8/15-8/16 On the road back to California
8/16-9/3 Valencia Travel Village, CA
9/3-9/8 Thousand Trails, Acton, CA
9/8- ??? Valencia Travel Village, CA
I have not been able to blog for two solid weeks due medical issues. The days run together and I will be as succinct as possible. When you are done here, the dates from 7/25-7/31 follow and you will be completely up to date.
8/1 We drove to the site of the Battle of Little Big Horn, Montana. We walked around for five hours plus listened to a ranger talk. Chris found his great grandfather’s cousin’s name on a group grave site.
8/2 I woke up with an intense headache and nausea which lasted all day, but we went back to the battle site to take a bus tour, then we drove all over to hike other trails. Both days I wore a wide brim hat, drank a bottle of water for each hour out, had sunglasses and sunblock on, and walked with my staff.
8/3 Intense headache, delirious, high temperature, skin blistering hot yet I was freezing cold, can’t keep food down. Chris took me to the emergency hospital in Harding, Montana. I have heat stroke. Senior heat stroke because I am 60 years old. They gave me a ringer of lactate, morphine, more morphine, an anti-nausea pill, and sent me on my way with a blood pressure of 69/27.
8/3-8/8 Continued to have all of the above symptoms until Chris listened to my breathing and determined that crackling lungs was a bad thing and now to the emergency hospital in Missoula, Montana. Square dancing in Lolo, Montana, is out.
8/8 I am given a hospital bed and from here on things are fuzzy. I am given a head CT (nothing wrong there), a lung x-ray, a chest CT (bad things are found). I am hooked permanently to a shunt and antibiotics for pneumonia and ringers of fluid are pumped non-stop. One type of scan leads to another as now pneumonia takes a back stage to a cancerous mass in my right lung (and so I then had a lung biopsy), a 5 cm mass on my remaining left kidney (right kidney was removed due to clear cell renal cell carcinoma 20 years ago), and several spots on my liver. We must wait in the hospital until the lung biopsy tells us if it is RCC or a different kind of cancer.
8/8-8/13 We are pretty much shell shocked, and go through the tale with each change-over nurse, aide, doctor (I saw four different ones over 6 days), the church guy, several social workers, two PTs and one OT. The heat stroke left me wobbly and the PTs and OT wanted to make sure I was ambulatory; I was given a cane for a few days. Each doctor repeated what we knew with something a bit extra, such as the lymph nodes were swollen (bad), the metastases word was used (very bad), palliative care (not a cure), and that I was at stage 4 (bad). I went looney every time we had to do a blood draw or move the shunt to another spot (total three). I had family and friends calling, messaging, and Facebooking all the time which made life both easier and harder. Everyone is now in shock, Chris is not handling it well, and it’s a waiting game to find out about the biopsy. I was completely dressed and ready to leave on Wednesday only to find out they were trying another stain and we wouldn’t know until Thursday. On Thursday I dressed with shoes on. By the afternoon we were told they didn’t take enough of the mass and their tests were inconclusive. We took the CD of the scans, the paperwork, and checked out.
8/14 We drove the first of three legs back to California. We called everyone that we had dates with to cancel and started the 1230 mile journey to see my own Facey medical doctors. I have Monday with my GP who will order an emergency lung biopsy referral; Monday to drop off the CD and paperwork with the urologist; Thursday with the urologist; and the end of the month with my oncologist when he is back from his vacation. We have a date with a teacher girlfriend turned realtor to view condos in Friendly Valley in case I have to have chemo. I contacted Bloch Cancer Foundation (of which I am a volunteer) and told them my new situation and got great advice (The Second Chance is a free service that will retest and affirm or disaffirm your diagnosis), plus they emailed me up-to-date info on kidney cancer treatment. My friends from, literally, around the world are cheering me on as well as family. I have a wonderful support system in place, and I thank everyone from the bottom of my heart.
8/15 We are camping tonight in Las Vegas and should be in CA by early afternoon tomorrow. Two long days of driving and Chris is wiped out. Going to a Hawaiian Buffet for dinner tonight so no cooking or clean up required.
I am sending this out today. If I do continue blogging, it will be to cover my cancer progress. The rest of this blog is from our trip before the bad stuff happened.
Saturday (7/25) was the perfect day to get our to-dooley list done, and we almost made it to the end. Last night’s rain did wash all of the thick red dirt and dust off of the car, so no need for a car wash. Grocery shopping had us buy a melon from each type so I could make fruit compote. When we got back from running around Chris did laundry while I spent over two hours melon balling two cantaloupes, watermelon, honeydew, casaba, canary, and crenshaw, plus five bananas and a large box of strawberries were sliced (Chris took out four bags of trash from the rinds alone). All fruits were mixed together and it fit into three of our largest Tupperware containers (these containers were stored in the basement as we wanted to get rid of them, but not throw them away). They all fit in the fridge—glad we switched to a residential style. The only things we did not get to do were vacuuming and washing the floors, and they really need to be done. Last week I cut into a fresh pineapple and we never got around to eating the last two spears, so they were given to Lucky (Lucky eats everything). So now the floor is sticky with pineapple juice as well as the normal grime that happens upon walking in and out and around.
Sunday (7/26) we took a drive to Deadwood. The turn of the 20th century buildings were wonderful to walk around. On just about every corner was a photo of how that view looked in the 1800s. One sign gave the history of the Jewish merchants and mayors of Deadwood. The stores all sold the same type of items (Chris is good for hats and t-shirts so we saved money), but the antique shops were like walking through a museum (everything tagged with the owner’s history!) with a price tag (ouch!). We declined the $5 ($8 with a beer—9:00 in the morning?) tour of where Wild Bill Hickok was shot. We walked through the train depot and read about Deadwood’s transportation from horseback to the automobile. We ended the morning at the cemetery. A tour was given a talk at Wild Bill Hickok’s gravesite, so we hung around to listen in, saw where Calamity Jane was buried, walked to the Jewish section, to the mass graves, potter’s field, and where the infants were buried. After a nap it was time to walk the dogs again, and on our circuit of the RV park we got talking to a couple (Joyce and Corky) that just pulled in. After five minutes we discovered they were also square dancers. We pulled up their extra chairs and ended up talking for over two hours. We agreed to get back together after dinner for a game of King’s Cribbage. Never played it before, like a cross between Cribbage and Scrabble. When we got back to their rig they had another couple in there (Cathy and Dave). After talking in a big group the guys went outside and now us girls were talking, and it turns out that all three of us worked with Special Needs. Cathy still works (8 years until retirement) with high school English (like my last 7 years at West Ranch), Joyce as a paraprofessional with adult students. We all had the same experiences with all of our kidlings. Cathy and Dave will be joining us this coming week to do some touring of the area, and they leave on Friday as we do. Joyce and Corky leave tomorrow (we may see them in Lolo and/or Riverside for a square dance weekend). The four of us (Joyce, Corky, Chris, me) had a game of King’s Cribbage ($35 if I can find it in a store), and it really is mind blowing. Everyone helped everyone figure out their points as your point lines could go in a multitude of ways—but not diagonal—plus you get extra points if the tiles are all one color, you use up all five tiles in one go, or you go out first. We got back at 11:00 to walk the dogs one more time.
Monday (7/27) we had a repair guy come out to our RV park and check on the bedroom slide awning. It seems like three screws had come undone and it was hanging by the remaining one. He fixed everything and we are ready to travel more. We never had a chance to get back together with Cathy and Dave, so we all did our own touring. We took a drive to the Black Hills Gold Factory and took their tour. Our guide took us through all of the steps and stages. The original artist liked the grape vineyards from Europe and so created the leaves and grape clusters in his jewelry. So, every piece of jewelry had this incorportated into them, which was not pleasing to me so I didn’t buy anything. Also, there hasn’t been any gold mined from the Black Hills in 100 years so they import it from back east. To make the different tones, silver or silver and copper is put into the mix. We also drove to the Sioux Indian Pottery Factory. There were only two Native Americans working today. This was a self tour, so we looked at green (unkilned pottery), first baked, glazed, etc, and then watched two people paint on the pottery. Once again, did not buy anything as it could easily break in the RV.
Tuesday (7/28) we drove the Badlands National Park loop. It took much longer than the hour that everyone told us about. I guess they didn’t stop at just about every overlook, read every sign, walked just about every path and trail, and took pictures. Prairie Dog Town was delightful. These critters, four times the size of a huge guinea pig, were sunning themselves outside of their homes, then would race to another mound displacing the prairie dog there who goes running to the next mound. Hard to take pictures because of the distance from us to them. Along the lines of, in the middle of the picture is a prairie dog. Big horn sheep herds were on both sides of the road. To the right of us were fields of green, to the left in a canyon were dry, steep cliffs. I guess they felt safe in the cliffs, but the food was elsewhere. Once again, in the middle of the digital picture, if you blow it up, you can see the sheep. We discovered all that purple thistle was imported from Europe to make the original homesteaders less homesick, The people nowadays think of it as a blight and are importing bugs that feed on it to eradicate them. The Badlands were sold to people in 150 acre plots at $1.50 an acre. Turns out the majority couldn’t farm the land and moved on. Those that stayed were paid $4 an acre by the government who finally realized that people were dying out there. Starvation Acres. On our way back we drove again through Wall Drug and stopped at the National Grasslands Visitor Center and spent time learning about this area as well. We then drove straight to Spearfish for a square dance with Jerry Junck. We will be dancing with him again when we get to Lolo, Montana, plus there were several dancers there that we will see again in Lolo and/or Riverside, California.
Wednesday (7/29) we dropped the dogs in a local kennel for an overnighter. We got to Mt. Rushmore by 10:00 and spent six and a half hours walking the paths and taking pictures from every viewpoint there was, going into every building, watching all of the films… A fun picture was taken from inside a cave looking up through a crack at George Washington. I got another of George framed in the branches of a pine tree. Chris bought a $5 t-shirt and he found the Geological Survey hat tacks that I collect. I also took photos of the ones in the ground. We left to walk the streets of Keystone (one way all down hill; good thing the sun went down as we walked the uphill back). We had dinner in a Mexican restaurant overlooking all of the bikes coming in to town. I guess I need to mention here that Sturgis is having it’s 75th Biker Rally, and one million bikers were expected to flood this town. And so everywhere we went, the parking lots and streets were filled with bikes and bikers. Leaving Mt. Rushmore one bike went down, and four more plowed into it. So we had to wait for the ambulances to take away the injured and the flat truck to cart away the bikes that had spewn across the roads. We got back to Mt. Rushmore after dinner to watch the light show. It started with patriotic music, a long speech about each of the presidents portrayed (initially she had a bad mike and nobody could hear for five minutes), a movie, and then the lights blazed at the mountain. This was not supposed to be as spectacular as the night show at Crazy Horse, but we just couldn’t see everything in one day. At the end the veterans and current in the military were called down to the stage. Each in turn had the mike to state their rank and name and branch of the military, and they were applauded. We will need to come back to South Dakota to see Crazy Horse, Devil’s Tower, and many other places as we were running out of time.
Thursday (7/30) we picked up two very happy dogs and brought them back to the RV. It was too hot for our plans that day. We walked the two by seven street grid of Rapid City’s Presidential Walk. A number of artists made bronze life size statues of every president, and these were placed on the street corners. With a map with short stories, this self guided tour took over two hours. We recognized most of the presidents as we approached them and felt sorry for a few. Imagine being sworn in on a rainy day and dying of pneumonia a month later (William Henry Harrison), or two of three kids died very young, and on the way to your inauguration your remaining son died on his way to see this (Franklin Pierce), or that you were known for absolutely nothing of record (several). While on the walk we went into a vinegar and oil shop and taste tested several. We ended up buying a blackberry balsamic and an 18 year old balsamic. The shop held our bottles until we finished the walk as no one wanted to think of the bottles clanking against each other the whole way. As it was, we were juggling drink bottles, our phone cameras, and the booklet of stories, of which I was expected to read aloud from. We picked up the dogs and drove Highway 16-A. This twisty turning highway was also being driven by thousands of bikers. If we went in the opposite direction (as mostly everyone else who was in the know was doing), we would have seen Mt. Rushmore framed in the one way tunnels and on the turns of the road. We stopped at an overlook and saw them, but so far away it was better to just look than try to photo them. There were t-shirts for sale in stores listing how many pig tails, switch backs, curves ahead signs, etc for this road. Didn’t buy one. At the halfway point was Custer State Part, but it was late and we wouldn’t give it the time it needed. We have seen buffalo/bison close up in Yellowstone so it was easy to pass on this.
Friday (7/31) we woke up early to make the four plus hour drive to 7th Ranch RV Camp in Garryowen, Montana. There are grasshoppers like crazy outside, and if you don’t worry about them, they try and stay at least one hop out of your way. Even at six o’clock in the evening it is bright and very hot outside. Chris is trying to keep the inside of the RV cold so that he and the dogs won’t suffer. Me, I wear a sweater, shawl, and have added another quilt on my side of the bed.