Sunday, August 29, 2010

400 Yoyo's

I'm making yoyo progress again. I plan to make at least 2 more yoyo's tonight so that I'll have 400 yoyo's. I estimate that I need between 1,000 and 1,200 to make a decent sized throw. Four hundred covers just over half of our dining room table.

It was a nice weekend. Kevin was busy most of Saturday with meetings. I stayed home and enjoyed myself. I did house things and read and made some yoyo's and then Kevin and I went to Jim and Lynne's for dinner, which was very nice. Lynne had some fresh garden produce and a yummy rhubarb cake. We had been eager to hear about some of the trips they went on this summer. Quite the adventures! They have some great pictures. The boys start school tomorrow.

Today I had an impromptu date with Alexa, which was most enjoyable! Really very fun! And then we had dinner at Don and Sylvia's, which was delicious, of course.

I must say that even though my joints and such are still a bit stiff and sometimes a bit sore, I think there's some improvement. I've definitely been more energetic over the past couple of days and I can't think of anything else but the medication to attribute that to. I'll be better able to gauge it's effects during the week when I'm in more of a routine, I think. Let's just say I'm cautiously optimistic! I think even SOME improvement would make me much happier. And if I could find a way to not feel so exhausted all the time, I would be SO happy, too.  This weekend felt better all round.

Happy Birthday, Darrel!
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Cake Pops

I'm all about grabbing the moment. Today was one of those opportunities meant to be jumped on. I felt uncommonly energetic this morning. I didn't sleep especially long last night. I got up in the morning fully expecting to be back in bed in a couple of hours. But I continued to feel wide awake! That doesn't usually happen. So, given that I was feeling so perky and there are so many things I've been wanting to do, I phoned Alexa. She and I have been wanting to get together for a baking date for a very long time and, as luck would have it, she was available on this last day before she starts grade 9!

I picked her up, we buzzed through Michael's for a few supplies, and then to my place where we made cake pops! Neither of us had ever made them before but I had been admiring the work of Bakerella. You can see all kinds of amazing cake pops on her blog. She's recently published a book about them, too (available at amazon). So, with her instructions and examples as our guide we set about making them.

Making the pops themselves is silly easy! Decorating them with finesse is a whole 'nother story! Still, after making them this one time, we learned a lot about what we would do differently next time. We learned some tricks that we'd incorporate. If the edible pens we bought at Michael's had worked better, it would have made a big difference. We had planned on making "happy face pops" and if the pens had worked, they would have been just like the picture. But since the pens didn't work, we free-styled, which was both fun and/or pretty!

Here's how easy it is to make the basic pop:
  1. Make a cake mix - any kind you want. Doesn't matter.  We used chocolate because it's what I had on hand. Let it cool.
  2. Crumble up the cake in a big bowl and stir in most of a container of whatever kind of pre-made icing you want. We used Betty Crocker's cream cheese frosting.
  3. Shape the cake dough into balls and place them on some waxed paper on a cookie sheet. 
  4. Melt a few rounds of candy coating (we bought packages at Michael's in the baking aisle) and dip a lollipop stick (we bought those at Michael's, too) into the candy coating and then almost half way into a ball.
  5. When all the balls have sticks, put them in the freezer for about half an hour or until the balls are firm.
That's your basic cake pop.  After that, you melt candy coating, dip the cake balls in it.  The coating hardens really quickly and then you decorate. This part requires a little more finesse and the right supplies but once you have that part figured out, I'll bet any one of us could turn out amazing results.

The cake pop 2nd from the left is Alexa's cake pop portrait of me!

After we finished decorating them, we put a little cellophane bag over each and tied a bow with some pretty baker's twine.

Once the candy coating has hardened, which is very quick, the little cake pops are amazingly durable!

Check out Bakerella's blog to see the many examples of pops that other people have made and submitted to her. She calls that section of her blog, "pop stars". Cute. You're going to want to make some.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Angels

The angels ... and Charley ... descended on Thursday night right onto our deck! What a beautiful night to be outside! We haven't had many of those. In fact, it hadn't even occurred to me that we might be able to sit outside until I realized that our house was just too damn hot!

For the first time in I can't remember when, we ALL made it to splurge! We had to take a picture and as luck would have it, Kevin was here to be the photographer. I had asked him to hang around so he could give "fish tours" as some of the angels had requested. And Kevin loves to give fish tours ... accompanied by tequila shots. Gail brought him this hilarious swimming cap with googly fish eyes on the front and some little fins at the top and the back. SO funny! I wish I'd had a picture but I doubt Kevin would have let me post it here anyway. Kevin has a big head as does everyone in our family and I think he was afraid the rather smallish cap might smoosh something.

It was great to see everyone after a longer than usual time between gatherings. We talked and laughed and drank and ate and fish toured. Good times!
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Some Peace of Mind

I met with my new oncologist on Thursday. I was nervous. I had a list of questions and was determined not to get diverted. I needed some honest answers even if those answers were, "we just don't know".

First, though, I had to get through bloodwork, which was not fun. I don't particularly dread getting needles in my arm anymore and I haven't for decades. I have learned that I have very small, rolly veins and that it's difficult to find them with a needle. It usually takes more than one poke to achieve success and I don't have any problem with that. Inevitably, when presented with my right arm, it only takes a moment before the nurse will ask if we can use the other one. But since that side of my body has been ravaged, I'm not to get needles in that arm so we're stuck ... so to speak ... with my right arm. To tell you the truth, I don't think the left arm was ever any better. So yesterday I had three pokes in my arm ... no success. And then they had to take from my hand, which I dread because that really freaking hurts! At least the few times they've had to resort to my hand, it has really hurt. I keep thinking that, just like the arm, sometimes it will and sometimes it won't. So far, this time, too, it has ALWAYS hurt! Even the veins in my hand ran for cover. The nurses could only find a vein in my hand by asking me to dangle my arm for a while and then applying hot compresses. Not fun. Not fun at all.

By the way, I've recently taken to asking nurses if there's any particular reason that some people have extra small veins and if there's anything one can do about it. Mostly I'm told that it's probably just genetic and that drinking a lot of fluid before having blood taken can make the veins easier to locate. I make sure I do that now before having bloodwork done. I asked the nurses at this appointment and one of them said that she has noticed quite consistently that people who have been on chemo end up with smaller veins afterward. Interesting.  If that's true, mine must be even tinier than they were before and they were plenty challenging enough before.  It's a wonder I have any kind of circulation at all!  I'd better be careful not to clog any of them.

After my bloodwork ordeal Kevin joined me to meet my new "assigned" oncologist. I have a new oncological nurse, too. I was very happy with both of them. It was comforting to realize that they had both truly reviewed my file. The doctor examined my breasts. The left one and the surrounding area is still all very tender, which is par for the course, I guess. No new apparent lumps! YEAH! And then we talked.

I asked about the below and above normals on my previous bloodwork (from May) and was told that they don't know why my liver enzymes had spiked but they had noted that as something to watch. It was good to hear that they were back within the normal range in this bloodwork. YEAH! The low platelets on the previous report were nothing to be concerned about and they are now in the normal range, too. YEAH! Hemoglobin at 12. That's even high for me. I'm historically at 11 or less. YEAH! In fact, they told me that everything in my preliminary bloodwork looked good. Some numbers weren't back yet. I asked for a report to be mailed to me when available and then I can review and compare it for myself.

And then we went over my list of questions. My doctor feels that the joint/tendon/muscle/bone pain is most certainly a lingering result of a bad reaction to the Arimidex. He feels quite certain that, in time, it will go away but he can't hazard a guess as to how long that might take. It's possible that the Tamoxifen, which can cause some bone and joint discomfort (thought not as badly as reported with Arimidex), is preventing recovery, which means it could be a very long time before I get my limbs back. That said, based on my pathology (a largish, aggressive, estrogen receptor positive tumour), he strongly recommends that I continue with the Tamoxifen. When I told him that I have an eventual appointment with a rheumatologist, he encouraged me to keep that appointment because even if any tests that Doctor might run might rule out any other issues.

I explained to the Doctor what my family doctor and I had been trying recently to replicate the happy effect the morphine had had on my limbs. He said that he would rather not have me go on morphine because of it's addictive nature but he prescribed me a drug that's a step up from the Tylenol IIIs, which didn't work. It's Ultram - 50 mg 2 x per day. I took the first one this morning. No difference yet. I was happy that he's willing to help me find something to relieve the pain and stiffness and to improve my quality of life. YEAH!

We talked about my what seems to be worsening fatigue. Fatigue is one of the many possible side effects of Tamoxifen and it is, of course, a lingering side effect of both chemo and radiation. Of course I'm tired still. The doctor and nurse both acknowledge my "brain fuzziness" and memory problems as problems associated with both chemo and Tamoxifen. Tamoxifen is also the likely culprit for the difficulty I'm having with my weight and, in particular, with a increasing pudginess in my belly. Why the Tamoxifen causes that particular type of weight gain, I don't understand. Unfortunately there's not much I can do about that except try to eat well and get some exercise and try not to gain more weight. Tamoxifen is the cause of these hot flashes, which is a very common experience for women taking this drug. The strength and frequency of the hot flashes can also contribute to fatigue. Weepiness is also a common experience for women on Tamoxifen. There's a reason that many women on Tamoxifen are also prescribed anti-depressants. I sometimes wonder if I'm a little depressed but as I've expressed before, I don't know that I can tell if I'm depressed or not. I mean, having to deal with breast cancer and the treatments is potentially depressing enough but what's normal for that and what's beyond that? Maybe I'm just a little battle-weary? Maybe it's just being so tired and not being able to fully engage in life the way I used to? Maybe I am depressed? I don't know. I do know that crying inappropriately makes me very uncomfortable and that still happens sometimes, though not often. Then again, having breast cancer and going through the hellish but life-saving (we hope) treatments is probably makes some occasional tearing up quite legitimate. It's so hard to know.  I have no frame of reference for "normal" and for when I need help.

My oncologist feels that my fatigue is probably worsened by the pain and stiffness in my joints. If this drug he's given me helps relieve that, he thinks it might possibly increase my energy levels and alleviate some of the fatigue. If the fatigue and the associated lethargy continues to be a problem, he might prescribe a mild anti-depressant for me.

All in all ... I was very happy to have had my appointment and very pleased, too, with the new oncologist. I see him again in 3 months. I came out with a feeling of hope and a bit drained, too, just from the anxiety of wondering if I would get any satisfying answers. I did. YEAH!!

I didn't have much time to reflect on it, though, because I had to hurry home and get ready for my splurge club pals to arrive!

These photos are from the riverboat excursion we took last night with Kevin's colleagues and board members. It was such a lovely night for it. We had a nice dinner on the boat, a quick cruise up and down the river and then we were done. I was glad to be home early.
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I Finally Have An Appointment!

With an oncologist!! YEAH!! I was surprised to get a phone call today at work from someone at the Cancer Centre asking me if I could come for an appointment tomorrow afternoon. Hell, YES!! They apologized for the short notice but said that the new oncologist was starting earlier than they had anticipated. Finally, 10 months later, I have been assigned an oncologist.

I then phoned my family doctor for a couple of reasons: First, to tell him that the Tylenol III's with codeine aren't working (I gave them a good shot over the past couple of days but I didn't see any improvement in my mobility), and second, to ask him if there's anything he would like me to discuss with my oncologist. So I've added his questions to my growing list of notes. It's short notice for such an important and long-awaited appointment and I want to make sure I get the answers I need. I've spent most of the evening researching and checking back through my notes. I also have questions about my last bloodwork and about this horrible fatigue! I am so tired. I can't even begin to explain. It's why I haven't been updating my blog. It's why I've been missing work. When I am at work, I can barely get through the afternoons, in particular. If I just had a place where I could lie down for half an hour or so and have a nap, I think that would make a big difference in my ability to cope but there's no such place. I keep nodding off in front of my computer and my brain feels fogged over. I've tried resting my head on the desk but it's too uncomfortable because I can't position my frozen shoulders to allow my arms to pillow my head. I'm so tired, I can't function at work or at home. The codeine will have made me drowsy but I was feeling this way before I started taking it. The fatigue, if I think about it, has slowly been getting worse over the past couple of months. I've used holiday days when it's been too much for me to cope with, with the hope that a little break will refresh me but it doesn't. I wonder if my hemoglobin is low? It will be interesting to see the results of my blood work and I'll make sure to request a copy right away this time.

I stayed home on yesterday after having such a bad afternoon on Monday. I felt quite good and was able to do some things ... unpack my suitcase from the August long weekend ... pull the sheets off the beds in the kids' rooms ... do a little tidying. I ran some errands that I needed to be able to do during business hours --- arranged parking for the fall, bought a new hat, picked up a new copy of an older family photo that had been damaged. I cooked dinner and had the energy to make a salad. I had a little rest in the middle of the afternoon and I felt much better generally during the day. And sure, I was tired again in the evening, but I didn't feel "sick" with fatigue. It wasn't as bad. I thought staying home one day would make today easier but it didn't. I've been so exhausted today. I was tired getting up this morning even though I think I slept good during the night. And then, this afternoon, I felt like I'd been hit in the head with a brick! And I've been pretty much useless ever since. I had planned on getting a few groceries tonight and making a dessert (a super simple one) and some other things for my splurge club party tomorrow night. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't do any house cleaning either. While this is disappointing, I won't sweat it (unless a hot flash springs up). Cheese and crackers and such are easy and I can pick those up tomorrow after work. And I won't get all bust up over house cleaning. I'll just serve drinks and nobody will notice! And heck, they don't care!

Anyway. I have an oncologist. I have an appointment. These are both good.

These photos were taken by my cousin, Lori, with whom I had a nice chat a little while ago. She took these during and just after sunrise at Clearwater Lake. What's that mist? That's not something I'm used to seeing. Of course, Lori did say this was at sunrise and Lord knows I'm unlikely to be looking out over the lake at that time of day.

And now ... off to bed and sweet sleep.
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

This is SO COOL! Be charmed!

Do watch this video of a 3 year old boy reciting the poem, "Litany" by Billy Collins.


by Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley,
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and—somehow—the wine.


Finding the Right Path

On Friday, we had an office retreat at Wanuskewin.
The smell of smoke from the forest fires in BC was so strong! The beautiful view from the meeting room we were in was mostly hazed over. But my noon, it looked like we were in Scotland with "the mists lifting from the lochs" (I haven't been to Scotland but I did see and read Wuthering Heights). These are my favourite photos from the walk we took at noon. I love a path through the trees to follow.

This weekend has been about rest and recovery. I was beyond exhausted after the week and so I've embraced the opportunity to sleep and sometimes to just sit still and be quiet. That's what I needed, too.

On Friday we had dinner at Norm's (Nutana Cafe) with Don and Syl and I got to bed early that night. On Saturday, Kevin and I made what would have been a quick trip to the Farmer's Market, but every time we turned around we saw someone we knew, which was very nice! We went specifically to get bread from Nature's Way Foods. It's SO good! Then, while Kevin golfed, I rested. I sat quietly and made yoyo's. It was heavenly. Then we had some friends over that night for drinks, which was just wonderful. I've felt so frustratingly disconnected from friends just because I've been so tired --- too tired for get-togethers --- too tired for email --- too tired for phones --- just flippin' tired. It's a drag, I tell you! So to have a night with friends - some drinks, talking, laughing - made me very happy. I slept long last night and now I'm feeling a bit of panic because I just have today before work on Monday morning. Now that I feel half way to normal in terms of energy, I need more than this day. I'll just have to make the most of it while being careful not to overdo it. I'm finding it's more than a balancing act. It's making often unsatisfactory choices. It's more about serving needs so much more than wants. I look forward to a better balance between the two. I hope that comes soon. Very soon.

I'd better get at it!

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Need My Batteries Recharged

I love this photo Hannah took when she and Don made a road trip to the sand hills.

Sunday, as I knew it would be, was a write-off for both Kevin and me. We were zombies. We got out of our too quiet house and wandered around Costco and ran some other driving errands. I knew we would need the day to regroup. What I wasn't expecting was how badly I would crash. I've been so exhausted and practically mentally and physically paralyzed. Until late yesterday afternoon I'd hardly been able to put two thoughts together and didn't feel like lifting a finger. I made it to work Monday morning for a meeting but came home at noon and slept, hoping that would be just what I needed. Apparently it wasn't enough. I was useless on Tuesday, too, and stayed home. On the couch. In front of the tv. It was a peculiar feeling in the late afternoon when I could almost feel a slow but steady lifting of a fog in my brain. Very strange. Freaky!

I find this struggling with compromised energy and the fatigue very frustrating. I find I have to be so disciplined and very protective of my down time. I still have to be diligent about saying "no" to others and to myself and I have to avoid making plans for weekday evenings. I'm very boring. VERY boring. And often useless. Kevin surely must be eager to get his more energetic wife back. I can't wait to get me back, too. I usually suffer for any bursts of energy I do indulge.

At any rate, I was able to work today and my brain felt engaged again. I was a little freaked out yesterday by how dead I felt inside. I don't think it was an emotional response to the kids leaving. As sad as it is to see them go, I'm glad they're both doing their thing even if it takes them away from here. No, I think all the activity and mental engagement of the past while just caught up with me and threw me for a loop and I just can't maintain that kind of schedule like I used to. I thought I'd have more stamina by now. I've been told that it takes about a year to get one's energy back after getting through treatment. I finished radiation on December 29 last year so, if that estimate is correct, I should be feeling steadily more energetic over the next 6 months. I hope my energy improves quickly because I'm really getting tired of being a drag. And I miss my friends of whom I see much less.

Forgive me for not answering emails or making phone calls. I just haven't been able. Maybe I can over the next little while. If only I could be storm-stayed for a week or so. And quiet my mind. And find some zen space. A state of grace. That would be nice.
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Meet Max

Darrel and Lynn have a new baby. Meet Max! He's a red border collie and is cute as a button and eager to find things to chew on. Teething. Oh joy!

Darrel, Lynn, Kathy and Lori came by to show him off. Kevin was so dismayed to have been at a meeting while they were here so Darrel very kindly stopped by Kevin's office today so Kevin could meet Max, too.

Just knowing that someone has a new pup sends Kevin dog-shopping on kijiji. He's been showing me SO MANY cute photos of available pups! I wonder how long it will be before we have a dog, too. You know we've been talking about it for over a year now. Hmmmm ...
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Sunday, August 15, 2010

The many faces of Hyacinth!

We have a lot of fun teasing Sylvia. While she's a very good sport about it, she DOES, in fact, encourage us.

Watch as Sylvia responds while Kevin speaks at their anniversary party. Kevin knew he wouldn't be able to slip by her a mistake in his birth date. He was right. It took Sylvia a nano second to refute it and to loudly explain to everyone there that Kevin was not, in fact, conceived until after they were married.

Enjoy the many faces of Sylvia!


That's Entertainment!

Mikael and Alexa sang several pieces, accompanied by Cheryl. They sang a previously unheard version of one of Andrew Lloyd Weber's tunes ... hilarious! They had concocted lyrics perfectly fitting for Don and Syl.

Hannah wore Sylvia's veil.

Another interesting character amused all.

Sylvia's brothers brought a special gift for their sister and brother-in-law! The box was beautifully wrapped and marked "fragile". The note suggested it was filled with Royal Doulton china in the periwinkle pattern (so favoured by Hyacinth). Sylvia finally got her Royal Doulton!
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A Happy Event

On Saturday we celebrated Don and Sylvia's 50th Wedding Anniversary in their beautiful backyard. Many friends and relatives were there to celebrate with them. Several days of worrying about the weather turned out to be unnecessary as it was a beautiful day for a garden party.

Auntie Eileen made them this fabulous quilt.

The cake, designed by Alexa with some help from her family, was gorgeous and featured roses from Don and Sylvia's garden. It was also delicious. The top layer was carrot cake and the bottom was neopolitan.

Don and Sylvia, on this special event, imagined themselves as the real life incarnation of Richard and Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced "Bouquet" in Hyacinth's mind) of their favourite British comedy, "Keeping Up Appearances". With that as a theme for the party, some fitting characters appeared in their hats, gloves, pearls and casual tweed.

Don and Syl had great fun with the theme, too, appearing themselves as Richard and Hyacinth to much laughter from their guests.

If you're not familiar with "Keeping Up Appearances", you can watch some footage on YouTube.

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It's, Oh, So, Quiet!

Hannah left for the airport at 5:00 a.m. She's gone back to Vancouver after having been away for 2 and a half months.

Luke's college roomies, Myles and Arden, picked him up at 6:30 a.m. and hit the road for Louisville, Kentucky.

Kevin and I went back to bed and slept. The house felt very empty when we woke up. We're both in recovery. The last few days have been a blur! It's time to take things down a notch and get used to all this space. Again.

We heard from the boys and they made it across the border after going through a grueling interrogation and car search. One of the boys had his protein powder confiscated because of some "contraband ingredient". They were grilled by the border guards. A new experience. They were in Fargo, North Dakota when we last heard from them about an hour ago.

I'm sure Hannah is reacquainting herself with her apartment and I'll bet some Vancouver friends have already appeared.
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Everyone Should Have a Personal Chef

Hannah has been making such yummy things! This is one salad ... lots of good things in it such as roasted zucchini, tomato, fresh basil leaves, and little round pasta's cooked in broth. I don't remember what else was in it but it was very flavourful. I'll have to ask her what else was in the dressing.

Hannah also made a super Red Quinoa salad that was so good. There was lots of Italian parsley in it and avocado, tomato, and onion. She said olive oil and red wine vinegar were key in the dressing and I don't know what else. It had a very refreshing flavour. I loved the Italian parsley in it and I really liked the red quinoa, too.

Tonight, Kevin grilled beef tenderloin and Hannah prepared really skinny asparagus and red quinoa cooked in beef broth and then drizzled with balsamic cream, which is good on all three of those dishes. Mm ... mmm ... mmmmm. I so LOVE having a personal chef! Sadly, mine is leaving soon. I'll miss a lot more than her cooking, though.
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