Saturday, April 29, 2006

I am so happy!

Today was a wonderful day at Animal Services. Some of you might remember that I wrote about the two sweet pit bull mixes that have been languishing there for sometime. Spanky and Lulu. They are both so sweet and gentle, if they were any other breed, they would be adopted long ago. Lulu was starting to show signs of "shelter shock", the stress that comes of a pack animal having to live in near isolation much of the day except for the loud noises of the other dogs. Today, a very nice middle-aged couple from Half Moon Bay came and adopted Lulu! They had another pitbull mix that they loved and finally had passed away so they were looking for another one. Lulu just charmed them. We are so glad she went to a good home. Now, there is still Spanky. He is the sweetest guy. I was walking him today and had to keep looking down to see if he was still on the leash. No pulling at all. Just happy to walk along at my side. Other dogs? He doesn't give them any attention. People? He rolls over on his back to have his tummy rubbed.

Anyone out there who knows of someone looking for a good pitbull mix, please send them to Palo Alto Animal Services to see Spanky. For now, I tip back a glass for the adoption of Lulu. Hooray!

Ok lady, what's the big idea?

This story ranks up there with the unbelievable for me. This morning, as I was opening the drapes, I noticed a car parked across the street from my house. A woman was standing beside it, looking at something in the street. She then went to her car, got two pieces of paper and lifted the thing off the street and carried it over, looked up at me and placed it on my lawn next to my tree. I thought, "how nice, she is rescuing a hurt bird from the street. Too bad, the cats next door will get it". I then leashed up my dogs and took them out for their walk. As I passed the tree, I saw that the "thing" she had "rescued" was not a bird. It was dog poop! And, of course, it did not belong to my dogs. My dogs poop in their own back yard, not in the street or on walks. I can't believe the nerve of her. Now, I wish that I had walked out when she was there to see what she was "rescuing". She should know that there are responsible dog owners out there and, that if they are not responsible, they would not let their dogs poop in the street right in front of their own house. They would take the dogs for a walk around the neighborhood and let them poop in everyone elses' yards or on the street in front of their houses!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Clutter, Dogs and Dentists

What do the top three topics have in common. Nothing really. Just happens that they "happened" in my life today.

Lets start with the dentist. Today, I had four "fillings" done. Two molars that have cracks since my childhood that make it difficult to brush bacteria out of. Not your usual cavity which is a hole made by decay. This is a pre-existing hole that decay got into. The other two "fillings" were actually add-ons to my canines. It seems that my biting and blood-sucking got out of control. jk. Apparently, I was grinding my teeth and the poor canines were ground down flat instead of pointy as they should be. Why is this important? They were not doing there job and keeping my jaw in the right place so the jawbone started to wear down which can lead to all sorts of other problems. Anyway, I have a nice pointy canine on the right side and a little less pointy one on the left side now. And that was the trip to the dentist. Now I sit here with my numb mouth and tongue writing in my blog.

Next topic - clutter. Thank you Wen for visiting my blog and making a comment so that I had a chance to visit your blog - declutterbug. As all of my (1, 2?) readers know, I have been fighting the clutter demon in my house and particularly my study. Some of my various bouts have been chronicled here under "letting go". From friends' and reader's verbal comments, I have learned that I am not alone in this battle. Most people have that room, garage, attic or other space they are searching to declutter. For those of you with that challenge (opportunity?), take a look at Wen's website. You will see it right over there to your right under my connections. The Monday, Feb 27, 2006 entry is particularly funny. Here is an excerpt:

Pet Hair - Explain the mound of pet hair brushed up against
the doorways by claiming you are collecting it there to use for
stuffing hand-sewn play animals for underprivileged
children. (Also keeps out cold drafts in winter.)

Dusting - If dusting is REALLY out of control, simply place
a showy urn on the coffee table and insist that "This is
where Grandma wanted us to scatter her ashes."

Click on the link to the right for more "Decluttering" wisdom.

And finally, dogs. I love my dogs. You all know this. I even volunteer at the shelter to help out other dogs. As with most dog owners, I occasionally have challenges with my dogs, particularly Thomas who has a social impediment when it comes to other dogs. He has been to training without much luck. TIVO mentioned in their e-mailer that the dogwhisperer on the National Geographic Channel was becoming very popular. I started to TIVO and watch the show and that is how I became "acquainted" with the wonderful Cesar Millan. I love his philosophy:

"Cesar does not train dogs in the sense of teaching commands like “sit,” “stay,” or “heel”? he rehabilitates unbalanced dogs and helps “re-train” their owners to better understand how to see the world through a dog’s eyes. Cesar counsels people on how to calmly, assertively, and consistently establish boundaries and prove to their dogs that they are solid pack leaders; this helps to correct and control unwanted behavior. He doesn’t believe in “quick fixes,” even though changing some behaviors can appear to happen in a relatively short time. None of those changes will stick, however, unless the owners work consistently with their dogs. Cesar uses a stern voice and a calm, assertive touch to correct unwanted behaviors. In his opinion, rehabilitation never involves yelling or hitting a dog."

I have applied some of his leadership techniques to Thomas and seen a vast improvement in his relationship with other dogs and his behaviour in general although I am still working on his bad habit of jumping on visitors when they first enter my home. Anyway, I have become a big fan and am even going to see Cesar at a seminar in August. I am so excited. You can read his blog by clicking on the link to your right over there under my connections.

That is about all for today. It is sunny so I am going to try a little gardening. More decluttering! Weeds! :)

Oh yeah and speaking of letting go, goodbye to:

14 pairs of shoes
12 pairs of pants
1 skirt
16 sweaters
1 long sweater jacket
2 dresses including one that I wore on a date 23 years ago!
2 pairs of jeans
8 pairs of shorts
1 red plaid lumberjack jacket (never worn - not my style - a gift from our Canadian sales team when I worked at NAI)
12 bras (3 new and never worn -still with tags on)
11 pairs of panties
6 pairs of new socks - never worn - still with tags
1 pair of new nylons
7 assorted pieces of yoga/workout clothing

All went to the Career Closet - a center for underprivileged women needing interview clothes. The center also clothed survivors of hurricane Katrina and sell the non-interview clothing for $1 each to raise funds to support the center. All of the above were good condition and have now found a much better home where they won't suffer the neglect they did at my home.

And lest you worry that I will now be running around naked, not a chance. There are still many more clothes in my closets and drawers - oh how fun shopping was when I was working and had the money for it! I have only had to buy one new pair of pants and one shirt in the last year and a half. In fact, I am sure that, after another round of letting go (including letting go of these 10 lbs that have been holding tightly to my waist and hips), Career Closet will be blessed with another donation. On the bright side, I can say, "thank goodness I shopped in the good times so that I would have something to wear now, in the rainy days of my life".

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Rough day

8:30 doctor appt with Dr. Y. Radiation Oncologist. Went well. Still "tanned" from the radiation. Skin still feels hotter than other skin around it. Everything otherwise fine. Next follow-up in six months (Oct).

2:45 doctor appt with Dr. K. GP. Unexpectedly, cholesterol took a jump. LDL and triglycerides up and HDL down. Wow! What a shock! How did it happen? Dr. K. wanted to check on Herceptin to see if it has an effect. Anyway, I have to take another test in 3 months. Until then, exercise up, niacin up, fiber up, fats and cholesterol down.

Still tired and fatigued much of the time. The sunny days helped some but I am still requiring many hours of sleep a night and get exhausted after just a little Quigong or walking the dogs. The muscle fatigue grows the longer I am on the Herceptin. Ugh.........

So, lets see. What am I thankful for today? I just loved looking at the mountains as I drove out to Santa Teresa hospital and I am thankful for the coffee kiosk at Kaiser that always serves me the non-fat, decaf mocha after each Drs. appt. and Herceptin infusion. It almost makes things better.

How do I meet a good one?

Guys suck. Dating sucks. How do I meet a good one? No games. No "pretend I like you but don't call". Enuf said.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

More letting go

Here I am again. I know this must be getting boring but letting go is such a hard thing, I feel like I need to document it. It is just amazing to me the things I have hung onto.

So, the task list continues to get worked on. Yesterday, I bought bed raisers to raise my bed up off the floor so that I could fit a storage box under it and so that the bedskirt wouldn't drag on the floor. Been meaning to do this for some time. The only problem is that the ones I bought are six inches high so the bed is really tall now. I have to go back to get the 3 inch ones and see how those work. The dogs are mildly amused by the new bed.

I also got a new mat for the front door so that the 'Noel' doormat could be retired to the Christmas storage until next year. And bought a new shredder since the old one is gummed up in the middle and only shreds half the documents. I am now ready to start attacking the filing in my room again.

And finally to the letting go part. Today, I drove over to ASL and surrendered my old monitor which doesn't work any more. That was the easy part. Happy to get rid of it. The other thing was my first computer - a CB laptop with about a 120Mhz hard drive. Couldn't load anything on that now. Anyway, it stopped working long ago. I bought it about 14 years ago to take to Japan with me. The guy at the center was amazed that they had laptops that small and portable then. Of course, it cost somewhere around $3 - $4,000 I think. Anyway, it is gone and that is one more thing out of my house.

I am still working on the clothes and hoping to bring a load to Career Closet next week and get them out of the house. Then there are all of the books. I think it might be time for some of them to go too.

And, amazingly, cleaning out my underwear drawer and found another bag with bras that still had tags and I had never worn. I don't know what it was about me and bras but for a while there, it seems like I was buying a lot of them and stashing them here and there. As I have cleaned things out, I have found many bags with bras in them with the tags still on. Most I have returned or am giving to career closet but these still have the receipt so I am going to try and return them. What a weird obsession. I wonder if it was some sort of premonition of the impending mastectomy. Who knows? Strange.

So thats where I am at. The house is ever so gradually getting into a better order. I have now been able to put my painting and jewelry supplies into the closet in the yoga room and know exactly what is in that closet and everything is usable and current. Amazing! After taking the clothes to career closet, that room will be finished except for some shelves and finishing up the frame on the mirror. I will be so glad to be able to do my yoga and other exercises in there again. And, of course, it gets well used when I have visitors. As for painting, the light doesn't seem quite right and there isn't room for a desk for my easel and paint supplies so they stay on the kitchen table for now. Maybe there will be room in the study later.

Now, this is even boring me so I am just going to wander off to bed now.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Alive and Kickin'

Yep. This is me. Still alive. Still here. Just having a very packed schedule. The last 8 days in a nutshell (granted a very big nutshell):

Walk dogs, pay bills, play with babies, shop, return what I bought, breakfast with friends, walk dogs, dinner with family for Mom's bday, Easter, eat chocolate bunny, eat Peeps, eat chocolate eggs, hard boil eggs, eat hard-boiled eggs, see doctor, get Herceptin infusion, close books for ATW, eat more chocolate eggs, eat more Peeps, go to business seminar, visit friend, play with baby, go to CBHP open house, eat more chocolate and last of Peeps, Quigong class, clean out closet in Yoga/Guest/Painting Room, catch up on email, put out trash cans, take in trash cans, Weight Watchers, Jamba Juice (mail coupon for HUGE, FREE Jamba Juice), Blood Test, Eyebrow Wax, blog.

Okay, now you are all caught up. Nothing much new to note at this point. Am still waiting for a surgery date in June and for a response from Social Security (90 days - 3months - and counting). Social Security says it takes 4 - 6 months. I have spoken with my rep and she says she has all of my information. She has also interviewed me and says she will get to it as soon as possible but they are behind. I am not sure why she couldn't just sign the approval right then and there. Go figure. Anyway, one more month until I enter the magical 4 - 6 month window. In the meantime, my disability is expiring in 2 weeks and my COBRA will be expiring soon. Is there no justice for taxpayers in this world? Maybe I should become an illegal immigrant........

Surgery gets set 6 weeks in advance which means I should have a call any day now. I just tried to call but the scheduler is not in so I may try again tomorrow.

In the meantime, I have my list of "To Do's" that I want to get done BEFORE the surgery. This time, I made them up far ahead of time instead of trying to cram everything into the last week. Even so, you can bet that the last week will be packed with things to do. (eyes rolling towards the heavens) "Will I ever get caught up?"

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Reconstruction Surgery follow-up

Here I am back again after a long hiatus. So what did I do during these past 11 days. Lots of stuff but nothing noteworthy so I will not write it here.

Today, I went to see my Plastic Surgeon, Dr. W., for more questions on my upcoming reconstruction. I explained that I am a technical, detail-oriented person (as opposed to just generally being a pain in the neck) and I had some questions to ask. She asked me if I got the printout after the last meeting and I said, "no". She said that might help. Then she asked me if I had seen the photos. I again said, "no" and she thought those might help. I am sure she didn't guess that I really wanted to know what she was going to do to my body - in detail.

And so...

I asked my questions (please note that Dr. W's answers are not direct quotes but only reconstructions of my notes and memories of our conversation):

Me: What is the intent of the first surgery? Is it meant to complete the process or just to start it?

Dr. W: The first surgery is to get the fat plopped into place and a shape made that should resemble the breast you are looking for. After about 2 months, when the swelling goes down, a determination can be made as to how good the match is with the other breast and how it is sitting. Is it higher or lower. In about 70% (her number) of the cases, a second surgery to reshape or tweak the breast is desired. I know you had some concerns with insurance so the second surgery is not a must.

Me: Is the reshaping, tweaking surgery outpatient?

Dr. W: Yes.

Me: That fits my concern. I am staying with Kaiser but may lose Cobra which will raise my rates for overnight hospital stays. (More convo on insurance costs not necessary to be recorded here)

Me: Is the nipple also Outpatient surgery?

Dr. W: Yes.

Me: What can I expect in terms of look and size of the new breast? When will you draw the lines on me and know?

Dr. W: When you are in the operating room on the operating table. I will look at the other breast and your structure and decide then.

Me: I have a pain from the Mastectomy in my lower rib area. It feels like bruising and sometimes wakes me up when I roll over on it in my sleep. Will the recostruction help this?

Dr. W: It is hard to say for sure. When I do the reconstruction, I open up the mastectomy scar and clean out any internal scarring and then fill in all of the areas that were emptied by the mastectomy. The new healing may eliminate the pain or you may still have scarring in that area.

Me: What about my belly button? Will it be repositioned?

Dr. W: Yes. It will be in a different place and may look a little diferent but it will be your belly button. In very rare cases, we can't save the belly button but in almost all cases we do.

Me: What part of my stomach will be used? And what happens to the rest?

Dr. W: One side will be cut through the abdominal muscle..

Me: I thought the DIEP does not cut through the abdominal muscle?

Dr. W: I have to cut down into the muscle to separate out the arteries.

Me: But not cut through the muscle like a Free flap? I will still have use of the muscle?

Dr. W: Yes. you will have use of the muscle.

Me: So you cut through the muscle on one side and then what happens on the other side?

Dr. W: I remove the fat and skin from the other side and discard it. In some cases, if the arteries on one side aren't good, I may have to go to the other side and cut through there as well.

Me: What about creams? Is there anything I should use on the skin at the mastectomy site prior to surgery to make it softer or better conditioned?

Dr. W: There is nothing to use prior to surgery. We do have recommendations for after surgery. Also, in terms of general health. Keep exercising and keep your weight down so that you are in good condition and can have a good recovery.

Me: Ok. So about the other breast. Is it best to wait and see how the right side comes out before doing a lift on the other breast?

Dr. W: Yes. I recommend waiting to see how you feel about the match. Loss of sensation, additional scarring and other factors may affect your decision also.

Me: My left breast droops more than before since I had the lumps removed. It is also slightly deformed. I thought that a lift could help that.

Dr. W: With your history, the scarring and potential for sensation loss may not be as important since you have already gone through one operation on that breast. If you are sure that you want to have that breast lifted, I can try to do it at the same time.

Me: (Smiling) I am not sure what I want to do.

Dr. W: Most women aren't so we can wait and see how it looks.

Me: Will that be a couple of months later also?

Dr. W: Usually it takes a couple of months.

Me: Will I be able to speak with my anesthesiologist before the operation. I want to understand what type of anesthesia he/she will use and how it will be monitored.

Dr. W: Hayward is a little behind but they are supposed to have a program set up so that you could meet with an anesthesiologist prior to surgery. I will try to set that up. The only unfortunate thing is that the anesthesiologist you meet with may not be the same one who does your surgery.

Me: (I explained my concern with the detrimental effect of general anesthesia to the brain and the number of surgeries I had already been through).

Dr. K: All of the anesthesia available and the machines are already in the operating room. It is just a matter of choice on the day of the operation. You can speak with the anesthesiologist that day and make those decisions. Or you could speak with one ahead of time if you like but it is not guaranteed to be the same one you will have for surgery.

Me: I would like to try to meet with them ahead of time.

Dr. K: Okay. I will try to set that up.

Somewhere in here she also mentioned that she had never, knock on wood, (her words) lost a patient in the operating room and that she is most concerned that the health of the patient be good to minimize that risk.

After this conversation, I looked at the pictures of the reconstructions she had done. They looked very nice. The only unfortunate thing was that none of them were on radiated patients. I was interested to see what she meant by looking a little different. I asked if there were any photos of radiated patients but she said there weren't.

From this long blog, you can probably guess how complicated this can be. And, imagine, this was my second meeting with her. There were lots more questions in the first meeting.

On the way to the car I glanced through the sheet she had printed out for me. It was instructions and follow-up for DIEP surgery. Some of the instructions:

1. For the first weeks after surgery, you must walk with your abdomen slightly bent to avoid tension on the incisions. NO YOGA.

2. Do not lift anything heavier than 5 lbs for 4 weeks from your surgery date. Sorry Sam and Riley. :(

3. No vacuuming, raking or strenuous household duties for 6 weeks after surgery. (Sounds good until I think of all of the dog hair - ugh)

4. No Yoga for 6 weeks. You may start swimming after 4 weeks.

5. No driving for 2 weeks.

How much fun will I be having? I will be really thankful to those folks bringing me meals and help during that time.

And that concludes the reconstruction follow-up conversation. Now, just need to wait for it to be scheduled, give my 2 units of blood, meet with the anesthesiologist, get my CT scan, have my colonoscopy and whatever else it take to get me there and of course, the ever-continuing Herceptin infusions. Only 11 doctors visits/diagnostic tests/infusions over the next 6 weeks (so far)!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

April 1st, no April Fool

I know for many, if not most of us, April 1st signifies April Fool's Day - a day to play fun pranks and jokes on your friends. Or, in most cases, a day just to think about playing pranks and jokes on your friends.

For me, the last 3 April 1st's have taken on a special significance that I would never in my life would have expected. They have become snapshots of my life for the last 3 years and shown what a difference a year can make.

2 years ago, April 1, 2004, I started the first day of my new job. This is always an exciting time for me but was even more so that year because I had been unemployed in my profession for 16 months during the Silicon Valley slump - a time when there were months I couldn't even get an interview, much less a job. Even the temp and consulting assignments had dried up. This was truly a significant and exciting day.

1 year ago, April 1, 2005, things had changed completely. I had been layed off from the new job (startups can be that way) and diagnosed with Breast Cancer. My life was completely turned upside down. The doctors I had were largely unhelpful and frustrating. I came home from every appointment frustrated, angry, scared and crying. On April 1, 2005, that all changed. That was the day that I was sitting in front of the Tumor Board at Stanford Hospital. 6 doctors of varying stripes - surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, intern - were each examining me individually while the pathology lab checked out my slides from my first excision and the radiologist checked out my mammograms and chest x-rays. What potentially could have been just a sterile, assembly line turned out to be a series of compassionate, warm, friendly and sometimes funny doctors visits. I was poked and examined to see what could be learned from my breasts and lymph nodes. By that time, all modesty had disappeared since so many doctors had looked at my breasts. At the end of the morning, Dr. C and a breast surgeon colleague came in and gave me their conclusions, diagnosis and recommendations for treatment. It wasn't much different from what I had heard before but delivered in such a different manner. They calmly listened to and answered my questions without rushing or making me feel like I was wasting their time. They also gave me recommendations for my left breast like MRI and ultrasound rather than, "oh, remove that one, too..". Even though my situation hadn't changed, I left feeling comfortable, happy and relieved. I had a call from my oncologist at Kaiser as I walked in the door at home. She wanted to know what I had heard from Stanford. I told her and also mentioned the MRI and ultrasound recommendation. She told me that Kaiser had turned me down on those requests. After telling her that 6 doctors at Stanford had recommended it and confirming they were sending their report over the Kaiser and threatening to report them to the California HMO complaint board, she finally offered to send me to one more breast surgeon for approval. That surgeon turned out to be a breast specialist at Santa Teresa - Dr. K! And that was how I finally got to the right surgeon who now takes such wonderful care of me. What a special April 1st that was.

And, finally, this year, April 1, 2006. In the last year, I have been through poking, prodding, 3 surgeries, loss of a breast, insertion of a mediport for infusions after losing the veins in my left hand, chemotherapy, radiation, brain scans, breast scans, blood tests, heart scans, weakening of my heart due to chemo and subsequent strengthening as a result of my Quigong practice, bone scans, bone density, dermatologists, office surgery to remove two cysts, healers, nutritionists, plastic surgeons visits, acupuncture, support groups, visualization, biological therapy and more. Yesterday was a celebration of not just making it through but surviving and thriving. It was a fashion show fund raiser by CBHP (California Breast Health Project), an invaluable resource for me. Following is a sampling of what CBHP did for me.

I attended a Thursday night open house where I was able to speak with a breast surgeon, right after my first surgery and diagnosis, who patiently went through my medical record and pathology report with me at a time when I was completely distraught and finding it difficult not to cry. At other open houses, I met a plastic surgeon who answered my questions about different types of surgery and recommended a surgeon at Kaiser I could speak with and I met a medical oncologist, after my terrible first chemo, who made recommendations on nausea medications that I could ask my doctor about. I also met Dr. B, a wonderful human being and radiation oncologist who made an appointment with me, researched my case and sat with me for 2 hours - her with here binder and me with mine - going through the pros and cons of radiation, for me and my case in particular, that finally helped me to make the decision to go through radiation therapy.

I also became a regular participant in their Young Survivors' support group where I found not only support but made some friends as well. I saw one of their volunteer psychiatrists, herself a breast cancer survivor, to talk through some of the pain. I used their Buddy program to meet two wonderful women who had reconstruction surgery like the type I was considering and who shared their stories and new breasts with me - lifting their shirts to let me look, not just glance, but really look at their beautiful new breasts - what wonderful women!

CBHP has meant so much to me in my journey and I was pleased when they asked me to participate in a fashion show to help raise funds. All of the models were breast cancer survivors and what a happy, funny, crazy crowd we were. We all had a great time together - getting our outfits, having makeup done, sharing time and stories.

Last night was the show. We performed the choreographed moves we had learned to a sold-out crowd, including my very own sister, Linda, who had paid $250/seat for dinner, auction and show. I was on stage with two other women, performing to Absolutely Fabulous, the music from AbFab Girls. I felt absolutely fabulous, in my brown/grey slacks, white,fitted,shear blouse and beautiful, purple linen jacket, as I walked and pivoted around the stage -all the time trying to smile past my nervousness. How exciting! And, then came the finale where we all walked across the stage with some 6 doctors (including Dr. C from Stanford) who had treated some of the other models for their breast cancer.

I had a fabulous time! So much has happened in the last year that I would not have chosen for my, or anyone's, life but I have also experienced so many wonderful things and met so many wonderful people through the journey. Last night was one of those awesome experiences! What a difference a year makes. I am still not through my journey - one more major surgery, some minor ones, treatment every 3 weeks with Herceptin through Sept and continuing follow-ups every 6 months to 1 year for the rest of my life - but I have come a long way, much further than I would ever have expected of myself and April 1, 2006 was a celebration of that.

I wonder what April 1, 2007 will bring?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Fashion Show Saturday

Today is the day of the fashion show! Did I wake up feeling excited? No! Just nervous. In that wanting to get it over state of mind. Will the shoes work? Will the jewelry work? Why did all of my nails break before this? Will I be able to walk and not fall? Will the makeup look good? Is my hair okay? (Not that their is much you can do to change it at this point).

And then I see that there are 7 dogs at Palo Alto Animal Services needing love, attention and walking and I am trying to figure out how I can make it over there and do that today too.

And.......I slept in so don't have a lot of time for relaxation and rest this morning before prepping for the noon dress rehearsal.