Saturday, January 29, 2011

You want me to do what?

A friend wants three of us to run a 10-mile race in May.

Why do I find this so funny?

Because I haven't run more than two miles at the most, and now I'm not running at all,
due to the snow all around and also because after my glorious runs in New York, my knees hurt. It might be easier on a treadmill, but even in winter, I either run outside or not at all. I'm already paying for yoga and tennis, and I can't justify joining a gym.

I asked my friend, Tami, whether she could come up with a shorter race. She said not to worry about it; it's mostly downhill, she plans to do a walk/run, and if I just want to do part of it, that's OK. Of course nobody is making me do it, and, realistically, I'm not sure it's possible. But the idea intrigues me.

Meanwhile, Emily signed me up. Thanks, Em.

This morning we had a three-way phone conversation about their progress in training. Arrgggh.

On Wednesday I'm going to revisit the doctor who built up the heel of my orthotics to take the pressure off in an effort to alleviate the plantar fasciitis. I wonder if my knees hurt because he over-corrected. Hopefully that's the case and he'll make an adjustment. In the meantime, I've been able to play tennis, because my heels feel better and tennis doesn't involve the kind of constant movement that hurts my knees. (Although after watching the tennis players constantly move their feet in the Australian Open, I'm reminded how I spend too much time just standing around on the court.)

I've also continued walking Maddie, though even that hurts my knees somewhat.

Today I came up with an interesting and fun interim plan.

I walked Maddie around the unplowed upper lake, where walkers, skiers and snowshoers have created two parallel narrow paths with a mound of snow in between. Maddie ran around like crazy, playing with other dogs along the way. I did a combination of walking and "jogging" using a gait as though I was cross-country skiing.

It didn't hurt my knees because the snow made the ground feel padded. I went a couple of miles this way. Trying to stay on the one narrow lane was good for my balance. (At right, my running partner takes a break.)

Occasionally I veered off-course, stepping in a pile of snow. Feeling like a kid playing, I let out a little yelp. Maddie turned around to check on me, either wondering if I was OK or wondering why I was acting so funny. (Who knows what they think?) In any case, she looked a little funny also.

Garrison Keillor had a good "Prairie Home Companion" tonight. Talking about how winter can feel really long right about now, he advised against staying in the house too much.

"Get out, get out, get out!" he said.

It's hard to get out. Sometimes it takes me half the day to do it. But it's a pretty good idea.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Happy birthday Maddie

Mary Margaret gave Maddie a birthday kiss.

Maddie turned 4 yesterday. It's a great age for dogs. They have calmed down and are more obedient but still puppyish and energetic.

We celebrated with a dog play date at Deb's. The "moms" had coffee and pastry and the three Labrador Retrievers, Maddie, Mary Margaret and Sue Ellen, played and got a piece of a hot dog.

Sue Ellen, at eight months old, is a whirl of
energy. She didn't stay still long enough to get a good photo with her face in it, so here she is rough-housing with Maddie.

Sue Ellen is the one on her back. Their bodies and faces are different, but sometimes when they're running around, I can't tell who's who in the chocolate blur.

Back home at left, Maddie enjoys the new toy that Deb got her. Maddie doesn't know 1,022 nouns like Chaser, a border collie who lives in Spartanburg, S.C., but when I say, "Get your new toy," she knows just what I mean.

Our dog play dates are like the get-togethers I had with other mothers when the kids were younger. We talk about everything, but the conversation always swings back to the dogs. And it's like how we used to talk about the kids: what they're eating, how they're behaving, what their favorite toys are these days. Three dogs running around can be a little crazy, but nevertheless it's an oasis of calm.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Platelet panic

Because I have four weeks instead of the usual three between appointments at Dana-Farber, I had a blood test locally last week, basically to see how my liver is doing on the slightly lower prednisone dose of 15 mg. a day.

I talked to Melissa on Friday, and she said that my liver enzymes are about the same, and the rest of my counts are fine...except that my platelets dropped again. At my last visit two and a half weeks ago, they were 60. The latest count is 35. (That's 35,000; normal is 150,000 to 450,000.)

She said Dr. Alyea said not to worry and to just keep the appointment I have for next Monday. It could be because I have a cold. Also she pointed out that my platelets have dropped many times before and then rebounded.

I went into a funk.

I knew all the reasons not to worry. But when a number goes down like that, I flash back to the times when lower numbers meant relapse.

Also I need to have two more teeth pulled. They don't hurt all the time, but they are increasingly painful. If my platelets don't rise on their own, I will probably need to have a transfusion so I can proceed with the dental work.

Some of the usual suspects helped talk me down, plus I did the usual things to distract myself. In the evening, I had tacos with Meryl and her kids and then went to the high school to watch the students put on a musical, "Mirror Image," a cute fairytale. Even though Katie has graduated, I still know some of the kids, and I like going back there. I clapped for Meryl's talented daughter, Betty, as if she were my own.

When I got home, for good measure, I took half an Ativan, ate a lot of chocolate-covered pretzels, and went to bed. By the next day it had started to dissipate.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Audrey gets a second chance

Maddie approves of the new rug. Below, Audrey 3 looks
better after her makeover.

Audrey 3 needed help, and it was a long time coming.

Audrey is actually a Peace Lily plant that was overgrown and unattractive. I didn't trim "her" enough or water her enough, and her leaves often drooped in seeming despair. She occupied a corner of our dining room in an ill-fitting grey planter. Every now and then the plant shot up a white flower as if to say, "Don't forget about me!"

Katie and I named it after Audrey 2, the man-eating plant in "Little Shop of Horrors." Like its predecessor, our Audrey seemed to say "Feed me" before loudly slurping up her water and raising her leaves in triumph.

Audrey 3 finally got some attention as part of my plan to inexpensively beautify my dining room.

Maddie had ruined the rug, as a puppy chewing off each corner and then, after her car accident, getting sick on it. I have been looking for an affordable but nice rug that picks up the green and yellow in my wallpaper, and finally found one in New York. I had it shipped here, and some friends came over the other day and put it down under the dining room table. I love it.

Inspired, I grabbed Audrey and took her into the kitchen, where I gave her a major trim, pulling out the dead and discolored leaves. (I'm still on prednisone, and I'm not supposed to dig in the dirt where fungus might lurk; I wondered if this was OK, so I put on a mask just in case.)

Now the plant can breathe. It already looks healthy and shiny.

On Monday, I drove Katie back to Brandeis and didn't get back until dark. Near home, around 7, I stopped at Randall's Farm for provisions. They have a big garden store where I only go in planting season, but a sign advertising 20 percent off pottery drew me in. I found a beautiful multi-colored ceramic pot for Audrey.

I still had to pick up Maddie at Jim and Jane's, where she had spent the day. It was 9 degrees and falling.

"This is fun!" I said to myself as I drove off, savoring my beautiful bargain.

(You might wonder at my idea of fun, but yes, at that moment I was indeed having fun.)

It made me think about how after cancer you can savor the tiniest triumphs as well as the big events. It was a little crazy to be running around in the cold buying pottery for a plant named Audrey, but I was happy that I was alive to do it.

No doubt, cancer can haunt you. It can also bring extra vibrancy to certain moments, not only the special but also the silly.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Last week when it had just begun to snow in New York, my cousin Jeanne's husband, professional photographer Bruce Byers, snapped photos of Katie and their daughter Amanda while we waited for a Third Avenue bus back to their apartment after having dinner.

The buses like to travel in herds. We stood there for a while before our bus showed up, and then of course they came in a bunch. We didn't mind waiting.

The snow wasn't heavy, but there was enough to catch it on your tongue. Some of the flakes that fell on Katie's dark coat were shaped like perfect stars.

Bruce and I stood in the doorway of a store while Jeanne waited on the sidewalk. That's Katie on the left looking into the camera with Jeanne in the background, and, above, from left, Amanda, Jeanne and Katie.

Amanda and Katie sat together on the bus.

Jeanne and I sat opposite them, talking about how it didn't seem like very long ago that we were that age. Above right, Bruce held his camera out and photographed the three of them.

Yesterday, back in South Hadley (below), there was more snow but fewer people.

Where did everyone go?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


My two joyful runs up and down little hills in Central Park took a toll on my legs, specifically my quads, which ached in the same way they do after the long downhill in the 10-K St. Patrick's Road Race.

This was the mini-version. I didn't run on Monday, but I did walk a lot, including going up and down a gazillian subway steps. Going up stairs was fine; going down killed. "Ouch ouch ouch," I said going down each step. You can mumble to yourself to your heart's delight in New York, and nobody will pay any attention.

My travels included a trip to Lower Manhattan to visit PJ in her new digs. She made a good healthful lunch with brownies and strong coffee for dessert. We chatted about this and that and compared notes about our Graft vs. Host Disease and our view of life post-transplant. Having met in the blogosphere, we have discovered in real-life that we are kindred spirits. There is nothing like talking to someone who is almost exactly on the same page.

Monday's travelogue also includes an excellent pizza for dinner at Lombardi's, America's first pizzeria.

Yesterday, Katie and I went to the Frick Museum with my high school friend Pam and my cousin Jeanne's daughter, Amanda. This art collection is housed in the 1913 mansion on 70th Street and Fifth Avenue built by coke and steel industrialist Henry Clay Frick. He collected the art on display, including works by Rembrandt, El Greco and Vermeer. The furnishings, decorative arts, sculpture and architecture are as amazing as the paintings.

We found the bench where I used to sit in high school. I'd stare at the eighteenth-century portraits and have my high school thoughts and the men and women in the paintings would gaze back and say, "Get over it."

(No, I wasn't hearing voices. It is just incredibly calm and beautiful and takes you into another world.)

Yesterday I ran in the park again. It didn't feel as great, and my legs still hurt a little. But if you want to be a runner, you have to accept that kind of day as groundwork for the better ones. Later in the afternoon, after Katie and I sat and read in a Starbucks, I had such shooting knife-like pains in my heel that I had to lean on her.

I don't know if that was the plantar fasciitis or the neuropathy which, despite medicine (neurontin), still keeps my feet partly numb and tingly most of the time, with occasional sharp pains.

In any case, it went away. I probably won't run today, but I can't sit in Jeanne's apartment, either. Katie and I are heading later to the main branch of the New York Public Library to read in its magnificent Rose Reading Room. We'll probably take a bus, but I love walking in New York too much to take it all the way.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

'Home' for the week

Years ago I had a semantic argument about running with a guy I was dating.

We were planning our day, and I wanted to set aside time to exercise.
"I have to run," I said. His reply: "You don't have to run. You may want to run, but you don't have to."

I was thinking about this yesterday shortly after Katie and I arrived in New York for a week-long stay. We settled into my cousin Jeanne's apartment, and, although I was tired from the trip, I put on my running clothes and my new shoes, eager to try them out.

I haven't attempted to run in weeks, due to the flare-up of plantar fasciitis. But I tried tennis, and it felt OK. Ken Holt the miracle foot doctor had said he didn't like my Brooks motion control running shoes because they were too built up and made my left foot roll out. So I got a new pair of Asics and tried them for the first time yesterday with my new orthotics.

I did a walk-run over several crosstown blocks until I got to Central Park, where the park drive is closed to traffic. I thought I would walk and run, but my feet started running and didn't stop. I'm not sure how far I went; probably not much further than a mile, but I was happily surprised that I didn't need to stop and I didn't feel sick. I kept going, up some small hills and down, soaking up the sights and sounds of my old back yard. The sun dropping behind Cleopatra's Needle. The shrieks of children sledding down the little snow-covered hills. The runners coasting along. The people walking their dogs (or the dogs walking their people.)

And then that tiny switch went off that gives you those great endorphins. Wow. I coasted down a hill. It felt so great. I do need to run, or else why would I be doing it?

Katie and I came down by train yesterday to see one of the final performances of the musical "In the Heights." Its creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, had left the show and was now back for the end of its run. The show was wonderful and was made even better by the audience's adoring reaction to seeing its star. When he came on stage, they clapped for so long that he had to stand frozen for several minutes. The standing ovation at the end was just as intense. Good live theater is so fulfilling when you get to share your appreciation this way.

The trip down was slightly discombobulated. I finally got a new suitcase, an upgrade from my mother's old one with the rickety wheels that kept tipping over last time I was in New York. Kohls had a buy-one-get-one-free offer, so I got the carry-on size plus the little bag to go on top so I wouldn't have to bring the old nylon toy bag that kept falling off last time.

Friday I had all day to pack. Of course I had to play tennis in the morning and I had to go shopping for the suitcase because I had waited until the last minute. Then there was buying something for dinner and making something for dinner and then making brownies, and then watching two episodes of "The Gilmore Girls" with Katie. It was midnight when I got around to packing, and 2 a.m. when I finished.

I loaded up the two new suitcases and then realized when we were at the train station that I couldn't lift them. Katie pointed out that the new little suitcase was heavy just empty, and that I would be better with something like the old toy bag. She was right. So much for trying to look coordinated like a respectable grown-up. I think I'll go back to the mismatched look or even use a shopping bag.

Katie did a lot of the lifting up and down stairs at the train station and onto the train, but I also depended on the kindness of strangers to help me out.

All that schlepping made the run in Central Park even better. I was free and unfettered and flying along.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Dana-Farber visit

I had some good news at my clinic appointment yesterday: My liver enzymes are lower and I can decrease the prednisone again, from 20 mg. to 15.

Dr. Alyea had hoped that my platelets would increase with the higher prednisone dose and the improvement of the Graft vs. Host in my liver. That didn't happen, however, and they remained at 60. (That's up a tiny bit, but inconsequential.) Everything else was fine, and he didn't seem concerned.

My white count is a normal 7.8, and my hematocrit and hemoglobin are normal, at 35.9 and 12.2 respectively.

We talked a little tennis, as we often do. I was about to write here that we talk tennis when, thankfully, there is nothing serious to discuss, but actually, in a way tennis talk is serious because it's a gauge of my well-being (just as talking about progress in a variety of ways is important for other survivors). I told him I had hit a nice passing shot down the line, and he smiled and said he loves the feeling of that shot.

He also told me that in his notes about our last visit, he had included that I had an ace. I smiled at that as an indicator of his subtle sense of humor and of his overall perspective (and that of my other Dana-Farber doctors) on the importance of knowing the total person.

Katie had come with me to Boston, and she high-fived me when I gave her my report. On the way home, we stopped at the gigantic Natick Mall, a very nice place as far as malls go. I've bought enough for myself lately, so we were looking for some clothes for her. She doesn't ask for things that are too expensive, and we were both happy to find the right things at the right price.

We got home around 7:30, and Joe had dinner waiting.

Good kids, good day.