When Hell Freezes Over

Abi and I just got back from a trip to southern California (that post is in the works), and it’s in the 80s and sunny today in San Antonio (sorry to brag), BUT it’s still February = many of you reading this are chilling. Literally. I haven’t written in forever, so I thought I’d use a wintery, icy theme to catch up on everything big that’s happened the past few months.

So, the question is: WHAT DOES ONE DO IN SAN ANTONIO WHEN IT’S COLD?

Let me tell you.

1. Escape to Austin with your roommate from college and warm up with spicy fried pickles and beer at Banger’s on Rainey Street.

You’re right, that doesn’t answer the “what to do in San Antonio” question, but I’m getting there.

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Skeptical.

Skeptical.

2. Grab your co-worker, go out on Sixth Street, and continue the weird pickle theme by making your East Coast roomie try pickle juice shots for the first time ever.

Fairy lights make you forget it's windy and freezing. For a second.

Fairy lights make you forget it’s windy and freezing. For a second.

My minions

My minions

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I told you they were real!

3. On your way back from Austin the next day, grab some wood-fired coffee and breakfast tacos from Summermoon, then get a hat and a hug at Buc-ee’s.

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4. Attempt to sightsee in downtown San Antonio.

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Alamo drive-by

Alamo drive-by

5. Give up, and ummmm… drink some more!

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SoHo and Barriba Cantina are both highly recommended. By me. Take that for what it’s worth.

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6. Buy some touristy drug rugs on the Riverwalk, and hang out like it’s a Sunday before classes start again.

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7. Exchange a friend for a mommy, and do pretty much the same thing all over!

San Antonio, your margaritas are definitely a redeeming quality. My mom agrees.

San Antonio, your margaritas are definitely a redeeming quality. My mom agrees.

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This time, step it up a notch, and get spiked coffee at Halcyon, which is my true love.

Get some boots to keep them jeans out of the slush!

Get some boots to keep them jeans out of the slush!

8. Do that whole celebrating Christmas thing. That’ll make you all warm and fuzzy.

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The Gristmill in Gruene, TX is extra adorable for the holidays!

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9. Throw New Year’s in there, too, while you’re at it.

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10. Finally, volunteer locally to get the feel-goods flowing and help out some people in need.

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Part of Hershey’s Austin district helped out at Morgan’s Wonderland!

As you can see, the list gets a little more wholesome towards the end, but let’s be real, there’s a reason why chilly Russians are stereotyped as big drinkers. San Antonio doesn’t usually have an excuse, but yesterday was National Margarita Day, at least! Stay warm, y’all!

– Alexa

MVM: Say Something

This song really has nothing to do with anything in particular, but it’s been stuck in my head for days and I also kind of love it. And I may have grown up during her Genie in a Bottle years, but this song always reminds me how truly talented Christina Aguilera is. That’s right, I’m Team Xtina, baby!

– Maddy

Update: So it turns out that my whole creeper eye thing (actually called 6th nerve palsy) will likely need surgical correction. Awesome. I can only hope that I’m able to get in with the strabismus team (surgery team) with enough time to schedule surgery and heal before Pitt in August – fingers crossed!
I also learned that I may never be able to wean off steroids… I have a 3 month plan to titrate (periodically lower) my dosage, but that may not work. Oh well, what’s 1 pill that I still have to take? I’m getting rid of many, so I could deal with 1 sticking around.

Inspired

Disclaimer: This post is slightly lengthy and only moderately content-filled until the end. If you’re short on time, I’d suggest reading the latter part.

It’s amazing how many blog posts I write; in my head, at 5:00 am, that is. Clearly, most of them never see the light of day. This one did. So, I realized that I wrote about my whole cancer saga, but it was a completely picture-less post. And honestly, what’s a post without pictures? Well, what kind of picture could I have included? Why, a before and after shot! And please note, this should be considered a great honor as the after picture is one of very few (eg. can count on one hand) pictures I’ve allowed to be taken of me since the pre-cancer days.

Before

Before


After

After

Obviously some things have changed, but it’s still me. I’ll definitely try to keep the weight off, but my hair could start coming back a little faster… any day now, any day. The creeper, lazy eye-like situation that I have going on is almost certainly temporary; but while it’s still around I get to enjoy double vision and scaring small children; okay, the second part of that I actually do sometimes enjoy. Also, note the necklace in the after picture – I wear it almost anywhere I go as it’s made with my sister’s ashes. This may seem creepy to some – and rightfully so – but it really does help me feel closer to her. To each his own, I suppose.

In the after picture I’m clearly smiling, but that’s mostly just because that’s what people tend to do; and because I wanted to show that I still have all my teeth. Yeah, apparently you can lose those from cancer too. I got a small chip from the breathing tube in my first surgery, but that I can handle.

Anyway, another reason I’m smiling is because I couldn’t think of an expression that properly conveyed sheer and utter boredom. I know that almost the entire country is dealing with lots of below-average temperatures, but let me remind you that I’m in WI. When I went to bed last night the “real feel” was -18, which is pretty representative of how it’s been. The issue is, since it’s so cold, I am even less motivated than normal to leave the house; but then there’s not much to do in the house. Enter: hibernation. Why leave the house or even go downstairs when I have a comfy queen bed with flannel sheets, fleece blankets, and a down comforter with flannel cover? I can’t think of many reasons. But then I get bored. Obviously. I am, after all, writing a post that talks about the weather, for goodness sake.

Besides the cold, I also get bored because there’s not much that I can do at the moment. I went shopping the other day, and just a few hours of standing and walking had me just about falling asleep at the dinner table. Good thing I’ve mastered the art of online shopping! I had tried rock climbing maybe 2 months ago, but found I was so much weaker than when I was rock climbing before that I just got discouraged. I did make it to the top of a wall, at least.

Like I said, the top of a wall...

Like I said, the top of a wall…

What I can do, and have been doing, to pass time is read or watch TV and movies. Consequently, though I may be back, future posts from me will probably be few and far between, since I think the only thing I could write might be a movie review or the like, and there are already plenty of those sites.

Now, there was actually something slightly more interesting (I hope) that inspired me to write this post. I was watching a TV show (shocker), and the people were at a coffee shop for a spoken word open mic night. I’m not sure if all of you are familiar with this type of thing, but my high school used to have some amazing slam poets (spoken word can also be called slam poetry) that we’d occasionally see perform during fine arts week, or the like. It’s definitely something to look up because, if done well, it’s “amazeballs” (to quote one of the judges on The Voice). So before my 5:00 am mental blogging began, I was having a 4:30 am mental poetry slam. Now try not to judge too harshly (or harshly at all, really), as I’m not even good at normal poetry, but I thought I’d share something I came up with. Just try reading it with a little rhythm for the slam poetry effect.

C-A-N-C-E-R. Cancer.
That six letter word we’re all familiar with. Right?
Maybe not.
Breast cancer, lung cancer, okay.
But have you heard of Medulloblastoma?
I’m one of the lucky ones, they say.
It’s a treatable cancer – I’ll survive.
But will I?
I lose my hair.
I lose some weight.
With over 20 pills a day,
I’m just glad insurance has to pay.
At first, I’m fine.
But it’s a thin line.
The longer it goes,
the harder it gets.
I start to think:
Can I do this? Really?
And the answer is
That it doesn’t matter if I can
I have to do this.
We lost my sister
To a disease that’s arguably worse than cancer;
It just doesn’t get the same attention.
But she’s gone, and I’m here,
So I have to fight, push past the fear.
But I’ll tell you dear,
I make no promises.
Finally, the light is here –
The end is near.
I survived.
And so can you.

Let me just say that all 3 versions I came up with during my mental open mic night were better, but they were gone long before I even found a pen. Anyway, it’s a start; not that I’d ever actually get up and perform somewhere, but maybe this is the beginning of a budding poetry hobby. Maybe.
Still, just remembering some of the slam poets from my high school gives me goose bumps because they were so good and so powerful. In case you don’t feel like searching YouTube yourself, I’ve posted a sample below so you can see how it’s really done. Watch it. Now. Do it. The video is a guy performing at my old high school, but the ones I remember were even better. I was disappointed with the videos I could find online, so if you really want to experience some spoken word, keep a lookout for any poetry slams in your area – whether you agree with the performers’ messages or not, you won’t regret going – promise!

Note: This was only working on my phone (and not my computer) for some reason, so if you have issues too, it’s a YouTube video called “gustavo manuel meneses spoken word fine arts week”

– Maddy

She’s Alive!

I am officially done with all my cancer treatments – in other words, I’m a survivor – cue Destiny’s Child song. Hopefully now that I’m done with treatment, I’ll be doing some more blog-worthy things, or doing anything at all, really… Still, I make no promises; I may have finished treatment, but I still get to enjoy more tests and therapy and periodic scans, and, of course, tapering off all my medications (likely accompanied by puking – oh joy). Anyways, as a general recap, I figured I would do a sort of calendar/hero bead summary to document the last year and a half or so.

Now, hero beads are something the hospital does so that kids can have some way to record everything they go through for treatment… got an x-ray? That’s one bone-shaped bead for you. Another x-ray? Another bone-shaped bead. So, I’ll start with my overall illness calendar.

August 7th, 2012 – Diagnosed with a brain tumor and admitted to Meriter Hospital

August 10th, 2012 – Surgery 1 to remove the tumor; lasts 18 hours; out for 4 days

August 23rd, 2012 – Surgery 2 to implant a VP shunt (to help drain CSF and control pressure)

September 4th, 2012 – Moved to room on 3North: in-patient therapy

September 9th, 2012 – Grandma dies

Results on tumor back – Diagnosed with medulloblastoma

September 20th, 2012 – Moved to UW Children’s Hospital to start radiation and chemo

September 21st, 2012 – Surgery 3 to implant an infusaport; notified of sister’s death

November, 2012 – Surgery to implant gastric tube

September–November 2012 – 6 weeks of 5x/week radiation (2 weeks of head, neck, and spine; 3 weeks of head and neck); weekly chemotherapy

November 2012 – November 2013 – Periodic chemotherapy, based off a generally accepted ‘roadmap’ of drugs and timing

Chemotherapy drugs included Cisplatin, Vincristine,  and Cyclophosphamide

Periodic MRIs, nuclear medicine scans (to test kidney function), and audiograms

Late October 2013 – Kidney stones

November – December 2013 – Shingles on left eye and head

            Vision permanently affected by shingles – hello glasses

Hero beads:

Red metallic ball – blood draw – 120+

Orange-yellow-red striped sphere – biopsy complete – 1

Gold balloons – birthday on treatment – 1

Maroon striped circle – blood culture – 5

Red heart – blood transfusion – 20+

Courage charm – central line surgically in – 1

Green wooden – course of chemo – 19

Cat – CT scan – 2

Decorated wood – day treatment – 18

Gold cancer ribbon – diagnosis – 1

Purple wooden ball – echocardiogram – 1

Girl dangle charm – end of treatment – 1

Smiling wood disc with bandana – hair loss – 1

Teddy bear- inpatient admission – 9  

Orange-striped triangle – IV infusion – 5

Sun – MRI – 8

Gold ball – nuclear med scan – 6

Green butterfly – new oral med – 22

Blue with flower – OT/PT – 14

Green with white stripes – platelet transfusion – 20+

Circle with blue anchor – port access/IV placement – 36

Porcelain circle with sun – radiation – 30

Ceramic moon – sedation – 9

Blue Star – surgery – 2

Striped cube – tube insertion –1

Blue and white spotted glass cylinder – ultrasound – 4

Bone shaped – X-ray – 4

I’m sure these hero bead numbers aren’t entirely accurate, and they don’t include anything that happened at Meriter, but I think it certainly provides a sufficient picture… Clearly, my life was just full of excitement. And yet, it seems easy now that I’m faced with weaning off steroids, re-learning how to walk, and going back to school to take 18 credits – yikes! At least I have one more year of school to get through before I have to become a real adult. Abi and Alexa make it seem okay, but they’re too cool to really be trusted…

– Maddy

P.S. Shingles is really terrible, so I’m going to encourage everyone that had chicken pox to get vaccinated!

Everything’s STILL Different in Texas

In about a week, I’ll have been living in San Antonio for 7 months. Can you believe that? I think back on how much I accomplished after 6 months in Argentina, and the times don’t even seem comparable. Everything’s been flying by, and I still don’t think I know much about where I am. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been looking!

It’s about time for another random observation post about Texas, don’t you reckon?

1. My way or the highway… or the “feeder” or the grass between the ramp and the road.

There are several observations I’ve made that all have to do with Texan driving habits and infrastructure, which are as follows:

– Every highway has a frontage road on either side, and I’ve been told you know someone isn’t from Texas when they call it a frontage road (guilty) because it’s a “feeder”. They’re regular roads that have stop lights, but they follow the highway exactly. People who have come to visit see them as unnecessary, but they’re fun to play with when traffic sucks and you want to try beating everyone by getting on and off the ramps.

– Turnarounds are both a blessing and a curse. These are extra lanes far to the left that allow you to make a full U-turn legally. They’re great once you figure out what they’re for, but have fun understanding your GPS when you first get here.

– Even though turnarounds give you DESIGNATED SPACE FOR U-TURNS, Texans turn around whenever they damn well please. Unexpected U-turns galore. Don’t think they need a road, either, because I’ve seen cars drive straight off of a highway or road through the grass to the road they really need on more than one occasion.

– Finally, despite anarchist views towards road rules, everyone drives under the speed limit. Yes, I said UNDER. Being from up North, where everyone’s in a hurry and 5mph over the speed limit is the minimum, this continually baffles me.

2. Aggie rings are a status symbol

Texas A&M alumni are united by an excessively large ring that you WILL be able to see from across a room because that’s exactly what they want you to do.

Taking it up a notch.

Taking it up a notch.

3. White people

Fact: They’re a minority here. I’m totally ok with that, but it’s just never something I’ve experienced in the U.S. Have you ever checked out the Racial Dot Map? It’s pretty cool, so go play with it. The country from afar looks like this…

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I’ll let you guess what blue represents. San Antonio is the big orange dot in the middle of Texas! If you’re thinking it’s a touchy subject by any means, it’s not. Everyone has a pretty good humor about their Hispanic heritage and embraces stereotypes of it, which I find hilarious. I’ve jokingly said that I’m too white to live here, and people have laughed and agreed that, indeed, albino girls aren’t meant for the Mexican heat.

4. Texans knows what to do with their pickles.

Uhhh no… there was not any sexual innuendo intended there. I don’t know if it’s a Texas thing or a Southern thing, but my taste preferences have been drastically altered since moving here.

Boring fact from Alexa’s past: I used to hate pickles. Fast forward to the present day, and I literally have cravings for fried pickles.

Texas, you're an enabler.

Texas, you’re an enabler.

The best I’ve had were at Banger’s in Austin, which were dill spears coated to perfection and served with spicy buffalo ranch to dip. They are my religion.

ALSO! Pickle juice shots — real life.

– 1.5 oz whiskey (I’ve seen vodka, too.)
– 1.5 oz pickle juice

I dare you.

Speaking of drinking, here are two lovely tidbits I picked up from a coworker at happy hour one day:

“Not only is it ok for you to get two drinks at a time, down here you are EXPECTED to get two drinks at a time. God gave you two hands for a reason.”

and

“In Texas, alcohol abuse is when you don’t finish your drink.”

Take from that what you will. Or if you don’t feel like thinking, I’d like to guide your assumptions to San Antonio’s 2nd place finish of Drunkest Cities in America. Weeee!

5. Living in Texas basically forces you to listen to country music

You can’t really avoid it when there are just as many country bars as “regular” dive bars and the majority of the live music acts that come in town are twangy and wearing boots. I guess it doesn’t help that my fellow Northerner coworker, Jordan, is a big fan and keeps dragging me to concerts. LIFE’S HARD, HUH?

Can't go wrong with Cowboys Dancehall.

Can’t go wrong with Cowboys Dancehall.

Miranda Lambert's back there somewhere.

Miranda Lambert’s back there somewhere.

6. Iced tea > water

I knew that iced tea was much bigger in the South, especially SWEET iced tea, which is basically sugar water hidden behind the healthy connotation that “tea” provides. I didn’t realize how big it was, though, until I walked into a catered lunch at a work meeting in San Antonio to find iced tea at every table setting where water would normally be. Where did this trend come from? Someone help.

7. “Is that your area code?”

San Antonio’s the 7th largest city in the U.S. and 9th fastest growing (yeah, I was surprised, too). Somehow, despite that, it maintains one area code (210) which makes me feel like I’m back in my little hometown Manhattan, IL where we used to only need to know the last 4 digits of someone’s number to be able to call their house. It’s cute, but I’m a little confused as to how that’s possible.

ANYWAY, that was a real random assortment of Texas/San Antonio facts that in no way connected to each other. Welcome to how my brain works.

If you have explanations for any of these or something else that you’ve noticed, please let me know!

– Alexa

OH, and HAPPY NEW YEAR, y’all! 😀

MVM: California Calling

Oh heyyyy there! Let’s just get this out of the way. No awkward excuses. It wasn’t you, it was me. I know I’ve been neglecting you for a few months. I hate me too. It’s ok. I’m back (with some fun new music videos!!)

So yeah, you may have noticed my absence since.. oh wow SEPTEMBER? God I suck. I don’t actually have any good reason why I was not tending to the blog. Just life, man. It tends to get in the way sometimes. I’ve had a pretty good few months. Making friends, getting a hang of this whole 9-5* thing, hopping around the US, planning new trips, and listening to a lot of music. And watching stand up comedy. That’s a new thing I do. Thanks, Netflix. (Side note: want to have your mind blown? Watch Bo Burnham’s comedy special: what. I’ve watched it 3 times this week. It’s free. Just do it.)

Transitions! WE’RE GOING TO SAN DIEGO IN FEBRUARY! It was one of those “oh look, a Groupon for a beachfront resort in sunny California in the middle of February? Robby, Alexa, want to go?” type of moments. Happens allll the time. After zero begging, we booked some hotels and some flights and boom. Trip scheduled. I don’t really think any of you are too surprised though. Also true to our nature, we don’t really have too much planed yet except for a cheeky little New Politics concert at the House of Blues. Not going to lie, this one was a little random: I heard one of their songs on Pandora, sent a link to R&A, saw that they were in SD in February when we just happened to be there too so omg it’s a sign. Tickets purchased.

Check out my favorite New Politics songs below and also please please let us know what we should do in San Diego! This trip is definitely going to be a Do I Want to Move to California Eventually? trip so any and all insight is welcome 🙂


-Abi

P.S. Thanks for keeping the ol’ bloggity afloat during my couple months of “mental rest”, Alexa. You da best. See you in 47 days!

*8 – 5:30. Vomit.

RTM: Christmas Spirit

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, y’all!

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It’s been pretty chilly (if in the 40s and 50s really counts) and gray around central and Southern Texas the past week, which FINALLY made it feel like December! I even gave in to Christmas music on the radio yesterday.

I was thinking of getting a little tree and some lights to make my apartment look more festive, but maybe I should just get a light-up cactus, huh? What do you think? 🙂

– Alexa