Plodding Along

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For weeks and longer I have tried to draft an update that serves the purpose of sharing information. I have started many. They all languish for tone. They sound woeful and yet I write during a positive moment – I might be getting a second remission. Another remission was not very likely given this last 17 months of treatment failures. Remission does sound great. It is also hard to see it as more than a short break between treatment. My body and I are very, very tired of constant treatment so a break is not to be sneered at. My body and I are also tired of the constant suspense. Between bi-monthly blood tests and the ongoing lurching steps towards the UPenn trial, what happens next hides behind curtains that I do not get to chose.

I should be shouting out good news but really I am calculating the best way to get through the day. What are the top three side effects that I must fixate on tempering? I won’t list the options.
My orientation is towards planning, micro-planning perhaps. I have adapted to many aspects of my new terrain, this staring at mortality, but I find living with imminent death somewhere between the biggest uncertainty and a reality far too certain. It sucks for planning around. So then I fixate on the established treatment schedule, trivializing the point of treatment by feeling entitled to dates being met when in fact disease stability is the only real goal (and then extending and extending that stability). Of course my treatment plan changes to match my needs. But I hate how it ruins my carefully re-calculated plans again!

Friends, ever-loyal-beyond-belief friends, take over the planning details so that I have less reason to obsess. I focus on adapting to the new truths. I can’t tell you how many times my graduation date from this chemo regimen has changed. Most recently, after a tough week of accumulating side effects it seems that I might not go additional ‘extra’ rounds of this regimen but that wont be determined until March 28th, the same date as I am schedule for another chemo round – whatever. I will arrive packed for the decision we make.

Most of the time I just wonder as I live a life of such low bars. My days are a sequence of very, very small triumphs. And it is so many months now of trying to fashion this into a life.
I mange to get to weekly chemo, fast for 36 hours around each infusion, make it to my acupuncture appointments twice per week, exercise daily and not much more. I have idle hours. I sit and play at the iPad, read and think of the next tiny task I will attempt – maybe it’s sweep one floor or gather laundry. It is never as complicated as ‘do laundry’ because that is now a concept that needs to get broken in to component parts often over days.

I have mentioned my determination that 2013 would be the year I focused on living and returning to my old passions. And I have. It has exhausted me. It also derailed the writing projects I started. This girl-living-on- chemo seems only able to mange so much. Mike and I did attend the first national Anti-Fracking Summit in Texas in early March. The passion and determination in the room were fantastic as was our session on rural organizing. I continue to advise some of these new contacts as they work on the ground in rural america. Texas was great and yet how hard for me. I got sick and it highlighted the reality of being disabled in a fast moving world. One terminal friend inquired, “Is it too much, these attempts at being part of your old life?” Maybe, and it makes me sad.

I limp around an intersection between malaise and treatment-induced-exhaustion. It is a quiet place, fraught with intentions not to be realized any time soon. My forays just prove the point. But despite my disappointments at how hard a front line role in organizing stays for me restricted to cancerland, behind the scenes I continue to advise and be valued and I am grateful for this role.
The UPenn update is despite their ongoing delays, Holly and I are showing up on April 4th for a pre-screening since the actually screening can’t happen until their vaccine making building setup is expanded. Hopefully, my real screening will happen May 8th with the final vaccine making step taking place on May 22nd when they pull out and return my white blood cells to combine with the rest of the materials they have been prepping from my tumor removed back in October 2012. If those dates happen, I would receive the vaccine three weeks later – a date carefully calibrated to be within a window as well as on a day when only one other woman in the the trial gets her vaccine, since the FDA won’t allow more then two women to be treated a day during this highly experimental phase. Each injection needs to be timed for when a radiologist can use equipment to guide the vaccine to the selected groin lymph node.
This is not how I wanted to spend my summer, in planes travelling to and fro. Marcy the planner, had mapped this out quite well to be a winter activity. My entire adult life had been about building the life I wanted. And I did. This cancer phase is about enduring little control and still figuring out how to thrive. (Grrrrr….) And remember up until my formal screening, I can be disqualified for a roster of possibilities.
And ergo the party. What better time for a party then as a counterweight to my 3rd cancerversary – a time of reflection on the losses, new reality and being alive still. Spring is swelling around us. The passage into this new season assures we are all still here – living and building the best life we can. It is good, wonderful quite often, and yes, hard for all of us as well. A party is a chance to pause with the positive. Attending a dance party doesn’t mean YOU need to dance but that you will be in a room pulsing with the beats of life and a live dj that knows how to get your toes tapping from whatever corner you find yourself. Good food, good people. Me celebrating a birthday that, alas, is a triumph to realize. Yes, a party is a good thing. I very much hope to see you there.
Come Join Us!
Marcy’s (Birthday) Dance Party – live DJ
Saturday, March 30th, 2013 
7:30-10:30 pm
“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” ~ Karl Barth
Join together in gratitude for Marcy’s 54th birthday and the community that sustains us all.
No gifts beyond your presence.
warmly, marcy
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About marcy westerling

I am a long time community organizer with a passion for justice and founded the Rural Organizing Project in 1992. Derailed by a Stage IV Ovarian Cancer diagnosis in spring 2010, I have stayed in treatment since then. I am learning how to embrace livingly dying and hope that by starting a Phase One immunology clinical trial at UPenn in spring of 2013 I will have more time to find the sweet spots of thriving while terminally ill.

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