Saturday, July 26, 2014

In ten days we’ll know if our future will include cancer or if we just dodged the biggest bullet EVER.

Sorry, that’s the shortest post title I can come up with because, since July 4th nothing has been normal, and racing, scary thoughts have been part of that.

My plan was to not say anything on social media until we knew one way or another, but it will be a full month between the first ER visit and the appointment at which we will get biopsy results and I just. can’t. stand. to. keep. it. all. in. any. longer.

I’ll start at the beginning.

On July 4th, six week after we returned from our amazing family trip to Europe, Tom was working on the water feature in the backyard, which had become a work of art as he lay small black pebbles carefully in the grout of the flagstone, creating a beautiful meandering line around the steps and the patio. When he was close to done grouting for the day, he suddenly noticed that he just plain wasn’t feeling well.  He mentioned it to me as he sat on the couch, but he was determined to continue with our plans to watch fireworks from Elisabeth and Danny’s place in Seattle.  They have an amazing view of the Olympic Mountains, the Space Needle, and the entire Puget Sound, and we weren’t about to miss it.  Peeing, Tom said, was painful, and he felt like he was coming down with the flu.

As fireworks lit the Seattle sky, I noticed that Tom was just not himself.  I don’t think anyone else noticed it, but to me it was obvious.  When he didn’t fight my suggestion that we head home and stop at Urgent Care on the way, I knew something was wrong.  Tom had had a bladder infection in 2005 and he had waited too long to get care, so by the time we got him to the doctor that time, his kidneys had been affected.  Once he was on antibiotics, though, things cleared up quickly and within a day or two he was back to normal.  We assumed that he again had a bladder infection and all he needed was antibiotics.

The doctor prescribed antibiotics and pyridium, but 36 hours later Tom only felt worse.  This time I took him to the ER where they took another urine sample (which showed nothing) and prescribed him another, stronger antibiotic.  They also suggested that he see a urologist.  We found a urologist and made an appointment for ten days from the second ER visit.  Elisabeth, our nurse daughter,  implored us to find a urologist who could see him sooner – especially because he was still in pain.  Fortunately we were able to get an appointment just two days later, on July 9th. 

At the urologist appointment, Tom again peed in a cup and again, no infection was found.  The doctor told Tom that he suspected possible prostatitis, an inflammation of the prostate, or possibly BPH (benign prostate hyperplasia), both non-cancerous conditions.  He was baffled, though, as to why the antibiotics didn’t seem to be clearing things up.

I stepped out while the doctor examined Tom and when I came back in, the doctor immediately told us that he felt a “nodule” on Tom’s prostate.  This was of particular concern, especially because Tom’s father had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in his early seventies.  (My father also had it in his seventies.  Our boys need to be extremely vigilant!) The doctor mentioned that he didn’t feel that the nodule was related to the symptoms that brought Tom in, but that he definitely wanted to do a biopsy.

First, though, whatever was causing Tom such discomfort MUST be cleared up, as doing a biopsy on a possibly infected prostate is dangerous.  (His urine apparently showed no infection, but that didn’t mean that his prostate wasn’t infected… at least that was my understanding.)  The doctor sent Tom for a CT scan to check for a possible kidney stone, but no evidence of any kidney stone was found.  He also prescribed a stronger pain killer – which, like the pyridium, had no effect! 

After that appointment Tom slowly, slowly began to feel better.  The flu-like symptoms had disappeared and he was able to pee again.  Hallelujah! 

By the time we visited the urologist again a week later, on July 16th, Tom felt almost back to normal.  The doctor examined him again and, of course, still felt the nodule.  Then he ordered a PSA test.

This was Tom’s seventh PSA test.  He’d had them regularly since 1996 and his score was always well within normal limits (under 4 ng/ml).  His latest PSA, in late November, 2012, was 2.2.  Nice and low.  Completely normal.

On July 16th, Tom’s PSA was 49.  Forty-nine.  A nodule and a PSA of 49. This is scary stuff. 

Elisabeth and I immediately hit the internet – which was about the stupidest thing we could have done. Education is a good thing, but freaking one’s self out really isn’t.  Tom, who was, I think, just trying to digest everything before hitting the internet, was faring far better than I was.  He was upbeat, optimistic, and… breathing.  I was panicking – and in that panic I called his doctor to beg for a biopsy sooner than the scheduled date of July 29th.  The doctor immediately told me that he had seen a very high PSA like this, especially after raging prostatitis, that did not turn out to be cancer. He also told me that he will not do the biopsy any sooner because operating on a prostate that has ANY chance of infection can cause sepsis, a “far more serious immediate risk than your husband is dealing with now.”

So we wait.  Tom has been on a third antibiotic for the past ten days and his biopsy is still scheduled for July 29th, with our “find out results” appointment scheduled for August 5th – a full month after our first trip to the ER.

Our emotions are everywhere, from very hopeful (because all stats come from somewhere; that is, there are always people who beat any odds) to more realistic, knowing that a PSA of 49 usually signifies cancer, and that a change from 2.2 to 49 in 18 short months can signify a very aggressive cancer. 

We believe in positive energy and positive thoughts, so if you could send any our way as we wait, we sure would appreciate it.  Hopefully, hopefully, there will be only one more post here about cancer, and it will be to say that Tom doesn’t have it

Let’s focus on that possibility for now…

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Facing my Worst Habit: It's a Nailbiter!

All my life, I have hidden my hands.  Just don't look at them.  Please, just don't ever look at them. 

I feel this way about my hands for two reasons.  One is within my control.  One is not. 

First, I am a nail biter. Not just a now-and-then nail chewer, but an all-the-time, down-to-the-quick, bite-it-till-it-bleeds/hurts nail biter. The only time I ever managed to stop biting my nails enough to be willing to present them at all was for our wedding, 31 years ago.  Even then, I bit the thumb nail. 


That thumb nail. 

Which brings me to the second reason that I feel as I do about my hands: I have a birth defect that, while not all that obvious otherwise, becomes quite obvious when you look at my right hand. I was born with three thumbs - one on my left hand (duh!) and two on my right hand (huh?). 

The rouge right thumb was removed when I was 18 months old.  This is the only existing photo that shows it… kind of.

2 thumbs

Fast forward fifty-seven years later, to yesterday.  Kat came home for the weekend and suggested that she and I “get our nails done.”  Apparently, this is something that her friends in junior high and high school did with their mothers and Kat always envied them.  So, she decided, it was finally time.

“No WAY am I going to willingly show my hands to a stranger!” I protested.  But Kat would have none of it. “It’s time to face your insecurities and to confront this habit,” she told me. 

(Is this the beginning of the child parenting the parent?  You know how that ends, don’t you…?)

So off we went.  But first, the before photo.  It was hard enough taking the damn photo, but attaching it here is…

OK, fine.  I can hardly look.  And you should just take a quick peek and move on.


There you go.  Move on now.

Yes, you may call me Stubby. (Pretty bad, eh?)

I pretty much wanted to turn around and leave.  Instead, we did this:


Yes, I freaked out when she put those dragon claws on me!  But Kat reassured me that they’d cut them shorter. 


I started by telling myself that this woman had probably seen far worse than my stubby nails, and that she really didn’t even care about my nails.  That made it easier to stay in my seat.  Once I relaxed into it, I even liked it!

And the best part?



(My hands sure look older than I had realized.  But look!  I have fingernails!)


(And possibly arthritis?!!)

Even my retarded thumb doesn’t look all that bad!


I just might replace that biting habit with a new habit of getting my nails done!

Thanks, Kat!  Cheers to you!


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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Heartbroken. (Boo is missing.)

Last Saturday evening, four nights ago, Boo joined me as I read a book on the bed of our new travel trailer as it was parked in our driveway. 



I remember saying jokingly to Boo, “Geeze! Can you purr a little more quietly?  I can hardly hear myself read!” He was so content in the crook of my arm, his favorite place to be when we’re hanging out together – which was all the time.


A while later, Boo and I, along with Simon, Quinn, and Shasta, left the trailer.  And that was the last I saw of my beloved Boo boy.  He just never came in that night – or the next, or the next. 

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Tom and I fear the worst because Boo NEVER stays away from home for more than a night.  Needless to say, we are absolutely heartbroken.

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I’ve put up signs around the neighborhood and our vet (who is a half mile away) was nice enough to post a flyer, but so far we have had no news at all about what might have happened to sweet Boo.  My guess is that a coyote got him.


This is how I’ve been feeling all week:


I just want my Boo-Boo back.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Six benefits of blogging over facebooking

About five years ago, I joined Facebook.  Coincidentally (NOT!), about five years ago I stopped blogging with any real consistency.  Because Facebook is so easy, it’s been hard for me to go back to blogging. Not because I don’t like blogging – I actually love it – but because it seems that I am a damn lazy communicator. 

‘Listen up, Carol,’ I’ve told myself recently. ‘You really should get back to blogging – if for no other reason than that you LIKE it more than you like facebooking.’  And then I proceed to tell myself why:

  1. Because you’re making a point, telling a story, or recounting an experience, you have to actually write when you blog. Facebook – at least the way I’ve been doing it -- doesn’t require the ability to write. In terms of expressive language, Facebook is usually more of a grunt to blogging’s strung-together words that form actual sentences.
  2. The only people who read your stuff on Facebook are people you deem as “friends.” The people who read stuff on your blog are people who decide you have something interesting to say.  (And then, if they actually like enough of what you have to say, they sometimes they become friends because of it.)
  3. Blogging is like journaling.  Facebooking is like texting.  When I’m long gone, my journals will give far more insight into who I was than my texts will.
  4. In term of cataloging, it’s a whole lot easier to find a blog entry you wrote three years ago than it is to find a Facebook post you wrote three years ago.  I can hardly find a Facebook post I did three days ago!
  5. Blogging is often like going to a foreign country, in terms of the comments and feedback I get, while facebooking is more like going to my high school reunion.  This can be both terrifying and gratifying.
  6. Blogging requires me to stop and think, to be mindful, careful, and detail-oriented, and to review more carefully what I’m sending out to the world. Posting to Facebook is much more impulsive for me.  ‘Hey, my cat’s being cute…’  Snap. Navigate. Attach. Post. This is neither bad nor good; it just is.

All of this said, I found myself posting to Facebook a few times today. 

Quit FB

I mean, seriously, am I really going to blog about an unexpected make-up-in-a-store-with-a-delightful-gay-man-who-made-me-feel-great-about-myself experience, which ended in me buying an unprecedented $112 (gasp!) worth of make-up? 

Ya know, now that I think about it, I really should have!

Sigh.  This re-focus might take a while…

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Sniders’ Most Excellent European Vacation, 2014: A summary post with some new photos (and video!)

We’re back – and finally I can post to my blog from something other than my iPhone!  What an ordeal THAT was!  I could post only photos taken with my phone and all copy was entered with my fat paws using that teeny tiny iPhone keypad.  This post will be so much easier – and also likely a whole lot longer – than those posted from my phone while abroad.

Let’s review, shall we? 

Packed bags/sad dogs:


Aaaand we’re off!



Arrival in Munchen.  Guess who was there to greet us? Our “third daughter,” LAURA, who lived with us as an AFS exchange student from 2005 to 2006!  How wonderful it was to all be together again as a family!  Within a few hours of our arrival, all of us found ourselves at the Augustiner braustube:


The next morning, after our first German breakfast (oh, how I’ve missed those!)…


…some of us walked around Munich and the Englisher Garten. 




The theaterskirche was one of my mom’s favorite places in Munich.  We happened to enter the church just as beautiful organ music was playing.  That always does me in!



Then we stepped outside and – oh, the majesty!  (I can’t post videos easily from my phone.  See why I wanted to do this last summary post?!)

Munich’s Englisher Garten is absolutely gorgeous.



This spectacle is also for all to enjoy at the Englisher Garten.  For those of us from coastal environments, this is a bit odd.  But hey, they seem to be having a great time!


Our timing in Munich coincided with Frühlingsfest, the Spring version of Oktoberfest.  And by then Eva, our other adopted daughter (for whom I was an AFS liaison in 2006 – 2007) had joined us too!


This evening was most definitely a highlight of our trip!  No words are necessary.  Just join us virtually!  (Feel free to grab a beer first.  Make it a mass!)




Are you feeling the mood yet?  Yeah, it got… well, here:



Ah hell.  Let’s bring you all. the. way. there.

The next day?  Well, a lot of this…


Those of us who felt OK did some more Munich sightseeing.  I was more on a mission to find a replacement for the Bavarian candle that I burn every Christmas Eve in memory of my mother.


I finally got the second one from the left.  It should last many a Christmas Eve to come!

It was so sad to say goodbye to Laura!  But she promised she’d be back to Seattle soon.  She always has a room at our house and a place in our hearts.


Then our group split up for five days, with Peter, Kat and Aleks heading to Zagreb and Croatia (I stole their photos off Facebook!):

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…and Tom, Elisabeth, and me headed to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the Zugspitze:

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The Zugspitze isn’t all that tall – not even anywhere near as tall as, say, Mt. Rainier – but it does feel as if you’re at the top of the world!




The region around Garmisch-Partenkirchen is beyond beautiful!  My family has plenty of history there. I could easily see myself in an alternative existence in which this is my home.



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We loved the Hotel Zugspitze!  Their accommodations and breakfast were second to none!  We’ll go back to Garmisch someday just to stay there again!

One full day was nowhere near enough for Garmisch, yet every time I plan a trip there, I only give us a day.  Why do I DO that?!  (Especially this time because Tom and I got in a stupid ass fight there and neither of us enjoyed that day – or subsequent ones - as much as we should have.  Lessons learned about required extra patience and understanding while traveling. So dumb.) 


And then, on to Vienna!  This happy man was just minding his own business at the train station.  I sure hope that younger Bavarians and Austrians don’t let this traditional garb go extinct!

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I’ve been to Europe quite a few times, but until now I had never been to Vienna.

One word: WOW.

Our hotel, the Hotel am Stephansplatz was, again, second to none – especially as far as location as concerned (but the service and breakfast was also phenomenal!).

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There’s so much majesty and history in Vienna that it’s easy to become overwhelmed and glaze over.  And to really do the city right, I think you’d need at least a week there. Knowing that, we got out immediately on the evening we arrived.

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The next morning, I had an appointment with Julia, a provenance researcher at the Albertina Museum, regarding the art collection of my Jewish grandfather.  Julia is researching the provenance (lineage and sale history) of some of my grandfather’s pieces.  If you’ve seen the Monuments Men, this is a different vein along the same topic line – that is, Nazi acquisition of art.  The goal is to make things right, even now, so long after it all happened.  I so appreciate Julia and people like her!

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We also delved a bit into Tom’s grandfather’s Vienna connections and history!  On I was able to find where Tom’s grandfather grew up before emigrating to the United States in 1923.  We thought we’d only be able to explore the outside of the building (just a stone’s throw from the Stephansdom and our hotel!)…


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…but a resident allowed us inside.  What a treat!


This post could be miles long if I just concentrated on all there is to see and learn in Vienna, a city of such incredibly important historical significance.  Rather than botch an attempt, I’ll just post a bunch of photos of our day.  Awestruck is putting it mildly…




(Hey, there’s our hotel!)


Elisabeth’s boyfriend Danny was able to get a few days off work and joined us in Vienna.  Surprise!


What an expensive city.  Would you believe that four coffee drinks and a piece of Sachertorte cost over $50?!  (But oh, how delicious!  I so miss real Eiskaffee!)


From Vienna, we headed east to Budapest, where met up with Peter, Aleks, and Kat.  Again, we did our first discovery tour in the evening.  What a fairy tale of a city!



The food was incredible in Hungary!  My favorite of all the countries we visited.



During the next two days, we explored the St. Stephens basilica (on Segways!)….



…and wrangled everyone for a group shot.


You can’t really visit Budapest without visiting the baths!  (Though some of us did…)


Almost as famous as the mineral baths is the cat café. 

OK, I lied.  That’s not true.  And it’s a little weird.


After Budapest, another train ride, this time through Slovakia, to…....


…Prague, a city that Aleks had fallen in love with in 2010 when he studied there for three months.  I can see why he fell in love with that city!  I felt like a 21st century intruder, and wanted to apologize to old Prague for all the tourists.  That said, everyone in the world who has a chance to see this place, should!  I know, I have double standards.

Once again, we arrived late in the afternoon, had dinner…


(Czech food is almost as good as Hungarian food – certainly as hearty!)


…and explored the city first at night:


Once again, our accommodations were phenomenal.  This is the place I had looked forward to the most and it did NOT disappoint!  We had a two story apartment at the Grand Hotel Praha, directly across from the astronomical clock in Prague’s Old Town Square.  Just look at our views (inside and outside)!



Having this large apartment allowed for some really fun group evenings!


The next day, some of us went to the Prague Castle…


…while others enjoyed Old Town…


and climbed the clock tower.



(See the top window in the orange building to the left of the blue one, above?  That’s our apartment!)




We also enjoyed (?!) some unique Prague art.


Eva and her boyfriend even joined us in Prague!


  The next day, exactly two weeks after the beginning of our trip, we headed back to Munich.


On our last day in Munich, people pretty much did their own thing.  Mine was meeting Thomas during his stopover from a sailing trip in Turkey.  It’s nice to have a forever friend in him!


At 2 AM on the morning of our departure, I received an email from IcelandicAir, informing me that our leg to Iceland would be leaving Munich late, causing us to miss our flight home to Seattle.  I called customer service and was basically told, “Yeah, sorry…”  Aleks tweeted his disappointment in their customer service as well.  Oddly enough (oh, social media, I love you!), I got an email just moments later from a customer service rep at IcelandAir who was able to find us a Lufthansa (and who doesn’t love Lufthansa?!) flight to Vancouver BC, with a puddle jumper on to Seattle.  Needless to say, we were thrilled!  The Lufthansa flight was wonderful, with two hot meals, free drinks, and just all-around great service. 

After 24 hours of travel, we were happy to be back in Seattle just in time for a LONG SLEEP!


Getting back to our everyday lives might be a bit of a challenge, as for well over a year we were all planning for and looking forward to this trip.

Our hope is that this trip, which we hoped would be a “trip of a lifetime” for the kids turned out to be just that.  We are so grateful to Tom’s Uncle Ray for making it possible and wish we could share our experiences with him!

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