Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Poison Mystery (Part 2)

After a harrowing investigation, I've come to the conclusion that the poison in the huckleberry pie at the Shelbourne Restaurant & Bakery is the same compound being administered to me intravenously on a daily basis.

According to a white paper I found on arsenic trioxide, the compound has been used for therapeutic purposes for 2,400 years. In the fifteenth century, William Withering made the following argument supporting arsenic-based therapies: "Poisons in small doses are the best medicines; and the best medicines in too large doses are poisonous."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Poison Mystery (Part 1)

On July 31, 1922, 17-year old Lillian Goetz ate lunch at the Shelbourne Restaurant and Bakery on the corner of Broadway and 25th Street in New York City. Deborah Blum writes in The Poisoner's Handbook, "According to police reports...Lillian ordered a tongue sandwich, coffee, and a slice of huckleberry pie. It was the pie that killed her."

That hot summer day, almost exactly 89 years ago, 60 people became sick and six died, including Lillian, who worked as a stenographer for a dress goods firm located near the Shelbourne. Investigators determined that arsenic had been added to the dough bowl. They suspected the dastardly deed had been done by the  baker or his assistant, but it was never proven. Instead, lunch customers at other restaurants that summer began refusing to order huckleberry and blackberry pie for dessert.

Before my first five week round of the arsenic treatment, my Uncle Bobby told me about the book, "The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York." He informed me it contained a chapter dedicated to arsenic. My response: "You are crazy. Do NOT give me that book." I had zero interest in learning the details of the gruesome history of an element I was about to have injected into my body 50 times.

Apparently, Uncle Bobby is crazy. Either that, or he really cares about me (he has been very supportive throughout this ordeal). During my visit back home two weeks ago, he gave me two new books, one of which looks to be a fast-paced thriller. The other, not surprisingly, was The Poisoner's Handbook. I debated whether or not I should read the chapter on arsenic. After much deliberation, I concluded that a willingness to become knowledgeable about the chemical element would be proof to myself that I am mentally tough. Besides, Dr. Goldberg had said my drug is "different" than the arsenic used to poison...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Back to the Grind

Vacation is over. I am writing this with an IV needle in my left hand. Today starts five more weeks of Arsenic Trioxide five days a week.

It's hard to go back to this routine. I know all the right thoughts to make this day easier, and I am thinking them. By tomorrow I will have regained my positive mindset.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Book Review: Skipping a Beat

In Sarah Pekkanen's "Skipping a Beat," what happened during four minutes and eight seconds causes Julia's and Michael's relationship to change forever. The power couple began their courtship as high school sweethearts. They wanted to leave difficult childhoods behind and achieve financial security. What they didn't realize during the romantic, early days of their marriage was that the successful careers and wealthy lifestyle they thought they wanted would cost them.

Michael's heart stops beating for four minutes and eight seconds during a board meeting of his massive DrinkUp beverage company. When he returns from death, he no longer wants to be the driven executive he'd become. Instead, he wants to slow down and revive the love Julia and he had felt for each other as teenagers.

Julia enjoys their current status, fancy cars, and sprawling home, but Michael believes they must give it all up to return to their original state of happiness. Julia isn't sure she's willing to make that exchange. The novel explores the complexities of marriage. It challenges the belief that once the rules in a relationship have been established, they can't be rewritten.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Running for Research

It is 99 degrees outside. The heat index is 111. On an average temperature day, the thought of running a half marathon makes me want to faint. Today, I can't even write about running without wishing I had one of those elaborate Camelbak hydration packs strapped to my back, the clear plastic drinking tube draped over my shoulder.

Hopefully my good friend, Sarah Gleason, has one of those fancy hydration systems. If not, I'm buying her one. I am so honored by what she is doing for me. On Sunday, August 14th, she is running the Rock 'n' Roll Chicago 1/2 Marathon in my honor to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

The only reason I am alive today is because of advancements in drug therapies. Funding for cancer research made the breakthroughs for acute promyelocytic leukemia possible. There are so many other forms of cancer for which breakthroughs haven't yet happened. I believe the brilliant doctors and scientists in this world can crack other cancer codes. Every dollar given to fund their research gets them closer.

If this had happened to me just 30 years ago, I'd be dead. Instead I am thanking Sarah for her sweet gesture and friendship. Imagine how many miracles could be possible 30 years from now...

Sarah's American Cancer Society Fundraising Page

Sarah dancing at my wedding with one of Ryan's groomsmen, Dave Neiman.
Although Sarah is engaged, I'm including this photo of her and another guy because:
 A) It's a cute shot of her and B) It might guilt Dave into donating.
Again, Sarah, thank you.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

PCR Remission Test Results

I received my PCR test result today... There were no blood cells that showed the chromosome mutation that is the hallmark feature of APL. That means I am still in remission!!! The PCR test is more precise than the FISH test I had after my hospital stint, so the favorable result is a huge relief.

It feels counterintuitive that I have to continue a drug treatment program if I'm in remission. According to the doctors, the goal of the treatment is to prevent a relapse. My plan is based on the survivorship results of a series of clinical trials. Even though I'm considered in remission, there could be a few cancerous cell lurking in my bone marrow. It only takes one bad cell to spoil the bunch. The drugs are designed to kill any lingering rotten cells.

I will continue to have PCR tests periodically. Each one will get me closer to the five year mark, at which time I will be considered to be in complete remission. But that's a long way away. I need to celebrate this victory with another piece of chocolate cake. One step at a time. Actually, the counter with the cake on it is ten feet away, so the next five steps will be taken very quickly...

Thank you again to everyone who's been so supportive of our family this year. If it weren't so logistically challenging, I would send each of you a piece of the cake.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Good News

Just left my meeting with Dr. Goldberg.

The abdominal area CT scan shows no new problems. Also, it shows that the thrombosis (clotting) in my liver is less pronounced than it was in the last scan. The doctors had told me the blod clots that formed while I was in the hospital could be permanent, or my body might repair these veins. The new scan shows that my liver is repairing itself. Hopefully, this trend will continue, and a year from now, my liver will be as good as new, or rather, as good as old.

I've been abstaining from alcohol because of the clots in my liver. I figure I can't afford to damage it any more. My last drink was last November (before I was pregnant). But if my liver repairs itself...

The New Normal

In 2009, when the greatest recession since the Great Depression was still new news, the famous bond manager, Bill Gross, coined a term to describe the near-term future of the world economy. He predicted we would enter an era he called, "The New Normal," in which the economic growth rate would be slower.

Bill Gross, Co-chief Investment Officer of PIMCO, deep in contemplation
So far, his prediction has come true. The world economy has yet to stomp on the accelerator peddle. Recent headlines include concerns over Greece's and Italy's solvency, the U.S.'s debate over raising its debt ceiling, and a jump in U.S. unemployment. At some point, this bumpy country lane should converge with a highway, and we will accelerate past Gross's New Normal.

Anyone who's been diagnosed with cancer, or has experienced another life-changing event, faces her own era of a New Normal.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Congratulations to our good friends, Vanessa and John! Charlotte and Eli were born July 2nd. They are healthy, beautiful, and perfect. Vanessa is recovering well.

Ryan and I are so happy for our friends. When we visited, both babies were sleeping. Caring for twin infants looks like a piece of cake!

And congratulations to big sister, Gracie, who seems to be handling the change well so far (with the aid of cupcake bribery).

We are looking forward to seeing John walking through our neighborhood with: a double infant stroller as big as the Titanic; two-and-a-half-year-old Gracie running ahead; pug Shea yanking on his leash to "examine" a bush behind them; and a cold cup of coffee in the stroller's cup holder that hasn't been touched. Maybe the rapping dads in The Dad Life video will give John a guest role in their next gig.

We are thrilled that 2011 is a great year for our friends, and we look forward to watching the twins grow.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Book Review: About What Was Lost


"About What Was Lost: 20 Writers on Miscarriage, Healing, and Hope" is a compilation of essays edited by Jessica Berger Gross. The writings cast light on a topic our society tends to keep hidden. It is much easier to focus on all the happy pregnancies that end with cuddly babies and all the cute accessories that go with them. But the grief is real for all the couples who have had trouble conceiving or lost a baby. This collection attempts to put words to that lost.

The essays are beautifully written, and the emotions are raw and unfiltered. The circumstances of the authors vary, making it easy for a reader to find material to which she can relate.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I Need a Vacation

I need a vacation, but I don't mean that in the traditional sense. I'm looking forward to going to work Monday morning. I miss being in the office and around my colleagues. The vacation I need is from my second job - beating cancer.

While in the hospital, I read a post on a leukemia discussion board that resonated with me. At the time, the patient was partway through his ten weeks of the daily Arsenic Trioxide drip. He wrote that instead of viewing the daily regimen as a nuisance, he was treating it like a job. His job was to get better. Each day, he would show up on time to the appointment, keep a positive attitude, and take responsibility for his health.

Over the past five weeks, I have mirrored his approach.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Thank You to Our Troops

Today is Independence Day. In addition to celebrating the founding of our country, it is a time to honor the armed forces that preserve our independence. We pray they will not have to make the greatest sacrifice for our country, but the sacrifices they make each day are unavoidable. Their tours last multiples of my 40 days in the hospital. They miss births, birthdays, graduations, and so many small, precious moments in their family members' lives.

I have always held those who serve our country in the highest regard. In fact, if Lily would have been a boy, born this August, he would have been named after a World War II veteran in our family. My experience this spring has given me a glimpse of what the troops endure in terms of being away from their families. Now I hold those who serve in an even higher regard.

To any who have served or serve now: thank you, for everything you've sacrified.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Elmo At Last

The other day, my mom and I took Katelyn to Sesame Place. We arrived at 3:30, when some families were already leaving, and stayed until 8:30. It was my happiest afternoon in the past three months, and it wouldn't have happened without my mom's help.

The daily arsenic treatments seem to be having a cumulative effect on me. Recently, I've been more tired and nauseated. It took me two days to recover from our afternoon at "Elmo Street," as Katelyn calls it. But it was well worth it. Even though it was exhausting for me, I refused to let cancer steal a happy day from my daughter. Every moment I'm with her, I try my best to be a regular mom, because that's what she deserves.

Three weeks into my hospital stay, Katelyn had stopped asking for me at home. No one had shared this heartbreaking development with me during those tough days. I've only been told about it recently, as a point of comparison to how she acts now.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Book Review: Having Children After Cancer

"Having Children After Cancer," by Gina M. Shaw gives hope and advice for young adults and children diagnosed with fertility-threatening forms of cancer. Ms. Shaw's inspiration for the comprehensive guide was her own experience. After surviving breast cancer, she is now the proud mother of one adopted child and two children via natural pregnancies.

Published in 2011, this guide is up-to-date on today's cancer treatments and assisted fertility techniques. It details: how various cancers and treatments can affect fertility; options for preserving fertility prior to treatments; pregnancy during/after cancer; alternatives to traditional conception if fertility preservation wasn't possible before treatment; and many of the emotional aspects relating to being a cancer survivor and parent.