Category Archives: True Life Misadventure

A Gift from the Equinox Bunny

Before we get down to business, a little dark comedy:

In July, I was diagnosed with rectal cancer. I have never approved of surprise butt stuff.

by early December, the initial course of chemo and radiation apparently did in Tommy the Tumor. In spite of the complete absence of cancer cells, my surgeon still wanted to gut me like a fish and give me a permanent colostomy. We found an option of surveillance and bonus chemotherapy as a follow-up.

Two months into chemo, say the end of February, the world is struck by a pandemic at a level not seen for a century. I’m told I shouldn’t worry because it is only lethal if your are elderly (I am 61), if you have severe allergies and asthma (present) or you have a compromised immune system (remember the bonus chemo?). A man who still sounds like a fifth-grader is steering us through these anxious times.

Near future: I have finished my chemo and white blood cell shots with only moderate side effects. Coronavirus hasn’t killed me. My lovely wife and I hold hands as we look up at the stars. “That bright star up there, does that look like an incoming asteroid?”

#

Since I cannot pass out virtual Easter candy to all the folk sequestered for the duration, I set up a Kindle Discount Countdown for all three of my wonderfully Wiccan Arcanum Faire ebooks. Consider it a gift from the Equinox Bunny.

Camp Arcanum will be available for 99 cents on March 19. On the 22nd, the price creeps up to $1.99. It returns to the normal price of $2.99 on March 26th. The second book, Power Tools in the Sacred Grove, starts its discount cycle that day.  The Ren Faire at the End of the World, the final book, is discounted to 99 cents on April 2. Keep an eye out for future reminders on these.

Why am I doing this? My books need good homes, and lots of people need reading material for the next few weeks. I’m just sorry that ebook can’t double for toilet paper if you don’t like them.

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Fear Itself

We are all in a pretty fearful position on this planet. Plague strides across the face of the Earth like it’s in a footrace with War, Pollution, and Ignorance to cover the most territory. Stock markets falter and Dollar Tree can’t keep toilet paper on the shelves.

There is no magick formula for defeating fear. It is something that must be faced in every heart. Realize that almost all of us, Warriors of Every Stripe, are bred to fear from the moment we can walk. Mommy or Daddy won’t love us if we make noise in the restaurant or a mess in the living room. Our friends won’t love us if we have the cheap sneakers or facial breakouts. Someone might kill us for who we truly love or our gender beneath our skin.

My greatest gift on that front was my cancer diagnosis. I had had a skin biopsy a few years before of a precancerous mass that had my brain swirling for months afterwards at the lethal possibilities. The next one might slip by and and get me, metastasize to all my vital organs, kill me like my mother and her father before her.  Then, I got my colonoscopy out of a sudden rush of self-care and responsibility. My wife and I got the bad news while I was still loguey from the anesthetic.

From that moment on, I was gifted with momentum and focus. Doctors were lined up and consulted. Arrangements with my job were made so I could take chemo and have my radiation treatments on my extended lunch break. Support was lined up for every eventuality.

My last evaluation at work before I went on leave, my supervisor told me” “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you seem happier with cancer.” She was right.

My petty concerns had fallen away. I no longer cared who liked me at work, or what drama might be stirring with my siblings. It didn’t matter if my books weren’t selling, and if that meant I would be forgotten after death. All that would sort it self out with only minor interventions from myself.

A cancerous tumor in my rectum was chewing its way through my colon wall to get to my lymph nodes. That sort of behavior is not allowed in allowed in polite gastrointestinal tracts. More pages could be written about the epic battle in my butt, but the important point was that I focused on killing Tommy the Tumor, not what I feared he and the treatment could do to me. That’s how I’ve been getting through this prolonged annoyance without a meltdown or a drinking problem.

My only advice for our situation now is put some time into filtering fear from need. Know the facts of this situation. COVID-19 is a new, aggressive respiratory virus that has spread far further than SARS, MERS, or Ebola. It is less lethal than the flu, but it seems to have reached true pandemic proportions, so the number of infections and deaths will be higher. In the initial epicenter of Wuhan, word is that new infections are dropping and patients are recovering. There is hope that this will end without becoming the Apocalypse.

The immediate government and business responses have an effect on the outbreak, but produce economic side effects just as fearful. In trying to game all the effects without having all the facts, governments and media have created a world-choking cloud of fear.

Fan through this cloud and find what you truly need. You may be expecting to stay home for a while to help slow the spread of infection. Extra toilet paper and supplies are good, but leave some for the next guy. I have plenty of old manuscripts, just in case. If you get sick, call your doctor or closest ER to consult first. Simply rushing down to ER for a test will recreate scenes from Soylent Green, and nobody wants to watch that one again.

WASH YOUR HANDS LIKE SOMEONE’S LIFE DEPENDED ON IT.

You, or someone you love, will be affected by the chaos.  Schools are closing, daycare will be overwhelmed, megalithic businesses will attempt to turn on a dime. The gig economy will temporarily collapse as large events are postponed and caterers, clubs, drivers, and various scutpuppies are no longer needed. This is when you will need your own focus and momentum. Reach out and network with friends hit hardest. Sell, gift, and barter your way through the tight spots. Form support circles, but call them Stitch & Bitches, potlucks, or Magick Circles for Prosperity. Prepare for more casseroles than the aftermath of a Southern funeral. Whatever light you can cast on the shadow of fear that hangs over us all.

There are a lot of awful things out there right now, but the fear will paralyze you and leave you to be eaten alive. Just like some giant mutant wasp for a Syfy original movie.

Weirdmaste, Warriors of Every Stripe.

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A Quick Polyfil Announcement:

For those of you following my exchange of strongly worded letters with cancer, it seems this week that a third party is coming out ahead. My chemotherapy, which is supposed to be on MY side, has knocked my neutrophils down to a critical level.

Despite what it sounds like, neutrophils are not a combination nutritional supplement and pillow stuffing. They are the white blood cells in your body, and without them pretty much any infection can take you out. My doctor refuses to let me be killed by Athletes Foot, so my chemo treatment is postponed for another week.

Yes, I failed my blood test in spite of cramming all week for it.  I will continue to cram kale, broccoli, and other immune-friendly foods down my throat and wash them down with V8 vegetables cross-dressing as fruit juice. I’ll even try this green semi-fluid that reminds me of my days as a tech in an EPA approved sewage lab. I want this process done.

It is very disappointing as I feel good physically and emotionally. I even wrote a bit of cancer comedy that was very well received in the infusion room.

So, Warriors of Every Stripe, look both ways when crossing the Information Superhighway, be kind to each other, and try to always boost your Polyfils.

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The Tale of Tommy the Tumor

On July 25th of this year, I became aware of a major pain in my ass. I do not mean that Ukrainian Phone Call business. Only a handful of people knew about that at the time.

I had a colonoscopy that day in a surprise bout of responsible self-care. It had been five years since the last one and the doctor saw some peculiar fauna and flora when last down there. The re-check revealed a 2.5 centimeter adenocarcinoma in the rectal region of my colon.

Talk about your surprise butt stuff.

There was a quick succession of doctor’s appointments as my wife Kit and I assembled a team to handle all aspects of the treatment. There was a surgeon, a chemo oncologist, a radiation oncologist, a patient advocate, and a plucky team of radiation tech sidekicks.

The course of treatment was to be five and a half weeks of combined oral chemo and targeted radiation. Since they were firing those x-rays through my pelvis past some of my favorite organs in my body, I was thankful for their precision.

I was actually taking the radiation treatments during my lunch hour of my day job for the first few weeks. The combined side effects- fatigue, nausea, fuzzy-headedness, and orthostatic vertigo- put me on short term disability. I even lost most of my hair below the waist. I called that “medical manscaping”.

My part in the process was to remain upbeat and compliant with all the protocols. Also, I concentrated all my mental and creative energies upon the complete destruction of this interloper. I named it Tommy.

I made a crude, but effective, sketch of Tommy (see above) to use as a visual focus. As I was thrust into the radiation machine, I would imagine a tiny silver hammer striking it on the forehead with each mechanical clank of the device. Tommy suffered myriad torments in my imagination: zapped with death rays, immersed in corrosive chemicals, stomped with tiny hobnail boots. I even wrote a song about him.

Friends asked what kind of superpowers I might get from the radiation. Since I had been bitten by a radioactive asshole, I would reply, my powers would probably only apply to politics and middle management. Friends were no doubt inspired by my strength and humor.

After the combined chemo and radiation, and a four week period to allow them to reach full efficacy I referred to as marination, I was checked over by my surgeon. With much probing, scoping, fingering, and biopsies, Tommy was confirmed to be gone. No Evidence of Disease, the doctors like to say.

There was some difference of opinion as to where we go after that finding. After the entire process is done with, I may share that part with you, Warriors of Every Stripe. For now we are going with a new protocol called Watchful Waiting instead of a full resection and permanent colostomy.

I am currently wading into a three month period of chemo I tell friends is “spraying for roaches”. Even though there is no evidence of Tommy’s survival, it’s best to be sure there are no microscopic sleeper cells deep in my colon. And so I go through a prolonged chemo hangover and hang on as best as one can.

To play us off the stage, I present the lyrics to the song written for my butt tumor. Feel free to use wherever you might need it.

 

TOMMY (to the tune of the traditional song “Jonah”)

(chorus)

What do you do with a rectal tumor?

What do you do with a rectal tumor?

What do you do with a rectal tumor, way down in your colon?

(verse)

Slather him in chemo ’til he withers.

Slather him in chemo ’til he withers.

Slather him in chemo ’til he withers, way down in your colon.

(repeat chorus)

(Verse)

Nuke him with x-rays ’til he’s crispy.

Nuke him with x-rays ’til he’s crispy.

Nuke him with x-rays ’til he’s crispy, way down in your colon.

(add verses until cured)

 

Weirdmaste

 

 

 

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High Score!

Today is my birthday. I used to get glum around my birthday, hating the reminder that I was getting older. I’d even tried to pretend it wasn’t happening.

Then this summer, I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Noting to fear,I am well on the way to beating it with a final round of chemo the end of this month.

Now, I’m really happy that I’m allowed to get older. I throw up my hands and shout “High Score!” I suggest you all try the same.

Stay tuned for the tale of Tommy the Tumor, along with speculations on what kind of superpowers you might get when bitten by a radioactive asshole.

Weirdmaste

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I am touched…

I would like to thank all the fine people that have reached out to Kit and myself in the last few days through social media and in real life. As the “quiet” half of the single socioeconomic unit KitandJosef, I’ve long thought myself the invisible support structure behind the real star. I now see how many of you do see me and are concerned for my well-being. Many of you are concerned for Kit, who is really much more frightened than I am. I’ll take that.

As I try to keep my ass from kicking me, I will try to be a better friend, co-worker, and relative. All I can say is thank you very much. I’ll keep in touch.

Next time, I’ll make it funny…

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Is This The Right Use Of “Ironic”?

(This may be a long way, but there is an important announcement at the end. Scroll to the bottom if you impatient. The crux of this post is the bottom.)

I was feeling pretty good last week. My years long problem with indoor allergies and asthma at the work place seemed to be getting under control. My fatigue and drowsiness from whatever toxins were in the ventilation system seemed to be getting better and the Company Nurse was even making arrangements for the company to pay for my air cleaner and filters.

I had gone back to counseling to deal my depression issues. He told me it was more like disthymia and PTSD, but we got a handle on it with additional meds and cognitive therapy. That, and I just started doing things that made me happy. I spent time with my wife not staring at adjacent screens on the couch. I took control of my books and even republished my first novel. I put it on Amazon with a great new cover; a handful sold the first week to total strangers on both sides of the Atlantic.

I was astoundingly close to happy, a position I had not allowed myself to be in for years.

Then, came the colonoscopy.

I had one five years before, and, just like then, the prep was the worst part of it. The day before you must stick to a clear fluid diet. The night before, you drink a gallon of some noxious fluid to clear the colon/small intestine of all fecal matter. This will let the candid colon camera inspect the walls and ceiling down there. The prep fluid is refrigerated, because at room temperature the motor oil on dead dog taste is too much to bear. For several hours I drank almost the whole gallon and spent much of the night squirting prep fluid out my ass. Kit and I made it to the doctor’s office by seven a.m..

I had planned to tell my co-workers what had happened to me when I returned to work. It would have gone something like this:

“I stayed up all night drinking, and then I got waylaid by a bunch of people in masks. They drugged me and started sticking things up my butt. What’s worse, they took pictures!”

I would have told my co-workers that the next day, but the technicians found something: A white mass, about 2 centimeters long, low in the colon. I would have been even more concerned if it had been a black mass. I never allow satanists near my colon.

The discovery led to a quick succession of tests. There was much poking and prodding and needling. I received a CAT scan with contrast and the next day developed hives as a reaction to the dye. In the end, my end, the results indicated the best bad news I could have. I have colon-rectal cancer, though the test results indicate a slow-growing tumor that may have stayed entirely in its place. After a few more tests, the doctors and we will decide the best course of action. Surgery, chemo, and radiation may all come into play. It will be a stressful few months. Some of them I may spend flat on my back. But this is far better than the prognosis if I had avoided the test as I wanted to.

There’s much more to this story, and I’ll try my best to make it a comedy.

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Bonfire of the Inanities

It is not often that I have had the chance to put out a man on fire in my previous occupations. When I worked for a neighbor in Tennessee, acting as the ditch-digger assistant to his backhoe service, there were no chances at all for life-saving. I did get to play with jackhammers and dynamite. He taught me the frightful synergy of tamping a blast hole with diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate long before Oklahoma City.

Subsequent jobs had few chances for heroics, though I did learn concrete-forming, burger-flipping, photo-processing, and waste water lab testing. The one time a rack of super-heated test tubes full of  grey water and sulfuric acid exploded all over my lab manager, he pretty much saved himself by diving into the safety shower. He sustained no serious injuries, but we all learned a valuable lesson about saying the phrase “things can’t get any worse” out loud.

Now, when I worked as a balloon delivery driver, that was my biggest opportunity to be a hero.  Along with wrangling a dozen helium balloons at a time in high winds, I got to make deliveries to birthday parties, massage parlors, and gross anatomy classes.  One time, I even got a chance to put out a flaming handyman.

The balloon service was preparing to move from its quaint but cramped quarters in German Village to Main St. in Bexley, the Beverly Hills of Columbus. (Say that to yourself a couple of times: the Beverly Hills of Columbus. Savor the cognitive dissonance.)  A few of us twenty-somethings were painting and prepping the walls while the owner’s handyman was stripping the old wooden desks.

Now, this handyman was a curmudgeon and a proud graduate of the School of Hard Knocks. It sounded like he had been the keynote speaker and valedictorian of the class of ’32 as he shared the highlights of his speech. The theme was Common Sense and how “you college boys” don’t know anything about the real world and surviving in it. It wasn’t an overly complicated topic, but he expanded upon it with anecdotes and examples to make it clearer for those of us that were reality-impaired.

We really didn’t engage with him, but he just kept talking as he slapped the noxious chemicals on the varnished wood, scraped it off, and discarded the flammable gel on the canvas drop cloth. A fairly even coat got spattered on the legs of his jumpsuit, too.

Eventually, he took a break.

A smoking break.

He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a book of matches. Right there, in the middle of the furniture stripping project, he did this. With a cigarette in his mouth, he lit one of the matches. I reconstruct the next few steps from the explanations he had to give to several people afterwards.

He struck the match.

He realized that he was in the midst of a large amount of open and flammable chemicals. Being a worldly man, he knew that this was a dangerous situation and he should really take this outside.

Because he wasn’t some snot-nosed college kid, he was smart enough to not set himself on fire. He stood there silently congratulating himself on his exceptional Common Sense. I don’t know how he did this, but it was a fraction of a second too long.

The match singed his fingers and he dropped it. It set the gel on the drop cloth around him to a small but steady flame. The legs of his grey-pinstripe coveralls caught fire in less than a second.

A good deal of shouting, flailing, and stomping ensued. I don’t know if it was just good planning or I had seriously expected this to happen, but I knew exactly where the fire extinguisher was. I hurried the ten to twenty  feet to the big red cylinder on the floor. I popped the cotter key off that sucker and dowsed everything that was burning with a thick cloud of fire suppressants.

The handyman looked crestfallen, but no longer aflame. The atmosphere, previously tainted with blather and contempt, was now filling up with smoke, toxic fumes, and the bitter taste of the extinguisher. Formic acid settled onto the back of my tongue and stuck. My coworkers rushed to throw open both the front and back doors. It was a short contest between the evening breeze blowing through and the steady cloud rising from the smoldering goo on the floor. Eventually, clean air tipped the balance.

That’s about the time the fire alarms went off.

This was a new building to us. No-one had mentioned a built-in alarm system or how to turn it off. We rushed to the circuit box and started throwing switches until the noise finally stopped.  We chuckled among ourselves, relieved that we were all alive and hadn’t burned down the building. I said something along the lines of: “Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if the lines were still connected to the fire department?”

That’s when we heard the approaching sirens.

Four or five firefighters in full gear came in the front door. The owner returned from his errands through the back door.  It was a very uncomfortable fifteen minutes for the handyman.

When asked, I gave a fairly neutral version of the facts, even though the “stupid college kid” in me wanted to rub his nose in smoldering furniture stripping gel. I had done plenty of stupid things before. I have done a few stupid things since. I’ve been lucky that after the flames were out, nobody ever threw me under the bus.

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Adulting on the Weekend

I am in an uncomfortable place for an indie author. My previous publisher pulled my Arcanum Faire books upon reversion of rights on February 1st. (It was an amicable separation, just like me and my first wife). My new publisher is still securing an editor for my upcoming tale of the Squirrel Apocalypse. I am only waiting on a really cool cover from excellent comic artist Seth Lyons to self-publish Camp Arcanum. Unfortunately, I don’t have the narcissism and unmedicated gall to ask him to put the cover ahead of his ant-related injuries to his hands and the repairs of his parent’s home from the Memorial Day tornadoes. That only proves I don’t have what it takes to be a small press publisher. (Did I tell you it was a really, really amicable separation? I signed a paper.)

This all leaves me with no reason to scream “BUY MY BOOK!” There is nothing out there to buy. I guess I’ll just have to be an adult, even on the weekend. This is how it looks:

6:20 am. Cats and bladder go off. Don robe and slippers.

6:25 am. Feed rodents and cats. Do NOT feed rodents to cats. Secure first cup of coffee and first pill.

6:35 am. Fiddle on computer until brain engages.

7:20 am. Brain still not engaged; will have to go on like every other day of my life. Avoid waste by eating last Apple Fritter for breakfast and taking the rest of my pills with even more coffee.

8:00 am. Wife, being a reasonable human being, sleeps until absolutely necessary to awaken. I don jeans and tee-shirt as she prepares for the day. (dressing much earlier than usual for the weekend)

8:20 am. Wife leaves to care for friends’ cats before opening our store. I open garage door for her and The Broom.

8:25 am. Since I am outdoors and not wearing bathrobe, I till herb and vegetable gardens.

8:45 am. Transplant invasive comfrey from last season into the shame corner of the herb garden, just below the gas meter. Give them a stern talking to while doing so.

9:00 am.  Run a load of laundry and calculate the logistics of hanging damp clothes around the house if the dryer malfunctions again. More harsh language.

9:15 am. Replace old whiteboard with new preformatted project whiteboard. Transfer data and magickal glyphs. Rough out this week’s blog post and about a quarter page of my steampunk WIP. I feel the power of the dry erase flowing through my veins.

10:30 am. Leave cats in charge of house and stop by the credit union drive-thru to deposit check from bookstore. (Yes, people actually pay me for my books, some times.) Bank is usually closed by the time I get free of the day job, so I am actually conducting business when I should be home watching cartoons and wolfing down Lucky Charms.

11:08 Meet Sheldon at theater to catch John Wick 3. Last instance of adult thought for the weekend.

 

 

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Fun with Quokkas

As the country is wrapping up National Mental Health Awareness Month, it seems to be appropriate to share some of my relatively minor struggles.

I have been depressed most of my adult life.  I could go into grim medical descriptions or personal anecdotes, but that should be saved for another blog. Suffice it to say my brain doesn’t produce all the neurotransmitters needed to operate the machinery smoothly. That results in dark moods, generalized pain, muddled thinking, fatigue, and irritability. Depression: it’s not just for moping around anymore!

My GP and I have worked through a variety of pharmaceuticals, alone and in combination, over the last few years. We’ve discovered any number of annoying and embarrassing side effects, but recently my wife and I have had to deal with Vivid Dreams and acting out. I referenced earlier the time I dreamed somebody had been set on fire and I was frantically try to swat out the flames with my bare hands. We both awoke to my slapping my wife’s butt repeatedly. She did not find it stimulating.

My dreams wind up being involved versions of the stories I write, full of action, horror, and ass-kicking. The cats now sleep on Kit’s side of the bed to avoid being launched into space. (catapult)

So, I try to program my dreams. Instead of internalizing all the frustrations of my life and the terror of current events, I focus on happy things. And there is nothing happier than a Quokka. In case you haven’t heard about them, they are cat-sized marsupials that live on a single island off the coast of Australia. They look to be constantly smiling and gleefully pose for selfies with tourists, no matter what PETA and Australian Fish & Game might have to say.

I now have a picture of two Quokkas taped to my wall near my bed. I have named them Graeme and Oista. Each night, I say good night to them, and their cousin Saltine. I tell them to leave the Club and go back to their Townhouse.

Sometimes, I elaborate to get into the happy Quokka groove:

In my best Shirley Temple voice I sing a few bars of “Animal Quokkas in My Soup”.

1980’s marsupial singing sensation: Quokka Khan.

Wallaby-like creature that realigns your spine: a Quokka-practor.

Jason Momoa leading the marsupials in a Maori war chant: An Aquaman Quokka haka.

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.

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I’m lucky that my wife hasn’t smothered me with a pillow yet.

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