Friday, September 9, 2011

Austin Statesman feature

This is a nice feature with photos in the Austin Statesman. I thought it was well written and well-photographed, and is a good summary on my little cancer saga:

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hello from Chemoland!!

Good Morning from Houston

I figure I should catch you up on where things stand in Graceyland Health World now that I have hit a landing place. I promise I will start blogging about interesting things very soon now that I feel better, but therein lies this story…
I have been diagnosed with 3rd/4th Stage esophageal cancer since January. This pretty much throwed me from my hoss but as I have said before, you do what you must to survive. This has meant chemo every two weeks since then with the strongest drugs I could ask for and withstand, since I figure the side effects (nails falling out, hair disappearing, weight loss, severe fatigue, neuropathy in limbs, stomach feeding tube [“Nil by Mouth” now joins me to Sir Roger Ebert], etc.) are nothing compared to an early death. It’s like I told my oncologist, “don’t go easy on me, I don’t need nice nails at my funeral”.
However, one aspect of this bravado has been having to grind through the side effects in reality, not just in talk. So, it has not been a very fun year thus far. I have gotten to go home some, see the family, cook a little bit (can’t eat at the moment) just for the cook’s pleasure, but most of my time has been spent in dealing with all of this and in going in and out of the hospital as my white blood count dipped and vicious little infections roared to life in me. 
At last we came more or less to the end of the chemo and started radiation this week to try to kill or nearly kill some of the major cancerous spots that were beaten down by the chemo but not dead yet. Four more weeks of radiation and I'm catchin' the first thing smokin'- first to Paris, then to our newly renovated little home in the Languedoc for some actual Life Its Own Self and not just jabber about living longer. I’ll come back to Austin for holidays and family and friends but first I need my France fix, and it is almost harvest time there and I can’t wait to see the red grapes being hauled into town in the hopper trucks and taste the grape juice and eat some nice food at last. 
So, there you have it, minus all the little stuff that so interests the patient and so bores the friend. 
I have more to say about the effects on my thinking, my life, and my newfound (again) love of this sweet existence, but that must wait for more energy to accrue in the batteries. 
Thanks for your condolences, cards and jokes and I hope to repay you in the future!

Joe Gracey, Jr.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Soft Landing in France

Somewhere in the Languedoc, Southern France – Talk about a soft landing! After fourteen months of cancer surgery (gone), reconstruction surgeries (done), teeth implants (done), and one final operation to allow me to swallow again, (plus a cut finger, but that’s another silly story), I have landed in the most impossibly soft bed of French lavender.

Here in the Minervois en Languedoc ensconced in a village over a thousand years old, we wake up to the sounds of the birds and the breeze and the couple who walk their dogs; sometimes the dogs wear bells. This village was built as an outlying stumbling block on the way to Carcassonne. In the shape of a snail’s shell, it winds around a central green where the ancient church serves as the final refuge after every foot of the circulade has been defended. Under the Romanesque church, there is an altar from an even earlier chapel which is easily as old as the first whispers of Christianity in Europe.

Now the village holds two hundred fifty people, mostly artisans, vignerons, ex-pats from various parts of Europe. We are only the second Americans to come here, and certainly the first Texans. I intend to put a Cathar flag and a Texas flag out front soon as it warms up.

I had no idea when we first decided to buy a little home here that the area was teeming with history, both bloody and benign. This is the home of the Troubadours and the Langue d’Oc in which they couched their poems set to music; courtly love, knightly bravery, the beauty of existence. Later it became the center of the first protestant movement and the Pope in Rome used that as an excuse to join with the weak King in Paris 

view out our front window

to come here with a band of brigands and plunderers to dethrone the Count of Toulouse, who was as powerful as the King. Money, land, and power were of course the engines of this invasion but Christianity was the cover story. Every single protestant Cathar was slaughtered, starved, or maimed and marched away to death on a bonfire. The Catholic Church resumed its collection of tithes and lands, the Counts were de-fanged, and the land became ostensibly Frankish, but in truth it never happened in the hearts of the people here. The accent still reflects the old langue d’Oc, the sense of independence and grace still flourishes, and the food is very different.

It is almost December now, and cold by Texan standards; about 45 to 60 and going down. Last night it reached 34 or so. I finally learned how to wear enough layers and a wool scarf and heavy overcoat. Some locals are still going around in shorts or normal outfits, which beats hell out of me; must be thicker blood.

This is wine and olive country and has been since the Greeks and Romans brought their cultivars here and planted them to foster trade. Grapes spring up here un-planted like Johnson grass in Texas, and olive trees stand silvery in every little corner and wedge and otherwise unusable piece of land. Apricots, cherries, peaches are on sale everywhere during harvest.

The wine is in the tanks now, the harvest finished on about October 20th. I will be tasting them this week and try to form a sensible opinion, though I don’t really know what the hell I am talking about yet. That is my next mountain to climb – viticulture in this beautiful part of this ancient land!

Next: the perils and insanity of renovating a thousand year old stable!