5 Months in Houston

I’ve been conflicted about what to do with the blog this year.  When I first got my life-changing terminal cancer diagnosis in January, I knew I didn’t want to turn this RV travel blog into a “look at me, I have cancer” blog.

But, as the year has progressed, I’ve been able to more traveling than I originally thought (even some travels in the RV with the help of family).  I was also incredibly touched by all the heartfelt comments to my original post (as well as the many reader emails I received).  It didn’t seem right to not to give you all an update or two about what I’ve been doing this year.  So, here goes the first of a few catch-up posts….

Here’s the first photo of the year (from my hospital bed in Guadalajara the night before my 12-hour back surgery).  I guess I’ve “come a long way baby” considering it took me 30 minutes to just get into “feet-dangling off the bed position” after surgery!

Two weeks later, I was discharged from the hospital and taken, via ambulance, to a nearby nursing home.  This was a bit of luck.  The bi-lingual woman who runs it, Alma, had just opened for business a couple weeks earlier and I would be one of her first non-family patients.   My doctor was not able to find any other facilities in town with bilingual capabilities, so thank goodness, this was a good one!  One day, Alma had the nurse take a few photos of me–
in the home’s lovely garden: 

and eating our midday meal.  Seated (L-to-R):  Alma’s son Christian, Alma, Alma’s 95-year-old mother Estella (the nursing home’s 1st resident), and me.

In the “small world” department, as Alma and I got to know each other, it turns out that we’re about the same age, and she spent a year as an exchange student about 3 miles from where I used to live in Chicago.  Amazing!  Alma and I still stay in touch every few weeks.
When I arrived to Alma’s home, I was still using a walker.  I knew I’d need to build up my stamina for a flight back to the U.S., so my main focus each day was to walk laps around Alma’s house.

Alma’s cute little mom was initially pretty quiet when we ate meals together at the dining table.  I struggled with my Spanish trying to make small talk with her, and then suddenly a few days later, she said a few sentences to me in absolutely perfect English!  I was shocked!  Alma said her mom lived in Chicago for a few years when she was younger and will still blurt out some English from time to time.

But the loving care I received really helped speed my recovery.  By the time I left Alma’s home 10 days later, I could walk without a walker!

The next move was a big one– getting me back to the U.S.

My stepsister, Carol, flew down to Guadalajara from Chicago, and the next day, we flew to Houston.  I’d never been a wheelchair passenger before, and wow, what royal treatment you get!  Super friendly chair pushers, flight attendants offering to stow my carry-on, and even fellow passengers more helpful than before.  Thankfully, the flight was smooth and my pain meds worked!

Initially, Carol was just planning to stay in Houston long enough to get me settled in at MDAnderson, and then we’d plan to have someone else come for the next shift of “Lynne care.”  But, as things began to evolve, it just made sense for Carol to stay longer.  She could work remotely, and she was (frankly) enjoying a break from the stresses of her normal schedule in Chicago.

We spent our first 2 weeks in Houston bouncing around a few hotels (due to the Super Bowl being in town).  Finally found a nice little 2-bedroom furnished rental ranch house (scroll down to the 4109 Lymbar listing).  It was only a few miles from the medical center and the owners would let us go month-to-month after the initial 3-month lease if I needed to stay longer.

I had my first appointment at MD Anderson at the end of January.  That was quickly followed by near-daily appointments for the next few weeks– labs, scans, meet with various doctors, dietician, social worker, physical therapist, etc.  Whew!

The initial plan was to do a few weeks of radiation in February, then do 3 rounds of chemo, and then a follow-up CT scan to see how treatment went.  If all went well, by the end of April, the scan would show everything worked and I’d head to Colorado to live with my brother’s family.

Not many pictures from this time period, understandably, but we did manage a few comic poses.  Carol took me to get my haircut the night before my first chemo.  A very sweet barber named Tyrone did the honors, giving me lots of inspiration and encouragement as well!

Before arriving, Carol had joked that she should get her head shaved too as it’d been so long since she’d seen her actual hair color.  I laughed and thought that was the end of the joke, but to my amazement, as I sat down in Tyrone’s chair to get my buzz cut, I noticed Carol sitting down with another stylist to get her buzz cut.  Two wild and crazy gals!

Not to be left out of the shenanigans, my other stepsister in Chicago decided to mail us some festive St. Patrick’s Day attire when she heard I’d have a chemo appointment on March 17th.  We were the hit of the chemo ward at MDA that day– I don’t think my little nurse had ever administered chemo to a patient in a green wig before!

After I got the hang of chemo (it wasn’t all that bad actually), by early April, I started meeting up with friends in the area.  My RVing friends, John and Betty, (who I’d volunteered with at Bosque del Apache NWR) were now down at Aransas NWR a few hours south of Houston, so we arranged a play date for them to show me around.  John is an amazing wildlife photographer and has an uncanny ability to attract lots of interesting birds.

While in Houston, all I had was a little point-and-shoot camera, so my photos were way below John’s, but I still had a wonderful day with this fun couple.

Some Great Blue Herons roosting in the trees in Rockport, TX.  Hoping these trees survived the recent direct-hit Rockport received with Hurricane Harvey.

These Laughing Gulls were laughing it up around the Rockport harbor–

This little Indigo Bunting was spectacular when we saw him at the little nature park in Port Aransas.

Can never resist snapping photos of a cute little Pied-billed Grebe–

or a big smiling gator!

It felt so wonderful to get back out into nature again that I took Carol to another wildlife refuge a week later– Anahuac NWR near Galveston. We stopped at the Visitor Center first, and what a surprise to recognize yet another couple I’d volunteered with at Bosque– Joan & Jim.  By this point, Carol must have thought I had friends at every wildlife refuge across Texas!

We got to this refuge at noontime on a very windy day, so not many birds to photograph, but we did see some further away with binoculars such as Roseate Spoonbills.  Always fun to see those bright pink birds!

Afterwards, we headed to the coast just north of Galveston, Crystal Beach, for some fresh seafood.  I ordered a crab/shrimp combo plate and what got delivered was absolutely huge!

But, bless sweet Carol, she waited nearly an hour for me to finish picking all the tiny morsels out of those delicious crabs!

We decided to take the Ferry route back home to Houston.  The ferries along Gulf coast state highways are completely free in Texas.  How cool is that?

The ferry between Galveston and Crystal Beach was about twice as long as the Port Aransas ferry.  This one sailed for about 15-20 minutes.

As we approached Galveston’s dock, a large cruise ship was on its way out to sea.  Everyone waved to everyone else!

A few weeks later, I met up with one of my dear friends from college, Cecilia.  We decided to meet halfway between Austin and Houston at a cute antique-shop-filled town of La Grange.  Spent the afternoon gabbing and gabbing away– it was so great to pick up right where we left off 20 years ago!  Another college friend, Becky, had sent me a half dozen knit hats she crocheted, and one was an exact match for my teal shirt.

For the most part, the rest of my time in Houston was rather boring, and such a radical change from my previous RVing life.  Most days were now spent laying around in bed or on the sofa while Carol worked.  But I did have to do some physical therapy exercises, and that eventually got me strong enough to drive on my own again and go for walks to the local park (which had these phenomenal shade trees over the walking path).

By the time my CT scan rolled around at the end of April, I was feeling stronger and more exuberant every day.  But there was also this nagging shoulder pain that had recently cropped up (that I initially thought was a muscle-pull from PT), and this slight pain in my right jaw.  As much as we like to pretend them away, symptoms usually don’t lie.

The CT showed new metastasis to my bones (secondary bone cancer)– further up my spine, on my shoulder, and on my jaw.  So, the first chemo didn’t seem to work that well.  On to Plan B.  My doctor recommended I stay in Houston one more month to get additional radiation and to start a 2nd kind of chemo.

Carol ended up staying with me until the very end (early June when she flew back to Chicago and I flew to Colorado.  The landlord graciously extended our lease an extra month, Enterprise extended our car lease, and the next door neighbors gladly accepted all the food we had left over.

We didn’t do much sight-seeing in Houston, other than the trips to the coast.  But the town certainly charmed us over time.  A diverse and friendly population, great food, and the winter weather was unusually warm for Houston– more like 6 months of springtime.

We were heartbroken to see the images of Houston’s monumental flood after Hurricane Harvey.  MD Anderson was closed an entire week,  and many flood images were not far from our rental house.  Thankfully, we learned a few days later that waters came close, but did not flood the houses on our old street.  Our friends and neighbors had made it thru the storm, but so many others still have a long rebuilding road ahead.

Now that my beloved Cubs are out of the playoffs, it seems only right to cheer for my adopted hometown’s team to win the World Series.  What a boost it would give to the residents of Houston.  Go Astros!

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