March 29, 2010

Happy Passover!

Tonight begins Pesach, the festival of freedom. After finishing all the cleaning, after we have eaten the last leavened bread, after the cooking is done, the table is set, the silver shines and the house fills with guests, we remember the exodus from Egypt.

Avadim hayinu, ata b'nai chorin --Once we were slaves, now we are free.

Let all who are hungry come and eat.

And my favorite:
Bechol dor vador chayav adam lirot et atzmo k'ilu hu yatza mi'Mitzrayim.
In every generation each person should imagine as though he himself left slavery in Egypt.

Use your imagination this year and put yourself into the footsteps of those slaves. What must it have been like to leave with only the food you could carry, a few possessions, and go off into the unknown?

It's a path Jews have been forced to follow over and over again for thousands of years. Small wonder we hold firmly to the reborn land of Israel, so that we will never have to wander homeless again.

Next year in Jerusalem!

March 26, 2010

Free Gilad Shalit

Today we received an email from Alexander Muss High School in Israel about a "flash mob" video in Tel Aviv set up to get the word out that Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is still alive in captivity in Gaza, courtesy of the terrorist group Hamas. He has been held for almost four years. Shalit was 19 at the time of his abduction.

Although I don't normally refer to Wikipedia, their article on Shalit appears to be carefully sourced.
"Hamas has refused requests from the International Committee of the Red Cross to allow the ICRC to visit Shalit. Several human rights organizations have stated that the terms and conditions of Shalit's detention are contrary to international humanitarian law. In exchange for his release, Hamas is demanding the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, including many convicted of deadly terrorist attacks against Israelis. The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, which released a report in September 2009, called for Shalit to be released."

Enjoy the video, and at your Pesach seder, when you talk about freedom, please pray for freedom for Gilad Shalit.

Passover prep

Although I am still feeling overwhelmed by all the medical information I got on Monday, I am also in the thick of preparing for Passover. Since we aren't hosting a seder this year, I have decided not to change over all dishes, pots, pans, flatware, etc. I am, however, doing the cleaning.

The kosher rules for Pesach are far more strict than for everyday. In an ordinary situation, a drop of milk that spilled into a meat dish would not render it inedible because the rule is 1 part in 60 is okay. But for Passover that goes away and everything has to be 100% free of chametz (leavening). This is only the second time in more than fifteen years that I have not changed over everything for Pesach.

I cleaned the fridge on Wednesday, the oven today. The house cleaners were here yesterday. All that's left is to remove the chametz from the cupboard (pasta, crackers, cereal, etc.) and start the cooking!

March 25, 2010

Lifestyle food change

I appear to have lost a smidge more than two pounds so far on the low carb/sugar lifestyle change and it's only been a few days. This is what I am eating:
microwave scrambled egg and soy "sausage"

yogurt with defrosted frozen berries, applesauce and half a banana

mushroom omelet

hamburger patty (only a few bites of the bun) and green salad

tortilla soup (homemade chicken broth with shredded chicken breast, spinach, carrots, salsa, avocado, and a handful of chips. I asked Rik to bring the rest of the chips to school so I wouldn't be tempted.)

leftover cooked chicken salad made with guacamole instead of mayo and two whole wheat crackers

broiled halibut, sauteed zucchini, red and yellow pepper strips

I find I have to cook more and shop more, but since I enjoy these activities it is not a burden (so far).

I have not even had any chocolate since Monday but have given myself permission to have sweets on Friday night at Shabbat dinner and on special occasions.

March 23, 2010

Cancer and carbs/sugar

NEWS FLASH: Dr. G also said yesterday he is now persuaded that carbs and sugar can cause cancer to grow. The reason behind his thinking? PET scans measure glucose uptake; cancer cells take up glucose at a faster rate. Glucose is basically sugar. Therefore cancer likes sugar.

Today I started a low-carb, no sugar diet, except a daily square of dark chocolate. In our house, we call chocolate vitamin CH: gotta have your daily dose.

As it turns out, the incredible lunch I had between doctors' appointments was just about the perfect last meal of all that's bad for me. I went to Cafe Presse and had a baguette sandwich (carbs) with pate de foie gras; a salade verte with hazelnuts and delicious vinaigrette; black coffee and chocolate mousse (sugar) with freshly whipped cream. Delicieux!

Maybe I will lose some weight on this low-carb, no sugar lifestyle. Wish me luck!


Yesterday I saw both the doc and the onc. I had scheduled an annual checkup with my primary care physician and her first available time was a bit before I was supposed to see the oncologist. (I did get a nice lunch in between.)

I apent almost an hour with Dr. Klein, my PCP. We reviewed everything and here are her take-aways:
I turned 50 and other than metastatic cancer, I appear to be in general good health, so I should have a colonoscopy.

The bumps on my head concern her, even if Dr. G biopsied a similar one on my shoulder blade and it was nothing. See the dermatologist.

If I really want to eat blueberries after 30+ years of thinking I might be allergic to them, see an allergist.
(Dr. K also called Dr. G about the results of my most recent blood work indicating anemia and possible kidney issues.)

Dr. Goldberg, Seattle's best oncologist, is concerned that the anemia might indicate my cancer is progressing. Bone marrow makes red blood cells and I have so much cancer in my bones, it's likely also in my bone marrow.

The Fareston is not working; tumor markers increased from last month to this. He is putting me back on Femara (letrozole) for a month, to see if it has any effect. If not, it's off to chemo land for me.

Dr. G recommends eitherAbraxane (paclitaxel nanoparticle albumin-bound) or Doxil (doxorubicin liposomal). I think I prefer Abraxane's side effects (neuropathy) to Doxil's (hand and foot syndrome, which I think would increase my lymphedema). It will also depend on what my health insurance will cover.

(I'm having trouble with HTML links to some pages. Click on ChemoCare and search for Abraxane or Doxil to learn more about these drugs.)

I am a little freaked by this since Megace and Fareston didn't work at all and I have basically had no effective treatment for almost a year. If you recall, last April the 5FU put me in the hospital for two weeks with life-threatening infections. Still, Dr. G assures me that my poor reaction to 5FU doesn't necessarily predict I will react the same way to Abraxane or Doxil.

March 19, 2010

Happy 15th Anniversary!

Yesterday we celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary. Somehow it hardly feels that long. Until I'd moved to Seattle I had never lived in one place for 15 years; had the same job for 15 years; or been in a relationship other than with my family of origin for 15 years. Somehow Seattle changed all that.

Rik and I have been through more in our fifteen years together than many people experience in three times that amount of time. Here are some of the highlights.
In our first year together, we both lost our jobs and faced lengthy periods of unemployment.
The couple who owned the first house we rented divorced and we needed to find a new place to live.

During our first five years, we tried to start a family.
I had several miscarriages.
We went through multiple infertility treatments.
We tried private adoption but were scammed by several birth mothers.
I was diagnosed with and treated for early-stage breast cancer.

Over the additional years, we dealt with more health challenges.
Rik had open heart surgery that successfully treated his congenital aortic stenosis.
My cancer returned and had spread into innumerable places in my bones.
I retired from work on medical disability.

Just before I was re-diagnosed, we tried to adopt a child from abroad but were told a foreign judge would look at our medical records and never approve an adoption.

We tried private adoption again and an agency in Florida scammed us for thousands of dollars. A local teen-aged birth mother met and approved us only a few days before her baby was born and then changed her mind.

In a last stab at starting a family, we approached Washington state's foster-to-adopt program and were told by a social worker that she would never be successful in presenting our case to a judge. The state would prefer that a child "age out" of foster care than be placed in a home with such serious medical conditions and risk another loss for that child.

We also did things we never thought we'd be able to do:
We traveled to France and Israel.
We adopted a dog (Pumpkin).
We bought a house.
We planted trees.
We adopted a second dog (Bobka).
Rik got his dream job all over again teaching AP Human Geography.
I am only two months away from being elected president of our synagogue.

That's our marital history. Even with serious health challenges, we have managed to enjoy each day, one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time. And that goes back to the philosophy I learned from my favorite author, Robert A Heinlein -- "Dum vivimus, vivamus! While we live, let us LIVE."

Happy anniversary to us!

March 16, 2010

Another PT visit

Yesterday's physical therapy showed no real change but also no worsening in my hand or arm. I had been worried that going without a glove would make my arm balloon up, but that does not seem to be the case. So I will continue to wear the glove during the day (with a pad inserted on the back of the hand for extra compression) and wrap at night.

The PT asked me to identify what frustrates me about the glove and bandaging, and since I didn't sleep well last night, I came up with this list:

• damp, dirty-feeling palm all the time
• bulk of bandaging against my palm and around my hand
• lack of gross motor control (I have fine motor control in my fingertips when bandaged but can't grip anything)
• inability to relax my hand
• dependence on anti-anxiety meds to take the egde off when things get too frustrating AND for a sleep aid every night
• cranky mood
• not enough restful sleep

And of course giving up left-handedness while that hand is bandaged: eating, writing typing, personal care, ALL WITH MY RIGHT HAND.

Try eating with chopsticks in your non-dominant hand some time, the way I did on Sunday night, and you'll experience at least some of what I'm talking about.

March 14, 2010

Famous again

Last year Sharsheret, the organization for young Jewish women with breast cancer, asked me to present on blogging as a way to deal with having cancer.

They have printed something about the teleconference in the recent newsletter which arrived a few days ago. You can read it on their web site. From the home page, click on Newsletters on the left-hand column, then click on the link for the 2010 Annual Newsletter.

The article about writing, "Take it from me: my experiences in my own words," appears on the bottom of page four.

March 12, 2010

GCS featured on KING 5's Evening Magazine

Gilda's Club Seattle and an upcoming fundraising event, Bags and Bottles, will be featured on tonight's popular TV show, Evening Magazine, staring Meeghan Black.

Friday, March 12, 2010
7:00 pm


I have been taking a yoga class at Gilda's Club Seattle every Friday for the past five or six years. Taught by Stacy Lawson of Seattle's Red Square Yoga, the class is geared to people with limited mobility, those who are recovering from cancer treatment or surgery, and their caregivers. Yoga keeps me flexible to the limited degree the rods in my femurs permit.

The three regulars in this class were all there before me and I love seeing them every week: P, who had half her brain removed due to a tumor and still paints and draws; R, who's in her 70's and giggles with me like a teenager; and J, who is one of the most flexible people I've ever met, health issues notwithstanding.

And then there's instructor Stacy, who mixes laughter and asanas with complete abandon and who never objects to comments from her "peanut gallery."

It's Friday and I am off to yoga -- namaste!

March 10, 2010

Checking in - lymphedema update

Sorry that I haven't posted in a few days, but I had almost nothing to say.

I saw the physical therapist again early in the week and my hand is about the same as last time. Clearly the sleeve is still pushing fluid into my hand, even with the glove and nighttime hand bandaging.

We are trying something else now: I will wear the glove only and no sleeve, plus wrap my hand at night. I tried it for the first time today and my arm seems a bit swollen but not much, and my hand is definitely less filled with fluid. In addition, the PT and I agree that I need to see her twice a week, not once a week, for manual lymphatic drainage.

I am getting very tired of bandaging my hand at night. I am taking lorazepam to sleep, and now and then I need some to take the edge off my frustration and anxiety at not being able to do anything while wrapped. Can't hold a pen to take notes at nighttime meetings, can't drive, can't hold a book and have to do everything else with my non-dominant hand. Uggh.

I sure hope this works.

March 04, 2010

My no-knead bread

I am on a baking kick, at least until Passover. Once or twice a week I have been baking the no-knead bread recipe that floats all over the internet. You mix the ingredients, let rise for a really long time (overnight is fine), shape and bake in a VERY hot oven. Et voila! Delicious, artisanal-style homemade bread. The only special equipment you need is baking parchment and a heavy, lidded dutch oven. I use one made of cast iron. It's heavy, was not expensive, the lid has a metal handle and it holds up to the high heat really well.

I started a loaf yesterday morning and baked it today. Even though I forgot to turn the oven down to 425 degrees after preheating at 500, the bread still baked up beautifully. I ate a slice hot from the oven with some stinky triple-cream cheese, fruit and a latte. Now that's breakfast!

For purists, click here for a link to the recipe as originally printed in the New York Times.

No-Knead Bread
(as adapted from the Cook's Illustrated magazine version)
Makes one loaf

Whole wheat version:
2 cups (10 ounces) all purpose or bread flour
1 cup (5 ounces) whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon honey
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. (7 ounces) room temperature water
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. (3 ounces) lager
1 tablespoon white vinegar

White flour version:
3 cups (15 ounces) all purpose or bread flour
1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. (7 ounces) room temperature water
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. (3 ounces) lager
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a big glass or ceramic bowl. Add the liquids and mix well until it reaches a "shaggy" consistency.

Cover the dough (I invert a plate over the bowl; you can use plastic wrap). Let it stand at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours. (I put mine on top of the fridge, the warmest spot in the kitchen.)

Lay a piece of baking parchment inside a small skillet. pie plate, or other flat-bottomed, straight-sided pan. Knead the dough lightly on a floured surface about 10-15 times and shape into a round loaf.

Place the loaf in the parchment-lined skillet and cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Let it rise for two hours.

After 90 minutes of rising in the parchment-lined skillet, place the oven rack on its lowest position, put in an empty heavy, lidded dutch oven and heat the oven to 500 degrees.

After two hours' rising, lightly flour the top of the loaf. Using a kitchen shears, cut a one-inch X in the top.

Carefully take the very hot pot out of the oven and remove the lid. Holding the ends of parchment, transfer the dough from skillet to pot. It's OK if the parchment hangs over the edge of the pot. Turn the oven temperature down to 425 degrees, replace the lid, put the whole thing in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Carefully remove the lid and bake the bread for another 10-15 minutes.

When done, remove the bread from the dutch oven and let cool on a rack. Slice and enjoy!

Lymphedema update

At this week's PT visit the edema in my hand and wrist had decreased considerably, but I was still frustrated with being in a sleeve/glove or bandaged about 22 hours a day (except when in the shower and getting dressed in the morning). The physical therapist suggested I try leaving my arm and hand free from when I wake up in the morning until about 11 AM. I have done so for the past few days with seemingly good results.

It's been wonderful to have a few hours in the morning without either the sleeve/glove combo or bandaging. I can leisurely shower, dress, eat breakfast, walk dogs, check email, even run an errand. I had forgotten what it was like to have the full use of both hands without compression of some kind.

It was with regret that I pulled on my sleeve and glove just now. But the therapist says that in a week or so we may have reduced the edema so much that I can go back to my original habit of wearing the sleeve only during the day and nothing at night. I will be glad to sleep without compression or medication as a sleep aid!

March 02, 2010

Chestita Baba Marta! (Spring has sprung!)

From The Black Sea Association of National News Agencies:

On March 1, Bulgarians celebrate Baba Marta, a traditional festival marking the onset of spring. They exchange special red-and-white amulets, wishing each other "Chestita Baba Marta" - the Bulgarian equivalent of "Happy Spring" - and health and prosperity throughout the year.

Baba Marta is one of the best loved Bulgarian customs dating many centuries back.

The red-and-white good luck charm, called "martenitsa," is especially made for the occasion and is worn on one's clothing, wrist or neck (of people and pets), or round the left wrist, or is tied round the horns of cattle or round the branches of fruit trees. The wearer keeps it until a swallow or a stork returning from migration is first seen, after which it is hung on a branch in blossom or hidden under a rock to welcome spring and to represent the hope that the evil spirits will go to sleep.

Originally, "martenitsas" consisted simply of a red-and-white wool or silk thread, twisted leftward, with a gold or silver coin occasionally tied to it for an abundant harvest, or a blue bead to ward off evil spells.

The white is a symbol of strength, longevity, the male spirit and sunshine, while the red symbolizes the female spirit and is associated with health, blood, conception, birth and fertility.

The popular spring amulet was reckoned to protect the wearers from diseases, the evil eye and bad luck, and to ensure the fertility of livestock, a plentiful harvest, and farmers' good health and prosperity.

Happy Heartiversary

Yesterday was the eighth anniversary of Rik's heart surgery.
(I was in such a hurry to finish a biography, Ayn Rand and the world she made," by Anne C. Heller, that I didn't have time to blog. It's due back at the library this week and I finally read the whole thing!)
Rik was born with a smaller than normal aortic valve and always knew he would have to have it replaced at some point. As a boy they told him to lie still on the exam table for "astronaut training" when in reality he was having a heart catheterization procedure. Still, that some day came sooner than expected and on March 1, 2002 he had his aortic valve replaced. The new valve is made of titanium and has been working well all these years.

To celebrate he wore the heart-shaped pin with flashing LED lights that we received as a wedding gift from friends A and S. I also gave him a red-and-white yarn martenitsa bracelet to wear (more on that in another post). And I baked him heart-shaped honey cookies with a red cherry in the center of each. What better way to celebrate?