Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cancer Check

Last time I had a mammogram, in 2008, I was sent to Women's & Infant's Hospital for special diagnostic imaging. The result? Minute calcifications in the left breast. It was probably nothing, but just to be safe they scheduled me for a follow-up in May 2009.

In May 2009, I was working on my third relapse. Getting a mammogram was the last thing on my mind. My doctor called me to encourage me to go, but I explained that beating leukemia was my first priority. I figured I was getting enough toxins and radiation to hold off breast cancer.

When I read an article that Martina Naritalova recently had cancerous calcifications removed from her breast, I called to make an appointment for my follow-up. Except that Martina had been a guest at my house for a Marathon brunch, I never would have clicked on the article. Isn't it funny how we connect the dots of our world?

Today was my appointment and I'm pleased to say they saw nothing to worry about. The technician apologized for the discomfort she put me through, but I assured her that I wasn't bothered by it at all. How can I complain about a little breast wrenching after what I've been through.

Martina and I are cancer-free.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

April 14, 1985

This was one of the worst days of my life. I was watching baseball in my brother's living room in South Florida. It was a beautiful day--sunny, dry, in the 70's. The phone rang and my brother answered it. The death watch was over. My mother's body had shut down a week after what the doctor claimed was successful surgery for lung cancer. I'd flown down a few days earlier and couldn't recognize the yellow swollen body on the bed. Hair unkempt, wearing a hospital gown, and without make-up. This simply could not be my mother.

Her kidneys were failing. I called her internist, whom I met once before. I asked what her chance of survival was. 10%, he said. I crumbled. So this is how it ends.

The next day was a blur. People called. Relatives drifted in. My father was a basket-case. We went to the funeral home, me clutching the outfit she was going to wear. I chose the dress she wore to my wedding. The color did not flatter, but I was sentimental. The casket was closed and she was cremated so the outfit didn't matter. No more clothes shopping. My aunt and I cleaned out her closet. I took many sweaters and some handbags, some of which I still use.

She had a full funeral mass, and afterward the immediate family went out for lunch. There was no burial service. The next day, my brothers and I picked up the urn and drove to the cemetery. After reading some poetry we'd selected, we left the urn by the graveside and drove away.

Last year, I went to the dermatologist on this date and had some suspicious spots biopsied. Two days later, twenty five years after we'd buried my mom, I found out that one of the spots contained leukemic cells. Another year, another nightmare.

Today I feel pretty good. I'm cancer-free and plan to stay that way.

You don't get to choose how you're going to die. Or when. You can only decide how you're going to live. Now. Joan Baez

Monday, April 12, 2010

Update on Immune Scores

Just heard from my doctor that my cd4 count is 123 and my igG is 438. Normal for cd4 is 250-300 so I still have some building to do. IgG is good.

Taking the Big Apple By Storm

My doctor never gave me my cd4/igg count so I assumed they were decent. He knew my plans to take a train so I'm sure he would've let me know if there was a problem. I will email him later.

Thursday night I took the train into Penn Station which was abuzz at 10:45 in the evening. Marty met me and we hopped on a subway to Brooklyn. The train was unbelievably crowded--no seats but no coughing either. I got a good night's sleep and was ready to find an apartment in Manhattan. With Marty as my guide, I took the right train to the financial district where I was meeting my broker at 10:30. I walked around the neighborhood to get a feel for my new life.

Impressions: loud, noisy, busy, young. I went to Starbucks to recharge my battery. I met with Liat, a young hip Israeli woman. We made quite a pair. We saw 10 apartments in two hours. Frankly, they all seemed the same, very stylish but very small. I made mental notes of what I liked and didn't like. I was able to select three that would be suitable, a true two-bedroom as first choice, a converted two as second and something else I don't remember. We put in applications on number one and two, although number one already had an application in so I was unlikely to get that one. We saw a few more places and then I went for lunch in Battery Park City.

Battery Park was another neighborhood I was interested in so I explored a bit. Impressions: windy, young, quieter. The riverside park is a big draw with its biking path that reaches to upper Manhattan, dog runs, great views and atmosphere. I missed the World Trade Center site so did not see the gawking tourists who descend like flies each day. I was exhausted by this point but I went to see Liat at her office and she took me to see two more "residences." Limply, I caught the subway and returned to Brooklyn where I rested until Marty came home. We went to dinner with friends in a local restaurant where I didn't know the names for half that was on the menu. That's another story though and I will save it for another post.

We got up bright and early on Saturday morning. Marty went to the corner for some coffee, and we were picked up by Sandy at 8 o'clock. He took us to one of his nearby buildings where we could rent an apartment with two bedrooms and a dining room for less than we'd pay in Manhattan. It was tempting, but only for a nano second.

Breakfast at Juniors with Dianne was great as usual. We drove around the downtown Brooklyn waterfront where luxury condos prayed to the Great Realtor in the sky to bring him clients who couldn't afford Manhattan rents. We tried to see an apartment but it was still early so they drove us into town and we started checking out the area. We were fortunate to be able to get into see the apartment I liked second best. This is because the concierge remembered me! We went up to the apartment, located on the 14th floor near the laundry room. This was the first apartment Marty saw and think he was underwhelmed. I took him around to see all the nearby restaurants we'd be eating at, including a real diner less than a block away. We weren't meeting with our other broker for a bit saw we walked three blocks to South Street Seaport to look around.

We arranged to meet Edward at a building on West Street and headed over to Battery Park City. Tourists were so drawn to the dead meat New York City cops had to serve as swat teams to keep the area flowing. We met our broker and he took us to see three apartments at 75 West Street. The building is known as Post towers, having been the home of the New York Post for many years. It's an older building, thoroughly renovated with the units being both bigger and cheaper. The one we liked best has two walk-in closets, a nice light-colored galley kitchen that opens to a big living area. The bedroom is large and has one of the closets. The bathroom is marble and tile with new fixtures. We liked it better than the one I applied for on Friday so we put in an application. We should know in a few days if we are approved. The move-in date is May 1st.

Because we'll just rely on cell phones, we will not have the prestigious 212 area code. You'll have to come see for yourself that we do indeed live in the Big Apple. My children don't understand what's gotten into their parents. It's good to keep them guessing.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Gardening for Transplantees

Two Narcissi

Mountain Laurel

Flopping Hyacinths

My Serenity Garden

We had to remove a dead weeping birch from our front lawn over the weekend and reseed the area. We've never had much of a lawn because we don't like to use chemicals. Usually when we seed, the birds eat it all up and we have next to nothing to show for our efforts. Since this was a small area (and we were doing a few other barren patches) we decided to get some burlap to protect them from the enemy.

I went to Home Depot on Monday. How could I resist the perennials I did not need to buy and really shouldn't be handling? I couldn't. The result is displayed above in my serenity garden. I made sure to wear a mask and gloves to keep out any lurking fungii in the soil. I wore long sleeves and pants, plus a hat. I roasted. But, it's better to be safe than sorry when you're a transplant patient. I've been on a powerful anti-fungal since being diagnosed with aspergillis of the lungs back in June. Still, one can't be too careful.

I write this from my chair in the serenity garden, bees buzzing around my head. I suppose I should be worried about that hazard but I'm feeling too calm to get in a lather about it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Good Report

My friend Susan drove me to Dana-Farber today for my monthly check-up. Blood counts are all good: wbc 10.1; hgb 10.4; platelets 128. The driving took longer than the clinic visit. My doctor's very pleased and says I can reduce the prednisone by half. Maybe I'll eat less and sleep more. My friend Ann says the tapering might make me crabby. Bring it on. My bite's always been worse that my bark.

Still pending are the tests they did on my immune system. I'm going to New York City this weekend and want to see if my new system can take the exhaust fumes, the dirt and the crowds. Can I take a subway? That's got to be the supreme test. I suspect I can handle all those hazards, but can my heart handle the excitement? Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Yoga for the Disabled

I went to a yoga class yesterday. I spoke to the instructor beforehand and told her about my right shoulder being weak. On the registration form I filled out prior to taking the class, I mentioned that I had leukemia (in remission). In the space where they ask for what meds you are taking I wrote: too many to mention. Maybe I should just pretend I'm normal. Only I'm not.

There were seven people in the class, all middle aged. I may not have been the oldest, but I was the newest and the worst. Yoga's not about competition but I have a long way to go before I can do downward dog. The weakness is in my right shoulder allows me to do the child pose. Maybe someday my shoulder will get stronger and I'll be able to do a push-up again.

The class seemed to go on forever. I was looking forward to the fifteen minutes of relaxation at the end, but it was only five. In college I took a Kundalini yoga class (for credit!) and we always had a prolonged relaxation period during which people fell asleep and even snored. Maybe Hatha yoga is different. I could have used a nap.

I did feel at once relaxed and energized at the end though. It was hard work but worth it. I'm going to try to do two classes a week and also get some massage therapy. They do have more beginner classes, and one for people over 50 which is probably where I should be.

I only feel a little sore this morning, probably because I've been jogging and exercising regularly. I've been up for over an hour thanks to prednisone and am trying to pass the time until Harry and Marty wake up. Harry has a race today, which we're going to see. It's suppose to be high in the sixties. Marty and I will do errands (library, grocery shopping, bank) and then take Turbo in for a heart worm blood test and urine check. The vet is next door to the ice cream stand, so you know what that means.

I'm thinking grilled lamb chops medium rare washed down with some red wine for dinner. Both would make my doctor shake his head sadly but you only live once and I'm tired of being in a holding pattern. I see him on Tuesday. I want to eliminate or reduce some meds, and I'm sure he'll agree. He's also testing my blood for cd4 and igG levels to check out the strength of my immune system. I could be wrong but my immune system seems fine. I've only had one cold all winter. My doctor will say it's because I'm careful but this isn't altogether true. I've given up mask and gloves, eat whatever I want and have dramatically reduced hand sanitizer usage. I'm eight months out of transplant and feeling fine.

Maybe I should bring my own exercise mat to yoga in the future. Who knows what kind of germs might be on the surface of the community ones, posed to get under my skin and in my lungs while I'm in the child position.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Drinking Coffee Everywhere

Those of you who know me and those who read this blog know how much I love coffee. I've developed a new addiction to the dark temptress--buying and drinking coffee elsewhere (title of a good book by the way). Every time I go out to run an errand, my car veers toward Panera or Starbucks where I'm forced to give up close to $4 for a tall mocha latte. Then I drink it on the run, usually while I'm driving home where I nuke it in a regular mug and add additional whip cream.

There was a time when I pooh-poohed designer coffee shops (heck, there was a time I drank tea) and preferred to brew my own selected brand. Drinking coffee in public isn't the same as drinking it in private. Call me a non-social coffee drinker, a true addict.

I grind my own beans, preferably Costa Rican, and prefer to use a melitta drip, although a french press is also nice and will suffice. To show you how crazy this has become, Marty and I (at my bidding) purchased an expensive coffeemaker on line. It grinds and produces one or two cups of perfect coffee. My friend Patty C. has one so we know it's true. Unfortunately it hasn't arrived and may be back-ordered. We're not the only ones desperate for the perfect fix.

I hope this shallow rant hasn't made you stop reading. There is a leukemia connection to all this. When I was being treated, hospital coffee tasted like burnt swill. Marty used to bring me good coffee from time to time, but never early in the morning. When I was having my transplants, Marty couldn't bring me anything from the outside world, including coffee. My attempts to convince the nazi nutritionist that I could safely brew my own fresh coffee every day were met with a smile and a polite no. Then there was the time when I was not in the hospital but coffee tasted bad to me, truly the bottom circle of hell.

I realize I've been pumping money into the economy by all my retail coffee shopping, but buying an expensive Italian coffee/espresso maker should qualify me for some TARP money. Hopefully, it will keep me off the streets and safely within my home enjoying nature's best liquid. I can live without my martinis, but never my black coffee.