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The last word

June 5, 2010

Hopefully, this is my last post, at least for now.

Chemo is done. My doctor is offering an optimistic prognosis. “Move on with your life,” he says.

I have to say that chemo wasn’t as awful as I expected. As it turned out, I never had to take a sick day, which tells you something. (Part of this was the a flexible work schedule — I’ve been working Sundays to free up a weekday for chemo treatments.)

Still, I’m glad it’s over. The nurses gave me a very nice “graduation” certificate on Thursday, when I got my infusion pump unhitched.

I haven’t really had a chance to celebrate yet. My week has continued to be consumed by Obama drama; lots of stories to do and plans to make. It’s complicated by the fact that this is not just a news story, but Kathryn’s graduation. On Thursday, we went to her track awards banquet; on Friday was her senior farewell at school and her band banquet at night. (Incidentally, she was honored at both — as tracak team co-captain and as an Outstanding Seniors in band.)

Graduation is Monday, and it will be a very long a busy day. Then we shift to Kevin’s graduation from Kalamazoo College! Wednesday, he gets inducted into Phi Beta Kappa; Saturday is his awards banquet and June 13 is the actual graduation.

No question, there’s so much going on at home and work that cancer isn’t casting shadow at all …..


Nearing the finish line

May 29, 2010

Tuesday will be my final chemo — and none too soon, from my standpoint.

Still, the timing is awful in terms feeling crummy next week. The Obama visit has taken over my life. The newspaper has decided to publish three — three! — eight-page sections on the presidential visit, to run on June 6-8. The final one, on June 8, is no problem — basically it will be filled with different stories on the visit. But the other two need advance stories, and lots of them. On Monday, I asked about the deadline for all these stories. Oh, Thursday or Friday, I was told.

I about fainted.

The bottom line: Today was my seventh consecutive day of work, including one 12-hour day and one 14-hour day. (On Friday, I got into work at 7:30 a.m. and left at 9:30 p.m.) I’ve been cranking stories like a mad demon. Frankly, the chemo at least gives me an excuse for having a day off, although I expect the rest of the week will be just as busy. To be honest, I’m feeling a little cranky about Mr. Obama about now.

At any rate, there was one funny story from the week. I knew Thursday would be a long day of writing stories, so I dressed in comfortable jeans and a polo shirt. I had a Kalamazoo school board meeting Thursday night, but I figured I’d run home for dinner and change.  I ran out of time and figured that it wouldn’t matter; I’d get to the meeting early and sit at the press table, where my jean-clad legs would be hidden. All went well until about 10 minutes into the meeting — I was called to the podium to receive a certificate from the some state organization’s Hall of Fame for reporters! As I walk by the Kalamazoo school spokesman, I hissed, “I’m wearing JEANS.” The school board members heard me and laughed.

Oh, well.  It was very nice of them. 

When Kat heard the story, she reiterated her oft-cited advice that I need to tend to my appearance whenever I leave the house, because you never know.

Mourning Charlotte, celebrating life

May 22, 2010

Between work and personal obligations, this has been a super-busy week. But the past 24 hours have been a particularly interesting contrast between life and death events, so to speak.

Yesterday was the visitation for my friend Charlotte and today was the funeral. It’s a knife in the heart to think that Charlotte is really, truly gone — the reality of that hasn’t really sunk in yet, to tell the truth. But the visitation and funeral were much less grim than I anticipated. It was a joy to see all the photos of Charlotte through the years and to read her writings, and there also were lots of former Gazette staffers at both events, so that also made me glad to be there. One highlight of the funeral was a tribute written by her husband and read by a friend; it really captured Charlotte’s spirit.

In between going to Charlotte-related events yesterday and today, I also went to a retirement reception and the Kalamazoo Relay for Life.

The former was a reminder that not all ending are sad; Pat Coles-Chalmers should have a delightful time in retirement.  The Relay for Life event is one I hadn’t planned to attend at all, but K-Central assembled a team and Kathryn went there tonight and then called and said I needed to come, too. It was interesting, because my kids have pretty much ignored the cancer issue in recent months, but tonight Kathryn had me sign my name on the Survivor Wall and created a luminary in my name and took my picture next to a  sign that promoted by oncologist. It was very sweet, and it was inspirational, too, to see all these teenagers pitching in for a good cause. (It also was interesting because K-C was the only high school represented.)

Treatment No. 11

May 17, 2010

Had my second-to-last chemo treatment today, and slept through most of it. Part of it is that I’m still recovering from my overnight flight Saturday from San Francisco to Grand Rapids. Left SF at midnight and got in GR at 9 .m.

Drove home, slept for a few hours and then worked by 8-hour Sunday shift, which was probably the busiest Sunday work shift I’ve had this year. Bottom line: Today’s nap was not just about the chemo.

At any rate, my calendar is completely jammed for the next six weeks. Kathryn graduates June 7, and there’s a half-dozen graduation events (i.e. school awards ceremony, track banquet, band banquet, etc.) that I must attend. Not to mention that Kevin is graduating from K-College on June 13, and he also some final concerts and award events that I should be attending.  Friday, June 4, is an example: Sarah is exhibiting work in the downtown Art Hop, which runs from 5 to 8 p.m.; Kat’s band banquet is at 6 and Kevin’s final a capella concert is at 8.  Also, my final chemo treatment is on Tuesday, June 1, which means Friday would normally be my bedridden day! Won’t happen. 

On top of all the personal graduation stuff, the Obama-coming-to-Kalamazoo will make for a very busy next few weeks since there will be no story left unwritten and most of that will fall on my watch, as the paper’s education reporter. The Obama/Kat graduation is June 7. But even after that, work won’t slack off — June is when school districts final their budget, which will be a huge deal this year because of state budget cuts, and Kalamazoo is hosting a national conference on the Kalamazoo Promise on June 17. So I’m going to be writing my little fingers off.

The streets of San Francisco

May 14, 2010

I understand it was cold and rainy in Michigan. Not here! It’s been sunny and nice all week here in the Bay Area. Harold and I spent Tuesday and Wednesday walking around Berkeley, where he went to seminary. He showed me all his old haunts, and we have coffee dates with several of his old friends.

Harold returned home late last night, and I was on my own today. My three-day education conference kicked off this afternoon, but I skipped out on the first session to walk around Frisco. Went to Union Station and Chinatown, took a cable car over Nob Hill and had sweet pea-asparagus pizza, which was surprisingly delicious. Came back in time to crank out a story for the Gazette and attend two conference sessions and the welcoming reception.

But even as I’m having fun in the sun, I keep thinking about my frend Charlotte, who died Tuesday morning. The outpouring of people responding to her death has been amazing — it’s surprising how many people she touched and how much she was admired as a political reporter. A person from Michigan Public Radio posted a Facebook item about how people at the state Capital were abuzz about the news of her death.

Meanwhile, my own health has been fine, save for sore feet from walking so much. When I’ve mentioned to a few people that I’m in the midst of chemotherapy, they are agog. I look normal. I act normal. I don’t seem like a cancer patient in the least. It’s sort of reassuring, to be honest.

I (heart) San Francisco

May 10, 2010

So I’m in San Francisco until Saturday, partly for vacation and partly for the Education Writers Association conference. Today was vacation day, and Harold and I spent it with my cousin Susan and her husband, Ed.

I haven’t really spent time with Susie since we were teens and I’ve only seen her once or twice in the past three decades.  But after I booked the EWA conference, I called Susan, who now lives in San Jose, and suggested that we get together. She was enthusiastic about the idea, and she and her husband took the day off work to pick us up at the airport and onto a tour of Frisco. We had an absolutely delightful time, and it was great to see her and meet her husband. Definitely a day well-spent, and I’m hugely grateful to Susan and Ed for taking the time and energy to show us around.

The shadow over the day was cast by news about my good friend and longtime co-worker, Charlotte Channing. She was the longtime political reporter for the Gazette and was the editorial page editor from 2000 until February 2009, when she took a buyout from the paper during one of its downsizing modes. Although she’s only 51, she’s had a series of health problems since then and landed in the hospital last week with acute liver failure. That turned into multiple organ failure,and then serious and irreversible brain damage.

Today came word that her family had arranged for last rites to be performed today and then they were going to remove her from life support, although it was unclear whether she would die quickly or linger indefinitely or something in between.

Charlotte wasn’t a close friend, but she was a GOOD friend in every sense of the word. We worked together for 20 years and she was always one of my favorite people in the newsroom — wicked smart and wickedly funny.  We were both political and news junkies, and spent lots of time over the years jawing over the latest political news. When I was in the hospital, she came to see me and brought an orchid that is still blooming in my dining room. The last time we had lunch together, we compared health notes and laughed about how our bodies were betraying us at such a young age.  But while her health problems were serious, they didn’t appear to be life-threatening, and to hear that she’s dying is a real shock. I will miss her tremendously.

Hair today, gone tomorrow

May 7, 2010

So I had my hair cut this week and I asked my stylist if chemo had made a difference in my locks.

“Oh yes,” she said. “I can definitely feel the difference. Now it feels like (pause) normal hair.”

She said that, pre-chemo, I had an unusual amount of hair. Having it thin out from chemo, she said, has brought it back to the normal range.

So I guess I can chalk that up to one of cancer’s silver linings.

Meanwhile, my week has been hugely busy because of the Obama announcement. I’ve been writing my little fingers off. And tomorrow morning, I have to be at Kalamazoo Central High School at 6:45 a.m. because a crew from the CBS Early Show will be there to interview students. Six forty-five! In the morning! But I guess they call it the “Early Show” for a reason ….


May 5, 2010

So K-Central DID win the Race To The Top Commencement Challenge, which means Obama will be speaking at Kat’s graduation.

How wonderful! And how it complicates my life! It’s a great story and on my beat, which means the journalist in me is salivating. On the other hand, it is Kat’s graduation, and I probably will limit the reporting that I do on the day of the actual visit so I can be a mom.

The other complications: Lots more stories to do between now and June 10, including follow-up stories this week. Kat’s stressed out about graduation tickets — with Obama coming and a packed house, will her boyfriend be able to come?

Meanwhile, I keep thinking that I need to pace myself. Yesterday, when the Obama thing was announced, was a long work day. But I have to say that my bosses have really stepped up to the plate this week and have delegated some of my work to other people. While yesterday was long, it could have been MUCH longer.

Speaking of health issues, the buzzing/tingling in my hands and legs has actually gotten worse in the past week. I know that chemo-induced neuropathy sometimes surfaces after the treatment stops, so it’s not entirely unexpected. Still.

Chemo vs. Obama

April 30, 2010

It’s four days after my chemo treatment, which would normally make this my chemo-recovery day, to be spent basically on the couch or in bed.

But it also was the day when the White House was to announce whether Kalamazoo Central High School was among the top three finalists to have Obama as a graduation speaker.

Julie-the-reporter won out over Julie-the-chemo-patient.

To be sure, I didn’t go to work first thing this morning. “Need to conserve my strength,” I told my bosses, who readily agreed.

The announcement came at 11 a.m. — and K-Central did made the cut. Hurray! Sort of.

So I pumped out a story for Saturday’s paper about the announcement, and then wrote my Saturday column on the topic, and that still left a Sunday analysis to crank out. I could have gone home and dealt with the Sunday story on Saturday morning, but decided to just get it over with. Six hours of phone interviews and writing later, I finally made it home.

On one hand, the Obama story is really fun to report. On the other hand, it’s sure complicating my life. The next White House announcement comes Tuesday — which also happens to be school election day. Arggghhh!!!

Treatment No. 10

April 27, 2010

Went for chemo today, and honestly, it was probably the most relaxing  day that I’ve had for awhile. Got a complementary neck and foot massage and then dozed during most of chemo until a friend showed up with lunch. AfterI came home, I slept most of the afternoon away and my big evening outing was showing up for Kat’s final event at a K-Central track meet.

I also had a chance to meet with my doctor today. Told him that many of my side effects — dry mouth, foot blisters, etc. — have subsided since I stopped the Eloxatin as part of my chemo cocktail. He said he wasn’t surprised — between a quarter and a third of his patients stop Eloxatin partway through because of the side effects.  While it’s effective in fighting cancer, he said, it’s a harsh drug.

At any rate, he said I was doing as well as could be expected. After my final two treatments, I’ll see him every three months for the next few years and, in particular, they’ll be keeping a close eye on blood tests showing my liver function — that’s that place where colon cancer is most likely to reappear. (Dr. Vermuri said that in his 30 years of treating cancer, he’s never seen colon cancer actually reappear in the colon.) Right now, my liver and kidney function seems to be “perfect.” In fact, my entire blood screen today was in normal ranges — apparently, it was the Eloxatin that was throwing off my white-blood-cell and platelet count.

Tomorrow, I give a speech on education at the Portage Rotary.  My bigger worry is Friday: Because my chemo was Tuesday, Friday likely will be the day that I crash and I figured I’d probably take the day off work.

BUT Kalamazoo Central happens to be one of six finalists to have Obama speak at their June commencement. (This is particularly exciting because Kat is part of the that class, and Marcia’s twins are, too.) Monday, I found out that Friday is the day that the White House will cull the field to three finalists, so that means I’ll be writing a Page 1 story, win or lose. What makes it worse is that the White House has given no indication of what time that announcement will come. Also, Kat has a track meet in Jackson on Friday night, which I typically attend with my parents and Colleen’s family, but I don’t know that I’ll be going this year.

Incidentally, the Obama thing involves a public online vote until 11:59 p.m. Thursday, so any out-of-town friends and relatives who want to give us a boost, go online to and rate the K-Central video as a “5.”