Saturday, May 30, 2009

Make Room for Ducks

I received an email from someone about an "amazing duck rescue," complete with a half-dozen pictures. Something about the details bothered me, so I went to and was surprised to discover that the story is true, but some moe-ron had changed the city from Spokane to San Antonio, and several helpful bystanders into San Antonio police officers. Isn't that just bizarre? Why would someone do that? The story on its own is heartwarming.

Anyways... that would have been the end of it, but someone else sent me a link to a video of the event! I guess every moment of life is now on video somewhere. That alone ought to cure everyone of nose-picking. Go see Banker Helps Mother Duck and her Ducklings.

Good Morning, Starshine :)

I was having a sleepless night. I admit it. I came into the living room at 5 am, having given up on pretending to sleep, pretending to try to sleep, pretending I might fall asleep, etc. I believe I mentioned that I live close to a commercial district that includes many bars. Too many bars. Occasionally, drunks stumbling home feel compelled to make noise, but it's usually just an unrestrained whoop or profanity.

There was a time when I went to some of these same bars, and drank too much, and stayed too late. But I always had a mortal fear of being the pathetic female drunk who Makes a Spectacle, so I tended to go to the other extreme. The more inebriated I became, the more self-conscious and withdrawn, so no scene, no screeching, no waking the neighbors. Friends could all agree: I'm a lot more trouble sober than drunk. But I'm the exception. Drunks of both genders behave badly, but I expect more of girl people. Yeah, vestiges of sexism, I guess.

This morning, at 5 am, it was two drunk girl people, fighting with each other. Of course, since they were girls, and very, very drunk, the fight consisted of them screeching at each other, one at the level of oh, say, an air raid siren, the other sort of a conversational sonic boom. Unfortunately, they were on the far side of the canal, so running them over just required more energy and planning than I could muster. The fight had disintigrated to:
"You shut up!"
"No, You shut up!"
"YOU shut up, I MEAN it!"

So I couldn't resist yelling out my window, "Why don't you BOTH SHUT UP?" They were startled into silence for about 5 seconds, then presented a united front: "No, YOU SHUT UP!" Okay, I'd had enough. I called 911 and reported two screaming females at their location. Almost instantly, a cop car cruised by at about 10mph... and the rocket surgeons decided to call it a night. (Don't tell me to shut up, beeyotch!)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Best Tortilla Soup Recipe

1. In a large stock pot, bring to a boil:
6C chicken stock (can use chicken or vegetable bouillon)
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbs fresh or dried cilantro
1 Tbs ground cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper or dash of red pepper sauce
1-2 stalks of celery, chopped
1-2 carrots, chopped
Reduce to simmer until chicken is cooked through.

2. In large saucepan, combine
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1-2 minced garlic cloves
1/2 large white or yellow onion, chopped
simmer until onion is clear, then add 6-8 corn tortillas, thinly sliced. Stir just until softened & remove from heat

3. In a blender or food processor, put
1 13-oz. can crushed or chopped tomatoes (I use a Mexican blend)
the cooled onion, garlic & tortilla mixture
Whiz until it is a thick liquid, then add to soup pot. Remove chicken breasts, chop or shred, and return to soup. Optional: add 1 can of kernel corn.

Garnishes: In the same sauce pan, add another Tbs of oil, thinly slice 2-3 tortillas and stir-fry over medium high heat to make crispy. Remove promptly & drain on paper. (An alternative is 2-3 crumbled corn chips, but this really is better.)

Pour hot soup into bowls. On top, sprinkle crispy corn tortillas, generous pinch of shredded Monterey Jack cheese, and a big squeeze from fresh lime.

This was cobbled from several different recipes, and I think it's the best. Try it to see if you agree; next time, you will double the recipe. It freezes well, too. All of the seasonings are "to taste." I add a lot more cilantro and hot sauce. And, yes, I can pronounce all the ingredients!

The Killer Instinct

My lot seems to be some kind of Happy Hunting Grounds for the food chain. Animals come from all over the city to die here. And I don't do Dead Things, period. (At least, nothing bigger than a spider.) When my neighbor Susie was alive, bless her heart, she was my animal undertaker for anything squirrel-sized or smaller. That was almost everything: squirrels, birds, mice, chipmunks, bunnies. Only once* was there a critter beyond her ken.

Miss Molly, my sweet little petunia of a pup, has a killer instinct that apparently cannot be tamed. Several years ago, she killed two chipmunks and a squirrel in less than three weeks. This was after Susie's death; I imposed on three different neighbors to cart off the carcasses. A few weeks later, Miss Molly tried to get another squirrel, but somehow the beast turned around and bit her before she could assassinate it. She got a bloody fat lip for her trouble, and seemed to have learned her lesson.

And life has been peaceful since then. The occasional dead bird, of natural causes, but nothing more than that... until yesterday. Molly managed to snag another chipmunk, and I had to impose on yet another neighbor to "save me" from this palm-sized Dead Thing. Maybe she's punishing me for being a quasi-vegetarian?

*The Big Beast: For several years, I had a compost pile in "the north forty," a small patch on the far side of my garage. One day I happened to notice a very large brown furry thing had apparently died right on top. Susie eyed it from 20 feet away and deemed it Too Big; certainly much bigger than a squirrel. I recruited my neighbor Dan, shamelessly impugning his manhood if he dared refuse, and he puffed up and rose to the task. A few minutes later, Dan knocked at my front door.

"You said the compost heap, right?" he asked.
"The one in back of the garage?"
"Right..." and I noticed he had the shovel in his hand.
"OMIGOD," my brain was doing cartwheels. "He's brought the Dead Thing on to my PORCH!"
"Then I guess this is what you were talking about..."
He started to turn the shovel toward me as I started to scream.
And then he reached over and GRABBED the Dead Thing! In his hand! And held it up for me to see!
It was a giant, brown furry...TEDDY BEAR!

He and Susie nearly laughed themselves into seizures, and never tired of retelling the story of how I was saved from a ferocious dead Teddy Bear.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Laundry Issues

#1) The Great Laundry Mystery:
Why Do My Clothes Want to be Inside-Out?

When I undress and toss clothes into the laundry basket, I turn them right-side out. But let's say I forget, maybe half the time. I take the basket downstairs, and as I load the clothes into the washer, I make sure they're all right-side out. And when the washing is done and I transfer them to the dryer... about half the clothes have turned themselves inside out again! I turn them right-side out again as I load the dryer, and when the drying cycle is finished, yes, you guessed it: about half the clothes are inside-out again.

It's one of the great mysteries of the universe. Why are we here, and why do my clothes want to be inside-out?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

One Year Ago

One year ago... I hadn't started this blog yet, but I was writing regularly in a journal I started shortly after the diagnosis. I read it last night, to remember where I was exactly one year ago.

I had almost forgotten what a low point I'd reached. I'd had a $750 car repair bill, $500 of which was flushed down the toilet through an unscrupulous shop (FIRESTONE! Their name is FIRESTONE!) that did nothing but take my money, necessitating another $250 for an actual repair at a reputable shop. Before I'd recovered, I was hit with a $2,300 plumbing repair. $1,000 of that was covered by homeowner's insurance, but $1,300 was still quite a bite. My cherished Tulip Poplar tree was being attacked by something, an insect or fungus. The only hope was a hard pruning, which I did, but I didn't yet know if the tree would recover. Last year, May was #5 of 6 chemo cycles. My goal had been to avoid the food stamp office during chemo; the waiting area always sounds like a tuberculosis ward. But I managed to get a food stamp caseworker who refused to return phone calls, necessitating three increasingly hysterical personal visits to the food stamp office. I finally filed a formal complaint; I don't know if she got fired or not, but I finally got a different caseworker.

It wasn't all bad, though. In fact, many wonderful blessings were coming my way. It was like a study in proportional ratios: the kindnesses of friends, family, and a few generous strangers made up for the misery that was being heaped upon me.

A Week of Eating Phoenetically

I watched Dr. Oz on Oprah today talking about what our bodies need. Coincidentally, I read a little blurb in "O" magazine about food additives. So starting tomorrow, I'm committing to one week of eating phoenetically: I will only eat things I can pronounce.

That's going to cut way down on my convenience fare. I will be getting protein mostly from eggs and the cocktail shrimp that are always in my freezer. I will also be working my way through some ancient frozen fruit that will finally fulfill its destiny as fruit smoothies. Luckily, I had stopped at Trader Joe's today, so I have some Veggie & Flaxseed Tortilla Chips, plenty of nuts, and some lowfat Chocolatey Cats Cookies, but overall, I'm going to make an effort to reduce my snacking. I no longer have the excuse of steroids (HALLELUJAH!) so this seems like a good first step to paring off some of the steroid blubber. Wish me luck!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What We Want

by Linda Pastan

What we want
is never simple.
We move among the things
we thought we wanted:
a face, a room, an open book
and these things bear our names--
now they want us.
But what we want appears
in dreams, wearing disguises.
We fall past,
holding out our arms
and in the morning
our arms ache.
We don't remember the dream,
but the dream remembers us.
It is there all day
as an animal is there
under the table,
as the stars are there
even in full sun.

What we want appears in dreams, wearing disguises. There's a lot here to chew on, and a lot to love. This is not a breakfast poem, not a tapas poem. It is a 100% Grade A American dinner poem, hanging off the sides of the plate. I believe the shortcut to contentment is finding the line between what we want and what we need. Sometimes that's as wide as an ocean, sometimes it's razor-sharp. We don't remember the dream, but the dream remembers us.

Pastan writes with a freshness and a frankness that bounces from shocking to comforting and back. What a decidedly female, unmistakably American perspective. I thought maybe it was just a flirtation, but then I read "A New Poet," and I knew it was true love. The Happiest Day! Emily Dickinson! The Cossacks! Read them all here.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Talk About Succinct

I know a cancer patient who always says that cancer is the best thing that ever happened to him. Every time he says this, I want to smack him in the head with a 2x4. (Yeah, wonder what his wife and kids think of that statement!) I sort of know what he means, but I can't imagine a more inane way to express it. I happened upon an article here about the results of a study in which cancer patients kept a diary or journal, recording their thoughts about how cancer changed them, and how they felt about those changes.

While a change in the way a patient thinks or feels about a disease may not sound like much, the findings showed that the brief writing exercise led to improved quality of life.
The last sentence resonated with me like a two-ton gong. Next time this guy opens his pie hole, I'm going to try and remember that this is what he really means:
One patient wrote: “Don’t get me wrong, cancer isn’t a gift, it just showed me what the gifts in my life are.”

The Legend of Penny & Sam

We are dog people. Mom and Dad both grew up with dogs. Grandma Flo, Dad's mom, in particular loved dogs. I don't believe this dog (below) was one of theirs; she probably just asked to have her picture taken with it. In her later, fading years, she carried around another photograph, of her with a large litter of Irish setter puppies, and showed it to us constantly.
We didn't get a dog until we moved to our "new" house, when I was about 10 years old. Then we had a succession of small to medium sized dogs. Like moths to a flame, most of them made a beeline for the state highway one block away, whenever they could squeeze through the door. At least one was a biter, and was finally given away. When I was a teenager, we got two dogs, a brother and sister. Here is my version of the story.

Mom and I went to look at a puppy, a beagle mix that was advertised in the paper. I think I was 14 or 15 years old; it must have been after yet another doggy suicide. We arrived at this woman's home -- what I might charitably call "white trash" -- and learned there were actually two puppies left, a little copper-colored female, and a three-legged black and white male. Mom, of course, said "We'll take the female." Why buy a three-legged dog when you could get four legs for the same price? The woman cocked her head at the male, worked her cigarette to the corner of her mouth and muttered, "Yeah, I knew we was gonna have to drown that 'un." (Cue banjo and harmonica.) We left with the female.

As soon as we got home, I hopped on my bicycle, rode miles and miles back to this crazy woman's house, and bought the three-legged dog. I stopped on the way home and called Mom from a pay phone. "You'll have to take both of us, or neither of us!" I declared, with exceptional teenage flair and drama. And that is how we came to have a three-legged dog. We named them Penny and Sam. Here they are with my Uncle Bennie.

Sam actually had three and a half legs; the half was a little stump with a floppy boneless paw-thing, sort of a thalidomide flipper. It's just easier to say, "three-legged dog." He was never quite housebroken. Mom thought he was "special" but I just thought he was playing by his own rules. He only lived 3-4 years. Penny lived quite a long time; we probably had her longer than any other dog. She was very sweet, and once Sam was gone, she miraculously stopped having accidents in the house.

My dramatic rescue, along with the pay phone ultimatum, has grown into legend. (Perhaps fanned by the flames of an earlier intervention: in the fourth grade, I wrapped a muddy, shivering stray pup in my brand new spring coat, and skipped school to carry him home in the rain. We didn't keep that one.) Here they are visiting Grandma Sophie, along with our cousin's poodles:
It seems strange to me now that my grandparents never had dogs in my lifetime. Maybe they'd done all the rearing they cared to, and were happy to just visit other peoples' dogs.

Here is Coco, the latest addition to the granddogs, in her Coach collar and ear bows. A Lhasa-poo, she is my brother and sister-in-law's second dog. I think her acquisition was S-I-L's way of coping with her daughters going to college. Coco is Miss Personality -- a combination of Princess Grace and Tazmanian Devil, I think. She weighs in at about 8 lbs. and I love to tease S-I-L that "anything under 10 lbs. isn't actually a dog; it's a large rodent." Whatever she is, she's irresistible.

I've known a few fine cats and I've considered getting one. I think Molly would enjoy having some company without actual competition for my attention. Only the daunting thought of vet bills keeps me from adding to my little family. Meanwhile, we're happy to have so many puppy and kitty friends nearby. And cousin granddogs to visit.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Happy Last Day

After singing Happy Birthday to another patient, the nurses came over and sang Happy Last Day to me! It won't be official until next week when we get all the lab work back, but I think Dr. A. will tell me that I fall within the parameters of "CR" - in remission. I'm thrilled, of course, but saving some glee for when my back issues are diagnosed and hopefully relieved. I saw Supernurse G today and mentioned that I hope step 1 is campaigning for another PET scan. And yes, I fully expect to get turned down three times again.

Most of the Hoodies are Cat People. Chris has 5, KB and MA have 3, KH and GH have...4? BF has 3 and renegade Pat dares to have just one. When they leave town, they host a Cat Sitting party. Everyone brings their calendars and signs up for shifts. When the travelers return, they usually hold a Cat Sitter's Thank You party. Although we are always on the substitute list, to fill in if needed, Molly and I have never been pressed into service, yet these wonderful folks are always kind enough to include us in the before- and after-celebrations. Talk about the best of both worlds! Tonight, I will join them as BF and JB schedule cat sitters for their Lake Michigan vacation.

I usually leave town on Memorial Day weekend. We have a little race here that attracts quite a large crowd. Many of them spend the weekend in and around my 'hood, getting drunk and clogging traffic. Since I'm "stuck," I stopped at the grocery on the way home and now I'm prepared to spend the weekend here at the Villa, working my way through some Netflix videos and writing some fresh blog posts. The goal is to avoid driving, all weekend if possible.

But right now, there's a nap with my name on it, just waiting for me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hunks into Chunks

Why do we judge women so harshly, and give men a pass? Time and gravity are equal opportunity ravagers. Have some fun, feel consoled:
It's the Hunks Who Turned Into Chunks!

And a couple bonuses, found at a different site:

Jack "Jabba" Nicholson and Val "Orca" Kilmer

Big C Update

In less than a year, I seem to have forgotten about the cumulative effects of chemo. On Saturday night, the hoodies held one of their lovely supper soirées, hosted by Molly's godparents, KB and MA. I felt like dog doo all day, but managed to cook something, spray my hair blond, and get out the door on time. The blond was a big hit (now I have to decide whether to commit; the color was great, but spray paint in your hair doesn't feel very good), the food was wonderful per usual, but I just couldn't rouse myself. I left quite early; I was afraid of bringing down the whole group.

Sunday was picture-postcard gorgeous with temps in the low 70s. I got the sheets changed and the back yard mowed before I turned horizontal for the rest of the day. Yesterday was chemo day #15. The waiting room was chatty. One young woman was describing how cancer had claimed most of her digestive tract, and the doctors had fashioned a new little stomach out of part of her intestines. "It was like bariatric surgery." This from a girl in her 20s, not a half pound overweight. Next to me, a much older gentleman with his granddaughter, also probably in her early 20s. Yes, she was the cancer patient and he was there for support.

My treatment was uneventful but I ended up sleeping 2+ hours in the late afternoon, which led to a scant 3 hours' sleep last night. Back pain, leg cramps, blood sugar issues, all seem unrelenting. I'm in a time warp: the closer I get to chemo day #16, still expected to be my final treatment, the further it seems to slip away, like a mirage in the desert. Three more days. Feels like three hundred.

I know that I've had plenty of challenges and I've been through a lot in the last year and a half. I don't want to minimize that. None of it has been easy, or pleasant, and my list of physical problems seems to be growing instead of diminishing. But every step of the way, this rough road has been buffered with amazing blessings. And I am fortunate to still have insurance, and to be getting such good care. In my fish-eye lens of personal misery, I'm a hot mess, but when I step back with the wide-angle lens that comes with a cancer diagnosis, I see that I'm still one of the lucky ones. For every pain, treatment, challenge, there have been a hundred acts of kindness, generosity, and compassion. If I ever lose that perspective, I'm going back to the infusatorium, and just hang out for a couple hours in the waiting room.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Baker's Acres, Part Four

The all-girl Baker's Acres Revue!
It was cold enough at night that evenings were spent wrapped in blankets. I doubt there was much argument about bedtimes at Baker's Acres. We would have played ourselves into a near-comatose state of exhaustion.

I remember the womenfolk being concerned because a family of chipmunks had taken up residence under one of the porches. Later we learned some of the menfolk had been feeding them all week.
Ten little Indians. We don't need no stinkin' sunscreen! (Or so we thought...) Once again, shirts are optional for the many of the girls of summer. Aunt Sonia (we called her Aunt Tootsie) is eager to feed us birthday cake, because we are all clearly wasting away.
I wish we knew who the cheapskate was who wouldn't spring for color film! Luckily, these B+Ws are razor-sharp. The water was very shallow for a long ways out; maybe that's why we were allowed to play for hours, virtually unattended. Beach balls, inflatable rings, and paddle boards kept us busy in the water. Buckets and shovels were all that was needed for playing in the sand. Simpler times.

And I think that concludes the Traverse City memoirs, unless someone else scans more photos.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Non-Chick-Lit Chicks

I hardly ever read non-fiction. I'm a lazy reader, I guess, and I read mostly for entertainment which, to me, means fiction. But three of my favorite authors are slowly making a non-fiction reader out of me. They are all women, but they do not write chick-lit. (Okay, Sedaris writes about entertaining from a chick's perspective, but there's lots of good stuff there for boy people, too. Really!)

Haven Kimmel has written some fiction, but I have only read her memoirs, A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off The Couch. If you have enjoyed any of my nostalgic looks back, chances are you will appreciate Haven Kimmel. With one traumatic exception in Zippy, the memories are hilarious, conveyed with colorful language and unflinching perspective. Several times, I had to just put the book down and laugh for five minutes. Couch is a sequel, focusing on the story of Zippy's mother. Her amazing transformation from timid, intimidated housewife to a woman who loses more than 100 lbs, learns to drive, and gains a college education, a career, and a sense of self-worth, is a joyous and thrilling tale.

I first heard Sarah Vowell on NPR, discussing her first book, The Party Cloudy Patriot. I developed an appreciation for history, especially American history, later in life and I feel like Sarah Vowell is my reward. This witty, enlightening collection of essays will give you a fresh appreciation for presidential libraries, Tom Cruise, Gettysburg, and the paradoxes of loving this crazy country of ours.

Even in the essays on pop culture, like "The New German Cinema" and "Tom Cruise Makes Me Nervous," Vowell, like David Sedaris, goes too far, cares too much and remains a very anxious and extremely funny citizen and shady patriot. -- Publishers Weekly
I listened to her second book, Assassination Vacation, on CD during a road trip, and almost had to pull over. Vowell visits sites relevant to the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, McKinley and Garfield. There is nothing like hearing a sharp, funny writer read their own words. (I have not yet read or listened to The Wordy Shipmates or Take the Cannoli.) Interesting note: Vowell's distinctive voice is heard as the teenage daughter, Violet, in the animated movie, The Incredibles.

I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence
by Amy Sedaris actually offers lots of practical tips for entertaining, especially if you're a high-anxiety host. But you may be laughing too hard ("Assume guests will snoop. Plan ahead and fill your medicine cabinet with marbles.") to appreciate the common sense advice and tried-and-true recipes.
The actor, caterer, film star, comic, and sister of David Sedaris charms, seduces, entertains, instructs, amuses, and just plain invites readers into her somewhat eclectic life. Readers will revel in the more than 100 recipes with menus for dozens of occasions (or not)... -- Booklist
She has co-written a play and at least one other book; I may read them eventually, but this one is a screamer.

It's almost summer! Who has their reading list ready?

The Big C: More and More?

Probably not. Probably, I'm just noticing more. But just in the last couple of days: actor Ron Silver, and hoops star Wayman Tisdale, and former Congressman Jack Kemp, and last night's voyeuristic "Farrah's Story," about Farrah Fawcett's challenge with an incurable cancer, just as my friend and neighbor gets a diagnosis of lymphoma and begins his treatment.

Is it becoming more pervasive? Is it just getting more attention? Or am I just noticing more?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Baker's Acres, Part Three

When the week begins, everyone is in various stages of pastiness. Every year, we'd rent a pontoon boat for one afternoon and pile on for some fun, low-speed cruising on Lake Michigan.
The mighty pontoon rides low in the water when the whole mishpocha (family) is on board. Sometimes we'd have to go out in two "shifts" or risk sinking.
With Grandpa Harold at the helm, you'd never know this is a long line of sea-fearing people. At least once, however, the engine wouldn't cut and we "beached" the boat.

Uncle Sid shows off the Catch of the Day, enough to feed a family of four... crickets, maybe. Mom with three happy sailors. Well, Bro #1 looks a little sulky, probably waiting for his turn at the wheel.

Bakers Acres, Part One
Baker's Acres, Part Deux

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

It's strange to be offline for two+ days. But the ol' laptop was unplugged and tucked away for two more showings. After a month on the market, I'm conceding defeat and de-listing. I'm sure I was unrealistic about the price, but I also expected offers to come in at least 10% below my asking price. Well, several lessons learned. In the meantime, I'm not feeling well and having showings two days in a row has really drained me -- especially when I knew in my heart they were just looky-loos and all the hard work was for naught. At some point, I'll tackle a few of the Villa's biggest projects; in the meantime, I'll at least get a look at the new tenants next door.

Back to chemo tomorrow. Then a Saturday hoodiepalooza for the two May birthday girls: Miss Chris and The Coot! I have great hopes for a complete recovery by then.

Such a girly girl even at age three. Well, the dressing table was always part of my boudoir, at least until I had to share it. The tiny folding table and chairs were perfect for tea parties. I don't believe I ever entertained stuffed animals; I had a preference for humans. I wanted an audience.

More baking! Ready with colored sprinkles.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


With my twice-a-week chemo/steroid schedule, Wacky Wednesday is now Manic Monday and Thrilling Thursday. Cah-razzzy Thursday is now Terrible Tuesday and Frantic Friday. Wednesday and Saturdays begin the slide toward normal, and are nearly always insulin-free. It's really only on Sunday that I sort of get my life back, but then climb back on the pony on Mondays. Yeah, I will be so thankful when it's officially over. I'm considering taking buckets of curcumin if there's even a chance it will keep me off the chemo-go-round.

In a moment, I'll begin yet another stem-to-stern sweep for yet another house showing. I was very disappointed the last one didn't result in an offer. It was a gay couple who own a business nearby. With their creativity, adventurous spirits, and reckless disregard for finances, I thought they were the ideal buyers. The Villa is "still on their short list," but I was ready to have a conversation about taking it off the market when I got a call for another showing. (Sigh.) Okay. I haven't even had time to completely mess up the house from the last showing, so the tidying is about 50% of what it would be otherwise.

I heard a horror story on the news about a health insurance company that is not only canceling individual policies, paying people to comb through policies and find loopholes to justify cancellation... they are doing so retroactively. How would you like to find out that your health insurance was of three months ago? At least one state is suing them for this; I think it was California. And yes, it is the DieSuckah Health Insurance Company. Who's surprised?

Meanwhile, my monthly phone bill includes a love letter from AT&T informing me of their new Residential Service Agreement. How does it differ from the previous Agreement? I now have to agree to bring disputes to an arbiter instead of a court, and to waive class actions and jury trials. And, even if AT&T is guilty of gross negligence or willful misconduct, liability is limited to direct damages. So let's say a visiting AT&T technician has a breakdown and takes a sh_t on my living room carpet. AT&T might pay for the carpet cleaning (five years later, after numerous delays)... but not the years of therapy I will need to get over the trauma.

Boy, would I love to see Congress wrest itself from the grip of corporations and get back to the business of establishing justice and insuring domestic tranquility, instead of grabbing their ankles every time a lobbyist enters the building. President Obama, can ya hear me now?

(climbing off soapbox)

Have a lovely Not-Too-Terrible Tuesday!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Links All Around

I've updated my blog buddies, by removing a couple of now-defunct blogs. And it occurred to me I'm probably missing some of your (readers') blogs. Please let me know. I'm sure I won't drive a lot of traffic, but I'd like to include you, especially my fellow MMers. Send me a note: LaCootina (at) gmail (dot) com.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Big C Update

I've been savoring a week of gloriously cool weather. Sometimes it even stops raining! Today was one of those days. My gigantic "miniature" Korean lilacs are in full bloom, making me grateful their bloom time is quite short. Too much of a good thing.

Today was the last day of chemo vacation. I felt so good that I mowed the front yard, for the first time in more than a year --and only because my trusty ancient Toro starts very easily. It's a pretty big yard, especially from behind the mower, but I managed, and felt very accomplished. I even did a bit of weeding and planting. I paid for it later, in back pain and exhaustion, but I think that's my life now: a series of trade-offs. A two-hour nap had me almost as good as new. It was still sunny and cool-but-not-cold, so I took the Mollinator for an afternoon walk. We got to visit with a few hoodies along the way, of course. A very good day.

Which makes starting chemo tomorrow even harder. It will make me a little nauseous, crankier than usual, and tired but buzzed from the steroids. (I'll also have the whole diabetes deal for about 48 hours after each steroid dose. Yeah, three or four belly shots a day. Whee.) I'll feel a little worse the day after, then a tiny bit better on Wednesday, but then have to go back Thursday for another smackdown. I'll feel exponentially worse with each dose, and just when I'm sure I can't take it anymore... it's chemo vacation time. I'm always amazed at how the dosages and vacations are timed so perfectly.

But I can hang tough a little bit longer; unless my doc tells me otherwise, this is my last chemo cycle. I know it sounds crazy, but I will miss it a little bit. The nurses and techs have been absolutely wonderful. Day after day, patient after patient, they are kind, gentle and compassionate. They have always treated me as an individual and appreciated my humor -- or done a damn fine job of pretending. I will miss running into folks I know: a friend of a friend, a blog reader, people from the MM support group. I will miss it... "like a bunion."

Studies Have Shown...

1. The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
2. The Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
3. The Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
4. The Italians drink a lot of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
5. The Germans drink a lot of beers and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.

Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Good News (Ptu! Ptu! Ptu!)

I'm not at all superstitious, yet somehow the generations have instilled in me the fear that, if I celebrate or even talk about anything good before it has come to pass/been signed and witnessed/given birth/been published, etc., I am inviting the "Evil Eye" to swoop in and snatch the joyous occasion right out of my hands. So here's the good news I can share.

Since my SS disability has finally come through, we are closing the Etsy shop. Thanks to Michelle and all the Foodies for their kind efforts. They kept us in dog food, manicures and "pin money" for the better part of a year. It was wonderful to have that stream of income to help with small but immediate needs.

My quarterly visit to the thrift shop was another jackpot bonanza. Thank you, lady who buys Clark and Naturalizer shoes in my size, wears them once, and donates them. Thank you, lady who donated a leather Liz Claiborne organizer purse that perfectly suits moi, the fussiest purse carrier on the planet.

Last Sunday morning, I had this season's first Blue Heron sighting right outside the Villa. They are my favorite harbinger of spring. They are about 4' tall, painfully shy, clumsy and goony on land, and breathtaking in flight. I'm still surprised at how often they visit this fairly busy, urban area; each visit is a little gift.

I am almost ready to send in my second reimbursement application to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I was eligible for up to $5,000 assistance for prescriptions, medical services, and health insurance premiums. It's a fortune to me, and it makes even the latest insurance rate hike manageable. I don't know of any organization that provides such immediate, direct support to cancer patients.

I hope to be able to share several more very big Good News items soon that will make these appear incidental. Soon... but not yet.

Notclocks & Time Banks

I've thought a lot about time since my diagnosis; probably a typical reaction. I'm mostly a left-brain, linear thinker so it's difficult for me to grasp any abstract concept of time. Kelly, one of my fairy blogmothers, was helping me develop something I called a notclock. I thought if I could figure out what it wasn't, process of elimination would reveal what it was. Turns out that was not a very effective technique; the project hit a dead end.

Although my time here is finite, I don't know exactly how much time I have. Well, I guess I have that in common with everyone, don't I? Not just cancer patients! But we of the cancerhood at least have a clarity of perspective and priorities. In my support group, there are several 5-year survivors, and one 17-year survivor, but in the last year, the group has lost several members. There's just no way to know. Your numbers could climb, and another round of chemo could put you in remission for five years. Or not. I have no idea what's in store for me. Even if/when I achieve that magical "CR," there are no guidelines to predict how MM will behave in the future. Every single patient is different.

When I saw fellow MM patient "L" last week at the infusatorium, I could tell that she was in a rough patch. I hate, hate, hate that this beautiful young mother of three has to deal with this. If there were any way at all to do it, I would happily put half my days left in a Time Bank for L. I would gladly donate 100 days to Alice's son (below). Not that I don't love my family and friends, and appreciate every day I'm blessed with, I just think it's a completely different situation when you have a spouse and children. The pain, fear, anxiety, anger are all compounded exponentially.

Having suffered a hyperactive social conscience all my life, I would be thrilled if I could do something, anything, to "level the playing field." I can't, of course, so I'll just soldier on and try to be positive, productive, helpful and not too cranky. But I'm going to continue making imaginary deposits in that imaginary Time Bank, and imagine that people who really need it can somehow make withdrawals.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Only One Stone - Lucky Me

I went to the monthly support group meeting on Monday. (I missed last month, because it just fell out of my brain. Thought about it that afternoon...and then, poof, it was gone.) We begin with a freebie fast food dinner courtesy of one of the drug manufacturers. Not my ideal dinner, but if I don't snarf something at 5:30, it may be 8 or 8:30 before I get a chance to eat.

I introduced myself to another late-arriver who sat next to me. I usually ask if someone is a patient or caregiver, but nothing beyond that. They can volunteer whatever they want to share. It turned out this dear lady, we'll call her Alice, was a caregiver. In a few brief sentences, she filled me in: her son is the patient. His brain tumor is back, for the third time. Clearly, they don't think he has a lot of time left. Alice and her husband have moved here for a month from a far western state. Then her exquisite daughter-in-law arrived with her 14-year old grandson. An older grandson wasn't up to attending a meeting; he'd decided to just wait in the car.

My heart broke in a thousand pieces for all of them. I can't imagine how they felt, but I was glad that they came, and told her that. I also told her about other programs, like the personal counselors and free massages. I told her about a cancer program at another facility that offers different services, like yoga and meditation. I gave her the number of the social worker, who could tell her about all this in greater detail, and hook her up directly with the appropriate agencies. It felt like nothing. I know it wasn't, and I know she appreciated it all, but it felt like nothing. It was just the tiniest glimmer into a caregiver's sense of helplessness.

We separated for the support groups. There are meetings for children, caregivers, and cancer patients, divided by cancer type. In my group, almost all the caregivers attend the MM meeting with their spouse, instead of the caregivers' meeting. I went in with a heavy heart, thinking about Alice and her family. In many ways, cancer is harder on the caregiver and the family than it is on the patient. We've got clearly defined goals and objectives, and few responsibilities. But the caregiver's role is less defined, and more challenging, especially when there are minor children.

I was distracted by an excellent meeting. But I have thought about Alice and her family every day since then, realizing that by the time next month's meeting rolls around, her son will probably be gone. I usually struggle with envy when I go to support meetings: I seem to be the only unmarried MM patient and going through this without a partner/caregiver is, I believe, my biggest challenge. But maybe that's a blessing in disguise, too.

by Piet Hein

If a nasty jagged stone
gets into your shoe,
thank the Lord it came alone –
what if it were two?

Bro #1's fifth birthday party. (I am three years old here.) He always had cool cakes because his birthday is the Fourth of July: firecrackers, Uncle Sam, sparklers, the U.S. flag. We had a big L-shaped screened porch at the Old House and it was several degrees cooler out there.

We were usually shirtless at his parties, and that's probably how we began the tradition of adding, "without a shirt!" at the end of the Happy Birthday song. I didn't know that for many years; I thought everybody sang, "without a shirt!"

Still three here. We owned this nifty two-toned pedal car for just a couple of years. I remember that the pedals went back and forth, instead of around a spindle like a tricycle. If you didn't start just right, you went backwards instead of forwards. I went backwards most of the time.

That's probably a good thing. In this age before helmets and seat belts, our rather steep driveway emptied into the street. I remember strapping my Barbie into the old-fashioned roller skate -- the metal kind that clamped on your shoe and tightened with a skate key -- and sending her down that driveway for a death-defying thrill ride. Good for Barbies, bad for three-year olds.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Oh, No, You Di'int!

Oh, yes, I did. That's me. Big, fat moony steroid- faced, green-haired me. It was a big hit at the dinner party. Everyone seemed surprised; did they think I wouldn't do it? That I was "all talk?" Heh. I felt compelled to wear a little more makeup than I normally do, to kind of counterbalance the green, but it looks like it had the opposite effect: Bozo's ugly cousin.

I ended up washing out the green that same night. It felt a little tacky (I normally don't even use hair spray) and I wasn't sure exactly what would be all over my pillowcase. I have to say, it came out very easily and I'd use this brand again -- "Streaks 'n Tips Temporary Highlight Spray" -- maybe pink or purple next time. Honestly: I still think it looks better than the gray!

Funny thing - apparently I missed a spot and walked around with a green splotch right on top of my head for a couple days. Now that's a look that's all my own.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The “Away” Grandparents

Mom and Dad met at college. The romance turned serious very quickly -- they married four months after they met! -- and they knew they would be moving to Dad's hometown, some 150 miles away, where Dad would go into business (a pharmacy) with his father. Not long after, Mom and Dad fixed up Mom's sister Carol with Dad's softball teammate, Bennie. Another romance sparked and before you knew it... another daughter had married and moved away.

This must have been tough for Grandma Sophie G. and Grandpa Harold G., to whom family was everything. The knowledge that both girls were happily married eased the sting; although their deep roots to friends, family, and congregation kept them here, I bet that they discussed, and seriously considered, the idea of moving.

I'm sure it became even more challenging when our own baby boom started. In nine years, their daughters gave birth to seven grandchildren. I think Grandma S. was here for every birth; I don't know if Grandpa stayed or, more likely, brought her and then picked her up a week or two later.

That's how it went for the next 30 years or so. Grandma and Grandpa G. made the trek for every birth, every Bar and Bat Mitzvah, every graduation, every major and most minor celebrations.
In reverse, at least half of my family's vacations were to visit Grandma & Grandpa G. I'm sure Dad dropped us off and picked us up; I can't imagine him staying and taking a whole week off of work. The highlights:

  • Being towed by Grandpa G's riding lawnmower. (When they were older, my brothers were allowed to drive it.)
  • Daring each other to touch the eye of Grandpa G's huge mounted sailfish (the tail is just visible in the second picture). It was more than 5' long from sword to tail.
  • Sneaking an occasional hard candy from a candy dish. (Candy on a table? Wouldn't have lasted 30 seconds at our house.)
  • Cooking and baking with Grandma Sophie. She also had endless scraps for making stuff: buttons, fabric, trim, etc.
  • Kite-flying from their big yard, or the field across the street.
  • Grandpa G was a skilled "Mr. Fixit" with a workbench and a garage full of tools that I'm sure enthralled my brothers.
The lowlight: being forced to "play" with some local dorky cousins or worse, having to visit their snooty country club with them.

I'm sure each visit was over much too quickly for my mom, her parents, and the adoring aunts and uncles. The things we do for love...

“Inertia is a powerful force.”

Follow the ripples from Bernard Madoff's pebble in a pond (more like turd in a punchbowl)...the havoc just goes on and on. Not only did scores of charities invest their entire portfolios with Madoff, but many of the wealthiest donors to those charities have also been wiped out, so the charities and the thousands of people they served have also been devastated. David, a leukemia patient, reminds us that a few middle class suckers got caught in the net, too; their suffering is proportionately greater and in David's case, there probably isn't an opportunity to replenish the funds that were lost.

Nobody expects to be a victim of the world’s largest Ponzi scheme, especially after so many years, and especially by a man who was both a family friend and a respected Wall Streeter who had actually been hired as a consultant by the Securities and Exchange Commission at one point.

...The Madoff mess has taken a toll on its victims in different ways. There is the obvious shock, the feeling of betrayal, the loss of security, the anger and the depression. I have been through all that, but I also have a potentially fatal leukemia and that means I have a somewhat different perspective.
Read the whole thing to appreciate his lessons in conclusion - lessons for all of us. A moving tale found through GrowABrain: Bernie Madoff Screws Leukemia Patient.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Is Cancer the New Black?

It's everywhere, I tell ya. I went to buy my festive temporary hair color and asked the salesgirl about different brands, how easy they are to wash out, etc. She pulled her hair back to show me how her cancer treatment was affecting new growth. (I couldn't actually see the difference, but sympathized anyways.) I doubt she was even 20 years old. Yikes. I did some more shopping, then tracked her down before I left just to wish her good luck. An impulsive little one-armed hug for the new club member.

At home, I found my neighbor's mother arriving to supervise some work at her daughter's house. The daughter is currently diving in the Maldives (!) so mom -- I'll call her Randy -- is helping out. Randy had a tough time last year: in a very short time frame, she had a stroke, and lost her mother (who had cancer twice), and then her husband of 30+ years. Now Randy's life is all about her two kids who, to this outsider, seem callous and indifferent. She asked about my "for sale" sign and I gave her a very abridged version of events. Randy dropped her bag and a couple of folders on the ground and gave me a little hug. She "joked" about how her daughter, now in her late 20s, really doesn't have any use for her mother. Not so, I protested: Randy still missed her mother, didn't she? Every day, she admitted. I'm sure Randy's daughter (ungrateful brat!) feels the same way about you, I said. We never outgrow our need for our parent's love and care and concern. I hope Randy's daughter is just going through a phase, and will have a sanity attack any day now.

There's more than enough misery to go around, isn't there? We take our little nano-seconds of comfort where we find them. Sprinkle them around, fondle them, spread them until they are transparent. Somehow, it multiplies. A little one-armed hug in the middle of the street is good for a whole day of fresh perspective and gratitude.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Chemo Day #24

With the theme of "Most Things in Moderation," a last-minute porchfest at J&Bs gave a dozen hoodies the opportunity to wish "Bonne Chance" to our two runners who will compete in a half-marathon on Saturday. Another soiree is planned for Saturday evening after the race. I think that theme is "Prelude to Sausage Fest," an homage to a local event that most of the hoodies eagerly anticipate. Incredibly, the runners will be hosting that shindig. You raise our bell curve, K&G.

Yesterday (it's 2am) was Chemo Day #24, so today is the beginning of chemo vacation. Wahoo! I'm pretty sure the piggies have moved out next door. There's a rumor that the rain will stop in another 2-3 days. My house has another showing scheduled at 2pm today. The only bad news on the horizon is that Bro #1 is battling a tough cold and decided not to visit this weekend. I'm disappointed but I think it's the right call.

Follicle Follies -- KB somewhat contritely explained that he had to rescind his offer to color his hair in solidarity. Seems his wife was not wild about the idea. A perfectly valid concern, and I think most would agree that a happy marriage trumps a silly, if well-intentioned, impulse. Plus there is the fact that, aside from shaving, KB wouldn't have to look at his silly hair all day, and his wife would.

So I'm on my own with the temporary hair color. I called my recently-out-of-retirement (@%# economy!) hairdresser to get a professional's input. Her exact words were, "Oh my god, don't you dare!" I will explain to her at some point why that's not the most effective strategy to use with a card-carryin' contrarian. Meanwhile: game on.

Soon, I'll start another big sweep -- the stem-to-stern cleaning and tidying. Now that I'm practicing Less Slothful Living, it doesn't take very long. Molly and I have to vacate for the showing, of course. If I have enough juice, I'll head to the beauty supply place to check out the hair color. If not, we will visit the kitties at Chris' house for an hour. At any rate, I'll be offline until tonight.