An update from The Word Detective

Dear friends,

I’ve been meaning to post an update to my original message from February, but I’ve discovered that there really isn’t such a thing as a quiet moment in this sort of situation, and it’s easy to let things slide when you’d rather not think (let alone write) about them. But several people have, understandably, asked for an update, so here we go. [For the full back story, see my original post at]

First of all, my profound thanks to everyone who responded to my fund appeal in February. Your contributions have made a huge difference in our morale during my ongoing cancer treatment as well as our ability to pay bills, fix failing plumbing, and keep the lights on. We’ve also been greatly moved by the good wishes, prayers and messages of support you’ve sent in all forms, from email to handwritten cards. It’s beyond my capacity to respond individually to each of you, but I would if I could.

Fortunately, thanks to contributions from readers (and my family), we have replaced our death-trap 1997 Toyota with a more recent used Toyota, which makes a huge difference on trips to chemotherapy sessions 40 miles away (e.g., it no longer takes a five full minutes to get up to 55 mph, a big advantage on the freeway, where everyone else is doing at least 75). I realized in retrospect that some of my initial reluctance to embark on chemotherapy several times a week was due, unconsciously, to the strain of our trying to drive that rickety old heap to the hospital. That’s scary.

The chemo appointments themselves are not entirely unpleasant. I sit in a recliner in a small room for a couple of hours watching Law & Order reruns (or House reruns, which are weird to watch in a hospital). Everyone is very nice and very competent, and I even get free tuna sandwiches from the hospital cafeteria. I was fully expecting nausea after each session, but they’ve apparently made great progress on that front in recent years, and I’ve been mostly nausea-free. My hair is, predictably, falling out, and I had to shave off the beard I had grown earlier this year when it became so wispy that I began to look like a wizened wizard in some sword and sorcery epic.

One effect of the chemotherapy that’s apparently unavoidable is an absolutely staggering physical exhaustion; I’ve been dealing with “multiple sclerosis fatigue” for years, but now I sometimes have difficulty lifting my arms above my waist or walking across the room. Chemo can also trash your immune system, so even a simple cold could become a real danger. Hello, hand sanitizer, and when we go shopping I often just wait in the car. Small children, or people who associate with them, must keep back at least 300 feet. I also can’t drink our well water because of agricultural runoff from nearly fields. Worst of all, I am no longer allowed to sift and change the kitty litter, a mundane task many people say I had raised to an art form. In fact, at least in theory, I’m supposed to wash my hands after every time I touch a cat. Yeah, that’s gonna happen.

I’ve also been dealing with multiple sclerosis brain fog for many years, but the severity of “chemo brain” is truly disturbing. My short-term memory is completely shot. On days I have a medical appointment I drive Kathy crazy by asking “So what time do we have to be there?” at least ten times. I am often completely wrong about what day of the week it is. More disturbingly, I was briefly under the impression that it’s 2017, which might not matter that much if I weren’t writing it on checks.

As for our financial situation, The Word Detective website had been supporting itself for years through subscriptions and donations, along with some revenue from ads. With my diagnosis and the financial reversals of last year, that income suddenly played a much larger role in our household budget. Unfortunately, the fact that I am no longer updating the site has reduced that small income at the worst possible time. All of which brings me to ask for your continued support via our page at

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