Monday, February 25, 2008


It’s Monday morning and I’m preparing to leave Toledo. I’m here for an annual geek gathering I’ve attended for at least the past five years. It’s a small event, about 30-40 people, who write books and articles and make presentations at conferences all over the world. These are the movers and shakers who inhabit the computer niche I’m most familiar with. Many of us are independent software developers who initially sought out technical camaraderie online and quickly became the online go-to group for peer technical support. We have since met at conferences and other events, and established important friendships in the real world.

As usual, it’s been great getting together with people I have a long history with and with whom I share an esoteric interest in software technologies. This mixed group of Visual FoxPro specialists recognizes accomplishment above most other characteristics. As a woman, I encountered some subtle gender bias in the business community at large that I never experienced in this group. Here, we recognize each other’s capabilities and contributions, and tend to ignore those characteristics that can’t be changed.

Much as I anticipated this event and the invaluable networking opportunities it provides, getting here and being away from home for four days is still not that easy for me. I don’t have a lot of energy to spare and travelling quickly eats it up. I feel like I’m not contributing my fair share, and in fact can’t think what that contribution might be; it just doesn’t come naturally, as it has in the past. In short, I feel guilty about imposing my low energy on the group. I mentioned this to one of my friends. “It’s not noticeable,” she said. “It’s inside you. People are just glad to have you here.”

But then she remembered from her own course of chemotherapy several years ago, “What’s even worse than the low energy is the low emotional energy, the feeling of detachment.”

So maybe it’s not noticeable, but it certainly is real. I was surprised to hear her say that, and relieved in a way. I don’t like feeling this way. It helps to know that it’s related to the drugs and that there’s hope I may recapture my zest and sense of belonging at some point.

Bottom line for me right now is that I’ve been away from home since last Thursday and I’m ready to be back in familiar surroundings.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Feeling much better

This flu is nasty business! I followed all the guidelines and had no fever all day yesterday. By early evening I was still exhausted. I’m feeling considerably better today; no fever, no aches, and my energy and outlook are incrementally improved. All good signs and quite a relief after nearly a week of feeling crummy.

Note to self: Don’t fool around with this next year; get a flu shot.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Missed my class

This flu has robbed a lot of time from my days and energy from my awake hours. Feeling better all morning, I still managed to run a fever this afternoon. I prepared for the eventuality by planning to stay home all day. What that means is that I missed my writing class.

What writing class, you ask?

I have gotten such a kick out of writing this blog, and so much good feedback about it, that I decided to sign up for a writing workshop. I wanted to get some professional direction and feedback in addition to that from dear friends who tend to have a personal investment in my writing. There is a local institute,
Gotham Writers’ Workshop, that offers six- and ten-week classes at various Manhattan locations, covering all types of writing: fiction, non-fiction, memoir, mystery, travel, screenplays, etc, etc. They also offer online classes for those who can’t make it into the City, or can’t commit to a fixed time. I decided to ease into it with a six-week overview called Creative Writing 101, which started at the end of January.

So far, I’m really enjoying the class. It offers an opportunity to write about topics I wouldn’t have chosen, to read my writing out loud and have it critiqued by a teacher and a dozen other aspiring writers, and to hear and evaluate how others satisfy the same assignments. The class is opening my eyes to writing styles and helping me clarify what I like and what I want from my writing.

The class I missed today is number four, so it’s almost time to select another. I think memoir or non-fiction would be natural choices, but then I wonder if fiction might stretch me more. I find it pretty easy to write about feelings and events I’m familiar with, but one goal I hope to achieve from these classes is to free my imagination to come up with stories less directly connected to me.

Stay tuned….

Medicine explained

Maybe everyone knew this but me….

I started taking antibiotics two days ago and yesterday I woke up feeling better. I thought the events were related. But it turns out that antibiotics address bacterial infections, whereas the flu is a viral infection unaffected by antibiotics. I'd heard this before, but it's information that never quite "stuck".

So why did my doctor prescribe antibiotics for me?

In my condition, bacterial infection is particularly dangerous. This flu could easily result in an upper respiratory infection that could lead to all manner of other complications. The antibiotics kill off any bacteria that might make that happen; the drugs are a preventive protection.

And what can I do to get rid of the flu?

The flu, it seems, is a self-limiting event. It runs its course and then it’s gone. The best to hope for is successful symptom management with Tylenol or Advil for aches and fever, clich├ęd-but-effective chicken soup, plenty of fluids, and lots of rest.

This all seems to be working just as it’s supposed to. I woke this morning from nearly twelve hours of sleep with no fever, and no awareness of any during the night. I should be good for a round of golf by tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Feeling better

I woke up with no fever this morning. What a relief! I've got the energy to go into the City to have blood drawn, which I was supposed to do yesterday when I couldn't get out of bed. Just wanted to note the progress here, and comment on the miracle of modern medicine.

Ah, those antibiotics...

Monday, February 11, 2008


I can’t remember the last time I was this sick.

I had strep throat in high school and missed Mike Miller’s holiday party. Then, thirty years ago, I had the flu and couldn’t get out of bed to make my daughter’s lunch for school. And about five years ago I had a bad case of bronchitis. There may have been a cold, or a non-memorable something-or-other in between, but basically, my health is something I could count on.

Now is different, of course. I've been taking a mix of very toxic drugs ever since last June. My immune system is compromised and can't fend off the germs that would have had little impact in the past. Since Saturday afternoon I’ve had fever as high as 103.5, a deep, painful cough, and I ache all over. My doctor started me on antibiotics, so I’m hoping the fever is gone by tomorrow.

In the meantime, I sleep a lot.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


My doctor walked into yesterday’s appointment and said to me, “You look good, really good.”

I don’t know what she saw. I’ve felt healthy since the beginning of this ordeal. We noticed the cancer’s presence before it had time to work too much evil in my system, before it manifested symptoms. But also, the chemotherapy is working, and good as I felt on day one, I feel progressively better all the time.

“When I think of my cancer these days, I tend to think of it in the past,” I told her.

My doctor and the three nurses in the exam room all cheered.

“That’s the attitude that cures!”

It’s hard to know what came first. What is attitude and what is reaction to fact?

I do believe that visualization helps you achieve goals. Keep in mind a picture of what you want to do and the image helps you accomplish it; see where you’re going and it’s easier to get there. From the beginning I forced myself to focus on good scan results, to refrain from getting bogged down in thoughts and fears that the chemo would fail. But I’d been blindsided before; I knew these results were somewhat out of my hands. I didn’t want to be too devastated if it didn’t work out.

All in all, I remained as positive as I could. I got good results. The good results fed my positive attitude. Now it no longer feels like “attitude”. I look at where I stand in the overall picture and I see tumors nearly vanished. Where I came from is littered with cancer. Ahead I see me in a cancer-free state.

That’s what I meant when I said I see it in the past. But I need to remain focused, not get too far ahead of myself, and comply with all the steps from here to the end of the road. I may feel really good, but it’s not over yet.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Still the side effects

Last week, about two weeks after an Abraxane infusion, I lost my hair for the third time. This business of growing and losing hair is one of the conditions I have to accept until the whole of the treatment is complete. I had another Abraxane infusion this morning, but I don’t have much hair left to lose. It grows back a bit between cycles, when I have an extra two Abraxane-free weeks. Just when it starts looking cute again, it’s time to lose it. I’m not fond of this process.

During the 42-day drug-taking phase that includes two Abraxane infusions and a nightly Temodar pill, I have a number of other side effects to manage. Temodar and Zofran, the anti-nausea pill I take with it, can cause headaches, constipation, heartburn, itchiness, hives, and who knows what-all else! In my case, headaches can take the form of migraine auras. My doctor agrees that they’re probably the same old stress-induced phenomena I’ve experienced for nearly thirty years, but next time it happens she may send me for an MRI.

Before my nurse starts administering Abraxane, I get intravenous doses of Benadryl, Pepcid, some steroid whose name I never remember (Dexamethasone), and another anti-nausea drug (Kytril). I get powerful doses of all of these to counteract the effects of the killer Abraxane. I leave the treatment room feeling groggy from the Benadryl. By tomorrow I’ll be speedy and energized from the steroid and that will last for two or three days. I'll also lose my sense of taste for three or four days between now and the weekend.

“Do you experience neuropathies?” my treatment nurse asked.

“What’s that?”

“When irritated nerves numb your fingers and toes and make them tingle.”

“Come to think of it, I do. My toes tend to feel that way when I wear anything more restrictive than Birkenstocks. I didn’t know that was a symptom too.”

I’m looking forward to the time when a headache is just a headache, and I can try out my spiky white (hopefully curly) hairdo on the world.