Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Livin' La Vida L.A.

A couple months ago, this restaurant caught my eye and then startled me as I drove by on the way to the hospital.  I realized how far away from Spain I was (and how deeply I missed it):

 Only in Los Angeles could you find “Spanish” so intricately connected to California’s neighbor to the South and so distant from its origin.  Authentic Mexican??

Beautiful Sprawl

I have been living as an Angeleno for four months now, having helped transfer my mom’s care to Cedars-Sinai hospital here.  It has been a struggle—nausea and weakness from chemotherapy, a stent placed in her duodenum to hold it open from the pressure of the surrounding tumor, anemia, and then the sinking dread when we recognized, again, the intense side effects of a full dose of 5-FU, oxaliplatin, and leucovorin.  Then a recovery, only to be sent home from the 21-day hospital stay without enough hydration information, and a return rush to the ER and re-admission for near kidney failure. Then a Whipple operation, the biggest abdominal surgery there is, and the pain and fear that goes with it.  And finally, a respite, with incredible healing and amazing scars, and again an attempt at chemotherapy, this time with a different set of drugs, and the return of constant nausea and the challenge to get my mom to eat enough.

I make a good nurse.  Really.
This experience has been one of rapid learning for me: not only am I up to speed on CBCs and metabolic panels, endoscopic procedures and Whipples, stents and NG tubes, wound dressings and taking blood pressure, but I have read eight books thus far (and counting) on cancer and its effects.  In addition, my sisters and I learned how to do reiki, a meditative spiritual practice from Japan that helps my mom relax and which eases her distress somewhat.

My mom's guest house--a great place to do Reiki

Despite missing Spain, and despite the envy I feel as I hear about Todd tapas-hopping, sherry-tasting, and joining a band to amuse himself while we are gone, I am where I want to be, and we have adjusted smoothly to our life here.  Communal living has always appealed to me; in fact, before my mom’s illness we had discussed my sister Suzanne’s possible move to Spain with her family and how we could all live in a palace somewhere in downtown Puerto.  Now we all live together, but in a beautifully remodeled Colonial in Toluca Lake.  My other sister, Simone, and her husband Chris also come to stay periodically and have set up camp in the now-furnished hacienda that guards my mom’s guest house, where we just celebrated Thanksgiving—inviting 16 guests to join the 11 of us!

Some of the fun things we do together:  a lemonade stand for the American Cancer Society!

We enrolled Tia and Sasha in their cousins’ school, Franklin Elementary.  Sasha is in the 4th grade immersion program, while Tia had to join a regular English-speaking 5th grade, as their relatively new program did not extend to that grade yet.  Both girls are thrilled to be with their cousins, and have adjusted very well to all of the moving, even though they miss their lovely little Spanish school, La Merced.  Sasha’s new 4th grade class in particular was the first dual-immersion class at Franklin, and so the kids there have bonded in a very special way, so special that they immediately engulfed both Tia and Sasha in friendship with such caring that I continue to be amazed and grateful.

Running a 5K for weSpark, an organization that provides support for cancer patients

 Despite my laser-like focus on cancer research, we try to have fun: We went to my aunt’s 80th birthday celebration at our cabin in the Sierras, a wonderful reunion with all my relatives.  We also had a friend’s beach house in Malibu to visit during the summer, so we didn’t miss out on the surf scene much.

Beachtime fun this summer

We tried indoor skydiving: it was FUN! 

Goofy suits, big excitement
We also recently spent the day at Universal Studios, a mere 5-minute drive from my sister’s house, splashing on the Jurassic Park ride and being transported to Animation-Central in the Transformers ride.  The kids loved it; Ethan and I were mildly nauseated each time. And of course there was Halloween, which is a HUGE deal in our neighborhood:

The Flapper and her Energizer Bunnies

Sasha turned nine years old here, inviting her whole class over for a pool party (2 hours in the pool in November!  Gotta love Southern California…) and then inviting all the girls to a sleepover, complete with marshmallows around the outdoor fireplace, a dance-off, and finally a movie with popcorn.

A mini-cake for Sasha's actual birthday, which fell on Thanksgiving this year

And so the days flow by, each one merging into a rhythm of caring for my mom, trips to the hospital, school, research, consultations, reading, and of course fighting with the famous L.A traffic (I have learned many back-street navigation routes, although I still lack the technology to maneuver with an iPhone in real time).  My life has been immersed in research and an often desperate search for SOMETHING that I can find that will help even the immense odds my mom faces each day.  While chemo, surgery, and radiation are the old standards that we must face, I have learned a great deal about nutrition, supplementation, and mind-body therapy that I have worked to integrate into my mom’s care.  (It is the only realm that I have any degree of control over!)  She is an incredible sport, downing 30+ pills every morning and evening, as I explain to her what each one does and what the research says.  Her hair may be gone, but she is as beautiful as ever, and such a great sport and role model for us as we move through this adventure together.

Bald and Beautiful

As for me, I feel a bit like a hermit.  My focus is so intense on what I am doing, I am reluctant to slow down and take time for myself.  I have thought about my friends, here in L.A., down in San Diego, up in the Bay Area, across the country, and in Spain.  So many of you have reached out to me, and I have been a poor correspondent, immersed as I am in the fascinating and mostly horror-filled story that is cancer.  And so this Thanksgiving, in acknowledgement of all that I have to be thankful for, I donned my black skirt and sheer top, put on my best flamenco-sounding boots, and danced every buleria that I knew (all five of them!) for my mom and the rest of the crowd of 27 people.   Dancing and twirling and stomping in the kitchen, accompanied by the kids who couldn’t resist joining in, I realized that Spain wasn’t so far away after all.


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