I just got back from visiting Cheryl in Denver. I was scheduled to visit later this month, but a few days ago, she got the news that her cancer is spreading faster than expected and her liver function is failing. I decided not to wait any longer to see her, so I got on a plane the next morning. My visit with her was wonderful. Her stroke recovery continues by leaps and bounds, and she is full of energy, so she kept me busy with projects and errands the whole time. Her partner has returned to work full time, and Nurse Nick, who has been caring for her around the clock since she got sick, finally had to return to work in Baltimore the day I arrived, so my arrival was fortuitous.
It also meant I had Cheryl to myself all day, which was delightful, if tiring. She is mentally fine, but she has had some emotional and behavioral changes since the stroke, and has poor impulse control, which means she needs someone to keep an eye on her all the time. She tends to forget she has physical limitations from the stroke, and has forgotten how to perform many everyday tasks, which can be dangerous--like trying to pick up a hot pan without a mitt or incorrectly using a sharp knife. She is walking pretty well, but it is still dangerous for her to use the stairs alone or walk on uneven surfaces, and her right arm is still paralyzed. Every evening is a party at their house these days, with friends dropping in, bringing food, and hanging out. I really enjoyed spending time with her awesome friends and family.
While I was in Denver, my father died. He had been in the hospital for about three weeks, with an ever-increasing number of health issues. By the time I left for Denver, he was no longer conscious. My mom decided to remain with him while I went to Cheryl. Mom is now on her way to Denver, and the KH and I are making funeral arrangements for my dad for later this week, after my mom gets home.
Things are, naturally, a bit hectic around here, but I hope to get back to regular blogging shortly.
My mom and I had a little adventure today. The frog is my sister Cheryl's symbol, so today we went and got frog tattoos in her honor. :)
Mine, right hipbone.
Mom's, left hip.
I want to share the tattoo story, because it was really cool.
I’ve never had a tattoo, or even considered it. Ditto my mom. So when
we decided to get tattoos, I had to find somewhere to go. We live in
San Diego--a navy town--so there are about a thousand places. I did my
research online and called the highest-rated place. I called and talked
to some random guy, Dave, who worked there, and we went in.
While he was setting up, Dave asked why we were doing it, and I told
him, “My sister is really sick, and the frog is her symbol.” He asked if
she had cancer, so I explained what happened. And then he said, “Almost
the exact same thing happened to my mom.” When she was 48 (same age as
Cheryl), he went by her house and found her on the floor. At the
hospital, they found she had a massive brain tumor and had had a stroke.
She was also really fit and healthy and it came out of nowhere. He was
her only child, like Joe is to Cheryl, and they were really close. He
nursed her for almost a year before she passed away.
And six months ago, his lifelong best friend died of a brain tumor.
He nursed him all through his last months, too, since he had no family.
So, as you can imagine, we all had a long, deep talk about cancer and
life and death and what it all means and what’s important all through
the tattooing. He told us about some of the other people he’s
tattooed--often several members of the same family--who have done it in
honor of a family member. He says he’s done hundreds of tattoos for
people like us, and that they just seem to show up. The other tattoo
artists he knows rarely have people ask for that sort of tattoo. He told
me, when his mom was sick, his aunt told him the reason he was going
through it was so he could help other people deal with the same sort of
tragedies. At the time, he thought that was stupid. But in the 17 years
since his mom died, people just keep showing up with the same stories
and asking him for tattoos.
I honestly felt like the conversation, the stories of all the people
we talked about, and what it all means, was getting tattooed onto my
skin as we were talking. Maybe it sounds crazy, but it was an intensely
meaningful experience for me, and I think for my mom as well. I’m so
glad we ended up meeting Dave!
I was going to title this post, "Pimp My Coop," but I decided that might lead to some undesirable search results, so I chickened out.
Remember this picture of my coop?
I really like it, but it looked a little bare, especially in my drab concrete dog yard. Today I did something about that:
It's not much, but I think once it grows in, it will add a nice bit of vegetation to this barren part of my yard. You know the spot; we all have one. It's the place you store the garbage cans, the leftover construction materials, the wood pile. At my house, it's also the dogs' toilet, so it's smelly as well as dirty and I hate it. In the past few weeks, I've gotten it mostly cleaned up, and with the addition of the coop and the tiny coop garden, it's becoming more tolerable.
This is still a utility space, as you can see by my compost lineup.
That's the worm bin under the window, the dog waste can next to it, and the rabbit/chicken can next to that. The worm bin is going great, by the way. It's been up and running about three weeks now, and the worms are reproducing like crazy! I've been putting most of the kitchen scraps and coffee grounds/filters in there, so it's getting pretty full. I'm thinking I'm going to have to move some of the worms to a new bin soon.
I don't want this to turn into a waiting-for-death blog, so I'm going to keep the updates on my sister to a minimum. I do understand, though, that people are wondering what is going on. Here's the current state of affairs.
Cheryl is making crazy awesome progress recovering from her stroke. She went from paralyzed, unable to speak, and on the verge of death, to living at home, laughing, eating, talking, and getting around in a wheelchair in a matter of days. The doctors are astounded. Cheryl has the most amazing network of supporters I've ever seen. They have come out of the woodwork from all over the world to help out. She has had 24/7 care since Day One, including an RN friend who hopped a plane from Baltimore and has been caring for her nonstop since she was in the ICU. He took a leave of absence from work and is now living with Cheryl and her family, caring for her and keeping up with her rehab every day.
Other friends built two wheelchair ramps, widened the doorways in the house, remodeled the bathroom, and removed the rugs to make the house wheelchair accessible. And other friends are keeping up the house and yard and keeping everyone fed.
I am blown away by the number of people who love Cheryl and are willing to step up to help her. I have always adored her, but then, she's my big sister. It says a lot about the sort of person she is that so many other people love her so much.
As for the cancer, it is Stage IVB, which is the most advanced stage assigned to cancer. It is considered terminal and non-treatable. Cheryl has malignant tumors in her brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, ovaries, muscles, lymph nodes, and now possibly her heart. She is currently undergoing radiation to the tumors in her brain in the hopes of preventing another stroke and keeping the tumors from further impeding her speech and mobility. Because her cancer has had a very unusual presentation, one of the oncologists has suggested it might respond to some chemotherapy. Cheryl and Diana are considering this, but are adamant that they will not follow a course of treatment that will compromise Cheryl's quality of life.
We are all incredibly grateful that Cheryl has had this time to spend with family and friends, and that she has regained the ability to speak and to get around. She is incredibly strong and positive and is truly an inspiration. Today is her 49th birthday, and I am so glad she is still around to celebrate it. Happy Birthday, Cheryl!
Jeez, chicks grow fast! The tiny little peeps from three weeks ago quickly became toddlers:
And today they graduated from kindergarten (the brooder) to an outside pen in the grass:
...where they immediately started acting like chickens.
"What's this stuff? It's green! Hey...it tastes good!"
"Ooooo...there are crunchy things in here! They wiggle when you eat them! Nom nom nom!"
After a couple of hours, they started getting cold, so I put them back in the brooder to warm up. All the fresh air seemed to really stimulate their little appetites and they were trampling each other to get to the feeder. Did I mention their names are Marge (the blue cochin), Lisa (the yellow cochin), Maggie (the runty barred rock), Patty (the enormous and possibly male rhode island red), and Selma (the golden sex-link who follows Patty everywhere)?
It won't be long before they are ready for new digs, so it's a good thing I finally got the coop painted and installed:
I think it's awfully cute. I bought it from a local woman who builds them. I painted it egg yolk yellow with white trim, just because. I set it on a foundation of cinder blocks on top of doubled chicken wire to try to keep the rats out.
The top opens to reveal the "bedroom". There are two laying boxes on the left, a roost most of the way across, and a ladder down to the lower area, which has a bed of clean sand for scratching and dust bathing.
I love the access door for the nest box and the pop door for the chickens:
In another week or so, the girls will be old enough to move out here at night and free-range in the backyard during the day. And in another four months or so...fresh eggs!