Friday, February 29, 2008

Yes We Can. No I Can't.

Reality check: I had a transplant six months ago. It's easy to forget that since I feel so good. Since I've returned to nearly all my pre-transplant activities. Since I banished the pill caddy. Barack Obama is coming to Rhode Island tomorrow and I really wanted to attend the rally. I wanted to bring Mark and Harry with me. But I can't. It's the height of flu season, so even wearing a gas mask (I actually have a very serious mask that purports to block bird flu virus), I'm at risk. So says my esteemed doctor. He's been right so far so I'm going to err on the side of caution. No martinis, no parmesan cheese, no Obama rallies. I'll live.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My 15 Minutes of CyberFame

I'd better be careful what I write. It's come to my attention that my words have been shared in a college classroom in Iowa and have also been posted on facebook. I don't want to get too specific, because the next thing you know my comments will be turning up in The Hack Report, but I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't secretly pleased. Who writes who doesn't want to be read and quoted? If you saw my post on Plymouth, Mass. you apparently experienced a fine example of postmodern commentary on mythic historical events, my very own PoMo Moment. My professor niece used the post in her class the other day, as a counterpoint to William Bradford's narration of the Pilgrim Settlement. My other 7.5 minutes of fame are on display in my daughter's facebook profile, which you will not be able to see unless you're a) a facebook member b) one of her "friends." That will eliminate 95% of you. The rest can visit her page and read the exact quote, which she refers to as my "rant" on the topic of teenagers & rebellion. It's from an email I sent her last week in which I responded to her realization that she (3 weeks shy of 20) strongly dislikes teenagers. She may have quoted some other part.

"The basic stages of child-adult relationships: adore, cooperate, rebel, cooperate, peace. The peace part's achieved when you realize (reluctantly) that you've become your parents. "

Fame's expired. Please insert 25 cents for each additional minute.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Knit One, Stir One

Back in November, I started knitting a sweater. Last night, I finished it. Surprisingly, I might actually wear it.

I'd feared the final result would be misshapen. Early diagnostics revealed several mutations which threatened to undermine the structural integrity of the sweater: the back was unnaturally wide even though I added inches to the length; I didn't really know how to perform certain essential techniques (decreasing, increasing); no matter how often I measured, I struggled to make even parts that would eventually wed. It was with a sense of relief then that when I was done knitting and blocking and joining, after I'd sewed on the last button and tied the last knot, it looked like a typical collared cardigan with turn-back cuffs and nifty recessed pockets. No mere vest or crew neck pullover for me. I chose to knit a sweater with all the fixins.

My mentor will judge what type of job I've done. El Exigente might suggest I wear the next sweater I knit. (Side bar: I just discovered last week that the Colombian coffee maven's name is not Alex Ahente. ) If she knew some of my unorthodox knitting techniques, she might seize my needles. Have you ever tried knitting and cooking at the same time? I have. Never one to pass up an opportunity to multi-task, I've put the ball of yarn in my pocket and continued knitting through dinner prep more than once. Knit one, stir one, add salt. Works great with risotto.

I suspect I'm not really the knitting type. If I quit though, if I give up a habit I've indulged in nearly every day for the last three months, I may be like the smoker who manages to let go of the craving for nicotine, but can't figure out what to do with her hands. Guess I'll have to read while I'm stirring the chili tonight.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Live Blogging from Brooklyn

I'm living my dream: live blogging. We drove to NYC this morning (record time: 2 hours, 30 minutes), arriving in our old neighborhood where there was no parking. We had to circle for a while, which, since we've become staunch suburbanites, was a major annoyance. We found a spot in front of a building that hasn't changed since we first moved to the 'hood in 1985. Its lower story is host to a profusion of biblical graffiti. Vaya con Dios.

We're visiting Dianne and Sandy and their son Jake. We used to live five blocks away from here so it's always a treat to come back and see what's changed and what hasn't. I'm happy to report that the tire store remains, but that's about it. Dianne was my caretaker the first week I was home post-transplant. She saw me at my worst: extremely low energy but still able to give cooking instructions. Dianne's not a cook, yet she'd signed up to cook for me and my family for a week, bless her. Adding to my physical debilitation was the verbal exhaustion of explaining how to cook things she'd never attempted before. Dianne did a wonderful job in the kitchen, but an even better job keeping me company when I sometimes barely felt that I existed, or felt inhabited by an alien. Which I was.

Dianne fell off a horse 2 months ago, sustaining a major injury to her spinal cord. After surgery, she transferred to Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York and spent 5 weeks in rehab. She's home now and doing remarkably well. Her husband Sandy, who also pitched in during my hospitalization, staying with the boys for a week while Marty spent time with me in the hospital, just asked how my other caretakers are doing, suggesting, if I'm not mistaken, that caring for me is a potential health hazard.

More later ...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sense of Urgency

When we lived in Costa Rica, fellow foreigners used to love discussing how the natives had no sense of urgency. My husband managed a factory there, and the head honcho (an American) used to tear out what little hair he had because the workers didn't seem to "get" that they were expected to churn out product quickly and accurately and oh yeah, yesterday. They just didn't seem to realize how important this was. Everywhere you looked, there were signs reminding the employees to embrace the mantra, but so little evidence that they were taking it to heart.

Everyday, my husband comes home and asks me how my day was. Every day, I tell him how I can't possibly do all the things I want to do in any given day. I rarely leave my house, except for exercise in the neighborhood. I work from home. I don't go to grocery stores. I don't clean. Yet, I feel there's not enough time in the day. That's because I have a highly developed sense of urgency about EVERYTHING. This is not a new personality trait (or disorder, depending on how you perceive it); I've always been this way. It drives people crazy. It makes me feel I never complete all I feel I should. Take my knitting project. Please. Seriously, this would-be sweater keeps me from doing other things I feel I need to do (such as read). Oh, the pressure. Then there's The New York Times. A few weeks ago, I switched from weekends-only to 7-day delivery. Now I have two papers to read, although the Providence Journal can be skimmed in five minutes. But The Times stares at me all day long, saying you're going to miss something if you don't read me. Well, guess what? There's tons of stuff in The Times I can easily live without if only I'd admit it. Then there's the writing, for work and pleasure. Did I say pleasure? And the blogging and the posting on the LLS forums. Who has time to sift through the pile of financial (deleted) snickering in the corner?

What I realize is that my sense of urgency, heightened due to surviving (so far!) an illness that threatened to negate all my senses, is at times misplaced. I've been putting the wrong stuff into the urgency folder and the right stuff eludes me. I forgot that I already learned this lesson in Costa Rica, where the folder contained family, leisure activities, personal grooming, travel, margaritias. I don't have to knit that damn sweater or read more books or write more sentences. (I don't?) What I have to do is is give different priorities to that stern taskmaster in my head, because she's not going anywhere.

Signing off now because I have to hurry up and live.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I Approve This Post

The Obamas have come to Billary Country. Clinton siting is common in Rhode Island, but in general, the state's such a small piece (a crumb, really) of the political pie that candidates routinely blow us off. It's also a True Blue state, so republicans understandably don't want to spend precious $$ here. A couple of years ago, Little Rhody discovered that it actually mattered in a political contest. That's when much-admired Senator Linc Chafee (the ultimate "maverick," and at the time a Republican in name only) lost his seat to a democrat. The year U.S. voters emerged from a long, terror-induced sleep and realized they were going to hell in Dick Cheney's handbasket. All with the approval of the Republican-controlled Congress. Suddenly, our votes were courted and we were inundated with phone calls on both sides of the fence. It must have been difficult for them, but the republicans went all out for Linc. My 13-year-old was elected to field phone calls during this period. Who's on the phone, Harry? Bill Clinton. Again? On election day, Harry was offered rides to the polls. No thanks, I already voted. If you ever need anyone to run interference for you, Harry's the Man.

Yesterday, Michelle Obama visited RI. Today, I saw her husband in an ad. The Dems are spending money here, woot! The primary's on March 4th, affectionately known in some circles as Command Day. Figure it out. As an Independent, I can vote in either party's primary. Now that the republican contest is over (unless you believe in miracles; some folks evidently do), all eyes will be on the Democrats' contest. The Clintonistas probably think they have it all wrapped up in Rhode Island. I wouldn't be so sure.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

We Don't Have Feisty Fidel to Kick Around Anymore

Couldn't resist joining the media frenzy surrounding Fidel's resignation, which has been dubbed "shocking," "astonishing," "astounding" by some outlets. Really? You have to hand it to the old dictator: he has world-wide recognition (admiration, in many places), and he never stopped fighting the power, at huge cost to his country and much to the embarrassment of the U.S. One can only hope U.S. policy toward Cuba will change now that the bearded nemesis is "gone." Funny how much aid we sent to all those other dictators over the years. Embracing democracy wasn't part of the deal was it? Whatever ills the Cuban people have suffered, at least liberation by U.S. forces isn't one of them.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Pilgrimage to Plymouth 2008

That's me, running in the wilds of Rhode Island

In my house, we obey the No Book Goes Unread Act. This summer, Mark sent me to B&N to get a couple of books required for his U.S. History course in the Fall. One of the them, "Mayflower" by Nathaniel Philbrick has been sitting on the shelf collecting dust ever since. I decided to rescue the book. Flashback to elementary school when we dressed up as pilgrims and natives and learned the watered-down cleaned-up version of what happened in this early New England settlement. Plymouth Rock loomed large in our imaginations.

Plymouth, Massachusetts is only 70 miles from where we live in Rhode Island so on a cold but sunny day, we decided to take a road trip to steep ourselves in some ancient American history. It was a bit of a letdown. The iconic Plymouth Rock is actually pretty puny (we have much bigger rocks lining our driveway) and it's encased in an canopy structure over-designed by McKim, Mead & White. Apparently, the rock has been carelessly dropped and cracked more than once. Pieces have been chipped off and preserved as relics. Now it sits in rock jail, surrounded by bits of paper, many coins and the stray Red Bull can.

The Mayflower II must be in drydock because it wasn't at its usual mooring. We walked around and saw various statues and then had some chowda. We did see many interesting old houses, both in Plymouth and along Route 44. Route 44 was like one long deja vu experience. It felt like so many places I'd been before, a little slice of back roads Americana where the quaint and the depressing exist side by side. Is anything sadder than an ice cream stand closed up for winter?

Now I have a visual for the events I'll be reading about in "Mayflower." Too bad about the poor pathetic rock, if it's even real.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Fare Thee Well Pill Caddy

When I came home from the hospital 17 days after my transplant, I was physically weak and mentally challenged. I left with a bag full of drugs and many pages of instructions regarding how and when to take my medications. The pharmacy had thrown in a little bonus gift with my thousands of dollars worth of pills, a plastic pill sorter with 28 compartments. It made me want to weep, not because of the pharmacy's generosity, but because I realized I'd gone from a person who never took a vitamin to one who took so many drugs they needed to be counted and compartmentalized on a daily and weekly basis. My friend Dianne was there with me the morning I tried to read all the dosages and get all the instructions straight. Take with food, avoid grapefruit, take this drug 2 hours before this one, don't take these pills on the day you come to clinic, take once a day, twice a day, three times a day. The pill caddy saved me.

The pill caddy is retiring today and moving to Florida. It deserves it. I'm down to 4 drugs a day (not counting vitamins) and 3 of them I take once daily. So the honking plastic behemoth with its 28 hard-to-pry-open doors is no longer taking up an inconvenient amount of space on my kitchen counter. Every time I walk into the kitchen, I see the empty space where it once rested. It had been a fixture for nearly 5 months, and now it's gone. The order within the disorder that is my kitchen counter has vanished and chaos rushes in to fill the void.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Freak Seats

It was as if someone had yelled FIRE. We were leaving a restaurant Sunday night, and just as we passed a table near the door, a man sneezed. I couldn't get out of there fast enough. Four days later, I seem to be okay. It'll be a while before I go into a restaurant again, but the sneeze isn't the only reason.

We went to the restaurant to celebrate my son's birthday. My husband called to explain that we wanted to sit in a corner, as far away from people as possible, and he told them the reason. It was a Sunday night, so we figured it wouldn't be too crowded. And it wasn't. The hostess said she would try not to seat people around us, which was thoughtful but unnecessary since the table was situated in the very corner of the room and I took that corner-most seat. I felt pretty safe. That's when I realized that a sign had been cleverly placed on the wall behind me which said CAUTION: FREAK.

Every five minutes or so, the hostess came over and told us how she was doing her best not to seat people at the tables surrounding us. We told her it wasn't a problem if she needed to. She even offered us a table in a private room. It's set up for a funeral we're having tomorrow, but we could put you in there. No thanks. At one point, she came over and said, so when did you have it? IT. By then, my teenage sons wanted to crawl under the table, I was starting to think the funeral room might be more pleasant, and my husband was apologizing that he shouldn't have mentioned anything about my health. Except, that's how he was able to get the corner table in a restaurant that doesn't take reservations.

We made it through the meal and headed for the exit. AHHHH-CHOOOO. Just my luck. I'm not wearing a mask, and this big guy sprays pathogens all over the place. Shaken, I sprint to the car where I reflexively slather my hands with Purell. Maybe I should drink it. That's when I see the hand-scrawled sign hanging in the restaurant window: NO FREAKS PLEASE.

No more restaurants until Spring, at the earliest. I know when I'm not wanted.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I Accidently Drink Alcohol

Last night I had a powerful thirst, so I opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of non-alcoholic beer. I opened it, poured the beer into a glass and sat down with my husband, who was enjoying a much-needed scotch, neat.

I took a sip from my beer. I took another. Man this stuff tastes rich. It has a real flavor. "I think this is real beer," I blurted. Whereupon, my husband jumped up, ran over to the bottle I'd opened and confirmed that it was indeed one of his beers I'd grabbed by accident.

Now, if I'd been thinking clearly, I might have had a few more sips.

Sadly, the offending brew was immediately whisked away by my concerned husband, who would now have to drink beer with his lamb instead of the glass of red wine he'd been looking forward to.

What I learned: non-alcoholic beer lacks flavor and nuance. Why have I been drinking this dreck all these months???

Note to myself: If accidently slipped a martini, keep your mouth shut.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hair of the Dog

I went to the hair salon yesterday, the one in my bathroom where I'm the stylist. My first thought upon rinsing out the dye billed as "light reddish chestnut" was of a certain woodpecker named Woody. My new hair color wasn't subtle, it was RED. I also gave myself a mulletectomy.

This picture doesn't capture my new look as an Irish Setter. That's me in the middle, flanked by my faithful Bouviers de Flandres, Turbo (left) and Asta (right). Woof.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Staggering Sum of Incredible Coinage

Last night I was able to access my health insurance profile on line. I'd had to jump through a number of hoops earlier in the week, and then wait for my activation code to arrive by snail mail, and then try to remember yet another username and password I'd created, forgotten and fortunately had had the foresight to write down even though we are told to NEVER do such a perilous thing. (Is anyone else driven mad by all the crap they have to remember, especially these secret codes?) Truthfully, I wasn't sure I wanted to find out how much cash had been spent on my illness. I knew it had to be a lot. Mordant curiosity got the better of me and I clicked. The first figure I saw totaled all the charges billed in the last 6 months. That would include my transplant. Going back 24 months, I could see how much had been billed since my diagnosis, which will be 2 years ago next month. Billed but not payed, because the insurance company never pays what's billed. Still. I'd better survive this thing. And then go on to save the world or something anything to prove I was worth it.

I don't really look at it that way, of course, but I'll admit to being bowled over. If I didn't have health insurance would I even be writing this?

Guess I'd better start looking and feeling like a million bucks.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Diary of a Mad Housewife

Those of you checking in to see how I'm doing health-wise have probably noticed I've been writing about the more mundane issues of daily life lately. I hope you are as relieved as I am. I've thought about folding this blog, or just letting it lie fallow for a while. I don't want it to degenerate into navel-gazing, and I hesitate to fill this space with mad ravings, recipes, running times, dream narratives, teenage-angst stories, weather reports and the like.

That said, I will tell you that Mark's running injury appears to be a minor one (see what I mean), so he'll celebrate his 17th birthday tomorrow running the 1500m, 1000m and possibly a leg of the 4x800m relay. Since the meet is indoors and will be jammed with possibly infected people, I'll have to miss it. Don't cry for me, blogsters. Outdoor track's around the bend and I'll be there.

Does dreaming about cows in your house mean anything?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Light Reddish Chestnut

My son Mark helped me pick out a hair color yesterday. For a moment, Patty Hearst crossed my mind. Didn't she dye her hair black? That Tania. Anyway, Mark wanted a plum shade that I thought was a little too too, so I went with "light reddish chestnut." I'm excited about ditching the gray and changing my hair color, but Prudence made me read the directions which advised testing first for an allergic reaction. Normally I'd poo-poo such caution, but I realized I have no idea what I'm allergic to. My new immune system seems to be okay with peanuts, but who knows how I'll react to things like pollen, cats, dust mites, hair dye. An allergic reaction is something I don't want to provoke, so I'm being careful (for a change) and doing the test patch on my arm. So far, nothing.

Mariel arrived safely in Quito and aside from being tired (possibly due to the altitude), she's settling into her new home. She has a view of the mountains from her bedroom window. Her host family consists of parents, children and grandchildren, so it's a busy place. They all got together for a big lunch yesterday featuring one of her favorite dishes, arroz con pollo.

After the dye job, I'll try to post a picture.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Blond Wednesday?

My transplant nurse just emailed me to say I can stop taking the magnesium pills. I hate those suckers because they're uncoated and always catch in my throat, plus I have to take them 3 times a day. At this rate, I may be able to reduce the size of my pill organizer.

More exciting though is that I'm free to color my hair, what little there is. Actually, I have less gray now than I did pre-transplant (gotta love that baby blood) but I'm vain enough to want to get rid of it.

So the question is, should I go with my natural color (medium brown), go darker, go blond, or do something punk? By that I mean black or some unnatural color. It's already short and spiky.

I hope I can stand the excitement.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Bleak Day in Bean-Town

The nasty weather was the only negative in today's trip to Boston. After dropping Mariel at the airport, we had breakfast with some friends from our Costa Rica days. They still live in Costa Rica, but have an apartment in the North End. My friend Karen stays there with her son while he attends Milton Academy as a day student. Her husband Rob was housemates with George W. at Yale before he (GW) gave up booze and found religion.

My visit to the Dana-Farber clinic was uneventful. My blood counts hold steady; my liver is a happy camper; my kidneys are nonpareil. My doctor doesn't feel my chapped lips and general itchiness are attributable to gvhd. He also reiterated his belief that the graft versus leukemia effect (good) is in force without the presence of graft versus host disease (bad). So, I remain disease-free on all levels. If a chapped lip is my worst ailment, it's cause for celebration. Bring on the O'Douls.

Monday, February 4, 2008


Tomorrow's a busy day. Just thinking about it makes me even more tired than I already am. Marty, Mariel and I had a mini super bowl party and then watched House when Mark and Harry came home. 11:45 pm is way past my bedtime.

Mariel has more to do than I do, but in typical teenage fashion she's still sleeping. We're dropping her off at Logan Int'l Airport in Boston tomorrow morning around 7:30-8. She'll have a full day of travel ahead of her, arriving in Quito at 10:30 pm. We won't see her again until May 18. Since she's been home for 5 weeks now, I'm used to having her around. I'll miss her.

After we drop her at the airport, Marty and I are going to have breakfast with some Costa Rica friends in the North End. Then it's on to Dana-Farber where I'll be drained of many vials of blood and meet with my oncologist. Depending on my immune status, we may go out for lunch.

At least we don't have to worry about getting stuck in a victory celebration in Boston tomorrow. A pall hangs over New England this morning, and instead of world champion jerseys, Pat's fans are reaching for their hair shirts. Being tranplanted New Yorkers (me on more than one level), we rooted for the Giants. Mark and Harry couldn't wait to get to school today to enjoy the depressed atmosphere. Marty was a little worried about going to work, since his co-workers knew he was cheering for the Giants. Mariel and I were actually a little sad that Perfection was denied.

Nobody's perfect.*

*The first person to identify the film in which this final line is spoken wins a Pat on the back.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Young Blood

Could it be that my baby bone marrow is a fountain of youth?

I read two articles this week about aging and exercise. Both basically said that exercise slows the aging process, which isn't all that surprising. However, the one that really fascinated me discussed how exercise seems to influence aging at the cellular level. Researchers compared the length of something called telomeres in the white blood cells of active and inactive adults. Telomeres are sections of DNA at the end of chromosomes, and they shorten as a person ages. Inactive adults have shorter telomeres than active adults, suggesting their cells age and die off at a faster rate. The researchers concluded that adults who are physically active are biologically younger than sedentary individuals by up to ten years. All I can say is: Woot!

My excitement isn't due to the fact that I am a slave to exercise. No, I'm wondering if my five-month-old white blood cells with their long telomeres further reduce my biological age. This would be a good thing because having leukemia probably shaved decades off my life at a psychological level and the chemo no doubt undid all the positive effects of my exercise regimen over the years. For all I know, I have the internal organs of a 90-year-old.

Let's do the math: Exercise gave me 10 years (I'll be generous), Leukemia stole 20, baby bone marrow gives me another 10. Hey, I'm still 54.

Gotta run ...