2011 in retrospect

M and I are ready to see 2012. The year that’s ending had more than its share of toil and trouble, for us and the world at large.

The year started normally enough. We flew to Colorado on January 2, since I was going to attend professional meetings at which I was to be a member of the interviewing team for my department that was looking to hire a new faculty member in my field. I had a persistent cough that had started just before Christmas (truly persistent; it lasted well into the Spring) and spent the time we had in Golden and Breckenridge, before the actual interviews in Denver, mostly indoors, reading candidate files and trying to not cough too much.

Breckenridge view

M did a few activities involving snow without me, which was fine as I am not a big fan of skiing (bad knees—long story). We did have some very good meals and admired how the Denver airport continued operating during a snow storm so we could leave for home when the interviewing at the economics meetings was over.

We came home to a nasty little surprise, which fortunately did not turn out to be as bad as it could have been. During our absence, the batteries in our thermostat died, which meant that our house was unheated for an undetermined number of days. Indoor temperature was about 39 F at our arrival and the faucets were not working, but luckily the freezing in the pipes had not become bad enough to burst through the pipes. It was a narrow escape.

The next step was to resume normal activities, at least for M, who had to start her regular Spring semester activities at Arcadia U. I was on sabbatical in the Spring; I applied for the sabbatical with some trepidation, because I had the irrational fear, reinforced by friends, that M’s ovarian cancer would recur, just as it first appeared when I had a sabbatical in Spring 2000 (that one was coordinated with M’s sabbatical, and came right after we got married; needless to say, we did not spend it as we had anticipated). Nevertheless, the semester started, M started teaching, using a draft of her book on personality psychology that was nearing the last editing stage, and I started reading stuff on my research project that was supposed to occupy my sabbatical, along with some last-minute editing of a paper that had just gotten accepted at a journal. Oh, and I spent a lot of time on Al Jazeera and Twitter following the Arab Spring uprisings. It’s hard to ignore major historical events happening in front of one’s nose.

My research project was to be joint work with our friend R, who now lives in Belfast. We had plans to visit Belfast during M’s Spring break and had purchased tickets. That’s when, in early March, a CT scan (she had been having those regularly, because her oncologist is eagle-eyed and very, very careful) showed something suspicious, which was corroborated by a blood test. Soon enough, we had cancelled the trip to Belfast, so M could go get a needle biopsy done. This was done in the beginning of her Spring break, and then we immediately went to a fancy B&B in Cape May to at least await the results in something resembling a little vacation. To cut the story short, the result confirmed that this was the second recurrence of M’s cancer.

And so the irrational fears about the sabbatical were validated (surely this is spurious, I know, but knowing brings scant comfort). Now it was time to make plans with the oncologist on how to get this recurrence under control and eventually get our old friend NED back in our house (No Evidence of Disease). While I was able to do some work on my project, which is still in progress right now, it was time to draw the wagons in a circle and fight the cancer with all we had. And we had, and have, a lot, for which we are immensely thankful: excellent doctors and magnificent friends and family. It is no exaggeration to say that we would not have done well at all, at least in terms of sanity, without the love of these wonderful people.

It would be all too easy to go crazy with the details of the chemotherapy and eventual operation. I will leave them in the background, however. M had chemotherapy from late April to late October, with various different drugs (due to a sudden shortage of one of her chemotherapy drugs that happened in mid-summer and necessitated a change, which brought relief from some side effects and introduced others). Throughout, we were determined to not let cancer cancel our plans for as normal a summer as possible. We took short trips to the Atlantic Ocean, had our usual pool parties (even if, in some of them, some of our visitors would stay indoors to visit with M who was dealing with chemotherapy side effects) and took a big house in Ocean City, NJ, where we spent two excellent weeks in the company of wonderful friends. At that time, M had to limit walking and sun exposure due to one of her drugs, but this turned out to be a surpassable problem: all it took was good sun protection and a scooter to let her roll up and down the boardwalk while not overtaxing her blistered feet.

On the OC boardwalk

Oh, by the way, I discovered that playing Angry Birds is good for those interminable hours of waiting for test results or for a chemotherapy infusion to be over. Hence the T shirt.

Ocean City, NJ, July 2011

Meanwhile, she was working on proofreading her book, all 200,000 words of it, with some help from me and friends. As the Fall semester approached, she submitted the final version of the book, completed the Instructor’s Manual in a single month (the book is a textbook) and then proceeded to take medical leave for most of the semester to accommodate the chemotherapy. Do I sound proud of her? I sure hope so, as I am, so very proud. The book was published in early October and we already know of colleges that have adopted it for the Spring semester.

The book is published!

During the Fall, the chemotherapy became more challenging, as M developed an allergic reaction to one of the drugs. It is a drug that she has received a lot over the years and one can only have so much of it over a lifetime. So two of the infusions had to be while she was inpatient, over about 30 hours each time. I can’t say it was fun for us to camp out in the hospital (I always went to her treatments) and yet it gave us the satisfaction of doing what we could to fight the disease.

Once the chemotherapy ended, all indications were that the tumor had shrunk and possibly just a dead shell of its former self. But M’s oncologist did not want to rest on his laurels (richly deserved, as he has already kept M going for a long time, surprising the doctor at Sloan-Kettering whom we have consulted occasionally over the years). He wanted an operation to get the remnants of the tumor out, in case there was still active disease there, of which he was convinced. He performed the operation on December 2, with the help of another surgeon, and it turned out he was right: most of the tumor was dead but there was still active cancer in the middle of it. During the operation the doctors looked around for any other evidence of cancer but did not find any. So NED is in our house again!

Recovery from this surgery has been slow. It was a very extensive operation and it came after many other treatments that had weakened M. Her previous operations, while extensive, had come before chemotherapy and were easier to recover from. However, as the new year approaches, M is feeling better and better and looking forward to teaching her personality course, using her very own textbook.

And with this it is time to say goodbye to 2011 and all its troubles and hello and welcome to 2012, a year, we hope, of health and happiness for all.