Monday, March 27, 2006

Bear Wear


Erin attended her first wedding ever this weekend and believe me she took it all in (and approved, by the way).  She, Walter, and I ignored the barrels of oil we sacrificed to drive out to west Texas (7.5 hours each way) to take part in the wedding of our baby nephew Mike and his new bride M'Kenzie.  Erin pronounced everything "lovely."  I slipped up (apparently) and forgot to pack a suitcase for Rosie (Erin's best beloved traveling bear companion).  Imagine my embarrassment when Rosie had nothing but a sweatsuit to wear to the ladies' luncheon on Saturday.  Erin attempted a quick fix by fabricating a beautiful decorative belt for her, but they were both much aggrieved that there was NOTHING formal for Rosie to wear to the wedding that evening.

Do you believe in divine intervention?  If not, this may change your mind.  At the luncheon, Erin received an unexpected gift as thanks for taking part in the wedding (she was scheduled to pass out the birdseed for guests to hurl at the departing couple).  What present would be a sign of divine intervention?  New bear party-wear?  Better yet:  a $12 gift card at WalMart.   A trifecta.  A new outfit for Rosie with change leftover for new puppy toys (more about that miracle later) all rolled into a shopping spree at the largest (only?) discount store for miles around.  Not just great gifts, but entertainment, too. 

The wedding came off without a hitch, and we enjoyed sharing the evening with all our friends and relatives.  Erin danced with all of the single and many of the married men and tucked away chocolate-covered strawberries as if they had life-prolonging properties (Hey! Maybe they do.  I'll volunteer for the Phase I trial). 

Davis, in the meanwhile, like any normal, red-blooded almost eighteen-year old, languished at home, alone.  The Vikings played (and won) their last regular season game in Waco Friday night (playoffs start tomorrow at 6:30 against The Woodlands), and although Waco wasn't that far out of the way on our trip west, we really needed to be further down the road than that by game's end.  We also couldn't guarantee a timely return on Sunday for him to get his radio show prepped and on the air.  So he stayed home (did I mention he was alone?).  I have yet to find any telltale signs that herds of teens used our home as a watering hole or that there was a dancing girl reunion in our absence.  I really expected much worse given the phone conversation we had Saturday afternoon:

Mom:  "Are you more awake than when we talked this morning?"

(I had done the unspeakable and called before 11:00.)

Davis:  "Yep.  I just got back from helping with the KEOS fundraiser at Half-Priced Books."

Mom:  "How did that go?"

Davis:  "I found some great vinyl you can get me for my birthday.  Maybe we can go there together next week."

Mom:  "Sounds good.  What do you have lined up for tonight?"

Davis:  "The guys and I are going to play pick-up basketball at 4:30.  Then, I'm going to grab some dinner and probably watch some college basketball."

Mom:  "That's fine.  Don't forget to feed the dogs and walk them."

Davis:  "No problem."

Mom:  "So, what are you going to do until your game?"

 (Here's where it starts to get fishy.)

Davis:  "Since I have a couple of hours, I thought I'd work on that essay for the scholarship application that's due next week."

Mom (thinking to herself):  "Oh sure, it's a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and next week is like next year from a teen's point-of-view.  What's he up too?"  Then says out loud:  "Really?  That's the best you can find to do?"

Davis:  "Welllll, maybe not."

(I can think of a litany of things he might be considering.)

Mom:  "Okay, what are you REALLY going to do?"

Davis:  "Come to think of it, I do have something more important."

Mom, bracing herself for the worst:  "What?"

Davis:  "I think I'll work on my sermon for the Easter Sunrise Service instead."

(Now I'm really chuffed.  What unspeakable thing is he thinking of doing if he needs to pull out the big guns and tell his mother he spending the afternoon writing a sermon?  I'm onto him now, but I don't let on.  Instead, I decide to let him figure out how to make his own bail when he's arrested.)

Mom:  "Don't you think the scholarship application is more important?  It is for $5000, and the deadline is coming up real fast." 

(That ought to confuse him.)

So, I don't really know what he did while we were gone.  And that's probably all for the best.

Now, what's all this talk about a puppy?  I know.  I know.  I have on this very page complained about our Corgi who leaks at both ends and does not know the meaning of the words "good manners" and our Yellow Lab who is to the Buenger family budget what the Iraq War is to the federal deficit.  Are we really idiotic enough to adopt a third dog?  Apparently so.  This new pup, To Be Named Later, showed up weekend before last, so skinny he could almost fit through the spokes of Erin's bicycle.  We fed him out of compassion, not because we wanted another pet.  We spent the next several days enumerating reasons why we shouldn't keep him (a list, by the way that far exceeded the almost empty list of why we should).  But he's still here, round puppy belly and all.  I'm going to Once Upon a Child this afternoon to look for a child gate so he can stay in the kitchen when we are at work everyday.  I know.  We're hopeless.

Three additional updates of past entries:

1.  Erin will continue to collect cans for another three or four weeks.  It's best if you rinse them out first.

2.  No lasting effects from the port-removal surgery.  The steri-strips should fall off in the next few days and the whole thing will become a memory.  The best part (so far) is that when Erin complained of an itchy throat and sniffles this morning, I didn't have to hesitate about taking her temperature.  If she had fever, we wouldn't have to head to the hospital for a three-day stay to check for possible infection.  She could curl up on the couch with Rosie and nap in between cartoons.  As it was she was normal and went to school.

3.  I'm too modest to boast about Erin's softball debut last Tuesday, but let's just say that she didn't look like a beginner to me.

What's coming up:  Erin will have blood counts done this afternoon.  Davis has a first round play-off soccer match tomorrow night in Magnolia against The Woodlands.  Go Vikings!  Erin has her next softball game on Thursday.  Go Panthers!  We're hoping Aunt Kat and Emma get to come for a visit really soon.  Go Emma!  Davis has ForwardFest this Saturday.  Go KEOS!   Cousin Matt is stopping by for a visit on Sunday afternoon (if he survives ChiliFest). And finally, but maybe most importantly, Erin has a clinic visit in Houston next Monday to get approved for the next round of etoposide.  After that I may have to go into hiding, as exams and student projects will flow in steadily until the end of the semester.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

So Much for Port Security


I don't know much about this current "Port Security" issue.  I don't know if it's better to hire American firms or British firms or firms headquartered in Dubai.  All I can say is that whoever held the contract to secure Erin's port failed miserably and should not be in the running for important contracts at other U.S. ports.   Apparently, between noon and 1:00 yesterday, the firm guarding Erin's port fell asleep at the switch, and someone STOLE her entire port.  Ask yourself whether you would want that to happen to the Port of Houston.  Not very secure I'd say.

Seriously, Erin's portacathectomy went very smoothly.  The surgery took a bit less than an hour.  She was in recovery about the same amount of time.  Except for the drive time (yes, we were part of the diverted traffic around the double eighteen-wheeler crash on Highway 6 yesterday morning and part of afternoon traffic getting home) and the wait time (our surgeon follows the "slow and steady" school of thought on pacing himself which we appreciate because it's highly correlated with meticulous and careful), our day went fairly smoothly.  Erin did have the usual post-anesthesia barfies a couple of times and will have tenderness for a few days.  Nevertheless, she is thrilled to be rid of her bionic extra.

I have more to catch up on, but it will have to wait.  I just wanted to let everyone know that the surgery went fine, we made it home safely (no slumber party with the nurses at TCH), and Erin returned to school first thing this morning.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Spring Break News


Happy belated St. Paddy's Day to all of you wearers of the green.  We received big news yesterday.  Erin will have surgery next Wednesday (3/22) to remove her PortaCath.  She had this device placed in her chest, below her left shoulder late last April, so she could have monthly IV chemo through it.   While having a needle stuck in her chest wasn't her first choice, it beat having a fresh IV started every day during treatment.  Erin hasn't used her port since the week before Christmas, except (and here's one reason why she having it removed) that it has to be accessed and flushed once a month when she's not using it to keep it clear and functioning.  Another factor is, that as long as she has a mechanical device installed, she has to be very wary of fevers.  A fever buys a three-day stay in the hospital, because of the risk of infection.   We have been lucky on this one (except for last May), but removing the port will also remove that particular worry from our plate. 

We have no idea how long Erin will be able to go without a port.  Currently, she takes her chemo by mouth and can do weekly blood counts with a finger stick.  Even when she needs to have IV access for scans, she prefers a temporary line in her hand or arm.   The neuroblastoma could rev up and get more aggressive, which would mean a trip back to the surgery for re-installation, so we could pursue more aggressive treatment.  Still, Erin's doctor and I think the oral etoposide will hold her long enough to make this decision worthwhile. 

Spring break is drawing to a close for all of us.  Although we didn't go on any backpacking adventures, skiing holidays, or cruises, we managed to have a good time.  I hope you did the same.

For all you can collectors:  Erin and her class will continue to collect cans through most of April, so let me know if you have some to contribute.

Friday, March 10, 2006


Before I forget, just like last year, Erin is collecting aluminum cans as one of her class's fund raising efforts for Relay for Life.   Let me know if you need us to stop by and pick yours up or whether you want to hand them off to us when we see each other.  Only constraint?  Rinse them out first so they don't attract bugs and vermin sitting around at Erin's school.

I have not given you the play by play for the month of March.  At this point I don't remember it all (lost in the haze of worry and celebration).  We are all excited about catching our breaths during spring break next week.  Erin's soccer season will wind to a close on Saturday, and with it will come my retirement as coach.  We have had a good run, and the team has played extremely well lately.  Might as well go out on a high note.  Erin's season is ending just in time.  She is trying a new sport, fastpitch softball (Loren are you reading?).   She said fielding grounders was just like being goalie, except the ball comes from a lot further away (and I wanted to add, it is smaller, harder, and struck more sharply by a bat). 

Davis's regular season has another couple of weeks.  At this point, his team is in third, and the playoffs look a bit iffy.  We'll see what happens.  In the meantime, he's having almost as much fun playing three or four pick-up basketball games each week with his buddies, getting ready for the school's intramural season that starts in April.  It doesn't matter that when he was a lad he was completely indifferent to basketball and complained when we signed him up to play every winter.  Now, it's our fault that we didn't encourage basketball enough.  Oh well.

Before I return to grading those stacks of midterm exams and projects that are waiting for me on my desk, I do have one story that may illustrate the strain caused by the run up to scans this time:  It is a Vickie Funny.

Last Sunday was a busy day for the Buengers.  I made waffles to get us off to a good start, then as usual Walter and I taught Sunday School and the family went out to lunch.  After lunch, I straightened Erin's room enough so that I could pack her stuff for the trip down to Houston, threw some of my gear in too (having been reminded by Erin at least three times to bring both pieces of my bathing suit), and found a couple of "horse"-themed songs for Davis's special set that evening.  We then trotted off to OPAS, jr. to see a Broadway-themed presentation.  After that we loaded up the car and slipped into our soccer gear (did I mention it was a busy day?) for my Sunday afternoon pickup game.  After an hour and a half of sweat, I packed Erin and Nico into the car and headed to the Marriott.  I had only one thing on my mind:  HOT TUB. 

We made it to Houston, checked in, and headed to the pool.  Uh oh.  The pool was open, but there was that yellow crime scene tape that says "CAUTION" around one end of the hot tub.  I watch the kids swim for a while, worked a Sudoku, and pondered my situation.  We were the only ones there.  I had been running on high speed for days, maybe weeks.  My back still ached.  I wondered over and touched the water.  It was very warm. . .and. . .inviting.  It didn't look broke.  I knew I shouldn't break the rules, especially in front of law-abiding third graders.  Still, what harm would come?  I stepped in and sat down.  I didn't start the hydrojets.  I just lolled in the hot water. . .until the hotel security detachment came into the pool area:

Hotel Security Officer:  "Why are you in the hot tub?  Can't you see it's closed?"

Vickie:  "No sir.  I saw the cones that said WET FLOOR and the tape that said CAUTION, so I got in as cautiously as I could."

Hotel Security Officer:  "Well, the hot tube is obviously closed."

Vickie:  "Oh.  Why?  It seems perfectly fine from here."

Hotel Security Officer:  "There is an engineering problem.  You'll have to get out."

Vickie:  "Okay."

End of story, almost.  We went up and got ready for bed.  I fell asleep before Nico and Erin had finished reading, but they kindly waked me up so I could turn out the lights at 10:15.  I went back to sleep easily, but not permanently.  You see, the night anxiety pricked at me, poked at me, and finally shook me out of my slumbers.  I woke up repeatedly, with worries racing through my brain that I couldn't shake.  Not about Erin, though.  Somehow, by that point, I had put Erin's scans behind me.  I knew in my heart that everything was going to be fine on Monday.  Her health was too robust to ignore.

No, the dragon looming over me was the hot tub.  What if it wasn't an "engineering" problem?  What if it was a seething cauldron of contaminated nastiness?  What if it contained flesh-eating bacteria, multiple strains of STD, or the ebola virus?  The more I thought of the possibilities, the less I was able to put it out of my mind and the more my skin crawled with itchiness and discomfort.  I got up and scrubbed all my body parts, paying particular attention to my nether regions, and considered litigation options for my suit against the Marriott Corp. for saying "engineering" when they really meant "toxic waste."  Finally, after tossing and turning for some long time, I fell back asleep. 

When I woke up with the alarm, I was still alive, and sort of shocked that I hadn't been carted off in the night by EMT's risking their life to save mine.  So, off we went to keep Erin's schedule:  six appointments in six hours.  And you know the rest.  We will be fine for another three months.  That is unless the health department investigates, and I get carried off as Exhibit A.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Good, But Quick, News


This is going to be quick because I need to get out and start celebrating.  Dr. Russell called this morning about ten minutes before my first class with the news that Erin's CT scan continues to be stable after these first two rounds of oral etoposide AND that her bone scan looked the best it has looked since before the mystery tumor showed up on her spine a year and a half ago.  I think she used the word "normal."

Those of you closest to me realize that this was the news I wanted, but wasn't really expecting to get.  I have sooo enjoyed the past two months--no clinic visits, no IV chemo, no side effects--that I guess I was just waiting for the other shoe to fall.  I would look at Erin everyday and see her apple cheeks, her healthy appetite, and her pants looking a bit short, and I would discount all of that evidence that things were going well, and instead concentrate on every ache and pain and any little complaint that came out of her mouth.  Well, that's behind me.  Erin has the go ahead to take three more rounds of oral etoposide before she scans again, and I want to enjoy every moment.
I have to hit the road now.  Erin has horseback riding right after school, and Davis has a game tonight with crosstown rival Consol.  I will try to fill in the details of the past week, including the 7-1 win in Erin's game last weekend tomorrow or Thursday.  In the meantime, don't take anything for granted.  I'm not.