Monday, June 29, 2009

Samurai Night Fever

On Sunday, I came close to attending a kendo tournament in the South Bay. At the last minute, I found out I wasn't needed to help out at the A3M bone marrow drive, but the anticipation of dueling swords got me thinking about my own experience with a bamboo blade.

I'd almost forgotten that I was once a samurai in training. When I was in my early 20's and desperate to get in touch with my Japanese side, I took kendo lessons at a dojo in Monterey Park. Back then, an adult sword-fighting woman was a rarity.

Here are a few of my favorite kendo memories:

Tora! Tora! Tora! My sensei and classmates called me Tiger because my birth surname (I hate "maiden name") was Strother, pronounced Su-to-ra-da in Japanese. The middle part of the name, tora, means tiger.

The Kanji symbol in the center is for tiger.

There's something about a girl in uniform: Sometimes Kumie (my little-sister-like friend), her family and I would stop for food while wearing our kendo uniforms. It never failed: men would chat me up and then ask for my phone number. I felt like a Samurai seductress.

Lessons Learned: Fight through the pain and clean up after yourself: Once while I was practicing with an opponent, a sliver of glass became embedded in my bare foot. When I saw the trail of blood on the wooden floor, I asked the old-school Japanese sensei if I could stop. He nodded at my opponent and I knew I had no choice. I continued to wield my sword while smearing streaks of red on the floor. Of course, I was responsible for mopping up my own blood when the match was over.

If you go back and read old Cancer Banter posts, you'll find that I've never used the popular lexicon of battling or going to war with cancer or eosinophils. (I don't have a problem with other people using this language; it just never felt natural to me.) So why do I suddenly want to embrace my inner Samurai? To paraphrase Lance Armstrong, it's not about the sword.

According to this site that lists the top ten characteristics of a Samurai professional, the ultimate warrior maintains integrity, displays loyalty, is resolute, plans relentlessly, seeks advantage, continuously improves, flows with (not against), has personal discipline and self control, displays personal courage and acts industriously.

I especially like the idea of going with the flow:
Life is continuously in balance. Accept gracefully both victories and setbacks. Contending against instead of working with is a losing strategy. Go with flows. Yield what cannot be won. Adjust. Agility and flexibility are far stronger than direct opposition. Learn to change and progress endlessly.
So, which Samurai should I channel?

Toshiro Mifune as Yojimbo in The Seven Samurai?

Samurai John Belushi from Saturday Night Live?

Or Samurai Susan, who enjoys intimidating unsuspecting pooches.

Samurai can be so smug.

Moments later, I tripped, stained my gi, stubbed my toe and scraped my forearm. I think there just might be a lesson here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Risky Business

I've been engaging in risky behavior lately.

Don't get too excited.

For the last 20 weeks, I've been leaving my comfort zone and taking improv classes at Bobby Oliver's Standup Academy. How much riskier does it get?

How about getting up on a stage and performing at The Ice House in front of family, friends and strangers?

I'm glad I took the risk.

But I'm even gladder it's over.

I'll miss spending Saturday afternoons with this zany group.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Spa Day

Turn off the cell phone and the laptop.

Curl up with a favorite book.

Enjoy a complimentary room service lunch served in bed.

Indulge in a never-ending supply of warm blankets.

Shut out the world.

I have been looking forward to spending the day at the spa at the Montage in Laguna Beach ever since I toured the lavish resort in November.

I still haven't made it there, but I did get to experience the next best thing: I spent most of yesterday at Hotel Hope for my quarterly fix of Rituxan.

Hotel Hope doesn't have much of a view, but it does offer at least one thing that the Montage doesn't. After the nurse pushed Benadryl through my veins, I settled in for a deep, three-hour sleep.

Shut out the world indeed.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Chaos and Cocktails

I wrote before that I was brave enough to take an improv class and brave enough to perform but just not brave enough to do it in front of anyone who actually knows me.

But, what the heck. I'm feeling stronger and more willing to take risks.

I'm inviting you all to come to my improv class showcase on Tuesday, June 23, at 8 pm at The Ice House in Pasadena.

My performance may be hit or miss, but there are some seriously talented performers in my class. And I wrote a skit, being performed by two actors in class, that is actually pretty funny.

And, the way I figure it, having friends there may actually help me feel supported, not spooked.

(I just hope that my finger doesn't decide to do that "thing it does" while I'm on stage. Maybe I can improv around it.)

A Charmed Life

Have any of you reunited with old friends through Facebook or other social networking sites?

This has been happening to me a lot lately, and it can be a bit challenging to blaze the headlines of my life without sounding tragic: stage four cancer, health challenges, separation, pregnant (unmarried) daughter.

I try to follow the negative with a positive:
  • "I was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, but I'm now in remission."
  • "I've had some health challenges, but I've bounced back each time."
  • "G. and I separated a year ago, but we've remained friends."
  • "C. is pregnant and this was a shock, but I'm starting to get excited about the baby."
But, the truth is, in spite of these "headlines," I really do think I live a charmed life. My life is filled with a lot of wonderful people and passions and the time to pursue them.

Sometimes I forget this and need a reminder of just how lucky I am. I recently found it through Jeanne Sather (aka The Assertive Cancer Patient) and her Charmed Bracelets. She makes one-of-a-kind bracelets or necklaces using clients' charms or unique charms that she's found.

I first fell in love with the jade and silver Jeanne used in this bracelet. When I saw that one of the charms was a turtle, the Japanese symbol of long life and security, I was drawn in. When I read about Jeanne's connection with Japan, I was sold. This bracelet was made for me.

I love wearing something that is beautiful, personal, filled with symbolism and created by a strong, artistic, tell-it-like-it-is woman.

Do you need a reminder that you live a charmed life, in spite of challenges? Are you looking for a special gift for a special friend? Then check out Charmed Bracelets.

And if your life just really sucks right now, then all the more reason.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Not Complaining, Just Explaining

On my way to an appointment at the City of Hope last week, my right pointing finger started acting up. Or perhaps I should say "acting down." My hand cramped and the finger contorted down to a 270 degree angle. I massaged the muscle around the finger and stretched it back to its normal position, but it immediately flipped down. I'm just glad it wasn't my middle finger.

It happened at least a dozen times that day, including when my blood was being drawn. The phlebotomist said she'd never before seen anything like it.

My big toe also likes to take on a life of its own, levitating straight up into a 90 degree position.

It turns out that the cramping and contortionism are both side effects of the Prednisone.

On the same day, I noticed that my skin looked thin and was full of sores that wouldn't heal. My legs looked like the cats had mistaken them for a scratching post. And I had big purple splotches on my upper legs.

You guessed it: side effects of the 'roids.

I'm so glad to be tapering off the Prednisone. I'm now taking 20 mg a day instead of the original 60 mg. In about six weeks, I should be completely tapered off.

Goodbye eating everything I want, hello sleep.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Climb Over the Balcony

To find out what that title means, you're going to have to, er, "climb over the balcony" and go to Open Mouth, Insert Fork. You'll also get to read about the batch of Julienne's Graham Cracker Chewy bars that I baked for my doctor and staff at the City of Hope. They were a big hit.

While I was at yesterday's appointment, I found out an interesting tidbit from my doctor, who is not only the chair of the hematology department at CoH but also literally wrote the book on bone marrow transplantation.

I asked him what determines if the donor gives bone marrow (from the hip, 20% of cases) or stem cells (from peripheral blood, 80% of cases). The answer was simple. Children require bone marrow, not stem cells for a successful transplant. Interesting, huh.

Many potential donors confess that they're willing to donate stem cells through their blood, but aren't sure if they could undergo the minor surgical procedure of removing bone marrow through the hip. I hope the fact that the life-saving bone marrow would go to a child would make a difference in that person's decision.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Time for a Cheek Swab - Calling Mutts, Minorities AND Caucasians

The National Bone Marrow Registry desperately needs minorities (Latinos, Asians, African Americans and Native Americans) and mixes to sign up to be potential bone marrow donors.

But that doesn't mean you're off the hook if you happen to be Caucasian. We don't tell potential donors this at drives, but the National Bone Marrow Registry reimburses A3M for the tissue typing for minorities and mixes, but A3M must pick up the $52 tab for registering Caucasian donors. The same $52 charge applies for anyone who registers online.

That's why Caucasians (and everyone) needs to act quickly. Sign up online HERE between June 8-22 and use the promocode a3mmarrowthon and the tissue typing cost of $52 will be waived.

If you live in Southern California, you can also sign up at one of the many donor drives sponsored by A3m. Go to for a complete list of drives.

If you are lucky enough to be someone's match, let me also remind you that the stem cells are harvested from the blood in more than 80% of the cases. That annoying little surgical procedure of taking the bone marrow from the hip is becoming a rarity.

So, what's YOUR excuse?

Mutts for Marrow - What a Pack!

The Mutts for Marrow raised almost $4,000 for the American Cancer Society and, with the help of A3M, signed up 45 Mutts and Minorites for the National Bone Marrow Registry and walked more than 50 miles.

King and Queen of the Mutts, Bill and Susan

Even Queen Mutts get to hang out with the pack.

Rob, aka Queen Elizabeth, represented the Mutts in a relay event.