Not everyone lives happily ever after...and that is fine!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Two weeks ago I heard from a friend of mine who I had met about thirty six years ago. When we started teaching, we sort of bonded at the hip. We both loved the children and teaching; we both loved laughing and playing bridge. And we definitely both loved life. We were twenty-eight and we thought that everything would play out the way it did in the best romantic movies --- "And they lived happily ever after." This belief was fully nurtured by the age of our students (seven years old) and the books we read to them that always had happy endings. Who were we as adults to question that our lives would be charmed like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty?

After my friend got married and had her first child, things started to change and I noticed that we were floating apart. She was very involved in her married life and in her roles as wife and mother. My life allowed me to have more freedom and time for myself. I tried to hold on tightly to this friendship and to this person who I loved as a sister but time, distance and circumstance kept separating us until we were no more. I didn't notice at the time that I was working very hard to keep the friendship alive while she was just being herself. One day her telephone calls just stopped. We would not see each other for the next twenty two years.

In 1995 as I was sitting in a cafe in Norwalk, Connecticut, I remembered that my friend had moved to this area. I asked the staff of the cafe for a telephone directory and started hopping from one location to another. Eventually I found her name in Westport, CT. I hesitated about calling her. Who would I find at the other end of the telephone? What did I expect? Eventually, I picked up a telephone and called her. She sounded just the way I remembered. An immediate connection was made and I jumped head first into the friendship.

For the past twelve years I have tried to be a part of her life. It didn't matter if she was a part of mine. I adjusted my life and appointments to fit her schedule. I was so honored that she still wanted to be friends with me. I can actually count the times we got together and believe me it was usually in CT. doing things she wanted. I traveled. I drove. I was interesting. I was involved with her life. And one day this Sleeping Beauty woke up. I was doing all the work and she was just living her life. .

I was notified by the doctor that I had metastatic cancer and I told my friend this. I didn't hear from her for the next six months and telephone rang. She said "Hello" and I almost didn't know who it was. This was a defining moment for me. Was I going to pick up where she left off? This time I opted out and I put my needs first.

Friendship is amorphous. But there has to be substance regardless of how often I see or talk to someone. For me I need to feel loved..and cared about. I do need some contact because with time we can all become strangers. First it was twenty two years... this time six months. I did not ask, "So, how have you been?" Instead I said some parting words and we parted. I felt a loss but also a gain. I found a way to put my needs first. I hope I can use this experiene to strengthen my own self worth. I DESERVE TO BE LOVED. God bless us all. AMF

6-mile manda for St. Ignatius

Saturday, December 15, 2007

manda [mahn'-dah], f. 1. Offer, proposal. 2. Legacy or donationleft by virtue of last will.
-- Velazquez Spanish and English Dictionary

I did a 6-mile ride for St. Ignatius this afternoon. My body is sore, but I feel very relaxed. The afternoon air is crisp despite the desert's evening freeze. Coffee and afternoon tea make a big difference here.
My pilgrimage was a manda i made with St. Ignatius, part of the cadre of saints i prayed to every night during chemotherapy and since. I realize some of my readers are unfamiliar with Spanish and Latin American Catholic tradition. so I'll explain a manda real quick before I return to my story.
A manda, as I understand it, is a promise you make with a saint, the holy trinity or even god itself. typically it is made out of desperation or fear. sometimes prayer is all you've got. For example, Mothers pray to La Virgen asking for fertility and in exchange they'll promise to name their child Guadalupe.
when it was discovered there was a tumor in my right testicle, a few mandas were made for me and for my health.
personally, I don't entirely like the idea of making mandas with the spiritual world. not for any existential or logical reasoning. very simply, I think there's plenty of other problems in the world that need attention and mine feel very minuscule in comparison. nonetheless, every night, when i pray, I invoke several saints: St. Francis, St. Ignatius, St. Augustine, Saint Peregrine, San Martin de Porras, St. Michael, St. Judge and La Virgen. People who have asked me to pray before a meal have heard my litany and sighed in exasperation. Anyway, during chemotherapy I would pray and ask for strength, not only for myself, but for those who were by my side, physically and emotionally. i also pray for my father and lately I've added a new name, Henry Ortega, Jr., the nephew of a Loyola classmate and young cancer patient.
So, as i previously wrote, when I had the chance, I visited the basilica in Mexico, D.F., and thanked La Virgen for her support during chemotherapy.
This week, as I was looking up mass times for the feast of our lady of Guadalupe, I stumbled across this address: 785 W. Sahuaro Street, Tucson, AZ 85713.
It was the address of a capilla, or chapel, of St. Ignatius of Loyola. that night, after work, i drove to the capilla, which was adorned with flowers and portraits of La Virgen. unfortunately when I arrived, they were locking up the folding gates placed at the entrances of the capilla. I promised to return.
the capilla is in the heart of Old Pascua and on the grounds of the Old Pascua neighborhood center.
It shouldn't be surprising that the Yaqui community has a capilla dedicated to San Ignacio.
A brief history lesson: the first known Europeans to wander the southwest were Alvaro Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and three others, shipwreck survivors from a Spanish expedition in 1528. One of Cabeza de Vaca's companions, Esteban the Moor, as he is called, later led the Franciscan Missionary Fray Marcos into the Southwest. Marcos' reports led to the Coronado Expedition of 1540, which was the first major European excursion into the Southwest. Disappointed that there were no obvious resources to appropriate, Spaniards left the area and its inhabitants alone (well, lets just say they didn't rape, pillage and decimate, like they did in Mexico, Central and South America) for nearly a century, until mineral wealth was discovered and mines created in Sonora. the new found source of wealth prompted a Jesuit mission in1686, which was lead by Father Esubio Francisco Kino, who is buried in Magdalena de Kino, south of Nogales, Sonora. The Jesuits helped the Spaniard government colonize the area until 1767, when the Jesuits were expelled from the new world by the Spaniards.
The effect of the Jesuit missions were long lasting, physically evident by the missions that dot the Sonoran landscape and metaphysical, by allowing the Yaqui to mix their own religious practices with Catholicism. Pascua ceremonies, and I'm extremely simplifying things here, are an amazing mix of the two.
Now back to the twenty first century: I am the product of Jesuit education -- Loyola High School class of '97, University of San Francisco class of '01. I am interested in the history of the Jesuits and the personal journey of St. Ignatius. To be honest, I often thought about his own convalescence and conversion during chemotherapy.
I've prayed to him for many years and this one was no different.
So I awoke this morning, had breakfast, took care of some bills and paperwork and a little after noon made out on my bike for a my own small pilgrimage to la capilla San Ignacio de Loyola.
It was my first long bike ride since before chemo. and I gave myself a couple hours for the ride. I didn't know what I'd be capable of.
with helmet and yellow safety jacket on, I pedaled my rebuilt JC Penny cruiser north up Park Ave., about a mile and half, to Grant Road, where I turned West. As the traffic wizzed passed me and a few cars and trucks encroached a little too much on the bike lane, I continued past First Ave., Stone Ave. and eventually past Oracle Road, and down south into Old Pascua.
My calves burned at first, especially on the slight inclines on Park Ave. just north of the University of Arizona. But the ride, from my apartment to Old Pascua, took only about thirty minutes. It's a little more than three miles, according to mapquest.
i dismounted my cruiser, chained it up at the Old Pascua Community Center entrance and walked across the dusty, dirt courtyard to the entrance of the capilla. The front gate remained locked. Adornments from the feast of La Virgen were still out. So I kneeled on the concrete, up against the gate, said a prayer and thanked St. Ignatius.
The ride back was peaceful, going slow through Old Pascua, looking at the architecture of the homes and trailers, the corner stores and warehouses. I stumbled upon Esquer Park, 1331 N. 14th Ave., a large, green plot of land in the shadow of Tucson's downtown.

first post-chemo. appointment

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Along with the feast of la virgen de guadalupe, yesterday was my first post-chemotherapy appointment with Doctor Ahmann.
the streets of Tucson were layered with a thick fog in the early morning like I'd never seen. You couldn't see more than a half block away. it reminded me of northern California.
not long after I arrived and checked in with the front desk staff, i had my blood drawn. When I sat down and the nurse found my vein, I remembered how i got a blood draw every week for two months. i had forgotten about my regular trips to the sonoran quest labs and how i'd become a regular with the staff at the office off 6th St.. not to sound cliche, but it feels so far away now.
about twenty minutes later, i met with Doc. Ahmann.
He was glad to see my hair had grown back so thick. He gave me a general checkup, poked around my body and asked the usual questions: pain, discomfort, energy level, etc.
I mentioned my finger nails.
Last time I was home, Bean freaked out about the dark streaks across my finger and toe nails. They occured during chemo. but didn't cause me any pain, so i paid no attention to it.
Ahmann said the streaks were a result of the bleomycin and should be considered a normal side effect.
While looking at my back, he said the acne was drying up like it should. that's nice.
it was too early to get the results from my blood draw, but otherwise, he said everything looked great.
after the appointment, I wandered over to the elevator to visit everyone up in the infusion pod. i ran into an elderly gentleman, his wife and a young lady I assume was his daughter. he was thin and walked slowly. i noticed the blue bandage on his right hand. it was his shunt.
i remembered how adrian told me its important to talk to other patients and survivors, even if it might seem awkward. in my mind, I could picture adrian talking to the others in my pod when he came to visit.
so i asked the gentleman how he was holding up. we spoke for a bit. he had a positive attitude and sounded good. the gentleman said he started chemo. around the time i left the clinic. I told him he could do it and that I'd been done for about two months now. i tried to give him what encouragement I could. I noticed the ladies eyes widened when I told them I'd gone through two and half months but was doing better now. I embraced all three of them when we got to the second floor and went our separate ways.
among the pods, I ran into shelly, estella and another nurse, whose name escapes me for the moment. we caught up, albeit briefly. they asked about my parents, work, gave me props for my coverage of TUSD and laughed about the TB incident. apparently shelly dealt with the patient.
i also ran into Selena, who everyone up there knew as Maria. She's a local churchgoer and our families ran into each other often at the clinic.
it was nice to see everyone. but I needed some time away before i went back to say hello. they understood.

The Miracle Maker

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Yesterday, December 10, 2007, I went for my follow-up visit to MSKCC pulmonary specialist. I had a CT Scan one week ago to determine if the nodules on my lungs had changed sinceSeptember, 2007. In medical vernacular, had grown. Unfortunately, the miracle I had hoped for had not occurred. Out of five nodules, two had grown from three millimeters to five millimeters.

When I asked the doctor what would happen next...we simultaneously answered, "Wait and see." In three months the CT scan would be done again and if any nodule had grown to eight millimeters, a biopsy could be done to see what was going on. This post is not about, "Do I have cancer or don't I?" It is about, "How will I make my miracle happen during the next three months?"

You see, when all of this started on September 11, 2007, I just thought that wanting a miracle was enough. I really didn't do much to cause or welcome one. Now I am ready. In re-thinking the past three months I know that I have changed some of the things I do and my emotional life is getting better. However, I have done little to improve my spiritual life.

I grow spiritually when I dance. I love to belly dance or just move to all types of music. I have even tried Hip-Hop, and I am not too bad. Dancing is so special to me because I leave my body and feel connected with the world as a whole. I feel a pulsation in my body and I believe that I can use this to connect with the Creator. I will use music to move my body and mind to a healthier place, taking along with it my spiritual self. I also love to listen to music and sing along and this joins me with the world of creation. A personal favorite is John Denver. His words and music are so moving to me. You might want to listen to him, sometimes to see if his music and lyrics speak to you.

I also will meditate. This will help me to stop ruminating, something I am working on in therapy, I really didn't know what ruminating was, but I was good at it! I was surprised to find out that I was using past hurtful events to entertain myself. I am going to move past all the negative things in my past and present life and focus on what is positive in my life NOW. This is what really matters. When I meditate I am calmer and more focused on what is good in my life. I am peaceful and prayerful - something I could use. A strong belief in someone or something will help me to open my soul and heart to God.

When I do these two things - dance and meditate for the purpose of healing myself physically, emotionally and spiritually I WILL HAVE made MY MIRACLE and then I will be one of the miracle makers who exist all around us. Haven't you ever felt the effects of these people - the feeling of peace, joy and calm just radiates from them?

The miracle I am seeking is not about the nodules disappearing or the nodules not being malignant - although that would be great. This miracle is about making my life better for myself each and every day I have. By doing this, I will impact on myself, others and the world. I will be creating a purposeful life and living the life I was put on the Earth to have. You see I really believe that all things happen the way they are suppose to happen. God bless us all! AMF

La Virgen de Guadalupe

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was in Mexico City the weekend after Thankstaking.
The documentary was entered in Mexico City's first ever Chicano Film Festival, la 1era Festival de Cine Chicano en México. The event was a historic bi-national discussion on Chicano and Latino identity. Though attendance was sparse, it was still a great time. A few hours after I arrived on Friday, I had breakfast with Guadalupe, Julie, Jose Luis Ruiz, Robert Young and Edward James Olmos. Pretty Chingon, eh. Later that night we had a formal dinner with all the folks involved, including a bunch of heads from Tucson.
Saturday morning, Julie, Guadalupe and I made a pilgrimage to the La Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe. When mom found out I was head to D.F., she told me visit la Virgen, as did a ton of other folks. I know there were many Catholics praying to la Virgen for me during my surgery and chemotherapy. A visit was the least I could do.
I'll spare you my critical thoughts on Tepeyac hill and the Basilica that is constructed in plain view of Aztec ruins.
We first went to the new basilica, which has the shape of a UFO. There were hundreds, if not a couple thousand people, on the grounds, praying inside the basilica, making a manda and taking photos. After a prayer inside the basilica, where I was able to see the tilma of Cuauhtlatoatzin/Juan Diego, we walked up the hill to the teocalli built in honor of La Virgen. Outside the small chapel, I light a candle in her honor and went in with the other pilgrims and guadalupanos. Inside I knelt at her altar and prayed a bit of the rosary.
On our way down, i snagged a Bougainvillea for my own Guadalupe. Apparently that's forbidden in La Virgen's garden.
I felt something at the basilica. The sacredness of the site was strong, but the feeling was human. what I meant is I've had spiritual experiences, experiences that don't make sense if you are not spiritual. sensations from another place. but what I felt there, on that hill, was the energy that all the pilgrims brought to the sight: joy, sadness, hope and despair.
and that's what made the site holy, to me.
by the way, we took the best documentary award.

happy holidays -- tuberculosis

Monday, December 10, 2007

(Loyola High School Class of 1997 Reunion: Julia Beaver, Matt "Grandpa" Wells, El Saladito, Guadalupe Chávez, Sarah Canepa Pastran, Armando "Fatty" Pastran, Jr.)

so it has been quite a while since I've updated my share of the blog. i've been busy, to say the least. expect a few posts this week.
so the first update...i went back to Los Angeles for thankstaking. the evening after turkey day, my family hosted a thank you party for everyone that prayed and thought positive things. Thank you to everyone that came. I met a ton of new people that night and must have introduced Guadalupe to at least 50 people.
That Saturday, Nov. 24, was my 10 year high school reunion. The following night I flew back to Arizona, where I had to drive two hours from Phoenix to Tucson. It's cheaper to fly out of Phoenix, I've discovered, but pulling into town at 2 a.m. is kinda ' harsh.
So upon returning home, I found a stack of mail on my desk, including a letter from the Pima County Health Department.
It starts: "Dear Patient: We are writing to inform you that you may possibly have been exposed to tuberculosis while you were at the Arizona Cancer Center from January through August of this year, 2007."
Apparently there was a patient who had an active case of TB during treatment. The signs weren't caught because the symptoms are the same as chemo. -- weight loss and a cough. Our health and medical reporter told me it's usually not until people lose 20 pounds and cough up blood that its caught.
i wasn't able to get tested on Nov. 30 as I was in Mexico City (more on that later), so I went last Friday.
The clinic was really well organized for mass TB tests. It was a three part process: register, follow the nurse, and get injected. As ever, the needle freaked me out, but I kept my cool. I was in and out within ten minutes.
The injection spot is then re-examined 48-72 hours later to see if I've got TB. I don't.
I chose not to write about this until now because there was no need to worry anyone.

Susan and me and Mom made three...

Friday, December 7, 2007

I have never seen a photograph of my family together - my mother, my father, my sister and me! I never even thought to wonder why. I saw photos of my Mom and my Dad or my Mom and my sister Susan and an endless number of combinations but never the four of us together!

My heart has always felt the pain of being a family of three, not four.
My friends thought that they knew what my tears on Father's Day meant
Cry for the father I barely knew, cry for the emptiness that I always felt
No, I cried my mother who did not know how to make a family of three.

All his pictures were removed, no clothing, jewelry, nothing of his remained
To remind us of the man who once had made us four, my Dad!
Then there were Susan and me and Mom and that made three
Why no photos to show my family? One, two, three, four.

I looked at photos of each of us and yearned for something different
With scissors, papers, glue and a picture frame I bought
I cut each one of us out of photos that I loved
And placed us together in the frame the way I had seen us in my mind

It took some time for the pieces I made to fit together
I now have the picture frame with my family of four
Placed on my dresser for me to view each day
As I pass the "photo of four" I sometimes stop...

I place a kiss on the glass and feel complete... finally. God bless us all! AMF

I Believe In Santa Claus...

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Every year when December comes around, I gasp. Do I really have to buy all these gifts for people who have so much? How will I pay the bills when they come in? Is this what Santa Claus meant when he said, "HO, HO, HO"?

This year I tried to close my eyes and remember what the most important thing about the holidays was to me when I was a child. And to my surprise I found out that as a child I was most excited about Santa Claus coming to my apartment. It sort of felt magical- such a big round man getting into my apartment where there was no chimney. I had to suspend reality and believe in magic. I always left him cookies and milk. He wasn't very demanding. I did want presents under my tree...but Santa Claus' visit was the highlight of the holidays for me.

So, this year I have decided to give away things, wonderful things I love, as gifts to people I don't know and a few to friends. I will wrap the gifts and the card will say, "LOVE, Santa Claus". I went through my closet, jewelry box, and drawers and found many great things I haven't worn or used for some time. Why hold on to what I don't need? Everything is in great condition and looks almost new. In some cases the items are new. Consumption at its worst...I never used what I purchased.

Yesterday I went around my apartment building and wherever someone indicated that they celebrated Christmas, I left them a gift. Some got door knob bells; others got decorations added to their wreathes. You may feel this could be intrusive, but remember - the power of magic and surprise. And each person is free to remove their special gift. And for residents who celebrate other holidays, I left cookies, and books. Don't you just wonder what they thought when they got their present?

I feel more childlike and happy helping Santa Claus! Hopefully, people will feel the intense emotions that exist only in childhood when very little is questioned and a lot is enjoyed. I do hope that they were able to get in touch with these emotions. For the first time in years I feel giddy and excited. I am wondering what I will do next. Ho, Ho, Ho! Enjoy the holiday season. God bless us all. AMF

December December, remember the 4th of December

Tuesday, December 4, 2007 is very bittersweet. Today is the day i was discharged from the Navy 5 years ago. And for the past 3 of those years, Ive thought long and hard about those last few weeks. There isn't a day that goes that i don't regret coming home. I think about it a lot...What were my options? Get my chemo in Evanston, get better, graduate, get pushed out the fleet, stand on the port side of some ship...over looking a port-of-call in some far land. Or come home...what makes some angry at myself...i ran. Thats one of the reasons i left for the Navy. I was running from the Paul that i was. I wanted to get as far away from everything as possible. Start a new...not be me. They funny thing is, when life...through me one fucked up curve ball, and i folded. I failed. One thing. One fucking thing....I couldn't deal i ran home. Up to that point in life...ive never been one to finish anything. The one thing i tried, worked..fuck, damn nearly made myself pass out for, i caved. I caved at the first real obstacle. I resorted to what i knew best. Running. Looking back at it. Not only did i let myself down, i let everyone down...though some may have a different opinion. I tired so hard...tried to prove to others that i can do something worth wild. Not just be, but be...something.

There were nights drinking with the lads, id drink myself retarded. And one of those nights, i had a moment of clarity...i realized i wasn't happy being home. I was bitter, angry, down right mean. And why? Well...i realized that i wasn't man enough to face a fear...and in doing so...i ran back home. Facing something Ive tried to deal with for a long time. Hmmm.

Like i said, there inst a day that goes that i wish i could have done things different. But like i also said...its bittersweet. I wouldn't the person you're reading about now. Its funny how a failure makes you a better person. I didnt tell anybody id come home for a few weeks.

Two days later, on the 6th, my Godson was born. He's 5 on Thursday...and he likes the Ramones. After nearly a year of not working, i went back to school, got hooked with a nice girl, job a decent job, did stuff, moved on, watched my friends piss on my car, toss beer cans out the windows on the 605, get a degree, start life all over again, 9 to 5, gain weight, wear Khakis and dress shirts to work, meet some new and good friends, watch my niece and godson grow, play Star Wars Galaxies just about everyday, hook up with a really hot girl, fall into depression, lose a best friend over something lame, meet an ogre ...and tell to fuck off, get a new job, start what looks like a long career, buy a motorcycle, watch my godson watch his first Ramones video, start a blog about my cancer story, miss old friends, look to the future.

Ultimently, did i make the correct decision coming home? Yes. Am I better person because of it? Yes? Do I still regret? Yes

Ive had this song in my head all day...

Cheers lads!

A Pint Glass of Water

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I actually said that in a bar last weekend. Twice to be exact. Of course they didn't put their bar water into a nice pint glass like everyone else with a beer. i got a little plastic cup. I didn't mind. When it was time to toast my colleague who was on his way out of Tucson and into the swamp we call Washington, D.C., i hoisted high my glass of water.

this is a far cry to the pre-chemo George.

Fact is I've only had one beer since mid-August. It was about three weeks ago; to celebrate Julie's visit to Tucson. It was a skinny bottle of Fat Tire ale. Good beer. I used to be able to polish one of those in about 90 seconds. this time it took me 45 minutes. it gave me a buzz and wiped me out an hour later.

I've been to house gatherings and parties since I finished chemo.. For the first time in my bar wandering life I have been able to sit in a pub, dive or at a dinner table and not get anxious for some sort of alcohol concoction.

I remember going into chemo. and asking Dr. Ahmann if I could drink during my treatment. (Wow -- that's a sign of something: either a problem or dedication... or likely both). He said I could have a drink with dinner. Moderation is key, he reminded me. He didn't know my habits.

But looking at how alcohol affected me that night with Julie, I just don't need it right now.

One month and day

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Yesterday marked one month since my last session of chemotherapy.
the first thing I've noticed since finishing chemo. is that every day, I'm a little stronger. While I've got to pay attention to my body and not push myself, every day is better.
This morning I arose early for traffic school (remember that -- the consequence of disgracing Tucson's law abiding bicyclists...).
As I was driving back to my apartment this afternoon, I ran my right hand over my head and face and felt the short hairs sprouting up all over. If I'm lucky, I'll have slight beard for my high school reunion. I planned on rolling like Common -- bald head and beard.
but I noticed for the first time that my face, my flesh, doesn't feel waxy or dead, like it did through chemo., or that the flesh of my face doesn't have that chemo. scent to it.
This week I swam twice. Of course I wasn't able to do much, but just getting back in the pool was amazing. Before chemo. I'd usually swim for about 45 minutes. before my workout, I'd warm up with a 500 meter swim. right now, 500 is about all I can handle so far. but it's nice to be able to do that.
I was in San Francisco last weekend. Saw Phil, Harley, Diana and a host of others. most importantly I was reunited with Guadalupe. It was the first time in six weeks we were able to speak each others name and simultaneously look into each others eyes. I'll write about our hotel experience another time.
Tomorrow I join Francisco and others in the first Jarocho jam I've been able to do since before surgery.
funny -- the difference the first month makes.
it's good to be back.

Letter to the Editor in the Arizona Daily Star

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

This was published the Letters to the Editor section of today's Arizona Daily Star
Article unfairly targeted TUSD

Re: the Oct. 28 article "Kids' programs at risk as TUSD shortfall grows."

Unfortunately for Tucson Unified School District students, staff and parents, sensationalized stories erode the public trust in what should be the keystone of the community — the public school system. If continued, this predatory journalism will exact long-term damage to public education in this community. There are no better examples of this than articles by George B. Sánchez. Regarding his story on potential budget cuts discussed at a recent TUSD Governing Board meeting. The reporter fails to mentionthat he didn't attend the meeting, and therefore was not aware of the context or discussion of the listing of specific items on the draft document. Rather than listen to the available online audio transcriptof the meeting, the reporter simply reported on what would be the most sensationalized program cuts, which were in fact only included as items for discussion. TUSD does not need to be the target of continued "gotcha" journalism. We need the support of our community.

Chyrl Hill Lander
Director of communications and media relations,
Tucson Unified School District, Tucson

Editor's note: TUSD officials are aware that Sánchez did not attend the Oct. 9 governing board meeting because he was in chemotherapy.The Star's Josh Brodesky reported on the meeting.

Oct. 9, 2007

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

I just finally got around to scanning this photo.

it was taken by the nurses on my last day of chemotherapy. As you can tell by the note on the poloroid, it has been almost one month since I completed chemo..

You'll note the blue bandage on my right arm, just above the bracelet (a gift from Esme). the bandage was applied to my arm after the last blood test to measure the cancer markers. the blue bandages had a funny name that I can't recall anymore.

And on my left hand, the shunt, where the nurses administered my last dose of bleomycin. A slow ten-minute injection that is preceeded by intravenous benadryl and some other premeds. We usually had to wait half an hour after the bendryl injection to move forward with the bleo. It took about that much time for the drug to circulate. I used to fight off the sleepiness that followed bleo. Both my mom and Guadalupe laughed when I did so. but I'd eventually give in.
As you can tell by the photo, I'm smiling and staring at the bubbles, the shiny spheres floating on the upper right edge of the photo.

At the conclusion of chemotherapy, the nurses give you a bubble shower, or bubble party, to celebrate the occasion. I witnessed one such event on my first day of chemotherapy, in August. Now i was having my own.

People who can do...people who can't teach!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Well, I am and always was a teacher. From the time I taught my doll how to burb, I knew that I enjoyed this special something that was a part of me. I babysat, was a counselor in camp and the older I got the more positive I was that I would be a great teacher.

I had a wonderful career and what made my life so delightful has been the experiences and memories of my days and nights as a teacher. Whether I was a supervisor or not, I was always a teacher. And I could have done many things but elected to be a teacher.

It is unimaginable that for years I have heard ,"People who can do. People who can't teach." and I laughed as others did. Then one day while I was listening to New York Mayor Bloomberg tell us how well the children/students were doing ---I knew the truth in my heart. Since not much has changed since I retired in 1996 and since I see new teachers drowning under paper work, schools teaching for the tests, and Math being taught without understanding - I questioned whether the Mayor had ever tried teaching! I also wondered if he knew what it meant for the children/students to be doing well! How can our precious children succeed if their teachers are overwhelmed and under supported? Be real, Mr. Mayor.

I was a New York City educator for thirty-two years. And I loved every minute of it. That doesn't mean I didn't have "dog down days" but after I recovered, I knew that I loved my profession. I neither questioned my intellectual ability nor did I think I had become a teacher because I was incapable of doing anything else. I had the responsibility to know the world's Sciences, Historical and Current Events, Arts, Music, Literature, Politics etc. and in addition manage a classroom of children, teach them a love for education while somehow keeping their attention, stay in the syllabus, offer an enriched program, interface with my supervisor, be welcoming to all parents/guardians while being honest, sincere and professional, get along with all school personnel etc. And of course there is the paper work, the endless amount of paper work. Trust me, and I know you will because why would I lie? What I tell you is only about 50% of what all teachers do.

I challenge anyone who says "People who can do, people who can't teach." to take a week, no, two weeks off from his/her job and spend one week as a regular classroom teacher and one week as a substitute teacher doing the job that is described for you - all the planning, all the research, all the paper work, etc. Then write to me at this website and share with me your experience. I promise to be kind, supportive and professional. After all I am an educator/ teacher and I can do anything. Then together maybe we can come up with a descriptive sentence about teachers that recognizes that not only can they do things, but they are the ones who taught you.

Hopefully, there are no spelling or grammatical errors in this article. Oh, what about structure. Just having some fun. God bless us all, AMF


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

i received the latest bill from the University Medical Center.

The total bill for chemotherapy is $30,182.89. My share came out to $80.

The bill includes a line charge for every day I was at the clinic.

the daily cost ranges from $75 (appointment with my oncologist) to $4,036 (CT Scan). Charges for the actual administration of the chemicals seem to range from $488.78 (as far as I can tell, that's for the bleo. injections) to $1,773.70.

Again, health care is expensive. I can't imagine what I'd do without it and I can't imagine what others do without it.

peach fuzz

Monday, October 29, 2007

On Sunday, after mass, Julie (who was in town for the weekend) and I went over to the old pueblo artisans square to listen to Francisco play his arpa. In between songs, he sat down with us. While we were talking he leaned in close to me, squinted his eyes a bit and ran his right hand just over my head. he smiled at the touch of the short, sharp bristles protruding from my baldness. he said he was glad to know my hair was coming back.

this morning I was surprised to notice the same. my facial hair is slowly coming in. above my lip, on my chin and around my cheeks. I noticed it after showering. I had to squint in the mirror. slight, light slivers of blackness. it's thin and a bit patchy, but it's there.

reminds me of being twelve or thirteen, when my moustache first came in. or the slight facial hair grandmas have. sorry, but it's an apt comparison.


I put on deodorant today (why this is important)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

So I still smell a little bit like chemo. -- I'm not sure how to explain it yet, and of course, like this entire experience, it could all be in my head, but usually in the afternoon, I can catch the slight wiff of chemicals and saline on my body. i don't know why, so I won't try to explain, but I can still smell it.
anyway, I decided maybe it's just normal perspiration. so I will conduct an experiment today and wear deodorant.
this is significant because I haven't worn deodorant in about two months.
During chemo., there were two ways that I realized i was losing my hair. The first was all the hair in the bathtub after I'd shower. The other was one morning when I went to put on deodorant and a bunch of hair came back with the sure bar. i thought this was a fluke the first time. but it happened for the next couple days. the sight of all that hair on the bar bothered me. so I stopped using deodorant. Damn the smell, but the sight of losing all that hair at once bothered me.
back to my experiment -- I swiped my underarm with the bar a few moments ago. no hair came back with it. cool.

Forty Going on Sixty-three

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Background: When I started to work with my therapist, I think it was in 1997, I was fifty-two years old. However, I kept feeling that I had all the time in the world because I was only forty. This age discrepancy was never discussed because I thought that I WAS FORTY OR AT LEAST I FELT LIKE I WAS. So if I believed and knew I was forty, so did my therapist. I saw my therapist as being about twenty years older than I was. The belief that time was an endless commodity kept me locked in this time warp until...

The years have past, but I stood still.
I thought my therapist was over the hill.
She taught me things that parents do
She challenged my beliefs and my emotional chaos.

I felt so great being twenty years younger than she
I knew that I had so much to do and she was wiser, older than me.
To be at peace at forty years old - so that I could mature
And be wise and peaceful at her older age.

The miracle of age and youth are easy to find and confuse
It's time in the present, time left behind, there is no time to lose.
A combination of memories now and then
Have made into me who I am right now

I have been with her for over eleven years
We have shared laughter and lots of tears
She has shared my pain and helped me to move on
I know myself better and can now trust my emotions.

Then one day it happened to me - unplanned and unprepared.
I walk into her office and this time I felt scared
I sat in a chair and looked at her deeply
She looked at me and waited for me to speak.

I had discovered a fact that would surprise her and me
I was not forty years old but rather sixty-three
How did this happen I do not know- where did all those years go?
But somewhere in therapy, I had matured and grown .

With her love and guidance and supporting ways
My endless nights had turned into days
I let go of my childhood traumas
And evolved into a mature woman with a better emotional self.

I spent those years thinking I was younger
Because my life had been filled with life's thunder
But now I feel safe to be my age.
And look who is my companion - but this mature sage!

Thank you, dear therapist and life coach of mine
The time we work together has been challenging and sublime
My time-line is adjusted and I am moving on
And I am blessed with you at my side. God Bless you! AMF

the Spots II

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

And the answer is: The Sex Pistols on Tour Secretly.
In August of 1977, the pistols went under the pseudonym the SPOTS for a secret tour of the UK because their fans, shows and reputation lead to repeated cancellation of tour dates.
but the doc gets good marks for his attempt with the Ink Spots.

the Spots

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I noticed the other day my knuckles looked different. it took me a minute to realize that the spots that had formed over each joint, I presume because of lowered blood platelets, had disappeared. As have some of the bruises on the inside of my wrist and the dark spots that used to cover my elbows.
like I said, a little better everyday.
and for tonight's trivia, in rock n' roll lore, who were the Spots? (answer to follow at some point).

one day at a time

Saturday, October 20, 2007

I've been invited to a wedding reception with a free, full-bar that's only five minutes, by bike, from my apartment. Instead, at just a few minutes past 9 p.m. on Saturday night, I'm fresh out of the shower, exhausted and waiting for the kettle to whistle and tell me it's time for my herbal tea.

how's that for a change of pace from the pre-cancer jorge.

As much as I hoped to go to the reception, I just don't have the energy. Such is post-chemo. recovery. A couple nights this week I've come home dead exhausted, able to do little more than heat up the batch of black bean soup i cooked last weekend (precisely for this purpose), plop down on the couch, flip the channels and crawl into bed within an hour.

I've been absent from this blog pretty much for this reason. And don't confuse my absence for a lack of activity. This week was a long one: I spoke to a masters level education class about the relationship between educators and the press, attended a meeting on the latest company changes to my health care (left my head spinning), filed two and a half-stories, had my first acupuncture session and today I attended a catholic wedding that mixed Mexican and Yaqui tradition.

I practice jarana when I've the energy, but that doesn't amount to more than a few times this week. but I'm getting there.

everyday it's a little better, a little less tired, but damn if, nonetheless, I'm still exhausted.

On Friday, my friend Will Seberger called me. He asked me to put the word out about a collection of blankets and warm clothes for the Tucson homeless. He also asked about how I was doing and reminded me, based on his mother's experience with cancer, that everyday is a little easier and one day you wake up and you don't even realize but you're able to do the things you used to.

one day at a time, as the old saying goes.

My folks

Thursday, October 11, 2007

My Mom and Dad left Tucson this morning.
they left at 4 a.m. -- typical Sanchez style -- to beat the heat and was bittersweet though. their departure really marked the end of chemotherapy. They've been in Tucson for the past six weeks, staying at a friends place, and tending to my every need. they cooked, cleaned, stayed up all night with me that first weekend when my body had a bad reaction to the drugs, and laughed with/at me.
As strange as this may sound, my cancer gave me time with my parents that I otherwise wouldn't have had. i left home after high school for college in San Francisco; eight hours and a few hundred miles away. This was the longest single stretch of time we were able to spend together since I was 18 years old. and until I return to LA, we won't have time like that again.
Along with laying around doing nothing, watching "Anchor Man" and getting mad at the talking heads on the cable news circuit, there was also alot of time for walks and questions about our extended family, collective history and my parents' relationship over the years.
it was good for all three of us, I think.
My parents are tough. And watching me go through chemo. wasn't easy for them. I remember how hard it was for my dad to sit with me those first couple days and look at his glassy eyed son connected to the IVs and constantly beeping machines. My mom, like any mom, said she'd trade places and be in my chemo. recliner if she could.
I think in some ways it was harder on them, and the other members of my family, because they felt helpless as witnesses to something no one ever wants to observe.
but they dealt well with the situation. of course my mom made friends with all the nurses and other patients. and my dad goofed around, flirting with the staff and generally taking advantage of all the free chocolate the clinic had to offer.
if anyone wants to know how I came out of chemo. the way I did, it was because of them. their love, laughter and support did more for my spirit and strength than anything else. I can't even imagine what it would've been like to walk into the clinic everyday without them by my side.
simple enough.

i played my new jarana today for the first time in probably two months. i am rusty, my fingers and wrist sore, but it felt great! Thanks Francisco!

Post-chemo. meeting

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I met with Dr. Ahmann this afternoon. It was a typical post-chemo. course meeting, though this was our last meeting until my next blood test and follow up in December.

the chemotherapy yielded positive results very rapidly, he told me.

as I've written before, all the cancer signs are down (tumor markers in my blood) and last week's CT scan came back with nothing to worry about. He was pleased with my ability to get through chemo. as well as I did (without completely losing my appetite or getting any sicker).

Now that chemotherapy is over and things look good (it's an 85 to 95 percent probability my cancer has been cured), we're looking to the next two years of monitoring with no reocurrences to be able to say we really beat this thing.

After that, there's a one in twenty chance it'll come back. meanwhile, i'll continue getting blood tests and CT scans, though on a less frequent basis.

i asked him about depression, a subject Adrian and I spoke about at length the other night, and he said that is normal and reminded me I just went through a life-changing event. sadness and anger are to be expected, he said, just as if I'd lost a parent or child. I shudder to think...

and I asked when my hair was going to come back. within a few months I'll have enough hair to sport a crew cut (Clarissa had once suggested this) and by four months it should be back to what it used to be. he warned me (echoing words from Adrian and Luis) that he has seen patients with straight hair that went through chemo and ended up with curly hair afterwards, vice versa, and he's also seen people's hair change color after chemo.

imagine me a blonde...

anyway, things are good.

my folks and I are having dinner to celebrate tonight. I plan on going back to work Thursday.

Ya Termine

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

I finished chemotherapy this morning. received my last dosage of bleomycin about one hour ago. afterwards a half dozen of the nurses that walked with me through chemo. showered me with bubbles. nice.

Summer of Cancer

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A car alarm in the parking lot behind my apartment building (a tenement, as fatty called it) went off this morning around 2 a.m.. Sometime around 2:15 a.m. I went back there to see if it was my parents van, which was parked back there. it wasn't and somebody eventually shut the alarm off around 3 a.m..
as I trod back to my apartment, I noticed it was cold. about twelve hours earlier, when I was out for my daily walk around the neighborhood (the closest thing I've got to exercise right now), I made the same observation.
the summer of '07 for the sonoran desert has turned to fall.
my summer was consumed by my cancer: surgery, observation and eventually chemotherapy. whatever plans I made or hoped for the summer vanished into weekly visits to the blood lab, monthly visits with dr. ahmann and eventually daily trips to the clinic.
summer is over. and soon, so will be chemotherapy.
this tuesday, God willing, is my last injection. bleomycin. in all honesty, I'll probably be too foggy to remember much because I'll be high on benadryl.
though I've been counting the days left, I've kept up the emotional and psychological defense that i erected when chemo. began.
there are certain thoughts and emotions I never allowed myself during this time. this also helped me deal with the physical pain of the treatment as well.
but I think that defense is coming down, slowly, whether or not I like it, because my days in chemo. are coming to an end.
I've noticed it has become harder to take the needle pricks of an IV and blood draw. there was no novelty to my barium sulfate shake the second time around. it was just something to get through.
and now I'm almost through.

About 5 years ago this month...

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I had my surgery. its sort of bittersweet. for the past 5 years, i keep getting reminded of that that fact. And, not because i have a rad scar down my chest, but, because the Angles have been in the playoffs 4 of the past 5 years.

After my surgery, i laid in my rack and watched the Angles in the World Series. I watched all 6 games, and at times, barely able to move. So this year, since Noter Damn has failed me again, i'll be at game 3 (maybe game 4 too) of the American League Division Series.

Its...well if you think about it, its a way my cancer story continues...

Traffic School

had my moment in court.

the judge gave me the option of paying the $167 fine, traffic school or going forward with a hearing. but had I been found guilty in the hearing, traffic school was out of the question and the "offense" would be on my record.

I took traffic school, which is what I was hoping for anyway.

funny though -- i was some what excited about the hearing.

i used to cover juvenile and criminal court (and the occasional civil suit) in monterey county, so I've spent a lot of time sitting around court rooms, waiting, watching and making a list of questions to ask after each hearing. some of that came back during the short time i spent in court this afternoon.

after watching the two cases ahead of me, in which automobile drivers were also cited for not stopping at a stop sign, it was pretty clear the judge wasn't going to side with me. ignorance doesn't make for much of a defense.

but I had pieced together a list of questions to ask Officer Dietsch, the motorcycle officer who pulled cited me.
and questioning a police officer before a judge, as is my right, was an exciting prospect.

on a small scrap of paper (real professional, huh!), I scrawled a few questions about the evening's traffic conditions (light traffic), whether or not there were pedestrians in the road (nope) and the safety options i exercise as a bike rider (lights, helmet, bright yellow riding jacket).

here was my kicker: do you remember what you said to me after pulling me over, I planned to ask. I wanted to remind him, in front of a judge, that he called me a "disgrace to law abiding bicyclists in tucson," including himself.

that was inappropriate.

the officer actually showed up for court, but since I opted for traffic school, the judge dismissed him.

now I've got until Dec. 7 to go to traffic school.

meanwhile, chemo. went well today. the nurses and I were laughing about my upcoming court appearance.

one of my nurses gave me two little bottles of bubbles because she was afraid she was going to miss my going away party. hopefully that won't be the case. susan's been really great.
Aunt pookie took off this afternoon as did uncle johnny. and tina drove back to LA this morning.
i've got a CT Scan scheduled for tomorrow morning, which means I'll get a second dose of that chalky "berry smoothie" also known as barium sulfate (see post from July). can't wait.

the trial of the century

Monday, October 1, 2007

Tuesday is the second to last day of chemotherapy. I've got a quick appointment (likely to last less than two hours) scheduled for 9 a.m.. the early appointment will give me enough time to nap afterwards because I've got a date with the state of Arizona around 3:30 p.m.

On July 3rd, I was cited for not stopping at a stop sign on my bike. on my bike. it's $167 fine.

so bald head, slacks and a tie, I'll make my case before a pima county traffic commissioner tomorrow afternoon. lets see if justice prevails...


Friday, September 28, 2007

The latest bill arrived for my chemotherapy. Between 6/21/07 and 9/18/07, I've accrued $22,228.09 in total charges. Excluding the $200 i paid for my CT Scan back in July, which cost $4,036, I now owe $20.
I have great health care coverage.
but if I didn't I'd be absolutely screwed. The cost for my cancer treatment is more than half what i make in a year at my full-time job.
I haven't the strength to make an argument, or even initiate much of a discussion, about the state of health care in the united states of America right now, but this is something we all need to keep in mind.


Saladitos -- dried, salted plums. I don't really know why, but these help with an upset stomach. It was initially Bean's idea to take them when I was sick a few weeks ago.

Last night around midnight, without any zofran, I sucked on one. surprisingly, it helped; especially given the fact that I was almost positive i was going to vomit.

you can pick 'em up at most supermarkets that cater to Latinos, Mexicans and Central Americans.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

...more days of chemotherapy to go!
Friday (9/28), Tuesday(10/2), Tuesday (10/9)

love and chemotherapy

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

(bailando debajo de un mariposa -- Tucson, Az. 2007)

"I can't sleep. There's a woman stuck between my eyelids."
-- Eduardo Galeano

There are some things you expect during chemotherapy: fatigue, nausea, hair loss, etc. falling in love isn't one of them.

I remember reading a July post on Joshua Lilienstein's blog. In case you're not familiar, he's a med student at USC that's also a testicular cancer patient (though given all that he's been through, I'm hesitant to compare our scenarios anymore the the generalization i just gave you). Anyway, in his July 3 blog post, he notes taking a break from seeking advice from some of the nations top doctors to attend a wedding in San Francisco. At the event he met a young lady and briefly described the joy and support she'd brought into his life that otherwise would have been a very dark period.

I remember thinking the guy was amazing when I read his post. to find love and a companion in the middle of something like chemotherapy.

on Aug. 16, Guadalupe Rocio Chavez flew out from Los Angeles to visit me in Tucson and her grandfather south in the town of Amado.

her visit was brief: just four days, but our time together sparked something neither one of us expected, or were even seeking. Funny, though because in hindsight neither of us were totally surprised -- we've known each other for seven years -- and this new feeling and relationship is very much welcomed.

she returned to Tucson two weeks later with my parents (she accompanied them on the eight hour drive from L.A. to Tucson -- how's that for a trial by fire!) when she walked in the door my heart and soul leaped. that week of chemo. wasn't bad and I know it was her love and support that helped make it so.

my aunt maria and cousin gabby came to Tucson that week as well. it was obvious to them, whom had never met lupita, that something was afoot.

seriously, who starts a relationship in chemotherapy? the human body is already frail, tired and irritable. the normal things you appreciate, like dancing, certain foods, bike rides and late nights, are temporarily out of grasp. but our days and nights together, whether it was at the cancer clinic, the san xavier mission for mass or sitting at the kitchen table, were so wonderful.

there was a reason i could rise each morning, with little sleep, for chemo and feel strong as they connected my IV to the drugs.

the photo above is something we created the night before she left Tucson.
every day this week the nurses have said that I look tired. and every time they tell me that, i smile to myself and just nod, keeping my little secret that it's not the sleeplessness that makes me seem so. it's because my companera isn't nearby.

more positive results

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

all the nurses are starting to tell me I'm looking tired. I suppose it comes with the territory. but I am. this isn't easy.

today was a bit different though -- Guadalupe left after spending three weeks with me out here. like my family, she brought a vitality, life and spirit that has helped me through this with strength and humor. I miss her incredibly. (more to come)

the latest results from my second course of chemotherapy came in the mail today. good news so far.

my red and blood cell counts are low, as is my platelet count, but that's to be expected as a result of a weakened immune system brought on by the chemical cocktails.

the great news is that my alpha-fetoprotein tumor marker is down. as of sept. 18, down to 2.7, which is incredible, because it's never been that low.

the last reading, from aug. 28, showed a reading of 5.6. anything beyond 8.8 is bad, says the docs. before surgery, it was about 35 and before chemo. the level was 15.

no news on the latest beta-HCG count, which is another tumor marker, but the last test, also from aug. 28 showed it was down to less than one, which is also great, because before chemo. it was at nine. anything about three is bad.

today was pretty tough. I had a triple cocktail: bleo., cisplatin and etop. needless to say, I spent much of the day sleeping because of a pre-med. cocktail that included benadryl and ativan. I hadn't had much sleep as my companera rose around five a.m. and left about quarter to six, but luckily at the clinic I got a private room with a bed. I think I'll have a brownie tonight.

Childhood Dreams, Adult realities

Tooth Fairies, Angels, Easter Bunnies, Santa Claus, Leprechauns. Rainbows with pots of gold, and Happily Ever Afters --- These dreams and many more made up my childhood. I always thought everything would be magical and endings would always be happy. I thought that I had a puffy white cloud that God had selected just for me and that this cloud was in the sky and that this was heaven. I believed that I could jump from cloud to cloud, visiting friends and family. From childhood, to adolescence, to adulthood - these dreams slowly faded away as reality set in for me. Until recently...

Try as I may I could not hold onto my dreams as the harsh realities of life hit me. My father died when I was five and that challenged my belief system for the first time. What was death? and why couldn't I hear him any more? I felt vulnerable and overwhelmed. But I still had my angel, my very own angel. There was something consoling about having this angel to watch over me. I remember that as a child I would talk to my Angel and I always felt protected no matter what was happening in my life. When things were confusing and I felt alone, I imagined my angel sitting on a cloud and talking to God and interceding for me. No matter what the outcome, I thought that God had chosen it for me.

However, I have wanted to hide from adult realities - the painful ones: death, illness, poverty, failure, disappointment, love lost, etc. I could not achieve this adult fantasy! Many friends and loved ones have died and I felt that I never had enough time to say good-bye to them. My health became an issue and I have been involved with doctors and more doctors since 1991.In my address book I have a list of twenty two doctors who I see at one time or another during the year, by necessity not by choice. I think I have learned more than I should have about medical issues and medical terms. And then two years ago I lost my ability to talk fluently. This meant that my belief that I was the life of the party, a political sage , an advise giver and a teacher all melted away from me and broke my heart and I cried out loud and silently.

What I have realized recently is that I can superimpose my childhood dreams on my adult realities and the mixture creates a most delicious blend. When I decided that I didn't have to suffer as an adult and that both my angel and cloud were available to me, I grabbed on and went for the ride of my life.

With the help and support of my therapist and a few friends and many books , I learned that illness was not something that had to occupy my entire life. I realized that happiness was something I created and that the plans and dreams I had as a child could be realized as an adult. And I learned that I could speak in many different ways and in many tones.

I do yoga early in the morning when I am alone and then I meditate. How wonderful. During the day I practice my belly dancing and have found that I have learned a lot and that I enjoy moving my body to music. I write letters, e-mails and my blog. I cannot be silenced, if I want to be heard. I have found a doctor who is making me an appliance to help me speak better and I am helping to design its construction. People in general are very nice if I ask for help without complaining.

I have a wonderful teddy bear that I bought for myself and that I hold when I feel alone. I have a significant other who is learning to be my best friend and I make new friends wherever I go. Volunteering enriches my spirit and I soar higher than I ever imagined when I do random act of kindness. I am creating Adult Dreams and they are powerful because I can make them come true. God bless us all AMF


Monday, September 24, 2007

Today began the first day of my third and hopefully final round of chemotherapy. it also was the first time my aunt pookie got to see the digs I've been lurking in since august.

aunt pookie (Priscilla) is my dad's younger sister. before she left LA after getting married, she was one of our babysitters when my brother, sister and I were young.

family visits -- or maybe just visits -- are all the same. they tend to revolve around the kitchen table, where everyone sits telling stories about my generation or theirs -- how my cousin Alicia beat the crap out of me once, how dad chased my uncle johnny when they were kids and caused johnny to vomit and stories about family members before us. the same with Guadalupe, Adrian and even when Matt, fatty and Sarah arrived. stories from another time, be it last year or seventy years ago. but it's wonderful and at least with some of them, clarifies the errors that have been repeated for years or even decades.

it helps. Sunny and Reed, two great young journalists who have established themselves internationally will be coming though this weekend (the photo above is us and a few other characters, notably beloved Luis Gomez and Noah Friedman, part of our rag tag crew of journalists in Bolivia in 2003) as will bean (my sister Tina).

In the past visits were accompanied by cases of beer, bottles of scotch and tequila, and a crazy desire to talk until the sun's rays came through the kitchen window. not this time. but someday again.

so I'm hoping for any easy week of chemo., so i can listen to the stories, though I have to be honest, it's getting harder and harder.

Must be the Bleo

Saturday, September 22, 2007

My fingertips were swollen again this week. Actually, Monday they were alright. but by late Tuesday afternoon, after my ten-minute injection of bleomycin, they began to swell and I went through the week with fingertips like small Vienna sausages. so my guess is it's the bleo, which I only get three times each chemo. cycle. I suppose I should mention this to the nurses on Monday, though i doubt it'll change my chemo. cocktail.

The Second Third

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I finished the second course of Chemotherapy yesterday.

Like the final day of the first third, Tuesday was a bit longer than normal: blood labs (blood draw to be tested and examined, etc.), appointment with my oncologist and chemo.

Dr. Ahmann, my oncologist, had good news for me. The results from the first round of chemo were all very good.

Let me explain -- before we went with chemo, I was getting blood drawn every Monday to monitor the cancer inside my body. the cancer levels were up and down until they eventually began to increase. on Aug. 13, my Alpha Fetoprotein level was 15. Anything beyond 8.8 is dangerous.

As of Aug. 28, my AFP is 5.6.

At the same time, my doctors were also monitoring my HCG (which I just found out stands for Human Chorionic gonadotropin). by late August, HCG was found to be at 9. Anything beyond 3 is dangerous. As of Aug. 28, it's less than one.

The doctor is impressed with how I'm holding out overall -- nausea but no vomiting, tired but I haven't succumbed to any illness while my immune system is weakened, and I still have the ability to eat. a minor miracle, he has said repeatedly.

He noted that the acne outbreak on my back is normal for chemo. patients, though they don't know why. funny how little we're able to explain when it comes to side effects.

anyway, as things progress, it looks like I'll be done with chemo. by Oct. 9 and i hope to return to work by the end of that week.

for the next two years, Ahmann explained, i will need blood labs every two months and a CT Scan every four months.

My third and hopefully final round of chemo. begins Monday.

More blog from me

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The days and nights seem to blend as I look back...more like short vinyets (not sure on the spelling...please feel free to correct me) than anything.

When I finally got settled in, there wasn’t much going on. The funny thing was, they treated you like a member in the fleet. So let me explain: As a recruit, you're not really in the Navy. Suppose that’s true for Puddle Pirates and the Air Force. I guess, you're not really in the navy until you get aboard ship. But the RDC's treated like you a Shipmate (friend, equal), which to say, you got to know a lot of them on a somewhat personal level. They let you wear a Navy Ball cap (meaning you graduated), wear regular glasses or contacts if you had them, if you had the time off, you could use it. There were guys going to Six Flags, going home for a few days, or just going into the city for a day. It was pretty relaxed. Every night there was a movie. Each day the TV was on. They assigned you jobs on the base for something to do, and the best part, the females where right on the other side.

Now, there were no 9's and 10's. Let's face it, some of these girls got the shit kicked out of them with the ugly stick, then were pushed down the ugly tree, and hit every branch on the way down. There were some that reminded you of a sister, a friend, or even a cousin. And there were a few, if given a six pack...these girls were ok. This may sound like im being an ass...but it's true. I had made friends with a few of them over the weeks and had some really conversion as well. Somewhere single mothers, newly married, and like me, looking to start over again.

Over the next few days and weeks, many of the guys that have been in the "broke ward" were going home or finally graduating . Many of those guys had been there for months and had a been look to take a leadership role for the new people coming in. There was a void...why in god's name did that sole duty fall on my lap!

the fingertips

Monday, September 17, 2007

yesterday during church I caught myself poking at my fingertips.
after mass I mentioned this to Guadalupe, who said in fact I'd been doing that all week.
I didn't even realize it.
I was stabbing at my fingers because they became really swollen and felt almost numb.
Like my taste and smell, I was told I'd lose my sense of touch. Specifically I was warned by my doctors and nurses that my fingers and toes would go numb. So far the toes are alright, but the fingers have been strange.
In fact, the swelling, like my smell, enhanced the sense of touch in my hands.
I tried to play guitar last week and couldn't for more than about fifteen minutes. granted, I haven't played in a while, but because my finger tips were so swollen, it hurt my left hand to fret my guitar. And these weren't even steel strings; i was playing my Mexican nylon string guitar.
I remember typing last week and being really clumsy because of the swelling.
the finger tips, joints and my right palm all have bruises. I was warned about that: bruising easily.
as of today, the swelling has passed for the most part, though the finger tips are still bright red and the bruises are tender.
so goes chemo.

"it's all fun and games..."

As I've written earlier, I have been really fortunate to have so many people looking out for me during my cancer treatment. everyone expresses this in different ways: visits, prayers, phone calls, letters, cards, e-mails and gifts like food, mix cds and books.
one of the coolest things has been the e-mails from high school classmates that I haven't seen in years (in some cases, since the day we graduated in 1997). I respond to everyone -- it just takes some time.
my aunt pookie has consistently sent me some really funny cards that always bring a smile to my face.
And on Friday, a package arrived from Bolivia via Philadelphia.
my dear friends Luis Gomez and Jean Friedman sent a care package which included a letter, talismans (for lack of a better word) from Bolivia and a t-shirt.
I need to write about the t-shirt.
it's light blue. on the chest there is a drawing of tree with three squirrels playing on one of the tree's branches. one squirrel has three acorns in his hand. another is cracking one in his mouth. the one in the middle, however, is reaching downwards for a nut that seemingly slipped from its hand. the nut is falling down, away from the squirrel and branch.
beneath this drawing is this text: "it's all fun and games until someone loses a nut."
i love it.
thanks jean and luis.

New Blog

Cause George is taking up all the blog space...

It's been awhile since I can sit and think back on a few things. Things have been a little...i'll move on.

Something caught my eye the other day...September 11th. I could remember how the asphalt felt on my ass, my hands as a sat there in unbearable heat. All of the recruits had to either sit, or participate in something. My division just had to march to where we sat...though it was in front of all the Officers. But that was it. Marched and sat. It was hot. It was a day off for everyone so, there was a lot down time on that day.

Then I started to remember small details of my 6 weeks with division...Like, it took 2 weeks to drop a deuce. There was this kid...i don’t remember his name now, but was trying to be a Navy Seal. On one Sunday, I saw him crying in the corner, alone. I stood there for a few minutes wondering if I should say something, or give him a hug. But I didn’t. I just stood there.

There was this other kid from Mississippi. He told me he'd never spook to a black person, ever. There was about 10 black guys in the division. So when it came down to bunk assignments, I paired this Mississippi kid with a black guy.

And there was the look on everyone's face as I told them I wasn’t going to graduate with them...that I was being pulled from the division and put somewhere else. I can image I had the same look on my face as the doctor told me the same thing.

My walk to the new ship (it was half used barracks for all the sick and broke recruits, and the recruits who had "learning disabilities") was short. It was just in the other side of the mess hall. My new division was 4225...i think. I walked into the male side, only to see a room full of...well to various degrees, broke people. I was given a rack, had a conversion with the recruit in charge, sat for few minutes, and hid in the laundry room and cried. I cried until my eyes where blood shot. It wasn’t until that recruit in charge found me in there and we talked. We talked for a long time. I told him my situation...sort of took him back too...but none the less, he sat there with me for awhile. A few days later, he made arrangements for to go to Ricky Heaven. It was a place to buy stuff like real food, use the net, call, and place games. I had a 4 hour pass. I needed that.

It took a few days to settle in, to learn the rules (I'll get to these in a bit), and how things work. I remember that first week, I had a call from my case work from the Naval Hospital. He's name was RN Robney Dodd. He called over the compartment to see if I was ok and if I needed anything. We scheduled my first appointment, and said if I needed anything, the RDC's had standing orders to let me call from the office phone. This made me feel a little better.

Independence Day

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sept. 15 is celebrated in Guatemala as Independence Day. Specifically, independence from Spanish rule in 1821.
I remember making note of this one year ago during my farewell "speech" on what was my last day at the Monterey County Herald. Two weeks later I would begin working for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson.
One thing I've often thought about since doctors first discovered the tumor in my right testicle is what sort of medical treatment and health care I might have received had this happened while I was still in Salinas.
Up until this, I never really took stock of my health insurance, though I did have insurance through my places of employment since 2003.
I didn't know how to navigate the health care system in Salinas, so whenever I needed to see a doctor, I either went to the emergency room or I visited Doctors on Duty, a private clinic where I was frequently misdiagnosed. The place was commonly referred to by friends as "doc in a box." a doctor there once hit on me because she was impressed I was reading an "old" copy of Marx's "Capital."
There are four hospitals in Monterey County -- Natividad, Salinas Valley MH, Mee Memorial in King City and Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.
While I am not intimate with what services they offer, I'm pretty sure none of them (to be honest, my choices were really Natividad and SVMH in Salinas because CHOMP would probably be too expensive and there would be no point in going to King City for medical attention) could offer what I found in Tucson. Cancer care is practically a sub-industry here, what with all the research facilities, specialty labs and practitioners around.
Besides, when I left the Herald, Dean Singleton and his MediaNews Group had just purchased the paper. Despite the promises he made in person in front of the staff, he has since cut resources and laid people off. I have no doubt, as part of his companies "streamlining" approach to finances, the Herald's health care coverage has been affected as well.
but I suppose that's a conversation for another day.
que viva guatemala.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

I love nopales. They're so simple to prepare and super healthy.
I've eaten a ton of 'em since I began chemo. Their flavor is very subtle, there's no smell that upsets my stomach and nopales are very easy to digest. my mom figures we've bought and consumed at least ten one-pound bags of nopales since beginning chemo about five weeks ago. that's a very conservative estimate.
I realize there may be some of you that don't know what are nopales. They are young pads from the nopal cactus (pictured above on a loteria card). You can cut them off the cactus, though they snap off pretty easily. If you are preparing them fresh off the cactus, you have to wash 'em in cold water and carefully remove the thorns by gently scraping the cactus flesh. After preparing them, you can either leave them whole or slice them into strips.
My friend and maestro Francisco usually pulls a few nopales from his cactus in his backyard, cleans 'em and places the slices on his BBQ. we eat them with tortillas -- tacos de nopalitos.
Around Tucson, you can buy them sliced and diced in small, one-pound bags courtesy of Oro Verde Products (9151 W. Monroe St., Tolleson, Arizona, 85353/(623) 478-5300)) at Food City and even the Safeway at Campbell and Broadway. At home
I cook 'em up with eggs and beans and lately have been rolling it all up into a burrito.

Quiznos IV

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I feel like a walking chemical factory. Even when I'm not at the clinic, I can sense the stuff inside of me. I can feel it in the flesh of my face, which has lost much of my hair, and feels slightly waxy. My fingers feel slightly numb today. but the thing that bothers me the most is that I can't shake that damn smell of saline solution and medicinal chemicals.
Guadalupe noted how clean I am: constantly brushing my teeth and showering whether or not I've got the energy.
I'm constantly cleaning myself to get rid of the smell. Even when I'm not hooked up to an IV or sitting in a recliner at the cancer clinic, the smell is there.
Recently a commercial triggered the scent.
My mom and I were watching TV on Monday when this Quiznos commercial came on. The scene is the inside of some office. There's a dude sitting down, eating a toasted sub. then his cubicle mate enters the scene. the mate opens a duffel bag, says he's not eating anymore and pulls two IV bags from the duffel.
the commercial goes on to say something about taste or whatever.
it offended my mom, who said it wasn't funny. I later suggested maybe she's a bit sensitive to the subject given my chemo, but she insists it's not funny period.
but the sight of the bags on television triggered that damn smell of saline and medicine under my nose.
all of this is important for me to note because I've found that many of the observed side effects of chemo that I was warned in fact aren't what people have said.
I was told I'd lose my sense of taste. I haven't. in fact everything tastes like medicine. maybe that constitutes a loss of taste to some. but not me.
I was told I'd lose my sense of smell. I wish.

prostate screenings in Tucson, AZ

Monday, September 10, 2007

just got word of this:

Free Prostate Cancer Screening for Men of Tucson

Nearly 3,500 Men Across the State Will be Diagnosed this Year;
Disease is Second Deadliest Cancer in Men

This year, nearly 3,500 men across the state of Arizona will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and more than 10 percent of them will die from the disease. Overall, state legislators need to make prostate cancer a priority, especially after Arizona earned a C- on this year’s Prostate Cancer Report Card for the second year in a row ( Despite the grim statistics, there is hope if detected early, making prostate cancer one of the more treatable forms of cancer.

In recognition of September as Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, the National Prostate Cancer Coalition (NPCC) will team up with KOLD News 13 and Tucson Medical Center to provide free prostate cancer screenings. The event is just one of many stops across the country for the Drive Against Prostate Cancer, an initiative to educate and screen men from coast to coast.

“More lives are being saved every day through early detection,” said National Prostate Cancer Coalition CEO Richard N. Atkins, M.D. “We encourage men across Tucson to come by and get screened. This 10 minute test could save your life.”

TMC Services at the El Dorado Campus
1400 North Wilmot Road
Tucson, AZ

Tuesday, September 25, 2007
8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (MST)

What is the Drive Against Prostate Cancer?
It’s big, it’s purple, it’s the Drive Against Prostate Cancer - a mobile screening unit where local licensed physicians conduct a two-part screening procedure, which includes a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test and physical examination. The screenings are conducted in a 39-foot Airstream Land Yacht XL, owned by Thor Industries and designed specifically for prostate cancer screenings. The exams are free, thanks in part to Bayer Diagnostics and University of Michigan Labs.

About the National Prostate Cancer Coalition
The National Prostate Cancer Coalition sets the standard for rapidly reducing the burden of prostate cancer on American men and their families through awareness, outreach and advocacy.

Note: Appointments are not required. For more information, please visit

Can I Get a Hell Yeah?!!!

Hell Yeah.
sorry it's been a while since I've posted. I've been tired.
but the report from my first round of chemo just arrived. great news -- my tumor markers are down.
As of Aug. 28, the alpha fetoprotein (AFP) is at 5.6. It needed to be below 8.8. Also, my Beta HCG is zero, where it should be.
my white blood cell count is low, but that's to be expected.
"This is good news," wrote my doctor on top of the report.
I had today off, but we're back at the clinic tomorrow morning.


Friday, September 7, 2007

it's the last day of the week.
to be honest, I'm exhausted. with all my friends and family around it was easy to walk into the clinic Monday morning feeling strong, but my body finally crashed yesterday. It was nice to sleep in today (I don't have to be in until about 12:30 today) but I'll be glad when the afternoon is over and I've got a couple days off.

Dandelion, Dandelion..same old story every time!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

September 6. 2007

The thoughts I share with you today are quite different from what I would have previously written. I have attempted to be brave and courageous as I dealt with the different medical tests and findings that have been a part of my life since I first got cancer in 1991. I have felt like a mouse in a maze, looking for the right exit but never finding it. I have had cancer five times over a period of sixteen years, and each time the loneliness and fear in my heart has been masked with the activity that is part of the Cancer process: doctors, tests, diagnosis, doctors, tests, treatment and doctors, tests, prognosis. Somehow it feels like a dance - the steps are known but the music changes.

On Tuesday night September 11, 2007, I received a telephone call at 7:00pm from my Pulmonary doctor. This already was a bad sign since most doctors never call to tell me "good news". So I got a piece of paper and a pen and listened as I was told that I had suspicious nodes in my lungs that might be indicative of metastatic cancer. After putting the telephone receiver back, I slowly started to fall apart like a dandelion in the breeze. I remember crawling into bed and sobbing in disbelief. I felt so blown apart and so alone. Just like a dandelion as it loses its battle with the wind.

Who was going to take care of me? Who was going to hold my hand and travel with me for doctor's appointments? treatments? follow-up tests? My sister has been dealing with her husband's own cancer challenges and my closest friends are dealing with their own family calamities and everyday normal crisis. Alone, so alone I felt...who was going to take care of me? I felt so childlike. Who was going to be my caretaker?

My therapist has been working very hard to get me to acknowledge my strengths. For some reason I had been very reluctant to do that. Finally, I started to think about what was nurturing and supportive about me and what strengths I had. Slowly, I was uncovering my Caretaker. My caretaker was telling me where to look for her and I followed the sound of her soft, loving voice.

This caretaker I sought could not be hired. Nor could she be forced into servitude. She is within me and I have to get to her and convince her that I need her. Since I never knew that each of us has a CARETAKER, I also never knew how to find her and call her into action. This special caretaker would provide me with security and stability. She was going to be my constant friend, lover, parent, cook, spiritual guide. fashion coordinator, medical adviser and any other role that I felt a need for.

I have sometimes heard my caretaker as she warned, "Watch out for that car." as I was driving; and I heard her scream out in pain and anguish when my mother died. She has held me to her and although her arms could not be seen, they were felt by me. This caretaker right now is just showing herself to me and I am learning to lean on her and utilize her gifts.

We seem to believe that a caretaker is someone outside ourselves who is hired to take care of the weak, the ill and the aged. The surprise is that this wonderful caretaker has always been a part of us! The best time to search for and find your caretaker is when you are young. But most of us don't know about this caretaker until much later in life and then the connection is harder to make. We have our caretaker with us from the day we are conceived. It is what gives us the strength to survive the ups and downs and all arounds of life. Each of us has a caretaker with us from the day we land on this planet.

I am still in the process of finding and befriending my caretaker and giving her a name. My therapist, who I trust and love, assures me that I will be successful, and I have every reason to believe her. And for some reason as I search for and find my caretaker a calm is coming over me. Yes, I am still afraid of my new diagnosis but I now know that I am not alone and this is very comforting. God bless us all. AMF

my entourage

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Suzanne, the first nurse at the cancer clinic to deal with my aversion to needles, asked me today about all the ladies sitting with me.
she's flattering.
so I've got a entourage, I suppose.
On Monday, my aunt Maria flew in from Michigan to help out this week. the following day my cousin gabby followed suit. of course my mom is here as is Guadalupe.
I'm incredibly lucky to have such loving friends and family willing to put aside the stress of daily life to come out to the desert and help out.
Their presence does wonders for my spirits. This first week of the second course isn't as hard as the first week. as much as I can, I'm not taking the benadryl and atavan. I don't need to be any more knocked that I already am. Besides, it helps me sleep more naturally.
There are a few reasons for my entourage though. And I must note there's more family headed to Tucson over the next few weeks.
One of the reasons the family has banded together is that there is no history of cancer among the Sanchez's or Tello's. At least none that is known or I've been told.
My father's father died of kidney failure as result of his WWII service. His wife, Pipa, the Sanchez matriarch, held on to life after two strokes, but eventually the fight was over. She needed a rest. My mother's father passed away from a heart attack in Arcadia. And Big Alicita, Papa's beloved wife, died after suffering from dementia. Other than Coco, for whom I'm named, all the uncles and aunts and cousins are alive and healthy. so I'm the first cancer survivor in the family. Needless to say it's unnerving to have something like this appear and from seemingly out of nowhere.
but the other reason is we're a tight family. always have been and always will be.

"Oh Salinas"

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The 831 -- you can never get away from it.
Though yesterday was a holiday that signifies the end of summer for most,it was the first day of my second course of chemotherapy. My second full week of treatment. Since it was a holiday, the clinic had a skeleton crew and they only took in about a dozen patients.
I was in an infusion pod (infusion pod: place where they administer IV therapy)with a young lymphoma patient and two people getting post-bone marrow transplant therapy.
Everyone knew each other because they were normally placed in the other infusion pod. But I worked my way into a conversation.
the one man receiving treatment for his marrow transplant heard I was from California. So am I, he said.
"I came from Salinas," the guy told me.
I was shocked.
"For real," I responded, my jaw hanging. "That's where I moved from. I worked for the Salinas Californian and the Monterey Herald when i was there."
He said he graduated Salinas High class of '93. His name was Raul. Didn't give me his last name though.
Turns out his girlfriend was also a Salinas transplant.
it's a small world. I love it.


Monday, September 3, 2007

My mom spent her 61st birthday driving from Arcadia, CA, across the desert, to Tucson, AZ. This was, of course, yesterday.
She's tough. Even her childhood stories from Guatemala belie this truth. She's been strong through this whole new experience as well. And the timing hasn't been great. This past Mother's Day was the Sunday before my surgery.
My father, mother and Guadalupe arrived to Tucson in the early afternoon. Adrian and i (Adrian Bravo has been here all weekend) were out buying her a birthday cake, wine, a six-pack of bud light (her favorite beer) and roses when they pulled into the parking lot outside my apartment.
to celebrate, I took everyone to La Fuente, this great Mexican joint just north of downtown Tucson. I was able to stomach half a plate of mole poblano.
After the mariachis serenaded my mom, our bartender brought out a big 'ol pink sombrero for her. once I figure out how to get the pictures from my phone to the web, I'll post 'em here.
feliz cumpleanos mom.