Respite

Respite

I have spent the last month attempting to keep all things “cancer” out of my mind. Apparently, that included posting to this blog, as I realize it has been over a month since I’ve updated everyone who follows me here. Cancer treatment is a long road and can consume all of one’s time, energy and thoughts. Clearly, it is a road worth taking, but like any long journey, sometimes it is necessary to step back and gain a different perspective before continuing. This month long break between chemo and radiation was just the respite I needed in order to rebuild the strength and determination I need to finish stomping cancer out of my life.

The last round of chemotherapy brought some challenges, but my focus in July was to push through and enjoy as many fun summer activities as possible before the start of radiation, which will impose some limitations on me.

I think I did fairly well during this break in treatment. My returning energy levels and diminishing side effects allowed me to take a couple of camping trips (one by motorcycle), I did some hiking, spent a week at the family lake house, attended state fair (I even went on a couple of rides), and hit some outdoor music festivals. Sadly, I was unable to participate in the Riverwest24 (a great neighborhood 24 hour bike race), but I was able to observe the event as a spectator, which gave me an opportunity to see friends and share the event with my kids. All of this was punctuated by weekly doctor appointments which served to remind me that I’m not over this yet.

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By the end of July, I had a final appointment with the medical oncologist, during which she told me that I was doing great and my blood work proved that I was ready to move on to radiation. She passed me on to the Radiation Oncologist, with whom I met on Friday, July 29th. He seemed confident that I would tolerate radiation without problems. He assured me that it would be a breeze compared to chemotherapy. I was told to expect fatigue, and localized damage and burning to the skin at the site of the radiation. I was also told to stay out of the sun and no swimming. This was, perhaps, the hardest pill to swallow, as August is my favorite month specifically because I love hot weather, the feel of the sun and swimming (things that are cruelly limited in Wisconsin). After the meeting with the doctor, I went in for radiation mapping. The mapping involves a CT scan, lots of measurements and small tattoos to mark the precise location where the radiation will be targeted. After this appointment, I was scheduled to start radiation on August 6th, which allowed me one more weekend to escape.

I took the opportunity to combine two of my favorite things for the first time. Motorcycling and camping. Both are also a huge passion of my boyfriend’s – so much so, that he has several books on the topic (traveling250.com for more). We had a campsite reserved north of WI Dells, but a last minute change allowed us to meet up with some of Andy’s friends, an Australian couple traveling the world by motorcycle. Their travels brought them to the EAA fly-in in Oshkosh, so we left Milwaukee a day early so we could join them. It was my first time to the fly-in. I was completely blown away by the magnitude of the event.

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The ride took us through some significant storms and we arrived, late, to a soggy campground, where we had to set up the tent in the dark. It was worth it, as we got to share some wine and travel stories with some fascinating travelers well into the night. The following day, we walked all over the elaborate grounds of the EAA, attempting to squeeze way too much into too little time, as we wanted to leave early to beat the rain to our next campsite. We didn’t quite make it, and we arrived at Roche-a-Cri state park just as the hail hit. The ranger let us hang out in their shelter until we got a clearing in which to set up camp and cook dinner. The next two days were beautiful and we filled our time with hiking, relaxing and a couple of motorcycle meet ups with a group of friends, which took us through the dells, and a trip on the Merrimack ferry on the way home Sunday.

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Back to my current reality after the camping trip, I went back to the hospital (Andy wouldn’t let me run away and extend our trip indefinitely…). Wednesday, August 6th would be my first day of radiation, which actually involves simulating the treatment with x-rays and further measurements and fine tuning to make sure everything is correct before administering the radiation. It was torture! Still not properly healed from rotator cuff surgery, I found it extremely difficult to lay still with my arms up over my head for such a long time. First, my arm went numb. Then it progressed to pain, then my arm started to shake from the pain, at which time I was reprimanded for moving and told that if I wasn’t completely still we would have to start from square one again. That was enough to make me push through, but I was nearly in tears by the end and not sure I would be able to hold this position 33 more times (yes, 5 days a week for 6 and a half weeks). They told me that the simulation would be the longest one and that subsequent sessions would not be that bad, so I went back again on Thursday to start radiation. Again, there was some fine tuning and double checking, and my arm went numb again, but did not have time to progress to pain by the time it was over. Friday was shorter yet, and my kids were with me, so they got a chance to see what I would be going through, which removed some of the mystery for them. They got to see the machine that gives their mom super-powers. And they got chocolate. What more could you want?

Throttle Therapy

Memorial Day Weekend was approaching, and I had nothing planned. My kids were scheduled to be with their dad, my family picnic had been postponed, my boyfriend was out of town, soon to be returning from a two week motorcycle trip across the country (www.traveling250.com), and the weather was going to be beautiful. That’s saying a lot for a Memorial Day Weekend in Wisconsin, which is usually over-scheduled and has a 50-50 chance of being miserably cold and rainy.

Memorial Day Weekend this year would also be day five and six of my current round of chemotherapy. Days, which, in the past, have proven to be low points for me. I knew one thing, though, I was not going to sit home and wait for side effects to kick in. I was feeling really healthy, so, at the last minute, I started toying with the idea of meeting my boyfriend somewhere along his route home. By motorcycle. The idea of getting out of town, taking a break from all the medical stuff, getting out there on my bike, and seeing Andy a little sooner was very appealing.

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We started discussing places to meet. He mentioned New Glarus, a quaint little Swiss village southwest of Madison. It would be an easy ride for me, and sounded nice, but I soon found that I couldn’t get a room in New Glarus due to a music festival which was taking place. So, looking at my map, I thought Mineral Point looked like another good choice. I really knew nothing about Mineral Point, but judging from the research I did online, it looked like a nice place for a quiet getaway. The town was formed in the 1830s and 40s, and being a fan of historic architecture, I thought I would find it interesting. And, it is in the driftless area of Wisconsin, which means beautiful, rolling motorcycle roads. I splurged a little and booked a really amazing looking room for Saturday night.

I woke up Saturday morning feeling great and super giddy for my road trip. I had arranged to ride out of town with my good friend, Mary. We would ride together until lunch time, at which point we would go our separate ways. It was perfect motorcycling weather. Sunny and warm. We had an uneventful ride out (except for that one playful dear along the side of the road) and stopped for a leisurely lunch at a favorite place.

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After lunch, I continued west. As I got close to Madison I decided to get off the highway and onto quieter country roads. The smells, the sights, the serene experience, passing through small towns, was just what I needed. This is what I affectionately call “throttle therapy”. It is the rejuvenating power I feel when I ride my motorcycle. Once I got past Madison, the roads got quieter and stretched out in gentle curves in front of me. I was feeling great!

Even though we didn’t set a meeting time, and we had different distances to cover, we arrived at the hotel within minutes of each other. Right on the main street, but tucked away with a hidden garden entrance, our room was remarkable. It had masonry walls filled with whimsical art built into the walls, a kitchenette and living room filled with books about the art and architecture of Mineral Point, a claw foot bathtub and bedroom up a set of stairs. I knew instantly that this was just what the doctor ordered.

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We had a wonderful dinner, wine and even saved room for dessert (because, let’s be honest, I can’t resist chocolate cake with red wine) at the Brewery Creek Brewpub. There was time for a soak in the claw foot tub and a great night’s sleep. In the morning, the sun was streaming in, past the gardens where the motorcycles were parked and through the stained glass decorations in the window. I made some tea and curled up on the couch, looking through some of the interesting books that filled the place. It was a beautifully peaceful morning.

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We learned that we simply cannot leave Mineral Point without sampling figgyhobbin, a Cornish pastry filled with a mix of raisins, walnuts, brown sugar, and butter and covered with caramel sauce and whipped cream. Glad we took that advice and tried the figgyhobbin, we found that it was the perfectly sweet end to a perfectly sweet getaway.

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