Category Archives: Medical/Cancer

Lots to See at Mather Lake, 05-15-23

Around 7:00 this morning I headed over to the Mather Lake Regional Park for a walk. It was already 56ºF when I got to the park and was over 77ºF by the time I left just a few hours later.

I was looking for whatever galls might be out there, but was also open to looking for just about whatever caught my eye. As I was walking in, I met another photographer who wanted to get photos of the Mute Swan cygnets that had been reported there. The fluffy white cygnets are always fun to see; I asked him to let me know if/when he found them. A few minutes later he returned and said, “They’re on the other side of the lake. I may have to drive over there and see if I can view them from the road.” I was able to get a couple of VERY distant photos of them, but I hope he had better luck.

The swans are non-natives and can displace the native geese for food and nesting sites. The flock at Mather Park expands and contracts with the birth, development, and flights of the cygnets there.

According to Cornell: “…Females and males similar in size at hatching, but females slightly lighter; after about 2 wk, males larger than females. Tarsus and neck length follow similar growth patterns as mass; thus cygnets must learn to swim and feed before they can fly…”

Along with the swans, I also saw both Downy and Nuttall’s Woodpeckers. At one spot, there were two male Nuttall’s chasing each other around a tree, but they moved so quickly it was hard to get any photos of them.

There were also Canada Geese (some with goslings], Red-Wing and Brewer’s Blackbirds, and Great-Tailed Grackles. I saw a Kingbird gathering nesting materials, and saw several Tree Swallows claiming and using nests. The swallows and the Western Bluebirds often compete for nesting spots — they both use cavities to nest in — and I saw a female Western Bluebird sitting on the sidelines, seemingly waiting for the swallows to settle down somewhere.

I also saw some male House Wrens singing around their nesting spots, a male Anna’s Hummingbird displaying from the top of a tree and a Scrub Jay looking for food on the ground. I startled a Great Blue Heron from the edge of the lake where I was walking, and he flew off over to the opposite side of the lake. Surprisingly, I didn’t see any ducks or coots.

I saw a nest near the top of a telephone pole, but I couldn’t see the bird who took off suddenly from it to identify it. I didn’t check the restroom facility to see if the Cliff Swallows were building nests in there like they did last year.

There were a lot of different and new-to-me flies buzzing all around, and a few beetles snuggled up in the hawkbit flowers and thistles. At a spot on the trail where there was some still-wet goose excretion, a troupe of flies and a larger metallic green Hairy Maggot Blow Fly were puddling. [The video isn’t very long because my battery went out while I was filming them.]

I did eventually get to see some galls including the galls made by Coyote Brush Rust, the Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, and the Willow Bead Gall Mite. When my friend Roxanne and I were last out together, we looked for new pinecone galls on the willows, but only found old ones from last year. Today, I found ones that were just emerging: some in clusters that looked like small heads of cauliflower, and others that looked like rosettes. I’d never seen them this “young” before.

Among the plants and trees were the usual: Goodding’s and Narrowleaf willows, Fremont’s Cottonwoods, Coast Live Oaks. And I also photographed the Cork Oaks, some of the grasses and rushes, Tree of Heaven, Turkey Tangle Frogfruit flowers, thistles and more. And the Woolly Marbles were looking very woolly along the sides of the trail.

Going back to the car after my walk, I think I was suffering the effects of heat exhaustion and could barely make it from the lake to the parking lot, and my “cancer leg” was killing me. It doesn’t take much heat to affect me because, since chemo, my body has trouble thermoregulating. Even in the 77ºF weather, I was suffering from exhaustion, slight dizziness, and and inability to walk very far. I’d tell myself to “just get to that next spot of shade” or “just get that telephone pole” or “now, just get to that fence and you can rest for a moment.” And little buy little, I moved myself forward.

It took me about 30 minutes to get to the car, where I was able to collapse in the front seat, and drink some water with the air conditioner blasting at me. Plah! I thought I was being careful about how much I walked, but the heat snuck up on me. These days, I really should get out by 6:00 for my walks to beat the quickening heat of the early afternoons.

As I drove out of the parking lot, a Western Fence Lizard greeted me from the heights of its rock mountain.

I took Zinfandel Drive to Jackson/Highway 16 East, using the dirt road that runs by the vernal pools, and was very surprised to see several stands of White Brodiaea and a long stand of Narrowleaf Mule’s Ears which I had never seen there before. Amazing. The deep rains earlier in the year must have awakened their seeds and bulbs.

I walked for about 3 hours before heading back home. This was hike #28 of my #52hikechallenge for the year. When I got back home, my leg was in so much pain I had to take the last of my heavy duty pain pills — and then was in medication-induced stupor for the rest of the day. Man that stuff is brutal! But it DID relieve my pain.

Species List:

  1. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis [den]
  4. Bee Fly, Greater Bee Fly, Bombylius major
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  7. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  8. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  9. Common St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum
  10. Coyote Brush Rust, Puccinia evadens
  11. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  12. Damselfly, Common Bluet, Enallagma cyathigerum
  13. Damselfly, Pacific Forktail, Ischnura cervula
  14. Downy Woodpecker, Dryobates pubescens
  15. Drone Fly, Subfamily: Eristalinae
  16. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  17. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  18. Flies, Hairy Maggot Blow Fly, Chrysomya rufifacies [metallic green]
  19. Flies, Large-Tailed Aphideater, Eupeodes volucris [hoverfly]
  20. Flies, Long-Legged Fly, Dolichopus sp.
  21. Flies, Narrow-Headed Marsh Fly, Helophilus fasciatus
  22. Flies, Seaweed Flies, Fucellia sp.
  23. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  24. Geranium, Cut-Leaved Crane’s-Bill, Geranium dissectum
  25. Grasses, Rabbitfoot Grass, Polypogon monspeliensis
  26. Grasses, Wild Oat, Avena fatua
  27. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  28. Grebe, Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  29. Gregg’s Pine, Pinus greggii [tree at Mather]
  30. Hairy Hawkbit, Leontodon saxatilis [yellow]
  31. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  32. Long-Jawed Orbweaver Spider, Tetragnatha versicolor
  33. Mediterranean Katydid, Phaneroptera nana [nymph]
  34. Metallic Woodboring Beetle, Anthaxia sp.
  35. Mirid Bug, Potato Mirid, Closterotomus norwegicus [green]
  36. Mule’s Ears, Narrowleaf Mule-Ears, Wyethia angustifolia [orange]
  37. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  38. Narrowleaf Cottonrose, Logfia gallica
  39. Nodding Thistle Receptacle Weevil, Rhinocyllus conicus
  40. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  41. Oak, Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  42. Oak, Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  43. Pond Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta
  44. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  45. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  46. Rose, Multiflora Rose, Rosa multiflora [white flowers]
  47. Shining Pepperweed, Lepidium nitidum
  48. Small Melilot, Melilotus indicus [yellow]
  49. Sowthistle, Prickly Sowthistle, Sonchus asper
  50. Squarestem Spikerush, Eleocharis quadrangulata
  51. Swallow, Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  52. Thistle, Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  53. Thistle, Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus
  54. Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima
  55. Turkey Tangle Frogfruit, Phyla nodiflora
  56. Valley Tassels, Castilleja attenuata
  57. Vetch, Hairy Vetch, Vicia villosa
  58. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
  59. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  60. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis
  61. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  62. White Brodiaea, Triteleia hyacinthina
  63. Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Euura californica
  64. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculus tetanothrix
  65. Willow Pinecone Gall Midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  66. Willow, Goodding’s Willow, Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  67. Willow, Narrowleaf Willow, Sandbar Willow, Salix exigua
  68. Woolly Marbles, Low Woolly Marbles, Psilocarphus brevissimus
  69. Wren, House Wren, Troglodytes aedon

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A Lovely Drive at the Yolo Bypass, 12-09-22

Since I last posted, when I quit chemotherapy, things haven’t changed a whole lot. But I do see little improvements in my condition. I can walk a little further without getting winded; over the last few days the vertigo has receded a bit and only seems to get triggered if I bend over. Every tiny improvement helps.

Today, I was literally in tears when my friend Roxanne took me out to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. I hadn’t been outside in Nature for a MONTH, and was getting very depressed about that. We were out for about 5 hours, and because we stayed on the auto tour loop I never had to get out of the car. The vertigo wasn’t as issue as long as she didn’t drive too fast taking turns… and was only triggered when I needed to use a porta potty and had to bend over to lift the lid on the toilet. Hah! 

The other issue for me was that I catch a chill really easily now – I don’t know what that’s about – so I was in my heavy coat and knit cap.  When we’re birding from the car, we keep the windows open so the camera can see out without obstruction. It was maybe 53º outside, but with windchill it felt like 47º.  Luckily, Roxanne has a car that lets you set different inside temperatures for the driver and passenger, so she set her side of the car to 66º and I set mine to78º and we were comfy even with the windows open.

And, oh my gosh, as I said, I was literally in tears with happiness when we first headed out to the bypass. And I was surprised to hear the sound of my own voice laughing over our in-car chatter as we drove along the auto tour route. I literally hadn’t heard myself laugh for over a month. The chemo has taken so much from me, it was nice to get a little joy back. Nature heals…literally. Before I left the house I took my blood pressure and pulse. They were 141/81 and 129. (My pulse has run real fast since chemo.) When I got back home from being out in nature, they were 127/87 and 113.  I needed that sooooo much.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos. I may add more to this as I process more of the photos.

While we were out we saw over thirty different species of birds, but the coolest thing we found were American Bitterns. They’re somewhat secretive birds that usually hang out in the high grasses and tules, so we’re happy when we can spot one. Today, we spotted FIVE of them. I was so excited!  

We also came across two young, “orphaned” Snow Geese in different ponds. There was no flock of Snow Geese anywhere around them, so we surmised the youngsters couldn’t keep up with the flock and either dropped out when the flock was flying over the bypass, or had been left behind when the flock left the bypass. They seemed healthy enough; I hope they’ll be okay. 

We did see quite a few dead birds in the water, and I wondered if they had been affected by avian flu.

As I said, we were out for about 5 hours and got back to the house around 1:30 PM. It was SUCH a nice day; I hope to be able to get out again soon.

Species List:

  1. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus
  2. American Coot, Fulica americana
  3. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  4. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  5. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  6. Ash, Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  7. Bisnaga, Visnaga daucoides
  8. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  9. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  10. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
  11. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  12. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  13. Gadwall Duck, Mareca strepera
  14. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  15. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  16. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  17. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  18. Grebe, Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  19. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  20. Gull, Herring Gull, Larus argentatus
  21. Gull, Larus sp.
  22. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  23. Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla
  24. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  25. Meshweaver Spider, Family: Dictynidae
  26. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  27. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  28. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  29. Pigeon, Rock Pigeon, Columba livia
  30. Red-Shouldered Hawk, California Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus elegans
  31. Red-Tailed Hawk, Western Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus
  32. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  33. Rose, California Wild Rose, Rosa californica [pink]
  34. Saltbush, Big Saltbush, Atriplex lentiformis
  35. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  36. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  37. Sparrow, House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  38. Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  39. Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  40. Sparrow, White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  41. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  42. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  43. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  44. Wren, Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

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Chemo Infusion and Aftermath, 12-3-22

As you probably know I started chemotherapy on Tuesday, November 8th, to try to address my cancer. When Wilson, my tumor, and his offspring first showed up, I told myself I would NOT go through chemo or radiation to deal with them (as I had years ago when I had chemo for breast cancer) because I didn’t want to spend months having the treatment take over my life – with no guarantee that it would accomplish anything. My oncologist, however, kind of talked me into chemo saying it was much different these days than it was when I had it before, so I decided to give it a try.  It  WAS very different from the previous chemo I’d been through, but not in a good way.

I was signed up for 6 infusions of Taxol and Carboplatin, each infusion about 3 weeks apart, with lab tests within 24 to 48 hours of each infusion. Well, I sat for the FIVE HOURS of the first infusion on the 8th, and had taken a buttload of anti-nausea medication beforehand, so the infusion process itself wasn’t bad (although the drip for the second chemical of the cocktail was set so fast it made my hand swell and ache for days afterwards.)

I felt okay for the rest of that day, and really didn’t have much of a reaction on the day after that, so I thought I would be able to tolerate the future infusions. Wrong.

On the 10th, I awoke to lower back pain, and around lunchtime was hit with myalgia pain that struck every muscle in my body. It was like everything had tightened into one big knot of pain. I literally couldn’t move my thighs much at all, so walking was nearly impossible.  The pain persisted throughout the night, so I got no sleep, and then continued through the next day.

I emailed my infusion doctor, and asked if my symptoms were “normal” for a first infusion. He didn’t really answer the question, but said I was probably just “sensitive” to the Taxol. I asked him if he could lessen the amount of Taxol I was given over my protocol, and he said, no. The only alternative would be to come in every day for smaller infusions… which would mean a drive of 30-minutes each way to the infusion center every day, AND lab work every day. Well, I thought that was ridiculous. I wasn’t going to let the infusions take over like that, disrupting not only my life but my sister’s, too. (I also didn’t understand why a cocktail of different chemicals couldn’t be used.) I’d just try to see if I could tough it out, I thought.

Over the next few weeks, the myalgia pain dissipated, but I was then faced with every other symptom known to chemo-dom: vomiting, diarrhea, breathlessness (I couldn’t walk from one end of the kitchen to the next without being out of breath), bone pain along my shins, restless leg syndrome (on a few nights), and vertigo.  I couldn’t catch a break. Keep in mind, this was after just the first infusion. When I had chemo before (in 2003), I didn’t have these problems until near the END of the entire protocol as the poisons built up in my system.  I was shocked by how brutal this was.

On the 16th, I had a Zoom meeting with a social worker and doctor in Kaiser’s palliative care division. They kept trying to tell me I’d get through it, and they’d figure out a pain management system for me, but they wanted me to keep my infusion schedule. They were very nice about it, but I sort of felt as though I wasn’t being listened to or taken very seriously.  I cried through most of the appointment.

Since then, the diarrhea and vertigo persisted, which meant I couldn’t walk or drive anywhere by myself, so I couldn’t get out into nature, and most days it was difficult to get out of bed.

Being so sick in so many different ways had just sucked the joy out of every single day. By the 22nd, I’d had enough. 

I cancelled all of my doctor’s appointments and infusion dates, and only kept the appointment for lab work on the books. As soon as the cancellations started showing up at Kaiser, I started getting phone calls. The assistant from the infusion doctor’s office wanted to know if I wanted to keep that appointment, but do it virtually, so he’d know what was going on with me. I told her, no, I was composing an email message for him, but I needed to gather my thoughts first. She asked me the same question three more times, using different verbiage… which once again made me feel as though I was not being listened to or taken seriously. No means no.

I then got a call from one of the nurse practitioners at the infusion center, wanting to know what was going on. I told her what I’d been going through, and reiterated the laundry-list of persistent symptoms I was having… and she said, “A lot of that sounds like you’re extremely dehydrated.”  And, yes! That made sense to me. Finally, someone who listened to me and offered me some useful guidelines to work with. 

She wanted me to drive in to the infusion center or go to the nearest ER to get some extra fluids to jump-start my body, but I wasn’t going to do that, so I opted instead to focus on forcing fluids myself, and ordered some Gatorade to get some extra electrolytes. She also suggested I get some Imodium to see if that couldn’t squelch the diarrhea. So, I ordered the Imodium along with some packets of electrolytes that I can add to my water bottles and had them delivered to the house.

Oh, and a new symptom showed up around Thanksgiving. While we were eating breakfast, I felt something fall onto my shoulder. I checked to see what it was, and it was my hair.  My hair didn’t fall out during my last chemo until about halfway through the protocol; I certainly wasn’t expecting it after just an initial infusion this time around.  It made my sister wonder aloud if they’d given me way too much of the drugs. I worried about the same thing. My eyelashes have also fallen out and I expect my eyebrows will follow suit.

I believe my hearing and eyesight have also been affected by the infusion, but the persistent vertigo is the next big hurdle to overcome; I can’t do much of anything on my own outside of the house until that’s controlled, or at least goes down to a dull roar. I’m not sure how to do that, so I have an appointment with my GP on December 13th to discuss it.

All of this being said, I’m glad I stopped all of the other infusions, and won’t be subjecting my body to any further plant-based or heavy metal poisonings.  And I’m looking forward to feeling better, reinstating my joy, and being more of a help to my sister as things move forward. 

Hopefully, too, the next post will be a happier one outside in nature.

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Welllllllll, Sh*t, 09-06-22

Cancer is back… and it’s more aggressive this time. I had a biopsy done on August 30th. My friend Roxanne was at the house by 5:45 AM (such a good friend), drove me to the appointment, and stayed at the hospital until the biopsy was done. We were out of there and back home by around 10 o’clock…which was a good thing because Rox had to go to work around noon.

The procedure was slated for 6:30, but of course the nurse (mine was a male nurse named Larry) has to get you prepped, take your pulse, blood pressure et al, stick EKG monitor stickers on you, and put a line in a vein. Larry was great, and was able to find a vein that was cooperative on the very first jab.

The doctor, Brandon Doskocil, came in to say hi and to let me know how the procedure was going to go: they’d give me lidocaine and “happy drugs” before doing anything, and keep me semiconscious because I had to be able to follow the instructions of the CT machine. I’d go into and out of the machine a few times while they found the right spot to send in the puncture biopsy instrument. Then the doctor would extract two samples, one from the lesion and one from an adjacent lymph node. Okee-dokee.

I get wheeled into the CT room on a gurney and then have to transfer over onto the scanner bed. Once they got me situated on the scanner bed the way they wanted me, I asked for a pillow under my knees, but they could only use a shallow one because if my knees were bent up too high in would interfere with the biopsy.  So, once I was settled and feeling relatively comfy, I got shot up with lidocaine in my hip joint, and was given the “happy drugs”. Those drugs were great, I didn’t care about anything…even when, during the procedure, the doctor hit the femoral nerve. I screamed – but then laughed because everyone else in the room screamed, too, and said “hit a nerve” in unison. That whole process took about 20 minutes.

Then it was back to the gurney and into a small area where I could get dressed again. But the drug were making me stupid and I put my shoes on before I put my pants on and basically forgot how to dress myself. Larry helped me pull my pants up. As he was wheeling me out to the parking lot in a wheelchair I thanked him and told him he had done a great job.  He squeezed my shoulder and said, “thank you” in my ear and there was so much emotion in his voice; like no one had thanked him before. Awww.

Roxanne was right at the curb as Larry rolled me out of the hospital, and she drove me back home. Lots of anticipation and anxiety over “nothing”.  We’ll see how I feel when the drugs wear off.

On September 3rd, I got a call from my oncologist, Dr. Suby, letting me know about the results of the biopsy. My cancer is back, and it seems to be in a more aggressive form than it was previously. *Sigh* The cancer cells aren’t well defined, so they can more easily metastasize to other cells. Not what I wanted to hear, but was what I was sort of expecting.

I have a video visit with a neurologist on the 7th, and I should have a PET scan scheduled sometime soon. I’ll let you know if anything comes of them.

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