Monday, May 9, 2016

Conseula Francis

My dear, dear friend Conseula Francis.
What does it mean when someone--someone I know, someone I love--is gone? I don't believe it.  I'll see this picture of her and think, "Damn--she looks really good!  I'll tell her the next time I see her."  I'll sob, but, later, I think, "I need her feedback on my writing."  When I had the latest challenging experience with my own body, she offered for us to be have bagels and talk.  And now she's gone.

I can't believe it.  I can't see her as gone.  How does this happen?  How do I reconcile myself to a world she doesn't inhabit?  Is it fair for me to have those thoughts?  

I've been thinking all day about Conseula's death, but I don't need to share some of those thoughts.  Much of what I'm thinking is about myself, and I don't want to talk about my own issues today.

I want to speak with Conseula. Who is gone.  Who is no longer here.

Conseula was wonderfully fierce and pushy.  She was funny, even when she was pissed off.  Sometimes, especially when she was pissed off.  Conseula worried about her children and their future.  Even in the midst of her own problems, she always, always made time for her friends.

Ten years ago, Conseula and I left a meeting together.  The meeting was about tenure and promotion, and it left us sobbing and terrified.  So, we formed a writing group with Claire, and years of writing and research productivity followed.  All of us became full professors and the best of friends.

I love Conseula.  I already miss her deeply, terribly.  Someday I will comprehend that she is gone.  But not today.  Not yet.  

Sunday, May 1, 2016


Saturday morning, Brian, Maybelle, and I went to a beautiful spot at the College of Charleston, near the Sottile House.  The place is filled with flowers and big live oaks.  And Brian and I got married.

Marriage!  Spouses!  Partners!

Maybelle and Brian are SO SWEET!
What the hell, right?  We're in love.  We live together.  We trade off about who has to get up with Maybelle in the night.  We share toothpaste.  And here we are:  married.

Holding each others' hands, getting married!
You get to see the entire gear here:  I have my hair
covered with cloth.  I have the Optune
electrodes covering my head and pushing
electricity into my brain.  The backpack is loaded with
batteries.  And I'm happy!
Although the idea surprised me, almost immediately l said, "Yes!  Let's do it!"  In my life these days, I never know exactly what's going to happen.  I'm beginning a list--the joy list--and Brian clearly belongs there.  Here we are:  we're both here and in love.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Everything has changed.

I'm writing because writing gives me a space, a space where I have a moment to reflect.  I sit here, four wires attached to the backpack attached to me.  My neck is starting to get sore because I don't want to have to shift these wires around.  Just stay here, pack of electronic cables.  I want to ignore, just for a time, what this means.

Oh, Optune. What does it mean to have this all the time?
What does it mean for who I am?

Sad.  I'm so sad.
I was able to be encouraging with Maybelle.  She's so curious about these changes, and she kept talking about my hair being gone.  She ultimately accepted it, although I woke her up as I was getting out of her bed.  She kissed me and went back to sleep.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Thursday, April 14, 2016

My last day with my hair.

Currently not all that curly, but still pretty filled with health.  Can I
embrace my new hair to look like my Dad's?

Things are happening very, very quickly here.  The last time I wrote a week ago, I talked about what I was doing next.  So here's the quick update:  on Friday, April 15, 2016--tomorrow--all my hair will be cut away.  And that's it--they aren't allowed to grow back.  Every couple of days, I'll have to shave it so that no hair can be there to keep my skin and blood from connecting with the Optune (here I'm showing a video of a guy with his Optune).

Oh, my hair.

Check it out!  MY FIRST YEAR AT CHARLESTON!  And Claire was
so cool that she went on a six-hour hair trip with me!  We're both so curled.
We look like cool sisters.  (Still the case.)

Catherine's hair looks different, as does mine.  I love my hair here. I love its
length, and its mild curls.  I love you, too, Catherine!

I have no idea where my Dad and I are (there seem to be
guns in the background!), but here we are:
my Dad makes a classical Lee Piepmeier scowl,
and my curly short hair.
So now I'm agreeing that it has gotten less hair.
I'm recovering from 
the radiation that took
some of my hair.
Maybelle's hair is straight.  Even when it's short, my hair is curly.  This
is a picture from two weeks ago.  Soon my hair won't look like this.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Changing my body would help and terrified me.

Preface: What is written below is the result of my challenges with language.  Brian did some minimal editing, but you will see some evidence of the problems I am experiencing. 


A couple of weeks ago, my ability to find words was getting harder and harder.  Getting harder to talk, write, focus.  I went to a guy who does eyes, and after a series of examination it was clear that I have some vision problems.  Where communication and vision are concerned, I'm having a hard time because of a brain tumor.  I talked with Scott, my local neuro-oncologist, that day.  He got an MRI scheduled at 7:30pm on Friday, and he talked with Duke's neuro-oncologist before he called me.  Today, five days later, I've finished a three-hour conversation with the wonderful medical people at Duke.

The brain tumor is growing.  Fast.  For months, since September, the chemo was working.  The tumor had stabilized.  It was great!  And now, in March, everything has changed.

I've been emailing some friends and family with a very close, intense summary about what's happening.  And I guess it's time to do it here, too.

Here's what I wrote on Friday:

I had my MRI last night at MUSC.  This morning, Scott Lindhorst at MUSC called to say that the tumor is growing.  His exact words were that the tumor growth is "subtle, but noticeable." 
At Duke, I got to pick it up, to feel its
heavy head, its head showing that this
person has had to make this work.  Not
excited, but feeling that this is the last
possibility to keep my life moving forward.
He talked to Gordana (my important Duke neuro-oncologist) before he called me.  They want me to go to Duke on Wednesday to make a plan for the next steps.  They're working very quickly on this.  I'll also see Scott on Monday morning and will get to see the MRI scan results.

I'm now back taking the steroids I've been on before.  Based on my previous experience with the steroids, I'll eventually look a mess (puffy), but Scott said the steroids might reduce swelling.  As a result, the steroids also might help me to speak and write more effectively and help with my vision.  To which I say, Hell, yeah. 
After seeing Gordana, we MIGHT MIGHT MIGHT also consider this: 
That involves all my hair being cut off and my entire head getting covered with electricity.  Hello, writing folks!  If my writing gets into gear, I am going to write about this.  Best friends? You are some of my writing team. 
The oncologists aren't terrified, but they're considering this option, along with other chemotherapies.  I'm accepting all support, and am open to all possibilities.  Brian said he's happy to learn more about this and the other plans.

Like you did the last time, send messages to me rather the whole team.  Thank you.   
Last night, I wrote,
Alright, team, we're here in North Carolina.  At 9:00am tomorrow, we're going to be sitting with Gordana (neuro-oncologist I've been working with for years).  Brian will take notes and ask questions.  The two of us will be asking questions.  And then I'll have information that I'll sit with. 
Informations.  Options.  Questions. 
I'm a super-forward-going person right now.  We're going to Duke!  We're going to be waiting in the cancer area!  Let's do it! 
But there have been times during today's ride in which I've been thinking about the future.  You know they mentioned that scary Optune thing?  Where electrodes are glued to my head, and that's the situation that'll be attached for the rest of my life?  Carrying a bag with my stuff in it.  No kidding--I'll living with Maybelle while I'm covered in electric blopps.  I had a nightmare about it last night. 
This isn't the only thing that could happen, of course.  I'm going to have options.  But the options are getting smaller, which has led me to think about what matters.  What do I want and need?  What do I value?  What matters to me?  Where are my fears, and what are my hopes?  What do I value?  What do I want and need? 
Obviously I should be blogging, but I'm tired, and there would be too much explanation. I will keep you posted. 
Love to all of you,
Here's the quick story: 
Brian and I were at Duke for three hours.  The big discussion:  whether or not I should try Optune.  You saw it in one of those previous emails.  It's new, promising, and unproven.   
I'll now be going on a different chemo drug, called carboplatin.  I'll also continue to use Avastin.  Surgery almost certainly WON'T be an option. 
Right now, my brain is getting worse. I'm looking at options, but few, and the doctors don't have much hope about those options for the long term.  Yes, different chemo might work, but we don't know how long this will last. 
I cried and cried.  Sharon, one of my favorite medical professionals ever, sat beside me so that she and Brian had both my hands.   
I'll write more.  I need to think.  In some ways it's much better than I feared.  But it's a totally different world. 
Love you all.

I guess that's what I have right now.  I'm exhausted, but I strongly suspect that at 4:00am I'll be awake.  The other night I was going to get out of bed so that I could put myself to sleep by reading.  And then I remembered: reading can be too much. So I tossed and turned and was so, so sad.