Saturday, December 31, 2011

Oil me

I was very rusty last week when I resumed some of my activities after a month off except for walking.

At yoga, I did something I rarely do: Glance repeatedly at the clock. My thoughts as I was doing the poses tended to the "get me out of here" mode, but I did not dash out the door or even topple over, and afterwards Erin said she thought I did well.

At tennis, I made some good shots, but I also missed a lot and even whiffed a few. It was a friendly round robin, and at least I was able to joke that I pitied the person who ended up with me first. Everyone was good-humored about my mistakes, but still, I did ask myself, in a not very helpful way, "How am I going to continue being 3.5 if I play like this?"

I had met with a trainer at Planet Fitness to devise a routine, so I did that once, and it wasn't too bad.

As for running, I went a couple of times for only about a mile, but it was more like a dog walk, because I took Maddie and alternated between having her off the leash and stopping to call for her, and having her on the leash and at points feeling like I was dragging her along. The colder weather does not inspire me to get out there, but if I'm going to keep at it, I'll need to pick it up again sometime soon.

We shall see what the New Year brings.

In the meantime, Happy New Year to everyone!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Playing with the Christmas toys

Maddie pretty much finished getting the peanut butter out of the bone that our friends Jim and Jane gave her for Christmas, but she didn't want to let it out of her sight when she took a break and curled up with one of her favorite toys.

"I don't want to let it out of my sight!"

"Well, maybe I'll give in and take a nap."

Monday, December 26, 2011

Family dinner

We are eating leftover Chinese food.

Joe is in the den watching "Jeopardy," occasionally humming the theme song.

Katie is in the kitchen watching "Charlie Wilson's War" on her computer.

And I am watching an episode of "Friday Night Lights" in the dining room on mine.

I guess we are a very modern family.

We're not sitting in the same room, but still, we are connected.

We have lit the menorah, sung the prayer and watched the candles burn.

And occasionally we wander into the other's room and comment on something they are watching. For example, "Charlie Wilson's War" leads to short conversations about the history of our presence in Afghanistan.

Yes, we're not sitting down at the table (but hey, we did do it last night). So although we are in separate rooms, we really are kind of together, albeit in a kind of strange way.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas message from my son

Joe, Youth Initiatives Coordinator at the American Cancer Society, posted the following little poem on the Coaches vs. Cancer Massachusetts page.

I'm not going to add to it, because it speaks for itself, except to say that I'm very proud of the work he is doing to help raise awareness and money in the fight against cancer.

'Twas the week before Christmas and througout the state,
Students and workers have a lot on their plate.
The weather's so cold we can't get out of our beds,
While visions of vacation days dance in our heads.
But let us remember those with less fortunate fate,
And let's continue to cure cancer at an amazing rate!
Host a Coaches vs. Cancer event; it's what's right,
Merry Christmas to all, now all join the fight!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

An 8-5 day

I am talking about a doctor day, not a work day.

The more I need done, the more doctors I accumulate, and the busier my check-up days become. I have become a master scheduler, cramming many visits in during a day or two rather than driving to Boston for scattered appointments.

Makes sense, I suppose, unless you consider the fatigue factor.

I had four appointments Monday, starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 4:45 p.m., and one appointment today.

Monday morning, I took the T from Diane's to my first appointment to see Dr. Iwamoto, the surgeon who applied the graft under my eye, near Mass General Hospital. She said the graft was attaching nicely and told me to return in two months.

From there I walked over to Mass General and caught the shuttle that goes to Brigham and Women's, and then went to Dana-Farber (basically across the street and around the corner) for my 9:30 blood draw. I had a 10:30 appointment with Dr. Alyea, who pronounced my counts good (except for platelets, low but not worrisome); due to blood work a couple of weeks ago, I knew I was fine, but it was great to hear it from him. He told me I could go two months until my next appointment, a little more loosening of the leash.

He gave me a big hug and then as I started to walk down the hall, Dan DeAngelo, my first doctor, came out of a room and gave me one of his big bear hugs. I had known he was around, because I heard his distinctive laugh in the hallway as I waited for Dr. Alyea.

Next I ran back to Brigham and Women's for a quick lunch at Au Bon Pain with Margaret, who was in the area, and then returned to Dana-Farber for a 2 p.m. appointment with Dr. Goguen, aka the tongue doctor. As I waited for her, I leaned my head back against the wall and fell asleep. When she came in, she said, "Sorry to wake you." Well, she was just doing her job. She said my mouth looked good.

Next stop: Free food!

On the way up, I had seen them preparing for a dessert reception in the lobby for staff and patients. I wasn't going to miss that. I got on a humongous line that snaked around to tables laden with amazing-looking layer cakes, cookies and a token amount of fruit. The servers were piling one piece of cake on top of another on everyone's plates. I got two pieces of cake and one piece of pie, plus coffee, with thoughts ranging from, "You deserve this" to "This is a little bit much."

What can I say? The carrot cake, rich chocolate layer cake and mixed-berry pie were delicious.  I walked back to Brigham and Women's and my last appointment of the day on a sugar high, feeling like my head might disengage from my body and float away.

This appointment was with Dr. Shoji, an incredibly nice man who did the umbilical hernia repair. He said I could resume all my activities (hooray!) and told me I didn't need to come back at all, unless I wanted to show off my improved belly button.

Almost done...I walked about half a dozen blocks to the T and returned to Diane's.

Today I drove back downtown to see my dermatologist, Dr. Lin, who zapped off (with a freezing technique) the spots on my face that could turn cancerous as two others have done. She repeated that this keeps happening because, due to continued use of prednisone, my immune system is not operating at full capacity. She prescribed a new cream and said that if that didn't work, she would like to burn the skin off my face in two months.

That's not how she put it – it's called PDT – or Photodynamic Therapy – but I know that is exactly how it feels, because she did it about a year ago with good, though not lasting, success.

She scheduled it for Feb. 14, her Valentine's Day present to me.

As Scarlett O'Hara famously said, I'll think about that tomorrow.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Exciting news

Meghan and Ben
Now that I am finally alert after last week's only post, in which I wrote about trying to stay awake, I want to share some wonderful news.

My son, Ben, has become engaged to a wonderful young woman, Meghan, who I am so happy to now call my future daughter-in-law. Everyone knew they were going to get married, and some of us even knew exactly when he was going to propose, but it was incredibly exciting to get their call, on speaker phone, in which they told me that he had surprised her with the ring...and that she had said yes!

Last night we gathered at Diane and David's and gave a Champagne toast to the newly engaged couple. It was actually an early Hanukkah party, so we lit candles, exchanged presents, and toasted everyone. Diane set a beautiful table, and D&D, as people call them, served a terrific meal.

It was the first time I had seen the ring, and I couldn't take my eyes off it, sparkling on Meg's hand.

I don't use many exclamation points, but the occasion warrants it, so, here goes:

My baby is getting married!!!!!!!!!!!!


Friday, December 16, 2011

Burning the candle at both ends

It's been a long, long week in which my Circadian rhythm was totally disrupted.

The good news is that I got a spot tutoring students in Springfield elementary schools, for pay.

The bad news is that although I signed up for after-school hours, there were more tutors than students, and if I didn't take the 7:30 a.m. slot, I wouldn't get to do it at all. I need to be there early, so with travel time that means leaving at around 6:45 a.m.

Welcome to the world, you say?

Well, for the past 30-some years, my world has always involved later work shifts. When I left the Republican, I worked from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and when I first started, we went in around 11 and left at 7.

Common sense says to just go to bed earlier, but when you stay up late like I do, it's hard to just make yourself go to sleep earlier. Plus, it was a busy week, with a tennis party Tuesday night and a concert at the Iron Horse in Northampton Wednesday, and I wanted to go to both.

Wednesday didn't start so well. I stumbled out of bed and made coffee and a piece of (overdone) toast, which I ate in the car. I cut my lip on the toast and only realized it when I felt blood dripping down my face. I managed to stop the bleeding with a tissue and got to my assigned school in Springfield in one piece.

We were assigned our groups, and I got six fourth-graders. There was basically time for introductions and giving them a test which they did in class to assess their level. On the way home, I had to pull into the parking lot of the CVS in Holyoke and take a nap. When I got home, Joe was having car trouble and needed a ride to the West Springfield repair shop where his car was towed. After he got his rental, I fell asleep again in my car.

Thursday morning began with me trying to carry coffee and the bin of student booklets out the door in the dark and dropping my keys in the dog water near the door. Big splash of water on the floor, left for later.

In school we began work on a unit in capitalization. I passed out booklets and walked around helping them. When the bell rang at 8:30, the kids threw their stuff down on the table and ran to breakfast. One little girl stayed to help me, gathering everything up and offering to carry the bin downstairs for me. I am already falling in love. Next week I will stop a little earlier and tell them they can't leave until they clean up.

On the way home, once again I couldn't get any further than CVS. After my 15-minute catnap, I got home, threw down my jacket, took my shoes off and crawled into bed, setting the alarm for 11 a.m. Every time it went off, I set it for another half an hour. I set it for 12:30, but it never went off, because I saw later that I had set it for a.m. Who knows how long I would have slept if Ben hadn't called at 1?

I sat down on the couch at night and told Joe I was so tired, I was scared the leukemia was coming back. (This when I know full well that my blood test a couple of weeks ago was fine.)

"Are you serious?" he asked, or some such thing. Probably I was not serious, but it's a thought that pops up, and then when I say it and someone (or myself if I'm the only one around) sets me straight, I can let it go.

Hopefully next week I will do better with sleep.

Despite the fatigue, I have to say that Wednesday night at the Iron Horse was worth it. I saw friends from work and heard a great opening set by Scott Kempner and then the show by Elliott Murphy and the Normandy All Stars. It was great rock n' roll with folk undertones, and everyone was clapping and at some points singing along.

And I thought, "I am not in the hospital. I am here and alive and listening to music with friends, and I am really really happy about that."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A pleasant surprise

Got this encouraging e-mail from Melissa yesterday: "Your labs are a bit better!  Looks good."

I was already preparing for the opposite and getting bummed out. Goes to show you the waste of time in predicting your lab results. I was pleasantly surprised because it was not what I expected.

I would not have been major bummed out, just minor dispirited. That's because my concern was not about anything big but rather about the management of my ongoing Graft vs. Host Disease.

Melissa had told me that the labs from my pre-op tests a couple of weeks ago showed that my liver enzymes were up a bit (the wrong direction). She said I should get retested, which is what I did on Thursday.

The way it's been going, every time I get down to taking 5 mgs. of prednisone a day, my liver acts up and I have to increase the prednisone, which I have now been on for longer than I can even remember.

Staying on prednisone means having a lowered immune system and staying on several drugs that I take to prevent different problems that I've had in the past.

I really had every reason to suspect that higher numbers a few weeks ago meant higher numbers now and a need to increase the dose.

But tada! It didn't happen that way.

So I can stay on my 5 mg. and reevaluate when I have my next appointment in a couple of weeks. And I am NOT going to spend time thinking about what will or will not be.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


 Shpilkes: Yiddish plural noun, literally “pins.”
First meaning: “On pins and needles,” an unpleasant nervousness before an event.
Nowadays it can mean “upset stomach,” “feeling antsy,” or “impatience.”

I am back from a walk in the rain with the dog, my wet sneakers all squishy.

I had an umbrella in one hand and the leash in the other, and although I thought about making a second loop around the lake, my arm with the umbrella was starting to hurt me. If I had just been running in the rain, it would have been easier because I would have hit a stride, sans umbrella and leash. (Sorry, Maddie.)

Still, I probably would have walked her separately, because although she's not so young that she needs to get a good exercise walk every day, I feel it's my job as a pet owner to take her.

I am at that point in a period of limited exercise when I am feeling antsy. The hernia operation was a week ago Monday; I'm not supposed to do much but walk until I see the doctor again on Dec. 19. I've found myself taking little jogging steps across the kitchen and around the house. I jogged to the car and was about to take off in the supermarket when I thought better of it. When walking the dog, I jogged a few steps along the path.

It's like there is a little "on" switch that I couldn't push all the way to "off."

Yesterday I lifted some weights in my room and did a few stretches not involving my abdominal muscles, but what I really need is to run around.

I know, of course, that it could be way worse and that this is nothing in comparison to big stuff, but the accumulation of little things (teeth, tongue, etc.) definitely adds to the overall wear and tear.

But hey, the fact that I am restless is a sign that I'm feeling better, because a week ago, I wasn't much in the mood for running around at all.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A gift to myself

A friend recently told me that while undergoing chemotherapy for treatment of breast cancer, she had bought herself a present after completing each round.

This sounded like a great idea to me. It doesn't work that well for leukemia, because when you are finished with a round of chemotherapy, you are so depleted that going shopping is the last thing you want to do. I did, however, get a lot of nice gifts when I was in the hospital. And I try to schedule in something fun in connection with my frequent trips to Boston, and sometimes, when I started feeling better, that something fun often involves going shopping.

I thought of my friend's words yesterday when I went to a "brunch and buy" where the theme was hand-made holiday gifts. Everything was beautiful. I thought I would be able to make it out the door cheaply by buying a just a desk calendar with a photograph a month, but then something called me back.

It was a collection of silver watches on bracelets made of beads and big, colorful stones. I tried on one in "my" color, blue. I joked with Bev, the tennis friend who makes the jewelry under the name Big Mouth Beads, that perhaps I owed myself a hernia repair present.

Like the eye surgery that had turned out to be more than I expected, the hernia fix has involved more in the way of continuing pain than I had thought it would. I hadn't taken any oxycodone before driving to Longmeadow for the "brunch and buy," because you aren't supposed to drive under the influence. By the time I left, the site was really hurting, so I was definitely in the mood for something to pick me up.

Hence, the blue and silver watch, my gift to myself on a day when I had thought I was going shopping for other people. Oh well, these things happen.

I liked the way it caught the light on my drive home, helping to keep my mind off the pain. It looks magical.

But there is a problem: I need to think of something else to call it other than my "hernia repair watch." It's too pretty to have such a connotation.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Eye on the mend

When I went to the eye repair shoppe Wednesday (otherwise known as the office of Dr. Mami Iwamoto (the surgeon who repaired the hole under my eye), the doctor said the graft looked good but that I should really get in there and knead it like a piece of dough, pushing it in towards my nose.

That was funny because I've been so careful about not touching it. It kind of hurts my nose when I push on it, but that's what I need to do, twice a day, I guess to get the graft to fit better into the contours of my face.

The weather has been nice, so despite pain at the site of my hernia repair (pretty much dulled by oxycodone), I've been walking a lot. Yesterday I had coffee with a friend who lives in Newton, and last night Diane and I went to an interesting presentation hosted by a Meetup group called Chicks Who Write. Meetup groups are gatherings around the country involving people who want to network on a range of topics.

The speaker last night was a widely published writer, Ethan Gilsdorf, whose topic was "Writing Killer Pitch Letters."

It's about 5 on Friday and I'm sitting at Diane's table waiting for Katie to pick me up and drive me home. I'm going to take her to the bus stop tomorrow so she can get back to school.

Then I'm going to sit at my kitchen table writing pitch letters, hopefully of the killer type.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Day after surgery

The hernia repair surgery yesterday went well.

The area is quite painful, so I am back on oxycodone every four hours. I'll probably stay at Diane and David's in Newton through Friday so that Katie can drive me home after class. Then she'll take the bus back to school. Tomorrow I have an appointment with the doctor who did the repair under my eye.

They want you to walk, so yesterday and today I took Diane's arm and went for a walk. It's so balmy here, it was nice to be outside. My legs are a little wobbly, but only mishap was when a fire alarm box jumped out from its spot on a building and hit me on the head as I turned to look at a book Diane had just bought. After a quick examination showed that I was OK, we switched sides so that I'd be away from the buildings.

Back at the house, I had received an e-mail saying the year-end tennis ratings are out. I'd been predicting that as soon as I returned to team tennis, my rating would drop from 3.5 to 3.0. (How's that for confidence?) But since I've won one and lost one, I knew I'd probably stay.

And there it was when I wrote in my USTA number: 3.5.

That made me happy.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Talking Turkey results, or, just call me Rosie

Me, Ben, and his girlfriend, Meghan, before the race.
I finished the Talking Turkey 6-miler yesterday, but it did not turn out how I expected.

I felt terrible the first mile. I'm still not totally over my cold. I was having trouble breathing through my nose and had to keep reaching for a tissue. I'm sure that made me run even slower than I usually do.

Actually, I thought that I had gotten faster, and I probably have, but not yesterday. After a couple of miles, a gap opened up between me and a large part of the pack. I know I wasn't last, because I heard people talking behind me, but I didn't have anyone to follow. The course around the Ashley Reservoir isn't a circle; you have to make some turns, and normally I don't pay attention because I'm with everyone.

I missed a right turn through the woods and ran straight ahead to one of the reservoir's gates. After a few minutes I knew nothing looked familiar, but I just couldn't figure out where I was. I was living my runner's nightmare, that I am in a race and have lost the crowd and don't know how to reconnect.

I did figure out that I needed to reverse and turn back through the woods, which I did. I got back in with the pack and breathed a sigh of relief, but then I was feeling just so discombobulated that I think I made another mistake. I passed four miles, feeling OK, and then came to an intersection where there were runners coming in from the left. Someone told me to turn right, so I did. Actually, I think I should have been coming along with those runners, so I must have made another wrong turn and skipped part of a mile, because I never saw the marker for 5 miles.

I just kept trotting along. And then a saw a welcome sight. It was Len Brouillette, the track coach at South Hadley High School and a friend who walks his dog at the lake. Len had finished, and, having heard that I was running, backtracked to find me and run me in.

He said, first of all, that I looked good. Second, when I told him what I had done, he said, "People get lost all the time in races." That made me feel better. He ran with me to the turnoff for the chute, and I crossed the finish line in about 1:11. I used to run it in under an hour, but that, of course, was then.

There were still a decent amount of runners behind me. With the section I added and the section I somehow missed, I probably did run about six miles.

I had started with Ben and Meghan, and they were at the finish line waiting for me, along with Katie. I told them what had happened, and then I kept trying to figure it out. What with not feeling that well to begin with and feeling confused, I didn't have that exhilaration I had when I ran this race in 2005, my first after my initial diagnosis and treatment two years earlier.

The kids reminded me to keep it in perspective. Two and a half years ago, I couldn't even walk. So what if I got lost? So what if I was slow? It was still a big accomplishment. And Ben said he hated to point this out, but I am a little older now.

The broken record went on a little longer.

The consensus: Get over it!

Here's another way of looking at it: I did a lot better than the last time I ran six miles, in May, when I fell down and got a stress fracture.

Also, they gave out a really nice shirt this year.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Say what?

I had an interesting day at Brigham and Women's for my pre-op appointment Wednesday.

The scheduler at my doctor's office told me I could get there early for my 12:30 appointment in hopes of beating the Thanksgiving traffic and that they would try to squeeze me in. Uncharacteristically, I did get there early, around 11:30. The person at pre-op, however, wouldn't even let me sign in. She said that due to an emergency, they were about an hour and a half behind.

So I had to wait beside the sign-in sheet until 12:15, at which time I put my name down. The receptionist said that I should then go kill an hour and a half and she would call me on my cell phone when they were ready.

I decided to go up to the sixth floor to see if any of my nurses were around on 6A, where I got my transplant and where I was so sick.

And they were. It was pretty incredible. They remembered my room (12) and much about me. This was almost three years ago. I guess when you're there for 3 1/2 months and you nearly die, you make an impression. We talked for quite a while. One of my favorite nurses told me, "You just made my year." It's great to make someone's year.

Then I went to Au Bon Pain to get lunch. I had just started on a cup of soup when I got a call from the anesthesiologist saying they were ready. I was a little surprised, because it was 15 minutes before my time. "Put a cover on your soup and come right over," he said, sounding annoyed.

In going over my records, the anesthesiologist asked, "Do you know you have a leaky heart valve?"
Picture the look of surprise on my face. I had him repeat it. I asked when that turned up.

"In an echocardiogram in 2009," he said.


He said this condition is relatively common. It is rated mild, moderate and severe, and mine is moderate.

Now, nobody has EVER mentioned this to me.

I told him how active I am and how surprised I was. He told me to go discuss it with my internist, which I am not going to do. I plan to run it by Melissa, my nurse practitioner, sometime next week. Since it never came up, I am not concerned, just curious.

Anyway, I went over my history and my meds with the anesthesiologist and then went over the same exact stuff with a nurse. I got out around 4, chomping at the bit, as they say.

Katie met me there, and we drove home together. The traffic was pretty bad, but at least it was moving.

Everyone came for Thanksgiving, and the feast went off without a hitch. There's always something, so I was a little surprised when preparations were going so well. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never did.

I took out my mother's nice silver and special plates. Katie set a beautiful table. We lit the candles. Just as we were raising our glasses in thanks, Diane called. The machine picked up. "Happy Thanksgiving," Diane said. So she became part of the toast too. My parents would have smiled.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tough times emotionally

Despite unseasonably warm weather earlier in the week, today was really November. Overcast, cloudy and gray.

 Kind of like my mood.

I planned to be in the final steps of getting ready for Saturday's Talking Turkey, but due to my cold and a bad cough, I haven't run all week. I did continue to walk the dog and even jogged a few steps to make sure my feet still lifted up, but it didn't quite make the cut. I hope I can still run the race.

This time five years ago marked the final days of my mother's life, a good long one with a very brief period of illness. Today I heard a story of someone who died young in an accident, and it kind of put my loss in perspective. But still, as everyone knows who lost one, it is your mother.

She has been coming to me in my dreams. The other night I dreamt that she and my aunt were lying on a bed intertwined like snakes. That's how close they were in life. My mother was dying, and as the two revolved around each other, my mother's head became visible. She looked just like she did the last time I saw her. "You're so beautiful," I said.

A few nights later, I dreamt that I was back in our apartment in New York. My parents, both very frail, were in the kitchen. My mother was bandaging my father's arms just as she did during the end of his life when his skin, so thin, developed patches that bled. They couldn't go outside, and I needed to go and get them some things.

First I went out to the park for a run. And suddenly I couldn't see where I was going. It was snowing and then raining, with little visibility. I lost my way on the path and went into a dead-end snow tunnel. I realized what I had to do, got out, turned left and found the path. Ah, the proverbial dark wood.

I was running in all the wrong clothes, dress boots and a long skirt. But I finished the loop and ended at the park exit that I usually took when I went back home. I had made it.

Yesterday, I called my cousin Joanne in New York, who is a big help and support in many ways. My mother often visits her as I feel my mother visits me, and sometimes Joanne calls to tell me about it. Joanne said she loved the symbolism of my dream run. Despite all the odds, I had found my way, just as I have done in life.

But, but, but, I said, I left my parents in the apartment.

That's OK, she said. Your parents are OK. And you are too.

Joe is already here, and the other kids are coming tomorrow. Today I bought beautiful flowers for the house, not just the usual assorted mums for the Thanksgiving table but also a special bouquet of small yellow roses that I put on the kitchen table. Buy something to brighten things up, I heard my mother say.

I think it is working. And having everyone here will definitely lighten things up, too.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A little something extra

I find it kind of embarrassing to say I have a hernia. Maybe because it's an odd word that sounds a little like hemorrhoid. Who knows, I might be the only person to think this.

In any case, that's what I have. (A hernia, not hemorrhoids.) I am having it fixed the Monday after Thanksgiving at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

On Wednesday, I go to Boston for pre-op instructions and will then probably be stuck in traffic for eight hours on my way back to Western Massachusetts.

I have an umbilical hernia, a fairly common problem and one that can be attributed to pregnancy, obviously a delayed reaction on my part.

Thanks, kids.

It's a day surgery to be followed by some pain and no running, tennis or yoga for at least a month. I should be able to walk the dog. Maddie will be happy.

Just a little something extra to keep life interesting.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Running for candy

On Monday when I increased from four to five miles, I felt the difference big-time.

It was probably not only because of the extra mile but also because my route included some hills, as opposed to my usual one-mile flat loop around Mount Holyoke's upper lake. With its soft surface and trees, it's a comfortable, sheltered place to run. Since the storm, it's been fun to walk the dog around that obstacle course of fallen trees and branches, but running there is out of the question for now. I've been going around the smaller lower lake (about 3/4) of a mile, but it's not as woodsy.

Monday's route was out on the roads. I had been doing part of it, but not the whole five miles, stopping at the bottom of the hill that leads to McCray's Farm. But I felt pretty good and decided to go for it. I reached the top of the hill OK and felt it was an accomplishment, literally and figuratively.

Going down the hill was a breeze, but as I ran over more ups and downs, I felt the accumulated effort. On the last part, I didn't want to be there anymore. It was a bit like during childbirth when you change your mind. There's nowhere to go but to the finish. Five miles probably doesn't seem like much to those who run long distances, but it's far enough if you're coming back from being way down.

As I approached our local deli, Tailgate Picnic, I had a thought: I could just stop there, get some peanut m&ms, and enjoy a leisurely quarter-mile walk back home. For some reason, when I get in a bind, chocolate often comes to mind. For example, when I was covering a boring lecture, or if I am at an over-long show or stuck in a dead-end conversation, I start to imagine the moment when I can have some chocolate.

But supposedly increasing your miles and then stopping early to buy m&m's is another matter.

I bypassed temptation and finished the run. Wow, I thought, I just did one of my old five-milers. I was glad that I had done it. I went inside, stretched, drank some water and ate some lunch. Then I drove back to the deli to get my reward.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Back to Exjade (sigh)

My daily dose of Exjade takes my mind totally off my worries, in a not very positive way.

I took it today after a break of several months. You dissolve five pills in water, drink it on an empty stomach, and wait 30 minutes to eat. Normally if you take a bitter pill, you can pop something in your mouth to take the taste away. But with Exjade, you are left feeling like you are going to vomit while knowing you won't get the relief of doing so. You can just mutter to yourself, distract yourself, clean the kitchen, tap your foot, complain to anyone who is around, whatever, until your time is up.

This is nothing compared to the nausea after chemotherapy, but still, it's not a great way to start the day.

Exjade decreases your level of ferritin, a protein that stores iron in your body. People like me who have had multiple blood transfusions end up with excess ferritin; the consequences can be really really bad, including such things as cirrhosis of the liver and increased risk of liver cancer, heart failure and abnormal rhythms, and decreased insulin leading to diabetes.

A normal ferritin range for women is 12-150 nanograms per milliter. After I finished getting transfusions, my level was about 10,000. Due to blood draws before check-ups and a period of Exjade use, my level is down to about 7,000. Quite a ways to go.

One means of treatment is a good old-fashioned blood-letting, minus the leaches. Patients undergo "therapeutic phlebotomy" during which a prescribed amount of blood is removed, usually a couple of times a week.

My doctors favor the use of Exjade, which binds to iron and removes it from the bloodstream. It takes months and months to work.

When Melissa told me at my check-up last Monday that it was time to restart, I took the bottle out of the cabinet and placed it on my counter. It took days for me to actually see it, meaning I had selective vision that made me forget until after I had already eaten. Then the day passed, and before I knew it, I had procrastinated yet another day.

Today I decided I meant business, and after re-reading about the potentially devastating effects of high ferritin, I am determined to keep up with it. Even if it means starting my day with a miserable half-hour.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

From doctors to Degas

I'm back from Boston after three doctors' appointments, lunch with PJ and a long walk on a beautiful balmy day to see the Degas exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts. Might as well mix in some fun to balance the hours spent in medical offices.

My check-up was uneventful. Numbers were good, about the same as last time, except for a drop in my platelets from the 83 to 68. Melissa said she was not concerned. My liver function numbers are better, so I can try dropping the prednisone to 5 mg. a day.

Dr. Dana, the specialist at Mass. Eye and Ear, said that my dry eyes may or may not signal the onset of Graft vs. Host of the eye. I was reminded of the time when I wondered if my work at the newspaper was giving me carpal tunnel syndrome. A doctor told me that my symptoms might get worse or they might get better. In other words, who knows?

Dr. Dana said to use Restasis, eye drops that have varying amounts of success in helping dry eyes and hopefully staving off GVHD. Back home, eye doctor #1 had prescribed restasis, but then eye doctor #2 said he didn't like the drug and not to use it. Since doctor #3 is the expert, I'm going to give it a try.

As PJ, who now lives in New York, wrote on her blog, she went to Dana-Farber Tuesday for a second opinion. Since I happened to be in town, we met for lunch and, as she said, compared war stories. We had to laugh that while some people meet up at their favorite bar, restaurant or coffee shop, we got together at our favorite cancer center.

That afternoon I saw the exhibit Degas and the Nude, which shows a different side of the painter from the one many people know through his sculptures of dancers. Most often at museums I don't use the audio guide, but I got one this time and was glad I did. I learned a lot, and instead of having to read the explanations on the wall, I was free to just enjoy and appreciate.

On Wednesday, Dr. Iwamoto, the plastic surgeon, removed the wad of cotton that she had stitched over my graft. I was glad to see it go; it was small, but it had begun to feel like a bowling ball under my eye. She said the graft should take six to eight weeks to be absorbed into the skin. Right now it does not look pretty. She also said to be careful not to rub it, because it could fall off.

This morning as I woke up and stretched, I caught myself rubbing my eyes. Having that thing fall off would not be too much fun. I better be careful.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

More fun in Boston

I am enjoying a brief hiatus at home before returning to Boston tomorrow for three days of appointments.

"Enjoying" might be too strong. After the surgery under my eye on Wednesday I am not allowed to exercise for a week, and so I am a little out of sorts. Still, I am glad to be home.

It is a good thing I have a place to stay in Boston. I hope Diane and Margaret (and their spouses) don't get tired of me.

I have five appointments, and although I couldn't have gotten all of them into one day, I was hoping for two. No such luck. Oh well, I could be "stuck" in a worse place than Boston. Maybe in my free time I'll go to the Museum of Fine Arts or walk (with a tiny bit of jogging) along the Charles River. And of course I can always go read at a Starbucks.

Tomorrow I have my regular check up at Dana-Farber, followed by an appointment with the head and neck surgeon (aka the tongue doctor) to check on my tongue, or should I say the remaining part of my tongue. I'm also going to see my social worker.

On Tuesday I have an appointment at Mass. Eye and Ear to see a specialist in graft vs. host of the eye. Dr. Alyea is sending me to him because he thinks some of my eye problems might involve GVHD. I have heard that this doctor is a big big shot who has absolutely no bedside manner. I am a little worried that he's going to yell at me. (I didn't do it! It's not my fault!)

Finally, on Wednesday, I return to the repair shop to have my stitches taken out and the wad of cotton removed from under my eye. I am definitely looking forward to that visit.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Call me a cockeyed optimist

Or is it negativist?

I'm not sure about this. I guess I'm a little of both, some days optimistic and some days negative.

One thing's for sure, though. I am definitely cockeyed.

I had the Mohs procedure in Boston on Wednesday, and, although it was successful, it was more complicated than I expected. The surgeon took what they call two "passes," meaning he removed a layer of the cancerous tissue (squamous cell) under my eye and then repeated the procedure because he didn't get all of it the first time.

After he had numbed up the area around my eye and removed the tissue, I waited about 45 minutes so he could see if he had gotten all of it. Most people sit in the waiting room, but since I needed to have my head back, I waited in the chair. That really wasn't so bad. I just took a nap.

When he came back in, he said some was still left, so he repeated the process again. After the second round, he said that he had gotten it all. One of the nurses told me it can take up to five passes, so I guess I did pretty well.

Next I went upstairs in the same building to the repair shop, where I got into a room quickly and then proceeded to wait there for an hour and a half.

When the doctor finally came in, she numbed up the area all around my eye with multiple injections, the only part of the procedure that hurt.

She handed me a mirror so I could see the little hole right under my tear duct. Yup, it was a hole alright.

The repair involved taking a skin graft from under my eyebrow and stitching it over the hole.

"You're getting a free eye-lift," the doctor joked as she worked.

Excuse me? On one eye?

Afraid to move my head, I didn't want to talk, but I did have to ask if that would end up looking a little strange.

She said that it wouldn't make that much of a difference, but we could reevaluate it when I healed.

So does insurance pay for an eye lift to balance you out? Just wondering.

She also put a stent in to open up my tear duct, which the surgeon had apparently needed to slice. She finished by sewing a piece of cotton called a ballast over the graft and onto my skin. I go back next week to have the ballast removed.

What with the wad of cotton, the stitches under my eyebrow and the overall swelling, it is not a pretty picture.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Chased out by crazy storm

I am writing this from a warm house (my sister's, in Newton), which is more than many people in parts of the Northeast, including South Hadley, can say after the crazy snowstorm that ended in at least 2.3 million people losing power.

As the snow fell and winds gusted Saturday, the trees practically groaned under the weight of accumulation on all the leaves that had not fallen. There were crashes and loud thumps. The microwave light went on and off, on and off. I peered out at all the trees surrounding the house and thought this might be the end of me. Then came the thunder and lightening. I looked it up and learned this is a rare occurrence called thunder snow. It sounds kind of poetic on paper, but in reality it is just plain weird.

The lights went out after I had gotten into bed with a book Saturday. The power has still not come back, which means no heat, no nothing. The house escaped damage, but there is a chunk out of the front of the garage roof and a hole in it from where a tree fell through.

Sunday night I slept at my friend Mary's in Chicopee, one of the communities that did not lose power. Last night I slept at Diane's; I was going to come here anyway because she is taking me for the Mohs surgery on Wednesday.

Joe drove me here, through streets strewn with fallen branches. We got stuck behind a line of cars that we thought were waiting to turn at a light, until we finally realized these people were waiting for gas and we needed to drive around them.

The drive was taking longer than usual and was making me antsy. The occasion seemed to call for car food, i.e. junk food. We stopped at a rest area, where Joe got a Snicker's bar (and kindly gave me a bite) and I got a "sharing size" bag of peanut M&Ms. During the rest of the ride, I popped one after another into my mouth until almost all were gone.

"Joe," I said. "This was meant for two, and I ate almost the whole thing!"

He shot me a glance as if to say, "So?"

If you want to get some sympathy for this kind of remark, you really need to tell it to a woman. (Reference the separate pie charts of men's and women's brains that I've seen, where on the woman's pie there is a slice for "what I ate today" and another for "things I should not have eaten," while the man's pie has no such thing.)

But I digress. The car ride was actually good "bonding time" where we listened to music and talked about different things.

It is more like normal fall here in the eastern part of Massachusetts. Yesterday actually felt kind of warm. As soon as Joe dropped me off, I headed out for a run. It was Halloween, and it felt like the peanut M&Ms had given me super powers.

I hit my stride pretty easily even as I zigzagged around little witches, ghosts, princesses (and one particularly cute tiny ladybug) getting an early start on trick-or-treating.

I ran for about an hour. Near the end, when I had picked up speed, I got a touch of that old feeling, the runner's high. It has stayed with me, a reminder of why I want to run.

As a bonus (or perhaps a bane), Diane bought was too much Halloween candy, and it is sitting in a big bowl for the taking. My only complaint is that she bought Milky Ways instead of Snickers.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Watching hockey from another angle

It is probably safe to say that I was the only person at last night's University of Massachusetts/Boston University hockey game taking pictures of the announcer.

To be more precise, the back of the announcer's head, because that's the only angle I could get.

I was at the UMass Mullins Center ostensibly watching the game but really there to hear Joe announce it. He has been the public address announcer for several UMass football games this season (including the one at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots play) but this was his first hockey game.

Having watched Joe play hockey in high school and college, I was much more interested in going to a hockey game than I was in seeing football. I went with Jim and his friend Bill and had a good seat almost directly behind Joe but many rows above where he sat in a booth down at the ice.

 I walked down and sat behind him and took a few photos on my phone to send Ben and Katie. Did I wonder if I looked a little odd? Yes. Did I care? No.

When we first heard Joe, I looked at Jim and asked, "That's him?" Of course I knew it was, but it was announcer Joe, not everyday Joe. He sounded, and was, 100 percent professional.

While everyone cheered for the players, I shouted "Yay, Joe" after I heard his voice. (Don't worry, nobody but Jim could hear me.)

I did, by the way, also pay attention to the game, which ended up in a 2-2 tie,

But for me, the main attraction was my son. I was, as they say in Yiddish, kvelling. Definition: To beam with pride and pleasure, most often about the accomplishments of your children.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Running while distracted

Every runner knows that some days you have it and some days you don't.

On Tuesday, I just didn't have it. I felt sluggish as soon as I started out on my four-miler. It was a beautiful day, perhaps a little too windy but sunny and crisp yet not too cold. I plodded ahead, super pokey. After a few minutes I took my sweatshirt off and tied it around my waist, and then at least I felt lighter.

Perhaps  my problem was the humongous blueberry pancake I ate for breakfast when meeting my friend Ken and his girlfriend for a nice breakfast in Northampton at Green Bean, a great place where you choose your own mug and can take endless refills of delicious coffee. I had an egg for protein with my pancakes, but the total effect probably was not conducive to running.

Anyway, I did perk up the further I ran and even managed to do a few quick intervals. But I wasn't really into it. My head was practically swiveling around on the Mount Holyoke campus looking for people I might know, so I could stop and talk to them.

I thought I saw a professor friend up ahead and jogged to catch up, thinking we'd chat for a few seconds. But it turned out to be someone else. Then, as I passed the library, where the Rao's coffee shop is, I even thought of poking my head in to see if anyone I knew was there.

My inner coach was fed up.

"What are you doing? Talk later, run now."

Right. It occurred to me that maybe I need a running partner, but I can't think of anyone I can ask at this time.

I focused then, and on the home stretch, I ran as fast as I could.

"Finish strong, finish strong," the inner coach said.

And I did.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Beautiful bike ride

On Sunday, I loaded our bikes onto the back of the car, picked Katie up at Brandeis and headed to nearby Weston so that we could take a bike ride led by Rook.

It was a good day to take a fall bike ride in a 20-mile loop through such historic towns as Lincoln and Concord. We saw some of the places important in the American Revolution and also happened to pass by a modern-day American legend, Bill Rogers, who helped popularize running in America and is best known for his victories in the Boston and New York Marathons in the late 1970s.

Rogers owns the Bill Rogers Running Center in Quincy Market and lives in the area.

We were biking along when Rogers and a woman came jogging towards us. Rook pulled up alongside me and said, "Hey, that's Bill Rogers," and I recognized him immediately.

I lived in the Boston area while working after college and then attending graduate school at a time when Rogers was winning the Boston Marathon. It was a thrill to see him on Sunday, especially since he is a cancer survivor (prostate) who returned to running.

It was basically the same ride Rook and I took over the summer. It was much easier for me this time, although when going up hills, I still feel like I need a new set of quads.

Our ride took us past Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau lived for two years. The day was mostly cloudy, but just as we approached the pond, the sun came out and cast its light on the water. It was magical, and we decided to walk our bikes down and stand on the shore. The photos are of us at the pond.

On our way back up, I overheard a woman saying, "I come here whenever I can and walk two times around. Who needs Prozac when you have a place like this?"

Days like Sunday do the same thing for me.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Good/bad scorecard

This is the tennis version of the post Like a Woodland Fairie, in which I wrote about falling when running and about how it hurt but that taken in context, it ended up being a pretty nice day.

I didn't literally fall during today's tennis match, but my partner, Donna, and I fell to a team in Pittsfield, about a 45-minute drive from us. They have strong teams out there in the Berkshires, and this one proved no exception. We had some long points, but we just didn't play our shots. It wasn't one of those matches where you walk off happy because you played well. It was just frustrating, because they spun the ball a lot so it died on your racquet and they also managed to place it much better than we did.

Although I was happy to share the score of our last match – my first 3.5 match and an exhilarating three-set win – I'm not going to write this one down.

Hey, it's a blog, not a newspaper story, so I can leave it out if I want to, right?

Anyway, it's not fun to lose, but taken in context, it was a pretty good day.

Here is a scorecard of the day's events, with "bad" and "good" each worth one point.

1. Lost tennis match

1. Ben is here for the weekend, and he, Joe and I had scrambled eggs, bacon and English muffins for breakfast and sat around the kitchen table and talked.
2. Enjoyed the fall scenery and talking to Donna while driving to the Berkshires together.
3. After the match, had snacks that the host team brought and schmoozed with the players from their team and ours.
4. On the way back, got a good cappuccino at a local marketplace and browsed through outlet stores.

This last one gets a bonus 1,000,000,000 points

5. I am alive and well and playing tennis and back in the swing of things.

Score for Saturday, Oct. 22

Bad. 1
Good. 1,000,000,005

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The art of gardening in the rain

It was just starting to rain when I took Maddie out yesterday, but the skies opened up by the time we were half-way through.

We were both soaked when we got home. I told her to shake before we went in, and she did, but still, there were wet paw prints all over the kitchen floor. As for me, my sneakers squished, and water dripped off my Red Sox hat, which, by the way, is in bad shape just like the team itself. I had an umbrella, but still, my glasses could have used a set of windshield wipers.

I needed a change of clothes. But then I looked out at the garden and thought: Time for a rescue mission. It was probably the last chance for the flowers, perennials and annuals, which were being beaten down by the rain. So I squished on outside, clipper in hand, and started picking the survivors. Some were visible, while others were hidden behind drooping leaves.

Red, yellow, orange, pink, purple...there was a touch of everything.

I could hear my mother saying, "Don't be afraid to pick them."

I actually ended up with a bigger bunch than I had all season. Dripping wet (I mean me, but that applies to the flowers, too) I spread them out on a piece of newspaper.

Whenever I'm arranging flowers, I wonder, WWMD (What Would Mom Do), so as I put them in a vase,  I tried to channel her flair.

I had to try it a few times, but I think it looks pretty good for an end-of-the-season bouquet using a little of this and a little of that, kind of like when it's the end of the week and you make dinner by throwing together whatever you find in the fridge.

The sun was back out today, and there were some flowers left in the garden, but the ones I picked yesterday definitely brightened my table on a rainy day.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Taking it up a notch

In my ongoing effort to speed up my running, I did a pretty good job over the weekend in the Boston area at the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, although the wind nearly blew me away and the Boston College track team nearly ran me over.

(Boy do those kids run fast. And when they were done, some even stopped to life ginormous weights.)

Back home, yesterday was my day to increase my mileage to four miles. As I set out, I wondered if the occasion warranted skipping my little drill of running quickly every so often up to whatever point I picked out, say, a bench or a tree with an interesting shape. I know that pushing yourself like this gets you used to a quicker pace overall. Ugh. It's not fun, but it does pay off.

I would have asked my coach's opinion, but since I am my own coach, I decided on keeping up the slightly faster pace but skipping the so-called speed drills.

Next came the wavering that comes with an added challenge, i.e. "Do I really need to do this and doesn't it count that I already walked the dog?"

Inner coach said, "Just shut up and do it."

Once I committed, it was fine, and I almost got to that point when you're running and not thinking about it. That's where the payoff is, to run along and let your mind wander and not think about what you're doing every step of the way.

Friday, October 14, 2011

One patient, many eye doctors

I'd been complaining to my optomestrist that my eyes felt gritty and uncomfortable and that, moreover, my botton eyelashes were falling off, and he prescribed drops for dry eyes.

Then I went to my Boston dermatologist, who said that the red rims around my eyes meant I had rosacea, and she prescribed the antibiotic doxycycline. She also said that someone with my history should really be seeing an opthamologist for extra TLC, so when I returned home, I paid a visit to an opthamologist I had seen in the past.

He took one look and said that yes, I had dry eyes, but I also had a relatively common irritation called blepharitis. He prescribed an antibiotic ointment and said I could also dissolve baby shampoo in water and wipe my eyes with a cotton ball.
On the way out, I filled out the paperwork for my files to be transferred from the optometrist's office.

Meanwhile, the dermatologist had done a biopsy on an flaky area under my eye. It was close to my tearduct, and she said that if it came back positive, which she expected it would, I would need to have the rest removed by an opthalmic surgeon, a new specialist to add to my list.

Last year I had similar flaking on a spot on my forehead, and it turned out to be a squamous cell cancer in situ, meaning on the skin. (I never knew that flaking was a sign of skin cancer. This was not your normal kind of dry skin flaking, but bigger pieces of skin.)

The dermatologist was able to get rid of it by giving me a cream that turned the spot really angry and unsightly before it did actually vanish. But I couldn't apply a cream so close to my eye, hence the need for the surgical removal, scheduled for today in Boston.

It was just on the skin like the other one, and it would be under local anesthesia, so I didn't expect it to be a big deal. But Joe was concerned that I might need some help, so he took the day off and drove me.

When we got there, the doctor took a brief look and said I would need so see a different doctor who would perform Mohs surgery, a procedure in which one thin layer is removed at a time and examined to see if the margins are clear until it is certain that there are no signs of cancer.

But, but, but, I said, I thought you were going to just scoop it out now. (Not very scientifc terminology, but when I called my dermatologist later, she said that she had indeed e-mailed this surgeon twice and had thought it was clear that the point of my visit was to have it removed.)

No, the surgeon said, I needed to have the Mohs and then go back to her for the repair.

Now this was seeming a little more complicated to me than one little scooping out session.

At my last visit to Dana-Farber, Dr. Alyea had wondered if some of these problems with my eyes (not the dermatology part) might include some involvement with GVHD. The local opthamologist had thought no, but Dr. Alyea wants me to see a specialist in Boston, so I have tacked that visit onto my next check-up.

While I was at the opthamologist's today, I got the idea that maybe I could at least cancel the appointment with the other specialist and ask the one today if she could check for GVHD.

She said that no, she only does eyelids.

Talk about specializing.

Turns out that she does a lot of cosmetic surgery, so I got another bright idea. Maybe this was the chance to have the eyelid lift I've wanted for a long time. That way Joe wouldn't have taken the day off for nothing.

I have actually raised the eyelid lift question in the past and was told by one particular friend, when I pulled up the skin on my eyelids and asked how I looked, that I looked like a deer in the headlights.

So that's not going to be in the cards, but I have enough eye stuff to keep me busy.

I will come back to Boston to see one opthamologist to check for GVHD, one for the surgery and one to have the hole caulked, and noboday died, but it definitely is frustrating.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Like a woodland faerie

It was a gorgeous morning and unusually warm for October.

The air had that well-baked late summer feeling, not the crispness of fall. The leaves are really just starting to change, and when I went out for my run I was transfixed by the play of sun and shade through the thinning leaves, mostly still green with some yellow, in the canopy of trees.

I have set 3 1/2 miles as my run, with some speeding up in order to get out of the totally pokey pace and into just plain pokey. I figured it wasn't going to kill me to speed up, and if it did actually leave me breathless, I could always stop. But I think totally pokey has become a comfortable habit rather than a necessary place to be.

Anyway, I was thinking of these two things – the beautiful leaves and the intention to go more quickly – when I started my first loop around Mount Holyoke's upper lake.

I was not looking down at the ground, and then, all of a sudden I ran straight into a root (there are a lot of roots and rocks partly hidden under the leaves) and instead of stepping over it, I tripped. For a second or two I tried to regain my balance, but I couldn't do it, and I fell down hard on my knees.

It hurt.

I rolled over and sat up, rubbing my knees, which were scraped but at least protected from the dirt by my  three-quarter length running pants.

There weren't a lot of people out yet. A young woman walking two little dogs stopped and asked if I was OK. I said I thought I was but I needed a second. As we talked, I lay down on my back and extended one leg at a time to see if they worked. The trees looked nice from that angle.

The woman with the dogs told me that first of all she has tripped a few times herself around there and that second of all a student flying by on a bike on a different path had nearly run her and her dogs down. After offering her solidarity in mishaps and wishing me well, she continued on her walk.

One thing's for sure: I love jogging around the reservoir in Central Park, but they would run right over someone lying on the path. (I feel bad for possibly underestimating New Yorkers, but some of those runners are very determined.)

I was about to get up when two more women came along. One said she had been wondering why someone was lying in the path with legs up. But then she realized the person was OK, and her friend confirmed that by guessing the person (me) was doing yoga stretches.

They each took a hand and pulled me up, and I walked with them for a few minutes.

Turns out they were both nurses, and again, one offered solidarity, saying she had just gone for a bike ride and flipped over the handlebars from going too fast. Luckily she was OK.

A little blood was dripping out of the scrapes on my knees, and I asked them, as nurses, if they thought it was OK for me to finish the run and ice later.

"You have to live," one said. "Go on and finish your run."

As I took a step ahead to jog, she said, "You look like a woodland faerie."

Say what?

Apparently leaves were stuck to my back from the fall.

I laughed and then asked her to brush them off, explaining that they would be a signal to my son that I had fallen...again.

As I have noted before, Joe keeps track of my falls and doesn't find them amusing, especially since he was the one who drove me to the hospital after I banged my head on the pavement after a fall last year.

Also, being a woodland faerie is nice and all, but I didn't want to continue my run like that, so the nurse brushed me off and wished me well.

I picked up speed and even ran a route on the way home that included some hills. It was a good run,  signaling, perhaps, that it's time to increase again.

Joe saw me icing when I got home and asked, "What happened now?" We had the usual talk about how I need to watch where I am going, which is totally true and and something I am going to try with new resolve.

My knees hurt and swelled up later. They were pretty scraped up, and I had a black and blue mark near my ankle from the fall.

Oh well, none of it was serious, and I got to have those nice encounters at the lake and be a woodland faerie for a moment.

Monday, October 10, 2011

How a jazz musician helped save my life

When I met my donor, Denise, in May, I learned of the amazing connection that brought us together.

It all started with the late jazz musician Michael Brecker, who had AML and whose search for a donor led to tens of thousands of people signing up on bone marrow transplant registries.

I wrote a story about it for the Philadelphia Inquirer, because Denise lives on the outskirts and Brecker was born there.

The story ran today under the headline "Musician's campaign sparks a lifesaving bone marrow transplant."

Friday, October 7, 2011

Bright moments

When cancer survivors say that their illness was a gift that caused them to appreciate each day, I don't really get it.

I am sure they are not making it up, but I never found the experience to be a gift that altered my world view. I am who I was.

But certain moments are heightened by the experience. Often this is in a bad way, for example when you feel fluish or tired or your head hurts or whatever and rather than feeling just plain sick you layer on such fears as "Maybe this means I'm relapsing."

Sometimes the memories lead to brighter moments, and when this happens it's as close as I come to understanding what people mean when they say they now appreciate things more.

I am still playing tennis outside, though I have reluctantly gone in when necessary.

It was cool Wednesday morning as I headed out to George's clinic, so I put on long pants. But it quickly got hot, so I rolled my pants up to a little under my knees.

The sun on my legs, and then the breeze against them, felt so great. I immediately flashed back to being in a hospital room with that artificial air, and I thought, this is so much better. My mind had automatically drawn the contrast so that I appreciated the current moment more.

By the way, this happened in a split second. It's not as though I was standing there staring into space letting balls fly all around me.

I had these "bright moments" a few times yesterday.

One was a funny moment when George told everyone it was time to get down on the clay and do push-ups. He did it, and some of us, including me, followed. I can only do "girl push-ups" (hence no chaturanga for me in yoga), and not that many, but I did my best.

Wow, I thought, I'm down here on the clay and I'm even about to stand up...a long way from where I was.

Then there is the matter of picking up the balls that are all over the place during a clinic. I actually always liked picking up balls. I put the hopper in one hand and then the other for a kind of weight-lifting practice. When there is a group of balls, I squat down and throw them in. Down, up. Down up. I like the focus of it all.

Wednesday as I was picking up balls, feeling the sun on my back, I got some clay under my fingernails.   Again, the image of a sanitized super-clean hospital room.

I was so happy to be where I was.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Good dinner, great show

We concluded our long NY weekend with a festive family dinner. Bill's grandsons, Sam and Andrew, came, as did Ben and Meg along with the usuals, Marge, Bill, Jeanne, Bruce, Amanda, Katie and me.

We got a long table in a quiet corner of a favorite restaurant, Destino's, so you could easily hear everyone talk.

On the way back to the apartment, Bruce took these photos of Katie and her cousin, Amanda, having fun running for the bus.

And then, on Sunday, the piece de resistance: Joe, Katie and I saw "The Book of Mormon," the Tony-Award-winning show that is so popular, nobody can get tickets to see it.

Well, obviously you can get a ticket...after months and months of waiting...but it's the theater version of one of Yogi Bera's sayings, about a restaurant that's so crowded nobody goes there.

I got our tickets in June, knowing we'd be in New York for Rosh Hashanah. Even then, I could only get single seats.

Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the people behind "South Park," and by Robert Lopez, who conceived and directed "Avenue Q," the show is absolutely amazing, pushing irreverence to the point that it sometimes makes you wince while also adding an unexpected dose of sweetness.

Pairing the reverence of Rosh Hashanah with the irreverence of "Mormon" might seem like an odd choice, but one thing really had nothing to do with the other, and it was just the way it worked out, so what can you say.

Someone had said that actor Jack Black was in the audience. During intermission, Katie, Joe and I were standing in the back when Katie looked up and said, "There he is." He was standing practically in front of us.

Joe shook his hand and said he was a big fan, and Black thanked him. It was the icing on the cake.

On the way home, we sang some crazy songs.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sharing the stage with 'the Jewish Katie Couric'

After the beautiful Rosh Hashanah service at the 92nd Street Y on Thursday, I introduced myself to the rabbi and said how much it meant to me to continue coming to the place where I grew up, where I actually went to kindergarden and also to High Holy Day observances every year with my parents and sister.

I introduced Ben and Katie and said they had grown up going to services there too and that we had all come in from out of town because we wanted to continue the tradition.

The rabbi, Jennifer Krause, seemed touched.

Krause took over in 2004, having replaced the older male rabbi we grew up with. She is incredibly vibrant, and she is a real charmer person-to-person. I learned later, when reading about her, that WNET, New York's public television station, called her one of "New York's hippest rabbis" and nicknamed her the Jewish Katie Couric.

She definitely has a refreshing style.

"Hi, I'm Jen," she had said, extending her hand.

Jen asked whether we would like to have an aliyah the next day. This is when you are called up to read from the Torah, and it is a great honor.

Ben was planning to go back to Connecticut that day, but Katie and I were staying in New York and couldn't possibly say otherwise. Truth is, we never even went to the second day of Rosh Hashanah services, which always has a smaller audience, but I wasn't going to admit that.

And with Jen suggesting it, suddenly I wanted to return. The four-hour-plus service had never gone by so quickly. But that didn't mean I actually wanted to go on stage.

"Uh, I don't speak Hebrew," I said.
"I wasn't even bat mitzvah'd," Katie said.

She told Katie that at age 12 she was automatically a bat mitzvah. I didn't know this, but I couldn't argue with the rabbi. Not speaking Hebrew was a problem, though.

"No problem," Jen said. "We'll find you a non-speaking role."

"I have stage fright!" I said.

This is totally true. Last time I was up on that stage was during a grade school dance recital (we took dance classes there), and that might have been the last time I was ever on a stage.

Once, in high school at Friends Seminary, I had to speak in front of the whole Quaker meeting (the school was run by Quakers but had a mixed student body). At least I was on the same level instead of on a stage, but that didn't stop me from freezing. I only made it through because my friend Margie Kaplan was nearby and whispered the beginning of my speech to me so I could get started.

Jen brushed aside the stage fright issue and said it would be great and to wait there while she asked someone who would know if there was a role left, and in the blink of an eye she returned and said to go talk to Frank, a man standing nearby who would tell us what to do. Saying no thanks was not an option.

Frank said that after the fifth aliyah, we would come on stage and share the honor of dressing the Torah.

After the last reader lifts it over his head, he walks to a chair and holds it on his lap. You belt the two scrolls together, put the covering over them and then place on the beautiful silver decorations, a front plate and a top piece for each scroll.

Easy peasy.

During the service on Thursday, the rabbi had joked that she was glad nobody had dropped either of the two Torah scrolls, because then everyone would have had to fast for 40 days, which would be obviously worse than just fasting on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement that ends the 10-day observance).

My first year out of the hospital, I had my share of falls, and I'm sorry to say that a degree if klutziness has stayed with me. That night I had fears of bumping into Katie and causing her to bump into the Torah and knock it down. Which would be worse than any of the falls I have taken, including the one where I landed on my back, banged my head on the pavement and had to go straight to the hospital (Joe can tell you all about that one).

Thursday at dinner in Queens with relatives from my father's side of the family, I shared my concerns with a younger cousin who has dressed the Torah many times. He put it in a young person's vernacular, saying it was easy and adding, "Don't worry, you'll be spiritually pumped."

As the moment drew near on Friday, my heart beat quickly.

Then Frank made eye contact from the stage, our signal to start walking up to the front from our seats.

Katie had already told me she would walk behind me in case I fell backwards off the stairs.

Up the stairs we went. Whew. No problem.

Over to the Torah we walked as the last reader finished.

It really was quite incredible to be up there so close. Suddenly I felt very calm.

Someone was with us to whisper instructions, and, one piece at a time, we dressed the Torah for its return to the ark.

And then it was over.

On the way back down the stairs, I had no worries about falling.

We sat down smiling.

Afterwards, I shook Jen's hand and thanked her.

I hope I can do it again next year.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Back to the old country

I am heading down to New York today, the annual trek to "the old country" for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It's a time when Jews from all over converge on New York, hence my memories of the holiday usually include a big traffic jam on the way down.

Tomorrow is the day, and before I continue, I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy year that hopefully brings more peace to our troubled world.

Of course my parents are foremost in my memory. We had a tradition. My mother set a beautiful table the night before, and my father loved to cut the round challah and wish everyone a New Year with no round edges, just like the challah. We ate it with honey and had sweet honeydew melon, all for a sweet New Year.

We went to services, where everyone was all dressed up, then to the local Greek coffee shop for lunch with cousins who had also attended, then hung out at the apartment for a little while before proceeding on to dinner with my father's side of the family.

I have followed the tradition as closely as possible, with gaps when I was in the hospital or unable to go into a crowded place. Joe was unable to go because he was in college in Maine, and I missed him, with memories of the two young brothers walking ahead of us in their similar suits, the rest of us behind them  remarking on how cute they were.

I was almost going to skip the services at the 92nd Street Y this year. They have modernized, and the cousins who usually go decided to go elsewhere, though we will try to meet for lunch. I thought we would just get together, have a round challah, and say our own prayers. I was sad about it, but with the cousins now leaving, and the price for tickets very high, I figured that's just the way it was going to be.

I ran it by Katie and she said that it was fine, but somehow I didn't get around to asking Ben until a couple of weeks ago. I just figured that it would be OK with him too. I was surprised, and also touched, when he said that actually he would like to go because it keeps him connected to his Jewish roots.

I panicked. The Y fills up. The subscription manager would never just sell me the tickets for the one day at this point. He would say he'd have to discuss it with the board. It would be the equivalent of ruining Christmas.

I called as soon as I could and made my plea, and he was very nice and gave (well, sold) me the seats.


It's supposed to be sunny, as it always seems to be on Rosh Hashanah. We'll do our version of the tradition: services, lunch, then Betsy and Michael's, now in Queens. Family dinner with Marge and Bill on Saturday.

And then, true confessions, we have tickets for the Sunday matinee of "The Book of Mormon" on Broadway before we head back. It's kind of an odd combination of events, but what can I say. We were going to be in the city anyway, so it seemed to work out. I think my parents would approve.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Back on the team

I have been on the fence about rejoining my tennis team.

 Comfortable with George's clinic and weekly round robins, I asked myself whether the added pressure of being on an official team was worth it.

But I always wanted to get back on the team, and when Korby needed more official 3.5 players to create a team, a signed up.

Donna and me before our match.
I was always a 3.0, but in August 2007 when Korby and I won our match at the Districts, where the winning teams from the area compete, I was bumped up a level to 3.5. A few days later, I learned that I had relapsed, and I was back in the hospital before I ever played a match at the higher level.

Yesterday, Donna and I played my first 3.5 match.

I had butterflies the night before and talked to Ben, who reminded me that first of all it's only tennis.

Yes, we are playing for brownies and not big bucks, but when you've played league tennis for as long as I have, it takes on a life of its own.

Ben also reminded me that just getting to this point is a huge accomplishment. He said that maybe I couldn't see it that way because I was not in the room that night in 2009 at the family meeting when Dr. Alyea said there were 50 things wrong with me and I might not make it.

"I'm so proud that you are going to walk on the court again and play official USTA tennis," he said. "It doesn't matter if you lose, 6-0, 6-0.

When we got out on the court yesterday, that's what I thought was going to happen after we lost the first set 6-0.

The ball came faster and with more consistency, and my mind drifted off the court. "As soon as this is over, I'm going to get out of here and appeal my rating and get back on a 3.0 team where I belong. Bla, bla bla."

Our opponents were nice...and younger. One of them was tall with a long black ponytail and reminded me of my younger self.

In the second set, after we somehow won a game, I readjusted and thought, hey, maybe we could do OK. Donna reminded me to focus on the ball, not on the score or outcome, and to keep my feet moving.

I reminded myself to just get it over, giving them the chance to miss. It worked, and they made more unforced errors. My serve kicked in, and sometimes their return went into the net. That was a big confidence booster.

 When we won the second set 7-5, I was so in the zone that when I saw Donna smiling, I asked, "What just happened?"

It was incredibly hot and humid. "I'm sensing a fall in our energy level," Donna said. "We have to keep our feet moving." She was right. If you show that you're tired –which I was – they will take advantage of your body language. So I danced around (with effort!) a big contrast to when I could barely lift my feet off the ground two years ago.

The score was 2-1 us as we neared the two-hour mark when the match ends. If we won the next game, we won the match.

 3-1, us.

 Donna beamed and came towards me.

"Did we just win?" I asked.

But I knew the answer.

It was an incredible feeling, one that is still with me now.

Afterwards, we went upstairs for cheese and crackers, and I got a chance to catch up with other players whom I hadn't seen in years.

When I called Ben later, he said, "This is one of the top five stories in all my years of observing and covering sports, from little league to the pros."

Well, I wouldn't go that far.

But it feels great to be back in the fold.