Friday, May 17, 2019


Joseph Hauber painted this portrait of his sister, Sophia, in 1828. She was part of my grandfather’s collection and this painting always hung in my childhood home. Today, more than a year after moving in, we finally gave her a most important place in our home - after we veeeery carefully made a few minor repairs to the old and delicate frame. 

I think she looks beautiful. 

Welcome home (again), Sophia! 

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Friday, March 08, 2019

Tom’s Great Big Prostatectomy Adventure

When we last visited Tom’s prostate cancer experience, we were deep in the process of researching treatment options. 

For the past four years, Tom had been a participant in the University of Washington's Active Surveillance program, in which he had PSA tests every three months and biopsies every 12 to 18 months. Although his PSA had remained under the normal 4 ng/mL, the past two biopsies had shown a few Gleason 7 (3 + 4) segments, which was disconcerting after two years of only Gleason 6 readings. Although there was no rush since his cancer was obviously slow-growing, it was time to act.

Tom's urologist, Dr. William Ellis, suggested that he explore the variety of treatment options available, among them brachytherapy (radioactive seed implants) and surgery. I knew a bit about brachytherapy, as my father, who also had prostate cancer, had been part of a clinical trial in 1998 when the method was just beginning to gain favor. In fact - as I recently discovered in going through my father's documents after he died in 2017 (NOT of prostate cancer) - Dr. Ellis had been one of my father's doctors!

After briefly considering radiation, Tom decided against it for a number of reasons. Most importantly, Tom wanted to know definitively what he was dealing with. Radiation destroys the prostate but doesn't remove it. This bothered Tom for a few reasons. One, he just didn't like the idea of "carrying around dead tissue." And two, without testing the organ itself, one can only guess at the pathology of the disease.

Surgery, on the other hand, provides the benefit of a definitive pathology report, as the organ is removed and tested. In addition, the major side effects of ANY treatment of prostate cancer - incontinence and erectile dysfunction - only get better over time after surgery, whereas with radiation, one is "waiting for the other shoe to drop," since these side effects tend to come on slowly after treatment.

So surgery it was. Back in December we made an appointment for Dr. Ellis to surgically remove Tom's prostate (a prostatectomy) on February 12th at the University of Washington, about an hour drive from our home in Gig Harbor. Our plan was to drive to Seattle the day before surgery and stay with Elisabeth and Danny, who live just a 4-minute LightRail ride from the University. In fact, this is Elisabeth's daily commute, as she works as a nurse anesthetist at the University, even occasionally working directly with Dr. Ellis in exactly this surgery!

It didn't occur to us for a second that the Seattle weather might hinder our plans. But when February 12th drew near, THIS is what we were dealing with.

Weather reports called for a very small window in which we could try to make our way to Seattle. We decided to drive to Bremerton and take the ferry to downtown Seattle rather than brave the freeways.

This photo was snapped during a very short window of decent weather - even a glimpse of blue sky!

We arrived safely at Elisabeth and Danny's house on Capitol Hill, but snow fell all night long - and then the rain came, making our short walk to LightRail treacherous, as we waded through slushy puddles.

Finally! What an adventure - and surgery hadn't even begun!

Elisabeth is a nurse anesthetist on the University of Washington surgical staff, so this was very familiar territory for her, which helped Tom tremendously, as he was given (or at least made to feel that he was given) VIP treatment by Elisabeth's co-workers.

Dr. Ellis came to talk to Tom, reminding him that his full expectation was that the cancer is contained to the prostate and that he would be able to spare those very important nerves. We knew, though, that this is only a "best guess" until the prostate is actually removed and tested, so our fingers remained crossed that everything would go well and that the outcome would be positive.

After Dr. Ellis left, the wonderful anesthetist, Chris gave Tom a dose of Versed, which...

...well, look at his face!

My guess is that Tom wasn't very nervous when he was wheeled back to surgery.

Tom's surgery lasted about four and a half hours, during which time Elisabeth gave me a glimpse of her work at UW. She was able to get a few updates from Chris, who said that Tom's status was "railroad tracks" - that is, completely stable and doing really well.

It's hard to kill almost five hours on a dreary snowy day in Seattle, but we did our best.

Once we heard that Tom was in recovery we made our way to see him. First Elisabeth because, she said, he "might not be ready..."

She was right. He looked... well, not himself.

The surgery finished at 5:30, but Tom was quite slow to wake up. He was still very sleep shortly before 8:00 PM!

I was provided a chair/bed in Tom's hospital room so I could stay with him overnight.

At about midnight, Tom's nurse mentioned that she'd be getting him up to walk soon, but said that it could wait until morning if he preferred. He suggested getting up to walk right then - and then had to walk five full laps around the floor. Such a show-off! I just wanted to go back to bed, but wasn't about to be the one to cut things short!

The next morning, he did it again. He was doing better than either of us had expected! And look at the fashion statement!

In order to facilitate healing, all men who undergo a prostatectomy are sent home with a catheter in place. Once we were instructed on how to care for the catheter for the next eight days, Tom was ready to head home! Or rather, to Elisabeth and Danny's, as our long, winding, snow-covered driveway at home would be impossible for him to navigate for at least another day or two.

Two days later, when we headed home, Tom navigated the driveway beautifully, helped by Elisabeth and our friend Courtney, and carrying his catheter bag in a bucket. I didn't get a photo of this, as I was reaching out to neighbors to try to find a place to park for a few days. Quite a few trees had come down while we were gone, including one across the pond!

Elisabeth stayed with us for the next four days, providing nursing expertise as needed. But Tom hardly needed her, as he was healing beautifully! He never touched the opioids that were prescribed for him, choosing instead a regimen of Ibuprofin and Tylenol. Within two days, he wasn't even taking those!

Tom said the most annoying part of his recovery was carrying his catheter around in a bucket - which we named "Uri"!

Eight days after his surgery, we headed back to UW for catheter removal and to hear the results of the definitive pathology report. We were absolutely thrilled at the results - all cancer confined to the prostate, no other tissue or organs involved. ALL GOOD!

It has now been a bit over three weeks since Tom's surgery and he is doing GREAT. I joked that I've needed to lock up the power tools, so ready is he to get to the many awaiting projects around the house. But he did get to one easier project that included no heavy lifting (which is forbidden for four to six weeks) - he refinished the two large butcher blocks in our kitchen.

It is often said that the goal of a prostatectomy is, in essence, three-fold: first, and most importantly, to remove all cancer. Second, to spare the patient from ongoing incontinence. And third, to spare him from resulting ED. The cancer is gone! And the other two side effects are already showing to be not much of an issue at all... and they will only get better over time.

There is no one gold standard for the treatment of prostate cancer. Each man needs to make the choice that is best for his circumstance. Tom and I are both thrilled with how this prostate cancer adventure has ended (though I should say that we aren't fully guaranteed that it is over forever; sometimes, many years later, it reappears), with the cancer eradicated and side effects not much of an issue at all. We consider ourselves (as it is a couples' disease) very fortunate!

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Monday, January 21, 2019

My new name is OMI!!

I’m going to be a GRANDMOTHER (“Omi”) and Tom’s going to be a GRANDFATHER (“Papa”) to a little boy, coming in June!

Thank you, Danny and Elisabeth!

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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Inside projects: Almost finished!

When we were looking for a place to retire, and a home to retire to, Tom and I each had our own wish lists and must-haves.
Top on my list was that the inside of any house we bought (or built) had to be finished. For 35 years, Tom had been remodeling our homes but, much as I appreciated the improvements, it felt to me as if we lived in a perpetual construction zone, and I was so DONE with that.
Top on Tom’s list was that there had to be projects for him, preferably creative projects – like, say, building a tree house for future grandchildren or building another massive backyard water feature park.
Fine with me! Just keep the projects outside!
Almost a year ago, after months of Tom swooning like a schoolboy with a crush, we bought this home in Gig Harbor, WA.
I fell in love with the house, too. Except for two things: that god-awful, wrinkled, faded green carpet throughout (even in the master bathroom) and the distinct lack of storage space. While Tom does great work, he is a slow perfectionist, and I envisioned months (at least) of floor installation, not to mention lots of time to install new storage spaces.
So much for my wish list!
Fortunately, we quickly sold our house in Woodinville during a particularly robust spring market and could earmark some of our unexpected proceeds for professional flooring installation. Phew!
So, over the period of two weeks (during which we moved into the cottage), the wrinkled carpet was removed and Brazilian chestnut hardwoods and ceramic tile were installed. What a difference!
IMG_2539From office cornerIMG_2533From outside masterIMG_2532IMG_7035IMG_2514IMG_6346IMG_2546From fireplace corner of dining roomIMG_2513IMG_7863
From US guest room to hall
From corner of landing
Once the floors were in, I felt like I could breathe and relax. Ahhhh…
But wait!
That master closet! That glorious, large master closet – with two wire bars and NO storage! No, this will not do. Tom quickly (two weeks – record time!) installed the most glorious closet system… with LOTS of storage!
(Yes, that is my craft table in the master closet.)
My dream of a house that is complete on the inside was quickly materializing.
The only thing left to do was create some much-needed storage space for my office. I have a book to write, after all, and I simply can’t begin to write it (or so I tell myself) until I feel organized - that is, until I have a place for all my reference books and for Dad’s copious files.
This wall. Yes, right here!
So in September, Tom began to create a wall of built-ins for me. The process was long and arduous, with lots of interruptions for trips and holidays and other critical projects (like playing in the mud to fix some leaks while the pond was empty), but my built-ins slowly took shape!
We started with kitchen cabinets from Lowe’s.
But Tom created the shelves from scratch, his first complete carpentry project.
IMG_9964IMG_9980And just look what I have now!
I absolutely LOVE my new built-ins! NOW I am ready to start in on the book! For some odd reason, it feels like this is what it took to finally get me going. This is an office where I can really delve into research – and writing!
finished - toward deskfinished - toward TV
Actually, I was wrong. The inside of the house isn’t quite finished.
There is one project left to do. Poor Tom has had to do all my bidding before he could begin on his own project – creating built-ins for and organizing his own office.
Toms office - before
He will finish this on his own timeline. I have a feeling some of his favorite outside projects will come first.
Like that treehouse for future grandkids.
He’s spending an awful lot of time with this book…
Who says retirement is boring?!
Addendum: After I wrote this post, Tom reminded me that I already posted photos of the new floor and closet. Oooops! (And I had no idea he kept up so closely with my blog…) Oh well, here it is again!

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