Category Archives: Cancer

Last Weekend on the West Side

Donna and Sini planned to go to a house concert on Saturday. House concerts are an interesting concept. The host opens their home for the performance and will usually offer local transportation and lodging for traveling musicians. People attending the concert bring food to share and, in this case, pay $20 each which goes to the performer. About 30 people attended the concert.

House concert

Charlie Imes performing

We used Alana’s car and drove down to Edmonds where we met Sini for lunch. We had lunch at Ono Authentic Hawaiian Poke. I had an episode that ruined lunch for me. I chronicled my battle with throat cancer in an earlier post and won’t rehash it here except to say I have permanent damage from radiation treatments. It left me with a chronically dry throat.

Sometimes when I swallow food, it becomes lodged in my esophagus. This was one of those times. I had a piece of fish caught in my throat. It was terrible. I excused myself and went outside the restaurant. It was painful and I knew there were only two possible outcomes – either the fish would continue to move down to my stomach or it would be expelled. After about 10 minutes of hiccuping, it moved on and I was able to finish my meal.

Donna’s plan was to go with Sini to the concert, then spend the night with Sini at her friend’s house. Sunday morning Sini was going to the Tulalip Casino with a friend at 11am and I met them there and then Donna and I made a stop at Best Buy where she bought a new laptop.

I wanted to watch the Moto GP race from Assen but my satellite reception failed in the night and the program didn’t record. Luckily there was an encore showing of the race at 1pm. I started packing the trailer, then took a break to watch a very interesting race. It was about 100 degrees in the trailer but I managed to get it 90% packed and figured I would finish up Monday morning when it would be cooler before we headed out.

We were invited to have dinner at LuAnn’s house at 6pm. LuAnn had spicy shrimp and crab legs as the main entree and a large selection of veggies from her garden to make salads.

Salad buffet spread

I brought along a bottle of IPA called Crikey from Reuben’s Brewery in the Ballard district of Seattle. I hadn’t tried this one before, but I liked the name. It wasn’t anything special, just a typical west coast IPA.

Crikey

We sat in the backyard until the mosquitos started biting – the sun doesn’t set until well after 9pm this far north at this time of year. Back at the coach, I watched the Formula One race from Azerbaijan which I had recorded during the afternoon.

Monday morning I finished packing the trailer and we headed out by 10am. It’s always a little sad to say goodbye, not knowing when we’ll be back to see my daughter and grandchildren again. We know we’ll be able to see Lainey when we return to San Diego in October – she’ll be there attending college at San Diego State University.

We went west on WA530 to the truck stop at Island Crossing. I wanted to top off the tank as I didn’t think we would have an opportunity to fill up until we were in the Spokane area. The fuel price was very reasonable at $2.49/gallon.

Then we drove east on WA 530 up to Darrington where WA530 hooks north to Rockport. At Rockport we hit WA20 – the North Cascades Highway. This highway snakes its way along the Skagit River up to Diablo and Ross Lakes. It’s one lane in each direction with lots of twists and turns and has become bumpy in many places. The North Cascades Highway closes in the winter – generally from mid-November to mid-May. They cannot keep the road clear of snow in the dead of winter. There are still some very big snowbanks along the road and lots of snow on the surrounding mountainsides.

Climbing up the west side of the Cascades, the terrain is rugged and heavily forested. Big, moss-covered fir trees dominate the terrain with blackberries and beds of ferns so thick you cannot see the ground on the forest floor. Once you cross over to the east side, the firs are replaced by pines and the forest opens up considerably.

We crossed Rainy Pass at an elevation of about 4,900 – we started out at 300 feet above sea level in Arlington. Then we dropped down a bit and climbed again over Washington Pass at 5.477 feet above sea level. At the summit, Donna noticed something in the driver’s side rearview mirror. She pointed it out to me and I saw we had a basement door open. I pulled over and found the rear compartment just ahead of the rear wheels had popped open. I keep my portable compressor and accessories in there. Everything looked to be intact – nothing spilled out onto the highway. I always check the doors and make sure they’re locked before we move. The latch was in the locked position, but something is worn and if I give the door a yank, it pops open. Hitting a bumpy section of road must have made it pop. It’s on my “to do” list now.

WA20 took us directly to Winthrop. There’s a four-way stop at Riverside Avenue which is the main drag through town. Going right keeps you on WA20. We wanted to go straight ahead up Bridge Street to Castle Avenue, but Bridge Street was closed for construction. We were directed to go left to the north side of town where we found the end of Castle Avenue and doubled back to the Pine Near RV Park.

Pine Near doesn’t have much in the way of amenities, but it has large pull-through grass sites and is located on a bluff overlooking downtown Winthrop. Winthrop has a population of about 400 people in town with about 2,000 permanent residents in the area. It’s a western themed tourist destination.

A few rain drops fell as I was setting up. The owner of the park, Anna, told me not to worry – it would pass quickly. She was right and the thermometer stayed at 89 degrees!

From Pine Near RV Park, I walked across Castle Avenue through the Shafer Museum – a collection of pioneer artifacts – and down a terraced boardwalk into town. Meanwhile Donna was working on an article – she has a few assignments to complete while we’re here.

Terraced boardwalk

As I walked through town, I found a new plaza called Confluence Park. It’s a small square with landscaping, paver stones and benches overlooking the confluence of the Chewuch and Methow Rivers.

View of the Chewuch joining the Methow River at Confluence Park

The park was dedicated last October – it wasn’t here when we stayed in Winthrop last summer. I made a stop for a cold one at Schoolhouse Brewery.

Pine Near RV Park – site 11

Last night I enjoyed an IPA from Elysian Brewery called Space Dust.

I had it with dinner in a pint glass Alana gave me as a Father’s Day present.

Around 9pm, I stepped outside and shot a photo of a pink sunset.

Pink sunset in Winthrop

This morning I walked down to the Rocking Horse Bakery across the street from the terraced boardwalk and picked up breakfast sandwiches for Donna and me. That’s one of the things we like about this RV park – everything is within walking distance, yet it’s still very quiet and has a country atmosphere.

Rocking Horse Bakery

We’re thinking about extending for an extra day here, but that will mean we have to move to another site. I don’t like making a move within a park – I have to secure everything just like I was going to head out on the road. We’ll see how it works out.

Trailer for Sale

It’s been a busy week but we’re settling into a routine here at Towerpoint RV Resort in Mesa, Arizona. I rode the Spyder out to TrailersPlus on the west side of Phoenix off of I-17 Tuesday. It was a 38-mile blast on the Interstate each way. The trailer I had found online there turned out to be the one I want. I looked at several trailers online, then stopped at two dealers to see them up close before going to TrailersPlus. I made a deal on a 8.5 x 20 foot Interstate car carrier. Then I had to figure out how I would pick it up. I certainly didn’t want to pack up the coach and drive out there with the motorhome just to haul the trailer back here.

A couple of friends were willing to help. John Huff said his wife would lend her truck to Mike Hall if he could drive out to pick up the trailer. Mike was willing, but he has a family ski trip in Show Low planned for the weekend starting this afternoon when he gets off work. TrailersPlus is holding the trailer for me until tomorrow, so I needed to find another way to get it.

I asked my friend Howard Graff for a favor. That’s what happens when you own a truck with a towing package – people ask for favors. Howard said he could do it tomorrow morning. Problem solved. Next I had to figure out what to do with the old trailer. My plan is to empty the old trailer in our site this afternoon. I can stack the stuff at the back of our site. The weather is dry and no rain is expected in the near future. I got permission to move the empty old trailer to a lot on the north side of the RV park while I find a buyer for it.

I ordered an Ultraguard cover for the Spyder from Amazon and it arrived on Wednesday. I want to keep it covered to protect it from the elements which here in Arizona includes the intense sun.

Spyder under cover

Spyder under cover

I also ordered a new rear tire for the Spyder. The original equipment tire is a proprietary tire made in China by Kenda. These tires don’t hold up very well and don’t offer the highest grip level. There are alternatives in the size 225/50R15 with higher speed ratings, better wear and higher grip levels. I went with a Kumho Ecsta made in South Korea. It’s a better tire at half the price of the BRP-sourced Kenda. The tire arrived Wednesday and so I needed ti find someone to mount it. This wasn’t as easy as I expected. I checked at Steve’s Cycle on Main Street where I had the front tire on the scooter replaced last fall. They weren’t equipped to lift a Spyder. They suggested I go to Apache Motorcycles on Power Road – the local Can Am dealer.

I had a dental appointment on Thursday – I was cavity-free for about thirty years. Just routine cleaning, no issues. After head and neck radiation treatment for cancer, my teeth don’t hold up very well. I’m always having work done now. After my dental appointment on Power Road, I stopped in at Apache Motorcycles to see about getting the tire mounted. The guy told me he was booked a week out, but he could do it a week from Saturday. Then he told me he would charge $200 labor! What?! I said, “I’ll get back to you on that.”

Later I met up with the guys for a cold one at Lucky Lou’s. Mike Hall and I made a plan to pull the rear wheel at his shop next Friday and we can take the wheel and new tire to a tire shop nearby to have it mounted. Another problem solved.

I’m back at it on the pickleball courts. They have four courts here at Towerpoint RV Resort and it’s not enough. There’s such a long line waiting to play, I only got four games in on Wednesday after two hours and on Thursday, I got five games in two and half hours. Donna hasn’t joined me on the courts yet. She spent the first part of the week following a Shakeology Three-Day Refresh which is a strict diet of nutrient-dense shakes, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. My oldest daughter Alana became a Beach Body coach after losing 45 pounds last year and gifted the package to Donna. Donna’s lost 20 pounds doing her own thing since May. She decided to try the refresh after over-indulging the past week at the Alpine Coach rally. She’s happy with the results.

After starting the week with high temperatures in the mid 80s, we had high thin clouds and cooler weather on Thursday. Donna and I enjoyed a happy hour together outside in camp chairs. We have yet to set up our outdoor living space – we’ve been waiting on getting the new trailer.

Happy hour outside

Happy hour outside

The high clouds made a colorful sunset.

Sunset and palm trees at Towerpoint

Sunset and palm trees at Towerpoint

No pickleball today. I need to get cracking on the trailer project. I need to buy a new mount rated for 10,000 lbs. and a 2-5/16″ ball. Then I’ll empty the old trailer and clean it so I can put it up for sale.

 

*Just so you know, if you follow one of my links to Amazon and decide to make a purchase, you pay the same price as usual and  I’ll earn a few pennies for the referral. It’ll go into the beer fund. Thanks!

All About the Water

Yesterday’s project of the day was an easy one. When we were at the FMCA Convention in Redmond, Oregon, I bought new filters for our water supply from The RV Water Store ( I don’t have any affiliation with this business, but they’re friendly and have good stuff). Their site will tell you everything you want to know about water filtration and more.

I bought a standard-size dual-canister system. The water supply goes through a five-micron 10-inch polypropylene sediment filter in the first canister. This removes any solids (dirt, metal, minerals etc.) larger than five microns. The water then travels to the second canister  through a five-micron fiber block-carbon filter. This removes contaminants and chemicals that affect taste.

Dual filter canisters -  spanner for dis-assembly in the foreground

Dual-filter canisters – spanner for disassembly in the foreground

I started using this system when we arrived in San Diego last September. I checked the sediment filter last month when we came to Arizona. It looked good at that time. The RV Filter Store says the sediment filter should last three to four months. It’s been a little over four months, so I thought I should replace it.

The canisters came with a plastic spanner that is used to unscrew the canister from the top. I turned off the water supply and relieved the pressure by loosening the hose fitting. Then I unscrewed the canister from the lid and pulled the filter cartridge out. It was indeed time for replacement. The filter media was discolored all the way through.

New sediment cartridge on the left, used cartridge on the right.

New sediment cartridge on the left, used cartridge on the right

I cleaned out the canister and reassembled it with a new cartridge. We should be good to go for another four months. Next time, I’ll replace the sediment cartridge and the carbon filter as well. The carbon filters are supposed to last up to twelve months, depending on the water quality.

We also have a granular carbon filter with KDF in the water line to a dispenser on our kitchen sink. This filter will remove lead and heavy metals and “polish” the drinking water. The KDF is an alloy of zinc and copper that prevents bacteria from forming in the filter when it isn’t used regularly. Since we have whole-house water filtration through the dual-canister system, Rick at the RV Water Filter Store tells me the inline filter under the sink should be good for at least two years.

Donna rode the scooter over to Lana Jansen’s house in our old neighborhood while I was working on the filter. She needed Lana’s landline phone for a call from Real Simple magazine. They were recording a pilot podcast about cleaning.

Last night, Donna cooked a pan-seared salmon filet with ginger and scallions sauteed in olive oil. She served it with forbidden rice and roasted brussel sprouts with sherry vinegar. It tasted great, but it nearly killed me.

Salmon filet with sauteed ginger and scallions

Salmon filet with sauteed ginger and scallions

I posted about my throat cancer surgery and treatment in this post. The removal of the tumor in my throat left scar tissue and pockets in my throat. Certain foods are difficult for me to swallow. The forbidden rice caught in a pocket in my throat last night. This brought on a coughing fit and I began to choke. I was feeling pretty panicky before I was able to dislodge the rice.

Today we’re in for more sunny, warm weather. Time to get the bikes out again.

 

Long Story Short

We still have the car from Enterprise. Yesterday, Donna took advantage of the car and did some shopping. She went to a flea market and to a resale boutique and bought some gifts for herself and others.

I took a short nap while she was out. Our highlight of the day came around 4:30pm when we met Andy and Donna King at the Osaka Japanese Steakhouse for sushi. We had beer from the big three Japanese breweries – Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo. We ordered an excessive amount of sushi maki and nigiri which we enjoyed with conversation over a two-hour period.

It was around 7pm by the time we said our goodbyes in the parking lot. Andy and Donna put the top down on their Miata to enjoy a warm evening drive home to Gold Canyon.

Last night, we watched two episodes of Breaking Bad, season five. I’m wondering how it’s going to end, but at the same time I don’t want it to end.

My last three posts detailed a troubling time in my life. I’ll spare you from reading further detail. I started writing about it for two reasons. First, I felt a need to explain why I have dental issues caused by head and neck radiation. Second, and more importantly, I wanted to illustrate why you should never take your health for granted. There are no guarantees. If you have a dream, follow that dream. Don’t put it off. Plan for tomorrow, but live for  today.

This is one of the reasons I took an early retirement and why Donna and I are living this lifestyle. We want to experience life on the road while were still young enough and healthy enough to do it without too many physical restrictions.

I’ll close out the cancer story. The surgeon removed a 2.5 centimeter tumor from the right side of my throat. The neck dissection removed my SCM with 26 lymph nodes, 22 of them were cancerous. I had stage IV cancer. Once the incisions healed, I continued treatment with head and neck radiation, including the upper apices of my lungs and chemotherapy. After five months, I returned to work.

Eventually things got back on track. By the end of the summer of 2002, I was working out and trying to regain my strength along with the 22 pounds I’d lost. I had ongoing follow-up CAT scans and exams for the next five years and then I was pronounced cancer-free.

Today, we have a lunch date with friends from Michigan who are here for a week to spend time with their children and grandchildren . We’ll meet Diane and Tom Rowe at Joe’s B-B-Q in Old Town Gilbert for lunch. Donna met Diane and Tom through her Send Out Cards business. We met them for drinks and dinner a couple of times in Rochester, Michigan and enjoyed their company. Serendipity brings us to the same area at the same time to meet once again.

Tuesday Afternoon

We’re enjoying beautiful weather here in Mesa, Arizona with daytime highs around 80 degrees with 20% humidity and overnight lows in the mid-50s. Can’t beat that.

Yesterday Donna rented a car from Enterprise. Her intention was to drive to Scottsdale for an appointment with her hair stylist. When people ask Donna about finding health care or dental care on the road, she tells them it’s not an issue. Finding someone to do her hair is the challenge! Since she lived in the Phoenix area for about seven years, she has a stylist here who does a great job. In San Diego, she got hooked up with Tonia at Ts Hair of San Diego and she was very happy. So we have those two places covered. This summer, we’ll have to find someone in the northwest.

Anyway, the gal at the Enterprise car rental agency was having trouble with her printer. She was on the phone with her company’s technical support trying to print a contract for the person ahead of us. After about 30 minutes, she gave up and said she would complete the paperwork by hand. By the time she was starting Donna’s paperwork, Donna had to cancel her hair appointment because she would have been 30 minutes late.

Yesterday, we had a visitor for dinner. Stevie Ann Rinehart came to our site here at Apache Wells. She and Donna caught up with each other. We enjoyed conversation, wine and barbeque garlic shrimp for dinner.  Stevie Ann was on of the first people Donna met when she moved to Arizona in 2002. That was actually a tough year for me.

Garlic shrimp with basmati brown rice and broccoli

Garlic shrimp with basmati brown rice and broccoli

In yesterday’s post, I described the diagnosis of a secondary tumor in a lymph node on my neck. This took place at Christmastime. The day after Christmas, I had another appointment with Dr. Brown. He advised me to have someone drive me to his clinic, so I would have a ride home. He would be taking tissue samples and I would be under sedation.

He had a pretty good idea of where he would find the primary tumor. He had already examined me once before. This time he looked into my throat and told me he would be cutting some tissue to send to the lab. He said the area of soft tissue around my right tonsil had the texture of a strawberry. He said this is what throat cancer looks like.

Throat cancer. I had been under the care of an allergist for the previous two years. When Dr. Brown said throat cancer, I thought about my allergist and the treatment I was receiving. He had tested me for allergies and found I had severe reactions to tree and grass pollen. I was on a regiment of monthly allergy injections with periodic exams. This doctor was looking into  my throat on a regular basis.

About six months earlier, during an exam, he said he would prescribe a nasal spray that would relieve sinus pressure and also reduce the pain in my throat. I thought, pain in my throat? I didn’t complain about pain in my throat. Right then, an assistant opened the door to the exam room and asked the doctor if he could step out for a moment. When he returned, he gave me the prescription. I was distracted and forgot to ask him why he thought I had throat pain. I think he was looking at cancerous throat tissue and dismissed it as an allergy symptom.

Dr. Brown sliced some tissue from my throat. He said he would have the results by the following Monday, New Year’s Eve. He wanted me to come back on Monday to discuss the results. My daughter, Alana, had driven me to the appointment. On the way home, she said she didn’t want to return to Washington State University in Pullman where she was studying to be a nurse. She wanted to skip a semester and take care of me. I wouldn’t have it. I told her the best thing she could do for me was finish her schooling and go on to become a nurse, which was her dream. She accomplished this goal a few years later after transferring to the nursing program at Arizona State University. She graduated with an RN-BSN degree.

Alana graduating from ASU

Alana graduating from ASU

On New Year’s Eve, Dr. Brown confirmed that I had throat cancer. He said I needed surgery, a procedure called a radical neck dissection. During this procedure, the tumor would be surgically removed from inside my throat and the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle would be removed from the right side of my neck. This is the large muscle that attaches to the inner third of the clavicle, next to your throat. The other end of the muscle attaches to the skull, behind your ear.

Then he said, “I do these surgeries on a frequent basis, but you don’t want me to do your neck dissection.” He said, “I follow the traditional technique, which cuts the tenth cranial nerve. Once that nerve is damaged, you’ll never raise your right arm above your shoulder again.” Then he explained to me that most people with this diagnosis are much older than me. Damaging their tenth cranial nerve is usually the least of their worries. He said that since I was relatively young, fit and active, he wanted to send me to see a surgeon at the University of Washington Hospital. This surgeon, Dr. Weymuller, had pioneered a new neck dissection technique that would spare the nerve. I would retain my arm function.

I sat there numbly while this information was sinking in. Dr. Brown said he would set up an appointment with Dr. Weymuller for me. He said he wanted to discuss my case with him and felt he could get me in quicker than if I tried to set the appointment myself. He said he would call me later with the appointment time.

Later, Dr. Brown’s office called me and said I had an appointment for an exam and consultation with Dr. Weymuller on Friday, January 4, 2002. I had been off work over the Christmas holiday break while all of this was going down. On January 2nd, I notified my boss of the diagnosis. I told him I would need a little time off for the surgery and recovery.

On Friday, I met Dr. Weymuller. He poked and prodded inside my mouth and throat. He palpated my neck. Then he told me that he had already reviewed my case file and lab reports. He agreed with Dr. Brown’s assessment – I needed to undergo a modified radical neck dissection. He said since I had a secondary tumor in the lymph node, we already missed the opportunity for early detection. We shouldn’t waste any more time. He told me if I agreed to have the surgery, he would schedule it at the University Hospital.

I said, “Of course,I agree to the surgery. The alternative is to die.” He said he would send a nurse in to schedule the surgery. He shook my hand and left the exam room.

The nurse came in and opened a calendar on the computer in the room. She was scrolling through days and saying how busy the schedule was. She kept scrolling, I could see she was looking at dates in March and saying things like, “Oh my, where am I going to find an opening with enough time for this? We need to block six hours.” The she said, “It looks we’ll be scheduling in early April.”

I said, “Umm…I was under the impression that Dr. Weymuller felt this was urgent. He said we shouldn’t waste any time.” She said, “Oh, let me go talk to the doctor. I’ll be back in a minute.” A few minutes later, she returned and said, “How’s next Tuesday afternoon?”

This is a long story that will require a couple of more installments. To be continued…