Our journey of discovery through the medical system.

Esophageal Cancer – A malignant tumor of the esophagus usually caused by long-term irritation. Irritants include but are not limited to: smoking, Barrett’s esophagitis, alcohol, drinking extremely hot liquids, very spicy foods, heartburn/acid reflux (GERD).

That is the ‘official’ definition. To the official causes I would add heavily carbonated soft drinks, especially the ones with high acid content. Ted was convinced that his fondness for Coke and salt & vinegar chips was a large contributing factor in the development of his esophageal cancer.  I can’t even drink Coke because it burns my throat, and I love them but salt & vinegar chips burn after a while too. Of course, anything you overdo will have negative effects, and Ted was a very heavy Coke drinker.

The reason the cancer is so hard to cure is because it is aggressive. It grows quickly and spreads quickly. Little pieces of it are shed off the main tumor and travel through the lymph nodes and blood stream to every part of the body. They are particularly spread through the lymphatic system, where they wreak havoc with the flow of fluids throughout the body; the digestive system, after all, it’s ‘just down the line’; the lungs, because they are right next door; the liver and kidneys, the heart, a neighbor; and even the brain, not sure why, but that is one of the first places the doctors scanned.

Adding to the agressiveness of this form of cancer is the construction of the esophagus itself. It is a tube inside a tube. It works kind of like your hand milking a cow, so as the cells are released from the tumor the pumping action of the esophagus assists in the spread of the cancer – especially up and down the esophagus. The cancer generally starts as a small tumor on one side and grows around in a donut shape to circle the esophagus, shedding cells as it grows. Once it is connected it begins to fill the ‘hole’ and shuts off the esophagus causing a back-up of food and a lot of pain. This is usually your first sign that you actually have esophageal cancer.

The first sign of Ted’s cancer occurred on February 3, 2007. I will never forget the date because it was at our Wedding Anniversary Dinner.

Everyone needs a reason to get up five times a night to put together warm bottles of milk; to go through the day for weeks at a time in the extremities of sleep deprivation; to have something warm and cuddly to hold and cherish in the quiet of an empty house.

Monster Kitty fills all those needs and more. He is entertainment, distraction, activity, and even – on rare occasions – cuddly. He fills the house with a presence far larger than himself, picks fights with the other cat and the dog, and even attacks me, like Cato in the Pink Panther series. 

Monster Kitty – The Definition

What is it that:

  • starts out tiny enough to fit into the palm of your hand, and gains a pound a month for the first year
  • can climb a jean-clad leg in the wink of an eye (which was really cute when it weighted 3 ounces, but at around 6 lbs becomes a little less funny)
  • eats at least it’s first five ‘real’ meals with its entire body (thereafter requiring a full bath which results in multiple scratches for the owner);
  • attacks your feet every time you walk through the door, almost invariably causing you to spill something;
  • prefers sleeping in the bathroom sink or on your chest to its expensive and specially designed cozy bed, and
  • has maniacal bouts of hyperactivity at 2:00 am and again at 4:00 am, during which it runs up and down your body in bed, leaps on your deaf dog causing her to bark, and attacks the older cat provoking hissing and howling fits?
  • It can only be Monster Kitty.

    On the positive side, he provides literally hours of entertainment each and every day. Which brings me to the purpose of this page. This is a fun page, strictly for entertainment, and will mostly consist of timeline videos of ….. you guessed it:  MONSTER KITTY!

Why Horses??

February 21, 2011

Photo of Full Bratzina

Full Bratzina

Why Horses??My mother often tells how disappointed she was when my first word was not ‘Mommy’ or ‘Daddy’. Oh no, it came from left field like a slap in the face, ‘Horsey!’

Later, as if to confirm my life’s direction, my first sentence was, ‘Horsey! I want one!’ I remember none of this, but apparently even my baby brain was set on horses.

For long years my horses were Christmas and birthday gifts of the plastic or stuffed variety. I learned to draw horses, I made up stories about horses, and when I learned to read I went through every horse book in the library.

So, horses were in my life, but not of it until I was well into my twenties, and it wasn’t until I had gone through a marriage, a divorce, and was established in a second marriage that I acquired my first horse. This does not mean that horses weren’t part of my life, only that I wasn’t part of theirs. And, although I had a short flirtation with horses in fourth grade when the family moved to Missouri, I never had one of my own until I moved to Canada with Ted.

Ted was not a lover of horses, but he supported me in whatever I wanted to do. So….it wasn’t long after moving to Canada with him that I discovered the National Capital Equestrian Park (NCEP) and started taking English riding lessons.

Over the course of the next 35 years horses were to play a huge part in my life and his. Mine because I would acquire first a few geldings, then a few mares, eventually they would be bred, and the next thing I knew I would have more horses than space on the property. And I never once considered the possibility of stopping – or even slowing down.

I discovered through this time that horses listen and do not judge, that the most spooky horse will let you sob all over it and offer comfort and a warm shoulder, and that the birth of a foal can have far-reaching consequences.

Some of my best memories are of meeting friends at horse shows and hearing stories of happenings with their foals or horses in training or just farm life in general. If you have stories please feel free to post them in the ‘Comments’ sections. At the end of each week the most interesting story from all the pages here will be posted as the story of the day.

This is a story about finding myself, acquiring stability, taking on responsibility, birth of foals, and the trauma of having to sell one of your ‘babies’ to feed the rest. Enter at your own risk.

Everyone Needs a Hobby

I could start this story with the moment we first heard the word ‘cancer’, but that isn’t really the beginning. If there is to be value attached to what was lost, then there must be knowledge of it. I guess this is a romantic tragedy. Therefore, the beginning will begin much earlier than that. It will be the true beginning….no, not back as far as my birth – or his. Perhaps the best place to start is when we first met and our lives began to intertwine.

It was long ago and far away (about 40 years) in the subtropical paradise of the Florida Keys. A lazy sunny place of gentle ocean waves and salt-scented breezes; of warm salty beach water and the smell of rotting seaweed; of knee-high Key Deer and almost invisible no-see-ums that I’m sure resemble a set of poisonous flying fangs if seen under a microscope.

I lived in the midst of all this with my first husband, the short park ranger with the Napoleon complex who liked to drink a lot, smoke a lot – not necessarily cigarettes – and strut in a way that a larger man finds unnecessary.

I already knew my marriage to him was a BIG MISTAKE, but was still young and stupid and had no idea of how to get out. Since my Dad told me when I eloped with Park Ranger Man that, “You’ve made your bed, now you have to sleep in it,” I didn’t think going back home was an option.

At that time we lived hand to mouth, I had three jobs, and on just his park ranger salary we qualified for food stamps. I had learned in the first year of our marriage that if I wanted any money to spend on personal items we would have to have rules about spending. The only rule that worked was to split all the bills down the middle, what was left in his hand was his, what was left in my hand was mine. He mostly drank his salary up and ended up borrowing money from me at the end of the month for his share of the rent.

At 7:00 am I went to work at a convenience store in Marathon, at noon I went to another convenience store between hotels on the beach, changed into an orange bikini, and worked as a cabana girl for the afternoon. That was a fun job and I’ve had my photo taken with more couples in matching flowered shirts and shorts than I can count. At 4:30 I changed again and spent the evenings on Duck Key working as a waitress in the Ship’s Inn until 1:00 am.

It sounds terrible so far, but it wasn’t really. We had a 23′ sloop with a roll-up keel and births for 6 that we sailed around the islands on our days off. Sometimes we would join up with other sailing friends – each couple had their own boat – and would tour around the islands for the entire weekend. The Keys were very laid back in those days and I usually managed to work my shifts so that my days off fell on the same days.

One night I came home and there was my husband sitting in the living room with a tall, skinny, dark-haired man, an exceptionally tall (well over 6′) woman, and a shorter pretty woman. I was introduced to Ted and his two traveling companions. The shorter girl was Sharon, his girlfriend, and the taller girl, Candy, was a friend who was traveling with them.

To tell the honest truth, I was not impressed. It was almost 2:00 in the morning, I was exhausted, Ted was too skinny, Candy was too tall, Sharon was too pretty and I was too tired so I said hello on my way through the house to the bedroom and collapsed to the bed, but couldn’t sleep because they sounded like they were having such a good time.

The following day was a day off so I climbed back out of bed, dressed, and joined the party in the living room.

Now, as a ‘hand to mouth’ household, we didn’t have a lot of stuff in the cupboards so Ted offered to order in something. Order in?? This is the Keys. The nearest open restaurant was in Key West – 79 miles away. So…..we all piled into his car and off we went to the donut shop in Key West! Through the course of that drive we learned a lot about each other and became friends. Macho Park Ranger Man was impressed by the fact that one man was traveling with two women, and was overwhelmed with Candy’s stature. I was mildly amused by the whole thing, and Sharon was stand-offish.

Back then gas was $.39 per gallon so a drive of 79 miles cost almost nothing, but within the next few weeks the gas shortage would hit with drastic consequences for driving in the Keys. For one thing, gas stations would only sell a customer three gallons of gas at a time. This meant that a person driving a Monte Carlo and pulling an 18′ travel trailer couldn’t get enough gas to get to the next gas station, much less back to the mainland. Our new friends were stuck in the Keys!

Over the next three months the five of us spent a lot of time together, sometimes sailing, sometimes bar-hopping, sometimes partying at home, and sometimes at dinners out. As we got to know each other I could see that Ted and Sharon were barely hanging on to a relationship and I guess Ted could see the same about Donny and me.

At that time the knowledge of their relationship problems was merely a point of interest. I was dealing with work, a failing marriage, money shortages, lack of sleep, and a myriad of other less urgent problems and felt no draw toward Ted. He was tall and kind of cute, but too skinny, and seemed like a wimpy kind of person.

All good things come to an end eventually, as did the gas shortage, and soon enough it was time to wave goodbye to the Canadians and for life in the Keys to get back to normal.

If you have a comment or a story about your first meeting with the love of your life, please post it in the comments section. I would love to hear from you. Each week the top story will be posted on the Comments of the Week page.

For those who haven’t met their True Love yet, hand in there. The best things come to those who wait. Until next week……Vickie

What Is Esophageal Cancer?

February 21, 2011

 Please note before reading this blog that I am not a doctor.

I feel that I can write about this because I watched my husband go through it, all the tests, the treatments, the pain, the weakness and, finally, the death. I hope reading of my experience will help others understand that they are not alone. If just one person reads this and changes their eating habits or reads about the symptoms and, understanding the very small window of opportunity, seeks medical help early, it will have been worth reliving all the memories.

The best site I have found for information about esophageal cancer is Esophageal cancer – MayoClinic.com.

Some Facts

Sometimes the symptoms of cancer are fleeting, or sneak up on a person so they don’t know anything serious is wrong until it’s too late.

Esophageal cancer is one of the sneakiest: no pain, no noticeable swelling, fast growing and quick to metastasize. Usually by the time you know you have it, it has already spread to the liver, lungs, brain, and even the heart. Life expectancy after detection is from 6 to 18 months.

It is so new and rare that there wasn’t even a brochure about it at the Cancer Clinic so we had to ask all the questions about chances of survival, treatments, life expectancy and the myriad of other questions you ask in shock and immediately forget the answers.

Those of you who are going through it or have friends or family with cancer of the esophagus may know these facts already, but for those who don’t, here it is:

  • it is non-gender specific – both men and women are susceptible.
  • it is non-race and/or age specific;
  • there is no known specific cause, although acid reflux, soft drinks, and spicy foods have been linked;
  • it does not cause pain – in fact, you may notice a few months before detection that your acid reflux doesn’t bother you any more – I’ll get into the reason later;
  • chances of detection early enough for a chance of cure with a full course of chemo, radiation, and esophajectomy surgery with gastric pull-up are about 3%;
  • of those 3% of cases that are detected early and get the full treatment approximately 1% have a full cure;
  • this makes your chances of surviving esophageal cancer somewhere around .03% or 3 in 10,000 detected cases;
  • average lifespan of those who are diagnosed too late is somewhere around 6 months.

I’m not giving you this information to frighten you, just the word ‘cancer’ is enough to do that. I’m telling you these things to let you know how incredibly lucky you are if your cancer is detected early, if you are in a position to have the treatments, and if you are one of the rare and fortunate victims who is actually cured.

I will be updating this Esophageal Cancer secton each Monday with information about our trip through the medical system, causes of esophageal cancer, helpful dietary tips, and web links that offer official and updated information about this cancer that is the fastest growing cancer in North America. So tune in on Monday. If you have comments, or a story about your trip through the medical system, please leave it in the comments section. 

Why I Am Writing This Blog

February 19, 2011

I take it upon myself to write this blog in memory of a most wonderful person, and with the hope that it will help others make it through their loss.

Ted was everything to me and wore many faces through our relationship. He was friend, lover, defender, provider, safety net, carpenter, mechanic, electrician, house cleaner, window washer, yard man, computer geek, entertainer, nurse, comforter, warm arms, snow shoveler, source of knowledge on a seemingly endless range of topics, foot warmer, weatherman, maintenance man, bill payer, keeper of special dates, dinner date, interesting conversationalist, challenging chess and backgammon partner, sensitive to my changing female moods, and the keeper of my heart.

He filled our house with his presence and it was transformed from an ordinary building into a warm and inviting home, a sanctuary from the craziness of the rest of the world. His very presence brought a smile to my face and his loss has left a monstrous and bottomless hole that sometimes seems to suck the life from me. I fight constantly to keep from falling endlessly into it.

Originally this was supposed to be a blog about my horse in training. I didn’t think I was ready for this, or strong enough. But, somewhere along the way, the best laid plans are waylaid by unforeseen turns in the road, and when I sat down and started writing this is what came out.

Of course, very few of those reading this blog have ever met me or my husband. It doesn’t matter. I think loss is much the same across the board and many of you who have been through the loss of someone close to you – friend, partner, family member, spouse or child – will understand why I am doing this. Hopefully you will join me and relate your stories in the comments section.

My husband was a wonderful person with so much more he wanted to do with his life. Instead he was dragged through his last two years willy-nilly with little choice of direction. Forgive me if, at times, I sound bitter or angry. I cry often and since I live alone now I don’t try to keep the sobs silent. I let them rattle the windows and echo off the walls of the house that no longer feels warm, but is empty and cold without his presence.

It may take me some time to get through the story because this is not just a rendition of what happened after we heard about the cancer, it is also the story of two lives that intertwined through over 35 years. It is a story of love that grew through time, laughter, tears, pride, anger, sadness, disappointment, triumph and joy. It is a story of great loss followed by dark clouds of depression, anger and confusion interspersed with occasional bits of color that open the door for hope.

I promise you now that the story will be told in its entirety, and that I will be adding to this blog at least twice per week. It is important to me that I do this. I believe it will be a comfort to tell the story, and I hope that readers will understand the hospital procedures and effects of cancer treatments better when hearing it from the family’s perspective, rather than the doctor’s.

If you’re reading this blog because you’ve lost someone close to you and you feel alone, trust me, you are far from being alone. I hope that in some small way reading this will make you realize that life goes on – sometimes in spite of our wishes – and that there are still many reasons to carry on. Please feel free to comment, either on what you see here or on your personal experiences with loss. Also, I would like each and every one of you who have been through a similar experience to know that I am deeply and sincerely sorry for your loss.

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