My new normal

One of the phrases that gets under my skin during this pandemic is “the new normal.” I won’t go into why that phrase irks me right now, but I’ve found that it can also apply to living with melanoma. At least it does after you’ve beaten it back and have a few clean scans under your belt. Or at least it does after I’ve beaten it back and have a few clean scans under my belt. I’m only speaking for myself here.

On Tuesday, Lynn and I received the news that my latest scans again showed no evidence of active disease. Today, I received emails letting me know that the radiologists’ reports for those scans had been posted to my online account. Normally (there’s that word again), I would have logged right in and scoured the reports for any hint of the smallest area of concern. Radiologists are paid to look for stuff and report every little thing that they see. That’s their job. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that they do that and I hope that they do it well and don’t miss anything. It’s just that, I’m not eager to look for something wrong when I’ve already been told by my doctor that nothing is wrong. I’m putting my trust in him and letting him handle the medical details. So, I guess that represents a new normal for me.

When I was first diagnosed, we tried to find out everything that we could about my melanoma. We sought second and third opinions, and we scoured the internet trying to figure out what to do and what to expect. When I got diabetes and colitis as side effects of immunotherapy, we researched the hell out of those things, too. That was far from normal, and it consumed a lot of our time and mental energy. At first we didn’t know if the therapy would work, and then we weren’t sure if the therapy wouldn’t kill me. There was a lot we didn’t know and we were fumbling in the dark looking for the light switch.

Now, after 16 months of clean scans, neither of us feels the need to question everything or to follow the latest research. I know that would change if I got a not-so-good scan, but for now we’re kind of putting melanoma in the back of our minds and focusing on other things. That’s the new normal around here.

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Something to celebrate

The bottle of beer on the left had been tucked away in the back of the refrigerator for a few months. Duvel is probably my favorite beer in the world (and I love beer), but I was saving it for when I got a job offer. Well, I am still available for offers of employment, but I did have something else to celebrate.

Lynn and I met with my oncologist via video call on Tuesday to receive the good news. My scans are still clean. There were a couple of small things with my blood work (LDH at around 400 and liver enzymes just barely out of the standard range), but nothing he seem concerned about. I know I’m not concerned about it. He wished us both a great summer and I’m to schedule my next scans for four months from now. So Prost! to that.

In other news, today is our 16th wedding anniversary, so that is something else to celebrate. Today we stopped at a local ice cream stand for ice cream. It was our first “dining out” experience since COVID-19 up-ended all of our lives. We only stopped in because the place didn’t look busy. It wasn’t busy when we stopped, but by the time we placed our orders, paid, collected our ice creams and took them back to our car to eat them, the place got much busier. We saw several people not wearing masks, or not wearing them correctly. Is wearing a mask covering your mouth but not your nose a thing now? Anyway, we were both glad that we arrived when we did and we both enjoyed the hell out of our ice creams. Who knows, it may be a long time before we get another one.

As Warren Zevon saod, “Enjoy every sandwich.” Or ice cream. Or beer. Or moment.

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Random thoughts, part 2

I’m going to finish my post from yesterday, discussing some non-melanoma things that are on my mind. First, though, I should mention again that Lynn and I are meeting with my oncologist via telehealth (video) call this afternoon to learn the results of my latest scans. I’m not too nervous because I feel good and my blood work was pretty good. I can’t say, however, that I am not a little anxious. I think that’s mostly because my luck has not been really great lately. I would welcome some good news this afternoon.

As for my luck, well I share the bad luck with everyone who has been affected by this COVID-19 pandemic. In our case, we are still sheltering in place as much as possible, our recent visits to two hospitals not withstanding. We feel isolated and alone. We can converse with loved ones over the phone and via the internet, but it’s not the same as being together with them physically and being able to give them a hug or even hold their hand. These days, when we do venture out, we see people wearing masks and you can only see their eyes to judge the expression on their faces. We also see a lot of people not wearing masks, which I’ll get to. When I see people wearing masks, I’m reminded of the John Prine song, “Hello in There.”

So if you’re walking down the street sometime

And see some hollow ancient eyes,

Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare

As if you didn’t care,

Say “Hello in there, hello.”

John Prine — “Hello in There”

People in masks look trapped to me, and I feel trapped, physically, socially and emotionally. Trapped in my house, trapped behind a mask, and trapped inside my body. I think I would have ventured out by now (I would kill for an ice cream cone) if I weren’t high risk because of my asthma and diabetes. I’ve made a promise to Lynn that I would limit my exposure when I go out and don’t do anything that isn’t absolutely necessary in order to reduce the risk of catching this damn virus. I would feel bad if I caught it, mostly because I wouldn’t want to give it to Lynn. As far as my own health goes, I’m willing to adopt a Que Sera, Sera attitude.

Speaking of isolation, my hearing has been going out on me. I’ve had so-called age-related hearing loss for years now, but lately it has gotten much worse. I think it’s just earwax buildup, but I can’t seem to clear it out, although I’ve tried multiple things with no success. If it weren’t for this pandemic, I would have gone to the doctor and at least gotten my ears cleaned by now. What this hearing loss means is that I have trouble hearing Lynn when she speaks. Sometime she speaks and I have to ask her two or three times to repeat herself; sometimes she speaks and I don’t hear her at all. This is frustrating as hell for Lynn as it increases her sense of isolation. The only person she has to talk to most of the time can’t even hear her. She says that it’s worse than being alone, because if she were alone she wouldn’t try to speak to the walls, which is what she equates speaking to me with most of the time. It’s frustrating to me, too, because I want to hear her and I can’t. I used to blame her for not speaking loudly enough, but now I know the problem is definitely on my end. I feel like I’m losing contact with the every part of the world and retracting into my own body. This inability to communicate is putting a lot of strain on our relationship.

What else is there? Oh yeah, I’m still unemployed. I’ve recently passed the five-month mark and my prospects for employment do not look good. I thought I was really close to landing something a couple of weeks ago. I made it to the fourth round of interviews. It was a job that I was very qualified for, almost identical to my previous job, and one that I was very excited about. Well, I didn’t get it, and since then crickets. I still apply for random jobs to satisfy the unemployment people, but my heart isn’t in it. I think after you’ve been out of work for this long, employers look at you as tainted goods. I now feel like someone who is thrashing in the water, trying to stay afloat until help arrives. After wearing yourself out, you kind of accept your fate, relax, and embrace the water. I feel that way about a lot of things these days. I can keep treading water, but at a certain point I’m going to have to accept that this is it.

Anyway, if I haven’t depressed the crap out of you by now, come back later, or maybe tomorrow for results of my scans, and further musings.

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Random thoughts, part 1

I usually try to think of a theme for my posts here, but I have so many thoughts running around my head these days that it’s hard to focus on one. I also try to think of something positive to add so that someone who comes to this site searching for hopeful information about melanoma doesn’t get too disheartened by what they read here just because I might be having a bad day. As far as the melanoma goes, the good days far outnumber the bad. I have to keep reminding myself of that, even when I get down because of the other things going on in the world and in my life.

First the melanoma report. I have been NED since at least February of last year. I feel good. On Saturday, I went to Yale to have my 4-month scans (delayed slightly because of COVID-19) and to have blood work. I have a telemedicine video call with my doctor tomorrow afternoon to discuss the results of the scans. I have already received the results of the blood work and everything looks pretty good. I even had some tests done for my endocrinologist to follow up on my diabetes management and even those look good. My thyroid levels are normal and my cholesterol is back in the normal range. Yay! No statins for me. While I’m still a little nervous about the results of the scans, not overly so, because I feel good and the blood work is good, so why shouldn’t the scans be good?

Saturday’s visit to Yale was my first visit to a hospital or any other type of medical facility since the coronavirus hit the fan. I was much more nervous about that than about the scans themselves. I was was originally scheduled to have my blood work, CT scan and MRI done on the same day, but at three different facilities within the Yale system. I was nervous enough about going to one facility, let alone three. so I rescheduled my scans to all happen at Yale’s Saint Raphael campus. It was my first time there, and I hope my last. I’m willing to cut them some slack because they’re dealing with operating during a pandemic, but I thought some of the staff members lacked the professionalism that I’ve come to expect from Yale. The good news is that this was Saturday and the place was not very busy at all. As for the bad news, I interacted with two staff members (Radiology receptionist and MRI tech) whose idea of wearing a face mask was to cover their mouth, but not their nose. No one is allowed to enter without a face mask. Lynn gave me an N95 mask which I wore in but had to swap out for a hospital supplied mask because the N95 mask had metal around the nose portion of the mask. I wore that mask for the rest of my visit. I’m not sure how the hospital staff gets away with only partially covering their face.

Then, there was a mix-up between my MRI and CT scans. After the MRI, I was parked in the waiting area and told someone would come and get me to bring me for my CT scan. Apparently, the MRI people thought the CT people were going to do that and the CT people thought the MRI people were going to do that. I waited there for 45 minutes before that was straightened out. Then, when I did get to the CT scan, the tech almost blew out a vein injecting the contrast fluid (or saline, I’m not sure which) too fast. I let out a loud OW! and he slowed down. I’ve never had that experience before and I don’t know if the guy was in a hurry or just not very good at his job but it hurt like hell and that area was sore and swollen for some time after that. After all this I was able to take off that darn mask and drive myself home. Lynn did not accompany me there because patients are not allowed to have anyone with them in the hospital for these visits.

And guess what? The next day we end up going to another hospital. Without going into details and violating HIPAA regulations, Lynn had been dealing with an issue that she hoped would clear up on its own. Sunday morning she had intense pain that scared us both enough to make a trip to the local ER. It turned out to be not serious but there I was again in another hospital, this time with Lynn. She was just as anxious in the hospital as I was the day before, probably more so. It wasn’t too bad, the ER was not busy at all. This pandemic seems to be cutting down on the number of people who go to the hospital voluntarily. The staff were professional, we didn’t have to come within 6 feet of too many people, and we were out of there in a couple of hours. Still, we’ll both feel better after 14 days or so and we know that we didn’t catch anything this weekend. I’m also glad that my doctor’s appointment tomorrow is a video call.

There are a few more things that I wanted to write about in this post. That’s why I titled it “Random thoughts.” I think this post is long enough for now and I cover the other things tomorrow. Take care and stay safe.

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Ineligible

I just received a phone call from someone doing a survey for melanoma research. I apologize if the name of the research study escapes me, it was short phone call. The woman on the phone asked me if I had active melanoma and I replied that, as of my most recent scans, I showed no evidence of active disease. She said that that was good for me but bad for her because that status made me ineligible for her study. I told her that I was glad to be ineligible and wished her luck and good day. Nothing like being ineligible for a cancer study to put one in a generous mood.

So yes, I still have no active disease, at least according to my most recent scans. I feel great so I have every reason to expect that my melanoma status has not changed. I have more scans scheduled for next month (my last were in late January). At first I thought I would postpone them due to the current COVID-19 crisis. I mean, healthy people should probably avoid hospitals now, right? That is, unless one is a health-care worker (hats off to them). But then I figured that things could be even worse later this summer or early fall. I don’t want to stop getting scans entirely, no matter how good I feel. So I guess I’ll go and have them done.

The doctor’s office did notify me that there has been a change of venue. Instead of having the scans at the main hospital where I usually have them done, they’ve been moved to a satellite campus nearby. I’m still nervous. In addition to entering a medical facility (hell, I don’t feel comfortable enough now to go to a grocery store) during a pandemic, I’ll be placed in tubes that I can only trust have been sanitized properly before I get in them. Lynn usually accompanies me to my scans, but she has wisely decided to stay home this time. There’s no point both of us risking exposure. I’m not even sure if she’d be allowed to wait in the waiting room or what the situation will be. Right now, we both see the virus as a bigger threat than the cancer.

There is also the matter of my consult with the doctor. Usually what happens is I have the blood-work and scans one day and then I meet with my oncologist a day or two after so he can examine me (basically he just palpates a few lymph nodes) and give me the results of the scans (not in that order). I’m going to see if he can forego the palpating and just read me the results over the phone or via a video meeting. I don’t see the need for the added risk and I’m not making a second trip to the hospital regardless. I think he’ll understand. These are crazy times.

As for the current crisis, we’ve both been sheltering in place. We make one trip out per month to pick up medicine (mainly insulin) at the pharmacy and we also run other errands the same day. That way, even though we’ve risked exposure, we’ll both know 14 days later that we’re probably safe, haven’t contracted the virus, and can’t pass it on to others. We get most groceries from doing online ordering and delivery, and we order other supplies from Amazon or other online retailers. Our recycling bin is stuffed to the brim with cardboard boxes every week. We now have about a three month supply of food, in addition to the fresh eggs that our hens supply. Our shopping now is just to replace what we use out of that stockpile.

As the various states start to reopen, we are both adamant that we’re not ready to go out there. We don’t think the state or federal government is telling us the truth and that the situation is worse than they’re letting on. I’m not sure how long we can sustain this. At some point our unemployment benefits will run out. I’m hoping to find work before that happens but I can’t count on it. I’m only looking at jobs were I could work from home 100% of the time, and while those jobs are out there, the competition is fierce. I had a phone screen for one such job yesterday. I know I was beyond qualified and I thought the interview went great, but I haven’t heard back yet, so I’m not counting my chickens. As the governor of this state is fond of saying, “hope for the best, and plan for the worst.”

I hope everyone out there is doing well. I’ll probably not post again until after my next scans. Wish us all luck and please be safe out there, or better yet, in there. And for all the melanoma warriors out there, I hope that you are ineligible, too!

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15 Days

Lynn and I have been self-isolating for 15 days now. This means that we have not gone to the store, we have not visited friends or family, we have not had friends and family visit us, we have not gotten together with anyone in public places. The closest we have come to in-person human contact is saying a socially distant “hello” to strangers we meet when walking in the cemetery.

I mention this because we hear about people who say they are self-isolating, but then they are just “running out to the store for a few things,” or “just getting together with so-and-so,” etc. I’m not here to judge, but when the stakes are so high, I think people should take this pandemic thing very, very seriously. If most of the experts are correct, people with COVID-19 infection will start showing symptoms within 14 days. If they are correct (big if), Lynn and I are not infected. This means that we can not spread it to each other or anyone else unless we go out and become newly infected. Of course, the experts don’t all agree and some claim that the incubation period could be as high as 21 days. For this reason, I’d like to continue our self-isolation for another week, just to be cautious.

At some point, we will have to leave the house, but for the time being we have everything we need at home. I’m not sure what the world will look like when we do venture back into it. Will everyone be wearing masks and gloves? What will the world be like if you can’t tell if someone is smiling or frowning? How long will we continue to look at outsiders (people who haven’t quarantined with us) as potential carriers of death? What will our social interactions be like? When will parks and movie theaters and concert halls, not to mention restaurants and pubs, be filled again with people? I don’t have the answers. I don’t think anyone does because there is still so much unknown, but these are the kinds of things I think about with the time I have between reading the news on the internet and watch the news briefings on television.

This blog is supposed to be about one couple’s journey with melanoma. Who knew when we started our journey that it would join paths with the world’s journey with a global pandemic? As far the melanoma is concerned, I feel fine and there’s nothing new since my last scans. My next scans are scheduled for early June, but I’m thinking those might get pushed out. Even if I dared by then to go into a hospital again, the hospital might be busy with other things. My scan interval was recently changed from every three months to every four. Maybe now, we’ll jump straight to every six. I’ll have to see what my doctor says about that.

As I said, I feel good, but I don’t think that I am invulnerable. At first, I laughed off people’s suggestions that I was high risk due to my melanoma, diabetes and asthma. I figured that 1. I did not have active melanoma and was not on any immuno-suppressive therapy, and 2. my diabetes and asthma were both well-controlled, so I didn’t consider myself high-risk. For weeks, however, I have been reading about healthy people with no known risk factors going from fit to very ill almost over-night. I’m not as confident as before. Just because I feel strong doesn’t mean that a tiny little virus can’t take me down. Melanoma was scary, but I always figured that I’d have time to try different treatments. If one treatment didn’t work, then I could try another treatment. I also assumed that I would always have ready access to some of the best health care in the world. This COVID-19 is a different animal. It can take you suddenly and when it does you may have access at best to hurried and harried, overloaded and overworked health care.

So we sit home and wait. It’s kind of like one of those apocalyptic movies where the few survivors of some dreaded plague or nuclear catastrophe sit in their cellars and wait for signs that it’s safe to leave their sanctuaries. I don’t know when it will ever be safe, and as I said, and I don’t know what kind of world we will find when we do venture out into it. Lynn and I have talked about it and she was saying how much air travel changed after 9/11. There will be changes after this but on a wider scale because this virus and others like it will touch almost every aspect of our lives. I feel sorry for my kids and the kids they might have, because the world they inherit will likely be a lot less innocent than the one we grew up in. Even if we survive, so much will be lost.

Will we learn anything from this, other than that talking about preparing for a disaster isn’t the same as actually preparing for it? I don’t know. I’d like to think that the people of this world will take this timeout to re-evaluate their priorities. I’d like to think that they’d see how fragile everything is and what’s really important isn’t the money you can accumulate or the things you can buy with it, but the human connections. I’d like to think that people would learn to value those connections, not just with family and friends, but with strangers we haven’t met. This virus is teaching us in a bizarre way just how inter-connected we are and how much we all depend on each other, from the doctor in the ER, to the checkout girl at the supermarket, to the factory worker in China. We all need each other, a lot more than we need the next shiny bauble.

I’ll leave it at that. Stay safe, everyone.

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Notes from a lock-down

I’m not so worried about melanoma or diabetes these days. My new worry is COVID-19. Lynn and I are in lock-down. Ten days ago, I bought a bunch of groceries, or at least as much as I could given the limited stock of many items on the store shelves. We figure that we have about enough food and other essentials to last at least a month before we have to think about restocking. We also have three laying hens that are giving us fresh eggs every day, so as long as we can keep them supplied with feed, that’s another food source. So, we’re not so worried about running out of food (at least in the near term), but we are worried.

People keep asking Lynn “how is Rich doing?” When they ask this, they are referring to my cancer, thinking that everyone who has cancer or cancer treatment is immuno-compromised. I’m not immuno-compromised, having been on immunotherapy drugs and not chemo, but they seem to forget that, no matter how many times they’ve been told. There is a hypothetical chance that I could be at increased risk of cytokine storm, but there is so much that is unknown about this “novel” virus that nobody can say with certainty. I am, however, at increased risk for other reasons. I’m 63 years old. I’ve read some advisories that suggest people over 60 should shelter in place, while other advisories have raised that number to over 70. I guess I should play it safe and go with the lower number. In addition to my age, I have two other risk factors — asthma and diabetes. Both are well controlled at the moment, but the statistics out of China report a higher incident of death from COVID-19 in patients with those two underlying morbidities. Underlying morbidities. Sounds pretty, well, morbid, doesn’t it?

We don’t know what’s out there or how long this situation will last, but since that shopping trip (and Lynn’s trip to the post office that same day to pick up baby chicks that she ordered), we’ve been self-isolating at home, or sheltering in place, whatever you call it. I’m still unemployed and Lynn is furloughed so we don’t have to go anywhere, but not being able to go out for so much as a cup of coffee, has us both feeling restless and fearful. We have a lot of time on our hands now, which we both spend too much of by reading or watching the news. We keep watching the death tolls go up with no peak, let alone any end in sight. After ten days, we are both fairly confident that we do not have the virus, but we worry about others. We worry about our kids who are not isolating. They tell us that they have restricted their movements, but we know they haven’t limited their exposure completely. We worry that they could get sick and we wouldn’t even be able to see them. We read about people who are sick and dying alone and it breaks our hearts. In Italy, people can’t even get buried and people can’t even say good-bye to their loved ones. Who thought that we’d live to see a day like this? The experts warned us, but we could not imagine it and I think that’s why we were so unprepared for it. It’s like something out of a science fiction novel. Maybe that’s why they’re calling it a “novel” virus.

In addition to fear, Lynn is feeling a lot of anger. I shouldn’t speak for her, and I won’t, except to say that I understand her anger. We’re both upset about our government leaders who have not prepared the country for this, and we’re both upset about a system that prioritizes profits over people. When I hear people in government talk about the “trade-offs” of protecting lives versus protecting the economy, it makes me sick to my stomach. I’m not naive and I always knew that in a capitalist society the bottom line is the bottom line, but to hear officials say it out loud and without apology makes me sad for humanity. Other things that make me sad are people who refuse to shelter-in-place. I’m not talking about essential workers such as police, fire, or health care workers, but about the people who could stay at home and don’t. I’m talking about the people who “have” to run out to the store to pick up this or that item, or the people who gather in public places, or the people who let their kids out to play with other kids. The list could go on and on. Are these people that stupid or that selfish? Are they more concerned with their individual freedoms than the common good? Liberty and responsibility are inseparable, yet I see people running out to stockpile supplies (and guns and ammunition) in an every-man-for-himself free-for-all. If we just thought in terms of community, we would all be safer, both from the virus and from the maelstrom of fear, panic and greed that drives neighbor against neighbor.

I didn’t mean for this post to get so serious, but ten days in isolation with too much time to worry leads to these kinds of thoughts. We’ve both been thinking about ways to break out of this rat race that we call the system. There has to be more to life than chasing a bigger paycheck and accumulating goods and increasing the GDP. We both wonder if this crisis isn’t an opportunity for the world to stop and re-evaluate its priorities. Maybe something can be learned from this, but I’m not sure. Speaking for myself, you’d think that I would have learned my lesson after having a near-death experience with Stage IV melanoma, but I didn’t. I went back to work chasing the same old cheese. I fear that the world will also put this tragic crisis behind them without even a lesson learned, chasing the same old cheese.

Stay safe everyone.

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Now, I’m afraid

It’s March 18, 2020 and the U.S. is now in the beginning stages of the COVID-19 global epidemic (or pandemic). For most Americans, the biggest worry is getting toilet paper, but for some the pandemic has already taken their lives or the lives of their loved ones. If it hasn’t gotten real for most other people, it will. I don’t want to go off on a rant about the selfishness and thoughtlessness of many people, or the lack of leadership from our politicians, or the lack of preparedness of our health care system, but it all makes me very angry. Or, to put in “I” terms, I get angry when I think about it.

Lately, I’ve been trying to put things in “I” terms in order to take ownership of my thoughts, emotions and reactions. Events or actions or even words external to me might trigger a thought, emotion or reaction, but I can’t blame the event, action or word for my reaction to it. In other words, if someone does something, say insults me or hoards toilet paper so that I can’t buy any, that doesn’t directly cause a specific reaction in me. My reaction is a choice; how I choose to react is within my control, even if events are not. That distinction is not usually obvious to me in the moment because my amygdala wants to take control in that moment. If I count to three (or one hundred and three) and take a step back, however, I can see what’s being triggered in me. If I can understand my triggers, I have a better chance of acting rationally instead of emotionally. In theory. It’s hard for me to be detached and rational when I perceive a threat to my survival. My amygdala is just doing its job, trying to trigger a “fight or flight” response in order to save its host organism.

That’s where I’m at now. In “fight or flight” mode, only there’s no visible enemy to fight and no truly safe place to run to. I’ll be honest. I’m afraid. I wasn’t this afraid when I was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma and I wasn’t sure if I’d live more than a few months. Yes, I was worried. I went through most, if not all, of the KĂ¼bler-Ross stages of grief, and I worried; but I didn’t have this kind of FEAR then. I figured that I would have access to quality medical care, that if one treatment didn’t work, I could try others, and I eventually accepted that if none of the treatments worked, then maybe it was my time to die, hopefully at home and surrounded by my family.

This COVID-19 threat is different. What I’m reading about happening in Italy shows me that none of those things might be available to me. First of all, because I am 63 years old and have cancer, diabetes and asthma, I’d probably be triaged as being high-risk and therefore, not worth saving when it comes to choosing who gets saved and who is left to die. I don’t feel that I’m high-risk, but maybe I am. Secondly, and this is more serious, most of the people who are dying in Italy, are dying alone. If they end up in the hospital, they are isolated from all visitors, including immediate family members, who themselves may be sick and isolated. There’s no silver lining to this that I can see and I respond emotionally by being afraid. Very afraid.

I’m afraid for myself, but also for the people I love. Lynn and I have a couple of errands to do this week, but after that we are going to be sheltering in place for at least 14 days. Neither of us has a job to go to (Lynn was furloughed, I’m still out of work since my layoff in January) and we have enough and supplies, including medicine, to last at least that long, so there’s no real reason for us to risk catching the virus or, even worse, spreading it to someone else if we do happen to have it ourselves. I pray that Lynn doesn’t get sick with it and we are separated. I just wish that more people would self-isolate. Seeing pictures of spring-breakers frolicking in Florida is another trigger for the old amygdala.

One of the things that worries us is that we may not get to see our kids or other loved ones again. We’re choosing to self-isolate, but what happens if we get sick or one of them gets sick? And we have no idea at this point how long this social distancing will need to last. Lynn just told me that she read that it could last eighteen months. I hope that’s not the case, but who knows. There’s so much that is unknown about this new threat.

I’d like to say that this crisis is putting our other worries into perspective, but for me, the worry and fear is cumulative. I’m still worried about being out of work and not being able to find a job. It was going to be a challenge before this happened, but now nobody is interviewing and, as the economy continues to take a hit from this, more and more people will be out of work. I’m still worried about money, because our income has been reduced drastically and our fall-back savings are being quickly eroded by losses in the stock market, so we may not have those savings available when we need them. Economists are starting to say that we might be heading for a “depression,” instead of just a temporary recession, so that’s another worry. And then there’s COVID-19 itself, which is just beginning to disrupt our lives. I don’t know that we’re equipped to deal with this socially or emotionally as a society. As an individual, I’m just starting to wrap my mind around it.

And now I’m afraid. For all of us.

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I still don’t have melanoma

I was going to title this post “I still don’t have melanoma … or a job,” but I decided to focus here on the positive, at least to start. Health-wise, not much has happened since January. My last scans were clear and I am now on a schedule of having my scans every four months instead of every three. If this keeps up for a year, I’ll go every six month, then after five years, just annual scans. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that before. I haven’t posted in almost two months so I may be repeating myself here. If that is so, I apologize.

So, yes, health-wise, I’m doing very well. Lynn gifted me with a fitness-tracker/smart-watch for Christmas, primarily to display the blood glucose readings from my CGM, but the side effect has been that it has encouraged me to be more active. I love side effects that don’t send me to the E.R. I’ve been doing a lot of walking and I feel better than I have in a couple of years. Of course, I have more time for walking now, but I’ll get to that later. The key take-away here is that I feel good physically and that I’m beginning to believe that two of my goals for last year my actually be doable this year.

Last year, as you may recall, I set myself goals to run a 5K and to hike Mt. Monadnock. With the weather getting warmer and my fitness getting stronger, I might actually get out and start training for those two goals. I figure I’ll tackle the mountain first. From what I read, it’s not Mt. Everest, but it does take about 4-5 hours to hike to the summit and back and part of the trail near the top is steep and rocky, so good shoes, food and plenty of water are recommended. From the summit, the view stretches for many miles on a clear day with a panorama that takes in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. In the fall, the autumn foliage is in full display but that’s also when the mountain gets the most crowded. Right now I’m thinking May or early June, before it gets too hot. As for the 5K, I want to start training soon, but that also requires good shoes. What was it Thoreau said, “beware of all enterprises that require new clothes“? I don’t know if that also included new shoes.

As you may also recall from my last post, I was laid off from my job in January. I’m still looking, but not having a lot of success. It’s frustrating. Financially and mentally, I’m not ready to retire now. I was planning to work at least until full retirement age, if not slightly beyond and add to the old nest egg. If I don’t find something soon, we may have to start drawing on that nest egg. I’ve been doing what I can to find employment — I’ve increased the distance that I’m willing to commute, I’ve been flexible about the kinds of jobs that I’m applying to and I’ve contacted past coworkers for leads. I’ve been on a couple of interviews, but I wonder if my age is working against me. I had one interviewer ask me pointedly if I thought a person could be over-qualified for a job. I wonder if over-qualified was just code for too old. I also wonder if I would have been asked that question if I was twenty years younger. As someone told me, age discrimination is a thing. You can’t prove it, but it’s real.

I’ve also been spending a lot of time taking online training courses to brush up on old skills and to learn new skills. I’m not sure if that helps any. It’s hard to really learn something unless you actually do it every day, but I figure some of the new stuff is sinking in, and the old stuff is coming back to the fore. I had one interview where I was asked technical questions that I should have remembered the answers to but it’s been so long, I just drew blanks on some of them. I know I could do these jobs but trying to prove you can in an interview isn’t always so easy. I think that a hiring manager looks at a 63 year-old job applicant and thinks, “I don’t have time for this guy to come up to speed. He might not live that long.” And they don’t even know that I’m a diabetic cancer survivor!

I have another phone interview tomorrow. It’s a contract job, temp to perm, so it won’t solve my health insurance needs until if and when I go permanent. In the meantime I’m paying $1200/month for COBRA. I would love to get that monkey off my back, at least until I’m old enough for Medicare, although it will be almost ten years before Lynn would be eligible. Her current job doesn’t offer health insurance, or much else other than flexibility to take time off for my medical appointments. To say that we’re both a little stressed over this situation would be an understatement. We each deal with this stress in our own way.

One thing that we have now to distract us somewhat from that stress (or two things) are two new chickens. You can see one of them here in the photo on Lynn’s arm. That’s Jilly, the hen, and her partner is Jacques. They’re both seramas, the smallest breed of chicken. Jilly is smaller than a pigeon and Jacques is a bit larger. We’re keeping them in the house. Most people keep them as house pets (in cages like parakeets, although seramas, like all chickens, are flightless). Housing is a challenge right now. We currently have them in a guinea pig cage, but we think they might need more room. Jilly is laying soft-shelled eggs, which isn’t good for her or the eggs, which we think might be due to the cramped living quarters. We’ve been looking at rabbit hutches and other small animal enclosures, but we haven’t found anything so far that will fit in the space that we have and be easy to clean and be comfortable quarters for Jilly and Jacques. This has also been frustrating. We’re afraid that if we don’t resolve this soon that Jilly’s health will suffer. We don’t want that because we’ve started to get attached to her. Seramas have great personalities and they’re starting to get attached to us, or at least the treats that we give them.

One of the things that I wanted to talk about is gratitude. With all the stuff that has been going on, it has been hard, for me at least, to remember to practice gratitude. I am extremely grateful for all that I have, but I don’t often show it, talk about it, or write about it. Lynn reminds me about that and she is absolutely correct. I am grateful for everything and everyone. Whenever I get feeling down and my thoughts start going to dark places, I need to remember all that I have, everyone I care for and all those that care for me, as well as all the people I don’t know and have never met who have made my melanoma recovery possible. Thank you!

I think that will be a subject for an upcoming blog post. See you then.

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A bump in the road

Last Friday, I experienced what Lynn told me was “a bump in the road.” This particular bump took the form of me getting laid off from my job. I got the call on Friday (I was working from home because I had a service guy coming to the house). In this phone call, they told me it was a company reorganization, a reduction in force, etc, but the upshot is that I am now unemployed. I don’t need to dwell on the details.

My (former) company was not entirely ungenerous, giving me ten weeks severance pay, essentially one week for every year that I worked there. Sadly, they were less generous with the company-subsidized health insurance, which will only cover us until the end of the month. The timing for this could be a little better from my perspective. I have scans scheduled for early February as well as ongoing need for diabetes medicine and supplies. The month of February is probably going to cost me more in health-care costs that my severance check. My brother-in-law had a good suggestion. He suggested that I ask them for ten weeks of insurance coverage in exchange for which I promise not to sue them. I figure that this is a no-lose gambit since I probably don’t have much of a case against them, at least not unless I can prove that they terminated my employment due to my age or medical condition.

Short of finding another job in the next two weeks that offers me medical insurance, my other options are COBRA, and some kind of Obamacare (Access Health Connecticut). I haven’t seen the the COBRA package yet, so I don’t know what that might cost me (I imagine a lot!) and I haven’t explored the Access Health option. I imagine both will cost me significantly more than I was paying through work, but less than paying everything out of pocket. There’s a lot I need to find out in the next few days and some tough decisions to make. Companies like to terminate employees on Fridays. It gives the survivors the weekend to get over the initial shock and then they can come back on Monday ready to be productive. For the casualties, however, it’s extra days to think about things without the ability to make phone calls and gather information. It also doesn’t help that Monday is MLK, Jr. Day. While not a day off for many workplaces, it’s kind of a dead day as many people take the day off anyway. So I wait until Tuesday.

The good news, though, is that I don’t have cancer! I have to remind myself of this when my thoughts start going to dark places and I start to feel sorry for myself. I am very fortunate. About a year and a half ago I didn’t think I was going to live six months. Now, I feel better than I have in years. When I think of all the people who have struggled with melanoma, some of whom are facing really grim realities daily, my little speed bump seems insignificant. I owe it to myself and I owe it to them to keep a positive attitude, because the worst that could happen as a result of this bump is not really the worst that could have happened to me.

As Lynn says, it’s just a bump in the road and we will get through it.

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