Thursday, May 18, 2017

Stages

This marks one year.  The doctor called Anne-Marie a year ago today and told her she had stage IV cancer.

We held on to every shred of hope for weeks waiting for the final test but the report only became more concise.  The news was stated simply by Dr. Korde:
Your cancer has metastasized.  As a result of this, you will lose your life.
If there is any true preparation for a moment like this, I am not aware of it.  If anything should have helped, I guess it would be that Anne-Marie had, in a sense, been cheating death for years.  To be a two-time cancer survivor in a family with less survivors than, well, non-survivors comes with its own type of gravity.  We've had many good times.  We've seen amazing miracles.  Yet we know what this disease can do to a person.

King Solomon was wise in saying that the increase of knowledge is the increase of sorrow.  We could see it coming and it was coming fast.

Treatments, biopsies, scans.  Treatments, biopsies, scans.  Treatments, scans, confusion, biopsy, confusion, biopsy, biopsy.  Nothing.  

After ten months of pandemonium, now Anne-Marie goes in every four weeks for an injection.  It takes two hours if you count the drive time into Portland.  She's feeling great.

May 12 was eleven years since first diagnosis.  May 10 was five years since recurrence.  Today marks one year since stage IV.  (And they don't make any more stages after that one.)

Last week, we bought a house.


This week--after 15 years as a drafter--I accepted a promotion to become a project manager.

The past eleven years has taught me well that it's just a house and it's just a job.  But, obviously, none of this should be happening.  We're supposed to be in a corner somewhere crying.

But by the grace of God, here we stand.  We're ready for the next stage.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Uncle Gene

On Good Friday, April 14, 2017, Uncle Gene Denny left this life for the next.  He wasn't really my uncle; he was Anne-Marie's great-uncle.

Uncle Gene was an old-fashioned, salt-of-the-earth, grass-roots kind of guy with a Texas drawl and a face that looked like it was chiseled out of granite.


Gene worked with his hands his whole life. In fact, he loved working so much, he lifted weights from his youth up into his eighties.  Lifting weights at the local gym was his favorite hobby.  Cousin Greg said at the funeral, "He would say, 'Don't work out to get big muscles.  Come to the gym so you can get strong and work hard.'"

In spite of his hard-earned toughness, Uncle Gene would be the first to tear up at the news of a family member's suffering or upon seeing the pain facing one of his friends.

Photo by Derrell Denny
He laughed at the goofiest things.  He prayed for the hurting.  He made time for the people who could offer nothing in return.  Even for a punk young kid from another town who happened to be interested in his niece.

On Good Friday he went to the gym to work hard one more time.  But this time the world's biggest heart gave way and he was gone.  His hard work was done.  God took him.

Find rest, Uncle Gene.  You were bigger than life.  You were tougher than death.

I can't believe you're gone.


Saturday, April 08, 2017

Disneyland post #5: surprises and survival

1.  Biggest Surprise: Frozen: Live At the Hyperion. This stage play is only an hour but very efficiently tells the entire Frozen storyline, complete with singing, dancing and special effects. All of which are done at a very high level.  I went for my daughter's sake but actually found this much more bearable than the film itself.


2.  Runner up: Storytellers CafĂ©. This restaurant was in the bottom floor of our hotel and offered a buffet that was fully stocked with fresh roasted meat, salads and bakery items late into the night. Delicious.

3.  Uber/Lyft: We didn't rent a car. If you're going to Disneyland, whether flying into LAX or SNA, and mostly staying at the park, it's a little less costly and way less hassle to use a ride share service when you need it. (Using basic math it would have cost us about $350 for a rental w/parking compared to about $200 spent on ride shares including two rides offsite to other places in Orange County. Mostly that was for a minivan or SUV that seats 6+. Plus not having to be behind the wheel in LA traffic.)

4.  Lost and found: Among the several times Disney went stratospheric with their service was on the second-to-last day when my daughter lost her shoulder bag with her character autograph book. They hadn't found it by the next morning, but said they would keep looking. They took down our info. A week later a purple shoulder bag arrived in the mail. Disney paid $4 to send it to our house.

5.  Time of year and weather: we were in Anaheim in the middle of winter. The coldest day was 65 degrees; the warmest was 85. All with a slight breeze and a trace of rain on the last day only. I guess it rained pretty bad off and on in the few weeks following Christmas, but that weather is not typical. I would say in general that any time of year is a good time to go to Disneyland as far as weather, but with the summer potentially being very hot. We set our trip up with Disney and SW Airlines' help to be able to cancel within seven days, whether due to a medical situation or another freak set of storms. The weather ended up being perfect for our original January/February dates. We're glad because the crowd was half the size of the busy season.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Disneyland post #4: characters

1.  Characters: Wondering what to do between fast passes? The Disneyland app has GPS on all the costumed characters in the parks. (If you have young children) find one and get in line. The character will take about 1 minute with each person/group, so count the people in the line. It's a good way to burn 20 minutes before the next ride. Our kids met about 30 characters (really). For posterity, here's the list: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Mary Poppins & Bert, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, a Stormtrooper, Woody, Buzz, Flik (Bug's Life), Snow White, Ariel, Cinderella, Donald, Chip 'n Dale, Cruella, Fairy Godmother, Belle,  Tiana, Rapunzel, Olaf, Daisy, Anna & Elsa, Fawn (fairy), Tinker Bell.

2.  Fine print concerning characters: If you take the time to buy an autograph book, characters at Disney will sign it with very unique signatures. Ballpoint pen is awkward for someone wearing big Mickey gloves, so think more along the lines of a Sharpie. Star Wars, Cars and Zootopia characters do not sign autographs. Characters with masks and "mascot heads" do not talk, but will respond non-verbally to anything you say. The exception is the Star Wars characters. They have masks, but still talk. Except Chewbacca who growls.

3.  One more thing about characters: Is it just weird to me? Or does waiting in line for a grown woman to stop fawning over a costumed Disney character seem a bit troubling? (This happened multiple times.)

4.  The only rude person in Disneyland: We were impressed repeatedly by the level of service we received over the phone while planning, at the hotel during off times and in the parks during the main part of the day. Everyone was very patient and pleasant. This was with one exception. Cruella de Vil was completely condescending and pompous to everybody.

5.  Most Seriously Underrepresented Franchise: The Incredibles. I saw about two Incredibles-themed items in a gift shop. That's it. Others who got ignored: Ratatouille, Aristocats, Uncle Scrooge.

video

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Disneyland post #3: the bad

1.  Missed out on: Almost nothing, but Hollywood Tower of Terror, Grizzly River Run and Enchanted Tiki Room were not options. First two were closed and the last serves all stuff I'm allergic to.

2.  Biggest Disappointment: ESPNZone. After hearing about this amazing sports place for a decade, I had to go see it for myself. It's like going to Big Al's down the street from my house but with a bunch of surly Golden State Warriors fans. Don’t get me wrong, Big Al's and ESPNZone are both cool, but not enough to waste my time and Disney money (and Disney loves charging Disney tax).

3.  Runner-up Biggest Disappointment: Hyperspace Mountain. Disney StarWarsified this ride in ridiculous ways. Please just switch off all the lights and call it good. It's better than the uneven mess of projected clips and LED lights scabbed on to this otherwise classic roller coaster.

4.  Biggest Waste of Time and Money: The Disneyland Resort Express Bus. We took this special Gray Line bus as the "official coach service from terminal to resort". The exterior was decorated for Universal Studios. It got us there, but was slower and more expensive than Uber.
 
5.  Most Overrated Experience: Early admission. "Magic Morning" or "Early Magic Hour" lets you into one of the parks an hour before the gates open. Guests at Disney Hotels and holders of special tickets are offered this special privilege. The thing is, crowd at the gate is almost as big for the early opening as it is the normal one. No Fast Pass machines are available and no characters are out yet, so pretty much after you ride that first ride (which pragmatically should be Star Tours, Space Mtn. or Radiator Springs Racers), you're stuck standing in a line for 30 minutes anyhow. So run to that high demand ride and enjoy it. It's likely all the magic you'll get out of that morning.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Disneyland post #2: 5 more things about rides (or, Why don't people use Fast Pass?)

1.  Fast Pass: Fast Pass is a genius system for making ride queues manageable. Basically you scan your park admission ticket and a machine sets an appointment for you to come back in an hour or two and cut straight to the front of the line. I have no idea why half the visitors in the park have no interest in using this system. Apparently people like standing on concrete in the blazing sun for an hour. The only catch to Fast Pass is that you can only check into one ride at a time. Disneyland's network tracks that you used the system and will deny you if you try to get two Fast Passes at a time. Bummer. Wish they could make an exception. But that brings us to…


2.  Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters: This ride is the exception. Buzz lets you check in with a Fast Pass anytime (it's apparently not hooked up to a network and just prints passes out like Monopoly money). So if you're about to go to lunch, check in at Buzz first and after lunch you can slowly walk in the express lane past 200 people that have been waiting for an hour to the front of the line. Good filler for when you got nothing else going. However, there is one other way to get on rides really quick.

3.  Being In a Wheelchair: (or in Disney terms "having visible need of assistance") Now, I am not recommending fraudulent behavior, but if you are injured or disabled you get to cut in line. The biggest qualifier for this is that you need to be "visibly" disabled (in a wheelchair, cast or boot or on crutches). Anne-Marie was too tired to walk around after three days, so the last two I pushed her in a rented wheelchair ($12/day). Most rides at Disneyland just let you right on through the exit, since 90% of the park is too old to offer ADA accessibility. Occasionally the staff at Disneyland will check you in and tell you to come back in an hour, similar to a Fast Pass. California Adventure, because it is built to be fully ADA compliant and has wider spaces in the waiting areas, will many times just make you wait in line.

4.  The Every-Ride Challenge: Our kids rode every ride at Disneyland Park and California Adventure. That's right. Every single one of them. We weren't making it a goal at first, but after 3 1/2 days, they only had about eight more to go. Then we started putting them on every carousel and kiddie ride left. With one hour left to go, our kids rode the 45th and final ride: Jungle Cruise. (Grizzly River and Hollywood Tower were closed. Mariah was too short for Screamin'.)

5.  Scariest Ride: Probably California Screamin'. It looks like an old-fashioned wooden roller coaster. It's not. Twice as fast and with one extremely tight loop. If we're going to talk about most frightening attraction? (I can't call it a ride.) It's Tough To Be a Bug. This A Bug's Life three-dimensional stage play/augmented reality whatever is terrifying. Sit in the middle at right about the 4th or 5th row. You'll see what I mean.