Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Pre-Olympics in Seattle

I arrived in Seattle to one of the hottest and driest Junes the area had ever seen.  My brother and his girlfriend, A, took me out for brunch at a cute neighborhood crepe place.  The coffee was remarkable, and the atmosphere was sweltering.  Few establishments in Seattle have air conditioning, and this restaurant was no exception.  We were sweaty by the time we finished our breakfast.  

Then I set up a temporary camp at their new house while we prepared our supplies for the hike.  I don't know what I enjoyed most:  organizing my clothes and personal items in my pack, or spending time with my little brother in his home.  It's very special to be with someone you love in the place that makes them the most happy.

We went for a walk in the neighborhood for a beer and some supplies.  He had been putting off buying a new tent for awhile, so I was glad to be a catalyst to improve his backpacking supplies.  We went into a local store and he found a Big Agnes-brand 3-person tent.  I referred to the tent as Big Agnes for the duration of our trip.  How could I not?  It's called Big Agnes.  

We walked past a farmer's market that was packing up, and a farmer at one of the stands asked us if we'd like some raspberries.  I said thank you, I'd love some, and he handed me an entire flat of raspberries!  We carried the berries with us to King's pub  where the bartender used them to make us a custom raspberry margarita.  These things only happen on vacation!

Ryan, A., and me at King's pub
Back at Ryan's house he packed our food in bear-proof containers before stuffing it into his pack.  Always a gentleman, he didn't allow me to pack any of our mutual food or equipment in my backpack.  I only packed my own water and supplies.  While he tended to the food, I made us a pre-hike raspberry pie, because that's what you do when you're given a flat of raspberries the night before heading into the backcountry.  You bake them into a pie.

Fortunately I was pretty worn out from my long day of flying, planning, walking, and packing, so I was ready to turn into my cozy bed despite my high level of excitement.  A. had made the guest room very welcoming for me, with chocolate bars, water bottles, and Tim's chips displayed on the nightstand.  I rearranged the decorative pillows to make room for my head, read a few chapters of The Invention of Wings, then snuggled in for the night.

I awoke to the soft morning light of Seattle slanting through the wooden blinds.  This is the day, I thought.  It has finally arrived.  I am going hiking in the Olympic Mountains.

Ryan scrambled some eggs with peppers, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, olives, and cheese.  I ate at their kitchen table, admiring the fine details of their newly updated kitchen:  butcher block table top, self-installed beer tap, tiled backsplash, a potted orchid blooming over the table.  The chickens made their morning clucking noises behind me in the yard.  I could have stayed there all day but I lingered only for a moment; it was time to finalize our packs and hop in the car.

Ryan and his friends have a tradition that on their way out of town to go backpacking they top at their favorite bakery for some treats.  Who was I to stand in the way of tradition?  The bakery was well-stocked with all sorts of goodies and smells.  It was very hard to choose.  I fell back on an old favorite, a croissant, because I love croissants and it is fun to be in search of the world's finest croissant.  I also got a chocolate macaroon that was incredible.  But Ryan hit the pastry jackpot by trying something new:  a chocolate bismark.  Neither of us were familiar with bismarks, but now we can't go back.  It had a flaky and savory exterior, a custard-filled interior, and a light coating of chocolate icing.  It was the best pastry I've ever had.  

Then we were off!  Driving south out of Seattle, west through Olympia, and north up the peninsula.  The excitement was building with every mile.  At 11:30 we pulled into the Ranger's station at Lake Quinault to get our backcountry pass.  The ranger gave us a bit of info about bear sightings, camping in the backcountry, and the weather.  In minutes we were driving down a winding gravel road to park the car at Graves Creek.  

Here we go! 

Monday, August 24, 2015


How can it be that summer is over and today is the first day of school?  Summer went by too quickly, and I have not properly documented my comings and goings.  That's because I've been out living instead of in blogging.  I have begun many stories, and I hope to finish them and post them in the coming days.

Today's story is going to cover several things that happened in the month of July.  At the beginning of the month was my hiking trip in the Olympic Mountains.  It was every bit as incredible as I imagined it would be!  Walking in the woods was a restorative activity after a somewhat stressful year of recovery.  Taking one step at a time, over logs, under logs, and around logs, helped me truly realize just how strong I am.  In addition to the physical achievement of hiking 10 miles per day for 3 days, I had the personal satisfaction of getting away from the routines for awhile.  I forgot how unscheduled a couple of grown-ups could be for a couple of days, and it was rejuvenating.  Plus, my brother was a wonderful host, guide, and companion.  He cracks me up.

A few days after I returned to the office from my backpacking trip, I got a phone call from the Big Boss (my boss's boss's boss in the district office).  He was calling to congratulate me because I won a really big award!  I am an Early Career Scientist award-winner for 2015.  I get to go to Washington D.C. in September to receive the award.  Woo hoo!  I'm so excited!  All sorts of loved ones are going to accompany me to D.C.:  my daughters, dad, stepmom, grandparents, and mother-in-law.  What on earth am I going to wear?  Don't make me buy a pantsuit!!

I was beginning to feel rather legendary when two weeks later I found myself once again in that dark little room, meditating with my yellow paintbrushes while the radioactive glucose worked its way around my cells.  This time I got my PET scan results on the same day as the scan, and guess what?  All clear again!  Boom!  The legend continues!  That's the third clean PET scan in a row, friends.  Well, in the interest of full disclosure, the current PET scan did show a tiny bit of activity on one ovary, but a follow-up ultrasound revealed that there is nothing abnormal going on. So again I say, clear PET scan!  Huzzah!

Two weeks ago, in August, I had a 6-month follow-up with Dr. Medical Oncologist at the other cancer center.  This is my Her2-cancer expert.  She couldn't have been more thrilled with the PET scan results (in fact, I daresay she had a look of disbelief on her face).  I asked if we could stretch out the PET scans a bit, now that I've had 3 clean ones, and she said yes but just a bit.  Her proposed PET scan schedule is every 4-5 months.  Ugh, that's still awfully frequent scanning, but I'll take it.  It'll be 3 PET scans a year instead of 4, which I suppose will make a big difference in terms of my schedule and exposure to radioactivity.  She also still plans to keep me on the Herceptin and Pertuzumab treatments indefinitely, as previously planned, as long as my heart holds up.  I get echo cardiograms of my heart every 3 months to make sure it's not being adversely affected by the treatments.  Again, I'll take it.  Finally, she mentioned that if these drugs ever stop working for me, there are already new treatment options available for Her2 cancers.  Wow!  That's incredible!  I hope I don't have to explore those options for a long, long time, but it's nice to know that they are there.

Two days ago, on Aug. 22, was my one year anniversary since my last hard chemo.  I can't believe that it's been a year already.  Time flies when you're feeling well, I guess.  I am so grateful to have had this year, and I feel ready to snag another one.  Dr. Medical Oncologist said that when I make it to my 10-year survivorship, she can retire.  Thanks for giving me a new survivorship goal, Dr. MO.  Here's to sending you into early retirement!