Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Small Stuff

Tonight I made dinner.  This does not seem like an amazing feat for most people.  I, however, know better.  I have decided (with some motherly and professional vehement encouragement) to applaud myself for small stuff.

When I say I made dinner, I mean I created a meal that was a) all hot at the same time, b) nutritional, and c) enjoyed/devoured by all diners.

pictorial representation of my own stack c/o crumbly cookie
5 eggs
small pat of ghee
2 tomatos
1 avocado
1 c whole wheat pancake mix
1/2 c org. canned pumpkin
3/4 c water
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp walnut oil
also, not my eggs (waaaaay too much pepper), they belong to shortbread
1/8 lb thinly sliced kosher salami
fresh basil
splash balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper


Prepare pumpkin pancakes using pancake mix, water, cinnamon and canned pumpkin.

As pancakes cook in walnut oil, dice tomatos and avocado.  Toss in a lovely bowl with evoo and a bit of balsamic, pinch of salt and pepper.
*If you have time and resources, go out back and snip some fresh basil.  Wash and dry leaves, then chop and add to the tomato salad.

Place pancakes in a covered casserole dish in a warm oven.

Using same pan, make scrambled eggs (with ghee).
Deposit cooked eggs into same casserole dish.

While pancakes and eggs stay warm in oven, lower flame and crisp slices of salami.
Pat salami dry (wipe off excess grease) and serve all foods hot and delicious alongside tomato and avocado salad.

Watch child clear his plate.

Sigh.  I savor moments of feeling like my former self - planning and preparing a successful dinner a primary example - as they still don't come as often as I'd like, or as frequently as I expected them by now.  I wish everyone could appreciate an uneventful day.  A day where no one is sick, everyone goes to work or school, cook, clean, menial jobs get crossed off of a To Do list... 

For seriousness, what I was most proud of at dinner was that everything came out hot at the same time.  Sha-blam.  Like I said, it's the little things. 

ps. I only dirtied one pan!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

World Lymphoma Awareness Day

Just call me Famous Amos.
I was thrilled to be introduced to a few great people at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society not too long ago.  I was even more excited when they asked me to write a guest post for their blog about Light the Night and what it means to me. 

I described the first connection that came to mind, which was Harry Potter.  If you're intrigued, feel free to visit the (edited) post here:  My LLS guest blog post

While there are chunks of my first draft that had to be edited in the interest of length, you get the gist (plus, if you've been with me since Day 1, you know my story anyway).  

Today was my first visit to an allergist.  Since I have been having these strange reactions (rash, scant itching, worsened shortness of breath, heart racing) to every single pill I take (including but not limited to: zantac, probiotics, vitamin B, ALA, prilosec...), I decided to take matters into my own hands and go right to a specialist.  As it turns out, I cannot have any allergy testing due to my heart condition and use of beta blocker.  However, after undergoing a very high-tech scratch test (the doctor scratched my arm with a broken tongue depressor), my skin revealed what I understand to be an overproduction of histamine.  The medical term is urticaria, also known as hives.  The treatment (for starters) is to take two low dose antihistamines for the next two weeks and then check in with the doc.

Meanwhile, I really am feeling good about the Light the Night walk coming up in October.  I'm a bit wary about returning to life as a working mom in a few weeks, but I think anything worth doing is going to be scary. 

Today being not only my mom's birthday, but also World Lymphoma Awareness Day (in the midst of a big cancer awareness month), I thought I would highlight some famous Lymphoma survivors (aside from myself).  Would you have guessed Mr. T??  Gene Wilder (the original Willy Wonka)?  Mario Lemieux and even Charles Lindbergh were all of the lymphoma variety.  Paul Allen (co-founder of Microsoft) had it and Tracy Nelson (actress granddaughter of Ozzie and Harriet) beat it, too.  Blood Cancers are a bitch.
What dumb cell would want to mess with this?

I bet it was the chocolate river that got him through.

PGH represents.

Lymphoma before R-CHOP
You know, the guy next to Bill Gates.
This looks like a Law & Order episode, but it is from a much older mystery TV series called Father Dowling.
I am so honored to include some phenomenal new members of our Light the Night Team Mama Mia.  The very generous Casey Edwards, Betsy Madway, Julie Bahuriak, Marcy and Gary Garb, Gabe Pardo, Marla Scarola, The Pflegers, The Wanderers, Andy Love, Susan Burkhardt, and Jenny Lynn Keller have all joined the ranks.  I speak the truth when I say this is a group of givers.  I am proud to call them my friends (ok, I'm related to a few also).

Please do not be mistaken.  There is still time for YOU to join the team!  While there have recently been some huge breakthroughs in treatment, there is still so much work to be done.  One problem we were just discussing tonight at dinner is that in order for treatments to gain approval, there need to be patients willing to take risks on experimental medicine through clinical trials.  Often times, these new drugs or regimens are not covered by insurance and so patients are stuck with enormous bills (if the treatment works - if it doesn't, it's their families who must foot the bill).  LLS is one of the great organizations that is involved in both cutting edge research as well as patient support services (matching patients to appropriate clinical trials and even helping secure payment options in some cases).

What can you do?  Click on the link in the upper right corner of this blog to view my team page and give a tax deductible donation.  I promise you will feel good about contributing (no matter how small) to something meaningful.  And obviously, you are welcome to join us down by the art museum for the walk next month.  This year, I'll be the one with the hair.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cancer Grammar

I have never received a Granny Smith from a student.
When we talk about cancer,  we're wont to use an "it".  It's gone!  Or it spread.  It's back.  This is strange to me, since these are our own cells we're describing.  Granted, they're our cells gone bad, gone very, very bad.  But they started out just fine.  Somewhere along the way, they were corrupted by the bullies out in the schoolyard.  Invited to join a gang.  So brainwashed there was no chance at rehabilitation.

The best we can hope for is to kill those bad ones off.

And here I am again in the third person.  Cancer is separate from me.  It does not define me, it does not consume me.  It is a part of me, though.  And it certainly scares me  (more like terrifies me).  No one wants to think of cancer as a male or a female, so we surely wouldn't say he or she.  That seems to personal, too close.  We're talking about a disease, not a boat, for heaven's sake.

But cancer is happening in our bodies.  It is our own cells, or organs, being overrun by the baddies.  We try to disconnect ourselves from them so we don't feel responsible or like our entire persons are being taken over, merged with Cancer, Inc.

I've often wished to be more disconnected from my body.  I'd love to let every twitch and ache pass me by.  Love to ignore tightness in my chest or a heart rate faster than the speed of light.  Being far away from something or someone means you don't see them, hear them.  Can't touch or know them intimately.  If I could be granted a trial separation from a few of my choice body parts, I might take it.

Yet this desire to be less self-aware, less in tune with my own rhythms goes against everything I know I need to be in my future self.  I want to listen to my intuition, to familiarize myself with the new patterns I've developed. 

This evening, I realized it has been exactly 6 months since I had my "remission" scan.  We can call it my 6 monthacancerversary.  Surprisingly, I feel pretty good.  I passed my 6 minute walk test (given in the respiratory therapy department at the hospital), which means I am medically approved to participate in pulmonary rehab.  The test meant my blood pressure was taken a few times, seated, then I walked in circles for six minutes while wearing a little monitor that measures my heart rate and pulse ox levels (to make sure my blood is getting enough oxygen from my lungs).  The pulse ox never went below 97%!  Yay for my well-oxygenated blood!
F-ree parking at the hospital!  Maybe even better than passing the 6 minute walk test?

I don't know that I will be able to work out the rehab with insurance and my upcoming work schedule (hint, hint), but to know that I am capable of doing some exercise on my own is good enough news. 

What's more is that I think we have found a real breakthrough in the breathing department.  My acupuncturist began treating the scar tissue - the leftovers from the beastly tumor - last week.  Slowly, I have felt better and better.  And tonight, I even felt like I was breathing normally.  Please don't ask me to explain why needles poking around in my dead tissue help my lungs to operate more productively.  I just know it helps.


PS.  Perchance, you may have noticed the brand spanking new link in the upper righthand corner of the blog.  Feel free to click on it and donate wildly to Team Mama Mia as we will be walking Light the Night this year in celebration of my remission!  (You don't have to donate wildly - any amount will do.  I will love you all the same.)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Making Sense

Did you ever feel like you were being tried for a crime you did not commit?  Today, I decided that's my new cancer analogy.  I did absolutely nothing to provoke disease here.  In fact, I would go so far as to say I did my best to prevent it.  Well-rounded meals, no dirty habits, no smoking or drinking (unless a glass of wine on Friday night constitutes drinking), very little coffee even.  When I was pregnant with Judah, I used to hold my breath whenever a stinky truck drove by.  No pollution for my child.

Every few months, I trudge into the sentencing room, waiting for some arbitrary jury to decide my fate.  Will I go back to the hospital?  Will there be more pills to take?  More red poison to be injected?  Or am I on probation?  Community service?

Wait, though.  I was doing community service before this all began.  It don't make no sense.

Why are some of us lucky enough to get probation and some are taken away kicking and screaming?  Certainly I am quite relieved that my scan results came back cancer-free.  I don't want to forget to celebrate the fact that I've been NED (no evidence of disease) for a whopping 9 months now.  Thankfully I am not locked in a cell.  It's still a daily challenge not to fear my fate and worry there is just not enough time to do all of the things I want to do.

As you may have heard, the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is approaching.  We are all (here in the States) seeing short films and reading essays poignantly reminding us of what was lost ten years ago and how things have changed.  For so many of us, our innocence and trust in the safety of living in the USA was forever broken.  I find it very difficult to watch the documentaries, each CB radio recording or voicemail message a piece of the past.  A snippet of someone's voice never to be spoken again. 

I remember that day so vividly - it was my second day of student teaching, we had just gotten unpacked and started our morning routine when another staff member came into our classroom to spell out what had happened.  I wasn't proficient at spelling as a language (then) and couldn't understand what she was talking about.  Too troubling to discuss in front of 30 seven year olds, she led me into her room to look on the computer at the images.  I still couldn't comprehend what was happening.  No one could.  I lost it when I thought about my brother and friends who lived and worked near the WTC.  No cell service and racing minds make a bad combination.  The children were dismissed and we all ran to find our loved ones and leave Center City (Philadelphia), the home of the friggin Liberty Bell - sure to be the next target.

Dan and I fled to my parents' house in the suburbs and watched the news all afternoon and into the night, finally collapsing with exhaustion, our minds (as those of so many others) reeling.  Thankful our loved ones were alive.  Trying to make sense out of something that makes no sense. 

This is a part of human life, I suppose, the constant need to make sense of the world around you, even when that's an impossible task.  As Al Brooks pokes fun in Defending Your Life, we humans here on Earth only use 3% of our brains.  Perhaps we are not meant to understand everything, we're only meant to try. 

Watching these 9/11 movies and videos is traumatic for me (I can only imagine what it is like for the families of those we lost), but I force myself to watch.  Partly, I think because I'm a glutton for a good cry.  And, because I think it's our duty to hear these stories, to know what superhuman feats were taken on in the midst of a terrible, tragic time.  If nothing else makes sense to me, it's that we are surely here to learn from and about each other, and to support those who cannot carry themselves.  Since I can walk today, and I've already been carried, my job at this moment must be to watch and learn.  I surely owe that much.