Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving

We survived another Taraborelli Thanksgiving. It was surprising how calm and organized things were (we must be getting good at this, finally). My sisters had everything set up early, we all had made veggies and desserts a day ahead. Everyone made some contribution.



Jean traditionally buys the turkey and makes the stuffing and gravy (nobody makes gravy like Jean although we are all trying to learn). The turkey weighed in at 24 pounds – its been years since I’ve seen one that big - which could have easily fed 30; we were 19. Lauren and I carve. Dad taught Lauren how to carve sometime ago – she is a real pro. 

Joan made a wonderful Italian wedding soup, her son made green bean casserole. Ann did the potatoes, a mashed white and a sweet potato/apple/chestnut dish which tasted more like a dessert. Theresa made corn bread, Lauren made two ice cream-pumpkin pies and a regular pumpkin pie and helped me make two apple pies. I also cooked up some string beans. Koniko made her delicious cranberry sauce and a chocolate-pecan pie! Mike cooked up some Hope’s peanut butter cookies (yum!).


Dinner was served buffet style. In addition to the large dining table, two tables were set up on the back (enclosed) porch – it looked like a restaurant! But, this worked out extremely well. Traffic flowed and everyone was able to fill their own plates (and glasses) at their own speed.

It has been said that Thanksgiving is hours of preparation and 10 minutes of eating! This is true; however, it does not properly address the “CLEAN UP”. We are fortunate to have Mike (Lauren’s husband) as part of the family. He has no qualms about getting up from the table, dishes in hand, and rinsing, loading the dishwasher and washing the overflow! This year, Lauren helped organize a second shift, pulling in her cousins to help with the chore.


The one shadow on the day was my mother, who really was not feeling well. Earlier in the week she was diagnosed with bronchitis and it seems her antibiotics were not working. My sister called the ambulance on Friday to take her to the hospital where she was admitted for a few days. We trust she will recover fully, and are glad she is now getting proper attention, fluids, antibiotics and treatment to ease her breathing.

For our European friends who read this blog, Thanksgiving in the US is a day to overeat, drink too much, watch the Macy’s Day Parade (there is a parade in Philly too) and American Football on TV! It is also the introduction to what has been dubbed "Black Friday", the day we are all supposed to leave our homes at 3:00 in the morning to go shopping for bargains to give as Christmas presents.


Yes, that last paragraph may make me sound like a bit of a cynic, but that does not prevent me from looking around those crowded rooms and being thankful that I have such a wonderful family, that we have so much to celebrate, and that my parents are still here and involved. It was yet another GREAT day!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reflections

Since it's Thanksgiving week, I guess this is the time to reflect on all that we are grateful for. I think I’ll approach the topic a little differently, and talk about some of the things that made me who I am and that make me feel special.

Although growing up in our household was challenging, causing some of us to go into therapy (yes we all have our neurosis), we have a remarkably close family. We grew up visiting my grandmother every Sunday, and had huge holiday gatherings replete with family tales of life during the depression. My mother taught us how to be independent. She made sure we would be able to take care of ourselves; we all know how to cook, we all keep a clean, fairly tidy house. She also made sure we could support ourselves. When we were kids, we used to sell produce from our garden to the neighbors. We would ride around on our bikes selling tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. We were able to keep the money, which our parents put away in a bank account for us. We’ve all had good careers (3 of us being entrepreneurs) and major contributors to our households. We are all always there for each other.

I have had several good jobs with bosses that recognized my potential, gave me opportunity to learn and grow, and gave me friendships that will last forever. I count my time as a waitress for LaRosa’s Italian restaurant as one of those good jobs. Edith, the owner, our neighbor growing up, was a friend (and drinking buddy) and someone who listened without being critical, but she would tell you what she thought without mincing words. I worked there during high school, and again after I went out on my own and needed extra money to pay the rent, and then again when I left my first husband. One of the key lessons I learned there was, it doesn’t matter where you get the pasta – it’s only as good as the sauce!

My second real job, at Theodore Presser, the music publisher, introduced me to classical music; Debussy, Ravel, Wernick, Persichetti, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. A whole new world opened up to me. I was given a lot of responsibility in my job, and while there, made friends that I still have today. My job at Philadelphia Re brought me the world of art, philanthropy and travel. We went to galleries (I helped buy art for the office), the Museum, and the Orchestra. We talked about charities and who the company should support, and why. I was able to travel for work, learned about managing the office, property and contracts. The company sent me to Holland and we were able to take the time to explore Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and France. I learned a bit about negotiating, how to deal with really difficult people and a lot about politics (the business kind).

My job at Philadelphia Re also introduced me to Thierry. A person so special in my life I can’t imagine having lived without him. He is smart, kind, funny, caring, soothing, handsome, has the greatest hands in the world, challenges my thinking (in a good way). He is easy - in that there is no drama – he knows lots about music (and books and boats and other stuff), is concerned about what I think and treats me like I have a brain and my opinion matters. When I fall asleep at night with my head on his shoulder I have a smile on my face, and we start everyday when we’re together the same way, with my head on his shoulder.

My daughter is pure joy mixed with a little angst (I still worry about her – like if I call her 3-4 times when I think she should be available – and she doesn’t answer or call back right away). It is such fun to watch her and Michael (her husband) laugh and joke at the dinner table – the new generation takes over.

It’s been a wonderful week, a wonderful life and a very good day!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Guilt

Guilt. I have been thinking a lot about this lately. I noticed that I have been thinking about situations that are bringing on ripples of guilt, so I decided to explore the concept a bit.

The Webster definition of guilt:
Pronunciation: \╦łgilt\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, delinquency, guilt, from Old English gylt delinquency
Date: before 12th century
1 : the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty; broadly : guilty conduct
2 a : the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously b : feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy : SELF-REPROACH
3 : a feeling of culpability for offenses
Number 2 a and b applies to my particular brand.

So, what do I feel guilty about? A couple of things that have surfaced include:

  • Not being enough of a sailor to help Thierry take Curlew down to the BVI’s. I only feel a little guilty about this.  Sailing was never even a thought when I was growing up. I do have a sense of adventure and like to travel, but as much as I’ve enjoyed our trips, I can’t see myself on the water for a week or more in a constant state of nausea (it is really a feeling of discomfort that settles in the pit of your stomach). This is how I feel a few days after chemo, and I do not have any interest in re-creating this environment.  Mind you, this is something that is totally in MY head. Thierry has never intimated in the least that this is a dream, want or desire. I just feel badly when he browses the blogs of other sailors making trips like these.
  • The feeling that I rush off of phone calls my friends make to me, especially when that friend lives far away. Mostly this is due to the fact that I am getting ready to go somewhere or I have just gotten back, or something else is going on around me that takes my concentration away. I have no idea if this is in my head or if my friends get the same impression – the fact that Mary always rushes phone calls – but do know that there are ways I can fix this. Minor guilt here.
  • Not calling my aunts enough.
  • Not taking my parents on errands enough.
  • Ending relationships with people I no longer have things in common with, especially those with whom I never really had a close personal relationship – some formed a long time ago – in another life and another social setting. The principal reason I don’t stay in touch is because they are folks or persons who tend to zap your energy and emote a lot of negativity.
This last item does cause me some angst, because the fact is I don’t know how to break the relationship. These people or persons tend to be very needy. My conscience tells me that maintaining contact is an act of kindness, and being a kind person is something I work toward. The other part of my brain says you don’t need to be everyone’s friend – and this makes sense because I don’t feel I devote enough time to my current friends and other old chums that I never see or talk to enough. So, it makes sense to let some people go out of your life.

How do you do this gracefully? The good voice in my head says if you are willing to volunteer and spend time with people in need, taking 10 minutes on the phone with an old acquaintance is a courtesy that can be easily extended. But then they’ll ask about meeting for lunch or stopping for a visit, which leads to excuses and little white lies. Or, I can listen to the bad voice that says, just let it (them) go, ignore the phone calls, etc., and let the relationship die a natural death.

Guilt. I don’t dwell, these little voices just pop up every now and again – but it helps to talk it through and find ways to deal. 

Since I last wrote, friends from Maryland moved into our neighborhood. I met one of our new neighbors down the hall, the first impression was a good one! The weather has been terrific for several days, although poor Thierry had no wind when he took Curlew out earlier in the week. Next week, when we celebrate Thanksgiving with too much food, is also my week off of chemo. Yeah! This has been a very good week!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Too Much Information?

A few days ago I finally sat down and read the written reports summarizing all the scans I had back in July. I had a feeling that there were some things on there that my doctor may have skimmed over; but figured all of the other metastases were superfluous once the liver diagnosis was given. In actuality she told me everything in a very soft way. Reading about it is terribly frightening. I don’t know if it makes it all more real, or because you don’t really understand all of the lingo it seem much more threatening.

I did know that I had a spot on my hip, but I had the wrong hip – it was, after all, the left hip which in fact has been bothering me off and on for a very long time – I’d say at least three or four years. I also knew there was something in the lymph nodes near the breast and that the 4th rib was also involved. It appears there was a very, very small dot on my kidney which I did not know, but they don’t consider that something to worry about (hmph).

We picked up the new reports yesterday after my treatment and read them through. There is a marked improvement in the liver. That came through loud and clear. All other sites appear unchanged. I now have a list of questions that I will email the doctor to get a better understanding of what this all means.

Again, I realize I should breathe a sigh of relief that the drugs are working. It’s just that knowing these other things are hovering – maybe not changing – maybe they won’t ever change, they’ll just be there – makes me very uneasy. I guess this is what they mean by learning to live with cancer. You have to get used to the idea that these nasty little cells live inside you waiting to explode or send tentacles out to other parts of your body.

I have to admit that I have been feeling pretty good through all of this. Notwithstanding some of what I consider to be minor side affects of the chemo, I have been living a pretty normal life with minimal disruption to activities. I haven’t talked about the side affects yet, so I’ll share now. I’ll start from the top and work my way down.

Outside of the obvious – loss of hair – there is occasional nausea, which really has been minor. I have a great drug that cures it, but haven’t had to resort to it very often. For several days after treatment my head aches. My sinuses run constantly and red. Constipation occurs the day of and a few days after treatment. Along with that comes the hemorrhoids – I can now do a Preparation H commercial – it really works! Over the last few weeks the neuropathy has become noticeable in both of my feet, more so on the left. This manifests itself in the form of numbness in the ball of the foot which spreads to the toes. Fortunately, at this time there is no pain and it hasn’t hindered my ability to walk through town. I have started to use shoe inserts and have ordered others that are made for neuromas (a similar foot ailment) which I am hoping will be of even more help. Some days I am more tired than others, and I’ve noticed that it is harder to walk up stairs and hills – I get out of breath very quickly. Today I meet with a trainer at the gym so I can get some pointers about adjusting my workouts to help build my energy and strength.

I have my down days, but they truly are minimal. Many days go by when I don’t even think about the cancer and all associated with it, feeling almost normal. We are trying our best to enjoy those days and still have a long list of things to do waiting for us to make the time and venture out. Each day is a joy, and I look forward to many more good days!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fall in the City

It is an absolutely glorious day in Philadelphia. The sun is shining, temperatures are going into the high 60’s, and I don’t have to cook today since we are going to Lauren’s for dinner – things couldn’t be better.

We took our bikes out this morning and rode up to the Schuylkill River, completing the loop around the Art Museum, stopping along the way for breakfast in one of our favorite breakfast spots. I handled the 15 mile ride pretty well, albeit somewhat slow. However, I realized that when you ride slowly, you get to see more of the scenery, and there are plenty of beautiful and interesting things to see both along the river and in the neighborhoods along our route.

Scullers were on the river, families were out riding their bikes, runners and walkers of all shapes and sizes were working up a sweat. There is just enough color left to the few remaining leaves to provide a red-orange fringe along the riverbank and tint the water, and the air was scented with the browned leaves that covered the pathways.

I always loved the smell of fall and of all scents that bring back memories or feelings of nostalgia, nothing affects me as much as the smell of dried leaves. While walking through the city the past few days and on the few occasions we’ve walked through the park or through a pile of leaves, I was reminded of those days when we were kids jumping in leave piles. I actually liked raking leaves, especially on days like today, being out in the fresh air, getting a great workout, and being immersed in the fragrance of fall.

Our old house was on a hill in the woods and we were blanketed each year by yards and yards of leaves. The leaves would reach mid-calve before we even started to rake. Some of the leaves we would just push over the hill in the front of our house. The others we would have to rake onto big blue tarps, and then drag the tarps down the driveway, across the street and into the woods. It was a major project that took several days. Even though I was thoroughly disenchanted by the time we were finished, I never lost the excitement of being out there on the first day.

We don't have a lawn or trees anymore, but the city still provides us with hints of the seasons and lovely parks and scenery to explore and enjoy.

Yes, today is a beautiful day!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Results Are In

Today was chemo day and I had an appointment to see my doctor. Things started off well. My nurse took the blood tests quickly once I was brought back to the infusion cube. She began my pre-meds, and as soon as the results came back, she started the treatment. My hemoglobin was 10.9. It seems to hover around 10.8-11.3; lower than the bottom of the normal which is 12, but still good - I think; especially considering that anemia seems to run on my mother's side of the family.

They were expecting over 90 people in the infusion center today - they said it would be a record high. Usually they see numbers in the high 70's, maybe 80; highs are in the 80's. Happily for me the expectation of a busy day meant that they sped things along.

I saw the doctor around 11:00. She literally flew into the room and began her review. Her hours have been cut to two days a week as she recently received a large grant to study triple negative breast tumors. She told me that there are no new metastases. The liver tumors have all reduced in size. The largest of them has reduced by about half. In fact, the tumors (not sure how many there are, but there are a lot) did not show on the PET scan like they had back in July, but did show on the MRI. The tumor in/on my hip is gone; the tumor in the breast lymph area hasn't changed. The cancer markers are down to 28.

I don't know what a lot of this means. I didn't ask. I realize that that was kind of a stupid thing to do, just sit there and not ask. What I want to know is given that there is still tumor/cancer, what does the cancer marker test indicate. I also want to know what it means that there is no change in the breast lymph area. I DO plan to email her with my questions, and I will get the printed version of test results and compare the old and new.

The doctor was quite pleased. I was kind of in a daze. Maybe it was because of the Benadryl shot I had received earlier - which makes me feel like a zombie! I did ask what the treatment plan would be, and she said that I will continue as I have been and have another set of scans in 8-10 weeks. Then we'll see.

I guess I was looking for her to say that it was all gone - or maybe that I would stay on the plan for one or two more cycles, then change. I don't really know, but intellectually I realize I will always have cancer in my liver, and possibly in the breast wall, and that drugs will keep me alive.... for a while.

I really am pleased that the tumors are responding and that this should all help extend my life a bit. And I'll just have to hang in and continue to kill cancer cells three weeks out of the month, and refocus my healing meditation to include the breast (I was way concerned about the liver), and thank god, earth, moon and stars that I am alive another day.... and that every day is a good one because I am alive to live it!