Sunday, September 30, 2007

On a Roll

I had my first taste of cabbage rolls in Sardis, West Virginia, about 40 years ago, and the Allen clan is still talking about that memorable first. When Nathan's mom, Kathleen, served cabbage rolls, I went back not once, not twice, but at least five times for more from a huge pot simmering on the stove. I couldn't get enough.

I was excited but nervous when Nathan announced that Frances would be making the cabbage rolls from his mom's recipe for my visit to the Circle A Farm. Would they live up to Kathleen's legendary cabbage rolls of the sixties? Would my more "sophisticated" palate dismiss them as hillbilly comfort food? Could reality compare with nostalgia?

As it turns out, my nervousness was needless. Frances's cabbage rolls did in fact live up to the legend and the legacy of Kathleen. As the band Foreigner would croon, "It felt like the first time."

It was finally time for me to ask for Kathleen's acclaimed recipe. The recipe started out looking pretty standard (ground beef, sausage, rice), but the last two items surprised me: turmeric and cumin, two standard ingredients in Indian food.

This was a revelation. I searched through at least 100 of the more than 800 cabbage roll recipes on to see if this was a common addition. Not a single one of the recipes I surveyed included these exotic spices.

Now I'm thinking that this skinny 12-year-old girl must have had an early appreciation for nuanced flavors. And I'm wondering if this early Asian exposure has anything to do with my nearly fanatical love of Indian food. I introduced my brother Robert and my niece Emily to Indian food during a visit to LA a decade ago, and they too were instantly smitten. Now when Emily visits, the first restaurant she wants to hit is an Indian one.

And for this, and the recipe for the best cabbage rolls ever, we thank Kathleen, Nathan and Frances.

Kathleen's Famous Cabbage Rolls

2 lbs Ground Beef
1/2 lb Sausage (Reg. Mild)
Salt & Pepper to Taste
2 Slice of Bread (Crumbs)
1 Cup Of Instant Rice
1 Egg
1/2 Teaspoon Cumin
1/2 Teaspoon Turmeric

Mix together ingredients and shape in to fist size (or
whatever size your prefer) meatballs. Roll up in cabbage
leaves that have been parboiled until tender.

Put in a large pot and cover with tomato juice, about one
quart can or more will cover the rolls. Simmer until done,
about 1 1/2 hours.


PS Hint, hint: When I get out of the hospital after my stem cell transplant and you're thinking
about dropping off food for the family . . .

Friday, September 28, 2007

PET(ty) Ramblings

I don't know if it was the vet, the PET whisperer, the PET psychic or the Maytag man who worked their magic, but the City of Hope PET Scan equipment was up and purring by the time I arrived today for my 12:30 scan.

I had set my alarm for 6:15 this morning so that I could prepare a high protein breakfast, the only food group allowed before the 6:30 start of my pre-scan fast. Unfortunately, I couldn't make a preemptive strike against hunger because making ZZZ's was more enticing than making bacon and eggs.

I managed to go about my day on an empty stomach, even though food mocked me everywhere. The recipe for Frances's cabbage rolls (more on this in a future post) was waiting for me in my email inbox. The staff in the PET Scan department were carrying on an animated discussion about the merits of adding a dash of vinegar to foods. Even the PET Scan machine looked like a giant glazed donut on steroids. Before entering the donut hole, I took a milligram of Atavan, and slept the deepest, most restful slumber imaginable, while visions of strawberry donuts from The Donut Man danced in my head.

These PET Scan machines, by the way, are works of art. The one pictured in my last post looks like it was designed by Philippe Starck or Mies "less is more" Van Der Rohe. I think architect-designer Michael Graves should defect from Target and switch over to designing hospital equipment. Or Martha could come up with a design to go with her new line at Macy's. Faux bois PET scan anyone? (At the very least, we should get Martha, or maybe even Vera Wang, to work on designing a hospital gown that's both flattering and functional. Is that too much to ask?)

After the scan was over at 3 pm, I got to satisfy my grumbling gut with my favorite addiction - an iced passion fruit green tea from Au 79 in Arcadia. I never thought I'd live to see the day (no pun intended) when I'd pay $4.00 for an iced tea (no refills, thank you very much), but that's exactly what I do at least twice a week. The food is just a notch above mediocre, but after a day of fasting, the late lunch of minced pork, steamed rice and a soy bean, corn and cabbage salad was just what the doctor ordered.

Speaking of the good doctor, I'll meet with Dr. Forman on Monday afternoon to discuss the scan results and our next steps. Yep - I'm still moving closer to the answer to "When's the date?"

Have a great weekend, friends. Mine is jam-packed with activities (attending a friend's birthday celebration tonight, hosting an Italian-themed bridal shower on Saturday, visiting at least two of the Japanese gardens on the LA Conservancy garden tour and reading "Pole Dancing" at the WeHo Book Fair on Sunday at 4:25 PM), so I probably won't post again until Monday.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bringing Sexy Back

Sometimes there are drawbacks to being one of the last American families without cable.

Like being clueless about the ending of The Sopranos.
And being confused by references to Pimp My Ride.
And missing the documentary Crazy, Sexy Cancer on The Learning Channel (TLC).

I could get 100% behind the "crazy" part of the title. (If it had been "kooky," I really would have embraced it.) But I was a little confused about how cancer could be "sexy."

Film maker Kris Carr explains it best in her Crazy Sexy Cancer blog (grammatical errors are Carr's, not mine):

"Cancer ISN'T sexy, the soulful women who have it ARE. We are warriors, angels, vibrant hot tomatoes and cancer can not take that away from us. Cancer cowgirls are empowered, whole, thrivers with or without the disease. I refuse to let cancer break my spirit, victimize me, or make me feel like a sick person - so I CHOOSE to believe that I am more alive, beautiful and yes, sexier (AKA empowered, passionate and intriguing) than ever before! Why not?
By that definition, I AM sexy, even with a Marine hairstyle, slack skin and a pipeline coming out of my chest.

Carr goes on to write, "I don't look at my journey as if it is a battle (partly because I hope I don't lose) so instead I call it my cancer adventure story."

I love that! When I first received my diagnosis, a friend said something similar to me: "Don't think of yourself as a sick person. Think of yourself as someone who has something interesting going on in her body."

And let's face it: it has been an adventure. A crazy, interesting and - yes, sexy - adventure.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

PET Scan(dal)

I was scheduled for a 7:00 follow-up PET Scan at City of Hope this morning, but I learned yesterday afternoon that the equipment is on the fritz. During each status report phone call, I would imagine an underemployed Maytag repairman tinkering with the sophisticated machinery.

At 8 pm, Juan called to report, "It's still down. Someone will call you tomorrow to reschedule once the equipment is operating."

The PET scan (along with the CT and MRI) is one of the most valuable diagnostic tools for a cancer center. Without it, dozens of anxious patients (including me) are left in the dark.

My appointment with Dr. Forman, currently scheduled for Thursday afternoon, will have to be put off until after the PET scan is complete. I was looking forward to this meeting to set my mind at ease about the mild symptoms (weight loss, fatigue, gastrointestinal grumblings, burning sensation in right eye) I've been experiencing for the last few weeks.

The waiting doesn't get much easier.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Allen Clan

Enough already about "last parties." Today I'd like to focus on one big happy family that seems to make every day into a party.

One of the highlights of my trip to West Virginia was a visit to the Allen clan - my cousin Nathan, his wife Frances and their brood of four adult children and ten grandchildren. Nathan and his sister Charleen are technically our fourth cousins, but who's counting. They were without a doubt our best friends in "the country," where we spent carefree summers at grandma's house.

What makes Nathan's family unique is that they all live on the same "compound" of more than 200 acres in Sardis, West Virginia. Their five homes are spaced close enough for convenience, but far enough apart for privacy. Frances baby sits for all ten grandchildren, ages two through 12

Food is front and center at most family gatherings. On Friday nights, Frances makes homemade pizza or spaghtetti for the entire clan of 20. For our Saturday afternoon picnic, she whipped up homemade cabbage rolls, fresh corn on the cob and green beans, rolls and, of course, plenty of sweet tea.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Last Party

When I first caught a glimpse of my dead mother in her casket, I let out an audible gasp.

It wasn't the shock of seeing her lifeless form or the horror of viewing her bloated body that prompted the gasp. It was the shapeless, polyester, leopard-print smock.

It was the type of tasteless, bargain-basement garment that my mother wouldn't have been caught dead in. Who says the grim reaper doesn't have an ironic sense of humor?

After my careful orchestration of our mother's funeral, I couldn't believe that this had happened. But the tasteful ensemble I selected for her no longer fit her puffed-up body; the funeral parlor did a last-minute switcheroo.

I vowed there and then that the same fiasco wouldn't happen at my own funeral. Of course, I'll skirt the whole "What do I wear to my own funeral" issue because I opted years ago for cremation. But I figured that there were other details that I didn't want to leave to chance or guesses made by emotionally distraught loved ones.

Six years ago, I started fantasizing about my own final party: Invitations. Location. Guest list. Music. Food. Mood.

After I received my cancer diagnosis in late January, my plans throttled into high gear. While driving to San Diego for a business meeting in February, I couldn't stop thinking about the details. But I learned pretty quickly that my friends and family did not find this amusing. I viewed my planning as a fun diversion; they saw it as a morbid obsession and cut me off immediately.

When we vacationed with friends in Hawaii in February, I went on a flight of fancy about my funeral plans while we sipped mai tais and watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. To my surprise, they not only listened but chimed in with their own plans and jokes. ". . . wants to be cremated and have his ashes scattered across the ocean, but I told him we could save time and money by just flushing them down the toilet." I was having the time of my life while talking about death.

I haven't given death or my final service much thought since then because I've been too busy enjoying life. But yesterday during lunch with two friends, the topic came up. "I like to plan and control everything in advance," my young, healthy friend admitted. "Why shouldn't I plan this too?" "Yes! People don't understand that I'm not being morbid when I do this," I chimed in.

It's just that I don't want to end up with the equivalent of a leopard-print jacket at the end of my life.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do any of you think about this? What are the details? What would be your nightmare equivalent of a polyester jacket?

Friday, September 21, 2007


In spite of the name, Cancer Banter is about more than cancer. Sometimes it's about food and restaurants. Other times it's about embarrassing self revelations.

Now, dear Cancer Banter readers, I have a few questions for you:

- Do any of you remember the Slam Book from junior high school? We passed around the secret book and made (usually) anonymous entries on each page under a student's name. The books were banned the second that a teacher caught a whiff of them.

- If so, what did your Slam Book entry say? (Mine said "nosy and klutzy.")

- If not, what would it have said about you in junior high school?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

So . . . When's the date?

Now that I have more than two million in the bank, I'm getting closer to being able to answer the big question.

I'll meet with Dr. Forman on Thursday to discuss the results of today's CT and next Wednesday's PET scans. (By the way, even with my fancy glass, I couldn't stomach my last barium cocktail. It came up, along with today's lunch.) Assuming that I'm still clean, we'll talk about whether I should do another round of Hyper CVAD. If so, it could be several weeks before the stem cell transplant (SCT). If not, I'll move on to two weeks of out patient radio autoimmune therapy* before the SCT. (*This is a must click and must read document.)

As I've mentioned to several of you before, it's fairly easy to reach remission with Mantle Cell Lymphoma (MCL), but it's a little trickier to stay there. All of these potential treatments are powerful relapse prevention tools.

Stay tuned!

A bit of a cell-abration...

Susan called around 1 p.m. to say her .08 million harvest yesterday brings her to 2.02 million stem cells in the bank. She'll continue harvesting today and tomorrow just get a few extras.

I'm sure she'll check in later with details on when her month-long "visit" to COH might happen.

Yay, Smooky!

Word Play

I've been receiving voice mail messages, emails and blog comments to "Smooky," and, to tell the truth, I like it. I really like it.

It sure beats out the other possible nicknames based on adjectives that are frequently used to describe me:

Smart + Klutzy = Smutzy: I was first called klutzy when an anonymous seventh grader wrote "nosy and klutzy" beneath my name in a Slam Book. (How many of you remember that low-tech, mid-60's precursor to My Space?) Strangely enough, I didn't feel slammed. I just read the description, shrugged my bony shoulders and thought, "Yep, that's me." As a matter of fact, I'm still pretty nosy but now people clean it up and call me curious or inquisitive. Unfortunately, there's no way to pretty up klutzy, but I don't mind. Too bad Smutzy sounds so smutty.

Smart + Elegant = Smelegant: OK, I didn't say that I thought I was elegant, but, for some reason, others (including my doctor) often use this adjective to describe me. The downside is that Smelegant can easily be shortened to Smelly, and that ain't so elegant.

Smart + Quirky = Smirky: Some might consider quirky, a close relative to kooky, a pejorative, but I've always taken it as a compliment. After all, isn't it a little quirky to be both klutzy and elegant? And medical professionals have even applied the adjective to my cancer, as in "your quirky cancer." Silly me - I think if you have to have a disease, it should be a quirky one. (Sure beats "rare and deadly.") But who wants to be Smirky?

Smart + Bossy = Smossy: My immediate family members seem to think that I'm bossy. The name Smossy sounds both elegant and quirky, but. . . moi . . . bossy?!? Don't call me bossy!

Bottom line? I'm gonna' hang on to Smooky, hang on.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Get out the running shoes!

I'm planning on wearing my running shoes to CoH tomorrow so that I can do a victory lap around the harvest room.

Yesterday's stem cell collection was up slightly to .13 million, bringing the total to 1.94 million. Dr. Wang feels certain that today's harvest will put me over the 2 million mark.

I'll also be bringing along my martini glass so that I can have an afternoon cocktail of Berry Barium in preparation for my evening CT scan. The results of the CT scan and next week's PET scan will put my mind at ease about the return of the disease. But I've been less nervous since my rapid weight loss has been followed by a rapid weight gain. Just call me the Bobby DeNiro of CoH.

The size 4 was fun while it lasted!

On a Lighter Note.......

Aren't these the greatest photos of a very young Smooky? Of course these were the days when she was Ninnie Choo Choo. The birthday cakes were absolutely the world's best, made at a local bakery in Clarksburg, WV called Home Industry Bakery. Butter cream icing, colorful flowers, moist cake, and just think, it had our very own name on it.......awesome. How could it get any better? Oh, yes.......sneak a taste of icing. I remember my sister and I would take the flowers off the cake and eat them seperately as a finale. All this was washed down with ice cold Kool-Aid. Those were great times. Sue has another celebration forthcoming, so might as well get in a festive mood.

Hmmmm, those boots look strangely familiar.

The second photo shows Sue has not changed that much. All the appropriate props for a one woman show.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

More Pole Dancing in Public

Two other IWOSC members and I will be reading our work at the sixth annual West Hollywood Book Fair on Sunday, September 30.

If you missed my July gig at Dutton's Bookstore, I hope you'll come out for this free event. My slot is at 4:25 pm.

Squeezing out those cells!

Susan phoned in Monday's numbers: a small, but scrappy .11 million cells to add to the 1.7 million currently on ice.

Dr. Wang confirmed that Susan will be at COH every afternoon this week to reach the two million minimum. (Actually, two million and a dab more.) (Yes, "dab" is a medical term. It's slightly larger than a "smidgen." Ask any medical student. Or just watch "Scrubs.")

"So, Smooky…" I asked. "Isn't there an oncology version of Miracle-Gro they can sprinkle on the harvested cells to encourage them multiply on their own?"

Alas, no!

My life sucks (not!)

When I woke up this morning, my first thought was, "My life sucks." George and I had another "incident" with Cindy last night and we woke feeling zapped of emotional and physical energy.

And then I remembered that it's Cindy's life that sucks right now, not mine. And her life sucks in direct proportion to the crazy decisions that she's making.

I bounced out of bed, headed to my Pilates class at the YWCA and then came home to a bowl of yogurt with fresh raspberries.

My life is good.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Today's Harvest

Tomorrow I'll strut into the harvest room like an eager school girl waiting to check for all As on her report card. But this time I don't have to make an A. Heck, up until now, I've been well below average. All I need is a measly .3 million to pass.

I'll probably give Paula a call when I get the results tomorrow afternoon. Thanks for all of your prayers, positive thoughts, rain dances and crossed fingers and eyes.

Cancer Banter Upgrades

You may have noticed that I've recently added a sidebar with links to MCL and stem cell transplant-related sites. The stem cell transplant document is particularly enlightening.

And, thanks to fellow Pasadena blogger Susan Kitchens, I have a new and easy way for Cancer Banter readers to sign up for automatic updates. Just look for the box in the right sidebar that says, "Enter your email address." After you've signed up, Feedburner will let you know when I've added a new post. I've found that the Google updates come instantly, but it takes Feedburner a few hours to send out the alerts.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Swing Shift

Tomorrow afternoon I go back to my part-time job of harvesting stem cells from 1 pm to 5:30 pm at the CoH.

I'll have Monday's results when I report back to duty on Tuesday afternoon. We just need an additional .3 million to make the 2 million minimum, but Dr. Forman wants to get as many as possible for good measure.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

More Terminal Embarrassment or "Skirting the Issue"

Remember the size 4 skirt that I slithered into the other day?

Since size 8s are now voluminous and 6s roomy (don't hate me), I was forced to go back into the archives of my closet for smaller sizes. You're probably wondering why I even bother to store these ancient relics. But the quality of the fabric and cut of this classic skirt were too exquisite to toss into the Goodwill pile.

I was delighted when I slid into the skirt, and the zipper effortlessly reached its apex. And even more delighted when I glanced in the mirror and saw no "muffin tops" protruding over the waistband.

But when it came time to take the skirt off, the zipper wouldn't budge. I tried gentle prodding. I tried forceful tugging. I tried soap. When George came home, I taunted, "You have to get this skirt off of me." He tried to rip it off with a pair of needle-nose pliers, but the mission failed. I refused to let him attack with a pair of scissors.

I had no choice: I slept in the skirt with a plan to visit my dry cleaners/tailors the next day for assistance. But I didn't have time to do that before my early morning appointment at CoH.

I waltzed into the CoH looking more glam than usual with my unrumpled, wool-crepe pencil skirt, a black cowl-collared top recently purchased from Banana Republic and a pair of high-heeled pumps.

When someone pressed me about why I was so "dressed up," I skirted the issue and mumbled something about an imaginary meeting with an imaginary client.

On the way back from CoH, I stopped in at our dry cleaners/tailors, a small shop run by three generations of the same family. The youngest family member, who looks to be around 20 years old, greeted me. I explained my predicament. He translated my predicament from English to Armenian to his grandfather/tailor. Grandpa immediately expressed concern about what I would wear out of the shop. I assured him that I'd hold on to the skirt, make a mad dash to my car and then head straight home.

Grandpa attacked my stubborn zipper with the same type of needle-nose pliers that George had used the night before. But he, apparently, had more experience in helping women get out of their skirts. After five minutes of wrangling, I was free of the oppressive garment.

Then the grandson just had to ask, "So, when did you discover the zipper was stuck?" I confessed the whole story about sleeping in the skirt.

"But, hey, this is a dry cleaners. You must hear all kinds of embarrassing stories," I teased.

"Yes," the grandson replied. "And we will now officially add you to our wall of shame."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Weight Worry

I have witnesses to the fact that I've been eating this week. I shared tacos with Paula on Wednesday and broke bread with Karen (the other one) at our book club that evening.

On the other hand, Debbie saw me pick at my food at the Pasadena Buddhist Church cooking class on Tuesday. (I chalked this up to post-chemo appetite suppression.)

But even if I ate nothing this week, I find it hard to believe that I could peel weight off an already lean frame. But that's just what happened. I'm down nearly five pounds since my last time on the scales four days ago. I easily slithered into a size 4 skirt that's been hibernating in my closet for years.

I had assumed that anxiety was the culprit for my weight loss, but now I'm a little concerned that it's more. I'll discuss this with Dr. Forman.

Great - one more thing to add to my stress list.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

This is a public service announcement...

As some of you may know, both Susan and I are supporters of Hillsides. She's in the Hillsides Guild and I'm in the Hillsides Volunteer Network. On Sunday, October 7, you can join us and support Hillsides by shopping…or laughing…or both.

From 5:30 to 6:45 p.m, the Hillsides Volunteer Network will hold a silent auction featuring dozens of items, including fine jewelry, fashion accessories, gift baskets, DVD and CD boxed sets, fragrance collections, restaurant certificates, and more.

The silent auction will be held on The Ice House's patio and everyone is welcome. Feel
free to outbid Susan on items you both want. You just know she'll try to play the "cancer card" to lock up all the good stuff for herself!

At 7 p.m., The Ice House will celebrate its 47th anniversary by presenting a great line-up of name comedians—all of whom are donating their time to help the children of Hillsides. We'll have a short voice auction for a few items, including a Disneyland Castle package.

Show tickets are $35 plus the usual two-drink minimum. Call 626/577-1894 for tickets to the comedy show.
Whether you hit the auction, catch the show or (you wild thang, you) do both, your support funds outings and special projects for the children of Hillsides.

Hope to see you on October 7.

The Good Patient

Please permit me to brag for a moment.

One thing that I've learned about myself is that I'm a good patient. By that I mean that I turn my frequent visits to City of Hope into opportunities for interesting social encounters and fun experiences. But I'm not unique. Most of the other patients and almost all of the staff I meet take the same attitude.

I went in on Monday for a dab of chemo and ended up being there for 11 hours, from 8 am to 7 pm. The infusion/transfusion nurses encouraged me to take one of the private rooms where I'd have a bed instead of a reclining chair. I panicked at the thought of being isolated instead of "among the people," but decided a semi-private bathroom would be a good idea. Since I needed four hours of IV hydration, I knew I'd be hopping up for frequent bathroom breaks.

I at least got to select the most high-traffic room, close to the door, where I could observe all of the comings and goings. And I left my curtains open so that I could feel like I was a part of the action.

I spotted my nurse coordinator and got to have a long chat with her. "Disco George" from the ETC stopped in to give his regards. And I was surprised to realize how many patients know me by name. One couple I met in the harvest room walked by and squealed, "There's Susan!" The wife has forever endeared herself to me because she gave me a foot massage while I was collecting stem cells. When I saw her, I immediately ripped the blankets off my feet and wiggled my toes.

But, wouldn't you know it. By the time they made their way back from the blood draw, I was in a Benadryl-induced slumber and never got my foot massage.

UR My Angel

Yesterday I made a quick trip out to the City of Hope to pick up my Neupogen (or "fertility drugs for stem cells," as Paula likes to say.)

I spotted this graffitti-embellished car in the parking lot. (The side windows are similarly pimped out.)

At first, I was a bit horrified because I thought the patient had tracked down her doctor's car and added the message. Then I remembered that the staff have a separate parking area. The patient apparently wanted to advertise her love and appreciation for Dr. Smith and the City of Hope by turning her SUV into a mobile Valentine.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Little C

Do any of you follow Leroy Sievers's “My Cancer” blog on the NPR website? Unlike many of the other personal cancer blogs that I follow daily, I check in on this one every two to three weeks because I don't want his posts to influence my own.

But a recent post, Even with Cancer Life Marches On, really struck a chord with me. After having the kind of stressful “bad day” that often infiltrates our daily lives, with or without cancer, Leroy mused that cancer patients should get a pass from non-cancer-related stresses.

After all, with the worries associated with the Big C, who needs to stress out over non-working dishwashers, over-flowing toilets or under-performing gardeners? Why shouldn't cancer patients receive a "get out of stress card," the perfect companion to the “cancer card” that grants special privileges? (Speaking of the cancer card, a few weeks ago my car mechanic said he'd need my car for a week. I shamelessly pulled off my wig, revealing my glistening scalp, and I had the car back the next day. But that’s another story.)

My non-cancer stresses have been relatively minor: The "will she or won't she" graduate episode. The laptop that went belly up just a few months after the warranty expired. The WiFi that suddenly stopped functioning. The new gardeners who need constant supervision.

Truth be told, it's good to have minor annoyances to take my mind off the other nagging worries that I seldom discuss: The dismal median survival rate of MCL patients with blastic variety. The underlying worry about how long I'll stay in remission. Then there are the frustrations that I've covered extensively in Cancer Banter: My blood's unwillingness to quickly bounce back after chemo. My ongoing struggle to harvest stem cells. My total inability to answer the basic question, "So, when are you going in for your stem cell transplant?" I think about these things, but I don't lose much sleep over them.

But what happens when the little stresses are replaced by a big one? In my case, I lost two pounds in West Virginia instead of packing on the usual three extra pounds of flesh. I went on to lose another three pounds in three days after I returned. My sleep is erratic. I wake up with a grumbling stomach.

The cause of the stress is not the Big C. Let's just call it the Little C (Cindy). I won't share the details here, but would be happy to spill the beans if I see you in person or talk with you on the phone.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Keep your eye on the prize.

In my case, the prize is the batch of 2 million+, self-produced stem cells. My next time at bat is coming up on Monday, September 17. I'm ready to hit the ball out of the park this time.

Aren't they beautiful? I just know I can do it.

Almost Heaven

Now that I'm back in Southern California, I've swapped calorie-dense foods for nutrient-dense ones and artery-clogging delicacies for the artery-cleansing variety.

Thanks to my brother Robert, I brought back three jars of the coveted Duke's Mayo. But on Thursday, I met friends for lunch at Cafe Surfas before surfing the food-lovers Mecca in Culver City. I brought home a specialty balsamic vinegar, EVOO and loquat white balsamic vinegar. (Two of these will be "prizes" at the Italian-themed wedding shower I'm hosting later this month for my friend Terry.)

I scarfed down high-fat biscuits and gravy twice in West Virginia, but now I'm back to my favorite breakfast of non-fat plain yogurt with antioxidant-rich, fresh berries. With a cup of hot green tea on the side, it's the perfect anti-cancer indulgence. (Hey, this is Cancer Banter; I figured I better start working that word back into the posts.)

Since my return, I've enjoyed a healthy cobb (no bacon or other high-fat ingredients) salad at Cafe Surfas, indulged in regional Italian cooking from a class at the Old Town Cooking School and eaten Vietnamese baguette sandwiches with a friend at a Pasadena park. Tomorrow I plan to have a bowl of ramen at Daikokuya, the Jonathan Gold-recommended ramen restaurant in Little Tokyo. Then we'll catch the special exhibit on Japanese gardeners at the Japanese American National Museum.

West Virginia might be "almost heaven," but the diversity and quality of foods (both high-fat and low-fat) in Southern California makes this place a little slice of heaven for me.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Hannah Clan

Nothing produces goose bumps faster than a trio of bagpipers ushering in a high school football team. If that football team happens to be in West Virginia, where the pigskin (both the athletic and culinary variety) is king, you can double the rate of chills. And if one of those pipers just happens to be your brother and he's wearing the tartan of Grandma Hannah's clan, well, it just doesn't get much better than that.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


The way I figure it, there are three kinds of people in this world: the kind who see the sign for "HOGGS DOGGS" and keep on driving (perhaps a little faster than before); those who have to stop immediately and those who think about it and return later.

Put me in the third category.

While Daddy and I were headed for the all-you-can-eat buffet at the Golden Corral in Gallipolis, Ohio, we passed the sign for HOGGS DOGGS in Millwood (population: 1,200). If the name doesn't bring a smile to your face, then the site of the American flag, an ice machine and the quintessential West Virginia hub cap collection should.

Daddy and I chuckled at the name and went on to our buffet feast, where I tried desperately to find a food that wasn't deep fried or cooked in hog fat. But the next day I couldn't get Hoggs Doggs out of my mind. After a rigorous workout at the local gym, I paid the cafe a visit.

True to the name, almost everything on the menu comes from a hog or a (hot) dog.

I settled on a hot dog, West Virginia style, with sauce and cole slaw. And I couldn't resist ordering a bowl of beans with a side of cornbread.

When you pay $.99 for a hot dog and $2.99 for a bowl of beans at a joint called Hoggs Doggs, you expect to be served on paper plates. But they don't call it a cafe for nothin'. My food was served on colorful Melamine plates and came with real silverware.

The red and kidney beans were flavored with bacon (hogg) and sauteed onions. I got into a discussion with another diner about the best way to cook beans. Then I asked the unthinkable question, "At what point do you add the onions?" She looked at me as if I had just asked, "Who is Julia Child?"

"You don't COOK the onions," she sighed. "You chop up a raw onion and put it on the beans AFTER they're cooked."

"Yes, that's how we ate our beans when I was growing up, but I noticed that the cook here adds sauteed onions," I countered. And I'm sure that she was dying to add that "beans" in West Virginia means navy beans, not red or kidney.

We went on to talk about other regional preferences in foods while she ate her BBQ pork sandwich. She complimented the chef on the sweet sauce, and he responded that many of his customers like their sauce a little more tangy. To satisfy their tangy cravings, he offers them jalapeno peppers.

"When people say they like tangy, they don't mean hot," she explained. "Most people in these parts like their sauce with a taste of vinegar."

Later on, my brother Robert pointed out another regional difference that the owners haven't mastered. I showed him a photo of the hot dog with cole slaw, and he looked puzzled. "That's cole slaw?!" I assured him that it was and quite tasty to boot. "Oh, usually out here the cole slaw is shredded very fine, not coarse."

The owners of Hoggs Doggs Cafe appear to be life partners as well as business partners. They're restoring a church as their home and the sanctuary with its soaring cathedral ceilings makes a striking living room.

The couple seem to be very popular among their customers, in spite of my concern that Millwood and Ravenswood are in the "Baptist Belt." It just goes to show you that if you serve good eats at good prices (a biscuit and gravy with a mug of coffee came to $2.12 the next morning), then people (even members of the religious right) care more about regional cooking preferences than sexual preferences. And if you can dish up some good talk about cooking, remodeling and decorating, as these owners do, then that's just, well, onions on the beans.

Another Delay

I packed my overnight bag, in hopes that I'd be admitted today for my dose of conditioning Cytoxan. But I'll have to wait another week to get chemo "lite." And then I won't be able to start the next round of stem cell harvesting until a week after that (September 17).

AAAGGGHHH! That's the cry of a patient who's chomping at the bit to get going.

Monday, September 3, 2007

West Virginia vs. Southern California: What does $1 million buy?

Remember the days when you could purchase the home of your dreams in Southern California for a mere million dollars?

These days, a million smackers can fetch a modest 2,300-square-foot ranch-style home on an eighth of an acre lot in Pasadena. Nice, but hardly a "dream house." Move that same home to a palatial San Marino neighborhood "north of the drive," and you can expect to pay up to $1.5 million. Whisk it away to the sands of Malibu and the price would take a quantum leap to $3 million clams or so. That, of course, assumes that the house is in tear-down, not move-in, condition.

But in West Virginia, a million dollar mortgage can make you a member of the landed gentry. A story in last week's Parkersburg News described a 13,000-square-foot stone country estate on 105 acres. The property features five ponds and "seven modern out buildings." (Grandma Opal also had seven out buildings, but that included the out-house.) A retired doctor and his wife became the proud owners of this dream property for - you guessed it - $1 million.

And that same 2,300-square-foot home with a $1 million price tag in Pasadena can be picked up for less than $70,000 in Ravenswood.

I can see why West Virginia has the highest rate of home ownership in the country and California has one of the lowest. (Only New York and Washington D.C. have fewer home owners.)

Would I be tempted to move back and live like the good doctor and his wife? Nope - not even for a million dollars.

(PS Tomorrow I go back to the City of Hope for a blood draw, consultation and possible admission for conditioning Cytoxan. I'll pack the PJs, toothbrush and laptop, just in case I need to check in. That means I'll soon be back on the blood count and stem cell count treadmill, so it's nice to think about other numbers - square footage, acreage and dollars - for a change.)