Now What?

Today, one year ago, I discovered the lump that would change my life and Tom’s for the next year.  It was a playoff football game I was watching on TV when I jumped off the couch, upset at a call made on the field, crossed my arms and felt the scary lump.  I can’t remember what teams were playing, but because of what I considered a bad call, I found that lump.  My oncologist discovered there were two lumps, not just one and there were two lesions on my liver.  This is Stage 4 Metastatic breast cancer which isn’t something you want to be diagnosed with.  Today, one year later, after a very aggressive treatment regimen, I am in remission.  My oncologist told me that only 1 in 5 patients with my diagnosis reach remission.

What have I learned over the past year?

  1.   Always wear lipstick
  2. . Find an Oncologist with a sense of humor.  It helps.
  3.   Expect the unexpected.
  4.   You will be stunned at the number of friends you have.
  5.   When your friends set up a meal train for you, tell them chicken noodle soup is your least          favorite dish, because if you don’t, by the end of the meal train it will be.
  6.   Tillamook Salted Caramel Toffee Gelato is worth every single calorie.
  7.   It’s really hard not to have hair and you will be stunned at how big your ears are.
  8.  A scary cancer diagnosis is a great motivator.  After thinking about and putting it off for several years, I wrote our family cookbook and memoir.
  9.  Staying positive is essential.
  10.  Staying active is essential.
  11.  Make cookies for the nurses, they will think you are a superhero.
  12.  I really missed wine.
  13.  Everyone needs a Tom
  14.  Always wear lipstick.

I keep asking myself the NOW WHAT question and the why did I get so lucky question, am I supposed to do something amazing?  But I am finding happiness in just the routine things I wasn’t able to enjoy this past year and feeling so grateful to be able to do them.  I do want to make some changes, which I will probably write about, but I am a changed person for sure.  What that will look like this coming year, I will find out!

Just Along For the Ride

What to do when you get that scary cancer diagnosis?  Why not that very thing you have thought about  for years but have just never gotten around to?    Well, guess what.  A scary cancer diagnosis is the best motivator there is.  Now or maybe never.  There are so many things I have learned and experienced throughout this whole process that in writing them down, I realized it would take more than one blog and why not start with motivation and Super Hero’s?

It takes a whole team.  The doctors, the nurses, family and friends and especially Tom.    All my doctors and the nurses were superheros but this one actually dressed the part. I stayed overnight in the hospital after my first and second surgeries.  All the rooms in the hospital are private, much to my delight as I fully expected to be in a room with someone else.  I had experienced that in CA after my former go around with cancer and it didn’t go well, so I was dreading the roommate part.  After the first surgery, he was wearing this red superhero outfit and after the second one he had on his black superhero outfit.  Humor is a  great distraction and a super way to heal.  Thank you Steven for making me smile.

 

I have always wanted to write a family cookbook and now was my chance.  I decided to combine the book with a memoir and to include both my family and Tom’s.  Memories, stories and recipes consumed me in between chemo treatments.  Sometimes I didn’t feel like working on it but  with the help of a very creative and patient friend of Tom’s in Ohio,  lots of laughs, remembering old stories, food mishaps, recipes and stories coming in from the extended family, and months of work, it got finished!  Two of my previous blogs had stories that are in the book:  My Favorite Memory of my Mom and My Favorite Memory of my Dad. When I finished it,  no one was more surprised than me.  It ended up to be 272 pages and was published by Heritage Cookbook Publishers based out of Canada.  I am not selling it, it’s just for the family but I hope it’s a book that will be cherished by everyone and we have all learned a little bit more about each other.  For any family members reading this and wondering where their book is, patience is a virtue!  Of course now I’m wondering what’s next?

I have a whole list of other things that a scary cancer diagnosis has taught and given me.  Stay tuned.  Has anyone out there written a cookbook?  How about another kind of book?

Don’t Read That Book!

The first few chapters of the book put me into a tailspin.  A very kind neighbor bought the book for me after checking to see that I wanted it.  I knew nothing about the author but apparently he has been on all the talk shows touting his “cure” for cancer through diet.  His cancer was diagnosed and the tumor removed.  When his doctor recommended chemotherapy, he went into rebellion mode and decided he could cure himself through his diet.

What set me into the tailspin was my own stage 4 cancer had just been diagnosed and I was on an aggressive chemotherapy program.  The first chapters of the book trashed the medical field for corruption, doctors for scaring us into chemotherapy to make money and  poisoning us for an extra two or three months of life.  Wow!  I had never experienced doctors like this and felt that my doctor actually cared what happened to me.  Was this my outcome?  An extra two or three months of life for total misery?  I put the book aside, upside down in a dark room so I wouldn’t even see it.

Several months later, I am in a much better place and wanted to see what the diet he was talking about actually was.  So I got the book back out of the dark room.  Let’s just say it would be very hard to do.  Raw food, tons of juice.  For instance every day make carrot juice from 5 pounds of organic carrots, gingerroot, beetroot, celery and etc.  You should drink eight, 8oz glasses every hour of the day.  He turned orange, but not to worry, it will go away.  Other things were easier but not in the volumns he suggested.  There were ingredients I have never heard of and I’m a cook.  But, can I have cookies?  I really like cookies.  How about ice cream?  Sadly, no. This diet would consume your life.  It would be really, really hard to do.  You’d spend the entire day in the kitchen trying to make the things he wants you to eat, not to mention trying to find the ingredients required.  I’m sure it’s really good for you, but what about actual life?  Friends, family, movies, dinners out, aren’t these important for your well being?  Especially when you’re going through cancer?

My doctor has given me good news and says I am one of the 20% who is on the path to “cure.”  I really like my doctor, she has a sense of humor and spends as much time with me as I need.  All my doctors do.  I feel really good about where I am.  I’ve decided not to read any more books and to stay off the internet.  It’s not good for you.  Do you agree?  Or are you one of the persons who has to research everything?  I’d love to hear opinions.

Hairtofore

I pledge never to complain about a bad hair day again.  Even a bad hair day is better than a no hair day. Have you ever not had hair?  Not having hair is pretty all consuming, affecting what you do but mostly what you don’t do.  Who knew it would be this hard?  But even a naked head wouldn’t be so bad if those ears weren’t so darn big.  It’s all about the ears and who knew mine were this big?   Where did your hair go you might ask?

Chemotherapy will take it right away.  The nurse was saying at my first infusion  “Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones, whose hair doesn’t fall out.  Even so, it won’t come all out until sometime after the second infusion.”  As she was talking, I could feel my hair falling out and before the second infusion, it was all gone.  Being diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in your life is sobering and this time, it had already spread.  I was in trouble.  I focused on hair.

I got a wig which looked fine in the shop and then when I went to wear it, of course I hated it.  I can’t tie a scarf so went for something I didn’t have to tie.  A hat, a cap,  I hate most all of them too.  I took the wig back and they cut and restyled it and I like it better, but now it’s summer and wigs are hot.

However,  there is good news surrounding no hair.  It takes me so much less time to get ready in the morning, I don’t have to shave those legs, think of the money I’m saving on haircuts, shampoo, conditioner and highlights.  With all those positives, why does it bother me so much?  Much more than it should.  Why can’t I be like most of the other women at the infusion center who don’t seem to be bothered by their hairless heads?  I wear my wig to the infusion center.  I’m hoping people don’t realize I’m sick and want to  present a normal face to the world outside of that room. So who has the problem, me who cares too much or those women that don’t seem to care at all?

Why don’t you try those cold caps you might ask.  I did that the last time and they worked but they were quite the pain. Penguin Cold Caps had to be at a temperature below freezing and a home freezer isn’t cold enough. If your infusion center is not equipped with a cold cap freezer which ours wasn’t, you needed a huge cooler with dry ice which we had to pack each time.  The cooler had to be a certain size to fit 8 caps and we needed 80 pounds of dry ice each time. The caps had to be changed every 20 minutes, so I needed a team.

My husband Tom of course was one of the team and a very good friend, Kinyon, volunteered to be his helper.  Mostly Kinyon was used for comic relief and the nurses at the center hated comic relief.  They were hostile.  My team seemed to be having too much fun and that is apparently not good at the infusion center.  I was having these huge caps, -20 degrees C on my head, changed every 20 minutes to keep them that temperature which was quite the distraction for me.  Four hours at the center, and four more hours at home which meant I went home with a cap on my head.  Then you couldn’t wash your hair for 2 days before the treatment and 2 days after, no standing under the shower, you had to use a cup to pour water over your hair, special shampoo and all in all it was a pain.  So that wasn’t an option this time.

You haven’t lived until your husband shaves your head!

Advice??

One More For the Dingy Dock

 

“Swing like you’re out of control.”  Those words came from my golf instructor. Not the words I was expecting to hear and who hears those words anyway from a golf instructor?  He said I had a good swing it just needed to be faster.  We were invited to Palm Desert for a few days and I couldn’t wait to try that out. Let me just say I need to practice that some more as most of my shots went out of control along with the swing.

From Palm Desert it wasn’t a very long drive to Balboa Island to see a very good friend. Ann Marie and I had driven from Minnesota to California in my blue 1967 Mustang when we graduated from college.  We both had teaching jobs in Anaheim, CA in the same school.  We discovered Balboa Island and rented a house there, which wasn’t a bad commute to Anaheim.

There were some cute guys living in a house right down the street from us, one of whom Ann Marie was very interested in. Suddenly I didn’t see much of her. But what about Dick, her college boyfriend,  still in Minnesota? Everyone knew Ann Marie and Dick were going to get married and everyone loved Dick, especially mom and dad.  Ann Marie’s sister Sheila came out to visit and on meeting John, the new guy, she became very alarmed.  This would just not do!  She rushed back to Minnesota and told Dick he’d better get out to CA ASAP as Ann Marie seemed to be quite enamored with the intruder down the street from her.

Then came that fateful day. I was doing dishes or something and looking out of our window.  Ann Marie was down the block at John’s.  Who do I think I see walking down the street with a suitcase in his hand?  It couldn’t be could it?  But it was!  I called her in a panic and said “Ann Marie, get home now, Dick is walking toward our house with a suitcase in his hand!”    She ran out of John’s house and caught Dick before he got to our house.  Later we heard that John and his roommates had pulled all the shades and locked all the doors.  Dick was a big guy.

Ann Marie broke up with Dick and after she and John had been dating awhile she was expecting

Where are the fish

an engagement ring for Christmas.  She dragged John back to Minnesota for Christmas so her parents could share the joy of her engagement.  John was a California guy and the prospect of a cold Christmas in Minnesota didn’t thrill him.  Ann Marie’s parents had still not gotten over her breakup with Dick but they were trying.  Under the tree on Christmas day there was a large box from John for Ann Marie.  “Surely,” Ann Marie thought, “it’s one of those boxes that has smaller boxes inside.  How romantic!”  What was inside of this box?  No small boxes, no ring.  It was a wetsuit.  She wanted to burst into tears but couldn’t in front of her parents.  She had to act happy and doing that when she just wanted to kill him was really hard.  John was so proud of himself for picking out the perfect gift.  He was a sailor, a boater, a deep sea fisherman after all and had just given his girlfriend the perfect gift.  Shortly after that John was given an ultimatium. ” We get married or I’m out of here.”

John and Ann Marie were married for 48 years and John just passed away.  He had an incredibly

“Always room for one more Dingy at the Dingy Dock”

dry sense of humor, he was a great  story teller, loved an argument and also to manage his kid’s careers much to their dismay.  We all loved his sayings.  He had a lot but my favorite and everyone’s favorite was:  “There’s always room for one more at the dingy dock.”  You could take that several ways but we’re sure John is now parked at the dingy dock in the sky and we will all miss him and his witticisms very much.

 

Their daughter and our daughter are the same age and happen to live in the same county in the Bay Area.  They have become friends.  I call that a happy ending.

 

 

 

Larry Kruppenbacher

“I fell for her Windsor Chairs and she fell for my Samplers.”
Larry and Judy Kruppenbacher  joined our bocce group last year.   I watched as they came to the park where we were going to play and remember thinking  Oh no, surely he is not considering joining our group, he looks like he can barely lift a bocce ball let alone throw it down the court.

As I am in charge of our bocce group and make the teams up weekly, I immediately put Larry and Judy on my opponent’s team.  Well, I was so wrong.  Larry not only could throw that ball down the court, he was darn good at it.  Yes he was frail looking but I only found out why much later in the season.

Our bocce group lives for the happy hour we go to after we play. We often consider just going to happy hour and skipping the bocce altogether.  One particular evening I found myself sitting next to Larry at a restaurant in Lake Oswego where we play.  We were outside on the patio overlooking the lake.  I asked Larry a question and it must have been a good one because he was off and running.  I found myself ignoring everyone else there which never happens and just listening to Larry as his story was so fascinating.

Larry and Judy moved to Lake Oswego, OR from San Jose, CA in 2013.  They moved to  Mary’s Woods which is a continuing care retirement community.  It’s Catholic but if you’re not Catholic they will still let you in.  It’s a very popular place with several buildings consisting of apartments and also townhouses down by the river.

Larry and Judy moved to leave the ever-changing and chaotic Bay  Area environment and escape the high cost of living.  Boy, could I relate.

What fascinated me however was what Larry did at his new home to reinvent himself.   Back in the “old days” Larry was an obsessive antique collector of early Americana and had his own business Cape Cod Country. 

That background came in handy as Larry loved to peruse the shop at Mary’s Woods for the cast offs of his fellow residents.  With his discerning eye he could spot something  of value and he would snap it up for next to nothing.  His first “find” were two sterling silver baby cups for $7.  He took them immediately to an antique shop in Sellwood, OR and sold them for $75.  Feeling very proud of himself, his next coup was a pair of sterling candlesticks for $6.  Off again he went  to Sellwood and sold them for $85.  As he was bragging about the money he made to his wife Judy, she told him he was taking advantage of the Mary’s Woods shop for his own personal gain and did he know that the proceeds from that shop benefited the Resident’s Fund for those who needed help.  Larry was immediately struck by a lightening bolt of Catholic guilt.  Larry then donated his profits to the Residents Fund and a new career was born.  He now culls the donated items for things he believes can bring more money if sold elsewhere.  He has brought in and donated over $7000 to the Residents Fund.  His reputation has grown and he is kept very busy valuing items for Mary’s Woods residents.

Larry has never really found “the big one” in terms of thousands of dollars profit, but has a couple of  success stories to tell.  He once bought an old cast iron eggbeater at a garage sale in San Jose for $10.  Judy did her usual “what are we going to do with that” routine but changed her tune when he sold it for $750.  He sold it to the eggbeater expert who had written two books on eggbeaters.  Because he lived only an hour away, Larry and Judy got to see his 1200+ eggbeater collection.

Another find occurred in Oregon when Larry picked up a painting of Rooster Rock on the Gorge for $1.  It was by Eliza Barchus a renowned Oregon painter of Mt. Hood and Gorge scenes.  He had it restored and sold it for $800 at a local auction.

I asked Larry how he and Judy had met.  This was his answer: ” I fell in love with her Windsor Chairs and she fell in love with my Samplers.”  Larry has the driest wit of anyone I know and he is  quick with a quip.  Judy also is an antique collector and that is how they met.  Judy had us all crying with laughter at one happy hour as she was picking on Larry and for once Larry had nothing to come back with.  I am so happy to know the two of them.

Many happy hours and laughs later, I found out why Larry is so frail looking.  He has Parkinson’s disease.  This only slows him down a bit.  There is another man in our bocce league with Parkinson’s.  Both are good bocce players and you can tell both are former athletes.  Both have great senses of humor and in a competition I would be happy to have either on my team.

.Our dog Larry.  Yes, named after that Larry.