Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Out and About. . .

I want to tell you about this weekend's junket, but lest I be accused of “burying the lead”—an old and very common sin among journalists—let me give you the medical news right off the top, boom:  My bladder cancer remains in remission.  A cystoscopy procedure on Monday confirms that my bladder is cancer free, one year after the last surgery.

So what does this mean?  It means that of the three cancers that are competing to do me in, bladder cancer now is pretty much out of the race.  Given enough time, it would almost certainly recur, but it's not likely to grow to become a real threat again within the time frame I have left.  Bladder cancer is the most treatable of the three sites.  Since it did come back a year ago had to be removed for a second time at that time, I fully expected it to be back by now.  The fact that it’s not is welcome news indeed.  Under  the terms of my hospice care, which focuses on palliative treatment, not curative, it’s not clear whether my insurance company would have agreed to pick up the tab for a third bladder surgery even had one been needed.  Indeed, it’s not clear whether it’ll pay for my Monday’s doctor’s visit.   But bladder cancer is a very unpleasant business and it is good not to have that sword dangling over my head.

Of course, this still leaves the other two cancers, and it is likely that one of them will win the race within the next six months.  The one that probably will get me is the one that’s in my abdominal cavity; it’s metastasized and spread to the place where my kidney used to be and also to an area behind my spleen.  That is the cancer, I’m sure, that is causing all my pain and stamina problems.  Cancer cells have also spread to my sigmoid colon.  These two sites (not the bladder cancer, which cannot be treated that way) were what the chemo and radiation therapy were all about.   The procedures did not make much headway against the targeted abdominal masses before putting me in the hospital with sepsis, but did make some progress against the colon cancer, by way of easing a constriction that was threatening to close off my intestine.  There’s no word on how long that repair will remain in place.  In fact, we’re not monitoring the growth of those cancers at this point, since I have said “no” to any more chemo.  It’s just a game of waiting.  But now I don’t have to worry about my bladder closing down due to uncontrolled tumor growth there, which, believe me, is good news indeed.
The other good news is that I gained five pounds this week.  It’s been a battle trying to get me interested in food given my taste bud issues, but I’ve compensated by eating a lot of sweets, for which my taste buds are not affected, and apparently it’s starting to make a difference.  I don’t know how long that trend will last but it’s good for now; every pound that gets away from you is a tiny death in the fight against cancer and right now I have the momentum although my weight is still well below what it was.  But at 160, my weight is now nearly optimal for my frame, and you have to look closely at my face and my chicken legs to suspect there’s an underlying condition.

Upon hearing the news about my bladder cancer, Deborah told me she’s holding out hope for more miracles.  Really, the miracle I’m interested in has already happened.  Partially because of everything we’ve discussed on this blog regarding the premonition that led me to drop what I was doing to fulfill a lifelong ambition to write fiction, I feel like my life has already had its full complement of miracles.  And by the way, I dedicated that third novel, The Dark, to my urologist who saved my life a year ago, Dr. Sanjay Ramakumar, and had the pleasure on Monday of finally being able to put a signed copy in his hands.  I think the fact I was able to do that is a miracle that’s hard to beat, but if you want more, it’s simply that I am enjoying every second of the time I have to the fullest.

The Kief-Joshua vineyard
It’s amazing but the less I find I can do, the more I enjoy doing what I can.  Deborah has become interested in wines lately, and as it turns out there is a small but growing wine industry here in Arizona, and a large segment of it is within driving distance of our house in Tucson.  The state will not soon rival the wealth and impressiveness of California’s wine industry, but some of these operations are quite amazing.  On Saturday we got out and visited the wine country around Elgin, southeast of Tucson.

Sonoita Vineyard from a distance--with a setting
that looks not unlike its win
First of all, it’s a really pretty drive, and with the monsoon clouds dappling the mountains this weekend, it was even more so.  The first winery we visited was the Kief-Joshua vineyards just outside the village.  I was struck by the steady nature of the foot traffic.  When we walked in we had the place to ourselves, but other patrons quickly followed, and the managers told us they were expecting a tour bus with 47 people shortly.  Indeed, we saw several such buses cruising around during our visit.  We did the flight of wine sipping (actually, I sipped only a little since I was driving) and among the  plunder we took home from our trip was an excellent Riesling.

Next we went down the road to Sonoita Vineyards, which was even more impressive.  Deborah is really getting in to this whole wine thing; she did the flight of tastings and hung on every word as the proprietor explained the varietals to her and what it all meant.  On this particular Saturday, the winery had lunch available in a dining room upstairs.  The menu was very limited, but we had grilled cheese sammiches accompanied by the finest tomato Florentine soup I think I’ve ever tasted, prepared by The Happy Cooker catering service. 

Deborah chats it up with staff, hanging on every word.
My stamina is such that I was feeling pretty tired by the time we got to that second vineyard and I had to sit down fairly quickly once we got there.  Long walks and hiking definitely are out of the question for me but you don’t have to have that many paces stored up in you and at your disposal to enjoy a wine tasting at a vineyard.  I found it was just right.  And we so enjoyed the drive.  All and all, it was a great little junket, about four hours on the road altogether and we loved every minute of it.

The skies were quite monsoony for the trip back with medium cloud cover punctuated by moderate lightning flashing about.  By the time we reached Tucson the skies opened up between us and the Catalinas, but not much fell where we were (such is the nature of our fickle monsoon season). 

The drive was georgous
We didn’t see everything there was to see because we didn’t want to overdo the whole wine tasting thing (especially given that I had to drive).  So we will be back—and we may do this exact trip again only hitting different wineries in about two weeks.  We’ve learned that Wilcox also has some attractive wineries, and it’s within easy driving range, too.  By the way, I don’t expect to be a connoisseur of wine any time soon, but Deborah is getting into this so no telling what may happen.

That night we opened one of the bottles we had bought and enjoyed it with cheese and crackers, while watching the movie “Sideways,” which of course is set in California’s wine country.  It was a perfect day. 
This shower was beautiful but didn't quite make it down
to us in the valley

As recently as a year ago if you’d asked me if I thought driving to a winery sounds like fun, I probably would have turned up my nose at it in favor of something more substantial, such as a weekend getaway to Sedona or something like that.  So I was amazed at how much fun it was simply to get in to the stangy ‘Stang, drive an hour or so to a winery while engaging in small talk with the spouse and listening to vintage tunes via the iPod and car stereo on the way back.  More and more I think it’s life’s little enjoyments, not the big ones, that count.  Simply put, we had a fabulous time, and this kind of activity should be within my physical reach for some time to come.  We will do more of it.



  1. Inspiring. We all need to learn to see and to appreciate the small things that bless our existence on a daily badis.