Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Five years ago, when I started having to give my medical history every five minutes, I got used to answering standard questions about my (non-existent) drug and (virtually non-existent) drinking habits. I skated by them on every intake questionnaire, checking "never" and "rarely" before moving on to the dreaded how-often-do-you-exercise section.

Then one day I was greeted by a nurse who actually took my history by asking me questions instead of handing me a form and a clipboard and a pen. First she went through the usual preliminaries (date of birth, height, weight). Eventually she asked, "How often do you drink alcoholic beverages?"

The answer was half out of my mouth when I realized that she was still talking—and that this was a multiple-choice question: "Once a day? Once a week? Once a month? Weddings and funerals?" She said the choices in rapid succession, so that they all ran together.

For whatever reason, it struck me as hilariously funny that "weddings and funerals" was one of the answer choices. So now, whenever someone else takes my medical history and asks how often I take a drink, that's what I always say. It's not true, actually—I rarely drink at either, or anywhere else, for that matter—but it gets the point across. And it usually jolts the history-taker out of his or her stupor long enough to register that I'm an actual human being, with a personality and a sense of humor. And that's always a good thing.

But I digress.

I bring up my near-teetotaler status because just today I started wondering whether it's exactly that lack of drinking that's made it kind of tough for me to function during those few rough days in the midst of Week 1. In the last day or so, for example, I've had more than one conversation in which I just could not get it together. Even if I sat (or lay) perfectly still, I couldn't will my mind to focus well enough to concentrate on what I was hearing, process it, and then respond in a manner that might generously be characterized as articulate. Just couldn't do it. (Sorry, Mom! Sorry, Elizabeth! Sorry, Zach!)

I didn't have a splitting headache (and just now couldn't come up with the word "splitting," by the way). I wasn't even foggy (the "splitting" problem notwithstanding). I was tired, but not unreasonably so—not I-need-a-five-hour-nap-right-this-second tired.

I was just operating on some bizarre low gear that I didn't even know I had. (I tend to idle pretty high.)

And then something about the whole sensation started to seem familiar—but from the other side. I'd dealt with other people who'd acted this way before.

People who were moving in some kind of pained slow motion.

People who couldn't handle any sort of conversational demands.

People who were hung over.

Not so hung over that they needed to have their stomachs pumped—just enough to turn that morning department meeting (or class, or conference call) into a little dose of torture.

Over time, though, I imagine that these people figured out a way to cope with their hangovers and got to the point where they could go out drinking but still function at work (or school) in the morning.

And this is an entire skill set that I do not have.

So, I ask you:

Had I been a big drinker for the past 20 years, would I have had an easier time getting through chemo? Or at least this particular aspect of it?


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Oh Deer

We escaped. Again.

You may remember back when all this started in December, there was a day we got away from it all. We did an overnighter up in Phoenicia and tried to purge all things medical and malignant from our minds. It was a frozen moment of bliss for us.

And then we had to face reality for a few months. Until four days ago.

This past weekend was the first time, since that day in December, that we've been up at the house and haven't spent our entire time there plotting how to get the place in shape.

In the five months since December 30th, a lot has happened upstate: drainage ditches were excavated, swales dug, gutters attached, roofs repaired and caulked, framing shored, doors and ducts repaired, walls ripped out and replaced, etc. Plus a few cosmetic but necessary things for creature comfort: paint and carpet.

The last of the carpet was laid by 11am Saturday morning, and Jody and I, for the first time, were able to relax a little in our spartan, mostly unfurnished surroundings, and say, "Yeah, this is starting to work."

We'll still spend most of our time in Phoenicia working on the house—heck, just this weekend we put together two beds and a bunch of nightstands, and there's the matter of an entire kitchen to be created (poof!) from thin air—but we'll also be able to chill and watch a movie, read a book, or listen to the sounds of the inchworm infestation munching the trees outside.

And there will also be the occasional unexpected country surprise. Such as the view from our bedroom window at 6:45am on Sunday:

Friday, May 26, 2006

Live, From New York, It's Chemo Six!

Last orders.

You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.

Jody will actually come back every three weeks through next February to continue with the Herceptin. But Herceptin is "bland" as Donna, our wonderful nurse puts it, "like mozzarella cheese." It's not considered chemotherapy, per se. It's a member of a new class of drugs (this particular one is a monoclonal antibody) that have very targeted MOAs (mechanisms of action): so they only attack the bad cells, and leave the good ones alone.

You don't even have to have labs to get Herceptin. Jody's been getting it all along, but she's also been getting two harsh chemo agents with it.... and today is the last day of those drugs. In other words, today is the last day of the toxic crap that comes with all kinds of side effects.


Here, for posterity, is one of the last bags going in...

....and a special shout-out to Danielle, who came by again today to help send us off...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Counting Down

In 10 hours (assuming we don't oversleep), I will be walking into the cancer center for my last round of chemo.

Cue the triumphant orchestral music!

Seriously, though, we in Knowerville are pretty damn psyched about reaching this particular milestone. And while it will be another 3-4 weeks before my body has bounced back from these half-dozen chemical assaults, it will be a relief to know that I don't have to gear up for another one.

(I do, however, have to gear up for another surgery, but that's a subject for another post. I'm planning to call it "The Suckfest Continues." Stay tuned.)

Meanwhile, it appears that in my excitement over the impending end of chemo, I completely forgot to take this morning's dose of steroids. Maybe those 5 kilos are weighing down not only my waistline but also my subconscious in some sort of last-ditch self-preservationist act. [More steroids = more appetite = (I imagine) more kilos, so maybe missing a dose = slightly fewer kilos?]

In any event, I called the treatment center (thank you, 24/7 treatment center!), and the nurse I spoke with didn't seem too worked up over it. She just told me to take the rest of my doses as scheduled and to report the missed dose when I go in tomorrow.

I'm guessing that this won't derail my treatment tomorrow, although I won't know for sure until I get there. In the meantime, I've already confessed to MOSWO (via e-mail). <sigh>

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Not the Freshman Fifteen, But . . .

When you think of someone going through chemotherapy, you probably picture the person as:

A) wan

B) bald

C) puking her or his guts up and, therefore,

D) thin—perhaps even dangerously so.

Well, let me put your mind to rest.

I have no idea if I am wan or not. (Actually, I just wanted to use the word. How many opportunities does one get, really?)

OK, I'm bald. But what with the remarkable hat collection and all, this isn't such a big deal.

And we all know that I have been spared the curse of nausea. (Not the curse of the steamroller, or the early curse of the fog, but those are probably—dare I say it—preferable to puking one's guts up.)

What I haven't been spared, however, is an OUTRAGEOUS appetite. And a consequent propensity to eat completely unhealthy things like Yankee Doodles. And to indulge in multiple desserts per day.

So, yeah, thin is not really the issue. I mentioned this to MOSWO today, and he hadn't noticed. (See why I adore him?) Then he looked in my chart and said that yes, in fact, I had gained a couple of pounds.

A couple?

Wait, that's just since my last visit. When he looked back to December, it was a different story.

Apparently, I've gained five kilos.

Which sounds a lot nicer than ELEVEN POUNDS. (Why didn't we go metric??)

In any event, it seems that I will need to reacquaint myself with the concept of exercise. And perhaps the concept of healthy eating.

But not for another three weeks—MOSWO gave me a reprieve.

(See why I continue to adore him?)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Typical Night's Sleep, Courtesy of Chemo

Go to bed wearing hooded zip-up sweatshirt and pair of pajama bottoms.

Shiver under blankets.

Put hood on.

Continue to shiver.

Put on pair of fuzzy socks.

Continue to shiver.

Pull sheet over head.

Lie curled up on right side. Become hyper-aware of port.

Switch to left side. Become hyper-aware of soreness in left arm.

Switch to back. Stretch legs out. Become hyper-aware of cat lying at foot of bed.

Apologize to cat.

Sigh audibly.

Fall asleep.

Wake up sweating.

Look at clock.


Take hood off.

Close eyes.

Continue to sweat.

Open eyes.

Pull socks off.

Close eyes.

Continue to sweat.

Don't bother to open eyes.

Pull pajama bottoms off.

Take pre-emptive measures and kick blankets off.

Fall back to sleep.

Wake up shivering.

Manually open eyes.

Look at clock.


Pull covers back over legs.

Pull hood back on head.

Pull sheet over head.

Fall back asleep.


Look at clock.


Alternate Universe

It is 10AM. On a weekday.

I am wide awake. And have taken a shower, even.

Zach is asleep, with his head between two pillows. (Yes, it begs for a picture, but I have enough to deal with right now—divorce papers would probably put me over the edge.)

Both cats are asleep, one in her basket and one on the couch.

It is Week 3 and all, but I am highly unaccustomed to being the only conscious being in the house.

I know, of course, that things will revert to normal during Week 1.

But still!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Things I Miss

  1. The attention span and powers of concentration that would allow me to read a book.

  2. Stamina.

  3. A lack of awareness of my left arm.

  4. Tingle-free fingertips.

  5. A normal appetite.

  6. A semi-functional digestive system.

  7. The ability to carry grocery bags in my left hand.

  8. The flat, unscarred flesh above my hateful port.

  9. My relatively flat stomach and the clothes attached to the waistbands that used to fit around it.

  10. The freedom to have a facial.

  11. The freedom to have a drink.

  12. The freedom to sample the batter when I bake cookies.

  13. The freedom to wear anything in my closet without having to worry about whether I have a hat to match.

  14. My fertility.

  15. My salary.

  16. Flying on planes without worrying that my left arm would swell up for all eternity.

  17. Going to the theater or to the movies without having to take a pre-emptive nap.

  18. Being one of the most dependable people anybody knew.

  19. Having an uncomplicated answer when someone asks what I do.

  20. Being able to make plans without having to check which week it will be.

  21. Being able to leave the house without having to pack an assortment of medications, a pack of tissues, a scarf (or sweater or jacket), a bottle of water, and an extra hat.

  22. Having the energy to talk on the phone.

  23. Being able to lie comfortably on my stomach.

  24. Recognizing myself in the mirror.

  25. Never wondering if someone was just being nice because they knew I had cancer.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


People often ask me—ask both of us, actually—how we can endure everything we've been through. My standard reply is, "Yeah, it sucks....but it could be so much worse."

Those aren't empty words for me. As the spouse and caregiver of someone battling cancer, I've met a lot of people along the way who have been touched by the disease: breast cancer yes, but also other forms of cancer. Breast cancer, when caught early, can be very treatable, and is even potentially curable (although you never know if you're "cured" until you die of something else.) But there are other cancers that are much harder to detect, can be far more aggressive, and can attack the body in more distressing ways.

A digression:

My father, Barry, was diagnosed with a "heart murmur" in his 30s.

It changed his life.

He had a faulty mitral valve, which meant that his heart couldn't pump his blood efficiently. An avid flyer (he learned in the army on the GI bill, and actually served, though behind a desk, in the Korean War), he had courted my mom in his plane; suddenly he was grounded. He had to curtail his physical activity. His doctors told him that he had to "wait until science caught up" with his heart problem; in the meantime, he was prescribed a restricted, bland, low-salt diet to keep fluids from building up in his body. For a period of some of those years, his heart grew so enlarged from overworking, you could literally see it pumping through his chest.

Finally, in the mid-1970s, my dad's doctors felt modern medicine had advanced to the degree that they could do something more concrete for him. And in 1975, at the ripe old age of 43, he underwent open-heart surgery to have an artificial mitral valve implanted in his heart. Though it was a risky operation requiring a lengthy hospital stay (we all have memories of my mom keeping our chins up as we celebrated Christmas together without my dad for the first time, then piled into the VW van for the hour-long drive to the hospital to see him during his recovery), he gutted it out and refused to let it break his spirit.

He was on dozens of medications for the rest of his life. I mean, his watch would literally beep four or five times a day, and he'd announce, "gotta take a pill", and he'd pop out for a moment to do so. A decade after his first surgery, he had a second operation to replace his original valve; it was still working fine, but the Teflon coating on it was breaking off into his blood stream and causing complications.

Barry handled it all with an incredibly resilient and stoic nature that is one of his greatest gifts to me (along with an incredible curiosity, a fierce independent streak, and a host of other traits). He felt he'd bought unexpected time with his two surgeries, and never once complained of the life he might have had if his ticker hadn't been so uncooperative. As the years went on, he stubbornly refused to succumb to the disease: he went for long jogs most days and he played tennis three days a week. At our annual trips to the ocean in North Carolina, he'd body-surf and throw a frisbee or softball with us. Despite the two surgeries under his belt, he kept himself in better shape than a lot of men ten years his junior.

Yet he also resigned himself to the fact that one day, his heart would fail him. In this past decade he developed the symptoms of congestive heart failure and began to slow down a bit. The medications increased; he began to make fewer long trips, afeared of being too far from a decent hospital; his physical activity slowed (although it was no less frequent!) And there was an unspoken reality acknowledged in our family that one of these days, probably on the tennis court he still played on three days a week, my father's heart would give out.

And he was comfortable with that. I think he'd truly made his peace with it. There are, after all, worse ways to go than being out in the open air, doing something you love, and fighting keep your space in this world. We all felt, him included, that this would be the ending he deserved.

What he didn't know—what none of us could know—was that an aggressive, invasive cancerous tumor was forming and growing in his brain.

It started with unusual things he'd say; he'd use the wrong word in a phrase, or not finish a sentence he'd started. He'd occasionally done this in the past, the kind of thing you'd attribute to "old age", but suddenly it became very noticeable in November 2004. Over the next couple of months, my mother became more and more worried about him, as his behavior fell increasingly out of character. Finally in March 2005, she took him to the hospital to be examined, and the tumor was discovered.

What followed was a flurry of activity: family members flew home; tests were performed; treatment options were considered, agreed upon, attempted and then abandoned for lack of effect. Throughout it all, my father, always the most passionately intellectual man I've ever met, had trouble communicating. The cancer was rapidly eating away at his cognitive function, and his ability to communicate with us was severely compromised. We're all fairly certain he knew what was going on, but for us to discuss it with him was like a guessing game. Nonetheless, he kept up his sense of humor and fighting spirit straight through to the end.

So while he had prepared for most of his life for his body to give out on him—and had made his peace with that eventuality—in the end it was his mind that was stolen away first. For a man of his nature, this was a far worse insult.

The time elapsed from his initial diagnosis last March, to his eventual passing one year ago today, was less than two months. It took two months for a fucking brain tumor to bring down what thirty years of heart problems couldn't.

So quick. So arbitrary. So devastating.

Having gone through that agonizing experience together has helped to make both Jody and I more circumspect about what we're dealing with. Of course it sucks. Of course it drains us, makes us want to scream at the Gods or check out of the world altogether sometimes. But the fact is, our picture could be a lot bleaker than it is.

Words typed into a computer could never express everything my father meant to me. Suffice to say that on this day, I think about our good times and chuckle to myself; I think about all he gave to me and hope I can live up to his legacy; I miss him and I mourn him.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Is It Live, Or Is It Memorex?

A couple of months ago, we asked you for some feedback regarding paint colors in the Phoenicia house; and feedback you gave!

We eventually settled on a deep green for the main living area.

Here's our mockup from the Benjamin Moore paint program, complete with Photoshopped-in carpet:

...and here's an actual picture taken after the real painting and carpeting were done:

Thanks to all for your input!

Monday, May 15, 2006


I cleaned out my locker at school today. (Yes, we have lockers. Yes, it's kind of like high school. There are bake sales and everything.)

My RWI (Reporting & Writing I) class—the core class at the J-school—had one last meeting today. RWI is a fall class, but our beloved professor, Sandy Padwe, has a tradition of gathering his students together for a final class a few days before graduation. It's a really nice tradition. Afterward, we took a class photo and a bunch of us went to lunch.

Later in the day, there was a boat cruise. Student and Teacher of the Year awards were presented, yearbooks were signed (I already said it's kind of like high school), and people walked around asking each other what they'd be doing after graduation. Most people don't have jobs, which makes it kind of interesting. There's no stigma at all attached to saying that you're going to take a vacation and then start job-hunting—it's the people who actually have jobs who are kind of awkward and apologetic about it.

Tomorrow is Journalism Day (catchy, huh?), when all of the official graduation prizes are awarded and the official speakers give their speeches. On Wednesday, there's the University graduation and then the J-school graduation, where I will be helping Professor Padwe give out diplomas to my RWI classmates.

I'm not sad at all about the fact that I'm not graduating this week—I made my peace with that months ago. But I am feeling out of sorts now that the school year is over. Everything is very in medias res, and I'm going to be in this weird kind of limbo for the next eight months, until I return to school full-time in January. It's not that I don't have plans or things to do—I've got plenty of both. It's just that my life is going to be very unstructured for a while, and I'm not used to that.

We'll see how it goes.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Praise Be to the GPO

I love living in New York for a million reasons, and today's reason is that the GPO (General Post Office) is open 24/7.

Let me explain.

See, there's this essay contest.

And entries had to be postmarked by today.

And, well, in pretty much any other city on earth, that would mean that entries actually had to be postmarked by yesterday. Because where else can you find a post office open on Sunday?

And in all of those other cities, the post offices probably close no later than 5PM on Saturdays. And in many of those cities, they probably close much earlier. In Phoenicia, for example, the post office closes at noon on Saturdays.

So if I lived anywhere else, I'd have to have finished my entry in time to get to the post office and get it postmarked by, let's say, 5PM yesterday.

And, well, that was just not going to happen.

I've known about the essay contest for several weeks, and I was planning to devote all of this week to writing my entry. I knew somewhere in the back of my head that it was Week 1, but I still counted on having the whole week to come up with a subject and write the requisite 2,500-3,500 words. Completely do-able, I thought. In fact, so do-able that I was counting on writing multiple drafts. And getting feedback from some of my classmates and from my Magazine Writing professor. Not to mention from Zach.

Except that I was so totally steamrolled this week that I was not physically capable of writing anything until Friday. I was so totally steamrolled that I was not capable of speaking, to anyone other than Zach, until Thursday. One day, earlier in the week, we took a walk to a cool coffeehouse in our neighborhood, and I had to have Zach order for me. Because the prospect of asking for a bagel with butter and a blueberry-peach-mango-banana smoothie made with apple juice was so far beyond my ken as to exhaust me just to contemplate it.

So, yeah, things were not looking good for the essay. I couldn't figure out what to write about. Even if I knew what to write about, I didn't have the stamina to write it. And even if I found the stamina to write it, I was already so short on time that I knew I couldn't get it done before the postmark deadline.

And then we found out that I could get a postmark up until midnight on Sunday. (Thanks, Glen!) And suddenly I had at least 24 extra hours to work with.

Things still weren't looking good, but they were looking less impossible. By Friday, I had written my lede. It was under 200 words, but it was a start.

By yesterday, I was up to something like 1,500 words. I wasn't happy with most of them, but suddenly 2,500 was within striking distance.

And then today I blew by 2,500 and ultimately hit something like 3,800. I finally had a completed first draft around 5PM. I still wasn't sure I was going to end up with something that I'd want to send in—something that I could attach my name to without cringing—but at least I was in the ballpark.

I took a break and then read the draft. And then I let Zach read the draft. And then I cleaned it up and got it down to about 3,700 words.

And then, very, very slowly, I got it down to within the word limit. To be precise, I got it down to 3,499 words. (Maybe I could have gotten it down further. I don't know. I didn't try.)

And then I rode with Zach across the Brooklyn Bridge and into Manhattan to the GPO.

And I got myself a May 14 postmark.

Only cost me 95 cents.

I [heart] NY!

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Times They Are a-Changin'?

Interesting article in today's NY Times about the ways breast cancer treatment is evolving. There is now widespread (but not unanimous) belief in the oncology community that chemotherapy may only be necessary for women whose breast cancers aren't estrogen-receptive (about 30% of all cases).
Doctors who treat women with breast cancer are glimpsing the possibility of a vastly different future. After years of adding more and more to the regimen — more drugs, shorter intervals between chemotherapy sessions, higher doses, longer periods of a harsh therapy — they are now wondering whether many women could skip chemotherapy altogether.

If the new ideas, supported by a recent report, are validated by large studies like two that are just beginning, the treatment of breast cancer will markedly change.

Today, national guidelines call for giving chemotherapy to almost all of the nearly 200,000 women a year whose illness is diagnosed as breast cancer. In the new approach, chemotherapy would be mostly for the 30 percent of women whose breast cancer is not fueled by estrogen.

So far the data are tantalizing, but the evidence is very new and still in flux. And even if some women with hormone-dependent tumors can skip chemotherapy, no one can yet say for sure which women they might be.

We certainly have no regrets. As far as we're concerned, chemotherapy, even with all its attendant unpleasantries, is a small price to pay for a greater chance at survival. But it speaks well of the new classes of drugs coming out (some of which are in Jody's regimen) that the level of their effectiveness may one day make chemotherapy obsolete.

It's a fascinating article, and well worth the read.


The bodega on the corner sells Yankee Doodles.

You will be pleased (amazed?) to know that I exercised great restraint upon discovering this earlier this evening.

(Not that I wasn't tempted.)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

MuGA? Ugh-a.

Actually, it wasn't that bad this time.

Remember way back in December, when we had to go in for a MuGA scan? We got to repeat the experience yesterday. Woo-hoo!

Backstory: For Jody's first trip around the carousel in 2001, there was a new drug called Herceptin being tested in clinical trials. It had already been shown to be effective against cancer, but there were concerns about its potential side-effects; specifically, that for patients taking Adriamycin, it could lead to congestive heart failure. At the time, these risks were of such concern that Herceptin was only indicated in women with metastatic disease.

Flash-forward five years, and much more is known about Herceptin. For one thing, it's a damned effective drug: one of the best new cancer drugs to come out in the past few years. For many patients, the risks of taking Herceptin were already outweighed by its potential benefits. But fortunately, there's now also a lot more data available on Herceptin's potential for cardiac damage; so much more is known, in fact, that the drug is now regularly prescribed for women with breast cancer. The caveat is, during the period it's being administered, the docs will monitor the patient's heart to be sure it's not being compromised.

Jody's December MuGA scan was her baseline. Yesterday was her three-month follow-up (yes, December is five months ago, but yesterday was exactly three months from when she started on the Herceptin).

The procedure was pretty much the same as last time, except it went a lot more smoothly, and there were fewer waiting-room theatrics. In a nutshell, we got to the hospital, went straight to nuclear medecine, and had the procedure explained (a formality at this point). After a brief wait, Jody had some blood drawn. We were then told to kill half an hour, which we did walking around outside and shopping a bit. When we came back, Jody's blood, now mixed with a radioactive element called Technetium, was reinjected into her bloodstream. This made the blood visible on a device known as a gamma camera (which can "see" the radiation). The GC was aimed at Jody's chest, and Presto! It captured various stages of her heart's pumping cycle. Jody had to sit absolutely still with her arms over her head during the two periods of acquisition (one of ten minutes, one of five). On the plus side, the machine she was on was far more "open" than the one used in December's test.

(For more information on a MuGA scan for you geeks out there, here's a Wiki entry.)

We don't have the results back yet, but here are some cool pictures:

Note: According to this fact sheet, ""For the technetium that is distributed to organs other than the thyroid, about 75% leaves the body with a biological half-life of 1.6 days, 20% clears with a half-life of 3.7 days, and 5% clears with a half-life of 22 days." If I read that correctly, that means my wife is still radioactive. Which might explain the odd glow coming from her side of the bed this evening. :)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Purging (Not That Kind)

I don't have a lot of self-discipline these days. (Remember the seven Yankee Doodles in one sitting?)

I also don't have a lot of energy, it seems.

So when I lie here, communing with the couch (as I am doing right now), I tend to stare right at the four very neat and tidy but still ENORMOUS piles of newspapers that I have carefully constructed over the past five months while suffering under the drug-induced delusion that I will actually someday read them. (The drugs also make me think it's okay to write ridiculous run-on sentences.)

In my heart of hearts, I know I will never read them.

But I have convinced myself that I might, in fact, skim them.

Because I have, in fact, done just that. With equally large stacks. On more than one occasion.

And found little bits of gold in them thar mountains of newsprint.

Nothing I couldn't have lived without, of course.

Just a perfect op-ed piece. Or a review of a formerly unheard-of but now must-read book. Or a recipe that I know Zach would kill to have. Or a travel story on the place we've always talked about visiting.

And it's those little bits of gold that keep me from tossing out the paper on the days I don't have time to read it. Until one day I have a veritable stack.

And then two.

And then, suddenly, I've crossed clear into hoarding territory.

So today, recognizing that I do not now—nor will I likely ever—possess the discipline and energy to actually read, or even skim, this particular collection, I mustered enough discipline to cast them off (and enough energy to tie them up first).

And now they are stacked up very neatly on the street, waiting for tomorrow's recycling collection:
(Just to be clear, we're talking about the two little stacks on the left. That gargantuan one half out of the picture on the right is someone else's entirely.)

But if you think I'm giving up my comparatively demure pile of New Yorkers, you've got another thing coming.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Well, in some ways, I'm way ahead of yesterday:

#1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, and 10?


In others, not so much.

I have these short—not bursts, but maybe interludes?—of energy (well, not energy, exactly, but maybe a lack of a lack thereof?), during which I can do big exciting things (heat up some soup or watch something in our TiVo queue), followed by extended periods during which I sleep so deeply it's a wonder I don't have a chunk of poisoned apple lodged in my teeth.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Justifying My Existence

Just when I thought it was impossible to break my unproductivity record. . . .

Things I did not do today:
  1. Take a shower.

  2. Brush my teeth.

  3. Spend more than five minutes—total—in a vertical position.

  4. Read the newspaper.

  5. Read any part of any issue of The New Yorker.

  6. Knit one stitch of my very slow-growing scarf.

  7. Attempt any of my physical-therapy exercises.

  8. Return any phone calls.

  9. Write any thank-you notes.

  10. Remember what day it was on the first try.

I did, however, accomplish one thing. I have been wanting a pair of espadrilles for the last few summers and finally ordered some online (from Spain, in fact) last week, thanks to a recommendation from my pal Lisa (thanks, Lisa!). I love espadrilles because they are so comfortable, especially for wearing around the house in the summertime. The only thing is that they need to be worn a bit before they are stretched out to just the right size and softness.

Anyway, they arrived this morning, just ahead of the chemo steamroller, and I had the presence of mind to put them on before lapsing into unconsciousness for the next 12 hours. So even though I did nothing but sleep on the couch all day, I do have something to show for it:

Sunday, May 07, 2006

More Chemo Company—Yay!

This is my pal Shira (hi, Shira!), who took a break from one of her last looming J-school deadlines to hang out with us at Chemo Central on Friday:

Why the big smiles? Because we are both counting down—just one more round of chemo for me, and (as of today) only 10 days until graduation for Shira. Hooray!

Friday, May 05, 2006

We're Live from Chemo Number Five . . .

. . . and we'll be here all morning.

Joining us today are Steve (in from Houston) and Annette (all the way from LA, baby!):
Steve, Annette and I administered our own medications in solidarity with Jody:

What are you doing this morning?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Backsliding Already

Today was a really busy day—all good things (really good things, in fact), but really busy. I got up early to accommodate my day-before-chemo drug regimen and then was out of the house for 15 straight hours, racing from one commitment to the next to the next to the next to the next to the next.

That means I haven't read the newspaper. At all. It's still sitting on the couch in its lovely blue plastic wrapper.

And I didn't finish a New Yorker, although I did make a dent in the current issue. (That's what subway time is for, is it not?)

And haven't done my PT exercises. I planned to do them this morning but ran out of time. My back-up plan was to do them this evening, not knowing that I would be out until past midnight. Since I have to get up at 6AM tomorrow to deal with the day-of-chemo drug regimen, not to mention the chemo itself, I figured I should just give up the ghost.

Instead, I had some ice cream. But only because I had to have food with my evening dose of steroids. (OK, maybe not only.)

But I did not want to skip a blog entry, even if it was just to confess my shortcomings of the day.

Other shortcomings to follow, I'm sure.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Best-laid Plans

Zach thinks my hair is starting to grow back.

If it is, I can't tell.

It wouldn't make sense for it to grow back now, after four treatments. If anything, the stuff that hasn't already fallen out should start to go. It's like stripping layers of varnish off an old piece of furniture—with each application of the chemical, more and more of the varnish comes off. (I realize I am the old piece of furniture in this analogy. So be it.)

But who knows? Stranger things have happened.

Last time around, the hair on my head went first, and everything (and I mean everything) else followed, in order, from top to bottom.

It hasn't gone quite so predictably this time around. For example, I still have my eyebrows and eyelashes.

This is HUGE.

Because what I learned last time around is that you don't really look sick until you lose your brows and lashes.

For one thing, without them every little speck of dust (and we've got lots of 'em here in the Big Apple) finds its way into your eyes and makes them all red and teary. So you look like you're miserable even if you feel absolutely fine. (And of course you never feel absolutely fine in the traditional sense of those words, but you sometimes feel absolutely fine in the "given I am going through hell" sense of those words.)

For another, much of the expressiveness of your face depends upon your eyebrows—they let you show joy and surprise and skepticism and confusion and lots and lots of other things. Without them, from the nose up at least, you are kind of a blank stare. Well, a teary blank stare.

Also, one thing I learned back then was that wearing eye makeup (something I tended not to do on an average day) somehow helped to counterbalance the bald thing. A little eyeliner and mascara gave my face definition—they framed my eyes the way my hair used to frame my face. So between a well chosen hat, some eye makeup, and a pair of earrings (good for distraction), I could manage to make a first impression that was something other than Cancer Patient.

But I digress. (Shocking, I know.)

My point is (was?) that the reason I can't tell whether my hair is starting to grow back is that I never entirely lost it. Don't get me wrong—I lost a lot of it. Just not all of it.

I've still got this sparse half-inch layer of peach fuzz. So I have to wonder whether I jumped the gun with the buzz cut. Is there any chance that had I let sleeping follicles lie, I might be able to walk around hatless in public without scaring small children (or large adults, for that matter)? Did I outsmart myself? Did I lose the game of chicken by flinching too soon?

Probably not. It's really sparse up there (although I don't think I have any actual bald spots).

But it's one more thing I'll never know.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Hitting the Trifecta

Today I:
  • Finished the almost current issue of The New Yorker. (And yes, that means cover to cover.)

  • Read all of today's New York Times.

  • Did my physical-therapy exercises (wildly unattractive lymphedema sleeve and all).
I daresay that's a first for 2006.

Pathetic, I know. But if you saw the stacks of newspapers and New Yorkers in our living room, you'd understand how pleased I am to have made this tiny bit of progress.

And I bet Zach will be even more pleased when he reads this, since he has recently embarked upon the Great Paper-wrangling Caper of '06. Between the periodicals and the medical bills and the insurance statements, I am sure that I have been causing him great consternation.

So I am thanking him very publicly for his patience and, as a show of good faith, hereby offering to negotiate a Paperwork Non-proliferation Agreement with clearly defined targets and timetables.

(I already said I was pathetic. What more do you want?)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Back to Work

What with having scotched the trip to DC, I ended up with two days of "found time" on my hands. Since I'd taken a few weeks off from my not-so-new part-time job, I figured it was time to put in another shift.

Yes, I realize that many other people would take their two found days and do something fun or frivolous or, at the very least, relaxing. I, however, am a Capricorn and therefore can't help but be practical and disciplined and industrious. (Except when I'm not, of course.)

So . . . I summoned all of my courage and dove into my ever-growing pile of medical bills and insurance statements in the hopes of making some small amount of headway.

And I did, actually. I sorted through everything, updating my ever-growing spreadsheet as I went. I figured out what needed to be paid and what needed to be submitted for reimbursement and what needed to be filed.

That left the dreaded Things That Require a Phone Call, or TTRAPC (pronounced "traps"). TTRAPC is something of a misnomer, of course. The more accurate term would be Things That Should Require One Quick Phone Call But, In Actuality, Take Forever to Resolve, but that's, well, unwieldy.

Here are my three favorite head-scratching TTRAPC of the day:
  1. I called to pay a $70.00 lab bill over the phone only to be told that I shouldn't pay it (when has that ever happened?) because it appeared to have been mis-coded by the doctor's office. Apparently, some lab tests associated with our IVF cycle were submitted under codes that identified them as being related to contraception. I'm sure the folks at Fertility Central will get a kick out of that.

  2. I called to pay a pathology bill that was overdue and for which we had received one of those lovely "This is your final notice" and "We may be forced to forward your outstanding balance to a collection agency" letters, only to be told that payments by credit card were not accepted and that I'd have to put a check in the mail.

    Hmm. I wonder if they've upgraded to touch-tone phone service yet.

  3. I got a bill for $3,463.23 from the hospital where we went for egg-retrieval day but couldn't make any sense of it. Good thing I didn't just pay it, because it wasn't quite accurate. Turns out we actually owe slightly less than that. As in $40.00. Not $40.00 less—$40.00 total. Maybe "Total Amount Due" is kind of like "Suggested Retail Price."

    And maybe from now on the hospital can include its margin of error when it sends out bills—kind of like Gallup does with its poll results. Because if I had gotten a bill that read "Total Amount Due (±8,558%): $3,463.23," I would have known enough to ignore it.