Friday, April 29, 2011

Ten-miler, here I come

I am back in New York, en route to Philadelphia, where I am meeting my high school friends for our big 10-mile run on Sunday.

My energy is good, but my feet are still bothering me, and three miles is the most I have run. But I have figured out a way to finish. A student at MIT has created a device for me based on the concept in the children's story Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, about a car that can fly over anything in its way.

I will tie a computer chip to each sneaker and hold a small on-off button in my hand. When I have had enough running, I will press "on," which will cause my sneakers to send out wings that will carry me along, close enough to the ground that it won't be obvious. When I want to run again, I will press "off," and so on and so forth. I will make sure to be running at the end so that I look good and tired.

What's that you're thinking?

OK then, I'll start over.

In addition to the problems with my feet, there is the small matter of having been in the hospital for more than three months just a little over two years ago, and all that entailed: the coma, the time in bed, the difficulty of even standing up and walking even a few steps. I don't think that the statute of limitations has expired yet on using that "excuse."

I'm going to run some and walk some but not overdo it. I don't want to stumble away exhausted and having more trouble with my feet than I already do. I'm just going to be with my friends and get the feeling of being in a race again.

Race organizers said a van picks up stragglers along the way and takes them to the finish line. (I will resist the temptation to say to the other passengers, "Don't look at me, I was in a coma!) I'm also going to tuck $20 in my sneaker in case I want to take a cab. For good luck, I'm wearing my yellow T-shirt from the 2006 Saint Patrick's Road Race, the last one I ran.

I am spending the weekend in the area at my friend Tami's house with our friend Emily and her husband, Mike, who are also running. It's Emily's birthday weekend, so I'm sure a little toasting will be in order.

I don't want to make this an afterthought, so I'm going to devote a separate post to it, but I am also meeting my donor, Denise, who lives in the area and by strange coincidence (six degrees of separation) is in Tami's book group. Naturally, I'm very excited!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Quarters from heaven

Having been to a seder on the second night of Passover, I hosted my own yesterday.

Technically, it was still Passover, and although it's traditional to do it on the first or second night, we figured it's OK to do it later if that's the only time people can come. It also happened to be Easter, making grocery shopping a potential problem.

I set out to do most of my shopping during the week, but I needed more things on Saturday. The store was packed. I ended up on a long line and started to feel very stressed, anticipating all the work that needed to be done. Hostessing does not come easily to me. I had just come from a yoga class, but the calm did not carry over.

Then I looked down and saw a quarter directly in front of my cart.

I have this feeling that my parents send me quarters to remind me that they're here...the inflationary equivalent of pennies from heaven. It's because they always stocked up on quarters to feed parking meters and ride the bus, and when I was in New York they helped me out when I ran short. So now they are helping me out with this sign.

I felt like it was my mother saying, "Calm down, you can do this."

I bought a 20-pound turkey to serve 12 people (with leftovers), so that I wouldn't have to roast two large chickens. I opened the packaging Saturday night around 9:15 to prepare the turkey, and I thought it didn't smell right. Katie came in and said it smelled like eggs. Yuk.

I called Big Y, the local supermarket, and a manager who answered said they were closed. I explained the situation and said I didn't want to sicken a bunch of people with this turkey; he said he only had five 13-pound turkeys left, but if I could be there in 15 minutes he'd make a switch. So I rushed to the store with the rotten turkey and was met in the empty store by my contact, who gave me two 13-pound turkeys, called the deal even, and rushed me out the door.

Here I was once again facing turkey trouble, a different kind but reminiscent of the near-fiasco on Thanksgiving when I decided to clean the oven and the door got stuck shut until at the last minute Jim (my ex-husband) pried it open, only after Joe had ripped off the handle.

Two of my new turkeys would be too much, but one might not be enough. I only had one roasting pan, so I put Turkey #1 in it and crammed Turkey #2 into a disposable lasagna pan.

On Sunday, all three kids were here, and through a team effort, we got ready. The turkeys were cooking nicely, although Turkey #2 ran into trouble when the pan sprang a leak and I fumbled it while trying to get it out of the oven to put foil underneath. I kept it in the pan, but the dog was very happy to discover that most of the drippings had escaped onto the floor.

Anyway, peace descended when we all sat down at the table and the seder began. I lit the candles, and Diane and David, in keeping with tradition, led us through the reading of the Haggadah.

We had our usual guests, my friend Deb and her daughter, Charlotte, who are like family, and special guests Bob (my cousin) and his wife, Lynne. Bob is famous for his rendition of "Go Down, Moses."

We alternate readings, and ever since my illness Diane has given me the one about how Passover is not only about celebrating the exodus of the Jews from Egypt but also about identifying the mitzrayim – the tight spots – in our own lives and in the lives of others and seeking liberation from them.

Having gotten out of some major tight spots, yesterday I got out of a minor one.

Everyone pronounced the turkey my best one ever. The second one was relegated to leftovers.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Subways, buses and cabs

While visiting my Aunt Marge in New York, Katie and I went up to the top floor – the 38th – of her apartment building overlooking the United Nations and the East River.

We went out to the walkway around the roof and took in the spectacular view of the city beneath us. This was on our busy day, Wednesday, between shows. We had seen that matinee of "Anything Goes" and had gone to her apartment for dinner before our next show, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."

When we finally tore ourselves away from the rooftop view, I tripped and fell.

No, not off the roof. I missed a step coming off the roof into the stairwell. I guess my head was still in the clouds. I did a sort of somersault, almost hitting my head on the wall but protecting it with my arm. Maybe for me clutziness is another side effect of transplant. I can't blame it on my balance anymore. Especially in light of my low platelets, I have to look around more carefully. I have probably gotten overconfident that in some ways I am "normal" now, so I barrel ahead without looking. But really, although I've come a long way, I have a way to go.

Anyway, I picked myself up, got back to the apartment with Katie and grabbed an ice bag. My main concern was that I had messed myself up enough so that I wouldn't be able to run a part of next weekend's race in Philadelphia, but I was OK.

I had gotten a couple of three mile runs in, one day going twice around the Central Park reservoir and another doing three miles in a new place for me, the path along the Hudson River on New York's west side. My feet felt fine during those runs, but, annoyingly, acted up after the many more miles I put in just walking around the city and going up and down subway stairs. I've been home for three days now and although I've walked, I haven't run because of the stupid foot pain, but that is another story, so, back to New York.

Having succeeded in finding a good parking spot, I got just as invested in efficient use of public transit. We needed to go all the way cross town to get from my aunt's to the theater, and I had two bus passes left (worth $2.50 each) that would expire if I didn't use them the same day.

We were going to the theater with a mother and son from South Dakota who had never been to a Broadway show. When we started talking about how to get to the theater, I proposed that Katie and I use our bus passes so as not to waste the $5 and that they take a cab or bus and meet us there. They were perfectly agreeable to this.

Then I heard my mother's voice.

"What are you, crazy? You are going to the theater with these people who have never seen a show and you're going to make them go alone so you won't waste $5 after you spent how much on tickets? You really need to come to your senses and take a cab."

Totally right, not only because it would be easier for the South Dakotans but also because by now my feet had had enough, and my back and arm hurt from the fall. We got a cab without much trouble, and I rode with the ice pack pressed against my back.

The show was great. We all left smiling and humming. I threw the bus passes in the trash. So far I have remembered to look before I leap, um, I mean, before I step.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The art of parking in New York

Greetings from New York. Katie and I are here for a seder, to see friends and relatives, to do a little of this and that, and to see a show. (True confessions: two shows, "Anything Goes" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," starring Daniel Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter.)

We are staying in a different neighborhood, 16th between 7th and 8th, at the apartment of our cousin, Serena, who is out of town. First order of business when we arrived Sunday was to park the car...not in a garage, as Diane, a self-acknowledged parking wimp, does.

The need to find a good spot is a gene that I inherited from my father. It's a sport, a challenge, a connection with my father, and, of course, a money-saving way of doing business. I figured that if I parked on the street during our whole four-and-a-half-day stay, I'd save the amount of at least one theater ticket.

My parking karma was on when we arrived and I pulled into a spot on 16th between 7th and 8th, right near the apartment. It wasn't a perfect spot, because it was on the side where street cleaning takes place between 8:30 and 10 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You have to sit in your car, move it out when the street cleaner comes through, and then continue sitting there until 10 anyway so you don't get a ticket. Or you have to move it to a whole other spot.

Uptown, street cleaning takes place for just half an hour. But in the spirit of the neighborhood, I got up a little before 8, picked up a New York Times and a muffin, took my book just in case I ran out of reading, and got in the car.

The street theater was entertaining enough that I barely finished the paper. There were only a few cars on my side of the street, which was apparently vacated by people who don't want to sit there so long. Around 9, cars began pulling up on the other side of the narrow street, double parking apparently to camp out until 10 so they could get one of the empty spots.

A police car pulled up in front of me, and the officer got out. I stuck my head out and asked if I was OK. "It says no standing," he said. "That means no standing."

I said someone had told me this is how it is done, and then I asked him if all the double-parked cars were waiting for spots, and he said yes, he figured they were. "They're illegal too," he said. "I guess that's how it's done in this neighborhood."

He turned his attention elsewhere and began stopping trucks and asking the drivers where they were headed. I'm not sure what he was looking for, but he continued in this vein until a truck pulled up in front of him and stopped. He got out of his car, walked up to the truck and spoke to the driver, then walked back and got into his car. At this point the truck driver got out and walked back to the officer, speaking in an agitated manner, as they say.

The officer told him to get back in the truck. The gist of the conversation was that the truck driver, who was smoking a cigarette, had told the officer he stopped because he thought he was having a heart attack.

"You said you're having a heart attack, so I called an ambulance. Now get back in your vehicle," the officer said.

Soon a fire engine pulled up behind me, lights flashing. Four firefighters got out and spoke to the officer, who said, "Guy said he's having a heart attack but he's smoking a cigarette. He's full of shit. Obviously just wanted to avoid the ticket."

The firefighters talked to the truck driver and came back smiling and shaking their heads. Then an ambulance came. (New York City tax dollars were clearly being used to their best advantage here.) The truck driver appeared again, shouting at the officer that he had no sense of how to deal with the public. Exit fire engine and ambulance, sans patient. Exit truck driver, with ticket.
Exit me, with a whole day of free parking.

Later in the afternoon, we had to move the car to drive to the seder at my cousin Betsy's apartment in Queens. Katie had to listen to me rant. "I earned this spot!" I said. I hated to give it up.

But when we returned about 10 at night, lo and behold, we found another spot. And it wasn't just any spot. Because of Passover, alternate side of the street parking was suspended for today, meaning that it didn't matter which side you parked on, because you didn't have to move for street cleaning.

Turns out the spot is good until Friday. We're leaving Thursday morning.

This is such a thrill I cannot even tell you.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The scoop on my tongue

Or should I say, the piece that they are scooping from my tongue?

Whatever, I finally got the decision on what they are going to do about the small area that needs to be removed from my tongue.

It is a little unsettling because it changed from one day to the next, but all things considered it seems to be a minor matter, so I think I am OK with it.

Thursday I got a call from Dr. Trevor, the resident in the oral surgery department at Brigham and Women's. He said the specialist got a chance to look at the biopsy and thought that it would be fine to remove the remainder of the spot at the oral surgeon's office rather than at Dana-Farber. It is more than just pre-cancerous and is in fact a cancer on the surface of the tongue, but it is at a very early stage. He said to make an appointment with Dr. Treister, the attending in the department, for Monday May 2, when I will be in the area for my Dana-Farber checkup.

But yesterday morning, Dr. Treister called and said the plan had changed. He and the other doctors who studied the biopsy would be more comfortable if the surgery is performed at Dana-Farber's department of head and neck oncology. It doesn't change the diagnosis, but the change in venue did slightly crank up my anxiety level. A head and neck specialist will remove a larger portion to make sure the margins are clear. I will also receive a head and neck scan.

It adds another layer to the process. I must first meet with a new doctor and then schedule the procedure. Dr. Treister said the small amount of extra time doesn't matter.

"It's nothing to lose sleep over at this point," he assured me.

"At this point?" I wondered. What's the meaning behind those words? I know, I know, the answer is...nothing. Those are only words that he needs to say, and they don't mean anything.

I told Katie that I get to visit a new floor – the 11th – at Dana-Farber's new Yawkey Center for Cancer Care.

She remarked that it's interesting that a specialty involving the head and neck, the top part of the body, is at the top of the building.


Something to chew on...if I can, what with my missing teeth and the piece cut from my tongue!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The sock drawer

While waiting for the result of my tongue biopsy, I cleaned out my sock drawer.

I realized that if anything happened to me, someone would have to empty out my sock drawer, and they would decide I was crazy along the lines of a cat lady, or perhaps that I was a lower-level version of Imelda Marcos and her shoes. (My collection of shoes and sneakers is another matter.)

Plus, spring was in the air, and I was carried along by the urge to start de-cluttering somewhere.

I dumped the over-stuffed sock drawer on the floor, studied the colorful collection, and walked away.

The biopsy results are still inconclusive, and the other day I dumped out the contents of the other sock drawers. These are in a small chest meant to hold various things and not really intended to be crammed with socks. I had kind of forgotten that they were all full.

I had a system: Socks in pairs in the main dresser, and singles in the small chest. I planned to every now and then dump out the singles and find pairs. I forgot to do that and kept buying socks and then pondering the old question, "Where do all socks go?"

More grounds for any clean-up crew to label me the crazy sock lady.

At this point I had to take action. I actually found many matches, realizing that a partial answer to the disappearing socks riddle was that they had disappeared into my own bedroom.

I discarded worn-out socks and singles and made a giveaway bag for socks in fine condition but ones that I would never wear. A handful of singles was so nice that I couldn't toss them. I doubt that they will ever find their mates, but I returned them to the singles drawer. Hope springs eternal.

Finding this a good distraction from worrying about the biopsy results (and also an activity that gave rewarding results), I eyed my closet floor, where I had piled my race and tennis T-shirts. Not too long ago, I had removed them from my overstuffed drawers and stacked them with some giveaway shirts on the floor, making it difficult for me to get at the clothes in the closet.

I wear some of the shirts, but most are just plain too big. I don't know why I got so many larges; either I was bigger then or I just liked them baggier. Many are from years of running the Saint Patrick's Road Race and are varying shades of green; I associate them with different years and the memories that go with them. The one that I wore in 2003, when my fatigue led to the discovery that I had leukemia, is actually blue with a green stripe and a white one. I couldn't throw that one away, but I have mixed feelings about wearing it.

I recently asked a runner friend what he does with his T-shirts, and he said he folds them neatly and puts them away in a spare room. He told me he has seen ads for people who will take these kinds of shirts and cut them up and place them into a quilt.

I can't cut let anyone cut up my shirts!

I weeded through the pile and added the regular giveaway shirts to the bag. The rest are in a smaller pile still on the closet floor. A blanket chest at the bottom of my bed is overstuffed with out-of-season clothes belonging to Katie and me. I am going to sort through those clothes, and then I think I will put the race and tennis shirts in there.

The chest is a story in itself. It was an unfinished piece that Jim painted blue and that my mother decorated with beautiful painted flowers: a brightly-colored bouquet in the center of each panel, with smaller flowers in each corner and a vine traveling around the edges, in her distinct free-flowing style. I can still see her working on it on two sawhorses in the living room.

Unfortunately, the top of the chest is a magnet for clothes I mean to put away, papers I mean to file and books I mean to read. I am making myself sound like a major slob, but it really isn't that bad. I periodically clean the chest off, and I am so happy with the results (as I'm sure my mother would be...or is.)

To get to the clothes, I need to clean the top.

This multiple-step project should keep me busy until I get the final biopsy report early next week.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

On the go after biopsy results

I went to Boston yesterday to see the dental surgeon who extracted two teeth last week and did a biopsy on a spot under my tongue.

The dentist said that the biopsy result was not that easy to read, and he was waiting for a specialist to check it; she will not be in until Monday, so for now this is what I have:

It is either pre-cancerous or an early-stage cancer that is on the surface layer of the skin. If it is just pre-cancerous, the same dentist will be able to remove the small portion that is left. If it is more than that, someone at Dana-Farber will need to cut a little more out in order to make sure the margins are clear.

Either way, it does not sound too bad, although I am anxious to get an answer. I searched the recesses of my brain for freak-out possibilities, but I couldn't find any, so I think I can just go with it...although I am not looking forward to having another piece cut from my tongue.

In the meantime I have been applying a cream to treat the (squamous cell) skin cancer on my forehead. This resulted mostly from the effects of the sun on my chemo-damaged skin. I need to talk to Melissa to better understand what connection this tongue thing has with my illness and treatment.

I timed it so that I could go to tennis (5:30 p..m.) on my way home from Boston. I hadn't been for a while, but my feet finally feel OK, and I thought I would give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised. George said he has never seen me hit so hard. I guess it's because I have been lifting weights and going to a "Total Fitness" class at the Y.

If I'm to run part of the 10-miler in Philadelphia May 1, I decided I needed to run two miles without stopping today. I did it and felt OK. It was a beautiful day, in the high 50s and sunny, and Maddie needed her exercise too, so we walked the mile around the lake. Feeling kind of tired by then, I got a cappuccino and drank it while we walked.

Under the category of not overdoing it, that should have been the end of my exercise for the day. But I always go to yoga on Thursday night, so off I went, almost straight from the walk, hoping for an easy class.

The first thing we did was supta virassa. (Reclining hero pose.)
After I got down, I couldn't get up.

This next part is hard for me to write after so many years at a family newspaper, but since this is the blogosphere, I'm going to take a big leap.

"Shit!" I said. I was sorry that it slipped out.

"Hey," Erin said, "No cursing in the yoga studio." But then she laughed and said she was only kidding. She gave me a hand and pulled me up.

The class was actually pretty challenging. Later, as she had us hold one difficult pose (which I can't remember) and told us to reach with our arms as though we desired something, another person mumbled, "How about pain killer?"

Everyone laughed.

I was glad I wasn't the only one who had said something not yogini-like.

And besides, sometimes you just have to laugh.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Clean dog, wet dog

What would you do if you were a dog on one of the first days of finally-spring, when the snow and ice had melted and the path around the lake was clear? Chances are that you would not think of the recent visit to the groomer, where they clipped and filed your nails and gave you a bath that left you smooth and shiny and smelling sweet.

You might wonder for a second about the water temperature, but you'd quickly decide you didn't care.

Then you'd jump right in and go for a dip. But you're just testing the waters this time.

So you splash around a little and then return to the path.

You head home, not even giving one thought to the fact that the bath was a waste, and now you smell like lake water. After all, the smell of a dog who has been in the woods and jumped in the lake is the smell of the end of winter. And your "person" will still cuddle with you, maybe even liking the new smell better.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The art of pacing

Having gotten stronger in the quads, I'm finally able to stand up from a lunge in yoga without help from a chair.

That said, it's still difficult for me to balance, and when an instructor leads us through standing poses, I often think, "Not that again," or "Can't we just lie down already?"

The other night, as we did a long standing sequence, I began to wobble and to struggle to stay upright. Erin often says, "Find the ease and comfort in the pose," and I certainly was not doing that. I guess she noticed, and she brought over the chair. I half thought, "Not that chair again," but I was also grateful for the support.

And when we did Warrior Two, she placed my foreword-facing fingertips on the wall and said, "Use it."

The photo is obviously not me. (I wish it was!) It's just an example of Warrior Two...without the wall, but you get the idea.

I'm trying to draw on this as a reminder not to push so hard. This
goes for other things, not just yoga. I imagine many others have a similar issue. Some have the gift of knowing how to pace; others have to learn it. You want so badly to do what you used to do that you can hurt yourself by pushing too hard. I know I've written this before, and I'm sorry to repeat myself, but it's just that I keep remembering and then forgetting.

I guess that's what happened with my feet. The stupid plantar fasciitis came back, and then ankle and knee pain followed, because I didn't lay the groundwork with stretching and strength training.

On a related topic, running, after going through three pairs of running shoes, I think I finally found the model that Ken Holt (who makes my orthotics) wants me to have. I searched for it frantically after my visit with him Wednesday, because I really need to cover a little distance without pain so I can do at least part of the 10-miler that I'm signed up to run in Philadelphia the first weekend of May with Emily and Tami.

I showed off the shoes to Erin and said that I planned to do a combination of running and walking for about five miles.

She just looked at me. I don't know if I read into her look or not, but I said, "OK, maybe three miles." We'll see; I've been on the bike, but it's not the same thing.

The shoes are a New Balance 461, a "neutral" shoe, which, combined with the orthotics, should keep my feet from pronating. I went to about half a dozen stores and searched on line until I finally found them at Kohl's.

Needless to say, they are cheaper than the collection of higher models on my closet floor. Holt wanted a New Balance below the 600 series; most everyone sells the higher models (like the New Balance 1061s that I had) with "bells and whistles" such as layered soles offering so-called motion control. My orthotics are supposed to take care of that, and the combination in a motion control shoe is too much.

Yesterday I did a run-walk around the lake (1 mile), and today I walked probably a couple of miles with Deb and the dogs and then ran once around the lake.

Once I got going, I found that I had the energy to push a little, but I made myself go really really slowly. Then I went home and stretched and iced. I'm going to have to come up with some kind of training schedule (and also sneak in a little tennis, but not too much).

By the way, my bargain shoes are kind of cute. They're gray with a pink so dark it's close to purple, one of my favorite colors and therefore, as I see it, a good omen.