Sunday, November 30, 2008

I once had a cat . . .

Or should I say, she once had me.

Norwegian Wood, one of my favorite Beatle's songs, has taken on a new meaning since I discovered that my recently adopted cat Puss is a Norwegian Forest breed.

A surprising number of cat lovers (and haters) had been asking, "What breed of cat is Puss?" "Um, she's grey?" I'd reply. Then I'd add, "And she has eyes the color of freshly squeezed lime juice."

No, I didn't have a clue as to her breed. And this seemed to bother people. By the reaction I got, you'd have thought I had forgotten my child's name.

So I went to Google image, entered a few key words and discovered that Puss is a Norwegian Forest cat. Her ancestors probably chased the mice away from the grain supplies on the Viking ships.

Several of the cats in the online photos I found were dead ringers for Puss. I wish I could post them, but they're stock photography, available for sale for at least $50. Either Puss has been doing a little modeling on the side (to support her catnip habit) or she has a feline doppelganger. (Click here to see the image.)

Puss the Norwegian Forest Cat gives the "evil eye" with her characteristic lime green eyes.

I just have to be very careful when I tell people that images of my Puss are on the web.

To avoid misunderstanding (and teasing by the other cats), I'm thinking of changing her name to Nanna, the goddess of the moon in Norse mythology. Then again, that opens her up to taunts of "Na-na, na-na Nanna." Maybe we'll just stick with Puss.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ojai Adventure

I've talked before about living my life in six-month increments between testing. The first six months, I lived my life with a near manic sense of urgency, but now I'm taking a more laid-back approach to life, including long lunches on garden patios.

Read about my Ojai adventure at Open Mouth, Insert Fork.

It's not about the bird.

That's what I learned last year when I ate my Thanksgiving dinner at Hotel Hope.

Frozen veggies, instant potatoes, pasty gravy and (OOOH) my shedding hair.
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

One year ago today: No appetite, inedible food, dangerously low white blood counts, red blood and platelet transfusions - a very memorable (and thanks-filled) Thanksgiving.

Today: Huge appetite, fabulous food, almost normal blood counts - much to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

SHHHH - We're not really here

Vibrant colors, a variety of textures and rich, briny flavors make salad Nicoise one of my favorites.

I've written more than once about how my cancer diagnosis and treatment have made me into a bit more of a risk taker. One of the fun ways that I can engage in a little harmless risk taking is with my trespassers picnics, where crossing the line is part of the fun.

Read all about my latest excursion and the beautiful salad Nicoise that I served at Open Mouth, Insert Fork.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Curious - Curing Cancer

One year ago, public television aired a documentary in its Curious series about finding a cure for cancer. I missed it then, but it's finally available on youtube. The show features the first human to test IT-101, a nano-particle designed to destroy cancer tumors without the harmful side effects of chemo.

If you have 30 minutes, you should watch this because:

- It's a great love story: Dr. Mark Davis, a chemical engineering professor at Cal Tech, started researching cancer treatments when his wife, Mary, was treated for breast cancer at the City of Hope more than a decade ago. "There's got to be a better way," she told him when she became violently ill from a chemo called "the red death." He rolled up the sleeves of his lab coat and, unbeknownst to anyone, started researching cancer at the City of Hope library. The research and development for IT-101 grew out of Davis's love for his wife.

- It's a great collaboration: Dr. Davis eventually shared his idea with Dr. Stephen Forman (my doctor) at the City of Hope. Forman went to Davis's office at Cal Tech and saw a rough white-board sketch of the nano-particle (which looks a lot like Sputnik). He sensed right away that the idea could work. City of Hope eventually became a partner with Davis's company and participated in the first clinical trial of IT-101.

- It's a great concept: The IT-101 nano-particle is about a zillion times bigger than the cells of a typical chemo drug. Chemo cells are so small that they seep through the blood vessels into the rest of the body, indiscriminately destroying other fast-growing cells. The nano-particles are like a big MAC truck traveling down the highway of blood - too big to slip through an "off ramp" but not too big to take a detour through the porous blood vessels that crop up around cancer tumors. They can make a direct hit on the cancer cells without harming the rest of the body.

- It's a great success story: Ray's doctors predicted he only had a few months to live after his pancreatic cancer metastasized to his lungs. With nothing to lose, he became the first human guinea pig for for the stage one clinical trial of IT-101 at the City of Hope. The documentary brings us up to six months after treatment, and Ray is still alive and fighting another year later. The trial is over and IT-101 is not yet FDA approved, but Ray is still receiving treatment through compassionate use.

The drug is now in stage two of clinical trials and Davis hopes that it will be approved by the FDA in three to seven years.

Watch it here. It makes me more proud and grateful than ever to be associated with Dr. Forman and the City of Hope.

Gratitude and Giving - The Last Bamboo Leaf

Triangles of sticky rice and red beans perfectly wrapped in bamboo leaves make me grateful.

I reluctantly unwrapped the last leaf from the sticky rice yesterday. I say reluctantly because they were so beautiful that I just wanted to gaze at their artistry. The bamboo leaves were pulled taut and smooth with a top knot as a finishing touch. Do you see that knot? How does someone go about pushing a bamboo thread through sticky rice? Unwrapping the little treasures was like undraping an obi from a geisha (or so I imagine).

These were a gift from a family in Arcadia. The grandmother prepared them for me to show her gratitude for the persimmons they picked from our yard. I'm grateful for the time, talent and . . . . . gratitude that went into creating them.

Every time I looked at them I was reminded of the circle of gratitude.

Not just beautiful - they tasted pretty darn good too.

This post also appearst at Open Mouth, Insert Fork.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Follow the Leader

I have been poring over Jonathan Gold's 99 Essential LA Restaurants list in this week's isue of LA Weekly.

I've rounded up the Eastside recommnded restaurants and added my own humble opinions. Check it out at Open Mouth, Insert Fork.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Open Mouth, Insert Chopsticks

Just as I predicted, I've been spending a lot of time over at Open Mouth, Insert Fork.

Even though my mother was born and raised in Tokyo and my grandfather was the chef/owner of four Tokyo restaurants, I didn't grow up with Japanese food. Of course, the ingredients are a little hard to come by in Catfish Hollow, West Virginia.

I'm making up for lost time at the monthly cooking class at the Pasadena Buddhist Church.

I hope you'll read about our latest creations, traditional Japanese vegetables and mochi soup.

(Note to Wendy, who I don't know how to contact any other way): I saw Mark the fire fighter/bone marrow donor at an event last night and got his email address. If you'd like it, email me at susancarrier AT

Friday, November 14, 2008

They Say It's My Birthday

It was one year ago today that I sat shivering in my bed at Hotel Hope as my frozen stem cells were infused into my body.

I'm told that stem cell transplantees - both auto and donor - get a new birthday on the day that they receive their life-giving stem cells. Since mine were infused over a two-day period, November 14 and 15, I'm not sure if I have two new birthdays or if I just look at it as a very long labor with the birth taking place on November 15.

Either way, it's certainly something to celebrate. Another year alive. Another year cancer-free. Another year older. And another excuse for cake.

(The cake in this photo from my August birthday is from Pastries by Nancy in Altadena. I just ordered a birthday cake from Takes the Cake in Pasadena, the same bakery that made my brother's wedding cake. At least now I won't be tempted to raid the ice box for the top tier of his wedding cake.)

UPDATE: I enjoyed a beautiful birthday weekend in Laguna Beach with two good friends. We sipped champagne while we watched the sun set at the Montage, walked the beautiful grounds, and then ate dinner and the "re-birthday" cake.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bringin' Home the Bacon, Drowning in Spinach

It's lovely to wake up and realize I have no thoughts related to illness, blood counts, eosinophils, cancer or sagging skin.

Readers can easily gage the state of my life by the ratio of posts from Cancer Banter and Open Mouth, Insert Fork. When I was at my sickest, I completely abandoned the food blog. I've had a balance for the last few weeks, but I'm predicting the food blog will start to dominate again.

After all, I'm feeling healthy, energetic and . . . hungry. Go to Open Mouth, Insert Fork to read the latest about salad bar bacon and giant bags of spinach.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


The Allens, our friends and quasi-cousins in West Virginia, have been stirring up apple butter in the same copper cauldron for 150 years. They recently produced 150 pints on a crisp Autumn day. And I helped.

If you'd like to read more about the 150-year apple butter tradition, visit Open Mouth, Insert Fork.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Too Busy to Blog?

There's at least one good thing about feeling lousy from a bad cold or the flu or eosinophilic pneumonia. When sickness fades and health returns, the contrast is so stark that you just want to kick up your heels.

I felt that euphoria today as I navigated around the City of Hope - from the parking lot to check-in to blood draw (13 vials today) to a two-hour "chemo brain" test to pulmonary testing to my appointment with Dr. Forman. It was all easy and effortless and pleasant, not a gut-wrenching triathalon.

Writer and cancer survivor Linda Stowell describes the debillitating effects of illness (chemo-induced in her case) in an AP article, "Running for my life: 1 woman's story" that ran in my local hometown paper a few days after I met "Running Woman."
"The fatigue was so intense, the sleep so deep that it was as though a chunk of my life was sucked away. I rose only to take a shower. One afternoon I tried to make tea and slept through the kettle's whistle. I awoke to the kettle burned dry to the stove and belching smoke. I had few conversations: that took too much energy. A trip to the grocery store was overwhelming."
I can especially relate to those last two lines. Is it any wonder that I'm in a state of euphoria now? Since returning from West Virginia, I've found that my energy levels and lung capacity have bumped up another notch (I passed today's pulmonary function test with flying colors), and I'm going full speed ahead from early morning until midnight.

After my return, I threw myself into the silent auction for the A3M's Starnight event on Sunday. It was all-consuming for a few days, but it felt great to be doing something productive for an organization I support. A lean organization with a vast outreach in the Asian community, A3M has recruited more than 150,000 potential bone marrow or stem cell donors. More than 250 of these have gone on to be life-saving donors.

Jackie, the new A3M staff member who is recruiting in the Latino community, and I set up jewelry (donated by Cookie Lee) on display stands (provided by Wasabi Jewelry) at the event.

This is why I volunteer: A 13-year-old Korean-American girl from Kentucky, meets her donor - a brawny Japanese-American LA fire fighter. They now have identical DNA.

The downside of volunteering for a primarily Asian organization: I tower over everyone. My friend Nancy (another reason I volunteer) and I pose with fire (and cancer) fighter Mark Tomita.

Three more reasons why I volunteer: Jerome, an African-American seeking a donor match; Krissy, a Hapa (half Asian, half Caucasian, like me) searching for her match; and Christine, a Phillipina-American who met her match.

One of my goals this year is to help A3M expand their outreach to the African-American community. After all, "advocate" is part of my three-word ID. And that's something that I can really kick up my heels about.