Friday, December 31, 2010

Thank You, May I Have Another? Chemo #2

Cross Stitch Art at a Vacation Rental House
Although I've never given birth, I've heard enough horror stories and watched enough televised accounts of women writhing in pain, screaming for meds, and evil eyeing the sperm donor while vowing never to put themselves in the stirrups again.  That's pretty much how I felt as I was being driven to the hospital after the Great White Blood Cell Crash from round #1.

The great irony of early stage cancer is that you don't feel a thing from the cancer, but the treatment is a royal bitch.  The prospect of repeating this scenario another five times made me quickly realize why some people just can't complete the treatments.  Who wants to deliver sextuplets, one at a time, every three weeks?

By the time I was released from the hospital and had a day or so to shake it off at home, I woke up and it was like the sicko to human switch was flipped.  I got up craving pancakes, was able to drink coffee again, and reintroduced butter and half and half.  Thankfully the lactose thing was temporary.

On Christmas I made these phenomenal pancakes, Cornmeal Blueberry with Spiced Maple Butter; unbelievably delicious.

I had a great week.  Lots of energy, hit the gym nearly every day, including my twice weekly strength training class,  cooked and ate well, had a little wine (the first time the idea sounded remotely appealing, although apparently my cheap wine gene has been chemo zapped).  I even felt well enough to work, and did a 3 entree/6 side meal package for one of my favorite clients.

My hair, which did start growing back from the buzz cut, is now falling out at an increasing rate daily; I've got hats full of fuzz.  And I am undergoing reverse puberty, if you get my drift.  (The Pocahontas artwork was in a house I rented with some friends last summer; clearly I will not need the help of woodland animals with my hair for quite some time).

My face was so dried out and scaly last week it was painful.  My Facebook fans suggested about every known remedy, many of which I tried, but it turns out the most expensive solution, a $43 tube of Kiehl's Centella Recovery Skin-Salve, has saved me from looking like an old man.  (Thanks to Teresa from The Dog Lived, and (So Will I) , for the tip).

Chemo #2 was uneventful on Wednesday. Yesterday, in what is hoped to be a solution to the Great White Cell Crash, I was given an injection of Neulasta, which is a white blood cell booster.  I didn't ask why I didn't get it last time.  Maybe because it's about $2,500 a pop.  Which is probably cheaper than the 3 days I spent occupying a hospital bed, so I am assuming my insurance had no problem authorizing it.  Neulasta's big side effect is bone pain.

While it's listed as 30%, a big deal is made about warning you.  I've decided to take the same tactic as for the nausea; expect to not have it, and you won't.  (27% of people who got the placebo claimed bone pain - what does that tell you?).  Of course, I had a shooting pain in my knee when I stopped at the market on the way home and nearly dropped the $8 Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Bar I was examining. I took it as a sign to buy the chocolate (it's delicious).  Just to be sure on the pain thing , I've been taking Advil.

So we'll see how it goes next week.  Certainly hoping for a different (uh, much better) result than last time.  Two down, four to go.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pork Chops with Apple Ginger Cranberry Chutney

Pasture Raised Pork - Extra Thick Chops
I flushed out my vegan fans on Facebook this summer when I posted the photos of the pig who provided these awesome chops, from when I first met her as a baby piglet, through her growth to a happy 300 plus pounder. 

But the reality of eating meat, is that first, you have to remember where it actually comes from.  The deboned, defatted, hormonally deformed, chemical injected, shrink wrapped styrofoam trays stacked in supermarket grocery cases have made people forget more and more where in fact, their chops came from and how the pig spent it's days.

I enjoyed watching my pig grow, along with five of it's siblings.  They rooted every conceivable piece of vegetation in several fields, and dined on a steady diet of scraps from a nearby private school, and pails of vegetable and fruit scraps I dropped off when I picked up my eggs.

I had my chops cut extra thick, and they are so flavorful and tender, they barely need any dressing up, so tonight I made a bit of chutney to go with them, based on this Fine Cooking recipe.   I used dried cranberries instead of raisins (I wanted to use fresh cranberries, but mine had gone a bit over and I couldn't risk eating a moldy one).  I also gave it a few glugs of red wine in honor of the holiday.

I had some baby Bok Choy from the farmer's market that I sauteed in some Blood Orange oil and sprinkled with Maple Pepper seasoning.  A perfectly delicious seasonal meal.

Chop with Chutney, Baby Bok Choy and Baked Potato

Friday, December 17, 2010

Well That Didn't Go Quite as Well as I'd Would've Liked....

Gizmo my crazy Tortie, Missed Me

Wondering why you haven't heard from me in awhile?  Well wonder no more.  It went from good to bad in rather record time, I thought, but I lived to tell the tale, and here it is.  *Warning: Not for the particularly squeamish. I debated on giving you the details, or sparing you; you're getting them. Abort now, if you must.

Chemo #1 was Tuesday, Dec. 7th, you'll recall.  I did not burst into flames, nor did my head spin and spew forth pea soup a la The Exorcist (Extended Director's Cut & Original Theatrical Edition) [Blu-ray], right there in the hospital recliner, as I think my friend who came to gave me a ride home secretly feared.

I woke the next day and I was fine.  Took my preventive nausea meds, went to the gym and worked out, ate more or less normally.  Thursday and Friday, same.  Felt lucky, yet a little scared of when the other shoe was going to drop.

Saturday, other than a few cases of the runs in the morning, I felt good, and I was looking forward to the indoor winter farmer's market, which this year are being held at Old Trail School.  Went to the market, got some things, visited with some nice people, and came back home.

Big winter storm was predicted, so I thought I would be a good idea to gas up the car, plus it was filthy and I was willing to wait out a short line at the car wash.  Even though everyone in Northeast Ohio seemed to be in Montrose shopping, I managed those two tasks without a problem.  Then I hit Giant Eagle for a few supplies and that's when the wheels fell off.

I was almost done shopping, but in the farthest corner of the store from the door, when digestive issues reared themselves (quite literally), with no warning.  Hadn't happened since the first grade, when I told my teacher, Mrs. Schick, that I'd 'thrown up in my pants'.  A statement that certain members of my family enjoyed pulling out when they wanted to inject a special dose of humiliation.

I bee lined to the self check-out and applied my usual professional speed to the process, while the line grew behind me, and I operated under the veil of denial - maybe it's not that bad.  I got home, and well, it was that bad.  At least it stayed contained.

I didn't feel too sparkly the rest of the evening, and managed to get a handful of crackers and a small cup of applesauce down, called it dinner, and went to bed.  Sunday, I mostly just felt crappy (pun intended) all day, but managed to eat a little bit more, including a delicious quiche I'd gotten from The Humble Pie Baking Company at the market.

Sunday night was bad.  I was up at least a dozen times with waves of gassy pains, and I wasn't taking any chances, so I had to get up make sure it was nothing, before going back to bed.  The snow started piling up.

Monday I was scheduled for my first free house cleaning (of four total, 2 hour each sessions) via Cleaning for a Reason, whose local business is Jo Ann's Professional Touch.  My cleaner, Jim, braved the snow, and was here from 11 - 1 and got the bathrooms sparkling, and swept and dusted.

I called the oncologist's office since I still had the runs, and they called in a prescription, because Imodium was  like spitting in the wind.  The prescription meds didn't really seem to slow it down either, but I gave it some time to work.

That evening I had some dinner, and I didn't feel any better or worse than I had, when around 9 o'clock  I remembered I had some Hartzler Dairy chocolate milk.  I had a small glass and some animal crackers. Now I was back to first grade.

Except after a few minutes, I had my first wave of nausea.  At first it was intestinal, but then it became quickly apparent that I was going to need to break-in the Chuck-It Bucket.  Fortunately, after about 15 minutes, both ends of the devil were expelled.  I broke into a light sweat, checked my temp, which was ok, and I zonked out on the recliner for most of the night after taking the last Zofran I had in the house.

Tuesday I definitely felt worse, and I sent a friend for a Zofran refill. The other nausea med that they gave me , which I took one of, knocked me practically out.  (Which I was told was normal later.)

I napped on and off, and I was working myself up to a badly needed shower, when my temperature started going up.  I did shower, and by three o'clock it hit the magic 100.5, which the number my oncologist has drilled into me is the no fooling, you must call me now number.  So I did and was told to get myself directly to the inpatient admitting desk asap, my bed was waiting for me.

A friend picked me and took me in,  and got to witness the second time I "threw up in my pants" while I was sprinting to a bathroom that was just a little too far away.  And when I wasn't collected in a wheelchair to be hauled off to my room as quickly as promised, informed me she was going Shirley McLaine in Terms of Endearment on them, and God love her, she nearly did.  And it worked. 

Pluses: Cancer ward has private rooms, mine had a brand new bed that I broke in personally, when the door is closed it's pretty quiet, the nurses rock. The steady supply of Depends were a bonus.

Minuses:  The idiots who thinks patient rooms are great places to hold loud reunions and use their cell phones, who nearly always located directly across the hall from me - go home morons and let us rest,  the lack of a no fragrance on staff policy; the cacophony of colognes and lotions ran the range from mild to offensive, but in the cancer ward particularly, where people are fighting nausea, your lotion that smells like hard candies melted in a radiator made my stomach a little extra churny, the food, particularly the joyful liquid diet which consisted mostly of high fructose corn syrup (!).

They pumped me full of mega-antibiotics via IV, so that power port came in handy for that, plus the daily gift of blood I delivered.

I had no appetite when I arrived so I didn't protest the liquid diet the doc ordered, but I was rather appalled at what was delivered.  Usually a bowl of broth (although I got two chicken broth for breakfast yesterday, which was a real stomach turner), jello, black tea (which to me tastes like motor oil right now), and four 4 oz cups of 'juice', cranberry, apple, grape, and lemon-lime, one of which was usually frozen solid.  I swear to you I have not ingested that much HFCS or artificial flavor and colors since I was a kid.  This stuff is ghastly! Why in the hell is it being served in hospitals????

Also turns out the chemo has made me lactose intolerant, so that was a little extra fuel I'd been throwing in the digestive fire, before I got that news.  Hell, that's probably mostly what I'd been eating. With a chocolate milk tipping point!

Fortunately I sleep like a rock, so as long as they kept the door closed I was good, and when I was awake that iPad came in super handy, allowing me to keep friends apprised of my progress, and I was able to download this week's Top Chef and watch it, since the TV selections were limited.

My blood counts were finally back up enough this morning that the doc couldn't wait to launch me.  Seemed she needed the bed for her latest batch of victims.

Next round is on the 29th, and on the 30th I will get an injection of Neulasta, which is supposed to boost the white cells, and hopefully avoid a repeat of this week.

I was joking with someone about losing my dignity today and he wrote back, "I wonder how the stripping of dignity changes people?  If at all?", and I promised to reveal the answer here.

I really debated on whether I was going to publicly reveal my 'accident' on Saturday.  But I've done it several times since (on the way to x-ray, a few other times at the hospital).  What seems mortifying at first, is mildly amusing now.  I couldn't have stopped it if I tried, anymore than I could have 40 years ago.

So if you're dumb enough to joke about me 'throwing up in my pants' now, I'll say come closer please. And pull my finger.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It Feels Like the First Time: Chemo Virgin, No More

National Cancer Institute Booklet

Today was chemo #1 (of 6).  Last week I attended a chemo orientation with a couple of guys who have different kinds of cancer.  The pharmacist and one of the oncology nurses went through a power point presentation (long time since I've seen one of those, and my auto response is to practically fall asleep when someone reads directly from the slides, but I paid attention).  

We were each given thick folders with a print-out of each component drug in our chemo, what it does, and the possible side effects, which was nice.  The rest included several booklets from the National Cancer Institute, like the Eating Hints booklet, above, and Chemo and You.

It only takes a quick glance to recognize this is the work of the government, and is possibly illustrated by the original artist who drew the Food Groups Charts you were given to color in grade school.  I understand that these things need to be relatively straight forward, but the whole look and tone seems so retro and unnecessarily dull and uninspiring.

I saved this helpful recipe, for Banana Milk Shakes, for the future:

Banana Shake: Banana, Milk, Vanilla - Blend
 I thought I recognized it from my Betty Crocker's Cookbook for Boys and Girls: Facsimile Edition, but alas, a far more appetite stimulating version is there, for a chocolate fudge milkshake.

At Chemo Camp, we were given a guide to side effect supplies: Immodium, Senakot-S, Biotene Mouthwash, plus the recipe for a baking soda mouth rinse, and instructions to up the oral care to at least five times a day. The tissues of your mouth and throat are fast growing (like your hair, hence your ability to overcome the dreaded hot pizza roof of mouth burn pretty quickly - which of course makes them vulnerable to the non-discriminating chemo drugs).

Of course it looked like I didn't know if I was coming or going at the pharmacy check-out, and I couldn't get White Rabbit  lyrics out my head (One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small). 

I bought not one, but two thermometers, that for once are not destined to be poked into cooked meat, because I have to make sure that my temperature does not hit 100.5.  Or I could apparently die, as my straight shooting doc informed me.  If it does, I am supposed to call and I will be fast tracked to be admitted and pumped full of antibiotics, hopefully bypassing the germ fest and moaning known as the emergency room. 

Starting Sunday evening, the dreaded Lake Effect snow started heading this way.  If you are lucky enough to live in California and not experience this phenomenon, it works like this:  Mass of cold air moves over large body of warm water, drops lots of snow, usually in fairly predictable areas, known as the Snow Belt.

Akron is about 30 miles south of Lake Erie, so it's usually more like the Snow Muffin Top - it really depends on which way the storm sits (so to speak), as to whether we get the big, lumpy inches that our friends in the belt get.  Sometimes, with a good Nor'Easter it'll blow over Cleveland and land here instead.  It funny sometimes to drive on the highway and see the dividing line between the snow have and have nots.

It fell steadily overnight Sunday, and there was at least 6-7 inches yesterday.  My newly hired plow guy didn't show until around 9:00 pm (I called and gave him the heads up I had chemo today and needed out).  I did call my rides and debate moving my appointment to Wednesday.  I actually called and tried to move it; no dice.  This morning there were 2-3 more inches, but it was super light and fluffy, and my ride had 4 wheel drive.

I had already packed my Tami Goes  To Chemo bag with so much stuff my friend said I needed a chemo wagon.  A couple of new magazines, a notepad, a hand knit scarf/shawl, my new construction worker thermos with hot water for tea and oatmeal, tea bags, milk, cottage cheese, grape tomatoes, a can of lentil soup and a micro mug, napkins, utensils, disposable bowl, a banana and a clementine, and my iPad.

I was told to fast so I could give blood for my clinical trial (which is Acety-L Carnitine or a placebo, which I am now taking 3 times a day), so a friend picked me up so I get it drawn early, then eat breakfast.  Since my port had yet to be initiated, they attempted to get the blood from the same vein on the top of my hand as the last time.  No dice, well nearly dry,  and they barely got enough to make dirtying the needle worth it.  After a little hand wringing on the nurses part, I was allowed to eat, and they agreed to get more blood once the port was ready to roll. 

I barely finished my oatmeal, when I was summoned to Chemo Land, and weighed, then parked in the first chair by the door.  There are two areas, one on either side of the lobby, at the Akron General McDowell Cancer Center.  It's arranged cubicle style, each with a recliner, a guest chair, room for rolling/hanging IV stand, and not much else.  Including my running away from home supplies.  Partial walls offer privacy, and there wasn't a whole lot of action in there today, maybe 6-8 more people came in after I did.

There was some confusion regarding my orders which related to the clinical trial, and that took a bit to sort out, then more first date ice breaker visits by the pharmacist (aka Chemo Camp director), who went over my drug components, Taxotere, Carboplatin, and Herceptin.  I will be getting a total of 18 Herceptin injections, which is a targeted drug looking for HER-2 cells like Ms. Pac-Man, and doesn't cause hair loss and puking.  Speaking of which, pre-meds were doled out for nausea prevention, and instructions for staying ahead of it with my prescription meds were outlined for the days ahead.

I was also visited by the social worker, who I'd met with briefly before to talk insurance coverage (they checked), and various and sundry programs that might help me out with the bills.  Which are mounting.  I am hoping I can get some help when I have to meet my $2,500 deductible AND $2,500 co-insurance maximum AGAIN next year.  I'll break it all down in a separate post, but there are currently about $35,000 in bills for the surgery in process.

I had remembered to 'butter' my port with anesthetic cream when I first arrived. My main nurse of the day, disinfected the port, then initiated it with a bit of poke, then flushed it out with saline and attached the doohickeys (technical term) for the IV.  She collected blood for the trial and blood for pre-testing to make sure I was good enough to poison. Once I was done flirting with the pharmacist and the social worker, and the orders were sorted out, it was time to get down to business.

Drug #1 was hung by the stand with care, a dripped away without incident for about an hour.  My friend Lisa hung around for most of this fun, so I really didn't break into my stash as deeply as I'd anticipated, save a bit of surfing on the iPad, until the Wi-Fi got too sluggish. 

I had hoped to dig into my Kindle copy of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, which got great reviews in both the Akron and Cleveland papers, which threatened to suck me in for the duration when I started reading it after I downloaded. Company was nice and made it go faster.  I had green tea, and the banana, cottage cheese, and some grape tomatoes.

Drugs #2 and #3 each took about a half an hour each, and I had a friend change-up in between, when my friend Debbie, arrived. I met a few more of the nurses when my original went to lunch. So I am already like Norm at Cheers there.

My variations on the lime green theme, down to my OPI Shrek Forever After Collection Who the Shrek Are You? B92, pretty much brands me as memorable. I got a lot of compliments, but wouldn't be surprised if I was referred to as Kermit behind my back.  I sort of brought it on myself, I suppose. I got to show off those toes all day, because in an effort to keep the tootsies cold, and keep the circulation down, to help hopefully prevent a potential side effect of tingling tootsies, I went bare, except for the few times I shuffled to the bathroom, dragging my stand behind me.

Uneventful all in all, made my appointment to check the white counts and 10 days, and was out by 2:30.

We stopped at West Point Market on the way home, and the ready to cook Parmesan Cod looked like a safe bet for dinner.  But when we got it home, as soon as I reached into the bag, I was greeted with a not so fresh fish aroma, that permeated the plastic container.  At first I had Debbie put them in a freezer bag and put it in the garage fridge, then I defaulted to 'get that smelly crap in the trash'.  (Yes, I should return it, but carrying off fish in the car seems kind suicidal after you've just been pumped full of chemo).

So I ended up eating some already cooked pasta and sauce that was in the fridge, and I had a chocolate chip cookie from Mustard Seed, along with some tea and a lot of water.  Brushed and flushed with Biotene.

So far, so good.  It's still a waiting game.  Waiting for the actual chemo is over.  Waiting for signs of side effects begins.  It's kind of like riding the gondola through the haunted house waiting for the boogey man and the lady with knife sticking out of her skull to pop out and scare the pants off you. Or cranking the jack-in-box waiting for the punch in the face.

December 7th, a day that will live in infamy. (I was actually at Pearl Harbor on the 50th anniversary for my honeymoon; a surreal experience which included taking Japanese tourists photos at their request).

I learned that Elizabeth Edwards lost her battle with breast cancer this morning, probably as I started chemo.  She fought a strong, brave battle, and had more than her share of other trials to deal with.  God bless her, and her children.

There was also another mouse massacre. Smokey, the elusive, always spooked kitty snagged one by jimmying the brick around a register and plucked one out like a pro.  Then disappeared. 

Staying pretty zen, and praying for the best. And hey, I've got bananas and non-lumpy milk, if I could only find that shake recipe.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chrome Dome Chicken

In the count down to chemo, much guidance is provided on what to eat (and what not to eat).  Greasy, fried, spicy, and ice cream are not recommended, nor is it advised that you should eat all of your favorites prior to treatment, lest you develop an aversion.  (Think about the last time you vomited; you thought twice about eating that meal again, didn't you?  Let me just say, it's been over twenty years since I've had a spinach salad with hot bacon dressing (!) )

I've got the freezer stocked with plenty of benign ready to heat meals.  It was kind of nice once to cook up a storm and then get to keep the food, rather than leaving it neatly labeled and stacked in a client's freezer.

Last night I was in the mood for a good old roast chicken with vegetables.  I made a quick stop at Mustard Seed Market for an organic bird, and foraged the veggies from the fridge, including these carrots that I grew myself.  (My first carrot crop of any note). One of them is called Atomic Red.

Home Grown Carrots

I really wanted to do Michael Symon's Roast Chicken recipe from Michael Symon's Live to Cook: Recipes and Techniques to Rock Your Kitchen, but despite wasting about 20 minutes surveying all of my bookcases, I never managed to turn up the book, and searching for on the internet didn't turn it up either.  Thought it would make a nice tribute to our matching haircuts. (See my trip down Follicle Lane, if you haven't already. Note my current resemblance to both Chef Symon, and the above chicken).

So armed with the vague memory that his version calls for shoving a lemon in the cavity, a handful of chopped garlic and some fresh rosemary and thyme, my version, The Chrome Dome Chicken, was born.

I wanted to do an herb butter under the skin and give it a good rub on the top.  That's when I had a head smacking, Why Didn't I Think of That' sooner idea.  As I piled the rosemary, thyme leaves, and garlic on the board, and added some kosher salt, and started to chop it all together, I decided to slice off a couple of chunks of cold butter and throw it in the pile.

Herb Butter Gremolata!  Rather than softening the butter, chopping the herbs, then the garlic, then adding to the butter and seasoning it, my lazy chrome dome said 'Do it all together!".  The beauty of it, in addition to the simplicity, is that the chopping warms the butter, without making a melted mess.

I loosened the skin and rubbed most of this on the breasts, and rubbed a little over the veggies.  I gave those a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil as well.  The organic birds don't have as much greasy fat when you roast them as conventional ones do.

It smelled so good when it was roasting.  And it was delicious too!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Twas the Night Before Chemo

My autographed Chuck-It Bucket
Twas the Night before Chemo Poem

Twas the night before Chemo, when all through the house,

The cats were snoozing, dreaming of mouse.

I wore my ‘kerchief, and doubled up in my cap,

Then settled my brain for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But my newly hired snow plow driver, 'bout time he got here.

With a flick of his blade, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment that I wouldn't be sick.

Now Carboplatin! now, Taxotere! now, Zofran and Herceptin!
On, Immodium! On, Senocot! , on Phernegan and Lidocaine! (sorry, I can't rhyme this mess)
To the top of the bald head! to the bottom of it all!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of anti-nausea meds, and my Oncologist, too.

I look chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw my reflection, in spite of myself!
I was warned there would soon not be a hair on my head,
and about plenty of side effects I am trying not to dread.

Drinking lots of green tea, glad for my pot with a whistle,
And rubbing my skull that's now like the down of a thistle.
Then I exclaimed,  as I dozed for the night,
“Happy Chemo to all, and to all a good-night!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hair Today, Gone Tomorow....

In the beginning, there is a baby.  Let's face it, babies are either cute, or they're, well, not.  You've been shown the photos (or handed the victim, er baby), of the unfortunate, wrinkly, unhappy looking newborn, and searching for something nice to say, exclaimed "Look at that full head of hair!".  Sometimes the ugliest babies somehow manage to come out looking like Chewbacca.  Not me of course, clearly I had Gerber baby potential.

Then there's the real live doll.  Whose hair you can cut.  Doesn't matter that you can't get the doll to sit still long enough to get those bangs straight.  You can just say "Hold still! Let me even those up."  (They never are).

Let the natural curl go for awhile.  Let her lick the brownie bowl.  With raw egg.  Before that was such a near life threatening treat.

After years of bad pixies, uneven bangs, and bowl cuts, let it do what it wants to do.

And then the end of 70's, the era of Charlie's Angels, the 'Farrah', the blow outs, the curling irons.  Hot rollers!  This photo still makes me laugh because under the sweater and the white shirt - torn jean shorts and flip-flops.  And a slightly creepy come-on from the photographer.

And then dear God, the eighties.  All I am going to say in my defense is that everyone more or less looked this way.  Even the men. I paid to have my naturally curly hair (!) tortured and permed (that smell!) on a more or less regular basis for years, and at the the time the compliments poured in.  I don't know what's worse, the hair, or that dress.  And let's not forget, I am a good 6' in heels....

With my friend Carl, who died from CF; RIP

I was rocking this version in 1988 when I met my husband to be, and somehow drug him to Olan Mills to record this do for all of history.

In 1991 when we got married it was probably closer to a mullet. Which was the same cut my hairdresser gave everyone.  It was Mullet town around here in the early '90s.

Then it started getting lighter (and grayer), and I started moving to a more low maintenance lifestyle.  No perms, no appliances.  Short hair takes more frequent cutting, and I succumbed to coloring for a long time.  And then I stopped.

It was blond...

And when it was silver, I stopped coloring it and let it be.  Even my hairdresser was dubious. But a short cut and about six weeks and it turned out the natural color was actually a pretty, snowy, silver.   Which requires 'blue shampoo' in order to not turn a weird color. (Pantene - you have a year to bring back a gray hair/blue shampoo).

And yesterday I said goodbye to it.  For at least nine months, my oncologist said.  Everyone said, 'maybe you won't lose yours...', but doc said 100% chance of gone/no tiny bit of hope .  I didn't want to have to deal with tufts of it  coming off in my hands.  On my pillow.  Drifting away.

So I said goodbye.  With a glass of wine (in truth, I will miss the wine far more than the hair), with some friends.  With a nod to Mark Forgione.  See I look just as ridiculous with a mohawk.

Everyone wanted to know if I felt lighter.  I felt lighter when the cancer was gone. For sure. I hope for good.  Hair, is just hair.  It's definitely chilly.  But I have lots of hats.

And a few rubs from friends.  So it's all good.

I think the earrings really dress up the look  (a gift from a lovely friend).

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanks...and No, Thanks.

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving feast.  I enjoyed the first one I had not cooked in over twenty years.  I was the fortunate guest of a fellow personal chef friend, whose bountiful table, and deep fried turkey were delightful.  

Obviously, I have a lot to be thankful for this year, not least of which is the fact that I've gone from unknowing cancer host, to cancer survivor, soon to be cancer treatment warrior, in the short span of about 6 weeks.  My follow-up surgical appointment Monday went well - everything she carved out of there and sent to pathology came back clean.

I am really glad that I decided to ditch the Aetna Healthy Food Fight Finals.  While I am a little disappointed that I didn't even get the courtesy of an acknowledgment from G2, the ad agency, running the campaign on Aetna's behalf (or an autographed Bobby Flay book).  In fact, after I left the  G2 rep a voicemail saying I wasn't going to go because I wanted to move up my cancer surgery, several days later she sent an e-mail asking about my travel preferences.  Overall, my experience with G2 was very poor from the beginning, when they 'forgot' to tell me I was a semi-finalist, and I only found out when I followed up with them.  

Anyway, I am glad I moved the surgery up a week, and it's done, it's out, it hasn't spread, it isn't in my lymph nodes, and I am one week further into the treatment than if I had waited.  It did turn out to be Stage II based on the tumor size, which ended up around 2.9 cm.  

This week I had the port inserted in my left arm for my chemo.  Man, am I glad I didn't have that done first, which apparently my oncologist did want.  It takes about an hour to have it put in.  It's done in the radiology department because they use an ultrasound to locate your veins (I have good ones!), then they take an x-ray after it's placed.  It's titanium, purple, and about the size of a quarter. It's under the skin, so it will be a little bump after it heals, and they can poke it to put things in (chemo drugs, CAT Scan dye), and take things out (blood).  I now have to have my blood pressure taken in my legs for awhile. 

It was an all woman team, and the nurse practitioner who did it has done about 3,000, so she obviously knew what she was doing.  And I was wide awake (they use a local anesthesia - like going to the dentist), they tell you all about while they are doing it.  Most of the hour is prep time.  It really didn't hurt while they were doing it, but it started bruising immediately, and by the time the local anesthetic wore off I was very glad I still had over half a bottle of the 'good stuff' left from surgery.  Who knew having something surgically implanted would hurt more than having something removed? (I mean besides Pamela Anderson and most of the Housewives of Atlanta?) 

I spent a couple of nights sleeping with my arm on a pillow, and I had a minor freak-out when I saw how much bruising there was when I was allowed to remove the bandage, but it's better now, although still a little sore and a bit annoying.  I was excited last night that I could actually roll on to either side while sleeping.

So I have one more week to heal before chemo starts.  Six courses, every three weeks.  Then daily radiation for 6 weeks.  Why still chemo and radiation if it's all out?  Well, there is no way to tell if there isn't some sneaky cancer cells lurking somewhere.  The type that I have is more aggressive and prone to returning, so the chemo will kill any lurkers anywhere in my body, and the radiation gets them directly in the area where the tumor was. 

I also agreed to participate in a small clinical trial which is testing an over the counter medication that is thought to reduce neuropathy (tingling in feet and hands) and may help prevent having all of my finger and toe nails from falling out (!).  There are 380 people in the trial - so I have a 50/50 chance of getting the placebo.  The male nurse in oncology that is tracking the study is cute, so I figure if nothing else, that's a nice distraction. 

I got prescriptions for anti-nausea meds (one of which the brand name is $800, amen for generics!), a 'total cranial prosthesis due to chemotherapy induced alopecia'(WIG), and a handicapped placard.  I hit the BMV today and was pleasantly surprised to only have a few people in front of me (and no one hacking up a lung in the waiting area). 

The other thing that I am very thankful is my wonderful posse of friends.  The flowers (my dentist sent flowers, how sweet is that), cards, hand knit hats and scarves, mittens that look like puppets, Elmer Fudd hat with flaps, tea mug, jams. stuffed buddies, ornaments, gift cards, phone calls, and e-mails, along with offers of help, have really helped make this whole whirlwind of becoming a cancer warrior, a whole lot easier. I love you all.

To those whose behavior has ranged from blase to baffling - no, thanks.  I don't have the energy to deal with your issues, your inner child, or your inability to deal with the reality that the world does not indeed revolve around you.   Because right now whether you like it or not, the world revolves around me.

I am saving all of my energy to fight cancer, and I'd like to stay as happy and stress-free as possible during the trip. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Roasted Squash w/Figs, Toasted Walnuts and Swiss Chard

Secret Ingredient
I was inspired to (re)create this recipe after watching chef Steve Schimoler, of Crop Bistro serve it to the couple who were sharing the chef's table with us after the Fabulous Food Show.  The couple were vegan (and hopefully cleared honey as an ingredient), so Steve presented their entire seven course tasting menu of dishes that he basically created on the spot, including this one.

It was almost as fun watching him take on the vegan challenge as it was watching him present our dishes. Almost. Did I mention Lobster Cappucino and Crispy Pork Belly with Piquillo Pepper Relish?

We were of course sitting right in the thick of the action, and he described each dish in detail when he presented them, and this looked and sounded so good.  The couple really enjoyed it, and when we asked they described it as more figgy than nutty.

Toasted Walnuts & Chopped Dried Figs
In addition to the toasted walnuts, and chopped dried Mission figs, there was also Swiss Chard, which I am still harvesting from my ornamental bed in front of my house.  I chopped the stems and leaves separately.

Chard Stems - Pink Lipstick Chard

Chard Leaves
I sauteed the chard stems in a skillet with a little walnut oil until tender, then added the leaves.  Once the leaves were cooked, I tossed in the toasted walnuts and chopped figs.

I was making a balsamic reduction (also used by chef Steve), by reducing about a half cup of cheap balsamic in a small pan, when I went to check on the laundry and was greeted with Squirrel Gate 2010.  I turned the pan off while I dealt with acorn deluge, and of course it instantly turned to pan cement.  The only way to get it out is to add more liquid and reheat it.  Which is why the finished recipe is a little dark.

Final Dish
I topped it with a drizzle of Lulu White Truffle Honey , 9-Ounce Jar, which makes anything instantly awesome.  While I still love the concept, and will probably attempt to re-tweak it with less balsamic, and perhaps some quinoa or farro, this one was good, but not great, but it provided a needed cooking distraction for the night before surgery.

Fortunately I had a couple of chef Steve's leftover lamb chops and a few bites of his awesome Savory Pumpkin Sage Bread Pudding, which I was glad to find the recipe for on-line, to make up for it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends Frittata

Frittata w/Arugula, Feta, Dill & Pancetta
I feel amazingly good for someone who spent several hours in surgery on Monday.  Other than a little pain when I first woke up, and a little numbness in my hand likely due to a pinched nerve from having my arm laid out for a long while during surgery, I feel good as new.  I dutifully took the pain meds and tried to stay still, but it only lasted until Thursday, when I chucked the drugs and started moving like a human.  More on that journey later, back to food already!

I wasn't sure that I'd be up to going to the first indoor winter Countryside Conservancy farmers market, now being held at Old Trail School, on Saturday, but after a trip to Mustard Seed Market, to stock up on provisions to get me through amateur shopping week, aka the week of Thanksgiving, I headed to the market. 

The new location has better parking and more space for the vendors and the customers, in the school's gym and cafeteria.  It was remarkable to look around and see the amount of beautiful fresh produce available this time of year - arugula, lettuce, greens, bok choy, in addition to the usual winter selections of squash, garlic, potatoes and onions.  Pretty remarkable when you think that just a few short years ago there was one or two 'winter' markets held around the holidays, then last year monthly from November to April, to this year, two winter markets a month. 

I am cooking a little more slowly and deliberately this week, partially because my right side isn't quite up to fancy knife skills and skillet flipping yet, and partially because I have no one to feed except myself, and there's no reason to rush the process.  When I cook 10-15 dishes at a time for a client, it sometimes rushes by in blur, kind of like when you leave work on autopilot and arrive home and don't remember the journey.  I may just turn into the zen cook.

One of the easiest, most filling, protein rich dishes that you make is a frittata.  Sounds fancy, but it's basically a baked omelet with whatever you want cooked in it.  You need good eggs (that sounds so Ina Garten), but if the egg recalls of this summer didn't scare you off factory eggs, and send you searching for somewhere you could get farm fresh eggs, then maybe I can convince you that the taste is completely worth seeking them out.  Happy chickens make better eggs.

One of the first things I scored at the market yesterday was a flat of 2 1/2 dozen Brunty Farms eggs, who also had radishes and fresh parsley.  Not only have I met the farmer, I've met the chickens!

I also bought some fresh arugula - there were lots of farmers with it, some delicious fresh cream cheese from Mayfield Road Creamery, a couple of par-baked pies (apple and pumpkin) from the best pie maker I know, Diane from Humble Pie Baking Company, some pumpkin chevre, and fig-cognac chevre (!) from MacKenzie Creamery, a baguette from Great Lakes Baking,  and some spinach from Maize Valley.

I talked to several farmers about growing watercress.  New studies have shown that watercress stops the growth of breast cancer cells.  Jeff Brunty is planning to do a aquaponic fish house, so watercress will be a perfect fit.  Plus it will be great to have safe, farmed fish.

So this morning's breakfast is testament to not buying food from strangers; I know personally who nurtured most the ingredients in this morning's breakfast (and this afternoon's lunch, probably). Frittata is great reheated gently, or even eaten cold.

Frittata Ingredients
I used this Pamela Anderson (not that Pamela Anderson, this Pamela Anderson) recipe from Fine - but part of why I love my on-line subscription to FC, is that they also have a build your own frittata recipe tool, if you don't feel confident enough to just wing it.

The only thing I changed was that I added some chopped pancetta to the pan with the garlic because I had an open package in the fridge.  I also used a 9" pan which worked fine.

And now I am either headed to the gym for a little overdue (light) exercise, or it looks like another unseasonably warm autumn day, so maybe a nice walk around the neighborhood.  Honestly, I think good food and exercise are a good part of why I feel as good as I do today! Bon Appetit!

Arugula, Feta & Dill Frittata
by Pamela Anderson
        Serves four.

9 large eggs
3 Tbs. freshly grated Parmesan
3 oz. feta cheese, crumbled (about 2/3-cup)
2 Tbs. minced fresh dill
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
4 cups packed arugula (about 4 oz.), stemmed, washed, and dried
Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Stir the Parmesan, feta, dill, and a light sprinkling of salt and pepper into the beaten eggs.

Heat the oil and the garlic in a 10-inch ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the garlic sizzles and starts to turn golden, add the arugula. Cook the arugula, stirring constantly, until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, shaking the pan to distribute the arugula evenly. Add the egg mixture and cook until the eggs start to set around the edges, about 1 minute.

Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the eggs are puffed and set, 10 to 12 minutes. Slide or invert the frittata onto a large plate, cut into four wedges and serve.

Before Flipping Fresh From the Oven

After Flipping

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bye Bye Cancer, Hello Percocet

Someone in editing is in big trouble
Fortunately the folks that took great care of me yesterday don't work in marketing and billing, because I have a sneaking suspicion that who ever proofed this billing stuffer is in a bit of trouble.  I did wake up with a little paint, but it's mostly Sharpie art.

Arrived at the hospital as directed at 7:30 am yesterday morning after no liquids or food after midnight.  Thankfully I am not very caffeine dependent anymore, so no withdrawal there.  After checking in and carrying my unnecessary pee sample around, I was moved to the pre-surgical unit where I was given my lovely gowns, and swaddled in warm blankets.

My speedy transport person guided my wheelchair around the twists, turns, and bridges to the Nuclear Medicine department where I spent a fair amount of time parked in the hallway awaiting my 8:30 dye injections. (Radioactive dye is injected to locate the sentinel lymph node, which is the one that is removed, sliced, and frozen, then sent to pathology to be analyzed during surgery. It's results determine whether more nodes need to be removed).  I was finally fetched by a couple of techs, one of whom reminded me of Raine Wilson, circa Six Feet Under.  And not in a good way.  Turns out he was just in charge of loading the radioactive blue dye in the syringes.

A doctor came in afterward and gave me five injections around the site.  The injections also contain lidocaine, so they pinched, some more than others, but it wasn't that bad, all things considered.  Then I was reparked in the hall and instructed to massage around the area to speed the dye to it's node destination.  You can just imagine how funny that looked, but most of the early morning workers were focused on their donuts, or were talking with each other about the weekend, and barely noticed me.

Next up, after about a half an hour in the hallway, my speedy transport dude came back and whizzed me down to the breast center for my next procedure, which was the placement and insertion of the guide needle.  Which I didn't really have a clue was coming until I got there.  Probably just as well, since it turned out to be the least fun part of my day.

Basically a seated mammogram, without a lot of pressure at first, so the titanium chip that was put in at the biopsy could be located.  The usual pancake treatment - vertical, then horizontal.  Then the fun part, more pressure while holding perfectly still until the radiologist came in to insert the needle.  Honestly, I think I semi-blacked out and went numb after a few minutes.  There was some debate about the new needles between the nurse and the radiologist, which were apparently a first for the radiologist.  But I barely felt it go in.  Then after a another film, they removed it and did it the other way and put it back in.  Then it was taped to my chest and I was returned to pre-surgical.

I was visited by the good fairies from anesthesia, and after a false start with a not too sharp needle, the IV was hooked up, my friend Debbie was allowed to visit for a few minutes, and then I was off to the OR on schedule at 11:30.

Woke up around 3:30 in recovery.  Didn't feel too bad, pain wise.  Took a bit to shake off the groggy, then I got ginger ale and Lorna Doones.  Apparently pathology was a bit backed up and it took awhile to get my lymph node results back; she took out two, I am not sure exactly why yet, but they are clean, and as a bonus, I did not need a drain. 

Got my going away Percocet around 4:00, and after a pit stop for frozen peas/ice pack, was back in my good old recliner by 6:00 pm.

My BFF Debbie took excellent care of me and made me a pain med schedule.  She went home and my sister came to spend the night.

I woke up about 3:30 and took a green pee (!).  I asked the Nuclear techs if I'd pee blue from the dye and they said no.  They were wrong. Apparently the don't know the end results of their work.  It's toned down, but still not quite right.

I decided to sit in the recliner until my 4:00 am percocet, and was resting peacefully with my favorite cat, Jake, on my lap, when a mouse/cat scuffle broke out behind me.  The cats usually play with/torture the mice and leave me to do the dirty work.  Jake made a dive and came up the victor, then proceeded to take it upstairs to show my sister, who was still pretty much asleep.

We finally cornered Jake and his catch in the dining room, and he dutifully dropped it, and I covered it with a bowl and Michelle slid a file folder under it and took it across the street.

I figured that was the end of rodent gate until this morning.  Back story: Last week my dryer started taking 2-3 cycles to finish a load.  I figured it was old and on it's last legs.  So I had the handyman take a look at it.  It felt like only the low heat was working.  He took it apart.  Couldn't figure out what was wrong with it, so I decided to just go get a new one.  We went to Lowes, got a new one and hooked it up.

Did a load on Friday and it seemed to not be working much better than the old one.  Hung out with friends all day Saturday at the Fabulous Food Show (Alton Brown was a hoot!), then had another fantastic Tour de Crop chef's menu at Crop Bistro (thanks Chef Steve for such a great meal!).

Sunday, I wanted to get the laundry caught up and it just wasn't getting dry.  Finally I noticed that there was water coming out of part of the duct and the tape was coming loose.  So, I pulled on it and was rewarded with a shower of acorns, birdseed, and leaves that were completely packing about 12' section of the pipe!  Threw up my hands, left a message for the handyman, stuffed a couple of towels in the open pipe, and said, a project for another day.

I'd really hoped it would be fixed when I got home last night.  It wasn't.  At some point last night, Debbie and I heard a noise, and I noted the absence of cats, but we really didn't investigate.

So this morning when Michelle went down to clean the litter boxes, she discovered CSI Squirrel Akron on the basement steps.  Seems the owner of the nuts came a knocking, but was no match for the cat posse.  Who apparently think mice are toys, but squirrels are the enemy.  So there was a little extra clean-up.

The cats and I have been chilling out the rest of the day.  Debbie cooked her way through most of my CSA veggies and there are all kinds of yummy things to eat - roasted fennel with garlic and tomatoes, roasted broccoli, roasted sweet potatoes, and a  great big salad.

I feel surprisingly good, probably thanks to my new friend Percocet, but I think my surgeon, Dr. Partin, gets some major props as well.

Thanks to all of my friends who sent many green things and good wishes, I love them all.

Friday, November 12, 2010

When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Shopping....

Jake breaking in my new throw
I have been preparing for my transition from cancer host to cancer fighter with all the zeal of Martha herself preparing for house arrest.  I've indulged in more 'retail therapy' in the last few weeks than I probably have all year. There is a certain sense of "You can't take it with you!" which you can use to justify nearly any purchase.

First up, the practical.  I knew from a friend that had breast surgery, that some pjs and shirts that buttoned vs. having to be pulled overhead were a must.  Which of course I didn't own, but thanks to a Kohls coupon and the JC Penney clearance rack, my formerly ratty pajama collection was instantly upgraded, and I added a tunic that I guarantee will make me look like a cross between Ina Garten and my mother.  I promised my stylists, the lovely Susan and Betsey, of Shop Your Closet, that I would not purchase or wear leggings (!), or heaven forbid jeggings, whatever they heck they are.

Next up the hats, aka known as my new hair.  Target proved to be fertile ground for this hunt, and I picked up a few there.  Finding 'diva' green ones proved to be a little more difficult, but Whole Foods, of all places, had a couple, including a really soft one made from recycled bottle caps, which were ridiculously priced, as is nearly everything in Whole Paycheck, but I don't have time to be picky.  Finally, the hat in the photo was selected by a friend as were cruising the new Charming Charlie store at Legacy Village. The pin, which is absolutely gorgeous green glass, is courtesy of my BFF from a tag sale.

More green things followed.  The ultra soft throw that my ancient cat Jake decided to adopt as soon as I put it on my recliner.  This new tea kettle:

A few more cookbooks for the collection, because clearly I don't have enough.  This photo is by the talented Shane Wynn and is in the Akron Life and Leisure feature on me in the November issue on the newstands now.  For the record this is about half of my collection - there is another bookcase this size in the dining room.

Then the electronics.  I felt a little cheated when I finally broke down and bought an iPod touch earlier this year and I got one with my Amazon credit card points - the DAY BEFORE they announced the new model.  I sucked it up and loaded my 400 or so CDs on it, and it's great because I can hook it up in the new car.  So I got over that cheated feeling, by getting an iPad.  Now I figure I something no one wants (cancer) and something everyone wants (iPad). 

And I upgraded my cell phone, so I am now a WiFi hotspot, and if lost (me and/or the phone), can be located within 10' via satellite.  The nice young man at the Verizon store, who probably felt sorry for me because I reminded him of his mom, spent three hours with me setting it up.  And it still took me a couple of days to figure out how to answer it. My Top Chef Bacon, Bacon, Bacon ring tone cracks me up every time.

I completed a personal chef service for one of my regulars this week, then I removed the business window graphic from my car window, and officially put my business on pause for the duration.  The shopping kind of took a bit of the sting out of that reality.  Kind of.