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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Blue Infusion Chair Blues

Got my sixth chemo treatment today while I was in the blue chair in the  treatment room all hooked up to pumps and tubes. I'm now  hooked up to the portable pump  with the 5-FU until Friday.  White blood cell count was up just enough to go ahead with treatment after the three Neupogen shots last week but was still pretty low, so  I'm scheduled to get four shots next week.  Yuck!

Our daughter is coming in from Australia for a two week visit on Monday. I was able to plead with the scheduling nurses and get all the shots scheduled for first thing in the morning so  we don't have   the four days  broken up by mid-day runs to the clinic. Yay!!

Not feeling all that great tonight, having a little nausea for the first time, along with the fatigue and general  feeling of malaise.  Hopefully tomorrow will be better and I can go back to feeding hummingbirds, playing with the dogs and enjoying  Fred and Flo, the  pink plastic flamingos with panache. I may change Fred's name to Floyd, what do you think?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Pink Plastic Panache

We have flamingos in the front yard!  Gaudy, colorful, bright pink plastic flamingos. Maybe not a flamboyance of  flamingos,  since there are only  two, but I’m thinking of adding more.  I read of a  Christmas display that featured  eight  pink flamingos pulling Santa’s sleigh. I rather like that idea. Mr. G  went along with  these two, but didn't seem too thrilled about my idea for adding  to the flock.  I thought I heard him mumble something under his breath about my becoming an eccentric old biddy or words to that effect.  Honestly, the man has no sense of adventure!

 I know there are those who think pink plastic flamingos break the rules of decorum and good taste in garden decor, but  some rules just cry out to be broken. By having only two   pink plastic flamingos guarding two potted palms, I have also broken another rule, one of the cardinal rules of  good garden design- the rule of odd numbers. According to the garden guides,  one should plant things in groups of three, five, seven, etc. rather than in groups of two or four or six and so on because odd numbered groupings give a more naturalistic appearance. But let’s face it, there really isn’t a way to make   a gaudy pink plastic bird on wire legs look naturalistic in an Alabama garden, or any garden for that matter.  Since I am rather fond of symmetry, there are only two- one on each  side at the top of the front steps leading  from the parking area to the  front landing. The flamingos have a certain panache, pink plastic panache, if you will.  You can see only one in this photo,  this is Flo Flamingo. There is an identical display on the other side of the steps, with Fred flamingo guarding the potted palm. I’m not sure you can have identical displays with a male flamingo in one and a female flamingo in the other , but  in a whimsical world anything is possible.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Yoga, Doga, Do

Monday  night is yoga night, and I really look forward to our weekly class.  Many, if not most, of the class  participants have had or are having some sort of medical or health issue.  Some  have had   joint replacement or other surgery, several are  cancer survivors who have had or, in my case, are currently having, chemotherapy, and quite a few of us are in our golden years or beyond.   It's doubtful that any of us will be doing headstands,  complex lotus poses  or one-legged cranes, but Jilda, our wonderful instructor, encourages us to do what we can. And in fact, we do  very well with lunges  and planks and as  mountains, chairs, warriors and trees,  although I  will admit that my tree  tends to sway in the wind quite a bit, and since I do chair yoga,  have steered clear of planks. I do  enjoy the class and feel both energized and calm afterwards.

Agatha and Victoria are always overexcited when we get home, particularly when we come in, as we did tonight, with  aromatic food from the neighborhood Mexican Grill.  Agatha was  leaping about begging for  some of my spinach cheese enchilada while  Victoria was more low key, sitting under the table and whining as though she hadn't been fed in ages, when in fact, she had eaten  shortly before we left for class and could, given her current pudginess, stand to miss a meal or two.

Tonight, I decided to  try a new technique on Agatha.  I told her, in my calmest, most soothing yoga voice to  "just breathe  and let your muscles soften and relax.  Let go of your tension and  with each breath feel yourself becoming calmer." Wonder of wonder, she was so  surprised that  she sat down, perked up her ears, cocked her head and looked at me as though I'd lost my marbles. But she was no longer    begging noisily for food. I told Mr. G that maybe we were onto something and should start    a yoga class for dogs. Then I discovered that this isn't a new idea at all- there actually is such a thing as dog yoga- or doga!   There are books about doga and doga calendars like these that I found on
Agatha and Victoria won't be going to yoga class with me, but who knows, one day  there may be a doga class offered at the community center and if there is,  I just might sign them up! 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Confessions of an Unrepentant, Semi-reformed Pack Rat

Remember the messy desk pic from a  few of days ago? In case you don't remember, here it is again:
 Well, today I decided to tackle it.  It was almost like going on an archaeological dig, carefully peeling away  layers of time to reveal the past. There were grocery store coupons that had expired six years ago; store receipts from who knows when because the print had faded so badly; old clippings from newspapers and magazines and more.  Most of the clippings were a puzzlement. I have no idea why  I clipped them. At any rate, I filled a  trash can with stuff.  I am sure that once it has all made its way to the dump I'll remember  why  I was saving some of those receipts and clippings and want them back, but. . .
I finished cleaning up the desk by late afternoon.  Here it is in all its clean, boring, uncluttered glory. It will look like this maybe for a day or two, then it will, in all probability, revert back to its normal disorderly state.
My next challenge was the table - I forgot to take a "before" pic, but trust me- it was piled high.  Plus it  has some trays  holding files.  My first  thought after going through some of  the files, folders and piles of things on the table is that at  some point I must have adopted the belief that if I dared ever to throw anything away, no matter how insignificant, a great monster would swoop down from the sky, transport me to the county dump and force me to  rummage through   trash for eternity.

My second thought is that I am a pack rat, or a hoarder in training.  But my third thought is  that being a pack rat has an upside. I mean, had I not saved  the program, how would I know that at 8:30 PM on Thursday evening, September 30, 1965, I had attended  the  ballets, "Coppelia" and "Carmen"  performed at the Philadelphia Academy of Music by the Royal Danish Ballet? That  actually brought back  memories of standing in a long line   outside the Academy on my lunch break.  and  being late getting back to work. I attended the ballet alone and can remember how entranced I was by the music, the costumes and the beauty and sensuality of the dancers, particularly of Erik Bruhn  and Kirsten Simone as Don Jose and Carmen. I don't think I'll throw away the program just yet.

The table is almost  cleaned off now, and a lot of papers have been either filed in a cabinet or tossed in the trash. There are still plenty of  areas that need to be sorted out and straightened- including the wall hung file sorter which has become another catch-all, as you can see.

I may get   everything in apple pie order, sooner or later or I may not. Maybe someone  will  buy me  the book, The Secret Handbook for Perpetually Paralyzed Procrastinating Pack Rats Anonymous by Patricia NudelmanThen  I could spend my time reading  about how to get   organized without actually getting organized. I'm not going to spend a lot of time worrying about  messy desks or untidy  rooms.  There are birds, squirrels and chipmunks to watch as they  go about their business in the  yard, dogs to play with, people to talk to, points to ponder, Memory Lanes to travel down, and any number of other interesting things to do instead, so I 'll hold off on  sending  my membership dues to Pack Rats  Anonymous for a while and hope we can continue to survive and thrive in a state of semi-chaos.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

To Market, To Market

We went to  market this morning but didn't buy a fat pig- didn't even see one, but we did see a lot of  lovely fresh veggies, fruit, eggs, herbs, breads, jams, jellies, pickles and preserves.  And dogs-  there were quite a few families who   had brought their  dogs to the market.  Small dogs, medium size dogs,  and one enormous dog that was about the size of a  small pony. The dogs were all well behaved, although it was  obvious that several of them would  rather have been off sniffing the other dogs rather than being led around on a leash.

Since I've been on chemo and trying to stay away from crowds because of my  now compromised immune system,  I have really missed our Saturday morning trips to  buy fresh veggies, eggs, herbs, etc. at Pepper Place Market in Birmingham. Once upon a time, when I was making and selling soap we had a booth there, and while I don't miss  getting up   in the wee hours of every Saturday morning to drive to  the market before dawn, set up, then stand out in the heat of summer or the chilly mornings of early spring and fall, or the rains, I do miss  the people and the atmosphere.

We decided if we could get there early, maybe  we could avoid the crowds.  There  were certainly more people who got there early than I had anticipated, but  it wasn't so crowded  that we were rubbing elbows with people, so it worked out pretty well.  We    enjoyed   wandering, visiting with some of the folks we knew from our market days,  and picking out some lovely fresh veggies.   Here are some of the sights from this morning's market.  Click on the pics to enlarge them.

The first booth we visited was  the Red Rubin Nursery booth   for some  herbs.  Bryan was in the booth next to us when we sold  soap at the market and I still  like to get  my herb plants from him. Today we bought some Italian parsley and  two pots of basil. Next we just wandered the market, enjoying  all the wonderful colors of the  fruits and veggies, stopping   to  touch smell, and buy  some, too.

There were purple pole beans and fuzzy peaches.

There was red and green okra in one booth and colorful grasses and flowers in another.

There were muscadines and scuppernongs, tomatoes, more peaches,  some pears and   green pole beans

There were  farm fresh eggs  in many hues,  jams, jellies and preserves, and and some lovely slender little haricots vert.

There were shiitake mushrooms growing on logs and resting in baskets.

On our way back to the car we  walked through the lush area outside Charlie Thigpen's Garden Gallery, enjoying the  lush, colorful plants   displayed.

We're  now looking forward to enjoying some delicious meals with the veggies and herbs we bought.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Islands of Order, Seas of Chaos, Messy Desks

 Most people who know me casually think I'm a well-organized person.   If they only knew!  In all honesty, I am organized in some areas.  My herbs and spices are arranged in alphabetical order. Every   cent I spend, owe or receive is entered into a  personal money management software program. The clothes in my closet are grouped  by color. The towels in the linen closet are arranged in neat stacks according to  their size and color. The books  on the bookshelves are arranged by category (more or less). The problem is,  these areas are  little islands of order in a sea of chaos. Open a cabinet  door in the kitchen and with the exception of the neat little  boxes containing the  herbs and spices, you are liable to be buried in an avalanche of various  bags and boxes of  foodstuffs that have been stuffed in wherever they would fit. Laundry  baskets full of  clothes that need to be ironed or folded  are permanent fixtures. And we don't even want to go  into the    files of documents and  photographs  on  the computer containing  heaven only knows what.  I keep intending to tackle some of these problem areas, but am overwhelmed  by the enormity of the task and give up without accomplishing much.

Which brings us to my messy desk.  Or rather Einstein's desk, as shown in this photograph taken  by Life Magazine photographer Ralph Morse the day Einstein died. The photo and several more previously unpublished photos are featured in this Time article. Einstein is  quoted as  asking, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

Einstein wasn't the only one with a messy desk; as it turns out, a lot of creative people also   kept or keep   messy desks.  In fact,  several researchers at the  University of Minnesota, in  an abstract entitled Physical Order Produces Healthy Choices, Generosity, and Conventionality, Whereas Disorder Produces Creativity,  determined that “order and disorder are prevalent in both nature and culture, which suggests that each environment confers advantages for different outcomes.”

So I will leave you with a picture of my desk. I will no longer worry about it, because with this level or disorder, I must be one of the most creative people in existence! And believe it or not I know exactly where and what is buried in that chaos.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Sense of Accomplishment

Today has been one of those days that began with high hopes of getting  several things on my to-do list done.  I  got two of them done, and it exhausted me. I managed to get three loads of laundry  washed and dried and one load folded and put away.  The other two loads   still sit in the baskets reproaching me.

 The job that  took the most time was   our poor little water feature.  The water feature consists of a  big plastic  flower pot  with a fountain pump that sits atop an inverted clay pot. There are a couple of large rocks and a fake frog to anchor the fountain pump. Here's a pic of it  taken in May when it was all clean and spiffy.

Before I got my port and began chemotherapy in late  May I   kept it cleaned out regularly- or at least I cleaned it when it wasn't serving as a frog nursery.  However, thanks to the fatigue that  hits me frequently and the   miserable heat and humidity we've been having  the garden and everything on the deck  have suffered  neglect.  The water feature has been getting nastier and nastier as algae and  who knows what   have formed a thick, slimy black coating on the  container, the  fountain parts, the rocks.  Today I decided it was time to declare war on the yucky black stuff. Mr. G had a meeting, so  I got him to  dump all the water out and   unhook the pump before he left.  I  put on my   long rubber  gloves and began to blast away at  the  container with a jet from the garden hose. Nothing.  I  didn't want to use any  chemicals  to kill the algae because of the frogs visiting it regularly, so  I  began to scrub with  the scrubby side of a sponge. Nothing. Finally I  went in search of a brush of some sort.  The best I could come up with was a little nail brush.  By golly it worked, but it was taking absolutely forever and I kept running out of steam in the heat, so would take frequent breaks, then move  everything  to a shady spot and  continue working. This has become my primary mode of operating lately- work a while, rest a while, repeat.  It takes longer to get anything done, but it does get done, eventually.  I finally got  the container and the rocks scrubbed clean and picked up the pump to remove the fountain.  I was immediately covered in ants! While I had been scrubbing away the ants had been moving into the filter on the pump. There must have been lebenty kazillion of  those nasty little things. I was finally able to  get the pump taken apart, get rid of the ants, clean up the fountain parts and  refill the  water feature just before the rains moved in  this evening. The fountain is  now happily gurgling away on the deck, looking once more   clean and spiffy.  I feel a sense of accomplishment.
The fountain creates so much foam it looks as though the froggie is  having a bubble bath.  Notice the Terro ant bait thingy  at the side of the water feature. 

I wish  I felt the same sense of accomplishment   about the dinner I cooked tonight.  In an effort at variety I decided to try a recipe from an old cookbook for pineapple  burgers with a spicy sauce, served with  buttered noodles and  frenched green beans. Mr. G. was not impressed.  I told him it was a recipe from the  1960s.  He said it should have stayed back in the  sixties. Oh, well, you can't win them all. I have discovered a  great way to  french cut green beans, though- in the food processor! Works like a charm.  You can see how it works on the Clever Carrot Blog.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Queen of the Night

Last night we were treated to a special show.  Five buds on the night blooming cereus, also  known as Queen of the Night, opened.  For the first few years that it bloomed there were usually only one or two blooms  opening at a time, but as it has matured we have been treated to a profusion of blooms all at once.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this plant, it’s a member of the cactus family, and although it is often called a night blooming cereus, it is not in the Cereus genus but is actually an epiphyte, Epiphyllum oxypetalum.  While  Cereus are tall cacti that grow in the ground, Epiphyllum are flat stemmed, somewhat sprawling epiphytes that live in trees. It is, for most of its life, a rather plain and somewhat ugly plant. But when you notice a tiny bud forming on one of its flat  branches,  you know the ugly duckling is about to become a beautiful swan and  you’re in for  quite  a show. Here’s a tiny bud  forming.
When the buds are fully formed  and ready to bloom, they begin to turn upward on their stems. Once the sun goes down and dusk descends, the show begins and lasts well into the night. The pink sepals  begin to raise up  like fingers,  bending back as the creamy white petals unfurl, revealing the  flower’s delicate anthers and stigma.  As the sepals and petals  unfurl,  the flower emits a wonderful heady fragrance. As the sun comes up, the  blooms close, and by morning, the once beautiful flowers hang,  spent and exhausted, on limp peduncles. Here are some pics I’ve taken of the sequence of events, both from  last night’s performance and some earlier ones. The last pic is  of the little frog who was perched on the garden hose  last night providing background music for the show.    

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Odd Shoes and Serenades

Today I went  in for  shot number two of three in this week’s Neupogen series.  Tomorrow is the third shot, then six days with no shots, no treatments, before going in for the sixth chemo session next Wednesday. I have come to look forward to those days when we don’t have to plan our activities around trips to the doctor’s office or infusion center or adjust to the limitations of wearing a portable  infusion pump.

We were almost late for the appointment today, thanks to a poor little hummingbird who couldn’t seem to   figure out how to get out from under the gazebo cover.  For about half an hour he or she fluttered about in a frenzy,  its little wings beating like mad as it kept opening and closing its beak. It would fly all around close to the roof of the gazebo, hitting the cloth top but never swooping low enough to  go through  one of the side openings in the  netting.  We tried to gently coax him to fly lower   with mops and brooms, to no avail, and there were no other hummers around to  help guide him out.  I was afraid he would exhaust himself, drop down to the floor and be pounced upon by  one of the neighborhood cats. We finally decided another hummingbird was bound to show up sooner or later, so we hurriedly gathered up what we needed and headed for the car.  The traffic, which was unusually heavy for the time of day, was slowed down even more by a  heavy rain that had begun to fall. 

We arrived just a minute before my appointment time instead of the fifteen minutes early  that the clinic  prefers. After signing in, I sat down  waiting to be called, looked  down at my feet and realized I was wearing one brown sandal and one black clog and that my socks were on inside out. This is my  usual footwear at home, but I  change before going out in public.  Or at least, I do most of the time. I have a sore  big toe on my  right foot; wearing socks inside out keeps the  seam from hitting the sore spot.  The sandal  keeps pressure off the toe.  But when I wear  both sandals, they throw my bum hip out of kilter.  The  Slogger  clogs  are just the right height  to  keep the hip  aligned so that it doesn’t hurt and   those are the shoes I normally wear when   my toe isn’t sore and swollen. Before leaving the house I  usually make sure that I’m wearing socks that don’t show whether they’re inside out or not, and I swap the sandal for the other  Slogger shoe.  The hummingbird adventure   made me forget- or perhaps it was chemo brain striking again! Maybe I  can start a new fashion trend where  comfort  trumps  style.

When we arrived home, we were happy to see that the hummingbird had found its way out and that  other hummingbirds were buzzing around the gazebo waiting their turn at the feeder.  It’s dark now,  the rain  has stopped, although we  occasionally hear thunder off in the distance. The hummingbirds have gone to roost and the frogs have moved onto the deck near the water garden, filling the air with sounds of their romantic serenades. I wonder if we’ll see  more frog spawn in the  water garden tomorrow.
Spawn from  one of  Froggie's  earlier romantic evenings.
One of our serenading frogs

Monday, August 17, 2015

Gluttons in the Garden

In between showers this morning (Yes, we have been getting some wonderful, cooling rain!) I stepped out on the deck to refill the hummingbird feeder.  The first thing I saw was a pile of  green pellets  littering the deck.
 If you grow tomatoes you are probably familiar with the sight, but for those of you who aren’t’ familiar, those pellets are frass, or the excrement of the tomato or tobacco hornworm.  This particular frass belongs to a  tobacco hornworm,  the same one, or the relative of  the one, that dashed my hopes of a decent tomato crop this year.

 I planted the  heirloom Opalka tomato seeds in  the Earthboxes on the deck with such high hopes, and  in June they definitely showed promise, as you can see here.
 Then, one morning I  looked out horrified.  My once bountiful, leafy, fruit laden  tomato plants  had been defoliated!  The scientific name for this particular hornworm is Manduca sexta. Manduca comes from the Latin word for glutton, a very apt description for this voracious eater!  There, at the base of the plants were the telltale pellets.  Hornworms are notoriously hard to  see because they are masters of disguise and manage to blend right in with the leaves and stalks of the tomato plant, but there they were-  chomping away. They have, over the last few years, become the bane of my tomato-growing existence. I pick them off and  dispatch them- I’ll spare you the gory details, but I don’t want to come back as a hornworm for I have done some despicable things to hornworms, maybe even worse than the crimes I have committed against ants.  Here  are some pics of the nasty little green devils at work. 

The damage  was almost complete by early August.  We managed to harvest a few tomatoes, but not many. Defeated once more, I left the plants there on the deck  for the remaining hornworms to finish off.  And finish them off they have- as evidenced by the  last remaining tomato in the last frame, and the fact that the pellets are much larger than they were  earlier in the summer. But I cannot find the hornworms this time. I have a feeling that they may be in the soil pupating. That  process is magical, and  a year or so ago we were able to witness the metamorphosis of a hornworm  into a  sphinx moth when I  inadvertently   dug up a pupa  while replanting the Earthboxes.  Here are some pics of what happened.The first pic is a close-up of the hornworm in  the larval stage.  See the horn on its  tail end? 

 This is the pupa  I dug up. I put it in a shallow  dish of  soil to finish the metamorphosis and hoped that it wouldn't dry out and die before making the transition.
Finally, we saw that the pupa case was beginning to split
Finally a moth struggled out,  shook off its wings and flew away to lay eggs and begin the cycle all over again.
The  hornworms that ate this year's tomato crop are probably the great grandchildren of  this one. And so it goes. . .
If you'd like to see  some much better pics and learn more about hornworms, here's a  really  nice and informative site from the University of Florida: Hornworms

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Crazier in Alabama

I  had writer’s block yesterday.   I also had blocked sinus cavities and a sinus headache all day so maybe the two are related, although the thought of a muse being imprisoned and unable to escape from a sinus cavity is a little unsettling.Thankfully, there are a  lot of very talented bloggers who didn't have writers block, so I’ll share a post from one of them.  

 We have some strange happenings here in Alabama. Many of them, like this one, are so bizarre  they make it into the national press. We do  bizarre, strange,  amusing  and disturbing really well down here.  This is  just the latest happening in the life of Mayor Larry Barton,  mayor of Talladega, Alabama, a town  fifty miles  east of Birmingham with a population of about 16,000. The mayor is up for reelection this year and blames his most recent  troubles on politics, but you can make your own mind up on that.

Back in 1995, Barton was serving his third term as mayor when he was convicted on federal charges of money laundering and defrauding the city of Talladega.  He served  three years in prison, then ran for mayor  again in 1999 and 2003.  Barton  lost the runoff elections both times.  Undeterred,  he ran again, and was returned to office in 2011 after winning a runoff  with   fifty-three percent of the vote.

His fraud and money laundering activities pale, though, in comparison with his latest escapade involving a   beating, a baseball bat, a bicycle and some reportedly seamy sex tapes that purportedly  show the participants, both of whom are  well past  sixty, getting it on in the  back room of a liquor store. But I’ll direct you to Marianne Arensmeyer’s blog.  She tells it much better than I can:
Sex and Politics, Southern Style

Friday, August 14, 2015

Pondering Pumps, Pigs and Peppermint

The day my pump gets unhooked has become a mostly wasted day. Today was no exception.  I got a few calls made and a few chores done this morning, but after Mr. G unhooked me, flushed the lines and injected the Heparin that prevents clotting  I pretty much zonked out for the rest of the day. I don’t know what causes the fatigue when I come off the pump, but it hits me every time. It’s not all lost time, though because on the days I’m too tired to do much else I can always read and learn new things.  And play on the Internet.

 The 46 hours on the 5 FU aren’t too bad, except for the nasty facial flushing that makes me look and feel like my face is on fire. The rest of me can have chill bumps, but my face feels like I’ve had my head in a furnace, so I spend a lot of time peeping out from behind a cool washcloth. The other side effect that is most bothersome for those 46 hours are the jaw spasms that are most likely caused by the Oxaliplatin rather than the 5 FU.  Whenever I try to eat or drink after getting a treatment, my jaw locks up.  It lasts only for the first few bites, and finally goes away so I can eat normally, but it’s a really strange sensation, especially the very first time it happens. Fortunately,  I was given info sheets before  my first treatment that listed all the  possible side effects from the various drugs and  advised which  side effect were not normal and should be reported immediately. So far, I’ve been lucky in avoiding most of the side effects and those I have gotten are more annoyances than anything else.  A lot of chemo patients are not so fortunate and suffer really debilitating effects; some are unable to continue treatment because of them.  So as I said, I’ve been very fortunate, and the oncology nurses have been very  helpful in giving out tips on how to deal with some of the problems chemo patients encounter. 

One of the best tips so far has been to suck on a peppermint candy while I’m getting the heparin flush. Whenever  that heparin injection began to go in, I could smell it and taste it and it was most unpleasant. When I found out that heparin is an animal derived product, made from mucosal tissues of porcine (pig) intestines or  bovine (cattle) lungs, it set my mind going off in all directions. But anyway, as long as I don’t get so full of the stuff that I begin to oink or moo and get a wild desire to wallow in mud, I guess all is well. And the peppermint really does help mask the smell and the taste, thank goodness.

 One thing I did wonder about when I discovered that the heparin came from pigs and cattle was whether that presented a problem for people whose religions had restrictions on the use of certain animals. I discovered that this issue has been studied extensively. The results of one study, conducted by researchers at the Herlev Hospital, University of Copenhagen were published in the journal, BMC Medical Ethics 2013, 14:48.  The researchers contacted religious and spiritual leaders of the six largest religions worldwide (18 branches) and sent them a questionnaire regarding their position on the use of human and animal derived products in medical and surgical treatments. They received ten responses representing the six largest religions worldwide. The researchers reported “that among the largest (by number of adherents worldwide) religious branches, several of them had restrictions regarding the use of animal derived medical products. Hindus and Sikhs did not accept the use of bovine or porcine containing products, and Muslims did not accept the use of porcine drugs, dressings or implants. Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews and Buddhists accepted the use of all animal or human derived drugs, dressings and implants. Interestingly, all religions accepted the use of animal derived products if there were no alternatives or if they were used in an emergency situation.” 

So now we know.  This whole chemo experience has been a learning opportunity so far, and that’s a good thing I think.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Rant About ANTS!!!

My day began at 5AM when Patches, the hungry cat got right in my face on the bed to let me know she wanted her breakfast. No amount of talking to her would convince her to wait, so dragging my pump and tubing with me, I trundled off to the kitchen, fed her, made sure she was eating, then stumbled back down the hall and back to bed. But try as I might, I could not go back to sleep.

 When Mr. G got up later I could hear him up in the kitchen cussing and carrying on. Evidently the cat had left some food in her dish and an entire army of ants had attacked it and were swarming all over the floor and in the dish. There was a long line marching in under the back door, across the baseboards and along the wall all the way across the kitchen to the cat's dish. It was horrible! I swear we could hear them beating their tiny drums and making little swishing noises as they  brandished their miniature swords while marching resolutely forward. We sprang into action, attacking them with the peppermint oil solution I had mixed up earlier. Usually, you can spray peppermint oil to deter ants and interfere with the pheromone trail they use to signal each other. But I've discovered that it also seems to kill them on contact it you spray the ants directly. So that's what we did.  We sprayed it all over the ants and the trail and set more Terro traps outside the door.I prefer to  use  Terro and have them carry the bait back to the nest  to kill the ants we can't see, but seeing the huge number we saw this morning called for immediate action and the use of deadly force.

We have had a terrible time with ant invasions this year, worse than any year I can remember. They've crawled in all the kitchen windows and under the doors. Every time we think we've seen the last of them, and go without a sighting for a few days another battalion turns up in full battle gear a few days later.

But I think we have the problem under control on the  window ledge above the kitchen sink, at least. I have positioned an entire jagu of minions  on the window ledge, plus a green koala bear to give them moral support and tell them Aussie jokes.  They have been charged with sounding the alarm at the first sign of an ant so that a new dose of Terro can be administered. Here is a pic of  home guard.  Mr. G purchased  the minions as a joke some time back when I said that I needed minions to do my bidding.

On a more pleasant note- as I was assembling the minions, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a hummingbird flitting all over the fuchsia basket. Much nicer to look at than the dead ants that littered the floor behind me. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I hope I don't come back as an ant, because I have done terrible things to ants. And I have felt no remorse.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Treatment Number 5 is History! Well, Almost History. . .

Chemo treatment number five is done- well, except for the next day and a half on the portable 5-fu pump. When that gets unhooked on Friday,  five will be history.   Three more to go, then a scan to see how well the chemo has worked and what the next step will be.

One of the other patients in the infusion room today was getting his last treatment in a series of twelve - - he’s been going to the infusion room  for chemotherapy since February and has endeared himself to the doctor, the nurses and the other patients.  He is always so upbeat, with a smile and greeting for everyone. He was there for my first treatment and today I was there for his last. We had one other treatment day together. On that day we had chairs next to each other so I got to know him a little better. Like me, he is a stage 4 colon cancer patient, and like me he has managed to escape the worst side effects of treatment.  He is more than happy to tell everyone that he didn’t even lose his hair while doffing his cap to show us his  still healthy gray curls! We  were all  happy to see him come to the end of this particular leg on his cancer journey, but  we will definitely miss his smile and his good humor and the hope he dispenses liberally.

A stage four diagnosis can be devastating because at that point, once the cancer has metastasized treatment is geared  more to managing the cancer as a chronic condition rather than an attempt to “cure” it. But with modern treatments, there’s a really good chance that the cancer can be subdued and held at bay for months or even years. While many people think of a diagnosis of stage four cancer as a death sentence, this is no longer necessarily true. There are many stage  four survivors who continue to lead active, meaningful lives for many years. I hope  my friend  is one of them.  And that I am, too.
In the meantime,  Tim McGraw's “Live Like you were Dying” gives some pretty  good advice for all of us, with or without a cancer diagnosis. We may not all be able to or even want to go rocky mountain climbing, nor ride a bull named Fumanchu, but we can love deeper, speak sweeter, watch the eagles fly and live each day to the fullest. Carpe Diem!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Costs, Chemo and Beelzebub

Tomorrow I go for my fifth chemo treatment.  I had hoped this would be the next to last treatment, but evidently I misheard when Dr. Vance told me how many sessions were planned- I heard six, she said eight, so we still have four to go. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the three Neupogen  shots  last week  did their job of stimulating my bone marrow to produce more white cells, I really don’t want another delay.

Today I have been trying to make sense of the billings for all this treatment. Thank goodness I’m on Medicare and  have a supplemental  policy because  we would be bankrupt otherwise, I’m sure. There have been several  news reports and TV segments about the high cost of cancer treatment, but until you actually begin to see the bills, you have no idea!  At least, I didn’t.  And once I did see the bills  I could see how very little sense the whole medical billing process makes.

Take, for instance, my visit to the clinic and infusion center two weeks ago.  I had the usual bloodwork, a visit with the doctor, and then the chemo treatment in the infusion center.  The amount billed to Medicare/the insurance company by the medical providers was $15,130.00.  Of that amount the insurance allowed amount was $3562.95, and the amount paid by Medicare/ the insurance company was $2849.71.  My copay share is $655.09. Fortunately, because our income makes us eligible for some assistance a foundation pays a portion of that copay, greatly reducing our out-of-pocket expenses. The Neupogen shots are billed at $1243.00 each, but only  $498 of that is allowed by the insurance company, they pay $395 and my copay amount is  $95.00, so at three shots every other week,  it is really going to add up and I’m unsure whether the foundation covers a portion of the Neupogen copays.

 What is interesting is the huge discrepancy between the amounts billed and the amounts allowed and paid by insurance. The providers have agreed to the amounts paid, so there will be no additional billing to us to make up the difference. I wonder if those without insurance are also billed at the high amount and are not entitled to the discounts, or whether they can negotiate a lower cost closer to  that amount the insurance companies allow. It boggles my mind that a provider   can bill   over $11,000.00 more than   the allowed amount and then simply write off or absorb the difference or bill that amount to someone without insurance. It’s a very crazy system.  When families are dealing with the stress of a cancer diagnosis and the side effects of the treatment, the last thing they need to worry about is how and if they are going to be able to afford treatment without going bankrupt.  In fact a 2013 study reported by CNN found that “Bankruptcies resulting from unpaid medical bills will affect nearly 2 million people this year—making health care the No. 1 cause of such filings, and outpacing bankruptcies due to credit-card bills or unpaid mortgages, according to new data. And even having health insurance doesn't buffer consumers against financial hardship.” 

 I really intended to be a little more upbeat in my post tonight, but with all the political rhetoric floating around about cutting "entitlements" and social services,  with politicians  using Medicare and Medicaid as political footballs and the legislature of my own state, Alabama,  attempting to  gut Medicaid in order to  make up for massive  deficits brought about in part by their own refusal to deal with or change a ridiculously regressive and inefficient tax structure, my  upbeat and humor buttons are stuck tight and won’t work. Maybe  the oncology nurses will give me an infusion of humor along with  the Bevacizumab and Oxaliplatin tomorrow.   Although, now that I think about it,  the name Bevacizumab  always puts me in mind of Beelzebub and it’s unlikely anything  humorous can come from something with a name like that.  But hope springs, so wish me luck tomorrow. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Silver Clouds, Black Skies, Stormy Monday

It's a stormy Monday evening. We’re having a regular sound and light show now so I had better make this a short blog post and switch the computer off before the storm does it for me! As we were driving to my yoga class in Sumiton tonight Mr. G and I commented on how beautiful the sky was, and how the clouds gave the appearance of a mystical landscape with mountains and shorelines. The sun hiding behind the clouds gave them a diaphanous silvery sheen, while the edges shone with a luminous golden glow. It was almost dreamlike in its loveliness. That all changed while I was in yoga class, though. As we were doing our final relaxation meditation we could hear the ominous deep rumblings of thunder getting louder and louder signaling that a storm was moving in.  By the time the class was over, the rain had begun to fall. As we drove towards the highway we could see that the sky just ahead of us was gray and rain laden but as we looked to the west we saw that the sky was an angry pitch black and the darkness was moving rapidly towards us. As we got a few miles down the road we managed to get in front of the storm clouds and outrun them, but we could see  bright flashes that lit the sky as the storm behind us threw spears of lightning to land in front of us.

We got home and into the house just in time to let the dogs out and get them back in before the rain came pouring down. Here's hoping the rain cools things down a bit and doesn't just create steam as it has been doing lately.  We desperately need a break from this unrelenting heat.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Lost Muses and Reincarnated Roosters

I often feel that when I lost Sam I lost my muse. He spend his early chickhood as a timid little chick who would hop on my boots for a ride around the back yard.

He grew into a most handsome fellow who took very seriously his job as guardian of the flock.
 He was the inspiration for most of my humorous tales about life with an ornery rooster. I miss him in more ways than one and we miss the lovely eggs the girls provided.  But I don’t miss them enough to get another rooster! Besides,  several of our old neighbors have moved away and new  neighbors have moved in and  I’m not sure they’d be as tolerant of some of the  shenanigans the critters got up to. Like the  time he put on an X-rated show  in the back yard. Sometimes I think feisty little Agatha  is channeling Sam.  She’s certainly as ornery and bossy as he was (just ask poor, long-suffering Victoria who puts up with Agatha stealing her  toys and  giving  her hip slams), and she DOES eat hornworms – well, she ate ONE hornworm, which may have been her first and last because it made her a little crazy as you can see in the pic  to the left. Sadly, Agatha doesn’t have  Sam’s comedic flair or sense of timing, but she does have the same ability to aggravate  Mr. G That Sam had.  Fortunately, she doesn’t have spurs! I think Mr. G may still have the scars from some of those encounters, like this one.Meanwhile, we're enjoying the relative peace and quiet- or at least Mr. G is. Until Agatha  barks- Mr. G says it is the  shrillest, most annoying bark he has ever heard and he's sure she's out to make him go deaf or crazy, whichever comes first.  Yes, I do believe  she might be Sam, reincarnated as a dog. She  just hasn't perfected her act yet.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Ugly Babies, Barking Dogs and Powerful Art

Almost a year ago to the day I made a Dutch baby pancake for the first time. It wasn’t the most beautiful pancake in the world, but filled with a mixture of fruit it was really quite delicious. Here’s a pic of it  as it was being filled with  the fruit.
Well last night I was making Dutch babies in my dreams, only they were very small, very flat and very burned around the edges. They hadn't puffed up at all. I was fussing at how awful they looked and moaning that I had just created ugly babies when a shrill, piercing noise filled the air. I woke immediately, looked at the clock, saw that it was 1:41 AM and realized that both dogs were barking  and jumping around as though someone was trying to break in. By that time, Mr. G was also wide awake. We determined that there were no prowlers, that Agatha  might have been dreaming and woke Victoria, who joined her in barking because that's what Victoria does. We let the dogs out into the back yard to chase whatever demons they were after, then let them back in. They were both back to sleep in no time. I, however, lay there awake in the dark wondering how the ugly babies had turned out and whether they tasted good. I will never know, but may make some Dutch babies for breakfast tomorrow and hope for the best.

All that was to let you know that the day began much earlier than planned, which could be why I am so tired now. Mr. G and I did spend an enjoyable hour or so at the museum today enjoying the traveling exhibition of "Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College.” The murals are absolutely wonderful- so powerful and so vibrant in the depiction of significant events in the journey of African Americans from slavery to freedom. Some of Woodruff’s other work was also on exhibit, and his use of color was breathtaking, with some paintings having an iridescent quality that made them come alive. Seeing these paintings on line or  in a book  doesn't do them justice and I was so glad to be able to experience them up close.

We also visited the exhibits of Far Eastern art, and were particularly intrigued by the "Lethal Beauty" exhibit of samurai weapons and armor from the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture. We would have stayed longer and seen more but I was really beginning to drag and we still needed to stop by the grocery store, so we left. I do hope we can make visits to the Birmingham Museum of Art more often and explore the may treasures on display there. We are very lucky to have such a wonderful facility so close by.

We ended the day by watching the film, “ The Woman in Gold” starring Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann. Based on the true story of Maria’s struggle to reclaim the artwork stolen from her family by the Nazis, then appropriated as national treasures by the Austrian government and displayed in museums, the film was well acted and very interesting. Today was a day for enjoying art and escaping from the heat. I just hope that tomorrow doesn’t begin quite as early, that I am able to finish any dreams I start and that any food I cook in my sleep will not have to contain the word “ugly” in its description.