Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I'm Still Here!

Posted Jun 8, 2009 1:11am

I can't believe it's been almost 3 months since my last update. I'm working on a long one, but until I complete that epic saga, here's the synopsis: good news and more good news!

My six week follow up with the radiation oncologist was awesome - no burning, no discoloration or tissue damage. So to celebrate, last month I went for my first mammogram since all this started, and I'm happy to report it wasn't any more uncomfortable than usual. That means there is no residual inflammation from the radiation. Yipee. Follow up heart scan, MRI and mammo are all clear, blood tests are good... whew. Five more months of herceptin and I'll graduate to an oral drug for a few years.

LONG story short - I did design a user-friendly turban, and the site is up and running starting... NOW!!

You are invited to visit! Click here: Titillating Turbans!

Since I had designed them for women who had hair loss from chemotherapy, I was really surprised when other women also started grabbing them up when I brought them to the office - just because they add so much pizzazz to your look!

Most important, please share this site with anyone you know that has either lost their hair or works in any business related to cancer care. I know there was a reason I was forced to find a way to look stylish no matter how lousy or discouraged I felt. It would brighten my day so much to get a compliment from someone who loved my turban, especially on those days when I wondered if I would ever look normal again!

June 12 is my first "cancerversary;" it has been a year since the initial diagnosis, and I feel so blessed to report all the post-treatment tests are clear. With renewed energy and well on my way to a healthier, cancer-free life, it's time to bring a little color into the lives of those who are still in the toughest process of their healing journey.

Whether it's a no-hair day or a bad-hair day, women feel elegant in these soft, colorful turbans. You can order on line for direct shipment, and if you are local, please come by the office to say hi and try them on.

I'm pooped - it took all day to photograph all that stuff and post it. Truly a labor of love. It's past my bedtime. I love you all, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for your continued love and support.

Dancing a Jig!!

Posted Mar 17, 2009 2:07pm

Happy St. Patty’s Day – and let’s do a happy dance, because this morning I had my LAST radiation treatment!!!!

Because the radiation machine had broken down a couple of times, the schedule was off, and I had to go in at 7:40 a.m. today. Pretty early for my usual morning off, but completing that cycle was a fabulous way to start the day. The sun was shining by the time I got home, so I trimmed a few hedges and washed the windows of my studio room. This room was a life-long dream of mine that we finally fulfilled a couple of weeks ago when I realized no one had slept in our guest room since my Dad came out to visit for our wedding in 2000. I gave the queen-sized bed to my friend’s grandson who had outgrown his bunk bed – a useful resurrection for a piece of furniture had become a dumping ground for whatever I didn’t have time to put away.

We pulled up the carpet, put in a light-colored Pergo floor (LOVE it!), lined 2 of the walls with white base cabinets and melamine table-top, and voila!! I have a studio! I love having a place for everything in a tidy room where I’m proud to keep the door open. Best of all, my main work table looks out into my Buddha garden, which is just beginning to burst into bloom. It is the first time I’ve had a place to put all my art supplies in one place, and not have to take up the kitchen table every time I feel creative. I’m sitting in front of the window now with my computer, watching the garden come to life.

Just as I predicted, as the garden blooms, so does my head. About three weeks ago, I noticed the birds were visiting the garden more frequently, so I took my bag of the hair that I saved from my molting experience last fall and scattered it under the fig tree. You gotta give to get… I can’t wait to see what the nests under the eaves will look like this year.

Soon after that, my hair started growing back, and although it’s a little sparse, it’s about ½ inch long and getting thicker and more wavy (I think) every day. It’s darker than I expected, with a few thick, gray 2-inchers sticking straight out like antennae at random spots around my head. Very attractive; I’m not ready to give up the turbans yet.

Radiation wasn’t too bad; what really knocked me out was the cold I had for 2 weeks. By the end of last week my body was exhausted - it felt like mono-type body/brain fatigue, not necessarily sleepiness. I was able to sleep in a little over the weekend, so I have pretty high energy during the day, and don’t need to slow down until after I get home from work, when I crash. I'll bounce back quickly!

There are late reactions to chemo - since nails and lash/brow hair are very slow growing cells, about the time I started celebrating the emergence of my coiffure, my nails started shredding down past the quick. The doc said the new stuff coming in (about half way up the nail bed now) looks great, which means my new cells are coming in healthy! She also said most people lose at least half the nail, so the fact that the shreds are more or less hanging on a good sign, just creepy ugly. And difficult to scratch an itch.

As of about a week ago, my bottom lashes were stubs and I have about a half dozen strands on the top lids. Fortunately I wear enough liner & shadow so that it's hardly noticeable, but it sure looks strange in my magnifying mirror! In line with Mother Nature's sadistic sense of humor, facial hairs grow faster and stronger than lash hairs; actually, I think chin follicles actually suck the lashes/brows into your head, spin the fine hairs into thick bristles on the way down, and pull them out through the chin. Lovely.

Most of my brows fell out, too, but are growing back really quickly. Thank goodness I had permanent makeup done for brows & liner before all this started or I'd look like a lizard-face. THANK YOU Lori, for your wonderful gift of Revitalash – it’s really working. My new lash stubs are coming in thick, and Groucho Marx would envy my new brows.

When that started, I tried on some light false eyelashes one day, but by the end of the day they were too irritating and I developed a blinking tic that made me look like a flirty psychopath. It was very poor timing, too, because that night I had to borrow Dave's truck to pick up something at his Mom's house, which is in a somewhat rural area. I went straight from work, so it was dark. I mention this because my night vision isn’t so great these days. I still had on the lashes (irritating the left eye) and my reading contact lens (blurring distance vision in the right eye).

For those of you familiar with the area, you know the curved hill on highway 50 between El Dorado Hills and Bass Lake Road is challenging under the best of circumstances. As I started up the hill, I pulled into the passing lane only to find that they had started construction since the last time I was there. I hate those friggin' concrete barricades that leave a 3" shoulder on the left while I’m trying to navigate the passing lane – even more treacherous in the dark. To add insult to injury, for the next couple of miles there was a poorly repaired trench just off-center of the lane for the right wheel to keep dipping into. And I was driving Dave's truck, which is like driving... well, a truck.

To enhance the pleasure of my journey, a “big wheel” truck was tailgating me,while another blocked me on the right. Blinking and blurring, I had no choice but to grip the wheel and stay put until the barricades ended and traffic thinned. By then I was about a mile past my exit; I had to go another couple of miles to reach the next exit and turn around. I'm going to pass on the false eyelashes. Even MY vanity has limits.

This is absolutely the weirdest thing that has ever happened to my body. I wonder what “normal” will be like?

Nonetheless, celebrate with me and choose your favorite happy dance!
Love, Laurie

TMobile Dance
Where the Hell Is Matt?
Smarty Pants Dance
Fingers Breakdance2

Almost there...

Posted Mar 12, 2009 7:54pm

Hi folks, sorry I've been so silent. The most remarkable side effect of the radiation has been to shut off the public communication section of my brain. I otherwise felt fine, and unless the machine breaks down again, I'll be done with all this foolishness on St. Patrick's Day! (Well, the radiation part, anyway.) There is still lots to report, so I'll catch up with you as soon as possible once my brain is more functional.

In the meantime, I wanted to share these inspirational projects with you. The first is a collection of art and the story of each piece. To quote from the site, "Launched in 2004, this program was conceived by Eli Lilly and Company as a way to honor the journey of those whose lives have been affected by cancer. The rich tapestry of emotions conveyed in these pieces of art endures and provides hope and inspiration to others."

To see this incredible gallery and the stories CLICK HERE

The Quilters of South Carolina have created one-of-a-kind bras for Breast Cancer Awareness. The exhibit consists of 49 original works of art which are unique, entertaining, humorous, and beautiful to make the public aware of breast cancer, to memorialize those lost to the disease, and to honor survivors. Take a look at the captions, which are half the fun!

Be sure to click on Page 2 to continue through the designs. Click here:

Today my friend Dikla emailed me from Israel with this wonderful gift, and I send it to all of you with my love. (Turn on the speakers and enjoy...)


Shimmer, shimmer…

Posted Jan 31, 2009 12:09pm

I feel like a glow worm this week, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For you old folks that would like to take a trip down memory lane, see the videos at the end of this update. There’s a 1957 version of the Mills Brothers singing “Glow Worm” and an updated version that starts out slow, but if this lady were on stage instead of sitting in a tacky room (sorry), we could really appreciate her great voice – both videos earned a 5 star rating on YouTube!

As usual, I digress. Where was I … ah yes, week #1 of radiation coincided with a battery of updated tests. I started treatments on Tuesday, and by Thursday things really went crazy – the day began with my quarterly MUGA scan. This is the heart scan to make sure the Herceptin treatment I’m doing for the next year won’t give me a heart attack before it prevents a recurrence of the cancer. For a brief recap, they do a blood draw, mix my blood with a radioactive isotope, re-inject the blood with a lead-coated syringe (THAT’S a comforting sight), and then take a movie of my beating heart. In essence, I become the xray film.

The second stop of the day was an hour in the hyperbaric oxygen chamber, after which I always feel great. Now that I’ve learned to control the pressure from inside the chamber, I don’t have to depend on the doctor to do so from the outside, and I can prevent the usual ear-popping phase during the initial and final pressure changes. I must have had an underlying fatigue when I was going through chemo, because I used to be able to snooze throughout the session. Now I feel so good going in that the boost of oxygen sends my mind racing for an hour - I redecorate the house, replant the garden, rearrange my office and rewrite my business plan. The best part is that I pretty much have enough energy to do all these things once I’m out of the tank.

Next was a drive up the street to the oncology center where I donated two more vials of blood to check the status of red and white cells (perfect levels and holding!) and the first of quarterly tests for cancer markers. Usually it’s an easy draw from the port, but some days it is stubborn – the chemo will go in, but the blood won’t come out. We certainly gave it every effort. The nurse had me turn my head, raise my arm, bend forward till my head was almost on the floor. In the end we gave up and had to take a draw from my hand, since the vein in my arm had already participated enough for the day.

But wait there’s more! I hung out for another half hour for the Herceptin drip - and a wire-wrapping lesson from one of the nurses. We are both beading junkies; I brought her instructions on a double needle peyote stitch and she brought in samples from her latest wire-wrapping class. This is a technique that I never quite got the hang of, but she had all the necessary tools and extra wire, so she gave me a quick lesson and left me to practice during the treatment – drip… wrap… drip … turn the pliers… drip drip …wrap …drip drip drip… twist… I think I got it.

With all that complete, I headed for the office... After successfully executing a schedule like that, I will never be able to use the "not enough time" excuse for not exercising.

So far radiation is not so bad. I’m in and out within ten minutes, including time to change, rewrap my scarf, and dab on a little Chinese burn cream before I get dressed again. I lay in the mold that positions my head and arm, the techs take a couple of minutes to calibrate everything, and then scurry off behind the protective wall to zap me from one side and then the other. The first day I was there must have been a training event, because there were at least 6 techs in the room. I felt like a queen bee with all the workers busily swarming and fussing over me. On other days there are just two or three techs; everyone has been friendly and caring, and explain every step that is going on. It’s pretty comfortable; I lay on a narrow but padded table, they put a big cushion under my knees, and a loop around my ankles so I won’t forget to KEEP STILL.

Once everything is set up, the radiation panel (a round gizmo about 2 feet in diameter) buzzes and whirs several times to zap me from the center outward, then rotates around and down to repeat the ritual from the lower side and up toward center. The first several weeks of sessions treat the entire breast, and the last week is a “booster” to treat just the area of the original tumors. In addition to the tiny tattoos, the techs usually use a black sharpie marker to draw an X on the spot. This stuff does not wash off easily, and I’m not supposed to scrub, so the black smudges look like I forgot to shower. Don't scrub and don't wear deodorant on the treated side... those techs are not getting paid enough to endure the outcome of THAT all day.

I meet with the radiation oncologist once a week for an update and exam to make sure I’m not frying. One of the head nurses is SO completely by the book – she checks with me at least once a week to make sure I’m not breaking any of the rules. A rebel, MOI???? She beckoned me into the exam room on Friday to review everything – DON’T lose any weight, DON’T wash with anything but Dove or Ivory (I don't dare tell her about Myriam’s miracle clay soap until this is over and I can say "I told you so" – I wouldn’t use anything else!), DON’T expose to sunlight (that takes care of being embarrassed in public by the smudges), DON’T submerge in a hot tub… the rule I learned last week, the day before our hot tub was installed.

I started radiation on Tuesday; the tub had heated for the first time on Monday, so that night we soaked long enought to turn into human raisins. I did “behave” and stay away from it for a couple of nights, but by Thursday I was ready for another. Like a mermaid flirting with the stars, I managed to balance in a side pose along the side of the tub that submerged allowable areas, but protected… well, you get the picture. “Nurse Ratched” found this story odd but amusing, and apparently enough of a precautionary effort to warrant her approval.

Since I still don’t see any signs of hair growth, I asked if the radiation would have any affect on that process. Nope, only to the area being radiated. No problem there…

She also said they are watching me… I am the first to use the prescription burn cream from Grandpa’s Pharmacy, a compounding pharmacy in Placerville. If you are not familiar with these, a “Compounding Pharmacy” is one that, well, compounds ingredients to support the unique requirements of an individual, rather than the one-size-fits-all approach of standard prescriptions.

Well folks, that concludes today’s show. Enjoy the entertainment and have a glorious weekend!

Mills Brothers - 1957

Glow Worm - Today

Rainy Day Rantings

Posted Jan 24, 2009 2:52pm

It is six weeks post chemo, and three months of turban wrapping has started to lose its fascination. Dave said leave it to me to turn hair loss into a glamorous experience, but now I would like to see a little replacement growth before I start radiation. The latest displacement of my fears of cancer recurrence is to perform a new morning ritual of searching my scalp for signs of peach fuzz. Just prior to my usual primping, I don my “googly-glasses” (3.25 strength usually reserved for close bead work) and devote a few minutes of squinting into the magnifying mirror on my windowsill to closely examine my scant buzz cut under the clear light of day. I was very fortunate to not lose my brows or lashes, although they thinned a little. But you can imagine my renewed hope when I found a freshly sprouted eyebrow hair a few days ago.

Unfortunately, during hibernation the follicles seem to have lost some of their innate intelligence to follow an appropriate growth pattern. This young hair appeared on a random spot in my upper eyelid, like a confused baby animal that wandered away from the safety of the herd, so my lioness instincts attacked it with tweezers and plucked it away. The brows may be thin, but they are neatly aligned. In my world, OCD trumps phalacrophobia (“a persistent, abnormal, and unwarranted fear of becoming bald”).

Those neuroses aside, I am delighted to find my energy and mental acuity are back to their normal hyperexcited levels. Since the last chemo, the post-holiday dietary cleanup and other good stuff mentioned in the last post have helped me to increase my activity, start toning muscle a little, and drop a couple of pounds. I had taken a break from oxygen therapy for a few weeks over the holidays, then started them again last week. Now that all the chemicals are leaching away from my system, the oxygen therapy can take full effect and I feel like my brain is on fire – in a good way!

Like the old saying, I had been down so long, it felt like up… my brain just won’t shut off and the creative juices are flowing. I went on a long overdue frenzy of office cleaning/filing/correspondence catching up this week. This weekend I’m catching up on household and art projects, and last weekend I cooked up enough food for two weeks of lunches and dinners.

All this is just in time for six weeks of daily radiation, which starts next Tuesday. I’ll go the same time every day and be in and out in about 20 minutes, including time for costume changes. The “big chemo” is over, and now I’m doing all the periodic re-tests. In preparation for radiation, last week I had a CT scan and two tiny tattoo dots (painless) to designate where the radiation beams will be aimed. I was positioned on the treatment table with my arm overhead & a mold was shaped around me so I can duplicate the position every time I get zapped.

This past week I had another MRI (inspiring visions, although not as intense as the first one), and in 2 weeks I have the second MUGA scan. This is so weird for me. I went from a lifetime of just going for an annual physical to planning my daily life around my treatment schedules.
So far everyone has said radiation is a cakewalk compared to chemo, and if I’m going into it feeling this good, I may be able to stave off the most common side effect of fatigue. Here’s a little aside on the word origin of “cakewalk.” In the 19th-century, this was a strutting contest held among African Americans in the southern US in which the contestant who walked with the fanciest steps won a cake. It is also the origin of the expression, "Well, if that doesn't take the cake!" Its origins actually go back to traditional dances hundreds of years earlier, and there is a fascinating story at . As usual, I digress.

So what am I going to do with all this energy? I look around to see the magnificent accomplishments of other women that have survived horrific experiences with cancer, and mine seems like a sniffle in comparison. Some started international movements, nonprofit organizations to support education, where do I go with this?

As much as I enjoy being on stage, I know my best work is done when I work one on one. Right now I feel the faster I can get back to school, the more I can learn every day and better help each patient I see. It’s no different than what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years or so, but it’s with a different perspective, a deeper compassion, a broader understanding and empathy. Before this happened, I was never sick, never had to chose among activities based on my energy reserve or physical limitations. So allow me to leap to my soapbox for a paragraph or several…
Let me tell you, feeling lousy sucks – literally. It pulls you away from fully enjoying life and the people around you, so the earlier you can prevent it, the easier it will be to get back on course. A patient described it perfectly the other day. She is in her 20’s, reasonably healthy, but felt she wasn’t participating in her life – it was just “blah.” She was functioning and getting through day to day, but mildly achy and tired, without excitement or interest in much, and no “forward thinking.”

The good news is that she has the foresight to recognize early that something has gone awry & she is popping back very quickly. Had she not, in another 5 or 10 or 20 years she would be like most of the women that come in, overwhelmed and exhausted, frustrated with increasing medications, needing months or even years to unravel the complexity of all the things that are malfunctioning. It’s not hopeless, but the longer we wait, the bigger the mess and the more work it is to clean up. And being so pooped from feeling lousy compounds the effort required to get well.

Just like it’s easier to lose the first 2 pounds than wait till it’s 20, don’t wait to take care of your health, no matter what stage. Our “health” culture trains us to cover symptoms with a quick fix, or “wait and see” but by the time you have a symptom, something has been wearing away for a long time.

Recently an elderly patient was not getting any relief from her back pain after a few weeks of treatment, although she used to respond within that timeframe. Long story short, after a series of deeper questioning, she reluctantly gave me the details of other recent symptoms that were obvious red flags that her low back pain could be due to cancer. I convinced her to immediately call her doctors, which she did, although in the past they had minimized the significance of her symptoms. Because she had been convinced that her symptoms didn’t mean anything, she was embarrassed to “complain” about them to anyone else – including other doctors.

Even with my referral, her GP said her heavy constant rectal bleeding was probably because she took a lot of meds and didn’t eat enough vegetables, and an MRI wasn’t important. The advice was to improve her diet for few weeks, and if she didn’t improve, they would consider a CT scan. Wait and see… Fortunately, with the new information, her previous surgeon was concerned, scheduled her for surgery within a couple of weeks, and what the GP dismissed as a hemorrhoid was actually an early malignancy. Now they are keeping a close watch and following up with the appropriate tests.

This isn’t the first time there has been a case like this, and I’m afraid it won’t be the last. I won’t mention the name of this healthKare enterprise, but this has also happened with many other providers, and as you know, that includes some of my own. I know I keep repeating myself here, but I can’t emphasize enough that when something doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore it or cover it up. Trust your instincts, listen to your body and be proactive – and if no one listens, get a second or third opinion. In the meantime, get your regular checkups – even if you feel good, eat your fruits and veggies, take your vitamins and shake your booty.

Have a fabulous weekend – this rainy weather is great for indoor projects, like cooking up a batch of healthy soup for the week (hint, hint)!
Love, Laurie

Graduation Day!

Posted Jan 11, 2009 2:08pm

Hi Everyone – I hope you all had a safe and healthy holiday season. I wanted to write a quick update so you would know I haven’t fallen off the planet. My LAST chemo (#4) was on December 18, and the nurses let me know I was graduating by gathering around me in the chemo room with noisemakers, bubble blowing, bubble wrap popping, shouts of “Congratulations!!” and a Purple Heart Chemo Graduation diploma, signed by all of them.

Three weeks later, I am delighted to say the side effects of the last session were minimal – in fact, they were the mildest yet. There was a little more head/body hair loss, but I did not lose my brows or lashes. A week or so of mild facial acne cleared up with a combination of internal and external care – back on my vitamin/enzyme routine, and using the Tigers Eye products on my head and face. Since chemo #3 was not so bad, I was able to cut the 3 day steroid protocol in half – one pill a day instead of two. As a result, although I had mild fatigue on Sunday, it was not the usual 24 hour crash and sleep I experienced in the past.

I'm not looking forward to the 6 week radiation ordeal that starts in a few weeks, even though everyone says it's a cakewalk compared to chemo. It's just creepy to me. I have several sources for lotions and potions to prevent the skin damage that often occurs, so I’m ready.I'm really on a mission to clean up the toxic spill from the chemo before I start radiation. I've been faithful to a cleaner post-holiday diet, finally started exercising daily. I'm doing the foot bath detox 3x/week - it is BLACK!!!!

An interesting report I read recently followed some post-cancer treatment patients. Much to my surprise, those who followed a healthy diet did not have a significantly lower rate of recurrence than those who ate a lousy diet. However, those who had a healthy diet AND exercised did far better. Another big difference was weight gain - even on a good diet, those who gained even 10 pounds had a higher recurrence rate. Estrogen and fat tissue are fast friends. Fat produces excess estrogen (in both genders), and stores what is already floating around. If that doesn't motivate me to move my lazy butt, nothing will!

I am looking forward to the MRI next week - if you remember, the first one was a Vision Quest, so I can't wait to see this episode. I will also be getting the results from my genetic testing next week, and I’ll write a more complete update ASAP.

Thanks for all your support, and I wish you a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2009!

No News IS Good News!

Posted Dec 16, 2008 1:39pm

Hi folks, I haven’t forgotten you. This is a time when no news IS good news. I’ve been waiting to write until the usual post-chemo bomb hit me, but it never came. There is one warning I’ve consistently been told about chemo: the effects are cumulative, and you feel worse after each treatment. I can’t even begin to describe how fortunate I feel that after chemo #3, I have fewer symptoms and more energy than I have since I started. I do attribute part of my well being to maintenance of my white cell count with the Neulasta, which I have the day after chemo.

Nonetheless, the lack of side effects is just astounding to me – and the oncology team. I bloomed a few face blemishes that could just as likely be due to a rampant sugar craving that I’ll blame on the chemo week’s steroids, and I’ve been having occasional “warm” flashes. But the absence of new major side effects and my increase in energy is so remarkable that I have to look at what else is different this time.

Call me crazy, but since this site is open to the public, I feel the need to add a disclaimer:

The content provided on this blog is based on my individual experience and is for information purposes only. It is intended to provide educational material and is not designed to provide medical advice.Please consult your health care provider regarding any medical issues you have relating to symptoms, conditions, diseases, diagnosis, treatments and side-effects.

Twice a week, I have a one hour session of Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy, and once or twice a week I have a detox foot bath. I’ve also responded quickly and favorably to specific homeopathic remedies in being able to control other symptoms.

Although I feel completely normal (other than the hair issue), cancer can be an ominous presence, and I know its ghost can remain long after this treatment phase ends. I want it to be over, yet I know every experience bears a message. It’s like watching a wreck – I don’t want it to be there, I don’t want to be witness to any of the devastation, but I have an irresistible curiosity about what will happen next and what I can do about it. Just as I wondered, “Why me?” regarding what message cancer was bringing when I got it, I wonder, “Why not me?” when I don’t get a symptom, or when I do something natural that clears it up without medication.

On a more philosophical note, what about the spiritual aspect, that stress and/or negative thinking contribute to cancer? I’ve known some pretty rotten, miserable people who also spent a lifetime abusing food and substance, and lived to a ripe old age. Yet those of us with cancer enter a matrix of beautiful, enlightened people of all ages that are fighting this crazy disease. There has to be some reasoning to this – maybe we are the ones who will bring to the forefront of global attention that we can no longer deny that everything on the planet is polluted, making us sick even when we make every effort to honor life. Maybe the exponential increase in cancers of all types will inspire the people that love us to make a decision to go a little more green, to think twice about what they eat or drink or pour down the drains.

And despite our best intention to buy “pink” and donate to the cause, before you do so, check out this site: Think Before You Pink. It is an exquisite summary of those that wave the pink flag of donating to cancer research, while manufacturing products that contribute to cancer, or contribute only a small percent of proceeds. It’s criminal how many advertisers exploit the pink ribbon to attract the enormous female market, most of whom are close to someone who has had breast cancer.

OK, enough bellyaching. Now for the good stuff. In 2 days I have my FINAL CHEMO!!! I felt so normal this weekend, Dave & I went to two Xmas parties, and I went to the Bay area on Sunday for Dave’s sister’s annual Girls-Stealing-Gifts party. Penny the Fearless Driver safely transported the 5 of us who were commuting from this area through the storm and S.F. holiday traffic, and we had a great time! The weekend was so festive, and it was wonderful to connect with folks I haven't seen in much too long, and visit with my sister at the Sunday party.

Saturday was the big baking day. For the first time in years I undertook the labor of love and made Nana’s Christmas Spice Cakes for the family. Among her many talents, my grandmother was a magnificent baker. Although the recipe for her yellow cake and butter cream frosting remains her eternal secret, she started teaching me to make her spice cake as soon as I was adept enough to climb up to the kitchen chair and handle a fork and spoon.

From start to finish, everything had a sequence and a purpose. Each ingredient had a special way and specific time it was combined with another. I loved the aroma of the sliced butter as I watched it melt into the applesauce warming in the pan. I was fascinated with the way the concoction bubbled up when we stirred in the carefully measured water and baking soda blend. I felt so important when I could do my first job all by myself - to gently beat the eggs in a small bowl. As Nana handled the mixer, she instructed me to add the gooey mixture to the warm batter slowly, so the eggs wouldn’t cook. After the golden swirls disappeared, she would have me pour in the sugar, “A little at a time.”

Nana taught me the time consuming but necessary measures for preparing the pans so the cake would never stick in the corners. The most important final detail was the proper wrapping method of the partially cooled cakes – warm enough to lock in the moisture, but cool enough that they would not get soggy. The cakes could stay fresh in the freezer for a year, but this required triple wrapping, first with waxed paper, then aluminum foil, and then tied inside a plastic bag. In those days we didn’t have Ziplocs or Glad Bags, so for that final step she recycled her plastic bread bags, a habit left over from the Great Depression. We set up a little assembly line on the kitchen table, and each layer was done in the same way – rolled together at the top, folded in points and sealed at the ends with tape, just like a present.

Nana originally made her cakes in standard loaf pans, so hours of careful labor produced three precious cakes. During the holidays they were a special treat, served in a thin slice with Saturday afternoon tea, and an occasional extra serving if she were entertaining guests. No matter what time of year, there seemed to be a partial loaf buried somewhere in the freezer, and on every one of my frequent visits I would automatically go foraging to find it. Now and then I coerced permission to shave a slice, and I would relish it, appreciating every step in its creation. The wax paper and foil wrappings became a little more crumpled with each invasion and careful rewrap, but still preserved the marvelous flavors.

Nana’s Christmas Spice Cake taught me that the preparation of food is an act of love and consciousness. Somewhere along the line of adapting to modern conveniences, I temporarily succumbed to newfangled TV dinners and processed quick-fix stuff in packages, which Papa always scoffed at as “dead food.”

I’m glad I came back – to slicing, dicing, cooking whole, usually organic, foods – consciously nurturing my household. Preparing healthy food honors our bodies, respects the abundance and miracle of nature and connects me with gratitude to the life forms that transmute to support our well being. I took a little extra step this year in preparing the cakes, and freshly ground each of the spices – cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. The scents were amazing; nothing like the powdered stuff off the store shelves.

The final product is a gift of love that nourishes the body and soul. My wish to those who taste it is to take a thin slice, hold it to their nose, and breathe in its magic. So when you do your traditional baking this season, I hope you do so with a deep awareness of the love of your labor – it makes a difference. With each bite, those who receive our gifts from the kitchen will savor the generations of love that are baked into their creation.
Happy Holidays!

Love, Laurie

Adventures of a Crash Test Dummy

Posted Nov 30, 2008 5:11pm
The fog has cleared after chemo #3 - one to go!! On Wednesday, my oncologist said she’s quite pleased with how smoothly I’m moving through this (festering head sores notwithstanding, since they healed so quickly). She also said my post-chemo crash was in part a result of being pumped up on steroids. No wonder, “I can’t believe how GREAT I feel!!” for a couple of days. I have to take them for 3 days – prior, during, after chemo - to prevent infection. Even if I take them early, I have difficulty sleeping. By the 2nd day without them I crash – my Sunday “hangover.” After the first two rounds, I also felt achy, groggy and just plain awful and flu-like on that day.

Because of the holiday, chemo was on Tuesday instead of Thursday last week. That meant my crash day would be Friday. So I experimented, and did a detox foot bath on Thanksgiving morning to see if it would affect my usual reaction. I fell asleep ten minutes into the 30 minute treatment, and woke up feeling groggy. Even after a shower, I needed a half hour nap to get my second wind. But after a little primping we were off and running, and enjoyed a wonderful day with Dave’s parents.

The quiet celebration was unusual for that household, where holidays typically bustle with family, friends and “orphans.” Dave’s Mom loves the big party, so I deeply appreciate how gracious and thoughtful she was to keep it private this year to shield me from any risk of picking up a bug. It turned out special for all of us; we spent hours of quality time that would not have been possible in all the hubbub and small talk that is inevitable in a large group, no matter how much we enjoy each other. Dinner was delicious, from our traditional favorites to the new experiments; no drama, nothing was rushed, and it was a delightful day!

I had a brief bout of drowsiness after dinner (who didn’t?!?) and had to lie down for about 10 minutes, but then I was up and puttering around as usual. When we got home about 7:30, neither of us had the energy for neighborhood socializing, and just relaxed for the rest of the evening.

On Friday morning Dave was gone by 6:30 and I slept till 9:00 – four hours past my usual time. I felt slightly queasy, and very tired, but no aches or other symptoms. I had a little yogurt before dragging my blanky to the couch, where I parked until bedtime. It was the strangest feeling – I felt like my mind and body shut off; it was even too much effort to concentrate on TV. For the rest of the day, I alternated between snoozing and sipping soup, my brain operating on autopilot. The difference this time is that I did not feel sick, so the foot bath is definitely on my supportive treatment list.

Some time Friday night I went to bed and slept like a rock until early the next morning, at which point my energy returned to normal. Before our outing, Dave made a partially successful attempt to gain control over the leaves covering the yard while I did laundry and tidied up the house. Around noon we headed towards Auburn, and after a brief drive through crowded Old Town, we took a tour of the Placer County Courthouse and Museum. Although we frequently pass by this beautiful building, we’ve never stopped in, and it is a fascinating place! There is an extensive variety of artifacts, something for everyone, and I highly recommend a visit.

We alternated between highway 80 and route 40 towards Colfax. Our first tour was through Weimar, where we veered off the main road (big surprise), through an foreboding puff of fog and down a “Primitive Road” that was reasonably easy to navigate with my car. After a long stretch of damp, thickly wooded terrain that was spotted with deep moss, soggy old houses and rusty trailers, the forest cleared and the narrowing road descended along dry, craggy cliffs overlooking a narrow stream that was occasionally interrupted with gentle waterfalls.

Before turning one curve, we stopped to read a sign printed on a slab of slate that had been wedged into the ground – “Here lies Joe… He didn’t want to go." We parked the car and scrambled over the rocks, wondering if “Joe’s” remains might be clinging to the cliff! There was a small concrete slab, about 8 feet square, just beyond Joe’s memorial, jutting out over the rocks. What happened to Joe?? Was his humble cabin washed away in the river? Did he fall victim to an altercation? Was he out there having a few too many with his buddies and lose his footing? Ah, the mystery remains…

As the road became steeper, the habitats stranger, and the rare inhabitants more ominous, we decided to turn around and head back up the hill. We continued along route 40, and turned on Iowa Hill Road. (There are some great pics and maps at This narrow, sharply winding road climbs over the mountain for about an hour toward Forest Hill, with breathtaking views of the North Fork of the American River. The highlight of the trip was when we reached visited the Old Iowa Hill Cemetery. It was 4:30, and the setting sun bathed the thick carpet of oak leaves in deep golden warmth. The unique feature of this historical spot is the detailed list in the kiosk about the people that are buried there – not only names and dates, but how they died, and if they were killed, who did the deed! It was interesting that the descriptions differentiated between “murdered” and “killed in an altercation.”

All the older graves faced East, and the headstones varied from granite or stone to wood, amazing that these were still intact for over 100 years. Beyond the older area were newer graves – some as recent as 2005 – many of whom were veterans. These were uniquely personalized – one had two expired parking meters behind the headstone, another had a birdbath, and others had rustic wooden benches for visitors.

Far from being eerie, the brief stories and memorials of those who rested there gave a sense of connection to lives that came before. I felt our visit was welcome, their existence was still real, and their memory was alive because someone took the time to record a little bit about them. Iowa Hill is a hard place to find if you come from Forest Hill, especially since the turnoff from Forest Hill Divide is not marked. Although the narrow road from Colfax takes caution, whatever direction you go, it is well worth it. Bear in mind that it does snow up there, so check the weather before your trip! Once past this area, the road widened, and we drove another half hour to Forest Hill.

We reached Forest Hill just after sunset; unfortunately, the hotel where Dave had planned to have a nice dinner had been taken over by a large wedding party, so we went to the only other place in town, The Red Dirt Saloon and Ore Cart Grill. If the name were not enough to discourage us, we certainly weren’t going to be deterred by the motto on the back of the employees’ T-shirts: “Red Dirt Saloon – We don’t give a **** how the flatlanders do it!” OK then. My Honey not only knows how to show me a great adventure, but he finds all the classy joints to top off the day! We walked into the saloon at the front of the building – silence fell upon the room as all heads turned with a uniform expression of, “You ain’t from around these parts, are ya!?” Then everyone smiled and waved us toward the Exit sign at the back of the room, with instructions that the restaurant would be through the door past the Ladies’ room. Or maybe we’d just drop into the mineshaft…

Lo and behold, the door did lead to a softly lit cozy room with eight sturdy wooden tables and dark walls of brick and knotty pine. The kitchen door is at a 120 degree angle adjacent to the door we entered, so we nearly collided with the waitress as we came in. As we discovered during dinner, this happens every time a server comes from the saloon, so she was unphased by our sudden entrance. It was certainly rustic, and the polished tables were set with blue water glasses and … I’m not kidding… blue speckled metal camping dishes. Judging by the layers of fingerprints, I suspected they are routinely washed in the stream, but the waitress did not look like someone I wanted to grapple with about persnickety details.

No light meals here – the dinners included all the sides, and as the night went on, she eyed me suspiciously after each course for leaving large portions of leftovers. She brought a small loaf of warm sourdough bread and ladled the soup of the day into our humble metal bowls. It was a thick white clam chowder that was quite tasty, although its unusual texture more closely resembled mashed potatoes than soup. This was followed by a hefty salad of thick green curly lettuce, and no sissy dressing-on-the-side. We did request rice pilaf instead of the rice AND baked potato, although we didn’t expect a 4 cup serving to be mounded on each plate. These mountain folks are robust eaters!!!! I ordered a grilled chicken Florentine, “topped with sautéed spinach and a blend of three cheeses.” Silly me - I anticipated a grated blend of parmesan, etc., not the half pound of melted cheddar, jack and mozzarella that smothered the dish. Nonetheless, although I needed two hands to haul the mound of cheese off to the side, everything was yummy. Dave loved his lean prime rib with fresh horseradish and the service was great.

It took another half hour to reach Auburn, and I had no sooner profusely complimented Dave on his amazing sense of direction and his ability to find remote trails when we suddenly found ourselves cornered in a residential cul de sac. Neither of us had any idea how we wandered off the main road, but for the next 10 minutes we had a good laugh as we zigzagged around the tight streets counting the “No outlet” signs. It has been a wonderful holiday weekend!

In the nearly six months since my diagnosis, although it has mostly been life and work as normal, it will never really be normal again. Doctor appointments, insurance statements, accommodating the latest symptoms with new potions, habits and accessories are part of a routine I never thought had any more room in it for another task. But when you are in it, it’s not so overwhelming – you see the problem and look for the solution because every one of our cells is programmed for survival. I am in awe of the people that do this while managing a family and a job – that, to me, is unfathomable. In my comparatively simple life, I accept that life’s too short to not do everything in moderation to stay healthy. It’s also too short to not enjoy a bowl of ice cream every now and then.

As I read articles and blogs of others, it’s encouraging that some beat the cancer once and for all the first time around, but there are too many others that live with recurrences or scares that periodically rear their ugly head. Despite how smoothly everything is going, I can’t help but wonder where the future may lead. Will I be one of those who is grateful to say, “It’s been ___ years since I finished treatment and beat it,” or one of those who is grateful to say, “I’ve been doing this treatment for ____ years – but I’m still beating it?”

The thoughts of taking care, making the most of life, being vigilant, appreciating those I love, sharing what I learn – these are what permeate every moment and go beyond doing to being.

We each live a moment at a time; it’s just some days we are more aware of it than others, and that's the time it's so rich and memorable. So linger a little the next time you share a smile, relish the tickle inside your heart when someone makes you laugh. Stretch the moment. Celebrate. This is life.

Love, Laurie

A Celebration of Gratitude

Posted Nov 27, 2008 10:28am

What a remarkable year this has been, pulsating with the adventure of life itself that makes me more grateful every day, and holds this Thanksgiving as especially significant. You may be wondering, “She was diagnosed with cancer, for heaven’s sake! Is she nuts?” Maybe, but that doesn’t minimize my appreciation of the endless miracles in my life. The cancer was caught at an early stage. I was guided to remarkable doctors and a team of angels for nurses that are helping me heal smoothly and quickly. I am connected to a network of survivors that inspire me to believe this, too, will pass and bring me greater wisdom so I can help those who will unfortunately but inevitably follow.

I have a loving, extraordinary husband and family. And you, my incredible friends, have been unfaltering through all this, surrounding me with the love, prayers, sparkly vibes, decorated heads, cards, gifts from the heart, emails, and most of all the laughter and heartfelt warmth that makes it so easy for me to keep a positive attitude.

Thank you for enriching my life beyond my imagination.

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was "thank you," that would suffice.
Meister Eckhart

Love, Laurie

Art Tips

Posted Nov 24, 2008 9:31am

Good morning! Several folks who are not familiar with computer photo programs have asked me how to decorate my head. Thank you for wanting to participate in the project - every one of them is such a treasured gift! Many people have just printed the original on regular paper and used crayons, pen, ribbons, nuts - you name it! It will come out a little dark in the regular print mode, so if you want a clearer image, just use the "draft" or "fast draft" selection under "preferences" for the printer. Give me a call if you need help with this, or just email me and I'll mail you a copy.

My hair seems to be getting thinner, so your decorating ideas are a big help in replacing the actual image I see in the mirror. A new and fascinating phenomenon is how the scalp can become so shiny. A little glitter and I'll be ready for the holidays.
Love, Laurie

An Attitude of Gratitude and Adventure!

Posted Nov 22, 2008 2:26pm

First let me say I can’t believe how good I feel – other than the nausea blip a couple of weeks ago, I’ve pretty much felt normal. My energy is high, my appetite is back, my nails seemed to have stopped splitting, and my brain is clear. Last weekend was the first stretch of time that I have really felt energetic enough to socialize since this whole chemo thing started, so I took full advantage of my burst of oomph.

On Friday, a few of my friends threw a “Chemo Shower” for me – we had a late lunch and they presented me with a beautiful array of scarves and big earrings! The waiter was a little confused after asking what the occasion was, but keeping with the spirit of celebration, he still brought us a big piece of chocolate cake smothered with warm fudge sauce for a complementary dessert. Please don’t feel offended if you were not invited; as one of my first outings, I didn’t want anyone to plan a big event and have to call a lot of people last minute if I pooped out. Up until this point, even with my best intentions, there have been too many times when I had to cancel plans.

Shortly after getting home, Dave & I took off for an evening with another group to celebrate a 40th birthday party. I just happened to have my camera, and since I was the only one who did, I kept busy all night taking pics, and stayed lively well past my usual crash-and-burn time! I also had a few requests to post pictures in this gallery of my assorted headgear, so I’ll follow up on that pretty soon, honest.

On the health side – here’s why I emphasized that I feel so good otherwise: The next morning I woke to feel little bumps all over my head. I looked in the mirror, and was horrified to see what looked like a massive acne breakout. Fortunately, it had not spread to my face. I will risk probably grossing you out because I know you love me anyways, but these were of the painful, yucky, glow-across-the-room variety that are usually reserved for the middle of your forehead on prom night. Good Grief.

What I should have done is immediately call my friend Myriam at TTE Skin Care to have her cover my head with her amazing natural clay treatment. What I did instead is soak my head in Epsom salts (a feat in itself), then protect it with antibiotic ointment, neither of which provided any kind of relief. The up side of all this – and you know I always find an up side – is that I could cover all this with a layer of gauze bandage under my usual headgear, and nothing showed.

I left a message for the oncology nurses, and although my description made them suspect shingles, my visit on Monday morning confirmed that it was folliculitis. As more hair is falling out, the follicles (roots) can get irritated; they are seeing this more frequently lately during the chemo process, although they don't know why there is a sudden increase. The other good news for me is that it was confined to my head. For some patients, their head, face and chest are covered with this mess.

The nurse said she could prescribe antibiotics, which she knows I would hate, or a topical antibiotic ointment, or… what did I have on for a more natural remedy? I love these ladies! For the next five days, Myriam covered my head with her magic clay and wrapped it in plastic wrap. I put my cap & scarf over this and left it on until bedtime. Not only was it wonderfully soothing, but as of today it is no longer painful or inflamed, and it’s well on the way to healing up.

On Sunday Dave took me on a high Sierra adventure - a repeat of his dirt bike ride the previous day - to visit the ruins of “Hotel Bret Hart.” In 1922 a hotel millionaire named A.P.T. Elder (who built the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in S.F) decided to build a 250-room wilderness retreat at this isolated and hard-to-reach spot. He had lumber and a thousand tons of material and equipment hauled in from up to 40 miles away. The chimney alone needed 250 tons of stone. The building was called Hotel Bret Harte and the land on which it stood, 350 acres along the Georgetown Divide, was known as Deer View. Unfortunately, the hotel never checked in a single paying guest.

Elder died suddenly just before its opening, and his family wasn't interested in the project. The place was abandoned, and fell victim to vandals and the elements until December of 1937, when a 9 foot snowfall caused the neglected, weakened hotel to collapse. When the Michigan California Lumber Company purchased the land in 1941, they burned the ruins. The remaining walls are a spectacular, colorful sight of moss-covered quartz. The dirt roads can be challenging to navigate, especially in wet weather, and require an off-road vehicle or a truck with a high clearance and good traction. I would not recommend venturing in without a guide, a Dept. of Forestry map, and an excellent sense of direction, but it is certainly worth the effort.

You can see pictures of the original hotel HERE (check out the links at the bottom of their page, too). And you can see the road we had to navigate to get there, as well as wonderful pictures of the ruins, at Deer View Today.

Fortunately Dave had a Forestry map to help us navigate through the maze of trails, but the signs are not always up to date (or even attached to their post), and on the way out we unknowingly wandered off our intended main dirt road to another. This ended up being a fortunate switch. A young lady on a dirt bike approached from the opposite direction on a curve, and frantically waved us down. When she took off her helmet, we saw she was in tears. She asked if she could borrow our cell phone to try to find her Dad, because she was lost. It was another miracle that we could even get reception up there. We were able to connect with him sporadically for about a minute at a time, which was enough to eventually lead us to where he was parked.

It was just after 4:00 p.m. when we met with her – late afternoon and getting dark quickly. Bear in mind that not only are the trails poorly marked, but she had been driving in the wrong direction for a half an hour. There are no headlights on a dirt bike (and NO street lights in the deep forest!); even with a map, too often we were surprised to find that we had unintentionally ended up off the main trails. The way you realize this is that the road suddenly narrows, ruts multiply, and puddles deepen. Even in the drier areas, the maximum speed a truck can move is 5-10 mph, and the roads were treacherous where the red clay was soaked and slick. There were several times we had to hold on and gun it up to a careening 15 mph to make it through a wet gully or to the top of a muddy hill along the cliffs. At any rate, Dave is an excellent driver, and it was all very exciting. Yet another example of it being just another ride until something goes wrong – and then it’s an adventure!

She followed us on the bike as Dave kept heading South, and we connected with her Dad just at sunset. After everyone breathed a sigh of relief, their discussion turned to a typical parent/teen bickering session debating the consequences of not following the rules vs. the rules are stupid and it’s not my fault. When we teased him about a big reward for the daring rescue, he laughed and reminded us she was a teenager, so we could keep her – or pay him to take her back. I think he was joking…

I also started the Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatments this week at the office of Dr. Jared Thomas in Roseville. The chamber is tube-shaped, spacious and comfortable, with transparent oval windows at the top, so there was no problem with claustrophobia. The only discomfort is that as the pressure initially increases and then later decreases at the end of the session, your ears will pop quite a bit, similar to what happens in take off and landing during a flight. Throughout the 60 minute session, you can read, use electronics (phone or iPod) or just snooze – in which case it is a deep and restful sleep. I was concerned that I might feel tired after a session, but it’s more a sense of complete relaxation, similar to the way you feel after a massage. I had two sessions this week, and whether or not it’s related, when I went for my weekly blood test all my levels were normal for the first time. So I’ll continue treatments twice a week through chemo and radiation, and hopefully maintain my high blood counts and energy levels.

Next Tuesday is chemo #3 – what adventures await? I asked my chemo nurse about doing the detox foot baths, and she thought it was a good idea, as long as I waited at least 48 hours to let the chemo do its job. After our conversation, my understanding is that the reason the side effects of chemo are cumulative and folks typically feel progressively more sick with each treatment is due to the buildup of toxins. As the chemo kills off both cancer cells and healthy cells, it not only overloads the organs of detoxification, but decreases the number of healthy cells that would otherwise help the process. The body just can’t excrete all this junk and build new, healthy cells fast enough.

The foot baths may help to pull out the dead cells so the rest of my body doesn’t have to work so hard to eliminate them. I did one session this week, and felt fine. Continuing on my experimental path, I’ll do at least one more before Tuesday, another next weekend, and then at least 2 a week until chemo #4 – the final frontier!!

I have so much to be grateful for this year, and as I count my blessings, you are all an integral part of that expansive list. Thank you so much for your love, support and generosity. I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving of bountiful health and joy, surrounded by people that are close to your heart.
Love, Laurie

Money Talk

Posted Nov 13, 2008 1:28pm

I’m going to get serious for a moment, because finances need to be addressed to help you prepare, just in case. Any illness is expensive, but I’m going to talk from the cancer perspective because, well, I’m here, and I was too cocky about my health and energy to prepare sufficiently. Fortunately, for the time being I have good health insurance, but don’t even get me started on that topic. Even if you have insurance, there are copays and deductibles that add to your monthly budget. It would greatly ease the burden if you determine ahead of time what your maximum copay/deductible amount is for the year, and contribute regularly to a separate savings account specifically for that purpose, so the money is put aside and the fees will never take you by surprise.

The other fortunate thing is that this happened before I was retired, and I haven’t missed much work. If you become ill, you may or may not be able to work, or may choose not to, and will need the means to cover your extra expenses. If you have kids or dependent parents, in addition to the emergency costs that you typically anticipate in their lives, you may need to pay for additional assistance in their care and daily transportation needs. What would your options be? If you examine them now, it will minimize the stress that fogs your brain when your life is turned upside down by a medical condition.

There are all kinds of doo-dads, remedies, lotions and potions that become essential to maintain a reasonable level of physical comfort. They are not considered medical expenses, and they do add up. There is extra gas for travelling to all the doctor’s appointments, which become part of your regular schedule. If you usually work away from home, extended time at home may increase utility and/or phone expenses. If you own your own business, you still have to cover your overhead. I do caution you about disability policies for the self employed. It has been my experience with some patients that many policies have loopholes that make it extremely difficult to collect the benefits, so if you are exploring this option, have it carefully reviewed by your attorney before you sign up.

And no one saw foresaw the enormity of this financial crisis that is affecting every industry world wide. Right now no one’s job is undeniably secure, and the effects are trickling down in ways we never imagined. One of the old economic beliefs is that regardless of the economy, the medical industry is steadfast because people will always need heath care. But if people don’t have jobs, they don’t have health insurance, and they sure can’t pay out of pocket expenses. No one can afford to feel smug about job security right now. So this is not just about planning for health care, but using basic financial foresight in general.

At the beginning of the year I undertook the daunting task of revamping our auto and homeowners insurance for better coverage, lower rates. The agent is someone I know well, and she did an amazing job of making the transition as smooth as possible. In the process, she suggested life insurance. Feeling healthy, financially secure and invincible, I declined. She is not a pushy person, and although she gently reminded me a few times when we talked over the next few months, I blew it off.

She is also not an I-told-you-so kind of friend. I say this because during a conversation a couple of months after my diagnosis she told me with tears in her eyes that it made her cry every time she thought of my rejecting the life insurance policy. According to the terms, it would have paid a substantial amount up front when I was diagnosed with cancer. And I emphasize substantial amount.

The policy was very affordable; I just did not feel I would ever need it because I was of the it-will-never-happen-to-me mindset. I had a solid retirement account. The stock market was doing great. I see now how egotistical this was, especially since at the time I had no negative health history, and even at my age, I would have easily qualified at a low premium cost. So if you do not have a life insurance policy like this, get one. This is a well known, well established insurance carrier. I’m not trying to sell policies, but if your agent can’t help you, email/call me and I’ll connect you to mine.

I’ve mentioned my Tarot collection before, and how the inspirational art is universal in its representation of the collective unconscious across time and cultures. There is a card called The Tower that is typically depicted as a massive tower in flames against a stormy sky, being struck by lightening as people fall off in terror. It symbolizes unforeseen catastrophe due to building on fragile theories, arrogance and greed, a point where there is no option but to overthrow existing ways of life, and face the disruption. Although it seems frightening, the wonderful message in this card is that disaster inspires reflection into how we got there, and that introspection is what makes way for enlightenment.

I can’t help but feel the world economy and our old beliefs are challenged on an unprecedented level and are plummeting from the Tower. On a global scale, there is no turning back; there will have to be accountability and change. Even those who have planned carefully and ethically throughout their lives are now finding themselves in a position they never expected to be in due to this inescapable economic fallout. In light of this, we have no choice but to acknowledge that we may not be invincible after all.

This is not intended to be a political statement, and I hope that for most people it’s not too little too late, but a suggestion to be mindful, to stay financially humble, to be more careful than ever to think twice before spending for instant gratification. And make your health a priority. Don’t wait until you feel lousy; honor your body. Eat well, exercise, rest, take your vitamins. Get your exams. Cover your butt. Ask yourself, what if the worst did happen? Not to focus on the negative, but to consider the possibilities so you can be prepared.

I have several senior patients that are such an inspiration to me. One lady who is now in her 80’s has been seeing me almost weekly for the past ten years, so we have had plenty of time to talk. Over that time I have gleaned her life history over a multitude of brief segments, and her steadfast determination has provided many valuable lessons. Some of her health issues have improved significantly, other things can’t improve, but we have slowed the progression, and she is thrilled that she no longer needs a cane and can move freely.

Her philosophy is that she wants to stay independent as long as possible, both physically and financially, and will actively do whatever it takes. She still drives, lives independently, maintains a demanding volunteer job and a stimulating hobby. She goes to exercise class every week, and follows at her own pace. She’s not a fanatic about her diet, but she is conscientious about keeping it balanced, and takes the necessary supplements. She keeps up with medical exams, questions any suggested medication, and does her own research on what else she can incorporate into her lifestyle to further minimize her few prescriptions. She and her husband never bought anything on credit except their house. They went without and saved up until they could afford what they wanted, and saved and invested conservatively. When he passed away, they were not rich, but she will be able to live securely for many years to come.

Our generation and those that followed have been bombarded with the buy-now-pay-later-live-for-the-moment mindset that seemed pretty safe in a progressive economy where raises and promotions and better opportunities were a way of life. But now that we have found that we were building on shaky ground, it’s time to clear the slate of those old ways. It was no surprise when I heard that a rapidly expanding business right now is a company that provides the old layaway plan for a growing number of big retailers. You get it when you finish paying for it, which means you can afford it without accumulating more debt. What a concept.

The other day my sister forwarded an email from my maternal grandfather’s relatives in France who have been working on our genealogy. We are not typically in contact with them, and had not heard from them in several years. Besides attaching a few old photos, their first greeting was “We hope you are all fine and you are pleased with the election of O'Bama! It has been a sigh of relief in Europe when the result was released.” Regardless of your political or spiritual affiliations, we cannot deny that change is afoot, individually and globally, and we will all be affected by it at some point.

The Tarot deck tells the story of life, and in the Major Arcana suit, the card following The Tower is The Star – reminding us that no destruction is final. If we recognize our role in the progression, it can bring great insight into the meaning of life. Although we may be forced to a point of unavoidable change, it can bring courage, hope, inspiration, health and a renewed spirit. But we have to dig deep into our souls to get creative and resourceful in a way we may have never been called upon to do. We make our choices with the resources we have at any given moment. If we push just a little more, stretch our usual position to stand on tiptoe and peek over the familiar horizon, we can increase the possibility to find a new resource that can guide our lives in a completely different direction.

It may be time to ask ourselves, “At this moment, what can I do to honor my future, and craft the life that is going to be part of history?”

I wish you vibrant health, wisdom, and an inspirational day.

Love, Laurie

p.s. I am honored by the number of you who have asked if you can share this update with your friends. One of the main purposes of these updates is to share my experiences with anyone who needs support or insight about challenges that can arise with illness - whether their own or that of a loved one. You are always welcome to invite people to view the updates.

I Lied…

Posted Nov 12, 2008 7:16pm

…about all that ambitious stuff I had planned yesterday. Just after I turned off my computer, chastising myself for that foolish public commitment to do 8 minutes of exercise, I was hit with a wave - make that a tsunami - of nausea that prompted an out loud, “What the hell is that???”

Forget the wristbands; I headed for the drugs. Fortunately, the Kytril kicks in within seconds, but I still felt a little dazed, and in no mood to get fluffy and go interview the oxygen therapy doc.
But true to my word, about 10 minutes later, confident that my tummy would not attack me again, I cranked up the DVD and did my 8 minute abs. The Universe was quite kind; something went awry with the player so I couldn’t actually see anything other than a blacked-out screen.

It was probably a good thing. At the moment I couldn’t think of any sight that would be more irritating than three tanned long-haired youngsters flexing and glistening in the sun as my pale, fuzzy headed self struggled on the living room floor at half pace in a fleece bathrobe. But I could hear Mr. Jarhead’s chipper encouragement to, “Come on guys, only 10 more – and this is fun!!” Ah yes, of course it is. And I’ve done it enough times that I could follow his verbal instructions without feeling intimidated into keeping up with the rhythmic pace I couldn’t see, so it all worked out.

I called in my apologies and rescheduled the oxygen interview, and puttered around getting ready for my noon appointment with the oncology nurse. Outside of a brief, unprompted blurt of indigestion, the rest of the day was pretty much without incident. I did tell the nurse about the splitting finger/toe nails, and she suggested tea tree oil. I picked up a little bottle at the health food store on the way to work, and although it smells like kerosene, it worked great! Apparently another thing I may have to look forward to is the skin splitting around the nail beds, but that can be held together with Liquid Band Aid. Skin tack, kerosene, head stubble and an occasional uncontrollable belch - it’s all so sexy.

There was a fascinating story on NPR around Halloween about an article published in the Journal of Ophthalmology in 1921. Shortly after moving into an old house, an entire family became ill, heard voices, pounding and other strange noises, saw unearthly beings in their rooms at night, and felt hands gripping at them so tightly that they couldn’t move. It turned out that the furnace was leaking, and the entire family had a low level of carbon monoxide poisoning, which caused all their hallucinations. It seems that back then, lots of stuff leaked carbon monoxide – gas lamps, kerosene lanterns, leaking chimneys, wood stoves. Once the furnace was fixed, the “ghosts” disappeared.

Living in a chemo body is much like a stay in a haunted house. Every creak and groan and blemish and ache is a source of alarm, because everything is unfamiliar, and everything is suspect as yet another scary goblin. I'm finding that the most likely explanation is that there’s nothing really wrong. It’s a kickass treatment that temporarily puts the inner furnace on the fritz. Things will go bump in the night (and the day) and everyone’s reaction is different.

More fun symptoms – abdominal cramps on and off all last night, but gone by light of day. On the way to work, my mouth felt like sandpaper, and by noon I had to guard my speech pattern so I wouldn’t drool all over myself. I had a lovely configuration of purple scarves wrapped into a fancier-than-usual turbany thing, and I trust my patients were distracted enough by the hand-painted gold gingko leaf pattern swirling around my head that they didn’t notice the dribble.
Other than the array of surprise symptoms, my energy was back to normal by yesterday afternoon, and I’ve been very busy since then. I was up at 5:30 this morning, read a few chapters, did some laundry, ironing, made breakfast and lunches – and got to work early. It’s a great day here; I hope it is for you, too!
Love, Laurie

Oncology "Nutrition" 101

Posted Nov 11, 2008 10:30am

Although my body and brain feel reasonably normal, my taste buds have taken leave of their senses. Remember what a food snob I was in the beginning, after reading the American Cancer Society booklet on “Nutrition” tips? Remember how I scoffed at their recommendations of foods like mashed potatoes and ice cream? Once again, I’ve been humbled. Once you start chemo, unless you have a personal chef, all bets are off regarding culinary interests. Even then it would be a challenge.

It’s not due to nausea – if I feel the least bit queasy, the Psi bracelets do the trick. It’s just that the usual foods are not appealing, and stuff that would usually turn my stomach now beckons me, even if it ends up sitting inside like a lump of lead. It is such a strange shift in my appetite. Last night the sight of soup made my tummy turn over, yet I ate most of a medium organic veggie/pesto pizza, to which I had added extra chicken and goat cheese.

I can’t stand the sight of a carrot, but I’ve had a couple of days of craving Kraft Mac & Cheese – remember that sticky orange mass we used to seriously consider as “food?” Although I didn't succumb to the temptation, I confess that I did pick up an organic version at Trader Joe's last night - just in case. And with the carrot aversion, you can imagine my dismay every time I open the fridge to see it stacked with containers of the carrot slaw I spent 2 days creating. Good thing Dave likes it as a side dish with his lunch.

Juicing? I’ll give it a try this morning, but it is pushing my limits (i.e. the ominous carrot). My best food friend at the moment is plain organic yogurt – sometimes with organic applesauce and a little organic maple syrup. The concoction not only soothes my conscience, but also helps the daily supplements go down more easily. In contrast, at night I may make another pizza or a veggie quesadilla with lots of goat cheese and guacamole. How crazy is that???? As I’m reading articles about the food experiences of other women, mashed potatoes seem to be a big favorite. I’m not there yet, but now I know better than to eliminate the possibility.

Not that I’m complaining - over the past month, as my weight has shifted up & down, overall I’ve lost about 7 pounds I didn’t really need to keep. I am concerned that it probably is not fat loss, since I haven’t been very active, so I’ll do a body composition test this week to see what is going on. I’m feeling more ambitious today; I can at least do one of my “8-minute” exercise DVDs, and start alternating that with yoga to do something each day (more or less – bear in mind I’m having a rare flash of exercise ambition). I have no idea how some folks choose chemo time to train for a marathon, let alone take care of a family and work. I am such a wimp! Well, I am running a business, so that does keep me pretty busy…

I’m meeting with a local chiropractor today to discuss starting some sessions of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). There’s an overview about it at HBOT. I checked with other doctors that work with cancer patients, and there are no contraindications to this treatment. Although I was able to find several research articles on HBOT and different types of cancer, they are careful to note it is for wellness enhancement, and not a cure, but one doctor indicated it may help with “chemo brain.” Since I already had “menopause brain,” that was one smooth transition, but we’ll see what happens to improve the situation! Other than my two off-days on the post-chemo weekend, my brain seems to be doing quite well, and I actually don’t feel as forgetful as I was six months ago. From what I can remember, anyways...

The research on HBOT during radiation has been very favorable in regard to minimizing tissue damage, so in combination with the Chinese Soothing Balm, I trust that it will not be such a bad experience. I’ll cross that bridge next year.
Have a fabulous day!
Love, Laurie

Funky Sunday

Posted Nov 9, 2008 7:22pm

Well, I guess this may be the pattern - I feel normal the day of & after chemo, then start to slow down for a couple of days. I didn't take any Tylenol during the day yesterday, because it makes me tired - I just took one before bed. I swear, it makes me look like I have a hangover!!
I didn't feel as sick after this round of chemo as I did last time, and I still didn't have to take any anti-nausea meds, but I had a low grade fever (well under the "danger zone") and felt very dull-minded all day. So I took it easy, snoozed, watched a little TV. It just feels strange to not be going full force all the time, but I feel better tonight & will be back to my normal work schedule tomorrow.

Lori called with a ray of sunshine tonight after she finished decorating my head - I can't wait to see the original!!! In the meantime, check out the "Decorate My Head" slide show for the picure with the nuts all over my head!
Love, Laurie

All's Well!

Posted Nov 8, 2008 10:08am

It’s another beautiful day in Paradise. Today is “Laurie Day” – It’s a gorgeous early morning, and the sun is sparkling through the trees in the back yard. Once we do a little puttering around the house, Dave & I are heading out to explore nature and the new construction around Folsom Dam and the new bridge.

Yesterday afternoon I went to Sutter Roseville for the Neulasta injection (for white cells). Although I had been warned the injection itself could be quite painful, the nurse was an earthy and gentle goddess and I didn’t feel a thing. The drug info sheet was pretty scary, but fortunately I’m not in the risk category for a rupturing spleen, which was comforting. During the next 6 weeks, I’ll go in every week for a blood draw and Herceptin infusion, and when I’m done with the next 2 sessions of chemo, I’ll just go in every 3 weeks for the next year for Herceptin.

I met a lady in the waiting room who was wearing a purple fleece Disney cap, and she asked for a quick lesson in how to wrap a scarf. Her daughter gave her a 28x72” scarf (the best size!) and she complained that she was all thumbs in trying to wrap it. My gear was pretty colorful today – the base scarf was light yellow-green, and I twisted silky scarf (thanks Harriot!!) of bright orange, black, red and lime around the band. The silky ones are impossible to wear alone, but great fun for embellishment. One of my regular nurses came over while I was getting the injection and said they had all been talking about my colorful scarves, and telling the patients about them! I’m glad I keep everyone entertained - I may never show my hair again :>)

Back to the purpose of the visit, because the Neulasta stimulates the bone marrow to produce white blood cells, the most common side effect is that within 4-5 days, many patients experience moderate to severe bone pain. They don’t anticipate that will happen with me (hahahhaha), since I had 4 days of a milder form of the drug when I was in the hospital, and the marrow is already pumping. Nonetheless, she recommended I take a Tylenol prophylactically every 6 hours; it’s easier to prevent pain than to get rid of it once it starts. I’m such a medication weenie that Tylenol just knocks me out. So after dinner and a couple of Tylenol, I konked out in the middle of a movie, which gave Dave the opportunity to catch up on his recorded episodes of The Unit (too stressing for my gentle spirit).

I felt a little queasy this morning, but I just rubbed the Psi Wrist Bands a few times to stimulate the pressure points, and I was fine. These are awesome!! Food is still a challenge; I crave yogurt and fruit, and love soups. Last night I made a Thai chicken soup that was a combination of some seasonings I have not used before and it was amazing!! Fast, easy, let me know if you want the recipe. There will probably be a few ingredients that you’ll need to add to your cupboard, but it won’t be the last time you use them! It was a pretty light soup; just coconut milk, chicken broth, chicken & seasonings, so I added a pound of mushrooms to give it more substance. Next time around I’ll add more veggies, a little rice, maybe some shrimp. We loved it!!!

Have a glorious day, and be sure to check the photo gallery for new entries – thanks, and keep them coming!Love, Laurie

Two Down, Two to Go

Posted Nov 7, 2008 12:28pm

Yesterday was chemo #2, and I just like last time, I felt fine during, after and today. I was a little queasy this morning, but the Psi Wrist Bands took care of that, and I haven’t had to take any anti-nausea meds. The only new thing is that I tend to get the feeling of a lump in my upper chest after eating or drinking – no pain or heartburn, it just feels weird. So I eat/drink slowly, small amounts at a time, chew everything very well, and kick up my pre-meal doses of digestive enzymes and probiotics, which really help. Oh yeah, and a couple of my fingernails are getting some deep vertical splits. Any suggestions? (Can’t do anything that glues on.)

My blood counts are good; I’m going in this afternoon for an injection to keep the white cells up, so we don't anticipate the problems with infection that happened last time. The red cell counts are borderline, so they recommended at least extra vitamin C, and/or a good iron supplement. I have Hemagenics on hand for the occasion; it is a form of iron that does not cause constipation like most of the others do. I am so delighted that both the oncologist and the nurses are well educated about chemo and nutrition. The staff I had gone to for the first opinion was entirely against supplements, and in favor of high levels of medication. Obviously, not my people…

I brought my portable DVD player to the chemo session, which helps the time pass very quickly. I saw a wonderful movie yesterday - Kinky Boots (Netflix). I was laughing so much everyone around me wanted the name of it. I thought it would be a totally chick-flick, but it was so fun that Dave & I watched it last night; he really enjoyed it, and I liked it as much the second time around. It’s uplifting, silly and quite moving.

During my session, I met a lady that is 84 and has been doing chemo on and off since 2005. Her hair fell out, grew back, fell out again, so she just plops on a wig as needed. In the meantime, her husband died, they found another mass in her lung... and she is handling it all amazing well. The stories of everyone I have met have been so inspiring. I document my symptoms mostly for the benefit of those that follow, so they can know what to expect; I certainly have nothing to complain about.

She said her daughter took her to the first several chemo sessions, but now she just drives herself! So I told Dave if she can do it, I certainly can!! I feel good going in, good coming out, so why not? I had booked out of the office for the day, but since this is the second time I have not felt any significant effects after chemo, I’ll just plan to work my regular hours after the next two.

I felt so good after my session yesterday, that I ran errands, did some grocery shopping and made a giant vat of the carrot slaw (recipe from the chef in Provincetown!) Unfortunately, the grater attachment on the Cuisinart was broken so I had to peel and grate 4 quarts of organic carrots by hand on my old cheese grater – you know, the rectangular metal thing with that handle on the top that grates skin as effectively as cheese?? Culinary tip – for the grating-by-hand process, wear heavy-duty rubber gloves to prevent the inadvertent addition of knuckle-protein slivers. Better yet, invest in the attachment for the food processor. I did half the other day, and the other half yesterday to avoid carpal tunnel!! Nonetheless, it was certainly worth the effort! Of course, we have enough to last the next several weeks, but the flavor mellows over time, and it is absolutely delicious. We promised not to post the recipe publicly, but if you are feeling especially ambitious, just email me and I’ll share it with you.

Have a fabulous weekend, and thanks for all the head decorating!!!!!
Love, Laurie

Photo Phun

Posted Nov 5, 2008 1:49pm
If laughter is the best medicine, I'm well on my way to being cured! The heads are starting to roll in, so to speak, so enjoy the slide show!