When I complained to my dear friend Jackie that I was going to have to take a shower in the golden-brown water I’d been pulling from the rushing river, she reminded me that people pay good money to bathe in mud and minerals. Our crystal waters vanished with the ice crystals, so when we returned last on the 20th of May, a week after break-up, we had to accept a certain liquid earthiness. We filter our drinking water, but it still looked like I’d pulled it from a ditch, so I was sticking primarily with coffee, ovaltine and wine until the well at the campground opened just before the Memorial Day campers arrived. I was reluctant to shower when to all appearances I was cleaner than the water, so Gary helped me filter it through a pillowcase. The pillowcase stayed white and the water stayed brown, but Jackie was right – I had a wonderful shower.
I had hoped to see a chaotic break-up of the river, but when we returned from our travels, banks of ice and the occasional ice sculpture atop a boulder mid-stream were all that remained of winter. Fissures would appear parallel to shore, then vanish along with few feet of ice riverside to the fissure; a new fissure then materialized closer to shore. Visions of huge blocks of ice struggling downstream are gone; as ice tipped in toward the water it simply melted in the rising current. Free of ice now, the river is high; her voice grows louder as the day progresses. When Gary lived with me in San Francisco, our apartment stood right behind Hwy. 101 North at Vermont Street. We pretended then that the freeway noise was just a river; now, the river sounds to me more like the flow of traffic than a roar. It crescendos with the melt of day and into the sunny night.
The joy of long days is that you can goof off for a good while and still get a fair amount done. We’ve been riding bikes, flying my kite atop our breezy hill, and untangling kite string. I’ve been gathering moose poop for my paper-making project; with the campers arriving for the Memorial Day weekend, I hurried to get what I could before they made a mess of it. Meanwhile Gary has affixed the exterior paneling to the shower room addition to the cabin, made a flowerbox for my sweet peas (in less time than it took me to make dinner), worked on more trellises, tied bundles of firewood to sell to the campers and taught me how to tie them too. I’ve been thinning our nascent vegetable garden—the peas are over an inch high—moving lumber around, hauling firewood bundles to the campground, getting sand from the sand dunes down the road for the garden—in short, doing a lot of not too much. We’ve both been sorting through our belongings, moving our winter things into storage and bringing out our summer clothes. Last night we were reading without a light until after 1:00 a.m. About an hour later, I heard a bird start his song, one I didn’t recognize. Plants, too, love the long days; new growth explodes each day as though a week had passed.
A few mosquitoes arrived just ahead of the campers – breeding stock no doubt. The rain waited until the campers were on the road heading out for their holiday. It’s a shock to hear voices, vehicles and dogs day into night. It’s just one more seasonal change that takes getting used to, like not having a steady supply of hot water; now that we don’t need to use the wood stove to heat the cabin we have to heat water and cook on the propane stove, which is too small to easily hold the huge stock pots we usually keep our washing water in. The cabin is often over 70° when we get up in the morning, giving us no excuse for a fire.
We spent last week in Portland, Oregon to learn more about Gary’s sarcoma and treatment options. In just a week, nearly all the remaining snow vanished, except in spots of deep drift and on the mountains. Moose cows are out with their newborns, whose ears barely reach their mama’s belly. Porcupines abound; Gary was chasing one away from the cabins when a giant RV pulled up on the road. The driver rolled down his window.
“Is that a bear?” he asked.
This is not as stupid a question as it seems; the amble and color of the porcupine hit the consciousness before one’s sense of proportion kicks in. We did see three bears in our travels, black bears along the highway; one seemed to be on the verge of surprising a hitchhiker not 100 feet away.
I’m wondering why summer is tourist season here. It’s cloudy, rainy, buggy and beary; there are no berries and no auroras. But still, as a summer tourist, I went home never imagining it could have been more beautiful. It is still breathtakingly beautiful, and we relish it all the more, not knowing what the future holds. We never did know, of course, but we held the sweet, foolish notion that we could continue on here until we found something we’d rather do and someplace we’d rather do it.
Gary’s oncologist at OHSU didn’t give us much to go on. Gary’s spindle-cell sarcoma has gone from a low-grade to high-grade, more aggressive cancer. While both the surgeon and the oncologist seem convinced the surgeon got all of both tumors, the pathology report showed a positive margin, not a good thing. Because of this, Gary was ineligible for a vaccine trial; the doctor has offered nothing else, except “watch and worry,” advising us that this can be expected to ultimately be fatal. We understand chemo for this type of thing is more toxic than it is effective, so this is perhaps the best course, but since the tumor on the pancreas was found inadvertently in a chest CT scan, we had wanted Gary to be fully scanned for any other tumors.
Gary has taken on a near-vegetarian diet (limited fish and egg whites allowed), no dairy, refined grains, sugar, alcohol, little coffee; sitting back and waiting is just not in him. We will go for second and probably third opinions, exploring alternative and complementary approaches that might be helpful alongside conventional treatment, if there is treatment. Even if there is nothing more to be done at this point, we need to know we have left no stone unturned.
I know that some of you are physicians or other medical professionals, or have family members who are, and some of you are survivors of cancer and other life-threatening diseases, or have dealt with cancer of those close to you. Should you have any thoughts for us, reading you recommend, an oncologist or cancer center or other source of expertise we might want to consider consulting, or alternative, complementary, mind-body or other ways of healing (if not curing) that have been helpful to you, your experiences of hope and healing (Karl shared an extraordinary story of his family’s experience with us), or the name of a cookbook or a good recipe, I hope you will share them. We are currently planning for Gary to get a second opinion at Block Center for Integrative Cancer Care in the Chicago area later this month, and will probably seek a third opinion as well at a specialized sarcoma center. I have found the online sarcoma communities to be very helpful, and know this little indeepalaska community will help us too as we navigate this new world.
Sunrise: 3:53 a.m.
Sunset: 11:55 p.m.
Weather: Mostly cloudy, random attempts at rain and clearing, breezy. High 65°, low 38°
Gary is reading: Life Over Cancer, Keith Block, M.D.; Help (which I read a few weeks ago).
I am reading: Choices in Healing, Michael Lerner.
Glad to see you post. Cloudy here but I hope the sun is shining at Brushkana. We have Gary’s Willow Stand in the garden and it looks pretty good. Karen and Kristen enhanced it flowers and stuff.
Good to hear from you, Scott. Lots of clouds and rain here for several days now, but usually the worst of the rain is at night. It will be nice to see the trellis in action — Gary’s made alot more now for the Alaska Botanical Garden Fair this weekend. We’ll see you Thursday!
Barbara – do you have a new email address? I sent pictures of my Hong Kong trip to your barbaravbailey@yahoo account, and it came back. Please send me a message at gmh962@gmail to let me know where to send the link. I thought maybe you might enjoy seeing the pictures of a far away land… Hope your summer is going well!