Thursday, December 30, 2010

A visit to the heel healer

As seen in Martha Stewart Living

For a day, the space under the piano was decorated with not one, but two, pairs of goalie pads. I liked the decor enough to take this photo.

There were two because Joe had taken out a pair that he was selling because they were not the regulation size for college play. This afternoon we were back to one pair. Notice that I too am a participant in the living room's sports motif: My green exercise ball is sticking out from the other end of the couch.

Speaking of sports, I am going to play tennis tomorrow for the first time in weeks. On Tuesday, I saw my foot doctor, Ken Holt, who said that my plantar-fasciitis flare-up was probably due to stiffness in part of my foot, probably because I was inactive for so long. He made me a new pair of soft orthotics to take the pressure off my heel, which he said was hitting the ground earlier than it should.

(I'm sorry if this ailment doesn't fascinate you as much as it fascinates me. I think that only people who've had it can understand the pain.)

He also said to do runner's stretches frequently throughout the day and to continue wearing the brace at night, and it should heal quickly.

As I've said, Holt, who is a physical therapist, is a foot guru to many sufferers. He's a soft-spoken Englishman with a home office in Shutesbury, Mass., out in the boondocks. Just driving there through the woods over snow-covered roads, I felt like I was on a healing mission.

Katie came along with me, and afterwards we stopped for a hot chocolate and cappuccino at the nearby Cushman Market and Cafe´on another snowy back road. It was nice to be off the beaten track, the smell of wood stoves in the air...and to be optimistic that soon I might have happy feet.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Searching for coffee and bagels

What's a Jewish person to do on Christmas when you don't live in a city? What if you want a good cup of coffee? Barry and I decided to investigate.

Except for the handful of Chinese and Japanese restaurants, everything was closed in normally-busy Northampton. Then we came to Starbucks, bearing a big banner, Open on Christmas Day. Success! It was shortly before 1:30 p.m. I got my cappuccino and lemon pound cake and even found a copy of The New York Times, which hadn't been delivered that morning. I was happier still.

Barry got his coffee and we found a table where we settled down for a good chat about this and that. Shortly before 2, an employee announced that the store was closing soon. We hadn't noticed that it was only open until 2. Our happiness was short-lived.

Determined, we headed for Amherst, where we found the Black Sheep deli open. Got more coffee (OK, and a strawberry peach cobbler that I decreed healthful enough to count for lunch) and found a table. It was about 2:20. We then realized that the cafe was closing at 3.

We had enough time to sit and laugh and to finish our conversation from before. Next year, the coffee search begins earlier.

Ben, Joe and Katie returned from Jim's mid-afternoon, and we had our Chinese food that night.

Diane and her family had planned to come yesterday for our delayed Hanukkah celebration, but snow began to fall by noon and continued through the day, so we postponed until next Sunday. I had a fridge full of dinner food, including two chickens, but nothing for lunch. Deb and Charlotte headed over, saying they would bring bagels.

Thus began another search, this one for a store that wasn't sold out of bagels. They tried two bakeries with no luck. At their third stop, Whole Foods, they found one bagel and assorted muffins. I put out some fruit plus cheese, crackers and salami and sliced vegetables. Next year, we stock up on bagels ahead of time. Either that or move to New York.

We had good strong coffee and a nice visit at the kitchen table while the kids hung out in the den. Ben left around 1 as the snow began to thicken. Our company left, and I walked the dog as the wind whipped up snow that stung my face. I was glad to get back inside the warm house. I baked a chicken, and then we stayed up late watching a movie...and eating the dessert I had planned to serve.

We haven't had a decent Nor'easter in a long time. It was good to feel snowed in and hear the gusting wind outside while we sat inside, cozy on the couch.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday gatherings galore

Gary, Mark, me and Rook at Thursday's beer dinner.

The night before the night before Christmas dinner, held at the Sierra Grille in Northampton, was a lot of fun.

The five-course dinner featured five beers from Dogfish Head, the Delaware-based craft brewery whose slogan is "Off-Centered Ales for Off-Centered People." I went with friends from the year I spent at Wesleyan University as part of the 12-college exchange with Vassar; one of the guys, Gary Steinel, is a card-carrying Beer Drinker of the Year with more knowledge about beer than I ever thought possible.

Gary is friendly with Dogfish head founder and president Sam Calagione, host of the Discovery Channel's Brew Masters series, who entertained diners in between courses with tales about the beginnings of the brewery and the sometimes exoteric ingredients they use.

I like getting together with the Wesleyan friends, who include Rook, aka Jeff Van Nest, my old boyfriend and current good buddy; and another good guy, Mark Nickerson, an Amherst psychotherapist . When the three of them start chattering about things I don't understand, such as the super-duper components on Rook and Gary's bikes, it doesn't really matter what they're saying. Their voices sound just the same as they did a gazillion years ago at Wesleyan. It takes me back.

In deference to my delicate liver, I probably shouldn't have had quite so much beer, but hey, I hardly drink at all, and it is the holiday season.

Mark's daughter, Geneva, and his niece, Brittany,
brought some extra sparkle to our table.

Me with Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione.

My kids spent Christmas Eve with Jim in Enfield. I went to my friend Korby's house for her family's annual Christmas Eve gathering in Agawam. It was a festive event with a warm and friendly group of people, and I was happy to feel a part of Korby and Pete's extended family.

Korby prepared a scrumptious buffet, with the main dish, Portuguese salt cod, prepared by her son-in-law, Philippe, with help from wife Keegan (Korby's daughter) in keeping with Portuguese Christmas Eve tradition.

Korby, Philippe and Keegan with his Pièce de résistance

Tomorrow, Ben, Joe and Katie will return mid-afternoon. We haven't firmed up our plans, but I'd like to go out for Chinese food, the traditional Jewish Christmas meal.

Then on Sunday, I'll host the Day After Christmas Faux-Hanukkah party. We figured God would understand this rescheduling of a minor holiday that fell in early December this year. None of the college kids could come on real Hanukkah, and this way we can celebrate the way it should be done, with gift-giving, candle-lighting, family and extended family and good eating.

Well I hope the eating is good. We'll set the table with my mother's nice things, so at least it will look pretty!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Busy busy

Let sleeping dogs lie

Well, she was sleeping until I woke her up by creeping along the floor to get a good angle for a picture.

Maddie has seemed happier since Katie and Joe came back. I had thought she looked depressed, or maybe I was projecting my feelings onto her.

In any case, when the kids left and I cried about my empty nest syndrome, people said they'd be back before I knew it. And sure enough, here they are. The first few days I tripped over suitcases and smiled in welcoming back some of the old chaos. A few days after that, when the obstacle course was still there, I wasn't so happy about it and lugged the suitcases into a certain person's room. Out of sight, out of mind.

Adding a certain je ne sais quoi to the living room, Joe's hockey bag is under the piano, his stick is resting on a wood beam, and a laundry basket leans against a wall. Rolls of Christmas and Hanukkah wrapping paper are laid out on the floor, and a wooden bench is filling up with Hanukkah presents (in blue) and Christmas presents (in gold and red).

It's definitely lively.

Last night I went with Joe and Katie to Jim's house, where we had dinner and they put up and decorated the tree while I watched, curled up under a blanket on the couch.

They will go to their father's for Christmas Eve and Day, and then on Sunday, Diane and her family will come here for the Hanukkah celebration that we couldn't have on the real Hanukkah because the college kids couldn't come home. You don't move the serious Jewish holidays, but we figured this one was OK. Ben and hopefully his girlfriend Meg will come, as will Deb and Charlotte, our extended family.

Tomorrow night I plan to go to the Sierra Grill in Northampton for the annual Night Before the Night Before Christmas beer dinner, a five-course meal with a beer for each course from Dogfish Head brewery (I'm having pheasant.) I've done this before with friends from my junior year at Wesleyan University, and it's a lot of fun.

This time last year I couldn't go because I was still not allowed out in public drinking beer and eating restaurant food. The year before I was in the hospital, having just relapsed.

Going out will be good. Since I don't drink very much, I'm sure my friends won't mind finishing my beer...unless the beer is so good that I need to drink most of it myself.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Whine time

When I saw Melissa at the clinic on Monday, she said that she would let me know if Dr. Alyea wanted to increase the prednisone.

I didn't hear anything all week, so I thought I had dodged a bullet.

Until yesterday, that is, when I got a voicemail from Melissa saying that they want me to increase to 20 mg. This is still not a huge dose, but it sure is higher than 5.

She said it will probably get my liver to where it's supposed to be and also help my platelets.

I whined to Katie this morning.

"Better prednisone and platelets than no prednisone and no platelets," she said.

Well put.

I walked into yoga last night limping, and Erin asked what the problem was. I told her about the recurrence of the dreaded and dreadful plantar fasciitis.

"This is the worst thing that's ever happened to me," I wailed.

She knows better, and of course I do too. We both cracked up.

She devoted some time to exercises stretching and massaging the sole of the foot and talking about fascia, the layer of fibrous tissue that permeates the body.

I had intended to wear the boot to bed last night. I thought I saw it sticking up from a box of stuff. Then I realized that I was seeing wrist braces, which I had worn when I had twinges of carpal tunnel syndrome from typing so much at work. I looked really great back then when I went to bed with wrist braces and a big black boot.

I remembered lending the boot to a fellow plantar fasciitis sufferer, but I couldn't remember getting it back. I called her and she said she still had it. She brought it over this morning, so tonight I'll put it on.

I hope at least my wrists hold out.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On the road again

I've been on the road since early Sunday, when Jim, Katie and I drove to Bates (in Lewiston, Maine) to watch Joe play in a hockey game against Keene State.

It poured all day and night. The game was at 3 p.m.; we had planned to meet Joe for lunch, but we got there late, so we didn't see him. After the game, we saw him for about 15 minutes before hitting the road and driving back for about three and a half hours.

It was worth it, though. For good reasons, until this season I had missed all of his college hockey career. This hockey mom thing is like riding a bike. You might fall off, but once you get back on, you remember right away. Ah, those freezing cold rinks, the slightly pungent warm rooms, the blankets shared with other hockey moms to keep your rear end warm on the cold bleacher, and, of course, the excitement of getting into the game.

Joe plays goalie, and it is always extra-exciting to watch him make great saves and scary to watch the offensive players crowd around him (as in, "Stay away from my baby!").

Bates beat Keene State 5-4 in overtime. Yay!

We had gone in separate cars to Brandeis, where we picked up Katie and drove to Maine in my car. On the way back, we stopped at Brandeis, they got in Jim's car and drove back home (Katie is done with the semester) and I drove about 15 minutes to Newton, where I spent the night at Diane and David's.

Yesterday I had my check-up at Dana-Farber. My best news is that my hematocrit, at 36, is finally normal. My platelets, however, dropped to 59, which explains the bad bruising I got after my dental surgery. Melissa said this is because my liver enzymes are still elevated. I might need to increase the prednisone; she is going to consult with Dr. Alyea and let me know. I still need two teeth pulled, but I have to put it off for now. So sad.

Last night I stayed at Margaret and Nick's, also nearby in Needham. Another friend of hers was there too, and we had a delicious festive dinner. Their teenage son, Natty, wanted to go do something about 9:30. To prove that we were spontaneous, we went out into the cold and drove to one of the only open stores, TJ Max. Along the way, we admired the holiday lights. Needham has a blue and white theme, and there is one huge especially beautiful blue tree.

My ankle weights don't fasten right, so I made the exciting purchase of new pair.

Natty wanted to look around more; the photo below is of Mary, Margaret and me resting on a bench.

This morning I went to a good yoga class with Diane, followed by coffee.

I had an afternoon appointment with a dermatologist who used liquid nitrogen to freeze between six to eight (I lost count) precancerous spots. This was not fun.

The yoga instructor had said to drink plenty of water; I was going to ask if drinking strong coffee counted.

I am trying to save money, and I am afraid I spend too much on coffee. Still, my face burned. I needed to stay awake for the hour-and-a-half drive home in the dark. Two good reasons to splurge.

So I stopped at Starbucks and headed home.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Foot fault

I thoroughly enjoyed my private tennis lesson with George on Wednesday, but my foot was not so happy.

I am afraid the crazy-making plantar fasciitis might be returning. This is an inflammation that leads to heel pain on an area about the size of a quarter. It hurts like crazy. When I had it after my first remission in 2003, I complained more about it than I ever complained about cancer.

People who have had it know what I mean. It is just infuriating and incredibly painful. A lot of runners get it, but others are not immune.

To treat it, I got cortisone shots, stretched a lot and rolled my bare foot over a tennis ball to stretch out the ligament. I went to a chiropractor. I took Advil. At night I wore an ungainly boot that keeps your foot flexed. I got several pairs of orthotics until I got the right kind from a physical therapist.

Before those orthotics straightened me out, I had to skip tennis and running for months.

Over the years I've felt a few twinges and panicked, but it never flared up. I'm hoping this will turn out to be one of those instances.

For starters, I probably need new orthotics. Mine, a soft kind, are worn down and chewed around the edges by a certain puppy. I hadn't thought about it much because I've been relatively inactive for so long.

On Thursday I had an appointment with my podiatrist, Walter Wolf, to check on the toenail surgery he had performed – not related to the plantar fasciitis. I told him my symptoms, and he pressed on the area in question. Yup. It hurt a lot.

Wally said I had an overuse injury. He said to stretch more, to ice after exercise, to wear the boot and to skip tennis on Friday.

Not the boot again! Not skipping tennis!

I whined about these terrible prospects.

As I asked in an earlier post when I had a similar response to some other inconvenience, "What am I, ten years old?"

Actually, since in transplant terms I am less than 2 years old, maybe that is my excuse for responding, and behaving, like a child.

I didn't wear the boot. I played tennis Friday morning, had a terrific time...and got another ace. Once I got moving, my foot felt fine.

My heel is killing me today.

I might have to behave for a few days.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Laughter and tears

I spent all day yesterday at the Dana-Farber, not as a patient but instead as a freelance writer doing a story about the Jimmy Fund Clinic, where I shadowed a nurse to learn about her day caring for young patients with cancer.

The article is scheduled to run in April in Dana-Farber's magazine, Paths of Progress.

It was an intense day, and last night I thought I'd never get to sleep. The faces of the children with cancer kept flashing before my eyes. First I saw a toddler in a flannel shirt and blue jeans, a pacifier in his mouth and tears streaming down his cheeks. He was propped on his father's shoulder as the dad walked back and forth.

It's not going to be a sad story – the place in fact is brimming with optimism, and a lot of the kids were having fun in the play area just like it was any old day with a bunch of friends – but the basic reason for them being there is sad in itself.

I am still processing everything I heard and saw.

I stayed overnight at Margaret's and drove back home this morning. When I turned on the radio, I heard John Lennon singing "Give Peace a Chance." It was the 30th anniversary of Lennon's death, and I happened upon a wonderful program, the NPR show On Point, titled "Politics, Pop and Power." Host John Ashbrook moderated a discussion about Lennon's life and legacy, with bits of his songs and Beatles songs woven in.

I remember we teeny-boppers running to the store to buy the early 45s and then running home to play them on the record player. I wanted my parents to hear, and as I remember, their reaction was neither here nor there, sort of a "That's nice, dear."

Each of my friends had a favorite Beatle. I was a Paul girl, but I liked them all.

At first I couldn't believe it when I heard that Lennon had been shot. I was shocked and devastated, just like everyone else.

You look back knowing how it all turned out and you marvel at your innocence back then.

When I got home in the early afternoon today, I had time to walk Maddie before heading to see the surgeon who had pulled two teeth last week. While waiting, I read the New York Times story about Elizabeth Edward's death.

The surgeon said my mouth looked fine. Because I got so black-and-blue, he suggested that I do the next two teeth one at a time. Wow. Double the fun.

Then I headed to tennis. I was the only one who showed up for George's clinic, so got a private lesson. I hit a lot of ground strokes, which he said looked great. He pointed out that I was really running for balls now.

I had a little more trouble when we went to the net for volleys. I have a habit of bending my elbow instead of keeping my arm straight; he said many tall people do that. (He took out the milk carton that he has many players put on their arm to keep it straight, but he didn't make me use it.) You get more power if your arm is straight.

He also had to keep reminding me to step before I hit, instead of after, and to bend my knees to get under a low ball.

"Let me see how far down you can get," he said. I bent my knees and got pretty far down. "Great, but I'll never get up," I said. "Sure you will," said the optimist.

He was making me work.

It went like this:

Step step step! Racquet up! Elbows! Elbows elbows elbows!

That last "elbow" cracked me up, and I missed the ball.

"Why'd you miss?" George asked.

"Because I was laughing!"

He grinned.

"You can hit and laugh too."

Laughing is good.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Triggers and more

Things are going well.

Yet it doesn't take much to push me off track into what my friend PJ calls The Dark Side. Yesterday's trigger was a New York Times story headlined "Transplant Patients Put at Risk By a State's Financial Distress," about a new law signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer eliminating Medicaid coverage of certain kinds of transplants as a cost-cutting measure.

Not everyone in need of a life-saving organ or bone marrow transplant is entitled to government money to receive one, but this was a case of patients in line to receive transplants and then denied them. For example, one man was prepped for a liver transplant and then told that his family needed to bring $200,000 as a deposit; he was discharged, and the liver went to someone else.

Despite how you feel about where to draw the line on government spending for health care, this was a heartbreaking story. The part that got me personally came when different sides started bandying about leukemia statistics. The state Medicaid agency had presented an analysis of the transplants that were cut, saying that 13 of 14 patients who received bone marrow transplants over a two-year period died within six months.

"But outside specialists said the success rates were considerably higher, particularly for leukemia patients in their first remission," according to the story.


Statistics, except of course the really good ones, make me jittery. I know each of us is an individual, not a statistic. It was reassuring to hear specialists saying success rates are higher, but the words "particularly for leukemia patients in their first remission" made me shudder. What about patients in their third remission? The story implies success rates are lower, and I have no doubt that they are, but I don't want to hear about it.

I also started worrying about my Medicare services being cut. What if....? Everyone knows that asking "what if" gets you nowhere. But still, when you get stuck in the Dark Side, it's hard to stop.

While perusing the calendars at the Odyssey Bookshop before I read the story, I came upon a wall calendar with a few calming sentences for each month by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. They are a way to help you focus on your breath, such as "Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile." I read them on the wall calendar but didn't buy it. I have them in a book; although they are helpful, you don't even need to say them. You can just count your breaths, for example up to 10 and back.

After the Times story got me going, I couldn't remember any of the sayings. My heart racing, I thought of taking an Ativan. Instead, I sat down on the couch next to the dog and read a book.

Meanwhile, due to having two teeth pulled, I didn't do much during the week except walk Maddie. I decided to go to yoga today, but there was no class that fit my schedule (read: too early) where I usually go. So I went to another studio where I like the teacher and the space.

I came out crankier than when I went in.

A kid yoga class (read baby-sitting) was going on in a walled-off space inside the studio. You couldn't see the kids, but you could hear them. They squealed and laughed and tumbled around while their instructor had them take monkey pose and such. I got more and more annoyed. I told myself to chill out. Hey, it was the sound of children laughing, not anything terrible like bombs dropping. It didn't work.

I asked a man on our way out if the kids bothered him.

"No, I didn't hear them at all," he said.

"Bad yogini," I scolded myself.

Afterwards I took Maddie for a long walk through the woods and around a field. It was a dreary day, cold and gray. But I stopped several times on the path and looked up at the bare treetops, dark against the sky. It was quiet and soothing. I had a few words with Maddie, who insists on grabbing big sticks and staying close to me, whacking my legs along the way. I finally got her to go in front of me, and she looked so cute trotting with her over-sized stick that I had to laugh.

This post is getting too long, but I have one more thing to say.

Several of us have written lately that we are unhappy about our looks.

We are not having a contest for most messed-up face, but still, I am going to lay claim to that title. The swelling has gone down on the cheek where the teeth were pulled, but I have a big black-and-blue mark reaching under my chin and over my lip.

I am not going to post a photo.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This and that

Appliance update

I now have one broken microwave (no handle), one working oven (no handle) and, the latest breakdown, one broken dishwasher (with handle).

To summarize, the oven threatened to stay locked until just before the crucial moment on Thanksgiving Day, losing its handle in the process. The microwave had already started to fall apart piece-by-piece, and now the dishwasher died. It tries to work, sounding like an airplane trying to take off, but then it just stops. Craig the appliance guy said the motor is broken, and I might as well replace the whole unit.

Time to spend some money.

In the meanwhile the bottom of the dishwasher is filled with water, and he said it's going to get nasty if I don't get the water out. This means a combination of scooping out as much water as possible and resetting the dial to dry about 20 times or so. It kicks in for a second, and a little water empties out. Then I have to let the motor rest and do it again. Unfortunately, it's a little like Sisyphus trying to get the boulder up the hill. The dial resets itself, and several times I have forgotten to move it to dry. So it starts for a second and fills up a little again.

Running log

I have run a mile several times without stopping, but each time when I finish I feel queasy. Yesterday I felt pretty good, so I pushed myself a little. When I was done, I threw up.

I guess my body is telling me to back off. Today I returned to a jog/walk and felt much better.

Dental drama

As I wrote before, I need to have four teeth pulled. I scheduled two for later in December when the kids will be home to drive me and was planning to schedule the other two for after that. I am going to take two Ativan, so I need someone to drive me and stay with me.

Today, one of the teeth crumbled onto my plate. The surgeon squeezed me in tomorrow at 7:45 a.m. I am going to have to set two alarms, because today I turned off the alarm and reset it three times.

I have grown used to my little routine: Wednesday and Friday tennis, Thursday yoga, and running and home exercising the other days, plus dog walking every day.

I asked the surgical technician over the phone if she thought I could play tennis Wednesday night.

What am I, ten years old?

I'm sure that's how I sounded, because she responded in kind.

"No, honey, no tennis for three or four days."

Well, at least I had fun grocery shopping today n advance of being laid up. I got soup, crackers, ice cream and even chocolate pudding treats, which reminded me of shopping for the kids.

I'm a little concerned about excess bleeding after the extraction. My platelets are pretty low; at my last visit they were in the 60s. But the doctor said anything over 50 is OK, so I need to go with that.

Meanwhile, I was sorry to do it, but I had to ask a friend for a ride.

You know who you are. You're very kind. I hope I don't drool all over your car.

Monday, November 29, 2010

I Feel Bad About my Neck

Yes, I know that’s the title of Nora Ephron’s 2006 essay collection and the subject of its first essay.

I borrowed it because I too feel bad about my neck, and about my face. Not because of the changes that come with age, but because of the changes that came from chemo.

Let me say that like many women, I look at myself much too closely in the mirror. In the morning I get about an inch away and study the flaws. Then I do it again in the evening. Why? Do I think that much has changed? There is an easy solution: Back off from the mirror.

My neck has actually fared pretty well when it comes to ordinary signs of aging. And my face looks a lot better now that I have decreased the prednisone and lost the chipmunk look. The problem is that my neck, and my face too, have brown spots that look like large freckles or age spots, but they are neither. They are from the chemo. On my neck I have a larger splotch where a tube went in.

My nose is a little red and sometimes has small blisters due to the effects of sunshine on skin made fragile from chemo. And because of the prednisone, I have some extra facial hair around my sideburns.

Now from this description I sound like a real mess, but I’ve been told that I’m exaggerating. My high school friend Nancy said that after recently spending a weekend with me in New York, she didn’t notice any of it…except for the good changes.

This all came to mind when I was getting dressed to meet a friend who hadn’t seen me for ages. Feeling self-conscious and anxious about exiting my “comfort zone,” I wondered if I should wear one of my mock turtlenecks to cover part of my neck.

The other choice was a scoop-neck that I like a lot. I could wear it plain or wear a scarf to hide the blemishes.

In the end, I chose the scoop-neck – without a scarf. I just wore a small necklace.

“What the heck,” I figured. “I am what I am, and I’m not going to hide it.”

I’ve been through this drill before, but that doesn’t make it easier. I think that sometimes after cancer when you start getting out more, you feel like you have a big “C” across your face. Even if you did, so what? It’s not like you did anything wrong. But still, you can feel displaced socially.

In the end, my friend didn’t seem to even notice. The get-together was more about good conversation, good coffee, and – especially important – luscious strawberry shortcake with real whipped cream frosting.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey transfer averted

When I signed off last night, I was still unsure if my oven would open today.

Things looked dire this morning when Joe told me that after he came in last night, he yanked on the handle a couple of times and it fell off. And the oven still refused to open. I couldn't be angry with him because I had pulled on the handle myself, only not as hard.

This morning I talked to Deb about bringing the turkey there. I had it all ready to go, and she was preheating her oven, when Jim came by to perform a last-ditch investigation.

He fiddled with this and that and still, it looked like the oven would not succumb.

"It's frustrating, isn't it?" Joe asked.

Jim wasn't ready to give up, and suddenly, a Thanksgiving miracle happened. The door opened! We all high-fived, and we called the turkey transfer off. Jim said it had something to do with the lock being slightly out of position. Whew.

It was kind of hard to open with the handle missing, but two small end pieces remained to pull on. The fate of the oven, and of the attached broken microwave, is a problem for another day.

I puttered around doing a few things such as fixing the flower arrangements, getting down the serving dishes and getting out my mother's silver serving pieces, with some jobs remaining such as ironing the tablecloth so that Katie could set the table.

I took my time eating a bagel and reading the paper.

Maddie needed to be walked, so I took her out in the early afternoon, not checking the time. We went around the lake twice, talking to people along the way. When I got back home, Ben was at the door. "Do you have any idea what time it is?" he asked. "They're coming in half an hour!"

What? I actually did not have any idea what time it was. I thought it was 2:30, but it was an hour later.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm a moron."

"Do you expect us to disagree with you?" someone asked.

"No, but I figure if I criticize myself first, then nobody else will be able to," I said.

"Actually," Jim said to Joe, "I think she really didn't know what time it was."

If we were married, this situation might have led to a fight. Sometimes being divorced and friendly is so much easier.

Anyway, the kids and Jim finished up while I changed. Deb, Charlotte and their black lab, Mary Margaret, arrived just a couple of minutes before I came down.

The turkey was delicious, as was everything else. We were all in good spirits.

We gave thanks for health, family, friends and of course good food and a warm, safe place to live. Ben gave the "Al Gordon" speech in honor of my father, who loved to say that despite our country's flaws, it is still the best country in the world.

If the oven were a person, it should have given thanks that we did not beat it to pieces before it finally gave in.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How not to get ready for Thanksgiving

Once you get comfortable on the floor, it's hard to get up.

On the day before Thanksgiving, this is what you do:

First, you get up early...and play tennis. Then, you sit down on the floor and play with the dog.
Then you get comfortable.

Eventually you get up. You run a mile with your daughter. You mention that the dog needs her walk now, but there are no takers. So you walk another mile with the dog.

In the meantime, you decide to clean the oven for the first time in you don't know how many years. You follow the self-cleaning instructions: set both dials to clean, set stop time for three hours and move the bar on the oven from unlocked to locked. After about 45 minutes you decide the smell hurts your throat, so you cancel the cycle. You let the oven cool down and unlock the door.

The door refuses to open. You figure that it wanted to wait the whole three-hour cycle, so you wait until three hours has passed and try again. No luck. You ask son (Joe) to try. He pulls hard on the door, to no avail. You set it on a shorter cycle so it can finish, and then you try again. No deal.

Then you do what any smart-thinking mother would do: You take daughter and hightail it out of there, going to Northampton to do errands and get a Starbucks. When you return, son has read about the problem on the internet, where it says to turn the power switch on and off. No luck. You decide to set it again for another three hours so it can complete the whole cycle without feeling cheated and will then hopefully feel generous enough to unlock itself.

This is where things stand now, at 10 p.m. To my credit, I did do all the shopping yesterday, except for forgetting all of my knives at the butcher shop, where they can be sharpened for free. Joe, who came home Sunday, returned and got them today.

Thanksgiving dinner will take place here, oven or no oven. It will be the three kids and me, our friend Deb and her daughter Charlotte, and Jim, my ex-husband.

Deb, who lives down the street, said we could cook the turkey there if need be. We could use the microwave for reheating Deb's stuffing and Jim's sweet potato casserole...if the microwave worked.

If we do have to make a few trips to Deb's and back, it will end up making a good story.

Thanksgiving came quickly. It wasn't too long ago that I mourned my empty nest when Katie went to college. I spent part of last year dreading her departure, only to realize, after the initial shock, that I was fine on my own. And now, suddenly, they're all back.

Ben rolled in tonight. Katie got here yesterday, and, as I said, Joe came on Sunday. Tonight we had pizza and salad in the den. At one point, everyone was talking at once. The dog, oblivious, snored on the couch. I soaked it up.

They each went their separate ways after dinner. In order to continue not getting ready, I am sitting next to the dog writing this. Next I'm going to check for last night's episode of "The Good Wife."

Then I'll gather up my courage to see if the oven opens.

Whether it does or doesn't, it promises to be a blessed day.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I missed yoga last week because I got back too late from Dana-Farber. This week my choice was today at 9:15 a.m. or nothing.

Maddie woke me up around 7, and I decided against going back to bed in favor of getting to yoga. After Maddie got what she wanted – a walk and a meal – I had cereal and coffee. I went into the den with a section of the paper and sat next to Maddie, who was curled up in her corner of the couch.

I fell asleep and woke up a little after 9. Uncharacteristically for slow-moving me, I quickly threw on some (rumpled) yoga clothes and got to class just a few minutes late.

Erin read a few lines about the power of love, and suggested that we all make love in its many incarnations the center of our practice.

I did the poses with no problems until we came to the standing ones, which are hard because my balance is still not normal. I thought I was in trouble when we came to half moon, which involves keeping one foot on the ground, placing one hand down and then turning to the side with the other leg and arm raised.

I don't have the balance to do it, and as I watched everyone get into the pose, I thought, "Hmmmm, I wonder what I'm supposed to do now."

And suddenly, miraculously, a chair appeared in front of me. I leaned on it instead of having to reach for the floor.

It wasn't miraculously, of course. Erin had known what I needed and had quietly gone over to get the chair and place it in front of me. I did a supported version of the pose, opening up and feeling released from my fear of falling.

I was grateful for the gesture. And I breathed in love.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Shut up and play!

When I decided about a month ago that I was ready to play tennis, I told my friend Korby that if I was playing with people who I didn't know, I might explain that I had been sick so they would know what to expect.

Korby, the captain of my tennis team, said I don't have to explain anything. She said to just go out there and play, and my confidence would come back with each game.

So that's what I did, and sure enough, by the time last Friday came around, I felt pretty normal. My serves are going in really well, and I hit some good shots. My bad shots weren't any worse than anyone else's.

There is a tendency to want to diminish expectations by starting a match with a complaint along the lines of not having slept well to justify your mistakes before you even make them. We've all done that.

But I was glad I followed Korby's advice and kept quiet. The topic of my absence from tennis has come up in chit-chat after a match, but I keep it to myself beforehand.

On Friday, a guy joined in to create an even number on the courts. There were eight in all, and we rotated after sets. I played with three other women in the first set; my partner and I lost 6-3, 6-3, but they were all good games, and, most importantly, everyone had a good time.

When it was time to mix it up, this guy came over from the other court to be my partner. He immediately complained about how badly he was playing, about how badly his clinic had gone the week before, about how he couldn't do anything right, etc.

He was a fine player, but he made himself, and me, worse by the negative talk.

I don't lay claim to all the suffering. I feel uneasy when people tell me their problems but then add, "I shouldn't complain to you, after all you've been through." I always tell them to please please do "complain." I am not the only one with problems, and I appreciate the balance of listening and talking.

But this guy on the tennis court was another matter. He was not a friend whispering in my ear, "I'm having a bad day, so please cover for me." He was just a whiner, the kind who grates on your nerves.

I felt like shouting at him, "Would you stop it? I'm coming back from leukemia and I'm not whining!"

I feel funny even writing this, because I don't want to come across as "holier than thou." But I do think there's something to be said for a little perspective.

Anyway, I did not say it, or much of anything else, even though part of doubles is talking to your partner. I just got through our set and waited for another switch. We lost, of course, not only in the score but in terms of the quality of the game.

I finished the round robin with three fun players. I got my game back and signed up for next week.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dana-Farber day

I had a 9-to-5 day today, spent driving to Dana-Farber, having my check-up there and talking to various people.

There was a lot of traffic. Each way, when I had been on the road only about 20 minutes, I was overcome with fatigue and had to pull over and sleep. This despite coffee both ways. I just sleep for about 15 minutes and then I'm good to go. I really don't know why this happens, but at least I caught myself in time to pull over before I got in any trouble.

There was a lot of construction around Dana-Farber, and I sat in traffic for at least another 15 minutes or so. I was afraid that I would miss my 11 a.m. appointment with Mary Lou Hackett, the social worker who I hadn't seen for months. Ambulance sirens were blaring, and people seemed to be leaning on their horns. It was enough to make your blood pressure rise.

I had less than a half hour with Mary Lou, but I always find it comforting to see her. We have been together since the beginning, and she always has a story to illustrate that whatever you are feeling is perfectly normal. She said that at this time of year she thinks often of my mother, whom she calls one of her favorite people. My mother died on Nov. 26, 2006. Naturally, I think of her too.

I got 12 vials of blood drawn around noon and didn't have to wait as long as usual for my appointment. (It was scheduled for 1, and I got in around 1:30.) Because I have been feeling so well, I was pretty confident that my hematocrit would be higher, and it was. After being abouy 26 at my last visit, it was 33.7, almost normal. (Normal is 34.8 to 43.6)

My white count was normal, 7.8 out of a range of 3.8-9.2, but my platelets were still pokey at 65 (normal is 155 to 410) after being in the 90s a couple of visits ago.

Dr. Alyea said this could be because signs point to an increase in my Graft vs. Host Disease. My liver enzymes are still elevated, and I have a higher number of eosiniphils, a type of white blood cell that rises above normal when inflammation is present.

Instead of increasing my prednisone a full dose, I am going to try alternating my current dose, 5 mg., with 10 mg. every other day. He said doing it this way usually heads off side effects. Let's hope.

We chatted briefly, and he asked me how I was feeling. I said I felt good and told him about my ace from last week. We often discuss tennis, and he was happy to hear my news. This is so much better than talking about serious problems.

My friend Dr. Francisco Marty, an infectious disease specialist who always made me smile even when I was sickest, was around in the clinic, and Dr. Alyea said he wanted to say hi to me. Dr. Marty, in addition to being a medical specialist, seems to have a lot of thoughts about hair. "You need a haircut," he told me when my hair grew in scraggly and I hadn't had it cut. He said it with a smile, so I wasn't offended. Today he said, "I like your hair." Bingo! He is also a talented photographer with his own website, on which he said he had recently posted some new close-ups of roses. I checked it out and they were beautiful.

When I met him in the hall just a few minutes after seeing Dr. Alyea, he said, "I heard you had an ace." I guess important news travels quickly.

I had wanted to get back on time for yoga, but it took me too long; I actually got back around 5:45, 15 minutes after the class had already started. I needed to do something. So I quickly changed into my running pants, long-sleeved T-shirt and sweatshirt, throwing my good clothes onto the bed.

It was dark but not too cold. I walked down to the Lower Lake, the one that is paved and well-lit, and started to walk. I didn't really mean to run, but I ended up jogging about a mile and walking another mile.

That reminded me of the old me, the one who, after a long day, often quickly changed and went for a run. It's not exactly the same kind of run, but it was a variety of normal, and it felt good.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The first mile is the hardest mile

(Headline sung to the first line of the Grateful Dead's "Uncle John's Band" –

The first half-mile, or even mile, is difficult for me even when I'm in shape.

It's hard before it's fun. It takes a while to find my stride and get my breathing in synch.

Even though there's more to think about, tennis is in some ways easier because of the pauses.

So the question is, how do you get through when you're out of shape? Sometimes I stop and walk (then run again) before I give it much of a chance. Now I know that I don't need to prove anything, and I don't even need to run. As long as I'm walking, that's good enough.

But it's funny. Sometimes when I stop and say, "I just don't have it today," I find myself running again. My body must really want to do it.

Last week in New York, I trotted around the Central Park Reservoir with Ben. We chatted the whole way, and before I knew it, we had gone about a mile.

Maybe I need to find a running partner so that we could talk and I wouldn't think about it that much. What I really need is just a fast walker. Any volunteers?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Up early and off to tennis

Due to the end of Daylight Savings Time, Maddie has changed her schedule, and I should try to follow suit.

When it was dark in the morning, she slept in her crate until about 8. That was a perfect time for me to get up.

Now she's up with the morning light around 6:30. Which means I should really try (again) to get to bed earlier.

Last night I dreamt I heard someone singing downstairs. The high-pitched "singing," i.e. whining, woke me up. It was Maddie crying, "Daybreak! Let me out, let me out!" You can't blame her. I walked her, fed her and went back to bed for about an hour. Once she is out of the crate, she doesn't go back in. So far, so good.

I got up again around 7:30 and went to Enfield to play doubles. I am now signed up for a weekly Friday morning round-robin. It's great to be out there, but I need to stop with the head-games in which I compare myself (unfavorably) to the way I used to play.

Hey, I'm getting stronger all the time, and I move well enough to play without worrying that I'm holding the others back. My serves are going in at a decent pace, and today I hit an ace. It felt great.

George (the coach whose clinic I take on Wednesday nights) says my arm is getting stronger every week. I attribute that both to the decrease in prednisone and to the downward dog and plank positions that Erin has us hold (for ages, it seems) at yoga on Thursday nights.

I am really happy about my progress. But still, I remind myself of my father when, in his 80s, he couldn't walk as fast or hit the ball as hard as he used to. He would say, "I'm a shadow of my former self." I'd reply, "But Dad, look at how great you're doing." He never gave in to fatigue, and he kept on moving until the end.

I did my little "I'm a shadow of my former self" on the phone this morning with Diane after tennis.

"But look at where you've come from," she said. She reminded me of the coma and the near-death experience and everything. Sometimes it seems so far away and sometimes it seems frighteningly close.

Anyway, thanks, Diane. I will revel in that ace.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

New York exit, mother-dog reunion

What the . . . ?

With my unbalanced, outdated, overweight luggage, I managed on Tuesday to get into Penn Station, on and off the escalator and onto the Amtrak train for New Haven. I did, however, have a moment of sheer panic.

As described in earlier posts, I packed too much for my long weekend in New York. The problem was also with my choice of luggage. My black suitcase on wheels might well have been among the first manufactured. It was my mother's and still has the red ribbon on it that she used for easy identification during baggage claim.

The wheels wobble, and to get the handle out, you have to push a little button and then pull hard. Also I never got a smaller matching bag that would fit nicely on top of the short end of the suitcase. I used an old nylon Tote bag often used to carry kids' toys or their towels when we went swimming. I hate to give up my mother's suitcase, but I need to upgrade, and I think she would understand.

When the train was called in Penn Station, I walked with the throngs as quickly as I could to the appropriate gate. I got on the escalator OK, but at the bottom, the suitcase tipped over and, like a stubborn dog, refused to budge. The orange Tote bag teetered. Oh, did I say I carried an extra jacket which by this time was dangling onto the stairs?

"Move on! Move on! Do not block the bottom of the escalator!" an Amtrak official shouted. He scared me into action, and with a big heave-ho, I got on the train.

Once on the train, after another heave-ho to get my suitcase into the overhead compartment, I collapsed into my seat, thinking that at least my arms must be getting stronger. Wanting to make sure I was on the right train, I asked the conductor, as he came through punching tickets, if this was the train to New Haven.

"It says so on your ticket," he said. "Would I punch it if you were on the wrong train?"

Geez. Remember those childrens' books with the friendly conductor?

I managed to get off the train and out of the New Haven station without incident. Jim had come to pick me up, and when he walked towards me and took my bags, all I could say was "Thank you, thank you, thank you." He looked like he didn't understand what the fuss was about.

I picked Maddie up yesterday morning at her second home at our friends the Blooms. She was happy to see me, and soon after we got home we went for a walk around the lake.

It was a nice afternoon, cool with plenty of sun. I let her off the leash and she dashed down to the water. I heard her splash around, and when she emerged back onto the path, her coat had patches of white, as though an impressionist painter had experimented with white on brown.

I had no idea what it was. It didn't smell, so I figured she hadn't rolled in anything gross. As we walked around, she took another dip. A little white came off. When we got home, the rest came off easily with a damp towel.

I removed her collar to wash it, and as I wrote this she was curled up asleep on the couch next to me like a little wild animal. They look so different with their collars off.

The luggage is in the closet.

I think I will stay put for a while.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

At home in my home town

I got so comfortable in my home town, I decided to stay another day.

Maybe this was from moving into my comfort zone on the upper east side, where Jeanne's apartment is. In any case, Sunday after breakfast I went uptown, stopping for a while at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then heading down to the Walking Store, where I was looking for comfortable walking shoes.

Somehow I walked out with a pair of black boots. Jeanne, my guiding light for everything fashionable, approved. "Boots are in this year," she said. Purchase validated.

Yesterday my cousin Joanne brought bagels and coffee over. We ate in Jeanne's window-lined apartment overlooking Third Avenue. Later I had lunch with Mary, an old friend from my summers in Atlantic Beach (Long Island), and Harriet, also from the beach and a friend of my parents'.

I had planned to catch a train after lunch, but then it occurred to me that I didn't need to rush. I love my kids dearly, and my recent initiation into the rank of empty-nesters hit me hard. But it is as people said it would be: I enjoy the freedom from my day-to-day responsibilities as a mother. Because I have wonderful dog-sitters who will keep Maddie as long as I want (they would actually keep her longer), I can stay as long as I please.

It was cold and windy yesterday in New York, so I bundled up for the rest of my day. I dated myself by telling Ben I would take the Lexington Avenue IRT down to the Strand Bookstore at Union Square. He didn't know what I was talking about. He said he only knows it as the 4, 5 and 6. (Same train, newer nomenclature.) Whatever, it's still the Lexington Avenue local, which is the one system I know well.

Before going underground, I walked down Lexington for a while, stopping at a small corner jewelry store that reminded me of Lynne's Speciality shop, the jewelry store that my mother and grandmother owned at 86th and Lexington. An elderly man in a yarmulka waited on me. I bought an affordable black watchband that the man put on for me. In addition, the other salesperson cleaned my ring.

Because it was so affordable, the watchband canceled the splurge on the boots (go figure that one out.)

Taking the subway, I tried to fit in with everyone else. This worked most of the time, except for when I didn't swipe my Metrocard fast enough and I walked into a turnstile that didn't turn. The young man behind me took the Metrocard, and, telling me I hadn't swiped it fast enough, took it from me and did it correctly.

I took the subway to The Strand, where I spent about an hour wandering around looking at books, tons of them. I picked up a copy of "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running," a memoir by the novelist Haruki Murakami.

Throughout my wanderings, I kept seeing an image of Jill Clayburgh in Paul Mazursky's 1978 film of "An Unmarried Woman." After being left by her husband and feeling like her life has ended, she meets an independent-minded painter played by Alan Bates. At the end of the movie she strikes out on her own, maneuvering his huge painting down a windy New York street, having gone from turmoil to triumph.

Clayburgh, who was 66, died on Friday of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia after battling it for 21 years.

When I first heard she had died, it was in the elevator at the Marriott Marquis over the weekend. My friends and I wondered about her cause of death, and a man in the elevator said it was leukemia.

That made me catch my breath. It always happens when someone dies of leukemia, a reminder (as if I didn't already know) that it can be a killer. When I learned more, I discovered that it was a different kind of leukemia. But still.

Then I thought hey, this isn't about me, it's about her. It's about the loss of a beautiful and talented actress.

The sun came out today. I'm going for a walk/run around the Central Park reservoir with Ben. And then, alas, I have to pack my stuff and drag it on out of here.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A tourist in my home town

I thought I might die right then, right there, on 38th Street and Seventh Avenue.

All right, not die, but collapse under the weight of my over-packed luggage, maybe, and no one in the stream of people would have noticed.

But to go back, for a second. Friday started remarkably well. In typical fashion, I had over-booked; silly, perhaps, but another sign of normalcy. Thursday had started the overbooking. I had yoga at 5:30 and book group at 8. (We were reading two beautifully written books, Lucy Grealy's "Autobiography of a Face" and a companion book, her friend Ann Patchett's "Truth and Beauty." ) I needed to pack for my New York trip the next day, and I am terrible at packing, so I shouldn't have gone, but it had been long-planned, so I went.

That meant I was up packing until 1 a.m. I had (over) committed to tennis in Enfield at 9 the next morning, but I really wanted to do it because it would be a chance to play instead of just practicing. My plan was to have breakfast after that and then proceed to Jim's house down the road in Enfield. Jim had agreed to drive me to the New Haven, Conn. train station, where I would take Amtrak into Penn Station for a weekend with high school friends.

Tennis was terrific. We were eight women rotating in round robin style. I recognized one woman who had had a brain tumor two years ago. She had chemo and radiation and then returned to tennis about a year ago. We chatted briefly, and she told me not to come back too quickly. She had made this mistake, vomiting behind the curtain and then returning to the court to finish the match. Another tennis nut. We gave each other a little fist pump and went out to play.

When I got to Jim's, he asked how I was going to carry all the stuff I was toting: a suitcase on wheels, a computer, an old nylon tote bag filled with odds and ends, plus a jacket and a coat. I shrugged off the question and said I would manage.

I am used to driving all the way in. I would load the car, go directly to my parents' apartment, put on my parking radar and usually find a spot right in front of the house. I have places to stay, but this time I was playing the role of a tourist in my hometown, staying at a Marriott in Times Square with Emily, Tami and Nancy. I know Times Square, but it shocked my system to drag luggage through it instead of simply parking and unloading in the saner world of upper Fifth Avenue where I grew up.

I got off the train at Penn Station and didn't have the sense to take the subway one stop to get closer to the Marriott. Instead I lugged everything up the escalators and was ejected with the crowds into Seventh Avenue and 36th Street.

My bags were heavy, and I kept dropping one or the other. I had to repeatedly stop to regroup, changing hands, picking everything up and rebalancing. It was getting a little hard to breathe. I thought the throng might run me over. In addition to the regular craziness, it is the weekend of the New York Marathon, attracting not only the runners but also spectators.

I tried to get a cab. Impossible. They were all full or off-duty. And I didn't stand a chance of dashing to one of the few that were available.

I flashed back to the time when, as a young teenager, I was lost in Penn Station. Crying, I called my father on a pay phone, and he calmed me down and told me how to get out.

I wanted to call my father, and he would drive down through all the traffic and rescue me. I had to do it by myself. Miraculously, I thought, I got to the humongous hotel at 45th and Seventh. I went up to the registration desk at the hotel and tried to explain to the agent that my friend, Emily, had booked the room and I really needed to get in. She shook her head and said I couldn't go up until Emily arrived. I just stood there.

Behind me, miracle of miracles, I heard Emily saying, "I'm here, I'm here." Her plane from Pittsburgh had landed and she had taken a cab to the hotel. I showered her with so much love and gratitude that I was embarrassing her and had to stop.

When we got to our room on the 35th floor, I dropped all my stuff, lay down on the floor and put my legs up the wall. When the other two came later, they had the same kind of story to tell, so at least I didn't feel alone.

The rest of the weekend went beautifully. We had dinner Friday at a nice restaurant, and then on Saturday took two trains down to the lower east side and the Tenement Museum, which offers tours of 97 Orchard St., built in 1863. We took a tour taking us through several apartments recreating the lives of working class immigrants. We also ate at the famous Katz' deli, where I had an overflowing Reuben.

We came back uptown, rested briefly and then had dinner at Joe Allen's Restaurant, a staple of the theater district. We followed that with an off-Broadway play, "Love, Loss and What I Wore" by Nora Ephron.

It was a good choice. Five women told stories both funny and poignant tied into what they wore at the time. The snapshots from women's lives covered marriage, divorce and mother-daughter relationships plus trends such as the paper dress (to which we all nodded) and topics such as the color black, your closet (a disaster) and your purse (another disaster).

It gave us plenty to talk about when we got back to the hotel.

I love seeing high school friends, who are like family.

Let's hope the golden glow will last while I drag all my stuff out of here. I am staying one more night, spending it at my cousin Jeanne's. I might unload some of the extra weight there and plan on seeing it some other time...or not.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

People say the strangest things

I like voting.

I've liked it since my parents took me to the voting booth on 96th Street in New York.

I feel so patriotic and so like I'm making a difference, and I feel a sense of community. One argument against voting is that your ballot is just a needle in a haystack, but for the counter-argument, think one word: Florida.

Yesterday was a beautiful New England fall day, sunny and in the 50s. I walked into South Hadley High School looking for the room where my precinct was voting.

What happened next took me aback.

A town official whom I've known for years was directing traffic, pointing voters to the correct rooms. With perfectly coiffed blond hair, blue eyes and a radiant smile, she doesn't seem to age. Our daughters were on the same soccer team, and we used to watch games together.

If I want to, I can go around incognito. Many people don't recognize me. Although I think I don't look too different, my hair is short now (compared to previously being at least shoulder-length), I wear glasses and my cheeks are still slightly puffy from prednisone.

But I felt like saying hi to this woman, whom I haven't seen for a while. So I reintroduced myself. She smiled, gave me a big hug, and asked how I was. I said things were good and I was coming along. She looked me over and said, "You don't look too bad."

As in, "You don't look too good?"

Excuse me? Was this a compliment? It didn't feel that way.

This was not a jolly, joking, slap on the back "You don't look too bad!"

I'm sure that she was busy and didn't give this comment a thought. But still, didn't we learn in kindergarten that if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all?

How about, "Good to see you!" or, even if it makes you choke, "You look good!"

People with health problems – not just those with cancer – or those recovering from illness probably run into this often: The well-meaning person who doesn't know what to say or the clueless person with no filter.

I vote against the Foot-in-Mouth party, which actually had many members this election season.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The path to running

Yesterday I felt like a runner.

I wanted to get dressed like a runner. The pants and top were easy, since that's kind of what I wear every day. But my regular winter hat and gloves didn't seem right.

This meant rummaging through the closet for my grey Under Armour hat and my black Nike running gloves, both thinner than normal stuff.

Does anyone have a closet that needs attention? Or rather, does anyone not have a closet that needs attention?

First of all, the coats and jackets are jam-packed and not all up-to-date.

There is my father's leather jacket and Joe's Tri- City Thunder hockey jacket, with his name sewn on, such a big present years ago. There is my mother's red coat and a blue, purple and pink silk scarf that still carries her scent four years after her death.

And there are the stacked sliding baskets that for a minute was well-organized with one drawer for each member of the household.

I ducked down under the coats and started pulling out drawers. I threw some things on the floor to deal with later. Mismatched gloves, hats with holes, and mittens that might fit a 10-year-old. Maddie took a liking to a turquoise glove and pranced off with it.

Much to my surprise, I finally found the hat and gloves that I wanted.

I went across the street to the track at Mount Holyoke. I started on the 1/3-mile loop that goes around the gated track. My hematocrit is 29 – better than it was, but still not great – so stamina is a bit of a problem even though I seem to have adapted to it.

I went once, then twice around. I went so slowly I wasn't sure that I actually looked like I was running until a neighbor and her daughter walked by and cheered for me.

I finished the third lap. One mile without stopping! And I felt OK.

It's nothing compared to the distances I used to run, but it's a lot compared to not being able to pick my feet up at all.

For my next activity, I'm going to have to take care of those closet drawers.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Good counts, good sandwich, good travels

My clinic visit yesterday went well. My next appointment is in three weeks.

The kidney doctor said I was doing fine and that he was "releasing" me. I don't have to go back unless I need him. Then I saw Melissa, who said my counts were good, although my liver numbers were elevated, not too much but suggestive of GVHD. Dr. Humphreys (the kidney doctor) pointed that out too.

Melissa said that meant I couldn't decrease the Prednisone at this time. They will recheck in three weeks, and if it isn't better, then I might have to increase the Prednisone again. Sigh.

Somehow this is connected to my lower platelet count. It was 64 after being in the 90s the past few weeks. (Normal is 155-410.)

My hematocrit went up a bit, to 29.3 (normal is 34.8-43.6). I'm still pretty anemic, but up is good. My white count was 7.3 (normal is 3.8-9.2).

I have been off the high blood pressure pill Lisinopril for a couple of weeks. It was a suspect in my crazy nighttime coughing, and sure enough, the coughing has mostly stopped. In the meantime, although my left fractured ribs finally healed, my right ribs now hurt a lot, to the point where I have trouble turning over. Melissa said I probably pulled some muscles when coughing.

I like to add some "fun" things to these visits. I headed east on Tuesday and stopped at Brandeis to see Katie for about an hour. It was a warm, glorious day. I got a coffee and she got a hot chocolate and we sat outside. She is having a wonderful time, and it was wonderful to see her.

From there I went to my friend Margaret's house in nearby Needham. Margaret made a nice dinner, and it was good to spend some time with her. I slept over, heading into Boston the next morning.

My appointments were at 12:30 and 1:30. My plan was to hopefully get out of there in time to get to Enfield for my 5:30 practice with George. Things were falling into place with plenty of time to spare, but I unfortunately could not shake off my craving for a Reuben, which for some reason often hits me after a good clinic visit.

I got myself to nearby Brookline, heading for Coolidge Corner, near where I lived back in graduate school. Leave it to me to pass the restaurant, Zaftigs, that has the good Reubens. (Yes, New York skeptics, you can get a decent Reuben in Boston.) Poor Diane had to put up with a cell phone call where I said something like this, spoken rapidly as though it was one long word: "I can't talk so don't ask me any questions but I'm in traffic and I think I might have passed Zaftigs so where is it thank you."

Turns out I had just passed it. Diane calmly told me to turn around and to look for certain stores which were just ahead. I found the restaurant and by that time had to get the sandwich to go (along with crispy French fries). They only served Pepsi, so then I needed to make another stop to get a Coke.

The sandwich was delicious, but probably not the best thing to have before running around on a tennis court. In any case, I got to tennis just in time and had a lot of fun. I was almost on a par with the other women there, but not quite, because my ability to run is still limited.

Afterwards I went out for a drink and a shared salad and pizza with my tennis friend Barbara, who I hadn't seen for a long time. We left the restaurant around 9; Barbara had me call her when I got home. The half-hour drive was fine, and although I was tired after the long day, I felt good.

Maddie has been at her second home with our friends Jim and Jane since Tuesday morning, so I didn't have to walk her. She's staying with them through Sunday because I'm leaving tomorrow for one more Wellfleet weekend.

The weather will be cool, but the forecast is for sun. I'll go to sleep tonight thinking of crystal clear ponds, long stretches of beach and tall grass waving in the wind on the marshes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bad day for teeth and toes

OK, let's start with the teeth.

My dentist told me early last month that because I was immunosuppressed for so long, my teeth were in bad shape. He suggested pulling three molars, recommended a surgeon, and said he was surprised those teeth didn't hurt.

Smart people would make the appointment before the teeth start to hurt.
Many, however, would put it off. Who wants to rush into getting teeth pulled? I guess that makes me normal. Hurray! The more normal, the better, unless of course it leads to a tooth-ache.

Also there is the question of whether I should have local or general anesthesia. I had general for my wisdom teeth, and that's my only experience with getting teeth pulled. The dentist said he didn't think they'd come out easily. I have a vision of a surgeon with a set of pliers, bracing himself against the chair and yanking with all his might. I know it doesn't happen that way, but still, I might want to be asleep.

I put off making the appointment until, sure enough, those three teeth started aching. I couldn't get in until next week, and that is only for a consult. I want to make sure all three really need to be pulled. If you are going to have general ($300 more), you need to have the consult anyway ($100-something). The whole thing is out-of-pocket. I guess if I can find the money in my pocket to go to JJill, I can find it for the surgeon.

Meanwhile, I went to my friendly podiatrist yesterday for treatment of my pesky ingrown toenail. If you don't want to read about toenail surgery, stop here.

He already performed surgery on this nail twice, cutting off a strip of my nail (what fun!). But when it came back again he suggested permanent removal with a chemical that kills part of the nail. That's what he was doing yesterday. This requires a lot of numbing; the needles going into your toe are the worst part of it.

For added fun, the next toe in also had an ingrown nail and was infected. So he numbed that one up too and cut out part of the nail.

He bandaged them together and said to stay off my feet for a couple of days.

But hey, I couldn't feel a thing. So I made a quick trip to the mall. Still numb. Cool. I came home and walked the dog around the lake. Smart me said to call it a day, but I went around a second time because she likes it so much, and so do I. Still numb! Went to Northampton to get my hair trimmed, and ran into the shoe store for a second. Starting to feel a little pain.

This made me think of my third Caesarean, when they put morphine in my IV. "Wow, this is great, I thought afterwards. I don't feel any pain. This is going to be easy." And then, ka-pow, the pain began to shoot through me.

Which is what happened yesterday. This in addition to the fact that for some reason, the neuropathy in my feet is getting worse even though I take a pill called Neurontin three times a day. It feels like pins and needles, with an occasional jolt like a lightening strike. This is a result of the chemo.

Anyway, I had one more thing to do: I wanted to drive to Mary's to pick up a paint chart I had lent her. On the drive over, I found some Tylenol in my purse and popped a couple. I didn't have great expectations and thought I might have to resort to Oxycodone, which I don't like. But the Tylenol actually worked.

Poor Mary and Jerry had to listen to the foot saga. Mary gave me dinner (thanks, Mary!), and when she saw that my eyelids were drooping, she offered to drive me home. So she drove my car and Jerry followed.

It was a good thing, because as soon as I got home (about 8:30, too early for bed), I fell asleep on the couch, my feet on top of the dog. When I woke up about 20 minutes later, she had moved to the other part of the couch. I think she didn't like being used as a foot rest.

I could say I've learned my lesson, which is probably not true.

I guess it's good that I felt well enough to run around, even though it was bad for me.

And my toes feel better today.

I'm heading eastward to make a quick stop at Brandeis to see Katie. (About an hour-and-a-half drive.) Then it's on to Margaret's (in nearby Needham) for dinner and an overnight. She lives within 30 minutes of Boston, so tomorrow I will go from there to my check-up at Dana-Farber.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Thoughts about believing in the future

On Wednesday, in addition to my regular clinic appointment, I have an appointment with a nephrologist (kidney specialist).

I saw Dr. Humphries over the summer when my ankles were really swollen. Because my sodium is too low, I have been taking salt tablets; he told me to go from three a day down to two. Then he told me to make an appointment for October.

"Wow, I thought, he thinks I'll still be alive by then."

Here it comes, and, sure enough, I'm alive and feeling pretty good.

I thought about this as the buzz began over my 35th Vassar reunion, coming this May. I got an e-mail from an old friend asking me if I wanted to go. He said he had gotten an e-mail from another classmate. I ran it by Katryn and Alice, classmates who I saw this weekend, and asked them their thoughts.

I've been to many high school reunions, but only to one college reunion. We stayed in a dorm, had big buffet meals under a tent, reconnected with old friends and wandered around. It was fun to talk to people, but a little stressful. And staying in the dorm didn't do too much for me.

Anyway I realized yesterday when walking Maddie that my thoughts about the reunion have been about if it would be fun, not about whether I'll still be here in May.

I think the fear of relapse will always be with me at some level. And when I'm waiting for my counts on Wednesday there will be that moment when I hold my breath.

But I took it as a good sign of moving forward that I now at least assume I will be alive and well in May.

Writing this makes me afraid that I will jinx myself, just like I feel when I make plans that seem a little too far in the future. But hey, I just wrote it, and I'm not going to take it back!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Out and about, from witches to water

"Fried dough. Welcome to Salem."

That is one of the first signs that caught my eye as I struggled through the crowded streets of Salem, Mass. on a warm sunny day Saturday.

The city is home to the Salem Witch Museum, which contains exhibits about the tragic events of 1692, when more than 150 women – and men – were imprisoned on charges of witchcraft. Fourteen women and five men were hung.

I visited the museum ages ago when it stood in a relatively quiet city. I don't know when this happened, but the place has turned into a zoo. Banners advertise ghost tours, seances, haunted this and haunted that. I nearly bumped into a walking Frankenstein.

I ended up there because I was meeting my friend Katryn from Vassar. Our birthdays, which are in August, are just two days apart, and we try to get together every year to celebrate. So this was our birthday celebration.

Katryn lives in Portland, Maine. We try to pick a half-way point, and Boston or its environs has often been our meeting place.

Katryn said she wanted to see the Chinese house at the Peabody Essex Museum, located in Salem. I wasn't exactly sure what she meant, but I thought, hey, a Chinese house in the middle of Salem sounds interesting to me.

As soon as she saw the commotion, she apologized to me, but I didn't really care, because it made for an interesting visit, and I had nothing pressing on my time.

The museum is an oasis in the middle of this crazy place. It is so odd to walk up to its doors and find an actual regular art museum there. As it turned out, the house, called Yin Yu Tang, is an actual structure, built in China 200 years ago and then taken apart bit by bit and moved to Salem.

It is connected to the museum, and when you enter it, it is like entering a different world. We took a self-guided tour that was extremely informative.
Anyway, after Salem we spent about an hour walking in beautiful Marblehead, about 10 minutes away and home to beautiful harbor views and narrow lanes. The photo shows us in a little park above the water.

From there we headed back south, spending the night at Diane and David's house and then meeting our friend Alice, also from Vassar, for brunch in Newton.Katryn and I have done a lot of things together. When we both lived in Boston, we celebrated our birthdays on a "booze cruise" around the harbor. Once we rode out bikes around Nova Scotia.

Later we were room-mates in Northampton. We lived in a funky apartment with no cabinet doors; the kitchen was perfect for the sprouts we grew in the window. We had some, ahem, interesting parties there.

We've also visited at each other's homes. I have one of those adorable/embarrassing photos of our naked baby children in the bathtub together. Always a good thing to hold over your kids' heads in case you need to blackmail them. (Only kidding.)

We happened to plan this trip kind of last-minute, which is sometimes easier than making plans that often end up being broken. It was so easy to do, we both said we should do it more. I hope we do. It's good to get out and about. But maybe we'll leave out Salem.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Back to basics with the dog

Maddie watches Simba swim in the lake.

Nobody likes to go backwards. But as we learn through challenges large and small, it's often one step forward, a step back and, hopefully, another step (or two or three) forward.

I say this because I took a step back with Maddie, which I will explain shortly. The miracle dog is a delight, but she drives me crazy in perpetuating an old habit, leaving a little "present" on the floor overnight.

I don't need to be cleaning up after a dog. Plus it makes me dislike her, starting the day on a downer. The dog is three years old. Enough already.

She doesn't do it all the time. A trainer told me to keep a log of when she does it, to see if there's a pattern. But there isn't. I take her out at night between 11 and 11:30. She has the run of the house, and comes up to joyously get me out of bed between 6:30 and 7 a.m. We go downstairs, and sometimes I find nothing and sometimes I find a little pile.

The vet said the only solution was to get a crate and retrain her. I resisted. I thought I was done with crates. It's kind of like putting your child back in diapers.

But finally the other day I had enough. I came down and there it was again. "That's it," I told her. "You're going in a crate tonight."

She wagged her tail.

I took her to a big pet supply store where they showed me the right size crate. I usually have only plain dog biscuits, but for the occasion I splurged on a "party sack" of Snausages in beef, bacon and cheese flavors. I later realized they were shaped like cars, hydrants and shoes. Do dogs really notice these things? For good measure, I got another special treat: A pig's foot. Yum.

The first night – the night before last – I put her blanket in the crate along with two of her favorite toys. I was afraid that after having so much freedom she would complain, so I talked up her new bed big time. This might sound a little nuts, but I think they react to your tone.

Then I threw in a few Snausages and the pig's foot, turned out the light, and went upstairs to bed.

I didn't hear a peep from her until she yelped around 7 a.m. Same thing last night.

Oh happy day. Nothing to clean up. Good dog!

Yes the crate is a step back, but it already feels like a step in the right direction.