Looking Forward

Greetings, folks!

One of the realities of this health crisis that I will never forget is the amount of caring and support that I have received from, literally, around the world. And this has been doubly true of my colleagues and coworkers at ASQ where I work. ASQ is headquartered in Milwaukee, with a staff of about 180 people. As is the case with many not-for-profit organizations, people work there because it’s a friendly place with good benefits, a chance to do varied jobs, and opportunity for advancement – not because ASQ pays Fortune 500 salaries.

When my extended illness (sick leave) balance got close to zero, my boss went to the HR department and talked with them about the situation. Later that day, HR sent out an email asking if anyone wanted to volunteer some of their own paid time off (PTO – a combination of sick time and vacation time) to supplement my account. Within three hours, more than 400 hours had been volunteered by my colleagues. By the time a week had passed, more than 600 hours had been donated. That’s 15 weeks of paid time off. I can’t tell you how amazed I was by their generosity. These people are wonderfully caring, supportive in small and large ways, and a great bunch to work with. I can’t thank them enough.

And I know I have not kept you updated on my treatment and general condition. The fact is, the past couple of months have been health challenges for me in many ways. In October, I had a couple of stays in the hospital, once due to pneumonia, and then a second time when I had a bout with a hospital-borne bacteria called “C-diff.” These are experiences you do not want to have, and they wore me down so much that I didn’t have the energy to write about them, either.

I finished my fourth round of chemotherapy a few weeks ago. Then, last Thursday (Nov. 20), I had a CT scan to see what effect all this radiation and chemo had done for me. I wish I could report that I’d gotten a clean bill of health from the scan, but it hasn’t worked out that way… At least not yet! The scan showed that the combination of radiation and chemo defeated the original mass of small-cells. However, being true to their nature, some of the cells moved on to the liver (two small, pea-sized invaders) and the spleen. It isn’t that these additional outbreaks are so numerous, or even the potential effect on those organs, but that the cells are continuing to move.

Medical next steps: a different chemotherapy solution. This one is dispensed 5 days in a row, rather than 3 days, and two rounds will be administered about 3 weeks apart. The first round will start on Monday, Nov. 24th, and finish the following Monday (because of Thanksgiving). The second round is probably going to be Dec.15-19.

Just a reminder: I’m not giving up on this fight. I am inspired by friends and neighbors who, regardless of the type of cancer they have or had, never gave up. I’m going be on that team.

As we have gotten a little distance on the meeting with the doctor last Friday, I realized that Andrew and I went through the same series of emotions with this news as we had with the original diagnosis: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Here is a link that discusses those stages: The 5 stages of Loss & Grief
This has been especially hard on Andrew, as you might guess. His first thoughts were about losing me – going right to the worst-case scenario. Maybe I’m just better at maintaining denial. Although there is little you can say to someone who is trying to get through a shock of this kind, we talked about our fears, and I reminded him that “I’m not dead yet. Nobody knows how long they’ll live. It’s why you have to sort out what matters from the glam being waved in front of you!”
       Embrace the day
I told Andrew, and I want make sure you remember, too: I am not finished with this fight. My primary thoughts are: be positive; you are a survivor; you can beat this thing; you can keep fighting. And of course I am buoyed up by all you folks who are praying and sending warm thoughts our way.
So keep those thoughts and prayers coming! And thank you for hanging in there, everyone. We’re headed toward recovery here, and I won’t be accepting anything less than that for some time to come!
Cheers, all.
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For Sheila C

This post is from my friend and fellow author, Vicki Flaherty. I hope you explore some of her blogs, too.

Mostly My Heart Sings

Hollyhocks on Lustica Peninsula, Montenegro Hollyhocks on Lustica Peninsula, Montenegro

You are strong.

You are colorful and vibrant.

Your spirit is open and shines in the foreground.

And, it is beautiful. 

This post is dedicated to my friend Sheila Connelly who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. She’s sharing her journey at In Sickness and In Health. Sending you hugsful of strength, energy, light, and love, my friend.

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In Sickness & in Health

19 July 2014

Here’s a lot of news all at once, but I wanted to let you know what was going on with me; a.k.a. How I spent my summer vacation!

So here’s the story: I’ve been up to my eyeballs in doctors and treatment since the end of May when, on the one warm day we had that month, I tried to cut the grass and it took me 2 hours to do 20 minutes-worth of mowing: I kept having to take breaks to catch my breath. I went to my GP and asked for a better inhaler than the one I’d been using from a bronchitis episode a couple of years before. He gave me a bunch of samples and then sent me downstairs for a chest X-ray. The next day (May 23 – I’m putting some dates in here so that you can get a sense of what a whirlwind of activity has been going on here!), he called me back and said, “We found something that shouldn’t be there, so I’m referring you to a pulmonologist (Dr. Gurses – rhymes with ‘nurses’), and he’ll clear it with the Ins. Co. for you to get a CAT scan to confirm what we saw on the X-ray, only with a better image.” The following week I had the scan (May 28) & met with Dr. Gurses (May 30), who had already cleared it with the Ins. Co. to perform a bronchoscopy, scheduled for Jun 4 (had to be at the hospital by 5:30 AM, with NO COFFEE!).

The results of the bronchoscopy showed lung cancer, but a somewhat uncommon version: small-cell carcinoma rather than a nodule or other kind of mass. Dr. Gurses was very optimistic that a two-pronged response of chemo and radiation therapy would virtually “evaporate” the cancer, and he referred me to Dr. Joe Nand – oncologist for chemo & hematology, and Dr. Gandhavadi – she specializes in radiation oncology.

[We had a slight reprieve from doctors & tests for the 10 days after the bronchoscopy, to do some further tests and let the Ins. Co. could catch up with the rest of the treatment plan. That break also meant I could get back to work to try and handle scoring & reporting for one of the largest test administrations we’ve had in 10 years… it’s been kind of hectic at work, too! A whole different story!

However, the week of Jun 16th we were back into medical testing, consulting, etc. On Monday (6/16) I had a PET scan, and an MRI on Wed. (6/18). But Dr. Nand called me on Tuesday, even before the MRI because he wanted me to know that the PET scan showed NO (zero, zilch, nada) spread of the small-cell buggers anywhere else below my head – not in my blood or lymph system. All completely localized in that one spot in my lung. I felt like 100 pounds had been lifted off my shoulders. [In fact, I felt a little dizzy when I got off the phone… But instead of fainting, I did a happy dance – in my head at least!]

As it turns out, the MRI (which is the noisiest test on earth and is used to scan the brain for oddments) didn’t have an equally wonderful outcome: it showed that two little “gumbas” (that’s what Dr. Nand calls them) had relocated to my cerebellum – but only two. I met with the oncologists twice each that same week (6/18 & 6/20), once for getting radiation marks tattooed on my chest. So, about to turn 65 and got my first tattoos! Good thing I didn’t wait any longer, eh?

My diagnosis is small-cell carcinoma that is localized in my right lung, with two instances in my cerebellum. Small-cell cancer as opposed to nodules or tumors or other forms of “non-small-cell” cancer. (These medical folks aren’t very creative in their labeling!) The key word is ‘localized’ because small-cell C only has 2 stages: localized or spread. We got it VERY early! Only two instances of the cells escaped to my cerebellum, and that’s why I am getting treated with both chemo and radiation therapy.

I had my first round of chemo on June 23, 24, 25 followed by a booster shot to support my white blood count. It is working very well, though the exhaustion that hit me about 2 days after the last chemo treatment made me a walking zombie. The ‘walking’ part of that was my own fault. I should have known better than to try and lead a workshop when I looked like I was just going to slip off my chair and fall into a coma. [The folks at work have been awesome about all this! They sent in a pinch-hitter who handled the meeting beautifully, and they sent me home!]

Then, for the first two weeks of July, I didn’t have treatments of any kind except blood draws to check my white blood count, so I have continued to recover from the chemotherapy. Also, the protocols they use for chemo treatment these days include an anti-nausea cocktail that they infuse before they pump in the regular chemo poison, and it works beautifully. I have only been troubled by heartburn. No vomiting. What a relief!

The schedule of treatment is: round one chemo for the lung cancer (done June 23-25), followed by brain-zapping (started July 14) to make sure we get rid of those two little escapees. The radiation will be every weekday through the end of July. Then I get a couple of days off from all treatment, and on August 4, I do my second round of chemo, followed by 33 weekday treatments of radiation to my lungs (chest-zapping) to clean it all the way out of my system & make sure that it disappears and doesn’t return. (There is some talk about additional chemo, but that hasn’t been discussed at length yet. I think it’s an option at this point.)

I should be free & clear of all treatment and signs of cancer by the end of Sept. So it’s going to take all summer (should summer ever really get here!), but I’m going to get another 30-40 years out of this old body as the trade-off, which is something I can live with!

So now you have all the news that’s fit to print and still true… which is more than I can say for most news broadcasts these days!

Know that I am in very good hands and being cared for by professionals who are genuinely concerned about not only my survival but my quality of life. They like me and I love them. They are simply wonderful!

Update: August 6, 2014
I have just finished my second round of chemo therapy, and the difference this time is that I have taken the week off work and will go back next Tuesday, Aug. 12. So far, the timeline for tiredness is matching that of the 1st round, so I’m hoping that some of my energy will return faster by stressing less in terms of places to go – as if I weren’t already going places~!

Cheers, all!

The Writing Process Blog Tour

I have tagged Rachel Dax, author of “After the Night” and “The Legend of Pope Joan.” Rachel is also a film director and producer and a great photographer of Wales and the UK. Thanks, Rachel!

Sheila Connolly

I’ve been tagged by Caren J. Werlinger for this blog tour [#Mywritingprocess]. I have read many of Caren’s books over the last couple of months, and I have to say, I am awed by her writing skill and her storytelling ability.  If you want to see what she is up to, you can find her blog on this subject HERE.

  1. What am I working on?

I have to be a little circumspect about this, as I am still very much in the ‘germ of an idea’ phase for the next project, and I haven’t discussed it with my publisher (Clover Valley Press) yet. However, I am hoping to develop a series of books set in the assessment world. There is a lot about academic and certification testing that is more myth than truth, and I’d like to try and demystify that subject by writing a series of novels with a testing company and/or staff…

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The Writing Process Blog Tour

I’ve been tagged by Caren J. Werlinger for this blog tour [#Mywritingprocess]. I have read many of Caren’s books over the last couple of months, and I have to say, I am awed by her writing skill and her storytelling ability.  If you want to see what she is up to, you can find her blog on this subject HERE.

  1. What am I working on?

I have to be a little circumspect about this, as I am still very much in the ‘germ of an idea’ phase for the next project, and I haven’t discussed it with my publisher (Clover Valley Press) yet. However, I am hoping to develop a series of books set in the assessment world. There is a lot about academic and certification testing that is more myth than truth, and I’d like to try and demystify that subject by writing a series of novels with a testing company and/or staff as the backdrop. For those of you who have read Maggie’s Mechanics, I’m considering how I can bring Maggie and Bett into one of the books, if only for a cameo appearance.

I had a great conversation with my sister a few weeks back. She is very picky about what she thinks is good writing. She says one of the things that is so annoying about lesfic novels is that whenever a main character in book says “I’m a [fill in the blank] professional,” she expects to learn something about what people in that profession do. “Even if it’s washing windows or cleaning other peoples’ houses. There has to be some reason that the writer mentioned that the character does X for a living, so tell me what it’s like. How does it shape that person as an individual.”  Her perspective gave me some food for thought, and I hope to be able to do something with that in my next book(s).  BTW, there are many lesfic authors that do a fabulous job of depicting three-dimensional characters and how their chosen professions helped to form them:  Andi Marquette, Rachel Dax, Susan X. Meagher, Suzanne Egerton, Caren Werlinger, and Cathy Rowlands are just a few that come to mind from my reading over the last 6 months.

  1. How does my work differ from others in the same genre?

I’m new at this novel-writing and being-published business, and Maggie’s Mechanics reflects a different era with different challenges from what is currently going on in the world of gay and queer folks. Also, I’m definitely in the slightly older lesbian (SOL) age group. So while I expect to continue writing books that reflect some kind of mystery / love interest, they aren’t likely to get confused with contemporary romance novels or thrillers. And I’m hoping they will be met with pleasure by people who enjoy a dose of “I didn’t know that!” in their reading.

  1. Why do I write what I do?

One of the great things about surviving my 20’s and 30’s and 40’s (you get the picture, right?) is that, with each passing decade, I get to sort out some of the events of my life; some of the things that drove me to behave certain ways or react to other people the way I did. Now, for those of you who might not have experienced these ages as ‘passing decades’ yet, I just want to say that getting older doesn’t mean you get to go back and have a do-over for those things. However, certain patterns do emerge, and even things that aren’t patterns can show up as a kind of fork in the road. I sometimes find myself pausing and thinking, “Now, why do I keep wanting to go down this path? What do I think is so scary about that other road?”  Sometimes I just explore the ‘road not taken’ from an event in my past. And that kind of alternate reality is what makes writing fiction so much fun!

  1. How does my writing process work?

Wow! This is really a ginormous question. Except for my rewrite experience from my first book, I haven’t written one start-to-finish in more than … well, it’s been a very long time.

I know I make a lot of false starts. I can’t write raw on the computer (which is why it’s taken me 3 days to put this blog together). I tend to make a lot of notes – usually post-it size – for general plot ideas. I bought a huge roll of butcher paper a few months ago to try and use the ‘wall map’ approach to plotting a book, but I haven’t actually taken it out of the cellophane yet, so I’ll let you know how that works. Just keeping the 3×3 post-its in one place is challenge enough at the moment.

Eventually, I get down to one-on-one with a yellow notepad and I start writing the story. Like many authors, it’s very difficult for me to turn my ‘edit switch’ off in my head when I write, as I spend most of my 40-hour workweek editing hopelessly obvious or hopelessly abstruse test questions into something approaching usability. [More on that in my next book!]  So getting raw words out is my biggest challenge. Eventually, I go through the longhand yellow pages with a different colored pen & do a rough edit before I finally sit down at the computer and pound the keys into submission. There’s the usual cursing and mumbling to myself about technology and why hasn’t the cortical up-link been invented yet, etc.

Dozens of people helped ‘beta read’ my first book, but that was a different era. I’ll have to let you know how it goes with this next effort. I do know that planning a 3-book series will take the pressure off trying to put everything I know into the first book in the series. With that in mind, I can probably keep the word count down to less than 150K. No promises, but it seems doable from here!

Thank you one and all for this opportunity to share with you. The two folks I want to tag for the next round on this blog haven’t replied to my query/request, so I’ll have to do an addendum to this post once I do hear from them. Meanwhile, if you are in the U.S., I hope you are enjoying a long weekend, and if you live elsewhere on the planet, I hope your Monday hasn’t been any worse than usual!

How Long Does It Take to Write a Novel? About 30 Years

August 2013

I was getting my hair cut last week in anticipation of “a photo shoot” [sounds so LA, doesn’t it?] next week.

When I told my hairdresser it was because my book was being released in September, she shouted: “You wrote a book! That is so awesome!” Her comment attracted the attention of the other two women in the shop, and I was a little embarrassed, and a little elated, by her response. So we chatted a bit about it.

“Is it about testing? You make tests, right?” 

“No, it’s not about testing. it’s a novel, set in the 1980s in California. Sort of a mystery and sort of a love story.”

Then she asked, “So how long does it take to write a whole book?”

“Thirty years,” I replied, and the burst of laughter from the other end of the shop told me that the other women had been following our conversation. 

And that little exchange reminded me all over again of how important stories are to our lives. We hunger for them, learn from them, laugh about them, cry through them. And at some level, we measure ourselves by stories—we become the hero, or we recognize the pitfall even as we are dropping into the void of someone else’s mistake. All well-told stories are an invitation to enter another world, one we never even knew existed, but one that entrances us and challenges us and helps us grow.

The fact is, I spent a good deal of my adult life being puzzled by my own behavior—not understanding why I felt so driven to succeed (which only meant making a lot money when I was younger), why I was so angry, why I couldn’t seem to enjoy anything for itself without a drink in my hand and several inside of me. … Yes, talk therapy helped, but that was a puzzle, too. “My family? Why do you want to know about my family? I haven’t lived with them since I was a kid. I want to know why I’m so miserable now!”

So writing a novel—externalizing some of my experiences and giving them to someone else to deal with—seemed like an idea worth pursuing. And I liked to write. Just ask my editor! 

No, I didn’t actually write for 30 years. I wrote for a year, then like all the experts tell you: I set it aside and let it rest… for about 48 hours. Then I rewrote it. By the time I got to the end of the second version, I was beginning to see what the story was really about. Which meant, of course, that I had to write it again. By the third version, it had chapters, complete sentences, and a nearly coherent timeline. Then life intervened, and it sat in a dust-collecting spot for a couple of decades before I reconnected with my friend Charlene Brown, who had started Clover Valley Press and was looking for another author to add to her select group. I was really honored that she remembered my manuscript from so long ago, especially since she’d read one of the early versions! 

I am still amazed at the response I get when people find out I’ve written a book. I’ve also discovered that there are a lot of wannabe writers out there. And if there is anything I can do or say to encourage those folks to keep at it, or even to start their writing journey, then I want to do and say those things.

We all need stories. We need your stories and my stories, because each of us needs to make sense of our life before it’s all over.      – SjC