All posts by Eric Schuttler

July ’17 Update

First off, apologies for the strange edits floating around from the last post; I now realize I need to proofread and edit my posts BEFORE initially publishing. I had changed my mind about what I wanted to say after I published last time and it made for some strange reading.

I had my first phase of Theraspheres (again) last week, everything went well. Though I dislike starting so late in the morning (10:30am) because I have to stay away from eating and drinking anything until the procedure was over, which makes for a very hungry patient by the time I’m allowed to eat. In my surgeon’s defense, this year’s series of procedures are going a lot quicker than last year’s, with my time spent under mild anesthesia only being about 40 minutes for the first insertion of radioactive beads, as opposed to about 2 hours last year, i think.

I had a follow-up consult this afternoon, and my PA was very optimistic about my progress – she asserted, that of all her patients, I was faring the best with my treatments. (I like to be at the head of the class, it’s a position I strove for but rarely achieved growing up.) I let her know – and I’m paraphrasing here – I felt I had the upper hand and that I was curb-stomping the cancer down like a little bitch, and she shared my optimism based on her clinical experience.

It’s only a matter of time, folks, and that’s something I am blessed to have based on my age. I just need to start doing the legwork involved with researching what I need to do to keep it away. If there’s one thing I’m a little anxious about, it’s a recurrence; I’ve noticed that if it manages to come back, cancer seems to be more vicious the second time around. We don’t want that, no way. So I need to start reading. I already possess a large volume to read, but if anyone has other good information I should read, feel free to send it my way. Together we’ll find out what is the key to keeping my cancer away for good, once it’s gone.

This time away from the chemotherapy has softened my killer instinct, as my hair grows back and my skin clears itself from the acne; I’m enjoying the healing I experience the weeks following the last chemo treatment. With radiotherapy, there’s little in the way of side effects. I did have a few hours of fatigue after last week’s procedure but it was nothing 2 tylenol couldn’t take care of. I’m seriously considering asking for more time without chemo after this last Therasphere insertion into my left lobe of my liver in a couple weeks, if I can get to a non-chemo protocol that also shrinks tumors. Again, I need to do some research to figure that out.

Thank you for being here with me after all these months. I’m slowly getting better, and I only want to take steps forward, no more regression. I get a sense, judging by the speed at which I’ve been scheduled for these procedures, that my oncologist sees opportunities where we might be able to completely eradicate my illness soon. As long as I continue to receive your healing energy and prayers, it’s a forgone conclusion we will emerge triumphant. I got this shit right where we want it, and I gain strength every day to continue beating it.

Never give up, never let go.

Switching therapies

Here’s the summary from last week’s CT scan :

Impression:

  1. Stable to slightly decreased multiple hepatic metastasis.
  2. Previously identified sigmoid malignant mass remains less conspicuous.
  3. Stable appearance of probable gallbladder metastasis and the gastrohepatic lymphadenopathy. Gallbladder ultrasound can be used for further characterization of gallbladder findings.
  4. No significant free fluid, decreased from prior examination.

Basically – if you don’t feel like googling – the tumors are shrinking more though not as much as when my chemo load was heavier. Colon tumor is being a good dog. Staaaaaay. Bit of something on the gallbladder, but whaddya gonna do. I’ll knock that one down too.

I hope I’m always this pleased to be reading these scans. So I took that news into the Memorial Day weekend, spending some much-needed time at the beach with good friends. I burnt my feet and toes but I could only feel part of them, so that’s a plus.

And the acne is back on the face, because they switched my one bag of chemo once more, back to good ole Vectibix. I guess I’ve been on basically on ‘maintenance chemo’ since they knocked me down to one bag a visit, which has been at least late-April, I believe. While my oncologist would be worried if this was the only progress from taking my full-on 2015’s style chemo load, my small progress was due to something, perhaps the weak chemo, perhaps something else. I was comparing this scan to my first one and the largest tumors I have now are smaller than the smallest ones measured on the first scan.

At any rate, tomorrow morning I go in for the first procedure, the mapping of hepatic blood flow. Wait till they get a load of my angular blood vessels!

Thank you all for your energy, it’s keeping my feet moving from that block of chemo. I was bushed after that, hopefully I can stand up to that ‘maintenance chemo’ a little better for a while longer. But for now, I’ll glow in the dark like an Yttrium-90-laced firefly in the summer night. I love you all, ecstatic you’re here with me.

“We are the big animal now, shaking the life out of the smaller animal, and he must be given no rest, no chance to recover.”
– Winston Churchill

Catching up

 

I like to think I used to be a pretty smart kid, growing up and going off to Virginia Tech. However, I was hopelessly ignorant about who was paying my tuition and didn’t bother asking about it. Being a teenager, I naturally thought tuition payments grew on trees. It took my mother’s divorce from my step-father to make me realize that after my sophomore year, I was out of funds. So I started to take responsibility for my financial situation, took a year off from college while staying in Blacksburg, VA so I could research what it took to apply for financial aid. Meanwhile, I’d need a steady source of income to be able to live.

Luckily my buddy Ken had a lead on a short-order cook position at a local restaurant where he worked part-time, which sounded interesting. I like to cook, my maternal grandmother would let my brother and I make sugar cookies when I was in first grade so I’ve been comfortable around a kitchen from a young age. So I started working at Bogen’s (“Casual with Class” was its motto) and in the 3 years of my stint there, slinging waffle fries, I struck up friendships that I’ve maintained to this day.

Four of my friends from these days visited me this past weekend, and it was a wonderful experience… until Saturday night, when the weather suddenly went frigid, and I caught hold of a fever that has lingered for 3 days now (hopefully I’ll be better tomorrow). It’s a stark reminder to me that my health is compromised, and after a few months’ worth of chemo, I don’t bounce back like I used to. I went in for another scheduled round of chemo today and they had to turn me away because of the fever. Better luck next week, I guess.

Wait a minute, why am I still on chemo, you might be asking. My oncologist and I are working on a long-term plan where I get low doses of chemo on a fairly regular basis while we set up another radio embolization round, sometime probably in June. My hospital has started a new clinic for this, so I don’t have to constantly travel to Durham for this procedure now.  Of course my wife has to do most of the driving for those, because I’m usually pretty whacked out after the procedure that I can’t drive myself home anyhow, so this is mostly for her benefit; but having the Interventional Radiotherapy (IR) clinic literally in the same place as my oncologist is as convenient as it can get. So, there won’t be the same issue as I encountered last year: as you might recall my case was delayed because of miscommunications and delays with getting the proper approvals and all that time off of chemo (I had to be chemo-free so the doctors could perform the radioembolization) allowed the tumors to grow back a bit, which was quite discouraging. This time, I’ll be on chemo until I’m absolutely ready for the second round of radioactive beads, which will be confirmed with a quick walk across a corridor, instead of having to start an email thread or set an appointment with Big Duke. We’re not taking our foot off the gas this year.

I’m loaded up also with new supplements based on my recent findings from sending off my DNA to 23 and me.com. The results came back with a lot of cell mutations that I went over with my sister-in-law and we’ve determined which supplements would be most beneficial for my healing while I’m still working through the chemo and radiation therapy that’s coming up. One of the items in this report shows a genetic mutation I have that favors celiac disease, so she has me on a gluten-free diet so my body can focus on healing and not having to process gluten. So far it’s not been too bad but I find myself hungry more often.
So that’s the latest news from here — still keeping the pressure on the cancer with chemo, until they’re ready for my catheterization! Now if I can just shake this fever…

ugly boy

ugh. last infusion coming tomorrow. i need a blower. so many bleeding fingers…. toes…. nose….. face…

Marilyn Manson, Aphex Twin, Dita Von Teese, Jack Black, The ATL twins, Cara Delevingne, and Flea all make appearances here. see you on the next round.

this helps from my better half.  Anything you want, Christine, you got it…..
Ooh I love my ugly boy
So rough and tough
Don’t care about anything but me
Yes I just love him cause he’s so crazy
Just crazy about me
Ooh I love my ugly boy
So rough and tough
Don’t care about anything but me
Yes I just love him cause he’s so crazy
Just crazy about me
Aye, you and me make the whole world jealous
God knows I know my homegirl’s precious
Life is crazy I know god bless us
Chill the fuck out I got this you
Got nothing to worry about trust me
You trust in ninjie cause he don’t play
Everything’s going to be okay
I can make your problems go away
And I ain’t scared of shit
Whatever the fuck it is I take care of it
If you’re strapped for cash, heading straight for a crash
I can make cash rain on your ass
Anything you want (you got it)
Anything you need (you got it)
Anything at all (you got it)
Just keep it real with me (you got it)
Ooh I love my ugly boy
So rough and tough
Don’t care about anything but me
Yes I just love him cause he’s so crazy
Just crazy about me
Yes I love my ugly boy
So rough and tough
Don’t care about anything but me
And I just love him cause he’s so crazy
Just crazy about me
You fuckin’ mental, my crazy little girl
Maybe the most psycho chick in the world
You mystical shit just’s not physical
What you and me got’s unfuckwithable
Respect me receive my protection
I’m always right by your side like a weapon
Love me I grant you there will be love
Fuck with my girl there will be blood
All my bitches love me, aw man it’s tough
One crazy girl’s more than enough
This is not ordinary love
This thing you an’ me got girl (mm)
I believe it’s magic (magic)
I believe it’s magic (magic)
I believe it’s magic (magic)
Magic (magic)
Ooh I love my ugly boy
So rough and tough
Don’t care about anything but me
Yes I just love him cause he’s so crazy
Just crazy about me
Ooh I love my ugly boy
So rough and tough
Don’t care about anything but me
Yes I just love him cause he’s so crazy
Just crazy about me
Ugly on the skin
But you’re lovely from within
An angel kiss from me to you
Always there for me when I’m feelin’ blue
You say you’ll stick with me and I know you well
I just get so emotional
When I’m down and feeling weak
With tears streaming down my cheeks
You say the sweetest things
Like material stuff don’t mean a thing
But you take care of me to keep you safe
You so freaky babe
Yo
Anything you want (you got it)
Anything you need (you got it)
Anything at all (you got it)
Just keep it real with me (you got it)
Ooh I love my ugly boy
So rough and tough
Don’t care about anything but me
Yes I just love him cause he’s so crazy
Just crazy about me
Yes I love my ugly boy
So rough and tough
Don’t care about anything but me
And I just love him

Progress Report: Part 2

Got good energy coming in with my brother and family visiting since the weekend – here’s the hyena in his natural habitat with his siblings (Adam on the left, Billy about to grab my ear):

 

Got my scan results and my marching orders for the rest of this round of chemo. Generally there is good progress, and my oncologist will continue through the next infusion (2 weeks from today) and then work on scheduling yet another session of radioembolism — evidently he saw enough promise in the PET scan that going this route is the best way to go at this point. Hey, as long as I don’t have to pay for it… that bill is scary.

He’s also spoken to the powers that be, so I’m not having to wait several months this time just to have the treatment done, this is what took away so much of my progress from last year. While it was nice to be off of chemo and heal, I just didn’t have enough of an effective protocol (or healing energy) to continue the onslaught without meds as we’ve learned from the last CT scan. Because, let me tell you, if you wanna get rid of cancer, you sorta need some meds to do so. I’ve learned that hard nugget of truth the only way you can. But, I’m still hard at work researching what to do when the chemo goes away, and will be employing new tactics when the time comes where I’ll be told i’m all-clear from cancer. Looking at the results below, it’s quite easy for me to visualize that scenario, as it’s the only dream that’s been formed in this thick skull of mine for the last 18 months. I thought I was going to get there by my birthday last year, that was a most optimistic prediction.

But we’re winning here. We’re going to be winning so much you’re going to get sick of it. I’ve not gotten sick yet… a little icky maybe, but that’s to be expected from chemo.

I’ve bolded the phrases below that stand out to me. I admit I tend to look at only the positive stuff but in case someone decides I’m only looking at the good parts, I will point out that they also saw “scattered coronary calcifications”, which is the same plaque they warn you about in health class. While my oncologist doesn’t think it’s an issue, it’s time I ate a little better to get rid of those deposits in my blood vessels.

CT Chest with IV Contrast
CT Abdomen and Pelvis with IV Contrast

Comparison: CT chest abdomen pelvis dated January 3, 2017

Indication: f/u colon cancer, C19 Malignant neoplasm of rectosigmoid junction (CMS-HCC), C20 Malignant neoplasm of rectum (CMS-HCC), C78.7
Secondary malignant neoplasm of liver and intrahepatic bile duct (CMS-HCC)

Technique: CT imaging was performed of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis following the uncomplicated administration of intravenous contrast (Isovue-300, 150 mL at 2 mL/sec). Iodinated contrast was used due to the indications for the examination, to improve disease detection and to further define anatomy. The most recent serum creatinine is 0.7 mg/dL.
3-D maximal intensity projection (MIP) reconstructions of the chest were performed to potentially increase study sensitivity. Coronal images were also generated and reviewed.

Findings:
Chest:
There is a right chest port with tip terminating within the proximal right atrium. The visualized thyroid is unremarkable. There is a four vessel aortic arch with the left vertebral artery arising from the aortic arch.
The heart is normal in size without evidence of pericardial effusion. Scattered coronary calcifications, noted in the LAD. There is no evidence of mediastinal, hilar, or axillary lymphadenopathy.

The central airways are patent. Stable 2-3mm calcified nodule in the right lower lobe anterior segment. There are no suspicious pulmonary nodules visualized. There is no pleural effusion or pneumothorax.

Abdomen and pelvis:
The liver is normal in size. There is capsular retraction and nodular contours in the inferior and anterior right liver, which may be pseudocirrhosis due to treated metastases. Again seen are numerous hepatic metastases, some of which are calcified. There is interval decrease of ill-defined low density metastases within segment 2 (series 2, image 101). The majority of lesions are stable or slightly decreased in size compared to the prior examination. Representative partially calcified lesion in segment 6 measures 2.3 x 3.4 cm, previously measured 3.6 x 2.3 cm (series 2, image 137). Partially calcified lesion in segment 5 measures 2.1 x 2.1 cm, previously measured 2.3 x 2.3 cm (series 2, 2026). No new hepatic lesions identified. There is no evidence of intrahepatic or extrahepatic biliary duct dilatation. There is irregular thickening and nodular enhancement within the gallbladder which is stable and likely due to metastatic disease. The pancreas and bilateral adrenal glands are unremarkable. The spleen is large in size measuring up to 16 cm.

The kidneys enhance symmetrically without evidence of focal renal lesions or hydronephrosis. The urinary bladder is unremarkable. The prostate is large in size measuring up to 4.9 cm.

The small and large bowel are normal in caliber. Redemonstration of small gastric varices. Previously seen sigmoid mass is less prominent. There is interval long segment sigmoid colonic bowel thickening, some of which may be due to underdistention or to treatment effects. The appendix is normal.

The abdominal aorta is normal in caliber. There is interval decrease of lymph node near the gastric lesser curvature, which is subcentimeter  (series 2, image 115). No evidence of abdominal or pelvic lymphadenopathy. There is trace fluid in the pelvis.

There are no aggressive lytic or sclerotic lesions identified.

Impression:
1. Slight interval decrease in size of some of the left hepatic metastases. The remaining hepatic lesions are stable in size.

2. Previously seen sigmoid malignant mass is less conspicuous on the current examination. There is interval long segment sigmoid colonic bowel thickening, some of which may be due to underdistention or to treatment effects.

3. No significant change in a probable metastases involving the gallbladder. 

4. Interval decrease in gastrohepatic lymphadenopathy, compatible with treatment response.

5. Trace free fluid within the pelvis without definite nodularity.
Attention on follow-up.

Look, we’re beating up my cancer like a little bitch. It’s only going to claim me if I decide to quit fighting it altogether, which is not going to happen. The one-sided battle continues and we continue to use the Force. I feel like dancing.

I must believe
I can do anything
I can heal anyone
I must believe
I am the wind (yeah)
I am the sea
I am the wind
I am the sea
I am the sun
I can be anyone
Oh this world is mine (this world is mine)
For all of time (for all of time)
I can turn any stone
Call any place my home
I can do anything
I know I’m gonna get myself together (yeah)
Use the force
I know I’m gonna work it out
Use the force
I know I’m gonna get myself ahead (yeah)
Use the force
Use the force
I can go eagle high
Circling in the sky
Learn to live my life (no)
I don’t need no strife
I must believe (I must believe. I must believe)
I’m a rocket man (I must believe. I must believe)
I’m a superstar (I must believe. I must believe)
I can be anyone

Progress Report: Part 1

A short post this time — my CT scan has been scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, I’ll get to know the analysis next Tuesday when I go into infusion #5.

Today I bounced out of bed early (for me) and had an incredible day, energy-wise. I’ve not had this much pep for a long while, and being at the midway point between my 4th and 5th infusion, it’s quite puzzling. A big ole bunch of folks must have been thinking of me today, that’s the only explanation. Was it you? Bless you for the extra bump! I feel like I’ve been hovering about 3 inches off the floor all day.

My brother Billy and his family are visiting starting this weekend, hopefully I can get someone to join me at the clinic when I find out about my scan. Because the way I feel, I won’t be surprised if I see progress.

I’ll be back early next week when I can relay results and we’ll see where I’m at with my lovely tumors! Until then, enjoy the emerging springtime, and all of the lovely pollen that coats everything here in NC. Love to all! Lovely lovely lovely!

Nashville

My company’s annual convention, Catalyst, was held in Nashville this past week and I was in attendance to… well, there’s not a lot a graphic designer does at these things, mostly help with running thumb drives loaded with PowerPoint presentations to the laptops in the seminar rooms. Because, dagnabbit, we’re good at it. Usually we have a big recognizable name show up for a keynote. This year Martha Stewart graced us with her presence and she was great. You might be wondering what she has to do with what my company does (help large companies get on e-commerce and track their sales on the platforms they sell on) but her brand is doing well enough selling online that she can participate in those discussions, because if there’s one thing Martha has always been good at, it’s knowing how things operate under the hood. Perhaps too much, after reviewing her rap sheet.

What’s notable about this year’s Catalyst, is that since I opened my big mouth and am now tasked with capturing corporate video more often, we had to locate a freelance graphic designer to take up the slack and process the ponderous mass of on-site graphics and booklets for Catalyst… enter my better half to knock out those graphics in a most satisfactory fashion. Christine had to scramble to get this Death Star image for our President’s keynote presentation, just as one example.

I had been in Nashville on 2 other occasions to review placement of the convention graphics at the venue and had barely enjoyed Broadway, the main street where multiple live bands play in every bar (no cover) because I was basically flying solo in the evenings. You know I’m not the gregarious type who can just stroll into a bar and make friends immediately — actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed anyone else achieve that who was sober enough to walk into a bar by himself — so I just strolled the streets and stayed away from the festivities in the past. Not so on this trip. Having my co-workers there this time for Catalyst opened up Broadway for me. I discovered a relatively new bar that had just opened called Nudie’s Honky Tonk, a bar dedicated to Nudie Cohn. I fell in love with it immediately, it’s my favorite bar in Nashville now.

During our official Catalyst party at the Wildhorse Saloon I developed a bit of hematuria; the next morning it got a bit worse, and after consulting with my oncologist I was told to go to the ER immediately, probably because of my already-low platelet count. So I dropped everything and hoofed it over to the closest hospital, anxious about making my flight home later that evening. I had to submit a urine sample and it looked like a blood sample. Four and a half hours and a CT scan later, the diagnosis was a simple bladder infection, treatable with antibiotics. They gave me the first dose right there with an IV and it cleared things up immediately. Whew. And I made it home with no issues.

The emergency on Wednesday, just as Catalyst was wrapping up, had plenty of my co-workers on alert. They didn’t want to leave me stranded in the event I had to stay overnight, and set up alternative plans in case I had to. I had brought plenty of gear with me to Nashville but all of my baggage was taken care of, as we had to vacate the venue while I was away. The constant requests for updates and support I received was as if my own family was involved – and in a sense it was: if you have the right people working with you, they are a part of your family and they genuinely care for your well-being. It is another blessing of mine to count my co-workers and the execs I report to as part of my support network. And because there is none of the normal employment-related stress that frequently exists with dealing with certain people at work, it increases my daily positive energy every time I go to the office. I doubt a lot of people can say that, and I’m glad I’m one of the lucky ones. But then, I’ve been pretty lucky so far.

Chemo is next week, the 4th infusion out of…. to be determined. I’m thinking of asking my oncologist to hit me with the full dose of that Vectibix, acne and thinning hair be damned. I believe another CT scan will be scheduled soon, so we can judge the progress of this new chemo regimen, stay tuned for that. Until then, spring is almost here — get out and walk if it’s nice out! I’m feeling a load of positive energy and it’s wonderful. Thank you once more for being here, I love you!

I look 51 and seven-eighths

It was my off-week from chemo this week but I still felt fuzzy until Tuesday night when I saw the video at the end of this post. Since then, I’ve been enjoying loads of energy — 100% here. I’m sure most will not watch this one if they didn’t watch the other video I posted before but I will tell you it got me going again, so it must be good for something. So embrace it for what it is, and participate in the experience, or just take my word for it. The video has hyenas and a Lady Gaga look-alike, so it can’t be that bad.

the energy comes at a good time, as I’ll be working from Nashville next week at my company’s annual tradeshow. We have Martha Stewart there, as well as Scott Galloway. I’m a fanboy and i hope i get close enough to him to lick his bald head next week.

Speaking of bald heads, my chemo regimen continues to wreak havoc. Every time I run my hands thru my hair I get a shower of hair leaving the premises. It’s a horror show when I wash my hair. I’m actually surprised I have any left, but it won’t be long when I’m not surprised. I realize that I should not be complaining, especially to the male members in my family and Scott Galloway, but my point is obviously that when something you perceive as being normal is suddenly not, it is disturbing when it happens.

And the acne… it popped up during my first infusion back in late January, and it’s lingered ever since. We’re over a month and every time I get another dose of chemo I’m going to get another faceful of the stuff. I keep reminding myself, it’s just temporary. But everything is temporary when you think about it.

See you next week, I’m off to eat Hattie B’s hot chicken in Nashville.

Eh Fatty Boom Boom
Hit me with the Ching-ching
Not fokken thinking, dolla eye twinkling
Just a bit of junkie
Let’s not get too funky
Oh oh oo oh

Hey, Pizza-face

One of the new medicines I’m taking for this round of chemo is Panitumumab, a lovely concoction that has the regular side-effects (fatigue, diarrhea, wreaking havoc with electrolytes) but it also comes with a nasty case of acne and rash. Which I discovered during the week I traveled to Colorado for what is starting to become an annual skiing clinic. I left on a Thursday, got 3 good days of skiing in at Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, and Breckenridge, and returned home just in time for another round of chemo.

A huge house was acquired to accommodate the large amount of friends gathered, most of whom are locals to the area, just out of college, and participate in white-water rafting together. So they’re very organized when it comes to partying and skiing: some of them got up early to secure a front-row parking spot at A-basin, which borders the bottom of several ski runs so that a skiier can just finish the run and ski right up to a waiting tailgate. Ours had a grill cooking some sort of meat product at all times while a keg of PBR made sure everyone was hydrated (har). As soon as it was time to move out, everyone knew what to do and did it – no bickering, no egos, just a well-oiled machine of logistics. it was a beautiful thing to behold. Gets you right in the feels… love to see a plan come together. And it didn’t stop there – back at the house someone was always working on the next meal. While I went on a couple grocery store runs (one of my favorite chores anyhow) I didn’t have to worry about cooking!

I made some definite headway in my skiing skills: last year, I skiied after 4 full months of chemo and I wasn’t as strong as I was this time, having only had one infusion before I went. I trusted my body a lot more, had more strength. I was able to ski most of the time on blue runs, which opens up the possibilities for more fun. I was faster and in more control. Instead of Ken having to ski down a slope and wait for me on a green run, I was almost able to keep up with him on blue runs. Big difference, for me anyways. My progress made me feel like I wasn’t the “beginner” anymore. Now, the steeper drops I have problems with. I’ll get there at some point.

Chemo tomorrow… let’s do this –

I only have myself to blame

Well, this is no good and it’s all my doing. Apologies for the lack of posts, it was a habit I got into last year when I was off chemo and doing my own thing and everything was on the mend. Now, with my energies down and being back on the chemo, I’m feeling the effects of not sharing. It basically stems from 2 of my personality traits: I probably trend just barely towards being an introvert (especially if i’m not feeling well), and I dislike complaining – either from me or others, I tend to avoid it if i can. Well, it backfires if I just clam up and don’t post, I don’t get the awareness out and I stop receiving the positive energy I need from you if you don’t know what’s going on.

So over the next few days I promise to light this blog up; chemo infusion #3 is on Tuesday, and I need a boost. I might complain a little. Anything to get a post out and get some energy moving, right?

Anyhow, my aunt Kathy called me out of the blue the other week and let me know she was visiting her grand-daughter a couple hours away in Jacksonville NC and wanted to see whether I was available to visit. As this is kin I’ve managed to see only once in the last 30 years, and who was responsible for this and has been constantly sending me cards and letters since this all started, I cleared out the next Saturday, piled the family into the car and spent the afternoon in Wilmington for a wonderful visit. We even made it to the beach. Her knees aren’t what they used to be, so we didn’t do much walking as we just talked and caught up.


2 days after this picture was taken, my face exploded in acne

Mary Kathleen Walker is a few years older than my mother and has been through some tough times recently (lost her husband in 2015, and her oldest son to pancreatic cancer early last year) but you won’t find a more jovial, more positive soul anywhere. Always giggling, her enthusiasm is infectious. The more time I spent with her the more I discovered how much alike we were. I swear I could have spent a week talking with her nonstop. And her hugs – well, they’re the next best thing than my own mother’s, just by definition.

Seeing older relatives as time passes highlights how important sibling relationships are: on my mother’s side of the family, everyone else from their generation is gone – their oldest sister Martha passed in the last year, so the sisters are all that are left. (Grandpa Walker was fifty when he married my grandmother, who was half his age; he died when I was a toddler.) Needless to say my mother and Aunt Kathy are closer than ever. Be kind to your brothers and sisters, over time they’ll be the only other people on this earth who will remember you back when you were just a little squirt, and to have that bridge back to our childhood through blood relatives is a blessing.

Good sturdy Iowan girls – hearts of gold, those Walker sisters.