Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Rabbit Named Lucy

The little lady at left is Lucy. Lucy has been an important part of my life since early 2001.

She's accompanied me from California to Las Vegas and finally to Texas, and has never failed to be an amusing companion every step of the way.

She is curious, playful, amiable, and a very gentle little soul.

Rabbits make fantastic pets if they are neutered or spayed; I like to say they're like cats that don't go "meow" all the time. Like cats, they are very clean, don't smell, and can be trained to use a litter box (it's natural behavior for them, since they reserve a corner of their warrens as a communal bathroom).

Rabbits have some fascinating behaviors. One is how they love to be rubbed on their heads, and Lucy insists that I do that to her. She will hop up to me, stick her head forward (called "presenting" the head), and grunt at me until I gently rub her head some (she prefers the area between her eyes!). Another behavior is how they will rub you with the undersides of their chins. They have glands under their chins which secrete a smell they can detect, and do so to mark their territory. When Lucy rubs her chin on my foot or hand, she is saying, in effect, "you belong to me!". And Lucy will also lick my hand, much like a dog.

Lucy can make herself comfortable almost anywhere----at left, you can see her resting atop my Drake R8B shortwave radio. She also likes to rest on my chest, extend her head forward, and have me rub it.

There is something very relaxing about rabbits. Their fur is so soft and their manner is gentle; it's impossible to be angry or upset when you're holding a rabbit. Lucy has been a big comfort during my cancer treatments, and I'm thankful she's a part of my life.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Our Horses

A lot of my relatives back in the Carolina woods are curious about my involvement with horses, so here goes. . . . . . .

I can understand their puzzlement. I had never been that interested in horses before; I had nothing against them, but I never had any desire to go horseback riding or own a horse. But that was before I married Di and moved to Texas. Di was very much into horses, and in fact made it very clear that one of the first things she wanted to buy after moving to Texas was a horse. And I found myself getting involved in horses as a result. While I'm not into horses like she is-----and never will be----I have come to develop a real affection for those animals, especially the two we own and keep here at the Bar Nothing Ranch.

The first horse we acquired was "Buck" (registered name "Double 00 Buckshot"), an Arabian gelding. He is a beautiful horse, very intelligent and playful, but too skittish and high strung for me to feel comfortable atop him. I've mounted him a couple of times and looked forward to the dismount! However, he is smitten with Di and is very much "her" horse; as you can see from the photo above, they make a great pair. He is also very vocal, giving me a loud "whinny" each morning when I go out to feed our horses.

Horses are herd animals and are happiest when they have at least one companion. I also wanted a horse that I could learn to ride and feel comfortable aboard. It was at a horse sale near Seguin, TX, that I mounted a registered quarter horse gelding, rode him briefly, and immediately knew-----this is my horse. I had never felt so comfortable atop a horse; his legs were like extensions of my own legs. He had been trained for barrel racing, but lacked the speed to compete, so his owners had him up for sale. As a result, he was very well trained and responsive. Buying him was a no brainer.

He needed an appropriate name, so I borrowed one from a glorious hero of the Lone Star State----I named him "Dubya."

is a very sweet boy, as you can see from his face. He is very even tempered and hard to spook-----you could throw a cherry bomb under him and I don't think he'd blink-----and he is very eager to please. He is "neck reined," meaning you just have to lay the reins on the desired side of his neck and he will turn in that direction. He backs up easily, does perfect 360 degree turns, and loves to weave in and out between trees, reflecting his training for barrel racing.

Horses are like dogs in that they are very sensitive to how humans are feeling. I don't mean that horses are psychic or gifted with paranormal abilities, but they are sensitive to tone of voice, body language, touch, etc. This was driven home to me earlier this year when I first tried to ride again after healing from my December surgery for my first liver tumor. While a sweet boy, Dubya was playful; he would sometimes start to move as you mounted him and would often challenge you in multiple little ways (like refusing to stand still until you pulled hard on his reins) early in a ride. Thus, I was more than a little apprehensive about riding him again. But it was if Dubya knew something was wrong with me. He stood perfectly still as I mounted him, not even moving as I struggled to get my boots in the saddle stirrups. When I gave him the go-ahead to move, he did so slowly and did something he had never done before my operation: he frequently looked back at me, almost as if he was wondering if I was okay. And when it was time for me to dismount, he again was perfectly still and allowed me to get down without incident.

Again, there was nothing supernatural about this; Dubya was merely responding to the various verbal and physical cues I was sending. But I am convinced that he knew I was impaired in some way and that he had to be gentle with me and not play around.

Owning a pair of horses is like owning a pair of 1300 pound Irish Setters. At times they are exasperating, but you can't help but fall in love with them and all their quirks. The photo above was taken in the fall of 2005, and shows me riding Dubya bareback around the pasture of the Bar Nothing Ranch. Now that my chemo is over and I'm feeling gradually better as those toxins leave my body, I'm looking forward to many autumn afternoons this year atop my boy. He's a noble, loving animal, and I'm glad he's mine. And I'm glad Di has Buck!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mort d'Elvis

Elvis Presley died 30 years ago this week. People who know me have often wondered if my obsession with Elvis was just some goof I was pulling. The answer is emphatically no. While Elvis sadly lapsed into self-parody toward the end of his life, in his early days he was a force of nature, a true American original. His primal energy and raw sexuality was like a thunderbolt during the dull, gray Eisenhower years; there was no existing frame of reference for him or what he represented. As Keith Richards put it, the arrival of Elvis was like the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy first arrives in Oz; a black and white world suddenly turned into Technicolor.

For those who have no idea of what I'm talking about in the paragraph above, find and view the Elvis 1956 DVD. This collection of concert footage and television appearances documents the sort of cultural revolution that Mao only wishes he could've accomplished. Elvis's performance of Baby Let's Play House on The Dorsey Brothers Show almost burns a hole in your television screen; even over 50 years later, watching it is like making contact with an electric wire.

Elvis also inspired the conceptual artist in me. When I bought my last house in California, one of the bedrooms was painted a garish pink----it was the bedroom of the seller's young daughter. When I saw it, my first thought was "this looks like a bedroom in Graceland." And then it hit me; I knew exactly what I was going to do with it: make it a guest bedroom with an Elvis theme!

You can see the results of my inspiration above. Sadly, the Elvis Guest Bedroom is now history, but it will live on forever in the hearts and memories of those fortunate enough to witness it firsthand.

So What's My Current Medical Status?

One of the reasons I started this blog was to keep my family and friends updated on my medical condition. I know it's often awkward to ask a cancer patient how they're doing since the news is usually bad, and a lot of healthy people feel guilty for even asking, so hopefully this blog will make it easier for everyone to stay informed.

I had some follow-up tests, including a CT scan, done in July. I also got a second opinion from another oncologist. The news was bleak: despite some massive and unpleasant chemotherapy every two weeks since February, the metastasis on my liver has returned and is now larger than the original one removed last December. Because the chemo failed, it has been discontinued (I'm not too upset with that; I won't miss the fatigue, nausea, nosebleeds, etc., that accompanied the chemo!). Radiation is not an option, and the only surgical option is to remove the entire right lobe of my liver, something I immediately dismissed when I learned the mortality rate for that procedure is 30%.

In other words, there isn't much else that can be done for me going forward other than treating my symptoms as they arise. My estimated survival time is 12 to 15 months from August 2007. I should be fine for the rest of 2007 and early 2008, but I will start developing symptoms by spring 2008 and will likely be in deep do-do by the time summer 2008 rolls around.

I think the precise medical terminology for my situation is "royally screwed."

At any rate, I'm doing fine at the moment-----actually getting better as the effects of the chemo start to wear off-----and Di and I are hanging in there very well considering the circumstances. I've started work on my next book and I'm looking forward to some horseback riding and travel this fall.

My next CT scan and visit to the oncologist is scheduled for early December, so unless something extraordinary happens this will be the last medical update for a while. I'm still here, still standing, and still enjoying life; things could be a lot worse!