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Fun and games

Last week was all the medical things: MRI, appointment with liver surgeon, appointment with urology (the latter two mainly to be informed of all the things that could go wrong and sign consent forms), and then the full afternoon in Danville to be poked and prodded.

Pre-surgery physical, blood work, EKG, yadda yadda yadda. I continue to be disgustingly healthy, except for the obvious. I also got information about pre-surgery prep (much like colonoscopy prep), post-surgery care (not allowed to eat ANYTHING I LIKE for quite some time: no whole grains, no nuts, berries, vegetables, etc. I can have canned vegetables. [Blergh.] I will be living on poached eggs, white bread, and plain yogurt apparently. Fortunately that’s only for a few weeks, then I should be able to gradually start eating like myself again.

I will have a temporary ostomy, so one of the stops was to meet with an ostomy nurse, who explained the procedure (the science is so very cool!), the basics of ostomy care, let me play with the apparatus and then gave me the sample to take home. I very much like the ostomy nurse, and she agreed at the end that she was indeed going to go off and tell her colleagues about the entertaining patient who compared herself to a fistulated cow. (Biologists do not have the same sense of humor as regular people, nor do nurses.)

So that all went very well, and it was a nice day to drive to Danville (it’s a pretty drive in good weather), and we stopped for chocolate milkshakes on the way back.

And then I got home, and discovered a $67,289 bill for the radiation therapy my insurance company had approved before we started. Remember that? The fun of dealing with Federal BCBS to get my treatment declared medically necessary, and the three-week delay getting started? Apparently they changed their mind somewhere along the way and didn’t bother to tell me. And of course it was after business hours on Friday, so I gathered my paperwork and fussed all weekend.

This morning I called my contact (if you’re given a name and a direct number for an entity like this, SAVE IT). She was very nice again and explained what happened to me.

This is horrendously complicated…

There are two parts to the Federal BCBS, entirely separate entities apparently. One handles the professional claims, one handles the facilities claims. (I knew there were two addresses, but not how this worked.)

The professional side, the employer of my contact, deemed IMRT medically necessary and approved it. The facilities side did their own investigation and decided it wasn’t (just as the professional side originally did).

So the professional side is going to send all the documentation to the facilities side, which will presumably now cough up the money, or whatever small portion they can get away with paying.

My contact also tells me that the message at the bottom of my explanation of benefits is correct, and that the provider is contractually prohibited from billing me for the amount that insurance didn’t pay. Which kind of baffles me, but means I may not be liable for the $67k even though the provider billed me.

Except for slapping around insurance companies as necessary, I have the entire week free from medical anything. I feel great, and am hoping to sneak one (or two!) more kayaking trips in. I’m pretty well caught up at work, with a few exceptions, and have only a couple things to do at home, like mow the grass this weekend. Everything else can go hang.

Pretty, pretty pictures

I got my CT results this morning. They look great. I mean, I still have cancer, but the liver tumor continues to shrink, and my lungs are clear.

(insert enormous sigh of relief here)

That puts me on track for surgery on September 23, which if all goes well might turn me into someone who does not have cancer. (That and another six months of chemo, anyway.)

I’ve been trying to be a positive-leaning realist throughout this; the latest news pushes reality itself in a positive direction.

Short stories

I just finished a new story and submitted it, making three that are out now (and four that have not yet been resubmitted after rejection).

It seemed like a good time to look through the stories in progress, and do a first-lines meme a la Elizabeth Bear. It turns out I have eleven stories that have words written (not just notes or outline), and here they are (some with final titles, some with working titles):

The Antonym of Rainbow: A can-can line of blue elephants gyrated through the wormhole void.

The Dirt of Denela: Loredana Ney’s troubles ended here, up against a red-toned crater wall, with the dirt of Denela under her fingernails and poison lining her throat.

Learning to be Terrestrial: I cupped the full mug of coffee in my hands, the memory of warmth enough to keep my fingers wrapped around a cold cup.

Tapestry: The angel arrived in the afternoon.

Kitchen, Arthur, Fragile: The kitchen glowed. Sunlight streaming through the windows blended with the shine of the small fire on the hearth and both bounced off the clean whitewashed walls until the whole room shone with directionless radiance.

All the Leaves on Mars: Whisper-thin sheets of stainless steel piled to the ceiling, compulsively stacked, impeccably organized.

Alpha Says Omega: Misha laid her hand over Tom’s, formed a smile so practiced it appeared spontaneous.

The Future is Drawn in Maps of the Past: The knock echoed through the office. Jim jumped, long and painful experience pulling his hand away from the paper taped to the drafting board.

Oyster: “I’m going to find a blue one!”

Gray: The sky was gray, as smooth as if it had been airbrushed, the same shade as the dishes she slid into the matching cupboard.

Carnival Glass: I tied a bandana over my hair, glad I was alone in the house so nobody could see it.

Each step is forward

It’s over two weeks since I’ve poisoned or irradiated myself, and I feel as good as I’ve felt in 2014. It took a week and a half for the tiredness and digestive issues from the radiation to mostly fade, and as I understand it that’s pretty fast. My brain is even starting to work properly again. (Whew!)

I still haven’t much stamina, and my yoga practice reminds me daily that 28 doses of pelvic radiation does nothing good for your flexibility or muscle tone, even if you did yoga the whole time. My fingers and toes are still numb: they improved noticeably the first few days off of the Xeloda, but the rate of improvement trailed off over time. It’s still getting better, but frustratingly slowly. I wanted to do some longer walks and some jogging during my “free time,” but numb feet make that uncomfortable and even unsafe. (I’m still walking the boxer a mile or two a day, much to his delight.)

The medical appointment rounds started up again on Wednesday, with a very wet drive to Danville to meet with my colon surgeon. It was three and a half hours of driving (oh hi unexpected torrential downpour), and nearly an hour waiting around, for a fifteen-minute meeting in which I didn’t learn anything much.

The plans for my autumn are solidifying, though. My likely surgery date is September 23, much later than I’d hoped due to the insurance company screwing around, and late enough to jeopardize my World Fantasy attendance. Before then I have a follow-up with my medical oncologist, a follow-up with my radiation oncologist, an MRI, a CT scan, and the third colonoscopy of 2014 (there oughtta be a law!), plus a pre-surgery physical.

The only worrisome thing out of all that is the CT scan: if there are bad changes (tumor growth, or reappearance of the little lung spots that disappeared after chemo), I may get sent back to do more chemo before surgery, or even be declared a poor surgical candidate. So: scanxiety.

On the really good side, though, I had a CEA test this week, the first one since before the radiation.

10. That’s 1 0 – ten. TEN.

There aren’t enough exclamation points in the world for that number. Yes, the normal level is less than 3.5, but at diagnosis mine was 2200, and it spiked to nearly 4000 when I started chemo. It was 42 when I finished infusion chemo, so it’s less than 25% of my previous test. The science, it is working.

So I will continue forward under the assumption that I will have surgery, and it will remove the large tumors, and then I will probably have more chemo to mop up any lingering evil, and then I will be cancer-free and do ALL THE THINGS.


Quilla was located yesterday, up a very tall tree, but is now back where she belongs, much to everyone’s relief.

Thanks to everyone who shared the lost cat information.


Lost cat: Park Forest area, State College

Spreading the word for my friend Tamie Veith:

Lost: female cat, Quilla
1 yr old, spayed, short-haired, tabby
distinct grey stripes with crisp white paws and belly.
all shots current. not a wimp! but very friendly usually.

got out Monday Aug 11 into the Haugh Preserve Woods, near Valley Vista Rd and Carnegie.
probably either got chased by something and then confused about how to get home OR got stuck somewhere that blew shut during the storms OR someone took her in for safe keeping.

her brother is beside himself with worry.

Quilla cat

Quilla cat

Quilla cat


My trusty black Sharpie has crossed off all the days. That must mean I’m done!

treatment calendar

That would be 28 days of radiation (blue) and 34 days of poison peach pills, aka Xeloda (peach, of course). (Technically I have one more dose of Xeloda to take tonight, so I’m not really done, but close enough.)

The radiation oncology office agrees with my count, fortunately.


It wasn’t horrid: I never got the extreme fatigue or extreme diarrhea that pelvic radiation often causes. I’m tired and my digestion is sub-optimal, but neither is debilitating. Also, with the radiation I may finally have hit the no menstrual periods jackpot, rather than chemo-induced horrid ones. That would be okay, really.

The Xeloda hasn’t been so bad either. All the skin is still attached to my hands and feet, which I am terribly happy about. The main side effect for the poison peach pills has been numbness in my hands and feet. It’s a good thing it’s time to stop taking them, because the numbness has spread to the point that it’s problematic instead of just annoying. It retreats a bit on pill-free weekends, giving me hope that I have not inflicted permanent nerve damage on myself in the name of staying alive.

I haven’t been exercising as much as I’d like, obviously, since I can’t really walk to work and back when I need to be at the hospital every morning. I probably shouldn’t commit to that much walking anyway. I’ve been walking the boxer and doing yoga, pretty close to daily for both. It’s clear to me that I’ve lost both flexibility and muscle tone. I’ve done pretty well not losing more weight, even with radiation sickness (reliably from two hours post-treatment and lasting five hours, at least; often it’s completely gone by dinner time, but not always). (Cancer treatment: where losing two pounds is cause for comment by a nurse, a PA, and a doctor. “Are you sure you’re eating?” “Yes, positive.”)

What’s next? I get some time off to heal and recover. I have an appointment with my surgeon in two weeks (the 20th) to plan what’s next. The optimum window for surgery is 4-6 weeks after radiation, and I imagine there will be a CT scan and probably a colonoscopy before then. (Which makes three colonoscopies in 2014; there should be a law!)

In a couple of weeks, I shall be going on a sushi and cocktails expedition, because both of those have been forbidden to me (compromised immune system, liver-damaging drugs; neither has been very bad, but I’ve been being good). I’ll be sleeping, kayaking, reading, and trying frantically to get caught up on my work goals for 2014 before I’m out of the office for two months, while trying not to fuss about how everything is going to fall apart without me. (Not at work; work is well-organized. At home.) I’m not worried about the surgery itself, but about the two-month recovery period. Eeep.

Reading: I will be exerting great willpower to avoid diving into two things I’m saving up for post-surgery recovery reading: the complete run of Shadow Unit, and the complete run of C.E. Murphy’s Walker Papers series. I’ve read large chunks of both, but both series are now complete, and I highly recommend them.

Snowmen in August

The Clarion West Write-a-thon ended Friday. I haven’t totalled up the words yet, but am pretty sure I fell a bit short of my 5,000 word goal. I missed a couple days of writing, too, for Confluence, and another day lost to exhaustion.

Tamie not just agreed to having her story posted, she insisted that I post it.

So here you go, a quick lunchtime flash. The prompt words were: chard, middle, snowman, hairball, frizzle-inator.

Winter Wonderland
by Sarah Goslee

Parsley curls were not good snowman hair: the poor guy looked like he’d been hit by a frizzle-inator. She wanted her winter lawn art to
look edgy but attractive, not like a hairball left by a giant vegetarian cat. The snowman anchored the middle of the display,
flanked by a snow platypus and a snow pangolin with sculpted scales. If she could get the hair right, her punk snowman and companions would
be the hit of the winter festival. Her neighbor Sam was sure his snow velociraptor was going to win, but dinosaurs were so 2013. Mel looked
around to make sure the tarps were still shielding the yard from view; she didn’t want Sam to see the parsley disaster. She’d never live it

Mel dashed for the kitchen, returning with a handful of chard. Rainbow mohawk, and best of all, she wouldn’t have to eat the stuff.


The Clarion West Write-a-thon ends Friday, and I am NOWHERE NEAR my 5,000 word goal.

Or am I?

I have 2,694 words of outline and prose so far, just over half of the 5,000 word target.

But I also have 2,351 words of character notes, 7,766 words on place notes, and 41,485 words of other research notes. Ahem.

I really can’t count those unless I go through and sort out my words from those copied from other sources, since the research notes chunk especially is both my notes and things I wanted to save verbatim for later.

I also have a mind map, though I have no idea how to translate that into equivalent words.

I’ve done better on the “writing every day” plan, though a few days were more research than outlining. I also took a break this weekend while at Confluence: I have not enough brain and energy to do the con and write both.

So pretty good on that front, but I have a lot of words to write by Friday!

To distract you from my lack of progress, here’s the first 150-word sponsor story. All of you lovely people who sponsored me, you need to give me your ideas! Otherwise I get to pick, and, well. Heh. This sponsor chose weaving, perfume, and alchemy, and this is what resulted.

Peace Surpassing
by Sarah Goslee

Strands wound together in a riotous tapestry, under and over, with areas of around and through where soumak mixed with plain weave. The warp of plain white linen was nothing special. The weft, though, was an alchemical marvel, beauty and science blended. This portrait of the city skyline would be the focal point of a new museum exhibit of science-inspired art. Each distinct color of yarn carried not only visual impact, but an olfactory message as well. The weaver meant her tapestry to be touched: a gentle stroke of fingers across cloth would release a carefully-tuned symphony of scent evoking the strengths of the city and its myriad cultures: its food, its gardens, all supported by undertones of concrete and steel. Lurking beneath the perceptible, embedded pheromones would permanently rewire the brains of all who toured the gallery, encouraging them to tend their home and make it

Oh. My.

The table of contents for the Genius Loci anthology, edited by Jaym Gates, just went live.

I’ve known since about 3am (yes, I check my email in the middle of the night if the velocikittenraptors happen to wake me up) that I have a story in the anthology.

What I didn’t know was the whole table of contents. That’s quite a list, yes it is. Quite. A. List.


*is ded*

*reanimates as a zombie with a bad case of impostor syndrome*

I’m utterly thrilled, of course, to be part of this ToC and to be working with Jaym again.