Saturday, February 26, 2011

What, me worry?

I recently added a favorite saying to the About Me blurb on the blog.

It is a folk saying included in a book called "The New Joys of Yiddish,"and it goes like this:

"Don't worry about tomorrow; who knows what will befall you today?"

I am a big-time worrier, a tendency I think I inherited from my mother and that has been heightened in my fight against leukemia. I laughed in recognition when reading this folk saying, which comforted me in its implication that I am part of an entire people that specializes in worry, with just cause.

When dealing with cancer (or any disease or difficulty, for that matter), we are counseled to banish the "what ifs." For me this is hard to do because of my talent for runaway catastrophizing.

I had pulled "The Joys of Yiddish" down from the bookshelf in order to find a word for "troubles" that was at the tip of my tongue. I actually had the word correct: It is tsores (to rhyme with juris" or "Boris") from the Hebrew word tsarah, "trouble."

With each definition, author Leo Rosten provides sayings or commentary, and in addition to the folk saying that I liked, he also included this little exchange on the page about "tsores," which is often used when speaking of offspring:

"And how many children do you have?"
"No children?! So what do you do for aggravation?"

This also made me laugh.

My children have never provided any major aggravations, just the usual ones. Yet my imagination is so active that I can conjure enough aggravations on my own. I did so recently for each child.

For Ben, who drives a Toyota, when news came out this week that the company had recalled 2.17 million vehicles in the US. to address accelerator pedals that could become jammed in drivers' side carpeting: Now I have to worry about Ben's pedal jamming down when he's driving? (I saw him today and he reminded me that it was an issue for new cars and that if there was a problem with his 2004 model it would have happened already.)

For Joe, who has a Saturn Ion. I drove it the other night, and it seemed like the drivers' door didn't closed all the way and that the steering wheel occasionally squeaked: Now I have to worry about Joe falling out of the car or finding that the steering wheel has suddenly refused to steer? (He told me the door is fine and that the steering wheel only squeaks in cold weather.)

For Katie, who doesn't get enough calcium in her diet and who won't take a calcium supplement: Now I have to worry about her getting osteoporosis? "Your bones are going to break!" I said to her in my best Jewish mother's voice. (She promised to have more cereal with milk at school.)

Oy. The worry never stops.

Joe and Katie were both home this past week for a February vacation. It was great having them here. Joe just went back, and I drive Katie back to Brandeis tomorrow.

Soon it will just be me, Maddie...and the creature who roams the house when we're not here.

The "creature" took a pear out of a bowl and nibbled away some chunks, ate a piece of a dog toy, moved a plastic bag from the kitchen to the living room where it ate a bagel, and knocked over a lamp.

I figured it's probably a squirrel and called the animal control officer, who told me to open a window or door in the kitchen and lay down a trail of food leading to the outside in hopes that the intruder will pick up and leave.

It creeps me out.

I told Katie I bet she's glad she's getting out of here tomorrow. She didn't disagree. Instead, she wondered, "What if you wake up in the middle of the night and it's sitting on your face?"

Thanks, Katie.

"This is how horror movies start," she persisted, intoning in her best movie trailer voice. "First, they thought it was a mouse...then a squirrel...and then it started moving furniture around."

I guess I passed my imagination on to her.

I think I will go worry about the creature.

It beats worrying about leukemia.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Aunt Anna's Company Treat

Shortly after Jim and I moved to South Hadley a gazillion years ago, we served dinner to a couple of gourmet cooks.

I made my best meal, "Aunt Anna's Company Treat." A family recipe for boned chicken breasts, the ingredients are chicken, a can of whole cranberry sauce, a package of Lipton's dehydrated onion soup and a jar of French dressing (the red kind.)

Popular recipes from the 1950s and '60s were not so hip in the 1980s. Our dinner guests were gracious, but I sensed they had detected the presence of dehydrated onion soup. They didn't reciprocate the dinner invitation, making me wonder if they considered us not sophisticated enough.

Anyway, I can never disown Aunt Anna's chicken. Recently it came up in conversation, so I made it again, served with wild rice and green beans (salad works too). It was just as tasty as ever.

My mother showcased the recipe in a cookbook she illustrated and wrote and called "Short Order." She never would have tried to get the book published, although it probably would have done well.

She illustrated it with whimsical figures, lithe women with long eyelashes and, of course, a strand of pearls (poils). The cover shows an unhappy woman at her desk, and then the same woman, with a big smile, presiding over a table set with wine glasses, a candle and flowers.

In her elegant script, she starts off with her "Must-Have-Ins" – "Candles: light them nightly, it even glorifies eggs; parsley and watercress – garnish everything in sight; mushroom soup in cans, dehydrated onion soup, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, paprika; cherry tomatoes, olives, carrots, cranberry sauce, grapefruit sections and anything else for salads."

The recipes have names such as Aunt Rae's Cocktail Triumph (meatballs), The Boid, and You Wanna Make a Mold? (her lime jello mold with pineapple).

Aunt Anna's chicken was even better cold. I'd stand at the refrigerator in our galley kitchen and eat it after all the guests had left.

Her cookbook was of its time but also contemporary, with its goal of offering quick meals for busy working women like herself to make when they got home. She had two young daughters and worked full-time at the jewelry store she owned and also as a jewelry designer. My father was a gem, but also in keeping with the times, after work he settled in the big yellow chair in the living room while my mother scrambled to come up with dinner.

Her artistic touch manifested itself everywhere. She was at the hospital every day during my first encounter with leukemia in 2003. It was just about a year after my father died, and it hit her hard. Still, she looked beautiful every day; the nurses loved her and called her Jackie O. Although she was worried sick, she often managed to put a light spin on things.

For example, she marked the countdown to the end of chemotherapy with drawings on the dry-erase board: a mischievous monkey, hanging from a tree, saying "Hey Ronni, can you do this?"; a long-lashed rollerskating giraffe saying "Come on Ronni, you can do it" and, at the end, a cute elephant proclaiming, "Hurray, hurray, chemo's done today!"

So hurray for cartoons in chemo and for hand-made cookbooks where women in pearls serve short order meals under candlelight's glow. Hurray for Aunt Anna's Company Treat, so outdated yet so contemporary.

Here's the recipe, simple yet sweet.

Boned chicken breasts
1 can whole cranberry sauce
1 jar French salad dressing (the red kind)
1 package Lipton's dehydrated onion soup

Mix ingredients well and pour over chicken in baking dish. Bake in 325 degree oven for 1 and a quarter hours
Baste once or so
Before done put some pitted black bing cherries on top
Serve with wild rice and green beans or salad

Sunday, February 20, 2011

It's not all about exercise

It occurred to me that since many of my postings have been about exercise, it might sound like that's all I do.

In my long, slow recovery, I needed to wake my body up so my mind could follow. Obviously they're not mutually exclusive: I didn't tuck my mind in bed and say, "I'll wake you up when I'm better shape." But to get to another level mentally, I had to work hardest on physical fitness and getting back to the activities that I love and that make me feel like me, i.e. tennis, walking, running and yoga.

Looking back just to this past summer, it wasn't even about hitting good shots on the tennis court. It was about just plain standing upright. Regaining my balance and my strength was my "job."

Now that I've perked up, I'm trying to devote at least a couple of hours a day to pursuing freelance writing or editing work. As I mentioned in another post, I wrote an article for the spring edition of Dana-Farber's Paths of Progress magazine and am working on another story for a different publication of theirs. I'm also doing a couple of stories for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's upcoming on-line orthopedics section. And I'm looking for other freelance work.

Due to downsizing in the newspaper industry, many of us find ourselves marketing our wares for the first time. We were spoiled by the job we had, where we did our work without worrying about selling it. Now we have to learn how to market ourselves, too. (Not that we're alone in this economy.)

With check-ups every three or four weeks in Boston, I can't look for a full-time job, and although I feel pretty good, I don't have the stamina to work all day. Also as a recipient of Social Security Disability, I am only allowed a certain amount of income. That's no problem. I'm not going to get rich from freelance writing, although a little extra cash helps. It's more about sharpening my skills and getting my name back out there.

Meanwhile, the blog has been a way to exercise my mind like I did when writing for the newspaper. When possible, I try to tell a little story with a good beginning and end, often but not always connecting to my leukemia journey.

If something sounds cliched (or stupid!) or verbose or whatever other sin I wouldn't commit when writing for the paper, I listen for a correction from my internal editor.

On some days, I don't feel up to the highest standards. That's when being your own editor comes in handy. The "editor" won't let me write gibberish, but I'm allowed to say "that's good enough for now."

That said, I'm going off to exercise. I see people jogging outside, but it's still too cold for me (a little below freezing). I used to layer up and go in colder conditions. But times have changed, so I'm going to the Y.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pass the (small) plate, please

I don't know if it's the cold weather or the prednisone or both, but I have lost all sense of portion control. I eat too much at one sitting, usually at night, and then I overdo it on the sweet stuff.

The government's new dietary guidelines, released Jan. 31 by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, advises against this behavior, suggesting that you eat smaller portions. Other suggestions seem pretty similar to the old ones, such as eating more fruit and vegetables, eating fiber-rich foods and cutting down on fats and salt.

My sodium is low, so I am actually supposed to eat more salty snacks, in addition to taking three salt tablets a day. Too bad my sugar isn't low; I'd much rather sit down with a bag of chocolate chip cookies than one of potato chips.

Jane Brody's column in yesterday's New York Times, headlined "A Simple Map to the Land of Wholesome," offered helpful pointers, but I had to laugh at some of them.

"Make less seem like more by eating on smaller plates," she wrote.

Ha. You can't fool me. I'll just get a second helping.

For desserts, she suggests such nutritious treats as bite-size pitted prunes topped with a ball of finely chopped blanched almonds and mixed with a little honey. I think I used to try to fool the kids when they were younger into eating this kind of "treat."

Things like prunes filled with peanut butter or bananas sliced in half and topped with peanut butter and raisins, the old Ants on a Log variation.

Sorry, but I need to have some chocolate. I guess I will try to eat a little less of it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

'Coma Day,' revisited

While many people observed Valentine's Day yesterday with hearts and flowers, I kept thinking of it as "Coma Day."

Two years ago Feb. 14, I slipped into a coma while hospitalized at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. It was two weeks after my bone marrow transplant, and while in the days right after the transplant I seemed to be doing well, things quickly took a turn for the worse.

Diane said I began having trouble holding onto things, dropping a milkshake I was trying to drink. I started acting less aware. She told one doctor she thought I might be having a stroke. Then I began to lose consciousness.

Naturally, I can't recreate it or imagine it. Here's what Diane wrote in a group e-mail dated Feb. 15, 2009:

"Many of you have called or sent messages for information about Ronni so I am sending this as an update.

As I said before, she has had many complications, the most pressing of which is kidney failure that has led to a number of other problems including fluid build up in her lungs and as well, she is now in a form of a coma. Last night they moved her to the ICU where she is being closely monitored, awaiting a special bag of platelets (which were supposed to arrive yesterday at 4:30 but are being held up at the Red Cross and won’t get there until 4pm today.) At that time, they will begin dialysis with the hope that it will take off sufficient fluid to help regain consciousness.

On the positive note, her white count doubled since yesterday, which shows some signs of hope that the transplant is proceeding well. Her vital signs are stable. She is a real fighter. Her children saw her on Friday when she still had some level of consciousness, and she knew they were there for which I am very grateful."

A week later I had woken up, but I continued to have problems with fever, GI bleeding, blood pressure, kidney failure and infections. At a family meeting Feb. 22, Dr. Alyea outlined the situation, saying that although I could recover, I had many serious problems. It seemed I might not make it through the night.

Well, here I am. I don't like reliving it, but it is hard to avoid. Hopefully as time passes I will feel less compelled to delve back in.

I observed the day by spending 45 minutes on hold while trying to resolve an insurance question, walking Maddie with my friend Ellen and then going to the Y, where I ran a little more than two miles on the dreadmill and then water jogged. I haven't done that in a while. It was pretty tiring, but I felt good when I was done. And my knees and feet felt OK. It was a good way to keep my mind off "coma day."

"You couldn't be in a further place from that now," Margaret said when I talked to her last night on the phone, a little weirded out from reliving it. "Just keep thinking about how utterly different things are now."

As my father would have said, "Good clear thinking."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Walk to Remember

Here's some good news for walkers, and by extension for runners too:

Regular walking can modestly expand the hippocampus, a part of the brain important to the formation of memories. The hippocampus, something many of us have not thought much about, begins to atrophy around the age of 55 or 60, but the New York Times reported this week that in a study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that moderate walking can help reverse the atrophy, thereby improving memory function.

A more in-depth look at the study was reported by the U.S. Department of Health Human Services.

Question: I've been walking quite a bit. Why do I still have trouble finding my keys? Maybe it would be worse and without the walking and running I'd never find them.

In hopes of being able to run without pain in my knees and heels, today I got another new pair sneakers at a runner's store in Northampton. They are New Balance 1064, and they fit Ken Holtz's criteria: single layer, firm insole. I'm going to try them on a treadmill before I take them outside.

The woman who sold them to me, clearly a runner who knew what she was talking about, said that in addition to stretching for my plantar fasciitis, I should roll my feet on something smaller and harder than the tennis ball I've been using. She said maybe use a golf ball or a ball that they sell which is hard and has little spiky things on it.

They were out of stock, and I don't have a golf ball, so I used a mini tennis ball with a smiley face on it that Donna gave me in 2003 when I had leukemia for the first time. I keep it on my dresser with a collection of other special things.

I've used it for this purpose before, and it looks a little worse for wear, but it kept smiling at me.

The blue and silver running shoes look cool and have a wavy lace that supposedly makes them difficult to come untied. I think I'll try them out tomorrow.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday fun

Which is which? Maddie and Sue Ellen enjoyed
their walk around the lake.

Chocolate labs, chocolate, coffee, conversation...and tennis. It was a good way to spend a day.

Friday morning tennis dates back to another lifetime. A group of us used to play Friday mornings in the summer before work, racing into the newspaper to slide into our chairs, our minds still full of the morning's scores and strategy.

The group has long since scattered, but it just so happens that the round robin I'm doing at the Enfield Tennis Club is on Friday mornings. I am back in full swing (so to speak) with Friday morning tennis and feeling like I actually fit into the group as opposed to not so long ago when I was afraid to play for fear of holding everyone else back.

I haven't gotten new running shoes yet, but my feet and knees feel fine in my tennis sneakers, so I figured it was OK to play. It was great, starting the day with a natural high.

Afterwards I went out for coffee with a new tennis friend, then headed for Whole Foods, where I had a healthy salad and planned to pick up a few things. It turned out to be chocolate tasting day. Due to low sodium, I am supposed to eat more salt, but give me chocolate over a bag of chips any day.

Employees throughout the store served everything chocolate...truffles, mousse, brownies, espresso with chocolate flavoring, blackberries dipped in chocolate and even bacon wrapped in chocolate, which is just about the only thing I skipped.

It was an odd scene, with a violinist serenading shoppers like the pied piper leading them to different stations. Shoppers (including me) became giddy with sugar, chatting with each other about what they had just sampled.

Next Deb and I took our two chocolate labs, Maddie and Sue Ellen, around the lake, same as we did yesterday. In the blur of brown, it was sometimes difficult to tell them apart.

It's hard to take all three dogs, and afterwards we returned to Deb's so Mary Margaret (her black lab) could run around the yard with Maddie. (We crazy Moms are all about giving the "kids" equal play time.)

Deb made coffee and we talked about this, that and everything in between. I could not believe it, but I ate a chocolate eclair.

I finished the day "high" on a lot of other good things.

My second year is starting off pretty nicely.

Maddie, thinner and with a pointer face,
is the one up ahead.

Sue Ellen, right, has an orange collar.
(Maddie's is red.)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Runner's log

Yesterday's exercise:

1. Go to Planet Fitness with my friend Mary and run two miles on treadmill (with just a little walking mixed in).
2. Lift a few weights.
3. Go to nearby diner and eat a turkey club with a heaping side of well-done fries.
4. Eat Boston Cream Pie for dessert.
5. Go to Starbucks for cappuccino.

What can I say? It was lunchtime, and we had to eat. And being in a diner makes me want Boston Cream Pie. I did spoon off much of the whipped cream, though I carefully salvaged the little chocolate chips. The menu read "Boston Cram Pie." The waitress said that's because you cram it in.

When I got home, I walked Maddie about a mile in the freezing cold. Have dog, must walk.

I probably added rather than burned off calories, but, hey, it was a fun day... if you don't count the dog walk, which I usually like, but not in this weather.

Today I saw Ken Holt, the miracle orthotics man who recently made me a new pair of inserts to alleviate my plantar fasciitis. He had also said he didn't like my Brooks sneakers. They were built up too high, and the insole was not firm enough. His instructions: Get a running shoe with a single layer and firm insole.

Today I was prepared for him to say he hates the Asics sold to me at Springfield shoe store that is supposed to specialize in this kind of thing. I guessed right. He said the insole is too soft, causing my feet to turn inwards, thus stressing my knees. He suggested looking for a mid-price New Balance this time.

I'll see if the store will take them back. If they won't, at least I'm doing my part to help the running shoe business stay afloat.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Would you PLEASE come down from there?

I got up off the couch to get the dog from our friends' house and then set out to walk her around the lake as I've done a few times recently, following the tracks in the snow.

But the most recent snowfall made it too difficult. The paths were covered with another layer of snow, and I kept sinking in. You really need show shoes or cross country skis there. I went less than half-way and then turned back.

Maddie, being lighter, was having a grand old time until she ran up into the woods where the snow was deeper. She sank at every footstep but sprang back up, making a little trail. When I told her to get out of there, instead of using the path she had just made, she headed back down in the fresh snow.

She was almost down when she stopped in her tracks and would not budge. A student came by and gave me a piece of a pretzel as a lure. No luck. At one point she just lay down. Concerned that she might be injured, I considered trying to climb up to get her. She really wasn't that far from the path, but I thought that with my balance issues, it wasn't a great idea. The stand-off continued for about 20 minutes, with me calling and her sitting there just looking around.

This is kind of embarrassing, but I called Mount Holyoke Public Safety, and they sent over a guy from Facilities Management. He asked if she was going to bite him. I assured him she would not. He was nice about it and took the leash and went up to get her. There wasn't anything wrong with her. Stubbornness? Enjoying the view? Temporarily traumatized? Uh, dare I say it, not too smart?

Anyway, it was back on the leash after that.

When I returned home, an avalanche of snow and ice had fallen off our copper roof onto the path and the steps leading to the mailbox. It obviously had to be cleared so the mailman could come up to the door. I surveyed the scene and sighed, muttering a few things.

Should I hire someone? Back to my mother: What would she do? Call the super, of course. Since I have no super, she would say to call somebody. But I just got a $420 bill for snow shoveling and plowing. Enough with the snow, already, and the money it costs to clear it. I grabbed the shovel.

Shovel shovel shovel. Stretch stretch. Shovel. Grab chunks of ice and throw them left, then throw them right. Shovel more. Stretch again.

Not wanting to add a backache to my knee and foot problems, I was very careful. When I came into the house, I got down on the floor and did some yoga poses and more stretches.

Later, I nodded off while sitting at the kitchen table.

Maddie was tired too, cuddling up with her green and white teddy bear and falling fast asleep.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Song, snow and ice

I took a difficult yoga class yesterday morning with a new teacher, and then, feeling nice and stretched out, packed a bag and headed to Brandeis to see Katie's a cappella group perform.

Plans called for Ben and Meg to drive from New York to Enfield and drive with Jim to Brandeis for the concert. Afterwards, we would all head to Maine to watch Joe play hockey at senior night at Bates. I reserved three hotel rooms. When I got to Waltham, Jim said Joe had just called to say the game was canceled because the other team could not get a bus to go in the snow. That was too bad because we were all looking forward to it.

My spirits were buoyed by watching Katie's group, Proscenium, perform a concert in honor of its 10th anniversary. The singers wore birthday hats and some kid-like getups, and on the board outside they posted photos of themselves at 10. In between songs, they told knock-knock jokes.

Their singing is so beautiful, and Katie looks so happy up there, that a mother just wants to cry. I'm sure it is the same way many parents feel when watching their children show their talent. I wished there had been an encore.

Afterwards, we hung around campus a little, went out to eat and then went our separate ways. It occurred to me to stay overnight nearby at Diane's, but it was only around 6 p.m., and I figured I could handle the hour-and-a-half drive home. Bad idea. I only have so much energy, and sometimes I overestimate what's left in the tank.

It was rainy and foggy, with some freezing rain, and the driving was difficult. After about half an hour I got really sleepy. You can pull over and close your eyes if the weather is OK, but not if it is dark and cold. I struggled home with help from a strong cup of Starbucks coffee, a dark chocolate bar and "A Prairie Home Companion."

Near home, I pulled into a Stop and Shop parking lot to get a few things for breakfast. Still not totally with it, I turned around to get something from the back seat and by accident stepped all the way on the gas. Luckily I had put it in park. It occurred to me that after all my effort getting home safely, I could have done myself in right there by crashing into another car.

The parking lot was sheer ice. I nearly slipped, but caught my balance.

When I finally got back home, I discovered that my driveway and the steps to my house were also covered in ice. I got out gingerly, leaning over and holding onto snowbanks until I got to the door. The house, of course, was dark and cold. I had turned the heat way down, and it would take a while for it to crank up. I crept back outside to put the car in the garage and get my overnight bag, and on the way back in sprinkled some pet-friendly ice melt.

The pet, by the way, was at Jim and Jane's, so there was no warm body to cuddle up with.

I flopped down on the couch, my coat still on, and made some phone calls. The conversations, and the heat coming on, gradually warmed my soul and body.

The sun is out today, and the ice is melting. I'm going to get Maddie, and I think we'll be able to go for a walk.

Preferred plan: Lie on couch in sweatpants and keep the car in the garage. I called wonderful Jim Bloom and told him I'm lollygagging but will be there eventually. Maddie loves it there at her home away from home. "I don't care," he said. "She can stay here forever."

It's great to know she's so well cared for, but I must face the car and the cold.

I need my mother here to say, "Up, up, up!"

Friday, February 4, 2011

A little bit crazy (about exercise)

As everyone in these parts knows, it has snowed and snowed and snowed.

It has challenged my exercise routine, forcing me to be extra resourceful. The problem of course pales in the face of real hardships brought on by the snow, but for me, it is important. I guess it's a good sign that I am on my way back to my normal self.

I spent most of the week in Boston. I had planned to stay through Monday night so I could see my dermatologist on Tuesday. I stayed over again on Tuesday to see Katie's a cappella concert at Brandeis Wednesday. But another snowstorm arrived, canceling the concert and snowing me in.

On Tuesday, Diane and I went to yoga, but on Wednesday, the studio was closed. There was no such thing as taking a walk. I checked to see if the local JCC was open, but it wasn't. The idea was broached about walking in the mall, but then I would have walked right into JJill, exercising only my credit card.

As I paced around the house, David asked what happens if I don't exercise every day. I told him I get really antsy. Diane and I were heading to Waltham to take Katie out to lunch, and he asked whether I could get into the Brandeis gym. Brilliant idea!

We had a light lunch, and then Katie, Diane and I went to the gym. Neither of them was as excited about the idea of using the machines as I was, so they went their separate ways, with Diane planning to return for me in a hour. I did a little more than 30 minutes walking and running on the treadmill and then stretched and lifted weights.

The treadmill is easier on my knees and feet than the pavement, so I felt OK...but the next day I wasn't walking too well. Thursday we went to yoga, and then I drove back to South Hadley (an hour and a half) expecting to play tennis this morning. I drove down to Enfield (45 minutes) at 9 this morning, only to learn that the club is closed due to heavy snow on the roof. Sigh.

The sun is out, so I think I'll go try to walk in the snow. Tomorrow, I turn around and head back to Eastern Mass to see Katie's rescheduled concert. The plan then calls for a family road trip another two-and-a-half hours or so to Bates to see Joe play hockey at senior night.

The forecast calls for snow.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Second birthday takes me back

Yesterday marked my two-year post-transplant anniversary, my new second birthday, or, as some people call it, my re-birthday.

Out of superstition, I didn't want to write about it until the day actually came. Having had four transplants, it was actually my second re-birthday for the second time, and I didn't want to jinx it.

I happened to have an appointment at Dana-Farber yesterday. I met with wonderful Mary Lou Hackett, my social worker, and we talked about how complicated these cancer anniversaries are. You celebrate the progress you've made while looking back at how you got here in the first place.

It reminds me that I already hit two years once and then relapsed a year and a half after that. The first time, you are so much more innocent. We went over what I already know, that the first transplant, an autologous transplant using my own stem cells to rejuvenate my depleted bone marrow after a round of intense chemotherapy, was not protective against recurrence like my last transplant, an allogenic one using donated stem cells.

So this is a whole new ball game, with Denise to thank.

Two years is big, the point at which the leukemia is unlikely to return. I know that, and I am happy and relieved. I celebrated with dinner at Margaret's Sunday night and dinner out with Diane last night. My children each called and wished me a happy birthday.

My counts were good at yesterday's appointment, with my white count, 8, continuing to be normal and my hematocrit, 39.9, well into the normal range, a relatively new phenomenon. My platelets were up a little, from 35 to 54, still low, obviously (normal is 155-410), but not of apparent concern.

Dr. Alyea said I could go off the Prograf, which might help my platelets. For now I'm staying on 15 mg. of prednisone because my liver is about the same.

My birthday "presents" were three booster shots given at two years.

The occasion stirred up memories of the nightmarish days after the transplant: the coma that I went into two years ago Feb. 14, and the night about a week later when Dr. Alyea called a family meeting in which the topic of my possible demise was raised.

Of course I don't remember any of it. Diane re-told it to me today, and each time I hear it, I pick up details that I didn't know (or that I heard and forgot.) "That's an intense story!" I said before returning to my mile-high cold cut sandwich. My heart is a little lighter now, which is why I can hear the story without getting freaked out.

I am staying in Newton at least through Wednesday. Boston is supposed to get another 20 inches of snow. I was going to stay anyway to see Katie's a cappella concert tomorrow night at Brandeis; it just got canceled, but I am snowbound until Thursday morning at least.

My "celebration" continued this afternoon with a visit to the dermatologist to see what can be done about the pre-cancerous spots on my face that have not responded to freezing.

She suggested we try photo therapy, an approximately two-hour procedure. She had cancelations and said she could do it right then; I was a little surprised but went along with it.

She applied some cream to help bring out the areas of concern. Then a medical assistant wrapped my face in saran wrap covered with aluminum foil, and left me to sit for about an hour and a half. (At right, my two-year-old self thought it would be really funny to post a picture of me all covered in foil.)

The photo therapy part takes 14 minutes. The light creates an intensely painful burning sensation that is only slightly alleviated by an instrument blowing cold air. It's about five hours later, and my face still burns. Oh well, by the morning it should be better, although I might be swollen. Worse things have happened.

Diane and I went to a wonderful yoga class this morning. I am getting much stronger and can do standing poses without teetering, although it still takes a lot of effort to maintain my balance. When the teacher said to take a moment to appreciate all that our bodies have done for us, I looked back at the past two years and said it more fervently than usual. "Thank you body, thank you," I said to myself.