Saturday, July 28, 2012

On the mend again

I got my stitches out from under my left eyebrow yesterday – a sure sign of progress.

It's odd that my left eyebrow is like a magnet for the ground. I got a surgical glue stitch above it after my first fall and real stitches under it after my second fall.

The solution to this, of course, is to keep my face off the ground.

I'm feeling a little better and walking with less pain, although sometimes I get a sharp pain in my knee that feels like a karate chop. I'm trying to cut back on pain pills from three Oxycodone a day to two, although it's a tricky business because you don't want the pain to get ahead of you.

Yesterday afternoon nobody was available to walk me to the corner, so I took a chance, leashed up Maddie and went for a big adventure just past the corner to the deli. Just like she had been with Susan, she seemed to sense that she shouldn't fool around. She walked quietly by my side to the deli, where I hooked her up, got a Coke and walked back.

Yesterday was Katie's 20th birthday. Hard to believe! I was very pleased with the present I gave her. When we were at Shakespeare in the Park last month, she saw a black hoodie for sale with The Public Theater (which puts on Shakespeare in the Park) written on it in white. But she thought that at $60 it was too expensive. When she went to the bathroom, I bought it and stuffed it in my purse. (Now that's an advantage to a big purse that sometimes seems like a bottomless pit.) She seemed to love it.

When we go back next month to see "Into the Woods," maybe I'll buy myself one for my own birthday present.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Heel, toe; heel, toe

I noticed a new black and blue mark on my left arm today, matching the one that is taking over my left thigh. If only my hydrangeas, which did nothing this year, would be so colorful.

I have walked to the corner a few days in a row with someone by my side. Yesterday my neighbor Susan "walked" me while also walking Maddie. Maddie seemed to know that it was a special circumstance and that she should not pull on the leash. Only once did she grab the leash and start jerking it around, a game she sometimes plays when someone else is walking her. I took the leash and said a stern "drop it," and she returned to model dog behavior.

I got a frozen yogurt at the deli and ate it happily while we walked back.

Joe said I was leaning to my left. I'm not sure what to do about that. He also said I shuffle my feet and that I should remember what they told me in the hospital when I was learning how to walk again: heel, toe, heel toe. Geez. One minute I'm out running, and then the next I'm learning how to walk.

Chip is going to take me to the grocery store today, also like the bad old days when I couldn't drive myself. But this is a temporary setback, and the silver lining is that I have good friends – and kids – to help me out and remind me to pick up my feet.

Deb brought the fixings for a BLT and made me a sandwich and kept me company the first day I was home. She checks in every day and asks if I need anything.

Rose is going to take me back to the orthopedist tomorrow. I will have my stitches out and get my knee re-evaluated.

Dr. Lin called this morning and said the biopsy report was back on the spot on my neck, and it is, as she thought, a squamous cell. I will need to make an appointment with a Boston surgeon who will perform a Mohs procedure , in which the cancer is excised, then examined to see if the margins are clear. If they are not, the procedure is repeated as many times as necessary.

I had this done before right under my eyelid, and it took two "passes" to get it all. It wasn't my idea of fun, but compared to a lot of other things, it wasn't that bad.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What the doctor said

Yesterday I saw an orthopedist who said that I do not have a knee fracture and I should take the brace off of my leg because being immobilized is the worst thing for the injury that I do have.

He said I have a small fracture on my collarbone, but he told me to get rid of the sling, because, like the leg, it is better to move it around.

Free! At least I could sleep on my side instead of lying immobilized on my back.

My knee still hurts a lot when the pain medication wears off. During the time when I felt good today, I walked down to the deli with Joe. I held my cane in my right hand and held onto him with my left hand, while he held onto the leash. (Couldn't leave Maddie at home.) I sat with the dog under an umbrella while Joe went in to get his food. Ah, breeze, sunshine, fresh air and a dog at my feet.

I was glad to be taking a little walk, but I was tired, just like when I got out of the hospital, and when I got home I crashed on the couch.

In a creepy example of how advertisers scan the web for potential customers, I got an e-mail today from The Scooter Store, ("helping those with limited mobility") a day after I wrote that I had fallen off my bike. I think I'll pass on the scooter. I'd probably just fall off it.

Last night my friend Claudia brought over a lecture (I know, I know) and four huge candy bars: a Chunky, Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, Hershey's milk chocolate with almonds and a Kit Kat. I have been eating Connie's homemade coffeecake and yummy stuff from the two bags of food that Meryl brought over, so I still haven't decided which candy bar I will eat first. Decisions, decisions.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Another fall

When I wrote in my last post that I hoped I didn't fall off my bike, it must have been an (ignored) voice telling me not to go for a ride. I really thought a little ride would be fine, and it was for about 15 minutes...until I fell off my bike.

Rook and I were riding on a beautiful road with no shoulder, and I was going very slowly up a hill. I started wobbling and drifted out towards the center of the road. I saw a car coming and apparently got scared that I was too close to it. I fell down in the middle of the road, and my helmet grazed the car. I fell smack on the left side of my face, which is now red and swollen, complementing my new black eye.

Rook dragged me to the side of the road. An ambulance came pretty quickly; a paramedic put a collar on my neck and asked me to move my fingers and toes, which I could. The ambulance took me to Emerson Hospital in nearby Concord. It was the first time I got a siren.

At the hospital, I got my second CT Scan in two weeks and had x-rays taken of my shoulder and knee. Turns out I have a fractured collarbone. Rook said I'm in good company because many Tour de France riders get the same injury.

My knee is killing me. The ER doctor said the x-ray showed a small line that was probably there before, but he said to see an orthopedist to rule out another fracture. (I will be on the phone at 9 a.m.) In the meantime I am wearing a leg stabilizer, a velcro wrap that extends from my ankle to my thigh, so that I don't move my leg.

I also got stitches above my eyebrow, right near the spot where I needed surgical glue 10 days earlier.

My plan had been to have dinner with Rook and his wife, Annie, and then sleep at Diane's and go to the Cape Saturday. Instead, Diane drove me home, then Katie drove Diane back to Newton and then turned around and came back home.

My bike is at Rook's in quarantine.

I am bummed that I am going to miss tennis, embarrassed that I fell twice, and thankful that it wasn't worse.

With the help of oxycodone, I feel OK, but when it wears off I feel totally busted up.

The funny thing is that while trying to respect my limitations and keep within my rule of "one activity a day," I decided that because I was playing tennis Friday morning, I wouldn't take the proposed bike ride. But then tennis was canceled, and I threw the bike in the car.

In hindsight, which of course is 20-20, I shouldn't have gone for a bike ride.

I have been beating myself up, with help from other people who have chimed in with criticism about my lack of judgment: The tough-love approach, I guess. I think I should let it go now and just look at lessons learned: Don't run when it's very hot (from last week), stop when I'm tired, don't exercise quite so much and continue working to find a balance.

My cheerleaders pointed out that my tendency to push myself helped me get well and thrive, but, again, I need to know when to push and when to pull back.

I have lost some weight over the past month or so, and now is my chance to put some pounds back on, just taking it easy and eating the food that people have brought over.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A better week

I feel mostly mended after my bad few days the week before.

I started feeling better on Sunday, when Ben and I took our third annual trip to Newport to see the finals at the Tennis Hall of Fame tournament, held on grass courts.

It was a Hanukkah present and a great idea. We get to spend time with each other in a beautiful place and watch good tennis players up close. We had lunch in a restaurant with a view of the water, walked around, and then saw John Isner, the returning champion, defeat Llyeton Hewitt 7-6 (7-1), 6-4.

We're both on the same page about Starbucks, so we fueled our way there and back with a cup of coffee.

On Monday and Wednesday I played doubles and on Wednesday night went to yoga. It was, as everyone knows, really hot, and at one point in yoga I felt sick to my stomach and had to stop and do legs up the wall. But I made it through the rest of the class.

Today I am packing up for a weekend on the Cape with Diane, David and Sam, with a stop at Rook's for a bike ride and dinner with Rook and his wife, Annie.

I've only ridden my bike once, so I'm not sure how I'll do. I'm sure I'll get help from encouragement by Rook. I just have to make sure I don't fall over.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cancer threat lurks after cure

Should I read it or should I pass it by? I think I'll take a pass because it will probably upset me. I read a paragraph, then the whole thing. I don't want to be uninformed.

"It" is an essay in today's New York Times headlined "New Cancer Threat Lurks Long After Cure." It talks about the risk of secondary cancers that can spring up as a result of chemotherapy and/or radiation. The writer mentions Robin Roberts, who told viewers of "Good Morning America" last month that the breast cancer treatment she received five years ago caused a new diagnosis, myelodysplastic syndrome, which can lead to leukemia.

The essay was not so much frightening as a call to seize the day. Still, it points out something we already know: You can get sick again. You can't keep that fear in front of you all the time, because then you would not live your life.

But sometimes the subconscious (or the conscious mind) reminds us that it's hard to get away.

Last week I had a relapse nightmare every night. They were all basically the same – a blood test came out badly and a doctor told me I had six months to live. Night after night of this can cast a pall over your day.

I don't know what started it. Maybe Nora Ephron's death from AML. Who knows. I talked to my therapist about it, and she said to stop trying to figure out what started it. She said to instead try a "dream rehearsal" in which, just before bed, you redo the nightmare with a different outcome. In my case, perhaps the bad blood test was a mistake, or perhaps I had a blood test and the results were good.

I tried the second approach. The dreams stopped.

I'm sure that's not the end of it, though. It's just something we have to live with. But hey, we're alive.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Another spot, another squamous cell

I had been trying for about a week to get in touch with my dermatologist's office in Boston because she had frozen a spot that popped up to a little ball on my neck. The same thing happened on the other side of my neck, although the "ball" was smaller.

I felt a little like Frankenstein, with an "electrode" on each side of my neck.

When I was in the ER on Tuesday, the doctor looked at the larger spot and said, "You really need to get that biopsied, and if you can't get into the doctors' office in Boston, you should get it done here."

"I know, I'm trying," I said. I wanted to go to Boston, because Dr. Lin knows what she's been doing with me, and I was relieved when I got a call saying that she could squeeze me in at 1 on Friday while she was at Dana-Farber. I called Melissa and arranged to see her afterwards to check in and get a prescription for more physical therapy on my balance and leg strength.

I played tennis Friday morning and then drove into Boston. Tennis was good, and I felt fine, although Melissa told me later in the day that I had probably suffered a minor concussion.

When I saw Dr. Lin, she said that the larger spot is probably another squamous cell cancer, and the smaller one might be too. She numbed me up and removed each one, sending them for biopsies. She told me not to drive home that day, both because I might bleed if I moved my head around and also because I was a little woozy. Lucky for me that I have Diane nearby; otherwise I'm not sure what people do.

I stayed at Diane's and drove home Saturday morning, still feeling OK. Then I hit the couch. Ben had come for the weekend, and we had planned to go to the tennis courts and "hit a few." I was suddenly dizzy and queasy. He looked up "concussion" and read that the effects can be delayed. Joe was gone for the day, so it was me, Katie and Ben for lunch. I wasn't hungry, even though I had only had some fruit hours earlier for breakfast.

I did one of the old tricks from my chemo and post-chemo days when I was too nauseated to eat: I took half an Ativan and waited for it to kick in. Katie and Ben went to Tailgate for sandwiches, and I managed to eat half of a BLT.

Then I fell asleep for hours. I got up and did a few things around the house, got back on the couch with a book, and fell asleep again. I woke up long enough to eat a little Chinese food and watch part of the Red Sox game with Ben...and then fell asleep again until Ben woke me up long enough so I could go to bed.

And so I slept the day away.

Today I still wasn't 100 percent, but I got up early to go to Newport with Ben for our third annual trip to the Hall of Fame tennis tournament. More on that coming soon after Ben sends me the photos.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Queen of Falls strikes...the ground

My friend Patricia and I have an informal competition about which of us is actually the Queen of Falls, and I'm here to say that my bloody fall from Tuesday puts me over the top. Hey, I even got an ambulance and an oxygen mask when I briefly lost consciousness.

What gives with me?

I'm making light of it, but I was pretty shaken up and still am. Here's what happened: I went out to run a few miles. I went twice around the upper lake (two miles) and thought about stopping because it was hot even in the shade, and with the distance from home to the lake and back, that would be almost three miles. (As an afterthought, I realized I hadn't had much to eat or drink.) But I kept going...and about half-way around I tripped over a root and went crashing down.

Stunned, I lay on my back for a couple of minutes and looked up at the sun and sky. It took a few tries to get up. Blood dripped down my face from my forehead. My glasses were all bloody, and I couldn't see out of my left eye. There was more blood all over the front of my shirt. My bony shoulder was scraped up, right around the spot where I have a scar from falling down when running in Atlantic Beach when the kids were little.

Nobody was around. I started walking back and after a few minutes was relieved to see three women walking towards me. I asked if anyone had a tissue. They said I needed more than that and held me up as we walked towards a bench. One of the good samaritans called Joe and the other called Campus Security, which came quickly, about the same time as Joe arrived, followed shortly by an ambulance. As the medics cleaned me up and asked me questions, my eyes rolled back in my head and I passed out. They gave me oxygen, and I came to in about 30 seconds.

So they put me in the ambulance, kept the oxygen going and gave me IV fluids. We went to the Holyoke Medical Center ER, where we ended up spending about six hours. I'm sure they were dealing with real sick people who had priority over a klutzy runner, but still, I was uncomfortable and cold and got pretty antsy. A doctor applied surgical glue instead of stitches to the deep cut over my eye and ordered a CT Scan, routine in cases of head injury. We waited about three hours for the results, which as expected, turnout to be negative. The left side of my face was developing an ugly bruise, and today I have a prize-winning black eye.

Joe was a mensch, sitting and talking to me and gently brushing the stray hairs away from the glue above my eyebrow. Poor Joe, the ambulance/ER guy. He's taken that trip with me several times. He pointed out that it only happens when he's home, so that if he moved away I would never need to go to the ER. Hmmmm, I don't think it works that way.

When we got home about 9, Katie made me a sandwich, waited on me and told me she loves me. Over the phone, Ben gave the pep talk: I shouldn't be mad at myself: I'm an athlete and athletes get injuries. He said I wouldn't get any injuries if I sat on my couch all day. Sure, I have a ways to go, he said, but he reminded me to remember where I came from.

The next day, the officer from Campus Security called to see how I was, and Maddie and I went over to say thanks and to pick up the Red Sox hat that he had "recovered at the scene." The phone number of one of the three women who helped me was in Joe's phone, so I called her to thank her, and it was good to talk. We laughed about how I had told them I really didn't need and ambulance and could just go home and clean up, when they could see I was in worse shape.

In conclusion, here is my memo to myself: PICK UP YOUR FEET! HYDRATE! KNOW YOUR LIMITS (as in when I think of stopping after two miles, then do it)! WATCH WHERE YOU'RE GOING!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Vassar 'girls' get together

Ten friends from Vassar got together over the weekend, one coming from as far as Seattle. We met at our friend Alice's house outside of Boston for a weekend of eating, talking and hanging around.

Alice and Melanie get an A+ for doing the working out the logistics. I have kept in touch with a couple of my classmates, but others I hadn't seen since college. It was really quite amazing how I got to re-know these smart, interesting women in two days.

We talked about everything – careers, marriages and divorces, children, favorite professors, and how lucky we were that the "white lightenings" we drank at Pizza Town across the street didn't kill us.

On Saturday afternoon, some of us went to the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, a beautiful mansion built in 1903 to house Gardener's large collection of art.

I don't drink much, but when the margaritas started flowing before dinner on the deck Saturday night, they tasted pretty good. Someone had the idea of going around the table and giving everyone five minutes to say something about their life or about what they wished for. There were some interesting revelations. I used my time to wish for one thing: health and safety for me and my loved ones.

Here are some photos. From top to bottom, they are, The Group on the deck at Alice's; Alice, Katryn, me and Joan across the street from the Gardener; Joan making margeritas; and Melanie and Annamarie cooking on the grill.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Red, white and blue dessert

Once while I was receiving chemotherapy in the hospital on the 4th of July, Diane brought herself, our mother and me a dessert made of strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream in dessert shells. I was tickled by the gesture but was too queazy to do more than nibble at my dessert.

Yesterday when we held our annual 4t of July cookout with Deb and Charlotte, we had dessert with the same fixings. It was one of those times when I happily remembered the distance between then and now. Then: red, white and blue dessert in a hospital room. Now, same dessert enjoyed while looking out at my garden at home.

Some cancer survivors say they appreciate every minute; I don't doubt that they do, but with all the ups and downs in every day, it's hard for me to imagine. I appreciate many little minutes.


South Hadley had its fireworks on Tuesday. I wrote in a recent post about a New York kind of day; well, this was a South Hadley kind of night. The event is held a couple of miles away at the middle school, but you can see the fireworks along Route 116 starting about a quarter-of-a-mile from our house.

People set up lawn chairs along the street so they can see the fireworks but avoid the crowds. I walked Maddie down to a point where I could see the display. Many dogs would freak out at the sound of the fireworks, but she was oblivious. People reached out to pet her along the way and told me about their own dogs. Maddie wagged her tail. We made about a dozen friends in the course of about an hour.

On the way back, I passed the Yarde Tavern, where a few friends were having drinks on the patio. I tied Maddie up, and she immediately lay down and konked out while I visited with my friends for about half an hour.

Strolling down the street on a balmy night with my dog. Eating a red, white and blue dessert in my kitchen: A nice non-hospital Fourth.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Dog bites and wayward baseballs

It wasn't a great day here yesterday, starting when Katie got bitten by a dog while biking back from her first day as a camp counselor, and ending with Joe getting hit in the nose with a baseball while playing in the Tri County League.

First, the dog bite: Katie called me, crying, to ask if I could come get her right away because a German Shepherd had run out of its yard and across the street, chased her on her bike and bitten her, puncturing her shorts and making a bloody gash on her leg. Camp Lewis Perkins, the Girl Scout camp where Katie works, is close, right down Woodbridge Street, so I got there within minutes. We put the bike in the car and I knocked on the door of the house that the dog had run back into. The owner said that had never happened before (it shouldn't happen once!) and that the dog was current on his shots. I got his name and said I expected him to pay for any doctors' visits. He said he would.

When we got home, Katie recovered pretty quickly, but I couldn't stop shaking, my heart beating. I called the dog officer, who said Katie should go the the doctor and that I should send him the medical bills to be forwarded to the dog owner. So she went and got a tetanus shot and a prescription for antibiotics. Rabies is not a concern so much as infection. The doctor said she should come back in a week.

That night, Joe came home from baseball and asked me if I thought his nose was straight. Huh? It was straight, but he did have a bruise where a baseball had hit him. While he went to ice it and I brought him his dinner in the den, concerned now about him, we had a laugh over the time when he was a little kid and pretended that his nose was broken. He had been acting up, and I had given him a little push towards the stairs so he would go up to his room. Acting as though the push had propelled him against the wall across the room, he came back to me in the den with his little nose crooked and his hand holding on to it.

I freaked. "Oh my god, I broke your nose!" I cried. Game over, he let go of his nose and it popped back into position. The little comedian had been holding it so it looked crooked, just to make me have the reaction that I had.

Last night he said it was kind of like they were kids again. One had an accident riding a bike and the other had one while playing baseball.

Not to diminish the scare of the dog bite, I thought about how lucky we are to live in this peaceful valley and have such problems on a sunny summer day. I cannot imagine what it must be like for mothers whose children are getting shot in war zones around the world.