular kitty food. She still tried to tell me she was hungry before we snuggled up for bed!

Once we fill our plates with all the fixings, sat down to stuff our faces, any little irks (believe me they come up when you have fifteen people living under one roof, sharing bathrooms and kitchens) are long forgotten and we are thankful to be under the same roof, happy and mostly healthy. They even made a community toast to our group effort in beating f—ing anal cancer. They all have been so sweet, always checking in to see if I needed anything, hanging in my room for a cup of tea and a visit.


Honestly, it was the first day in a few weeks that I had energy and an appetite. At one point in the afternoon, I thought I was down for the count, but after a short rest, some food and hydration I made it for dinner time, dessert, followed by nerf gun wars in the hallways.
Maybe I’ve turned a corner. For the past two weeks I have hardly gotten out of bed, felt like I had lead in my legs and no food sounded good. It was a bit depressing. They, the nurses, had warned though, saying it will get worse before it gets better. It’s still not comfortable to sit directly on my bottom, but that’s getting better too.


The sun is shining today in Missoula and I’m thankful not to be going to any Black Friday sales. I’ve got a project or two to keep my busy and a bit of clean up from yesterday.


It’s helping my spirits, knowing I’m getting back to my pet sitting gigs. I got even better news when I went by to get last minute instructions for my dog sit starting Monday. Rafa, the dog, has the same routine as me. In the mornings, he gets up for breakfast then demands everyone get back in bed for a bit. We will get along beautifully.


One more piece of good news, I revised an essay I wrote last year, submitted it to Insider and it was accepted, my first paid piece of writing. Once it’s live, you will be the first to know.

Thanks for reading. Have a peaceful day.

View from back balcony

Free from Treatment!

It’s official. I have a certificate to prove it. I’ve completed the required chemo/radiation to burn this butt of a tumor. My appointment with the surgeon is December 15th to confirm we beat it.


Meantime, I plan to rest. After they handed me my “diploma” on Friday. the radiation techs, who feel like family now, followed up with a warning, “the side effects will get worse before they get better.”
This morning I woke up at 8:30, late for me. I feel exhausted. Today, I’m staying put in my pajamas and going no where. I’m getting used to sitting on my side (always been a side sleeper) since the radiation burn makes it hard to sit flat and upright.


It has been my urge to nap each time I had to get myself together and out the door for 2:00 radiation. Now I will be able to rest.

My first dog sit is scheduled the week after Thanksgiving for a couple of weeks. It will be welcomed. My clients, fully aware I’m just coming out of treatment have graciously offered alternatives for days I may not feeling like getting their sweet dog out for a walk. Their home offers opportunity to rest, complete with big screen TV, streaming channels, gas fireplace and a dog who is allowed on the couch for cuddling. I’m so lucky. I will miss our house kitty, Brenda. We’ve become quite attached to each other even more so the past six weeks.

That’s the latest. I am tired and won’t write anymore for now.

Thanks as always for reading.

Love, Frances

Living for the Weekend

Friday they disconnected my chemo fanny pack for the weekend. I haven’t been that excited about a weekend since I was a teenager.
Even though I do have some side effects kicking in,
ie: nausea (under control if I stay on top of nausea medicine), low appetite, diarrhea started this weekend and mouth sores, I felt good enough to crank up the tunes, dance around my room and get some cleaning done.

To add to the excitement, at my Monday appointment to check everything; platelets, blood count, etc, I learned that I don’t have chemo for two weeks, only the daily radiation. I was dehydrated, so I sat for an hour relaxing receiving hydrating fluids. All that happens through the port. Hence, don’t have to get poked all the time.

Some of you have asked for clarification on the port and fanny pack of chemo. Below is a pic of me with the pack. I wear it over my shoulder. The tubing from the fanny pack is pretty long, runs under my shirt and into the port that’s in my chest. It’s with me 24/7 during the weeks I have it. I drive with it, sleep with, bath with it, occasionaly dance with it. Robert, the 83 year old owner of the building I live in, and I often greet each other with a jig when we meet in the hallway each morning. His positive attitude inspired me throughout his health issues during this past year. Now he is cheering me on, telling me, “well, you certainly are a trooper.”

My fellow housemates have been so sweet, offering to bring me anything, making extra mashed potatoes for me, the gift of a journal titled – 52 Lists for Calm. They didn’t even know I have a “list” writing group. My new room as of late spring is decorated, cleaned and organized. It took me all summer since I was pet sitting so much. Happy I bought the tv from the previous tenant, haven’t had a tv in years. Making good use of it now. There hasn’t been much energy to read or write. The adult coloring book that has been on my shelf for ten years is getting used for the first time and I’m cutting from magazines for collaging while watching tv. Back to the basics in the creativity department. They are comforting yet mindless activities.

That’s the update for Tuesday, October 4th.
Thanks for reading.

Appreciated the prayer posted in the hospital elevator today.

Me with chemo pack
Prayer on hospital elevator wall
Secret garden adult coloring book

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