September 2010

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Clarity


Ahh, there’s that silver lining.

Yesterday I found out that, due to the bone-crusher shots, my white cell count was high enough to do chemo.  There will be no seventh round because, as Doc G states, “By these delays we see that we have reached toxicity level.” That leaves ONE more infusion on to go. A few more white cell shots will be given to make sure we can get the last chemo done on Monday, in time to rest up for aloooha time on the 15th.

After I return, I’ll have a scan then start on one of THREE possible maintenance plans. Option 1) is Avastin, a non-chemo drug which cuts off blood supply to developing tumors. Preliminary study results for Avastin for maintenance are good-ish. Option 2) is  a vaccine trial at UCSF. Everyone in the trial will get a  immune-boosting drug to help stave off a recurrence. Some in the study will get the ovarian cancer vaccine in addition to the immune-booster. Option 3) is at my favorite place, the California Cancer Center. It involves a 50-50 chance of getting a placebo or a vaccine on its own.

We’ll see. That leaves a lot to think about. For now, we’re just focusing on getting through these last two weeks of chemo.

Hugs, and a Happy Anniversary shout out to Dennis. Remember when we danced to this song eight years ago while Eric played?

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Mary Cassat, "Little Girl in Blue Armchair"

Can I have a complain?

This is what Mari and I ask each other when one of us calls the other to complain about something we know doesn’t really merit much energy. And yet…there is a need to get if off one’s chest. Know that feeling??

So yesterday I found out that chemo must be delayed ONCE AGAIN. Argh. This time, I might not have to wait a whole week, though. I’m getting bone crusher shots to stimulate my marrow today, tomorrow, and Sunday. We’ll do an early-morning blood test on Monday and hopefully be able to resume treatment that morning.

Why is it so frustrating to be put off again and again? I’ve been thinking about this since last night. Part of it is about control. When you have cancer, it’s so hard not to feel like you have zero control over your life;  what’s going to happen to you, both in the moment, and long term. But at least you have your treatment plan. You can mark the days on your calendar, plan your activities and rest days around those dates, do the shopping, the laundry and errands leading up to those dates. All the organizing makes me feel like I’m still in control of my day-to-day. When the rug gets pulled out, my sense of control is diminished. To say the least.

And then there’s the emotional energy that goes into preparing mentally for chemo day. I’m not even sure what goes into this. It kind of happens on a subconscious level. I liken it to waiting backstage for your cue. Or preparing for a job interview, or surgery, or…chemo. A big chunk of my emotional energy gets stored away as we lead up to the day; it revs on the heart-fluttery backburner of my chest and my belly. Dennis and Little J are storing, too. And then we have to wait. Where is that energy supposed to go?

Finally, there’s the fear that chemo is taking a toll on my body. I mean, of course it is. But I usually don’t have to think about that. I can kind of denyignorepretenditaway. But when the doctor who doesn’t sugarcoat anything says, “I’m sure your numbers will go up by next week,” and is really quite taken aback when they don’t, the fear creeps in. A bit. I’ll admit.

So, there. I said it. Sometimes I need to complain a little bit. As Little J says when he has to have a cry or when he has to say “butt” or “fart”, “I just had to get it out.”

Thank you for that complain. And Mari, I will be calling later and asking for another if this one doesn’t make me feel better.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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You’d think that with all the sleeping I did on this trip, I wouldn’t still be so tired three days later. After all, I was in bed before ten on both nights. Everyone else did the work.

Example: here are Uncle Mike and Dennis blowing up the air mattresses before Uncle John arrived with the pump.

*Note Little J’s helpful relaxing.

The next day, Little J pulled his weight by carrying his own oar on the way to do some boating:

And everyone else cooked, schlepped gear, and poured the drinks.

The entire clan (seven adults and three kids) had a fantastic time in the great outdoors battling with the squirrels (who managed to make off with a Cliff Bar and several chips), playing on the rocks, and making s’mores.

It was the second-to-last weekend of September, and we definitely had one foot in summer (a bright, hot Saturday), and one foot in the fall (a cloudy, rainy Sunday). Make that one soggy, dirty, stinky foot:

Little J’s sock, which got left out in the rain near Uncle Tom’s tent (as a little gift?) sort of says it all. Seriously, you should see the inside of my car. By the end of the weekend, we were a pack of mud monsters.

But Little J got to play with his cousins, and we all got to catch up and spend some much-needed time together. My favorite parts were waking up in the tent with Dennis and Little J, seeing J play with his cousins, and watching my two guys do their favorite thing:

The tent, sleeping bag, air mattresses, and lanterns are all washed and packed up for next summer.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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The last three weeks without chemo have been so full.

Dennis and I dined with Uncle Mike at our new favorite spot atop a hill here in Sugartown. We also feasted on Ted’s famous eggplant Parmesan, whose ingredients came entirely from Ted’s garden. I lunched with Linda in the city, a lovely and belated birthday treat. I shared lattes in a bowl with a dear friend and Peet’s treats with a new friend (and her gorgeous baby). I walked with Marina, and brunched with Mari in Tiburon.

Little J conquered the diving board at the club.

I went to my first PTA meeting, did some yard duty (!), and attended our first parent-teacher conference. Other school events included the walk-a-thon, the ice cream social, and a support-the-school night at a local restaurant. Turns out the parents at our neighborhood school know how to socialize for a cause, let me tell you. Count me in!

On Labor Day, we went on an impromptu adventure to Heart’s Desire Beach in Tomales Bay. Little J got to play with his buddy C, who he hadn’t seen in a while. Silliness was the order of the day.

And speaking of silly:

On Tuesday, I took these same two to feed the ducks at a pond near our neighborhood.

Yesterday I took Little J and a pal from his class to their first 3-D movie.

Of course tea with the ladies on the street and a visiting cousin from England was sweetness in a glass poured over ice with some lemon.

Phew, like I said: it’s been a full three weeks of no chemo. And it looks like I may have a fourth. While my platelets have made a heroic comeback from 40 to 190, my white cells are still pooped out. I’ll find out tomorrow whether we can do treatment with the help of some bone crusher marrow stimulating shots or whether we’ll have to wait another week.

If we have to wait, it could be a good thing. We’re going camping this weekend, so it would be nice to have a little more energy. On the other hand, as you all know, I want to get this done! So it’s a little frustrating to be stalled out an inch from the finish line.

But somewhere nearby in Sugartown, church bells are ringing. Down the street, in a classroom, Little J is sitting and maybe singing. In Los Angeles, Dennis is winging his way back home to us.

There is so much sweetness for the reaping in these near-harvest days. It makes it a little easier not to pine for things to be different.

Hugs, Jennifer

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Autumn Plans

J. Briggs

Even though it’s not officially fall yet, it sure feels like it is. School has started, the sun hangs lower in the sky and sets earlier, and the air has that crisp clarity to it and even smells a little like freshly sharpened pencils. Okay, that last part might be mostly my imagination.

Our family’s plans for early fall included my being done with chemo by today. A delay for a blood transfusion a few weeks ago set us back a week, and another day yesterday set us back one more. Last chemo, my platelet count was 95, almost too low to  get an infusion, but Doc G and I decided to soldier on given my reluctance to delay. Yesterday, the count was 45 (normal is around 120) which is way too low to do chemo. I was so disappointed to delay another week, but there’s nothing we could do. There’s no shot to boost platelets; you just have to wait. Now we’re hoping to be able to squeeze in these last two infusions before our trip to Kauai on the 15th of October. Please, please!!

After Hawaii, I’ll have Pet/Ct to make sure the cancer ditzels have vanished as my low CA-125 (now 9.8!) would suggest. Then the oncologist power possee will pow-wow and decided whether we should try to squeeze in another round or call “uncle”: Doc G’s words. Did he see Madmen this week?

After that, we’re now talking about a maintenance plan with a drug called Avastin. Unlike chemo, which attacks all quickly multiplying cells (including hair and nails!) Avastin cuts off blood supply to tumors and has been shown to keep ladies with the advanced OC in remission longer. So, it’s a good option. It has no chemo-like side-effects, so it’s considered a “lifestyle” drug, meaning you can continue with a normal lifestyle while on it. There are a few scary possible long-term effects which I won’t go into. Our hope is that this drug will keep me in remission until something like a cure is found.

Speaking of cures, September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, so please take action to increase funding for research. And please continue to visualize my health and a cure for all us ladies who are battling.

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Tomatoes

I’m really excited about tomatoes right now.

For the last ten years, since the first year we lived together, Dennis has been planting tomatoes. The first few years, when we had a spectacular garden behind our little rented cottage in Rockridge, the tomatoes were amazing and plentiful. The next several years, we moved a lot, and the tomatoes really never ripened as well as those East Bay stunners. This season brings our first crop of tomatoes in our Sugartown house. And they are scrumptious.

I’m so inspired by the taste of this fruit, by the fact that, when I pick one in the heat of the day, I can taste the spirit of the California sun in each bite. So I’m going to make sauce. Lots of sauce.

I called a local organic farm that is expecting a bumper of San Marzanos later this month.

Zoe from the farm is going to call me when they have the tomatoes that won’t sell at market because they are too ripe or less than perfect. I’m going to drive up and get those tomatoes, and with a little advice and equipment borrowed from Leigh’s chef friend, Ingrid, I’m going to jar sauce. This way, I can feed the family on the California sunshine all winter long. How pioneerish, right? Like I said, I’m excited. I’ll let you know when the call comes from Zoe and take pictures of the process.

In the meantime, I want to share a sauce recipe I made up the other day.

I went out to the tomato vines with my bright red colander and picked a handful of Super Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes (vine selected and planted by Dennis) and a few Early Boys (selected and planted by Little J). I pulled off the greens and put the tomatoes right into the slow cooker. I drizzled olive oil and about a quarter cup of red wine over them. I added some sauteed onion, garlic and red pepper. I sprinkled on salt, pepper and oregano. Then I cooked them on low for four hours.

When Little J and I came back from the pool, the house smelled heavenly. The tomatoes had released a lot of liquid, but were still whole (!?). I smashed them up with a wooden spoon and added a small can of Muir Glenn organic tomato paste. Then I let them simmer for another hour. The smell was intoxicating.

I blended the sauce with my Braun immersion blender, which is the best cooking tool ever because you don’t have to transfer hot contents to a blender. Then, I pressed the liquid through a fine mesh colander to separate out all the skins and seeds. The result was a creamy, delicious sauce that looked like a too thick tomato soup and tasted like  a balmy evening in southern Spain.

We dined alfresco that evening as it was the hottest night of the year. Little J ate shirtless and shoeless. He devoured a plate of ravioli smothered in the sauce made from the tomatoes he grew. Then he played in the back yard while Dennis and I ate the sauce over shredded spaghetti squash (which looks like pasta. Have you cooked this? It’s amazing).

I’d added some fresh basil during the last ten minutes of cooking and a little chevre to gild the lilly. Wow. What a satisfying meal.

A little bit of heaven from a little red fruit and a gorgeous end-of-summer night. Dennis and I sat outside later with a glass of wine and drank in the stars for dessert. Perfection.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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