Friday, December 29, 2017

Good days during Dana-Farber-free week

With the crew at Kate's Kitchen on Christmas
I hope I didn't sound too dramatic in my last post when I wrote that I fell. I healed pretty quickly and was back to normal after a day.

With no trips to Dana-Farber this week (woo-hoo), the days have been good.

Not in order:

On Christmas, I volunteered at Providence Ministry's Kate's Kitchen in Holyoke again. This was my fourth year serving Christmas dinner there. It was snowing and not the best morning to be out. When I got thereat 9:30 a.m., I learned that four families had canceled. The lot wasn't plowed yet, but my Subaru got me in. My first job was to take down the chairs from the tables and put table cloths on. It looked to be a bit much and felt overwhelming but then I reminded myself how much I had compared to the people who would be coming in two and a half hours later to eat. I didn't want to hurt my back, so I made a system where I turned the chair over and rested the seat on the table, lowering it in two motions instead of one.

Lotta tables, chairs Kate's Kitchen
About half-way through, two other volunteers arrived. They helped take the chairs down, put on table cloths, and put out place settings. It went well, and it turned out that some of us had a lot in common. As we sat waiting for more people to come in, we realized that a little corner of us were all from New York. It was good to meet the effervescent new director of Providence Ministries, Shannon Rudder.

Christmas Eve, Maddie and I went down to my friend JoAnn's for fondue with her family and neighbors. I was happy to see the two nice young men in the photo. (Said the elderly woman.) They used to be little kids! As I stood, looking confused, at the set up with beef, chicken, shrimp, bread and vegetables, plus cheese and other dipping sauces, someone asked where I was during the fondue craze.

I said we had small kitchens and therefore small fondue offerings!

The best part was probably the chocolate dipping sauce with Jo's father's homemade biscuits.

With Marc and Ryan Instrum
Today it was 1 degree when I woke up. Not a good day for a dog walk, but turned out to be a good day for a dog. I needed to exchange A Visit From the Goon Squad at The Odyssey Bookshop. Not because I didn't want it – it's next up for book club so I will be reading it – but because after I came home with the paperback, I sat down in the den next to the bookshelf and saw that the hardcover had been sitting there. Maybe I even read it, but I'm sorry to say I don't remember.

I would have tied Maddie up outside, but it was so cold that I brought her in. She was welcomed with big smiles. Everyone wanted to pet her. I took her around to get some other books and told someone that I usually leave her out. They said they'd rather she came in. We took a little walk but it was really cold. Then we went into the bank. She lay down, possibly thinking that it was an interesting day. Then it was back to the bookstore to pick up what I had left there to get wrapped. She sniffed around and then just plopped down, comfortable and warm. Now she is lying in the pool of sunlight on the dining room rug. The simple things.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Falling down, getting up, going to Boston

Pretty relaxed with a needle in each arm
As I walked into The Kraft Family Blood Donor Center for my internal sunburn Wednesday, a nurse was asking another patient the routine questions, including, "Have you had any falls?"

I had planned NOT to mention that I fell the night before during a clinic at the Ludlow Tennis Center. Instead, I said, "Don't ask me." Then I told them anyway. I had a "good" fall, meaning that I managed to get back up and continue to play. My foot must have turned funny. I lost my balance and went down hard.

"Don't put it on my chart," I said.

Another nurse said they were going to put an orange bracelet on me to mark me as a fall risk. But he said it laughing. And I went over to him and started bouncing around on my feet to show him that I was OK.

I've said it before but I'll say it again: Except for the part with the needle in the arm for three hours, and the part with the unpredictable transportation, and the part about spending basically a whole day on it every other week, going to Dana-Farber for ECP is not that bad.

The driver was a nice older guy who said he hadn't seen me for a while. I couldn't quite place him, but when he pulled into a rest stop, I remembered that he is the one who stops a lot. Bladder problem or cigarette? Who knows. He took Route 9 in, and when I mentioned that the other drivers avoid this crowded road and go all the way to the end of Mass Pike, he said they are the same. They are not, and I was about 20 minutes late.

Marc, the nurse who got me to use two arms last month, came over and did it again. The secret to it is not asking. Because when the other nurses ask, I usually say no, I would really like to have the use of one hand.

But I had taken my oxycodone and was pretty relaxed. You can see it in the photo. The WHATever approach.

Afterwards I went to Diane and David's. Diane made a good dinner. I tossed and turned most of the night. It was probably the after effects of the oxy. Useful when needed for pain but a disrupter of sleep. I kept thinking that I lost my necklace, (one that Diane gave me that I wear most of the time) then waking up and checking.

It was probably a subconscious expectation of going to the dermatologist the next day. The last time that Dr. Lin (Jenn) did a full-body check, I took the necklace off and put it in my pocket. It got so tangled that only the detangler expert, Jim Bloom, could restore it.

Jenn had a resident who came in first. He checked out my spots and recommended doing another round of Effudux (chemotherapy cream) on my hands, also adding my arms. Dr. Schmults, the Mohs surgeon, said it works best when you wrap your hands, which I couldn't do, so the last time I did it I slept in exam gloves. He also recommended doing photodynamic therapy (PDT), aka the face fry, when an opening comes up. I said I thought my face looked OK.

"Is she coming in?" I asked.

Yes, he said, she was coming in.

She basically said what the resident said: The PDT, in removing a layer of skin, kills skin cancer cells. In addition, she said, they now recommend a follow up six weeks after. The resident zapped some places on my forehead and out I went to make the appointments. I'm not crazy about this but the literature says it is safe. And I have to believe the doctor.

The past two nights I have put on the cream and slept in the purple exam gloves. I usually pull them off at some point in the night and wake up with them next to me. The goal is to light up the red spots which can turn into cancer and the ones that may already be cancerous. The spots will then turn brighter red and then hopefully either dissipate or fall off before I pick at them. I need to do it for three weeks.

I have a huge purple bruise on my left thigh and a smaller one on my wrist. It only hurts a little when I sit.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Six good things during the past week

Candle lighting at the JCA
Holiday parties and a writing award provided an uptick after a sad week.

1. Went to the Jewish Community of Amherst for a Hanukkah party Wednesday with candle-lighting, latkes and pizza, having seen the announcement in the entryway where I'm doing my Literacy Project volunteering now. It's also where I sent my children way back when. It's much nicer now with the addition to their facilities. I didn't think I would know anyone and so was happy to bump into a former colleague who sends her daughters there. We sat together and made plans to return for one of the rabbi's Wednesday lunch and learn sessions. I'm not exactly sure why, but I was a little depressed and felt better after seeing all the lit menorahs, singing songs, eating latkes and talking to my friend and her daughters.

2. The Dog Writers Association of America gave me its Inspirational Feature award for my story in the American Kennel Club's Family Dog Magazine. It was about how Maddie and I each helped the other heal after our separate near-death experiences. It came with a $300 award. $150 for Maddie and the other half for me?

3. After tennis Friday, I went to a fun ladies’ lunch. I have been trying to remember to put everything in my phone and on paper. I put in my phone from 12 to 2, figuring that Nancy wanted time after tennis to get ready. I bought orange juice and went to Starbucks for badly needed coffee, for I had spilled most of it after putting it on top of my icy car roof in the morning. When I checked my email for directions, I saw that it was really at 11, not noon, so I raced over there. Luckily they were still eating, and there was plenty left. I guess being off by an hour is not as bad as missing my college reunion, for which I was off by a week. (Question: Did I subliminally not want to go? Who knows…)

4. Book club holiday party Friday night. None of us finished A Gentleman in Moscow. We liked the writing and many of the author’s observations about life, but we said we kept waiting for something happen. Avid reader friends who finished it said it was worth it. So we’re going to finish up for next time while also reading A Visit from the Goon Squad. The food was delish, the company delightful. We had a Yankee Swap. Love my book group friends but not so much Yankee Swaps.  (#FirstWorldProblem) Stayed up too late.

5. Saturday, dragged myself to yoga. I don’t drink very much, and after two glasses of wine I felt a little hung over. Saturday night, fun Christmas party at Marianne and Karen’s. So much good food an such a friendly crowd.

Menorah in Riverdale
6. Sunday, packed up for trip to family Hanukkah party in the Bronx. Headed out a little bleary-eyed but stopped on the way at Ben’s for visit with Ben, Joe and Callen. (Nell was away on a girls’ weekend.) In a short time, Callen had turned into a little person! Amazing how that happens.

On my way out, I found a florist where I got pretty flowers to take to my cousin’s. It was good to be with family and extended family. We had more latkes and delectable New York deli sandwiches. I always go for the corned beef. REAL corned beef. This is the second year after Jennifer's suicide. Last year, the first year without her, was the most difficult. I spent some time talking to her twin brother on Sunday. He says that without Buddhism, he doesn’t know how he could have survived. I told him that at the JCA, I met some people who called themselves JewBus. I looked up the definition and found this interesting story.

Stayed over at Residence Inn in Yonkers. On the way back, I was so tired I had to stop twice. Often that's the way it is when you're on the go. The expectation on the way there keeps you alert. On the way back, Starbucks (good) at stop 1 in Woodbridge, Conn., and Subway (kinda yucky) at stop 2 kept me awake.

Didn't get any exercise except for getting in and out of the car. Got back pretty late and thought of a brief run but it was dark. And I thought of Zoe getting hit in the dark. So I went swimming. It's my least favorite activity. Though some who have cut back on running say they get the same high from swimming, I don't feel it, probably because I don't go far enough. For some reason, the last two times I have stopped at 24 laps, the last two doing water jogging. It is boring, not at all like running outdoors when you can soak up the scenery with your eyes rather than getting water-logged in a pool.

A few times in the past I did get some endorphins from doing laps, but last night I was distracted by leaky goggles that I had to keep fixing. I might invest in a pair of prescription goggles. Despite the drawbacks, it did get the schpilkes out. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

A day of sadness and celebration

When I wrote about the friend who was killed in a car accident, her name had not yet been released, but since then the local news outlets reported that her name was Zoe Rosenthal, a much loved teacher at The Literacy Project. The Daily Hampshire Gazette had this front page story  giving more details. The story on Masslive, my old employer, said the accident is under investigation.

If you read the comments, which may or may not be trusted, there seems to be a video showing that Zoe waited patiently to cross the street with her dog and a man with allegedly bad eyesight came around a corner so fast that he sent her flying. It's in general a bad idea to read the comments. But I was curious so I did it, and a couple of people seemed to know what they were talking about.

On Saturday, her daughters arranged a celebration of her life. It was snowy and not a great driving day. But I had told a student who lives in Sunderland, who didn't feel comfortable driving all the way to Holyoke, that I would go over the notch to pick her up at Atkins. Reading somewhere that it was a potluck, I brought a bag of clementines. Zoe liked fruit. But when we got to The Waterfront Tavern in Holyoke, we saw that it was going to be a big catered party with lots and lots of food for friends and family. As I walked up to the food, I saw two little boys playing catch with my clementines. I told their father I was glad they were being put to good use.

Desserts from Saturday
Only knowing Zoe from the classroom, I had no idea how many lives she had touched. A group came from New York, including an aunt and a woman who told me she was Zoe's second mother. She gave me a rose from her bouquet. When it was her turn to stand up and speak about Zoe, she said that she had practically raised her from the age of 13. She broke down to such an extent that two people held her while she sobbed. Upbeat music played. Someone said Zoe was dancing in heaven. A slideshow showed her smiling face in various locales, on the beach, playing with her granddaughter, surrounded by friends and family.

You might say that such an event included laughter and tears. But the laughter part was subdued. There still seemed to be a lot of shock over what happened, that Zoe had gotten her dog Chester to help her heal from a previous accident and from the death of her best friend his daughter, killed in a motorcycle accident by a driver high on heroin, and that she had recently bought a house in Holyoke, and probably wouldn't have been at Lyman and Canal Streets if the purchase, which I remember from last year, hadn't come through.

I was a volunteer in her class at in Northampton for two years but switched this year to the Amherst location because the parking problem in the Gothic Street lot had become untenable. It was hard enough my previous years as a volunteer to get over the Coolidge bridge without hassle and then find a spot in the lot. More than once I had to park on the street, clamber over a snowbank, and run out to feed the meter because the allowed time didn't cover the whole time of the class, whereas in the lot it did. I had thought of switching before because the Amherst location, at the Jewish Community of Amherst, had free parking. But I wanted to stay with the same class.

Then last spring the Northampton IT department took the whole back row. And I simply could not park. I would drive around sometimes for 10 minutes until I found a spot, then come into the class both apologetic and apoplectic. So when the spot in Amherst opened up, I felt like I had to take it. I wrote Zoe first just so she would know. I said I hoped I could get together with her and Carole, the other volunteer. We had planned a lunch in the spring but it didn't work out. I said I hoped the three of us could still get together. She didn't get back to me. I was afraid she was annoyed and kept meaning to stop in but hadn't done it yet.

When some 20 of us gathered in Zoe's classroom a couple of days after her death, and when Carole said one of the best things was that she and the volunteers were a team, I started bawling. "I feel useful in Amherst, but I feel like I left the team," I said, or something to that extent. I wished I had had more time with her. We had a lot in common: both divorced with daughters, both having gone to high school in New York, and both with a two-year-old granddaughter.

By the way, Zoe's class is a beginner level and the one I'm in now is the next level up, intended for those who want to pass the HISET test or who for reasons of their own want to do higher level work.

Certainly, rationally I knew that I didn't leave the team. I'm still a volunteer. The other volunteers with whom I shared my concerns said that Zoe wasn't like that, she wouldn't have held it against, me, and of course she understood. 

Yesterday by coincidence I was at the JCA for a talk and reading from her new book by Rabbi Sheila Weinstein. She was the rabbi when I attended services and sent my kids to Sunday school there. When, during the Q and A session, the discussion turned to Purim, I used the opportunity to get up and say some of what was weighing me down.

I don't like speaking in front of a crowd, but I said that I remembered Sheila dressing up as a clown for Purim, bringing my costumed kids and getting them graggers with which to make noise at any mention of the evil Haman. I said that the kids lost some interest when they realized she would be leading a reading of the whole Megillah, the story of Esther, which has come to mean a very long tale.

Tears filling my eyes, I said what had happened and asked (rhetorically) why Judaism doesn't offer up the vision of a deceased person dancing in heaven, and what can you do with your grief in a situation like this, and then I told the part about the parking and the guilt.

She said that (of course) I didn't do anything wrong and that I had reason to be sad and that I would just need to sit with it. The woman sitting next to me gently rubbed my back.

Afterwards, when milling around, I bumped into several people I knew, including one from a baby play group (Ben's) and one who was related to good friends of my parents. A man who came over to give me a hug said that as a fellow native New Yorker, he got the thing about the parking. Getting a good place is an point of pride, if not a religion.

"Once you tried three times without success, that was it," he said about the parking problems that drove me out of Northampton.

That made more sense to me than the voice rattling around in my head did.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Fun time at the Hot Chocolate Run

The Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage in Northampton is such a fun and festive event that I'm not sure why it wasn't on my radar all those years that I was running Saint Patrick's and the Talking Turkey.

I did it last year for the first time, when tennis friends organized a team to support our team member, Marianne Winters, the executive director of the Northampton non-profit supporting women and children affected by domestic violence.

Thinking it was "only" a 5K, I thought it was no big deal. The hills in and around Smith College, however, made it harder than unpleasant surprise.

Back in the day when I was regularly doing five- to six-milers up and down hills in South Hadley, and longer on weekends, getting up to a half marathon, it would have been no biggie. But I've been doing shorter distances – a place holder in case I decide to really get back into it. I miss those endorphins from the longer, more regular runs.
With Carol Constant at Hot Chocolate Run

Last year when I was struggling to get up a hill, I asked a bystander, "Am I running or walking?"

I was glad to hear her say I was running. But I was so bent over that she asked if I needed medical attention. I didn't, but I did have to lean against a tree to straighten out.

My goals this year were to (1) finish feeling good and standing up straight and (2) to not finish last. I had been there done that in this year's Saint Patrick's Road Race, a distinction that I wrote about in Women's Running. (Everything is material.)

For the past few months, I've done small intervals, speeding up to the best of my ability between trees and other markers, a couple of times a week at best. Mostly I did three miles, though I did a few four-milers. I also added hills, changing courses from just going the lakes at Mount Holyoke to going around the neighborhood. Just the tiniest whiff of those endorphins makes me want to keep at it, though at this point I'm more in the groove of tennis. It suits my capabilities more now.

By last week I felt OK on the hills and felt better about getting a little faster.

All the energy on the day of the event – Sunday – helped me get an extra bounce in my step. The costumes and music added to the excitement. I felt better all around, though I have to say it is a challenge to not totally be able to feel your feet. This is due to the neuropathy that never went away after my chemotherapy eight years ago. I told myself to try to feel the ground instead of thinking about my feet.

A father told his son not to compare himself to anyone else – "You're only racing against yourself" – and I picked up on that bit of wisdom and took it for myself. Of course I wasn't running for a time as in the past...just running to have fun and be respectable. With that definition of success, it was a win.

Some 6,000 people ran, and the event raised $615,000.

Back home, Maddie and I walked around both lakes with my neighbor. Like all the excitement had at done at the race, the conversation carried me. Plus, after I had gotten exercise, I felt like it was only fair for the dog to get it too.

What with coming and going and walking and running, by the end of the day I had done more than 9 miles. I was more wired than tired that night. But the next day, yesterday, was a different story.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Mourning the loss of a friend

Map of where our friend was killed
This was a sad day.

A group of us gathered to honor and remember the 52-year-old woman who died Wednesday after being hit by a car on Monday. She had been walking her dog at the corner of Canal and Lyman streets in Holyoke around 6:30 p.m. when a 63-year-old man hit her.

It is unclear if her name will be released. So I am not even going to say who the group of people was or where we met. In that way it is hard to write about. But I can say that she was a wonderful caring person with so much to give. We got food from a restaurant that she liked and shared our thoughts and feelings.

We had a lot in common, so that in addition to having a professional relationship, we had a personal one.

I felt that in a certain way I had let her down. People in the know said, not so. But as I said to another person at our gathering, when somebody dies, it is natural to glom onto one particular thing that is making you cry, where in reality it is the passing in general. I told this person that when my mother died right after Thanksgiving and I had left New York to be home with my children instead of staying with her, I kept dwelling on how I should have stayed. I only managed to let it go when a cousin said that I had given her the gift of doing what she asked me to do, which was to go back home.

Today a member of our group led us in a meditation. She said it is OK to feel how you feel, whatever that is. I am struggling with a recurrent image of our friend being hit, probably hit on the head, because the first reports were of head injuries suffered. I imagine you just need to let that kind of thing run its course and think of how she lived, not how she died. It is corny to say, but you could feel the love in that room today.

In reading the version of the accident reported on, my former place of employment, I'm reminded of how stupid some of the comments can be, such as this one posted by Iowa Cowboy:  "This is why the RMV needs to crack down on older drivers. I’d like to see a law passed that would require any driver over 55 to have a DOT medical exam and carry a DOT medical card to operate any vehicle."

Tonight, I watched Joe announce the UMASS/UCONN hockey game  It was a good game, with UMASS coming out ahead 4-2 for the team's third straight win.

While actually the words should be "listen to" him announce, watching is also accurate; while of course watching the game, I sit behind the announcers' booth, thereby also watching the back of his head. While some proud parents might be taking videos of their sons skating, I take videos of such feats as Joe going out on the ice between periods to announce and retrieve the award-winning puck in the chuck a puck. It's the little things. What can you say.

When staff jettisoned UMASS T-shirts into the crowd, an overenthusiastic fan in front of me jumped up and elbowed me in the forehead. My glasses flew into my lap. Tears filled my eyes.


Fan, unapologetically: "Oh, sorry."

Putting my water bottle on my forehead, I had to wonder if my reaction had to do partially with the man who hit our friend.

Afterwards I went into the bathroom to check out my face and observed that Mr. Fan-atic's elbow had broken my skin. My head aches a little, but not as much as my heart does.