Ok I guess I’m actually trying this, for real.
Quick intro of me: Hi, I’m Tape. My real name is Matthew Mittelstadt but most people call me Tape, especially if you know me from the internet. I live in Boston, but I was born Midwesterly. I like music a lot. I used to play it, like in bands and stuff, but not actively for a while. That last part causes me to be sad a lot, not only because it’s fun but because I went to college to study it and in 2020 I pick up a guitar I’m like “wait, MINOR chord? that’s not a THING” and that sure does make me feel like I wasted a lot of money I’m still paying back to the government and also a higher-than-average number of years of attending college. I also used to write a lot but I haven’t really done that in even longer, and that also makes me sad. Sometimes I try to write or play music and I feel like I’ve forgotten how. Clearly I haven’t completely forgotten because here I am typing this now and it seems reasonably coherent, so that’s good I suppose.
It’s December 19th in the year of our lord two thousand twenty and to be very honest I’m not doing great. I just read this Defector piece by the very nice boy Chris Thompson, and basically you cut-and-paste in some different specific non-activity details, twiddle the numbers around a bit, and it’s my year:
I have been freaked out about this since early autumn, when it occurred to me that I seem powerless to sustain any reversal of this trend. My house required a significant renovation this year, which meant going without a functional kitchen for the entire summer. My wife and I started ordering more carryout and buying more prepared food, and it has been upsettingly difficult to get back in the swing of cooking for myself, which if nothing else at least will allow me to know what horrors I am ingesting. Just last night I ate an enormous takeout cheeseburger, then stayed up deep into the night playing video games in my darkened living room. Between the second and third paragraphs of this very blog I ate an iced sugar cookie. What is wrong with me? Why am I like this?
Why am I like this indeed.
I’m now at about my highest weight I’ve ever been by nearly a 10-pound margin. It sucks. Certainly there is a personal body image component (thanks, American society) but really the big thing is that I just feel… well, bad. Stuff hurts and is harder to do and there is just this lingering sense that my body is mad at me. Here is a chart of the last year:
You can see I was actually doing pretty well a year ago! In January of 2019 I had also set what was my previous weight record, and I also felt very bad at the time, and I set about fixing it. Which I had done a pretty decent job of. Put on a few during the winter, which will happen. One is inside more, it’s hockey season so there’s beers and eating lots of buffalo wings, the dog doesn’t like the cold anymore so instead of longer walks she just wants to do her business and get back inside. Those sorts of things. It happens.
You can also see there that the graph keeps going up after March 14, which is an (approximate) date we all understand the significance of in this, the year of our lord two thousand twenty, the famous year I previously established that it is. Normally I might have expected it to maybe flatten out a bit at that point in the year, but of course that’s when I stopped having a built-in couple of miles of walking every day since I no longer had to walk to and from the subway for work anymore, as the length of my morning commute had condensed from about 4.5 miles from Dorchester to the Financial District to about 4.5 feet from my bed to my desk. And of course we all know the weird things working from home has done to the mental states to many of the people who are fortunate enough to still have jobs and specifically ones where we can work from home instead of going somewhere and dealing with a spreading pandemic out there. In my case, it was not great for my brain in general and my focus and attention span specifically!
And hey, May and June there, started getting it going in the right general direction! I bought a kayak! A fun way to get some exercise and also hang with friends in a socially distanced way, since everyone is in their own little boat!
That’s great and everything but since early July everything has been complete and utter shit if I’m being real honest.
Before I go any further, this is Starka, taken in 2019 when there was literally not a care of any sort in this beautiful girl’s world:
Starka is my dog. She is 14 years old and literally my whole world. It’s cliché to say “I love her more than anything” but it’s true, I do. I am crying writing this right now because that is something that I have done I think every single day since the sixth day of July in this famous year, cry about my beautiful dog.
What happened that morning was I woke up and Starka was stumbling out of my bedroom and into the living room, barely able to keep herself fully upright for more than say three steps at a time. It looked like she was having a stroke or something. I was, to put it shortly, freaking the entire fuck out.
She was not having a stroke, as it turned out, but had become afflicted with something called “idiopathic vestibular disease”, which is basically something that just kind of happens to old dogs sometimes. The vestibular system is in the inner ear and is the major contributor to one’s sense of balance, be you human or canine or most other types of mammals. So basically in this instance, some unknown cause makes it so either the dog’s vestibular system isn’t working right, or it’s not communicating to the brain properly. This causes the lack of balance, and a head tilt, and the eye-twitching. I am going to link but not embed a youtube video (not because it’s “graphic” or whatever per se, but because it’s hard to watch a beautiful creature struggle so) that shows a dog in its backyard trying to walk around, and also I would call your attention to about the 2-minute mark when the owner closes in on the dog’s eyes, which are twitching rapidly and without stop (this symptom is called “nystagmus”). Here is the link.
I bring Starka to the vet first thing (my regular vet thankfully had an open appointment slot 10 minutes later and they are 5 minutes away so that worked out perfectly as it were) and then, because it is the famous year of 2020, I have to give her to the technician in the parking lot, who then brings her inside while I just, you know, don’t go inside. Let me tell you, when you think your dog is having a stroke maybe and also maybe could die, sitting in your car not being allowed inside the building is a really bad place to be. I sobbed and called my boss and my ex with whom I had adopted Starka when we were not-yet-ex, to let them know I wouldn’t be working and that our dog was doing very badly, respectively, and just kind of wondered why life was worth living if the universe could inflict these horrors upon such an innocent and majestic creature.
What happens with idiopathic vestibular disease is that most of the time it just kind of goes away after a little while, where a little while means a few days to a couple of weeks, probably. Which, it mostly did. But the first few days where it was very actively happening were just absolutely terrible. The first day or so I had to carry her up and down the porch steps so she could go pee and poop. Obviously the walking was a problem. Plus she clearly was having insane levels of anxiety, just constantly laying there and panting, and I honestly can’t say I wouldn’t do exactly the same thing if I couldn’t walk 3 feet without falling over and my eyes were constantly freaking out and unable to focus on anything.
The good news was, like the vet said, that it did slowly start to get better and after a few weeks or so it was almost like it hadn’t happened at all, except that her overall balance didn’t go all the way back to 100% normal, maybe 85% or so. She was more or less fine most of the time but would stumble on especially uneven ground, or if she was walking and got distracted by a noise and turned her head real quick to see what was going on, she would kind of lose her footing a bit. Nothing too big.
Anyway on August 15th, it happened again. Two days after her 14th birthday (observed, guesstimated). This time it wasn’t quite as bad as the first, and she recovered from it a little quicker, but her overall balance took another hit again.
After that things were going mostly ok for a while, though she was sort of barely-perceptibly looking… weird? I chalked it up to being old and less active due to the events of the last six paragraphs. But, she got this weird cough in early October, and I took her to the vet to have it checked out, because hey, there was in fact a wave of kennel cough going around the neighborhood. But instead of being kennel cough, what happened was two things: first, the very low-grade heart murmur Starka had as of the previous year was now a Grade V. That’s V out of a possible VI. So hey, that’s a thing to worry about. But secondly, the real thing to worry about, immediately, was that she had lymphoma. The vet said she would get a biopsy and some other tests done but that she honestly didn’t really even need to see the results of any of that because Starka definitely has it.
My regular vet referred me to the oncologists at the MSPCA’s Angell Animal Medical Center, which is sort of like the MGH or Brigham & Women’s for animals. I was looking into it and there seem to be three places in a whatever-mile radius that have veterinary oncologists, and the other two places both had a single oncologist while Angell has five. Anyway, after a week of absolute depressive fretting on my part, we got to go see an oncologist and it turns out that Starka has a lot of lymphoma going on all throughout her body and also circulating in her blood which is not good. In fact, since it was in her blood this meant that her lymphoma was the very bad-sounding Stage V. It’s the same Stage V that you’d talk about for humans. But, there is also “substage”, which is basically A and B – they have no symptoms and feel generally well, all things considered (substage A), or the opposite (substage B) – and Starka was in substage A. This, the oncologist told me, was Very Good in terms of whether or not chemotheraphy would work if I chose to do that. There was also another test that could be run to determine specifically which type of lymphoma cells we were dealing with, as there are apparently two: B-cell and T-cell. T-cell is rarer but very aggressive, while B-cell is the one most dogs will have and often responds well to treatment. The oncologist said they like to say B means “better to hear”. There were other tests they could also do like a bone marrow biopsy but that’s painful and that one apparently doesn’t really tell them much useful information in terms of how treatment would go. The B-cell/T-cell test would take a couple of days but since Starka was generally healthy I could take a little time to think about things and what I wanted to do.
And it was a lot of thinking, because they told me that if Starka ended up going through the entire chemotherapy process, which would last about 25 weeks, it would end up costing about $7000. I don’t know if you’ve heard but that’s a lot of money? Especially, you know, these days? I mean I still have my main full-time job being a fancypants insurance desk jockey guy, but I’ve also had a side gig basically since college of being the guy who plays the music at some sporting events (not like the Red Sox or Patriots level stuff, that’s TJ Connelly who is a very nice man and also started his own streaming radio station during the pandemic and seems to have turned that into some level of “real job”, but I did a pro lacrosse team for a lot of years and the past few years I’ve done college hockey and basketball games) which as it turns out due to the college I’ve been doing that for lately entirely cancelling sports means that I do not have that gig at the moment, and thus the not-at-all-life changing but still nice-to-have amount of money that comes with it.
So yeah. I went home and sat there, realizing that I basically had to decide what to do with my best buddy’s life. I don’t recommend putting yourself through this if you can avoid it! It sucks!
Y’all I have cried so much since July.
I would say my biggest concern was that I didn’t want Starka to suffer or struggle with just being alive. She’s such a good girl and I swear ever since she came home the only thing I have wanted, to the detriment of probably everything else in my life, is for her to live a healthy and happy little dog life. Until this summer I had done a very good job of that. The fact that now she has become beset with severe ailments that are beyond the general scope of my abilities to fix, or in the case of the vestibular disease and its lingering effects beyond the scope of seemingly anyone’s ability to fix, has really sent my sense of self-value into a rapid tailspin. But, the prognosis for chemotherapy was honestly pretty good: something like 80%+ of dogs with B-cell substage-A lymphoma achieve remission! And hey, I had almost entirely paid off about $25k in credit card debit. What’s another seven grand, y’know? Money is fake anyway.
One of the things that ultimately convinced me to go ahead and do it was this piece, written by a veterinarian, about how they deal with advising people about their pets’ cancer diagnoses:
When Guardians come in for a consultation with me after receiving a cancer diagnosis, they often ask “Doc, what would you do if this was your dog?”
I usually refuse to answer the question (with one important exception, which I will get to in a moment).
It’s very difficult for me to answer that question because there are way too many personal factors that go into the decision of what to do. In addition to the overall prognosis for that particular cancer, there could be other pre-existing conditions. It can become very complicated, and so much just depends upon the person who is asking.
Except when it comes to lymphoma. When it comes to lymphoma, I will share what I would do.
For me, that is an easy choice: I would treat my dog with a CHOP multi-agent protocol.
The good news here is that it’s been about two months since Starka started chemo and her lymph nodes have almost entirely returned to normal size, except for a couple of them. She looks so much healthier and has more energy (for a very old dog). At the visit last week, her primary oncologist hadn’t seen Starka for a couple of weeks (one week was an “off week” in the chemo schedule that’s normally every Thursday, and the next another oncologist filled in at the last minute as the usual one was out that day) and sounded almost giddy at how much better she was doing. There are challenges – dogs generally take the chemo very well, better than humans do, but she does go through spells here and there of unpleasant pooping experiences or getting real tired for a few days – but it’s been going very well. That doesn’t mean I still don’t worry about her constantly and cry for at least a couple seconds every damn day, because I absolutely do that.
Uhhhhh so yeah that’s why that weight graph has just gone solidly up since July. I eat my feelings, and I have had a very lot of feelings to eat. On top of it my theoretical exercise time, of which in I tried to get some in at least a couple times a week, has fallen to virtually zero. I mean, for long stretches I didn’t want to leave the house for an extended period because I was worried Starka might have some terrible fate befall her that I could have somehow prevented by being home, so I wouldn’t really leave except to get groceries or the like.
And of course my dog is merely the most glaring of the factors contributing to the miserable state of my brain! I’ve ordered way more takeout than I should be doing, especially given that it’s pretty regularly “food to eat your feelings to” that I’m ordering. And of course I feel bad about the not exercising and eating poorly, to which I respond by continuing to eat poorly. Also by bedroom is a fucking mess, a thing about which I also feel bad and feeds into the exercise/eating bad feelings spiral. Also I’m very lonely! I’ve been single for five years and been on I think four dates in the meantime and haven’t so much as kissed anyone in about three and a half years I think! This makes me feel extremely bad! I did manage, in a rare moment of having a self-esteem level above zero, to tell my biggest crush that I had said crush, but as I’m sure you can extrapolate from the previous 2,900 words, nothing came of that. She’s very nice though and still laughs at some of my stupid jokes on twitter. Side note: if anyone knows a way to not think a day about someone a dozen times a day who definitely thinks about you approximately zero times a day, please let me know, I’m in the market for that kind of information. Don’t worry I have plenty of other crushes that I think about far too often as well. It’s definitely fine.
Ok so that 2,900 words thing was not a joke and in fact I’ve gone over 3,100 now. I should probably go do something else for a while. Eating and showering seem like good ideas since it’s now noon and I’ve been up since 6:45 when Starka woke me up to poop in the freezing-ass cold out of doors. Maybe I’ll pick two square feet of my bedroom to tidy up. I wouldn’t want to set an unattainable goal, which these days is usually any goal.
Before I hit the big Publish button, as a lifelong music enjoyer I would like to share a recent album I have been enjoying. The idea is that sharing some music would be A Thing at the end of every post on here.
So this episode’s selection is Hill, Flower, Fog by Emily A. Sprague. It’s a beautiful ambient electronic album that feels downright pastoral. Perhaps fitting given the album title and cover art. This was a nice little review of it that I read.
Check out the album on Bandcamp. It’s on Spotify or whatever but Spotify is a scumsucking piece of shit company that’s contributing heavily to the rot of the music industry. The other streaming things are not as bad as Spotify but they’re also not really “good” per se. You can stream a couple of the tracks for free on Bandcamp and also buy it for merely $8, and I guarantee you will get more than $8 of enjoyment out of it.
Ok thanks for reading all that, if you did. I haven’t written in years so this probably wasn’t a good example of “writing” but it feels kind of good to have done it, so hopefully I’ll do it again later and be a little better at it now that I’ve got some under my proverbial belt. Maybe I can start playing music again too. That would be nice.