Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Re-entry into the real world is tough

This was the view from our hotel room three nights ago, the culmination of three weeks of vacation which were almost a year in the planning.  Yes, it was pretty wonderful;  we loved both New Zealand and Australia.  Vacations have to be pretty wonderful as you work like a dog before you go, and work like a dog to catch up when you get back.


Sixteen hours of flight time, five loads of laundry, and a two-foot-high stack of mail later, I've got both feet back in the real world.  Kind of.  I still want to go to sleep and wake up at odd times but at least I finally have my calendar on the right date instead of a day ahead. 

Which brings me to today:  it's the beginning of Lent.  How did that slip up on me?  I have usually given some thought as to what I'll give up so it's a meaningful sacrifice, but not this time.  After three weeks of total vacation indulgence I feel I should give up just about everything, but I'm going to go for my old stand-by of giving up all sweets.  It's going to really hurt this time, because it's going to halt some very productive research work I was conducting before I went on vacation: trying all variations of the Ultimate Killer Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.  I found the basic recipe, attributed to a famous New York restaurant, just before Christmas, and both my husband and I found it addictive.  Highly addictive.  I mean fight-for-the-last-cookie addictive.  I'm pausing my scientific study for now but I'll tell you that I found the secret of adding the wonderful flavor of nuts without the crunchy texture that some object to, plus how to maximize the chocolate flavor in every bite.  Stay tuned.  This is good stuff.  Alert the Discovery Channel that I'll be ready for a special series when my research recommences after Easter.

A friend challenged me to add one positive change over Lent, in addition to one sacrificial change, so I am still mulling that one over.  One of the things I realized again over the last year is that every positive change you make leads to another positive change, so I love the concept.  Ideas?  I find myself coming back to something our minister talked about recently:  pruning.  Prune back nice but less important things so you have time to focus on the truly important.  Surely that's two steps in the right direction! 

Thanks to all for the congrats on beating cancer and being in the clear just one year after my lymphoma diagnosis.  Thanks in particular go to my prayer warriors:  you made all the difference.  Please keep my friend Mike in your prayers for the next few months;  he's started his chemo treatments but he's had to have several blood transfusions already. 

It makes me realize that the "real world" I'm re-entering after vacation is really pretty wonderful.  Even if it doesn't come with breakfast in bed the way that vacations do.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What a difference a year makes

This time last year, I had been told I had lymphoma and was waiting for the biopsy to find out exactly how bad my type would be.  I was scared.  And very worried.  What about my family?  What about my job?  And yes - how long would I have before I kicked the bucket?

One year later, I am happier than I've ever been, having fun in retirement knocking things off my bucket list, and I have decades to go before I kick that bucket. All things considered, it was a very good year.  I was just looking back at notes I made throughout the year, and here's what I learned.  (Don't expect a lot of pithy statements that will end up needlepointed on pillows unless you're truly desperate for something to needlepoint.)

Exercise really is as important as everyone says it is.  I've never been one to get up in the morning and go for a brisk 10-mile jog.  In fact, if I am ever found on a jogging trail, you can be certain that I was murdered elsewhere and dumped there.  But at my sickest, I found that even a little bit of walking helps tremendously.  It's how nature gets your whole system working well.

Early to bed, and early to rise...  who am I kidding?  Vampires greet sunrise with more enthusiasm than I do.  But I couldn't agree more with the early-to-bed part; getting 8 hours of sleep every night is really important, it's when your body does repairs.  Getting that sleep gives your body more of a chance to fix cells before they turn rogue on you, and more time to heal if they do.  It takes me an hour or two to get to sleep now, so it's lights out early for me.  This has been the hardest ongoing change for me to make.

Spend every hour on what's important.  When you fully realize that you do not have an unlimited number of days, you realize how important it is to spend every hour wisely.  For me, what's important is family, friends, and faith. 

You really can take more than you think you can.  You just don't know what you can take until you have to.  I never believed that old adage "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger," but I have to admit that meeting personal adversity head-on is how we grow or at least how we get a little tougher and wiser.

So - take THAT, cancer! 
I just got the results back from my 6-month PET scan and (drum roll, please) - I got another all-clear!  Six months and not a sign of any rogue cancer cells anywhere. 

I'm not out of the danger zone until August, but I'm confident I'll keep getting all-clears.  Why yes, that is the sound of a cork popping that you hear;  it's time to celebrate!    What a difference a year makes.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Whoa - was that 2013 that just whizzed by?!

It was November and out of the corner of my eye I could see December coming up fast, dressed in red and green and smelling of cinnamon, and then wham! suddenly it's January and I still have all kinds of great stuff left on my To Do list.  Well played, 2013, well played. 

But I did have one of the best holiday seasons ever, filled with family and friends and cookies and great times.  My husband and I visited Colonial Williamsburg early in the month for some fun and to see the holiday decorations, which were just amazing.  It's well worth going during the Christmas season just to see all the colonial wreaths and decorations featuring red apples, fresh greenery, pineapples, dried flowers, and more.  They should come with a warning label, however:  Do Not Try This at Home. 

My first job was at a small bank in Austin and the president asked me to manage the holiday decorations, specifying that he wanted natural greenery and nothing artificial.  A Colonial Williamsburg theme seemed just the ticket, and our florist outdid himself.  The bank looked magnificent when everything went up:  very classy and elegant, and the evergreen wreaths smelled and looked divine.  But did I mention this bank was in Austin, Texas?  where it's much, much hotter in December than it is in Williamsburg, Virginia?  By the end of the first week, tellers were starting to swat at fruit flies.  By the second week, we were all learning how quickly and exponentially fruit flies reproduce.  I had to call the florist and get him to replace the fruit with Christmas ornaments.  Then I had to call an exterminator.  The next year I faced no arguments whatsoever when I proposed artificial greenery.  So proceed at your own risk with those gorgeous colonial decorations.  But back to January...

2014 Is The Year of the Pill

I have news to report on two new pills to help cancer patients. The first is startlingly good news for mantle cell lymphoma patients, who usually have to get chemo every two months for the rest of their lives as mantle cell lymphoma is a particularly sneaky kind of cancer which can creep back in at any time. A new drug was just approved in pill format, and a friend of ours at church is one of the first to try it out.  Claire will take five little pills once a day, and as soon as her doctor is sure that it's truly doing the job for her, she'll be able to eliminate or reduce the chemo.  What a huge improvement this will make in quality of life for mantle cell lymphoma patients!

The second pill is a prescription-strength medical food which helps neuropathy, that tingling/numbness in your feet or hands.  Is anyone besides me going "huh? what the heck is medical food?"  According to the FDA, it's a specially formulated food given under a doctor's supervision to meet the specific nutritional needs of diseases which can't be met by normal diet alone.  It can be a liquid, a solid, or a pill.  Anyway, diabetes patients have long reported that strong doses of the vitamin B group (B6, B9, B12) help neuropathy but who wants to have to give themselves shots?  So of course there's a company out there which stepped in to fill the void by creating super-strong B-vitamin complex pills.  Cancer doctors are starting to borrow this little trick to help their patients, so if you have neuropathy as I do, ask your doctor about it.  It takes about 30 days to reach full effect, so I'll report back later about how it's working out for me.  But oh my, what a relief it will be if these little pills do the job!

Two Shout-Outs

A good friend just ran a marathon at Disneyworld to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, a fabulous organization whose work in research is leading to breakthroughs like the pills above.  She's done this for several years now, setting her goal higher each time, and this year she raised $10,000.  Talk about one person making a difference - go, JennyRose!  If you're a runner or want to become one, check out LLS's Team in Training, which helps couch potatoes become runners and runners become marathoners.  Along the way, you'll have the opportunity to raise money to stop cancer in its tracks.

One of our best friends was just diagnosed with a fairly rare lymphoma:  angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma.  He is already getting transfusions and he starts chemo next week.  So I'm asking my prayer warriors to add my friend Mike to their prayer list and send a lot of good vibes his way.

Here's to a healthier, happier 2014!
 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Flush and a Full House

I am still a member of the port club:  not those who appreciate a potent after-dinner wine, but those who have a portacath in their chest for fast and easy access by needles.  My doctor wants me to remain a member for the rest of my 'keep an eye on it' year.  As a result, I have to go in to the oncology clinic every five weeks to have the port flushed so I don't risk a blood clot. 

I just had my third flush. It was nice to walk in without any apprehension, knowing that I'd be in and out within 15 minutes. The waiting room was packed as patients were trying to get treatments in before Thanksgiving, but the atmosphere was far from harried.  I was stopped several times as I went down the hall by nurses and doctors who wanted to say hello and ask how I was doing.  As usual, it felt like a reunion with friends, and I realized how grateful I have been this year for this wonderful community at UT Southwestern, as well as my other communities of friends, family, and online supporters.  I want you to know that this Thanksgiving, I'll be raising a forkful of pumpkin pie in your honor!  Thank you for all the support this year; it was often what kept me going during the down days.

The house is decorated and I'm starting to cook now for Thanksgiving.  Before I retired, this often involved a complicated and frenetic schedule similar to what the Secret Service does for POTUS:
 8:00  Pies arrive for top oven
 8:05  Casserole departs from bottom oven
 8:05  Wheels up on the turkey
 8:45  Pies depart from oven for cooling rack
 9:00  Wine break for the staff

Now I find myself humming (badly, but that's a different story) as I polish silver and leisurely do the prep work in the kitchen. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday as it's not commercial:  it's just a wonderful celebration of family and friends and counting your blessings.  This year I'm looking forward to having our biggest crowd ever, and I'm grateful for the full house. 

It's so much fun to see everyone and catch up on all the news while we're in turkey comas.  It's the last pause before Black Friday and the madness of the holiday rush begins.  Kudos to my friends who celebrate Hanukkah, for as a few emailed me after the post on Thankistmas, they had to get ready for Hanukkah before Thanksgiving this year.  One said her family is making her cook double this Thursday as they want the best of both:  Thanksgiving sweet potatoes and Hanukkah latkes.  Now that's a crazy cooking schedule!

Here's hoping that your Thanksgiving is full of family and friends, and filled with blessings and love.  And pie.  Lots of pie.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

'Tis Already The Season

The last thing I knew, I was getting ready for Halloween.  Candy had been purchased, and decorations were ready to go up.  Then I blinked - and lo and behold, it was Thankistmas. 

The stores all know it's the season, they're just not sure what season it is.  As a result, shopping is now a schizophrenic experience. I'm finding Halloween clearances next to Thanksgiving displays, which are right beside the Christmas specials.  Here's one of the high-end malls in our city, clearly caught in a case of Harvestistmas:  simultaneous pumpkin displays and Christmas trees.

My neighbors are clearly equally confused:  on my street, you'll find an elaborate Halloween display, a flock of inflatable turkeys, and the first of the holiday light displays.  I wouldn't be surprised if next year we can buy a Santa which comes with a Halloween costume and a pilgrim outfit, so we can just put up decorations once and change outfits as the mood strikes us.  If you have ideas on how to deal with this multiple holiday simulcast, please share them!

I was at the Harvestistmas mall to watch my husband deliver a doghouse he built and donated to the SPCA for their Home for the Holidays fundraiser.  If you're visiting this mall, you can buy raffle tickets to win the doghouse of your choice, with all proceeds benefiting the SPCA to help them rescue, heal, and find homes for thousands of animals in the area.  (Pssst:  vote for the big red fire hydrant doghouse!)

And finally, last night I attended the premiere of a documentary of eyewitness accounts about JFK's visit to Dallas fifty years ago.  The film appropriately premiered at the Texas Theater, which was where Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended the afternoon of that fateful day. The documentary, which will be a PBS special, was fascinating as it featured recent interviews with eyewitnesses of the event, many of them now in their eighties and speaking candidly.  But hardly had the credits finished rolling when the first controversial question was lobbed to the panel moderator - by one of the eyewitnesses!  On this painful subject, the only point upon which everyone will ever be able to agree is that it is now history.

Now, back to my normal blogging schedule!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What does the doc say?

I just had my three-month lymphoma checkup, for which I had to get another PET scan.  I'm an old pro at those now:  after doing so many, there could be no surprises, right? 

Sure enough, the rooms were still frigid.  I was glad I wore my yoga clothes so I could stay warm and not have to change to scrubs, the fate of anyone with zippers or other metal on their clothing.  I'm sure those scrubs are freshly laundered, but who wants to wonder how many butts have been in the garments you're told to put on?

The music in the waiting room - yep, still the same.  It's the two-CD collection of "Songs You Hoped You'd Never Hear Again" that is played in all medical waiting rooms.  You know the one - it features Feelings, You're Having My Baby, and lots of Barry Manilow.

And the technician was still the same - Melanie, a pretty blonde who's very good at what she does. She was even still wearing those thick, heavy-soled shoes.  Ever notice how medical personnel have the market cornered on sensible shoes?  Melanie's shoes were so sensible that I bet they brush their teeth and put themselves into bed every night by nine.  But then she burst my bubble.

"We have all sorts of new things for you this time!" she said brightly, holding up a menu of new and improved barium smoothie flavor choices.  "I recommend the mochaccino!"  Now I strongly doubt that Melanie has personally tried all the flavors herself, but I was game for anything that might improve the flavor of my barium.  And she was right, the mochaccino won't put Starbucks out of business but it was definitely less horrible than before.

Then she wheeled in a machine.  "And this machine will actually give you your isotope injection!"  Whaaaaaat?  This machine was going to put a needle in my arm and inject me with radioactive material?  "Oh, no, I still put the needle in your arm, but it's going to push through the dose once you're all hooked up.  It's safer for us this way," she chirped. I was so very glad to hear that.

"And safer for you, too," she added as an afterthought as she programmed in the amount I was to receive. "It eliminates the risk of human error."  Really?  What if she accidentally typed in a wrong number and told the machine to give me a dose similar to Chernobyl?   She hit the green button and the machine whirred and pushed through saline, then whirred again and pushed through what I hope was the correct dose. At least I'm not glowing in the dark yet.

The next day I saw my doctor and got the results:  still in remission after three months!  I hadn't truly realized how much the first twelve months after chemo matter until I saw how relieved the doctor was. He says we have to be very watchful for a year, but that means I'm already 1/4 the way through the worry zone!

Next:  'Tis Already the Season

Monday, November 11, 2013

Long Time, No Post - But I'm Making Up For It!

I was on the road for most of last month, and I've got to learn how to post from my iPad.  (Fortunately, I know who to go to when I'm technologically challenged - any of my kids. Or grandkids.  It seems that we were just teaching them yesterday how to tie their shoelaces, and now we're asking them for tech help.)  So I'll have several posts this week just to catch up. 

First we went to the hill country just west of Austin, which is always a simply wonderful place to visit.  Texans try to keep the hill country a secret so people from other states don't discover it and move there.  It's all gently rolling hills covered with wildflowers, veined by rivers and creekbeds, and you'll still spot herds of longhorns. It's so darn pretty that you'll understand why the original pioneers stayed despite rattlesnakes, scorpions, and scalping raids from hostile Indians.

Now the biggest danger in the hill country is the calorie count from all the local specialties.  We always stop for lunch wherever we see a lot of cars and trucks in the parking lot.  This time we stopped at the Koffee Kup in Hico (pronounced HIGH-co, the locals quickly tell us, I suppose to avoid the HICK-o pronunciation which would make them known as, well, hicks).

It's the kind of place where your phone automatically speed-dials your cardiologist as you enter the front door.  Everything is fried.  I swear even the salad was fried. I counter-balanced the calories in the chicken-fried steak by ordering my tea unsweetened, which seemed to be a unique experience for the waitress.  She had to clarify twice that I really wanted unsweet tea, with an air of disbelief as though I'd said something not usually mentioned in polite company.  Then since we'd saved so many calories with the unsweetened tea, we split a piece of pie.  Just in the interest of research, of course.  Our humble opinion is the pie was merely OK but the really artery-hardening stuff was pretty darn tasty.

Anyway, it was a lovely fall weekend in the hill country with magnificent sunsets.  We would have been reluctant to leave except that a storm system started pushing in with a record amount of rainfall and flash floods can be really scary around there. 

Then I flew to Virginia to spend some time with family in the Chesapeake Bay area and I loved every minute:  fun folks, cool fall breezes, leaves turning color, unbelievable seafood, and spectacular waterfront scenery. I actually got up predawn one morning to watch the sun rise over the Bay and believe me, it takes something pretty amazing to get me up that early in the morning.  Then I settled for watching sunsets for the rest of the trip as they aren't scheduled quite so darn early.

Now I'm settled back at home and I did promise some cancer and gardening info, so here we go.  I got lots of great advice on how to help neuropathy, and thanks to everyone who sent me suggestions.  I was told to try vitamin B6/B12 shots, capsaicin (hot pepper) cream, various herbal supplements, and rub in geranium or lavender oil, but Arlene B. passed along the suggestion that was a real winner for me.  It's cheap, easy, and works instantly:  just rub Vicks VapoRub on your feet before you go to bed.  It feels (and smells) a bit odd, but it works for me every time!  It keeps the pain at bay until I can fall asleep, and my meds can take it from there.  Apparently it works just as well on neuropathy in hands, too.

And for you gardeners, here's a tip for a drought-tolerant stunner which was in bloom when I left on my travels:  lycoris radiata, or red spider lily. The bulbs send up two-foot stalks suddenly in October and unfurl spectacular red blooms which last for two weeks and are great cut flowers.  Then short, narrow gray-green strappy leaves appear, which add soft color and form to your winter garden, and disappear by summer.  They need no maintenance whatsoever. 
They were a favorite of mine growing up in Virginia, and I nostalgically bought 30 bulbs about 10 years ago and planted them in both shady and sunny flower beds.  They did well in both and have multiplied over the years to create quite a display.  Often considered only for the South, Lycoris radiata actually has a broader growing area although it may need a sheltered area farther north.  Its origin is China, but is highly popular in Japan, which gives you an idea of the climate it will tolerate.  Plant some and watch your neighbors' jaws drop when they bloom next fall!

Tomorrow:  What the doc said

Thursday, October 3, 2013

My Exciting Life and Big Tex

I haven't blogged for over two weeks because I didn't want to boast about the thrilling life I was leading:  I was manually scanning documents all day long.  Yes, that's right - put one page on the scanner, close it, hit scan, take it off, put the next one on, hit scan.  Repeat several thousand times.  I know, you're jealous, right?  I was converting decades of family files from paper to electronic versions and those onionskin paper copies would jam up the auto-feed every time.  Close, scan, remove, repeat. There were days when I would have liked to watch paint dry just to get a little excitement.

But then last week I escaped for a day of revelry!  My husband and our best friends all took off work on Friday and we went to the opening day of the Texas State Fair and the unveiling of the new Big Tex.

Big Tex is a 52' tall cowboy who has greeted fairgoers with a wave and a big "Howdy, folks!" for decades. It's hard to explain what he means to Texans, except that when a freak electrical fire burned him to the ground last year, within hours a Big Tex grief support group had been started on facebook.  Over the last year Big Tex was rebuilt in great secrecy, and version 2.0 was unveiled on Friday.  He's still basically a big steel frame covered by a shirt and jeans but they made him three feet taller, they gave him more movements such as a wink and a nod, and they gave him a butt.  Yes, his gluteus is definitely now maximus. 

His boots also went Hollywood on us, thanks to sponsorship by a famous boot maker who may not have realized that no self-respecting cowboy would wear those boots unless it was Saturday night and he could throw a really strong left hook.  But other than that, he's very much like the original and I can fondly report that I heard Big Tex 2.0's first official booming 'Hooooowdy, folks!' and he's as welcoming and unique as ever.  I know you were all worried about that.


I'd like to tell you that we went just to see the unveiling, but I'll confess that we make an annual pilgrimage to the state fair.  I married a local and to him, going to the fair is just something you automatically do every year, like decorating for Christmas or seeing fireworks on the Fourth of July. 

A lot of that loyalty has to do with the corny dogs and the Belgian waffles. I'm told that corny dogs were invented at the Texas State Fair, and I'll swear that they do taste better here than anywhere else.  Of course I don't actually eat them anywhere else so that's a rather limited comparison, but here they seem downright healthy when you're looking at choices like fried butter and chicken fried bacon. 

Going on opening day was a win: corny dogs taste better when the oil isn't several weeks old, the Midway rides are freshly painted, and the fairgrounds are clean and beautiful. And I do mean beautiful. Built for the 1936 World's Fair, the buildings have been restored to their original Art Deco glory and are as much an attraction as the exhibits they house.  Somehow you just feel classier buying ginzu knives or ogling the world's largest butter sculpture in buildings like these.


I do have cancer info and updates, and I promise to post them in a day or two.  In the meanwhile, there's one last box of files to scan and I'm on a roll. Close. Scan. Remove. Repeat.      

Friday, September 13, 2013

Memories and Mysteries

In a conversation at work several years ago, everyone was reminiscing about where they were on 9/11, and then what they were doing when the Challenger shuttle exploded.  So I asked what they were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated, and as their wide-eyed faces all turned my way I realized that I might as well have asked where they were when the Magna Carta was signed or Rome was sacked.  None of them had been born by 1963 and I was talking about something they had to study in history and hope they'd guessed correctly about on a multiple choice test.  This was the oops moment when I realized that I was officially An Old Person. 

However, when we old-timers manage to shuffle our walkers back from the bar with a margarita and get on the topic of "where were you when...," it's amazing what vivid memories we all have of that moment, that day, and that weekend.  Most of us stayed home from grade school on Monday so we could watch JFK's funeral on TV.  Did I say grade school?  I meant kindergarten. Actually, I'm sure I was watching TV over the edge of my bassinet. 

Anyway, the rest of the country blamed Dallas for years.  When I moved here, one of my first questions was "what was it like to live in Dallas when it happened?"  My in-laws, who travelled extensively, told me that it was years before they stopped getting open animosity when people learned they were from Dallas.  It wasn't until J.R. Ewing and the rest of the larger than life (and nowhere close to reality) characters in the TV show Dallas hit the airwaves that the tide began to turn and people would say "Dallas!  Do you know J.R.?" 

This fall will be the 50th anniversary of JFK's death.  Since I had never been to the Sixth Floor Museum, I finally visited it today before the crowds overwhelm it as November 22 approaches.  Far from being a morbid exhibit, it's really a celebration of Kennedy's presidency and contributions, but it does walk you through that fateful Friday and you'll experience all the same emotions all over again.  Yes, I still tear up at the photo where John-John salutes his father's coffin passing by.

But I never knew before that the entire world stopped in its tracks and sorrowed with us: Big Ben tolled every minute for an hour as it does for deaths in the British monarchy, sixty thousand West Berliners held a torchlight parade (this was when the Wall still stood), the Soviet Union broadcast funereal dirges by radio as that's what most of its citizenry listened to then, and even Cambodia ordered a three-day moratorium on attacks against the U.S. (I guess it's the thought that counts). 

My visit to the museum also solved one of the mysteries of Dallas life for me.  When I started a career in marketing thirty-some years ago, I had to go south of downtown frequently to review photo proofs from our ad agency (this was before digital photography and we used this stuff called film which was developed with chemicals and you had to look at tiny little proofs with loupes because there was no Instagram or Photoshop, and well never mind I'll just shove my dentures in now and shuffle my walker back to this new-fangled computer thingie and focus). 

The first time I drove south with my account executive, she said "watch out for the Ex-es!" as we came up on people standing dead-center in the middle of a major street.  She was an Aggie, so I figured this was the old rivalry between Texas A&M (Aggies) and the University of Texas (Texas Ex-es) and she was implying that people dumb enough to stand in the middle of a major downtown street must be from UT.  Almost every time I drove that route, I'd have to dodge people standing out in the street and I just added it to the list of other endearing Texas behaviors like threatening to secede every decade or so. 

But today as I stood beside the glassed-off fateful corner window on the sixth floor of the school book depository, the mystery was finally solved.  Looking down on the street where Kennedy's motorcade passed, two large white Xs are clearly visible to mark the locations where he was hit.  Apparently people want to pay homage to him by going out and standing in the street on those exact spots (risking death by photo op as multiple tourists were doing today).  So apologies to UT and the Texas Exes:  some of the folks standing on those Xs might actually have been from A&M, or Tulane, or Kyoto University.  Hook 'em horns. 

The bottom line: the Sixth Floor Museum gets a thumbs-up from me, particularly if you remember the event and even more so if you don't.  Just please don't go stand out in the street on one of those Xs as not everyone knows to slow down.

Now for my health update:  it's good!  I had another port flush this week (makes the boating crowd out there want to ask about the starboard flush, doesn't it?) and all is well.  I went to see my ovarian cancer doctor, who I still need to visit every six months in addition to everything else, and he gave me a thumbs-up;  no surprise there as no ovaries are left to do any damage.  He did tell me that after weathering chemo for lymphoma, I'd passed one of the worst chemo regimens in existence, and I was doing quite well to get through with only neuropathy as an ongoing side effect.  On the down side, he told me to stop dithering around and "pill up" - the neuropathy isn't going to go away and I need to start taking the maximum dosage of gabapentin and think about taking Cymbalta on top of it so I get back to life at full strength.

I immediately googled Cymbalta and found that it is primarily an antidepressant, in addition to helping neuropathy pain.  Me - take an antidepressant?  I already wake up every morning happy.  Me on antidepressants would be like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music + Kelly Ripa + the latest Miss America on the morning after crowning.  I don't think I'd want to be in the same room with me, it would be like being beaten to death by the bluebird of happiness.  So I'm forging on with the gabapentin at full strength and will give it another month to get me back on my feet in the afternoons.  Then we'll see about the Cymbalta.  If my blog posts start sounding as though Disney scriptwriters were drafting them as part of a new Sleeping Beauty script, sound the alarm.

For those interested in the pottery updates: yes, I'm still enjoying the clay experience, particularly working with glazes.  Some of my big pieces are starting to come back from the kiln and I am actually going to keep some, including this bowl, which was an experiment in multiple layers of glazes to achieve some of my favorite colors. PLUS - I tried the pottery wheel on Monday for the first time ever and managed to throw several really fabulous pots! OK, I discarded all of them except one.  And it was wobbly.  But still magnificent in my eyes and I'm keeping it.
 
 
 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Time Warps and Clay Confessions

Wow - I hadn't realized that it had been so long since I posted on the blog and here we are one week from the 'ber' months.  My apologies!  I'm going to blame it on the last long, lazy days of summer as that sounds so much better than just plain lazy.  The lazy days of summer means wonderful afternoons on sandy beaches, margaritas by the poolside, and drippy two-scoop ice cream cones - none of which I had.  I don't suppose that sitting in the gazebo and punching the remote control on the mosquito mister every 15 minutes even gives me brownie points, does it?  I did eat a slice of watermelon and pounce on fresh local peaches as soon as they appeared, so summer didn't entirely pass me by, but I certainly have some catching up to do next year.

I think this summer passed by faster than when I was in college and actually spent my summers on sandy beaches and sipping margaritas by the poolside.  I think that some odd sort of time warp occurred and I just wasn't beamed up in time to avoid it.  I can prove it:  just a few months ago, my youngest grandkids were mere babies, and yesterday I got these shocking pictures purporting that they are already five years old and starting kindergarten.  Gotta be a time warp.

This is Addison on her first day of kindergarten.  She was so excited to start going to school that she didn't want to go to sleep the night before for fear she'd miss it.  Let's remind her of that when she's a teenager.












This is Braden, also excited to start kindergarten.  He liked coming home on the bus with his older brother.  Also good for a reminder when he's a teenager.










And now since I've put it off long enough, I'll make my pottery confession. In eight weeks of classes, I never once touched the pottery wheel.  It seems my teacher is a classic potter (I'm sure there's a more distinguished term for it, like Grand Master Ceramic Artiste) but the bottom line is that he thinks that students should demonstrate complete mastery of multiple types of clay before they get to touch the wheel. In fact, he usually makes students wait six months before they get to the wheel.  

I made pots by five different hand-construction methods, then moved up to boxes and cubes (that's James, my teacher, showing me how to make a box), then vases.  I still couldn't talk him into letting me use the wheel. Then I started figuring out how to construct larger, more usable items by the same methods:  teapots, casserole dishes, trays.  I mean, how many ceramic pencil holders does a gal need?

So I ended up with ten ugly pots and boxes and vases which made it all the way through the firing/glazing/final firing process, plus eight potentially awesome larger items which are still somewhere in that process. 

Of the ugly items, only these two survived: a box (to remind me that lost wax and runny glazes don't mix), and a basketweave-patterned vase to remind me how nasty a mustard-colored glaze can look.  The rest became an offering to the trashcan fairies.

I also learned the hard way what one of the other potters told me:  you can't get attached to something until it comes out of the final kiln.  Mathematically expressed, the potential for pottery disaster equals your degree of anticipation times forty gazillion bajillion.  I made a tray in a lovely curved shape, and on the surface I used real maple leaves to create an abstract design. The Grand Master Potter teacher himself gave me a nod of approval.  Even the experienced potters were borrowing maple leaves from me to copy the effect.  Yes, this was one epic tray. Museums all over the U.S. may have been jockeying for the opportunity to add it to their collections.  OK, I wouldn't bet cash on that, but it's possible. Say, in an alternate universe.

On Sunday, I went in to check to see if it had been fired.  What joy!  It was on the bisque-fired shelves.  So I picked up one end of it - and it broke in my hands. Noooo, it had not been fired after all and was still fragile.  And now in four pieces. Quietly I made another sad offering to the trashcan fairies.  But at least I got my teacher to agree to start me on the pottery wheel when classes start up again in two weeks.  Mud-slinging, here I come!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

It's official - a win for the home team!

The loveliest word in the English language, in my humble opinion, is "remission."  I am now officially in remission as my PET scan last week showed absolutely no trance of any cancer from skull to thigh.  The results of the blood work came back this week and show that I'm well on my way back to normal (well, whatever constituted normal for me, some would argue I never hit that state) and probably will be back up to speed in another four weeks.  Thanks to all the prayer warriors who kept me in their prayers these last six months!

My doctor congratulated me, then warned me that the next year will be all about vigilance.  The war against lymphoma tends to be waged in innings, and while I've won the first inning hands down, we have to be careful that it doesn't come back for another inning or that we catch it quickly if it does.  I'll do a PET scan every three months, and I'm keeping the port in for a year to be ready to go at a moment's notice.  The extra chemical I took as part of the clinical trial is thought to prolong or prevent reoccurrence, so I am hoping that we've seen the last of this unwelcome visitor.

In the meantime, I'm working on getting rid of the last side effects.  I now have two types of medicine to combat the pain in my feet and legs as it still keeps me from sleeping at night:  my first line of defense is a pill, and the other is a new-fangled experimental cream with pain receptor blockers and a pricetag which would curl my hair if it were long enough to curl. 

But my hair is starting to come back!  Recovery is wonderful.  I would never have thought I would be happy to see myself in the mirror first thing in the morning, with no makeup, bleary eyes and cheeks creased from sleep - but seeing fuzz on a formerly bald head will put the smile on your face every time, no matter how early the hour.  If you don't believe me, ask your father.  Or any gentleman over 70.  Believe me, they'll be jealous.

As it's still really really hot here, I'm reading in the afternoons while I wonder just how many days the temperature can stay above 100 degrees without frying our brains as well as all vegetation. Thanks to those who recommended books, here's what I managed to read over the last week:
- Unbroken by Laura Hillebrand:  I've had the book for two years but kept getting bogged down.  If you've bogged down, slog it out until Hitler's Olympic games and it's pretty much a page turner after that.  Inspiring and really puts any kind of problems into perspective.
- Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain:  also a book on my shelf for awhile, it wasn't until I read it that I realized he was the chef at Les Halles in New York when I ate there almost every week during a bank merger I was working on.  Les Halles was between our office building and the hotel, and if I'd read it then, I'm not sure I would have ordered the mussels...
- Others which were decent reads:  Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Heaven is for Real, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, and The Alchemist.

I've also been working on my gardening website, and thanks to two weeks of weather above 100 degrees, now have a lot of examples of what does NOT survive in a Texas summer.  When the heat hit, many of my plants folded as fast as Grandma after a bottle of gin.  Even my drought-tolerant plants are beginning to gasp for water now.  We are all longing for September when the temperature drops into the cool 90s.

In the meantime, it's celebration time!  I'm healthy and happy and it's all due to all the prayers and support over the last six months, plus a little chemo to help along the way.  Thanks to all - you're the best!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Long overdue  - what's new with Team Martha

First - life gets better every week!  That doesn't mean neuropathy has gone away, it means that I'm dealing better with it every day.  I'm finding that when my mind and/or hands are occupied, I don't notice that my feet, hands, and legs hurt.  Take THAT, neuropathy!  And what a great excuse for staying busy!

I went in this week to get my port flushed.  A condition of membership in the Port Club is the obligation to either use your port to draw blood once every five weeks, or get it flushed so blood doesn't clot in it.  This was my first time to just get it flushed, and it was so nice to sail in, say hi to everyone, get it taken care of, and leave again in fifteen minutes instead of staying the whole day for infusions.  At the UTSW blood malignancies treatment center, they make you feel like such a member of the family that at least ten of those fifteen minutes were spent hugging the team and catching up on what's new with them.  I hope everyone who has to go through this kind of treatment is lucky enough to work with such a great team.   

I go back again several days next week for a series of tests, and then hopefully we declare victory next Friday and celebrate beating lymphoma.  In the meantime...

'Down' time is now book time

I still run out of steam every day about 3 p.m.  I used to take naps, but that resulted in not sleeping well at night.  So now I just plan to read from 3 to 5 p.m. every day, and I'm rapidly catching up on a year's worth of reading as well as getting a good night's sleep again.  It's really changed my reading habits, as for the last 10 years my reading was usually dictated by grabbing the latest corporate must-read in the airport on business trips, plus a couple of won't-admit-I-read-them beach books on vacation.  Now I read what I really WANT to read!  So here are my best shares from my weeks of reading (yes, I'm being honest, some beach books are included):
- The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green: a 2-hanky read but very well-written.  The friend who recommended it didn't tell me it was about two teens with cancer, but it was very true to life.  Worth the read for anyone, and a must-read for anyone wanting to understand how a young family member going through terminal cancer feels. Best line:  "the world is not a wish-granting factory."
- Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple:  basically a beach book, but laugh-out-loud funny and ultimately a story about a mother-daughter relationship.  A friend from Seattle said it was twice as funny if you're from Seattle, but what I did understand was pretty darn funny.  Made me want to visit Antarctica.
- Life After Life by Kate Atkinson:  loved the writing style. 
- The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman:  great story, well written.  Came out last year, should have read it earlier.
- The Round House by Louise Erdrich:  also a book from last year, wish I'd read it then so I could have re-read it many times since. 
- The Dog Stars by Peter Heller:  this book really shouldn't be on this list as I did read it last year and absolutely hate apocalypse stories, but despite that I reread it again last week.  Maybe it's the need for human companionship which haunts me. 
- The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks:  my friends know my secret vice is science fiction, and one of my sons introduced me to Brent Weeks last year when I got fed up waiting for George R. R. Martin to figure out how to kill off another 100 great characters.  This has the depth of story of Game of Thrones with a lot less wading to get into the action.

Next up on the iPad is an equally odd assortment:  And the Mountains Echoed (Hosseini); the Ocean at the End of the Lane (Gaiman); the Secret Keeper (Morton); and Bad Monkey (Hiaasen).  Send suggestions and your favorites!

And oh yes, I promised you pictures of my adventures in pottery class - so let me share this shot with you:

No, that's not me -  I wish!   that's Rachel, who has taken pottery classes for eight years and who is what I want to be when I grow up.  She is in my class just to get the wheel time, and gives me pointers.    I accidentally erased the pictures of my own humble pottery offerings, most likely a Freudian slip, as I still haven't made it to the pottery wheel yet.  First I have to complete a set of 5 pots by 5 different hand-built methods, then a set of three pots by a single hand-built method, then next week I get to build a box by hand "to really get the feel of the clay."  Apparently it's another three weeks before I get to use the wheel. 

Here's another advanced-level potter taking classes with me:  she's into sculpture, which wasn't on my radar but looks like a lot of fun and I might give it a whirl during my freetime sessions.

 
So more to come!  And yes, retirement is just as much fun as you think it is.  (Actually, it's more fun, but I don't want to rub it in.)

Friday, July 12, 2013

The N Word

Goodness, not Paula Deen's N word.  Neuropathy.  It's a bad, bad thing.  I didn't have much of it after my first chemo two years ago, but it gradually built up over this set of chemo treatments and really walloped me the last several weeks.  Now I see why my doctor counseled me not to plan too much after chemo ended: recovery will take a bit longer than I expected. 

It's not my hands giving me the most problems with neuropathy. The tops and bottoms of my feet are sensitive to the touch, and my legs hurt most of the time. For extra fun, occasionally it feels as though someone jabbed a needle into a foot, and I haven't quite learned to control the involuntary jerk;  it looks a bit like a facial tic gone south.  

Oddly enough, the only thing which makes me feel better and seems to hold the neuropathy at bay is walking.  I also really need to get active again as the only exercise I had for several weeks was lifting my head off the pillow.  But with our temperature in the 100s now, I am wilting before the end of the first block, not to mention completely out of breath from the Respiratory Infection Which Will Not Die.    Once I had to call my husband to come pick me up, and another time I got our neighborhood security patrol to take me home.  I really need to walk somewhere where I can stop and rest every half-mile when I've having a bad day.  So how am I going to get in my walking?

Tiffany's to the rescue

I never thought I'd become one, but I have, at least for now:  I'm a mallwalker. 

One of the malls near me actually encourages mallwalking, and there are usually about fifty people walking in the morning before the stores open.  I don't so much walk as stroll right now, so it takes me a while to get all my laps in.  I can pass the seventy-year-olds and anyone with a cane, but good golly Miss Molly, watch out for the focused 60-year-olds going at a fast-clipped pace - they'll run you over.  Apparently there's a mallwalker protocol, which doesn't include my habit of abruptly braking for good store window displays. 

I was also delighted to find that I tend to run out of breath on every lap just as I reach Tiffany's.  Mere coincidence, of course. But isn't it nice that there's a seating area right in front of the store so I can watch them bring out their newest pieces to set up the window displays?   (And what a shame my birthday has already come and gone this year.)

Walking is always more efficient as an exercise when you have weights in your hands.  So a loaded shopping bag in each hand would increase the health benefits, right?  I'm willing to step up to the plate and make that sacrifice in the interests of getting healthier.

Today I did three laps on the bottom level and two on the top level, and made purchases at several stores with great summer sales.  I can't measure how much the walking is helping me get physically fit, but my wallet is definitely always slimmer when I leave. 

Next week:  mud-slinging!   No, I'm not going to talk about Rick Perry or the other interesting characters in Texas politics;  I start pottery classes.  I promise I'll post a picture as I've received requests for more pics.  I wonder what one wears to sling mud?


Friday, June 28, 2013

Sometimes you just have to throw the covers over your head and hunker down...

Thanks, all, for the emails and comments asking how I was doing when I disappeared from the blog for a while.  Every cycle the 'down days' got lower; as this was the last treatment, I hit a pretty low low. 

I was able to spend several hours vertically every day through last Saturday, then Sunday I realized I was at the point where it was just better to throw the covers over my head and hunker down through the down days.  I slept through several days in a row, was pretty much a vegetable for a few more, and I'm just now re-emerging to rediscover the world.  I feel like Rip Van Winkle.

Coming back to the world after a week is interesting.

It's amazing what happens, and doesn't, in a week. Here’s my list of observations, in no particular order:

- All of my nonfat ice cream treats in the freezer mysteriously evaporated.  The dog looks apologetic but is not ratting out her co-conspirator.
- I forgot two of my computer passwords.  Side note:  I still think the best password is 'incorrect':  when you can’t log in, your computer will obligingly pipe up to tell you "Your password is incorrect."  However, my passwords actually require brainpower, and I'm sure I'll figure out them out again eventually.  So what if I can't get into Excel - I still have Candy Crush.
- All my carefully courted birds deserted our yard when the feeders ran out.  After restocking with pricey, el primo sunflower seeds, the fickle feathered freeloaders still haven't returned.  If you cardinals and woodpeckers don't stop back by soon, it's back to the el cheapo stuff.  Just sayin'.
- The Kardashians are STILL in the news. Sigh. Is it just me, or are the Kardashians the cockroaches of the media world?  You know what I mean, they'll somehow still be there after the world ends.  I can just hear the newscast now:  "This morning Little Kim dropped nuclear bombs on all major U.S. cities without winning NBA teams.  The status of the U.S. government is unknown, but in other news, Kim Kardashian's sixth child, South-by-South West “SXSW,” was born this afternoon and bidding has started for his/her pictures." 
- Paula Deen had a brand implosion.  I think that's the noise which finally woke me up on Wednesday.
- Martha Stewart told Andy Cohen that of course she knew how to roll a joint.  My impression of Martha has forever changed.  Do you think she just monogrammed the papers before she rolled it, or did she add a lace frill?
- Edward Snowden is still a man without a country, although still a man with a lot of stolen info.  And really?  He's been at the Moscow airport since Sunday?  Wasn't living at the airport a Tom Hanks movie a couple of years ago?
- And Texas finally hit the triple digits.  Even I think it's hot now.

This coming week I should start trending back up, and boy am I looking forward to it.  I'm on the sixth week of my upper respiratory infection.  My doc tried to knock it out by throwing various kinds of antibiotics at it week after week, but I think all he succeeded in doing was annoying it:  it's gotten progressively worse and now I have complete laryngitis.  No phone calls for me!

Heartfelt thanks go to my husband for being a very patient caregiver these past few weeks.  He had to roll day-to-day between "don't talk about food, I'll throw up"  to "I'm starving, let's go to Velvet Taco NOW."  Not to mention trying to talk to me when I can barely whisper, trying to sleep through continual coughing episodes, and managing to check on me several times a day to make sure I'm still alive and kicking.

So it's all up from here!  My final series of scans are scheduled for early August, which is about the time I'll be cleared to be around people and people places again, and generally go at life full force.  It will be wonderful.

 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Ring the bells, break out the bubbly

Today I had my last big 8-hour chemo session with about a quart of chemicals (I figure I've had more than a gallon and a half of poison potions over the last few months).   I still have a mini-chemo on Thursday plus more lab work and tests over the coming week, but tonight I am celebrating!  No wine for me now, but there's a glass of Marlborough sauvignon blanc waiting for me after the last test. 

I'll get my final report card when I do a PET scan in July, but all indicators look good that we're saying goodbye to lymphoma and slamming the door behind it.  (Or at least closing the door firmly;  my doctor has told me to keep my port in as I'll be seeing him every few weeks for another year while he monitors me closely for those sneaky little biker cells.)  It's so nice to see the light at the end of this long tunnel and know that normal life will resume in about six weeks.

While I won't know for certain until next week's tests, it also appears that I am safely out of danger of all the really scary stuff - transfusions, bone marrow transplants, and maybe even bone marrow biopsies.  Yes, I am doing a happy dance right now.  It looks a little like the Funky Chicken with a little gangnam style thrown in, thank heavens there are no cameras around.

I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes

I did end up losing quite a bit of feeling in my fingers and toes, thanks to neuropathy from two of the chemicals in my chemo cocktail.  There are many days that my fingertips feel as though they're composed of buzzing bees.  But this is much less severe than what many patients experience who get a similar chemo cocktail treatment;  I can still type (with maybe a few more typos), manage buttons, and don't drop glassware.  The good news is that I am expected to regain full feeling slowly over the next few months.  I'm counting on that, as I'm signing up for yoga and pottery classes, and I can't imagine doing the tree pose or throwing a bowl on the pottery wheel if I can't feel my feet or fingers.  Of course, it might make for some interesting Youtube fodder, kind of like the happy dance I am still doing, if cameras were allowed anywhere near me.  Not.

Most of the other side effects will go away in a few weeks, and my hair will start coming back.  All things to really look forward to.  So color me happy, I'm on the home stretch and things are looking really good.  Thanks to all the prayer warriors and people sending good vibes my way:  it worked and we can celebrate together soon!

In fact, I'm going to go chill several bottles of wine for us now.  For medicinal purposes only, of course.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hot town, summer in the city

Summer finally arrived in the South, and boy was she pissed.  It's been in the 90s and dripping wet humid, just like an Amazon jungle with treefrogs and poisonous snakes and stuff.   (I'm actually exaggerating about the treefrogs and snakes but we do have helicopter-size mosquitoes which have been sniggering about our mild winter while they started in on small animals and have already worked their way up to being able to pick up small children.  Seriously.  The local TV stations paint logos on their sides and use them to film aerial shots for the evening news.)

My husband valiantly got out the hammock and tried to take a snooze in the shade last weekend.  He did have a strong, hot breeze blowing over and under him, which frustrated the mosquitoes as they couldn't find a leeward place to land and feast. He still only lasted for about half an hour.  On the whole I think his experience was very similar to that of our evening's entrĂ©e roasting in a convection oven, without the excitement of the temperature probe.

So, between mosquitoes and rain and the expected "down" week from chemo, I had to spend the whole week inside the house.  No afternoons in the gazebo, no lunch on the patio, no basking in the sun.   This exacerbated a problem.  One of my temporary side effects from chemo is that my internal thermostat has been reengineered:  I'm most comfortable when the room is a cozy 80 degrees.  Yes, I now think global warming is a good thing.  My husband – not so much.   

I used to be the one always sneaking the thermostat down to 70 degrees, feeling guilty about not abiding by our city's green guidelines but also feeling sure that our city fathers didn't intend for me to actually sweat.   I’m still turning the dial, but this time in a new, novel direction, kind of like the teenager who's just learned that volume knobs can also turn to the left.  

The instant my husband leaves the house in the morning, I crank it up.  The house hovers around 80 degrees during the day, then I turn it back down to 72 degrees at five p.m. and grab a sweater and blanket so I can bundle up to endure the frigid cold. When my husband gets home, I look like a Sherpa about to lead a team up the last face of Mount Everest.  

You know, it's an odd thing - stores in Texas don't seem to sell Snuggies in June.  I've checked.  Must be an oversight.  Anyway, you can just imagine what a schizophrenic closet I have right now:  warm winter woolens for whenever my husband’s home, and summertime cottons for when he’s not.  Makes for some interesting outfits.  Hopefully my internal thermostat will readjust soon;  if not, I’m going to be one of the few yelling “Bring it on!” when we get those 100-degree forecasts by the end of the month.   

Oh, yes, my progress report for the week:  I hit some new lows on my cell metrics but they’re all starting to trend back up now.  My voice comes and goes as this respiratory infection will be around until July when I’m through chemo and recover enough to beat it off.  Next week should be a fairly decent week; I'll be using it to get in good shape for (drum roll….) my LAST all-day chemo, coming up just after Father’s Day!   

In the meantime, very warm wishes!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Why my neighbors may think I'm nuts

First, the progress update:  I had another 9.5-hour 'big chemo' session yesterday. I was ready for it, and my blood counts showed that I've rebounded back out of danger zone levels.  My doc is no longer using bad words around me like 'transfusions.'  See what eating enough spinach to turn you into Popeye will do for you?  I still have a bit of a respiratory infection and my voice isn't back to normal, but I have meds for those so this should be a good week.  I was thrilled that my counts were up high enough that I can actually eat fresh fruits and vegetables for a few days.  I'll likely be back in the danger zone next week after yesterday's chemicals do their dirty work, but it's hello salads this week!

Now for the neighbors...   When I retired I hadn't realized that I'd be surrounded by neighbors who stayed at home.  I have two retired gentlemen to my left, an Indian couple whose parents are always at home across the street, and beside them is a stay-at-home Japanese mom and her mother.  Let's call them all witnesses.  Fortunately the couple to our right works, and the people behind us are across an alley, a big thicket, and very tall fences.  Let's call them oblivious.  They don't hear the intermittent screams.

We have rabbits.  Rabbits in the south have learned it's not easy to burrow into our hard soils, so they love to burrow into flower beds, particularly those with mulch.  I have 3-4" of mulch on my flower beds.  Hence, we are a rabbit-breeding heaven.  There's obviously a neon sign out on a rabbit trail somewhere that says "spawn here!"  The problem is that you can't always tell a burrow by looking at it. Those crafty rabbits. So when you are weeding or planting, you can find your hand suddenly in the midst of a writhing mass of pink-and-gray baby rabbits.  This is in no way cute, it's like having your hand in a mass of large maggots.  The first time this happened, I did the only reasonable thing possible:  scream like a banshee.  I'm sure I curdled milk in refrigerators for at least two blocks around. 

My husband came running out to ask what was wrong.  By that time I had recovered enough to yell back "killer rabbits!"   Unfortunately he's not the Monty Python movie fan I am and didn't get the humor.  

Now we're into the stage where baby rabbits infest my flower beds.  One evening when I went out front to check the azaleas there, I startled a litter and a number of small gray furry animals surged out of the flower bed right at me, looking just like the attack of the rats in the movie Ben.  Screams #2 and #3.  I'm sure the two couples across the street figured it was an American spring ritual to scream and dance wildly in front of the azaleas - possibly a fertility rite to make them bloom.

Then there are the geckos.  Actually, they're green skinks, one son tells me, as they have red throats which they puff out in a charming way during mating season.  However, they do look a lot like the little guy in the Geico commercials.  I like having them around:  they eat bugs, they're cute, and they don't try to sell me insurance with an Aussie accent.  In fact, I was trying to take a picture of the bright green skink/gecko on my Crimson Queen Japanese maple when I must have gotten a bit too close.  The skink made a leap for my arm. A lizard suddenly scrambling up a bare arm is not a pleasant thing.  Scream #4.  Then, as I was doing the get-off-of-me-dance, it went for higher and safer ground and made it to my neck.  Scream #5.   

Then there was the baby snake wriggling in the lump of potting soil I picked up.  Enough said.  Scream #6.  Oh, I almost forgot the opossum skulking by our trash cans when I took the garbage out one night, but that was more of a loud yelp than a scream even though I swear its eyes were glowing demonically.  You know, I expected wildlife when I grew up in the country, but in the middle of a major city?

I'm going to have to ask Miss Manners what the social etiquette is to cover this:  issue a blanket apology to the neighbors to ignore the intermittent screams as I adjust to the scary wildlife taking up residence with us?  Or just let them think I'm a bit nuts?

Then last week I went out to pick up the paper and saw Osaka tending flowers in her front yard.  So I went over to chat for a few seconds (see?  I'm neighborly) and didn't realize until I went back inside that I hadn't bothered to grab a hat, scarf, or wig before I went out.  So I'm sure she thinks I've had a Britney Spears off-the-rails moment and shaved my head on impulse.  Probably an American thing.  Possibly from the meds I must be taking to control the screaming.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cabin Fever

My lab results last week were the lowest yet, with just about everything well into the danger zone by Wednesday.  With an upper respiratory infection and practically no infection-fighting white blood cells left, I was sentenced to bed while the antibiotics do their job.  I'll gladly take that over getting a transfusion!

But the trouble with being stuck in bed is that cabin fever quickly sets in.  Someone challenged me at the start of this to do an editor's pick of daytime TV so the rest of you would have a list of what's interesting to watch whenever you're at home sick.  With time on my hands, I decided to give it a try.

I could feel my mind starting to rot after the first hour.  We get some sort of mega-programming package with hundreds of channels, so I had a lot to click through.  But other than a handful of safe havens such as Discovery, HBO, or my beloved Food Network, clicking to each new channel revealed another mind-numbing show.  I was also surprised to find so many opportunities to buy trinkets or gadgets, all guaranteed to change my life for just $19.99.   Who knew that miracles were so readily available these days, and for a special sale price for a limited time only (or as long as your credit card holds out)?

When I started longing on the second day to go clean out a closet instead, I gave up the quest.  It will take someone else with more tolerance than I have to create a roadmap of what to watch between Good Morning America and the evening news.  The only bright spots I could find were Katie, Dr. Oz, and Ellen, and I never found anything I'd consider a must-see show.

Instead, I've been spending my afternoons at Thornfield Hall, in 1920s Paris, and in revolutionary Russia.  Yep, I'm re-reading the classics.  Besides plundering my bookshelves, I've discovered that many books are now available electronically, which makes them so much easier to read in bed.  Can't leave the house to visit the bookstore?  Just download the book you want within minutes on your iPad.  For me, there's an added bonus - you can easily wipe an iPad to keep it germ-free.

So while I can't wait to get my blood cell counts back up so I can resume normal activities, I am having fun reading new bestsellers and rediscovering old favorites.  Hopefully next week I'll be back to my new normal, but in the meantime, you'll find me in Maycomb, Alabama - Atticus Finch is about to make his closing speech, not knowing that Jem and Scout are in the balcony.

Monday, May 13, 2013

What you don't want to hear in the ER

I spent the evening of Mother's Day in the emergency room.  I woke up with an acute sore throat on Saturday; by Sunday afternoon my temperature started spiraling upward, and shortly after dinner it reached 100.4 degrees.  That's the danger point at which I have to drop everything and go to the emergency room to get an array of broadband antibiotics and all kinds of cultures and tests.  Because immune-compromised systems can't stop infections, temperatures can rise quickly from there to really dangerous levels, so it's strongly impressed upon all lymphoma patients that we can take no chances when the mercury reaches 100.4.

It was a very quiet Sunday night in the ER;  there was no one at all in the waiting room.  I was disappointed - where was the excitement you always see on TV?  No gunshot wounds, no triage, no drama, and worst of all, no hunky nurses or docs rushing out to meet ambulances...  one might almost think that what they show on TV isn't real.   

The advantage for me was that I didn't have to wait at all, I was ushered right in to a room.  But the disadvantage was that I was a very simple case - draw some blood, run some tests - and (ominous-sounding dum de dum dum) there was a brand new nurse on the floor, right out of school and just perfect to be assigned to such a simple case. 

She was high energy, sweet, well-meaning, and whatever she thought was out of her mouth before she even finished the thought.   That's how we discovered that the shoes she was wearing had been soaked with blood from a prior evening but the blood washed out just fine, leaving the neon orange laces almost good as new.  (Apparently I just missed gunshot and major trauma night.)

I know that most people who come to an ER need bleeding stopped instead of blood drawn, so it's unusual to get a patient with a port.  But if it's your first time to access one to draw blood,  I recommend that you don't ask the supervising nurse how to do it in front of the patient, and say "does this look right?" before you push in the needle. But what really instilled confidence, after the first try didn't work and the head nurse left to get another kit, was the one comment I never want to hear in an ER with what you're paying for those specialized services:  "I've seen it done on Youtube and it looked so easy!"  

Fortunately the head nurse did the rest and all is well.  I was back home after midnight armed with a new array of pills with names I can't pronounce, and today my sore throat and chest infection already seem to be doing better.  I think it's because they're scared to go back to the ER.

Friday, May 10, 2013

What a pill!

You'd think that as much of a potassium junkie as I am (bananas, avocados, spinach, edamame, etc.) that I'd never get a potassium deficiency - but that's what this week's mini-chemo blood results showed.  So while my first reaction was "Whee! more banana smoothies!" I was quickly brought down to earth with a prescription for potassium pills.

My first clue that these weren't going to be fun was the wince and apologetic expression of the nurse when she told me.  "I'm afraid they're the size of horse pills," she said. 

Apparently the horse she was referring to was the Trojan horse.  These things are mammoth!  When I picked them up from the pharmacy and looked at one, I wasn't sure whether to get a hot dog bun for it, or give it a name, register it for school and get a college fund started.

I'm not really good with pills anyway;  they always seem to stick in my throat.  I've developed a little system for getting the pill exactly in the right spot, taking a huge swig of water, and gulping madly.  According to my husband's reactions, this is apparently an endlessly entertaining spectacle. 

I've added a new wrinkle over the last few months, as one of the pills I take was clearly designed to stick in your mouth as long as possible so you can enjoy the absolutely horrid taste to its fullest.  I've tested all kinds of methods of getting this one down, including all the tricks we use for our black Lab (warning:  the peanut butter approach works great for dogs, but is definitely not recommended as it glues the pill to the roof of your mouth and prolongs the torture).   The winning approach was to embed the worst pill in a spoonful of Jello Sugar-Free pudding, which hides the taste and is slippery enough to slide right down.  The Dulce de Leche flavor seems to mask the taste the most.

But nope, the pudding approach didn't work with these pills;  you can put a grape in pudding and it's still too big to swallow whole.  Then I cut it in two.  Still too big to get down easily.  Finally I discovered that they didn't taste that terrible and just treated them like chewables.  But three guesses what I'm loading up on this week:  bananas, avocadoes, and spinach!  I want my potassium levels up high enough by next Wednesday that we can put these pills back out to pasture. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

2/3 the way through, plus my bad things theory

Monday's all-day chemo was my 4th treatment of 6 magic poisons - er,  potions - which means just two more all-day sessions and just two months to go.  I'm so totally psyched, as I'm on the home stretch!  I was talking to my friend Molly on Saturday night and she said this seems to be flying by, and it seems that way to me, too.

In contrast to my cancer two years ago, this time around has had lower lows (probably because I'm getting 4x the number of drugs) but also higher highs as I know better how to manage through it.  Yesterday's blood cell counts reflected that - they were up to levels I haven't seen in 6 weeks.  So I'm well positioned for the toll this week's chemo will take, and this will probably stave off any transfusion talk for another 3 weeks.  High five, support team!

One of my cancer correspondents was talking about maintaining a positive attitude and was in the Why me?  Why do bad things happen to good people?  phase.  My theory is that it's because we need them, sometimes we court them, sometimes it's God keeping us out of harm's way, and sometimes they are a wake-up call.

1) Bad things are how we learn and grow. 
    Along the lines of 'whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger,'  you learn new levels of resilience, fortitude, and overall perspectives on life from dealing with issues, starting with that very first bump when you fall when you're learning to walk.  How we respond to bad things shapes us.

2) Even good people get consequences when they don't follow the rules.
    Think like a parent:  you set up household rules, and if the kids don't follow them, they are choosing whatever fair punishment was set up in advance.  So if we eat pesticide-laden produce or a lot of red meat, smoke, drink, weigh too much, don't exercise regularly, or otherwise flout what we know to be the rules for a healthy life, how can we complain when we get the consequences?   Our job is to learn from it, change, and help others avoid the same issues.

3) Sometimes what we think is a bad thing is simply paving the way for something more wonderful to come.
    I can't tell you how many people I've talked to who have been crushed by losing a job assignment or a key promotion, only to find that it paved the way for something much more wonderful.  My minister just retired, and told the story of losing a church appointment he wanted so badly that he'd already picked out where he would live. Then a year later he got a better assignment, and several years later came to head our church which opened up the opportunity to do amazing things:  invocation at a presidential inauguration, call the City of Dallas to offer $1 million to help with Katrina victims flooding in, and create local and international missions.  When he recently visited the church he'd originally wanted so badly, there was now a sewer treatment center located close enough to lend a certain aroma to what was clearly a declining neighborhood.
    And who hasn't run into an old flame and thought "boy, I dodged a bullet with that one?!"  and thank heaven for meeting your spouse.
    So for all dealing with cancer, I don't know what's ahead but I know there's a grand design and purpose in life and there's good stuff to come.

(4) Managers put their best people on their worst problems.
    When you're managing a team, you assign your very best person to your worst problem, and stay close to it.  I can't help but feel that if God has a hand in people getting specific challenges or illnesses, he's assigning it to us for a reason:  can we learn from it and help others?  Can we help raise money to find a cure?  Find a role to make things better?
    When I got ovarian cancer two years ago, now referred to as my 'starter' cancer, I figured that was my consequence for not watching my exercise, weight, choosing non-organic, etc.  So I got to work on the root causes, and was making a difference for me.  But then I got a slightly scarier cancer, and I figure this must be my wake-up call to figure out where I can really make a difference for others. 

A shout-out to friends in NY, Columbus, Chicago, Denver, and Seattle:  so glad you've all finally gotten out of the icebox and into some warm, sunny weather - hope it's here to stay!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

WOW!  Over 700 viewers last month!

I don't often look at blog stats, but I looked today at April's stats and had over 700 viewers (with a high readership on my post about the F-bomb and the C-word, go figure!)   But THANK YOU to blog subscribers and viewers from over 6 countries who are following my cancer journey - I appreciate you more than you know.  Party on!
Commencement, Germs, Good Times, and Zorbing

I retired today - let the fun commence!   I almost got weepy when I turned in my computer today, primarily because it's been my 24/7 companion for so very long - but I know the fab team at Chase knows where to find me if I can ever be of help.  (Thanks, fab team, for the nice messages and well wishes!)  In the meantime, it's so much fun and so rewarding to be able to concentrate on writing, a water-wise gardening website still in development, long-ignored personal goals, and whipping the a** out of this lymphoma stuff.

This week I feel wonderful, back to walking and biking with energy to spare through the afternoon.  But next Monday I have another big chemo, which will likely set me back again for another two weeks with those cumulative effects.  I still have to be very careful about germs (yes, pretty much confined to a sterile house), but I'm really enjoying feeling great this week. I believe that ramping up exercise and all the prayer warrior efforts are really making a HUGE difference  - good times, thank you prayer warriors!  

Check out these Down Under tips

I am amazed how many friends have been to New Zealand and Australia and sent us great suggestions over the last two weeks.  It's also obvious that we have an exceptionally fit, fun and partying group of friends!  Ideas included: climb the Sydney Harbor bridge, do a Uluru sunrise climb, snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, go Zorbing in New Zealand (which looks like crazy fun) or Schweebing, black water rafting/kayaking in caves lit only by glowworms, see a real non-soccer haka (translation:  no shirts!), get a geothermal mud bath in Rotorua, tour the fjords on the South Island, check out wineries and scenery in the Dandenong, see a game of footy, and tour the Lark single malt distillery in Hobart (ok, you obviously know at least one of the husbands going on this trip).  I have to tell you that I'm leaning to the recommendations from my daughter-in-law from Melbourne for that area, but the rest sound great!

Some more - er - interesting and sometimes dangerous suggestions included:  eat lunch with the crocs at a crocodile farm, snack on hangi and try a huhu grub in the Maori village, get a picture in Lord of the Rings garb at Hobbitown, and go to a dodgy sports bar for a handle of Tui and root for the opposing team (nah - unless our husbands have been misbehaving).

Keep the ideas coming!  We aren't going until it's summer again Down Under, and it's still fall there now.  That gives me some time to get in shape for climbing that bridge...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Last week before my first week!

I retire next Wednesday after 36 years in marketing and communications, the last nineteen years with the same great company.  Someone asked me last week what I remember the most, and it was interesting to think back over the years and marvel at how much fun I've had.

I had the amazing opportunity to create change on a national level so many times, learn a number of states and communities as well as my own, and tackle some big, wild, crazy, fun assignments.  You know you really love what you do when you wake up every morning excited to go to work, and you don't mind the trips out of town because that gives you a few more hours to work at night. 

But it's not the big, wild, crazy, fun assignments which mean the most for me:  it's the people.  I've been lucky to work with amazingly talented people over the years:  brilliant people with integrity, creativity and passion who continually inspired me to bring and step up my A-game.  To all of you reading this who worked with me, thank you!  It was a privilege to work by your side.

Next week is just as exciting:  it's the first week of my next chapter, and I'm as giddy as I was approaching high school graduation.  There's such a wonderful wealth of opportunity ahead, and this time I know my talents (and what they aren't) and how best to apply them.  I'm being cautious in making commitments until I beat this pesky lymphoma thing, but there are so many wonderful ways to make a difference for others in areas that I'm passionate about, and I'm having fun checking them all out.  Folks have it all wrong - it's not retirement, it's commencement!

Wimpy cell counts

Thanks for all the blood donation offers, but so far I'm OK - no transfusions and I'm doing so much better than average that I should be OK for another few weeks.   I did get rather wimpy white blood cell counts today, so I'm having to be really careful about germs.  Every surface in the house has been wiped with disinfecting wipes, cooked veggies replace salads, and no more outings for me for awhile.  Fortunately shortness of breath is my only real side effect now, so I'm just taking things a bit slower these days and I've even learned to enjoy an afternoon nap.

Thanks to all my prayer warriors and those sending good vibes and healing thoughts;  I appreciate you so much.  I just smile when they tell me I'm doing so much better than most patients, as I know what/who is really making the difference - and from the bottom of my heart, thank you!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Team Martha 3, Lymphoma 0

My scan from last week shows the good news we hoped for: my death star drug has destroyed most of my cancer sites, with the two remaining lymph node locations down to the size of a pinhead even before Monday's half-way mark (3 out of 6 'big' chemo sessions).  Can't ask for much better than that!

Also on the good news front, my infection-fighter white blood cell count is higher than usual for this phase so the efforts of my prayer warriors and the simple sleep/walk/eat right focus is really paying off.  However, my hemoglobin counts continue to get whacked and I'm heading into a time when I may need transfusions.  I could tell that my red blood cells were dropping as I only have about 2 to 3 hours of energy a day now, and I have to pause more frequently on walks to get my breath.

I hope to avoid a transfusion, as it seems creepy to get someone else's blood - homegrown and natural is my preference.  Also, in a week of such horror from both Boston and West, Texas, where blood is needed for far more serious issues, I wish I could be giving blood instead of possibly doing the reverse.

Dallasites have a special affection for West, a small town which is always a road stop if we're travelling to Austin, San Antonio or college town Waco.  It's a very small town settled largely by Czechoslovakians, and the famous Czech Stop store sells unbelievable kolaches (don't miss the cherry cream cheese for pure decadance), Czech sausages, and other specialties.  If you're lucky enough to know someone from West, you'll get a glimpse into Czech customs - and a Czech wedding isn't to be missed!  To have such horror visited on such a small and hardworking country community is simply heartbreaking. 

But Texans, like Bostonians, are all heart.  By midmorning our local blood bank was having to turn away volunteers and ask them to make an appointment for later;  the Red Cross was flooded with offers and donations, and local churches have sent relief supplies to help churches in West with their congregations' needs. I'm proud to live in a state and in a country where pulling together to help each other in times of need is simply engrained in our DNA.