Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mangy Cur

We recently noticed a bit of a bald spot on Hoover, up where the ear meets the head. It took us a few days to recognize that it was a bald spot and not just a cowlick in the ear/head crease; today I finally looked closely at it, and it was actually about the size of a quarter (camouflaged by other hair), and had little red bumps in it. I looked at my calendar and realized that, if I were going to get him in to a vet, I would need to do it today or two weeks from now, and called our friends at Green Lake Animal Hospital. Someone could see him at 5:00pm.

It turns out Hoover has Demodectic mange, which is caused by a teeny parasite called the Demodectic mite, which lives in hair follicles. It is not transferrable to humans, and rarely, if ever, transferred to other dogs in the house. For the most part, it is transferred exclusively from mom dog to pup. His immune system seems to be dealing with the problem—the vet found only three mites in the scraped sample she took, and all were adults and dead. There is a drug we can give him if the situation doesn't resolve or if it spreads—basically a pesticide—but it would be better to simply let his immune system deal with it. It is not recommended to dip your dog in motor oil in hopes of a cure.

The things we inherit from our mothers.

Note: My last line seems to imply a bitterly humorous irony about my breast cancer. It's actually very unlikely that I inherited my vast facility with breast cancer from my mother, although I will probably have the genetic tests done to determine this sometime in the next month. No, I was referring to things like the inability to burp without following up by saying "Burp!", and the need to compliment my own cooking during a dinner party.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Statistical Individual (i.e. an oxymoron)

I just found out last night that the daughter-in-law (basically—you know how complicated modern relationships are) of a friend has breast cancer. She was diagnosed at Stage 3, with three tumors in her breast and lymph nodes infected as well. Her doctors recommended a plan of attack and told her she has about a 50% chance of survival. Rather than start her treatments immediately, she instead flew to Chicago for a weekend to watch one of her daughters graduate from boot camp. The doctors did not think this was such a good idea.

I, on the other hand, think it was great. Life is, after all, for living. And watching your daughter graduate is a big deal. And I also want to point out, as I believe I have before, that the statistic her doctors quoted her—that she has a 50% chance of survival—does not actually apply to her. Statistics are very useful in determining a trend, but say not a single thing about the individual. She is 100% alive while she's alive—and that's really the only important thing to think about.

Not one of my doctors has quoted statistics at me this summer, which I've appreciated. It may just be that they didn't think I was going to survive anyway, and so why bother; I don't know. But I do know I wouldn't have cared.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Growing Up Again

Ian and I went to a symphony concert last week, to hear Gershwin's Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra and Beethoven's Symphony Number Seven. When I bought the tickets, last summer, the guest artist was supposed to be Sir Andre Previn, who was to do a two-week residency with the Seattle Symphony this fall, culminating in this program. I believe he was going to play the Gershwin and conduct the Beethoven. In the event, when we arrived at the symphony, the program was the same but the performer and conductor were not. For the most part it was nevertheless a fine experience. I found the trumpet solos in the Gershwin to be ever so slightly too sharp on the high notes—not quite enough for an involuntary cringe, but close. The rest of the music was excellent, and I correctly identified the theme to Beethoven's 7th before we went back in to hear it after intermission, so that was fun.

We decided, however, that we're good on live performances of the symphony for the next several years (unless there happens to be another performance of Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto, in which case I'll go), because the audience is an inevitable part of the show, and it turns out I'm a bit of an old stick-in-the-mud. We were sitting in the Founder's Tier, in the center of the third row, and the usher pointed the way to our seats. There were four people already seated in our way; we politely excused ourselves. The first two—no problem. The man of the second couple, however, said "Why didn't you go the other way? I'd think that you should have." "We came the way the usher directed," I said, and sat myself down. I then leaned forward and looked to my right, the way we hadn't come, and saw a line of 10 people already seated—a longer line of seats than there was to my left, the way we had come. Grrr. Of course there were all the people who coughed in the quiet places, and clapped between movements. And then, for the entire second half of the evening, the people sitting directly in front of me kept talking and laughing. I couldn't actually hear them, but every 30 seconds or so when one would have something new to say to the other, they would lean their heads together and completely block my view. I wanted to ask them very kindly, after the show, if it was the first time they'd ever been to the symphony. I did not.

This, however, is more about the symphony that I meant to write—my intended theme for this post was the sort of "rebirth" I've gone through this summer and fall, directly associated with the path of the cancer. In the hospital, for example, I was completely at the mercy of the people around me to take care of my needs, even the most basic (infancy). When I left the hospital and came home, I was still very weak and, while I didn't have to learn how to walk again, I certainly had to build up the strength to do so (toddlery). I couldn't write very well for a while—even the muscles in my hands had atrophied. So I learned to write (age 5-7), reread the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder series (age 6-12), pulled out all the old Calvin and Hobbes books (high school and college), and bought tickets to see a symphony. The last time I listened to classical music with any regularity was probably 1995, and it was at the symphony that the "rebirth" cycle came to my attention. I seem to be done going through personal eras, though. I'm not, for instance, finding any desire to pull out my old linguistics books. And I'm not finding it necessary to replay my swingin' single days, either.

Big weeks coming up for me: On Monday I meet with a genetics counselor to see about whether or not I have a particular gene mutation that has made my cancer more likely. If I do, there might be some implications for Mom's health, or Deane's future children's health. For me, of course, it's kind of academic—I have had cancer, four times, and so a genetic marker isn't really going to do much to predict whether or not it will happen at this point. Anyway, they'll probably draw some blood for DNA testing, and I'll hear sometime. I don't know how long it takes.

On Tuesday I have a MUGA, the one that looks at whether or not my heart is functioning well. I don't usually feel my heart pounding, but in general it definitely beats faster these days than it did in the past—like, 120 beats per minute when I'm just standing. Sitting or lying down it's usually upper 80s to mid-90s. I'll be interested to see what the MUGA says.

On Wednesday I have a bone scan and a neck-to-pelvis CT, followed by my chemo (put off by a day because of the MUGA and my horseback riding schedule). I'll be at the clinic about 9-6 next Wednesday. Then it's Thanksgiving Weekend.

Then, on Wednesday 3 December I have my next brain MRI and meet with Dr Jason, then on the 4th I meet with Dr Specht. So I will have more information in the next two weeks. Whether it will be enough information to estimate when I am "done" with treatments remains to be seen.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I seem to remember, dimly in the past, taking showers pretty regularly. My hair was very straight and fine, and showed the oil pretty quickly, although, for the sake of its long-term health, I didn't wash it daily. For a long time I would wear it down on the clean day and up on the next day . . . although even then, even though I wasn't washing my hair daily, I still showered. Hmmm. You see, I don't really shower all that often anymore—maybe just two or three times a week. I've assumed it was because of my hair—why bother to get the rest of the body clean, I've assumed my thinking was, when the most obvious potentially regularly dirty part of me—my hair—is noticeably in absentia.

I suppose another reason I haven't been showering much is that I don't get sweaty very often. I'm not spending long hours (okay, it was only ever long minutes) on the treadmill these days, so I only really sweat on Mondays at my riding lesson. In Gyrotonic I get a little warm—but the purpose is not to sweat, it's to make your strength lengthy and flexible. Anyway, I took the dogs on a long walk this afternoon (1.8 miles, courtesy of Google Maps line measuring tool), and actually did get a little sweaty by the time I was done climbing up and down the hills and being dragged around (much less, it's true—he seems to be maturing ever so slowly) by Hoover.

Anyway, for this week, I bathed at Olympus Spa on Monday night . . . and I'm pretty sure that's the last time I got more than my hands wet. And what is it, Thursday? I might be very smelly and just not aware of it—you know, familiarity and all—but Ian hasn't been complaining, nor have the dogs. Of course, familiarity might cover them as well. And it's not like it takes a long time—without the long hair to wash and the legs to shave . . . Ah HA! I think I've just figured it out! In general, I like a nice, smooth leg (on me). And my leg hairs, in general, grow fast and thick. They're not doing that right now! In fact, there's hardly any hair left on my legs at all. I do give them a nominal shave periodically, but nothing like the daily shave they used to receive.

Well. Thanks, Internet, for being a sounding board that led to the solution of this latest mystery of the cancer-recovery process.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

1 Down, 17 To Go

Last night I took my last Keppra pill. Keppra is the one that was helping me not have seizures; the fact that Dr. Jason deemed a new prescription unnecessary when the refills ran out seems like a good thing to me. I haven't had a new brain MRI yet, but I will in about two weeks. With Keppra gone, my medicine list now reads as follows:

Primary Therapies:


1. Herceptin: Engineered antibody, for Her2NEU positive cancers.

2. Taxol: Traditional chemo, made from yew trees

3. Navelbine: Traditional chemo


4. Pamidronate: For bone density

5. Lupron: To block ovarian function (keep estrogen down)

Premeds, so I tolerate Primary Therapies:


6. Dexamethazone: Keeps me from feeling like I have the flu with Taxol

7. Zofran: Blocks nausea

8. Ranitidine: Blocks stomach acid

9. Benadryl: Keeps me from having an allergic reaction to Taxol (also makes me LOOPY)

Things I am taking to counteract side effects:

3 times/day:

10. Glutamine powder: to assuage neuropathy, which makes my fingers and toes tingly and a little painful

11. Vitamin B-6: Same as glutamine

1 time/day

12. Bactrim: Sulfa antibiotic as a prophylactic against a pneumonia recurrence

13. Protonix: Keeps stomach acid down

5 times/week

14. Neupogen: The shot I give myself to boost white cell production


15. Epotin: Given at the clinic to boost red cell production

Meds for Specific, Finite issues


16. Fluconazole: 10 days, for a relapse of thrush (probably brought on by the juice I was drinking 3Xday with my glutamine. I have started mixing the glutamine just with water, which is gross, but less gross than a throat full of scales I can feel when I swallow)


17. Iron Sucrose: 4 times, to help my blood accept the Epotin to build more red cells. It looks like coffee in the drip bag. That is, it looks like the coffee I make. It looks like a double espresso. Fortunately, it didn't feel like that.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ian's Pictures From Tacoma

You can check out a small selection of Ian's photos here if you'd like. Really, a lovely town.

Monday, November 10, 2008


I turned 36 yesterday, and even though I unmercifully mocked Ian for wanting at least a small get-together with his friends when he turned 34 last month (we actually attended a fabulous wedding on the day) I did, after all, really appreciate all the sweet birthday wishes I received, and, I'm embarrassed to admit, I called out those friends who forgot, or even only appeared to forget. Which kind of makes me cringe right now, because you'd think 36 would be mature enough to act like it.

Anyway, I did have a great weekend. Ian and I took Mom and Marsh to Tacoma for a mini-break.

Now that you've stopped either laughing or waiting, in disbelief, for me to go on and tell you where we really went, I will. We went to Tacoma for the weekend. It was fantastic. The purpose of the trip was primarily to thank Mom and Marsh, and mostly Marsh (because Mom was off gallivanting around Europe for a couple weeks), for watching our dogs all summer while I was either in the hospital or convalescing too much to really want to deal with an exuberant puppy. They refused to let us pay them, and in fact didn't even let us pay for food, or the kennel that was eventually deemed necessary to keep Hoover home. In fact, if you need dogsitting, they're AWESOME.

Anyway, two nights in a nice hotel was way cheaper than weeks of the Barking Lounge (where Hoover likes to hang out for short stays, including this last weekend; Spackle is mature and relatively predictable so we're willing to pawn him off on friends who we believe will still be friends after the experience), so it was a pleasure to be able to give those nights to Mom and Marsh.

We all met up Friday evening (Ian and I, very cleverly we thought, took 509 all the way down and around Dash Point instead of getting on the parking lot of I-5 on a Friday at rush hour—the route was only a little more distance, and much more interesting) and had dinner at Katie Downs on the waterfront at Ruston Way. We had a nightcap in our hotel bar—the Hotel Murano, naturally—afterwards.

Saturday morning we spent some time in the hot shop at the Museum of Glass—Mom and I were both agitated the whole time, because it's really hot down there and anything could happen. Someone kept spraying water from a squirt bottle on people and things, and various bits of damp newspaper that they were using to shape cylinders of glass kept drying out and sparking or even catching fire. In their bare hands. We ate lunch at the museum, had a stroll around the old downtown (including a stop to look at fabulous colored stones at 67-year-old Le Roy Jewelers—that is, Mom and I stopped to look at stones—the boys went to start their naps early), naps, wine hour at the hotel, and a fabulous birthday dinner for both Ian and me, treated by Mom, at the Pacific Grill.

Sunday, my actual birthday, after we checked out, we went on a bit of a driving tour with the destination of Point Defiance Park. We stopped by Stadium High School (set for the movie, which I love, 10 Things I Hate About You) on the way, then made it down to the water at Point Defiance, and then saw the ferry that runs from there to Vashon. Ian and I had a eureka moment—we would go home via ferries and Vashon! We ate a somewhat early lunch at the Antique Sandwich Company—reubens all around—took Mom and Marsh back to their car at the hotel, and parted ways.

We had a bit of time to wait before the ferry, so Ian and I went back to Point Defiance Park and spent some time looking at an amazing duck pond. We recognized at least four different species of duck-like bird (including, of course, the ubiquitous mallards), and a couple different species of sea gull (yes, yes, I know there is no particular bird that is officially called the sea gull). In fact, I was interested enough in all the birds—those who know me well will agree that this was a surprise—that I wanted an information board telling me what the different species were. Alas, there wasn't one, and as Ian said "this was maybe the only time in your life that the universe had a chance of educating you about birds, and it missed out." This is probably true.

We enjoyed our ferry ride from Point Defiance to Tahlequah, stopped once in the middle of the island for a snack of Cheese Mix crackers and chips and hickory almonds, caught a ferry to Fauntleroy, picked up Hoover, and were back home around 5pm. When L&S dropped off Spackle, they invited us to join them for an early dinner at the Palace Kitchen—normally something I would totally go for. But we'd had a really great meal only the night before, and I was in the mood for something simpler. So we went to the Wing Dome instead, where I had a pint of Manny's and 10 (well, 9 because Ian had one) Four-Alarm classic wings with blue cheese and two pieces of celery to round it out. We then took the dogs to Woodland Park to run around in the dark (not the zoo part of the park), then came home and had chocolate rootbeer floats and watched the new Get Smart.

In all, a really really great weekend.

Oh yes—Mom wanted me to say that she really enjoyed the art gallery part of the hotel—each floor features a different glass artist, with a piece of work, plus several pictures of the artist in the hot shop creating.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

But I Just Feel Like Me

I had lunch yesterday with Debra Jarvis, who used to be a chaplain at the SCCA and is now on to different things, all of them hugely in support of life and connection and finding the joy in living. I hadn't seen her for over three months, since I'd been in the hospital. She brought a camera (which we forgot to use), because she wanted to take a picture of us together. Because I am the only person she has ever known—out of hundreds of cancer patients—to get intubated in the ICU and come out of it.

This is why Dr. Specht calls me Miracle Girl, I suppose. And maybe it is a miracle—I don't know. I haven't felt anything drastic or shocking—from my perspective, I am simply, comfortably myself.

Okay, Seriously Now.

About a month ago I took a class in marketing myself and my writing. The idea was that, since the economic slowdown (crashdown, rather), I should be bringing in some cash instead of always just letting it out. Ian and I revamped our budget—that is, we actually drew up a budget designed to control our spending instead of just describe it—and that helped quite a bit (do I really need to spend $500 at Anthropologie most months? Do we have to have $150 worth of books from Amazon each month, simply because it's free to ship?). We have had, for several years now, the habit of simply buying whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted it. It's never been a long-term sustainable practice, but it's much less sustainable these days.

Anyway, I realize that I am particularly lucky to be in this position—to have time to figure out how to make some money—but lucky or not, I'd really like to continue not having to have a 9-5 office job that allows me a mere two weeks and Christmas Day off each year. If I had had such a job, I would've had to take a leave of absence or just quit over the summer, because such a schedule was completely unsustainable with the way my health was. Sure, I'm particularly healthy-feeling right now for the activities that I'm taking part in—horseback riding and Gyrotonic, taking the dogs to Magnussen and walking them to the beach—but part of the reason I can do these things is that I have lots of time to rest and recover before and afterwards.

What I want to do to earn money is write. Getting some essays published, which will lead to getting a book published, these are my Big Plans, mentioned obliquely in this blog several weeks ago. I feel that I have a lot of powerful writing in this blog, for starters, that could really help people, or at least entertain them, and pay me a bit of a salary. In fact, I have almost ten years of writing about my experiences with cancer in various places on our computer, dealing with me and this disease and how I've felt about it from Day One.

The problem is figuring out where to start, what to tell, how to tell it. I've written half of one essay so far since deciding to buckle down, and it was weeks ago. As you may have noticed, I haven't even been writing my blog entries consistently since I sat a month ago in class and decided to write. Part of it is simple childish contrariness, but regardless, the result is that I'm actually working less well now than I was before I decided to work.

I'm not sure at this point how to solve this internal struggle aside from just buckling down and doing it . . . so that's what I'm going to do.

If any of you have any connections with editors or publishers though, let me know. Yes, I am totally willing to exploit my relationships with you all. Totally.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ian the Internet Search God

Ian has a gift for finding things on the internet. If you want to know if there's an ice cream shop in Oakland, he finds one on his phone—with directions—while we're stuck in traffic heading south on I-83 (he had a strawberry cheesecake shake; I had a chocolate one with bits of chocolate in it). Trying to find the most environmental large pick-up truck? He found the Dodge "Contractor Special"; a diesel hybrid that had outlets—powered by the diesel engine/generator—that ran your power tools. Unfortunately, Dodge did not actually follow through and produce the Contractor Special. Have a hankering for a good octopus video? He can find the ones that haven't even made it to You Tube yet.

And, he found me instructions for unsaving a Mahjong game. You go to my computer, C drive, users, my user name, saved games, Microsoft games, Mahjong titans, and then you delete the saved game. A touch inconvenient, but it worked. And now, I no longer have to go through the extra step of hitting "no" all—let's say 3 per week—times that I open the game.

Note: I just read the comment on my previous post and saw that Joel is also clearly an internet search god. Thank you, Joel.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dell Legacy

The, oh, third guy I talked to with Dell a couple weeks ago, as soon as we'd opened the communication and he was controlling my computer, asked if he could close down my programs, then asked if I wanted my Mahjong game saved. I said sure, close down the programs but no, don't bother saving the game. But he said "No, I save it anyway," and he did, and now every time I open Mahjong, which is much more often than I'm going to admit to, it asks me if I want to open my saved game.

The first time, I said sure, I'll open my saved game. I completed the puzzle, went on to other games, closed Mahjong at the end of the night and thought nothing more of it. The next time I opened the program, it asked if I'd like to open my saved game. I said sure, completed the puzzle, went on to other games, closed Mahjong at the end of the night and thought nothing more of it. The third time I opened the program, it asked me if I'd like to open my saved game and I said yes, then realized that I already knew this game—I had already won it twice. I went into the Help section, to see what it had to say about unsaving games, and here is where I came upon yet another mildly so but still irritating feature of Windows Vista: there is no way to unsave a game. There are instructions on saving games, which is distressingly easy it turns out, but nothing about making them go away once you have successfully completed them.

So from now on, evidently every time I open Mahjong, it will ask me if I want to open my saved game. I say no.