Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Cat Day


There is nothing really new to report on the Cancer Front. I continue to take chemo pills most days with weekly trips to Dana Farber for my shot of Velcade. I continue to tolerate the side effects reasonably well. My numbers are holding pretty steady, so there is nothing really new to report.

So I will mention the main thing that is going on with our lives. Saturday was Cat Day - the day we have been both looking forward to and dreading ever since we bought the apartment at Fox Hill Village. On Saturday, the cats moved to Westwood. We are now living in a "Cat House".

You might think moving cats is a relatively simple thing. You would be wrong. One of our cats (Puma) does not like to ride in the car. She expresses her displeasure by emptying herself - from both ends - within minutes after getting into the vehicle. This does not always smell really great. Both cats also yowl during the entire car ride.

We decided that the best way to get away from any noise and odor would be to put them in the back of the truck - which is covered. All the way back. Near the tail-gate. You might think that this would be a pretty fool-proof solution. Again, you would be wrong. Let's just say that our cats have strong personalities.

Barbara decided that it would be best to give the cats a sedative. I had to help. My job was to hold onto the cat while Barbara opened the cat's mouth and shoved a pill into its mouth. Our cats fight back when taking pills. I wore welding gloves. My wife is the bravest person I know. Seems to me like a good way to lose a finger or two.

So, with all this prep, the trip itself went relatively smoothly. We did one cleaning of the cat carrier before we even left the garage. Then about halfway, we could tell that there had been additional activity in the back. We turned on the fan to blow air into the front of the truck. This worked fairly well.

The cats made it to Fox Hill Village and seem to be adapting fairly well. When we got here, Puma was still partly under the sedative. It was funny to watch her stumbling around as if she had had a bit too much to drink. I got into trouble for laughing at this.

The cats seem to like it OK here except for one thing. No mice. At least not real ones. Barbara has of course provided them with a number of toy mice - including at least one really obnoxious one that squeaks every time the cats bat it around. But I can tell that the cats know it is fake and miss being able to chase real ones. So, know what I am going to do? Next week when I am in New Hampshire, I will live-trap a few mice and release them here at Fox Hill Village as a Christmas gift for the kitties. They are going to be so surprised and happy. I think Barbara will be surprised as well, so please don't mention it to her.

Barbara wants to spend most of the winter down here at Fox Hill. I too will spend a lot of time here, but I will also visit Meredith from time to time for Zoning Board meetings and to check up on the house. My brother and his family are planning to come up to New Hampshire for Christmas week and I will be in New Hampshire for that.

Meanwhile, when I pulled the truck into our parking place, I discovered that there was no place on the truck into which to plug the charging cable. Apparently, I will have to visit one of those places they refer to as "Gasoline Stations"? Do you know that they actually charge you for refueling at those places. Maybe we are getting spoiled?

I will close with a couple of links that you might want to check out.

The first is our annual newsletter. For faithful followers of this blog, there will be little in there that you have not seen other than a few nice photos. But here is the link if you want to follow it and have not gotten it some other way.

The second is a link to a video of the PassePartout for anyone who wants to see it in action. It is mercifully short - I promise. And here is the link to the PPT In Action Video if you want to see the YouTube video.

That's all for now. Have a great holiday season and much happiness in the new year.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Engine Problems

It has been a while since my last update. Not much new to report. My numbers continue to hold reasonably steady and I continue to tolerate the chemicals reasonably well. My feet are still numb, I still get cramps at night and I continue to user my share of Imodium. But none of these are major issues.  Last week, I did have a bad cold for a while. I ended up sleeping for most of several days, but I am all better now.

As I said, it has been quite a while since the last update and much of my time (while not sleeping off my cold) has been spent working with engines or vehicles with engines.

Let's start with the boat. We don't use it enough and the gas goes bad. At least that is why I think it would not start when I wanted to drive it over to the launch ramp to pull it out for the winter. Fortunately, our friend John was there to help me try to get it started. He was also first to notice when the boat caught on fire. We managed to blow out the fire after a few minutes and it only burned a little bit of hair from the top of my head. After having tried for a half hour to get the boat started, I was sorely tempted to just let it burn.

We had much better luck with Barbara's new car - which we are still getting used to. It is like driving around inside a computer. The problem is that it is all software driven and they sometimes update the software. Well, just as we were getting used to the old software, they updated us. This caused the dashboard to look completely different. For example, the speedometer went away.  It is sort of like going to your computer to find that it is suddenly running Windows 10, except that you are not using Windows to control a vehicle traveling at 70 mph.

This new version says that the car will drive itself. You know me. I love technology and I was dying to try it. (Poor choice of words?)  Does it work?? You bet your life it does. (Oops - more bad word choice. )

Actually, it does mostly work under the right conditions, the key word here being "mostly" and "right conditions". It works pretty well on a not too crowded interstate with road lines clearly visible. It slows down when you come up on another car and if you signal left, it will change lanes and go back to the set speed. Pretty cool. But you do have to really pay attention to what is happening and be ready to grab control back if you are coming up to a situation that you don't think the car will handle or if the car does something weird.It is also great in stop and go traffic. But still it takes a lot of courage to actually allow the car to drive - especially the first time you try it.

All this was a lot easier than the third vehicle I had to deal with. I purchased a slightly used, 45 year old PassePartout vintage snow machine.

Admittedly, this violated a bunch of my "rules to live by":
  • Never by anything with a gasoline engine. 
  • If you must buy something with an engine, make sure it is not a 2-cycle engine.
  • If you absolutely must by something with a 2 cycle engine, make sure it is at lease a new 2 cycle engine - not 45 years old.
  • And if you do buy something with an old 2 cycle engine, don't be so stupid as to not make sure it is running before you buy it 
I struggled for days trying to get that stupid thing running.I rebuilt the carburetor several times after carefully cleaning it each time. I did research and found old manuals on line. I came very close to taking a sledge hammer to it and smashing it to smithereens to see if that would help it start. Eventually, I took it to someone who got it running for a hundred bucks.

Which meant that it would go forward and backward, but it would not turn. Well, actually, it would rotate counterclockwise, but only if stopped and shifted into reverse. Attempts to turn while going forward caused it to jam to a stop - which was good because the brakes didn't work.

Eventually, I got it so that I can steer it and the machine is pretty cool even though  the brakes still don't work very well. I took it up into the woods and it drives over anything - as you would expect of a small tank. But there is one more problem. The exhaust seems to get vented into the cockpit and the cockpit seems specially designed to hold it there. However, all in all, it seems like it will be a lot of fun and I think it will work very well for gathering maple sap. Depending upon how long I can hold my breath to avoid breathing exhaust.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yellowstone Adventure

It has been a while since my last posting, but even so, there is not all that much to report – at least from the Cancer Front. Today, I write this from Dana-Farber where I am starting cycle 22 for this regimen. You may recall that each cycle is 21 days, so that is 63 weeks. So far, my numbers are holding fairly steady – or possibly dropping slowly. That’s good.

Here is a photo of me at my last “infusion”. They are supposed to give me saline, but as you can see, I talked them into something a bit stronger.

In August, I went on a big adventure - at least for me. My brother Ron was taking his son Weston (aged 10) on an RV Camping trip to Yellowstone. He invited my brother Ken and me to join him for the second half of the week. My doctor told me that if I fly, I should arrange to sit near the front of the plane where there are fewer germs. So I paid for “Comfort Class”. It was nice because there was actually room for my legs. It was my first flight in over two years.

Yellowstone was a blast, though I did not take all the hikes that everyone else went on. The first day included a walk down into a canyon to get a better view of Yellowstone Falls. There were a lot of stairs, but I figured this would not be a problem since I have been regularly doing 12 flights at Dana Farber supposedly in order to raise my white blood count in order to "qualify" for treatment. I figured it would be the same thing. And it was – except for the fact that Yellowstone is at 8,500 feet. Altitude does matter. But I made it. Eventually.

It was a great trip and the four of us had a grand time with lots of “campfire time” and not too much snoring in the RV.

We did run into an interesting problem at the Mud Volcano. They have raised walkways with rails to prevent people from walking where they should not. Ken is quite a photographer, but dropped part of a lens off the ramp. There was no way we could reach it – not even with my simian arms. We were searching for a net or a hook or something, but then we realized that we had a perfectly good 10 year old that was not being used for anything. Ron simply lowered him down by his ankles until he could grab the lens part.

Our other bit of news is that Barbara and I bought an electric car for going back and forth between New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The car is totally amazing to drive and we love it. It was built by the same guy who builds the rockets that blow up. When we picked it up, we had to sit through a two hour orientation.  It is like learning to use “Windows 10”. It was expensive, but I did the calculations and it will pay for itself in fuel savings alone in under 108 years. I did not factor the likely cost of speeding tickets. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

25 years of Marital Bliss

Celebrating 25 years of marital bliss

Tuesday was our 25th Wedding Anniversary. We celebrated by inviting a few neighbors over for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres (which many of our guests kindly brought themselves). We set up a bar and had a grand time.

Barbara really wanted to have the celebration on the Granite Patio in front of our "Boat House" which in fact is not actually a boat-house, but that is another story. Barbara spent days getting it preped. She pressure washed the granite. She went into the boat-house with a pitchfork and a rake to do battle with the spiders. She raked down spider webs and cleaned spider poop. And then she started the real cleaning. I felt so bad for her slaving away down there that I seriously considered going down to help.

Of course it started to rain just before the party was getting underway, so we had to move the whole thing up to the big house.

But not for long. The rain eventually stopped and we forced everyone to grab their drinks and something from the serving table and head down to the water.

It was great. So great in fact that when it started to rain again, people toughed it out; it was only a light sprinkle anyway. We were all rewarded by a half hour "rainbow show". Spectacular. It was a great evening.

In proofreading this it occurred to me that a bad typist such as myself could easily get into serious trouble spouse-wise by exchanging two letters in the word "Marital" to make it "Martial". When will they have a spell checker that finds errors like this?

Visiting old friends

During the last week or so, we had the chance to get together with at least three sets of friends that we have barely seen over the last 20 to 35 years. I don't like to "name names" in the blog, but if you were one of these people, you know who you are and you should know that getting together with you was a real highlight.

The Boat

Our boat is in the water and running. You have no idea how unusual this is. You may recall that it did not run worth a darn last year. Because I had already replaced almost everything else in the engine, I decided that the problem was bad fuel. I worked for over a week trying various methods for getting the old fuel out. Eventually, I used a small hand pump which took me a few hours of pumping, but eventually emptied the tank. I then drove to the airport (in my truck - not in the boat) and bought eight gallons of hundred octane, ethanol free aviation fuel. I figured that if it wouldn't run on that, then it wouldn't run on anything. But it does - so far at least.  I am keeping my fingers crossed.


Last week, I spent some quality time in the workshop making wooden bowls out of some of the ash tree that the utility wire guys had dropped on our property. I had one very deep chunk of wood out of which I made my most spectacular bowl yet. I made it with a sort of pedestal and I was very proud of this. I had spent several hours on it.

Within days, the bowl developed huge spits.  I should have known better than to have included the center of the tree. Fortunately, I had purchased some special epoxy stuff for dealing with cracks like this and I managed to repair the damage. Then the bowl split again - even worse than the first time. l guess I will wait a few months and then maybe try again. Meanwhile, I have learned a real lesson about what part of the tree to include in the bowl - especially while dealing with green wood.

The Garden(s)

I have two tiny garden parcels which I tend from time to time - one at Fox Hill Village and one in Meredith. Both are now producing modest harvests. We got some nice tomatoes from the one in Mass and a whole slew of yellow wax beans from the one in Meredith. When I returned from the garden this afternoon, Barbara asked, "Is that a zucchini in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?" Sadly, it was in fact a zucchini.

Managing the Cancer

I guess I should include a few words about the Cancer. But before that I want to share a thought that might be relevant to any readers who take a lot of pill, especially if you wear glasses. Don't let this happen to you.

Last week, I happened to notice a pill on my desk at Fox Hill. I figured that I must have dropped it at some point while taking part of my daily dose. As I was about to take it, I realized that it did not look quite right. There were four small holes in it. It turns out that it was actually a button that had popped off one of my shirts.

But back to the disease. I continue to take things one 21 day cycle at a time. You may recall that last cycle, the numbers had dropped a bit. This cycle, they were back up to where they had been the cycle before. Not as good as we had been hoping for, but it could have been worse. I choose to think of it as holding steady.

And the side-effects continue to be quite manageable. I have been somewhat tired lately. The peripheral neuropathy continues to increase slowly in my feet and seems now to be spreading to my ankles, but again this just feels weird without causing any real discomfort or difficulty. There is another issue which delicacy prevents me from discussing in detail other than to say that Imodium might be helping.

So that is for this report. We hope that all is well with all of you and that you are enjoying this glorious summer. Sure has been beautiful here at the lake, but the season is to darned short.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Living with Cancer

“So – how is the whole cancer thing working out for you?”

Isn’t that the questions this blog should be answering? And most of my blog postings have glossed over the cancer details in favor of topics that are more fun and interesting. This one is about “living with cancer”.  Some of the more astute among you may have picked that up from the title.

The overall answer is, “not too bad so far”. At this point, I would rate my quality of life as very good.

My biggest complaint is time. By this I mean time to work on some of the projects I want to work on. I think this feeling comes largely from splitting my time between two homes; I don’t feel like I get to spend enough time in either place. True, I lose about three days a month traveling back and forth and going to Dana Farber. Actually, it is a lot like having a job, so I don’t expect sympathy from anyone who works. Part of it could be that I sometimes get pretty tired and lose a significant part of a day to napping or simply not having much energy. But overall, I don’t really understand why I always feel so pressed for time. But I do.

Anyway, here are some details about day to day living with cancer. By the way, this posting is pretty long and perhaps not as interesting as some of the others. Feel free to skim or skip.


I am on a 21 day treatment cycle. July 1 will be a “Day 1”. On day 1, we go to Dana Farber where they stick an IV into me and extract several vials of blood which they send off to the lab for testing. I am also required to turn in my Special Bottle which has been my constant companion for the previous 24 hours.

We then wait for a couple of hours to see a doctor or a nurse practitioner. They examine me and review the lab results. I also get an EKG. We then wait for the actual chemo treatment – usually a couple more hours. The treatment consists of a half-liter IV saline plus a shot of Velcade. In fact, the shot is the whole point of this all-day exercise. The shot takes 5 seconds.

Day 8 is much easier. We show up at DF and get stabbed with the IV again. They draw more blood for testing. They then drip a half liter of saline into me. By the time the saline is done, the labs have come back and they approve me for my Velcade which they again inject into the roll of blubber around my belly. Somewhere in here, they also give me Zometa via the IV. Zometa is a bone healer which is why older ladies often tend to get it. On day 8, I am usually out of there after about three hours – with lots of time left for us to drive to NH in the afternoon.

I really don’t mind the IV needles, because the nurses are cute and I get to flirt with them. They think 
I am funny. Or at least they pretend to which is good enough for me.

Besides the Velcade, I also take three other types of chemo pills. I take Revlimid on days 1 to 14. I take Panobinostat on days 1, 3, 5, 8, 10 and 12. And I take Dexamethasone on days 1, 8, and 15.

Those are the actual cancer drugs. On top of them I also take Acyclovir twice a day and Bactrim on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays. I take Lisinoprol for blood pressure. I take Neurontin three times a day. Plus I take supplements: Vitamins (B, D, E}, Fish Oil (2/day), Flax Oil Aspirin, Phosphorus and Magnesium. Plus Prilosec. I have four main pill taking times during the day, but since I am not supposed to take the Prilosec, Magnesium or Phosphorous at the same time as any other drugs, I put them aside. Then during the day, when I walk by, if it has been more than an hour since my last pill, I grab one and swallow it. Sort of like a snack. I am thinking of putting out a dish with some sort of dip to make them go down a bit more easily.

Since I loaded my pill magazine this morning, I am including a photo. This is for two weeks.

So, how does these medicines make me feel? Not too bad really. I am grateful that I don’t have the nausea that people associate with “chemo”. I am not particularly wiped out at the end of a chemo day.

By the way, this medication stuff does not “just happen”. I have to keep on top of everything. I usually spend a few hours during each cycle making sure they ship me my Revlimid. I have to call a specialty pharmacy to make sure that they have the prescription and that they will ship it to the correct local pharmacy on time. I have to make sure that my appointments at DF have been made. I check all the meds as I get them. Last month I noticed an incorrect dosage on the Velcade.

The next question is whether or not this stuff is working. The answer is “sort of”. Some of the most important numbers have been coming down, but very slowly. Doctors say this is good, but then they always say positive things, so I don’t know what to believe. But certainly I feel a lot better about the numbers coming down slowly than I would about them going up slowly – or worse yet, having them going up rapidly. But some other numbers have been going up. I don’t know what to think.

Here is a graph of my “M-Spike”:

And here are my Kappa Free Light Chains:

What about:

Side Effects

Well, there certainly are side effects – or cancer effects. Whatever.

Peripheral Neuropathy

This is a fancy way of saying that my feet are numb. Not totally, but they feel really weird most of the time. The degree varies over time, but I have to say the overall trend is that it is slowly getting worse. Still, this does not have a profound effect on my quality of life. I rub cocoa button onto me feet every morning and evening and this is supposed to help.


At night, I often get severe cramps in my lower legs or ankles. These are bad enough to really get my attention. Usually, if I get up and walk around for 5 minutes, they will go away. This might happen two or three times on a particular night and then not at all on other nights.

Sometimes, I also get cramps in my hands, but these are not as bad.

What bothers me most is that these seem to be getting worse.

Dry Mouth and Eyes

My mouth is often very dry. During the day, I drink liquids and this helps keep my hydrated. At night, I go to sleep with a Xylimelt™ in my cheek. These are good for two hours and sometimes, I stick another one in there in the middle of the night. Apparently, this dry mouth is bad for your teeth and my dentist has me in for a cleaning every two months.

Very occasionally my eyes get really dry, but Barbara has some fancy drops she puts in them and this helps.

Constipation and Diarrhea

I doubt that anyone wants details.


Sometimes, I am just plain cranky. Not too often, but there are times when I can get really angry over nothing. Apparently this is a common effect of the Dexamethasone (Dex). This is not as bad as it was when I first started on the Dex, but then I am not taking as much Dex as I was originally.

Maybe this would happen even if I were not on the chemo – part of becoming an old codger. By the way, I should mention that today is my “Medicade” birthday, so I am entitled.

Dex also lowers the “brain to mouth” barrier – which as you all know was never very high in my case. I have to really pay attention to what I am saying.


The biggest change is that I am now 4 ½ inches shorter than I was two years ago. Really. And most of the height loss is in my lower spine. This means that when I am sitting down, my ribs and pelvis are basically touching. This does not hurt or cause any other problems, but my arms and legs are still the same length and I am starting to look like one of those spider monkeys. When I put on a sports jacket that is long enough for my arms, the tails come down almost to my knees. This height change really doesn’t bother me because Barbara tells me that I am still incredibly good looking and what more do I need than that.

The only time I notice it is when I sit at the table on our porch which is high and has low seats. Barbara puts a cushion out there for me to sit on. Without it, I can just lean over and shovel the food directly off my plate and into my mouth. Barbara prefers that I actually lift the food with silverware, so she is really good about putting the cushion down.

This loss of height causes me to bulge in the middle. If you were to grab a hot-dog by both ends and push them together, you would expect it to bulge out in the middle. This is exactly what has happened to me. This is not all bad. It provides a nice target for my Velcade shots.

Being Tired

“Tired” can mean many things: being sleepy, being out of breath, having sore muscles. And the chemo does make me tired – all of those at different times. There have been days when I want to spend two or three hours napping. Some nights, I have trouble sleeping more than six hours and when I wake up I am still tired, but can’t get back to sleep. Other days, I am not sleepy, but I get out of breath easily – just walking up to the workshop. Some days all I want to do is to sit. The tiredness has not been as bad recently as it had been in previous cycles and caffeine seems to help. A cup or two in the morning can make a big difference in how much I get done in a day. In fact, this has not been too bad for the last couple of cycles.

Being Grounded

While I can do most of what I want to, there are some limitations. The most important is that I can’t allow myself to be jounced. This eliminates any possibility of skiing, horseback riding or anything else that will put an impact onto my spine. I can probably go bike riding if I am careful to stand with bent knees as I go over bumps. Same with boating in choppy water.

I am also not supposed to lift anything heavy. It is really very difficult for me to restrain myself here.

The doctor says I can travel, but should sit in the front of the airplane (where the air has not had the chance to pick up as many germs from other passengers). I should not visit third world countries. This is due to my compromised immune system.

A bigger problem is that it is hard to schedule things. Yes – for now I am on a 21 day chemo cycle. I know when I am supposed to be at Dana Farber. In theory, there are 12 day periods when we could plan a trip. The problem is that this assumes that I stay on the same protocol. It also assumes that my blood chemistry is good enough for me to get treatment on the scheduled day. If not, they delay things by a week which throws off any plans we might have made.

In Conclusion

In reading this posting, one could get the impression that all I do get chemo and take pills and sleep. Nothing could be further from the truth. Life is good. I get to spend most of my time doing things that I want to do. You all know this from having read previous blog postings. So, I would say that the bottom line is, “LIfe is Good”. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Glorious Weekend

Barbara and I just wrapped up a glorious weekend here at the lake with a fine dinner on our porch overlooking the water. Weekends like this are the reason we love living in New Hampshire - at least in the Spring and Summer.

This weekend we actually got to spend a good bit of time on the boat. It would have been even better if the boat had been in the water instead of on the trailer next to the garage. We spent our time scrubbing away part of the mold and mildew from the winter. With any luck, we will have it in the water by July 4. The challenge then will be getting the engine running.

We have been very active both here and at Fox Hill Village. A while ago Barbara convinced me that it would be a good idea to participate in our town't annual "Town-wide Yard Sale Day". I must have been drinking when I agreed to this, but it actually went quite well. Normally, I spend Yard Sale Day going around shopping for great deals, but this year I mostly stayed home and worked as a sales clerk. Here is a picture - most of the stuff was inside. You can see that we were selling everything but the kitchen sink. Oh - wait. That thing to the right of the wheel barrow IS  a kitchen sink.

Barbara says we cleared $872.40 which is really great, unless you think about how much we must have spent acquiring all that stuff. And that doesn't count the truck-load of valuable merchandise that ended up at our "Community Thrift Store" after the sale. Actually, I tried to convince Barbara that most of the stuff we sold was stuff that I had bought at previous yard sales and that we had actually made a great deal of money on it. Unfortunately, Barbara is not that gullible.

I have also spend a lot of time over the last month doing some farming. Actually, I have two farms. One is here in Meredith and the other is at Fox Hill Village. My Meredith farm is 12 x 12 feet and hosted by our friends John and Margie on their land near our house. That one is all planted and some of the veggies are starting to come up.

My Fox Hill Village farm is much more stressful. I have a smaller plot - oops - we are not supposed to call them "plots" at Fox Hill Village. Hits a bit too close to home for some of the older residents. Anyway, I have parcel at Fox Hill Village that is 4' x 14' and this is where all the stress comes from. The problem is peer pressure. Last time we were there, I checked and found out that none of the seeds I had planted were sprouting - probably because it was a dry as a desert there and that I was not there to do the watering. Mine was the barest plot - I mean parcel - in the garden area as you can see by the photo below:

I rushed out and purchase a bunch of little plants to stick in there. I bought whatever was available at Home Depot. I even bought some sweep potato plants - not because I like sweet potatoes or because I thought there would do well, but because there were nine plants in the package. When I got back to Fox Hill, I just stuck them in sort of at random wherever there was a empty area. I can't wait to get back there to see if any of my plants are still alive.

The other source of stress is that I am changing insurance companies because I am going onto Medicare. This is probably going to cost more than staying with my current provider. It is probably just as well that I am changing providers because I just read in the paper that my current provider is leaving the state of New Hampshire. I could be a major part of the reason. Anyway, the transition could be interesting - let's hope it is not too interesting.

So, as you can tell from this report, I have mostly been feeling pretty good and pretty lively. The cancer numbers are holding steady or dropping a little bit which is good news. We head down to Fox Hill Village on Tuesday and start Cycle 17 on Wednesday; I can hardly wait. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Sitting by the Lake

I am happy to report that I am writing this while sitting on the porch looking out over the lake. It is perfect. This is why we love living here. It is supposed to get up to 80 degrees here today. I have no idea how long the perfect weather will last, but we will certainly enjoy it while we have it. Here is a photo taken last night before dinner.

I have been feeling very good during this cycle. Not as sleepy as last cycle and I don't seem to get winded as easily. Meanwhile the numbers are still holding steady - and possibly dropping a little bit and I am happy with that. Apparently the drugs are doing their thing.

And speaking of drugs, do you know that I have a "drug habit" that many junkies would be quite proud of. It is running into 6 figures per year and I am not counting decimal points. I did not realize just how much this was costing until I got a notice yesterday from my insurance company telling me that I could save money. It had me laughing so hard I couldn't talk for about 5 minutes. Let me explain.

The paper started by saying there was "Good news! This quick guide shows you how to save $8.98 on your prescriptions." Now that is exciting, right? Then I opened it and found that my out of pocket for prescriptions last year was $3,500 (my max which I reached on Jan 17) and that my insurance company had spent $97,992.65. And these guys were telling me that I could save $8.93. Why, that is almost a hundredth of a percent. Who could pass up an offer like that. And to make matters worse, I don't think it would save me anything since I am already way over my maximum out or pocket. That is why I was laughing.

By the way, that is only  for drugs that I take orally and does not cover hospital expenses. Don't buy stock in my insurance company. Oh - wait. I go on Medicare next month. I guess we all sort of do have stock in that company. Actually, my insurance agent tells me that my annual insurance premiums plus out of pocket expenses will actually be higher under Medicare, but fortunately nothing that we can't deal with.

But at least the drugs seem to be helping.

So we are back in NH and weather is good and I am feeling good. I finally got all the maple
sugaring stuff rinsed in bleach water and put away. That took several days. What a pain, but I am all ready for next year.

Next week, during my "break", I will be heading down to Westwood to get together with two fraternity brothers who will be visiting for a couple of days. I will then come back for Meredith Yard
Sale day (May 16). Barbara has a bunch of stuff she wants to get rid of. I prefer to spend the day shopping for deals. It should be noted that most of the stuff that Barbara (and I) want to get rid of is stuff that I purchased at previous yard sales. This is when it is really handy to drive a pick-up truck.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sugaring Season is Over

Well, it looks like maple sugaring season has come to an end. No more excuses for not updating the blog.

Not too much has changed since the last update. I am now most of the way through Cycle 14. The numbers went down a bit at the end of Cycle 12 and up a bit at the end of Cycle 13, but it seems like mostly they are holding steady. I am pretty satisfied with that for now.

Last cycle I had a cold and it pretty much wiped me out. Mostly, I just wanted to sleep all the time. When I wasn't sleeping, I was coughing and that made my ribs hurt. On top of that, I had very little endurance. I would get tired and out of breath just walking around. I guess that is what happens when you have a cold on top of a compromised immune system. Or maybe I was wiped out from the antibiotics that my doctor prescribed for me.

In spite of that, I took a trip to New York City for a visit with my brother and his wife. There was also a technical seminar that I wanted to attend that was only a block from their home, so that was my excuse for heading south. Hopping on the train is very easy from Fox Hill.

I came back here in time to tend to my "sugaring". Much of this consisted of finding new and innovative ways to get my tractor stuck.

Last year, the snow was really deep and caused problems. This year, I had plowed a nice wide path all the way to the trees as well as a loop around them. Since I was tapping more trees, I did not want to be hauling buckets of sap through deep snow. I wanted to drive the tractor close to the trees to make my life easier. This turned out to be a real learning experience for me.

What I learned is that it is incredibly easy to get a four wheel drive tractor horribly stuck in mud. And there was lots of mud. Every place I plowed turned to mud. Every time I drove over the road I had plowed, the mud got deeper. And the tractor would get stuck. Mostly, I could claw myself out with the backhoe, but that didn't get me any closer to the trees.

Fortunately, I had another plan. In addition to the larger tractor, I also have a small mower / garden tractor with a trailer. I figured I would put the sap buckets in the trailer and pull that round for my sap gathering. I figured that since this is much lighter than the big tractor, it would not dig into the mud as deeply. Also, I put chains on the real wheels to get additional traction.

That tractor got stuck worse than the big one.  I was ready to leave it there until the middle of summer, but my friend Jerry went in an pulled it out for me.

But then Jerry drove his 4x4 down one of the muddy roads and got it stuck. I wasn't there, but he tells me he it took him an hour or so to get it out.

Even so, Jerry and I managed to pull about 200 gallons of sap out of the "sugar bush" and boil it all down to Maple Syrup. I ended up with about 5 gallons of syrup. This year, I added 4 more sap boilers and during peak boiling, I was drawing about 16 kilowatts. Barbara almost fainted when she saw the electric bill. And that was only for the March boiling. I hope I am not home when she gets the April bill.

My technique still has me doing the last bit of boiling on the kitchen stove. This year, the sap on the stove only boiled over twice and only set off the fire alarm once. While attempting to clear the "fire" part of the alarm, I accidentally set the burglar alarm without knowing it. I soon had the alarm company calling me about both the fire indication and the burglar indication while all the time, the alarm was blaring. Barbara was not home for this last boil-over and I am not planning on telling her about it.

So we are now getting ready for Spring. Most of the snow is gone from the yard and the ice on the lake is beginning to melt and should disappear within a few days. We are definitely ready for warm weather, but it is not here yet. We are still keeping the fire going in the wood stove. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Happy Spring

Happy Spring everyone. We thought this day would never get here and after all this snow, we are ready for the warm weather that comes with the new season. Of course, it is currently snowing outside, but let's not quibble about the details.

We saw the oncologist on Wednesday. Some numbers are going up and others are going down. We are seeing continued very slow upward (undesirable) movement on the most important one, but others are better. The doctor wants to stay the course for at least a while longer. I am on a clinical trial and the drug I have been testing has just now been approved which gives him a bit more flexibility. Also there are more drugs coming down the road. Meanwhile, I have felt particularly good during this cycle, though yesterday, I was knocked down pretty by a cold. Recall that I have a minimal immune system these days. Barbara even took me to my primary care doctor. He was ready to put me in the hospital, but he talked to the oncologist and they decided to give me some pills and send me home instead.  I feel much better today.

But Spring also means that it is Maple Sugaring Season. I have been particularly lively over the last few weeks, spending about 15 hours up in the woods on the tractor plowing a route to the trees through a foot and a half of snow. I then installed more than 20 "spiles"  into the trees complete with little tubes going into 5 gallon buckets to collect the sap. I have even managed to gather about 30 gallons of sap. That was before everything froze up.

But, before heading down to Fox Hill Village, I cranked up my automatic sap evaporator. Many of you are aware that I am quite proud of this due to the double fail-safe design. Not only does it refill itself automatically, but if this should fail for some reason, it detects the low sap level in the boiler and automatically shuts itself off. This is good because if the sap level ever goes  below the heating element, the heating element is certain to burn out. But it is a very solid "fail-safe" design.

It burned out the the night before we came down here to Fox Hill. Apparently everything froze. The pump could not refill the boiling pot and the system would not tip to shut itself off when the sap level got really low. At least I was right about my theory that it would burn out if this happened. But don't worry - it can be repaired in a half hour for about $10.

So, I am writing this from Fox Hill. Fortunately, our friend Jerry as agreed to gather sap if necessary while we are away. So far, there has been almost no flow since we have been away due to the cold. My one fear is that the 20 gallons I have in the workshop will freeze, rupture the bin holding it all and spread sticky sap all over the workshop floor.

But Fox Hill is at least as exciting this week. They are replacing all the keyed locks on our apartments with locks that use little fobs. You would not believe the excitement this is causing for a number of reasons. First of all, it is different and this is not a group that likes change. More importantly, the doors  now lock automatically when you leave. This used to require a key. Many residents are used to leaving their doors unlocked - especially during short exits - such as to the trash room or to pick up the paper. They can no longer do this. Apparently, there has already been one resident who has found himself outside his locked unit in his boxers with his newspaper, but not his key. It wasn't me - at least not this time.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Glass Blowing and Art Pictures

Barbara is in Florida and I am here in Westwood on my own. I don't know why she would want to be in Florida when the snow here is so beautiful.

I am currently in the middle of chemo cycle 12. You would think I would be getting pretty good at this by now. It would be great if I could report that the numbers are rapidly heading down, but they are not. But they do seem to be holding fairly steady - possibly dropping a little, so I am satisfied with that.

I am feeling pretty good this week. During my last "break week" two weeks ago, I had a couple of days where I was very tired and all I wanted to do was to sleep. So I slept. No problem there. My feet are still pretty numb and possibly getting more so, but that is not really all that bothersome. There are occasional minor pains in my back which may or may not be caused by the disease. The doctor tells me that as long as the numbers are where they are, the disease should not be causing bone damage. Hopefully he is right.

I did manage to come up with one new symptom to make life more interesting. A couple weeks ago, while checking my pulse, I noticed that my heart seemed to be skipping beats. It might beat 2, 3 or 4 times and then skips a beat. For a while last week, it would beat once then skip once. Kinda freaks you out if you know what I mean. I was worried that it might start skipping more than one beat or stop all together, which could severely limit my range of activities.

So, Monday morning, I called me primary care doctor and suggested that I come to his office to try to catch some of these skips on an EKG. Of course, once I got there, the skipping mostly stopped, but we did manage to capture a few of the skips on the EKG. He told me that there were "premature" beats - not actual skips and that he was not overly concerned. But why would he be concerned; it wasn't his heart that was skipping. But even so, I felt better about this, so I am not going to worry about it.

On the way back from the doctor's office, I stopped at the glass blowing studio. I had signed up on GroupOn for a Glass Blowing Lesson which I attended on Saturday and I wanted to pick up the "Art" that "I" had created. I put the "I" in quotes because the "lesson" turned out to be mostly the instructor making a piece of glassware while I stood there and watched. Sometimes he let me put my hand on the long pipe while he manipulated it. So, it was not really the "hands on" lesson that I was expecting, but it was still interesting. "I" made a paper weight and a bowl. Here are some photos:

I also stopped at Ocean State Job Lots where I purchased two 30 gallon stock pots in anticipation of "Sugaring Season". Yes - it is coming to that time of year again. I am hoping to produce a lot more syrup than I did last year. This assumes that I can actually get to the maple trees. In case you hadn't noticed, there is two feet of snow on the ground and the woods don't typically get plowed. Last week I spent three hours up there on the tractor clearing snow and maybe got about half way to the trees. I actually managed to get the tractor stuck a couple of times. I am hoping to spend some more time up there once I get back to NH and maybe break through to the trees. Hopefully, I will have a positive report for the next blog update.

So that wraps up the report except for one thing. Art Pictures. After the last blog update, a few of our faithful readers requested pictures of the Art we had purchased for the apartment. So here are the photos.

That's All Folks

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Art Shopping

Barbara and I are at Fox Hill Village warm and cozy, looking out the window and watching it snow (again). No wood stove or fire here, but also no need to go outside or shovel any of it. We have been here since last Wednesday and will remain until next Wednesday when we will return to Meredith and see how buried we are up north. Actually, there is more snow here in Westwood than in New Hampshire. Go figure.

The cancer numbers we got so far at the last Dana Farber visit were up a little more, but the doctor told us not to worry about that. According to him, it is OK as long as the numbers are not more than 25% higher than the lowest number and we are not yet to that level. It has to do that twice before they will want to change treatments.  But still they gave us a couple of clinical trial descriptions to look over in case the numbers don't start coming down - or at least stabilize. So for now at least, things are reasonably stable.

I had planned to do a good bit of "bowling" during this visit, but so far I have not had time. Yesterday, I was all set to head down to the wood shop, But Barbara reminded me that I had agreed to go "Art Shopping". I had thought that once the redecorating of our apartment was complete, I would be done with things like going to kitchen stores to look at counter top materials and sink faucets. Silly me. You can imagine how excited I was about "Art Shopping". To make matters worse, "we" had hired an "Art Consultant" who we would be meeting in Boston. It turns out that Walmart and Target were not on our list of art stores. No black velvet. No Elvis. Not even dogs playing poker.

I could have dealt with that, but my tastes run more toward sailing ships or possibly Currier and Ives renditions of fox hunting or winter farm scenes. Barbara and our consultant had more "modern" tastes that I feared would involve random blobs of color. Very expensive blobs.

So we drove to Harrison Ave in Boston where there is an unfortunate collection of art dealers. We visited galleries that had "art" that Barbara liked and that I thought I could maybe live with and still keep my eyes open while in the apartment. Barbara had promised a hard limit of 2:00 PM when we would be allowed to leave for home. This was fortunate because by then it had started to snow. What was unfortunate was that the art followed us home.

That's right. Just when I thought I was escaping, I was in fact being followed. We had picked out several works that we thought we might like. The dealers and the consultant thought we should see them in place and were happy to lend us the pictures. So we spent the rest of the day until 7:00 PM installing the art.

At the end of the day, there was good news and there was bad news. The good news was that Barbara had picked out four pieces that she really liked. That was also the bad news if you know what I mean.

But now, I am going to let you all in on a little secret and you have to promise not to tell Barbara. As much as I was dreading spending the day looking at art, I actually really enjoyed it. I got totally into it and the whole time\ Barbara was telling me what a good sport I was being. But I was secretly enjoying it. And I also really like the art she picked. It was much more interesting than looking at shower heads and faucet fixtures.

But as much fun as Saturday was, Friday was even better. I found an interesting adventure on GroupOn. I bought a half hour in a helicopter flight simulator. I have never even been in a helicopter, but there I was sitting next to this instructor in a simulator and I was flying the thing. Or at least trying to. There are about 10 things you have to keep track of and I could manage to think about maybe two or three things at a time. There are three controls. As soon as you change one, at least one of the other two goes haywire and needs to be adjusted and as soon as you adjust that, the other two need adjustment and so on. After a half hour, I could keep the thing sort of going. It was really fun and I didn't die even if I did start to get a tiny bit airsick.

So that's the latest update. We hope all of you are doing well and enjoying Winter. We are just hoping that the snow stops before the next update.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

January Update

It has been too long since the last update and for that I apologize.

First, I had a great trip to visit my brothers. My last posting was from the Amtrak train going to New York City. I had a great visit with Ken, Yoko and Izzi for a couple of days and then Ken, Izzi and I headed to the Poconos to visit my other brother (Ron) and his family which includes most of my niece and nephew collection. They are always fun. We had a great visit. I returned to Westwood on the Amtrak - traveling coach this time. It seemed pretty much identical to Business Class except for the $38 up-charge.

So, now we are in Meredith having recovered from the recent snow storm. We hunkered down and stayed mostly inside, being extra careful to keep the wood stove fully stoked. Around here, the term "Logging On" has more than one meaning.

Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed in the job done by the guy who plows our driveway. He usually does a pretty sloppy job, so I have to out there with the tractor and sort of clean up after him. But this time I was really upset. He did a really great job and there was no cleanup necessary.

Fortunately, our neighbor (my tractor partner) came through. He is recovering from hip replacement. When I called him, he said he could use some tractor cleanup, so Barbara grabbed a shovel and hopped onto the back of the tractor and the two of us headed over there.

I am currently on a break week after the second cycle of the reduced dosage chemo regimen. Unfortunately, the numbers after the first cycle do not look particularly good. They seem to be headed strongly in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, we don't get the numbers until after we meet with the doctor, so we don't know what this means. We meet with the doctor next Wednesday and I am guessing that he might want to make some changes, but I have no idea what they will be. I will report what he says.

I am happy to report that I have already reached "co-pay-day" for 2015. This is the day when I have made all the payments I have to make up to the co-pay limit. We selected a policy that has a very high co-pay limit - the highest offered in fact. Up to this limit, I pay for all drugs and treatments. After this limit, the insurance company takes over. We reached co-pay-day on January 10 this year.
I think it was Jan 12 for 2014. And that was for just one of the four significant chemo drugs I take. I have no idea what all this treatment is costing, but I would not buy stock in my insurance company.

And speaking of great, we are now moved into our apartment at Fox Hill Village and very much enjoying being there. Unless they change our treatment schedule, our plan is to spend 8 days at Fox Hill to cover our two Wednesday treatments and then spend the next 13 days in Meredith. It is nice to not be going back and forth as much.

I am getting used to the redone apartment. Last week, I tried to turn the kitchen water on by twisting the soap dispenser. The control panel for the washing machine looks like something that would confuse the folks at NASA. I think I am going to have to take a course on this thing at MIT. Either that or not do laundry.

We are heading back down to Westwood on Tuesday. I have signed up for a couple of interesting activities via GroupOn. I will tell you about those in the next report.