Category Archives: cancer

Cauliflowers Fluffy and Cabbages Green

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My brain and body aren’t on the same page.

Nope. Not one bit. They’re not speaking, not even the occasional a “Hi! How you doin’?” No texts or tweets or snarky blog posts, sniping away at each other. When one wants to go left, the other swerves to the right. There are no immediate plans to have a cuppa together or to break bread, either.

And it’s not for a lack of trying, either. I mean, I try to listen to both sides, I really do. The conversations usually go like this:

“Okay, so I really need to work on that test knit today and I want to get some work done on those socks I promised Tammy a few months back. And then I really should neaten up the crafting area of the living room because I can’t find anything.”

“Oh, you’re not doing that. You’re so not doing any of that. Here, sit on the couch for a bit.”

“I’ve been on the computer for an hour. I want to do something else. Anything. I’m bored.”

“Nah, you’re not bored. Really. And I saw that yawn, Suzy Creamcheese. Come on, just sit for a bit.”

“I really don’t…oh, this feels pretty good.”

“See? Now close your eyes.”

“I don’t want to nap.”

“Right. Close your eyes.”

“Okay, fine. Just for a…”

Zzzzz...

Zzzzz…

See what I’m up against here? I’m trying to get stuff done, and my body wants me to take a nap. I know I’m only doing some knitting and not doing anything big, like curing cancer (ha!), but still.

I know I’ve already mentioned that I’m an antsy kind of person. Not necessarily impatient, but fidgety. “Nervous energy”, my late grandmother would have said.

Yes, I get it. I need to rest so I can properly heal from everything my body (and mind) have been through over the past couple of months. Sure, the surgery and the treatment are well in the past now, but it’s like my doctor and many, many cancer survivors have told me. Recovery is going to take a long time. Your body’s been whacked upside the head, but good. It still doesn’t know what’s going on and it needs you to rest so it can get back to normal.

Or whatever normal is these days.


If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you know I’ve been yapping about my food issues for a very, very long time now. If not, you’ll be delighted to know that I’ve moved onto soup and that I’m trying to eliminate Carnation’s Instant Breakfast as a major food group in my diet.

Mmm, mmm, good!

Mmm, mmm, good!

So yesterday I made this recipe for cauliflower bisque from Anna Thomas’ “Love Soup”. Since I’m still having some sensitivity issues, this was a good choice because it’s pureed and not heavily seasoned. The only spice that’s in here is herbes de Provence, which I highly recommend getting for this. I know it sounds like something you’ll only use once and then it’ll keep the rest of your herbs company, but it won’t. Trust me on this; a little bit is wonderful in things like pizza sauce, ratatouille…pretty much any recipe that has it’s roots in the Mediterranean or South of France or wants to think it does.

Cauliflower Bisque

  • 1 large white cauliflower
  • 4 cups veggie broth
  • 1 lemon, plus more if needed
  • 1 ½ tsp sea salt
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 medium stalks celery
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp. herbes de Provence
  • 2 oz. fresh creamy goat cheese or cream cheese
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • completely and totally optional: buttered breadcrumbs or homemade croutons
  1. Trim the cauliflower and cut into florets. Put into a soup pot with 2 cups of water and the veggie broth. Scrub the lemon and slice off a 1” long strip of the zest (no white pith!) and add to the pot. Juice the lemon and add 2 Tbsp of the juice plus 1 tsp of the salt. Bring the liquid to a boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for about 15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, peel, trim and chop the carrots, celery and onion. Heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil in a skillet and add the chopped veggies. Give it a good stir and then add the garlic with a ½ tsp of salt. Saute on a medium heat, stirring often, until they’re soft and beginning to color, about 10 minutes or so. Add the herbes de Provence, stir, and let it cook a little bit longer.
  3. Add the veggies to the cauliflower and let it simmer for another 10 minutes or so (the veggies should be very soft by now). Remove from the heat and let it cool.
  4. Puree the soup in batches with the cheese until it’s completely smooth. Return the soup to the pot and season with additional lemon juice, salt and pepper as needed.
  5. Top each bowl with the breadcrumbs or the croutons. Enjoy!
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Sleepy Hollow

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And, just like that, it’s over.

knitting bag and sockNo more running up to Fox Chase every morning to get zapped or sitting in a recliner in the infusion room getting my chemo treatment on Mondays. I can put my knitting bag away for the moment, since I won’t need to grab it on my way out the door. I don’t have to double check my phone to make sure there’s enough juice in there to get me through tweeting, yapping on Ravelry and general farting around online.

It’s done, it’s ancient history. 6 rounds of chemotherapy with docetaxel and 30 radiation treatments equalling 3,300 cGy (centigrays). Which basically means I had a fairly easy chemo regimen and a pretty intense radiation one.

Of course, I’m not done with Fox Chase; I’ll never be entirely done with Fox Chase. I’m a cancer survivor for the ages, but also a lifetime cancer patient as well. As one of the nurses said, “We’re your new family!” My smartass reply was, “And I’m eternally grateful, but you’re the family I really didn’t want.”

She understood.

So now I’ve moved on to a new phase of this whole crazy trip. I get to recover from the treatment.

Make room for CatMom, sweetie.

Make room for Momcat, sweetie.

And it’s not like I wasn’t warned, of course. Chemo and radiation are very hard on your body and radiation for head and neck cancer is notoriously tough on the neck and mouth. I’ll spare you the details, but it’s going to take some time for me to get over this. This ain’t pretty.

So the next couple of weeks are going to see me doing a lot of napping, a lot of knitting and a whole lot of resting.

Because, damn it, I will be well.

Giant Steps

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Oh, hi. Didn’t see you there.

I know, I know, I said I’d do a blog entry while I was in the hospital and I meant to, I really did. But somewhere in between lolling about, gazing at the beautiful flowers sent to me by family and old friends and catching up on my reading I just never got around to it.

No?

Okay. How about in between walking up and down the halls to keep my lungs clear, gazing at the beautiful flowers sent to me by family and old friends and doing some real post -surgical recovery I just never got around to it?

Better? Okay.

The good news? The surgery is done. It’s done, finit, “outta here”, really-gone-baby-oh-so-gone. The great news? It went perfectly. It was long and complex and according to my doctor’s fellow, “a real doozy”, but it’s over.

All told, I spent 5 days in the hospital and they were surprisingly busy ones. My doctor’s fellow stopped by twice a day, once with her staff and then with my doctor. They want you up and walking almost as soon as you come out of the recovery room, so there were lots and lots of trips up to the reading area in the far corridor, pushing my IV tree as I went. I got poked and prodded and woken up at 3 in the morning for blood pressure and oxygen tests. I had my hair massaged with a dry shampoo and braided.

I had a lot of bad hospital food, drank gallons of hot tea and read Graham Nash’s autobiography. I watched “The Blind Side” (not bad), “The Hunger Games” (really overrated) and laughed when a nurse pulled a chair over to watch a Philadelphia Eagles game with me. The Eagles won and she won $50 from her son on a game-day bet.

I did physical therapy exercises, had a speech therapist watch me swallow coffee and drooled like a Basset Hound bassettbecause of where my surgical site is. I had the nursing staff fall in love with my handknit socks. I made my doctor laugh because when he came to see me I was sitting in bed knitting a sock and had a double pointed sock knitting needle jammed behind my left ear.

“I think you’re ready to go home.”

Yes, please, but this is only one piece of it. I had my follow-up visit on Friday and while he’s positively giddy with how well I’m doing, I won’t be able to avoid chemo. One of the little bastards he removed was an aggressive little beast and he wants to make sure he gets all of so we don’t have to do this all over again.

I couldn’t agree with him more.

The good news is that there’s about six weeks before the medical part of the treatment starts, so I’ll have some time to heal. Although I’m no longer drooling (much to the delight of my boyfriend and the cat), I’m still really swollen. And my tongue still isn’t quite sure where it should go just yet. That’s for the speech therapist and me to work out and all of that fun starts the week after next.

And if all goes as planned, and it looks like it will, and depending on the length of radiation and chemo treatments, there’s a really good possibility I’ll be done with all of this by the end of the year.

Happy New Year, indeed.

I Need Some Bread, Man…

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I’m about to go through a real, life-changing experience.

Of course, I’m talking about my surgery and everything that’s going to happen after that. I’m going to be limited to what I can do for a few weeks. I’ll have to do physical therapy exercises three times a day and visit a speech therapist once a week and I’ll probably give our cat Frogger a real run for his money in the napping department.

The other thing I won’t be able to do is eat what I like. I’ll spare you the details, but since I have head and neck cancer, you can probably figure out what areas will be affected by the surgery.

So, I’m eating all the things I won’t be able to after next Monday. Cheez-Its by the boxful. Cold cereal with milk. Potato chips. Pizza. Shrimp. Salad. Spring rolls. Anything crunchy, chewy and the more of it, the better.

My good friend Adrian reminded me, “You will eat again, you know.”. Yeah, but I also have to be mindful of what I will be able to nosh on and as much as I love them, I can’t eat mashed potatoes every night.

Soup, especially the clear brothy types as well as the creamy ones will definitely be on the post-surgery menu. Eggs are perfect, especially since I figured out how to make scrambled eggs in the microwave. Whole grain hot cereals with real maple syrup. Baked winter squash…you get the idea.

One thing that’s missing from that preliminary list? Bread. Artisanal whole grain breads with those great, chewy crusts are out, but cornbread is cool.

I love the Southern combination of buttermilk and cornbread in a bowl, eaten with a spoon. It’s comforting, delicious and very nutritious. My friend Nathan will be thrilled to hear that, I’m sure.

And then there’s this recipe for semolina bread that I found on the Intertubes years ago. I won’t be making this on my first day home from the hospital, but it’s easy to put together since there’s very little kneading involved.

Don't...don't you want me...

Don’t…don’t you want me…

This a soft-crusted, fine-grained loaf, slightly sweet from the white flour and semolina and it’s definitely rich from the butter in the dough and the olive oil brushed on after it comes out of the oven. You can make rolls, 2 small loaves or 1 large loaf out of the dough and it freezes well. It’s really, really delicious.

Still with me here? Good. Here’s the thing…

It’s a recipe from an Italian baker and all of the ingredients are weighed in metric dry amounts. And, since I have a scale I never bothered converted the recipe to conventional American measurements.

Here’s the recipe. And if one of you has a scale and would like to rewrite the recipe into traditional American baking measurements, go for it!


Dee’s Semolina Loaf

  • 250 gr fine semolina
  • 250 gr white flour
  • 10 gr salt
  • 50 gr butter, cut into small pieces
  • 25 gr yeast
  • 300 ml luke warm water
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and whisk in the yeast.
  3. Add the warm water and mix with a spatula until a smooth soft elastic dough become together.
  4. Cover the bowl and place the dough somewhere warm to proof for 45 minutes.
  5. When the dough has doubled in bulk, turn it out on a well-floured surface and knead it for about 5 minutes. It’s a very soft dough, and you may need to add just a bit of extra flour.
  6. Shape it into a large loaf (or whichever shape you choose) and place the dough on a non-stick baking sheet. Cover the bread and let it rise until it’s almost doubled.
  7. Put the bread in the oven and bake it until it’s golden. Rolls will take about 10 to 15 minutes and a big loaf will take about 35 minutes, but that’s going to depend on your oven. Check it frequently!
  8. When it’s done, let it cool on a wire rack. Brush some olive oil on the top and try not to eat all of it while it cools.

Chasing Foxes

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So, this was the week I finally, finally, got my head wrapped around everything that’s about to happen. It all snapped into focus and it’s not going to be that bad.

Oh, it’s going to suck, big time. Both of my dental and cancer surgeries are going to happen within a few days of each other. There may not be any rest for the weary, but there will be a lot of Percocet.

I’ll be in the hospital for five or six days, and I won’t be able to speak all that well for about a week or so afterwards. A huge part of my recovery is going to be retraining the muscles in my mouth with a speech therapist so that I can speak the way I do now.

I met with her on Monday so she would have a baseline to work from. Turns out I can say “Aaaahhh!!!” for a minute and twenty seven seconds without stopping.

Sing it, cuz.

Sing it, cuz.

And that I can fit three fingers, vertically, into my mouth.

Please don’t judge me on that.

I also met my physical therapist since this surgery also involves my neck and shoulder muscles. It’s really important to make sure those muscles are strong after the surgery, and there’s a series of exercises I’ll need to do while I’m recovering just to keep everything loose and moving and grooving.

So, I did them with a 5 iron that made me look like I was a member of my high school color guard while he took notes and determined his baseline for yours truly. He also checked my strength and resistance with the golf club.

“Wow. Good. You’re strong. You’ll be fine.”

And the chest x-ray is clear. So is the EKG.

I’m just glad I passed both of them without putting three fingers into my mouth.

Or a 5 iron.

Vertically, of course.

Alphabet Soup

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“You know, this isn’t yours.”

Those aren’t exactly the words you want to hear while you’re being registered as a new patient anywhere, let alone a cancer hospital. But, Penn Dental did, indeed, give me the wrong CT results CD; that can only mean somewhere, out there, is a perfectly healthy person being told they have cancer.

To whoever that might be, I’m very, very sorry.

However, that was the only snafu in a pretty lengthy orientation visit, the first of many to Fox Chase in the Burholme section of Philadelphia.

I met my ENT surgeon, his fellow, my nurse navigator, 2 RNs, my radiology oncologist and his resident. My ENT is the departmental chief and my RO is equally as impressive. I’m definitely in great hands.

But before any of this can get started, there’s a lot to be done. CAT scans, PET scans, oral surgery. And the quicker all of this happens, the sooner I’ll have surgery.

cat scan cartoon

Because there will be surgery and probably radiation. Head and neck cancer patients don’t receive chemotherapy, so I’ll get to keep my hair.

Kidding, just kidding. Radiation isn’t a walk in the park, either. None of this is.

But that’s a few months away and I’ll have some time to wrap my head around all of this, even as things get started. I have a CAT scan scheduled for next week and then I get to see my ENT a few days after that to go over the results. Then we can start putting my treatment plan together.

In the meantime, I have to get medical records sent, faxed, emailed or flown up there by carrier pigeon. I need to see the oral surgeon and figure out what we’re going to do and when it might happen. It doesn’t look like, in the words of my ENT, it’s “galloping away”, but the sooner we get this party started, the better.

Did I mention my ENT is chief of the department?

I got The Boss. I love it when that happens.

So, off to tackle the to-do list. I really don’t want the boss to yell at me.

 

Whoosh-h-h-h-h…

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And that, my friends, was the sound of my week going by.

Now, since I want be an exemplary “CP” (“Cancer Patient”), I fulfilled my role of CP on Monday and drove up to Fox Chase to drop off my biopsy results and some other things I had from Penn Dental. I could have just faxed them over, but I wanted to suss the place out; you know, since it’s a cancer hospital and all of that.

And it’s perfectly nice and quiet and set in a park-like location. And it’s a cancer hospital. And everyone was very nice and helpful and they do fabulous things there.

And they have free parking!

But, it’s a cancer hospital.

For now, the shock is over and I’ve accepted the reality. I still have and probably will continue to have moments over the next couple of months where I will be both frightened and amazed to find myself in a setting that involves some sort of test or injection or surgery and scans and who-knows-what-the-hell-else.

And as I see it, I have a couple of weeks to play with until I turn myself over to my medical team at Fox Chase. After the second of September, I’ll be their patient and my life’s going to revolve around my treatment.

I had a great week, I really did. On Wednesday, I spent a day with friends that I don’t see nearly as much as I’d like to. It really wiped me out, but I knew that was going to happen.

No matter…I’m going to enjoy the rest of this month.

And take a lot of naps, too.

“A dog, I have always said, is prose; a cat is a poem”

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At the end of June, my boyfriend and I took our cat, Frogger, to the vet. We adopted him from the Delaware County SPCA a week after we moved in, and from the moment we brought him home, he’s been our “Little Guy”. He’s the loyal cat who greets us when we come home, pines for us when we’re gone, loves hugs and kisses and scritches and belly rubs, even with yorked-up furballs, stinky litter boxes, grey and white cat fur tumbleweeds rolling down the hallway in the breeze and even the occasional dead mouse-as-gift, he’s the “Best Cat Ever”.

“Look what I got for ya, Momcat! Look what I did while you were out! Aren’t you proud of me? Look at that! Look at me again while I pull my claws down your jeans! Let me do that figure 8 thingy around your legs again while you trip over the kitchen rug where the dead mouse is!”

I’m going to york up a hairball on your pillow tonight and it’ll be stuck to your face when you wake up. Will you still give me breakfast in the morning?

So, I found out today that my insurance plans are all taken care of and I’ll be covered on September 1st. Now, that’s a long time for someone to sit around wondering if she’s going to be okay, but they won’t move up your coverage date unless it’s a life-threatening situation, which I entirely understand.

I’m just nervous…I don’t need an organ transplant. Is there such a thing as a nervous transplant? I didn’t think so.

This is the first weekend since my diagnosis that I feel I have a handle on things. All of the paperwork is in order, health insurance done, Fox Chase has both…it’s going to be a good weekend to take a page out of Frogger’s book and nap a lot because all of that stuff I’ve been fretting about for the past 2 weeks has been taken care of for now. And there’s nothing else I can do until next week.

Move over, sweetie!

Move over, sweetie!

Yep, that looks about right.

Like A Room Without A Roof

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Because cancer sucks.

Because cancer sucks.

Two weeks ago today I was diagnosed with cancer. I will always remember that I was in the Oral Surgery department of the University of Pennsylvania’s Dental School, sitting in a dentist’s chair, when one of the residents looked at my biopsy and gave me the news.

It’s always the who and the what, the where and the how. It seems that we remember the little details when we get bad news of any kind. I’ll always remember that resident and how I didn’t like his chairside manner or the other dental students hanging out in the room, around my chair, checking out my reaction. Learning you have cancer should be in private, even in a teaching hospital environment.

In other words, fuck cancer. And screw the rest of you, too, standing around, goggling at my reaction. If you can’t help me, get out of my way. Now. I have people to tell and I have to drive home.


One of the worse things about finding out you have cancer is talking about it or even admitting to yourself that yes, you are a cancer patient, whether you like it or not. You have cancer, and it’s down there or up here or over in there and you have to deal with it. And it’s really, really hard to say to someone you love “Hey, the biopsy came back, and it’s not good. And I’m going to need your love and support and all of the hugs you can give me.”

I called my boyfriend from the car and then I drove back home with the biopsy results in my knitting bag. I snuggled with my cat, made an appointment with my primary care doctor and just sat on the couch, stunned.

And then I got to work making sure I’d get the care I needed, because no one else was going to do it for me.


So, here I am, two weeks later, and I feel good. If it weren’t for this thing in my mouth, I’d be even better.

And all politics aside, I bought a great health insurance policy this morning through the marketplace. My cancer care costs will not bankrupt me, thanks to the ACA.

Every health professional that I’ve spoken to over the past two weeks looked like they wanted to pass out when I told them my diagnosis and that I didn’t have health insurance.

But now I do, and that’s taken care of. Now the next step is to get my treatment started so that I can be well again.

I will get through this, you know…might take some time, but I’ll be fine.