Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Calling All Jazz Fans

A3M (Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches) annual fundraising event, Starnight, will feature jazz pianist Keiko Matsui. Tickets are still available for as little as $47 for this November 2 event at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.

If you'd like to splurge, consider the VIP package with dinner, a silent auction and the concert. I've been helping with the auction descriptions for the bid sheets and can tell you that there are some amazing items. If you're interested in seeing Celine Dion, the Cheetah Girls, the Ducks or the Bruins in luxury box seats at the Honda Center, send me an email (susancarrier@sbcglobal.net), and I'll give you more details. If you like, I can bid on your behalf.

Even though "Asians" is in the name of the organization, they work tirelessly to sign up all minorities for the National Bone Marrow Registry. I'm excited because they just hired a Spanish-speaking representative to do outreach and recruitment in the Latino community.

Candy Banter

I'm back from Ohio and West Virginia, land of the bad perm, the all-you-can buffet and biscuits and sausage gravy. I indulged in guilt-free gluttony and packed four more pounds on to my skinny bones.

"Yes, I can" was my mantra for the week. When the waitress asked if I wanted more sweet tea or a piece of Coca Cola Chocolate Cake with a side of ice cream. When Daddy offered more home made oatmeal cookies or another helping of chilli and corn bread. (He's become a very good cook.) Yes, I could, and yes, I did.

I didn't consume any candy, but I sure had fun reading about your top three favorite Halloween candy treats. (And I especially loved that some "lurkers" came forward with a comment.) The comments and my recent post about running really got me thinking:
  • Why is it easier to come up with our three favorite candies than three words that identify us?
  • Why is it easier to come up with things that we are not (or don't want to be)than things that we are? (I am NOT that listless woman being pushed around in a wheel chair at City of Hope.)
  • Is there any correlation between the candy we love and our identities or personalities? Are candy corn lovers playful? What does the way we attack a Blow Pop or Tootsie Pop say about our patience levels? (I bite into my Tootsie Pops.) Are chocolate lovers the sweetest?
When we were little trick-or-treaters in Clarksburg, West, Virginia, Robert and I high-tailed it to the "rich" part of town, where the residents treated us with full-size candy bars. Now every year I like to play "big shot" and give out full-size bars or bags of candy. It's my little tradition. This year, the little ghosts and goblins and Sarah Palins will receive a big bag of M&Ms, not one of the mini versions.

Speaking of tradition, I think it's a wonderful way to define ourselves as individuals, as families and as communities. When I was in West Virginia, I got to take part in a day of apple-butter making, a six-generation tradition in the Allen family. The 50-gallon copper cauldron we used is more than 150 years old. Now that's tradition. I'll post photos and the story in the next couple days.

In the meantime, remember those Kit Kats are for the trick-or-treaters.

(It's not too late to share your three favorie Halloween candies or your three-word ID tag.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

I am a runner

Have you noticed that women can get away with a lot of things that men can’t? It’s easy for a gal to approach a total stranger and compliment her hair, an article of clothing or body part. And we (or at least I) can get downright nosy after the sweet talk. “What product do you use on your hair?” “Where did you find your bag?” “How did you get those gorgeous gams?”

That’s what I thought when I saw a woman in a short skort in the security line at LAX. She had the firmest, shapeliest legs I’ve ever seen on a 50+ woman. Actually, they were among the best-looking legs I’ve seen on any age woman. Of course, I felt obligated to share my observation and envy.

She beamed and explained, “I’m a runner.”

I wasn’t surprised that running produced her firm, athletic legs, but I was caught off guard by her choice of words. Not “I run” or “I like to run” but “I’m a runner.” Running was clearly more than exercise; it was part of her identity.

For the third time in less than a year, I’m rebuilding my body. Prior to my most recent bout with pneumonia, I exercised fanatically – three to four mile walks several times a week interspersed with Pilates, strength training and cardio at the gym. I was a perpetual motion machine determined to increase my stamina, strength, muscle tone and flexibility. But my identity wasn’t tied to any of these activities. If someone asked me what I did for exercise, I wouldn’t say, “I’m a walker” or “I’m a weight lifter” any more than I would declare, “I’m a toilet flusher.”

And yet I frequently hear those three words, “I’m a runner.”

As a post-middle aged, post-cancer woman in search of identity, this appeals to me. My friend Barbara, who has just returned to graduate school at age 40, said that one of her professors asked students to introduce themselves with just three words. (She chose mom, cats and Democrat.) At one time I also would have included “mom,” but now that Cynthia is nearly 20, my role and influence are diminishing. I will always be a mother, but it’s no longer central to my identity. I don’t think “wife” has ever been part of my identity, and yet I’m still adjusting to the identity shift that comes with a separation.

So where does that leave me? The only thing I know for certain is that I am a writer. It is what I do and it is who I am.

But I’m fascinated with the possibility of adding “runner” to my three-word ID tag. It’s power packed with imagery and metaphor. We run for our lives, run for cover, run amok.

I love to visualize myself as a wild cheetah effortlessly using my long, lean legs to stride across the Serengeti. And I love the thought of pushing myself and running toward a finish line.

I ask Running Woman, “How many miles does someone have to run before she can call herself a runner?” “That’s the beauty of it,” she answers. “If you run even one mile a week, you’re a runner.” I’ve often said the same thing to aspiring writers, “If you write, you are a writer. You do not have to be published to say ‘I am a writer.’”

I plan to start off with an easy walk-run routine and will gradually build. (At this point, I’m grateful that I can walk a mile, let alone run one.) I may love it, I may hate it or as Running Woman advises, “You will probably hate it at first, but in just a few weeks you will be surprised at what happens.”

Soon after my encounter with Running Woman, I get a chance to test my lung and leg capacity. A landing delay has shrunk my Chicago O’Hare layover from 40 to 10 minutes. I ask one of the American Airline agents if she would call the gate of my next flight to let them know I am on my way. She urges, “You can make it. You just have to run.” I want to tell her that the gate is in a terminal far, far away. I am tempted to protest that I am recovering from a severe case of eosinophilic pneumonia and have diminished lung capacity, but there is no time for that.

Instead, I run. Almost immediately I feel the cumulative effects of lung damage and three months of near inertia. I run and gasp, then power walk and run and pant some more. I can’t run all the way, but I keep moving until I reach the finish line.

“What’s your name?” the agent asks. I am so out of breath that, after what seems likes minutes of a heaving chest, I sputter, “Carrier, with a C.” She prints my boarding pass and I’m on my way.

I (pant) am (huff) a (puff) runner (gasp).

What three words describe you?

Friday, October 24, 2008

While Smookie's away, her friends will play...

Halloween is almost here, and it's all I can do to prevent myself from diving headfirst into the candy display at Vons and just sort of rolling around until a few dozen "fun size" candy bars unwrap themselves and accidentally fall into my gaping maw.

While Susan enjoys quality time (and, we hope, calorie-laden meals) with her family in West Virginia, let's use this opportunity to play candy confessions. Please, no Godiva snobbery—just state your favorite three varieties of store-bought candy.

I'll go first:

1. Snickers
2. Peppermint Patties
3. M&Ms

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Hottest Ticket in Town

Tomorrow I'll be spending the day at The Women's Conference in Long Beach, the mega event hosted by First Lady Maria Shriver. The lineup of more than 100 speakers, from Madeline Albright to Bono, is amazing. No wonder the 14,000 person event sold out in just three hours. Lucky for me, the regional YWCA bought a block of tickets for its board members.

On Thursday I'll be taking off for a week for a visit to West Virginia and Ohio. I'll get to enjoy the fall foilage and crisp weather while I visit my brother and Bonnie, my nephew and dad. And I'll be stirring up some home-made apple butter with the Allen clan on their 200+ acre compound in Sardis, West Virginia.
Life is good.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Risks, Rewards and Expanding Worlds

It's been three months since I cat-napped Puss and drove with her from San Francisco to Altadena.

Puss, accustomed to life as an only cat in a small SF apartment, entered a brave new world with a dog and two other cats. The menagerie frightened her, and she showed her fear (and anger and confusion) with hisses and sharp claws. Betty, my shadow dog, felt the wrath whenever she was within eyesight.

Puss seemed content with her life in solitary confinement in the bathroom that straddles two upstairs bedrooms. She only cried out when it was time for her Fancy Feast fix.

After one week, I opened the door to the bathroom to give her access to her own bedroom suite. Puss liked having a room to call her own. She enjoyed my frequent visits but had no desire to join Betty and me in our bedroom. If I dragged her in, she would immediately scurry back to her safe place.

Betty, the biggest threat

Two weeks ago, I decided to expand her world again. I opened both bathroom doors (it's a Jack-and-Jill arrangement) so that Puss had access to our bedroom and the rest of the house. The result surprised me. It was as though Puss had become institutionalized. She was free to come and go as she pleased , but she had no desire to leave her suite. When I carried, her out, she couldn't wait to jump out of my arms and back to her own safe, dog-free space.

Yesterday, Puss decided to take a risk. She ventured out of her safe haven.

Puss decides to cross the line, but pauses to think it over.

"This may not be such a good idea after all."

The reward, basking in sunshine on mom's lap, was worth the risk.

"Can I watch the Aristocats one more time?"

Now Puss (or Sour Puss, as I like to call her) is free to roam about the entire house. She's exploring every nook and cranny from the basement to the bedroom, where she now sleeps by my pillow. She still hisses at the other animals, but, if cats could talk, I think she'd say the rewards of freedom and extra attention far outweigh the risks and fears. (Or maybe she'd just say, "Back off, Milk Bone breath.")

For the first seven months after I completed my auto stem cell transplant, I became a fearless, pole dancing risk taker. When you ask yourself, "What's the worst thing that could happen?" and the answer is not "death," fear of new challenges starts to evaporate.

With two recent events, the sickness that laid me out for nearly three months and the economic crisis, I've become a little risk adverse. It was even tempting to fall into a pathetic "I think I'll just stay home. People might be mean to me if I go out" thinking at times.

I think my risk pendulum swung a little too far in one direction and then, just as quickly, veered off into the other direction. Now, like Puss and our economy, I just have to find the right balance.

(Check out the latest at Open Mouth, Insert Fork, Sunday Italian Brunch, the Lazy Woman's Way)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Going Once, Going Twice

I plan to delete the "Light the Night" widgets in the left column on Monday. If you click on the top icon you'll see we've raised a total of $1,835 ($335 over the goal). Do I hear $2,000?

This is my last plea and your last chance to donate to an organization that's funding blood cancer research and supporting and educating patients and families.

Then you can breathe a sigh of relief and mutter, "I thought she'd never leave."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bits and Pieces

Today I chatted with Dr. Forman about my improved cough and life as a social pariah. He shared an old saying, "Better to have a bad headache than a mild cough" - meaning that it's easier to suffer in silence with a headache than to make others around you suffer with a cough. It's true, although I've known people who make everyone around them miserable when they have a headache.

I'm seeing improvement in other areas too. Even though we had thought that the left lung showed some clearing on my last visit two weeks ago, the radiologist had reported "no change." But this week, the x-ray definitely looks better. (I'm not just makin' that up.) And my weight is up to 120 pounds. I think that I have Trader Joe's and their new line of rise-overnight, bake-in-the-morning pastries (pecan sticky buns, croissants, chocolate croissants) to thank for the extra meat on my bones.

I'm gradually tapering off the Prednisone steroid from 60 mg to 40 mg to my new dosage of 30 mg/day for the next three weeks. As I've mentioned before, we're watching and waiting to see if those wacky eosinophils (EOS) creep up again after I'm off the steroids.

Since most of you know my brother Piper Robert through his comments on the blog, and I've mentioned several times that his wedding and reception were at our house, I wanted to share the photos. I have spent hours poring over these and reliving the wonderful wedding weekend.


Click on photo "b&r."
Enter password "susan."

I fell in love with the black and white jacket I'm wearing, but now I think it makes me look like a Pasadena matron. That's not the look I'm going for. And I can see that I really need to get back to my workout regimen, including Pilates, to pull back my slouching shoulders.

But the point of the photos is not for you to critique my chemo curls or fashion choices or poor posture. Look at them to see pure love and joy on the faces of Robert and Bonnie on every single frame.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Long Goodbye

After one week, no fewer than 12 phone calls, escalation to managers, 12.5 hours on hold and four broken promises to "call right back," my AT&T DSL service was finally restored last Thursday. (If my doctors and I had been this inept at diagnosing and treating my mantle cell lymphoma, I'd be pushing up daisies now.)

AT&T promised me Thursday morning that the DSL would be working by 8 pm. Like magic, it was up and running at 7:45. Of course, the "magic" involved 2.5 hours of my time on the phone with three different reps. My mantra, repeated at least 23 times, was, "My service was disconnected in error. I will stay on this line until it is fixed."

But do you want to hear the most painful part of this entire process? Saying goodbye to the reps. After I've been on hold with someone for an hour or two, I don't need a long, drawn-out goodbye. I just wanna' hang up. But, in the name of good customer service, AT&T has to keep me on the line for an additional five minutes.

AT&T: I will transfer you now to a customer specialist who will be able to help you.

Me: Thank you so much for your help. I really appreciate it.

AT&T: Thank you for choosing AT&T. We appreciate your business. Is there anything else I can do for you?

Me: No thank you.

AT&T: Do you have any questions?

Me: Just one. When are you going to transfer me?

AT&T: It's been a pleasure doing business with you.

Me: Yea, yea, yea

AT&T: You may receive a phone call asking you to rate your service experience. I hope that I have done everything possible to serve you.

Me: (Under breath - I do not have anything good to say about you or anyone at AT&T because you disconnected my service in error and can't get it reconnected and now could you PLEASE let me go.) Yes, thank you.

AT&T: Thank you for being a valued AT&T customer. Have a great day!

You say goodbye, I say hell(o).

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Some Great News

My days as a hacking social pariah may be over. For some unknown reason (alternate therapy?), my coughing significantly subsided today. I can't believe how much more energy I have when I'm not consumed with coughing up a lung.

With a controllable cough and respectable energy levels, I actually enjoyed my day of non-stop activities. I had a long lunch with friends in Old Pasadena, volunteered at the A3M (Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches) office in Little Tokyo, ran errands, picked up a dresser I purchased from Craigslist, ran more errands and right now I'm capping the day off at the Coffee Gallery in Altadena for hot chocolate and free WiFi.

I even had time for a hearty breakfast of eggs Florentine at home. You can read about how I like to take one dish - ground beef with spinach and mushrooms - and stretch it into three meals at Open Mouth, Insert Fork.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Cough 'til you drop.

I marvel every day at my improved health. I don't take for granted that I can march from the second floor to the basement to throw a load of clothes in the washer, stop to feed the dog and cats on the first floor and still trek back to the second-floor bedroom without gasping for air. Just a month ago, I needed someone to serve me breakfast in bed.

But my cough - my deep, raspy hack - has not improved. It kicks into gear whether I'm lying still or walking or talking and leaves me feeling like a limp dishrag.

Worst of all, it's turned me into a social pariah. Most people, both friends and strangers, are kind and concerned, but I know I'm annoying. "Would a throat lozenge help?" strangers ask. "I wish it would," I reply, "but it doesn't, and I darned near choked on one." I do accept cups of water and snippets of advice. "I had pneumonia too, and I found that drinking the hottest liquid I could tolerate really helped." I'm willing to try anything.

I've discovered that a small percentage of the population can be downright mean. I left an 8-stop East LA Mexican food sampling event after the second venue because I was clearly agitating at least two other people in the group. And, of course, that made me so uncomfortable that I couldn't get out of the birrierias (goat restaurant) fast enough. Today I mouthed "I'm so sorry" to another library patron after a coughing jag, but she was as bitchy as a tough old goat.

I'm trying to balance consideration of others with my own needs to get out, but it's tricky, especially since I'm still without DSL service at home.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Day Off

It seems I spent a big chunk of my summer in very un-summery activities (like trying to figure out how to get out of bed and to the bathroom without collapsing, for one). Inspired by Ronni and triple-digit temperatures, I decided to make up a little of the lost summer by heading up California's Pacific Coast Highway on a weekday afternoon.

Self portrait of foot (a footrait)

Bare feet in seaweed, algae, salt water and sand - I highly recommend it.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Coming to you from the beautiful Altadena Library

I'm sitting on an Eero Saarinen chair, but I'm disappointed that the iconic Sarineen white mushroom tables at my local library have been replaced with standard issue wooden versions with four boring legs.

Light is streaming in above me from a giant sky light and around me through floor to ceiling windows on one side and clerestory windows on three sides. I'm soaking in filtered sunlight and greenery while I type in this mid-century oasis.

And, thanks to an AT&T snafu, it looks like I'll be spending a lot of time here using the free WiFI service and writing, writing, writing. AT&T prematurely canceled my DSL service when I signed up for high-speed service connected with their new U-verse offering. (It's like cable using a fiber optic network.) I won't go into all of the details of this crazy, maddening affair, but the bottom line is that it may take "three to five business days" to get my DSL service back because "the floodgates have already opened." (Insert primal scream here.) Floodgates have opened?!? I think the AT&T reps have been listening to too much coverage of the economy.

I may call the California Public Utilities Commission, I may have AT&T give me free dial-up until the DSL is up and running again, I may do all of the above and, then again, I may do none of the above.

I love this library.

10-04 UPDATE: Today the library is hosting a reception and exhibiting three architectural renderings to potentially update this facility. I haven't yet studied the plans, but I wonder if they'll be able to "modernize" (and come into code compliance), still keep intact the things I love about this place and maintain the integrity of original architect Boyd Georgi (not to be confused with Boy George). I'm told that's the goal.

I found out that the Saarinen mushroom tables have been sold by the Friends of the Library because they weren't wheelchair friendly. I was hoping that they were being rehabbed and would eventually return. But they are keeping the Saarinen chairs. Hurrah! I won't have to chain myself to any furniture or wage a Sarrinen sit-in.

In other news, AT&T still sucks.