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.