Thursday, May 29, 2008

What I'm Reading

The NY Times recently published a review of a book that has the anxiety-provoking title "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die." I was immediately reminded of my 2nd grade self who upon entering the school library at her new elementary school worried she would soon read every book ever written and have nothing to do for the remaining years of her life. Fast forward 15 years, and my graduate student self is looking over the comprehensive reading list for Ph.D. candidates wondering how few books she managed to tick off the list in the interim.

I've duly bookmarked the 1001 list, even though it has some serious omissions, in my not-so-humble opinion. One in particular is Edward P. Jones "The Known World." It's definitely worth staying alive to read.

I'm currently reading Barack Obama's "Dreams From My Father." His Djakarta days remind me of my kids' Costa Rica sojourn. Those days were wild, somewhat perilous, and certainly instructive about the world that exists beyond our borders. Yesterday, I finished Michael Chabon's quirky novel "The Yiddish Policemen's Union." I hestitate to recommend it because I don't know how much sense it will make to a reader who knows little about Judaism/Jews/the Yiddish language. It takes place in a fictionalized Sitka, Alaska, where European Jews have resettled post-WWII after Palestine falls through. Prior to Chabon's book, I read Alice Pung's "Unpolished Gem," a memoir about a Chinese-Cambodian family's pursuit of the Australian Dream. The book takes place in Footscray, home to my friend Bernadette who's been sending me Aussie titles I'd probably never see here in the U.S.

Notice a trend? It's no surprise I'm drawn to the ex-pat experience.

My brother was here over the weekend and gave me a gift card to Barnes & Noble. So many books, so little time.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Do Blonds Have More Fun?

I spent 2 hours at the hair salon today, much too long but my 'do needed serious help. Basically, I looked like Little Orphan Annie, except that my hair was two-tone. First the red had to come out; then my natural color had to be added; then blond highlights went in; then about an inch of fuzz was cut off. It took forever, and I spent most of the time trying not to breathe. Not easy. The boys just came home from track practice, and Mark commented that although my hair looks better, he thought we were going to make this decision as a family. He was joking of course, referring to the fact that I let him pick out the color when I did the home dye job back in February.

Now that I have a Jamie Lee Curtis cut, we'll see if I'm offered any commercials to pitch girl yogurt. I certainly know a thing or two about gut issues thanks to my toxic chemical treatments. My gut's fine now, but I can certainly relate to out-of-whack digestive systems.

Some of you might be wondering why I'm willing to use toxic chemicals on my head after all the cancer nonsense. I do know women who went militantly gray post cancer, eschewing all things unnatural. The truth is: I'm so vain. If I only have one nasty brutish and short life to live, let me live it as a blond.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Little Slice of Heaven

Here's how I spent most of my afternoon: sitting on a lawn chair in Newport reading the New Yorker. Mark had a big meet today and I decided to drive to Newport to watch. I packed sunscreen, hat, gloves, water, snacks, and reading material. Usually when I go to meets, I'm with Marty, or sitting with other parents. Not wanting to appear unsociable, I forego reading even though that's what I really want to do between races. Track meets can be interminable, so you need to be prepared. The weather was fickle today, at first sunny and hot, then cold and windy. I used all the gear in my arsenal.

I sat on the opposite side of the track from all the spectators, pretty much guaranteeing I'd be able to insert my nose into the magazine for meaty chunks of time. (Marty is with his mom in Florida celebrating her 85th birthday.) Sure enough, I read a long article about Phil Schap, a jazz aficionado who's been broadcasting from Columbia U. since my early years in NYC. He knows more about jazz and jazz greats than the greats themselves do. Unfortunately, Schap himself doesn't have much of a life, having dedicated his heart and soul to preserving the memories of the jazz era. After that, I read a typical New Yorker story that reminded me why I don't like to read short stories like this sad, life-denying piece about a relationship doomed to failure. Finally, I skimmed a longish book review covering several books decrying the end of food, or the end of tasty food, or something. Do you realize most of what you eat is less nutritious and less delicious than the food you ate as a kid or even a young adult? The food industrial complex is ensuring that we eat food that's crap, food that makes us obese, and worst of all widens the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Some people are blowing up like balloons while others are starving to death. I really did not know that soy is the enemy.

All this material might have made me blue, but not today. I felt strangely serene sitting there. Physically, I was bullet-proof. Not one ache, no cancer thoughts, zero responsibility. I simply enjoyed the solitude. Watching Mark handily win a few races didn't hurt either. I wish I could bottle this joy juice so I could sprinkle it on myself when life is a little more hellish. I wanted to write about this heavenly state before it drifts away. Done.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Worst Case Scenario

I'm going to share a little secret. I have always had a tendency to immediately assume the worst when confronted with a situation. Very few people who know me would suspect this because I almost never tip my hand. That's because the disaster thoughts pierce through my brain at warp speed, where they are promptly processed and quarantined in a specially coded file. If I've already imagined the worst, the reality can only improve. That's why my demeaner is usually calm and collected, at least to the rest of you. This deft psychic maneuver keeps me composed and realistically optimistic about most things.

Take yesterday. My first deep breath of the day was worrisome. My chest hurt. I immediately thought: pnuemonia. Before leukemia, this would not have been my first thought. It probably wouldn't have occured to me at all. But since I'm currently at moderate risk for bacterial and fungal pnuemonia, that's where my mind went. I quickly checked for symptoms: I had no fever; I wasn't coughing; I was breathing normally. It was highly unlikely I had pneumonia, but I monitored myself throughout the day for any suspicious activity, such as suddenly coughing up a lung.

Ah, the joys of obsessing over health issues. Will I ever view a sneeze as merely indicative of dust, a stomach woe the result of something I ate, hot flashes a sign of menopause/global warming? As time goes by, perhaps.

I felt much better this morning. To put the final kibosh on my pnuemonia diagnosis, I went out for a morning jog. I figured if I had rare symptomless pneumonia, this would crank it into high gear. Nothing. Running felt great. I did the rooster route, past the chickens and goats, breathing effortlessly. The worst case was the best case which was no case at all. Pneumonia file: deleted.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Plogging Along

With no medical drama to report, the raison d'etre for this blog falls apart. There are just so many posts you can write about preventative meds, relapse anxiety, blood counts. The only things that remind me I had a transplant eight months ago are the 5 pills I take each day, my continued avoidance of public places, and the wildness of my hair. That I have hair is a wonderful thing. That I resemble Harpo Marx is something else.

Life rolls on. Guest season has opened at our house in the woods. Which reminds me. I saw a big fat turkey out back the other morning, eating all my husband's expensive grass seed. Doug came up from NYC for a visit, bearing pansies and champagne. I probably imbibed more alcohol than my doctor would approve, but it was a much-needed celebration. Next weekend, my brother and his wife are coming up from Georgia for a few days. I just got an email confirmation of my friend's flight to Providence in 2 weeks. Karen likes to spot check my progress. She recently signed on with Team in Training to do a Century Ride in my honor. I don't want to jinx myself, but I look forward to a lazy summer with no cancer in it. That would be heaven.

Mariel arrived home last night from her 3-month sojourn in Ecuador. I briefly saw her as she didn't get in until midnight or so. This morning I see a hammock, a tapestry, a llama-wool sweater, and other exotica strewn about. I can't wait to hear about her adventures. She should be up by the crack of noon.

From now on, I'll ramble away at whatever piques my interest. It may not be leukemia related. It may be anything. You are forewarned.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Meditation on the Merry Month of May

The month of May has been far from merry these past two years. In May 2006, while undergoing treatment for AML Round 1, I developed a raging infection that landed me in the hospital, folding me in the frigid embrace of a "cooling blanket." As my fever flirted with 106, I seriously thought it was the end, and I was too sick to care one way or the other. Fortunately, the antibiotics kicked in and did their job. I was to take this drug intravenously twice a day for 6 weeks. Marty would hook me up in the morning, and then again after dinner. It became routine.

In May 2007 I relapsed, entering the hospital once again for a month-long shock and awe campaign. It was predictably nasty, and worse, I didn't go into remission. That would take a different weapon in the chemical arsenal. Another spring and summer passed in a chemo fog.

Seems as though May has become my cruelest month. Lilacs bloom and I think of death. But this May, the tests have been merciful. I seem to have all my blood cells in the correct amounts, no leukemia leering at me as I leerily observe Spring's finery. I should be merry, dance around a maypole, sing songs of rebirth. After all, I am reborn.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

That's Me on The New Yorker Cover

Art imitates life or vice versa on the cover of the May 19 New Yorker magazine. That's surely me (though in different clothes) walking out of my house, face and arms lifted skyward, marveling at the lush life before me. My front yard right now rivals Monet's Giverny, especially if I remove my eyeglasses. Ornamental trees and bushes are flaunting their pastel bloomage, and the oaks and beeches are birthing lime-colored leaves so intensely brilliant it hurts the eyes. This is the idealized version of my little acre, and it really is beautiful at the moment. However, the garden's sinister side lurks just beneath the artfully arranged landscape. In truth, I would not be just wearing gloves (as does the figure in the drawing), but also a mask, a hat, long sleeves and insect spray. Frankly, the hazards of sun, spores, and bug bites make me wary of embracing too much Spring without donning a hazmat suit. I won't be cutting any flowers to bring inside, nor planting any petunias. Who knows what these beguilers might do to my rickety immune system. The soil is potentially deadly; the sun might provoke gvhd or nasty burns; the birds and the bees menace with their viral and fungal diseases. Beware Bambi bearing Lyme ticks.

I love to putter in the garden, about as safe for me right now as walking through a minefield. I want to throw caution to the wind and sit outside in a comfy chair as I write this post, but I don't dare. The transplant police are hiding behind the forsythia hedge chanting: hell no, you can't go!

Curses, foiled again.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Green Mother's Day

Except that I felt under the weather yesterday, it was a very nice Mother's Day. Mark and Harry planted a weeping birch tree for me in the front yard, and Mariel called me from a taverna on the beach somewhere in Ecuador. The day didn't start off so well, considering that I felt the world was listing to the left, and couldn't keep down Marty's lovely waffles with strawberries. For once I didn't think: could this be leukemia? It could have been any of a number of questionable things I did on Saturday which included sitting in the cold windy stands at the Hartford Invitational Track Meet, followed by a celebratory meal at a restaurant in Mystic. Marty thinks it was the fish. Mark by the way PR'd in the mile at 4:19:84, placing first in the unseeded heat and seventh overall.

The queasiness didn't stop me from going to the nursery with Marty to pick out the tree. Nor did it keep me from having a short but sweet visit with former Brooklyn neighbors Roxi and Mike who dropped by on the way home from their eldest daughter's softball tournament at Rhode Island College. It's nice to keep up these connections from a past life.

I had planned to go on a long run yesterday, but since the ground kept sinking away from me, I decided it was a bad idea. This morning, however, I was determined to get out and jog before the rain sets in. I still wasn't 100%, but I was no longer listing so I went for it. I kept it short and oh so slow, but I did it, showing once again who's boss.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Another Reason to Avoid Being A Guinea Pig

The world can still surprise. Mariel went on a field trip last weekend and stayed with an indigenous family. She witnessed a sick child get a guinea pig treatment. Basically, a live guinea pig is rubbed all over the ill person's body like a washcloth. I think the theory is that whatever is troubling the patient will be transferred to the animal. After the rubbing, which Mariel said the child did not enjoy, they wring the pig's neck and slit him open to see if they can identify any absorbed ailments. Mariel could not say whether the child was healed or not, but they were served guinea pig for dinner that night. Waste not, want not.

I've written about feeling like a guinea pig in terms of my medical treatment for AML. As a cord blood recipient, I'm a walking experiment. So far, so good. I went to clinic yesterday and all my blood counts are normal. My doctor was very pleased, but not nearly as pleased as me. My cute furry self endures.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Miracle Workers Wanted

I'm alive today because two mothers donated their baby's umbilical cords to a blood bank. More than 3000 people a year are given a chance to survive blood cancer because ordinary people have registered to be bone marrow or stem cell donors.

Here's your chance to be a hero. The National Marrow Donor Program is sponsoring its annual "Thanks Mom Marrow Donor Drive." Healthy people between the ages of 18-60 are eligible to register with the Program. All you need to do is fill out a form, receive a tissue typing kit, swab the inside of your mouth, and send it back to the Registry. Join the Registry during the Thanks Mom Drive May 5-16, and you can register for free. Your selfless act could save someone's life.

Donating bone marrow is not painful and has minimal risks. Most transplants these days use peripheral blood stem cells, not bone marrow. This involves receiving several injections to stimulate stem cell production, and then donating your cells through apheresis, a process similar to traditional blood donation. If you are pregnant or know someone who is, consider donating the baby's umbilical cord, which otherwise gets tossed in the trash. The NMDP Registry explains how to do this.

Be part of a miracle. Register with the NMDP today.

Friday, May 2, 2008

I Live for This

Warning: This post contains parental bragging.

My throat's irritated today, but not because I'm sick. It's because I spent yesterday afternoon cheering on my sons and their teammates at a track meet. There's nothing like a good race to get your blood flowing. I love baseball, but the thrills are few and far between. Give me a horse race, a dog race, even a turtle race and I get that elemental rush of excitement that comes from wanting to win.

Mark, my 17-year old, was entered in the 1500 and 800 meter races. He won the 1500 by a nose in a time of 4:18. He and his teammate basically ran as a unit and made short work of the rest of the field. Either of them could've won the race. It was the 800m event that really got the crowd screaming. Mark had told me the night before he didn't think he could win this race, though I know he wanted to. His opponent was the RI State Indoor Track Champion in the 600m, and whereas Mark had already run the 1500, this guy was running on fresh legs.

Mark stayed on his opponent's shoulder for the first 400 meters and then made his move. He passed him on the back stretch, pulling away with every stride. With 200 meters to go, Mark was ahead by 10 meters, a gap that never really closed. Mark's time was 1:58.4, the fastest in the state so far this season. One team's euphoria was matched in intensity by the other's agony in defeat. Epic.

Living for sweet moments like these was what I thought about during the rougher patches of my battle with AML. There I was, jumping up and down and hollering like a lunatic, victorious.