Category Archives: it can only get better

My Old School

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Not too long ago, I heard the city of Philadelphia described as a city of “eds and meds”, meaning that there are a lot of educational and medical facilities in and around the city. Which is true; you don’t have to go too far around here before you stumble onto a college campus or some kind of world-class hospital. And I can tell you from first-hand experience that if you’ve got some kind of condition that you need treatment for, we’ve got you covered.

“I’ll take ‘Doctors Specializing in Multi-Lobed Unruptured Aneurysms’ for $1000, Alex.”

And man, do we have colleges and universities. I know it’s a cliché, but we’ve got every major from Architecture to Zoology here. We’ve got an Ivy (Penn), a couple of satellite campuses of the official state college (Penn State Abington, Brandywine and Great Valley), a huge urban university in a questionable area (Temple in North Philadelphia), an agriculturally-focused one in the far northern suburbs (Delaware Valley University), elite liberal arts colleges (Swarthmore, Haverford), one of the Seven Sisters (Bryn Mawr), a historically Black one (Cheyney), the “Big 5” for all of your college basketball needs (Penn, Temple, LaSalle, St. Joe’s and Villanova), a handful of smaller, private colleges (Chestnut Hill, Rosemont, Cabrini).

I decided to jump-start my college career (I’ve lost count how many times I’ve done that) at my local community college, Delaware County Community College. I applied online during a break in between meetings a few years ago and got accepted 15 minutes later. Community colleges get a really bad rap, I think. Their mission is to serve the community at large and help everyone further their education, whether you’re working towards a specific degree or just want to take a few non-credit courses in flower arranging. I thought I’d save floral design for another time, so I dove right into working on an associate’s degree in Business Administration.

Which is wonderful and great, but if I want to sit for my CPA license, I need a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s as well, since Pennsylvania requires 160 college credits to sit for the CPA certification. Which means I’d have to transfer to a four-year school, which means I’d have to figure out where I wanted to go.

But I already had the answer to that question. Around fifteen years ago, I was driving down Lancaster Avenue in Radnor, PA and I had to stop for a red light. To my left were the double spires of St. Thomas Of Villanova, the huge Catholic church on Villanova’s campus. Students were crossing Lancaster in their ‘Nova sweatshirts with their backpacks slung over their shoulders, hurrying off to the library or to their Russian Lit class.

And I was envious of them. Jealous and angry at myself for not working harder when I was in high school and realizing a little too late that if I was going to go to college, the whole load would be on me. I was pissed off at the ridiculous, stifling patriarchy that colored most of childhood from the time my stepfather entered my life at 9 to the time I moved out when I was 19.

I was up at 5 in the morning, getting ready to go to work. I had been offered a great job at a Big Financial Services Firm a few months earlier and the commute was, and there’s no other way to put it, a bitch. The opportunity was too terrific to pass up, so P and I figured that I’d do the hour-long drive for a couple of months and we’d move somewhere closer in the spring, probably after my graduation from DCCC in May.

I’m half-asleep and there’s a fifteen-pound cat batting the leg of my pajamas with his paw, because he’s clearly wasting away waiting for his breakfast. I take my phone out of airplane mode and I see my new email headers floating across the screen. As I’m putting Frogger’s tuna-and-chicken into his bowl, I see something that stops me cold:

“News From Villanova University”

I give Frogger his breakfast, walk into the living room and fire up my laptop. I already knew my application had been reviewed holistically by the adult/continuing education college at the school and it was passed on to very competitive business school for consideration. Villanova’s b-school’s no joke; it was recently voted the best business school in the country. I’d already been warned by two advisors at both DCCC and Villanova that this is no slam dunk and despite a general 3.78 GPA, I may not be accepted.

And now I get it. Now I finally understand why all of my high school friends, the ones who where in the honor society with the great grades and who worked their asses off, the ones who were waiting to hear from Columbia and Princeton and Northwestern and Syracuse, died a little bit every day when they came home to find a letter from their college of choice in their mailbox. Was it a thin envelope or a fat one? Was it full of possibilities or a polite refusal? Can I brag about it tomorrow or will I cry at my locker?

So here I am, at 5:12 in the morning, going through the exact same thing. I’m 52, in my flannel pajamas and socks, working my laptop. I’ve worked my ass off for my 3.78, and I’ll probably graduate with high honors. If Villanova says “Uh, no thanks”, Temple will be more than happy to have me.

Age does that to you, you know. You accept disappointment a little better. I mean, Temple’s got a great accounting program, too. So, I click.

So.

Son of a bitch. I’m in. I did it. I did it. I got into the college of my choice. I’m…stunned. Really? I’m in.

I’m in. I did it. I’m a Wildcat. I’m a Villanova Wildcat.

Son of a bitch.

I got the fat letter.

 

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2 + 2 = 5

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I’m not sure when or how I decided to major in accounting. I remember chatting with one of the many medical technicians I came into contact with at Fox Chase who was telling me used to be an accountant but changed careers. I also remember driving by a billboard that was featuring a local junior college’s accounting program. And I didn’t take any career evaluations that are supposed to point you towards the right field of study based on whether or not you chose chicken or salmon when asked what you’d order for dinner at a restaurant.

I do know that, despite having some of the worst math teachers in history while I was growing up, I somehow ended up being good with numbers. Thanks to a wonderful (and incredibly patient) precalculus professor, I discovered that if I took my time and worked out the problems I could actually be a bit of a “numbers person”. I’ll admit I was way out of my league when Linear Algebra proved to be too much to handle, but I figured getting through Calc 2 was enough of an accomplishment for someone well into her late 30s who still didn’t quite know what she wanted to be when she eventually grew up.

When I decided to go back and really, really, for the love of everything that’s good on this Earth, finish college, I had a more than a few things to consider. The first item on the agenda was time. As much as I would have loved to have majored in art history and forged a new career as an art historian at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I had to seriously think about how many productive years I might have left. No kidding; this is something you have to come to grips with when you’re doing a complete career change in your early 50s. This isn’t something you have to give much thought to when you’re 18 and just starting out.

The next brain wave to consider was how to leverage twenty years of business experience into something I could build a new career out of, which is why accounting made sense. The problem was, I’d never taken an accounting course. Not that not being sure about something had ever stopped me from jumping into the deep end of the pool before (see the previous fifty-one years of my life for starters), but I just wanted to be sure I’d be good at it and, more importantly, that I liked it. I like to think I’m a pretty good executive assistant, but I do know this isn’t what I want to be doing in twenty-five years.

alma mater number one

Delaware County Community College – Alma Mater #1

Financial Accounting is required for all Business Administration majors at Delaware County Community College, so I took that as my first class. It was my first dip into college since The Great Linear Algebra Disaster Of 2000. And I aced it. Not only did I pass with flying colors, I was good at it and I loved it.

But this was only for the two-year associate’s degree, not the four-year bachelor’s. Which meant I also had to figure out where to go after DC3.

Stay tuned.

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Now, where was I?

Oh, yes. It was March of last year, the last time I wrote and posted anything into this space, in my little corner of WordPress.  I was on the tail end of recovering from my aneurysm repair surgery, taking macroeconomics and managerial accounting at school and hitting the “Reset” button on my job hunt. I was planning on teaching a few spring crochet classes at Hidden River Yarn and I believe I was working on a store sample that was making me crazy. I seem to think there was something else going on too, and for the life of me I can’t remember what it was right now. I’m sure it’ll come to me.

Things were moving along just fine and I stopped writing about it all. Not that I’d fallen out of love with it, but I felt that I’d ran out of things to write about. Last spring I was still a recovering cancer patient. I was only a year removed from the end of my treatment and even though I was writing about experiences other than cancer, I was still framing them around my recovery process. I recently realized I didn’t become bored with writing; I’d gotten tired of writing about my cancer.

This was never meant to be a blog about my cancer fight, which is why it’s refreshing to come back to this a year or so later with a pair of fresh eyes and a renewed spirit. I’ve had some wonderful things happen to me over the past few months or so. I’m in good health and I just had a great checkup at Fox Chase. I started a full-time job at a very large financial services firm and I’m graduating from my local community college with my associates degree in May. My boyfriend and I (and Frogger, of course) are moving to a really nice little town in a few months.

And starting in September, I’m going to be a part-time college student at Villanova University. A 52-year-old college sophomore.

This is the stuff that’s worth writing about. This is going to be fun again.

The Road Goes On Forever and The Party Never Ends

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Because just when you think you’ve had enough and the drama’s all over, it really isn’t.

The clinical trial I was in for my cancer treatment requires that all participants take a hearing test to see if the chemo’s done any hearing damage. I’ve known for years that my left ear’s a bit wonky. I’ve had tinnitus for ages and it’s always felt a bit “full” and “muffled”. The test they did after the surgery and before my treatment showed that yeah, I’m not hearing a lot of midrange tones and I’m a great candidate for a little hearing aid in the future (what did you say?). As it turned out, the “arm” of the study I randomized into didn’t have the chemo that causes hearing loss (speak up!), but the study protocol says everyone still has to get tested after the chemo is done, so I went off to the audiologist and otolaryngologist a few weeks back for their post-treatment poke and prod.

My hearing hasn’t changed (which is good), but it’s only on one side, which isn’t so good. That’s a sign of something called an acoustic neuroma, which is worse than it sounds. They’re “mostly harmless”, but she wanted to get a better look so I skipped off to have an MRI.

By the way, any normal human being would have been screaming uncontrollably by now, but I am not a normal human being, which is something you’ve probably suspected for a long, long time.

So I get the MRI (the person who invents a silent MRI will make a fortune) and they send the results to the otolaryng…the ear, nose and throat lady and my primary care physician, who calls me a few days later with the results.

I have an aneurysm. An unruptured, berry aneurysm somewhere in my brain.

I don’t have any symptoms. No nausea, sentinel headaches, blurred vision, weakness, nothing. I don’t know how large it is, but there’s a real good possibility I’ve had this for ages. Decades, maybe. Who knows?

So, I called the neurosurgeon my primary recommended and I have an appointment with him on the 21st. There are a couple of things they can do. If it’s really tiny, they can just watch it. If it needs to be dealt with, they can either do a little brain surgery (no kidding) and put a clip around it or they can do something similar to an angioplasty and put a spring in it. Either procedure isn’t all that awful (compared to what I’ve been through, nothing really is) and is much preferable to the alternative.

In the meantime, there’s not much I can do. I could scream and cry and wail “Why me?”, but that’s not going to be very helpful. And neither is constantly Googling “berry aneurysm” since most of the clinical descriptions and treatments are the same. So I’ll get up in the morning and plan my life with P and get ready to take my class in September and work and knit and teach until I hear otherwise.

And I hope the Phillies start playing better, or they’re going to give me an aneurysm.

Oh.

Onward.

singlecandlepeanutscartoon

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!

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.

Constant Craving

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I’m a very unhappy person right now.

I’m a foodie living a very sad, lonely life these days. I’m a cook who isn’t cooking, a baker who isn’t baking, an eater who isn’t eating. I walk through the supermarket on Saturday mornings dreaming of salmon and fettuccine alfredo and lasagna and oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips.

Yeah.

Yeah.

I want a mushroom and spinach pizza and a quart of shrimp lo mein. To go, please.

I want a veggie shepherd’s pie and a fish pie and an apple one, too. With cinnamon ice cream on the side. And then maybe some Jelly Krimpets with a hot cup of tea.

One day. One day, soon, my mouth will heal and the taste buds will start working again. And breakfast will be a bowl of oatmeal with real maple syrup or a piece of homemade coffee cake and there won’t be a plastic bottle of “Blueberry and Pomegranate Ensure Protein Drink” to be found in my refrigerator. Which contains neither blueberries nor pomegranates, to no one’s surprise, I’m sure.

Or a glass of Carnation Instant Breakfast, which comes in 3 varieties of chocolate, strawberry and French vanilla. I may never drink a milkshake ever again.

I’d kill for a shrimp egg roll.

With duck sauce? Oh, yeah.

And you do not want to know what I’d do for a grilled cheese sandwich.

I'm killing myself here.

I’m killing myself here.

It’s obscene and probably illegal in several states.

Or ravioli. With vodka sauce and mushrooms and Parmesan cheese. Mmm.

Yeah, definitely illegal.

All I can say is, the day that I can eat real food again, you’d all better stay out of my way. Don’t even think about blocking the door to Wegman’s or the local pizzeria or it could get really ugly.

Better yet, come shopping with me. We’ll cook and have fun and eat ourselves silly. Wallow in cheese and butter and all kinds of caloric goodness.

Soon. I promise.

Knock It Out of the Park

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So, today’s a weird landmark of sorts.

I’m officially two weeks into my treatment and exactly one month from completing it.

Now there’s a sentence I thought I’d never write.

I wanna be just like you.

I wanna be just like you.

And, it’s…okay. I’m starting to feel some of the side effects, but for the most part…okay. So far, so good and all of that. Right now, it’s nothing I can’t handle and for the few things I can’t deal with, well, that’s why the meds are in the medicine cabinet. Eating is a bit of a hassle, so it’s a good thing I like yogurt and soup. There’s a lot of both coming my way in the next couple of weeks.

There will be lots of naps, too. And cat therapy with the wondercat Frogger, who seems to really understand that MomCat isn’t exactly well these days.

And knitting, of course. Easy things, but there’s always something on the needles. Since there’s no rush to finish anything, it will get done when it gets done. It’s silly to push it when it’s supposed to be giving me some measure of quietude, isn’t it? It’s counterintuitive to do otherwise.

What I do need to concentrate on right now is getting better. Or, as my doctor said when we were discussing my post-surgical treatment, “You’d have to work very hard to do better than you’re doing now, but you need to have a complete game here.”

I’d better go get some rest. I still have a couple of innings to go.

It’s In The Way You Move

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So, something really odd and wonderful has been happening to me over the past couple of weeks.

I’m getting better.

Really. I didn’t notice it at first, but every day I feel just a bit better than I did the day before. Some days it’s easier to say, “Hey! Check it out, world!” than others, but still…better.

This is not me.

This is not me.

Not “do-handsprings-down-Broad-Street” better or even “cartwheeling-in-the-backyard” better, but…you know.

Not as bad as a few weeks ago.

I still can’t move around as well as I did in my pre-surgery days. I can raise my left arm so that it’s straight with my left shoulder and I can do the same thing with my right arm; just don’t ask me to do both at the same time is all I’m saying here. The swelling around my jaw line and neck is starting to recede, but it’s going to need some help from my physical therapists. I have two of them now.

Maybe I’ll start a collection.

What do you call a collection of physical therapists, anyway?

But, three times a day I do my physical therapy exercise regime with the thought that next week I might be able to move both of my arms up at the same time. Sure, it doesn’t sound like much until you realize, “Hey, I can’t do that anymore and I might like to one of these days.”

So, I’ll keep moving and grooving and working hard to get myself back into what my therapists call my “baseline”, which is my old, pre-surgery self. It’s there; just have to do some work to get there.

And when I can raise both of arms at the same time, I’ll be the one doing handsprings down Broad Street.


Braised Carrots

Braised carrots

Ready for the oven.

This is my adaptation on a recipe from Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone”

and they’re one of my favorite ways to cook carrots. They’re delicious, easy, really good for you and they’re perfect for this time of the year. What are you waiting for?

 

  • 1 lb. of whole carrots, trimmed and peeled
  • 2 Tbsp. of olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 or so little garlic cloves, left whole and unpeeled (the little guys from the center of the head are perfect)
  • Whole thyme sprigs (you can use a teaspoon of dried thyme, but the fresh is a lot better)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Put everything into a large baking pan. Give it a good toss with your fingers to mix everything up. Add about 2 or 3 Tbsps. of water to the pan. Cover it with foil and give it a good shake.
  3. Put it in the oven and give it a good shake every 10 minutes or so. If it looks like it’s getting dry, add a bit more water.
  4. Check to see if they’re done after 15 minutes or so. Really skinny carrots might be done after 15 minutes, but big, fat carrots might take up to 45 minutes.
  5. Enjoy!

A Little Monday Morning Quickie

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See? I knew I got your attention!

This is just a quick update to let youse guys know what’s going on here. Today’s the dental surgery over at Temple University Dental, but that shouldn’t be too hard. I’ll be on nitrous for a couple of hours, so if any of you in the Philly area see someone floating over the Linc, that’s just me. Please don’t call 311.

enterpoop

The big, icky surgery’s on Thursday. One of the PAT nurses at Fox Chase said I’ll probably be the first surgery scheduled, so there’s a good possibility we’ll be leaving here around quarter-of-dark that morning.

I’m in good shape. The whole idea of being scared has been in the rearview for a while now, but I’m pretty sure the possibility of being on Percocet and other assorted opioids for a week or so is helping me along.

I’ll take whatever I can get, ya know?

I’ll keep everyone updated here and on Twitter. Stay tuned!