June 28, 2007

Happy birthday Dad!

Today my dad celebrated his 80th birthday. Since my parents live on the other coast, I spoke with him on the phone to wish him many happy returns of the day. I asked him, "How does it feel to be 80?" His replay: "I don't feel any different from 79."

So what do you get someone for their 80th birthday? I am open to suggestions....

June 24, 2007

Celebrating with delicious food

Last Friday our friends celebrated their significant wedding anniversary with a dinner party for 15. This is no easy feat, but they accomplished a most successful evening with the help of a talented local French chef. Since I got to help weigh in on the menu, I thought to share it with you --

Stuffed Belgium endive with grapefruit and spice cream cheese
Artichoke-pine nut-garlic feuillete

Toasted hazelnut salad w/cranberries and hazelnut vinaigrette

Seared sea bass with onion and apple coriander compote and hollandaise sauce
Marinated cauliflower and mushrooms
Colorful vegetable medley

Dessert was a white chocolate mousse cake studded with raspberries and almonds, PLUS an apricot tarte tatin and fresh fruit.

C'etait delicieux!

June 17, 2007

Race for the Cure


More than 15,000+ people in white (racers), pink (survivors) or blue (volunteers) t-shirts poured up the ramp to the Alaskan Way viaduct to participate in Puget Sound Komen's Race for the Cure. Picture them on the field at Qwest Stadium, picking up free samples from all the corporate sponsors. Hear them cheering the survivors' parade as 1200 women enter the field to the tune of "I Will Survive."

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that the Race raised about $1.8 million Saturday. The Seattle Times called us cancer-fight foot soldiers.

The P-I also covered the story of seven women in one family who have been struck with breast cancer.

This is one of only two "pink" events I do during the year. (The other benefits Swedish Medical Center's digital mobile mammogram program.) You may remember that I am a little pink-phobic at times. Well, although the Komen Race is literally a sea of pink, it benefits such a worthy cause that I just have to be there.

Thanks to my generous sponsors, I raised $1270 to support early detection, free mammograms for under-served populations, grants to help low-income women undergoing cancer treatment make ends meet, even programs to help women care for lymphedema. Best of all, Komen funds research towards finding a cure.

My doctors always say, I just have to live long enough, one more month at a time, for the next new thing to be available to treat breast cancer.

June 15, 2007

More on health and happiness

If Jeanne's and my posts on health and happiness intrigued you, here are two more for your consideration:

Lisa is a young doctor who has cancer. She blogged on a classic parable, The Jar of Rocks.

The Cheeky Librarian also has a lot to say.

A new look for the blog

I decided to mix things up and take advantage of some new blogger.com features, such as the sidebar with links to favorite web sites. What do you think?

Rik's Birthday

Happy birthday to my wonderful husband Rik, who yesterday turned 47! Would you like to know how we celebrated?

Since Rik almost always gets up before I do, I like to put his birthday card on the table before I go to bed. That way he gets a pleasant surprise in the morning.

After school, I gave him a gift of a new wallet. The old one was looking a little beat up. It was very gratifying that he immediately took everything out of the old wallet and arranged it in the new wallet! I did remember the bubbeh-meiseh (superstition) of putting money inside so that he would always have money.

We went out for a lovely dinner with friends at the Union Square Grill. The restaurant was crowded, and our table wasn't ready when we arrived, so we sat at the bar pretending to be urban sophisticates. I had a martini (gin and 3 olives) and Rik had a mojito, not too sweet and made with plenty of mint. I promptly got smashed -- that was a lot of alcohol on an empty stomach!

We all shared a starter of mushroom and blue cheese strudel, served with fig jam. Delish! Rik ordered a salad with goat cheese and walnuts, some of which ended up on my bread plate. He had grilled lamb chops; I had a steak. Yes, even though we keep a kosher home, we do eat meat "out." Somehow I just can't make the leap to keeping more stringent kashrut in restaurants or other people's homes. Rik's chops came with blue cheese bread pudding and broccolini; mine was served with silky mashed potatoes and said broccolini.

Over coffee I gave Rik his final present -- a chocolate bar from Theo Chocolates -- 75% cacao from Ghana, Panama and Ecuador. He loved it, but was willing to share, and even offered a bite to our waitress. The rest of us shared a chocolate souffle served with vanilla ice cream. Then we rolled home (burp).

But I must tell you the real way Rik celebrates his birthday. Every year for his birthday he orders a bouquet of flowers to be delivered to his mother. He's been doing this since long before we met, using the same florist in Montreal. It's an annual tradition that illustrates Rik's big heart.

Insomnia

One of the side effects of living with mets has been terrible insomnia. Every night it seems to go like this:

11:00 PM Go to bed, fall asleep
2:00 AM Wake up with hot flash
2:20 AM Fall back asleep
4:00 AM Wake up with hot flash, identify pain, take vicodin
4:40 AM Fall back to sleep
5:30 AM Alarm goes off for Rik, have another hot flash
6:30 AM Hot flash
7:30 AM Hot flash
8:30 AM Hot flash
9:00 AM Give up; get out of bed

Today the 4 AM hot flash woke me from an unusually vivid dream featuring an earthquake, Pumpkin, Rik and an action-adventure-like escape. I don't know if this dream was a metaphor for cancer or just a bad dream (I ate too much for dinner last night).

In any event, the combination woke me completely. I got up and drank some water (I also had too much to drink last night!), took some vicodin, which often relaxes me enough to fall back to sleep. Not today. I heard the newspaper being delivered. The birds sang an early morning chorus. I started to think of all the things I need to do today.

At 4:55 AM I gave up and got up to write this post. Maybe I will take a nap this afternoon. Hopefully I will get a better night's sleep tonight!

June 13, 2007

Health and Happiness

How happy are we?

My friend Jeanne asked this most intriguing question on her blog The Assertive Cancer Patient. (Which, by the way, is worth a daily read. Jeanne is a terrific writer.)

I must agree with Jeanne: "I don’t think I would have experienced life during the past few years with the same degree of intensity and joy if I had not been diagnosed with cancer." But as much as the highs can feel higher, the lows can feel lower. I am in closer touch with my emotions these days. A beautiful sunset, a sentimental song, cuddling with my husband and dog can all make me tear up. On the other hand, the middle-of-the-night frights, when I think about mortailty, feel scarier than they used to.

Living on borrowed time puts one intensively in touch with life. I don't know if I am happier since I got cancer. But feeling everything so strongly gives life an edge that, like adding sea salt to finish a favorite dish, adds zest and piquant flavor to living.

Breast Cancer and (Pink) Stuff

I have found in my two bouts with breast cancer that when you get cancer, people want to give you stuff. They also offer to cook for you, drive you to appointments, even clean your house. But something in the human psyche seems to make us want to give tangible things to those who are sick.

For instance, when I was first diagnosed I received several books on breast cancer; on how to live with cancer; and even books of people's personal philosophy (Deepak Chopra was big in this category). I kept a copy of Rachel Naomi Remen's Kitchen Table Wisdom because it was so well written.

Then there was the pink stuff -- cans of tea from The Republic of Tea labelled Sip For The Cure; socks bearing the pink breast cancer ribbon; a fleece vest with same purchased via The Breast Cancer Site; even a stuffed dog version of Sparkle , Gilda Radner's pet.

I am sure a percentage of each of these items benefited breast cancer research, mammograms for low-income women and other worthy causes. But how much? And wouldn't the recipient organization be better served by a straight donation of $10 than a few cents from the purchase of a tchatchke?

June 11, 2007

My 2-minute cancer talk

This is what I said to the Coldwater Creek shoppers:

"The day I found out my cancer had returned, I went home and fell and broke my leg. I had a long recovery and plenty of time to think about the impact breast cancer would have on my life.

I had originally been diagnosed at age 39 with a small tumor. I had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation and was told it would probably never come back, go home and live your life. No one was more surprised than I that my cancer would return and spread to my bones when I was 42. I had developed stage IV, metastatic disease.

What is stage IV cancer? It's cancer that has spread outside of the breast. In my case I have tumors in my skull, spine, sternum, scapula, humerii, and femurs. I've been treated several times with radiation. But my cancer has been mostly stable on estrogen blockers. In August I will have lived with advanced cancer for 5 years.

I made a deal with my cancer. I think of it as a tenant in a house. If it would be quiet and not bother me, I would give it space. But if it acted up, I would have it zapped with radiation, drugs, whatever it took to become quiet again.

Cancer has had a huge impact on my life. I developed lymphedema, the arm-swelling condition that often accompanies surgery to remove lymph nodes. At age 42, I took medical retirement on disability from my career. I am in early (and permanent) menopause. Cancer cheated my husband and I out of raising children.

But I also now have time to do things that I didn't do before. I volunteer for a number of organizations. I sing in a choir. I walk my dog for a half-hour every day and I live the most active life I can.

My oncologist is always telling me that I just have to live long enough for the next new treatment to come down the road, that new things are available almost every month.

So what can you do? In addition to wearing a pink ribbon, you can do monthly breast self-exams. You can support Komen for the Cure. Your donation helps fund breast cancer research, mammograms for women who otherwise couldn't afford them, and even grants money to low-income women living with stage IV disease to help them make ends meet."

Coldwater Creek & Fashion for the Cure

Yesterday I modeled and spoke at a Coldwater Creek "Fashion for the Cure" event at Alderwood Mall benefiting the Komen Foundation.

I had sent an email to Komen about the Seattle Race, asking what plans they had (if any) to recognize women with mets as part of the Survivor Parade. The reply I received was on a completely different subject, asking if I would be interested in telling my survivor story at a Coldwater Creek store.

So on Thursday I went with a girlfriend to check out the clothes. The staff pampered us with lattes, chocolate, and our own style consultant. I must have tried on 25 items when we came up with three outfits: a long black dress with hot pink jacket; bright blue sleeveless shirt with white jeans; and orange sleeveless shirt over an orange print skirt. All very flattering and just my colors!

On Sunday the Coldwater Creek staff set up a table with refreshments. Everything in the store was 10% off, and Coldwater Creek donated 10% of the sales during the event to Komen. A local Mary Kay rep. was offering breast delf-exam shower cards, a 20% discount on purchases and a donation to Komen. A Komen rep. distributed brochures for the Race.

I spoke to 10-12 shoppers while they were enjoying their wine and cheese. Several of the women came up afterwards to talk with me in more detail. The modeling was wearing the outfits we had picked out while I spoke. So I changed and hung out again, speaking with women individually.

One woman's 42 year old daughter-in-law had just been diagnosed. Another woman told me about her mother. And none of them expected to see someone looking like me say that I had stage IV cancer.

The most intriguing part to me was hearing from the Coldwater Creek employees about their company's national pertnership with Komen. They probably didn't raise a lot of money yesterday, but they are tremendously proud of their employer being involved with this cause. Given that these events are repeated at stores all over the country, and that they are a long-time national sponsor of the Race for the Cure, Coldwater Creek has reason to be proud of the more than $2.9 million they've given to Komen over the years.

I expect to see many of these women at the Coldwater Creek booth at the Race on Saturday!

Survivors

Last March the Seattle Times published a piece on four people living with advanced cancer or AIDS. As I read it, I realized several things: I know two of the people profiled. I often compare stage IV cancer to AIDS. And that I have not read something on living with metastatic disease in a very long time, if ever. So I wrote a letter to the author and the Times to praise them for taking on an issue very few people ever talk about -- how to live with really bad cancer.

I sent my letter the day after the piece appeared in the paper. I got a call from the editor later in the week asking if they could publish it. And yesterday the Times published my letter.

June 08, 2007

The Breast Cancer Site

If The Breast Cancer Site receives 6 million clicks this month, their premiere sponsor will donate $20,000 for more free mammograms. Today they are at 17% of goal.

I click here every day. It’s a fast, easy way for the average person to take advocacy action and tell corporate America to provide funding for mammograms.

From the site:

“In just a few seconds each day, visitors can click on the pink "Fund Free Mammograms" button on the home page and, at no cost to them, help fund a free mammogram for a woman in need. The mammograms are paid for by The Breast Cancer Site's sponsors and distributed by the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

100% of sponsor advertising fees goes to our charitable partners.

The Breast Cancer Site was founded on October 23, 2000. Since that day, tens of millions of site visitors have given more than 16,000 mammograms to women in need via a simple and free daily click!”

But be warned – it’s a very "pink" site, with lots of merchandise for sale, and they don’t say what percentage of any purchase actually benefits free mammograms for women in need.

June 06, 2007

E.'s 30th birthday

I am just back from celebrating E.'s 30th birthday. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer 5 years ago, she said, "I just want to live to be thirty." A few weeks ago it was uncertain if she would make it this far. She has some more discomfort, is going to the doctor later this week to see if her cancer is progressing again. But today was about celebration.

There must have been more than sixty people, including lots of small children, crammed into the house and on the deck. A typical Northwest evening, 50 degrees and a bit rainy, not quite luau weather but E. wanted a Hawaiian-themed birthday party. I wore one of Rik's aloha shirts over a long-sleeved shirt. Brought my sister's recipe for ramen salad for the potluck, and enjoyed a hamburger, macaroni salad (very Hawaiian) as well as pineapple upside-down birthday cake. And a margarita!

RAMEN SALAD
2 (3 oz.) pkg. Ramen noodles (I like Oriental flavor)
1/2 head cabbage, sliced
1 cup shredded carrots
3 tbsp. sesame seeds
3 tbsp. sunflower seeds
1 c. sliced almonds
1/2 cup diced red pepper
4 green onions
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

DRESSING:

3 tbsp. rice vinegar
3 tbsp. or less sugar or honey
2-4 tbsp. oil (can combine sesame oil and olive oil)
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. soy sauce
Contents of ramen seasoning packet


Break apart ramen and toast with seeds and almonds in 350 degree oven for 6-7 minutes. Cool.

Combine all ingredients for salad.

Stir or shake dressing ingredients together to emulsify. Don't mix dressing with salad until last minute!

May add cooked & shredded chicken OR 1 can tuna.

June 05, 2007

sing Sing SING


It was a week followed by a whole weekend of singing --

Tuesday: rehearse with gajdas
Wednesday: rehearse with Dunava
Thursday: rehearse with band and boys
Friday: talk tech for Sunday's venue
Saturday afternoon: blocking and more rehearsal
Saturday night: Concert! (Party afterwards.)
Sunday: Sound check and concert at Benaroya Hall.

I had a little voice left on Monday, but not much.

The Saturday night concert, Dunava's first full-length show, was evidently a big success. About 150 people came to hear us sing at a terrific church venue north of Seattle. No mics needed here! Dave and the Dalmatians and tamburitza band Zlatne Strune opened for us. Kapa Gajda (3 bagpipe players and a tupan player) joined us for a special set of Rhodope music. Yes, evidently nine women can outsing 3 bagpipes! Dave & Dawgs and ZS then joined us for a rousing rendition of Emil Cossetto's Ladarke, a huge Croatian choral piece.

Sunday's gig was part of the Seattle Symphony's Central Europe Music Festival. About 25 people came to hear us at the Nordstrom Recital Hall.

If I am able to, I will post an audio file so you can hear us sing. Otherwise you can check out some older audio clips (and alot of photos!) on Dunava's My Space page.

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I dance with cancer. Oy!