August 31, 2009

Monthly zometa

Today was zometa day, my monthly infusion treatment of a bone-strengthening drug. I've been taking this or another bisphosphonate for seven years with apparently much good effect. My bones appear to be healthy and it seems to have had no adverse impact.

Still, every month I sit in the chemo chair, have my port accessed, and am reminded that my cancer is here, there and everywhere in my bones. I'm fortunate that except for one drug, the 5FU that almost killed me in May, over these past seven years everything else I have taken has been oral. I pop a pill at home or swallow a small capful of stuff and hopefully it works.

My tumor markers (CA 27.29) have been trending upwards the past few months. I must ask the oncologist if this is something he's worried enough about to make a change in my treatment. Since I see him later this week, I should be able to remember.

Plus the Journal of the American Medical Association recently published an extract on estradiol therapy which has been widely quoted for lay people elsewhere.

As Dr. G has always said, I just have to stay alive long enough for the next thing to come down the pike.

August 27, 2009

Musing on birthdays

Today is my sister's birthday -- happy b-day to you, sis! We're only 18 months apart in age, and that means I will turn 50 in November.

What is it with us that we celebrate the day we were born? As children, we look forward to a party, eat cake and ice cream, open presents. As adults, we measure milestones by how old we are. What did I achieve of my life goals by 21, 30, 40?

At 21 I was in graduate school, hoping to start my career. By 30 I was angry that I hadn't yet married or had children. And at 40 I had already had cancer for almost a year.

And yet as I wish my sister a happy birthday, I think about my own mortality. Seven years ago I wasn't sure I would live long enough to celebrate my 50th birthday. For me, these days are more precious now than ever before. Every birthday means I spit in cancer's eye once again, saying "hah!" that I have reached another marker, and thank God that I have lived another year.

Rik always sends his mother flowers to thank her for bringing him into the world. Now that's a nice way to celebrate a birthday! If you like, feel free to make this custom your own.

August 24, 2009

Catching up on life

We were kind of hunkered down over the weekend, waiting to see how Rik would feel for the few days after his fall.

Friday night was just us, no guests, but I did make a nice dinner and some peach ice cream from the four over-ripe peaches left. On Saturday I went to shul as usual and we had a brief visit from RIk's "other mother," S. As things turned out, Rik didn't experience great discomfort until Sunday. Vicodin helped a lot, as did a heating pad and taking a nap. I took the dogs to the off-leash park at Magnuson to let them have a romp.

I have finally gotten into the garden to do some much needed weeding. My plan is to clean everything up for fall and spread some mulch around to keep down the weeds. I seem to be able to spend an hour or so on my knees at a time, which is working out well. The tip of a finger from one of my new garden gloves tore right off, so I was forced to used to the old suede ones that aren't as flexible but are practically indestructible. The side yards are about done; now I have to get into the strawberry and raspberry patches, always a big job that I leave for last.

I am still picking tomatoes and enjoying my "fakin," lettuce and tomato sandwiches on a daily basis!

August 21, 2009

Lyrics to "To Life!"

Here are the lyrics I like best from the beloved Jewish musical, "Fiddler on the Roof" --

Here's to our prosperity, our good health and happiness, and most important ...

To life, l'chaim,
L'chaim, l'chaim, to life,
Life has a way of confusing us,
Blessing and bruising us,
Drink l'chaim, to life!

God would like us to be joyful,
even when our hearts lie
panting on the floor.

How much more can we be joyful,
when there's really something to be joyful for?

We'll raise a glass and sip a drop of schnapps
in honor of the great good luck that favors you,

We know that when good fortune favors two such men,
it stands to reason, we deserve it too!

To us and our good fortune!
Be happy, be healthy, long life!
And if our good fortune never comes,
Here's to whatever comes,

Drink l'chaim, to life!

August 20, 2009

Seventh mets-iversary

Today is my seventh anniversary of living with metastatic breast cancer. Every year on August 20th I stop to celebrate and reflect on what it means to live with cancer every day, ALL THE TIME.

Seven years ago I fell and broke my leg. Turned out the cancer had come back and was in my bones from the back of my skull to my hips. I remember lying in the hospital bed scared out of my mind that I was going to die soon, because I had asked my oncologist what the odds were. He said fifty per cent of women diagnosed with mets die within a year.

Well, it's been seven years. I have beaten all the odds and outlived all the predictions and I am still here, snuggling with my hubby, singing and dancing, cooking wonderful meals, walking the dogs, and generally living the good life.

I've been very lucky. I know that seems like a strange thing to say about cancer. But my cancer has responded pretty well to all the anti-hormonal and radiation treatments I've taken. I entered full menopause too early. I had to retire from my profession on medical disability. Cancer cheated us out of becoming parents. That was the price I had to pay to live.

Some days I don't really think about cancer. I just live. Those days are a blessing, to be normal like everyone else. Other days my back hurts from spinal mets, I pop some vicodin, and cancer is too present. Without seeming too much like Pollyanna, I have been able to live a reasonably good life with advanced cancer. Hard to believe....

This past year I had two hospitalizations, in October and May. They caused me to rethink what was happening to me. Right now I am on the last of the anti-hormonals and still don't know how well this drug, Megace, is working. What will my next options be? If I take more chemo, will it be as rough as the four rounds of 5-FU that practically killed me?

It's the not knowing that I find so tough. I realize that none of us really knows what the future will bring. That shit happens, like Rik's fall from the plum tree just two days ago. And yet there is grace as well. Rik walked away from that fall with one laceration and a stiff neck when the outcome could have been so much worse. I am still here, despite all the odds.

And so I am celebrating tonight with some of our closest friends. We'll eat homemade cardamom ice cream, chocolate cake and salted caramel coulis. We'll take a "family" photo to remember my mets-iversary. We'll drink champagne, spit in cancer's eye and toast l'chaim -- to life!

August 19, 2009

Shit happens...

Yesterday Rik picked 36 pounds of Italian prune plums from our tree. He had just decided to go back for the last half dozen or so plums when he fell from about 10-15 feet in the air. I was in the kitchen with the dishwasher running and didn't hear anything. Luckily, our neighbor two doors over was in his back yard and heard Rik calling for help. J came over, got me, we called 911 and within two minutes the fire truck was here (we live a block and a half from the fire station). The EMTs followed soon after. They assessed his condition: Rik could move his arms and legs and head. They told us protocol with a fall from such a height was to take him to Harborview Medical Center's Trauma Center, the region's only Level I facility and one of the best on the west coast.

The ambulance took off. I packed a bag for Rik in case they admitted him to the hospital. I caught up with Rik in the Emergency Department. He spent about three hours on the back board (another standard precaution) and was in the ED until about 7:00 PM. He had multiple CT scans of his head, neck and abdomen and x-rays in the same places. The medical staff were concerned that with his taking coumadin, a blood thinner, he might be prone to internal bleeding.

We finally got the results from the radiology guy around 7 PM. He had no broken bones, no evidence of internal bleeding, and was clear to go home. He wore a neck brace as a precaution and I was to watch him overnight, not let him sleep more than four hours.

It was a rough day and a rough night, but today Rik feels much better. We followed up with our primary care doc this afternoon, who told us to expect that his pain would increase 72 hours from the time of the injury. Some time on Friday I expect Rik to be very cranky....

Rik was extremely lucky. The ED nurse expressed it the best. She said not many people walk out of the Harborview ED on their own two feet the same day they arrive.

We each gave a thanksgiving prayer. I also noted that yesterday was August 18. Eighteen has always been a lucky number for us. I asked Rik to marry me 18 days after we met. We were married on March 18. All of our addresses have added up to eighteen. In Jewish numerology, the value of 18 is most often associated with chai, or life. The outcome of yesterday's fall seems to be life-affirming.

Rik says his tree-climbing days are over!

Dunava CD is on CD Baby!

If you click on the title of this post, it will take you to a link on CD Baby where you can sample Dunava's newly released CD!

August 16, 2009

New lighting fixture

The lighting fixture we bought was just not bright enough for our new bathroom. The three 50-watt halogen bulbs behind translucent panels simply didn't shed enough light to brush one's teeth, much less put on makeup on the rare occasions that I do so.

So we brought the fixture back to Harold's Lighting, where they were happy to restock it at no charge. We found a simply beautiful fixture to replace it.

The vanity cabinet drawer and door pulls should arrive soon, and then our bathroom will be complete!

The pork-filled wedding reception that led to a fabulous dinner out

Yesterday we went to the wedding of Rik's former student teacher. It was an unseasonably cold August afternoon, even for Seattle. Underneath my dress I wore a camisole and slip, plus a sweater and shawl over everything, in an effort to keep warm in the 60 degree temperature.

The bride was beautiful. The groom teared up during the very short ceremony and had to borrow her hankie. Since we were all standing, it's just as well that the whole thing only took about ten minutes. We had a glass of wine to celebrate and then saw the menu sign posted on the buffet table. Main dish? Pork tenderloin. Appetizers? Bacon rolled around something, cured meats (more pork, no doubt). As kosher-keeping Jews, pork is not on our diet. The thought of sitting outdoors in the cold, eating salad and not knowing anyone else at the reception, was enough to convince us to sneak away early.

Because it wasn't even six o'clock yet, we went up to Capitol Hill in an attempt to see if there was a table available at Jerry Traunfeld's restaurant, Poppy. Our lucky day -- there was one table left!

With glasses of viognier (Rik) and sparkling cava (Jill) in hand, we enjoyed the most amazing dinner EVER. Traunfeld was the chef at The Herbfarm for many years and although we never had the chance to enjoy his cooking there, I had read about him many times. Poppy is his attempt to create a more accessible restaurant following the same commitment to fresh, seasonal ingredients and as many herbs as possible.

The menu follows the Indian custom of thali, where several small dishes share one platter and the diner chooses at will in what order to eat. My thali (actually a "smallie" included:
Green gazpacho with lemon basil
Melon, sungold tomato and huckleberry salad
Grilled Wagyu Denver steak with Walla Walla onions and farro
4-spice fingerling potatoes with mint
Zucchini-basil gratin
Cucumber-radish kimchi
and in a nod to India, Nigella naan

Rik's was similar but featured onion soup and salmon. Delish!

We shared a dessert thali, which featured roasted bing cherries with almond streusel and honey-lavender ice cream, a chocolate cookie-mint ice cream sandwich with bittersweet chocolate sauce, cumin cashews, small cream puffs, apricot jellies and nutter-butter squares. It was heavenly and I ate more than my share.

This was one of the most decadent and enjoyable meals I have ever eaten. It was worth every penny! Based on the crowd filling the place, there is no recession in Seattle.

August 15, 2009

Shower door installed

On Friday the new shower door was installed. Now there is a sheet of glass in three panes fronting the shower and does it look marvelous! The configuration is panel - door - panel. The door swings both in and out, making it easy to enter and leave the shower. I bought a squeegee to wipe down the glass after each shower. (It felt like being in Israel, where I saw people cleaning their bathrooms and kitchens with squeegees in 1977.)

The shower door cuts down on the amount of steam released into the bathroom, so the fan can do its job and the mirror doesn't fog up as much.

Because these glass doors are so heavy, the panel that is attached to the door itself is braced to the tile wall. It amazes me how one piece of metal can hold up the whole thing safely.

August 11, 2009

Back to a more typical summer

With the onset of cooler weather (65 degrees in August?!) and even some rain last night, I have returned to my more usual summer routine. Rik is getting up early to prepare his classroom for the new school year that starts in September. That leaves me with the mornings to do my thing -- check email, shower in the new bathroom, eat breakfast and walk the dogs. Yesterday I took a two mile walk to the bank and post office and the dogs loved it. I am hopeful that if the rain stops we can go to the dog park one day this week.

I actually had a very productive morning: made a call to the contractor's billing department about the July bill, programmed the heated floor thermostat for our schedule (on at 6 AM, off at 9 AM; on at 6 PM, off at 11 PM), wrapped a wedding present, and sorted through bathroom-related papers. I even got out my latest ballot but haven't filled it in yet.

Now I am off to meetings at the synagogue and coffee with a friend. No medical stuff today. That's my kind of routine!

August 07, 2009

Firsts in the new bathroom

On Wednesday, after we came home, Rik and I tried the new toilet with a ceremonial first flush of one piece of toilet paper. The "liquid only" button worked so well -- swoosh! and the paper was gone. (Of course, in the intervening days, we have also tried the "solid" button and it, too, works well.)

We have washed our hands in the sink, run a load of laundry or three, even filled the vanity with stuff so we could open and close the drawers to observe the slow close mechanism with glee.

Yesterday the tiler sealed the shower tile, and today we took our first showers! There is so much room in this new shower. The rainfall shower head sits high above our heads; no more ducking to make sure all the shampoo has been rinsed from your hair. I even shaved my legs and put my feet up, one at a time, on the little ledge built especially for this purpose.

The towels are warm from the heated towel rack and the floor is toasty under our feet. All in all, a huge success! (Now all we have to do is pay for it.)

August 05, 2009

The wandering Jews are home

We arrived home this morning after 36 days of wandering while our bathroom was remodeled. (Everything in our lives seems to revolve in multiples of eighteen.)

BTW, the bathroom looks smashing, although it's not quite finished. We are still waiting for the shower door to arrive and be installed, hopefully some time early next week. The tiler will be here at 7:30 AM tomorrow to seal the shower and floor tile. Our neighbor has graciously agreed to let us use his shower for the day, which believe me we will need after dragging our stuff back into the house today and trying to rearrange everything.

I am a compulsive unpacker. Any time I arrive home after spending at least one night away, whether it's vacation, hospitalization or business travel, I get the urge to immediately unpack. I've been this way most of my life and think it comes from watching my mother deal with the return home after family trips.

So Rik shlepped all the boxes, suitcase, food, etc. into the house and I immediately began the unpacking process. Place food into the fridge. Put the clothes away. Set up the wardrobe boxes. Move all the clothes stacked on the bed into the wardrobe boxes (carefully shaking off the lathe and plaster dust and swiffering the floor repeatedly). Slide said wardrobe boxes into the closet. Move coats and extra supplies of soap, etc. into the basement onto the new heavy duty shelving Rik has just installed. Oy.

Most important: figure out the bathroom. Where will we put things in the new configuration, which has less storage space than the previous? I remind myself not to grab all the space and save some room for RIk to put his things away.

Then we got a little crazy and rearranged the living room furniture. We always like to do this in the summer. It allows us to flip the chaise cushion to the other side for more even wear and gives us a new perspective on the room. Plus we are thinking of acquiring a free piano and want to see if there is space to put it in the living room.

All in all, it was a busy day for all of us. The dogs are thrilled to be back in their own yard. Rik is happy to sit in front of the TV and catch up on the news. And I am looking forward to sleeping in our own bed after so many nights away.

Thanks again to all our friends and neighbors who made our month-plus away from home pleasant and enjoyable. We think you're all terrific!

August 03, 2009

Bathroom remodel nears completion

Our bathroom will be almost fully complete tomorrow! The sink and vanity, toilet, mirrored medicine cabinet and shower are all installed. The paint looks good. The lights are up. Everything has been tested and works just fine.

Today the contractor installed the washer and dryer, stacked on top of each other. He finished touching up the paint, added the final fitting to the hand-help shower and tested it. He put the faucet and soap dispenser into the sink vanity. We met this afternoon to have a final look over the whole thing, then hope to move back in on Wednesday.

The only outstanding items are the shower door, which should be ready next week. In the meantime the contractor has hung a tension rod and plastic curtain so we will be able to use the shower. And the tiler has to complete the backsplash over the sink and seal all the tile. So we may not be able to shower right away. We are hoping to make an arrangment with a neighbor if it's just a few days until he seals the tile.

Although Rik and I are very grateful to the friends and neighbors who opened their homes to us for the past month, we can hardly wait to sleep in our own bed again!

Zometa today

I got my monthly dose of zometa today. Every four weeks I shlep up to Swedish Hospital's Cherry Hill campus to the Ambulatory Infusion Center. (I think that means patients who walk in on their own two feet, i.e. ambulatory.) The nurses here have been taking care of me since the beginning, with my original diagnosis in 1999, again when my cancer metastasized in 2002 and ever since. I did spend about a year getting treatment at my oncologist's office at the Minor and James building, but I much prefer the less crowded conditions at Cherry Hill.

Today's zometa was nothing out of the ordinary. I just want to remind myself (and you) how much of my life revolves around medical stuff. Even now, when I feel relatively good, am taking a daily oral medication that we all hope works, and only see my oncologist monthly, I still have this infusion every four weeks, occasional tests and follow up appointments to get results.

It seems that a week hardly goes by without something medical on my calendar.