Sunday, September 30, 2012

It's the little things

News flash: Yesterday I tripped and almost fell but didn't.

This might seem like a post about nothing, along the lines of "Seinfeld" being a show about nothing. But when you have a weakness, i.e. "I almost (fill in the blank) but then it passed," you can be thankful for that small accomplishment.

I walked Maddie twice around the lake to get some extra exercise yesterday, taking a different route back to stop at the ATM. When I stepped off the curb, my foot caught in a crack in the pavement, my ankle twisted a little, and I felt like I might lose my balance just as a car approached. I jumped back onto the sidewalk, and feeling a little wobbly, regained my balance back and walked back home.

Whew. Of course Joe would say I shouldn't be almost falling and that I should look where I'm going, which is true, but I was glad that at least I could stop the fall.

I tried jogging a little the other day, but since I had the dog with me, it wasn't a good gauge because I was concentrating more on her than on myself. I will have to try it again without her, but I am having trouble with the idea of "getting back on the horse," applying in my case both to running and biking. My bike remains in quarantine at Rook's house, and I think that when he brings it back I shouldn't try again until the spring. But it wouldn't hurt to give running a try, except that have fear of falling.

Tennis is working out better. I went to George's outside clinic Wednesday, and since I was the only one who showed up, I got a private for the price of a group lesson. We hit a lot of balls, and George said  my strokes were the best he's seen in a long time. I brought up my father's comment that you shouldn't kid yourself about how good you are when you're hitting with the pro. George said that still, it takes some doing to hit the ball back so many times.

I said it must have been all that lying on the couch. Either that or the hand grips I used, one upstairs and one downstairs. George said that could have kept my arm strong.

"When you're sidelined, there's usually some little thing you can do even if you're not moving around," he said.

Words of wisdom from a tennis pro and something to think of if you're laid up. Just do a little something, whatever you can do, and it's better than nothing.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tiptoeing into fall

With the kids all grown, there's no more playing in pumpkin patches, no more picking out three pumpkins in small, medium and large, and no more annual discussions about the preferability of oblong vs. round. I miss those days.

They're obviously long past pumpkin picking – unless I drag Joe out of the house and get him to return to our favorite family-owned place, the one where the owners fill their driveway and barn with pumpkins and sit outside and where people pull their purchases to their cars in red wagons. (That's where we took the accompanying photo of Katie taking a break.)

With the smell of fall in the air, a lot of people have already decorated their houses with pumpkins, scarecrows, etc. There seem to be pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere. It's not as much fun without kids involved, but..

Today as I did my rounds of farm stands, one for bread, another for corn and the third for coffee cake, I stopped at some beautiful big mums and thought, why not? I bought a nicely shaped purple one and had to put my arms around it to carry it to the car.

In the garage, I found an old planter that fit the plant perfectly and put it on the porch. I stood back and admired it. This is my idea of minimalist seasonal decorating! You just need one thing to make you feel like you're partaking. And I guess you don't need to have a kid around to do a little something.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mitt Romney, under my skin

This is not a political blog, but since I am a politics junkie (42 days until the election!), I must take a minute to report on a peculiar dream I had last night about Mitt Romney.

I was walking along Main Street in Springfield towards my old job at the newspaper when I came upon Romney and an assistant doing coin tricks for a sparse crowd. Romney's hair was out of place, his nose looked particularly large, and his skin looked bad. (The skin thing probably relates to coverage of Romney's darker complexion during an interview with Univision addressing concerns for Latino voters; some say he applied a quick tan to look more like them.)

In the dream, he approached me and asked what I thought of his campaign, and I sidestepped, saying, "It's too early in the morning for me to have an opinion."

Then I shook his hand and moved on, desperately seeking coffee to clear my head.

When I got to work, I told people that I had really given Romney a piece of my mind. "You did?" they asked. "No, not really," I replied. "I chickened out."

Dreaming about Mitt Romney is a little eeuw. At least I didn't dream about him in bed, a possibility given publicity about a TV interview in which, when asked what he wears to bed, he replied, "As little as possible." Puleese. Couldn't he pivot away from the question?

This is all taking up too much space in my brain. Maybe I should stop reading so much about the election or stop watching so much politics TV. (I can't wait for "Hardball" tonight!)

But I can't stop. I am sure I'm not alone.

Early voting has started!

Sunday, September 23, 2012


The face fry, aka PDT, or photodynamic therapy, wasn't as bad as it was the two previous times, but it still wasn't as much fun as lying on the beach when it comes to getting a burned face.

Dr. Lin said it is more tolerable each time because there are fewer pre-cancerous spots. She puts a chemical over suspicious spots and the light reacts to them. After the potion goes on, her assistant seals it in by first applying plastic wrap to your face and then covering that with silver foil. She cuts little holes for the eyes, nose and mouth and then you sit there for about an hour.

I was perfectly happy sitting there reading The New York Times through the eye slits, but as the time approached I could feel myself tensing up. It's interesting how you can observe your own body language. I crossed my arms and hugged myself and began to feel cold. They didn't have a blanket, so the assistant covered me with two towels, which didn't help much.

After it was over, I had a good distraction from the burning on my skin: dinner at Margaret and Nick's house, where we had delicious homemade pizza and watched the Scott Brown/Elizabeth Warren debate. Margaret and Nick are just as consumed as I am with the upcoming election, and since we're on the same page, we had a good time talking to each other and to the TV and watching the post-debate coverage.

Back home, my face is still burning, though less so each day. My skin has turned blotchy, making me look as though I have a bad case of acne.

I bumped into a woman yesterday who was in one of my baby play groups. Our babies had the same birthdate, Sept. 13, 1985, and there was her "baby," Leah, with her looking over the photos of her recent wedding. To me, Debbie, the mother, looked pretty much the same. But oh vanity of vanities, I imagined her looking at me and wondering, "What happened to her?" Actually she's a nice woman and was probably thinking no such thing, but a little self-consciousness and can a long way.

In a few days, my skin will begin to peel, and I'll have new skin.

Dr. Lin wants to repeat the procedure once a year. I can't wait! But hey, in terms of other things they've done to me (most notably bone barrow biopsies) this is a piece of cake.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Back to Boston

In keeping with the theme "it's always something," I am heading back to Boston today – after being there a week ago – to see my dermatologist for photodynamic therapy, or PDT, in which the top layer of your skin is burned off to remove precancerous cells.

I try to coordinate appointments, but it didn't work out this time.

This is my third PDT. Maybe, like the third Caesarean section, it will be easier than before because my body will not be quite as freaked out as the first time. Maybe not.

The procedure consists of having a medication applied to your face (or wherever) and then sitting under a scorching hot light that feels like the worst sunburn magnified. Afterwards, your face is bright red. After a while, the skin peels off and voila, you have new skin.

This, of course, is better than getting the skin cancers that I have had twice. And your skin looks oh so beautiful.

I am staying at Margaret's tonight and coming back tomorrow. I have already warned Margaret that I might whine. She said it was OK, but just to make sure that it is not too bad, I have packed a little of my favorite pain medication.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Happy New Year

Hello from New York and l'shana tova, with best wishes for a sweet New Year filled with good health and no sharp edges.

I arrived in the city yesterday, my first Rosh Hashanah visit to the old country without Katie, sweetened by the fact that I would meet Ben at services at the 92nd Street Y today and then go out to lunch. We feel a deep connection with the services we all attended since childhood, geography and health permitting.

I parked in Fairfield and took the train to Grand Central, where, I must admit, I felt somewhat fragile and unsteady schlepping my bag up and down stairs in a throng of people. Wanting to avoid the cost of a cab, I went up and down more stairs to get the subway to Jeanne's. When I got on the train I must have had the bug-eyed look of someone out of her element, and a man immediately offered me his seat. Back up on the street, there was more schlepping.

Nothing bad happened, although perhaps I should have just taken a cab. (Duh.)

As soon as I got settled, out to the park I went. I put on my running clothes, although I'm still not up to my usual run. That made me kind of sad, although I am alive and well and walking around taking in the sights, so I really don't have much to complain about.

Last night I went to Marge and Bill's for dinner. The family dinners at a restaurant are over, with Marge not feeling well enough to go out. But we had a nice meal of delicious food ordered from a nearby restaurant and eaten picnic style in Marge and Bill's bedroom.

It was great to go to the Y with Ben, such a handsome grownup. I told him it seemed like only yesterday that  my parents, Katie and I remarked how cute the two little brothers walking in front of us were in their khaki pants, blue shirts and blue blazers slung over their shoulders.

During the point in the service where the rabbi encouraged us to feel the presence of those who are gone and to see them clearly, a teared up, as I did after services as Ben and I headed to the old neighborhood for lunch and as I think now about our beautiful Rosh Hashanah dinners at a table that my mother so lovingly set, with a honey dew melon at every place (for a sweet year) and small bowls of honey in which we would dip our challah. And of course I think about the round challah over which my father said, "No sharp edges!"

All good memories, so again, no complaining.

And now for one more thought about transportation, one of my little obsessions: I got a free ride on the bus back down to Jeanne's because the Metro Card machine was broken, so with the $2.25 I saved, I can probably afford to take a cab back to Grand Central. I should take a cab anyway, so that I can start the year on good footing, so to speak, instead of tripping or stumbling, which, given my recent patterns, I might very well do.

Friday, September 14, 2012

It can be hard to get out of your own head

Melissa was an hour and a half late in seeing me for my Dana-Farber appointment yesterday.

So? They're always late.

But I had gotten it into my head that there was something wrong with me, which is why I had moved up my appointment despite evidence that my fatigue and occasional lightheadedness resulted from two falls and the energy my body had devoted to healing from the falls and from the Mohs surgery which was a real pain in the neck.

I fell asleep sitting in the waiting room. I read my book. I congratulated the 90-year-old patient who was wearing a button with blinking lights and the words "It's My Birthday" on it.

And then I catastrophized in a way I hadn't done in ages, like so: My counts are bad, and Melissa has gone to talk to Dr. Alyea about what to do with me. I am no longer a candidate for a bone marrow transplant. They put me on an experimental drug. I shrivel up and prepare to die. Whoa!

Diane calls to ask about my results, and I tell her that I haven't been seen and that I am getting nervous.

"Why?" she asks.

I tell her about my crazy mind.

"They are not sitting back there plotting your demise," she reminds me.

Finally I am called. Melissa, who is wearing a mask over her nose and mouth, tells me she has a cold.

"You, on the other hand, are fine," she says, printing out my counts.

Sigh of relief.

And I gained a couple of pounds. Woo hoo!
I guess I went into that tailspin because I was feeling vulnerable, my mental defenses were down, and none of the techniques that I practice had worked.

Probably other cancer survivors go through the same thing. So you call your doctor or nurse, and if they say there is nothing to worry about, you try to let it go. If that doesn't work, you make an appointment, and hopefully you are fine. Then you get a new lease on life.

I celebrated with a Tootsie Roll and three miniature Krakel bars.

Today I played doubles and moved around the court a little better.

When I got home, I leaned back into the couch and fell asleep, the dog's head on my lap. And when I woke up, I didn't worry about why I had been tired.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I get by with a little help from my friends

I don't mean my regular friends, who of course have helped me immeasurably.

I'm talking about my neighborhood acquaintances, who offer help in ways that make me feel extra cared for.

For example:

Yesterday I went to our local deli, Tailgate Picnic, looking for something for lunch because I didn't feel like eating anything in the house. I stood at the counter indecisively and asked Alicia Magri, who owns the deli with husband Jack, what was good if you're trying to gain weight.

"Are you hungry?" she asked. "Not really," I replied.

"Give her the chicken stew," she told the girl working at the counter. She also said I should try Ensure, which has helped Jack, who had a brain tumor, put on weight after surgery. Jack got into the conversation and went into the back to get two bottles of Ensure, which he said to take back home (free) and try. Mary, Alicia's sister, said I should mix it with ice cream and make a shake. Anna, at the cash register, chimed in and said I should drink a lot of milk.

Well, the chicken stew was delicious and the Ensure not so much, but I felt good about this group of people – who all know my story just as I know theirs – doing their little bit to look after me.

It goes both ways. After Jack came out of the hospital, we talked about how crummy you can feel when you first return to work. He said at the time that he was having trouble eating, so I brought him one of the smoothies that had been working for me.

And then there is Wayne Gilbert, the carpenter, who is in the midst of fixing some little things I saw, and who also fixes the things I don't see.

A few months ago, I heard hammering and came downstairs to find Wayne, who had noticed something that needed to be fixed and had just stopped by to take care of it (free). Obviously I see the big things, but having grown up in an apartment where you just call the super, and being divorced from someone who knew how to manage the property, I sometimes don't see the big picture. It's reassuring to know that someone else is looking at it for me.

Anne, who owns the bed and breakfast across the street, says to come on over and pick the hydrangeas that turn pretty shades of pink at this time of year. She has a couple of really big flower bushes. Sometimes we chat. My mother started this tradition, talking to Anne and clipping the hydrangeas that she said cost a ton of money in New York. The hydrangeas provide a different kind of nourishment.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Stopping and smelling the flowers

I garden like I cook: throw everything together and end up pleasantly surprised at success.

So it is that I find myself happy with the late-summer surprises in my garden, abloom with colorful flowers that I didn't expect to see at this time of year.

The garden usually looks good in spring but has fizzled out by mid-summer. It's a challenge to plant because although one part gets a decent amount of sun, it is laid out under pine trees that create acidic and shady conditions.

This year a friend helped choose and plant flowers that would do well in the shade and provide blooms late into the summer. If you don't look too closely at the weeds that I have been unable to keep up with, the garden looks pretty good.

I like to sit at my kitchen table and look out at the flowers. I got a desk for an upstairs office space, but I am happiest downstairs writing while I look out through French doors. And it's especially rewarding to easily find enough flowers to make a colorful arrangement for the kitchen table.

I went out the other day and was happy to have so many choices. After putting the flowers in a vase, I channeled my mother, who always thought her arrangements were not full enough. And using as a guide and inspiration a framed photo of her arranging flowers for my 50th birthday party, I went out and added some more flowers until I was satisfied.

Just as Diane and I appreciated my mother's arrangements, Katie appreciates mine. I missed being able to show her. But due to the wonders of Facebook, she'll see this post when she wakes up and, I hope, appreciate the garden from all the way in Spain.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fatigue and fear

If you're getting better, you can't be getting worse.

These are the words of wisdom I've repeated to myself in the past few days after Mike at physical therapy told me how much better I am doing.

"When you first came in here, I was afraid of you driving home," he said.

My time at PT is almost done, but Mike said he'd get me some extra sessions to work on my balance and strength. My fractured collarbone has healed, my banged-up knee is better, I've played tennis a few times and felt fine, and today I returned to the gym, riding a bike and doing some leg exercises.

On some days I feel like myself, but mostly after exercise I hit the couch. Occasionally I feel lightheaded, which worries me even more. My rational mind knows that this period of recovery is normal, but somewhere it got in my mind that I might be relapsing.

Of course if I just stayed on the couch I might not get as tired, but that's just not something I do (unless I'm watching the U.S. Open or the Democratic convention).

I don't think the fear ever goes away. It recedes to the back of your mind – you'd go crazy if you thought of it all the time – but certain things like fatigue can bring it to the forefront.

I'm on a two-month checkup schedule, so my next  Dana-Farber appointment isn't until October. But I moved my appointment ahead to next Thursday. Luckily the process of getting checked just involves a blood test. Hopefully (OK, probably) my blood counts will be fine, and I can put the printout on the fridge to remind myself not to worry.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tai chi and me

When my father was in his 80s and having trouble with his balance, his doctor sent him to a tai chi class. Dad returned shaking his head about the silliness of moving so slowly. He would have rather been on the tennis court or taking a brisk walk.

He never went back.

Gee, I wonder where I get some of my preferences.

Yesterday I played tennis again. My shots have come back pretty quickly, but I'm not really moving. I think I'm afraid to.

Susan, one of my physical therapists, had recommended tai chi for balance, and it took me a while to go, but I finally went yesterday, a little skeptical like my father was.

Susan leads the class once a week at the Chicopee Senior Center. Senior Center? I wondered about that. But it was OK. I joined four other people in going through a variety of moves. It was a mix of senior citizens and people like me. The slowness of the movement is a good challenge for me, plus there were some movements that specifically involved balance.

No, it's not as much fun as playing tennis, but I think I'll go back.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Katie safely in Seville

Katie left last night for her semester in Spain, where she will study at the university in Seville and stay with a family there.

I can't believe that after about a year of talking about it and planning, the time actually came for her to lug her (overweight) suitcase into Joe's car en route to Logan Airport. (The overage cost $60!) It will be a great experience for her, but I will miss my little sidekick.

I'm going to join her in Seville at the end of her semester and travel with her for about 10 days. I'm looking forward to it.

She e-mailed today that she was safe and sound and that she liked her host, who had set her up nicely.

Meanwhile, I played tennis today and was much better than last week. However, Donna, who knows me very well, looked at me in the middle of the second set and said I looked tired and it was really OK to stop. Chip and Donna's friend Kathleen echoed her.

Rational voice: You should stop because when you get tired is when you injure yourself.

Bad-advice voice: You haven't even played two whole sets, of course you have to finish!

Never mind that the first set was good and filled with long points (Chip and I won 6-4) or that the second set was turning into a long one too (Donna and Kathleen won 6-4). And never mind that the sun was beating down on us.

Chip and I drove to Starbucks after, planning to get a coffee, but I suddenly felt queasy. So we went and got me a Coke, Chip got coffee, and we sat down on the patio outside Starbucks to have our drinks. I felt better pretty quickly and was well enough to eat a frozen a frozen yogurt that Chip offered to buy.

This afternoon I was going to walk Maddie but thought better of it and lay down on the couch to watch a little tennis...and promptly fell asleep. I was happy to be invited, avec dog, to Deb's house for pre-dinner dessert and coffee for us and a big biscuit plus play date for Maddie.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A not so sad so-long to summer

When Labor Day comes, everyone asks "Where did the summer go?"

I know where a good chunk of mine went, lost in a fog of oxycodone after two falls and Mohs surgery on my neck to remove a squamous cell cancer.

I spent part of August on and off the couch while I watched the Olympics. I never saw so much of the Olympics, but it kind of saved me. Maddie accepted this lower activity level, lying on her side of the couch while I lay on mine.

The pain reliever came in after I fractured my collarbone, bruised my knee and had the surgery which took a long time to heal. I can't take Advil or other drugs like it because they thin your blood, and I can't take Tylenol because it's bad for your liver.

So it was me, oxycodone and the Olympics. I worried about getting hooked on the little buzz, but I put my bottle away after everything stopped hurting.

It was too hot to do much outside anyway.

Luckily I rallied enough to have my 15 minutes of fame on the WEEI/NESN RadioTelethon and then to have four beautiful days on the Cape.

Some people have asked me to post the link on my blog, so here it is: