Monday, June 20, 2011

Swimming among the flowers

The mountains of the Shawangunks, just south of the Catskills in New York, are blooming with mountain laurels. Bright white bell-shaped flowers everywhere on the mountain trails. These are the two or three weeks in the year when these cute whitish pink flowers are in full bloom. Seeing these flowers on a beautiful June day makes you feel so alive.

The Park's main lake is open for swimming and there is a long-distance swim section where I managed to fit in a mile swim after work, quickly changing from my lawyer suit to a bathing suit and running shorts in my own makeshift changing room, a/k/a the front seat of my Honda hatchback. But the inconvenience of a quick, cramped clothes change was worth it. It is so breathtaking to be swimming in a clear, clean lake, only accessible by dirt hiking trails, surrounded by the mountain laurels and greenery. And to hang out with some friends from my swim group who, like me, were drawn to this lake in June.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Waiting for grass to grow

Waiting for my hair to grow. It's like watching grass grow -- nothing happens for a very, very long time. With grass, after a week, you suddenly have an overgrown scraggly lawn that needs immediate mowing. For my hair, it might take a good while longer. No sprouts so far.

In the meantime, detoxing the body is an important post-chemo chore. Detoxing means loading up on fresh, organic food and anything packed with vitamins and antioxidants. Yogurt, broccoli, beans, salmon, almonds are good staples.

One good food to supplement the diet, whether you're detoxing from chemo or just trying to stay healthy, is wheatgrass. It’s hard to locate wheatgrass unless you live near an organic juice bar. The grass is not sold in supermarkets or health food stores, and seeds are not sold in regular gardening stores. But you can purchase seeds over the internet at places like or other websites and, let me tell you, there is nothing that tastes healthier than freshly-cut and juiced grass.

Apparently, wheatgrass is full of chlorophyll which makes the grass itself bright green, and the juice that it produces is the same color. Wheatgrass has been said to help increase the body’s immune system and has a high amount of iron that increases production of hemoglobin and incorporates all the important amino acids. An ounce of wheatgrass also packs a good load of vitamins A and C.

It is not hard to grow. All you need is a few containers to soak the wheatgrass in for 24 hours until it sprouts, then good quality organic soil to line a shallow growing container for it to create roots and grow. We have several large plastic lettuce containers around the house for the grass. It’s ready in a week.

Our kitchen is starting to look like a greenhouse, with wheat grass in various stages on the floor. For whatever reason, no one in my house has been sick in a month. While that could be due to warm weather and sun, I like to think that the wheatgrass has something to do with it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Done with chemo!

Seventh and last chemotherapy is done! I am so relieved. I arrived for my chemo feeling over-confident and forgetful of my obligations to hydrate so that the veins would be more visible. Instead, I over-imbibed on champagne for my grandmother's 95th birthday the night before (which was worth it!), and then forgot all about the water.

The nurse had a hard time finding a vein, then getting a vein to accept the IV. The first vein swelled up like a grape within a minute after the needle was put in. It was a worrisome site for me. Sheila, my RN, did not seem too alarmed, but she did pass me onto another nurse. The next nurse tried two more veins that she found after heating up my arm with a heating pad, and as they each started to blow up and wouldn't take the IV, she band-aided the needle marks and then called in nurse #3. I'm now running out of veins on my right arm, since the left arm can't be used for IVs due to my lymph node removals. Fortunately, she found one on the back of my arm, and the fourth one worked like a charm. After that, they dosed me with pre-chemo benadryl and steroids and I slept.

It is such a relief to be done. Did I already mention that? It's a bright sunny day and a new morning for us with no treatments looming. Celebratory dinner with my husband planned, and a music festival tomorrow.

The only damper to the day is the need to make yet another decision. I met with the Chief Radiation Oncologist at Sloan Kettering's Westchester branch yesterday, and need to make a decision whether to accept radiation therapy over the left breast, which would be daily for six weeks. This would dramatically reduce the risk of cancer recurring in the left chest wall. But it wouldn't reduce the recurrence of the cancer in other areas, such as the liver or bones. The chemotherapy and hormone pills are more systemic, the radiation is a localized procedure.

I can't help but think that radiation would be overkill. And any medical intervention has its own risks and side effects. The lung, for instance, would get a dose of radiation that it does not need. There's a 10% risk of lung inflammation, called pneumonitis. With my history, he wants to talk to my regular oncologist and get back to me.

As for me, I'm mentally exhausted from chemo. I realize that we still have a few more hurdles, but all seem jumpable.

I'm ready to jump start my life, to celebrate and to get back to running and thinking about my work and the future. So unless cancer recurrence in the chest wall is a "real" risk, we will skip radiation and knock on a lot of wood.