I put the phone down after a brief call with my doctor, and waited for the reality to hit me. You have a large mass in your pelvis. I didn’t really know how to feel, other than thinking, Fuck, I’m supposed to have another ten years or so before this shit starts happening.
I’ve been noticing my pants getting tighter around the waist since January. At first, I figured some of them had shrunk in the wash. By March it was happening with all of them, and I’d gained a couple of pounds. This is weird because I’ve been the same weight since 1989. I chalked it up to the fact that I’ve crested the middle of my 40’s and I’m probably due for additional padding. When I pulled my shorts out of storage in May, there were only a few that I could wear comfortably–shorts I’ve worn for 10 years. I’d been in for a physical with bloodwork in February, and there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary to report there. It took a closer look by Jen and then some insistent prodding to get me back in to the GP for a follow-up. He listened carefully and palpated my stomach. After some questions, he ordered a CT scan and I made an appointment to ride the donut.
It was the result of this scan, and that call, that got the circus underway. I made an appointment to get a MRI and another with an oncological surgeon. Jen and my brother in law got me another appointment with a different doctor across town a full week earlier. I did the MRI (fell asleep inside the tube), then went to meet the doctor two days later. She was an excellent source of information, and after telling us everything she could, found a surgeon within her practice who could talk to us later that afternoon. We went out and got some lunch and tried to remain calm. On the way back for the consult, the contrast from the MRI started burbling in my stomach and decided it was time to GET OFF THE BUS. We made it back to the hospital with seconds to spare. Can I just say that relieving oneself of iodine contrast is like shitting fire?
The surgeon, a pleasant, reserved fellow, showed us the MRI results: a self-contained mass within my stomach cavity, 8 inches long. Basically, I’m four months pregnant. They asked me if I was having any symptoms–problems with my bottom system, gas, pain, heart issues, breathing–and I answered honestly: nope. The honest truth is that I feel fine. My new bloodwork was all normal. This mystified all of them. He filled me in on his course of action: go in, get it out, and then do a biopsy. He warned us that there could be complications: severed nerves, bleeding, loss of continence, motor function, or worse, depending on what it’s hooked up to. He was kind, but fair and honest. That was last week. Strong drinks followed that news.
On Wednesday, we saw the second doctor at Mercy, where Finn was born. We got a great vibe from the people in his practice, and then the man himself. His take on things was that it’s most likely benign based on the symptoms, labs and the images. He took the time to show us the MRI, and talked us through what we were seeing. He seemed confident it would come out relatively easily, but he wanted to start with a biopsy and move to surgery after he knows what we’re dealing with. I liked his conservative but confident approach and we both got a good feeling from him. Then we hustled over to Hopkins for a third opinion.
The third guy was a referral through a friend. He is an orthopedic surgeon in the oncological practice within Hopkins–so, not a soft tissue guy. He looked at the charts and images outside and without much preamble told us it’s most likely malignant, recommending a biopsy, surgery, radiation, and ongoing treatment. That was a punch in the dick. He talked everything through with us and we nodded our heads and then ate a tasteless, quiet, shocked lunch in the cafeteria. Then we headed home to pick up Finley at our sister’s house where we started pouring strong vodka tonics.
From what they all can tell it’s not growing out of any organs or bone. My white blood cell count is normal. All of them say that our vacation is important for the family, there’s not much they can do in the next two weeks with scheduling anyway, and that the baby will be fine until we get back, so fuck it, we’re going. I am going to sit my ass down on the beach, drink some cold beer, watch the kids play in the surf, and try not to think about things. Obviously it’s coming out; we have to decide who and where.
That, among a succession of shit luck and bad news suffered by friends and loved ones, has put a bit of a damper on vacation. I’m having a hard time focusing on preparing for the beach while also trying to be supportive, stay positive, wrap up and reschedule work plans, and generally just deal with a fucking parasite in my stomach. Jen has been a wonder this week, shuttling me across town and back, scheduling care for Finn, running pre-vacation errands, getting me to and from work, and being a rock beside me while I wait for informed opinions. I couldn’t have made it this far without her. She’s going to need this vacation as much as I will, because when we get back our lives are going to be chaotic.
I love you blondie, and I’m sorry I completely forgot your birthday.
I’ve been coming to terms, slowly, with the fact that I’m middle-aged. My knees don’t bend as fast as they did. My hair is thinning, but I’m still hanging on to my widow’s peak. I have to pull my glasses off when I need to look at something really close. I’ve actually gained 6 pounds in the last 6 months–mainly around my midsection. The last time I weighed this much I was in college and had a job wrestling drums of oil paint onto and off of a stakebody truck as a summer job. Now I sit behind a desk and the best exercise I get is running up the escalator to my train.
It’s cliché, but my brain still believes I’m 28. I’ll have beers with friends and have to stop myself from drinking at a post-college pace to avoid a crushing hangover the next day. I used to think nothing of having a cup of coffee at 4PM, but now it keeps me up at night. That and having to get up and pee–I didn’t have that problem 10 years ago, either.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to keep up with other major changes. I’ve gone from a job where I was the sole designer to being one of two who did the work, then one of three who did some work, and now I’m hardly doing any design at all. My day is caught up in a mixture of meetings, design direction, phone calls, and strategy (roughly in that order). The skillset I’m using now is completely different than that of four years ago; on one hand this is a blessing, because I was completely burned out when I changed jobs. The mere thought of designing a website holds absolutely no interest to me anymore. On the other hand, I sit and talk to a lot of people all day when I’d like to actually be making something, and my brain is pretty crispy by the end of each workday.
I miss the thrill and pleasant grind of designing from scratch, from start to finish. I’ve worked on some new projects that have kick-started my creativity and learned new skills I’m only beginning to tap into. While my job is that of a manager who makes decisions at a reasonably high level, I’m trying to find a balance between the things I want to do and the things they need me to do. Part of this is addressed by teaching and photography, and part of this will hopefully be addressed by a project I’m waiting on the funding for.
At no time should this ever sound like I’m complaining. I’m grateful for every moment of the opportunity I’ve been given, the three years I’ve been there have flown by, and I hope to have three more exciting, productive, and challenging years ahead. I just need to rebalance the father, husband, manager, and creative to keep my soul nourished and my heart happy.
Saturday morning broke warm and sunny, and we all got up eager to get outside. At least, I did. After prodding the neighbor to come and split wood (he was working) I lit a fire and got busy splitting the last of the small stuff, and actually split a 30″ round by hand. I’m definitely at the point where I can’t do anything else without hydraulic assistance so I’m at his mercy in terms of scheduling. I cleaned up the area, adjusted the tarps on the cribs, collected a wheelbarrow full of dry chips for kindling, and a bunch of other small yard tasks before the sky turned dark. In the space of about five minutes it went from sunny and 70˚ to gray and 50˚, and the wind howled in like the aftershock of a nuclear blast. I came inside and changed the cartridge on our water filter, which has needed doing for a while now, only to find that the outgoing valve (the one that keeps water on the house side from pouring back down onto the floor) is leaking uncontrollably, because it is made of plastic and is shit. The plumbers will be here Monday morning to look that situation over, and meanwhile we have a 5-gallon bucket keeping the floor dry.
That was OK though because Mama and I had a reservation at Parts & Labor, a butcher/restaurant in Remington, and it was time to get ready. After setting the babysitter up with the technology we drove into the city and found a spot across the street. Remington has changed dramatically since the last time we were up there; there’s a huge condo/workspace around the corner from the Paper Moon diner that looks like it landed from Mars.
Parts & Labor is a lovely restaurant with killer cocktails and a very courteous staff. Our meals were delicious (Jen won this time with the lambchetta) and we enjoyed every minute of our stay. Strangely, we were done in an hour and a half–usually we shut restaurants down when we’ve got a sitter–so we moseyed up to Golden West and joined the hipsters at the bar for more cocktails. There we enjoyed a couple hours of uninterrupted conversation before the CR-V turned into a pumpkin.
I’ll say that even though I was a little rocky this morning I’m gaining an appreciation for both a well-mixed Manhattan and an Old Fashioned. I don’t drink bourbon or rye as a rule (brown alcohol and I don’t mix) but these two were delicious. Jen and I discussed laying in some good bourbon, bitters, and vermouth and trying to perfect our own recipe over the winter.
Sunday was 40˚ and windy, with gusts of 20mph or more (definitely more) and my neighbor was working again, so there was no splitting for us at all. I went down to pick up the CSA, then came back to clean the yard for winter. This included re-fastening the plastic on the far side of the greenhouse, which had come completely loose, and organizing the contents so that the rest of the chairs and hoses would fit inside. Other than that, it was a relaxed Sunday.
We’ve had a clutch of five baby bunnies living in our driveway for over two weeks now. Their mother apparently had no idea how to select a safe, protected nest for her children, so she abandoned them out in the open, where any crow, fox, cat, dog, or Finley could find them. Jen sprung into action and dug them out a proper nest, added paper bedding, and found a plastic organizer to put over them. Since then they’ve sprouted hair, opened their eyes, grown three times their original size, and are now venturing out of the nest. Mom seems to come and feed them at dusk, and they seem to be healthy; Jen has a dedicated following on Instagram demanding daily updates.
Sunday morning, I accepted an invitation to go biking with my neighbors, who are both in much better shape than I. We did a combination of road and trail riding down the hill into Elicott City and through Patapsco State Park, and I kept up, mostly, until the last half an hour or so.
I am not ashamed to say I had to bail and walk for portions of the trail, because I haven’t done any serious biking in years. But it felt great to get out in the woods, and the promise of a cold Bloody Mary at the end of the ride is an added bonus.
I spent the first two days of this week working from home, but had to come in to the office Wednesday to film participants at a seminar. Washington is strangely quiet due to the snow, but life moves on. Meanwhile, Finn has been off all week because Baltimore County couldn’t be bothered to plow the sidewalks in front of her school.
Our first week of teaching at UMBC got cancelled as well; the move-in/first day stuff got plowed under and pushed back everything. I don’t know if they’re going to extend the semester another week to make up for time lost, but we’re ready to roll when the doors open back up. I’ve got 13 students in total, two of whom I had last semester. This class is going to be heavy in Illustrator and information design, which is an exciting new avenue to explore.
After the game on Sunday, I found myself in front of the TV when the new X-Files came on, reconfiguring my syllabus for the third time. Much like the old X-Files, the new version is a retread of the same dumb plot point bullshit I remember:
“It’s a conspiracy”
Weird shit depicted in lousy CGI
“This conspiracy goes deeper than we thought”
All evidence gets blown up by guys in black suits
Fuck the X-files.
I’m still here. Things are very busy, and like most other Januaries, my photography output has slowed to a crawl. Things will pick up soon, I promise.