May 30, 2008

A deal with cancer

I actually managed to sleep most of the night (with the usual short break for a hot flash from 3 - 5 AM). I think I was able to relax and fall asleep despite concerns over the scan results because I had a conversation with my cancer after I got into bed. Here's what I said:

"New cancer, I want to let you know about the deal I made with my breast cancer metastases a few years ago. I told them that they could stay as long as they were quiet and well-behaved tenants -- no loud parties, no noise, no acting up. If the mets got out of hand, I would have to call in the big guns and then they'd be unhappy. (And sure enough, they "acted up" on a couple of occasions and I had to have radiation to two areas.)"

"I'm a reasonable person and since I am already living with cancer, I'll make you the same offer. You can stay as long as you're well-behaved. By well-behaved I mean that you will stay the same size or not get any bigger (indeed, you might even get smaller). You won't cause me any shortness of breath, coughing or other troubles. Together we will cohabit my body, we'll both last longer and we'll have a better quality of life."

"If you don't take me up on this offer, I will have to get out the big guns. Chemotherapy, maybe surgery, who knows what options are out there? You'll be ground into the dust, so to speak, and I probably won't feel 100% from whatever treatment I get. But I'll soon feel better and you'll be gone."

"Believe me, it's best to make this deal."

I didn't hear any answers, but I put the offer out there. Years ago Rik learned that if you want something from the universe, you have to articulate it and put it out there. That's how we met. So here is my call to the universe: I am willing to make room for cancer in my life as long as it behaves itself. Do we have a deal?

May 29, 2008

Scan results - a mixed bag

Today I got the results of the chest CT I had on Tuesday. There is definitely a 4 mm spot in my right lung, in a place that may be hard to biopsy. It doesn't appear to be a breast cancer metastasis, but it might be a new cancer. I am getting a referral to a pulmonary specialist. At the very least, I'll have another CT scan in 6 weeks to track this thing.

It's possible, that if this is indeed a new primary, that it's due to the radiation I had nine years ago when I was originally treated for breast cancer with a lumpectomy and radiation. But we don't know anything yet.

As my oncologist puts it, "the worry is that it's the tip of a bad iceberg." So I am back on the cancer merry-go-round again, and it's spinning fast this time.

May 28, 2008

CT scan

Had my CT scan yesterday. According to the Mayo Clinic's web site, a CT scan
— also called computerized tomography — is "an X-ray technique that produces images of your body that visualize internal structures in cross section rather than the overlapping images typically produced by conventional X-ray exams."

I couldn't wear anything with metal. So I put on a sports bra with a cotton shirt and yoga pants. That way I don't have to wear a gown, which always makes me feel like a sick cancer patient. I feel like I have more control if I am wearing my own clothing.

First a technician started an IV in the vein inside my right elbow. She was good at listening to my concerns about being a tough stick, having small veins, and even used the tiny butterfly needle that works best for me.

Then we went into the scan room where I lay down on the scanner bed with my arms stretched out overhead. The tech injected the contrast dye and I immediately experienced the hot flush inside my body. The scanner bed moves slowly into the big CT donut hole and then a pre-recorded voice told me to hold my breath for each scan's duration, a few seconds. When we were done, the tech removed the IV. The whole thing took about half an hour.

I was nervous about the IV (don't like being stuck), hate the hot flush from the contrast dye, and felt generally yukky afterwards. So after running some errands, I came home and fell asleep. I would have been better off ignoring the errands and just taking the nap!

Results tomorrow......

May 26, 2008

Dunava rocks Folklife!

Dunava played to a crowded room at the Northwest Folklife Festival. We were all a bit nervous, since we collectively don't have a lot of experience with microphones, and this venue generously provided us each with a mic for a total of nine. I think our audience liked the songs, they sure applauded enthusiastically.

You can listen to us as recorded live --

Ergen Dedo (Bulgaria)

Oj Peline (Bulgaria)

Zarad Tebe (Bulgaria)


Shen Khar (Georgia)

Ne pa pogrebu (Russia) (My solo is number three.)

Tri jetrve/Ej zito zela (Croatia) (I have the first solo in Ej zito zele.)

A sto cemo (Bosnia)


Bre Petrunko (Bulgaria)

Israel @ 60 video

My friend G and I were interviewed for a special video presentation at the Seattle Jewish community's celebration of Israel @ 60. I learned recently that you can view the video online.

G and I met 30 years ago on Young Judaea's Year Course in Israel and have remained good friends ever since. Although the video doesn't tell our story, we are the last photo (over the credits). Our tagline: Met in 1977. Friends for life.

I couldn't have said it better!

May 21, 2008

New lymphedema garb

I was recently fitted for two new lymphedema sleeves and gloves and while at the provider's office, asked about what I could do to better manage the small bit of edema on my ribcage. It sits just under the bra line on a regular bra and could use some compression, especially in the warm weather.

We discussed some possibilities, I talked with other friends about what sports bras they wear, and I ended up trying the Nike Dri-Fit zip-front women's bra. It compared favorably with the medical-grade garment in terms of fit and compression, and the length is perfect on me. I ordered one size smaller than usual for a snug ribcage fit. Best of all, the front zip closure means no awkward shoulder movements trying to put a tight garment on over your head.

It's on sale now, so that may mean Nike might not make it much longer. Isn't that always the case -- as soon as you find the right bra, the manufacturer stops making it!

May 19, 2008


Yesterday I became the president-elect of my Conservative synagogue, Congregation Beth Shalom. At our annual meeting, we vote in a new slate of officers and board members. I'll spend two years as president-elect, two years as president, and two years as past president, for a total six year commitment (in addition to the four years I have already served on the board).

When I told Rik I was considering this, his reaction was, "You should live so long!" Since I plan to celebrate living with metastatic cancer for six years this August, it's not so far fetched to hope that I'll have another six years to go. I should live so long!

May 14, 2008

Dunava spring concert

Dunava in Concert
with special guests Orkestar RTW

Saturday, May 31, 2008
7:30 PM
Unitarian Universalist Church
14724 First Avenue NE, Shoreline, WA 98155
Admission: $15

Dunava performs at Folklife

Dunava, a choir of nine women, performs a cappella music of the Balkans

Saturday, May 24, 2008
2:10 - 2:40 PM
Rainier Room, Seattle Center
Admission: FREE!

May 13, 2008

Inspiratory wheeze

My slight and infrequent inspiratory wheeze seems to have returned. I saw the oncologist today and he could barely detect it with a stethoscope. Dr. G reminded me that at one time I had an active chest wall metastasis that has since disappeared. Before my mets were diagnosed I had a terrible cough for many months. I underwent a bronchoscopy but the results were inconclusive.

Still, he recommends I have a chest CT next week to find out if there is anything there...

More on mother's day

Having people who know I am not a parent wish me a happy mother's day was like being wished a merry Christmas by people who know I'm Jewish. It's just not my day....

May 11, 2008

Fortune telling with Turkish coffee

To interpret coffee grounds for fortune telling, drink your coffee and remember to leave the grounds in the bottom of the cup.

Turn the cup over onto a small plate. Wait a few minutes for the dregs to completely drain. Turn the cup right side up and using your imagination, look for pictures in the grounds that stick to the sides of the cup. WIth a little practice you can see almost anything!

Jill's Turkish coffee for a crowd

8 tablespoons finely ground darkest roast coffee
8 tablespoons sugar
8 green cardamom pods, crushed
2 cups water

Mix all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Briefly remove from heat and return to a boil. Remove from heat a third time and return to a boil.

Pour into tiny demitasse cups and serve at once. Be careful not to drink the grounds that settle to the bottom of the cup. Serves a crowd.

For only two servings, mix 1 tablespoon coffee, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/4 cup water in the traditional ibrik or finjan (pictured here) or small saucepan. Bring to boil three times and serve as above.

"The Pumpkin Plum" cocktail

Cut 8 plums into small pieces.
Make a simple syrup by heating one cup water with one cup sugar.
Add the cut up plums and 1 cup plum liqueur (I used our home brewed plum hooch).
Simmer for 30 minutes until plums are cooked. Strain to remove plum skins.

For each cocktail, mix together in a tall glass --
1 ounce gin
1/4 cup cooked plum juice
lime juice

Fill with sparkling water and enjoy!

Garden party

Yesterday our block had a progressive garden party. We moved from house to house enjoying "drinkies and tidbits." I am sure we were quite a sight -- 15 or so adults and a small number of children walking around the neighborhood from house to house on a cold Seattle spring afternoon.

Our first hosts served sangria with wine they made from their own Concord grapes, plus little quiches. Other neighbors offered spicy mini sturgeon burgers with three kinds of sauces and wine. We served mushroom tapenade and figs stuffed with goat cheese. I created a special cocktail I call "The Pumpkin Plum" (named after the dog). Plus I brewed some Turkish coffee. Then we went to our local House Beautiful for chips and salsa, cheese, wine and beer. Around the corner for insalata caprese (tomato and basil sliced over rounds of fresh mozzarella cheese), more wine and strawberries. Then back a few houses for gin and tonics and more dips and salsa. The last hosts served whiskey and chocolate.

It was a lovely idea to gather and visit with one another after a winter of being indoors. The gardens were all fresh with spring flowers. I heartily recommend you open your home to your neighbors and make some new friends!

No happy mother's day here

Every year I get tired of hearing people wish everyone a happy mother's day. In our household, cancer robbed us of the chance to be parents.

It's possible although unprovable that I originally got breast cancer after taking too many hormones in an effort to get pregnant. Then after I developed cancer, I told my oncologist I wanted to take steps to preserve my (limited) fertility. He said that I would be better off treating my cancer and being alive to raise any children. Of course, at this time (1999) no one was yet recommending extracting and freezing a woman's eggs before she started chemo. So I was launched into chemically induced menopause.

We tried to adopt. We tried private adoptions, international adoption, even our state's foster-to-adopt program. At each turn we were thwarted. First by birth mothers who changed their minds about placing their babies for adoption (always their choice, but still hard on us). Next by international adoption agencies who do not recommend that people with cancer histories pursue adoption since they will likely be refused by a judge in the adoptive child's country of birth. Last by metastatic disease and social workers and judges who would rather see children languish in our state's foster care system than be placed with a parent who has cancer and who might die, thus presenting the child with another potential loss.

On top of the emotional roller coaster, our effort to become parents also cost tens of thousands of dollars paid to doctors, birth mothers, adoption facilitators and one Florida agency who we believe scammed us without ever placing our portfolio in front of a birth mother.

So please don't wish me a happy mother's day. Parenthood is a part of life that I will never be able to experience.

May 08, 2008

My trips to Israel

I've been to Israel seven times --

1977: with Young Judaea Year Course as a representative to the Machon leMadrichei Chul (Institute for Youth Leaders from Abroad) at age 17

1982: with Brandeis University's Hornstein Program in Jewish Communal Service

1984: with students from The Ohio State University Hillel

1988: with students while working at University of Maryland Hillel

1993: with colleagues from the Stroum Jewish Community Center as part of a Federation mission from Seattle

2001: with Hadassah for the annual convention

2003: with Rik for a vacation and to attend the first ever Machon leMadrichei Chul reunion

Throughout my professional career in the Jewish community, every job I've held has always sent me to Israel. That alone speaks volumes about the connection Jews around the world have to our precious ancestral land.

Happy 60th birthday to Israel!

Today Jews around the world celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel on our ancestral land of Israel. The only true democracy in the Middle East, Israel is a potpourri of people from many lands and cultures coming together to make the desert bloom.

Before I experienced the reality, I fell in love with the idea of Israel as a teenager and I've never fallen out of that love. I vividly recall the first morning I woke up in Jerusalem to the sounds of bells -- a shepherd was herding his flock nearby. I heard my first jazz concert. I saw the motorcade when Anwar Sadat came to make peace with Menachem Begin. I shopped in the outdoor markets and ate my first artichoke, dipped bread into za'atar and enjoyed fiery Yemenite charif sauce on my falafel. I worked in the tomato fields and packed onions on Kibbutz Ketura. I learned to speak Hebrew. I witnessed the aftermath of a suicide bombing at the Sbarro Pizzeria in downtown Jerusalem.

The startling blue of Lake Kinneret, the rugged beauty of the Arava desert, and the stones of Jerusalem all reminded me of my people's ancient connection to the Land. I climbed Masada to see the remains of the last Jewish defenders against the Romans. They are long gone, but we are still here!

Over the years, I have left many notes pressed into the cracks between the stones of the Kotel. For her birthday today, I wish that Israel could live in peace and prosperity with her neighbors and continue to be a "light unto the nations" for the rest of the world.

May 06, 2008

New 'do!

Just got my hair cut for the warmer weather we are sure to get at some point....

A grey day

Why is it so hard to get motivated to do something on a grey day? I hardly felt like walking the dog, much less getting myself up and out or even putting in my contact lenses. Instead I finished a good book, washed the comforter cover (Yay! It fits in the new small washer AND dryer!) ate some leftover potato soup with grated cheese sprinkled on top, and baked banana muffins for my choir Dunava's rehearsal tonight. I seem constitutionally unable to take a nap. And yet I am not sick, don't have any pain. I just can't seem to get started today.

May 05, 2008

Best of the health blogosphere!

Today my writing became an active link on, a resource within On this site is a wealth of information about breast cancer, including a section featuring posts by women living with the disease.

A few weeks ago I was asked if could call me a featured member and use posts from my blog. They have taken some posts from February 2008 that accurately reflect the tsuris and joy that come from living with cancer specifically and living life in a conscious way in general.

Here's what the editor wrote:

"Editor's Pick: Seattle-based blogger Jill Cohen keeps a notable blog on life with metastatic breast cancer. While it at times focuses on the warm and domestic (ovens and appliances, recipes for challah, hollandaise sauce), Dancing With Cancer: Living With Mets, The "New Normal," covers an astonishing range of topics. Recently, in a single month, Jill took on matters of life and death with a calm, journalistic demeanor. The details, the facts, the experience offered by Jill represent a resource on breast cancer like few others we have encountered. We are please to highlight Dancing with Cancer in a new HealthCentral feature, the Best of the Health Blogosphere."

New washer and dryer

We finally found the smaller Whirlpool 24 inch wide washer and dryer in stock at Best Buy. At other stores it was going to be either 5-6 weeks of waiting for the new machines. Or a two week wait for the part to repair the old dryer.

The delivery guys also removed the old washer and dryer to be recycled, used for parts or as-is for low-income housing, homeless shelters, etc. I am a very satisfied Best Buy customer.

Bought 'em Friday, delivered on Sunday, did four loads of laundry so far and they work like a charm (and are so small!). The washer uses special HE (high efficiency) detergent -- about 3 tablespoons per load because it only fills up a third of the tub with water. We also filed for the city of Seattle rebate for the purchase of a new energy efficient washer.

Our government "economic stimulus payment" was supposed to stay in the bank as savings. Instead it went in and out on the same day, but we have great new, energy efficient appliances.

May 02, 2008

Joys of home ownership

Yesterday we had a Sears repairman take a look at our dryer, which has been making loud thumping noises. Turns out the ball bearing which controls the tumble function is broken and the machine also needs a new belt. Estimated cost of repairs? $283 with a two- week wait until one part is available. It would be faster and close to the same amount of money to just buy a new dryer. So now we face buying a new machine which might be able to fit down the narrow stairwell into our basement.

I learned that dryers usually last for the lifetime of 2 1/2 washing machines. You buy a pair, a few years later the washer goes and you buy another. After a few more years the second washer fails and then the dryer does too.

What does this have to do with cancer? The repairman pointed out that since this dryer is from 1985, it's given many years of use and thus falls at the far right hand end of the curve, where we all want to be. That's the image I use when talking about living with mets for a long time. Someone has to be at the far right of the curve, living with it for many years, and why shouldn't I be that person?

Nonetheless I hate making a major appliance decision on the spur of the moment.