Friday, December 25, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Round 7/8 “Halfway There, Living on a Prayer”
Greg reminded me after our last session yesterday that we were halfway through the chemo treatments. Eight down. Eight more to go.
I had so completely blocked out the now weekly treatments that when Joy Wallis called and offered us tickets to the White House Christmas tour for December 22 at 3:30 (a Tuesday) I immediately said “yes”, not realizing of course that Tuesday I would be a prisoner of the Georgetown chemo ward, or the infusion center as they like to call it. Can’t a girl have a reprieve for Advent? A psychiatrist would have a field day with the “denial” and oversight. Fortunately, Juliette stepped in with tickets for today and the girls have already showered and laid out their new Christmas dresses and charged their camera batteries with the hope of seeing “Bo.”
I forgot to tell everyone back in October that Annalise DID end up in People Magazine when she visited Michelle’s garden with the John Eaton kids when we started this process. You can see about a third of her head in the photo behind the White House chef showing the kids some organic cauliflower, or something. Her teacher had written to tell me to go buy People. Annalise was over the moon with pride when she came home from school and had five copies of the magazine on the entry table, but knowing it was just a “third of her head showing” added with a smile, “imagine how insufferable I would be if it were my WHOLE head.”
I will admit that this process is dragging on. In case I haven’t shared with you the schedule of treatments, it goes something like this, if life doesn’t get in the way: 8 more weekly chemo treatments of Taxol and Carboplatin until February 16. Then they wait 4 weeks until my white blood cells and other counts return to normal to do the double mastectomy (I know there are easier ways to get plastic surgery but let’s just say that my plastic surgeon and I have an understanding that at the end of this, I want something perfect. He promised I won’t have to run with a bra.) The surgery takes about 4 - 6 weeks to recover from. Then the piece de resistance: 5 or 6 weeks of daily radiation. Woo hoo. You do the math.
BUT the good news continues to be that the tumors have melted under this chemo regimen - I liken it to Agent Orange. My eyebrows seem to be the latest casualty - as in almost gone. Nonetheless, Dr. Isaacs literally could not feel the tumor when she checked me yesterday before round 8. All she could find was a line of what she said was likely scar tissue, necrotic tumor cells but nothing round or resembling a tumor. Hooray. Sadly, I can’t let myself celebrate just yet. Call it the Irish superstition in me.
In fact I am so superstitious that I nearly had a heart attack when the tiny ceramic Ganesh (elephant god) sculpture from India that I kept next to my computer broke recently. It was given to me for good fortune by my friend Jan McGirk when I was visiting her in Delhi from Islamabad 13 years ago. At first I panicked. “What did it mean?” It looked like it had been decapitated - his head broken off, likely by Luke. Should I glue it with what the kids call “hot glue” (Crazy Glue)? Or would that bring worse luck? Afterall, I had even managed to kill those pair of frogs that you buy at Child’s Play with the guarantee that essentially they can’t be killed because it is a perfectly balanced ecosystem. Well, it wasn’t so balanced. The little snail cleans the small tank and you really only have to change the water every 4 months and feed them twice a week for them to survive, unless you don’t. It was the perfect pet. Until it wasn’t.
Was it a sign? I firmly embraced my superstition and fear and asked my sister Cassie, if you are a Christian isn’t that supposed to trump this worship of “false idols” or Ganesh? In my living room I have a painting that Greg and I bought before leaving Russia for Jerusalem from Michele Keleman’s friend Oleg that depicts Moses’ brother Aaron with a golden calf sculpture attached to the bottom on a removable peg. Greg always used to like to hide the Golden calf because he didn’t ‘get’ its artistic significance. He even let the girls when they were little play with it. I always liked it because of its symbolism and saved it each time I found it lying next to the kids’ Hannah Montana dolls. Realizing how ridiculous that I was for having this “superstition” about the decapitated Ganesh, I suddenly felt empowered this weekend to throw my “ba’al” in the trash and haven’t looked back. (But I still read my horoscope because it’s fun and always right.)
December 20, 2009, Washington Post: Taurus (April 20 - May 20)
“Your progress has not been the work of easy luck or overnight promotions; it’s been one daily victory after another. Your track record of success will net you more of the same.”
I am going to attribute the tumor shrinkage to a little chemo and to a lot of prayers (not necessarily in that order.) Fox has more Prayer Warriors than you can believe: Shannon, Megan, Molly, Cal, Kelly. I could go on. Then there is Amy Kellogg who sent me from Damascus a note saying that she had been to the convent of St. Thekla in Ma’loula and offered a little prayer. It was in Antioch (Syria) that the Disciples were first called Christians and Thekla, converted by Paul, survived lions and being set alight because of her faith.
Then there are all of my dear friends in Jerusalem (where as my friend Uri Dan used to remind me, ‘it’s a local call’ to God.) Claire Kosinski sends up an Irish prayer each day and Linda Rivkind continues at the Western Wall placing prayer notes in the Wall (thank you, guys.)
Another dear friend here in the U.S. wrote to me after the Florida-Alabama game recently and recalled how Florida quarterback Tim Tebow had entered that game with a bible verse number written on the black streak under his eyes. It was John 16:33. Here it is:
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
Tebow lost the game and was passed over for the Heisman, but his faith remained intact. My friend didn’t know that I have long ties to the Crimson Tide because of my grandmother’s Alabama roots. Where she grew up in Petrey there were small altars to “Bear” Bryant in the homes of her family members who lived in the town named for them. Nonetheless, I felt for Tebow (sorry Petreys!) and was touched that he would quote John going into that game.
Speaking of eyes I woke up with quite the bruiser a few days ago. I looked like I had been punched in the eye (of course, that mirrored how I felt). Even Mac NC-30 had trouble covering the black eye. (It seems I am bruising easily because my platelets have been hit hard by the chemo.)
My friend Jim Mills likes to quote “Rocky” to me and “Eye of the Tiger” keeps running through my head so I thought I’d include the following hysterical e-mail exchange between Mills, me and James Rosen.
On Dec 6, 2009, at 10:04 AM, email@example.com wrote:
I want to be the guy who stands in the center of the ring when the PA microphone is lowered from the rafters so the final outcome of the fight can be announced in grand style.....Please Don't let Rosen have that job -- he is strictly a corner man holding the three-legged stool, the spit bucket and hollering "two lefts and a right...two lefts then the right. BAM BAM BOOM"!
----- Original Message -----
From: Jennifer Griffin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: Rosen, James
Sent: Sun Dec 06 21:57:56 2009
Subject: Re: Round 5 (Road Trip...Go Tarheels)
You got it. I picture the Rocky episode where I authorize the trainer (whose name escapes me but will come to me in the middle of the night) to slice my eyeballs with a razor blade. Just remembered, of course, it was Paulie. James can be Paulie. You get to announce the winner.
Per James Rosen:
It takes a special brand of pest to correct a cancer patient on "Rocky" trivia...But one feels on safer ground doing so in this case, knowing, as we all do, the compulsion for historical accuracy that resides within the heart of this particular patient...To wit: Whilst there was indeed a "Paulie" in Mr. Balboa's corner (the lowlife, played by Burt Young, who says of his own sister to Rocky, "Why don't you take her to the zoo? I hear retards like the zoo"), the cut man whom Mr. Balboa implored to cut open his eye, the better for Rocky to absorb more fantastical buckets of Hollywood punishment, was Mickey, played by Burgess Meredith ("Cut me, Mick!")....Okay. Now that that's settled, let's get down to some real trivia...like our daily activities....
Fox News Washington Correspondent
OK so cut me, Mick.
It’s getting late (steroids) so I am going to go to the upper left hand corner of my new Mac computer and hit “Sleep”. It seems to listen to me more than my body (it’s 3:30 am). Need one of those buttons myself.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
Here is Annalise’s Christmas list:
- Animal Ark books (NOT Dog at the Door)
- To have a white Christmas
- A new soccer ball
- Bigger shin guards
- Winter boots (poor kid)
- Luke to dress up as an elf
- My mom to get better (I like that I am eighth!)
- My dad to finish his book (looking iffy, but on track for other nine)
- To have the best Christmas EVER
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Amelia made her Christmas list today. On it were 10 things. Number 7: White Christmas. Annalise put White Christmas as Number 3, after Chocolate. Looks like they'll be getting their wishes. We received 14 inches on Saturday, but these Jerusalem kids didn't have any proper snow gear so I put plastic bags in their tennis shoes and kept throwing their layers in the dryer. It was a perfect weekend. The perfect excuse to stay put.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
We missed the John Eaton Christmas tree sale because of the rain this weekend so ended up at Dan and Brian's on Massachusetts Ave, a block up the road. Turns out Dan and Brian delivered the Christmas tree to the White House this year and regaled my girls with how they had placed individual trees in Sasha and Malia's bedrooms, which led to gasps from my same age girls. But we chose a beauty nonetheless. And then today the gift from Jane Skinner and her girls (purchased at the CAUSE silent auction for us) arrived in a big beautiful box: a gingerbread house modelled after our home (I had sent the baker pictures of our house). The girls gasped as it came through the door. They were amazed that the artist had even placed a replica of our dog Izzy on the front porch made of marzipan. Amelia declared: it's just like Bo and the White House ginger bread house. Annalise exclaimed: "It's just like Cake Boss."
And it was. Thank you, Jane.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Sarah Williams and I took Amelia and her two sons, Henry and Winter, my godson, to see the Nutcracker today.
Septime Weber's choreography for the Washington Ballet was exquisite, as were the set and costumes. Amelia had seen the dress rehearsal for it with her class. And she recognized Fritz as being someone named Keith from the 4th grade at John Eaton School. She spent the whole night "en pointe".
Friday, December 11, 2009
Check out this Nicholas Kristof article. As I suspect, it's looming somewhere in our kitchens.
Well, I knew that when my veins started to look worse than Keith Richards' that I probably was going to have to do something about it. You hear about chemo patients getting poked and prodded and eventually the burn of the drugs making the smaller vessels collapse and then it takes three tries to get a line in (which it did last week). So I finally succumbed and on Monday allowed them to put a port in my chest so that it would be easier to administer the drugs. Of course, everyone makes it sound like it is a “simple outpatient procedure,” which of course it is, except if you hate being a patient. And if they decide not to give you much anesthesia because your blood pressure is a little low and your heart is skipping a beat, which mine is and does. So I was awake while they put this round metal device above my heart and threaded the hard plastic tube into my chest. Ouch. Then they said I couldn’t lift anything for a week (yeah right, I have a nine-month-old) and that I couldn’t exercise for two weeks (are they trying to kill me?). Yesterday, I went to Pilates and said to Joshua, my instructor, “OK so we just do lower body work and work on breathing to open my chest.” I then sat on the exercise bike for 30 minutes.” And I feel like a million bucks today.
I knew it was going to be a good day on Monday (despite the surgery) because when I arrived at the Georgetown waiting area all of the flatscreen tvs were playing “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I wrote to some of you in a previous dispatch how this is a movie I used to watch with my Dad when I was a kid before it became overly commercialized with every Christmas. I love the story of George Bailey. All he wanted to do was travel the world, but life got in the way. Everyone knows the story so I won’t get schmaltzy on you, but I saw the fact that it was playing as a little wink and a nod from my Dad, who as many of you know died of lymphoma seven years ago on the day after Christmas.
There have been a lot of signs in fact that he was watching over me. Too many coincidences to count. One of the more extraordinary was when “Souper Girl,” the superhero-like nymph who floats to my door with organic freshly made soup every Tuesday and rings the doorbell just as I am returning from chemo with her brightly colored (antioxidant filled) yummy fresh soups, rang the doorbell a few weeks back and said, “My parents were at your wedding.” I was stunned. I didn’t even know her name. She was just “Souper Girl” to me. I asked her what her parents' names were. She said, “Ira and Marilyn Pollin.” I was stunned. Ira Pollin had been a law partner of my Dad’s and, of course, I remembered her parents coming to my wedding at the Clifton Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia 15 years ago. I threw my arms around her (despite her invisible cape) and she said her Dad nearly fell off his chair when he heard she was cooking for me. He said he thought of my Dad nearly everyday. There are no coincidences. And as my dear friend, Jill Kamp, always reminds me. “God has perfect timing.”
A lot of you have asked me how the kids are doing. And they are doing great, but there is no way this kind of disruption and seeing a parent ill doesn’t have an impact. So it comes out in different ways. I got a call from Annalise’s fabulous teacher, Jennifer Ramsey, last week when I was driving back from North Carolina. An earnest sort of call in which she said there had been an incident. Annalise was ok but that there had been a lot of tears and hurt feelings. I guess it started in the lunch room. Some friends told her that there was a rumor going around that Annalise had breast cancer. So one of her well-meaning friends hopped up on a chair and announced to the 3rd grade, “That’s ridiculous. Annalise can’t have breast cancer,” she said. “She doesn’t have breasts!” At that point the entire class was guffawing and frankly as a 3rd grader to have someone talk about your “breasts” even if you don’t have any is worse than someone saying you have breast cancer. So Annalise spent the whole recess crying. Fortunately, Ms. Ramsey was there braiding her hair, comforting her and showing her how to make origami swans that her Korean grandfather had shown her to make as a girl. Ms. Ramsey, whom I have compared to Michele Pfeiffer in “Dangerous Minds,” is one of these young, hip, dedicated public school teachers who knows that her job is so much more than the three R’s. So she had a big talk with her class about how hard it is for Annalise having her mom sick and how would it feel if their moms were sick. I am told that the whole class was in tears at the end of the lecture and a group hug was required. I decided with Ms. Ramsey that a little damage control was needed so that the kids could see I was ok and to talk to them about what it was we were experiencing with the cancer treatment so I went up to the school last Friday. I put on my most perky wig and a lot of blush and a big smile and I asked them whether they knew anyone in their family who had had cancer and they all put their hands up. And they asked questions about the side effects of chemo - good questions I might add. They wanted information. And one girl, Anna Meikle, told the class how she donated 10 inches of her flaxen long hair to “Locks of Love,” which makes wigs and provides them free to cancer patients. The bell rang and I thanked all the kids for being such good friends to Annalise during this trying time for our family and explained that no matter who you are your family is probably going to feel some pain at some point and it always helps having good friends. They wanted me to come back and show them my other wigs and to even take my wig off so they could see my bald head. I promised to do so. Annalise was grinning from ear to ear. And she’s asked me all week when I am coming back because the kids have more questions and want to talk more about it. Soon.
Amelia’s 1st grade class, on the other hand, surprised me after Thanksgiving with individual handmade cards from the whole class. The funniest was from Isaiah: “November 23 2009 Dear Mrs Griffin, I’m glad you are feeling good. When I feel bad I sit down and drik (sic) Hot tea. And were (sic) my costume.” I laughed out loud and thought next time I sit down to watch “Modern Family” with my hot tea, I need a costume.
Amelia wrote: “Dear Jennifer (she thinks it’s funny to call me Jennifer), I’m so glad your feeling well. I hope you have a great cemo tomorrow! When are you coming in to show the class your bald head (ha ha) Love, Amelia!”
Soon. When I find the right costume.
Luke, on the other hand, decided to surprise us yesterday. And started to walk. 4 steps. 9 months and one week old. Baby steps. Exhausted by the end of the evening because Annalise and Amelia kept pushing him to do his new trick, making him do laps across the living room until his legs gave out. It reminded me of “suicides” in the St. Agnes basketball gym in winter until our legs were noodles. I walked in the front door from Pilates, humming my new anthem “Just Breathe” (Anna Nalick) and the kids shouted for me to come see Luke walk. I dropped my bag and was over the moon. I no longer felt any pain from my port and I lifted Luke up in the air and felt like Hercules. We had both taken some baby steps. His smile and their laughter - no doubt stronger than any chemo drugs. “Just Breathe,” I keep telling myself.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
It was the Monday before Thanksgiving and the phone rang at 8 am that morning. First it was my home phone, which I didn’t reach in time. Then my cell phone rang, which if I had been working I would have assumed to be Kim Schwandt or Justin (and ignored - just kidding, Justin). Few call me at home on my cell phone because we live so close to the Vice President’s house near the Naval Observatory and they send out periodic pulsating signals that block most ATT calls. (Perhaps that is why myself and 3 neighbors are undergoing chemo right now - but we won’t go there.) So most people who know me don’t bother to try my cell unless it is an emergency. I hopped up to get it on a whim and, boy, was I glad I did.
The week before I had written to Dr. Lisa Carey at University of North Carolina. Her name had come up over and over in literature and in conversations as being the “Triple Negative guru”. I had sent her a rather over the top, somewhat emotional e-mail the week before asking to see her. I told my sister Caitlin on Friday that I would be patient, adding that she had until 5 pm Monday to get back to me before I pulled in the big guns. Well, it turned out I didn’t need any guns. She, like so many of the top oncologists whom I have been consulting, is so committed that you don’t really need to pull strings to get into see these extraordinary doctors. They do get back to you and fast because this kind of doctor, I am finding, is a special breed - this is a mission and they serve their patients in a way that I have only encountered at church. Dr. Carey and I spoke and she said she could see me within the week. So my mom and I planned our road trip down to Chapel Hill. (I didn’t used to road trip with my mom but, hey, I also didn’t used to be bald!)
A lot of you have asked why my doctor, the fantastic Dr. Claudine Isaacs, appeared to change the protocol halfway through my chemo treatments (especially when they seem to be working so well) and why the treatments are now scheduled weekly and will last a month longer than expected. They are now expected to end February 16, which delays surgery by a month. Well, that was the plan all along that I would start with 4 rounds of the Adriamyacin and Cytoxan and then switch to Taxol (which it turns out is best handled if it is administered weekly.) The wild card was always the addition of carboplatin (a platinum drug) that has shown a lot of promise with Triple Negative breast cancer, but which is still a little “out of the box,” even according to Dr. Isaacs. She was waiting to consult with the doctor conducting a clinical trial at Brown using carboplatin to decide how frequently to give it to me. The most recent data suggests every 3 weeks is ideal. So 12 weeks Taxol and 4 doses of carbo every 3 weeks meant that my schedule was extended, but it wasn’t because of any problem. It’s just that we are really looking at very cutting edge treatment (aggressive, which I like, and apparently effective.)
Round 5 was last Tuesday and now like a tsunami I am going to get hit every week. (My kids used to tease me and call me “Mommy Tsunami” after I returned from covering the tsunami in Thailand in 2005. Greg, I am sure, egged them on. Now they call me “Baldy Vivaldi,” which has a certain ring to it!)
Andrea Wilson pinch hit for Greg last Tuesday and accompanied me to some tests and braved the chemo ward at Georgetown. She even brought snacks. She sat in with my surgeon, Dr. Shawna Willey (genius) who spent an hour with me going over what my options are after chemo is done. And she was with me when I got the good news that my tumor (according to the sonogram, not by feel) is now officially 1 cm by 1.4 cm. Extraordinary when you consider that the radiologist showed me how it was so big when we started (no one really knows how big) that it was off the screen - too big to measure on the normal sonogram screen, which meant it was larger than 5 cm by quite a bit on either side.
The next day (Wednesday) my mom and I packed a vegan cooler and headed south in the pouring rain. I felt sorry for the Sheriff just across the state line when we entered North Carolina and were still driving 80 though the speed limit had dropped back to 60. He was so nice when he came up to the vehicle and asked for the registration. I didn’t have my hat or wig on and he kindly pretended to go back to his vehicle while we assumed we were getting a ticket and then came back with a nice warning. It really wasn’t fair. (Go Tarheels!)
We arrived at UNC in time to check into the Carolina Inn and make a 12 noon appointment (remember we drove 80). We had back to back meetings with the oncology team - each member of the team spent nearly an hour with us. But here’s the kicker...when Dr. Carey came in, the first question she asked me was not “How do you feel?” (I felt great.) Instead she looked at me quizzically and asked, “Did you go to a small girls’ school in Alexandria called St. Agnes?” I said, “yes.” And she then smiled and told me that her colleague, Claire Dees, had recognized me when my case came up before the tumor board that morning and wanted to know if it was the same Jennifer. It was. (Not crazy about being recognized at the tumor board, I might add.) Claire (two years older) and I had played on the same field hockey team at St. Agnes. Wore the same green kilts and said the same chant that Coach Marsha Way had us say every time we geared up to beat Sidwell: “She who has the will to win, never shall be beaten....” We usually said it so fast no one could actually hear the words because we were also hitting our hockey sticks so solidly in a circle on the ground that it was incomprehensible. So there was Claire Dees, a renowned breast cancer oncologist and researcher, St. Agnes Class of ’85. She hadn’t aged a day.
Dr. Carey essentially agreed with our treatment plan and kept being somewhat amazed that the chemo hadn’t knocked me out more. They kept saying, “Are you sure you don’t feel any pain? No side effects?” We felt reassured that our course was correct.
My mom and I went back to the Carolina Inn across from the DKE house and I went to the gym. Then we walked to Elaine’s for dinner on W. Franklin Street but soon realized there was nothing I could eat on the delicious gourmet menu so we opted for an Asian bistro that was just perfect across the street. I had duck soup with bok choy.
The next morning feeling that we had really confirmed everything that we had been told by Dr. Isaacs, we prepared to leave. But not before my mom took a picture of every artist installation of the Twelve Days of Christmas that the hotel had commissioned to decorate the inn. She wanted to give the pictures to Annalise and Amelia so they could make a book. It took an hour. 12 drummers drumming all the way down to a partridge in a pear tree. (The two turtle doves cooed the whole time I waited on the couch.) The valet parkers eventually turned off her car and I nearly caught a chill because I didn’t have my hat. Round 6 is Tuesday. Go Tarheels! (Sorry, Cass.)
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Earlier today, I wrote to a few friends recalling some of the highlights from the Thanksgivings that we spent overseas - among some of our happiest, I must say. There were the North American turkeys that Kathy Gannon and I hunted down in Pakistan and then had delivered to the kitchen door of Pasha's house to be served up to every starving and wayward hack who was passing through Islamabad far from home and looking for a scoop and some sort of understanding of what was going on in Afghanistan - and that was 14 years ago. (They were more likely to come away with a clear understanding of what went into Mushtaq's stuffing when he explained it in Urdu.) There were the folding tables that filled the old Arab house that we rented in Jerusalem that I covered with white bed sheets and then seated 25 - again wayward hacks far from home, as Craig Nelson tried to whip up a gravy in his carefully imported Williams-Sonoma pans and I told him to sacrifice a little gourmet for a little speed as 25 people were watching the turkey get cold. Then there was James Arroyo and Drummond walking out of the Arroyo's East Jerusalem kitchen wearing white aprons and looking like they had just stepped out of a Monty Python sketch, smoke pouring out of the poorly ventilated kitchen. But, boy, did those kosher turkeys taste good after the 3rd bottle of Petit Castel. And there were the wonderful Thanksgiving dinners that Eli ordered up from the American Colony hotel to be delivered to West Jerusalem to our offices in JCS so that the visiting Americans felt at home while still working a two shift schedule :) from the Jerusalem bureau. But perhaps the most significant Thanksgiving was back in South Africa after Greg and I had first started dating and I showed up at his apartment to surprise him with a whole turkey that I had cooked myself - for just me and him. It was a beauty and probably the first and last turkey that I had cooked all by myself.
Well, the organic Turkey was as juicy as any of the roasters stuffed with extra hormones that we had eaten for years. My Mom even made a separate stuffing out of sprouted Ezekial bread, which because of the Crimini mushrooms, was actually better than the one made with white bread crumbs. My alternative cranberry sauce with persimmons rivalled the one with port. And ok I had to walk away from the table when the Sweet Potato Pie came out (even though it is one of my favorite James Taylor songs). When I sneaked a sip of Cassie's red wine - frankly, it tasted like Apple Cider vinegar - and no, Barry, it wasn't just because it was from my Mom's cellar of "the best wines from Trader Joe's under $5.99 on Special" because I brought it from my cellar and you probably gave it to me. It's just that my tastebuds are that dead....We had a lot to be thankful for and Annalise asked as she tucked into her 10th "Sister Shubert's roll" if we could go around the table and say what we are thankful for. We didn't make it around the horn but bottom line is we have a lot for which to be thankful.
The highlight of the day was teaming up with Annalise to beat my brother John and Amelia in a friendly game of Battle Ship. I thought I would outsmart my brother, as I have done since we shared a bathroom in the 70s, by placing all of the ships in a row on the top and bottom rows. Seems he thought to do the same thing but didn't realize that we had THE SAME strategy so kept dipping into the middle of the board as Annalise sunk one ship after another of his. I guess he forgot that I worked at the Pentagon. Pretty sneaky, sis.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
And I know who you are - you little devils - I have been meaning to write but wanted to fully capture how yummy and extraordinary the food you have been sending me every week has been and how it has given me so much strength - spiritually - to know how much you care - and physically that, even if "cancer doesn't have an ass, Amelia," I am kicking someone's you know what (poor Greg.) In fact, through your efforts I have a big fat organic Turkey in my outdoor fridge - whose skin has never even been subjected to plastic (carcinogen) - it came straight from the free range farm (was not pardoned by POTUS) and I have been draping it with wet cheesecloth for the past day or two waiting for it to be popped in my mom's oven tomorrow. It's quite a ritual. (And we'll probably die of salmonella.)
So here's how it goes for the rest of the week. The lovely Christine Merkle, a Cordon Bleu chef, who is busy UNlearning all of her old tricks, arrives every Monday and Thursday at 5 pm with a variety of dishes straight from her stove (no microwave :). I am usually waiting at the door. Our first encounter was comical because the way she used to cook was the way I used to eat. She would start by saying - and what about "un peu ganache." And I would say, "non, non, non...Comment dit-on '"glycemic index" en francais?" I jest only a bit. Soon we were scouring my new cookbooks: "The Cancer Fighting Kitchen" and "One Bite at a Time" by the same author and FOR chemo patients - foods that help stimulate one's tastebuds as the Chernobyl like effects of the chemotherapy robs all of your tastebuds. As I said to one friend, I might as well eat all this vegan stuff and the stuff that tastes like cardboard right now because frankly it tastes about the same as a Raspberry Tartufo so at least I am going to have a killer bod when this is all done! I know, first it was the wigs - everyone's a little secretly jealous, I've heard. And now the chef at your doorstep and killer abs and the time to do Pilates for the first time. Who said cancer isn't a spa-like experience and a way to become what I always secretly wanted: a lady who lunches?
But I digress...Christine is wonderful and fills each menu with such love and attention that I now am having to tell her to bend the rules a tad - how much bok choy and brussel sprouts can a girl eat? Remember, cancer hates cabbage (Ingrid knows this because I told her how I have been eating her garlicky cole slaw for breakfast)! And that is the chapter of one of these cookbooks: "Cancer hates Cabbage."
Here is a sample menu from Christine, and it always comes in the most lovely Parisian handwriting like any menu du jour:
Brochettes of Wild Alaskan Salmon marinated in Ginger, Soy Sauce, Lime and Lime zest. Toasted sesame seeds and cilantro garnish (eat your hearts out!)
Asparagus with soy and ginger
Farmer's Market Frittata, Leeks, red pepper, broccoli and mushrooms blended with eight organic eggs
Mediterranean Green Lentil Salad, cumin, lemon and fresh mint dressing
I could go on and on and I will in later notes but it is time to pick the girls up from school and I am starting to gnaw on my leaded pencil.
Monday, November 23, 2009
TAURUS (April 20 - May 20) "The stress you might be feeling at the moment won't matter in the long run, so don't let it get to you more than is necessary. True, you have looming deadlines, but you are also pretty amazing under pressure."
That's a quote.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Well, I couldn’t expect a TKO in the fourth round - but I am an optimist and that is what I was hoping for. And, in my heart, I could picture the final bloody knock-out punch but as 6 year-old Amelia reminded me as she read over my shoulder an e-mail that she perhaps should not have seen because I was simply being flip with a friend and talking about how I am “kicking ass”. She said, with an earnest look on her face: “But, Mom, I don’t think cancer has an ass.”
You may have noticed that it has taken a few days after Round 4 last Tuesday for me to send out an update - perhaps some of the adrenalin has worn off and the reality that this is going to be a long slog this winter set in. I will admit that I fell off the horse a bit - had a bit of a psychological setback when Greg and I saw the doctor and learned that instead of what we had thought were 4 more treatments every other Tuesday that in fact I now begin 12 weekly cycles of two new chemo drugs starting Dec 1 - postponing the end of chemo until about mid-February. Bah humbug. The idea of being in hospital corridors during this holiday period as people start to put on Santa hats and upbeat smiles and schmaltzy “Jingle Bells” start playing on every radio station made me a bit sick to my stomach. Now even if the chemo hadn’t made me nauseous until this point, I really wanted to throw up.
I decided I needed a new anthem. So I reached back about 8 years to an old Eminem riff that had the necessary driving beat to drag me back to reality and drag my running shoes out the door and down Mass Ave. when the anxiety started to build and the tightness in my throat left me gasping for a little more breath. I downloaded “Lose Yourself” from iTunes and had a new mantra - a slightly angry one at that. “You have one shot - do not lose your chance to blow - this opportunity comes once in a lifetime...” Over and over it played as I punched my way down Mass Ave. tears rolling down my face. Angry that I had to waste another minute on this damn disease.
I was so hungry at one point on my run - now that I am only eating vegetables - that I even looked at a dandelion growing near Dupont Circle and actually thought - hmmm - phytochemicals - good for starving tumors - I laughed out loud as I pictured a cartoon Lion with a thought bubble and inside it was a big juicy leg of beef. I now literally have dreams about how much bang for my buck can I get from eating something green and that dandelion was in my cartoon thought bubble. You wouldn’t believe the healthy stuff I am eating in an effort to starve these tumors of any sugar or starch that turns to sugar.
In fact I was at a dear friend’s for dinner on Thursday and was horrified to find that to celebrate the occasion and the intimate group that had gathered that our dear hosts had decided to reach deep into their wine cellar and pulled out to share with us a 1969 La Tache from Bourgogne. Now I used to drink a lot of wine but I never knew anything about wine. So when she read the description from Robert Parker describing what a special bottle this was and how it sells at auctions for, and I am not exaggerating, $6000 a bottle, I suddenly faced a dilemma. There I was having forsaken alcohol now in my battle to beat this beast - a mouth filled with chemicals and deadened tastebuds thanks to the last round of chemo - how could I simply politely sip this wine that any oenophile would have given his right arm for? I wanted to choke. I did not want to leave any wine in the glass - thinking what each sip was really worth in real GDP terms and how actually that whole glass could have been that pair of red bottomed Christian Louboutins that I really really wanted but left at Saks. On the other hand, I also felt like drinking wine right now was the equivalent of drinking hemlock given my condition. And the sad reality was that all I really wanted was the ice cream sundae that our dear hostess was serving for dessert - to me that beat the La Tache hands down. What would it do to my glycemic index? I didn’t care anymore (sorry, Lila). I broke down and ate the hot fudge sundae with reckless abandon (and the La Tache).
Back to Round 4 - and yes I am burying the lede again. Sorry, Jim. The doctor is over the moon at the continued shrinkage and so the AC combo in the first 4 rounds has worked beautifully and Dr. Isaacs literally says she really has to check the chart to see which breast the tumor is in because it is now that difficult to feel. So that’s good.
What’s not good is that this roller coaster continues. And there are moments when I want off pretty badly. Take, for instance, the day after chemo when I went back to Georgetown to get my Neulasta shot - that’s the one that forces my bone marrow to start producing more white blood cells so that I don’t pick up every cooty that the kids bring home. I was sitting in the waiting area of the oncology ward - again not the happiest place on earth. I have my W magazine opened and in walks a young Asian woman (about my age) her American husband in tow and her mother and grandmother who had just arrived to be with her from China. They looked like deer caught in the headlights. I could see the tears already welling in her eyes. She sat down next to me and I turned to her knowing she looked fragile and she burst out: “It’s my first time.” She still had her long beautiful black hair loosely pulled back into a casual low ponytail - just the way I used to like to wear mine on the weekends. I was so angry at myself - I had not felt like putting my wig on when I went for my shot. It was just going to be a few minutes and I didn’t feel like putting on make-up and there I was looking like such a cancer patient. I must have looked so scary to this young woman. I immediately dug deep and went into my best salesmanship mode - talking a mile a minute. I grabbed her arm and told her it was going to be alright. That it really wasn’t so bad. Really. I got very practical and asked her if she had gotten her wig yet? And when she solemnly shook her head, ‘no.’ I immediately said, “Here’s what you are going to do tomorrow. You are going to call Hans at Lucien and Eviand up on Wisconsin Ave. near Whole Foods. You are going to go there with your best girlfriends. And he is going to fuss over you and make you feel like a million bucks. Then you are going to go out to lunch and then you are going to make an appointment at your favorite salon in two weeks and take your girlfriends and shave your head. Then you are going to go to Modell’s and ask for the UnderArmor skull caps because they are so comfortable to sleep in and you can’t believe how drafty it is when you are bald.” Her husband had whipped out a pen and was taking down my every word and she was suddenly laughing.
They called me in for my shot and I sat in the chair and I simply burst into tears. Another woman from the waiting area who had looked happy a minute before rounded the corner and overcome with emotion just begged the nurse to call her doctor and bring the orders up so she didn’t have to go downstairs again. I caught my breath and asked the nurse to excuse my emotion but there were just so many sad people there today. I got my shot and then went into the ladies room and threw cold water on my face so that the nice young Asian woman would not see that I had been crying. I thought if I smiled broadly enough it would hide my red eyes. So I did. And I walked out into the corridor and hugged her goodbye as the oncology nurse called her. I decided I would never not wear my wig and make-up to the hospital again. I had let my armor down.
And lo and behold Monday while I am at Pilates I get a call from Greta who is interviewing Olivia Newton John and Dorothy Hamill about their breast cancer survivorship. Kaleidoscope was taping at the Verizon Center that night and Greta was offering me 6 tickets. My mom and Juliette and Cecilia joined us. It was a fabulous ice skating event and the girls kept wanting me to take my wig off hoping that the camera would make its way toward us and they would have their moment of fame. The show is airing after the football games on Fox on Thanksgiving Day. Look for our mugs!
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Thursday, November 12, 2009
When I got my diagnosis on Sept 28 – stage 3 breast cancer – a tumor that was growing faster than an Al Qaeda cell in Somalia – 9 cm in length – masked by my pregnancy. I did two things – I cleared my deck of obligations – started a new calendar with my chemo dates and added just one more – Nov 11 Veteran’s Day. For the past three years I had committed to be here with CAUSE to help raise awareness of what our Wounded Warriors are going through – and that date, along with my doctor’s appointments, was the only thing on my calendar.
After my first doctor session – my oncologist told me my hair would fall out and wrote me a prescription for a “cranial prosthetic” – a clinical way of saying – wig. Pretty soon I’ll have another pair of prosthetics – favored by some B-grade Hollywood actresses – they’ve learned to walk with them and so will I.
Anyway, calling this wig a prosthetic actually helped because some of the most inspirational people I have met in my life – some of you out in the audience tonight – have prosthetics. And you wear them with dignity and grace and you work out everyday and you run marathons. You blow my mind in terms of what you do and what you accomplish and how you keep your head in the game even with some pretty tough setbacks.
When I got my diagnosis, I also remembered a conversation I had had with my good friend Kimberly Dozier of CBS two weeks before at a cocktail party for the Secretary of the Navy. She told me about a guy up at Bethesda Naval who had just been brought in – a member of SEAL team 1 – Lt Dan Cnossen – injured in Afghanistan on September 6 of this year - double amputee and I remember her telling me how one of the first things he said when they brought him out of surgery and Admiral Winters came to visit was ‘Sir – can I have some hand grips?” He may have lost his legs but he was going to strengthen every bit of him that was left. He and his mom and sister, Leslie, are here tonight. Leslie left grad school to care for him. Lt Dan is already –two months later - an outpatient from Walter Reed just two months after his injury – it’s unheard of.
That image of Lt Dan doing pull ups on his iv bag drips inspired me and made me mentally tough. A lot of people told me to “visualize” my chemotherapy attacking the cancer cells in my body – some said Pacmen worked for them – or little butterflies carrying away the cancer cells. Not me – I wrote to LTG Frank Kearney – at SOCOM – who flew up today from Tampa to be with us tonight – and told him I preferred to visualize Navy Seals – and asked for a little back-up – I set myself up as Commander in Chief and gave the execute order and those little Al Qaeda cells in my breast have been taking a beating ever since.
I was introduced to CAUSE by my brother Conor – a high school student who for the last 3 years has volunteered every Sunday up at Walter Reed with CAUSE – working in the video library – watching football games with the guys as they recuperate. I asked him what have been some of the standout moments? He said, “Some people may think that renting videogames to soldiers is trite and insignificant. I suspect they’ve never seen anybody learning to use a prosthetic arm by playing a videogame after their own arm has been blown off in an IED explosion.”
But he also said the toughest part was telling some of the guys – wounded and all – that they are blacklisted from the video library because they had late rentals – no pity!! No mercy. No excuses. Tough love.
There’s a lot of research right now suggesting that video game therapy is just what helps patients who are bedridden – used to going from 100 to zero in a flash – from adrenalin high to adrenalin high. There are studies that the repetitiveness of playing those games helps the mind unwind without going into boredom or depression. Now CAUSE has a new toy – to bring the games and videos to the bedside – they are game carts and each and everyone of you can sponsor one – we’ll put your name on it - it’s just 2500 dollars – you can see a prototype in the corner. I challenge each of you tonight to do so.
And if you’ll indulge me one last thought – we have some pretty special people here tonight. Whether it is Sarah and Ted Wade – who back in 2002 no one thought he would live. Sarah has been a dogged advocate for TBI research. Sgt Ryan Major and his mom Lorrie. Wendy Hoffman – President of the Blue Star Moms – Bill Hanbury CEO of the United Way here in DC – Medal of Honor recipient Barney Barnum – Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, LTG Jack Stultz – CG US Army Reserve, MG Ray Carpentar – acting director Army National Guard – my Fox family including Jane Skinner and her husband NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell – whom I first met on a USO tour of Afghanistan – the NFL is doing so much to help the troops. And General James Cartwright – no one is more dedicated to doing right by these troops – and if I may General David Petraeus – who was among the first to write to me to say, “I hear you have an extra rock in your rucksack right now.” This was a day before he announced that he had quietly and with typical grace and dignity been treated for prostate cancer at Walter Reed earlier this year. All the while helping to coordinate 2 wars.
Well, for many of us, there is a 3rd War going on. For most of us, it’s very personal.
We’ve all got an extra rock in our rucksack tonight – please do what you can to help this wonderful organization and help our troops.
If you are interested in learning more about CAUSE: www.cause-usa.org
Well, I wasn't quite sure that we could pull it off - but it's amazing what sheer force of will, some deep breathing, make-up by Fox's magical Rhonda, a pair of Stuart Weitzman's (I'm going back for the Louboutin's, Mom), and most importantly knowing that there is a certain crowd out there facing a much rougher road than I. In the end we pulled off a beautiful evening and raised a lot of money and awareness for Wounded Warriors. For the past 3 years, I have emceed a gala organized by 4 West Point wives who started an organization called CAUSE to help our troops at Walter Reed as they rehabilitate. Last night we had an amazing array of speakers (Dean Kamen - inventor of the Segway, Lt Jay Redmon - injured Navy SEAL, CBS' Kimberly Dozier - herself put back together at Walter Reed after being injured in Iraq, and a pretty impressive group of 4 stars including General David Petraeus and General James Cartwright, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, as well as Eric Shinseki, the current Veterans' Affairs Secretary. I am attaching some photos courtesy of Kyle Sampleton/Washington Life and Ashley Estill. And I will post my speech if I can figure out how to cut and paste on this thing. Highlight: meeting Lt Dan Cnossen - SEAL team 1 - double amputee - stepped on a landmine in Afghanistan at beginning of September. We are going to start working out together (though I am not sure I can keep up with a SEAL - even with the Chia seeds.)
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
My blood counts were verging on perfect - so I suppressed my cough and kept smiling. (I know it was the Chia seeds, Lila!) But the real smiles came - and no I won't bury the lede this time - when the doctor was searching for the tumor (the one that started off dare I forget at a whopping 9 cm). She turned to her assistant and said if I didn't know which breast had been affected I am not sure I could tell which had the tumor. It had shrunk that much. Literally melting away after just two rounds. My doctor's assistant kept asking if I had any pain, nausea - I said no - just a runny nose that was KILLING me. She declared I should be a poster child for chemo (I told her about the Chia seeds. She looked at me like I was a kook.)
Anyhow - after stopping for a sandwich at Cosi, Greg and I literally danced up to the chemo ward, which is not a place where a lot of dancing takes place. In fact it's usually pretty sad. Everyone's eyes downturned with that distant gaze that reminds you of a hospital on Christmas Eve - with all the bald patients wearing some sort of "cranial prosthetic" or those who have just given up who don't give a damn and don't bother anymore.
We sat down and low and behold a friend of his from college was just finishing up with her father - it seems EVERYONE has cancer these days. We sat next to them and chatted. Then when the chemo nurse brought over the Adriamycin (known as the Red Devil) because it is blood red and comes in two vials that look like they should be in Frankenstein's lab and instead of dripping them into your veins from a bag on a pole - the nurse has to carefully and slowly at a specific rate inject you with a huge vial of this red stuff - the stuff that makes your hair fall out on day 17 - but that's another story that I'll save for a bit later.
To take my mind off things AND because I was again a captive audience, Greg focused on finishing his (our) book on our time in Israel. I was a tad groggy from the meds but he pushed on and said, "OK. Tell me about what it was like in Kiryat Shmona during the Lebanon war (summer of 2006).....I recalled Eli running up to the roof when the katyushas began falling while all of our visitors did the sensible thing and ran DOWN the stairs to shelter. And how we ate some of the best meals of our lives because Mark had catered from a nearby fish restaurant - so as the katyushas began lighting up the night sky - those of us between live shots ate the best surf and turf with red wine from the Golan Heights by candlelight that would have put Cirque 2000 to shame (avert your eyes Fox management and don't tell Rupert!)
It was much the same story this weekend when Greg and I celebrated Halloween with a trip to the ER because my doctors thought I had pneumonia. (5 hours fortunately before the Halloween crowd in Georgetown started to come in to have their stomachs pumped. ) No pneumonia but again Greg had me captive and had me start dictating my part of the chapter about Gaza and friends who had been kidnapped ... I was lying on the stretcher feeling a bit sorry for myself until I began retelling the story and suddenly - because Greg had never heard my side of the story - he had heard Steve and Olaf tell what they had remembered in their two by 4 apartment cell. I became more and more animated as I recalled some of the details. My mind back in Israel and Gaza to some of my favorite times - even the tough ones - the adrenalin surged I was sitting up and was talking with my hands so animatedly that I looked around and realized that I didn't FEEL sick - and I knew I didn't have pneumonia so I called the nurse over and told her I was going home. I told Greg to get me out of there. Too many sick people.
They wanted to put me in a wheelchair - I waved them off and told them I had 3 kids waiting at home to trick or treat and I didn't have time to wait for the doctor's signature. Suddenly the doctor appeared as did the signature as the ER automated doors were about to shut on them as they tried to keep up.
Sadly some poor little trick or treaters came to the door a little early that night - and because - at that point I didn't give a damn - I was standing there bald in all my glory, pale and resembling a member of the Adams Family. The look on the face of the father of these little 4 year olds face said it all - he knew it wasn't a costume - the kids were none the wiser. Sadly, I didn't care.
That takes me back to the hair issue...on day 17 - the day that Hans, my wigmaker, assured me my hair would fall out. I ran my brush through my long overly processed and highlighted hair one last time - but this time the whole back chunk pulled out (Amelia said she'd like to keep it for her scrapbook). I knew it was time - fortunately I had planned and had my appointment with Onder at my old stomping grounds _ George at the Four Seasons. (Greg reminded me I DID work at the Pentagon and that it would be a heck of a lot cheaper to have one of their expert stylists shave my head.) But Onder was the only one I trusted. So Lila flew in from San Francisco and Andrea ("The Rock" - I didn't cry until I saw her eyes fill with tears) and Eve and 6 year-old Amelia marched in to the Four Seasons - I hugged Onder. I didn't bother getting my hair washed (I do keep grabbing for a brush when I am heading out or packing a bag - some habits die hard.) Amelia filmed the whole ordeal - mostly we laughed - but there were a few tears as you'll see from the video - it really says it all.
Annalise has been a bit scared of my bald head - she tells me so - and has reverted to having me read her childrens' stories at night - usually about Christmas - something she had given up long ago - favoring her chapter books. But the bedtime stories have helped her cuddle up to me - even when she is scared. And she insists that I wear the same wig if I see her friends at school so that they might not notice. So I wear the one they dubbed "the Miley".
Overall, we are doing great. The emotional roller coaster has begun but it can be managed with a few more endorphins as soon as this cold is over. My family is my rock, particularly my sister Caitlin who has born the brunt of this wild ride and my mom and Cass and Barry and then there is Greg - who I dare say is secretly gleeful that I am a bit immobilized right now because we are finally having a lot of fun collaborating on this book which is very close to being done. I can't go onto thank everyone. You know who you are - you are all on this extraordinary list of close friends.
My only advice: Keep on, keepin' on.