Thursday, March 21, 2013

All along we've been very lucky to have had our health for the most part.    We have been aware that my days aboard are numbered with the advance of symptoms from post polio syndrome, but still we have moved slowly and were looking forward to a few years in the Pacific, perhaps the grand finale of all our years of cruising. We were getting ready to close out our time in Palau and move on to Papua New Guinea , the Solomons and Vanuatu, places that have been high on our cruising list for years.    But, as John Lennon sang, Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.

Jim began to get some ear infections and what looked like a stye in his eyelid, but after several visits to the Palauan docs all he could get were antibiotics and was told he had a plugged tear duct.    The small bump became a big lump and was obviously not going to go away. 

 After the girls left, Jim flew to Manila to see the doctors at St. Lukes Medical Center and have the thing removed.   We thought, in, out and back in a few days, but things didn't turn out that way.   The lump was pronounced a tumor right away and a CT scan showed it was deep in and around his eye ball.   They removed it, tested it and after several days of waiting Jim was told it was cancerous.  So he had more meetings, a PET scan to see if the cancer had spread anywhere else, which it had not, but the prognosis was that he would have to have more surgery and radiation and St. Lukes did not seem comfortable in providing those procedures.    Fortunately we have had DAN (Diver's Alert Network) travel insurance for several years now and they paid for Jim's flight to Manila and (hopefully) the procedures done there.    They also agreed that at this stage it was better for Jim to get back to the states and see the doctors at the Seattle VA hospital.    Jim contacted them before he left and they opened up the case for him immediately and got the thing rolling.    Jim was sent to Dr. Isaac Bohannon (female) who is a great doctor, one who actually listens to him and answers all questions.   Jim was told that most likely he was going to lose the eye, but later, after an MRI, the doctor could see a barrier between the remaining tumor material and the muscles so she opted at this time to keep the eye.   Good news.    Jim went in for surgery on Feb 26 which took 6 hours as the doctor painstakingly removed tumor material, cleared margins, removed bone around the eye socket and rebuild the bone with titanium mesh.

 Through all of this the doctors and staff have been top notch, all the way.    Not only is Jim getting the best of care, but it is all free.   They even provided a hotel room for the first couple of days before Jim was admitted.  I got to stay in some pretty nice digs, the Fisher House, which is there for families of vets undergoing treatments.  

 The Fisher House makes life very comfortable for families with a beautiful facility, 1st class rooms, a large galley, tvs and the day I was there, a florist came in to give flower arranging lessons which joined in on and made the little basket with anthuriums and the glass terrarium you see in the picture.  They never charge for anything.

Although they said they did not see any more cancer cells in the material sent to the pathologist during the surgery, there was more found in the bone samples and so now Jim has to undergo radiation.   He has to wait for 6 weeks after the surgery (around the second week of April) to begin 6 weeks of radiation which is not going to be fun at all.   But we are so glad the doctors are being thorough, aggressive and careful.    Fortunately this is not the kind of cancer that is likely to spread, however it could come back in the same spot and the next time Jim would most definitely lose his eye so we are in complete compliance with whatever the docs want to do.  Furthermore, Jim will need another small surgery to tighten up his lower eyelid which droops now and a rigorous schedule of doctor visits.  She wants to see him every 6 to 8 weeks for the first year or so, then back off a bit to every 3 or 4 months, slowing down a bit until the 5 year mark.    This puts a big crimp in the sailing schedule and we are trying to see how we can work around that now.

We are staying in Ferndale, just a few miles from our daughter, Kelly.     We kept our tin can trailer so it was just a few hours and we had it set up in a park.   Home Sweet Home.   Getting  to see Kelly and visit with old friends is a real plus, but we do miss the boat and are anxious to get back to Palau.  We hope to be back there in July and continue on our way.

Christmas with the Girls

So far the highlight of our stay in Palau was when the girls came to visit for Christmas.   Their flight was cancelled once they reached Honolulu so their stay with us was cut by a couple of days, however, the airline put them up in the Marriott, on the beach in Waikiki, in a corner room with a view.   Tough deal.

We cruised around the islands a bit, celebrated Christmas aboard with a turkey dinner, and New Years with Jim and Katie of Asylum out in the islands.  Jim took Erin diving and gave Kelly her first try-dive which didn't venture too far from the anchor chain.    Otherwise it was just a great family time and some easy days on and in the water.   And over with all too quickly.

Playing around in Palau

Jim and I got together with Mike and Haesung of Second Jump and Walt and Jane of Callisto, rented a van and toured Babeldaup for the day.    We managed to get lost in the back roads and miss some of the major sights but we had a great day anyway.  That's how it goes sometimes.    

Here is a traditional Bai (meeting house).   I love the storyboards painted on the front.

As I said, we got lost for a bit, but we met up with this man and his friend in a pick up truck who gladly led us to the one and only place to have lunch on this trip, a small and very pretty resort on the east coast of Babeldaup.  We're hoping it wasn't wiped out in the typhoon.

 This is the capitol building of Palau.   It is an extravagant albatross built with 37 million Euros donated by the now impoverished EU.    One can only scratch their heads when you realize that there are only a handful of elected officials running this country of a population of 50,000 so why in God's name did they need this structure.    We heard that it is too expensive to air condition so they hold many of the meetings outside as the windows do not open.    Palau gets a lot of money from various sources like the Chinese, Japanese and the Americans.    We send them millions every years, supposedly for infrastructure, to maintain the right to have our Naval fleet in their waters, but most of that money has made a few unscrupulous Palauans very rich.    I was told that the Marshall Islands has the wealthiest population per capita due to the dollars that go into that island chain but end up in just a few pockets.    With all the budget issues we have now, and the cuts being made seems like we should do something about this.    A little less money for these welfare states and maybe we could keep the tours open in the White House, you think????  That's my political rant for the year, thank you very much.

So we were supposed to be looking for the stone faces in the jungle, which we did not find, after a few hilarious attempts and then all of a sudden there was this cute cabin with a stone face in front.   When I went to take a picture with it, I leaned against it and the darned thing fell was a fake made from styrofoam.

Another day we organized a trip to the clam farm on Malakal Island.    The clams here are huge and beautiful.   I learned that the colors come from the algae they ingest and each one has a different color scheme.    They start out little, though:

Jim got to play guitars with Jim of Asylum a couple of times and Gail of Fifth Season is an accomplished harpist who played at our Christmas event.   As they were anchored right next to us we could often hear the harp being played and Gail singing.   Such a nice atmosphere in our little cove.

Our friend, Charity Shaw from Australia, came upon a litter of puppies abandoned by their mother and in a very bad way.   She rescued 4 of them (the others were too far gone) and managed to save 3 of them with a lot of effort on her part in the end.    As she was a busy woman she often needed puppysitters, so since this was a chance to get some snuggle time with cute puppies I volunteered and took turns with other cruisers.   Charity was very strict, no bad behaviours for her puppies, but here comes grandma Joy who spoiled them and taught them the Chase the Mop game.  Needless to say, they had a grand ol' time.

Water Stuff in Palau

As I've said, Palau is really all about the water.   Most of the cruisers dive frequently.   Jim had a lot of fun as the group would most often hire the whole boat and sometimes get to off the beaten dive spot path.    Palau is reknowned for its beautiful world under the water.  It is also a shark sanctuary and sometimes the divers would see as many as 2 dozen sharks swimming by in the current.

I prefer to snorkel and kayak.   I've only seen one shark and it was sleeping below me.   I have followed the banded coral snakes around, though and seen lots of interesting critters and WWII junk:

 Can you spot the crocodile fish in the above picture?

 How about the gobies monitoring their nests?   Or these sea pens (I'm not sure of their real names, actually, which swim around upright?
This is a Crown of Thorns, an invasive critter that destroys coral.   We eliminate these guys whenever we see them.

I believe this is a school of makeral.   They look  like ghosts going by.

This is a shot of Kelaerin looking through the arch in the Rock Islands.

The arch without us in it.

We've had the opportunity to participate in a couple of events that benefited the islands.    Charity, our club secretary, organized the Debris Dive where we formed small groups and cleaned up the bottom or the harbor.  
Kind of tricky considering it is totally illegal to mess with the WWII stuff at the bottom, not to mention that the bottom is carpeted with the remains of fishing boats, tug boats, hulls, metal parts and a few left over depth charges.   Still, the group came back with loads of cans, bottles, fishing nets, a record player, a Japanese bottle, tires, all kinds of crud.   Work, yes, but fun too.

Sam asked if any of us would like to help out by cleaning up the camp site at Ngemelis Island which had been heavily damaged by the typhoon.   So a few of us boarded his boat and spent the day hauling brush, branches and debris away from the camp and burning most of it.   A work party from the state of Koror also came and chopped down coconut trees, clearing the back 40 while we concentrated on the front area.    In a few hours we had cleared most of the area.  Another crew would come later to rebuild the camp hut.  This is before:

And, this is after: