Sunday, May 31, 2009

Rolling out the dough

When I was in middle and high school, I cooked very little. In college, learning to be responsible for feeding myself was a challenge: grocery shopping, menu planning, the whole works.

Even now, ten years later, I still struggle with some things. Today, I tried a new recipe: spinach calzones. For the first time in my adult life, I used a rolling pin. The first one was rather frustrating: the dough kept sticking to the pin, it was square instead of round, and getting it to the right size took more time than I really wanted to spend on it.

Then a childhood memory came back, of helping my mom roll out dough. I couldn't have been older than ten, but the rhythm has stayed in my brain all these years: roll, roll, flip, roll, roll, flip... my dough wasn't exactly a circle, but it was roundish, it didn't stick to the pin, and things generally seemed to go faster.

Thanks, mom.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lifetime limits and EPOCH

One of the drugs in my chemotherapy regimen, doxorubicin, has a lifetime maximum dosage. (This is the H drug in the acronym; its trade name is Adriamycin, and the drug is also known as hydroxydaunorubicin.) According to Wikipedia, this maximum dosage is 550 mg/m2. Above that dosage, there is a high risk of permanent heart damage.

I think, after round eight this week, I will have received a cumulative dose of 510 mg/m2. I asked one of my oncology nurses how close I was to my lifetime limit; she wasn't sure, and asked the doctor. Apparently the maximum dosage is much higher when the drug is given by continuous infusion: most treatment regimens involve giving doxorubicin over just a few hours (2-4?), while in my regimen I receive it over 96 hours. He didn't give specific numbers, but said I was "far away" from any dangerous amount of doxorubicin.

I did some internet searches and came up with a couple of studies confirming what my oncologist said: one of adults, and one of children.

Hopefully, when my treatment is finished in another month or two, I won't have to deal with cancer anymore. But it's reassuring to know that, if I needed it, this particular drug is still an option for me.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Guided by the sky

I learned this week that this is the International Year of Astronomy, celebrating the 400th anniversary of Galileo's telescope and of the publication of Johannes Kepler's Astronomia Nova. As part of their observance of the IYA, the editor's column in this week's Science News discusses a claim by Henri Poincaré that astronomy "has given us a soul capable of comprehending nature."

Apparently Poincaré believed that it was success in the science of astronomy that inspired scientific investigation of other topics. "Under heavens always overcast and starless, the Earth itself would have been for us eternally unintelligible," he wrote.

That's an impressive theory. My knowledge of scientific history is insufficient to judge its merits, although the Science News editor is credulous enough to lend some weight to this claim. I would like to think humanity would have muddled into the realm of science even without the help of the night sky. Still, it's intriguing to think about the stars in their courses showing humans that nature obeys strict laws, and that careful observation can discover those laws.

Many religions assume the universe was created for humanity. In discussions of this assumption, it's sometimes asked why, if humans are the point of the universe, so many stars were created. On the face of it, assuming a human-centric Creator, the size of the universe seems incredibly superfluous. But the "stars as a guide to science" theory offers a nice response.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Garlic: high hopes

GarlicAfter a few years of replanting garlic that hadn't grown very well, last fall I bought new stock from a seed catalog. Unfortunately there's no perspective in my picture, but the garlic is mid-thigh on me. I'd forgotten how big garlic gets when you start with big cloves!

My plan is to use Miracle Grow on it once a week until the summer solstice. (Garlic is day-length sensitive and won't grow any once the solstice is past.) With the remodeling and my chemotherapy treatments, the garlic is the only gardening I'm doing this year. I hope those bulbs get as big as their green tops!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Spinach revelation

I try to cook with spinach regularly: being vegetarian, iron deficiency is an issue for me, and my body seems to absorb iron from spinach better than any other food. I have for years (my entire grocery shopping career) bought frozen spinach as a block.

At my last grocery shopping trip, the store was out of the frozen spinach blocks. Nothing, not even way back on the shelf where only my husband can reach. Searching through the frozen vegetables section, I find frozen spinach in a bag. A bag of frozen spinach? It struck me as so odd. But I got two.

I can't believe I haven't discovered this before: I can use just half the bag without the assistance of a bread knife. I can stir the pieces of spinach into my dish without having to wait for the entire mass to melt. The pieces melt faster than a block does, too! Why would anyone buy a frozen block when bagged pieces are available?

There must be some advantage to the blocks. But as for me, I am a convert to the way of the bag.

Remodeling excitement

SidingOur new vinyl siding is going up. We liked the color of our house, and matched it as closely to our old siding as we could. It does mean no "new house color" excitement. But it's nice to see the insulation being added to our house, and to know we won't have any future need for paint.

Except for the siding, our porch is finished. We've had years of mild fear that our porch would sink into the ground and take part of the house with it. Now, it's obviously still a construction zone, but we have a structurally sound porch!

I haven't taken any pictures, but the drywall is up in our south living room, too. It not only makes it look more like a room than it did at my last update, it stopped all the off-dusting from the cellulose insulation. Ah, clear air!

Damp basementI had written in that update that our roof was finished, complete with removal of our badly-damaged gutters. I got ahead of myself, though: the gutters have not yet been replaced. And our basement is suffering. The damp areas in this photograph? This weekend had a half inch of standing water.

It's not dampening our excitement over the progress, though. What an exciting summer.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Not alone

I have been touched by so many people in the past months. My family has given me exactly what I needed from them: at different times talking, listening, and giving me space. Caring and supportive messages from so many people I've met only over the internet have buoyed me.

Members of a knitting group I attend put together an amazing care package that has been helping to keep me warm, clean, fed, and entertained. My mother put it best when she said it gave an environment surrounded by love.

Members at my synagogue have called and written and offered support. Friends have helped me focus on fun things that have nothing to do with cancer.

I don't think there's any way to repay everything that has been done for me. This is such a short post for such an important topic, but I hope all those who care for me know this: it means the world to me to not be alone.

EPOCH+R, round seven

Well, first for some backtracking. After cycle five, I had written that my leg cramps had cleared up. I think it was only minutes after posting that I got leg cramps again. Cycle six they came back during the second break week, but instead of diffuse cramp-type pains, my calves just decided they wanted to be shorter. Sitting or standing straight up was fine, but leaning forward to take a step? Ouch. Going downstairs was the worst - I had to keep most of my weight on the handrail for a few days.

The pain from my last round of Neupogen shots was minimal - no need for acetaminophen, even at night. I had none of the pain from breathing or leaning forward, and no esophagus tingling, either. I still had a few days where eating made my upper chest awfully uncomfortable, though. Oddly, some foods went down better than others: Tuesday of my first break week my dinner was no-salt potato chips and ice cream.

In the days after cycle six, the bottom of my tongue ached when I first got up. Thursday of that week it didn't stop. The numbing mouthwash helped a lot with eating: no mouth pain, and it reduced the pain of swallowing (although it wore off after about twenty minutes and sometimes I had to re-dose mid-meal). The tongue pain was not intense when not eating, but it bothered me enough I had to take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to get to sleep - and then I would wake up in the middle of the night and have to take pain meds again. It wasn't until the following Monday that all that cleared up.

My blood counts before cycle seven were still good, but worse than they've been before any other cycle. I guess my bone marrow is getting worn down. Happily, my thirst kept working throughout my break of cycle six and until Thursday of cycle seven. At that point, though, the awful taste in my mouth came back. I had the nurses give me IV fluids Thursday and Friday.

My heartrate stayed high for longer this time around: Thursday morning I checked it at 120. It made up for lost time Friday morning, though: I checked it at 44 beats per minute. I had the buzzing in my ears when I got up at night, like last cycle, and a dizzy spell Friday morning, again like last cycle. Only this time, the dizziness lasted longer and was complete with colored spots completely obscuring my vision. This repeated Saturday morning, with it taking a few hours before I was confident in my ability to stand up and stay that way.

I have slept more this weekend, my first "break" weekend, than in any previous cycle. Not only was there no early am insomnia Saturday - but after napping Friday and sleeping in Saturday, I went to bed at seven Saturday night and took a nap today, too.

I had hot flashes really badly while getting my seventh cycle of chemo. Multiple times every day and every night. I had night sweats when I was first diagnosed and for several cycles into treatment. They were intermittent; not having them often, plus the temperature changes as spring has come, I wasn't sure if the hot flashes were the same thing. But with the sweats, I didn't feel extremely hot. And with the hot flashes, I'm not extremely sweaty. So I think they're different. I have wondered if the hot flashes are related to my menstrual cycles: I have not ovulated since the end of January. I don't know if my fertility will come back post-chemo or not. The partner and I didn't have any plans for children, but the idea of that option being taken away is sad.

For now, though, I'm celebrating the disappearance of constant unbrushed or chalky tastes in my mouth: my husband and I went out to celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary. Yay us!

Friday, May 15, 2009

7 Quick Takes (lymphoma edition)

--- 1 ---
Jen at Conversion Diary has been generously hosting a "7 Quick Takes Friday" for several months now. As part of downsizing at my employer, my workweek has been reduced to Monday through Thursday, so I find myself with some extra time on my hands. This is my go at seven quick takes.

--- 2 ---

Ovusoft message boardsI am addicted to message boards, ever since I discovered the (now-defunct) Estronet community nine years ago. I've moved from board to board as the internet communities and my life has changed. My most recent shift came in December, when I was diagnosed with cancer: I moved from the Long Hair Boards to the no hair boards.

--- 3 ---

Red bandanaIn the winter, when I most missed having hair: when lying down on my back, and the back of my head touched a cold pillow. I can't see my head (out of sight, out of mind) and putting on a bandana or scarf has comfortably replaced fixing my hair as part of my daily routine. But that cold touch on the back of my head got me every time.

--- 4 ---

While my head hair fell out after my first chemotherapy cycle, other facial hair waited until the weather got warmer. Now that cold pillows are no longer a concern:
  • Not having eyelashes makes putting contacts in more of a challenge.
  • I now need tissue for even the tiniest of sniffles. Not having nosehair, even the smallest amount of mucus runs straight out.

--- 5 ---

My husband baked cookies last week - and almost burned them. They're pretty hard, and he has apologized to me several times. The apologies were unwarranted, though: they turned out to be the perfect cookies for this week. Chemotherapy damages taste buds, and I have an aversion to sweetness. The cookies have had just enough of their sugar denatured that I can actually enjoy them. Anything that tastes good is precious to me right now, so hooray for almost-burnt cookies!

--- 6 ---

Humor has been a big help in keeping my spirits up. Following my first cycle of treatment, I was just feeling blah. My treatment regimen includes a high dose of steroids, and after I stop them I have a several day energy crash. "I don't feel good," I complain to my husband. He looks really concerned. "I've been thinking," he says. "Maybe you don't feel good because you have cancer." I laughed, as much as I could manage with my low energy. After that I felt a little better.

--- 7 ---

I am tired of eating Metamucil's fiber wafers. My daily dose of sugary, cinnamony, crunchy cookie goodness keeps my abdomen from causing me trouble, but it just gets hard to take eating the same thing day after day after day for four months now. I still have another few months of chemotherapy-damaged intestines, though, so Metamucil will get some more of my business.

I hope everyone is having a good Friday!

Monday, May 11, 2009


I was thrilled when my oncologist called my latest CT report 'beautiful'. He was very happy with how much the mass in my chest has shrunk.

Tumor size March 26, 2009 (measured by Dr. D):
* 6.7cm x 3cm on the axial projection (side to side & front to back)
* 5.3cm coronal measurement (top to bottom)

Tumor size March 26, 2009 (measured by Dr. C):
* 6.6cm x 3.9cm on the axial projection
* No coronal measurement given

Tumor size May 7, 2009 (measured by Dr. C):
* 4.3cm x 1.4cm on the axial projection
* No coronal measurement given

Since the tumor is still responding to the chemotherapy, we're going to do two more cycles, bringing my up to eight cycles total. Eight cycles will be it: one of the chemo drugs has a lifetime maximum dosage which I am close to (going over the lifetime maximum carries a high risk of heart failure). After I finish the chemotherapy, my oncologist said he'd like to send me to a lymphoma specialist to discuss whether or not I should do radiation.

From my own research, there is good evidence that radiation after chemotherapy reduces the risk of a relapse. However, it also carries risks of secondary cancers (because of my age, sex, and the tumor location, breast cancer would be of particular concern) and because my tumor is so close to my heart, heart damage from the radiation would also be a concern. It's not clear which option (rads vs. no rads) has a better risk/benefit analysis.

I know my doctors will make the best decision based on the evidence we have available. Regardless of which treatment plan we decide on, my chance of a cure will be good. And that's about all I can ask for.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A bridge story

I've had a recent visit from each of my parents. With both of them, we ended up driving past one of the bridges in my town that is closed. I explained that we couldn't cross that bridge because a a train ran into it.

Most people have heard of trucks running into bridges. Which, to some degree, is understandable: drivers not familiar with the routes, or driving a semi taller than they are used to. Stuff happens. But a train? This railroad has gone under that bridge for over 100 years. That a train would have cars tall enough to hit it is kind of mind-boggling. Not to mention annoying, as that was the bridge I most frequently used.

Still, it makes for a good story to tell to visiting relatives.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Double hung

As part of our remodeling, we've had most of the windows in our house replaced. Our reasons for replacing them were typical and not very interesting: to reduce heat loss and to make cleaning the outside of the windows easier.

What I didn't expect to appreciate with the new windows was their being double-hung. Our old windows, while all completely operable (surprising considering their age), had their top sashes painted shut. With the new ones, the top sashes work.

Since our downstairs rooms are works in progress, we don't sit around in them at all. When we're in those rooms, we're standing. Opening the bottom sash blocks the eye-level view from a standing height. Opening the top sash (newly possibly with the new windows) makes the outside more visible from a standing height. I'm finding it very nice; it's like the icing on the cake of these beautiful days we've been having.

So, hurray for double-hung windows.