Wednesday, December 7, 2016

With changing situations, adapting goals

With tennis friends at Hot Chocolate Run
I've decided that since 60 is the new 40, the 5K is my new 10K. At least for now.

It was great to be in a crowd of runners again — 6,500 of them — at Sunday's Hot Chocolate Run in Northampton. It was great to go with tennis friends and to support Safe Passage and to be in such a spirited scene at a time when the national news is so depressing.

As for the run itself, well...

Due to the problem with my toes, I hadn't run very much. And when I did run a little, it was on mostly flat ground around the Mount Holyoke lakes. But when it appeared that my new chiropractor had fixed my toes by working on (OK, killing) my calves, I decided I try it. But I didn't realize that the run through Smith College and Northampton had HILLS. They wouldn't have been hills to someone who has been running, but they were hills to me.

I leaned into them and did my best. I was so slow that I wasn't even sure if I was walking or running. At one point near the end as I passed two spectators, I asked, "Am I running?"

"Yes, you look good!"

They were nice.

Coming into the chute, I wasn't dying or anything, but I couldn't straighten up. During the walk through, I mentioned that to some women I thought I recognized. One of them asked if I wanted to go to the first aid station. No I didn't; I didn't go to first aid when I nearly fainted at the end of my infamous/famous Saint Patrick's 10K when I had leukemia in 2003 and didn't know it, so I wasn't going to do it on Sunday.

I picked up my purple hot chocolate mug and leaned against a tree. I wanted to see how the chip reader worked when you stand in front of it with your bib on, so I went over and tried it. It was a little over 50 minutes for three miles. About the time that at one point I could have run twice that much.

I shrugged it off because the point was to see if I could run without pain. I did, and that was the victory. Now maybe I can run more and get in shape for some other 5Ks. A friend from the tennis group said she would do it with me. I have to admit that the thought of another St. Pat's race did flash through my mind...

I went home and lay on the floor and stretched. Then I took a shower and went down to Bev Bloomberg's "Brunch and Buy," where I joked to people that I was eating as much food as though I had run a 10K.

In my dream that night, a group of us took turns lying on the ground and trying to catch the string of a pink balloon that someone down the field was shooting into the air. My turn came and I caught the string. It was a little difficult to see but I got it. I looked up into the sky and saw another pink balloon floating, then another and another. They were all disintegrating and falling down in little pieces. At first I thought that they were going to hurt me, but then I realized that they were light and wouldn't bother me and I would be OK.

I looked all this up but it is too complicated for me to put together.

Today and tomorrow I got to Boston for maintenance.

Today is photopheresis and tomorrow a checkup with Dr. Alyea at Dana-Farber.

A friend asked me if I ever went a whole week without a doctor's appointment. I said probably not.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Running for fun and a good cause

I can remember clearly the warm early fall day in 2002 when I felt like I was flying along Woodbridge Street towards my house, having just about finished the 10-mile run that my friend Bill Zajac, an experienced marathoner, said would be a good basis for my upcoming half marathon. 

I felt good, as I did when running the Hartford Half in October, so good that I thought I could have continued onto the second loop with the "real" marathoners. It was a funny day in many ways. First, funny in an unexpected way when I beat my friend Mike, who always beat me in tennis. Funny because it was pouring, and Mike and I got drenched when dashing between trees for cover, not knowing what the more experienced participants knew, that in weather like that you cut a hole in a garbage bag and wore it like a cape that you shed when the race began.

Feeling a little under the weather, so to speak, I had talked to my mother the night before. She had urged me not to go. I got up in the dark and went on the adventure anyway. Very possibly, leukemia was brewing, because just about five months later I ran the sluggish Saint Patrick’s race that led to my AML diagnosis. 

I bring this up because, due to pain in my toes, my training for tomorrow's Hot Chocolate Run has mostly involved doing other activities, with a little jogging thrown in.

I'm doing the 5K Fun Run (as opposed to the more competitive road race) with some tennis friends. Carol Constant, the captain of our summer team, the (Holyoke) Paper Dolls, organized our little running team to show our support for another of our tennis friends, Marianne Winters, executive director of Safe Passage, for which the race is a fundraiser.

As I wrote in my piece for Womensrunning.com, pain in my right big toe has curtailed my running. When the other big toe started hurting also, I followed the advice of a runner friend who said to go to a chiropractor. At first I thought, “Chiropractic for your toes?” But I made the appointment with a chiropractor another friend had recommended. He was luckily able to fit me in last week.

That chiropractor, Kevin McCormick, was the right person to see. He is a triathlete who knows a lot about running from personal experience. My friend said he’s great at figuring things out. He figured out that the problem in my toes is coming from my calves. When I saw him last week he said he could get me to the point where I could do tomorrow’s run.

He worked on my calves (and my feet) three times this week. The pain was excruciating. I squealed. Yesterday I ran … well, scratch that, I slowly jogged…2 ¾ miles.  My toes felt OK at the end: a good sign. So that is my training run for tomorrow’s 5K.

I would have done it more consistently if I had been to the chiropractor before. But I figure with all of the walking, tennis and spinning I should be able to do three miles. It's a long way from the days of 10Ks and more, but it's better than not doing it all.

Plus we’ll get to have hot chocolate.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A loose tooth, a big wave, and the meaning of it all

Another night, another nightmare back in the dentist's chair.

Did I say I lost 12 teeth? Yes, of course I did, and my subconscious keeps chewing on it. (Sorry not sorry about the pun.)

I dreamt the dentist was poking a pointy instrument inside of my lower lip, moving it around like he was looking for something. I didn't know what it was. Finally he fished out a big molar and held it up on a skewer for me to see.

It was my only remaining tooth on my upper left. I was extremely upset because I can barely chew on the right. He said not to worry and popped it back in place. I asked was he sure it would stay there. He said it would, and if it popped out again he could put it back. I was dubious. But I went on my way.

The way led to one of those big wave dreams. Maybe you have had them. I know some other people who have. I guess it is common because when I looked it up, I typed "what does a big wave" and it filled in "mean in a dream."

According to the author of a  blog about dreams, "If we look at water in our dreams as a symbol of our emotions and feelings, part of our inner world, then tidal waves can be like our emotions welling up and getting a little out of control." 

The writer, Amy Campion, continued, "Tidal wave dreams and tsunami dreams invite us to dive into our subconscious, then perhaps we can learn to swim or surf and enjoy the experience of being at one with our-self, of exploring our emotions.  If we are lucky, we may even learn to breathe under water.

In last night's dream, I was standing with my family against a sea wall when a big wave started rolling in. It was me, my mother, Katie, and two others. (I don't know who.) As the wave got closer, we all took a big breath and dove in. I did it like I used to do but would never do now because I'm not steady enough. I faced the wave and plunged under. I told Katie to do the same.

The water calmed and I popped up. Then my mother. Then the others. I looked anxiously for Katie, and then her head appeared out of the water.

Another wave was coming and I said to my mother, come on, let's move to higher ground.

So we all did. I think that was a pretty good ending.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Edward Hermann, Lauren Graham and me


In November 2001, an actor was telling me about a stage adaptation of "American Letters" from the best seller "Letters of a Nation," covering 1744 to 2001, written by both the famous, such as Washington and Lincoln, Mark Twain and Edith Wharton, and by the not so famous. 

Speaking before the performance at The Miniature Theater in Chester, he said, 

"There's precious little that an actor can do to help out after an event like 9/11, and this is one of those things. I've done some readings to reinforce the notion that our history is a continuum, and that it's always had, in moments of crisis, men and women who are equal to the task. It shows how magnificent people are under that pressure and what can be achieved. It shows people struggling to make sense out of a world that was as chaotic for them as ours is for us."

That actor was Edward Hermann, 58 at the time, now gone for two years but alive in many ways on the "Gilmore Girls Revival." I found the interview in the old Union-News files when going back to look for clips to send to an editor who had listed an opportunity for a theater-related freelance-writing job. His comments about a chaotic world stand out as especially pertinent for this time.

It was before I watched "The Gilmore Girls" on boxed sets with Katie, the perfect mother-daughter activity, eating ice cream and saying to each other as one episode ended and another was about to start, "One more?" She was basically the same age as Rory and I, although not exactly the same age as Lorelai, was of course divorced also.

He had told me from his home in Salisbury, Conn., 


"Perhaps it's because I did Roosevelt a long time ago that I've been tagged with the label of the history guy,'" He said he didn't mind the label and was particularly eager, in the wake of the terrorist attacks, "to remind people of Americans' history of resilience, overall decency and humanity." 

He played Franklin Delano Roosevelt on TV opposite Jane Alexander in two miniseries, "Eleanor and Franklin" (1976) and "Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years" (1977). He also portrayed FDR in the musical "Annie" in 1982.

I wrote that he was back east on a break from filming the multigenerational TV series, "The Gilmore Girls," in which he played Richard, the old-fashioned father of thirtysomething Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham), mother of teen-ager Rory (Alexis Bledel).

He had said he likes the fact that the show portrays three generations working together. "It shows teen-agers that they're not alone, that they're connected to a continuum. Old people don't have to be idiots. They can have some wisdom to pass on, and that's very reassuring."

Mothers and daughters watching the revival now, as we are doing, can also find reassurance in the continuity. And whatever you think of the revival, most would probably agree that part of the continuum is seeing Lauren Graham's Lorelai, although obviously older, not that much changed from the last time we saw her when the series ended in 2007.

I also interviewed Graham back then. It was the summer of 2002 and she was at The Williamstown Theater Festival. She told me that she thought the relationship between Lorelai and Rory "is something a lot of people wish they had, a fun mother-daughter relationship."

And she said that while many viewers are probably drawn to the ease with which Lorelai and Rory communicate, many can relate to Lorelai's less-than-ideal relationship with her own mother. 

Back then she was performing in the Moss Hart-George S. Kaufman collaboration "Once in a Lifetime," set in 1927 as talkies were coming in. Graham played Mary Daniels, an actress turned speech instructor who follows her love interest to California.

""My father read the script and said, 'You're playing another wise guy,'" Graham had said. Same old is comforting now with so much else in turmoil.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Squamous cell city and housemaid's knee

At Mount Holyoke with Ben and Nell
Last Friday I went to Boston to Brigham Dermatology Associates to see dermatologist #5 to get three spots biopsied.

Saturday I had an adorable little visitor.

Tuesday I went to the Mohs center at Faulkner Hospital (also affiliated with Brigham) to have a squamous cell cancer removed from the middle of my forehead and another removed from my right hand. I was lucky because this can take multiple passes but it only took one each. This is the procedure in which you wait about an hour and a half while the doctor studies the specimen under the microscope to see if all the margins are clear.

Wednesday I stopped in to see my nurse practitioner, Melissa, before my 3 p.m. light therapy. I showed her the egg on my knee. She didn't like the way it is inflamed, and since they are very careful with me, she made an appointment for me to see an orthopedist the next day. I wasn't planning to stay over and the logistics got complicated and frustrating but Margaret came and took me to her house and saved the day.

While I was waiting for the orthopedist on Thursday, I got a call from the Friday dermatologist and learned I had three more squamous cells. One on my left hand, needs Mohs. The others, on my cheek and another on my left hand, can be treated with effudex, a chemotherapy cream. It is the second one on my cheek. I also have been treating one on my nose.

Somewhere along the line I think I missed a face fry so that is why I might be getting more on my face. I have one scheduled for February.

I was super careful this summer, wearing sun protection gloves and plenty of sunscreen, so this is disheartening. It is not serious but more of a drip, drip, drip. When the Mohs surgeon was leaving the room I thought she said something about another pill I can take, but she didn't say what it was so I wrote an email to my main dermatologist to ask her about it. Not that I want to take another pill.

Meanwhile the orthopedist came in and said, after looking at my x-rays, that I have housemaid's knee, otherwise known as prepatellar bursitis. He said to ice it and it will eventually go away. I said I assumed I should rest, but surprisingly he said not necessarily. I walked Maddie today but that was all.

I have a little row of stitches on my forehead, I think about six. My local doctor is going to remove them on Tuesday. In the meantime a friend who is a nurse is changing the dressing for me.

It feels like I have a nail going into my head. The good news is that it (sort of) takes my mind off the election. The bad news is that it hurts like hell. Although it does feel better today than the day before so that is good. The election still hurts.

Tomorrow we have a signing at The Odyssey for the book "On Being Italian: A Story of Food, Family and Faith,"  to which I contributed about a dozen stories.

Someone who will remain anonymous told me that because of the way the bandage covers my forehead, I look a soldier wounded in the Revolutionary War.

I might either have to cut bangs or pull a hat down low. Or more likely just go as I am and assume people will understand...or look the other way.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Trickle down from Trump election surprise

At least someone believed in woman card
Way to get over being crushed by election results:

On way home after sleepover that followed election night party that was supposed to be a celebration but which instead turned into a funeral for our hopes and dreams, stop at farm stand to get apples. Get a phone call, sit in car talking, turn off engine briefly, go to turn it on and realize I kept the lights on and the car is dead.

Go back into farm stand, call AAA, and talk to owner's mother while waiting. Woman comes in and when owner's mother asks how she is, woman says she is terrible and can't believe what has happened to our country. Owner's mother says she doesn't trust any politicians and it is all in the hands of God. This election outcome is fine with her because it might make God come sooner.

She makes a good point about my battery. If it died that quickly (like our hopes and dreams) it is probably bad. I put that in my pipe (no marijuana even though it is legal and I could use something) and smoke it. She gives me a free apple.

Stop at Breezy Acres for coffee cake. Evelyn says one woman came in and said she would pray for Donald Trump to be a good president. Another said she was trying very hard to focus on her own life. I buy warm cranberry nut bread and go drink coffee and commiserate with a friend. Then...

Go to automotive place and learn I actually did need a new battery. Wait for battery. Get pep texts and have pep talk with son. Multiple group texts going on in which we try to sort this out. People are afraid. For the country and for certain rights. And let's not forget that horrible Mike Pence. But let's think on the bright side (still in texts) of the good we in Mass did by helping Democrat Maggie Hassan win her New Hampshire Senate seat.

Call dog sitter (Trump fan) and tell him of my whereabouts. How are you? I ask. "WONDERFUL," he says. I start to cry. Please don't gloat, I say. I say through sobs, I just can't stand the thought of that horrible man in the White House. And please tell your wife too. He says he will.

Meanwhile, I find my distraction in booking multiple rides for upcoming trips to Boston. I need spots looked at and spots removed, but the spot remover doctor doesn't have time to possibly biopsy other spots, so I need to make separate appointments.

For this Friday, book trip to Brigham Dermatology on Boylston Street in Chestnut Hill. "Do you have an escort or wheelchair, crutches or cane?" No I don't.

Next Tuesday, trip to Mohs (surgery) center at Faulkner Hospital. "No escort, wheelchair, crutches or cane?" Correct.

Next Wednesday, return trip home from 450 Brookline Ave. after 3 p.m. light therapy on my skin. Return trip home at 6 p.m. "No escort, wheelchair, crutches or cane?" Still the same.

And so on and so forth for appointments in December. Still, hopefully, with no escort, wheelchair, crutches or cane.

In between times, an overnight after the Mohs being arranged. I will either have two procedures or three. One will be on my right hand so I don't know what to say about writing or tennis.

Going to try to detox from political news.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Tired but satisfied after going door-to-door in New Hampshire

View from Clinton/Kaine gathering place today
I'm glad I went to New Hampshire three times in the past few weeks to canvas for Hillary Clinton and Maggie Hassan (for Senate) and the other Democrats, but although I had planned to go back one more time, on Election Day, I think I'm going to call it a day.

It is tiring to jump in and out of cars, walk down long driveways, climb steps (some with no handrails, not my speciality), fend off dogs and knock on the doors of homes in this tightly contested state. The other times our group from Northampton (413forHRC) went to Keene to a fully operational office where they took good care of us by feeding us (and giving us coffee) before we went out and when we came back in. Today, with Keene being flooded by volunteers, we weren't really needed. So I went a longer distance (about an hour and a half drive) to Jaffrey, much more rural than Keene, with a couple of others from Northampton, where we had met as a group and paired, or tripled off into cars.

The people I drove with might have thought I was crazy because I kept saying I was worried about the food. I think I said that it's the reporter in me, always wanting to know where the free food is.

We were looking for an office but realized as we went along bumpy roads that we were going to a house. I didn't bring any food because I thought there would be some. (Am I whining? Sorry! I need to eat. I need coffee!) The house was beautiful. When we got into the rather chaotic kitchen I picked up a cookie and popped it into my mouth. My tongue screamed. It was a "feel the Bern" cookie with ginger and cayenne pepper in it.

I drove off with a nice local woman. She was definitely dedicated. She was having a procedure on her back tomorrow (in Boston) and would be working at the polls on Tuesday. We headed out with a list of about 20 houses on rural roads. The last two times I went up to the houses with someone else. But it was just me because her back was sore. I was a little nervous but I got the hang of it.

This was the second pass to the same houses in the get out the vote, or GOTV, operation that was so successful with Obama. You introduce yourself as a volunteer for their local Democratic office and confirm that they're committed to voting for Clinton and Hassan. If they are, you ask if they have a plan for Election Day and whether they know their polling place and give them some material. Then you write it up on your checklist. Volunteers will return again on Election Day to see if they need any help getting to the polls or have any questions.

At this late stage, I actually came across two people who still hadn't decided. At one of these houses, I talked to a youngish mother while she apologetically wiped the St. Bernard slobber off my black coat. Her two daughters came to the door. I gave her my spiel. (One is sane, the other not, Clinton started out working hard for women and families and continues to this day, she's smart, world leaders are afraid of Donald Trump and YOU SHOULD BE TOO...Well, not exactly the boldfaced words. Looking at one of the daughters (who would probably have something to say at the family dinner that night where the parents were going to make a decision), I said, pointedly, he is very mean to women.

That seemed to register. I also pointed out that the daughter and I were wearing the same color striped shirt. She smiled. You never know what will make a connection. The mother said she was leaning to Clinton. So maybe I swayed one of the two last undecided voters in the state.

By the time we were nearing the end of our route, it was 3:15, and I had had a little candy, a few nuts, and a banana. We stopped at a gas station/market and I got a sandwich. Back at the house, the people I had come with were not back yet. So I filled in my report and waited about 45 minutes. I probably finished earlier because I was with a local woman who knew her way around.

I saw a coffee pot and a tin of coffee and asked if it was possible to have a cup. (Was that rude? I don't know, but I was cold and tired and I really needed it.) Luckily the owner of the house said he was just thinking of making a pot. He ground some beans. The strong coffee that resulted never tasted so good as I looked out at the beautiful view.