Saturday, March 29, 2008

Side Benefits

The pharmaceutical companies do a good job of warning (and terrifying) us about the harmful side effects of chemo drugs. If we spent too much time dwelling on the long list of negatives, we might be tempted to say "f'get about it," but that's not an option for most cancer patients.

But the drug companies don't tell us about the harmless side benefits. I recently wrote that new friends (both online and offline) are one of the positive perks of cancer treatment.

I just discovered something even more tangible.

In my BC (before cancer) days, I had a gimp right knee that sometimes collapsed mid-stride. If I walked as little as one mile, I spent the next two days limping like Chester, the Dennis Weaver character on Gunsmoke. (Oops, I'm dating myself.) An orthopedic surgeon and an MRI confirmed in January '07 that I had osteoarthritis. (Now I'm really dating myself.)

But a curious thing happened after I began cancer treatment: My knee healed. (I guess it would be more accurate to say that I became "symptom free," but that doesn't sound as dramatic, does it.) I could take four-mile mountain hikes without limping the next day. I could do deep knee bends and lunges. I could even sit in a lotus position in yoga class, pain-free.

About three months after my stem cell transplant, I started to feel the familiar creaks and twinges of arthritis again. Right about that time, I went in for my dose of maintenance Rituxan, a monoclonal antibody that I think of as my relapse prevention drug. The next day, I had the pain-free, creak-free knees of a thirty-year old. I learned that Rituxan is often used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, but it apparently does wonders for osteoarthritis too.

I can look forward to the side benefit of youthful knees for the next two years, thanks to quarterly infusions of Rituxan. While I'm roaming the planet, I may even climb a mountain or two.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tranny Mess or Fierce?

At last, I'm able to toss around a few pop-culture catch phrases from cable television. "Tranny mess" (i.e. over-the-top bad) and "fierce" (i.e. good) were the fave catch phrases of Christian Siriano, the young designer who was the Season 4 Project Runway winner.

And how do I know this? When George and I were in Seattle in March, I was plagued with the common cold. My low grade fever (100.1 F) wasn't high enough to sound the doctor alarms (100.5 F), but high enough to turn me into a first-class bed potato. While I nursed my cold, I devoured an entire season of Project Runway. The creativity and cattiness of the contestants and the sassy attitude of the ultra-thin models strutting their designer stuff made me forget my runny nose, stuffy head and achy bones for a few hours. I was hooked.

I was lucky enough to tune in during the season finale. But New York's Fashion Week wasn't the only thing that caught my eye. I was wowed by the ad for Market Optical, an eyewear boutique in Seattle.

The next day, I was feeling much perkier, so George and I wandered around Pike's Place Market. When we happened to pass Market Optical, I squealed, "OMG, I HAVE to go in there. They advertised on Project Runway." The boutique probably has no more than 30 sets of frames, and each one is fabulous, or "fierce" as Christian would say.

I tried on a few frames and then, without warning, pulled off my wig so that I could see how my specs would look on a hairless face. The opticians didn't see that one coming. But the "now you see it, now you don't" demonstration helped us narrow down the selection to the perfect pair.

So what do you think? Am I a tranny mess, a hot mess. . . or fierce?

Here I am in the Mac Photo Booth with my new glasses and no wig.
My new hair, by the way, is growing fast.

Here I am with the new glasses and wig.
The glasses are lined in a "thistle" color that looks like it jumped right out of a 68-count box of Crayola crayons.
Can you tell that I LOVE this Photo Booth feature on the Mac?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Country Roads

I'm taking off today for West Virginia for a week to visit family and friends. I may go through a bit of withdraw because I'm not bringing my laptop, but I'll try to make it to the library at least once to use the computer.

Monday, March 17, 2008

San Francisco Attraction

By now, Cancer Banter readers know I love San Francisco. So, what's the big attraction? There's that Japanese Spa I like. The amazing 270 degree views from my friend Sisi's house near Coit Tower rank among the most spectacular in the city. And great shopping, restaurants and museums are practically synonymous with SF.

All of these things keep me coming back again and again, but the city's greatest attraction these days is my dear friend Bob. Since I've shared his story (Tell Me a Story and Bucket List or Grumpy Old Men) on previous posts, I thought I'd share these pictures from our February visit, compliments of our friend Kiki. (Kiki's the spunky-looking gal in glasses in the photo below.)

After a week at the SF VA Hospital and two weeks at a rehab facility, Bob is back at home again with his cat.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tear-Drenched Hair

"I crawled into bed with my 13-year old daughter and washed her hair with my tears."

To hear the rest of this story, please come to Gorgeous Stories on Friday, March 14, at 7:30 pm.

WHAT: Gorgeous Stories - Brave, moving and often hilarious new work from Terrie Silverman's Creative Rites workshops

WHEN: Friday, March 14, 7:30 to 9:00 pm

WHERE: Parish Hall

Church of the Angels
1100 N. Avenue 64
Pasadena, CA 91105

ADMISSION: Only $8 and includes a free pot-luck following the show

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Please feel free to roam about the planet.

Now that I'm "off leash" and out from under the wing of continuous medical care, my nurse practitioner (aka Dr. Forman's right-hand woman), Barb, told me to "feel free to roam about the planet." Those words are music to my ears!

Tomorrow I'll spend eight hours at the City of Hope for my first infusion of maintenance Rituxan, a "monoclonal antibody" that has been successful in keeping the MCL beast at bay. I was originally scheduled for four consecutive weeks of Rituxan every six months for two years. But, after reviewing my most recent blood count numbers and my blood history, Dr. Forman became concerned about one of the possible side effects of Rituxan - reduced platelet production. Instead of the four-weeks-in-a-row schedule, I'll be going in just one time every three months for my round of Rituxan.

I haven't posted my blood count numbers for a while. My WBCs are down slightly because of a lousy head cold. My red counts are also down a tad, but my platelets are on the rise. I do wish they'd break 100.

Day 116, Monday, March 10, 2008
(Numbers in parentheses are normal ranges.)
WBC 2.7 (4.0-11)
RBC 3.00 (3.8-5.2)
HGB 10.6 (11.5-15.5)
PLT 71 (150-350)

My weight is also down a tad, but I'm sure it's a result of my feeble appetite from the cold.

It felt strange on Monday to have my blood drawn the old-fashioned way - through a vein in my arm. It reminded me of the early days of my cancer adventure, before the PICC line was inserted in March 2007.

Even before patients confessed to being "newbies," I could pick them out in a lineup. The anxious look in their eyes gave them away. One man lit up when he learned that I was on the other side of treatment. He told me that he desperately needed to talk with me and asked if I could wait for him.

We went outside and sat together by the Spirit of Life fountain. It seemed a little surreal to be sitting outside on a warm Spring-like day, listening to the splashing fountain and discussing his treatment for stage three rectal cancer. He starts chemo next week.

Even though our cancers and cases couldn't be more different, I think it was important for him to be able to talk with someone who had lived a "normal" life through treatment and survived to tell about it.

On Friday, I plan to visit someone whose case is a little closer to my own. My new friend Gahlit, the mother of a 15-month-old daughter, just completed a successful donor stem cell transplant for leukemia and is recovering at home. She's one of the spunkiest, feistiest gals I know and, for me, one of the "side benefits" of cancer. Yep - there are side benefits as well as side effects.

Now I hope you'll excuse me. I have a planet to roam.

Fork or Food?

The name of my food blog is Open Mouth, Insert Fork (a takeoff on "Open mouth, insert foot," something at which I excel.)

It just occurred to me that Open Mouth, Insert Food may be better because "food" is just one letter away from "foot."

What do YOU think? Fork or food?

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Picky Eaters Club

For my latest food essay, "The Picky Eaters Club," go to

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Strangers in the Night

Laura, a long-legged blond in her early 30's, is a professional escort. But her clients are not high- rolling businessmen looking for a night on the town. They're troubled teenagers on their way to wilderness camps, residential treatment centers and therapeutic boarding schools.

Laura's job is to "deliver the package," not an easy task when the package is usually an out-of-control flight risk. Laura and her colleagues are known in the trade as "friendly guerrillas," but I call them "strangers in the night," because they often pluck unsuspecting, slumbering teens from their beds in the wee hours of the night.

Come and hear me read from "Strangers in the Night," a work in progress about our painful and personal decision to use the services of an escort service. It may not be in its most "finished" state, but I promise that it won't be boring.

WHAT: Gorgeous Stories - Brave, moving and often hilarious new work from Terrie Silverman's Creative Rites workshops

WHEN: Friday, March 14, 7:30 to 9:00 pm

WHERE: Parish Hall

Church of the Angels
1100 N. Avenue 64
Pasadena, CA 91105

ADMISSION: Only $8 and includes a free pot-luck following the show

From Surface Streets in Pasadena:
Take Colorado Blvd. west of Old Pasadena. Make a left on Melrose. You'll see a white stone tower with a clock and "Cornerstone Chiropractic." At the stop sign turn slight left onto Avenue 64 and continue approximately five minutes. Make a left on Church St. at a stop sign. Go uphill barely half a block and make the first right turn into the parking area. The Parish Hall is a one-story Tudor-style building on the right.

From the Pasadena Freeway:
Take the Marmion Way exit and make a slight left to take the ramp toward AVE 64/ YORK BL. Turn left on Marmion Way. Marmion Way becomes Ave. 64. When you see the church set back on the hill, make a left turn on Church St. Go up a slight hill and make an immediate right turn into the parking area. The Parish Hall is a one-story, Tudor-style building on the right side.

Do NOT park in the "Van Only" slots which are immediately on your left once you turn right into the parking area. The parish hall where we perform is a white building to the right with brown trim. There are a couple of spots in front of the hall, and as you continue there is a larger area to the right with more ample parking.

QUESTIONS: Email me at if you have any other questions.

I hope to see you on Friday!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Take Comfort!

Please go to for a taste of comfort.

(And stay tuned - the new, improved Open Mouth, Insert Fork blog site is coming in March.)

Skin Deep

I was spending a lazy Sunday moring in bed curled up with the LA Times, NY Times and a cup of Peets coffee. When my phone rang, the last person I expected was a dermatology resident from the USC Keck School of Medicine.

"Hello, Mrs. Carrier? I'm the resident who will be presenting your case at the Dermatology Grand Rounds on Tuesday," she announced. I snapped to attention and asked if she knew of any other cases like mine. She said that she's found documentation of 20 cases in which the patient developed similar symptoms in conjunction with Lymphoma.

Since George and I will be in Seattle on Tuesday, we'll have to postpone the Grand Rounds presentation until the first Tuesday in April. This is a good thing because my dermatologists are still waiting for results from skin biopsies taken a week ago from my flank (side) and inner thigh.

I've read a lot of anecdotes on list serves about the presence of skin rashes and conditions prior to a Lymphoma diagnosis. A pathology report from 18 months ago diagnosed my condition as Granuloma Annulare (GA), even though it looked different from any case of GA my dermatologist had ever seen. Today, my skin looks like crepe paper in all the areas once affected by GA. Coincidence? I don't think so. Weight loss? I think not. Aging? Don't even go there.

For some reason, hematologists and dermatologists are reluctant to make a connection between skin conditions and Lymphoma. If a connection can be made, this would be excellent training for both groups of specialists and could possibly lead to earlier diagnosis. The next step will be to figure out how to restore my skin to its normal, "youthful" appearance. Beauty may only be skin deep, but the potential benefits from this case go way below the surface.