Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Good Oncologist - The Best Rx for Google Depression

Yesterday, I burst into (happy) tears when my oncologist told me I could still go to my gym and swim through chemotherapy.  In fact, she not only told me it would be fine, she looked at me quizzically, wondering where the heck I'd gotten the idea that I couldn't.

Well, Google, of course.

It was Thursday when she'd phoned with the dreaded word "chemo".  Our in-person appointment wasn't until Monday.  That gave me three days in between to sit on the internet and work myself into sleepless nights of anxiety, depression, and gloom.

I'm a researcher.  When I embark on anything, be it vegetable gardening, mosaics, romance writing, I dive into the internet, talk to people who have been there, read articles, join discussion forums, and in general, search for all the knowledge I can possibly gain on the subject.  That's been amazingly fun and effective when it comes to fun hobbies.  Not so much when it comes to cancer.

I'm not saying there's a lot of bad information out there.  Much of what I learned off sites like BreastCancer.org or through the American Cancer Society was accurate and valuable.  But it can also be terrifying if it's not tempered by the details of your own personal situation.  And it gets worse when you wander into the on-line support groups and forums and start reading accounts from people who have been there.  They can paint a pretty bleak picture, no matter how much you try to slant your Google searches to something that might give you hope.  In fact, by the time Al and I walked into the doctor's office Monday, the following thoughts had already set up shop in my psyche:
  • It's like I'm on death row waiting out my last days before chemo ends my life.
  • I will come out of this permanently impaired.
  • Things I love about my body--my hair, my skin, my nails--will be forever destroyed.
  • Next year at this time, I'll be in the 300 lb club, facing double-knee surgery, I'll be an alcoholic or drug addict from the permanent, chronic pain.  
  • I'll have to give up all the hobbies that bring me joy.
It was so bad by Sunday night that I had to download guided meditation tapes and listen to them through the night just to get a measly 4 hours of sleep.

Needless to say, I am done with the internet.

It's not that I regret giving myself self-inflicted pain.  Knowing me, there was NO WAY I would go through something like this without scouring for information to get as informed and prepared as possible.  Doing so helped me track down things that might be especially worrisome to me but not the next guy, and make sure I covered those things with my doctor while I had her time.

And while Sunday was one of the most anxious and depressed days of my life, by the time we walked out of the doctor's office Monday afternoon, I felt cleansed.  Like I'd looked all the worst case scenarios in the eyes and stared them down until they backed off and crawled away.

Al asked her if we came with more questions than the average chemo patient, and though I forget her actual response, it was definitely in the "yes" category.  But she said what's more troubling are the people who come in and don't ask anything at all.  People are different.  We all face challenges using the tools that have worked for us in the past.  I'm sure many simply turn themselves over to God, stay in the present and pray for strength in the future.  They don't need to know what might be coming, and will deal with it when it does.  I admire those people, but there really is no wrong answer to how to face a challenge.  For me, this was my way.

Sunday was bad, but today I am feeling relieved, confident and strong.  BIG shout-out to the group at St. Josephs Cancer Center.  They are an amazing group of people.  After my appointment, the scheduling nurse walked me around the facility and showed me the room where people were receiving their chemo treatment.  It looked like a nail salon, and the people there getting treatment were as calm, relaxed and unaffected as folks getting pedicures.  That one tour alone wiped out more fears than you can imagine.

Like I said, I am officially done Google searching.  I went there, had my fill, turned over every rock and now I'm done feeling clueless and afraid.

I've got a tentative date of 4/13/17 to have my first treatment.  It was a date I chose as I looked forward on the calendar and figured what would work best for me.  (Yes, I showed up at the doctor's office with a 2017 calendar and marked all the dates for everything.  I am nothing if not my mother's daughter.)  Between now and then I won't be stressing anymore.  And that's a good feeling.  I'm in a good place now, so my work will be focused on staying here.  But it was definitely a bumpy ride.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Presents for me and the importance of having a happy place

I'm someone who does well when I feel ready and prepared.  Having outstanding to-do's gives me stress.  So with the decision made about chemo, I went on a shopping trip this morning at Amazon.

I'm giving two chemo hats a try, knowing I can return them so easily if they don't work (love you, Amazon):

Next on the list was something I've wanted for a long time:  A waterproof iPod for the pool and spa.  I need to pick up my long lost practice of meditation, which I mostly did in the morning when I swam.  It's hard to get the voices out of my head, though, so I'm going to give this a try.  I intend to fill it with quiet meditation music.

Quite a few swimmers use these, though they always seem to have to mess with the ear buds while swimming.  If that's a problem for me, I still plan to use this after my work-out while relaxing in the spa.  It is a great way to start the day.

And then I'm going back to yoga.  I took a class at my gym when I was 30 lbs lighter.  I loved the strength, flexibility and feeling of accomplishment I had when finishing the class.  But it was WAY too challenging for me to keep up.  My back constantly ached.  Even with the modified poses the instructor offered, it was an aggressive routine that even the thin, experienced people in the class said was challenging.  So I bought two yoga DVDs directed at older, larger women.  I'm not sure when I'll have the time for them, but this is supposed to be the point of doing less cooking and hiring a cleaning lady.  I must remind myself that I should fill that spare time with rest and things like this.

And lastly, I picked up an Animal Crossing Amiibo set for $6.00.  What is an Animal Crossing Amiibo?  I HAVE NO IDEA!  But I'm playing this Nintendo game on my son's DS XL and from what I understand, I can do more things in the game if I buy and scan some Amiibo cards.

For me, having a "happy place" to go has been a very big saving grace.  Animal Crossing is a video game that I used to play with my son when he was young.  It's not a racing or timed-type game, as those stress me out.  Think Sims with animals for neighbors.  It runs in real time (yesterday was really St. Patrick's Day in the game), and you just wander around, catch some fish, dig for treasures, complete little tasks, or play easy little games to make money to buy stuff for your house and your town.

It's not a thinking game, for when I'm too tired for Words With Friends or other strategy games I'm fond of.  It's a completely simple little activity that allows me to decompress, and most importantly, step away from reality.

I've found since going through this stressful period, I have less tolerance for Facebook, as you never know what is going to hit you on your news feed.  People often share very depressing things and you can't control the content.  Television is the same, commercials make me hungry, news blips can get my blood boiling.  Even a good book requires conflict in order to make a good story.  And when going through cancer treatment, there are times I don't want any of it.  So my favorite activity at the end of the day has become sipping a mug of bedtime tea, eating 2 oz of yummy dark chocolate, and  sitting with my husband while he's watching sports and I bury myself in this little cartoon land where everyone is happy, no one is sick or dies, and no one struggles to get through the day.

If you are reading this for yourself or for a loved one who is going through something like this, I HIGHLY recommend thinking up an activity like this.  Maybe adult coloring books would be another option, or learning how to knit.  Something that doesn't require thinking too hard but is relaxing to do.  For me, it's Animal Crossing, and I am looking forward to seeing what the heck these Amiibo cards are.

A Breast Cancer Journey

Three days before Christmas, I get the call from my doctor.  She says, "I got the results of your biopsy."  There's a long pause then a sigh and then she says the phrase I'll never forget.  "Are you sitting down?"

Needless to say, it ruined our holidays, but we insisted on remaining positive and not worrying until someone gave us something to worry about.

Fast forward 11 weeks.  I sailed through my lumpectomy, or what they call a partial mastectomy.  I took 2 weeks off of work for that, which was plenty, and while my body is healing nicely, this is basically just the first course in what will be a long meal of recovery.

The next course of treatment would be based on my Oncotype score, where they test the mass that was removed during surgery and predict a recurrence.  It took 4 weeks from the date of my surgery to the day I got my score, and it was one of the most stressful times of my life, I won't lie.

And the news wasn't good. 

My score was 27, which isn't an automatic "Yes" for chemotherapy.  But these factors matter:

  • I'm "young" by BC standards at the age of 55.
  • I have no other real health issues that would be jeopardized by chemotherapy.
  • I'm clinically obese with a BMI of 39 that puts me in an even higher risk of recurrence.
  • I'm close to post-menopause which increases the risk of recurrence even more if you are also obese

Add those things together and I have to concede to doing whatever I can to keep from never being in this place again.  So I am facing chemotherapy, followed by radiation, followed by hormone therapy.  A triple-whammy.

And I am terrified.

I'm a researcher by nature.  Give me a challenge and I hit the internet on high speed looking up everything I can to educate myself.  There is an abundance of information out there, but it also comes with an abundance of horror stories.  You can literally convince yourself that today is the last day you will ever feel healthy if you read too many forums and articles.  I need to stop reading forums and articles.  So instead, I've decided to revive my garden blog and start a section that dialogues what will be a 12-month (or more) battle with breast cancer.

For anyone in the know, here are my specifics:

Dx 12/22/2016, IDC, Left, <1cm, Stage IA, Grade 2, 0/1 nodes, ER+/PR-, HER2-  
Surgery 2/13/2017 Lumpectomy: Left  
Chemotherapy Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), Taxotere (docetaxel) 
Radiation Therapy Whole-breast: Breast 
Hormonal Therapy  Unclear right now.

Through this, I have these goals:

Try to stay sharp and keep working through treatment.  My job is important to me.  I'm the primary income in my household, and if this treatment renders me incapable of working in my field, puts me on long-term disability or something of the like, we lose our house and all the things you see on this garden blog.  The likelihood of that happening is small, but.....when you read too many forums.....

Get going on a solid exercise routine, and keep up as much of it as I can through this process.  From everything I've read and been told by my oncologist, this is the greatest predictor of how well I will be responding to treatment, fighting fatigue, minimizing side effects, and healing as rapidly as possible.  This won't be easy for me.  I loathe exercise, and give me any ailment as an excuse, I will opt for the couch.  This will be extremely hard, I'm already preparing for that, but I'm going to try.

Try not to gain weight, and if possible, lose weight.  Like I said, my BMI is 39.  There HAS to be a silver lining in everything I will be going through.  I have a goal of losing 60 pounds, and I know that will be laughable to some people reading this.  I may look back on this and think, "What an ignorant fool I was."  But I've got to try.  I can't end up part of the 300 club through this.  If I do, there will be absolutely nothing positive coming out of this experience.  At least, that's the way I feel right now.  I eat to comfort, I eat to celebrate, to stimulate and to calm.  Pretty much every point on the emotional scale I have a food for.  This challenge already feels daunting and I haven't even started.  But lets see where this goes.

Stay as healthy as I can through this.  Before this, I was blessed with a great immune system.  Especially after I started swimming 5 years ago, I can literally be surrounded by colds and flus and never catch it.  From what I read, those days are probably over, and possibly permanently if.....you read those dreaded forums.....  So losing weight, exercise, eating right are going to be a big deal.  I once wished that I had the right motivation to whip myself in shape.  (Note to self:  Never wish for shit like that again.)  But I wished nonetheless.  So here is my motivation.  What will I do with it?

So here we go on this journey.  I got the call from my oncologist yesterday that chemo was in my future.  My husband and I meet her on Monday to talk in person and get more information.  I've spent the last 36 hours looking up everything I can about my treatment and have a 3-page typed-up list of questions and topics I want to discuss, as well as my calendar.  In case you haven't guessed, I'm slightly OCD.  So today and tomorrow will be about setting all this aside for a while and just enjoying life and getting in shape.  I'm off to the gym to start putting my money where my mouth is.

Until next time.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Rat Update and a Compost Bin Retrofit

Well...the rat wouldn't leave.  And my attempt at throwing kitchen scraps in a sealed-up bin didn't work that great either.  I just ended up with a stinky sealed up bin of kitchen scraps and a rat still in my compost.  So after a lot of research and pondering, I ultimately decided to retrofit the compost bin I already had, and simply seal it off from rodents.

Really, I love everything about my compost bin.  It has been a huge success, if it weren't for the one annoyance of a rat.  And after many hours of internet browsing on the subject, I realized I was half way to having a bin that rats couldn't get into.  I didn't need to break it down and start with something else.  I needed to simply make some design modifications.

So I emptied out my bin, which was half a day's work in it's own.

The uncomposted material got buried in the beds I don't plan to plant in for a few more months.  The finished dirt got thrown on the top of my spring garden beds.  The upside is my raised beds are ready for planting.

Then it was time to retrofit my compost bin.  I found my inspiration on the internet with this compost bin that is purportedly rat proof:

I loved the design elements of this bin, and decided to copy it, using the frame of the bin I'd already made. Gone was my warped plywood top and the big (also warped) front panel that has to be taken off in one large piece.  In it's place were lids like these, and front panels on "tracks".  Having the front come off is HUGE for me, as I find it a total design flaw to have closed compost bins that only open in the top.  Anyone who has tried to shovel and turn compost knows how problematic that is.

I started with the bottom.  Unlike the inspiration bin pictured above, I want my bin sitting on the ground.  My bin attracts worms, so it is very much a vermicompost.  But to make that work, worms need to come up from the ground.  I also don't like the idea of space under the bin, as that's the perfect hiding spot for rodents to gnaw their way through wood.

Instead, I put a double layer of 1/2" galvanized hardware cloth along the bottom.  I edged it in metal galvanized strapping tape, screwed down so the cloth wouldn't pull off with the weight of the compost on top of it.

I then put a single layer of hardware cloth across the back and sides.  Instead of simply relying on staples, I edged off the hardware cloth with wood lath (cheaper than the galvanized strapping tape), so it couldn't be pulled away at the edges.

With the bottom, back and sides done, it was time to work on the front panels.

I laid in tracks for 1 x 6 x 6 (cut to 3' lengths) redwood fence boards to slide into.

And here we have the finished panels!

The last addition was new lids for the top, heavier and sturdier than my original design.  

I framed out the lids, and used another double-layer of 1/2" hardware cloth for the top.  Another design alteration from my original bin was to make the top of cloth instead of enclosed wood.  When you research compost bins on the internet, they caution you to cover them to prevent them from getting too wet.  I've learned, that's advice for people who don't live in California.  Here, we want to take advantage of any rain we get to wet down our bins.  In the event we have major storms that could flood the bin, I can always put a tarp on it.  But for 99% of the time, I want to use free rain to water my bin, instead of hosing it with water I have to pay for!


And here is the finished bin!

Will it be rat proof?  Only time will tell.  But you can be sure that I will keep you posted!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

I'm back with a home made compost bin!

Blame Facebook for killing my poor garden blog.  I seem to put all my garden and art projects there now.  But there is still a wealth of information on this blog that I intend to save.  And because Facebook isn't set up well for going back in history and finding posts on projects, I do intend to keep this blog alive.  So here I am on a rainy morning to post a few projects I've been doing in the last couple years.

The first is this home made compost bin.

When I first set out to compost for my garden, I had bought myself a couple of these.  And despite the rave reviews on the Lowes website, this didn't work for me at all.  The main problem is, you can't turn it, and if you can't turn it, you perpetually have about half the bin filled with stuff that won't decompose well.  Also, those little doors on the bottom where you're supposed to fit a shovel are kind of a joke.  You'll break your back trying to get anything out of them.  So this ended up in the trash.

Instead, I set out to keep with the concept of the bin above, but improve on the design.  In my internet search for ideas, I stumbled upon this photograph of an open compost bin someone had made. I liked the design, it looked simple enough, but I would have to modify it a bit.  I live in an urban area with a small yard, neighbors and raccoons.  So having an open bin like this wasn't an option.  But I decided to start with this frame then cover it.

Which sent me off to Lowes.

 Here is me, bright and shiny and ready to dig into the project.  

And 8 hours, lots of dust and sweat later, I had this finished bin.

It is basically the open bin above, but generously covered with plywood and chicken wire.  The lids are hinged at the top.

The best feature of this is the ability to take the front off when I want to turn the pile or remove the finished compost.  Having the bin open on the bottom allows for worms and microbes to get inside, which they do!


 I made the bin in August of 2015, and began throwing in my materials.  I don't go out and turn my bin frequently, so the process of getting finished compost is a little slower.  But by the following Spring, I had several wheelbarrows full of finished compost.


Enough to amend two of my garden beds.

And now we have the October, 2016 Update

I'm still very happy with my compost bin.  It's still holding up well and working the way I'd planned.  However, this fall, I ended up with a RAT!!  He's come for the kitchen scraps I throw in there, and it doesn't seem to matter that I cover the scraps with paper or yard waste.  He is burrowing in to get them.  So now I am rethinking what I put in there.

Our first order of business is to get rid of the rat, so I purchased a Rat Zapper and placed it in a box (it's raining) and placed that in the finished compost side of my bin.

The second order of business is to figure out how to deter rats from coming back.  As he's come for the kitchen scraps, I decided that the big bin will only get yard waste.  Kitchen scraps are going to get decomposed in a closed bin before being tossed in here.

After chatting with lots of gardeners who compost, I decided on this.  It's a 20-gallon Rubbermaid bin with a lid.  I drilled lots of small holes in in the top, sides and bottom of this can then filled it about 2/3 full with shredded newspaper.  I will start putting kitchen scraps in this bin, which is intentionally left small enough that I can shake it around a bit.  I've got a bungee on the top just for extra security.  In a sense, this replicates a tumbling compost bin, but where those can cost you upwards of $100 or more, this one cost $25 (including bungee).  I may get two or more of these going for my kitchen scraps. 

So we will see how well this does!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Eat Your Veggies!

The moment I've been waiting for since I started those first seeds on March 1st. Pretty much everything in the garden is ready for eats.

Have to pick pole beans every couple days. These are my garden favorite.

My Big Beef tomato plant is bursting with fruit.  Finally, the tomatoes are starting to turn, and this year, my Big Beef are living up to their name.  Nice slicing sized.  Happy plants.

The cucumbers continue to creep.  This year, they are producing in batches.  I get 10 cukes all at once then nothing, then 10 more then nothing.  I hear this is normal, but in the past, I've had them producing less more regularly.  Go figure.

Loads and loads of peppers.  This year, I may have enough to leave on the plants and turn red.  In the past, I've picked them green because the plants didn't produce as much as I wanted to eat.  This year is a different story. I've got peppers coming out of my ears.  That means I get to eat some green ones while the rest stay on the plants and turn sweet sweet red.

And it's official.  Four zucchini plants is too many.  I'm picking 2-4 zucchini a day.  Giving lots of it away.  Note to self:  Never plant more than 3, and even that's too much.

And (not pictured) I've pulled in my carrots and am trying a succession planting of carrots in the same spot.  Normally, it would be too hot for them right now, but the zucchini plants are big enough to keep them mostly in the shade.  I started them a couple weekends ago, and am just now starting to see the seedling sprout.  Cross my fingers.  Another batch of carrots would be great!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

It's Officially Summer (Almost)

I love to use the summer solstice as an excuse to mark progress in the garden. This is a good garden year as the weather warmed up much earlier than normal. My bell peppers are extremely happy. In this mix are Ace and Lipstick, seeds left over from last year that still germinated just fine.

Looks like I'll be eating cucumbers in the next couple weeks.  I believe this variety is called Corinto.  Again, seeds from last year.  Gotta love the quality of  Johnny's Seeds!

The green beans are flowering.  These are Fortex, my favorite variety of pole bean.

The monstrosity of the garden, zucchini. 

I love the flowers they produce, such a beautiful yellow against those big green leaves.

Carrots are ready to start coming out, I just need to plan the right dinner for them.  I believe this variety is Nelson.  I grow both Nelson and Napoli and forget which ones I planted, but they are similar.  Both medium sized varieties so much more delicious than the carrots in the store!

Tomatoes are producing, but they're all still green.  I'm guessing I'm still probably a month out before I see any red ones.  This year, I'm growing Brandywine, Big Beef and Cherokee Purple from leftover seeds of past years.  New to the garden this year are Early Girl and Martha Washington.  Looking forward to those!

On the west end of the garden, my tomatoes are 3/4 of the way to the top of the trellis.  Here I've got the Big Beef and Brandywine.  The little one to the left is my Cherokee Purple, which is not happy this year.  It's got leaf curl and the blossoms are dropping.  Not knowing what the problem is, I've cut it back, only keeping a couple stalks that have tomatoes on them.  I'll monitor a bit but will most likely pull the plant if it doesn't improve at all.  My fear is it could have something that spreads to the other tomatoes, so it's not worth keeping.

Thus is the situation I have every year with tomatoes.  I always seem to lose one or two to something.  I never know which one or why.  I've grown Cherokee Purple two years before this and it's been one of my best producing varieties.  This year, it's tanked.  So who knows?

On the east end, I'm growing the New Girl and Martha Washington.  These aren't quite as tall as the ones on the west side, and I've been pruning them more so they aren't as full.  But both have tomatoes, so we'll see what we get.  They are my two new varieties this year, so that's something to look forward to!

And the nasturtiums are making their way onto the path.  They're the only flowers I grew this year among the vegetables.  Often I do marigolds, but they would have required more water, and with the drought, I decided I could do without.