An artifact, a relic from the past…

I was a naughty boy the day I acquired this.  How that came about in a moment.

We lived at 6655 Melba Ave, Canoga Park, CA from September 1957 to October 1974.  I left home to go in the Navy in June 1969, then moved back home in 1974 just as my parents made the move to Grover Beach.

For those who lived nearby, you may remember Melba as a short, quiet little side street between Welby Way and Haynes on the north and south, Berquist and Bobbyboyar on the east and west.  Our little housing tract was located just west of where Fallbrook Square would be built in the early 60’s.  But from 1957 to 1960 or so, Melba was the last street in our tract until more houses were built starting with Berquist, Brennan, Callicott, and Lederer to the west.  By the early 1960’s, there were many more houses.  The big shopping center on Platt was built…and it continued for many years that way.

I went to Welby Way Elementary in the 6th grade.  Before that, elementary schools included Enadia Way and Hamlin as they kept moving us around until Welby Way was built.  Junior high for me was Hale, newly constructed around 1961.

In our neighborhood, I know that Gail Paolucci lived on Bobbyboyar.  Jim Hess a little farther east, maybe on Dannyboyar or Sedan.  A well known actor at the time, Claude Aikens lived in our neighborhood early on, on the corner of Welby Way and Royer, right near the edge of what was to become Fallbrook Square.  There may have been other celebrities, none come to mind right now.

Of course it was a great time for me, I was truly a “kid”.  Among others things, we Melba Kids played baseball on the street with a wooden bat and a rubber ball.  I played with Chris and Art down the street.  We’d take turns smacking that blue rubber ball halfway down the street where the others waited to catch it, jumping out of the way of cars when they intruded upon our asphalt “ball field”.  Steve Hanna (S’68) and his sister Paulette (S’67) lived two doors down.  A girl named Stephanie Sanserino lived a few houses away, but I think her family moved long before high school.  Bonnie Weiser’s house was at the end of Melba on Welby Way.  I remember hanging out with Glen Egelko at his house on Woodlake. Dennis Dyjor, Patty Robinson, and Freddie Cavin all lived across the street from us, Mike Dudgeon next door.

On the other side of Vanowen, Gary Groch, my best friend in the 6th grade lived on Schoolcraft, right on the edge of the “wash” where we would play “army” with Mont Teague who lived right down the street from Gary.  Mont’s brother Bruce was one of several students (W’67) who didn’t come back from Vietnam and is listed on the memorial in the quad area.

Living not in the same neighborhood but someone who became my best friend in 1966 (and still is to this day) was Robert Kauffman.  His house was at the corner of Shoup and Friar, just off Victory Boulevard.  Funny, for the first few years we lived there, Victory Boulevard actually ended at Shoup where there was nothing but fields for what seemed like the longest time.

Sure, we had our bicycles and we went on riding adventures out of the neighborhood from time to time (some parent-approved, some not).  But for the most part at that age, we played near own houses and had friends near our houses.  It was all we needed. Fourth of July parties, summer pool parties, Halloween trick or treating, Christmas caroling – we did all of that right there on Melba Ave and the streets surrounding it.  I loved our neighborhood, it was a great place in which to be raised back in the 50’s and 60’s.

Now, back to the street sign.  I think I was about 15 years old.  One day I noticed the Melba Ave street sign (on the corner with Haynes) was hanging halfway off the post.  It looked as though someone had tried to removed it, then got scared or caught and left it there.  Mind you, I was always a good kid – always!  I never got into trouble, or at least I was good at avoiding it.  I managed to twist it the rest of the way off and I was gone.  I don’t recall any reaction one way or the other from my parents, perhaps I was mildly punished or grounded, I don’t remember.  But here is that street sign today, still in my backyard.  After many years in storage when I was in the service, I’ve hauled it around with me since. It has resided in various garages, backyards, and patios since 1965.  Those things are made to withstand the elements, so it has held up nicely over the years.  I really should extract it from the bushes, clean it up a bit, and do what I’ve been meaning to do for many years – hang it in my office as sort of shrine to my childhood on Melba…6655 Melba Ave, Canoga Park, CA.  A artifact, a relic from my past when everything was certainly simpler, less cumbersome and complicated.

Geeze, I hope there is a statute of limitations on juvenile vandalism!

Get Over It

I learned a new word today.  I found it in someone’s blog.  The word is crestfallen, an adjective.

I don’t particularly consider myself some sort of “wordsmith” by any means.  In fact, I had to Google crestfallen to get some idea what the blogger was talking about.  He was referring to a person’s demeanor after being told the restaurant in which he was dining had run out of Prime Rib…“We’re All Out!”

I got a kick out of this blog post, a mild rant by a restaurant employee towards customers who just need to “get over it” when their favorite item as been “86’d”.  Needless to say, after spending 18 years in restaurant management I commiserated with this blogger.

No, crestfallen has nothing to do with food or the restaurant business by definition.  But it does suggest a reference to that quote by author William Gibson, “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounding yourself with assholes”.  In other words, if you feel yourself becoming more and more crestfallen more often, perhaps this Gibson quote would lend itself to your situation.

I don’t consider myself a crestfallen person.  I may be a lot of things (grumpy, intolerant at times, less reverent than I’d like to be, a bit morose sometimes), but I am not blue, brokenhearted, cast down, sad, dejected, despondent, woebegone, woeful, or wretched…all, synonyms for crestfallen.  I just found this to be an interesting sounding word that I would never use in a sentence!  Have you even heard it used in day to day speech or even in a written context?  I think the word would look great on the cover of some pulp fiction novel – The Mystery of Crestfallen Manor…a story of decades of family depression.

So, maybe it’s time to re-word that Gibson quote, especially for the more gentile audience.  “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounding yourself with crestfallenites – recommend a therapist and Unfriend (or, at the very least, Unsubscribe) them on Facebook!”

I Get (Got?) Around

So there’s this Beach Boys song from 1964 called I Get Around.  Not to be confused with the 1994 I Get Around from Tupac, same title, different approach.

Now, the Beach Boys rendition of I Get Around went something like this, “I get around…from town to town…I’m a real cool head…I’m making real  good bread”…(etc, etc).  It goes on to state “my buddies and me are getting real well known, the bad guys know us and they leave us alone”.  So, it was “hip” to get around back then, if, and only if, you were a guy.  Imagine if a girl group, say, like The Supremes sang a a girl version of I Get Around back in 1964?   Banned in Boston?  Speaking of banned in Boston, did you know that The Association’s first hit, Along Comes Mary was banned in Boston – apparently because of the reference to Mary, a colloquialism for marijuana? Go figure, times have changed.

You see, I didn’t get around back in 1964 nor do I get around much today.  That was left up to the super cool, surfer dudes I suppose, of which, I was not one.  However, had I did get around, how would I refer to it today?  Would I say, “I Got Around”?  Or would I say, “I Did Get Around”?  Or simple state, “I’ve Been Around”? I actuality, I did get around a bit in my younger years, but not in high school – it was a few years later.  After all, I was in the Navy for four years!  You see, by 1969 “I was gettin’ bugged driving up and down the same old strip”…and so on.

Some of you may be saying right now, I did not get around much either, but, I Wish I had Gotten Around More, I Would Have Had a Much Better Time in High School.  How’s that for a Weird Al song title?  Or , perhaps, the other end of the spectrum, I Really Wish I Hadn’t Got Around So Much, I Could Have Avoided Many Years of Child Support.

No, my years in high school didn’t really exemplify that Beach Boys iconic 60’s tune.  I Get Around was a great song, but it wasn’t my anthem.  I think my song was more along the lines of In My Room, which is where I spent the majority of my time from 1964 to 1967 when I wasn’t actually at school…listening to Beach Boy songs on my record player.

Colon Cancer – A Year Long Journey For Me

I just had my one-year follow up colonoscopy.  Before laying down some thoughts regarding how I am doing one year later…here’s a synopsis of the past year or so.

It was last August 2011 when I was diagnosed with Stage IIIB colon cancer.  The cancer journey actually began months before that with abdominal pains, January of 2011 to be exact.

The level of the pains ranged from constant simple soreness, to moderate, to severe – originating from the right side of my abdomen just below the ribs.  I did incur some heavy bleeding on one occasion but attributed it to my hemorrhoids,  not making a doctor’s appointment until later when the pains got worse and more frequent.  The tests began.

Due to the location of the pains, the G.I. department doc began looking toward the gall bladder and the most obvious (and simplest) cause.  I had a sonogram that revealed gall stones and what they refer to as “sludge”.  Then a HIDA scan (radioactive material is injected then the gall gladder is scanned) confirming the stones and sludge.  I had an abdominal CT soon after that did not reveal any tumors in my abdomen (kidney, liver, etc).  An endoscopy showed nothing abnormal in my stomach, which, strangely enough, was somewhat disappointing as the next step was the colonoscopy.  I kind of hoped it was an ulcer causing the pain and not what I was about to discover.

The colonoscopy was performed near the end of July.  The procedure itself wasn’t nearly as intrusive as I had anticipated due in part to the conscious sedation narcotics they use today.  One minute I was laying in the procedure room, the next minute I was in the recovery cubicle with the doctor, a nurse, and Loretta standing by my side.  As soon as I appeared somewhat lucid the doctor said this, “Mr. Hansen, we discovered and removed a few polyps and sent them to the lab.  I also found a tumor in your ascending colon and it is probably colon cancer.  I took a biopsy of it, marked it for the surgeon, and sent the sample to the lab.  We should get results in a week or so.  Do you have any questions ?”  The doctor kind of “buried the lead” (an old journalism term) – “…it’s probably colon cancer”.  I can’t really recall exactly what my immediate reaction was at the time.  The doctor sidled off down the hall and left me with the nurse and Loretta.  The nurse answered some of my questions the best he could, ie, what normally happens next.

Basically I was told there would be a referral requested to a surgeon and appointment made to see him.  During that meeting with the surgeon he explained what he planned to do in the most brief manner possible, “We’ll remove the part of the colon with the tumor.  And, we can take out the gall bladder at the same time.  I’ll use the cameras.  Any questions?”  “Yes…chemotherapy?”  “Probably.  You’ll be referred to an oncologist for that”.  It must and will be done!  The surgery was scheduled for August 26th and I went back to work to wait for the call from the colonoscopy doc and the lab.  That call came about 11:30 am about a week later.

“Mr. Hansen, there really is no good way to put this, but…you have colon cancer.  I’m sorry.  However, your surgery is scheduled with Dr. Vaquerano who is a very good surgeon.”  Again, I don’t remember how the rest of this conversation went, it was the first time I felt like crying…and I did briefly…then went home early for the day.

Returning to work the next day and going about my normal business for the next three weeks was a bit surreal.  I had cancer, now what?  What do I say to people when they say, “Hey, Skip, how’s it going?” I settled on this response, “Not bad.  Surgery is scheduled for August 26th”.  Reactions varied – some inquired further, others just turned and ran away!

I still didn’t have a firm grasp on what was going on inside of me.  I knew there was a tumor.  I knew it was in my colon.  Was it growing? How serious was this?  That last question would not be answered until a couple weeks after the surgery.

Fast forward to August 26th.  The surgery goes as planned.  My ascending colon is removed as well as my gall bladder through a 3 inch incision just above my belly button.  There are 5 other pencil-sized scars from the cameras and instruments, one just above and below the belly button and three on the right side of my abdomen (one from the small chest tube).  Three days in the hospital then I’m home waiting for the call from the pathologist and for chemotherapy to begin.  Bottom line to this point:  the pains were gone.

First, the call from the surgeon with the pathologist report, “You have Stage IIIB colon cancer.  That means it went into at least one to three lymph nodes.  We found cancer in one of them. Any questions?” This surgeon was a likeable guy but without much in the way of people skills.  What’s new, huh?  I found out months later from my oncologist that the surgeon removed 21 lymph nodes, normal procedure is to remove only 12.  She explained that my surgeon is very thorough and that was a good thing.  Finding cancer in 1 of 21 lymph nodes was relatively good news.  Now, the chemo would begin, mainly as an insurance policy.  Even though there was no indication that the cancer had gone anywhere else other than that one node, protocol suggests chemotherapy.  And my treatment was called FOLFOX.

Next, I received a chest infusion port implant just above my right breast.  This is a handy little disc under the skin, a quarter-sized access to a tube fed into then down through the juggler vein and directly into the right auricle.  I still have it today and will keep it for a while…just in case.

In September I began going in for 2-hour infusions every two weeks for six months.  I would also be sent home each time with a baby-bottle size quantity of leuocovorin that infused through my port over two days.  Then I’d go back to have that removed.  And this is usually when the “fun” began.  For my experience, it was the better part of a week that I felt really funky!  Know this:  my chemotherapy was by far no where near as severe and intrusive as other regimens, but I hope I never have to go through it again.  I did not lose my hair and, other than a time or two at the beginning, did not vomit.  Diarrhea?  That’s another story.  Let’s put it this way…it lasted 6 months!  Generally speaking I was weak, tired all the time, and felt like crawling out of my own skin.  There really is no there other way to put it.  And, yes, my taste buds and appetite went south for the winter.  I literally could only taste sweet and sour and developed an almost obsessive craving for citrus flavored food.  Gotta love those oranges!

The first couple of months were the worst.  Then, my oncologist (God love her) started reducing the amount of one of the chemicals as my platelet count was getting too low.  This cutting back seemed to reduce the nasty side effects a bit and things were smoother the last three months than the first three.

As far as my weight was concerned, I did have room to work!  Even though I had lost about 25 pounds by design in the months leading up to finding out I had cancer, I managed to drop another 20 or so during chemotherapy.  Since then I’ve gained back about 15 pounds.  The appetite has returned with a vengeance!  My friends and relatives tell me I look thin, but I still feel fat and would like to remove that 15 pounds I gained back.

So here I am one year later, and the day after my follow up colonoscopy.

I must say that I had some anxiety about going in for this procedure.  Anxiety not for the procedure itself, but for what they might find.  Considering all I’ve been through the past year, I was a bit scared they would find another tumor or something else.  Loretta has been the best at playing the “Glad Game”, “Stop worrying.  They aren’t going to find anything!”  And, she was right.  They found nothing unusual.  No polyps, no tumors, nothing.  I’ve been one lucky fellow.  I also had a CT scan a few weeks ago and it too was clear of any tumors.  My CEA level: less than 1.

I know people close to us who are going through similar challenges with much less encouraging results so far.  The most we can do is provide positive reinforcement, support, and a smidgeon of commiseration.  I hope that helps them.  I know all the support, well wishing, and prayers I’ve received this past year have been priceless.  It helped me get through a rough, bizarre year.  All in all, I feel great. And, more importantly, I feel grateful.

A brief note of thanks to my two nurses at Kaiser during the colonoscopy who’s senses of humor and gregariousness was much appreciated.  One of them was also a fan of Gary Moore music (as I am) and per my request played him on the iPod as I drifted off to lah-lah land.

If you feel so inclined, I encourage you to visit my friend Laurel’s Caring Bridge page as she is going through some challenging times right now with her colon cancer treatment.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk – A Not So Short Two Hour Drive

The other day, a Tuesday, we finally made the drive over to the coast and Santa Cruz.  Our Google map and driving instructions indicated that Santa Cruz was 118 miles from Modesto, about a 2-hour drive.

Allow me to back up just a bit and say something about the city in which we reside at this moment in time.  We have lived here since 1998, coming up on 14 years as a matter of fact – a long 14 years!  For those reading this not familiar with Modesto or the San Joaquin Valley in general, you should know a couple of things.  First, there is nothing in Modesto for which to drive to.  In other words, unless you are visiting Aunt Sadie and Uncle Billy Bob, Modesto would not be on your bucket list of places to visit before you die.  Unless, of course, you are a complete and total Star Wars geek and wish to tread the same hallowed ground on which George Lucas was raised and went to school.  Modesto Junior College (one of George’s alma maters) is here, and apparently there is some sort of statue of George, homage if you will, in the student union.  And, of course, after all, Modesto was the model for his 1973 break out flick American Graffiti.  However, let it be known that not one foot of film was shot in Modesto..not an inch of celluloid was exposed in Modesto for American Graffiti.  It was all filmed in Marin County north of San Francisco, Petaluma for the most part.  So even though some of the actual location names were used in film, ie, “9th street”, “Paradise Road” (where the finale race took place), even Turlock is mentioned…nothing was filmed here.  End of the George Lucas Modesto legacy part of this blog.

Hence, one must venture OUT of Modesto to find something fun to do or nice place to visit.  We are in fact about 100 miles from anything interesting.  San Francisco is 90 miles west.  Monterey and Santa Cruz are about 120 miles southwest. Sacramento is 80 miles north.  Tahoe is 150 miles northeast.  Yosemite is 100 miles southeast. There’s nothing of note to the south except for Fresno, and that is, well…it’s just another city in the San Joaquin Valley.  Don’t make me blather about Fresno, we lived there for a year before we moved to Modesto, partly to get away from Fresno!  There is some saying about shooting yourself in the foot here somewhere.

One of the most popular getaway places for San Joaquin Valleyites is Santa Cruz.  It’s just a couple of hours over the hills and through the woods…and you’re there.  Not!  Here’s the conundrum:  one must traverse through the complexities of bay area traffic in order to get to, not only the bay area proper, but also Santa Cruz.  And herein lies my “Good, Bad, and the Ugly” about our little trip to the ocean the other day.

Let’s get the ugly out of the way first and foremost, since the majority of our visit to Santa Cruz was more than pleasant.  The Ugly: the traffic getting there.  Normally I would insert a photograph illustrating the heinous traffic conditions, but, alas, neither one of us thought of snapping pictures at that time.  Map directions from Modesto to Santa Cruz take you through Tracy, Livermore, then south through places like Milpitas and San Jose – 118 miles and two hours of driving on congested, constantly under construction freeways.  Actual driving time for us:  three hours.  We left Modesto about 7:30 and still managed to get caught up in various backups along the way.  Once through San Jose we hit Los Gatos and Highway 17 (a windy, 16-mile, 2-lane road through pine forests) up and over the mountains to the coast.  Our journey into Santa Cruz on 17 was clean and fast in our little Mini Cooper S.  In fact, Highway 17 was quite a fun drive! The traffic going the other way however (into the bay area) was backed up and crawling at a snail’s pace.  We got to Santa Cruz about 10:15 just after The Boardwalk opened.

Our trip home was not quite as bad, but confirmed the quandary of living in Modesto and trying to get out of Modesto if even for day.  We drove back the southerly route through Watsonville and Los Banos, about 20 miles further than the bay area route.  We figured afternoon traffic in the bay area…?  ‘Nuff said.  So although we didn’t incur the misery of long, slow moving backups driving back, the traffic was still hideous..mostly from very large trucks.  We never had to come to a complete stop, but let’s just say it was another annoying drive, mostly on a 2-lane country road through major agriculture.  We kept looking at each other and saying, “You can’t get there from where we live.  We’re trapped in Modesto like rats.  No matter which route you take, a trip to the coast is gonna be like this!”

A few years ago when we were still doing a lot of Harley riding, we both wore a T-shirt that stated, “It’s not the destination…it’s the journey”.  We don’t ride any longer and that saying, at least for us, has flip flopped.  “It’s IS the destination, ’cause the journey is screwed up!”  Funny.  Again, how things change as one gets older.

On to Santa Cruz.  Now the Bad:  the food on the boardwalk.  To be fair (pardon the pun), it’s all fair food!  From Deep Fried Twinkies to Corn Dogs to Chili Cheese Garlic Fries…you name the fair food, it’s there.  And the worst part of the Bad is that it is all very expensive.  For instance, we paid about $7.50 for a Philly Cheese Steak that unlike the photo on the menu board, it was in reality the size of a hot dog bun.  “Yea, let’s get one of those.  We can split it”.  Envisioning a real Philly Cheese Steak as seen on the Food Network, needless to say we were a bit disappointed to discover that it was in fact a miniature version…perhaps one half actual size.  The 24 ounce can of Bud Light (again $7.50) helped us to swallow the 3-bite half sandwich in front of us. Oh, one more “bad” thing.  They don’t charge to get into the Boardwalk but parking is $12 for a car, $25 for an RV for the day.  Really, when you think about it, that’s about half of what they charge at the Embarcadero in S.F.

The Good:  the Boardwalk is a well built, colorful, clean, amusement park on the sand that doesn’t charge an admission to get it.  There are lots of rides for adults, kids, and thrill seekers alike.  Ride tickets are sold separately including all day and season passes that really reduce the cost if you are into that sort of thing.  Individual tickets are a buck each and the big rides take 4 or 5 tickets to ride.  Again, not cheap.  But, we pledged not to partake in any rides, as they just don’t hold the same fascination for us as they once did.  Loretta’s eat a linguica on stick then ride the zipper episode a few years ago at the fair kind of ended it for her!

I realize that most Santa Cruz residents will say that the Boardwalk isn’t really Santa Cruz.  The hoity-toity purists don’t usually sanction those touristy things in their town anyway.  Like Pike Place in Seattle or Pier 39 in San Francisco…The Boardwalk is what it is:  a fun place to visit and a good place to start in Santa Cruz.

The wharf is our next destination when we visit Santa Cruz.  It’s just up the beach a short way.  Evidently you can park on it (metered, of course) and there are some nice shops and restaurants.  Next time!

We were there a little over 3 hours.  The weather was incredible, a little cool at 10 am, but sunny and warm (70 degrees) as the morning rolled on.  We got there just after the park opened, about 10:15.  The shops (there are many), the food vendors, and the rides don’t open until 11 am.  We had plenty of time early on without the crowds to walk around and just check things out.  Will we go to the Boardwalk again?  Sure.  During the summer, there are free concerts on a large stage on the sand.  This summer:  Berlin, Blue Oyster Cult, Great White, the Fixx, and Eddie Money to name a few.

Like I said, the Boardwalk is very clean and well maintained.  There is a lot to do and see, especially for kids as they have quite an extensive children’s ride section. We were there on a Tuesday, early.  It was getting quite busy as we left about 2 pm.  I would guess weekends in the summer are really busy.  Our next trip will be in the Fall when the crowds subside.  The weather will still be nice and we will have room to move.

Whether or not the things on the boardwalk hold any attraction to you, there is always the beach, right there.  Pristine sand, well cared for.  It’s beautiful.  A bit of advice for the beach uninitiated:  use sunscreen…even if the air temperature is 65, you will get burned in a short amount of time.

It was short and sweet.  We had a blast at the Boardwalk.  Note to self:  bring more cash and check out all the food booths before committing to buy something like The Curly Deep Fried Potato on a Stick thingy!  They always look much better than they taste!

(More photos from our time at the Boardwalk here)