Monday, November 30, 2009

It's about the turkey

It was a wonderful turkey -- and a wonderful day. Thanks, Anya and Max.

As far as Thanksgiving goes, I'm a traditionalist. I appreciate that the vegetarians and flexitarians among us won't eat turkey, and I'm willing to make an exception for grilled salmon or some fancy veggies, but for the rest of us? It's gotta be turkey. I'm almost shocked at the friends this year who had (in one case) pork loin with quinces or (in the other) roast goose a la perigord. These are delicious and special -- but they aren't Thanksgiving.

When I lived overseas, Thanksgiving was, more than Christmas or even the fourth of July, the holiday that brought Americans together. I remember how the women of the American expat community always struggled and improvised to put together something approaching a real Thanksgiving feast, successfully enough that our Non-American friends begged for invitations.

There was only one time that American imaginations failed. In Somalia we said the hell with it and went to the Chinese restaurant for sweet-and-sour wart hog. It just wasn't the same.

Every Thanksgiving, every family gathering, is a chance to reconnect. Sometimes, when times are bad, there's a feeling that we're circling the wagons. Other times, we celebrate growth and success. There's always the feeling: we're here. We made it through, and we're together.

And besides, there's the turkey.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I have so much to be thankful for. To keep this from turning into a Stephen King-sized book, I'm going to skip the family and friends I value and appreciate every day and take a look back at the past year. Here's just a few snapshots of what I am thankful for this year, without a lot of comments.

: Obama's election. I was here to see it, and no matter what challenges he faces or whether I agree with all of his decisions, I am proud of what our country did in electing him.
December: The wonderful people at the Cheshire Medical Center who took such good care of me during and after my emergency surgery -- while dealing with the aftereffects of the ice storm.
January: Being able to eat real food again and feeling my zest for life come back.
February: The first anniversary of my diagnosis. I beat the odds.
March: Our trip to Cancun. I like luxury.
April: Our trip to northern Minnesota. And the volunteer cherry tomato that grew in our sunspace that we ate, ceremonially.
May: First concert of the season for WTB. It's wonderful to play with them again.
June: Boston trip with the group that has been Doing Boston together (mostly) for something like twenty years.
July: The incredible trip to Utah, the highlight of the entire year.
August: Miles stayed overnight with us.
September: The jam and jelly factory went into full production mode.
October: Cinda's visit. New car. Max and Anya and Miles came up for the Pumpkin Festival. (October was full of good stuff!)
November: The wonderful kitchen project is done. I am so spoiled.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

National Curry Week in the UK

My online friend Margaret, whose url which I suddenly am unable to link to: says that "November 22-28 is “National Curry Week” in the UK.... A Google Alert this morning took me to an interesting Liverpool Echo article (, which includes information on turmeric, chilli, garlic and ginger (and a curry recipe, too, on page 2)."

It seems as though a good curry masala includes just about every anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer substance you could ask for, good for everyone, not just those of us with cancer. And delicious.

So -- Americans are going to have all these leftovers this weekend. A good curried turkey dish (check out will be good for your health and will increase cooperation and understanding among Americans, Indians, and Brits. Who could ask for anything more? Except to make the links work.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Last week my friend Julie died of pancreatic cancer. While the disease was one thing we had in common, there were others. Her husband had been one of the founding members of the Keene writers' group. She was part of the local Friends Meeting at the same time as my family was. She played cello in the local orchestra where Jerry plays bassoon. Our lives, while not close, had many meeting points, even before the day I called her to say that I was newly diagnosed and had heard that she also had pancreatic cancer. She immediately arranged for us to meet so that she could share her own experiences, and this first meeting turned into an occasional get-together for an "anti-cancer meal," including as many healthy (and delicious) foods as we could think of, and conversations that included but were not limited to our states of health.

It isn't often that I get words of wisdom from TV shows, but a bit of dialog from House MD has stuck in my mind. A patient wanted to check herself out of the hospital so that she could go home and "die with dignity." House went into a rant, saying "You can't die with dignity. No one dies with dignity -- all you can do is live with dignity."

Julie proved him wrong. Both in her living and her death she showed immense dignity and grace. I will miss her.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chemobrain: I've got it

A couple of books have recently come out announcing (surprise, surprise) that chemobrain actually exists. It's like false labor. Ever since Lucy roamed around East Africa, women have had false labor, but the medical establishment didn't believe in it until Drs. Braxton and Hicks studied the phenomenon and named it. I bet they were both men, too.

In any case, there's now been research on what some experts are calling "cancer- and/or cancer-therapy-associated cognitive change." (They would, wouldn't they.)

In one survey, primarily of breast cancer patients, at least 50% rated their symptoms as moderate to severe in the categories of
*lack of concentration
*short-term memory loss
*difficulty with word recall
*inability to organize daily tasks
That's not to mention the dyslexia, problems with interruptions, fogginess, and problems with follow-through of projects.

However, the experts assure us cheerily that most people regain at least some of their smarts after chemotherapy stops. For those of us whose cancer is a chronic condition that depends on indefinite chemotherapy, there's an image of brain cells running out like sand in a timer -- not a cheery thought.

I've been lucky. As far as I can tell, and please don't correct me if I'm wrong, I've only had two major cognitive changes from all my years of chemo. First, I have real word retrieval issues, and wouldn't you know, the problems always seem to happen when I'm telling a story to several people at once. I suddenly lose a key word. I grope madly for it, while the listeners wait patiently for me to be profound, or witty, or even coherent. I finally grab at something, anything, to finish the sentence. The word is usually blindingly umm, starts with an o, has three syllables, what is it? blindingly ... clear, but that isn't it exactly ... easy to think of.

The second isn't even a problem, though it would be if I were still a student or a teacher. I can't remember anything I've read for any length of time. I can pick up a book I read a month or two ago, reread it, and enjoy it as much as I did the first time. It's nice, because I read so fast that now I don't have to worry about running out of reading material. This isn't true of books I read years back, by the way; I remember those clearly.

Of course, there are always upsides to anything. It's a great excuse for any kind of forgetting or fogginess. Jerry once claimed that he had Chemobrain Through Lateral Transmission.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Some people

A nice chat in the infusion room with a woman whose daughter had accompanied her to pick up a continuous chemo system. She was going to get a fanny pack to hold the drugs which would be administered through her port while she went about her daily business, getting the chemo 24/7 for several days. However, there had been a glitch and the system wasn't ready.

She and her daughter seemed upbeat and friendly, and we exchanged the usual what-are-you-here-fors. She has esophageal cancer. Most of the time, though, we talked about Scrabble. She was clearly a good player, knowing about qi and wiz, looking over Jerry's shoulder and spotting good plays, so we agreed that if our schedules ever lined up it would be fun to play together.

As time went by, though, she got more and more annoyed at having to wait. Finally I overheard her saying to her daughter, "Well, it looks like we'll have time to go out for a cigarette," and they got up and left. They came back rather quickly, probably after they found out that Dartmouth-Hitchcock is a non-smoking campus and they'd have to walk a fair distance to get to where they could smoke.

So.... am I totally bigoted in being horrified that someone on chemotherapy for esophageal cancer is still smoking? I found myself emotionally pulling away from this very nice woman just because of that. On the one hand, who am I to judge anyone else? On the other, how can she?

Sunday, November 8, 2009


When the doctors finally put my symptoms together and we found out that I had pancreatic cancer, one of them explained why it had taken so long. "In medical school they told us that when you hear hoofbeats, the first thing you should think of is horses, not zebras." In other words, the common explanation is usually the right one.

But when you're in a situation where the common explanation wasn't the right one, you tend to think zebras the next time you hear the hoofbeats.

Last week I started coughing, so of course my immediate thought was metastesis. What else could it be? Jerry, more realistically, said that I sounded like I was coming down with a cold. I got out the zinc, vitamin C, and my new best solution, elderberry extract, dosed myself up with all at frequent intervals, and drank lots of tea with honey and lime, and I feel fine.

Sometimes they really are horses.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Kitchen

Jerry said to wait until the tiles for the backsplash are in, but I couldn't. He also has the new and improved island to do, but meanwhile I'm cooking and enjoying the spaces, the prep area, the SINK, and the window into the laundry room.

The bright pumpkin orange ended up a bit too bright, so Jerry toned it down to more of a turmeric color, and I love it. The backsplash will be the same burgundy as the trim.

Gorgeous, hmm?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Signs and Portents

We live at the southeastern corner of this crossroads. I took the picture from Pleasant Street, which is the official street we live on, looking at the signs for (from left to right) Ryan Road, Frost Hill Road, and Bixby Street.

The more I think about this, the more confused I get. For one thing, even after forty years of teaching ESL, I'm not sure what differentiates a road from a street.

For another, this picture sums up just why it is that people from, say Utah just to pick a wild example, get so confused in New England. Four roads (streets?) meet at an otherwise uninteresting point, and instead of road A crossing road B and continuing to be road A, it suddenly becomes road C. Why?

Then there's the question of the names themselves. Pleasant St. is simply and appropriately named. Frost Hill Road is clear, except to the flatlanders who come around during leaf peeping season and want to know if this is the actual road that the poet lived on (someone actually asked me that once). But who were Bixby and Ryan, and what did they do to deserve the honor?

My big question, though, is why there are only three signposts at the corner. Even though Pleasant St. is the main road up the hill from the town, it doesn't rate a sign of its own.

Perhaps this is all some sort of philosophical metaphor. Here I am on this unlabeled (but pleasant) street, at a sudden crossroads in the middle of nowhere, facing cryptically named roads leading off -- where? Should I be thinking in terms of treatment options, lifestyle choices, or my immortal soul? I won't even get into the fact that one of the roads, but I won't tell you which, is a dead end.

Or maybe this is the place where the traditional New England jokes about lost flatlanders originated.

"Does it matter which road I take to get to Jaffrey?"
"Not to me, it don't."

Monday, November 2, 2009


Jerry wouldn't agree, but I think the whole kitchen project has gone incredibly smoothly. The walls and floor are now probably more true and even than they ever were before, the cabinets are all in and filled (drawers that slide in and out without tugging!), the countertop and SINK are in and working, and the first coat of primer is on the walls. Jerry's putting the second coat of primer on now. Wait till you see the final colors.
I spent Saturday morning putting things away, and, as promised, throwing out the worst of the paper goods. It's a wonderful feeling.