Monday, November 28, 2011

The Marshmallow Shooter: a Great Gift that Benefits a Great Cause

Black Friday and cyber sales have been the craze this past week. Hopefully strong sales continue and give our economy a boost. Here's a way to preserve the Christmas spirit while holiday shopping: buy a marshmallow shooter from

No, the chemotherapy hasn't driven me completely mad. I have good reason for recommending a marshmallow shooter for your loved one this holiday season.

The company was founded eight years ago by a group of entrepreneurs who are now 16. A portion of the ambitious, hard-working teenagers' profit goes to charity. Their current recipient is the Tomorrows Children's Fund. This nonprofit provides support for children with cancer and funds cancer research. It has a partnership with the Hackensack University Medical Center, which is where I receive my treatment.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Much to be Thankful for

Happy Thanksgiving!

We have so much to be thankful for this year--our family, our friends, the birth of our nephew, all the support we've received, and my remission status.

There are many blessings to count today, including ten trivial ones below:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

(Almost) Drug Free

Yesterday was my 15th day of ATRA--the last day for Round 1. Today is the first day I will have been (almost) drug free since my diagnosis. For the next two and a half months, the only medication I will be taking will be the Warfarin to prevent blood clots.

That means no headaches, nausea, wooziness, or fatigue for two and a half months. No struggling to function and no attempting to hide how bad I feel.

In January I'll have a cat scan of my liver to assess if I need to remain on the Warfarin. If my liver has repaired itself, my doctor may take me off the Warfarin. For a few days before I start the next round of ATRA, I could be completely drug free.

For those few days, it would be like none of this ever happened.

Except it did happen.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Psycho Parent Syndrome at the Rink

Yesterday at the ice skating rink, an incident of Pyscho Parent Syndrome did occur. But Ryan and I weren't the culprits.

When we arrived at the rink, Katelyn recognized the building from our test run the weekend before. "I want to do spins," she said. (We have a figure skating competition on the DVR at home.) So far, so good.

Rink 1 and the area surrounding bustled with pint-sized people wearing snowsuits and wobbling on their skates. Katelyn took her cue from them and allowed Ryan to put on her skates and helmet. He held her near the edge of the rink, and she asked him to put her down on the ice.

She "walked" across the ice with Ryan. Big stuff!

The instructor checked off Katelyn on her registration sheet and asked, in her Russian accent, how old Katelyn was. Ryan responded that she was two.

The instructor replied, "Wow."

From her tone, I'm guessing "wow" in Russian means, "These two must be Psycho Parents."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Psycho Parent Syndrome or Just Having Fun?

Today is Katelyn's first ice skating lesson. Two years old seems awfully young for skating lessons, and there's only a 50% chance she'll put on the skates. That does make us seem over-intense. I suppose if she's competing in the sport at age 15, and we admit to other parents (her competition) that we started her at two, we will be certified as psycho. If we told them her first lessons were held at the training ground for a past Olympic gold medalist, we'd completely ruin our chances of a reputation as fun-loving and easy-going.

But her competing at age 15 is unlikely to happen (especially if she refuses to get on the ice!). Neither Ryan nor I are the spontaneous type. Or rather, we didn't use to be. For us, this is spontaneous. A few weeks ago, Ryan had turned on the television to distract Katelyn from her nap-hangover. She was enraptured by an ice dancing competition. We decided to "do something crazy" and give it a try. The "home of the Olympic champion" rink happens to be the nearest to our house.

So while I do feel a little worried that this activity might be a symptom of Psycho Parent Syndrome, I am really excited to watch Katelyn and Ryan on the ice today, if they make it that far. We'll have fun today. And if she's not, we'll leave. That doesn't sound psycho at all.

Book Review: Mudbound

Hillary Jordan's Mudbound is a poignant literary novel that takes places in the Mississippi Delta during the Jim Crow era. Laura's husband, Henry, decides to uproot their comfortable town life and buy a farm in a rural area 40 miles from Greenville. New at the profession and the way of life, the white family develops a relationship with one of their black sharecropping families, the Jacksons. As a result of the deep-rooted racism in the region, the families' bond is defined by necessity rather than kindness or companionship.

Laura dislikes her new life and her father-in-law, who lives with them (and has a history with the KKK). She resents Henry for buying the farm without taking her happiness into consideration. Her despondency  and the racial tension between the two families are manifested when Henry's younger brother, Jamie, comes to live with the family. He is haunted by his experience as a bomber pilot in the European theatre of World War II.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

ATRA Update

The headaches and nausea have faded.Only five more days of the ATRA pills and then I have a 2.5 month break from chemotherapy. Just in time for the holidays!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Reaction to "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry

Last night at the CMA Awards, The Band Perry won Best Single of the Year for the song, "If I die Young."

The song was released in the Mainstream Top 40 in May, a little over a week after I arrived home from my 40-day hospital stay. Somehow, despite its triple platinum success, I didn't hear it for the first time until this fall. It came on the radio as I was driving home from an appointment with my oncologist. I sobbed as I listened to the words:

If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song

In an interview with The Boots, lead vocalist Kimberly Perry said, "We wanted to write a song about making the most of whatever time you're given -- whether it's two years, twenty years or two hundred. We really have gotten to live and love at our young ages. 'If I Die Young,' for us, is about if it all ends at this moment, look at what we've gotten to do. Whatever time we're given will be absolutely enough as long as we make the most of it."

Apparently, the vast majority of people view the song as romantic and positive. When coupled with the commentary about her purpose for writing it, I agree. Based on the lyrics alone, however, I don't find the song romantic at all. From my particular vantage point, as a cancer fighter, its sounds a lot like giving up.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Feeling the Effects

Day 2 of the ATRA pills.

The headache arrived, right on schedule.

What's taken me completely by surprise is the nausea.

During my prior ATRA courses, I'd been receiving the heavy anthracycline chemo. I'd assumed the nausea then was from the anthracyclines. Apparently, the ATRA affects me that way too.

I called the cancer center to ask if other patients experience extreme nausea with ATRA too. Yes, some do.

13 days and then seven more rounds to go. Sigh.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Remission Test Results

Chocolate cake recipe from Jennifer M.

Chocolate cake Sheila made in a cupcake bundt pan
 while staying with us in October

Chocolate cake-themed card from "meiner Deutschen Familien"

...yes... we did eat chocolate cake tonight.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Come Monday, It'll Be Alright

Hopefully those Jimmy Buffett lyrics will prove to be true. I should get the results of my remission test tomorrow. Also tomorrow, I begin taking the ATRA for fifteen days. If it has the same effect as the last two times, the headache will begin around four o'clock Monday afternoon.

We've been praying for a clean remission test result, and my doctor says it's highly likely that will be the case. If it is clean, however, I won't be quite as joyous as I've been post the last two PCR tests.

My grandma started a new treatment course this past week. So far, she hasn't had much in the way of side effects, which is excellent. I shouldn't worry about her because she is one tough cookie, and the most positive person I know. But I can't help it. I love her so much.

Also, one of the friends I've made this year, through our shared circumstances (young 30s, leukemia (She has AML M-1. I have AML M-3.), is sick again. She found out the beginning of last week that she has relapsed. She has young children, and is back for a long stay in the hospital. Knowing what it's like to be away from your family, I feel so bad for her. Though like my grandma, she is a fighter, and will be just fine.

People ask me how I've been so brave this year. I'm not a brave person. My answer is that I don't have a choice. Neither does my Grandma, nor my friend. You act brave because that's what you do for those you love, and those who love you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Living Wall

The Living Wall at the John Theurer Cancer Center

A common theme among cancer surivors is that they appreciate the little things in life more. Post cancer, a rose smells sweeter, a child's laugh more memorable, an expensive steak dinner more savory, etc. etc. etc.

So if I'm supposed to be more attuned to the small pleasures in life, how in the heck did I miss the plants covering a wall in the four-story atrium of the cancer center where I receive treatment? If those fronds were carnivorous plants, I would be dead. Just like a fly oblivous to a venus fly trap.