Ruth's musings

I have been dealing with breast cancer for a while, and have been sharing my journey with friends, family, and prayer partners. This blog brings all my updates together in one place, and leaves me free to muse on other parts of my life. Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Ruth Update #25

Dear Friends, Relatives, and Prayer Partners,

I am feeling a little crummy today, but it is only as expected. In fact, I think the pain is a bit less than it has been. It started a little earlier, though. I was really glad to get home from work yesterday.

I spoke with my oncologist on Wednesday, the day before the chemo. She assures me that this is the last dose of Abraxane, no matter what. I will go on Femara next, which is a long-term, daily pill. It is a treatment and a preventative measure. Even if there is still a bit of cancer showing in my hip, we will go with this, followed by monitoring my cancer markers in the blood and PET scans every three months. If we get something unexpected in the PET scan, we will go a different route, with a different drug. Let's not dwell on that possibility! My PET scan is scheduled for October 14th, and my follow-up visit with Dr. Broome will be October 25th. By then, I hope to have a little stubble on the scalp and to feel less tingling in my toes.

Please continue the prayers. Thanks for your support. I posted a little something on my blog this week:

Get your mammograms. Do your self-exams.



Wednesday, September 27, 2006

More Liver notes

You may remember a previous post of mine: Grill that beef! My cousin Jan has posted a reply to it, and it is really quite good. You might want to pop over and read it. Much better than the original post.

For further liver adventures, I looked in the book mentioned in that post and found a simple marinade for liver, made of Worchestershire sauce, mustard, and molasses. I soaked the stuff and then broiled it. I think I may have broiled it a minute too long, but it was okay. Last night, Paul fried some liver. I begged him not to over cook it, and it came out pretty well, once I salted it and put mustard on it.

I know I won't convince Jan to try it, though!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Ruth Update #25, September 24, 2006

Dear Friends, Relatives, and Prayer Partners,

People asked me today how I was doing. My usual answer was, "Today, I am doing well!" And it's the truth. Aside from a little ache in my hip, I am doing pretty well. I have my next scheduled chemotherapy this Thursday. After that, another PET scan and a bone scan to see where we go next. Please, those of you who pray, pray that this chemo knocks out the last of the cells. I really miss my hair and my toes. My toes are still there, mind you, but they are numb and tingling from peripheral neuropathy. I am beginning to feel that a bit in my fingers, too.

The boys left yesterday afternoon for a Scout fishing trip. They went someplace along the Chesapeake and camped last night, and were to go out in a boat on the bay today. Paul and I enjoyed our time alone together yesterday afternoon and evening. We were going to go to church and a voter's meeting afterwards, too, but we got a call this morning. Due to forecast thunderstorms, the fishing trip was cancelled. So, I got to wave the family flag at church, and Paul stayed home to wait for the boys. We now have a tent set up in the basement, airing before storage, and Matt is asleep on the sofa while Timmy is catching up on his homework under the eagle eye of his Dad.

Timmy is having trouble at school, again. He has always had trouble keeping up with homework. It is the bane of his existence. He doesn't have trouble with the concepts -- he usually aces standardized tests and even regular tests -- but projects and homework leave him cold. We are seriously considering having him evaluated for psychological problems. His teachers and counselor don't think he is learning disabled, as he does well on the testing. Even the writing "Standards of Learning" test he took for the state last year he scored well on. Of course, it took him all day. Good thing it is not a timed test. The rest of the tests, he got "passed advanced." Life is never easy.

I have been doing a bit of blogging this week. You might be interested: (I think)

Thanks for keeping in touch.

Get your mammograms. Do your self-exams.



Saturday, September 23, 2006

Recipe: Braised Short Ribs

I belong to a cooking group on the web, and figured since I was posting the recipe there, I would post it here, too! Enjoy.

The thing about buying beef in bulk is you sometimes get cuts that you wouldn't normally use. I don't believe I had ever cooked short ribs before, and Paul had gotten them out to thaw. I looked at fixing them for dinner last night, but every recipe called for long cooking, and it was already after six. So, we had macaroni and cheese with ham. I actually did make a white sauce for the cheese this time, as we were short on Velveeta.

Anyway, since the boys were leaving this afternoon for a Scout fishing trip on the Chesapeake, last night I decided to check for a crockpot recipe and we could have it for lunch before they left. The cookbook fell open to this page, so I figured that was a sign.

Braised Short Ribs

3 to 4 lb. lean beef short ribs (I suspect I had less, and they weren't very lean)
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
2 medium onions, sliced and separated into rings
1 clove garlic, chopped (optional) (since when is garlic optional?)
1 cup beer, beef broth or water (I used beer)
2 tablespoons flour (optional)
3 tablespoons water (optional)

Place short ribs on broiler rack or in skillet and brown to remove fat; drain well. Combine 1/2 cup flour with the paprika, salt and dry mustard; toss with short ribs. Place remaining ingredients except 2 tablespoons flour and the water in crockpot; stir to mix beef ribs with onion rings (be sure onions are under beef ribs -- not on top). Cover and cook on low setting for 8 to 12 hours.

Remove short ribs to warm serving platter. If thickened gravy is desired, make a smooth paste of flour and water. Turn Crock-Pot to High setting and stir in paste. Cover and cook until gravy is thickened.

6 servings (about 3 quarts)

From "Rival Crock-Pot Cooking," Golden Press, Western Publishing Company, Inc. Racine, Wisconsin. Copyright 1975

Notes from Ruth: I didn't need to thicken the gravy as I had plenty of the flour/paprika mix to begin with and I used it all, even though I am pretty sure I didn't have 3-4 lbs of ribs. It cooked all night, longer than 12 hours, and was fine. I served it with rice, leftover veggies, and banana bread that Paul baked this morning from a mix. Matt and Paul liked it, Timmy, my picky one, hated it. Paul did suggest I not use beer next time. That could have been what Timmy didn't like. He doesn't like mustard, either.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Love those telephone surveys

There I was Sunday evening, sitting down to our usual soup and sandwich supper, when the phone rang. It was our HMO, and they had a customer satisfaction survey for me to answer. Okay, so it was some survey firm calling on behalf of my HMO. They wanted to ask about my visit to the clinic on September 8th. I asked the lady to refresh my memory. Oh. That September 8th. The day I was running the fever and went to the clinic on my way to the hospital. Of all the days they could pick for me to answer questions about. I had to ask Paul for some of the stuff. "How long did we wait in the waiting room, anyway?" It is kind of a fog for me.

You know the survey, rate everything on some kind of a scale: Excellent, very good, good, fair, poor. Like that. And they had what felt like dozens of questions. My soup was getting cold, but I was a good scout. I figure they are trying to improve their service, so I answered the dang questions. The thing is, I have gone through this before, several times. I guess I get to answer them most often in the family because: a) I visit the clinic more than anybody else, and b) I am usually the one who takes the boys in, so I get to answer for them, too.

Tonight, I got a call from a similar company calling on behalf of the hospital. I was just about to drain the spaghetti, so I was a little more on top of things, and asked them to call me back in about an hour. They did, and I was a sucker, er, good scout, again.

It just amazes me the banality of the questions they come up with, especially the one they both asked: "How would your rate your health overall?" Now, how the heck am I supposed to answer that on the scale they give me? They have no option for "Well, I'm being treated for cancer, but other than that, I'm in pretty good health!" I said "good," or its equivalent. At least the HMO survey had some space for commentary, and she would type in what I said. I don't think the hospital one had anything like that.

In spite of my ranting and raving on the updates, I think both agencies did a pretty good job within the current healthcare system. What does that say about the current system? I rarely answer questions like they asked me with the highest marks. In surveys like that, "excellent" and "very good" are pretty much the same, anyway. I even gave the hospital food a "very good." It was, but I never ordered the "whipped potatoes," either. Hey, how often do we have cheese blinzes at home? Okay, it had canned cherry pie filling on top, but still . . .

I rate this posting as "good." ;-)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Oh, and another thing!

I was excused from jury duty! I think I got the call on that Monday after the hospital, when I was kind of woozy. I know I got the call, though. Really. I think.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The First Big Game

Some of you may know that I am originally from Nebraska and am a fan of the Cornhuskers, so I am glad to see a game on TV. We don't have cable or satellite, so I have to hope for broadcast. I saw the USC game last night. It was good to see, though I was not happy with the final score. They are rebuilding. Repeat after me, they are rebuilding. They did not embarass themselves against a higher-ranked team, they scored first, and now we know the Huskers' punter can also pass. Love them trick plays!

I look forward to a good season. Have I mentioned that Matt has applied to the University of Nebraska? He was cheering right next to me!
Ruth Update #24

Dear Friends, Relatives, and Prayer Partners,

I have now been home from the hospital for about a week, and am almost back to whatever passes for normal these days. I missed a total of three days of work and spent two nights in the hospital, not including my adventure in the ER.

My oncologist says they have been using that medication, on adults of all ages, including the elderly, for five years, and nobody has even blinked before. I am the first one to have such a reaction. The Zometa website talks about "flu-like" symptoms as a possible side effect. Well, it was a very bad case of "flu-like." The reason I was hospitalized was that the fever was so high my doctors feared I might have some kind of infection. All tests for infection came back negative. I am still feeling a little "off," but am doing much better. I hope to work a normal week.

Thank you for all your prayers and good thoughts. Paul was a rock through all this. After I was safely in the hospital, I sent him home to the boys, who needed him more than I did at that point. He told me he slept for twelve straight hours that night. I am sure he needed it. His birthday was Friday, and we went to the theater. The closest he got to a birthday cake was a scone and coffee at the Shakespeare Theater before the performance of "An Enemy of the People."

To tie up some loose ends -- my friend Belinda who had a mastectomy was scheduled to start chemotherapy. A test they ran showed that her chances of risky side effects from chemo were greater than her chances of a recurrence of cancer, so she didn't start. I am so glad for her! She found her cancer via self-exam. My son's classmate's mom has started chemo. The last I spoke with her she was doing well.

A few weekends ago we went to see "Cars" from Disney/Pixar. This is the first movie in a long time that I believe we must own, and am seriously considering buying the soundtrack. Of course, the song "Route 66" is a big part of the soundtrack, and as a Nat King Cole fan, I like it lots anyway. Even Paul enjoyed the movie. It helped that "Click and Clack" had parts, of course!

I haven't done any extra blogging lately, beyond posting these updates. I may get more into that. Lately, I have been coming home and collapsing for the evening, so haven't spent much time at home on the computer.

I have one more scheduled chemo treatment. I will not be taking Zometa!

Get your mammograms. Do your self exams.



Monday, September 11, 2006

Ruth Update #23.2, sent September 11, at 9:16 pm

Dear Friends, Relatives, and Prayer Partners,

(This is pretty long. Don't say I didn't warn you. My high school English teacher did accuse me of being wordy!)

Since I have recovered a bit, I will try to tell you all of my adventures in the last few days. I know it was distressing to many of you when I told you that I was going into the hospital with a fever, but didn't give you a whole lot of details. I just wanted the prayers to fire up, and knew that God knew better than any of us what the problem was.

On Thursday, September 7, I went in for a regular chemo treatment. I had an office visit with my oncologist, Dr. Broome, before the infusion. I get my chemo in the same office, so this is handy. While I was talking to her, I mentioned that my hip has been aching ever since she told me that the cancer is still there, though smaller. We agreed that some of it might be psychosomatic, but not all of it. She suggested a drug, Zometa, that has been used for the past five years in many kinds of cancer. It kick starts the bone healing process in people who are fighting mets to the bone. I asked about side effects, and she said there were none, as long as I didn't have any major dental work done. It could contribute to osteonecrosis of the jaw. In other words, bone death in the jaw. I assured her that my dental work was caught up for now, having just gotten a new crown. So, we elected to add the Zometa, a once-a-month IV drug. It was infused while we were waiting for my Abraxane to dissolve. The visit was uneventful, and I stopped at Wendy's on the way back to work to grab some lunch. I got the bulletin printed, and looked with dismay at the work I would have to put off until Friday. I had missed quite a bit of work already this week due to a funeral, a dental appointment, and taking Matt to the nurse practitioner with sniffles and a fever. His diagnosis was a cold.

Thursday afternoon, I was feeling kind of lousy. This feeling doesn't usually set in until Friday afternoon. Paul had a 7:30 pm meeting, so he got dinner on the table -- steak, rice, veggies. He left for the meeting, and I started clearing the table so Timmy could do homework. While doing this, I started getting chills. Not a good sign. I had chills like this when in Kenya. It meant I had a fast-rising fever, usually malaria or salmonella or something. I was pretty sure this wasn't it. I got Timmy started on the home work and dressed up in my warmest hooded sweatshirt and my self-knitted "terrible tube socks." They are ugly, but they're warm! The boys saw me getting sicker and were pretty worried. I kept expecting Paul to get home any minute. I finally sent Matt to get Paul out of the meeting. Meanwhile, I had Timmy running up and down stairs to get me a thermometer, a glass of water, and a bucket, as nausea was setting in. He was so good. He was scared, but when I whimpered "Don't leave me alone!" he stuck near. Eleven years old, and I had to saddle him with this.

My knight in shining armor burst in the door and took charge. He checked me out and then called our HMO's help line. He did manage to get to a live person and explained the problem, and then they put him on hold for what felt like hours, but was probably twenty minutes. Matt and I were getting frustrated. Paul has a very high tolerance for frustration. Matt hollered at his Dad, who was standing there, patiently listening to the hold music: "Dad! DO SOMETHING!" I was tempted to have Matt grab the phone and call 911. Paul finally reached his frustration point and hung up on the hold music. "We're going to the emergency room." Sounded like a good idea to me. We got in the car, me with my bucket, Paul with my ugly belt bag, which has all my contact information in it, and away we went.

Just as we were parking at the emergency department, my bucket came into play. I suggested a wheel chair. Paul scampered off (I hate that people can scamper when I feel like road kill). Turned out that we were at the wrong door. So I swung my legs and my bucket back into the car. When we got to the real ER entrance, they had a shortage of wheel chairs, so I staggered into the waiting room with my stinky bucket and found a place to sit while Paul did the insurance card stuff. It wasn't a long wait before I got to see the triage nurse. She took my vitals and my history. My temp was 103.3 degrees F. This is not good, especially for somebody on chemo. So, they got me a room in the ER.

Objectively, I must look at me from the POV of the ER personnel. I was breathing. I was not bleeding. I was conscious and moving and bitching appropriately. I was not real high on the list of sick people. So, I got to wait on the freaking gurney for what felt like forever. They couldn't give me anything to drink until I was appropriately evaluated. There where a few times when I pressed the call bell, and the perky voice said "May I help you?" My reply was "Aaaauugh!" Somebody came in. I at least got some ice water to swish with. I was also in a room, and not in the hall. I had Paul, too. At one point he gave me a foot massage. That was great. Also, the cool cloth on the head and face was really nice. Anyway, when I rose to the top of the list, the doctor came to see me, and he called Dr. Broome. They tried to access my mediport, but didn't have much luck, so they started an IV in one of my few veins that work. They drew blood for cultures and collected a urine sample. I went to x-ray for chest films. I got some anti-nausea meds in the IV, and took some Tylenol for the fever. I began to feel human again. When the lab work came back, it didn't show any active infection. I had few if any cold symptoms, so we can't blame Matt's virus. I was given a powerful antibiotic, and sent home. It was 0250 hours. I crawled into bed, and Paul told people he was not coming to work. I did the same, talking to answering machines.

We tried to sleep, but the boys had to get to school. Paul took care of all that, and then spent the morning monitoring me. When the fever went back up and over 104 degrees, he called Dr. Broome. She thought I should be admitted to the hospital. Sounded good to me. The thing is, she is outside my HMO, though she contracts with them. She felt I needed to be admitted by the HMO, so away we went to the clinic. Exam tables are even more uncomfortable than gurneys. My primary care doctor agreed that I should be admitted. Now, they needed to find a bed on the oncology floor. And they kept looking. And looking. Finally, after hours in the exam room, moving from chair to exam table and back again, trying to get comfortable, the decision was made to transport me via ambulance (!) to the ER. Again. There to start treatment and to wait for a bed. Paul was to follow in the car.

A side note, here. An ambulance is a truck. It rides like a truck. I think I would have preferred to ride in our car. However, once I hit the door of the ER, things moved pretty fast with county EMT's moving the gurney, so that was an advantage to the truck ride. Also, while enroute, a bed opened up on the oncology floor! So they walked right through the ER to the elevators. They pulled their gurney right up to the side of the bed, and I slid over. A real hospital bed! A private room! Ahhhh. Nurses descended upon me, took history and vital signs, and accessed my medi-port with great skill and efficiency. I got into a clean gown, and slid under the covers. Paul found me. He had stopped at McD's on the way, as he was hungry! I don't blame him a bit. He got to run around trying to sign admission papers, but he finally gave up. I sent him home. The boys needed him, and I was in good hands.

Now, they weren't giving me water, again waiting for the doctor's orders. I was thirsty and jittery. Again, the call button and "Aaargh!" Orders were to start me on powerful IV antibiotics, just in case. More blood and urine samples. More x-rays. The pharmacy was not in a big hurry to get my meds to me. Finally, I had some water and apple juice and graham crackers. Those were the first calories I had consumed in about twenty-four hours. I had been drinking lots of water and taking pills. They also brought a box lunch. Less said about that, the better. I gave it to the boys. Once I got my meds, things got better. I find that Ativan is good for the jitters, and antibiotics are good for peace of mind.

I spent two nights in the hospital. I watched TV and crocheted. My fever dropped, and I was well fed with a normal diet. I saw the hospital doc from my HMO, and my oncologist's partner. None of the test results showed any sign of a bacterial infection. On Sunday morning, the oncologist gave me the choice of going home or staying another day. Now, having meals brought to me in my private room (most of the rooms on the oncology floor are private -- it's the nature of the treatment) is nice and all that, but I think I would rather go home where I know the germs than stay in the hospital where some really bad ones lurk. So, after lunch, Paul came and got me. I only had two little bags, as the less you bring to the hospital, the less you might leave behind, and they have most of the things you need, anyway. I sure didn't need a comb or shampoo!

I slept a little better in my own bed, but found this morning that I was not ready to go back to work. I got Timmy to school, made arrangements for somebody else to pick him up, took a shower and put on a clean nightie. I tucked myself in with my friends Ativan and Percocet, and slept the day away.

The only thing that we can figure caused this adventure was the Zometa. Apparently it does sometimes cause fever as a side effect, but not usually that high. There are other drugs that accomplish the same thing, but I may just avoid them all, as my pain in my hip is not that bad to begin with. I will see my oncologist on Thursday and discuss this further.

Get your mammograms. Do your self-exams.


Ruth Update #23.1, sent September 10, at 4:57 pm

Dear Friends, Relatives, and Prayer Partners,

I see that I have a bunch of e-mails to which to reply, and I will, but first, I wanted to let you know that I am home from the hospital. The verdict is not yet in as to why I was running such a high fever, as all tests for bacterial infections came back negative. The current suspect is a new drug that was administered to me along with my regular chemo drug on Thursday. The fevers started on Thursday night. You think?

I will answer all your e-mails, and hopefully get off a fuller update, but first, I gotta call my Dad, who doesn't do the e-mail thing.

Get your mammograms. Do your self-exams.


Ruth Update #23, sent September 8, 2006, at 12:52 pm

Dear Friends, Relatives and prayer partners,

I have been running a fever since last night, and we went to the ER. They sent us home, but my oncologist wants to admit me to the hospital. We are seeing our HMO in a few minutes. I will probably be admited to Inova Fairfax hospital.

Please pray for me, and for the boys, who are quite upset over all this.


Get your mammograms. Do your self exams.


Monday, September 04, 2006

Photos of the new toys

It looks like I have to start writing something before I can post photos to it.

Anyway, here is Matt on his new stilts. He has about an inch of clearance before his head hits the ceiling. This is about the time when he started feeling confident on the stilts. Before this, he was grabbing walls and the ceiling, his Mom or Dad. Of course, he had worn the stilts and climbed the stairs just before this, he assures me he was grabbing the walls all the way. This photo also gives you an idea of our housekeeping standards.

We need to get a photo of him with all the protective gear we want him to wear outside. I want him to have a large spotter when he goes outside, too, but Paul thinks the gear will protect him enough.

Here is Paul doing some of the hand sewing. The man does not use a thimble. He uses his fingernail to push the needle through industrial-strength Velcro. My fingernails never even get past the end of my finger before they start splitting.

Just in case you wondered, the package says the velcro is unsuitable for machine sewing. It has adhesive on the back, so we figure it might gum up the machine.

And here is the machine.

Matt is the "scenic director" of his theater group. That means he is in charge of picking costume and makeup designers for the plays put on at his school. He was chosen, we believe, on the strength of his makeup skills. He is really good at blood and gore. He did some of the sewing on the stilts, too, as his Dad was not interested in sewing buttonholes by hand.

This is a fairly mild example of Matt's makeup skills. He looked like this (without the fangs) in 1984. He played someone who had been starved and beaten. He also helped to "gash" the young man who played "Winston." The makeup was nominated for a "Cappie" award, it was so good. Some play called Zombie Prom won the award. Go figure.

Now, my next challenge is to bind off a hat in ribbing so that it stretches. A Google search led me to this page Stretchy Bind Offs The sad thing is, I have all the books by Elizabeth Zimmerman. One would think I would have found the first one already! I have also done some of the ones where you make extra stitches. Duh.

Take care.


Ruth Update #22
September 4, 2006

Dear Friends, Relatives, and Prayer Partners,

Labor Day, the day we honor all who work by taking a day off. I am doing laundry, if that counts for anything!

Of course, the big news in our house is that school starts tomorrow. I think Matt is looking forward to senior year, and he has already been working with the board of the Lake Braddock Theater to determine the plays they will do this year. He won't tell me what they are! Though he did leave a binder out and I snooped. He would shoot me dead if I told you what I know, though. Actually, he would probably beat me with his new stilts. Paul promised him some stilts at Christmas, and has been working on them since. There is a lot of carpentry and hand sewing involved, and he finished them on Saturday! I will post pictures on the blog. Suffice it to say that I now have hand prints on the ceiling. He does pretty well, and we encourage him to wear protective gear when using them outside.

Timmy has some big news, too. He will be taking "compacted math" this year. Last year, at the end of fifth grade, he took the end-of-book sixth grade math tests, and did very well. That, along with recommendation from his teacher, who had him in both fourth and fifth grade, led him to be invited to take this class. In it, he will be taking sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade math. Assuming he completes the class successfully, he will then get on an honors/advanced math track in middle and high school. It took a little convincing to get him to agree to this class, as he hates to do homework, but he agreed. It might have something to do with my telling him that at least one of his good friends will be in the class. Please pray for him. This is a great opportunity, and I hope we can help him through the challenge.

I have no news on the cancer front for me. I have been feeling pretty well, though my hip aches a bit sometimes. I am willing to admit that some of it might be psychosomatic, but some of it is real pain, too.

The mother of that friend of Timmy's, who will be in compacted math with him, was diagnosed with cancer over the summer. Aside from it being a rare type, I don't know what it is, exactly. I know she had abdominal surgery and will start chemotherapy soon. She has some kind of genetic predisposition to cancer, so they were looking out for it.

My friend Belinda, who had a mastectomy, reported to begin chemotherapy and found out she didn't need it after all! It seems that she had another test done that showed the risk of chemotherapy was greater than the risk that her cancer would recur. She is glad, though she now has a wig she doesn't really need.

I have chemotherapy again on Thursday, and will also be seeing my oncologist that day. The chemo is administered in the oncologist's office, so it is very convenient.

I appreciate your continued prayers.

Get your mammograms. Do your self-exams.