Chemotherapy Rounds 3 & 4

This is where it starts to get nasty.  And it’s going to stay nasty for some time.  So, buckle up, and maybe put on a gas mask.

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Ready?  Ok, let’s get to it.

In my last post, I summarized the first two rounds of Hawk’s treatment with 5-Fluorouracil, a topical chemotherapy cream prescribed to eradicate his sqaumous cell carcinoma.  Today, we move on to Rounds 3 & 4.  Spanning two months, these are some of the most important rounds, because this is when the infamous “crater” appears.

You’ll notice in the photos below that the dark area at the center of the lesion, which I discussed in Round 1, opens up at the end of Round 4, exposing what almost looks like a hole in Hawk’s skin.  This is the area that I call the “crater”, and it was constantly filled with fluids and smells that I’d rather not discuss (except we will talk about it eventually in great detail).

In Rounds 3 & 4, I was still getting fairly good scab coverage that left behind mostly pink, somewhat “normal” skin (crater excluded).  After Round 1, however, I did notice that the scabs began to appear in the “Rest” phase, after the chemotherapy was stopped, rather than appearing directly in the “Chemo” phase.

Round 3, 2/5/17 – 3/3/17: In this 27-day cycle, Hawk spent 10 days on chemotherapy, followed by 17 days of rest.  The scab fell off around Day 24.

 

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Round 3 Summary: In Round 3, I began treating not only the large lesion above Hawk’s right nostril, but also a smaller area of abnormal skin above his left nostril.  You can see both areas distinctly on Day 15.  When treated with the 5-FU, both reacted similarly, presumably indicating that both were affected by the squamous cell carcinoma.

Round 4, 3/4/17 – 4/4/17: In this 32-day cycle, Hawk again spent 10 days on chemotherapy, followed by 22 days of rest.  You may notice a discrepancy between the date and day between March 21 and March 28; you’ll see I accidentally counted Day 17 twice and didn’t realize it until a few days later.  The scab fell off on Day 25 (March 28, labeled “Day 24” in the pictures).

 

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Round 4 Summary:  Although the scab fell off around Day 25 here, it looked like Hawk rubbed it off prematurely, possibly because it hurt or itched.  After this, I started mixing some hydro-cortisone cream in with the Neosporin to apply on the rest days to prevent itching.   I don’t know how much it really helped, but it made me feel a little bit better about the massive, bloody lesion on my horse’s face that made him smell like something one of our dogs probably would have rolled in.

The most important thing about Round 4 is that this is when the “crater” really appears.  I talked about the “crater” in Round 1, but we can’t really see it until the final day of Round 4.  Up until this point, the “crater” has been a small, dark (like dried, scabby blood) spot at the center of the largest lesion.  However, on the final day of Round 4, we can see the dark area disappear and give way to a depression (hence, “crater”) in the skin, which is obviously holding all manner of nasty, disgusting discharge.  Spoiler alert: it smelled like death (like literally something dead), and it was that powerful.

This crater area plagued me for more than a year and eventually became the turning point in Hawk’s treatment.  In the spring of 2017, I was working with a vet who believed that the crater was a good sign – that it was an indication of the 5FU working correctly and eating away at the tumor.  However, in the spring of 2018, I spoke with another vet who believed that the crater was a bad sign – that it was an indication of the 5FU working harmfully and eating far too deeply into the tissue.   I still don’t know which is the correct answer, as I am not a vet, but this is why I wish I had sought a second opinion (or third?) earlier in the process.  Even though all veterinarians share their profession, they’re still people, and people don’t always agree on everything.  It can never hurt to double check.

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Chemotherapy: The first two rounds

Ever since my horse, Hawk, was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2016, I’ve gotten used to answering one question: “how’s his nose?”  Nearly everyone in my life – from my family to my barn friends to my coworkers to my mailman – knows about Hawk’s battle with squamous cell carcinoma.  They also know about my potentially slightly unhealthy obsession with the sights and smells of the affected area on his nose, so I think they’ve learned to ask only on an empty stomach.

(If you’re lost right now, either because you’re new or because it’s been almost a year since I’ve updated this blog series, please go back to the beginning to catch up!)

It all started with a sunburn on his nose, so – PSA – if you have a pink-faced horse, please remember to keep him covered with a mask that provides UV protection and makes him look like he’s about to storm a castle.  A vet recently suggested that I mask Hawk year-round, not just in the summertime.  UV rays don’t go away just because it’s cold outside, and snow can produce an intense reflection.  This is the mask I currently use practically every day, and I love it!  Hawk even seems to be a fan!

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As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we started Hawk’s chemotherapy treatment, a topical medication called 5-Fluorouracil (5FU), in November 2016, and it was administered in rounds for more than a year.  (Learn more details about this treatment process here.)  Rounds 1 and 2 lasted from November 26, 2016 through February 4, 2017.  Before we go in depth on Hawk’s treatment, let me first say that

I AM NOT A VET, and these are not my recommendations on how to treat this issue.  If your horse has skin cancer or squamous cell carcinoma, please consult a vet and GET A SECOND OPINION.  During Hawk’s treatment, I spoke with several vets, and they didn’t always agree.  While all recommended the 5-Fluorouracil as the most effective course of treatment, they differed on how to apply it and for how long.  I still don’t know what the best course of treatment is, but I want to document my story and share as much information as I can.  Hopefully it will benefit others. 

Here’s a recap of Rounds 1 & 2:

Round 1, 11/26/16 – 1/2/17: In my last post, I included a photo progression of Round 1.  In this 38-day cycle, Hawk spent 12 days on chemotherapy, and the scab fell off on Day 29.  Photos are labeled “CHEMO” and “REST” to indicate days on and off of the 5-FU.  Here’s a reminder:

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Round 1 Summary: This was the first time I’d ever used the 5FU, and the results were shocking.   Not only did it work quickly, it produced the thickest scab I’ve ever seen.  If you can’t tell from the pictures, this monster was the size of a thin hamburger.  Hawk’s nose got so irritated that I started worrying I’d done some permanent damage around Day 12; I wish now that I had stopped the 5FU earlier.  Luckily, when the scab fell off, I saw pink skin underneath.  This was the largest, most cohesive scab that ever formed in the 10 rounds of chemotherapy.  The small, dark spot at the center of the lesion on Day 38 is the beginnings of an open wound (I call this “the crater”) that will eventually become a real issue with a lot of unsightly drainage (so stay tuned!)

Round 2, 1/3/17 – 2/4/17:  In this 30-day cycle, Hawk spent 10 days on chemotherapy, and the scab fell off on Day 26.

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Round 2 Summary: Round 2 produced much the same results as Round 1, with a smaller scab.  If you look closely at the final photos in the cycle, you can see that the skin around the dark spot in the center had started to become lumpy, perhaps inflamed.  I now believe the crater was infected for much of Hawk’s treatment.

Stay tuned for more rounds and stomach-churning photos.  And, remember, if your horse is fair, buy him a mask!

Caution: Chemotherapy Material

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The first thing I learned about putting 5% Fluorouracil on my horse was that I was never allowed to get it on myself.  5-FU is a chemotherapy medication, so it’s basically a hazardous material.  It comes in two plastic “transport bags” with yellow warnings that say “Caution: Chemotherapy Material” and “observe safety precautions for handling and administration.”  My vet told me to wear gloves on both hands when administering it.

The second thing I learned about putting 5% Fluorouracil on my horse is that I never should have told my mother about it.  She wants me to wear double gloves on both hands and long sleeves.  I’m just waiting for her to suggest a gas mask and a hazmat suit.  I honestly think she’d prefer if I just had my hands amputated and replaced with metal tongs.

(Pro-tip: if you’re lost right now and have no idea why we’re discussing equine skin cancer instead of some ineffective natural deodorant powder, I suggest you go back to the beginning for a recap.)

(Second Pro-tip: I AM NOT A VET, and these are not my recommendations on how to treat this issue.  If your horse has skin cancer or squamous cell carcinoma, please consult a vet and GET A SECOND OPINION.  During Hawk’s treatment, I spoke with several vets, and they didn’t always agree.  While all recommended the 5-Fluorouracil as the most effective course of treatment, they differed on how to apply it and for how long.  I still don’t know what the best course of treatment is, but I want to document my story and share as much information as I can.  Hopefully it will benefit others.)

The 5FU comes in a small tube and looks like lotion…except for the warnings all over the front.  Other than that, just like lotion.  It works by attacking cancerous and pre-cancerous cells in the skin.  This form of chemotherapy is unique in that it is supposed to only attack diseased cells, leaving healthy cells unaffected.  You can determine which areas of tissue are cancerous by how they react when the 5-FU is applied; healthy skin should have no reaction, while cancerous tissue should become irritated.

I began using 5-FU to treat the lesion on Hawk’s nose on November 26, 2016.  The Fluorouracil works in cycles.  To begin, my vet instructed that I apply a small amount (think dime-sized) to Hawk’s lesion once a day until the area becomes too irritated to continue.  I asked how I would know when that was, and my vet replied, “oh, he’ll let you know.”  Surprisingly, though, Hawk is pretty good about it.  I’d like to think this is because he’s so well trained and really likes me, but he’s probably just gotten used to me antagonizing his nose by now.  That’s not to say that he loves getting the medicine, and although he doesn’t typically act up, I usually can tell when he’s had enough.  Once, he actually ran in the opposite direction when he saw me coming with the tube – no signals were mixed that day.

After stopping treatment, I allow the lesion to rest for a few weeks, and I apply an antiseptic – usually Neosporin.  Once a scab forms and then falls off, I let the lesion rest for just a few more days before beginning again with the 5-FU.  Each cycle typically takes between four and six weeks.  The treatment is to continue in these “on”/”off” cycles until the cancer is hopefully eradicated. We have completed 10 rounds so far, and I am about to begin the eleventh in the next few days.  As an example, this is a photo progression of Round 1.  In this 38-day cycle, Hawk spent 12 days on chemotherapy, and the scab fell off on Day 29.  Photos are labeled “CHEMO” and “REST” to indicate days on and off of the 5-FU.

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People often ask me if Hawk’s nose is getting any better.  Well, it’s definitely changing, but I don’t know that I would describe it as “better.”  Before we started treatment, the sore was a raw and lumpy mass of hard, leathery tissue.  Now, it’s gotten smaller, and it’s opened up into what I call a “crater,” which has a nasty odor and drains constantly.  The vet tells me however, that this “eating away” of the flesh is likely a good sign that the chemotherapy is working.  Here’s a comparison of what the sore looked like when we first began and what it looks like now.  That dark area in the second picture is the opening that I call the “crater.”

Sometimes I feel like we’ll never be done treatment.  What if the FU just keeps eating away at diseased flesh for eternity?  Will the sore ever go away?  Will his nose ever be normal again?  In the beginning, these moments of frustration would have me in tears. I’d leave the barn so disheartened, smelling the rotting smell of whatever drainage Hawk had wiped on my jacket, and I’d just cry.  I’d cry because he looked worse than yesterday, because he’d ripped a scab off, because it was bleeding, because it was draining, because it was discolored, because it was always one step forward and two steps back.  I’d cry because even though I’d gone through cycle after cycle, I didn’t feel like I was looking at progress.  Sure, his nose looked different, but was this weeping, rotten-smelling hole really progress?

Eventually, I realized that I can’t live and die with Hawk’s nose every day.  The reality is that his nose changes all the time.  Due to the nature of the treatment, it routinely goes from blistered and aggravated to soft and pink in the space of a a few days – in the space of a night sometimes.  That’s quite an emotional roller coaster if you’re hanging your happiness every day on a glimmer of hope that maybe you’ll see some progress this time.

Progress in this challenge is a lot more “big picture.”  Do I still get disheartened?  Of course.  Do I still cry sometimes?  Maybe…he is my baby after all.  But I try to trust that it will get worse before it gets better.  And, most importantly, I try to trust that it will get better.  If it doesn’t, then Hawk will spend the rest of his life with a nose that smells like a skunk laid its rotten eggs inside of it.  And I’m betting God’s nicer than that.

Don’t tell my horse he’s UV sensitive (he thinks he’s a ninja)

Hawk’s story starts with a sunburn.  

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In case you missed last week’s post, where I introduced my horse, Hawk, his skin lesion, and the topic of my new blog series, I’m not going to recap it, so go back and read it yourself. Trust me, it’ll be a character-builder.  Plus, I need to boost my viewership.

Hawk is an American Paint Horse with a white face, which means he has pink skin.  He’s also my 1,200-lb baby. Like other horses – and babies – with pink-pigmented skin, he is very sensitive to the sun and burns easily in areas that aren’t covered in enough hair, like his nose and eyelids.  It wasn’t too bad when he was younger, but as he aged, his reactions got worse and worse. In winter, he never had any trouble, but during the summer, I was in a constant battle with the sun. I didn’t know what to do.  

I tried slathering him in as much sunscreen as I could buy without maxing out my credit card, but I obviously couldn’t follow him around all day to re-apply “as directed,” so he usually got burned anyway.  Then I thought about keeping him inside during the summer, but Hawk was born on the plains of South Dakota, and he hates being in a stall, so that seemed like a pretty miserable option. I thought about covering him in a mask, but I’d heard horror stories of horses that had gotten bees trapped inside fly masks and then injured or killed themselves in a panic.  Not to mention, I was worried that it would restrict him too much and turn him into a bubble boy.  So I started using homemade inventions like the fringe and plastic shield shown below.

 

Unfortunately, nothing was foolproof, and one summer he got a really bad sunburn on his nose, and one particular blister just wouldn’t go away.  That’s the one that eventually turned into squamous cell carcinoma. After that, I became fanatical about keeping him protected, no matter what I had to put on him or how long he had to wear it or how silly he looked – he was not going to see the unfiltered light of day from April to October.  I spent $26 on a UV-blocking fly mask that covers his entire face and makes him look like a ninja, which I think he secretly likes. Then I spent another $26 on a back-up mask in case he lost the first one.  Then I spent another $26 on a back-up-to-the-back-up mask in case he lost the first one and ripped the second one in the same day. If you’ve spent any time around horses, then you know why I did this. Yes, I do have nightmares about the bees getting trapped inside, but in his case, I think the benefits of the mask outweigh the possible risks, so I just keep praying that never happens.

 

Even with his face completely out of the sun, that chronic blister never healed.  I tried everything imaginable, but nothing seemed to touch it – not fungicides, antibiotic ointments, or antibacterial creams.  As Mother Nature’s Maid, I of course threw a kitchen sink of natural remedies at it, as well: green tea soaks, eggplant compresses, coconut oil, white and apple cider vinegar, yogurt, and tea tree oil.  Still, it persisted – through medicated shampoos and twice-a-day treatments, through prescription burn ointments and garlic poultices that made the whole barn smell like lasagna (sorry, everybody…or you’re welcome).  I even treated it with yeast infection cream to no avail. This is what it looked like in 2016:

 

Finally, I contacted my vet, who determined that it was most likely squamous cell carcinoma.  He didn’t do a biopsy, but he said we could be quite certain it was squamous cell based on the tumor’s appearance and reaction to medication.  He started Hawk on a chemotherapy treatment called 5-Fluorouracil in November of 2016. So far, we have completed 10 rounds with more ahead.

If I’ve learned anything in all of this, aside from how to detect lesional infection based on discharge and odor, it’s that I should have kept Hawk’s pink face covered from day one.  It makes me sad when I think that I might have prevented all of this by simply putting a UV-blocking mask on him right from the start.  It seems like a no-brainer now: Pink skin must be protected or it will get sunburned. I, of all people, should have known better – I have the complexion of a vampire.  But I honestly didn’t even think this could happen. He’s a horse. Horses live outside – that’s what they’re meant to do. God wouldn’t design a creature so fragile if it had to live outside, right?  Well, actually, God designed some creatures to be not only fragile but also highly accident-prone with a serious vendetta against plastic bags. Horses are living proof of that.

My Horse the Pink-Faced Bubble Boy

HOORAY!!!!  After a nearly two year hiatus from sub-par homemade remedies, mediocre back-to-nature advice, and deodorant recipes that absolutely (do not) work, guess what?  Mother Nature’s Maid is BACK!  Say it with me now: HOORAY!!!  No, no, really, even if you don’t think it, just fake it: HOORAY!!!  And what, you might ask, brought me out of the depths when I could have just cashed in on that big, fat royalties check that I definitely did not make as MNM and coast through life in a tent under a downtown Baltimore overpass?  You guessed it – equine skin cancer.

I have a 19-year-old American Paint Horse named Hawk who is the love of my life and the main reason I can’t have nice clothes.

About a year and a half ago, I discovered that Hawk has skin cancer.  It was a really weird diagnosis because, honestly, I didn’t even know horses could get skin cancer.   Hawk actually developed his case from sun exposure, which was even more surprising to me, because I always assumed horses were meant to live outside and were built to withstand the elements.  Apparently, they can be affected by the sun just like people.

As you can see from his photos, Hawk has a white face with pink-pigmented skin.  A few years ago, he got a sunburn that became an irritated sore a bit larger than a half dollar next to his right nostril.  I tried every kind of over-the-counter medication I could find to get it to heal, but it was largely unaffected by anything that I would put on it – from garlic to antibiotic ointment.  Finally, my vet diagnosed Hawk with squamous cell carcinoma.

My first reaction was confusion and fear.  I didn’t know what to do. I’ve never known anyone whose horse got cancer.  I was completely blindsided.  It’s not that the idea had never crossed my mind; I just don’t think I ever entertained it.  I had no idea what a diagnosis like this meant, and I had so many questions. If you’ve ever had an animal become a part of your life and a part of your family, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Was he in pain?  

Can you do chemotherapy on a horse?  

Does squamous cell carcinoma even respond to chemotherapy?  

Could it be surgically removed?

How much would this cost?

Could I afford whatever the course of treatment might be?  

Was there even a course of treatment?

I was completely in the dark.  I tried to do some research online, but information on squamous cell carcinoma in horses was pretty hard to come by (as you might imagine) and most searches gave me a lot of veterinary articles that used words like “intralesional” and “toxicosis.”  So all I succeeded in doing was making myself even more confused and more worried.  Eventually, I just got off the internet completely and stuck to asking the vet.  He said the prognosis was pretty good, and it was unlikely that the cancer had spread.  He started Hawk on a cyclical treatment of an ointment called 5-fluorouracil, or 5FU. 

Although 5FU is a topical chemotherapy, the treatment is supposed to specifically attack cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unaffected.  The vet told me to treat the sore with chemotherapy once a day for about 8-12 days or until a scab formed.  The 5FU would target the cancerous area, making the tumor angry and sore and scabbed.  Once it got too irritated, I would stop treatment and allow the area to rest until the scab fell off.  After this healing period, I’d start on another round of 5FU, and the cycle would begin again.  Hawk’s first round of treatment started around Thanksgiving 2016, and we are going to start his eleventh round in a few weeks.  

I know equine skin cancer might be slightly off-topic for someone who’s usually telling you how to make mascara out of charcoal, but I’m kindof obsessed with Hawk’s treatment, and I’ve realized I need a platform other than dinner parties to discuss my horse’s dermatological maladies.  Through this blog series, I plan to document our progress – all the unappetizing photos, all the trials and tribulations, and all the heartaches.  I’ll probably even describe the nasty drainage that comes out of the lesion (I told you I’m obsessed).

If unsightly medical conditions aren’t your thing, don’t worry – I won’t be offended if you don’t follow the series.  But if this is your thing, then please contact me with your advice, questions, and anecdotes!  My family thanks you for giving me another sounding board for all of my way-too-detailed pictures and odor descriptions.

**Note: I AM NOT A VET, and these are not my recommendations on how to treat this issue.  If your horse has skin cancer or squamous cell carcinoma, please consult a vet and get a second opinion.  During Hawk’s treatment, I spoke with several vets, and they didn’t always agree.  While all recommended the 5-Fluorouracil as the most effective course of treatment, they differed on how to apply it and for how long.  I still don’t know what the best course of treatment is, but I want to document my story and share as much information as I can.  Hopefully it will benefit others. 

La vie par hasard

There was something surreal about Corsica.  Maybe it was the juxtaposition of mountains and sea, and the way tiny villages cropped up out of nowhere someplace in between.  Maybe it was the simple way life existed on the island, as if completely independent of the world.  Or maybe it was the fact that we subsisted on cereal for more than half the trip and it was just our hunger that deluded us into surrealism.

I traveled to Corsica in 2009 with my brother, Daniel, and my friend3177_747203521048_5942233_n Katherine.  It was meant to be a camping trip over the Easter holidays of a semester in France, but it turned into something much more adventurous.  We arrived in Bastia, one of Corsica’s biggest cities, and planned to move on by bus to a campground on Cap Corse, a mountainous region with a long, jagged coastline that is said to be the most scenic place on the island.

Catching the bus to find un camping on Cap Corse was a shot in the dark.  It was April – still early in the season – and we knew many campgrounds wouldn’t be open yet.  We were just hoping against hope that we could find something from wherever the bus dropped us.  If not, we had to make sure to get back to Bastia for the weekend, so as not to be marooned on Cap Corse, where – we had been told – wild boars roam free.  Upon boarding the bus, our journey was suddenly complicated when we found that a road closure would cut our route short.  In semi-comprehended French, we understood the basic gist that, if we got off this bus at the terminus, we would be dead-ended somewhere on Cap Corse with no idea where to go next or how to even get there.  So, without a plan in the world, the three of us naturally stepped off at the very last stop, determined to continue our journey on foot.  Sometimes, the combination of midday sunlight and youth can be enough to make unsavory possibilities – like not finding a campground, missing a bus back to civilization, or encountering a wild boar – shrink to the back of your mind.

The very last stop was Erbalunga, a tiny haven of civilization tucked inside the sauvage mountains of Cap Corse.  By this time, we hadn’t eaten a substantial meal since catching the ferry to Corsica from France the previous afternoon, and we ran for the first restaurant we saw – a small pizza shop. Even in this country town, the French had not lost their fashion decorum, and we looked ridiculous in sweatpants and tennis shoes, with our tent, sleeping bags, 3177_747203381328_7900098_nbackpacks, and camping supplies in tow.  Pouring over guide books and sheets of information that Daniel had wisely printed, we tried to calculate how much farther we could safely venture.  Studying our dwindling food rations, which consisted of a box of cereal and a bag of Monster Munch, we realized we had to find both a camping and a supermarché in our travels if we were to survive until dinner without scrounging for edible insects and berries.  And, based on the few amenities that Erbalunga offered beyond pizza and human contact, it seemed unwise to hope that we would find much else on Cap Corse.

Suddenly, an English-speaking voice broke into our worried discussion.  Daniel, Katherine, and I turned around in unison at this welcome interruption of comprehensibility.  He sat at the table behind us, smoking a cigarette so casually that we had mistaken him for a Frenchman.  He was a tall, tan rail of a man with rakish, graying hair that was grappled into a ponytail in untamed, wavy tangles.  He did not quite have the look of one who had just sprung up out of the dirt, like old men tending fields on the uneven Irish countryside.  Rather, he appeared to have simply taken on the topography of the land in his skin through years of exposure; he had become Corsica.  He had a woodsy British accent, and when we asked how he ended up in Corsica, he said he had needed to figure some things out and, after 50 years on the island, he still hadn’t gotten around to figuring them out yet.  I was intrigued and somewhat chilled by how haphazardly his life seemed to have unfolded.  At 20, I did not realize that life often refuses to unfold in any other way.

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Hiking along the coastal road from Erbalunga to Sisco

He was a wealth of information for our beleaguered brains.  Apparently, the next town was called Sisco.  He recalled a campground being nearby but couldn’t be sure that it existed or would be open; however, there was certainly a supermarket.  We could reach this Mecca, he claimed, in just a few miles.  And then, with a quick nod of good luck, he was on his way to what we could only assume was another adventure.  So onward we tramped, with the sun sneakily burning through the afternoon behind us.

The miles between each outpost were desolate, yet friendly.  We followed a circuitous coastal road, framed on one side by green mountains, which dropped off dramatically on the other into the depths of an aqua-blue ocean. Drivers and cyclists waved as they passed.  Each bend in the road brought renewed hope of a sign or an advertisement – anything to indicate that we were not searching for a phantom town with a phantom supermarket, but we walked for more than an hour with nothing.  We knew we couldn’t continue searching indefinitely; at some point we would have to turn around to make it back to Bastia.

Another bend brought no more reassurance than the last.  We sat down and divided the rest of our cereal between us and vowed to turn around in the next unsuccessful 20 minutes.  Then, around the next curve, as if it had just sprung3177_747203461168_1615448_n up for no other reason than our requirement, a seaside town became visible.  Sisco di Marina is embedded in a green valley that opens up to the sea.  Mountains rise up on either side and, farther inland, you can see the roofs and steeples of the official Sisco.  A two-way street passes through the town and then sends you on to the next one, several kilometers away.  It takes about 10 minutes to walk through the entire village.  To our delight, there was a Cocci Market (we silently thanked the haphazard Englishman) and a billboard advertising a campground, A Casiola, which we found out was open.

We had a moment of blind celebration before we ran straight for Cocci – once again desperate for food and fearing a waning sunset.  While we were greedily unloading our wares at the checkout, we heard a familiar voice behind us.  “So, you made it to Sisco!” It was the haphazard Englishman, looking as though he had walked into Cocci expecting nothing less than to meet us there.  He gave us the smiling nod we’d seen before and walked out of the supermarket in a jaunting lope.  We stood in stunned silence upon meeting him again at random.  We’d only come about five kilometers from Erbalunga, but in our uncertain journey, we felt we might have crossed the face of the earth.  That was the last we ever saw of him.

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The petite colline behind our campground

On that first night, we took our dinner and a bottle of victory wine out to a hill that Katherine had found behind the campground.  On either side of us, two broad mountains rose up, covered in rich green.  The gray clouds in the darkening sky hovered in misty shadows over the mountaintops, and as it got darker, the little twinkling lights of the inland Sisco became like a solitary beacon of civilization.  We sat for a while, watching the scenery fade to darkness and all the greens and blues disappear in shades of black and white.

Sometimes in life, there are places we go to which we feel an instinctive and inexplicable connection, as if we’ve belonged to them for years without having even known of their existence.  Sitting on that hill, alone in the world, watching civilization meander through the tiny streets below, I suddenly realized how the Englishman had come to belong to Corsica.  In the mundane everyday, I can rarely feel my life unfolding; most often I seem to be running after it, cursing it, and trying to make my way around the roadblocks it leaves in its wake.  But in that moment, I was living.  Whether haphazard or not, I knew the future would unfold and it was worth all the hardship and pain that awaited just to see a bright day fade silently into night and to feel, for even one minute, the depth of infinite possibilities ahead.

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It’s Like I Had No Idea I Even Looked Like That

That is NOT what I look like…..is it??

Well this is just great.  Now I have to look at myself.

In the process of scrubbing the bathroom last week, I stumbled upon a great glass cleaner.  Considering that I’m (as usual) about a week behind on my Mother Nature’s Maid Service Challenge, this sounds like a wonderful godsend of a discovery, right?  Sure, if you really want to look at yourself in the mirror.  I, however, have been suffering from horrendous cold and allergy symptoms the past few days, which causes a stuffy nose, which causes me to sleep (so adorably) with my mouth wide open, which causes my throat to go raw, which causes me to get absolutely NO sleep, which causes me to wake up looking like the dead in my bathroom mirror.  Ain’t nobody wanna see that.

I don’t know who invented bathroom mirrors, but I’m not a huge fan.  It’s not that I don’t like mirrors;love mirrors.  I have this obsession with my hair and will go to great lengths to turn just about any reflective surface – from the bottom of a soda can to a doorknob – into a mirror.  The reason I have a particular aversion to bathroom mirrors is because having one basically ensures that my sleep-deprived, sandy-eyed, drooled-on face is always the first thing I see in the morning, and it’s honestly enough to give me a heart attack some days.  I don’t know who invented bathroom mirrors, but they must have been a morning person.

So now we have this sparkling clean bathroom mirror, and I have to look at myself every morning.  What a nightmare.  I preferred when our mirror was covered in dust and soap and hairspray and toothpaste, so I only ever saw a blurry outline of myself and could just assume I woke up looking like Jane Bennet, beauty of Meryton.  But, to get to my point, what’s my new Windex?  Get ready for another surprise, because one’s about to fall on you like a ton of bricks.  Vinegar.  That’s it.

I know, I know – I’ve been trashing vinegar lately, because it won’t stop following me around.  Since I started using it to clean the bathroom, I feel like I have this lingering vinegar scent wherever I go, like I’m in some sort of vinegar dust cloud.  It’s not amusing or attractive, but I do have to admit the stuff has cleansing properties.  I discovered it’s Windexing power by accident when I sprayed it on the mirror just to see what would happen.  Wouldn’t you know it cleaned the darn thing.

I use the vinegar basically the same way I would use Windex – spray, wash, wipe, buff.  And I don’t buy anything fancy for my cleaning supplies – just cheapo white vinegar.  It’s simple and effective – everything I love in any sort of homemade product.  Give it a try and see if it cleans your mirrors as well as it did mine.  The only downside is that now you’ll have to look at yourself.  Good morning!  Good morning!  Good morning!

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