Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Clinically Tested: Palbociclib and Me

I've never been in a clinical trial before, but I vividly remember the Gray's Anatomy episode in which Meredith--wanting to help Adele, who has Alzheimer's--manages to make sure Adele gets the real McCoy, not the saline solution. I got handed a bottle with a number on it--I have my very own four-digit number for the duration of the trial, so that neither I nor the doctors know whether I am getting the real thing. 
Except that I obviously am: I didn't bother with Dr. Google until the nurse called to let me know my white blood cell count was "too low" to continue this week, and my count was fine before. I hadn't noticed any side effects apart from the usual, the fatigue I can't quite shake, although my new hair did seem to be growing more slowly . . . I'd gone from fuzz to something approaching Jimi Hendrix within weeks, and now there was nothing going on up there.
I'm not supposed to eat grapefruit. I don't. But I crave oranges and consume them frequently. 
I'm wondering whether the statistics that seem to tell the tale are correct in my case. Statistically speaking (but I had to read How To Lie With Statistics in sixth grade) I am in exactly the category likelier to survive longer without a recurrence of cancer if I continue with the clinical trial. But now that I think about the situation, I've felt tireder ever since I began what must be Palbociclib.
Anyone out there experienced with this medicine?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Breast Cancer: One Year Out and Happy Anniversary

I just noticed I'd posted exactly one year ago that I'd been diagnosed with breast cancer and that the diagnosis had initially been missed. The doctor who missed it also missed another diagnosis about a month ago, this time for a cracked rib. I'm not giving her a third shot. Fortunately, the mop-up squad identified and fixed things, before my cancer spread.
Looking back on the year of three operations (first, the port insertion, second, the lumpectomy, and third, the follow-up to get the few bad cancer cells out from the margins), chemotherapy (sixteen of 'em) and radiation (twenty-eight of those) I can heartily attest to being glad to be done with cancer. Except for the pills--the pills, the pills, the pills! The ones I have to take plus the ones from the clinical trial, plus the three-month check-ups and yes, they will probably be mammograms, and probably my insurance doesn't pay for the three-way mammo or the MRI, but maybe I'll get that anyway as part of my clinical trial. I'm almost certain I'm getting the placebo, since I've experienced no side effects and this pill is the one pill I've ever taken in my life that produces zero side effects, but I like the idea of the free bone scans and blood tests. Maybe they'll make up, in diagnostic power, for what I won't be getting if I can't get that MRI or three-way mammo. I can't say I've gotten a bad deal here in Germany: every few months I got a bill for either seventy or ninety euros. If I'd been in New York, I probably would have had to sell my apartment plus borrow my way into the middle of my dotage, I should live so long. Neither Trumpcare nor Obamacare would have taken care of me. A New York friend cautioned me, just as I was starting chemo, to make sure I asked for and purchased that Emend pill, even though it was either fifty or seventy-five bucks--it was really worth it, stopping the nausea. Here in Germany, I got the Emend as part of a packet of pills my doctors told me I had to take, and I paid little for them--they must have been in those occasional bills for seventy or ninety, usually bills that arrived after ten chemos or ten radiations. I've heard the mastectomy rate is as high as it is in the States because radiation is so expensive. In Russia there's no radiation, so they just chop. Germany has been good to me, very good, in the health care department. Have I learned that cancer is a journey? No, it is a massive bother and no fun at all. Have I been spiritually enhanced? Are you kidding? Have I had "preventative" mastectomies so that I won't have to worry about cancer returning? I keep asking myself who would do that--who'd voluntarily lose sexy nipple sensation? A woman who was the tenth in her family to get cancer, and who had the BRCA gene, did so, and I can completely understand. But I've heard so many tales of women just having their breasts hacked off even if they're not (yet) cancerous, sometimes even cutting off a healthy breast when there's no BRCA gene. Then there are the non-reconstructionists, the Flat-is Fab crowd, the gals with the tattoos across their empty chests. Brrrrrr. To me, that's sad. If I'd lost a breast to a mastectomy, I'd want at least the feeling I had one, yes, even without sensation. I can't help but think the Flat-is-Fab crowd is in angry denial. I bet I'll get a couple of angry reactions to this post, but they'd be welcome. Happy Anniversary.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Moment In Patriarchy-Land: Sunny Days in Berchtesgaden

My husband and I spent a comfortable night in the busy, friendly sort of Bavarian inn where there's no soap in the bathroom and no internet in the room--the rooms are opened with actually keys--but the smiles are friendly, the service fast. The innkeeper--who gave me the cutest excuse, namely, "Oh, we only have internet here in the dining area, because otherwise we never see our guests! First it was TV, and now it's WLAN--isn't a hundred and two. The password he just gave me indicates he's about my age. He hadn't gotten around to checking us in last night, and did so as he handed us our boiled eggs. 
"Ah, Sie Sind Der Professor!" he said, lingering on each syllable, eyes round, turning to my husband with the most ingratiating smile I have ever seen. He all but bowed and I just know he was wondering where he'd put his white gloves. It had been a long time, he told us, since they had a professor there! A real professor!
He nodded at me, the little woman.
If I'd have mentioned that by the way, I'm a professor too, the poor man would have dropped the coffeepot he was holding.
After he wandered back to the kitchen, my husband said, "See! That's how professors used to be treated. Back in the nineteen-sixties."
The Austrians at the next table were clamoring about how they couldn't wait to see the Eagle's Nest--Hitler's hideaway in bad days gone by. 
Last night we sat on a balcony at the home of friends, enjoying the sight of snow-capped Alps, green valleys, forests, sheep munching their way through the green. It's glorious. I mean, you don't say "pretty," when you're looking at Berchtesgaden. It's on-beyond-breathtaking; it's epic gorgeous everywhere you look. 
Enough to have made me wonder, this morning, in my coffeed-up state, if it's remotely possible that Hitler had a sense of beauty. You wouldn't think so, from looking at his early drawings, about which a friend once remarked: "Right away, you see there's no love in those lines. He doesn't love what he's drawing. That's why you look at the picture and feel bored." She's right. He must have picked the place strategically, not from a love of the mountains, rearing up like ancient guardians, and the lovely Bavarian houses with the wood-paneled balconies, the roses creeping up the sides, the windowboxes exploding with floral color. I never come here without a sense of unbearable contrast: the loveliness of the place and the evil genius, the canker in the rose, who held court for too long, long enough to create a tourist industry decades later. As we sat on the balcony with our friends last night, the light fading, two small electric lights appeared on a mountain peak at some distance. I asked whether that were a hiker's hut.
"Oh, no, that's the Eagle's Nest!" said our host. "It's a restaurant now."
"Some day," I said, "Mara-a-Lago will be America's Eagle's Nest." Tourists will come--I can see a cross between the mad king Ludwig's castle and the beach. Yes, bad guys make good tourism--'tis the way of the world. 
But our jovial innkeeper isn't a bad guy. Just a guy who doesn't think. The one thing he has in common with Trump, probably.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Ultimate Anti-Cancer Meatball

You like flavor? Spice? Yum!

Ingredients:

Shallots (as many as you feel like)
Fresh ginger root (at least a thumb-sized piece)
Fresh garlic (enough cloves to sink a battleship)
Red onion (one, small)
Fresh turmeric (also a thumb-sized piece. More if you like)
Fresh parsley (a bunch)

About a kilo (around 2 lbs) of ground pork. Or ground any meat you like. 
Two eggs
A cup of water. 

1. Chop the shallots. Put in a large pan sizzling with about two tablespoons of either olive oil or plant oil. Gently cook.
2. Chop garlic; add to shallots and stir.
3. Chop ginger root; add to mix and stir
4. Chop red onion; add to mix and stir
5. Chop turmeric; add to mix and stir 

When the spices have  been nicely sautéed--crisp but not burned, for as long as you like, set aside. Add two eggs and the water to the ground pork and mix very well. Add in the sautéed spices. Mix well. Add salt and pepper. If you like add curry powder. Mix well. 

Chop the parsley and add to the meat (don't sauté the parsley!)
Mix meat mixture again. Put in a tight container or in a freezer bag, tightly closed, for several hours in the fridge. 

An hour before you want to eat, make jasmine rice. Form the meat mixture into meatballs. Drop into very hot vegetable oil and brown nicely on both sides. 
These are great with rice and a vegetable. We had sliced carrots with mint and cumin. Enjoy!
Why anti-cancer? The ginger, the garlic, the turmeric, the onion! You could add cilantro, too! Wash it all down with a glass of red wine. That'll either prevent or provoke the growth of cancer cells, depending upon which authority you read that day. 



Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What "Covfefe" Really Means! (To the Tune of L.O.V.E)


 "C" is for the furry thing I like . . ."O" is for the osteoporosis pill I take . . . "V" is for the very, very, extraordinary me, and last but definitely not least, . . . "F" is for what I like to do to "E," for everyone. Yes, "F.E," that's my refrain.

If only things were that simple. I'm whistling in the dark. If only the clown were making a fool of himself yet again. But looking like he's making a fool of himself is this clown's Modus Operandi for getting rich and screwing the planet. So "Covfefe" is either the deal he's cut with Putin, or the fate of the investigators of his Ivanka's Chinese operation: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/31/activists-investigating-ivanka-trumps-china-shoe-factory-detained-or-missing.  
Or maybe the fate of "C," as in Jim Comey. Watch your backs, folks. Here's Nat King Cole, singing the song as it ought to be sung.



 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

My Multicolored Pill Cabinet

Since I'm now taking a daily pill--the estrogen-blocker, the one that makes me age at five times the normal rate--and another every third day one that's supposed to protect my bones, I bought a pill-organizer. My previous system was none: leaving the pills in the plastic bag in which they'd been shoved when I purchased them, and making sure, every evening after my last glass of wine, that I popped the medicine as I was checking emails. 
I'm now the proud owner of a multicolored set of drawers, the cheapest thing I could find on Amazon, that look like Barbie's Winter storage containers. The lime-green Monday drawer, like the baby-blue Tuesday drawer, the forest-green Wednesday drawer (you get the idea) contains four tiny drawers labeled Morning, Noon, Evening, Bedtime. This contraption is for serious pill-taking. I've just dumped a week's worth of pills in their proper compartments, though some are in Evening and some are in Bedtime, because I didn't notice which flap I was opening. If I go away for the weekend, I can take one tiny drawer with me, my daughter pointed out. I enjoy looking at the thing parked on my desk, a symbol of organization in the midst of my crumpled-paper chaos. I've never yet forgotten a pill--once I got up in the middle of the night, but I was only an hour late. Yes, I take them around eleven in the evening, because the other side effect is that they make me sleepy. Even after galvanizing myself with coffee, I'm still sleepy at 9:33 on a sunny day in this year of post-cancerhood. In which I still like to say the word "cure" as faces flush or twitch or get angered, as if I'd mentioned child abuse. But I'll keep taking those pills as long as they make me do so, and reflecting on the luck that got that dang tumor discovered before it hit my bones. Get your mammograms, girls. If for no other reason, so that you don't have to run out and buy Barbie's Winter storage containers.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Afro Circus: First Time I Dyed My Hair After Chemo

For a long time I was bald. Then came the prickles. Then I resembled a certain middle-aged male colleague. I walked around the department in my cute blonde wig, ducked into the office of the one secretary Who Knew The Truth About My Breast Cancer, whipped off the blond thing and said, "See? I look like so-and-so," naming my colleague.
She gasped. "Yes, exactly. Gruesome."
But now, today, finally, I really have enough hair to dye. The comfortable ritual, the glancing at the clock as I pull on the latex gloves and mix the components of L'Oreal Ash Blond, is once more a part of my life. I never thought I'd live to dye hair again! The trouble is, as my children point out, this:
My hairdo isn't this pretty. I haven't gone rainbow. But I have gone Afro. My kids sing "Afro circus, afro circus, polka-dot, polka-dot afro circus!" when they see me coming. Are they becoming horrid little racists? Not at all. It's just that mom of the long slightly wavy hair now really has hair resembling that of the happy dancing giraffe. Dry. Steel-woolly. Sticks out like that lion's mane, too. What's a post-cancer girl to do? Actually, should I buy shampoo and conditioner products for African-American hair? Or very curly hair? Or wait a year or two and do nothing, as my hair gets to be as long as that of the polka-dot circus giraffe? I've seen women with hair like that in the waiting room. Makes a statement. Just not the one I want to make. I want my original hair back. I like to be able to part it on the side and brush it. 
I like to brush it, brush it. I like to brush it, brush it. I like to . . . BRUSH IT! 
I better not hope too hard. I saw a woman coming of of the waiting room who had a Jimi Hendrix-do. Really.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Comey on, Folks

Make America Read Again
Make America Love Again
Make America Work Again
Make America Help Again
Make America Hope Again
Make America Honor Again
Make America Honorable Again:
Dump Trump!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Eldercare, The Puritans, and Me

If, like me, you have a cheerfully spendthrift, hale-and-hearty parent residing in an assisted living facility, heads up!
Should your profligate parent happen to live in one of thirty U.S. states retaining "filial responsibility" laws, you might find yourself in the stocks--with the law throwing tomatoes in your face. Here's the Massachusetts statute, which dates back to 1600, that is, before the Mayflower:

Section 20: Neglect or refusal to support parent

Section 20. Any person, over eighteen, who, being possessed of sufficient means, unreasonably neglects or refuses to provide for the support and maintenance of his parent, whether father or mother, residing in the commonwealth, when such parent through misfortune and without fault of his own is destitute of means of sustenance and unable by reason of old age, infirmity or illness to support and maintain himself, shall be punished by a fine of not more than two hundred dollars or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both. No such neglect or refusal shall be deemed unreasonable as to a child who shall not during his minority have been reasonably supported by such parent, if such parent was charged with the duty so to do, nor as to a child who, being one of two or more children, has made proper and reasonable contribution toward the support of such parent. 

Punitive, right? Two hundred bucks PLUS prison for a year PLUS the criminal record. Oh, but surely this isn't enforceable? It was in Pennsylvania, where a nursing home successfully sued a man for his Mom's $93,000 bill. Yes, the nursing home or assisted living facility can send you a bill the minute Mom can't pay. Maybe you can't pay, and maybe they can put a lien on your apartment or garnish your paycheck. States need money--more and more, these days, and are looking for ways to get it. As long as Trump remains in office, and probably for long after, things may worsen. 

What to do? Well, I'm trying to acquire a form of power of attorney that allows me to find out exactly what's in her bank account and, if necessary--and it probably will be--remove her checkbook, so that she no longer sends a thousand bucks a month to her girlfriend. On top of the six thou she's already shelling out for her own rent and care. 

And then I get to hope there's a crumb or two left over for my kids in her will. Which she will probably change the nanosecond she finds out she can't write checks to everyone who smiles at her. Am I saved, and we get to pay the kid's dorm room rent? Or damned, and the girlfriend takes all? I hope the Almighty, oooohhhh, Grace Abounding, nudges Mom to leave us some dough.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Me and My "Variant of Unknown Significance"

I got my BRCA test results from Color Genomics and lo! I am negative. Hurrah, hurrah--the breast cancer I spent the year pulverizing (or my doctors did) had, apparently, no genetic origin but was "sporadic." Any old thing started it--being a mother at a late age, eating chocolate, drinking red wine, boiling my water in a plastic water heater--who knows. At any rate, I'm not genetically programmed to develop cancers, which means my twelve-year-old daughter is safer than she would have been if I'd tested positive. 
Except for one little thing. I did test positive for a "Variant of Unknown Significance," (aka "VUS") which is exactly what it sounds like: a genetic change about which nobody knows anything. "Most" of them are "harmless" but actually nobody knows what the heck they mean so let us assure you that if we find something bad we'll "try to contact you."
La de dahhhh. I'll go right back to eating chocolate, drinking read wine, and enjoying my husband and kids. A relative of mine tested positive for an ailment and freaked enough to have a device implanted surgically to prevent
 . . . whatever. Something that probably won't happen. They'd have to wrestle me to the table to implant anything in me if I weren't feeling sick. 
That's the trouble with genetic testing. These tests are great if you just want to know. But if you're the nervous type, you're probably better off with your blissful, or at least speculative, ignorance.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Reagan was Bad and Trump is Worse: Four Points

Some talking head on CNN said all the kerfluffle about Trump was just like whatever everyone said about Reagan, and his was "a great presidency."
It wasn't. I'm sixty. I remember.
But don't take my word for it. Just read Wikipedia. Here are a few of the more disastrous doings of Ronald Reagan and his administration:

(1) Ignoring--and refusing to fund--AIDS diagnosis and research. Under the hostile eyes of Ronald Reagan, who tolerated and encouraged the notion that homosexuals were being punished by God with AIDS, the epidemic flourished. Because he didn't give a damn about gay men, and wouldn't believe that the disease would afflict plenty of other population groups, we now have an epidemic that won't go away.
For details, see Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart. See the 1989 film Longtime Companion. Yes, that is really the way things were. 

(2) Reagonomics. National Debt exploded. Debt increases now because of Reagan, who increased the national debt by more than 200 billion. Boom!

(3) Invasions. Grenada. Etc. A kill-the-commies paranoia.

(4) Iran-Contra. How many remember local delicatessens serving the Oliver North special? Bologna with Swiss cheese.

Reagan's Alzheimer's, by the end of his presidency, forced him to read from file cards. By comparison to Trump, he was a prince. But don't get me started, unless you have seventy-two hours. On what grounds do I say Reagan was remotely better? At least he had some regard for his family. A man who destroys families is a man who says he'd date his daughter, and who appears, in widely available internet photos, to have already molested her. That's what's sitting behind a desk at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. John Cleese, save us!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Like a Scene from Grey's Anatomy

In she walked, the radiologist who had muffed the initial diagnosis. How well I remember her cheerful, reassuring face and her perky, definitive voice: "I have absolutely nothing but good news for you!" The hospital must have deliberately kept her off my treatment team, and I certainly had not expected to see her, nor she me. But there I was with the suspicion of a cracked rib, and she was the radiologist on call. 
She entered, smiled, and did a double take. "Oh, we got started off wrong. I want to say that I would absolutely understand if you would like a different doctor." She looked straight into my eyes with that German earnestness that I trust, and I decided to give the gal a second chance, on the hope that she'd now read my scans extra-carefully and have learned something since she let my breast cancer go undiagnosed for an extra two months (could I have avoided so much chemo? So much radiation?) But I also let her interpret the scans because I didn't want to sit around that waiting room for another three hours. I'd already waited nearly that long. The kids needed dinner. 
"Thank goodness the cancer got discovered!" was all I said. She agreed, fervidly. "Just read the scans really carefully, OK?" I added. 
Her interpretation was characteristic for its positive note: "I see no evidence of metastases!" she chirped, smiling.
This gave me a chill. She did make an interesting remark or two about how my pronounced scoliosis likely made my ribs shake around more when I fell, which is probably why I continue to have this stabbing pain with every false move. She saw "no evidence of fractures," either, but my eyes must have gotten round at that point, because she added, "But I would like to look at this a second time, and show it to colleagues." She was reassuring me that she would not be the sole judge of my scans.
"I watch a lot of Grey's Anatomy now," I confessed. "Show it to the chief. Or to Derek Shepherd. Or Cristina Yang."
She smiled.
I added, "Wave it at X!" (I named the radiologist who had found the malignancy she missed, and who "preferred not to talk about" Dr. Perky's failure to diagnose.
She laughed. I sure do hope she shows it to that guy, and I think, given German earnestness, she may well do so. If she were a character on Grey's Anatomy who would she be? Hmmmm, maybe Dr. April Kepner, the one whose moment of distraction during a chaotic emergency room scene leads to a patient's death. (A patient she is examining says, "Look!" and Dr. Kepner swirls to see a fireman's axe embedded in the chest of someone being rushed into surgery--then forgets to examine her own patient's throat.) Dr. Kepner became extra-careful after that incident (and even more perky). Let's hope for at least the extra-careful from my doc. Along with the extra-ability to interpret scans. 
P.S.Well, she was at least as good as her word. She must have showed the scans to Dr. X, the one who found my tumor when she had not. 
He also found my fracture when she had not: "the fifth rib!"
Yes, my own hunch was right. I really had broken something. Your body doesn't hurt so much over a sprain.
That's two strikes, Dr. Lovely Bedside Manner. Not going for a third. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

German Birthdays: A Quandary for the Uninitiated

North Americans tend to be startled by German birthday customs: there's no such thing as the birthday boy or birthday girl. If you want a birthday party--or worse, are expected to have one--you organize it yourself. You also invite all your friends and co-workers. Plus, you get to pay. You get to bring piles of sandwiches or boxes of cake to the office, at the very least. A German friend and I share a birthday. I tried to phone her to wish her a happy one, but had to go through three or four friends, all of them uncertain whether they were allowed to reveal her hideout, before I finally located her in the hotel where she was taking refuge . . . in Switzerland. She and I had a good laugh. She was having what the Germans call a "round" birthday, which for them just means a birthday with a zero at the end, marking the end of one decade and the beginning of another. Those are the birthdays on which some amount of flair is dictated by German culture. You either hide out and hope no one knows you're having a birthday, or you throw a massive bash. For her, the thought of having to invite fifty people to a restaurant--or cook for fifty, or more, at her own home, all at her expense--was something she could not face. She'd rather hide. I've also adopted a policy of hiding on my birthday, since the thought of a huge spread catered by me on that day literally makes me burst into tears. I have quiet birthdays with my husband and our kids, and I dream of past glories, when a friend or two, back in that palace of perfection, New York, would take me out to a little restaurant somewhere and not let me pay because it was my birthday. Because you'd never dream of not treating someone on his or her birthday.
Recently, my husband and I were stymied by a birthday invitation we got . . . and didn't get. German friends who came to our wedding, whose family always got together with ours,  whose son's wedding we attended, one of whom is our oldest's godmother, whom I look forward to seeing. . . these folks issued a birthday invitation for a round birthday. A rather important round birthday. But to my husband's consternation . . . the wife called him . . . they were only inviting him.
"Yes," he said, puzzled, "I had been thinking it would be fun for you and me to go, and the children are old enough to manage on their own for a weekend." But the wife had used the singular term for "you"--she'd been quite explicit. Stunned, I wondered whether the husband just didn't want to feel like he had to speak English on his birthday--if I'm there, they do tend to speak English for my sake. Then I wondered if this was a guy's night out. Then why would the wife do the inviting? They don't have enough beds? I can't come up with a good reason for this. My husband's going because he's loyal to his friends, but I think I won't feel the same way about these folks after this. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

And Now for the Pills: Ten Tips on Estrogen-Blockers

You're done, right? Sixteen chemos down, two operations, twenty-eight radiations. You've been bald as a peeled egg, lived through a prickly hairdo following male-pattern baldness, worn an itchy wig that fooled the secretaries, but not the gay men, at work, and now have a curly chemo-do that makes you look like an intellectual dyke, which you're not, having always favored long, flowing tresses. The plus: now your earrings show. You're wearing big ones. Even bigger ones! Louder lipstick, too. 

The other fact: As your skin dries, your wrinkles deepen, you need bigger jewelry and louder lipstick under the best of circumstances. Which do not include the breast cancer--it's no fun! It's even unpleasant!--you've just spent a solid year fighting off. 

And now they want to take away your estrogen, which you've always counted on to stay young. And feminine. You'll be on those estrogen-blocking pills a solid five-to-ten years. How will you do it? Here's how.

(1) Invest in state-of-the-art tweezers to pluck the hairs now sprouting, with depressing regularity, on your chin. I can highly recommend the Tweezerman slant tweezerette, which you can find on Amazon.

(2) Invest in state-of-the art lipstick. The kind that doesn't evaporate from your no-longer dewy lips. The kind that makes even your children say, "Gee, Mom. You actually look better with that stuff on."
I can recommend Victoria's Secret Velvet Matte Cream Lip Stain. I also like Victoria's Secret "extreme plumper" Knockout Red--even though it does make your lips itch a bit--and Victoria's Secret Bombshell Pink lip plumper, which tingles pleasantly on the lips. L'Oreal's a great old standby--I love their British Red (#350) and all their bright red shades.

(3) It's okay to wash down the Tamoxifen or the Letrozol (aka Femara) with a glass of red wine. Yes, it is. While enjoying Grey's Anatomy and holding hands with hubby. 

(4)  Stay sexy. If you're older, so much the better. Your kids don't require round the clock service. They sleep through the night. In fact, since they're now teenagers, they sleep through the morning, too. Lock your bedroom door. Enjoy your husband.

(5) Try the Mom Belly Diet (see my blog entry). Those estrogen blockers--they slow down your metabolism. Short version of the diet: cut those carbs in the evening. 

(6) Exercise. If you never tried it before, now's the time to start. If you've exercised all your life, now's the time to step up your efforts. Weight-bearing efforts. They'll be giving you bone scans, those doctors, as long as you're on those estrogen-leeching pills. So keep your bones as strong as you can. Stomp through tap class. Jump through ballet. Walk.  

(7) When (not if--because you will) get the blues, buy a pet. A doggie. A cat. I have guinea pigs. They sniff at you, they stand up and squeal when you hand them carrots, and they generally show more affection than children. Invest in a pet.  

(8)  Take vacations. Preferably with your husband, but you can try them with your kids, too. I just spent a wonderful ten days in New York with my younger two. We had a blast, and I forgot all about cancer. 

(9) Talk to your doc. If you're experiencing joint pain, bone loss, bone fractures, lowered libido, hair loss/thinning, weight gain, hot flashes and sleep issues, the more common side effects of all three major estrogen blockers, you can probably switch to a different pill. 

(10) Take chocolate. Preferably just a square or two of the very dark, 90% cacao kind, but you can, occasionally, gobble a bar of milk chocolate. Feeling good is important!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Flying With Teenagers

Expect to be scrutinized. The security lady in Düsseldorf called me over and I reached for my bag, which I thought she wanted me to open. She grunted no, whipped out what looked like a torn scrap of paper, and wiped it against one of my thighs, then the other. With a wave of her hand, she dismissed me.

What was that stuff she wiped on my pants? My husband thinks I was being randomly checked for explosives.

At Heathrow, the kids and I hunted for the gate to our next airline, finally going down some stairs where we saw American Airlines personnel. 

"Yay!" We're saved! said my son.

"What is the relationship?" asked the airline representative, staring at me intently. 
"I'm the mother and these are the kids," I said.
She turned to the kids. Where did they go to school? Did they like that school? Did they have a favorite subject? Did they have a favorite teacher?
My kids had the good sense to answer politely, and in detail. She turned to me. What did I do? I was a teacher? Where did I teach? How many students did I have?
"It depends," I stammered. "A seminar might have six. A lecture could have one hundred." After this very intense small talk and more penetrating stares, I offered to show the other passports my kids have and my German residency permit. Silently, she declined and waved me onto the bus that would take us to our gate.
What was she looking for? Was I suspected of abducting my kids?
On the way home, at the very large Zurich airport, I lost the kids. They were ahead of me getting off the plane, and I said, "I'll come when I can," and nodded to them to go on, since a large man in front of me had stopped moving. I thought they'd be standing by the plane door, but they weren't. I waited. A long time. When I thought they must have gone ahead, I went ahead. Then I went back. Then I went forward to the train, where I asked the guard to help me find them. With a big smile he told me not to worry, to go ahead to passport control, because they could only have gone in that direction. I waited for one more train, and when I didn't see them, I took the train. At passport control I found no sign of them, and since I had their passports, I knew they had to be behind me. Could the guard make an announcement? No, he said, sounding bored, but go ahead to Information--it felt a mile away--and they'd make an announcement. I went ahead. They announced, in what seemed a very soft voice. 
"Oh, they'll hear that all over the airport," the woman assured me. I asked her to make the announcement again. She did.
She insisted I stay there. Ground Control would find them and bring them to me. Finally, after ten minutes, she said I might take a look at passport control. 
There they were, my daughter in tears, a policeman ready to check me out again.
Zurich airport: they never did hear the two announcements. They speculate that they were on the train by then, but I think you need to make those announcements more loudly.
All's well that ends well. My son said, "How about my Hollywood moment!" When my daughter got upset, he said, "Don't worry! I'll find Mom for you!"
We had a great reunion before boarding our last flight and were so delighted to see my husband.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

How To Cope With Con Edison When You're Only In New York Two Weeks Per Year: Ten Tips

(1) 800 numbers cost a fortune if you're dialing from outside the continental United States. Sometimes you can just replace the 800 area code with a 212 code and reach the same representative.

(2) If you've tried the 800, the 212, the 888, the website form, and all of them keep clicking off on you--and if you're on hold to the tune of over 19 cents per minute, listening to the worst Muzak you've ever heard, for thirty minutes, hang up.

(3) Next option: call much earlier in the day--if you're in Germany, call at noon, German time, which is usually six a.m. New York time, and you'll get a representative. Don't call during regular American business hours--you'll get the wait. The gruesome, soul-destroying wait as the kids scream downstairs and the dinner dries out.

(4) If you find your blood pressure too high after dealing with the@#$%^&*(O)P!! representative, never cuss him or her out (i.e. when you've told them the Con Ed website just clicks off on you and they say, "Ma'am, you can get to it through Google or Bing"--yes, the woman really did say that.) Just thank the representative and hang up.

(5) Go to Get Human https://de.gethuman.com/
They do have Con Ed numbers. For a nominal fee--$30, last time I looked--they will call Con Ed for you and "resolve the issue."

(6) If you don't want to spend the thirty bucks because your Con Ed bill is already outrageous (a refrigerator in an uninhabited apartment racks up over $634?) call again with a script in hand. Slow down when the representative says, "Ma'am, you're talking too fast." Don't talk when she cuts you off as you explain how they didn't send your paperless bill. Let her yell, "Let's go forward, Ma'am." When she says, "As a courtesy, I will remove your late fee," Don't scream, "As a courtesy, you behemoth?" Just say thanks. 

(7) There's always the option of writing to the CEO. A useful website to know is this one, http://www.ceoemail.com/hints.php
which gives you the email address of John McAvoy, CEO of Con Edison, among many others, along with tips for how to write to him, starting with "be polite." Yeah! And I was! Here's a similar useful website: http://elliott.org/blog/3-secrets-for-finding-any-ceos-email-address/ 

(8) Notice when the CEO writes back, and when she or he does not. I had an issue with 23andme.com, because I felt they weren't clear on the fact that they can't send you your genetic predispositions if you live in Europe. I didn't go for the answers I got on Customer Service, but when I wrote the CEO, she was very responsive, polite, and helpful. I hasten to add that I have not heard from Mr. McAvoy.

(9) Be persistent. I'm going to write him again

(10) Do stay polite. No matter what. But if Mr. McAvoy is reading this, I'd like to know why it isn't easier for New Yorkers living in Europe to get service, and get billed easily, without the time-wasting efforts I've been through over the last weeks--not to mention the loss of sleep.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

How To Finish Breast Cancer Radiation: with a Leap and a Skip and a Whoopee!

My friend Georgia tells me that at Sloan Kettering you get to bang a big gong when you are finally done. I'd love to do that. But when the Technician at my German radiation treatment center gave me a patient satisfaction form to fill out, and I remarked that the Sloan Kettering ladies got to bang a gong, the techie seemed startled. Why would those American women want to do that? Why would anyone? The form asked me to comment on the amount of time I'd spent in the waiting room and whether I wanted to complain about that, and the amount of pain my skin had endured as a result of treatment (not all that much) but I wanted to talk about my need to bang a gong.
My breast looks like it forgot to put on sunscreen, and got French-kissed by a cheese grater.  It feels like a bunch of mosquitoes have been pecking at it but if you didn't know, I console myself, you might mistake its rosy glow for orgasmic flush.
Meanwhile, I figure I can pass off my chemo-curls as a perm when I see my mother. I managed to get through breast cancer without her detecting that I was ill. Why wouldn't I tell her? I wanted to avoid the avalanche of anxiety, followed by her theories of why I came down with cancer in the first place--theories that would involve whatever she thinks I should or should not do or be. Then we'd have had another round of the avalanche of anxiety, concurrent with sudden, unwelcome contacts from doctors she thought I should see, or faith healers, or friends she'd met on the street who had reported they battled cancer with herbs and I should stop all that nasty chemo and radiation and try herbs instead . . . . it was so nice not having to deal with Mom while I went through all this. 
Here's how to finish radiation: tap dance out of the office singing "I Did It My Way."

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Rules and La La Land

Up front: I've always considered Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider's The Rules a feminist statement. The idea that a girl might as well ask a guy out is usually dumb, assuming the girl wants the relationship to lead to wedding bells and babies. That's a "Rules" idea, not one that many feminists accept.  Also not an idea La La Land coddles: the Emma Stone character does talk to the Ryan Gosling character first, and the movie seems to want to say this is fine. Normal. Completely acceptable dating practice.  Still,  one of the critiques of La La Land has been its supposed anti-feminism: we see his jazz playing, but not much of her acting, although I'd say her numerous auditions show plenty of acting. He doesn't come to her one-woman show. He gets her to go to the audition that makes her career--this has been seen as anti-feminist in the sense that the Emma Stone character relies too much on male authority to believe in her acting abilities, while the Ryan Gosling character doesn't give a damn what anyone thinks of the kind of jazz he wants to play: he's going to open his own kind of jazz club and damn the torpedoes. But when he hears the love of his life chatting with her mother, who wants her to have  boyfriend who can support her, he takes a job he hates with a band just to be that kind of a guy. It's the Emma Stone character who talks him out of that, just as he talks her into going to that last audition. By this time, the two of them are certainly best friends. Romantic mates for life? Well, he doesn't follow her to the city where her career is taking off, which happens to be the most romantic, terrorist-free Paris you can imagine, except in her long fantasy-sequence that we see after she and her husband wander into her former dreamboat's jazz club when freeway traffic is too much to take. If she didn't have an adorable toddler at home, the movie's whispering, she'd vault up to the stage to fall into Ryan Gosling's soulful jazzy arms. But she does have the cute little girl sitting home crayoning on the sofa with the babysitter, so Dreamboat just locks eyes with her and plays their song, which is a lame one, if you've seen Singin' In the Rain, West Side Story, Les Miserables, or even Guys and Dolls. Emma Stone has beautiful eyes and Ryan Gosling has soulful ones. But neither can sing or dance, and I can't for the life of me figure out why, if they loved each other, they couldn't have flown back and forth to see each other. Each has the idea that art takes all, that there's no room in life for true love while a career is being formed. 
Here's another reason, and a Rules one: She talks to him first. And he slams right into her, not hearing her, because unbeknownst to her, he's just gotten fired. Maybe that wouldn't have been so very bad, except that when they meet up accidentally again and again, she talks to him first to him again and again, requesting, during one party scene (actually raising her hand!) that he play "I ran." Yeah, he did run, Emma Stone character. You should have said, "Next!" and moved on. But no. She keeps talking to him every time they run into each other and when he's on tour she calls and says in the neediest tones imaginable that she misses him. Then, surprise! He's in their tiny grungy apartment making dinner for her. But not so surprising, they argue. The moral of this story may be that she got bored with him because she chased him. He didn't chase her. Not in the beginning. Into which the end is rolled. 

P.S. This is what I wanted to see instead of those lame tap sequences in La La Land: 



This kind of originality--not to mention philosophy--is another thing missing from a film styling itself as paying a tribute to Singin' in the Rain:

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Look Merkel Gave You Know Who

Why aren't reporters commenting on that nanosecond of horrified disbelief? Or resigned disbelief. The fake president, dog-with-bonelike about his wiretap claims, turned to the distinguished German chancellor and cracked, "At least we have something in common," apparently referring to Obama supposedly tapping Merkel's phone. 
Merkel's head swiveled: she glanced at Fake Prez as if really seeing, for the first time, how low he could go. 
She double-taked: shaking her head. Like the mother of a serial killer who is wishing things were different. 
But oh, they are not. 

I couldn't help thinking of a happier version of the double-take by Sara Teasdale:

“Stephen kissed me in the spring,
Robin in the fall,
But Colin only looked at me
And never kissed at all.

Stephen’s kiss was lost in jest,
Robin’s lost in play,
But the kiss in Colin’s eyes
Haunts me night and day.” 

 If we were re-writing that for Merkel and Mr. Fake, we'd get something like: 

Donald flicked his eyes my way
With a creepy look
But Barry only looked at me
He never tried that gook.

Donald's look was lost in rage
Barry's lost in play
So the look in Barry's eyes 
Haunts me night and day.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Geert Wilders--The Dutch Donald Trump?

Is Mr. Wilders a racist spewer of hate speech? How can you even ask, most readers will say. Look at his hair. Not for nothing were German carnival floats of right-wingers filled with slogans like "Blonde is the New Brown"--Marie Le Pen, the American fake president, and Mr. Wilders all do have that hair thing going. 
When I read what the NY Times, the Guardian, even the Telegraph, say about Wilders I wonder that I consider defending him. But I don't think he's Trumpesque, even if his rhetoric gets scary. What gives me pause is that he was a colleague of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's in the VVD, the Dutch political party that describes its purpose as to further the free intellectual and social development of each individual, without making distinctions according to religious or ideological conviction, nationality, sex, race, colour of skin or language. Central to its beliefs is freedom of choice for everyone. He left that party because he thought its policies could no longer hope to provide freedom for everyone without restricting radical Islam. Both he and Hirsi Ali came to believe that too many devout Muslim immigrants would not accept Dutch or Western values of freedom of speech and equality of men and women, because the Koran does not do so. In her writings, Hirsi Ali advocates a reformation in Islam. Catholics no longer burn people at the stake or break them on the rack for saying the pope is a fool or for subscribing to another belief system. Radical Islamists, Hirsi Ali points out, will not stop beheading people or cutting girls' genitals out or forcing young women to marry or be killed until they stop believing in their version of Islam. Her own choice, to renounce the religion entirely, has earned her death threats. Now, if she'd renounced Catholicism as publicly as she abandoned Islam, a lot of my nice Catholic in-laws wouldn't want to invite her to dinner. But they'd be shocked and horrified at the idea of killing her. 
That's the big difference between a certain kind religious belief and the values that Hirsi Ali, and perhaps Geert Wilders, are trying to make people see. Integration isn't about "Can't we all just get along?" anymore. Integration really is about retaining freedom of speech and equality, and the folks who don't accept that need an education. Or they need to be excluded. So is the real issue with Wilders racism and hate speech? Or is he really struggling to preserve civilization? Readers, weigh in.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Antibiotics and Me

I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan during the sixties, when ear infections paid the pediatrician's rent--as our old family doctor told me when I brought my son to see him. Whenever I, as a child, had an ear infection or a strep throat, I took penicillin (Pen Vee tabs) for ten days. I remember the little white pills and I remember watching the infected yellow blobs on my tonsils go away after ingesting the little white pills. Flash forward to my thirties: a university health service doctor discovered a "heart murmur" on a routine exam and told me Never To Drink Coffee Again. I had no symptoms, and greatly missed my coffee, so I shelled out more than I could afford to see a cardiologist with a private practice on the East side. He told me I had "mitral valve prolapse" and "no problems" and could drink coffee all I wanted--but I had to take antibiotics every single time the dentist cleaned my teeth, or whenever I had minor surgery. Said this Park Avenue specialist. Thirty years of popping antibiotics every time the dentist cleaned my teeth . . .  and when I wasn't sick, too. Then I wanted to get pregnant, and our fertility specialist prescribed boatloads of antibiotics (which did result in my getting pregnant, by the way!) 
But now here I am at age sixty, generally healthy, except for the breast cancer that's almost been irradiated out of existence, and except for my lungs: every time a cold goes to my chest and I start coughing up green gook, I can't seem to get well without antibiotics. In December I had a bronchitis and wanted to get better before the lumpectomy. I tried for a week with ginger root tea, vegetable broth by the bucket, and healthy plant-based decongestants. No deal. A three-day antibiotic worked like magic and I was fine--until now, two months later, when another bronchitis has suddenly turned up again like the proverbial bad penny. I guess this new illness isn't surprising. My students arrive at office hours coughing and feverish; my kids and my husband have had colds. So I've been lying in bed drinking fruit tea and all that other healthy stuff I just mentioned. I went to the doctor who said what I had was viral and I went to the Web, where it says the green and yellow crap I'm coughing up isn't always bacterial. I'd like to get over this illness by resting and drinking tea. But if that takes three weeks (would you like to see my house after three weeks of me not doing laundry or cleaning the guinea pig cage? Not to mention cooking?) then I'd rather have the three-day antibiotic again.
Do I have any readers who are doctors? Whaddya think, docs?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Irradiated: Breast Cancer and the Kinky Tanning Salon, Part 2

About a third of the way through your radiation treatment, you've gotten used to lying on the table with your hands stretched, bondage-style, over your head while technicians yell at you not to move and insist you play dead while they haul you around getting you into the right position. Once you're there, they whip out their Sharpies and draw in the most ticklish areas, all the while insisting that you not move a muscle. 
Then you get to see the doctor. You're done with the five-minute tanning bit (it feels like that, as long as you can tune out the grunting and clicking of the huge mechanical arm over your head) and you dress and enter the office of Dr. I'm-in-a-hurry-I'm-so-cool. He fingers the underwire of your bra. 
"Oh, this is no good! You shouldn't wear this! Metal on irradiated skin!"
"Oh, okay," I said, "I didn't know."
"Besides, you are small! You are about an A-cup, right?" He doesn't pause for a reply. Big grin. "So you don't need a bra. You can just wear an undershirt."
"Oh," I say, as he whirls out with a big smile, saying, "It's all normal! To be depressed is normal!"
"I'm no more depressed than usual," I say to his retreating figure, which is already halfway down the hall to inspect the next patient.
Except that actually, after that conversation, I'm not exactly cheered up.
Nine radiations down, twenty-one to go.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Ten Things Barack Obama Heard When He Tapped Trump's Phone

(1) Heavy breathing
(2) "Yeah, babe, give it to me! Yeah! (Repeated several times)
(3) Yes, mistress. Yes mistress. Yes!"
(4) Loud groan of pain or pleasure.
(5) Champagne cork popping
(6) Get him onna phone, now! Jeez!
(7) Muttered expletives
(8) Sell! Sell, dammit!
(9) Buy, you !@#$%^&*()!!! BUY!
(10) Melania, baby, just do it.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Six Tips for Getting Along With Breast Cancer Radiation

(1) Be sure to have ten years of ballet or gymnastics under your belt so that you can hold poses for extreme lengths of time.
(2) Practice holding your arms over your head until they go numb. Hold them even longer.
(3) Don't be ticklish. 
(4) Don't be ticklish, part two: the technician is drawing permanent marker lines all over your boobs and side and you're supposed to avoid twitching or giggling.
(5) Your foot is not allowed its involuntary twitch while you're lying on that radiation table.
(6) Sun. Feels like sun. Sun zinging into the side of you. 

And that was just the FIRST radiation. One down, around twenty-seven to go. Think of the experience as going to a very kinky tanning salon.

Monday, February 20, 2017

My Post-Wig World

Once your hair really starts to grow after chemotherapy--not the horrible tack-like prickles, but this kinky, Little Orphan Annie hair, Little Orphan Annie after she stuck her finger in the electric socket, the wig starts getting itchier. When the weather's cold, you can stand wearing the thing, but on a warm sunny day, you'll feel as though a nest of lice was bedding down for a long season. 
So on the last day of the semester, I stopped at my friendly neighborhood hairdresser--hadn't seen her since early last summer, but she's been getting credit for the wig ever since I started wearing it. I told her she'd been getting credit for my hairdo and she looked puzzled, since she couldn't remember that style on me. I whipped off the wig and watched her eyebrows go up and her mouth go into a round "O" of shock.
I gestured to the poodle-gray mess creeping over my scalp like Kudzu over a landscape and asked, "Can you do anything with this?"
Fortunately, she laughed and asked to try on my wig. And yes, improvements could be made. I emerged from the salon an hour later with auburn hair, a shade too dark, but the gray is gone--slightly trimmed, too, so that it doesn't bush over my ears like a tonsure on an old monk. I can't say my current do is the fashion statement of my choice. But it's better than bald, folks--better than bald. 
To go with it, I have magic-markered lines and  few spiky little things with pentagram-like markings that I just got today from the technician who is arranging my radiation. I will get zapped along the markings, apparently, and I am not supposed to take a shower, so I will probably soon smell as creepy as this design looks (although I'm allowed to sponge off areas un-decorated by magic markers). Sid Vicious would be proud of me. At least I am on the home stretch: in five weeks I should be done with treatments, except, of course, for the pills. Buckets of 'em, over five years. On the bright side, I got to keep my breast, which has always been a big part of my fashion statement and many other statements.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Trump Hiding In Plain Sight


Even when Fox News is interviewing her, she's unbelievable. OH, and somebody keeps taking that video down, the one in which Conway is caught calling lies "alternative facts." I'm going to try to get this video back up. And you all know she said that. But oh, Saturday Night Live, thank you for supplying us with this:

But no matter how much fun it is to watch the original and the parody that feels so real, the RUSSIAN thing and the TAXES thing are still getting buried. Today's illegal plug for Ivanka's clothing line is yesterday's grab-'em-by-the-pussy. The SNL stuff is fun to watch, and the constant needling gets to Trump and his toadies, but I want reporters and comedians to devote all their spare time to uncovering Trump's ties to the Russians and Trump's tax returns.

Because he'd much rather we get angry about Kellyanne's latest illegal vulgarism than remember his ties to Russia or his taxes or whatever else, by the time I finish writing this sentence, will leave us all slack-jawed with disbelief and horror.

THE RUSSIANS. THE TAXES. All else is vanity.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ways To Stop Trump: Six Tips

This is not my guarantee that we can. Just a vision of how Americans might escape the anaconda grip of this heartless snake.

(1) America's rich have to unite in rejection of him. The very thing they won't do, since he's making them lots of money.

(2) Reporters have to stop asking "Is that appropriate?" when he says a respected jurist is a "so-called judge" or "disgraceful." Instead, they should say, "That language is not appropriate--and not allowed." No one sets limits with Trump. They question him. Set boundaries instead. The way the debate moderators should have set boundaries.

(3) Ramp up the ridicule. Saturday Night Live, good for you, but do more. Oh, much more. 

(4) Publish his old report cards. I want to see them almost more than I want to see his taxes.

(5) Wikileaks, where are you on those taxes? Roll 'em out. Yesterday!

(6) When all else fails, bite his tail. Wouldn't it be nice if Melania took care of that?