Friday, March 27, 2015

Eating in the car, feeling like a real journalist

A funny post is going around headlined "15 Things You Have to Do Before You Can Call Yourself a 'Real' Journalist," and one of them is Eat in Your Car More Often Than You do at a Table, accompanied by the photo here. When I wrote for the newspaper, my diet was not as bad as the junk shown here, but my car was a mess from even eating things like salads while driving to and from assignments.

Well, it is feast or famine in the freelance business, and at this point I am feasting, working on three stories at once: one for HCC, one for Vassar and one for Smith. I like being this busy.

My car, never the neatest, is showing signs of having been snacked in too many times. I thought about this yesterday after eating a Kind bar in my car. A healthy enough choice but too crumbly. I was on my way to tennis from attending a class that I covered at HCC. It is one of the school's interesting Integrative Learning programs team taught by professors in different disciplines, in this case English and Science.

The class ended at a perfect time for me to get down to tennis, actually a little late, which is better for me at this point because as I discovered on Monday, a whole hour and a half is too much on my foot.

I thought I had caught all the crumbs by placing a newspaper on my lap, but little pieces of chocolate and nuts had fallen through and gotten mushed into my pants. Luckily last night it all came out in the wash.

Today I will bring an apple when I drive to Northampton to cover a Women's Leadership Conference at Smith.

This weekend, maybe clean out the car (and hopefully get the chocolate off the seat). Then I can start all over again. But perhaps no more Kind bars.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

(Nurse) Friend for a day

Well, actually, she was only my friend for about an hour and a half, but she made my bimonthly therapeutic phlebotomy as pleasant as can be yesterday at Baystate Health, where we chatted away the time about this and that and touched on such important topics as my nurse Lynn having the same name as my mother, only spelled differently.

It was much better in the new location in a hospital setting as opposed to where it was formerly done in the blood donor center.
My nurse, Lynn Schwartz, and me

I had a bed and a nice nurse to sit with me, and although this is not a good photo of me, I am posting the selfie for fun.

(Note to grammar checkers: I double checked the most common use of bimonthly and it is every two months, although it can also but less often mean twice a month.)

I always felt out of place in the blood donor center, where through no fault of my own I am dumping blood rather than donating it like the good souls in the other chairs.

Plus, the nurses who I dealt with yesterday understood where I am coming from and took the time to reassure me by giving me a second finger stick when I was not happy with the hemoglobin count from the first one.

To back up: One time when I went to the donor center for this procedure, my hemoglobin measured 11. My orders from Dana-Farber required it to be 11.3 or above, so they said they couldn't do it. Also they seemed to forget why I was there, because the phlebotomist, when seeing the low level, said, "Good news, you don't have to be drawn."

I had carved out a chunk of my day to do this, and I asked if they would please recheck it because previously this had happened at the Kraft Blood Center at Dana-Farber and when they rechecked after I warmed up my hands, it was fine.

The phlebotomist made a big production, calling in her supervisor and even paging a doctor, who all said it was a good stick and they saw no reason to take the seconds needed to try again.

Yesterday the finger stick showed 11.4. It was high enough to draw, but although I know realistically that after six years I am safe, an aberration can still put me into a reflexive panic mode. Just a few weeks ago my tests at Dana-Farber showed a normal level, (12-something, in the low normal range of 12 to 15.5, but normal is normal) and I wondered how it could drop so quickly.

The nurse who had tested it yesterday let me run my other hand under hot water and sit on it for a minute or two, and viola`, "You'll be much happier this time," she said, because it read 12.2.

I could have had an extra-strength day by taking the Exjade in the morning, but I treated myself to a day off.

Lynn said to take it easy for the next 48 hours. I wondered if maybe I could just go Pilates today because that it not too strenuous. She said that actually it is, and I said, oh yes, the hundred...

Struggling to stay awake at the end of my short drive home from Springfield, I pulled into the Big Y parking lot in South Hadley to take a nap.

This morning, a cup of coffee and a piece of orange almond cake at the Thirsty Mind while writing a piece for the Vassar Quarterly helped pick me up. Twice around the lake and a walk through campus with Maddie and a friend saved me from following up on my notion that I should at least go to the pool.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Harsh words that I said to myself

Sometimes a critical voice comes into my head, such as this admonition when I walked up the stairs to a Pilates class at the Hampshire Regional YMCA this morning:

"Walk like a normal person."

Somebody was behind me, and I didn't want my usual old ladylike pace to hold her up. I think I might have even mouthed the words or possibly even mumbled them. In any case I heeded them and walked up more quickly. I doubt it bothered the woman behind me. It was just bothersome to me. Not a problem in Northampton, although they might run you down on the stairs in the New York subway system. I am normal enough on the tennis court. Stairs are the last frontier.

Once in class I did well. I have caught on quickly. I even discovered another vertebrae in my back so that when lying down, I can touch more of my back to the mat, one section at a time.

After Pilates I rode a bike for half an hour, followed by a not too difficult decision on whether to lift weights or head to Woodstar before the Sunday morning crowds arrived. I chose the latter. Usually I bring my Sunday New York Times, but today, much to my annoyance, it was not delivered. I did get a paper: yesterday's, delivered today. I took my laptop instead.

I usually don't mind reading on line, but on Sunday, I like to spread the sections around and save what I want, usually the Book Review, for the next day or so.

I have had delivery issues before and am not alone in this for The Republican as well.

This is difficult for newspapers to control, but if they want to hold on to a loyal and dwindling print readership, they should devote more resources to figuring it out.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Should I stay or should I go?

Bill Rogers and me in Holyoke
"You don't deserve to wear the T-shirt if you don't finish the race."

I said this to myself while struggling to finish the Saint Patrick's Road Race that year when I ran it with leukemia without knowing I was sick.

With the 40th anniversary running of the race tomorrow, I am wondering first of all if I should run despite my injured toe and second of all if I can wear this year's T-shirt if I don't go.

It was a big accomplishment for me to run it two years after my first transplant and many times after that. I missed it last year due to a winter's-long spate of pain in my legs (probably from prednisone), so I was looking forward to it this year. My training was going as well as could be expected over the winter, with several four milers and a lot of spinning under my belt. I felt confident enough to register.

Then I hurt my toe. It has improved to the point where this week, I hit some tennis balls and felt OK. But I still feel twinges. Common sense – and my memory of getting a stress fracture the last time when I ran a race with an injured foot – dictates sitting it out. Especially since aggravating the toe would mean skipping even more tennis.

Just to see what is out there, I googled, "Can you still wear the T-shirt if you don't run the race" and came upon a post on Saltyrunning.com headlined "5 Guidelines for Wearing the Shirt From a Race You Did Not Run."

The author writes that early in her running days, she learned the cardinal rule of race shirt etiquette: Never wear a shirt from a race you didn't run.

Later, her attitude changed, especially in certain situations.

Much to my relief, I found what I was looking for in case number 3, like so:


"You got injured or had other trouble during training and weren’t able to start.
If you unfortunately weren’t able to race it, I say go ahead and don the shirt. You trained for the race, and you paid for the goods. It’s not like  you stole a medal from the finish line!"
I'm glad I decided to pick the T-shirt up today because I met Bill Rogers, who won Boston and New York four times each and Holyoke twice. Rogers was signing his book, "Marathon Man," in the registration tent in advance of running the race tomorrow.

I bought the book, which I will read. I picked up the shirt, which I will wear.

As for the race, I'll probably go to yoga and save the toe and think about it for next year...God willing and the creek don't rise.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How not to start your day

How would you like to start your day?

(a) With a smile
(b) With a gulp of something awful, then a grimace and a groan.

You probably answered (a). I would chose that too, and on special occasions I do, forgoing (b), which is caused by mixing 5 tablets of Exjade in water, doing the gulp thing, and then, to do it right and thereby prolong the distasteful task, adding more water to absorb the little leftover pieces and drinking some more.

Then, wait 30 minutes while it does its work of removing excess iron from the body through a process called chelating in which it attaches to the iron and carries it out.

During which time, drink coffee (the wonder drug!) to mask the nausea.

I bring this up because although I no longer report my counts, which thankfully is very yesterday since most everything is where it is supposed to be, I noticed at my appointment Thursday that my ferritin had gone up, while the point of this battle is to make it go down.

It was 1832 (normal is 10-170) compared to about 1400 three months ago.

Melissa said that by taking the Exjade and getting a therapeutic phlebotomy every two months, I am doing all the right things. The number is influenced by other factors, such as graft vs. host disease, and we don't want to do any more for that because it would mean taking more prednisone.

All is well, though.

The timer just went off and I can eat my toast.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Too much cancer talk not good before bed

It was a pleasure to be back at the Academy of Music yesterday and see the beautiful theater full of people there to watch a movie, a reminder of old days.

It was actually excerpts from a PBS documentary based on Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2010 book, “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer,” produced by Ken burns and directed by Barak Goodman.

When I got the email invite from the  Cancer Connection, I just glanced at it and thought Burns would be presenting the film, as in introducing it, rather than presenting as in producing! But no matter, I was glad I saw the excerpts and the panel discussion that followed.

 I would have gone anyway to the free screening presented by WGBY in advance of “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,” a three-part, six-hour documentary scheduled to air on PBS March 30-April 1.

I had read part of the book, but not all of its 571 pages. Friends had vetted it for me, wondering if, so soon after my last transplant, I would be disturbed by the subject matter.

The book begins with the author, then a young doctor, treating a woman named Carla with acute leukemia, a blood cancer which "still sends a shiver down the hospital's spine."



Sorry to stop in the middle of a sentence, but you can get the idea about why I didn't want to read too much of this. But it was fine seeing the excerpts now, especially the one featuring Emily Whitehead, the young leukemia patient saved by a pioneering therapy and still in remission three years later.

With all of this cancer stuff swirling in my head, I should have taken a good book or my New Yorker  to bed. Instead, I wrote about the documentary for my Surviving Cancer blog (to be posted tomorrow) and then I made the mistake of picking this time to ask Joe to do the long overdue job of turning of my mattress.

Pardon the change of subject, but it all relates to a bad night's sleep. Did you know that you should rotate your mattress every three months? This topic came up with Diane and David. I have slept on the same side for so long that I have made a little burrow for myself.

After Joe flipped it for me last night, I could not get comfortable. The bed felt hard as a rock. I missed my comfy spot. Plus he had needed to move the bed and night table. I didn't move them back, and due to this laziness I feel like my chi was disturbed.

Meanwhile, I considered placing my head at the foot of the bed to find my spot (like a dog does!) but that would have defeated the purpose of saving my mattress.

So tonight, a little feng shui in the room, and no cancer before bed.

Actually it's Better Call Saul night. Not exactly a prescription for a good night's sleep, but an excellent distraction.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

'Big girls' can cry

I am cavalier about these things: being biopsied, having little things shaved off my hands, getting squamous cell cancers on the skin, having the precancerous ones zapped.

They pale in comparison to what other people went through, such as Lisa Bonchek Adams, who died March 7 of metastatic breast cancer, or Paul Kalanithi, the neurosurgeon who died Monday of metastatic lung cancer.

Both died too young. Both wrote eloquently about facing death.

But people like me who are lucky to look at cancer in the rear view mirror need to remember (as I remind myself), that these "little things" are part of a continuum. It is understandable to be upset.

If not for the cancer, these aftershocks – thankfully more like tremors – would not happen.

I realized this when somebody said something to me and I lowered my head and started to cry. It was not such a big deal. But this was only a day after the zapping and biopsying. I had (have) a tiny hole in the middle of my forehead. I still felt the stings. I thought it was just physical but I realized it was emotional also.

Big girls don't cry, I told Katie on the phone.

Sure they do, she said.

She tells her kids that grownups cry too.

It is not a bad thing.

On with the day.