Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fantastic Weekend in Uxbridge

Don’t let the name of this town fool you! Sure, Uxbridge is an in the “middle of nowhere” kind of place, and it sounds kind of funny, but at least seven of its inhabitants are really cool people. And that is reason enough for a visit! I am talking about two of Mark’s best friends from college and their families… Ryan, Denise and Jake welcomed us with open arms and delivered a great weekend. On Saturday, other college friends and their families came over for a fun and tasty BBQ and on Sunday, the five of us joined the other Uxbridge family (Holly, Kevin, Elena and Trevor) at a nearby pond and in the pool for another fun day.
Church in Milford on the way to Uxbridge

Jake and Mark playing with remote control cars

It was hard to recognize our hosts' house with the new addition!

Mark, Jake and Liesbet in front of the "doubled" house

Mark's new friend Elena

Summer means BBQ-ing in New England (and the rest of the USA)

Nice weather and nice company


Lou and Kim with daughter Emily

The twins are getting big: Liesbet with Arianna and Christopher

The kids are having fun in the pool

And that is why Americans need a big fridge and freezer - I have no idea how Denise manages to fit so much in this one... and find stuff back! Yes, they do have supermarkets in Uxbridge. :-)

Scary Mark with sweet Arianna

Elsa with Christopher

How is this for a Sunday breakfast?

Jake is getting ready to go fishing

Jake and Trevor on Pout Pond

Mark with some of the coolest people in Uxbridge


Jake next to his sandcastle

PS: These events happened almost three weeks ago. As of now, Mark and I are both pretty wiped out and are focusing on work, health issues, and some rest

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Radiation Update: Over Halfway!

Once Mark and I found out about his treatment plan after the last operation, we did two things: we booked our return ticket to Tahiti with a tentative date of August 7th (getting back on Irie August 8th) and we called Hope Lodge - the American Cancer Society’s accommodation center – in Boston. The plane ride had to be scheduled, since August is a very busy time for (European) vacationers visiting French Polynesia, but our trip will depend on how Mark is doing. Calling Hope Lodge resulted in our names being put on a waiting list. The center offers only 40 rooms and there are MANY “out of the area” cancer patients receiving treatment in the high class institutes of Boston. Without solid plans (we are getting used to that), Mark started the first of his 19 radiation treatments on June 26th and is now over halfway.

The treatments

Every workday, we make our way to Dana Farber in Boston, where we usually don’t have to wait very long before Mark meets “his” machine and crew of technicians and receives his radiation therapy. I stay in the waiting room without him for no more than five minutes, while he gets zapped for about two of those. Then, we are done in the hospital. Once a week, a technician takes an X-ray of his chest, and on Tuesdays, we meet with Mark’s oncologist, Dr. Harris. Sometimes, the machine is delayed and once it has been “out of order”, causing a longer wait and Mark being directed to a different machine. The waiting room in the radiation department, albeit cold, is pretty comfortable and offers free drinks and snacks.

Mark’s side effects so far are relatively benign. He gets very tired every afternoon (“fatigue”), has a tingly sensation in his mouth, once in a while his chest hurts, and sometimes his throat feels a bit “coughy”, as if his asthma is acting up. The last few days, his chest area has turned red; it looks sun burned, and the surgery wound under his arm is painful because of a skin infection.

The transportation 

Thanks to his insurance plan, Mark can use a transportation service to bring him (us) to his daily appointments in Boston, 43 miles away from Newburyport. We have to book our trips three days in advance and two (!) hours before the appointment, we get picked up at home for the drive into the city. We scheduled Mark’s treatments around noon, to avoid rush hour traffic either way. We get to Dana Farber way too early and call the service when we are ready. Then, we are picked up directly, or after more waiting, and brought back home directly or after waiting for other customers and some detours. We appreciate the service, but it results in 4-6 hours of (uncomfortable and tiring) time loss, every day, for a five minute appointment in the hospital! The drivers of the contracting company (Nurse Care) are friendly, courteous, caring and respectful; the main female phone operator of the organization CATA on the other hand, has made our life harder and more stressful than it should be right now…  Let’s believe in fate! :-)

Carol and Stan have been great letting us use their car whenever they don’t need it, so that has become our preference of transport, almost half of the time. The drive into the city takes about an hour without traffic. We have a free parking spot reserved for radiation patients in the hospital garage, hop inside for a 1 minute walk to the right department and – usually – “quickly” follow the return procedure. This way – even though we spend two hours in the car which is quite tiring - we only lose about three hours a day dealing with this “cancer nuisance”.

The lodging

Halfway through Mark’s treatment, we were still staying in the separate room above Carol and Stan’s garage, going on two months of being there. It is not always easy for parents to have their adult children back into their close quarters, or for those middle aged kids to live with their parents again, but we have all adjusted well and so far everything has worked out splendidly. So, I hereby wish to thank Mark’s parents again for letting us stay with them and being their “live in help” as Carol says it so fondly, and for letting us borrow their car.

Then, a couple of days ago, we received the good news that there was a room available at Hope Lodge. Excitement is probably not the best word to describe it, but we felt some relief and joy to be able to live in Boston for these last ten days. It will make our lives so much easier and less annoying, especially not having to deal with the transportation vans (or phone lady) anymore and putting our “extra’ time to good use. We can walk to the hospital, a nearby park and a grocery store and the place is really well set up for our (and the other patients) needs. More about Hope Lodge in a next blog!

The entertainment

Two weeks ago, we had a wonderful weekend at Ryan and Denise’s place (another blog and more pictures to follow about this event; I guess I am a bit behind with my news here - life has been busy…). Lately, Mark has not been feeling great, so we haven’t been socializing or doing fun stuff except for 4th of July weekend. We had lunch at home with Mark’s nieces Jo and Suzy, we watched Belgium lose to Argentina in the World Cup, we spent a day with our friends Scott and Lisa at the lake and we went for a long walk to Plum Island that Sunday to get some exercise and see brother Tim’s family.

Now, our time here is winding down, but for some reason, we cannot think about what is next for us and our future quite yet… Other than ordering a lot of stuff for the boat!

The babies encouraging Belgium in the early stages

Lily watching Belgium defeat Russia

After Belgium's win against the USA

Jo and Suzy visiting for lunch on July 4th

Going for a boat ride on the lake (July 5th)

Ueli on Scott and Lisa's boat

Looks like fun... one day! :-)

Kids and adults tubing on the lake

Appropriate 4th July dessert!

Camp fire at dusk

Shooting off fireworks is legal in New Hampshire

And, they do a good job of it in July!

Passing the local airfield on our walk to Plum Island

Lonely, abandoned house along the walk

Beach across the street from Tim and Kristen's house

Petting Oliver, our sweet and hairy friend

Lily being cute with a hair brush

Lily and Cera

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Walk along High Street

Since the moment Mark and I arrived in the US, about two months ago (yes, time flies!), we have moved into the condo of his parents in Newburyport, Massachusetts. They have a room with a separate entrance above their garage, which we call home for the time being. We sleep in a sofa bed, have our own bathroom, porch, desks to work at and some level of privacy. It works out great: we do our own thing during the day (which mostly entails computer work and cancer treatments) and hang out and catch up with them in the evening.

Newburyport is a special place. Tourists like to come here to walk along the waterfront, stroll the historic downtown area with a plethora of bars, restaurants, and stores, and browse the specialty shops. During the summer weekends, the town is a mad house, and we avoid it at all cost. On other days, we enjoy a walk through the neighborhood or along the river. At this time of the year, there are sailboats “everywhere”! The high temperatures have arrived as well, which restricts our time outside these days. It is hot and humid, not too different from Tahiti!

One of the things I have been wanting to do for many weeks, is getting dropped off at a shopping mall out of town to do some needed clothes shopping (and get a haircut) and walking home from there. Recently, on a pleasant, sunny day, this is exactly what happened: I had my exercise walking home on the shaded footpath along High Street, gazing at all the stately, historical buildings along the way. They are a big part of what this area is about, so I figured I’d share some pictures.

Along High Street

Along High Street

Church along High Street

Along High Street

Local high school along High Street

Along High Street

Along High Street

Another church along High Street

House where Mark's sister Dru and Brian used to live

Stan and Carol's condo is part of this house

In the beautiful garden, built and maintained by Carol