Friday, December 29, 2006

Amazon Pirate

Not much reliable history has survived about the Amazons, so it is not surprising that some fringe elements escaped till now.

It is said they were a race of warrior women, much feared and fantasized about. So tough and single-minded they were that they removed one breast to better shoot their deadly arrows. Most were right-handed and therefore removed the right obstacle, but now we find evidence of a left-shooting combatant, known to us now simply as L.

We’ve heard that L was as fearless as any, taking even to the seas to pursue enemies, and occasionally to pursue such mundane things as food and beautiful sunsets. First she started in a one-woman boat she made of driftwood, but soon her maritime escapades grew to inspire whole fleets of salty sheilas.

Somewhere along the way our paddling archer L seems to have also lost her right hand, and replaced it with a hook, resulting in a truly pirate appearance and attitude. She took to the sea in whatever craft she could, calling her crew to action with a “ChaRRRRRRge the RRRRRascals!” or “CaRRRRRY on! And look lively now!” or agreeing with a hearty “ARRRRRRmen to that, Lasses!”

Truly, L was a sight to behold in the wild tossing of sea and wind, brandishing the hook and wearing the only left-handed Amazon bikini in miles—that is with the right side covered. Beneficiaries of modern technology we are to have digital time-travel cameras now (even though they are a bit fuzzy) and photographers brave enough to operate them!

The images that came back to us from the ill-fated photographer’s transmissions were few—just one peaceful moment while the pirate flag was being hoisted before our man was pulled from hiding and hooked to oblivion. We honor his sacrifice. If we can find another adventurous soul, we may try to capture L in a more festive moment.

Because they may be disturbing, the surviving images are hidden deep in a cave on an uncharted island. Treasure seekers must negotiate the treacherous pirate’s maze, designed to discourage all but the most determined. Neither journey nor photos are for the faint of “aRRRRRRRt”.

Treasure seekers’ hint: the pirates treasure map lies embedded among the tales of a notorious kayaker’s website. The most infamous kayaker on all of Puget Island on the Columbia. (or it will in a couple days when the pirates get around to hiding it there!)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Freedom Report

News the other day was good. No chemo, no radiation. Baja bound in 3-4 weeks! I’ve got an appointment Jan 9 with an oncologist to discuss “adjuvant” therapy, a word with too many harsh sounding consonants to actually sound therapeutic. I guess that is appropriate, though, as the most common prescription is a five-year course of hormone blocking Tamoxafin, which brings on artificial menopause and other fun things.

In a week the surgeon will remove the rest of my staples. At the last appointment she removed the drain tube (ahhh), but not before we got a good laugh out of it. The perforated drain tube runs internally for about 12 inches around the perimeter of the surgery site, then exits through a hole. From there a non-perforated tube hangs loose and ends in a fist-sized plastic collection pouch which safety pins to the attractive purple tube top I’ve been sporting for a week.

In the doctor’s office, I was instructed to undress and drape myself with some pastel shred of cloth. I had nowhere to pin the pouch… except for that one remaining nipple. Not wanting to be that drastic, I wedged the safety pin on there so it looked pierced, but wasn’t. Perfect fit. David agreed we should see what reaction we got out of my friendly surgeon. We were not disappointed.

Upon lifting back the cloth to inspect the healing process, she gasped and covered her eyes. I demonstrated that it wasn’t pierced by removing it. Still in shock, but laughing with the rest of us, she said, “My god! I knew you were tough but I didn’t know you were that tough!” I assured her that I’m not. We all giggled about it for some time. She was kind enough to remove the tube and some staples anyway.

As you can probably tell, I’m feeling quite good. Getting spunkier by the day. I went outside to do some light farm work yesterday when a scrap of sunshine broke through. Although we have some more doctor visits ahead, I feel the Baja momentum start to pull, and am drawn into its energy. Or maybe it’s Mom’s Christmas cookies that are bringing on the energy! If you’re around and want to come by for a sample, come quick!

As always, thank you for the prayers, healing thoughts, and good energy you’re sending my way. I don’t know how to prove or quantify it, but I am confident that it has been essential. Healing starts in the spirit!

Paddle on!

PS I’m trying to sell one of the wooden kayaks I built, if anyone knows anyone interested.

Sales pitch--

“Well made Pygmy Arctic Tern 17’ with hatches and bulkheads, deck lines, and padded thigh braces. Seal Line rudder with solid, gas-pedal style foot pedals (operated with toes while the foot remains stationary). Custom touches such as mahogany tension rounds on hatch covers and matching, fiberglassed-on, pad eyes (the “inchworms” that hold on the bungees & deck line). Matching mahogany end toggles, too. Complete deck rigging for safety. $2,400. Parting with it because I could use the $$. Also available nice fiberglass Werner paddle $170 (230cm, big blade). Located on Puget Island, WA (between Longview WA & Astoria OR on the Columbia River). Ginni 360-849-4016”

Monday, December 18, 2006


Dec 18 2006

I was an oversized Christmas present bound in a retro purple floral tube top, and it was time to unwrap. We waited till dark so I could see my reflection in the picture window since we don’t have a mirror in here. I turned up the heat, and David put on some sultry strip tease music. When faced with a lack of options, celebrate the one!

Off came the warm fleece with a shimmy of the shoulders. Around in a circle it twirled, and launched in a direction away from the propane heater. Then the long sleeved T-shirt. Ahh, there was the lovely tube top with drain tube and receptacle pinned to it. After repining the drain to my sweats, I seductively pulled open that luscious Velcro, slowly, slowly, with flirtatious glances at David, who ultimately helped me with the satiny shoulder straps and the gauze packing.

And there was our first full view of the work of that talented flesh artist, my surgeon. A line of gathered and stapled skin ran from just off my sternum to a few inches below my armpit in the subtlest of s-curves. A few inches down my side, the drain tube exited a tight hole in my body, secured there with one loop of thread through the skin next to it.

In this unveiling, we were the fortunate heirs of information from many who’d experienced it before. We’d heard how traumatic this first look can be, and we waited until we both felt ready. We’d talked in the days before, speculated, joked, peeked at the first few staples, and I’d run my hand over part of the new flatness to combat itchiness. We were as mentally ready as we could be.

We looked in the window-reflection, took close-up photos so I could see different angles, counted the 20 staples, tried my arm through a range of motion, studied the pattern of purple-yellow bruises, traced where the drain tube went under the skin, admired how smoothly the skin came together, and probed where the missing nerves interrupted the sensation of touch. Best of all, I got a thorough back scratch with the tube top gone.

“What do you think,” David asked about this marvel of modern medicine, my new body.

I grinned and said, “It’s pretty cool!”


I am being sustained by the prayers and good energy of family and friends, and I thank you more than I can say with words.

Paddle on!


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Self portrait 4 days after surgery

Dec 16 2006

If I were to do a glue-together sketch of myself with photos clipped out of National Geographic, I’d start with a big oxbow bend of the Mississippi for a smile. On the canvas of my chest, the right would get Mt. Saint Helens, that beautiful if stubby mountain. The left would be railroad tracks across Kansas, heading off over the flat horizon like a giant zipper.

I haven’t actually looked at the whole picture yet, just seen glimpses of the incision edges stapled together, peeked at the tight bruised skin above the staples, and felt where the drain tube comes out under my arm. Unless I suspect infection, which I don’t, I’m in no hurry to unwrap the new me.

More interestingly, there was 40’ swell forecast on the coast yesterday, and the stormy winds had passed. David and I drove to the mouth of the Columbia in the late afternoon, and walked the paved trail up to the visitor’s center and overlook. A better view would be had from the lighthouse .75 miles up a hiking trail. So we went. I was careful not to slip on the wet trail, descended with smooth bending of knees to avoid jarring, and it was fine. We watched a freighter surf in over the bar.

Surrounded by spruce and the sound of surf and the smells of damp forest, I knew the decisions had been the right ones. Three days after surgery I was back where I wanted to be—outside under my own power. Thus, the oxbow smile today!

releasing the storm

Dec 15 2006

The storm hit in early evening with enough ferocity to make a 1-story cinderblock building tremble. Winds picked up as night enveloped the farm. The breeze found its way in the cracks, and candles fluttered. I held my breath for the impending power outage, then laughed because the power was already out.

Dusk had seen cedar shingles flying off the barn. Imagination had beams sailing overhead in dark. David went out to check on things and was gone a long time.

My bandage was irritating. I tried to scratch lightly underneath it. Felt corrugated ribs. Found where the drain tube entered, then followed it as it slithered along under the skin. My hand headed towards the stapled incision and a gust picked up. The building trembled, tarp flapped on the stove outside. The roof rumbled. My insides tensed as if trying to hold the roof on with willpower.

Late in the darkness came tragic thumping on the roof. A single thump at first, vibrating the building. Organic, like perhaps the owl had gotten blown from her barn perch and splattered on the milk room lid. Then multiple thumps. My mind ran out of owls and pictured shingles from the barn roof. Or clumps of grass ripped from the earth itself and launched upon the roof in a great muddy impact.

Winds rent the night as I sat with flickering candlelight in an unknown body-machine, mysterious beneath an itchy bandage. Curious and not curious at the same time. The picture window showed, in place of the farm, a darkened, rain-streaked image of my own face.

I could use that window and watch my reflection unpackage itself. Part of the primal, unfathomed night. The shuddering room, the womb. Splitting cocoon to reveal metallic, foreign newness. I started to peel the bandage.

I could do it. I could peel back that bandage, and a crack of lightening might rip the darkness. Might reveal the hands of Dr Frankenstein on the other side of the glass, working at my reflection with rusty tools. Hacking, sewing. Hair mad in the storm. Then darkness again. And the wolves of wind.

They leapt and chewed ravenously. Block walls hummed like a wingless 747 preparing for takeoff. Preparing to break the binds of gravity, headlong and wild.

Arrows of rain rattletattled on the roof and windows.

In the end, I didn’t do it. I left the mystery and the drama. I left the bandage, and slept in the surrender of exhaustion. Whatever pieces were left, we’d gather them in the light of morning.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The new adventure

The adventure is not always what you anticipate. In a slight detour, our kayak guide is temporarily experimenting with breast cancer. Here are some updates:

December 7

Requiem for Lefty

We’re celebrating tonight, though it feels funny to celebrate an impending mastectomy. The pathology report from last week’s biopsy led two doctors from two separate facilities to recommend a simple mastectomy without radiation, with chances of needing chemotherapy extremely unlikely. Both said I should be able to head to Mexico to guide in a little over 6 weeks. No radiation, no chemo, and yes Baja, in my book, are great cause for celebration!

I was so happy when we got home that I dragged David on a frolicking sprint over our jogging course :) For the first time since biopsy surgery last week, I feel like myself—I have energy! Whether last week’s slog was the weight of the unknown or simply recovery time, I don’t know and don’t really care. It’s past.

I’ll be having a mastectomy on Dec 12, with first follow-up visit on Dec 20. I will be able to rule out the minute chance of chemo for sure Dec 20. I’ll probably have drain tubes in place for about 3 weeks the Doc says, which would end early January. Then more visits to determine if I should start hormone treatment, and how I take to it, if so. Early Feb I’ll get back in shape physically, and head down to Mexico!

David is staying here with me, helping and inspiring in so many ways. We’ll travel south together as soon as I’m ready. I’m very thankful to be such a lucky gal!

I know the road isn’t over; it’s just begun, but I want to thank everyone who’s sent a thought or prayer or informative, encouraging word, or offers to help in various ways. One thing I feel more than ever is the connection with loved ones, a strong community of family and friends.

In case you’re interested, the pathology details are as follows: Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS, a non-invasive cancer limited to duct tissue) extending beyond the limits of the biopsy sample in all directions. Because they don’t know the extent to which the cancer has followed the ductal system, they recommend mastectomy over a kind of blind lumpectomy. I’m comfortable with that.

In a way I’m lucky because this kind of cancer rarely makes a detectable lump or anything visible on mammogram or ultrasound, but I happened to have a cyst in that area which the doctors investigated sufficiently to discover this. They were surprised at the report because the two are not necessarily related. Being an aggressive DCIS, the doctor believes it was a matter of time before it managed to metastasize to other places. We will monitor the other half of my early warning system, Righty, over the years.

Because my personal goals are long term health and high level of function achieved as soon as possible and as simply as possible, I am opting not to pursue reconstructive surgery at this time, possibly never. It is most important to me to be active and strong, and if I look a little lopsided, well, that’s just character, isn’t it? I wonder if I could get away with wearing half a bikini top like a pirate’s eye patch?

Thanks for all your care and support.

Paddle on!

Dec 12

The Pirate Emerges from Battle!

Back from surgery, a little lighter. Good spirits and ability to get around. Ran into paddling buddy Dan Haghighi as we were entering the hospital this morning. Just happens that he’s chair of surgical dept there. He told my docs to take extra good care, and checked in on me throughout the day, which was a wonderful reassurance and pick-me-up!

There had been some miscommunication in advance about pre-surgery time and procedure so that I missed having a radioactive tracer injected to aid in locating my sentinel lymph nodes for biopsy, but after consultation with my surgeon, whom I’ve come to know and trust throughout this whole journey, we decided to proceed as planned. The nodes were located with blue dye and all went fine. Blue urine afterwards was a little surprising until I remembered why!

I remember two things as I was waking up, but can’t recall which was first. One was Dr Dan touching my left hand and talking to me in a reassuring way. The other was waking up with a realization of what had just happened and feeling tremendous grief whereupon a nurse placed a tissue in my right hand. In a few moments I noticed a giant poster of what looked like a lush version of Baja on the wall with palm trees and a white beach, then surprisingly I noticed it again a few moments later, and realized my mind wasn’t as sharp as I thought it was.

Within moments I was in Recovery 2, the second stage, with David by my side. The surgery and recovery took about an hour 30, less than expected. Recovery 2 took about an hour as I battled nausea and a shaking of the legs when I’d let my body tense, which it wanted to do. If I consciously relaxed the shaking stopped. David read to me from the newspaper then from the book Five Acres and Independence. After I accepted some anti-nausea meds, I could actually engage in conversation and move my head and eyes. Shortly after that I refused a wheelchair ride, tapping out a little jig to prove I could stand ok, and walked slowly out to the car.

We’re home now, in the milk room of the old barn, with heaters and bolero music and warm soup and cornbread from my neighbors the Stockhouses. I’m very thankful for them and all the wonderful friends, neighbors, and family who have all been generous in so many ways!

Thanks so much for all your care and encouragement!

Paddle on!


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Goodbye party at the office

Dec 13 2006

A banner hung over the doorway. “Goodbye Lefty” All the body parts milled about the refreshment table. Lefty’s partner and best friend Righty had just finished making the farewell speech.

“Lefty, my bosom buddy, I’ll miss you terribly! I’ll have to keep abreast of matters by myself.”

Applause followed, and cries of “Goodbye Lefty, we’ll miss you, see you in the great by-and-by!”

But at the refreshment table the mustard heard other mutterings. Right Knee asked Left Knee, “Did you know Lefty very well?”

“No, just an occasional visit when the old boob stooped to say hello.”

Left Foot, who was prone to grumbling about his job as well as making odd rhymes, said, “That’s a little less weight I’ll have to freight, not that Lefty was ever too hefty.”

The Eyes, twins who never did anything independently, rolled together upon overhearing Left Foot. They agreed that the view would be different without Lefty in the picture, and would take some getting used to.

Gall Bladder was experimenting heavily with intoxicating concoctions and grew loose in the tongue. “Never met her, they keep me in the dark, you know. Maybe I’ll put in a bid for her window office. Still, it’s a shame the old gal’s going tits up.”

At a table, Lefty chatted with Spine, whom she’d never known very well since they worked on opposite sides of the complex. “Still,” said Lefty, “I’ve appreciated your support over the years.”

Skin had a big job, including contact with just about everybody at the office, except the Internal Special Forces. As a result of his constant protective duties, he was quite extended, but stopped in quickly to bid farewell. “Lefty, it sure has been great hanging out with you. Bon Voyage. I’ve got you covered!”

A chorus of Ribs twittered by. “We’ll be facing the world without you, Lefty. We’ll miss you!”

Al and his wife Viola wheezed out from behind the Ribs, “So long, Lefty. We’ve weathered the rise and fall of every breath together. All the best to you!” The rest of the lungs sighed in agreement.