Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pianos, biking, hair, and other stuff

Yes, this post has a few random things that are only vaguely related.  Not that the title is any more random than Guns Fishing & Other Stuff.

I've settled into a bit of a routine with respect to medical appointments, and have scheduled things out to August.  For the most part I have something every Wednesday, and then sometimes I also have something on Thursday (every third week, the day after chemo).  As I'm walking through the lobby for my most recent appointment (which was fairly uneventful from a medical perspective), I hear what sounds like a piano playing.  But then I was kind of confused, and wondering if it was just coming over the PA, since I was having trouble attempting to locate the source by ear.  It turns out there's a piano on the lower level of the atrium, at the bottom of the stairs.  And the quality of the piano and the layout of the building and the positioning of the piano actually make for some pretty good acoustics.  Not to mention that the guy playing it was pretty good.  (He was playing something kind of jazzy, but with a bit of a ragtime feel.)  So even though I was done my appointment in what was I think record time, I hung out for a few more minutes listening to this guy play.  And then when he was done, I gave it a try and played for a little while.  It felt good, although I'm out of practice.  I really ought to play more.  It's a bit complicated by the fact that Dylan generally insists on sitting besides me and playing along if I play on my keyboard at home -- which I suppose I can't complain about too much.  The experience was also interesting in that it was the second time in the same day that I got to play on a real piano.  We took Dylan in the morning to an open toddler play session that the city of Berkeley has, and there was a piano there as well.  While the Berkeley piano is bigger (a small baby grand vs. an upright at the hospital), the hospital piano is much nicer (I think it was a Steinway).

I've been biking quite a bit more, and I think it's starting to make a difference.  I'm not exclusively riding my bike (and that wasn't even the case before I got sick), but I have returned to the point where my bike is my default transportation method if I want to go somewhere local that's beyond walking distance.  That includes my medical appointments now that I've moved my cancer care from Oakland to Berkeley.  I still haven't gotten on my road bike and gone up into the hills for real, but the hilly parts of the flats and the foothills are starting to feel a bit more routine.  This week I had an appointment for an eye exam at the UC Berkeley Optometry school, and biking there takes me all the way to the western edge of campus, which is definitely starting to get up in elevation a little bit.  The week before I had biked there as well, to look at new glasses.  (After a bit of an exhaustive search, I just ordered my first set of new frames in more than a decade yesterday.  I'll post pics when they come in.)  Anyway, while some of the difference might be due to my cold having continued to diminish asymptotically, it definitely felt like an easier ride a week later.  And after browsing through the Cheeseboard cookbook during a period of late night munchies last night, I had the motivation to bike there this morning (which is also somewhat uphill) to get some baked goods for breakfast, and it felt shockingly invigorating, even though I hadn't eaten yet.  Maybe sometime soon I'll even have the energy to start towing Dylan again.  Lately when we've gone biking as a family, Lorien is the one with Dylan in tow.

After the vast majority of the hair on my head fell out around the time of chemo round 2, I assumed that each successive round would see an exponential decay in the amount of hair remaining.  But that's not really what's happened.  I seem to have stabilized with a thin layer of hair, somewhat all around my head, but mostly concentrated at the top.  Maybe I'm just starting to get a bit more used to it, but it doesn't actually look all that bad.  (Sorry, no pic available currently.)  After pretty much wearing some hat (I think I have 5 of them that I've been wearing with some regularity) almost all of the time, I've started sometimes to not bother with a hat.  Yesterday when I went out to look at some glasses, I didn't actually realize that I wasn't wearing a hat until I tried on a frame and then went over to a mirror to look at myself.  At first I was kind of annoyed that I forgot my hat (I did want to see how the frames looked with it), but I ended up sticking with it and not wearing any hat the entire day.  Which is probably the first day I've done that since losing my hair.

On the topic of hair, it's been largely limited to my head.  I think maybe some of my body hair has thinned somewhat, but it's kind of hard to tell.  I don't really have any easy way of comparing before and after.  I certainly didn't have any kind of crazy coming out in clumps experience that I did with the hair on my head.  And I definitely have not lost things like eyelashes and eyebrows.  Although most of my facial hair is gone.  But not all of it.  So I still have to shave every now and then to keep from getting a scattering of stubble.

It's currently week 3 of round 3, so I'm pretty much at my peak of feeling well.  I'm having some trouble sleeping continuously through the night, but I'm falling asleep both initially and getting back to sleep without too much trouble, so it's not all that bad.  And Lorien has been doing the vast majority of child care in the mornings, and letting me sleep in, which is doing wonders for how well I feel.  Although it is making me feel a bit guilty.

For a while I was blaming it on the cold, but as that has receeded, I've noticed how much my voice is just generally hoarse lately.  It's a bit of a stress to talk too much.  Which can be a problem sometimes... :)  It's especially a little sad in that it's a bit of a strain when I read to Dylan.  Dylan has a decent collection of Dr. Seuss books, and he's somewhat recently gone from being mostly limited to short board books to wanting to hear full length real books.  Again and again.  It's really cute when he refers to them with one word names (e.g. "hat" for Cat in the Hat; "fish" for One Fish, Two Fish; "ham" for Green Eggs and Ham), and he specifically asks for them by name.  (He also asks for other books by name, like "poop" for Everyone Poops.)  Anyway, I really love the rhyming rhythm of the Dr. Seuss books, and had been looking forward for a long time to him being willing to sit through them in their entirety.  So it's a bit disappointing for me.  But I end up just sucking it up and dealing with it to some extent -- I don't want to stop reading to Dylan just because I have a little bit of a sore throat.

We're back to some warm weather again after yet another bit of rain.  The rain has certainly caught up later in season after an initially extremely dry winter.  So tomorrow's tentative plan is a family bike ride down to the Berkeley Marina, including some kite flying if there's sufficient wind.  Which is sometimes inversely proportional to the temperature, so we'll have to see how that plan goes.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Thanks to Brendan for a pointer to today's xkcd:
The timing may be a bit off for me, and I'm still pretty emotional about politics, but I can get where he's coming from.

If anyone out there isn't familiar with xkcd, I highly recommend it as a great web comic.  Be sure to mouse over the strip when you're done -- the popup is often an integral part of the strip.  If you're on a device without a mouse (like a phone), read it with instead.

Also, this reminds me, I should catch up on reading xkcd.  If only it (and so many other web sites) had the wisdom to implement the "Next Unseen" feature.  One of so many things that DEC got right (I'm thinking Notes on VMS) so long ago (~25+ years).

Monday, April 23, 2012

Creative titles are getting harder

My cold diminishes, but still lingers. I think. It's actually kind of hard to be sure. I'm still sometimes congested or have a runny nose, but I think I had some of that now and then for unexplained reasons even before I got a cold. It's been long enough (I think nearly a month?) that it's hard to remember now. I'm also starting to wonder if some of my general ill feelings in my head are really just dehydration. My opinion of Emergen-C and other similar electrolyte drinks is that they're in the normal case kind of nasty -- but that if they taste good, that's a sign that you really need them. So over the past few days I've started drinking repeated double doses of Emergen-C, and it's been hugely satisfying. After having the remnants of a box lingering around since the last time I went to Burning Man, I quickly plowed through it and had to go out and buy more yesterday.

Yesterday was the first day of week 2 with no stomach cramping, so I'm hoping that I've put that behind me until the next round.

Waking up early and not being able to get back to sleep is no longer an issue, although last night was the first night this round that I had the flip side of the coin, trouble falling asleep. I think perhaps it's late enough in the cycle now that I need to just lay off the sleep meds and get used to sleeping normally again. Hopefully a couple of days will take care of any short term dependence/tolerance with respect to that.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had a private yoga session on Thursday. Julia, who has been leading yoga classes for a little while now at Location Labs (my workplace a little while back sort of changed its name from Wavemarket), offered to come by our house for a private session. It went well. For a while I was hoping that I could soon jump back into just some regular yoga classes (e.g. not anything special like the yoga for cancer patients offered at the cancer center), as long as they were reasonably low key and geared for beginners. But I'm going to have to think about that a little bit more. Our practice on Thursday was *very* low key, but still I felt like it took a pretty serious amount of energy for me, and I definitely needed to take it at a very slow pace. I'm still feeling a little bit sore (although in a good way), although part of that is probably that I've also been trying to do some more biking (again, pretty low key, not heading way up into the hills).

Rich in the backyard, by the blooming
wisteria, with his wide brimmed Panama hat

As the week progressed, the weather kept getting warmer. So on Friday, we all headed to Ocean Beach. It never ceases to amaze me how much traffic can suck in the Bay Area, even in the middle of a weekday. We did eventually make it there, and indeed the weather was pleasant even all the way on the coast. I think it was Dylan's first time actually at the ocean since he was just a few months old. Although he's come very close to the ocean a few other times, like here (he just wasn't able to make it down the final cliff in that case). Dylan got to try out the new beach shovel and bucket that we bought for him. And he made friends with a fellow toddler who is equally as obsessed with balls as he his. None of us actually went into the water -- despite the warm air temperature, the Pacific Ocean in Northern California is pretty damn cold in April.

Dylan at Ocean Beach, with his
new beach shovel and bucket

On the way back, we hit still more traffic way before we could even come close to the highway, so we decided to just stop in Golden Gate Park and hang out and wait it out a while. As we're walking to the area around Hippy Hill, we see a pretty huge crowd of people, and hear a sound system, and assumed that it must be a free concert or something. Nope, it was just 4/20. While Dylan was not particularly concerned with the significance of the holiday, he did get to enjoy what is a pretty awesome playground that's in the park.

Dylan with his new buddy at the beach who is also ball
obsessed. Sometimes Dylan needed to be reminded to share.

Saturday was even warmer, and our plan was to go to the pool that's right around the corner from our house at the King Middle School. There aren't too many sessions that are just open for anyone until the summer arrives. Nevertheless, there was a session for a couple of hours on Saturday, which was the hottest day. Sadly, we collided with the reality of there being too many damn people around here. We didn't show up until about halfway through the session (coordinating with naps and eating time is non-trivial with a toddler), and by then they said they were full and taking people on a wait list. We hung around for a little bit but then just gave up. I suppose it's better than them letting the pool get crazy crowded (it's a pretty small pool), but it was still kind of annoying and disappointing. There used to be 3 public pools in Berkeley, but several have closed and right now there's only 1 (I think another one will be open in the summer), which probably contributes to the crowd. Not to mention the ridiculously unseasonably warm weather -- obviously we weren't the only ones with the same idea.

Dylan and Daddy going down a slide in Golden Gate Park

Our backup plan was to go for a bike ride. But by the time we were able to realistically consider that (more toddler nap and eating scheduling issues), it was late enough in the day that I was starting to not feel all that well -- not really well enough (or awake enough) for a bike ride. As well as the fact that I concluded that it was beyond warm and into hot -- or at least how I'm perceiving things right now, which seems to be more sensitive to extreme temperatures (both hot and cold) than normal. On the assumption that Sunday was going to be pleasantly warm but not so hot, we postponed the ride for a day, and instead went for a walk up to Indian Rock. Dylan was much less mobile the last time we were there, but thankfully we managed to prevent him from launching himself off of the rock.

Dylan navigates the steps up to the top of
Indian Rock, with a little assistance.

Our plan for a Sunday bike ride ran into the realities of Bay Area weather. No more warmth, back to the usual cold, wind, and fog. We went for a ride anyway. And while it was good to get out and use the bike trailer again (it had been a little while), it was somewhat shorter and not quite as much fun as I had hoped.

My previous rejoicing at gaining weight has been mellowed somewhat. I think maybe when I topped 140# I reacted by starting to eat a bit more normally, and not just piling on calories by any means necessary. In retrospect, I think it was all temporary water weight, and yesterday morning I dipped below 130# again (129.4). Partly due to the diminished weight gain, and partly inspired by the warm weather, I made ice cream this weekend. Cinnamon ice cream with pralined oatmeal. Yum. Unfortunately, homemade ice cream has a few steps with some significant latency between them (this style and variety, at least), and by the time I actually had the ice cream all made, the warm weather had passed. So this morning I took some ripe bananas and made banana bread. Oh yeah, and there's also 1/4 of the dough from the ginger snaps that's in the freezer waiting to be baked. So now we have a bunch of sweets. If anybody who's local wants to come over and help us eat them, just let me know and you can stop by sometime. Seriously. Maybe I should just start posting on the blog anytime we have desserts to share. Except that I'm not sure if enough people will see it soon enough. Hopefully people do realize that they can subscribe via either RSS or email? (See the upper portion of the sidebar on the right.)

And on that note, I think I'm going to take a break and have some dessert and then post this.

Welcome, Ruben!

I'm pleased to announce the arrival of Ruben Daniel Fromm, born to my brother Larry and sister-in-law Galit on April 12, 2012.
Dylan virtually met his new cousin (who lives in Indiana) yesterday via Skype.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ups and downs

Sorry it's been a while.  It seems like either I've been feeling well and am too busy to be blogging, or when I'm not busy, I'm not feeling well enough for it.

I kind of figured that having been through this twice before, I'd know what to expect.  But perhaps I should really just learn to expect the unexpected.  Week 1 of cycle 3 in general wasn't all that great.  I didn't have the crazy emotional mood swings of cycle 2, and nothing physical was really all that bad, but have kind of felt weary and run down a lot.  Except when I wasn't, that is -- so goes the ups and downs of chemo side effects, I guess.  Perhaps some of it is related to the cold, which after 2.5+ weeks I have still to fully kick.  I wonder how long that will take.  What's lingering with that is still some occasional congestion, and also just a general feeling of being stuffed in the head.

The sleep issues thankfully haven't been quite as bad as before.  While actively on Prednisone I tried Ambien CR, which is stronger than regular Ambien and has a continuous release part that's supposed to help you stay asleep once you get to sleep.  I think it might be a bit too strong for me, though, in that perhaps some of my grogginess during the day is an after effect of that.  So I've also tried some of just going back to regular Ambien -- which so far is effective enough at helping me to get to sleep, although twice now I've woken up at 6 am and not been able to get back to sleep.  And ultimately my hope and plan is that sleep meds are just for the beginning of the cycle anyway.  Or at least if and when I can finally fully get over the cold.

I was previously all set to announce that I had solidly cleared the 10 pound mark in weight gained, but now I've come to the realization that it's a bit more complicated than that.  My weight can vary tremendously in a short amount of time, and I probably really shouldn't pay attention to what it is at the beginning of the cycle.  I had managed to top 140#, but then overnight I lost nearly 10 pounds.  So realistically I think I'm more in the 5-10# gain range.  As long as I'm not losing again overall in the long run, I suppose that's okay.  And if I really had topped 140#, I might be more reserved with my sweet tooth -- now I feel I'm more in the position to continue my endeavors as a patissier.

The biggest new'ish issue I'm having to cope with is that I've been having hot flashes.  They don't last that long, and don't happen that frequently, but they're kind of unpleasant and certainly annoying.  This isn't the first time they've happened, but they've definitely increased in frequency this cycle.

And then last night I was trying to figure out why I felt simultaneously like I needed to eat more for dinner, but that maybe I had had too much to eat.  And then my stomach started getting all crampy.  And then I realized, oh yeah, it's week 2.  Ugh.

But enough whining about side effects.  I don't want this blog to just be a repetitive list of physical ailments.  I think I am making it sound worse than it actually has been.  And in between periods of feeling crappy, I actually have had some periods of feeling amazingly well and having a good time.  So I'd rather switch to talking about those.

Friday started out with me not feeling all that well, but it ended up being a pretty awesome day.  I headed into the city and did some shopping.  I got some beautiful new button down shirts on a 2 for 1 sale -- now I just need to do enough going out to dinner or other nice places to warrant the spiffy clothes.  Also looked at some blazers and vests but didn't buy anything.  I finally got a new wallet -- my >decade old one was literally falling apart.  It's also been more than a decade since I got new glasses frames (and I think about 5 years since I got new lenses), so I did some shopping for new glasses as well.  I haven't made a final decision yet, but I've narrowed it down to a few choices.  I also really could use some new jeans -- the pairs I have now are too big, as well as starting to fall apart.  Sadly, I can't just buy them again in a smaller size, because Express no longer makes them.  Which kind of pisses me off, given how long it took me in the past to finally find a brand and style of jeans that fit me well.  The search continues.

After shopping, I met my friend Heather for dinner.  It had been a while since I'd been out for a nice'ish sit down dinner, so for me it was quite a treat.  And Friday was really the peak of me feeling well, so it worked out fine staying in the city until about 11 pm.  (So much for times gone by of all night parties -- 11 pm seems really late to me now.)

Saturday we headed to Matt and Alice's for some tasty red velvet cake in honor of Alice's birthday.  Which was enjoyable, although I was feeling kind of weary on Saturday.

But then by Sunday I was feeling well again, and we took Laura and [a different] Matt up on their offer to babysit Dylan.  We dropped him off then headed to the beautiful Grand Lake Theatre to see a matinee (the pre-show organist is only present on Friday and Saturday nights, alas) of the Hunger Games.  These were the books that I started reading when I had a bunch of time to kill waiting around for medical stuff.  Other than my feeling that in general the casting was a bit on the old side (it was hard to accept most of the kids as kids), I felt it was very well done.  Being out for a movie again was also a nice treat -- it's interesting how much I can appreciate what normally would be tiny little enjoyments of life.  Thank you Laura and Matt for helping to make that happen!

It's been getting increasingly warm here, and I've been doing my best to try to enjoy the nice weather when I'm feeling up to it.  Right now I'm once again sitting out on the front porch blogging, which I'm not sure if I've done since cycle 1.  I'm also getting an opportunity to use my expanded collection of hats -- yesterday I wore the straw fedora, and today it's warm and sunny enough that I'm wearing the wide brimmed panama hat.

Later today I've got a private yoga session scheduled.  And tomorrow our tentative plan is to head to the beach with Dylan.  Hopefully week 2 will cooperate well enough for me.

Some blooms in the freshly weeded front yard.

Morning sunlight on the wisteria in the back yard. While it may not be as impressive as most other people's wisteria, it is finally looking somewhat decent this year. It's about time, given how much aggravation the plant causes me.

Dylan the young foodie, enjoying chipotle-pancetta Manila clams.  Food, babysitting, and photo courtesy of Laura and Matt.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A taxing time

I realize it's been a little while since a post, so I wanted to get in a quick little something to make sure people weren't worrying.

I've been alternatively just somewhat busy, or feeling too exhausted or otherwise so-so to blog.  I had been hoping in theory to maybe find some time tonite, but I decided that it was probably a better idea to stop procrastinating and finally do my taxes.

So rest assured that things are fine, and I'm in general feeling okay (and a bit noticeably better in fact than what had been the average since my last post).

More details later, but now I should get to bed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cycle 3 begins

Sitting in what is now my private room, as my much older roommate for the day left long ago, listening to some very soothing Dr. Toast, I'm nearing the end of the last IV for chemo round 3.  My guess is that I'll be done around 9 PM.  Which means maybe I won't get this post fully done (it's 8:25 now).  This is much later than I would ordinarily want to schedule things, but things were a little complicated this time around, both from me switching from Oakland to Berkeley, and switching insurance carriers.  I was originally scheduled today to start at 3 PM, although they called this morning and asked if I could come in at 1 PM.  Nevertheless, as I was warned, things definitely take longer here.  The original estimate I was given was 6 hours total, but it looks like it's going to end up being more like 8.  Which isn't totally made up for by the savings in driving time, but I think I'm going to stick with Berkeley anyway.  And even the driving time argument becomes more persuasive if you factor in all of the non-chemo appointments (typically 3 more in a single 3 week chemo cycle), and the fact that they're not particularly keen on the idea of me getting chemo in Oakland but doing everything else in Berkeley (if you thought that they could somehow manage a single integrated system of records between a few offices, you'd be wrong).

And the time has gone by reasonably fast.  It doesn't feel like nearly 8 hours, and I don't feel like I've done much.  Read a bit on the kindle, did random web browsing, but had put off blogging b/c I was feeling kind of tired.  In retrospect, I think I was tired b/c I needed to eat.  I brought some food with me, but not enough, as I counted on being home earlier and having dinner then.  And they advertise various free food here -- which I'm sure is probably semi-crappy, but I figured it would be good enough.  Only when I finally asked for some, the answer was that it was so late in the day that it was basically all gone.  Before this, I had been feeling somewhat negative about my nurse.  She's from Vietnam, and I mentioned that I traveled there in 2003, and somehow our conversation veered to her telling me not to go to China because they kill people there and harvest their organs.  Hmmm....  Anyway, she totally redeemed herself by, after telling me there was no food left, volunteering to send someone to head out around the corner and pick up some Thai food.  I totally took her up on the offer (I think some of the staff that's left here now, which is pretty minimal, it's all pretty quiet here now).  I feel so much better now, hence the blogging.

The cold continues.  My cold, that is.  The weather hasn't been all that cold, although we're in the middle of another storm and another few rainy days.  I suspect it could take me a while to get over the long tail of congestion and runny nose from this cold.  It's kind of reached the point where it's mostly an annoyance.  For the most part it's no longer keeping me from doing anything that I want to do, as it's not making me feel overall crappy the way it had been before.  Except I really want to get back to yoga, but I'm not thrilled at the idea of doing that until the cold is really gone.

I was feeling well enough to continue the yard work.  Did some on all of Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.  Most of it wasn't particularly strenuous (except shoveling wood chips was a little tiring), but it was still enough of a workout to get my muscles sore.  Back to the whole needing yoga thing.  Our rose bushes that formerly reached up more than a full story also left me with a fair share of wounds on my arms -- maybe I should get pruning gloves that cover the whole forearm, and not just past the wrist?  We filled our entire green bin, one of our neighbor's bins, and most of the bin of our other neighbor.  A huge shout out of thanks to Rebecca and Ali who came over on Sunday and did a major amount of weeding.  I hadn't really appreciated just how much of our front yard had become weeds.

Another huge bit of thanks to Alice who came here last night with Matt and cooked dinner for us.  And brought some of the dessert wines that I had liked at their tapas party, so that Lorien could try them.  And we both had the idea of following through on the thought of pairing the port with a dark chocolate, which left us with an opportunity for chocolate tasting and comparison.  Which was actually the second food tasting of evening -- since she ended up bringing all of her own ingredients, we had previously compared fancy balsamic vinegars.  And discovered that homemade motzah is a wonderful vehicle for vinegar tasting.

The machine is beeping again, and this time it's a good beep!  I'm all done!  To be continued when I get home...

I didn't ride my bike to chemo due to both my cold and the possibility of rain.  Lorien dropped me off, and was planning on picking me up.  But since that happened later than planned, and Dylan was in bed by then, Erin was kind enough to be my chauffeur for the evening.  Thanks!  I'm home now.

Back to dinner with Matt and Alice...

I didn't want to contribute nothing to the meal, and since I do have a bit of a sweet tooth now, and that will likely increase with the Prednisone, I once again consulted David Leibovitz for inspiration.  I had to rule out a bunch of possibilities because Matt doesn't like chocolate.  I settled on Gingersnaps.  They were wonderful.  And continue to be so.  And I only baked half -- and left 1/4 of the dough in the fridge, and put 1/4 in the freezer, so they will continue into the future.  Despite being pretty full from pad thai, I think I'm going to take a break and have one as soon as I'm done typing this sentence....  Mmmm.... that was tasty.  Don't you wish you could have one?  Well, you can -- they're pretty easy to make.  And while I got the recipe by browsing through one of David's cookbooks, it looks like a very similar recipe (with slightly different preportions and instructions, but it's pretty damn similar) is available on his website.  Which gets me wondering sometimes why I bought a bunch of his books (I went perhaps a bit overboard in a minor frenzy of patissier related book buying, shortly before I got sick, which somewhat put the brakes on that), since it seems like most every recipe that I make and like I can also find online. I do like reading through the books though, and especially like the mouth watering pictures.  The book has a totally different description, and somewhat surprisingly doesn't mention that this is copied from one of Alice Water's books.  Which gets me wondering if I should get that book as well.  Unlike most of David's books, it's about more than just desserts. And I do particularly like this tidbit of his review:
I realized that these are recipes for the staples that people could and should learn, and the book is a complete reference for anyone who wants some solid, well-tested basics new dishes to add to one’s repertoire. Unlike larger and bulkier reference tomes, the recipes in The Art of Simple Food are for the way many people cook today and the book is laid out with a simple design to make it very easy for anyone to follow the recipes. [From David, on his blog, about Alice's book]
On a similar note of basic dishes, if you're looking for a book of reasonably simple recipes for everyday cooking, we have and like Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers.  We also have Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, but tend to use it much less.

I mentioned the online description (of the gingersnaps recipe) is different.  This bit is worth sharing, and gives you an idea of David's attitude, which I can appreciate:
For the best flavor, use very fresh spices.  I grind my own cinnamon and cloves for these, and never, ever use preground black pepper.  If you don't have a pepper mill, shame on you.  Go get one. [From David, accompanying the recipe on his web site]
Fwiw, I ground my cloves fresh, but I've found that grinding my own cinnamon is kind of a pain, and rough on the grinder, so I buy it ground except when I want to use a whole stick in an infusion.  But we rotate it pretty quickly, and don't buy it prepackaged at a supermarket, so I have a reasonable confidence that it's pretty fresh.

While I'm writing this, Lorien just walked by and gave me an unsolicited comment that "these gingersnaps are totally irresistable".  Just sayin'.

Although tonite's dinner gave me some short term energy, it turns out that I am actually kind of tired.  So I think I should wrap this up and try to get to bed early tonite.

But first I will note that I of course brought Snoopy with me to chemo again, and he's keeping me company now on the couch.  No pictures from chemo this time, but I will share some cute pictures taken when Dylan decided to steal Snoopy from our bed one morning.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

פסח שמח

Chemo side effect wise, things are pretty good right now.  Stomach issues are mostly gone, and I've been sleeping reasonably well for a little while now.  Of course, it's not that long before the cycle starts all over again.  My third round of chemo is scheduled for Wednesday.  It'll also be the third different place, since the first was in the hospital, the second was at my oncologist's office in Oakland, and this will be at the cancer center in Berkeley.

I'm also continuing to put on weight. Given both the intra- and inter- day variances, it's hard to give an exact number, but I think that I've solidly passed the 5 pound mark and am starting to approach a gain of nearly 10 pounds from my low. I wouldn't mind keeping off maybe 5 or so of the 25 that I lost, but I've still got a little while to go. Which is good news for my sweet tooth. But I do need to over time increase my activity and exercise level so that some of this is muscle and it's not all just fat.

The cold is still persisting somewhat, which is kind of annoying, but I feel that I turned a corner on Friday and things are getting better.  I felt well enough today to do some yard work out back in the afternoon, and it was nice to be outside in the warmish sun.  I didn't get as much done as I had wanted to, partly because we had a tiny Passover seder tonite (just Lorien, myself, and Dylan) and I had some prep work to do for that.  Made motzah (it's really not that hard -- just two ingredients, flour and water), made horseradish sauce, made charoseth.  I also had to tend the potatoes and the brisket while Lorien made a quick last minute run to the market.  We've got a day of yard work planned for tomorrow, and some friends are coming over to help, so I can finish up then.

Dinner took a little bit longer to prepare than we had hoped (and the yard work didn't help), so we were on a somewhat later schedule than optimal for the Seder.  So that Dylan wouldn't get too cranky, we kept it *very* quick and simple.  Not that I think any seder with a toddler, no matter how early it is, could really be that long.  Our basis was the following "2 minute seder".  Although we felt it was just a bit too abbreviated in some respects and ad lib'd some -- I'm okay with a little bit of Hebrew in my Seder, at least that which I know by heart and don't need to look up.  Nevertheless, this quickie seder seems to do a better job of actually telling the Passover story of the exodus from Egypt than any haggadah we used growing up.  They were all so full of tangents and random stuff (e.g. Rabbi Akiba says this; the meaning of all of the days and the nights, etc.) that they never actually getting around to doing any kind of decent or even remotely linear telling of the story that's supposed to be at the heart of it all.

Dylan managed to mostly behave during the seder, although in addition to the role as the child to young to ask a question, he occasionally assumed the role of the wicked child.  Dylan both likes (homemade, at least -- we haven't opened the store bought box yet) and can say the word for motzah.  He also seemed especially fond of the charoseth.  In retrospect I wonder if the red wine that's in it may have contributed to that.

This being Passover, and me feeling a bit better, we decided to open a bottle of wine.  I'm okay to have alcohol in moderation other than when I'm actively getting chemo drugs at the beginning of my cycle.  It was nice to drink some wine with dinner again.  It was really only a very small amount of wine (between Lorien, myself, and the charoseth, we finished 1/2 a bottle), but it was the most I've had since I believe early January.  Hopefully I won't regret it tomorrow.

Dylan has this book called "Where is the Afikomen?" that we found used in a bookstore when my Mom was here, and she bought it for him.  (And read it to him again and again and again on demand.)  For any goy out there not familiar with Passover, the Afikomen is a piece of motzah (half of the middle one from the seder plate, maybe?) that has a tradition that goes something like this:  The head of the seder hides it sometime during the meal, the kids look for it, and when it's found the head of the seder then trades back for it with gifts for the kids.  Or at least that's one way.  I guess another way is for the kids to hide it, then the head of the seder needs to look for it, and if he can't find it, trade for it with gifts.  Anyway, the book has it the first way, with a little girl looking in various places for the Afikomen.  In every picture her cat is with her looking as well, which makes both us and Dylan more fond of the book.

The girl eventually finds it hidden behind a cushion on the back of someone's chair.  So Lorien decided to put a pillow on her chair, put the Afikomen there, then read Dylan the book while he was in his high chair.  Then take him down from the chair and ask Dylan to go find the Afikomen.  Somewhat to our amazement, Dylan proceeded to head straight for the chair and grab the pillow.  Alas, lest we think that Dylan is an Afikomen-finding genius, he totally ignored the Afikomen.  Instead, he ran with the pillow to his room and tossed it and joyfully (almost crazedly) rolled around with it just like he does with Bop (his security blanket).

By this time Dylan was more than ready for bed, so we saved dessert until after putting him to bed.  For a couple of weeks we've noticed every time we walked by Masse's Pastries in North Berkeley that they were advertising the dates for both Passover and Easter.  Finally a couple of days ago I was curious what they sold (they're a French pastry shop) that was kosher for Passover, so we stopped in.  French macarons are made with almond flour, so allegedly they qualify.  So that's what we had for dessert -- it's not necessary to limit yourself to instant cake mixes from Manischewitz.  Although there's this one particular mix (Marble Cake) that seems to be comfort food for Lorien, so we do have a box of that right now, and Lorien is probably going to make it tomorrow.

I think I'll skip the traditional "Next year in Jerusalem" (which I've always found a little odd anyway), and instead end with "Next year without cancer".

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Sniff sniff

I have a cold.  It kind of sucks.

I mean, it's not all that bad; I guess not really worse than any other cold that I've had before.  Nevertheless, it's somewhat disappointing, as I've largely been living life on a day by day basis, and late this week is one of the few times that I had tried to make some advance plans.  As if it's the universe's way of saying no, your life still isn't normal.

Lorien and Dylan have also had (and continue to somewhat have) colds, so it's a pretty good assumption that I caught it from one or both of them.  Likely it won't be the last time that Dylan is a germ vector.

Yesterday was my weekly blood draw and visit with the oncologist.  Which means I'm now in week 3 of my cycle, which is when I'm supposed to be feeling best.  Oh well, there will be plenty of more cycles.

The visit was reasonably uneventful, which is good.  All of my blood work continues to look good.  Perhaps most importantly, my white blood count is fine -- if it were low I could be at risk of infection, which might make the cold more worrisome.

I have two options for where to receive care from my oncologist -- at his office in Oakland, or at the Alta Bates cancer center in Berkeley.  Up until now I had been receiving care in Oakland.  But Berkeley is *way* more convenient.  And I can realistically bike there -- I might have considered the Oakland office biking distance in the past, but not right now.  I was warned that it would be more bureaucratic and everything would take longer, because it's a large facility associated with a hospital, as opposed to a small doctor's office.  Nevertheless, I decided to give it a shot.  There were indeed a few annoyances, but I'm chalking those up more to the transfer of things from one facility to another, and hoping they don't happen next time.  I'm holding out final judgement until after my next actual receiving of chemo, which will be next Wednesday.  But unless it's way longer (and let's not discount the driving time to Oakland), I'm probably going to stay with Berkeley.

It's pretty much a requirement for me that I have net access during chemo.  The Oakland office is actually a little lame -- the office doesn't have wifi of its own, but there is an open access point (on an adjacent floor, maybe?) that is accessible from the chemo room (but not reliably from the waiting room).  So that's kind of good enough.  The Berkeley cancer center does have real wifi, but it has the same mildly annoying multi-stage login redirection that requires you to first agree via the web to their Terms of Service before it works that the hospital where I first got treatment did.  And during my hospital stay, that caused me problems that only miraculously were worked around when my oncologist was able to answer a question that I never dreamed he would be able to help with.  I'll spare repeating all of the details here, but I think I have finally worked it out (in *way* too roundabout of a debugging path).  I'll know for sure next Wednesday.  See here for anyone that actually cares about the details.

I had another transition this past week -- my employer-based health insurance switched from Health Net to Blue Shield.  Hopefully the new insurance will suck less -- so far in every way I've compared then, it has been at least as good, or better.  Mind you, I actually have pretty damn good health insurance compared to what many people in the US have -- it's the system as a whole that I think is totally broken.  We'll have to see what happens with the so-called health care reform.  My personal opinion is that the individual mandate as currently implemented is unconstitutional, and is a huge giveaway to a for profit industry.  Nevertheless, given past precedents with respect to the interstate commerce clause (like Gonzales v. Raich, which I strongly disagreed with at the time and continue to do so; and Wickard v. Filburn, which I had not heard of before and is summed up, along with the other case I mentioned, in this New York Times article), I see the merit of the analyses that it will be upheld.  As anyone who may follow my rantings on Facebook probably knows, what I want to see is a single payer system, where we talk about health care, not health insurance.  I definitely am the beneficiary of several changes in the upcoming laws -- including the banning of lifetime coverage limits, and all of the pre-existing condition bullshit -- and I could be pretty screwed if either of those return.  Thankfully we've got an out (moving to Canada) if all else fails, although that transition would not be without complications.

I was about to say enough with political rambling (for now), but I should probably also take the opportunity to point out yet another relevant (given my current circumstances) and timely (this week) example of the hypocrisy of the Obama administration, in continuing to cling to the federal regulatory falsehood that marijuana has "no currently accepted medical use", and to continue to prosecute people who are following state law, despite a promise not to do so.

But back to my week...

After the oncologist appointment, I also had an initial consultation with the radiation oncologist.  The plan remains roughly the same as my initial understanding.  8 cycles of chemo, then likely followed by about a month of radiation treatment.

So that's what's up with me.  Hopefully I'll get over this cold soon so I can go back to doing stuff, as opposed to lying around complaining about how stuffy my head feels.

I went out!

Our friends Matt and Alice got married last year and went to Spain on their honeymoon.  Inspired from their trip, they've had a few Tapas parties.  One a little while back Lorien went to, and I stayed home with Dylan.  I think all three of us were originally planning on going, but somehow it didn't work out.  Such is the unpredictable nature of life with a toddler.  They had another one this past Saturday, and this time Lorien stayed home with Dylan and I went.

I was a bit apprehensive.  Partly because I wasn't sure what I'd be able to eat, due to ongoing stomach issues.  But also because I was somewhat paranoid about being around too many other people and getting sick.  I was a bit obsessive about cleanliness and handwashing, so I'm nearly certain that I didn't catch anything from anyone there [I'll save details about how I'm feeling now for my next post].  One thing that I should probably try to make a better effort at is *not* shaking hands with people (or hugging) on greeting and/or departure.  It's hard though -- even if I think I'm thinking about it, it's such a part of our social construct that I generally do it instinctively without even thinking about it.  Perhaps I need to get in the habit of doing a wai instead.

The food was good, although I did have to somewhat limit what I ate.  Their gazpacho is excellent, but sadly still a bit too acidic for me to have more than a taste.  I look forward to having put all of this behind me and hopefully being able to enjoy it in larger quantities.

Midway through the evening I was feeling kind of so-so, and thinking about leaving because I didn't feel all that great.  But there was homemade ice cream (Alice is another fan of David Leibovitz and his vanilla ice cream, and I figured I might as well have a little bit before departing.  Somehow having a bowl of that made me feel better enough that I ended up hanging out for another hour or two.  Probably what had happened was that I mostly didn't feel well because I hadn't eaten enough, because there were enough things that were somewhat problematic for me to eat.  And having some fat and some sugar helped out with that.  Or maybe the lesson I should take away from all of this is simply, when in doubt, have some ice cream.  :)

I was also plied with wine and chocolate.  I had only a few tiny sips from a few desert wines, but it was one of the first times in a very long time that I had enjoyed any alcohol.  So maybe that's a sign of good things to come.  (I'm allowed to have alcohol in moderation when I'm not actively on any chemo drugs -- so loosely weeks 2 and 3 are fine.)  I especially want to try the port again, this time with dark chocolate.  They also had this orange wine, which was way better than what you might think based on the name.  It's not fermented oranges.  Think more like red wine infused with orange peels.

On the topic of chocolate, one of the reasons that I have generally preferred dark chocolate in recentish years is that way too many milk chocolates are lacking in sufficient flavor and/or are too sweet.  I'm not a snobby dark chocolate fiend, though.  70% is generally too bitter for me (although I think it might go well with the port), and something like 85% I find generally downright nasty.  I'm more of a 62% kind of guy.  Anyway, back to the milk.  For the past little bit I've been in search of milk chocolates that don't suck -- ones with good flavor and not too much sugar.  Alice came through again with a taste of madécasee, which she then insisted that I take a whole bar home with me.  Okay, I didn't protest too much.  This all despite the fact that she gave me this amazing box of Godiva chocolate truffles at the event I had a little while back (with the chocolate cake).  It's a good thing Alice and I aren't a couple -- I think we'd egg each other on to the point of excess with sweets in general, and chocolate in particular.  Matt and Lorien respectively inject a bit of sanity to dampen each of our behaviors.  Matt doesn't even like chocolate -- isn't that crazy?  I digress...  my point was that if there were any milk chocolate lovers out there, I just wanted to give a shout out about some of my favorites.  Besides the newly discovered madécasee, I also recommend Divine and endangered species.  No, it's not actually made from endangered species.

The main point that I had originally been trying to make (hence the planned title for this post) was that it was really great to get out.  Like just going to someone else's house and hanging out and eating for a few hours with some other people was a big deal for me, and yet another bit of normalcy that I crave so much.  But it seems to have veered more into a discussion about food and chocolate.  Maybe that's a sign that I'm hungry.  Time for a snack.