Thursday, August 28, 2008

Life's Dream

These last few sunny August days always bring back memories of Wells Beach. Back in the summer of 1946, Mom and Dad had borrowed Grampa Boocock's old 1937 Chevy and taken their first trip to Wells Beach on their honeymoon (rumors that Mom actually wore a bathing suit on the beach that summer cannot be confirmed). So every August when we were kids, they would pack us into the '59 Chevy and head from Connecticut to Wells Beach for a two-week family summer vacation. Aside from the five (or six) of us and all the food and luggage, one year Daddy even lassoed a huge old black and white TV set to the trunk for us to watch at the could hardly have been called a "portable" TV. There was no turnpike in the 50's and early 60's and it took all day to drive through Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire on old Route 1. Mom and Dad would be in the front seat and Cheryl, Andi and I were squeezed in the back for the eight hour trip. After settling the inevitable sisterly arguments about who would have to sit in the middle with her feet on the "hump", we would set out for Maine. More than once, Daddy would have to turn around as he was driving and say, "Don't make me pull this car over!" Other times, Daddy would just reach back and start didn't matter if you were the guilty party or not...if he reached you, you got it! Cars weren't air conditioned then, nor were there seat belts, so we would all just bounce around in the heat driving our parents crazy ("She touched me!" "I did not!" "Stop touching her!"). Once Joanne came along, she rode in a little plastic contraption that hung from the seat back between Mom and Dad in front, only adding to the ambiance of the journey. With four girls in the car, bathroom stops could have really set us back (and Dad always wanted to "make good time") so Mom would just lean over and tell us all to "hold it". We knew that we were finally getting close when we crossed the 10 cent bridge between Portsmouth and Kittery. We'd open the windows for our first smell of the ocean and scream, "We're in Maine! We're in Maine" until Daddy had had enough and would threaten to pull the car over again. An annual vacation tradition was to stop at El's Fried Clams in York on the way. At that time it was a little white wooden stand at the side of Route 1...those clams and hand-cut french fries almost made up for the long ride. And then, finally, we would turn right at the Howard Johnson's in Wells onto Mile Rd. and all hang our blond heads out the window to try to be the first one to smell the clam flats. The first sighting of the Casino was a sure sign that we had arrived!
Over the years, we stayed at a number of cottages on Webhannet Drive. The first, when I was about a year and a half old, was the Howgate. If you drive down the road today, it is one of the few cottages that looks exactly the same now as it did then--large grey weather-beaten shingles with a porch that goes around three sides. One summer we also stayed on the bay side, in a pink duplex cottage named the Laura Lee. George and Carol Katz and family stayed on one side and we were on the other. Auntie Doris and Uncle Donald brought Grammy Boocock to stay for awhile, and we have very vivid memories of her in a straw "coolie" hat wading through the beach grass at low tide like she was in the rice paddies!
The cottage that we called "home" most years though was "Life's Dream", owned by the Rodrigues from Sanford, Maine. It was a big brown cottage right on the ocean, with a swing set and its own shuffleboard court right in front, and we felt like we owned it! Andi and I shared the big bedroom upstairs on the ocean with two, big, iron double beds. I can still smell the salt air and feel the weight of the quilts when we slept with the windows open on the cool August nights. Cheryl, being the oldest, a "teenager", got the smaller upstairs bedroom all to herself, and Mom and Dad the third upstairs room. Sorry Joey, once you came along we just must have stuffed you in with someone in a porta-crib somewhere. Across the street from us were two cute red and white shingled cottages named Cozy and Comfy, also owned by the Rodriques. Most summers our beach friends the Hawkins stayed there while we were across the street. Mr. Hawkins was our version of Jack Lalaine. He ran the beach each morning with the sunrise, in his 60's version of a speedo. They had a son, Alan, about my age and a daughter, Cheryl's age.
I remember that we each got new "beach clothes" for the trip to Wells. These always included new white sweatshirts, white sailor hats (sometimes with "sunglasses" built in), "clam diggers", plaid bermuda shorts, white Keds, and cotton bathing suits that had a tendency fill with water (think helium balloons) when we got them wet. For the nights when there were dances at the Casino, we would spend most of the day thinking about what we were going to wear. We'd spend all day on the beach in rollers in preparation...well, except for the year we all got those ever-flattering "Pixie" haircuts for our trip to Wells. It was a big deal when Mom finally let me go to the Casino the night that it was rumored that Freddie ("Boom! Boom") Cannon would be there. When we arrived at the Casino, they stamped our hands to get in and we would walked up a big flight of wooden stairs to the dance hall. The Casino had huge wooden windows that swung out all along the could actually hear the surf and smell the popcorn while listening to Frankie Avalon, the Everly Brothers, the Platters, and Elvis. Below the dance hall was a little sundries shop with a soda fountain so there was always a place to hang out when you were afraid no one was going to ask you to dance. And when the Casino wasn't being used for dances, you could go there to roller skate on the big wooden dance floor.
We always dreaded rainy days at Wells Beach because that inevitably meant the dreaded trip to Gonic, NH, to buy wool. Mom made most of our clothes back then and she'd load up on fabric for the winter at the Gonic Woolen Mill. It would always be about 95 degrees and humid in the mill while Mom draped us in layer after layer of the hot, scratchy stuff. Somehow, August and wool just do not go together well. We did get some great clothes out of the deal year it was matching ponchos, another it was skirts and vests that you could "mix and match". This may be how we all acquired our highly developed fashion sense!
Those who say that 1969 was the "Summer of Love" clearly had not been to Wells Beach with us. If they had, they would know that it was definitely somewhere around the summer of 1959, when Cheryl fell madly "in love" twice in the same two weeks. The first was with the Tabletalk Pie Man (he was actually the Tabletalk Pie kid). She would spray her hair, sneak some of Mom's Pink Pearl lipstick, and be the first to run to the door when we'd hear the chant ,"The pie man's here, the pie man's here" as the pie truck came down Webhannet Drive. We never ate so much pie! Coconut, custard, blueberry and Boston Cream...all were purchased eagerly for the cause! By the second week of vacation that year, the pie man having shown little interest in inviting her to the dance at the Casino, Cheryl set her sights even higher...she fell in love with the trash man (again the trash kid). As the big Town of Wells trash truck would rumble down Webhannet Drive, there would be Cheryl, coyly offering up our week's worth of garbage in hopes of pulling off the coveted invitation to the dance. In spite of all her efforts though, by Saturday night she still ended up ...full of pie and with no trash left behind...going to the dance on Andi's arm.
One of my favorite memories was of the day that Uncle Donald lost his teeth. Aunt Doris and Donald had a cottage at Wells Beach and we spent a lot of time with them and our cousins during our vacations. That day, we were all out body surfing when we heard Uncle Donald say over the roar of the waves, "I think I've lost my teeth". He was clearly embarrassed to admit that while jumping the waves, he had lost his upper plate in the surf. For us kids that was a clear call to action. We began yelling to other kids up and down the beach, "You need to help us...our Uncle has lost his teeth...we need to find them!". All down the beach, from kid to kid, went the chant about Uncle Donald's missing teeth. By the end of the afternoon, there must have been 50 kids with face masks floating at the edge of the waves looking for the missing choppers. Sadly, the upper plate was never found that day, but the story of Uncle Donald's teeth has taken on mythical proportions in our memories of Wells Beach.
Days at Wells Beach were never boring. We'd slather on the Coppertone, grab our transistor radios, and fill our time with swimming, sunbathing, and walks to the Sunny Surf for Italian sandwiches, Parent's Market for postcards and Pop's Shell Shack for souvenirs. We'd go to the arcade at the Casino and play Skeeball, saving our tickets to win valuable prizes like miniature china dogs held together by golden chains. We'd dig clams in the bay, ride on the Moody Beach firetruck on Beano night, or walk to the Wells Beach Post Office to see if any of our friends from home might have written to us c/o "General Delivery". And every year there were the traditional after-supper rides - around Kennebunk Beach and the over to the Clock Farm in Goose Rocks, up to the Indian Moccasin Shop to buy little beaded dolls and necklaces, down to York Beach to watch taffy being made through the window at Goldenrod's Kisses, and to Perkin's Cove in Ogunquit to walk the Marginal Way and have our pictures taken on the footbridge. One year Mom and Dad had our caricatures done in Perkins Cove by the artist (forgot his name) who always had his easel set up in the parking lot...they got them framed and now we each have them in our own homes.
As I've grown up, it's amazing how many people I have met who have shared my memories of childhood summers at Wells Beach. In 1975, when I first went to work at the Wells School Department, I actually met one of the secretaries, Linda Emmerton, whose family stayed in Life's Dream the weeks before we did! Imagine she and her family felt that they "owned" the same cottage that we knew we owned! In fact, my husband Aaron spent vacations with his family right down Webhannet Drive at Catherine & Ed's Home on the Beach. I wonder if we might have actually met on the beach as kids, not knowing that thirty years later we would be married. Sadly, Life's Dream has been torn down, replaced by a new more modern cottage--but never can it be replaced--there's always a vacancy in our Life's Dream memories! Until next time - Nancy (with much, much help from Cheryl who did a lot of the writing and editing!!!)

Happy Birthday, Rob!

Robert Underwood with Grammy Smith 1975

Rob in Maine 2008
36 years sure went by fast! Happy Birthday, "Bobby". Love, Mom

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I Think I Got the Wrong Cancer

from ELNSR's Ovarian Cancer blog, 9/05:

"Here it is September, Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month. Sadly, it is so quiet I can hear my heart beat. This is a very quiet year. Today when I was at a Hallmark Store there were several things for breast cancer. You can even do a Hallmark e-card for breast cancer. In Penney's there was an area with pink items and a big pink ribbon. Someone gave me issues of Redbook and Ladies Home Journal October magazines just out--filled with breast cancer and pink. I know it wasn't teal in September. Even the American Cancer Society has nothing on its homepage on ovarian and gynecologic cancers. There is, however, a box with a pink ribbon for breast cancer.
I think I got the wrong cancer. I got an unpopular women's cancer and no one wants to talk about gynecologic cancers. Uterine cancer has a death rate equal to breast cancer. Ovarian cancer has a death rate four times that of breast cancer.
I think I got the wrong cancer. If I had to have cancer, I wish I'd had breast cancer. There is so much awareness, so many magazine articles, so many companies getting on board the pink bandwagon. I'd have plenty of resources, plenty of support. I'd just have to say cancer and people would say "breast?" and be sympathetic.
I think I got the wrong cancer. This is one that only a very few companies jump on the bandwagon and help spread awareness. This is one on which it is an uphill battle to get awareness/education out. It isn't popular. Breast cancer is popular. Ovarian and gynecologic cancers aren't popular. Everyone cares about breast cancer. Gynecologic cancers? Not unless you have a relative or friend with them.
I think I got the wrong cancer. Since it seems that women only get breast cancer and no other "women's" cancers, I think my cancer got confused. It was supposed to be breast cancer but it got lost in my body and took the wrong road and wound up in the ovaries.
I think I got the wrong cancer. I got a very lonely cancer. I can go everywhere especially in mid-September through October and find pink ad nauseam. I don't see teal. Women don't know enough about my cancer but they know quite a bit about breast cancer.
When, oh when, will our voices be as loud as the breast cancer voices? When will we be recognized? When will awareness and education spread all over? When will women go to their doctors and see materials on gynecologic cancer as well as materials on breast cancer? When will teal be as recognizable as pink? When...?"
p.s. Let's all try to help raise awareness of ovarian cancer this September in honor of Nancy...Ovarian Cancer Month 2008 starts next week!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Have you seen John McCain?

OK, so once again Hank and I are at odds over who should be elected President this year. Last Saturday morning, look who appeared (thanks to Hank and his son, Rob) on our lawn next to my Obama sign! But sadly, Senator McCain disappeared sometime Saturday afternoon. I dissuaded Hank for calling the Falmouth Police to report the theft ("Hello, Officer, someone has stolen my life size cardboard cutout of John McCain and I want it back?") but he remains undeterred in is quest to find the missing Senator. We've started a list of probable suspects in the disappearance: we know it's not Nancy because she hasn't been able to leave the house, but who? an angry Hillary supporter? a local realtor who would like to sell McCain a house? a suburban housewife who is an underground member of move a car full of Democrats on the way to Denver? At any rate, Hank wants it back and soon, for sure, will have his good friend, Bernie (our favorite detective friend who never seems to detect anything) on the case. Hank is even considering offering a reward (a bushel of zucchini from his garden). So...have you seen John McCain? Hank wants him back so that our landscaping will once again be "balanced".

No chemo today

Nancy went to the oncologist today at 9:00 and was supposed to have chemo at 10:30. As you know from previous posts, Nancy has had a really rough time this past week - the side effects from last Tuesday's chemo have been significant and have just not let up. As a result, she's not been able to eat or sleep well and has mouth sores from the Gemzar. It's been difficult for her to remain positive when she's been feeling so crummy...for so long. As she reminded the doctor today, she hasn't felt well since July 16th, almost the whole summer. She's done well to hold it together as well as she has. I know that sometimes she is really trying to hold it together for all of us - all the people who love her - and that in itself hard.
Because she has been so sick, the doctor decided that it would not be wise to put Nancy through more chemo this morning. Instead, the focus of the next week will be for Nancy to get more rest and to improve her nutritional status so that she will be stronger and more able to "fight" next week. The doctor will check her again next Tuesday and decide at that time when to restart the chemo.
Nancy looked a little more comfortable this afternoon and was enjoying some sun on the deck. I think that she enjoyed having Aaron home today to be with her and was looking forward to a little break from chemo this week. Hopefully by the next time she drags her "chemo bag" over to Scarborough, she'll be feeling a lot stronger.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Interesting Article

Joanne just sent me this article from the Boston Globe; thought I would share it. (If you double click over the article, it will enlarge so you can read it.) The essence of the article is that "Cancer Blogs" are becoming a popular way for patients and families to "vent and update loved ones". It mentions that "studies on the healing effects of writing are abundant" and that people undergoing cancer treatment can look back over their blog entries and say, "Look what I've come through". According to the article, these blogs "allow cancer patients and caregivers to give frequent updates without fielding dozens of phone calls, but they also provide an emotional outlet." One leukemia patient was quoted as saying that, "It's been great for me because when you're sick, it's tough to reach out to your friends individually...with this, you write one message and people respond with all these really beautiful's really uplifting."
So...we'll keep writing these entries and hopefully, you'll keep reading them and posting positive comments for Nancy to read.

Bayberry Hill

Family members reading this won't want to miss Nancy's newest post entitled, "I Found My Thrill on Bayberry Hill" below. She just posted it today (Sunday, 8/24) but it ended up farther down the page with last Thursday's entries because that is when she began writing it. Just scroll down to read it.
I have also added some new photos on the right side of the blog; again, just keep scrolling down or go to "Older Posts" if you come to the bottom of the page and don't see them.

Back to the ER

This is Cheryl...writing for Nancy. It's Sunday and Andi, Erin (Kit's wife) and I are all here at Nancy's keeping her company. Nancy looks a little better today...still some fatigue and nausea and some mouth sores from the Gemzar but at least she is feeling well enough to visit (from the couch) and her sense of humor is coming back!
Yesterday Nancy took another unexpected trip to Maine Medical Center. The visiting nurse came in the morning to dress her incision and did not like what she saw. She felt that the depth of the wound was not decreasing in spite of three weeks of wound care and called Nancy's oncologist. The doctor on call told her to send Nancy to the ER so that he could see the wound. As it turned out, Andi was on her way over to see Nancy and she and Aaron took Nancy to the hospital at about noon. As always, the ER was busy and Nancy had to wait quite awhile. Since she was experiencing the side effects of chemo (headache, nausea and fatigue), sitting up in the waiting room was making her feel even worse. After about an hour of this, Andi advocated with the ER staff and they got Nancy a gurney. At least she could lie down but she had not taken her Zofran (for nausea) before she left for the hospital and waiting without her medication was not pleasant. Once she was taken to a room, the doctors all poked around in her incision, which was so painful that Nancy began to vomit...a real unpleasant situation. They finally got Nancy on an IV and started some Zofran and an antibiotic which helped a bit. An abdominal ultrasound and a CT scan were done and it seems that there is some fluid under the incision which will have to be dealt with. Because of all of this, Nancy is scheduled to see her oncologist Tuesday morning before she has her next round of chemo, which is scheduled for 10:30. It's a balancing act because the chemo depresses the immune system, slowing healing of the incision, but the doctor does not want to delay the chemo. So, we'll know more on Tuesday and I'll be sure to update this blog then. Nancy did not get home from MMC until after 8:00 p.m. last night so it was quite a day. At least Andi and Aaron were with her for support. p.s. Nancy just got us all laughing as she described the "knuckle draggers" she had to share a room with yesterday in the ER...she must be feeling a little better if she can tell her funny stories again!
This blog started out as a way to update family and friends on Nancy's progress, and to provide a chance to vent at times, but it is evolving into something even better...a chance to share family memories. Nancy's blog about "Ginger Ale" kind of started it. Then Joanne added a comment and Nancy is now working on an entry about her memories of visiting our cousins Brian and Stephen Smith in Ridgefield, CT when we were kids...she'll finish it and post it when she is feeling a little better. Andi also plans to write. She has fast become our family "historian" as her hobby is geneology...she has been using her computer and "Family Tree" software to research our roots both on Mom and Dad's sides of the family. Thanks to Parker Kimball, we have some good information on Dad's family history but Andi is also tracing the Boocock family (Mom's) in England. Andi is currently working to get information on Sister Bernarda, who we all have memories of visiting with Grammy Smith. She found an old photo of Sister Bernarda and got curious (we'll try to upload the photo); if any family members reading this have Sister's real name, please let us know as that will help Andi's research (you can post a comment to this post by clicking on the icon of the yellow pencil at the end of this entry). I've encouraged Andi to post what she learns on this blog for all to read.
Because Nancy needed to confirm some of her memories of Ridgefield, she called Brian Smith the other day. Brian is living in Wells, ME where Nancy teaches. Nancy enjoyed reminiscing with Brian and since she contacted him, Aunt Ann called her this morning, which she also really enjoyed. Maybe this blog will not only help keep everyone informed but also encourage all of us to stay in touch more often and share more of our family memories.
Mom's sister, Aunt Marion, e-mailed me the other day to say how much she is enjoying the blog updates. She has printed some of them to share with some of our Armstrong cousins in Connceticut. Uncle Ed Smith and Aunt Barbara called yesterday to see how Nancy is doing and also to ask, "So, what is a blog anyway?" I told them that it is really an online journal (blog is short for web log). Ed said that his cousin Roger Snelling called him and asked if he know what a blog was. Seems that my cousin, Sue Snelling who works with Andi at UNUM in Portland, must have received my e-mail about this blog and forwarded it to her parents. So now that everyone knows what a blog is, I hope you'll all read it often and add your own memories and comments. Speaking of Sue Snelling (our cousin and Aunt Dora's grandaughter)...Sue -I promise (???) not to write a post about my memories of chasing boys with you at Sebago Lake State Park when we were kids!
Nancy's headache is back and she just said that she is "sick of being sick"...I don't blame her. Think we need to end this now and let Nancy get some sleep. Hopefully she will be feeliing even better tomorrow.
All for now. Cheryl

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Nancy's hanging in there...

Just stopped in to see how Nancy is doing...the nausea and fatigue have hit her today. She started writing a blog entry this morning and then had to lie down...she hopes to finish it later. I didn't stay long; when I left she was napping on the couch. The medications are helping a bit but she still feels crummy. As much as this was expected, I hate to see her going through this and hope the side effects will end soon. Hang in there, Nancy!

I Found My Thrill on Bayberry Hill!

Well, now that the flood gates of memories have swung open they are leading down many favorite paths. Maybe this is a good way to take my mind off the nausea and fatigue of chemo and go back to other favorite places from the past. So here goes...
My Dad was the oldest of three boys, Frederick, Arthur and Eddie. My parents had the 4 girls (otherwise known as the Stunning Smith Sisters). Uncle Arthur and Aunt Ann had two sons, Brian and Stevie, and Uncle Eddie and Aunt Barbara had 2 girls and a boy, Maureen, Kathleen and Little Eddie (who by the way towers over his Dad, "Big Eddie"). While we moved around throughout the New England states, Uncle Arthur and family stayed in Ridgefield CT, and Uncle Eddie and all in West Hartford, CT., where they still live in the house I remember as a child.
For some reason, I always had a special affinity for Uncle Arthur and Aunt Ann's house, a blue ranch on the top of Bayberry Hill Rd. in Ridgefield, CT. I don't know why I spent so much time there with them visiting, probably because Brian and I were fairly close in age, about three years apart as I recall, and shared a total passion for the Beatles. Anyway in my mind's eye this is another house I can see so clearly. Aunt Ann and Uncle Arthur's bedroom was in the front, with the living room and dining room opposite the bedrooms. The kitchen was in the back of the house. Aunt Ann was a great cook, and I distinctly remember "helping" her make meatballs once for spaghetti and meatballs! They also had a great screened porch on the back! We liked to help Aunt Ann--don't ask me why but ironing at their house seemed ever so much more fun than it was at ours! Andi and I both remember Aunt Ann letting us iron designs of animals on squares of old sheet she'd cut up-then we'd color them and iron over our designs. Neither of us recall what we did with the squares, but we loved doing it and it probably kept us out of her hair for a while!
For fun we'd load up into Aunt Ann's blue VW beetle (who didn't have one!) and drive down to Great Pond for swimming. I remember there was a float you could swim out to--very cool. Brian reminded me that kids got colored wrist or ankle bands to show how proficient a swimmer you were. So much fun--after a day in the water and sun we'd all pile back in the VW all wet and sandy and head back to the top of Bayberry Hill. The fun continued right outside in the back yards. There was a slough of kids that lived up there, the Kiley's, the Inouye's --so there were always kids to play games with or just swing on Brian and Stevie's swing set. Life was good on Bayberry Hill--at least in our minds!
In my mind Uncle Arthur worked a lot, and so often wasn't there until evenings. But Uncle Arthur did at least one year a have a vegetable garden of which he was VERY proud. He planted, weeded and tended, waiting for his first crops! Finally there came the day of the great cookout at Aunt Ann and Uncle Arthur's, and all the family was invited to taste the fruits of his labors. I recall distinctly we had barbequed chicken (and for those who doubt we do have Grampa's old movies to back up this story). To say the chicken was crisp is an understatement--it looked like the charcoal brickettes themselves. All the kids were seated at the picnic table--being served by our parents--Grampa filmed it all--as each child had a piece of this "well done" chicken placed in front of them, you could see the eyes bugging out of each of our heads! Remember in those days you ate what was on your plate and this, the video documents, was going to be a feat! Thankfully, there was a small reprieve in the form of Aunt Dora--Grammy Smith's fun loving, wild, sister who was also there for the meal. Everyone loved Dora from the oldest to the youngest--you just couldn't help it! Well, it seems that Uncle Arthur had lovingly harvested and cooked the first of his peas-hand selected to share among all the guests. They were placed in a small bowl, and apparently you were each supposed to taste just a few-so the bowl could make it all the way around the table. Apparently Aunt Dora missed that message--when the bowl was passed to her she promptly dumped all the peas on her plate and enjoyed every last one! Another one of these funny adventures that makes up the crazy quilt of a family's memories! And there are still more to come....Love, Nancy

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nancy's chemo begins

Today was day 1 of Nancy's chemo for her recurrence of ovarian cancer. What the surgery in July did not kill, the chemo should...with the goal of getting Nancy back into complete remission. I picked her up at 10:30 and the chemo was started at 11:00. Some of the same nurses were there and greeted Nancy with smiles of recognition and remarks like, "Hey, Good to see you...well not really good to see you here again." The chemo is given at the IV therapy center of MMC in Scarborough. If you have to undergo chemo, it's a pretty nice place to get it, I guess. There are friendly nurses and doctors (they have to be angels, really), flowers, snacks, magazines, TVs with earphones, comfy chairs for patients and visitors alike, pillows and blankets, and even a Healing Garden outside. But, underneath it all is the quiet understanding of why everyone is here. As you look around, both fear and hope are palpable on the quiet faces of those in the big blue chairs and the family members sitting with them. Nancy brought her big teal LL Bean "chemo bag" which is signed with messages of hope and love from everyone who attended her "hat party" back in 2005 when she was about to start her first round of chemo. Inside she had packed some chemo necessities...her yellow scrunchy pillow, a book, Tab, Dove chocolates, white chocolate/raspberry cookies (from Rob, Tomo, Taka and Toshi), strawberry licorice bites, gummy bears, and Ritz Bits! After the pre-chemo infusions of a relaxant drug and an anti-nausea drug, the attack on those nasty remaining cancer cells finally began with separate infusions of both Carboplatin and Gemzar. The whole session lasted about three hours and we were done by 2:00 p.m. Nancy felt fine after the chemo - well enough to go to Hannaford and the Christmas Tree Shop with me on the way home. Usually "chemo day" is a good day and any side effects, especially the fatigue, appear on the days following. Since this is Nancy's first experience with Gemzar, the side effects this time will be "wait and see". Hopefully they will be mild. Then, next Tuesday, August 26th ("day 8"), Nancy will go back for an infusion of Gemzar alone. This will be the protocol for each of her six three-week chemo sessions.
Note: I just called Nancy to see how she is doing this far, no side effects thanks to Ativan and Zofran which are prescribed to minimize side effects. I'll try to keep everyone informed about how she is doing via this blog. Nancy will now be adding entries to the blog as well as she feels up to it. So check back frequently for "Nancy updates".

Memories in a Glass of Ginger Ale

So, the other day I was going to the refrigerator for something to drink. Now, anyone who knows me knows there really is only ONE beverage for me--TAB! (And to those of you wondering, yes they still make it-and no I don't buy it on e-bay-they still have it in all the major grocery stores here in Maine--right next to the Moxie!) But-having been so nauseous lately I decided I might try to go a little easy on the Tab for a while. So what to choose? Why ginger ale of course.
As I poured my glass I was flooded with a bottle of soda could bring such a rush of memories, I don't know but it did. First I was back at Grammy and Grampa Smith's apartment on 17 Denison Street in Hartford, CT. I'm sure my sisters and all my cousins on my Dad's side of the family have the same memories. We'd arrive at the brick apartment building-park and race inside the front door into the foyer to fight to be first to push the buzzer for Grammy and Grampa's apartment. They would have to buzz us in and we'd race up the four or five steps to the second door, again fighting to be the first to get to the door. Somehow no matter what time of year or day of the week, someone in that building was always cooking a pot roast that could be smelled throughout the building--and I know Grammy Smith cooked her share of them for us! In my mind's eye I can still go room to room in that small apartment. From the bedroom, to the claw foot tub in the bathroom, to the small kitchen with the hanging towel rack--I see and feel and smell it all. Grampa always in a starched white shirt always offered us a ginger--soda was not something we drink routinely at home--this was special! A short straight-sided highball glass with one ice cube. (We probably only got one ice cube because everyone must remember fighting to get an ice cube from those damned aluminum ice trays!) Then we'd play with plastic pop-it beads and visit with Grammy and Grampa who always made us feel like we were their FAVORITE grand children (I'm sure my cousins all felt the same when they visited too!) until we all crowded around the small table for dinner--life was simple and sweet.
Then I remembered ginger ale when I was sick. For some reason whatever the illness in our family, the tried and true cure all was ginger ale and a saltine cracker or dry toast-if you kept the ginger ale down. I don't know what the magic medicinal properties of this potion were, but when Mom gave it to us it always seemed to work!
Very special occasions also called for ginger ale, too! When it was a rare family outing to a fancy restaurant, Mom would dress us all up in our best party dresses and off we'd go--does anyone but me remember how much those starched petticoats under our fancy party clothes made by Mom scratched our legs? Then when we were all in place we might be allowed to order a Shirley Temple! Now anyone under "a certain age" may not even know who Shirley Temple was--but she was an icon--a child star-and model for a doll we all craved and for some reason had this fancy cocktail named after her. And what was in this "fancy" drink? Ginger ale with maraschino cherry juice mixed in (to make it look pink) and of course a cherry on a fancy toothpick in some kind of fancy glass! When we were served these we knew it was a special occasion!
Most recently, having been in the hospital with an infection in this stupid incision--I was not allowed anything by mouth for about 4 days. IV fluids can only taste so good! Finally, I was allowed ice chips-still not exactly anything to get too excited about. Then on the fifth day--I graduated--- to you guessed it--ginger ale and ice chips! Nothing ever tasted so good!! So now I'm on the mend again--psyching myself up for my first chemo treatment this morning-followed by (hopefully) only minor nausea and other nasty side effects--but I know I'll be fine--because I've got plenty of bottles of ginger ale memories in the fridge! Cheers, Nancy

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dr. Hope

When Nancy was in the hospital a week or so ago, it was hard to know what to bring her to cheer her up…her chart said “NPO” (nothing by mouth) and the scent of the lilies I brought her made her nauseous (leave it to me!). So off we went to “Build-a-Bear” in the Mall to try another idea. My four-year old grandson, Takanori, agreed to help. And although bears are cute, Nancy loves cats so that gave us an idea. I asked Taka if he would build a special stuffed cat for Aunt Nancy and, after it was stuffed and fluffed, we dressed it in a doctor’s outfit and named it “Dr. Hope” (Sorry, Dr. Small!). Taka’s mom, Tomomi, and our newest grandson, Toshinori, helped too. So here is “Dr. Hope” being stuffed, fluffed, combed and puffed, especially for Aunt Nancy. She loved it…and so did her oncologist, Dr. Small, who, after seeing Nancy’s at the hospital, took her own daughter to Build-a-Bear that very weekend to make one herself. Thanks, Taka!

Road Trip

I found myself staring at my suitcase, camera and sneakers this afternoon desperately wanting to pack them. Tomorrow, Nancy and I were supposed to leave on our 5th annual "Sisters' Road Trip". Sadly, that nasty cancer thing has cancelled that for us this year. Maybe I'll just haul the camper over to Nancy's in the morning and we can sit in it and drink Tab in her driveway!

We started our road trips as accidental tourists in 2004. On a whim, we decided that August to take what we called our "Memory Lane Trip". When we were kids, our Dad had a job which required him to be transferred frequently and we moved often. So...Nancy and I decided that we would visit each of the houses and towns we had lived in while we were growing up and try to recapture the memories. We started out in Newington, Connecticut where we lived from 1951 until 1956. A few years after Dad returned from WWII, he and "Grampa Smith" started building a cape cod house by contractors for them. Nancy was born while we lived in this house. We shared memories of the walking dolls we all got for Christmas in that house and of sitting under the little tree Mom & Dad had planted in the yard (needless to say, it's huge now) looking for four-leaf clovers, collecting Japanese beetles in jars of soap suds, and making flowers out of pastel-colored Kleenex tissues. In fact, it was at that house that I clearly remember going through my Elvis phase...I didn't look much better in a cinch belt then than I would now!

After Newington, we drove on to Westport, Connecticut to visit the home we lived in from 1956 to 1961. That house held tons of happy memories for us. It was then that we were all in our pre-Olympic figure skating phase; we skated hour after hour in the pond out back in matching tights, skating skirts and stocking caps. As Paris Hilton might say, we were pretty sure that we looked "hot”! Nancy, being the youngest at the time, was always skating her hardest to keep up with Andi and I; we have old movies of her puffing and panting as she stumbled on the ice behind us, yelling and scowling at us to "wait up". Meanwhile, I was on to my Frankie Avalon and Fabian phases.

Our next move was to Vestal, New York, outside of Binghamton, which at that time seemed to us like moving to the ends of the earth. So Nancy and I drove up there stopping at Howe Caverns on the way to relive our spelunking stage. During that time, I remember that Nancy was in elementary school in Vestal and hated her teacher...the nastier the teacher was, the nastier Nancy was right back. Could this havebeen what inspired Nancy to become an elementary school teacher herself? Her chance to get even? And me...I was in my Bob Dylan stage by then.

After Vestal, we drove back to New England and stopped in Guilford, Connecticut...our next family move. We loved our big yellow house there and it was fun to see it again. Guilford brought back memories of neighborhood block parties, Checkerberry milkshakes, and, for me, high school graduation.

And what Memory Lane Trip would not be complete without a final stop at Kennebunk Beach where we lived when Nancy and Andi were in high school. Dad renovated and winterized a big old summer cottage there, steps from the beach, and we loved it. At Kennebunk High School, Andi was named salutatorian and Nancy - God love her - was named... Class Clown. She was also head cheerleader at KHS and, believe me, she kept her squad in line!Our 2004 Memory Lane Trip was so much fun that we decided to make an August road trip an annual event.

In 2005, we took Andi with us and spent three days exploring the Mohawk trail through Massachusetts and New York. Our 2006 trip took us to the Finger Lakes region of New York State where we traveled through beautiful old towns, visited wineries, followed the trail of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, and visited the Women’s' History Museum to pay respect to the suffragettes. At Elmira College, we visited the Mark Twain exhibit and the summer home in which he wrote. It was another great trip.In 2007, Hank and I bought our new little orange teardrop trailer, the
t@b, so Nancy and I decided that we would do a camping vacation. We headed up to Searsport to what is now my favorite campground, Searsport Shores. It was my first time taking the trailer without a "man" to hook it up but Nancy and I amazed ourselves with our emerging mechanical abilities. (Hank: the tire is fine…really!)

This year, we had hoped to go to Bar Harbor and Searsport again on our road trip and had booked a campsite from tomorrow through next Tuesday. Thoughts of quiet afternoons reading by the ocean in Searsport and sitting at Jordon Pond eating popovers until we burst filled our heads. So maybe tomorrow, in addition to our Tab, we’ll bring our books and a batch of hot popovers out to the camper in Nancy’s driveway, yell “So there, Cancer!”, and imagine that we’re on the road again for road trip 2008. Just think of all the gas we’ll save!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

All By Myself

from Karen Westerberg:

Nancy, in light of your not returning to school next month, I've taken the liberty of changing some of the words to this song to reflect my thoughts on this. My changes are in blue, cause that's how I'm feeling.....not to mention how you must be feeling. Anyway, here goes............

All By Myself
When I was young
I never needed anyone
Driving alone was just for fun
Those days are gone
Driving alone
How will I talk about my day?
Can't complain and whine, cause hey
That's the new way :(

All by myself
Don't wanna drive All by myself Anymore
Hard to be sure
Sometimes I feel so insecure
Carpooling with you soon again
I'm sure will be the cure

All by myself
Don't wanna drive All by myself
Won't be able to knit
will have to just sit
and drive All by myself
Glad the cost of gas is down
But still I wear a frown
Cause I have to drive
All by myself
Don't wanna drive All by myself

When I was young
I never needed anyone
Driving alone was cheap and fun
Those days are gone
All by myself
Don't wanna drive All by myself, by myself
What am I ever going to do?
Gonna be so sad and blue

Cancer Sucks!

In June, Nancy learned that her cancer was back...not a great way for a teacher to start her summer vacation...but Nancy was anxious to get on with it. Surgery to remove two small tumors in her omentum was performed at Maine Medical Center on July 16th. Things seemed to be improving when she was released from the hospital on Saturday, 7/19. She came home with a huge incision and lots of pain meds. but in positive spirits. For the first week, she slept downstairs and we visited over a big tub of cheese balls, laughing a little (it hurt Nancy when she laughed...if you know her, you know that not laughing is difficult for her!) while Nancy rested and recovered. Then, as Gilda Radner so accurately put it, "It's always something...".

By Monday, 7/28, Nancy was starting to feel more pain, be more "down" , and was having some unexpected nausea. On Tuesday, I took her to Scarborough to have her surgical staples removed...the incision was oozing but the PA still thought it would heal on its own. But each day that week when I visited, Nancy was worse. I was getting really worried as were her husband, Aaron, and her son, Kit, and daughter-in-law, Erin. On Wednesday, I called her doctor and she was started on an antibiotic but by Thursday she was unable to eat, in severe pain, and had constant nausea. Something was definitely wrong. Aaron and I called the oncologist again and, at her suggestion, brought Nancy back to MMC by ambulance. She was admitted to the Gibson unit with a massive infection from her surgery. Nancy spent five more days in the hospital while the doctors worked to stop the infection and finally came home again on Monday, 8/4. A visiting nurse comes in every day to repack her incision and change her dressings and she is finally starting to feel a little better.

Yesterday, we went back to the oncologist to go over Nancy's follow-up treatment plan. Since there are always some cancer cells that cannot be removed surgically, chemo will start on Tuesday (8/19). She will be having Carboplatin/Gemzar. The Gemzar is given twice in a 21-day treatment cycle (on Day 1 and Day 8). This means that on the first day of treatment, Nancy will receive Gemzar in combination with carboplatin, the platinum agent. During the next week of treatment, she will receive Gemzar alone.Each treatment cycle usually includes a week when she will receive no medication at all — a rest week. The side effects of the Gemzar are pretty similar to what she had before - flu-like symptoms and fatigue with possible hair loss or thinning. She will be receiving six three-week sessions of this. The goal is still to get Nancy back into complete remission.

One thing that has really saddened Nancy about all this is that the doctor has placed her on short term disability during the chemo regimen...she will not be able to got back to school in September...probably not until at least the second semester. I feel terrible for Nancy about this as her students and friends at Wells Elementary School are such an important part of her life. Nancy started teaching 4th grade in Wells when she was right out of college, barely 22 years old, and has been there since. She counts many of her WES colleagues among her closest friends so is already missing them and thinking about not being there on the magical "first day of school". Her friends from Wells have been a great support for her through this though, as evidenced by the piles of cards she has received this summer. They have been great!'s on to the next chapter and hopefully a speedy remission...

Nancy's her own words

My story begins like that of so many other women I have met with ovarian cancer. My symptoms probably began in about 2002. At that time, I started having problems with my period, fatigue, bloating etc., but was told that it was typical for someone my age (50) and signaled the start of menopause. I continued having regular checkups with my PCP, and was told that all this was “normal”. Throughout the fall of 2004, these symptoms continued to get worse and worse. I would sometimes go months without a period, and then it would return heavily for up to a month.
By December of 2004, the fatigue was so intense I actually remember arriving at work one morning (I have taught elementary school for 32 years) and sitting in my car crying because I just didn’t think I could make the walk up to the second floor to my classroom. Again I went to my doctor and she thought I must be having anxiety or stress and suggested an anti-depressant and to rest up over Christmas vacation. Finally, I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired, my husband took me to the emergency room.
There, after many tests, they found that my blood levels were so low from the loss of blood that I was so anemic that it had actually affected the amount of blood available for my heart to pump. I received blood transfusions, and was sent home with iron and told again to rest. Every type of test was scheduled to determine what had caused this low blood level. Colonoscopy, endoscope, you name it, I had it (with the notable exception of a CA125, transvaginal ultrasound or CAT scan.)
At every appointment with every type of specialist, I went through the symptoms I’d been experiencing, and repeatedly suggested a hysterectomy, since I clearly had no intention of having more children. Every test showed nothing out of the ordinary. My PCP sent me to yet one more gynecologist. After really listening to my story, he asked me if I’d ever considered having a hysterectomy, since I’d had so many ongoing problems. I was so glad-I wanted to kiss him!
I was thrilled to finally have an end to the vague problems I'd been going through. Pelvic exam and a transvaginal ultrasound prior to surgery showed all would be routine. I entered the hospital at 7:30 am on May 23 and woke up in a dark room at about 8:00 pm. The doctor came in and told me I had stage IIIA ovarian cancer. I was stunned-I'd never heard of ovarian cancer, except I vaguely remembered Gilda Radner had died from it. I looked at the doctor and just said "Cancer, cancer"? He nodded. I replied, "Like lose your hair and die cancer"? He nodded again.
That night was my initiation into the club no woman ever wants to belong to. I began a journey down a path that still continues. After my surgery I went home to face my new life in “cancerworld”. But there were more surprises in store for me.
During my last few days in the hospital, I’d had my first experience with terrific heartburn. The nurses assured me it was probably as a result of the pain medications I was receiving. They tried Nexium; it gave me a rash and itching. So I went home Friday, and promptly had my husband running to the store for Tums or anything that would help. Nothing did. Saturday, I sent him back with specific instructions to ask the pharmacist what was the strongest over the counter medicine for heartburn. She remembered my “heart incident” from the anemia and called me at home to make sure my heartburn couldn’t be a heart attack. I thanked her, explained everything that had happened in the previous week, and assured her it was just heartburn. She sent Aaron home with more over the counter remedies.
By Monday (Memorial Day) the pain was so severe, I knew it wasn’t heartburn. My son and husband rushed me to the emergency room once again. It was a heart attack! Tuesday I had an angiogram and Wednesday had cardiac catheterization to install 3 stents in my heart due to blocked arteries. Five days later, home again to heal and prepare for chemo!
I initially completed 6 rounds of chemo with a carboplatin/taxol cocktail every three weeks. I then opted to do 12 monthly maintenance chemo doses of taxol only. I have lost all my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, dealt with nausea and incredible fatigue, but consider myself one or the luckier women I've met. I have been able to continue to teach and have found wonderful support and love from my family, friends, coworkers and "my kids." I have learned to appreciate the grace and joy of the simple things in life, and really to believe the adage" don't sweat the small stuff" and finally realized it really is mostly all small stuff.
The awareness movement that has brought so much information and knowledge to the world about breast cancer now needs to be brought to bear to share with the world about OVCA. The symptoms are vague and common (bloating, fatigue etc.) which is why it often diagnosed too late to be cured. As one doctor told me "if all women knew the symptoms my waiting room would be filled with middle aged women". The motto of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition on our teal jelly bracelets is "it whispers, so listen". Women need to listen and speak up about our bodies! Then let's hope waiting rooms would be filled and lives would be saved earlier. Our lives, the lives of my "sisters" fighting this disease daily and the lives of our undiagnosed sisters and daughters depend on this.

~Nancy Tufts 9-18-07


Tonight I've decided to learn to blog! Seems I've been learning about a lot of new things lately...some I wanted to learn about - like how to create a blog - and some that I haven' cancer. I'm starting this blog in large part for my sister, Nancy, who is going through a recurrence of ovarian cancer. So many friends want to know how Nancy is doing that this seems like a good way to keep everyone informed while giving myself an opportunity to write and think about all that we've experienced as a family this summer. So, bear with me as I learn this new technology....hopefully this will work!