Category Archives: Medical/Cancer

A Short Walk at Effie, 02-07-22

Around 8 o’clock I headed over to Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. I hadn’t done any real walking since the day of my surgery, so I chose a place where the trails are all pretty flat and where I know where all f the benches are.

Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus

OMG, it was more difficult than I thought it would be. Because I haven’t been walking much at all, I learned very quickly, I had ZERO stamina. My pack felt too heavy, my camera felt too heavy, I could barely walk a few yards without feeling exhausted. I only managed to walk one loop.

Because I only did the one loop, and because I was too “aware” of my body’s limitations to really pay attention to everything around me, I didn’t see a whole lot: a few bird species, some Fox and Ground Squirrels, and a couple of deer. It was very disappointing… even though I know I have to work myself up to longer walks, and I managed to go for 90 minutes before I collapsed in the car.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  3. California Quail, Callipepla californica [heard]
  4. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  5. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis [on golf course lawn]
  6. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  7. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  8. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  9. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  10. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  11. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura [flyover]
  12. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana

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Out For the First Time Since My Surgery, 02-02-22

On February 2nd, Groundhog Day, I got up at 6:30, but asked my friend Roxanne to wait until around 8:00 AM to pick me up, so I could see to my sister Melissa’s dogs and make sure she was okay enough to leave at home after her tumble yesterday.

I felt guilty leaving Melissa behind for a few hours, but I also knew that I HAD to get outside and see some nature. [I’d been confined for a MONTH by my surgery recovery, and was “going crazy” inside.]

It’s that wicked balance between self-care and caring for others.

This was the first time I’d sat up in a moving vehicle for any length of time. And I was worried that the bumps in the road, the start-stop motion in traffic, and the pressures of velocity on my core would be rough. But I didn’t have any pain except for a slight pinch at the bottom end of my surgery scar. Even Roxanne commented that she noticed I was doing so much better than I had been before surgery.

We went to the Consumnes River Preserve with the idea of doing a drive around the surrounding ag lands and then walk one of the level trails at the preserve. But it was sooooo windy and sooooo cold, that after a while we nixed the idea of doing a walk. The wind was so strong it blew our cameras all over the place, and kept whipping twigs, grasses and birds back and forth, so taking photos was a struggle. Still, we saw more bird species than I thought we would.

The wind had knocked huge flocks of geese out of the sky and onto the ground, so some of the fields were just bursting with them. Hundreds of birds here, hundreds of birds there; mostly Greater White-Fronted Geese and Snow Geese. 

Snow Geese and Greater White-Fronted Geese in one of the ag fields near the prserve

Along Bruceville and Desmond Roads, many of the fields were flooded and full of waterfowl that were trying to eat even though the wind was knocking them around: Northern Pintails, Great Egrets, a Great Blue Heron, Green-Winged Teals, Killdeer, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Least Sandpipers, a Bufflehead, some American Wigeons, Northern Shovelers and Greater Yellowlegs.

There was so much chop on the water in some of the fields because of the stiff wind, that the birds were literally bouncing up and down over the waves.  

We were surprised that there were fewer Coots than we thought there should be.

In one of the oak trees along the road, we saw two nests that were RED. They were hanging basket-type nests, so I was thinking maybe they were made by Bullock’s Orioles. [See the photo at https://nestwatch.org/connect/home-tweet-home/bullocks-oriole-nest/ for comparison.] We thought the “red” we were seeing was shredded plastic fencing the birds had woven into the nests.

There were lots of Western Meadowlarks in the tall grass, but they were too fast for us, using the winds to help them whisk from one spot to another.

We also saw quite a few Sandhill Cranes. In one spot there were 10 of them lined up, calling to each other as a Northern Harrier hawk flew over their heads. One of the cranes in this group had a small band on one leg, but I couldn’t see any markings on it. Further along the road, we found two cranes that were standing pretty close to the road, so we were able to get some close-ups of them.

One of the cool things we saw was a Great Egret preparing to eat what looked like a vole it had caught. The bird must’ve done a stab and grab to get the vole because its beak was covered in blood. The egret was behind a stickery bush, and I tried to make sure the camera was focused on the bird and not the plant when I tried to get a video of it, but, of course, it focused on the plant instead. Grrrrr! So, all I got was a crisp in-focus bush and a fuzzy bird behind it.  So aggravating!

As we were leaving the preserve area, a car coming down the road from our left slowed to a stop beside Roxanne’s car and the people inside were pointing and looking up. We both looked around and realized there was a Bald Eagle flying overhead! It flew off across the street in front of us and cruised the fields there, scaring up all the resting waterfowl from the ground. We didn’t see it dive at anything, and then lost track of it, so we didn’t know if it was hungry and doing a precursory flight, or if it was just being a butthead. Hah!

As I mentioned before, because it was so cold, we didn’t go for a walk in the area, and instead did a fast driver over to Staten Island Road to see what the bird situation was like over there. 

On the hills beside the entrance to the road, was a big flock of sheep, adults and kids, being “guarded” by two large dogs. One of the dogs was at the top of the hill, looking bored to death, not even moving when the sheep walked by it. The other dog was in the grass at the bottom of the hill, licking its privates.  Must’ve been lunch-break time.

In the remains of corn stalks in one of the ag fields were flocks of Cackling Geese dotted with a few Sandhill Cranes.  In another field we saw a very large flock of the cranes, 78 of them, all in the line, feeding, trying to stay “under” the gusts of wind.

We also saw several small groups of Tundra Swans. One group was being followed some Canvasback Ducks, and another was being followed by a few Rudy Ducks. In fact, there were quite a few Ruddy Ducks in the fields out there, bouncing on the waves in the water like bathtub toys. Among them was a solitary Eared Grebe.

Here, too, we saw small shorebirds and larger waterfowl, but nothing new or unexpected. So, we did a quick turn-around and headed back home. We were out for about 4 hours, and got back to the house a little after noon… Melissa was up and having lunch with the dogs, so I knew she was feeling at least bit better.

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Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  3. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  4. Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  5. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  6. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii [nests]
  7. Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii
  8. Canvasback Duck, Aythya valisineria
  9. Dog, Canis lupus familiaris
  10. Eared Grebe, Podiceps nigricollis
  11. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  12. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  13. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  14. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  15. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  16. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  17. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  18. Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla
  19. Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
  20. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  21. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  22. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  23. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  24. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  25. Red-Tailed Hawk, Western Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus
  26. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  27. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  28. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  29. Sheep, Ovis aries
  30. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  31. Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus
  32. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  33. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  34. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli

Cancer Surgery Knocked Me Out in January 2022

Well, I pretty much lost the month of January. What a weird way to start a new year. Hopefully, we’re now “pre-disastered” for 2022 and the rest of the year will be better.

On Friday, January 7th, I went in for surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from my lower left abdomen, a cast-off of Wilson, the grapefruit-sized tumor removed in 2019. I had my pre-op stuff to do at home around 3:00 AM, for a surgery that was supposed to start 5:45 AM. My sister Melissa and her son Brian accompanied me to the hospital but because of COVID restrictions, were unable to come in an wait with me in the pre-op area.

I don’t remember anything of the pre-op stuff, so I’m assuming they knocked me out pretty quickly. According to my oncologist, the surgery took about 4 hours, and took as long as it did because Wilson Jr. (the tumor) was tough and pretty big. (Three fingers deep on the longest part.)

The tumor was gray and “bubbly” on the surface and had grown into the psoas muscle, with tendrils wrapping into the femoral nerve and starting to move into the surrounding vascular tissues. Because it was so embedded, the doctors (my doctor and the neurosurgeon) couldn’t get it out whole, so they cut off its head and then scraped it out layer by layer. My doctor had to scrape into the muscle itself, but is pretty sure they got it all out… but she wants me to see her every 3 months or so to make sure this “Wilson Jr.” didn’t toss out any other cell-babies while he was in there.

I can remember coming out of anesthesia after the operation in excruciating pain, moaning a lot. Melissa had warned me that the doctors cutting up into my abdomen would be more painful than any pain I’d felt before, and she was right. The doctors cut me open from my pubic bone to above my belly button; the slice was over 8 inches long. Good lord, the pain!

At one point, when I woke up a bit, I asked the nurses to help me to sit up a bit more, and they jerked and lifted me up so quickly, I literally screamed in pain. My doctor was in the room when that happened, and she stepped back away from the foot of the bed, startled by the noise. The nurses kept trying to push a binder on me — a girdle-like thing to hold my belly in tight — and I told them loudly, “NO! I literally can’t breathe with that thing on!” So…thankfully, no binder.

For the first part of my stay in the hospital — which lasted from Friday to part of Monday — I was in a private room. It had a large window that looked out on the roofs of the surrounding buildings and a single little tree. I was sleeping for most of my stay, but was awakened by nurses who needed to take my vitals, or offer me food, or help me get out and back into bed. I slept with one pillow under my head and another against my right side. I told the nurses that, at home, my dog usually slept there against my right side, so it was comforting.

The hospital was offering me food like Jell-O, soup, oatmeal, and tea. I wasn’t eating much, though — no appetite and I usually vomited up what I did eat. Being able to eat and keep the food down was a milestone I had to meet before I could go home.

On Saturday, the 8th, I got a call from Melissa, checking in on me. Apparently, the hospital wasn’t answering calls or routing them correctly, because the only way I got this call was when the anesthesiologist came into my room and transferred the call to me through his cell phone. I don’t know how lucid I was, but Lissa and I chatted briefly. Later that same afternoon, a gal from Physical Therapy (PT) came to the room and gave me some tips on how to move more easily, and “logroll” out of bed. She also said she’d put in a request for a walker and bedside commode to have at home. My insurance covered the walker completely, but I had to pay a co-pay for the commode.

Around 3:00 AM on Sunday morning, an intern came in and said they needed the room for COVID patients, so he wheeled me bed-and-all to a shared room. There were three other women in the room they took me to. One was moaning loudly, “Noooo…noooo…noooo…. Ahhhh, ahhhh, ahhhh…” on and off all day.  Another one of the women, was muttering repeating nonsense phrases to herself when she was awake between naps, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, b-b-b-better, better, ma-ma-ma-ma-ma…” Gad. The noise was never-ending. And the muttering woman had her television on as well. Guh! The third woman in the room with me was one who was getting ready to leave on Monday afternoon.           

Somewhere in there, I thought I heard the nurses say the moaning woman was from Texas and had come in for COVID. That cinched it, in my mind. I needed to get out of the hospital as soon as possible. I might still be in a lot of pain and bed-bound, but I could do that home as easily as at the hospital. The next time I saw my doctor, late Sunday afternoon, I told he I wanted to go home. She said she wanted me to stay the night, and she’d consider my leaving on Monday afternoon, even though she wanted me to stay longer,  only if I met certain criteria: (1) I had to eat and keep my meals down, (2) I had to be able to walk up and down the hall with the walker, and (3) I had to be able to pass gas, and (4) urinate without a catheter, and I had to get my blood ox up over 90. I was determined to meet those criteria.

Apparently, they’d had some trouble getting and keeping my oxygen level up over 90, so I was on supplemental oxygen. Part of the reason for that, I’m sure, was because my whole torso hurt from the surgery and it was hard to take in deep breaths. Once I realized that oxygenation was an issue that might keep me in the hospital, I made sure to take in as many deep breaths as I could — especially right before a pulse-ox measurement was taken.

On Monday morning, the 10th,  the catheter was removed and I was able to walk to the bathroom and pee with the walker. I was told to order a full lunch, eat as much of it as I could, and keep it down. So, I ordered tomato soup, a sliced orange, small slice of angel food cake, and some tuna salad. The tomato soup was the best I’d ever eaten, so, I ate the whole cup of it. The tuna salad tasted okay but was pulverized down to a paste; not to pleasing on the tongue. I only ate a few slices of the orange and took some bites of the cake… But I made sure I kept it all down.

In the afternoon, the nurses told me that my doctor was releasing me to go home. Yay! Melissa and Brian were waiting outside in the car in the pick-area, and a male nurse rolled me out to them in a wheelchair. Brian was driving, but I didn’t think anything of it. He also helped me get myself into bed once we got home (around 3:15 PM). Then I kind of collapsed for the day.

The next several days into-weeks were kind of a blur between trying to sleep, using the bedside commode for potty when I couldn’t make to the bathroom, dealing with the pain of the surgery, and barely eating. I lost about 10 pounds (but I’m sure I’ll gain it back eventually). I also had to teach myself how to walk again, and start to work myself up to being able to get into and out of a car, use the treadmill, and walk on the sidewalk and lawns…

Brian was a fantastic help through all of that. He’d listen for the sound of the walker and then get to my side before I could even say anything. He helped me get into and out of bed, and rearranged the blankets for me; he’d bring my meals to me at the kitchen table or to the little table on the back porch… On the 15th I tried to take a shower and almost fell over from exhaustion within about 2 minutes. Had to have Brian turn off the water for me; I just couldn’t stand up anymore. And then he helped me back to bed before I collapsed entirely.

Brian also bought some in-home COVID tests for us to take, to make sure everyone was safe (after both Melissa and I had been exposed to strangers in the hospital). We tested negative, as expected, but it was a relief to know for sure.

On the 16th, I got Brian to pull some mushrooms up from the woodchips in the backyard at lunchtime, so I could do my naturalist thing. He was sooooo accommodating. 

On that same day, he helped Melissa set up some wire fencing to go along the street-side fence in the  backyard. That part of the fence is falling apart and Melissa wanted it reinforced a little to keep the dogs from getting through it to the street.

On the 18th, a gentleman came to the house from Advanced Home Health and did an assessment of me for at-home physical therapy. After the assessment, he said I was eligible for four sessions (one per week for four weeks) that would be no cost to me; Kaiser would pay for them as part of my post-op care.  I’ll hear from someone next week to set those sessions up.

On the 20th I had a Zoom appointment with my doctor. She thought I was doing remarkably well, all things considered, and was glad to hear I was able to get off the opiate pain killers and manage on just Ibuprofen and Gabapentin. We talked about the surgery itself, and about the fact that part of my psoas muscle was now gone… But both of us were happy that the surgery seemed to correct the nerve pain I was feeling in my left hip and thigh. The thigh still “buzzes” a little bit, but otherwise doesn’t hurt. Yay! I’m looking forward to being able to walk more normally again. I’ll see my doctor again on the 27th when I get the staples out.

This same afternoon, I got a call from the office of my GP. She said the in-home health assessment showed my blood pressure and heart rate were too high, so she’s prescribed Lisinopril for that. I’m supposed to take one pill a day and track my BP and pulse every day to see if there’s any improvement. I’ve been in pain for so long, I think my body got used to being “tensed” all the time…

I’m in less pain now than I have been in a long time, but still too uncomfortable to wear a full set of normal clothes. I spend my days in nightgowns and slippers. My friend Roxanne said she doesn’t care if I’m in a nightie; we could go somewhere where I wouldn’t have to get out of the car — look at nature through the car windows. Hah! That’s actually pretty tempting! I miss my nature walks sooooo much! 

My target is to be back outside, fully dressed and walking, by mid-February.  We’ll see.  Wish me luck.

Back Online, 11-01-21

I haven’t been recording anything in my journal or blog for almost a month now because I was recovering — and am still recovering — from my surgery on October 8th.

According to the pathology reports, the doctor excised three small fibrous tumors (“yellow-tan” in color) and seven “suspicious” lymph nodes. One of the tumors was adhered to the abdominal wall, and here was one that was laying on the iliac artery. The doctor had to be really careful about that one so as not to nick the artery.

The surgery itself took about 3 hours, but then it took forever for me to wake up from the anesthesia. No nausea after surgery this time, but I just couldn’t seem to wake up fully. I’d wake up, fall back asleep, wake up, fall back asleep… Eventually, the male nurse who was tending to me, just stood by the bed and poked me whenever I started to drift off again. He also had a loud alarm that went off when my breathing slowed, so I could hear it and rouse myself again.  *Sigh* I got into the hospital around 9:30 in the morning, and was finally able to go home around 8:00 pm.

The first night home was a little rough for both my sister Melissa and me: for me, because I had trouble finding a comfortable position in which to lay, and for Melissa, because she kept listening for me to make sure I was breathing and didn’t fall into too deep a sleep. She could tell when I was doing well by my snoring. Hah! Glad that came in handy for something.

The last time I had surgery (in 2019) recovery took 6 weeks. This time, because fewer and smaller things were taken out of me, the doctor and I were hoping that my recovery would be a lot shorter…but it seems like it’s going to take the full 6 weeks anyway. Over the weeks that followed, I was disappointed that I wasn’t feeling better sooner, and was frustrated with myself.  So much so, that I tried “forcing” myself to do things, like doing small chores and walking before my body was ready, and that would knock me back. Some mornings, the pain was so intense that I couldn’t stand up straight, and I would vomit… And that was very disheartening.

In the middle of all of this, the mattress on my bed gave out completely, and I couldn’t get comfortable at all. I had to set aside some funds to buy a new one but had to wait until my social security money came in around the 28th, and then could only afford an off-brand bed-in-a-box from Amazon. Melissa didn’t want me getting something that may or may not work, so she spent time doing a lot of research online and found a firm Serta she thought might work well for me and ordered it. I still had to wait for it (it was delivered on the 29th), but I am sooooo grateful for it. I’ve only had it for a few days now, but have been able to sleep more soundly at night because of it. I still have to get up in the night to pee (TMI, I know), but once I fall asleep, I sleep a lot more soundly which is necessary for healing. Thank you, Melissa!!

Because of my pain and lack of sleep in the weeks before, I didn’t have any appetite, and had to force myself to eat — sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I lost about 6 pounds. I can well afford to lose the poundage, but that’s really not the way to do it. Getting my digestive tract to work right was also a struggle.  Some of the pain meds make my BM’s soft, but then the Oxy makes me constipated, so it’s something of a juggling act.  Around the 26th, I finally got my appetite back and had a big meal of chicken and green salad.

On the 28th I went to the surgery follow-up appointment with Dr. Suby and Melissa went with me. I’m glad she did; I couldn’t have gotten through it without her. I was in some pain that morning, but was also frustrated by the fact that I had to go to the Response Road facility for the appointment. I hate that place. There’s nowhere to park in the huge parking lot, and all but one of the entrances to the building were closed off because of COVID protocols. We finally found a spot to park on one end of the building, then had to walk to the other side of it to get inside. Once inside, we then had to walk all the way back to the opposite end of the building again to check in for the appointment. By then, I was exhausted and hurting, and couldn’t breathe with the face mask on… and I had a total breakdown and ended up crying through most of the meeting. I was such a mess.

All of the bits of tumor and lymph nodes that were extracted and tested revealed no signs of cancer, so that was good to hear. But the doctor seemed sort of surprised by the fact that the surgery didn’t help alleviate some of my abdominal pain — and that I was having such a difficult time with the recovery. She said the first thing she wanted me to do was to get the pain somewhat under control before going on to anything else. So, I’ll be on more Oxy for a little while. Then she wants me to get another CT scan or MRI, and have an appointment with a pain specialist. If the abdominal pain isn’t being caused by the tumors in the abdomen, she said, it might be caused by something in the spine. (Eew. Let’s hope not.)

I got messaged by both radiology and the pain management folks before I got home after the appointment.  Dr. Suby suggested I got immediately over to the ER to get the scan done, but I told her I just couldn’t do that. My sister Monica had gone to the ER and never came out (and had died just the night before this appointment); I just couldn’t deal with it.  I’ll call / message radiology and the pain people early next week and set up appointments then. I wanted a drama-free, appointment-free weekend.

So, anyway, now I’m home, got my new mattress, got my appetite back and hopefully will start healing in earnest. I can’t say thank you enough to Melissa who saw me through all of this and was such a great support.

Hopefully, I’ll be out and doing my nature-tracking thing again before Thanksgiving.