Sunday, October 28, 2007

a brief history of Martha

                                Martha and her clippings 

When I was about 14, my family was involved in a rather serious car collision.  My parents, my 80-year-old grandmother, a family friend, and I were heading home from a Christian concert at a church which was an hour and a half away from our town.  Our friend was driving us in her car.  We were almost home.  An out-of-state driver, unfamiliar with the area, ran a stop sign and we hit him broadside at 45 miles per hour.  It was late at night and none of us were wearing seatbelts.  My parents were in the front seat with our friend, my grandmother and I were in the back.  I was asleep at the time it happened.
Our friend was left unconscious with a concussion, my Mom had broken ribs, my grandmother's leg was broken, and my Dad's face shattered the passenger side of the windshield.  Except for a bloody nose, my Dad was amazingly uninjured.  I wasn't hurt at all, maybe because I had been asleep and was relaxed.  The car was a total loss.
My parents were treated and released at a local hospital; our friend recovered and was discharged after a few days.  But my grandmother was hospitalized for weeks with her leg in traction.  During this time she accumulated a number of potted plants sent by concerned family members.  I had the job of watering them when they were dry.  We visited her for several hours every night.  Our visits continued when she was transferred to a nursing home for a few months, where her leg slowly healed.
Eventually she came home again to live with us.  She gave all her plants to me; I kept them on a stand in my room.  The only one that survived any length of time was a small philodendron in a white glass ornamental container.  For reasons now forgotten, I named the plant Martha.
After my parents divorced when I was 17, my Mom and I found our way to Ohio, which became our new home.  Martha traveled with us.  I moved back to Pennsylvania after about a year in Ohio, but Martha stayed behind.  My Mom seemed amused by a plant that I had actually named, so she took good care of Martha over the years.  During 1999, my Mom and my stepfather drove east to visit me.  They brought clippings from Martha which I put in water for several weeks until they sprouted a good root system.  I then planted them in a medium-size pot of soil and hung Martha by a window.
Martha has hardly shown energetic growth.  My plant-withering thumb probably has a lot to do with that.  But during 2007 Krissy and I saw a little improvement in Martha:  some branching of her two single-strand vines which made Martha a bit more full in appearance.  Before we moved to our new apartment, we clipped Martha into sections and placed the clippings in water to again produce a root system.  Martha's clippings are now growing roots and soon we'll plant her in a soil-filled pot. 
Meanwhile my Mom moved to Florida, taking her part of Martha with her, and recently I found out that one of Krissy's friends wants to take part of Martha to Oregon.  This small 30-year-old philodendron may soon be growing around the country.  Who knows how far she may ultimately spread.
My grandmother passed away 25 years ago.  Maybe I'm just sentimental, but I see Martha as a small part of my grandmother's legacy.  I hope Grandmom is pleased with Martha's continuing life.   

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

photos about my 100 things

I hope you found my "100 things about me" interesting.  I thought I'd show you some photos that illustrate a few of the items in the "100 things" list.  You'll even get to see my 10 lb. pet Australian rabbit

                  Me at age two in my Dad's Salvation Army hat 


                                Age five, with my Mother   



      The wild rabbits my Mom and I raised in her bedroom slippers


                        Bun-Bun, my 10 lb. pet Australian rabbit



                  Meisha, my companion for 16 years


                            Right after my baptism, 2002

             Krissy and I at our wedding, May 2005

                                            Our Maine Coon Cat Michael


Getting chemo before my bone marrow transplant

              Bone Marrow Transplant Day


                                                  Dialysis Catheter

Monday, October 22, 2007

100 things about me (51 - 100)

Here is the conclusion of 100 things about me . . . 

  51.   I'm sad to admit that I've only been to two Star Trek
  52.  Oddly enough, some people are surprised to learn that I like
         pickled eggs.
  53.  When I was in fourth grade, my Dad told me I was missing the
         point when I felt sorry for Charlie Brown instead of laughing
         at him.
  54.  One good thing came out of a year of bone marrow transplant
         complications:  I went from 275 pounds to 175 pounds.  But as
         a weight loss plan, I wouldn't recommend it.
  55.  Our new apartment has been without television cable service
         since we moved in three weeks ago.  So far I haven't missed it.
  56.  I was named after the Protestant reformer and no-nonsense
         Scotsman John Knox.  I'm sure my parents grieved when I
         converted to Catholicism.
  57.  My ancestors were Highland Scots who were mostly horse
         thieves.  They fled to Nova Scotia to escape execution.  A
         proud family heritage . . .
  58.  I've never worn a kilt or played the bagpipes, but I do enjoy a
         round of golf now and then.
  59.  I've had more than 60 days of chemotherapy treatments. 
  60.  Krissy and I have already named our first two children, but
         after all that chemo we're not likely to have kids.
  61.  After my transplant, I developed a red-blood-cell-destroying
         disorder called hemolytic anemia.  I must have had 100 blood
         transfusions, needing as many as seven bags of blood a day.
  62.  I haven't needed a transfusion since February, thank God.
  63.  One of my post-transplant medications damaged my kidneys,
         causing total kidney failure in the summer of 2006.  I had to
         be on dialysis for two weeks.
  64.  My kidneys recovered to 25 or 30 percent normal function, 
         enough to keep me off dialysis.
  65.  I'll probably have to go back on permanent dialysis eventually.
  66.  The Green Bay Packers are my favorite football team.
  67.  Krissy's mother thinks I look like James Taylor.
  68.  My Mom claims that I'm responsible for her hair turning grey.
  69.  From third grade to eighth grade I played trumpet in our
         school's band.
  70.  To my surprise, I survived the Disco Era without needing
  71.  When I was 15 I had a crush on Princess Leia from Star Wars.
  72.  I have a 30 year old potted philodendron named Martha.
  73.  My immunities regularly drop to a dangerously low level,
         forcing me to wear a surgical mask everywhere I go.  When I
         walk into a convenience store, the people there often think I'm
         going to rob the store, and watch me with slack-jawed dread.
  74.  Krissy jokes that I should wear a shirt which reads, "Don't
         shoot!  I had a transplant."
  75.  When I was eight years old, I was throwing stones in our front
         yard while my Dad was mowing the lawn.  He came around the
         side of the house and a stone caught him in the head.  He hit the 
         ground like a bag of bricks.  I think he would have killed me if
         he had been able to get up.
  76.  A black cat named Meisha was my close companion for 16
         years.  After occasionally boarding her at the animal hospital,
         she would ignore me for days.
  77.  When I was a teenager, I liked to catch snakes.  Sometimes I
         was bitten, but not very often.
  78.  My Dad introduced me to classical music when I was ten.  I
         loved it.  He told me that I might enjoy what I had heard so
         far, but if I heard more I wouldn't like it.  My Dad was wrong.
  79.  When I was young my parents liked to take me to the zoo.  My
         favorite exhibit was the reptile house.  My Dad would say,
         "You're weird, John."
  80.  I give our diabetic cat Michael two insulin shots a day, just like  
         I do for my wife.
  81.  I don't like candy or sweets very much.
  82.  However, I do enjoy bread pudding with vanilla sauce.  Krissy
         says bread pudding tastes like wet bread.  She doesn't know
         what she's missing.
  83.  My favorite restaurants are Red Lobster and Outback
  84.  Once when Krissy and I were in a restaurant, a waitress
         dumped a tray of food on me.  It didn't do my leather jacket
         any good.
  85.  In my twenties I volunteered in a nursing home, spending time
         with an elderly man.  All he wanted me to do was watch
         television with him.
  86.  Once I tried to bake brownies.  I left them in the oven so long
         that they baked to the consistency of hockey pucks.
  87.  I like octopus, squid, and frog's legs, if they are cooked
  88.  I saw the original Star Wars  movie 13 times during the first
         year it was released.     
  89.  When I was 13 I got a chemistry set for Christmas.  I
         learned some valuable principles of combustion by charring a
         large section of my bedroom carpet.
  90.  Health permitting, I attend monthly meetings of a local
         astronomy club.
  91.  We moved 16 times before I was 21.
  92.  I still watch the television specials A Charlie Brown Christmas
         and How the Grinch Stole Christmas every year. 
  93.  I enjoy listening to my Box Set of J. S. Bach's Complete Organ
, a gift from Sassydee50 (Deb).  
  94.  My favorite holiday is Christmas.  My next favorite is Easter.
  95.  Some of my favorite movies are Pride and Prejudice, A
         Beautiful Mind
, and Jane Eyre (the Masterpiece Theater
96.  The book I'm currently reading is Sense and Sensibility  by
         Jane Austen. 
  97.  I wear long sleeves, long pants, and a wide-brimmed Australian
         hat to keep the sun off my skin.  People who have had bone
         marrow transplants are at high risk for skin cancer.
  98.  I love Krissy dearly.
  99.  I find that writing an online journal is addictive.
 100.  In the priorities of my life, Jesus comes first.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

100 things about me (1 - 50)

I realized that I haven't properly introduced myself to you yet, so here are 100 things about me.

   1.  I am 45 years old.

2.  I have survived two cancers:  Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and  
   3.  I had a bone marrow transplant in January 2006.
   4.  I had many severe complications after my bone marrow
       transplant which kept me in a hospital bed for almost a year.
   5.  I remember when gas was 18 cents a gallon.
   6.  My favorite color in clothes is brown.
   7.  People keep trying to add color to my wardrobe.  They have
        been a little successful.
  Very little.
   8.  My father has finally started buying me neutral colored clothes,
        but always throws in one colorful shirt in an attempt to make me
        wear it.  He is not successful.
   9.  My favorite television program is The O'Reilly Factor.
  10.  I drink three or four cups of coffee a day.
  11.  I don't do mornings.
  12.  In college I majored in astronomy and psychology.  Ipreferred
  13.  I dance about as well as Al Gore.
  14.  When I was young I wanted to be a pilot.
  15.  I didn't meet the height requirement.
  16.  When I was a boy I liked dinosaurs, Peanuts comic strips, and
        Star Trek.
  17.  As a teenager I loved to go in my room to read and to listen to     
  18.  I liked classical music and heavy metal.
  19.  My favorite subjects in high school were my science classes.
  20.  My worst subject was Phys Ed.
  21.  When I was young my parents were Captains in the Salvation
        Army, then my Dad switched careers to the United Way.
  22.  I have only watched a few minutes of American Idol.
  23.  When I was six, my Mom raised wild baby rabbits; at first she
         kept them in her bedroom slippers, then in a box.  Later we set
         them free in a field.
  24.  In third grade I had a large pet Australian rabbit named
  25.  My Mom decided that this would be his name, and that was the
         end of it.  I always hated the name.
  26.  I was raised Protestant and became Catholic at age 40.
  27.  During college I did a lot of sleepwalking, and I would
         rearrange the furniture in my sleep.
  28.  I would wake up wondering how the furniture got moved around.
  29.  Once I put my hand through a windowpane while I was asleep. 
         I don't think my landlady believed that I was asleep when I
         broke the window.
  30.  My wife is diabetic.  I give her two insulin shots a day.
  31.   I once had a job as a janitor in a hospital.
  32.  One of my responsibilities at the hospital was to take
         amputated limbs to the cemetery for burial.  It was a Catholic
         hospital, and they believed that even limbs should be buried.  
  33.  At the Catholic hospital I went to the department picnics.
         They drank beer and listened to polka music.
  34.  I hate polka music.
  35.  Drunk people are annoying to me, especially when they get
         rowdy and destructive.
  36.  Parents who don't discipline their children also annoy me.
  37.  I like 19th century classic British literature.
  38.  I almost drowned in a friend's swimming pool when I was nine
         years old.
  39.  One year for Halloween I went Trick or Treating as a tax
  40.  When I was very young my favorite television show was
  41.  In junior high school I was a Trekkie, but I grew out of it and
        became a Star Trek fan.  
  42.  There are 17 keys on my key ring.  I have no idea what ten of
         them are for.
  43.  My favorite soda is ginger beer -- the English kind, not the
        Jamaican variety.
  44.  I met my wife in a Starbucks coffee shop at a local
Barnes & Noble.
  45.  I dated Krissy for seven years before we got married.
  46.  On our honeymoon we toured a bat-filled cave, took an exotic
         animal safari, and visited ReptileLand.
  47.  Krissy and I spent our first wedding anniversary in a hospital
        room at Hershey Medical Center.  The nurses threw a little        
        party for us.
  48.  For a long time my favorite breakfast was hot dogs and
  49.  On Christmas morning when I was 14, I was delighted to receive
         the dictionary I had asked for.
  50.  Brussels sprouts are my favorite vegetable.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I don't have kidney cancer

Our trip to Hershey Medical Center on Sunday was well worth the time and effort it took.  Stop-and-go traffic brought us to Hope Lodge later than anyone expected, but Krissy and I were up early Monday morning and arrived at the Cancer Institute shortly after 8:00 AM.  One of the advantages of getting there early was the short wait before the phlebotomist drew four or five tubes of my blood for testing.  Since my appointment wasn't until 11:20, we grabbed a quick breakfast in the cafeteria, then met with the Post Bone Marrow Transplant Coordinator to get some paperwork out of the way.  We were back at the Cancer Institute about 9:30 with nearly a two hour wait ahead of us.  Finally a nurse led us to an exam room where she took my vital signs and updated my medication list.  Everything looked good.
My oncologist walked into the room a short time later and greeted us warmly.  He really seems to like me; I'm not sure why.  He's told me that I'm one of the most treatment-compliant patients he has.  Maybe that's the reason.
Checkups follow a routine that's very familiar to me after all this time.  Dr. C. listens to my heart and lungs, and checks my lymph nodes for signs of enlargement.  He shines a light around inside my mouth to see if I have any painful mouth sores that bone marrow transplant patients are prone to.  I've never had any, but he checks every time just the same.  He has me lie on my back while he taps on my abdomen in various places.  I don't know what he's checking for, but as far as I know he hasn't found anything yet.  He asks me if I've had any symptoms of Graft vs. Host Disease.  GVHD is a kind of transplant rejection in reverse, where your donor's cells see your cells as intruders and attack them.  He asks me if my mouth has been dry, and so on.  I won't go into all the details.
The last thing Dr. C. did on Monday was check my lab results.  Everything looked reasonably good except that my immunities were too low again.  Now I'll have to be careful.  People with low immunities have died because their bodies couldn't fight off an infection.  But it could be worse.  There have been times when I've had almost no immune system and I've survived.  The annoying precautions will be the worst part.  I'll have to wear a surgical mask everywhere I go outside of our apartment.  People will stare at me and some will look anxious.  I'll have to wash my hands so often that the skin will get dry and irritated.  Large groups of people and anyone who is sick will have to be avoided.  I've been through this so many times that it's now tedious instead of frightening.
Dr. C. is confident that I will get over this immunity problem.  He decides to lower the dosage of my anti-rejection medication.  This should make my immune system stronger.  I hope so.  We'll have to wait and see. 
Earlier I wrote that our trip to Hershey was well worth the effort.  Here is the reason why.  My local nephrologist (kidney specialist) told me that an ultrasound showed a cyst or mass in my kidney.  I was worried because a mass is often cancerous.  When I was at my checkup in Hershey on Monday I asked Dr. C. if the mass could be cancer.  He told me that the ultrasound showed no mass in my kidney and, furthermore, two other tests ruled out the possibility of kidney cancer.  He told me, "You don't have kidney cancer.  Go home and enjoy life."  Krissy and I were thrilled.
I can't tell you how relieved we are that I don't have to deal with a third cancer.  The first two were more than enough.  This was my second cancer near miss in the past year.  Krissy and I are very grateful to all of you who prayed for and supported us during the past two years of our cancer ordeal.  We believe you played a large part in the positive outcome of my treatment.  Thank you all!  

Saturday, October 13, 2007

to the cancer clinic

Once again it's time for an all-too-frequent road trip to Hershey Medical Center's Cancer Institute.  On Monday I have a post-bone-marrow-transplant checkup with my hematologist/oncologist.  I need to be there two hours early for blood tests so that the lab can have the results ready for Dr. Claxton on time.  Since Hershey is a two-hour drive away, rather than leaving before sunrise on Monday Krissy and I will drive down on Sunday and stay overnight at Hope Lodge, the American Cancer Society's group residence for cancer patients and their caregivers where all of us can stay while in treatment at Hershey.  I'll be away from the computer on Sunday and Monday so I won't be posting any journal entries on these days.  I didn't want you to wonder if I had lost interest in my journal.
These checkups aren't too bad as long as they don't do a bone marrow biopsy.  I had a spinal tap once; bone marrow biopsies are worse.  But at least I'm making progress.  With my last appointment in Hershey I broke the four-week barrier.  For a long time Dr. Claxton scheduled my checkups four weeks apart.  Then he extended them to every six weeks, but each time I would have some sort of complication which would force me to go back after no more than four weeks.  This past August 30  marked the first time I stayed healthy long enough to keep my scheduled six week checkup.  There was no fanfare, but it was a relief nonetheless.
Another good thing about staying healthy is that I can drive us to Hershey myself.  This eliminates an often lengthy search for someone who has a free day to drive us there.  A number of times we have had to travel by bus.  
Several Hershey nurses have told us that they can make the same trip that we do in little more than an hour.  They must be aspiring NASCAR drivers.  I keep to the speed limit for the practical reason that I can't afford to pay a fine.  The whole way down and back other vehicles are passing us like we are riding in an oxcart.  Few things make a leadfoot angrier than a speed-limit driver in a No Passing Zone.  I'll be glad when we're home again. 
I'll see all of you on Tuesday.  This journaling is addictive.  I told Krissy that I might get five comments; I want to thank all of you for proving me wrong.  
Thanks, Sugar, for the graphic.

Friday, October 12, 2007

room to breathe

Having our own place again feels good.
My wife Krissy and I had to move out of our old apartment at the end of July.  We found ourselves staying at her parents' house for at least two months.  It could have been longer; I'm not sure.  Strange things can happen to your time sense when you worry that you might be seen as the houseguest who just won't go away.  But Krissy's parents are good people:  kind and generous. They knew we were in a tough spot and we had no one else to turn to.  We owe them a lot of gratitude. 
We finally moved into our new apartment almost two weeks ago.  This place is great!  It's large and cheerful, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms.  The second bedroom is my emergency shelter for when I have little or no immune system.  Here we followed my doctor's advice.  Our old apartment had one bedroom in the rear, which we used for storage.  The front room served as our living room/bedroom/kitchen.  It was like living in an efficiency with a very large closet.  Our new place gives us room to breathe. 
I took a photo of my bathroom the other night; as you can see, like our apartment, the bathroom is large.  Just before we moved in Krissy got me some dolphin shower curtains.  She knows I like dolphins because they're so intelligent, playful, and acrobatic.  I love the curtains.  They take the bathroom from cheerful to exotic.  They also match the blue and brown color theme of the apartment.
Michael (our Maine Coon cat) loves his new home.  It makes me happy to see him run and play for the first time in years.  He acts like a kitten even though he's nine years old.  He seems relaxed and completely at ease here, except when girls walk by the window carrying umbrellas.  This happened yesterday.  When Michael saw her he panicked, bolted to the second bedroom, and hid under the bed for half an hour.  I think the term "scaredy-cat" applies.
Not everyone has dolphins in the bathroom, a cat who resembles a raccoon, and a wife who stands by you through years of cancer treatment.  This apartment is already taking on our personalities, and I think it will be a good home.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Of DJs and Ginger Beer

                        Me and my non-alcoholic Ginger Beer


My name is John.  My wife Krissy writes the journal Sometimes I Think.  You may have heard about me from reading her journal.  I'm the guy who spent most of 2006 in the hospital recovering from a bone marrow transplant. 

I've included a picture of myself.  We have just moved into a new apartment and we haven't finished unpacking yet.  Here I'm taking a break to drink my favorite soda, Ginger Beer (the English variety, not the Jamaican kind). 

If you haven't seen a picture of me before, it might be like when you hear a DJ on the radio and form a mental image of him.  Then one day you see him and he looks nothing like you expected.  So . . . do I look like you thought I would?