Sniffles and Songs

Posted on May 31, 2013. Filed under: Cancer, Family, Just fun! | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Antihistamines and Cancer

In my last post, I mentioned that I wanted to research the possibility of antihistamines being linked to cancer.  While I found studies that negated the correlation, I was pretty surprised at how many pros were asking the same question. More disturbingly, one study found a link to a type of brain tumor. And who financed the other studies???

I read enough to quit the 24-hour Allegra I have been on for four years. Originally, I was having about four annual sinus infections that required antibiotics. Allergy tests revealed a bunch of foods and environmental factors that I was mildly sensitive to, but nothing was serious. Together, they “put me under” with the changing seasons. I’d tried everything—neti pots, saline washes…Scott even came up with using a massager behind my ear, which seemed to easily release a bunch of clogging junk.

Since I was taking a natural mushroom extract to boost my immune system, along with the Allegra, an antihistamine to squelch my immune system’s allergic response, I wondered if they canceled each other out????  Plus, leukemia treatment was described to me as resetting the immune system, so I was curious to see how my new immune system would behave if I quit Allegra. And I was also in the throws of a rebounding sinus infection, I had about six weeks ago, which was treated with antibiotics. I had nothing to lose.

Did we run out of tissues already?

Did we run out of tissues already?

The first week without Allegra was hell. I felt really sick and my nose was a waterfall. I was coughing and relied on quarter dose of imitation NyQuil to sleep. Yes, it did contain an antihistamine. After seven days, my sinus infection was gone! That was five days ago and I feel way better. I still sneeze a few times a day—and I haven’t sneezed since I started Allegra, but somehow sneezing seems like a healthy response. I also pop a Halls cough drop here and there. I think the old-school menthol helps keep my head clear.

Here are some links I found if you’re interested.

http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/17/5/1277.full

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ijc.11240/pdf

http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/86/15/1172.extract

Natural remedies for allergies:

http://www.livestrong.com/article/146553-natural-alternatives-for-antihistamines/

It’s always nice to have a natural alternative, but sometimes natural stuff can be as fraught with downsides as anything else. As a matter of fact, after writing so much healthcare copy for years, I always wonder about the downside of some new miracle food, drug, herb or exercise. There are no golden solutions!

Surviving a Taste of My Old Mojo

My friend, L celebrated her 50th birthday a couple weeks ago. I was invited and have to admit I was a little nervous about my energy level for a night on the town.  In addition, L and her crowd is roughly a decade younger with party know-how and I don’t think any of them have chemo pills on their calendars. AND, I love L for her classy taste in debauchery and unadulterated wit.

BUT, I was two days from starting chemo drugs so I was at my best energy level of the month. And, it wasn’t like we were going rollerblading or jogging along the lake. The plan included theater and karaoke, so I could sit for most of it—not exactly strenuous.  I geared up with a rest in the afternoon and left with my thoughtful gift of vitamins for 50+ women, some handmade earrings and other carefully selected odds and ends that must not have been spectacular because I can’t recall what they were.

We started at Mary’s Attic, a small theater above Hamburger Mary’s restaurant, for a Hell in a Handbag Production that parodied a sort of Mommy Dearest theme, but used Lana Turner. Best line: The star, a man in drag, hustles to her daughter’s aid shouting, “What’s wrong, honey. I came as fast as I wanted to.” I can think of many uses for that line.  We had a great time.

World's Best Partiers & No Injuries!

World’s Best Partiers & No Injuries!

From there we went down the street to a bar where we united with a few more people before most of them got in a cab and went up Lincoln Avenue for Korean Karaoke. Because I didn’t think I’d last much longer, I drove and chauffeured a couple other people. I suspected my suburban passengers, even with alcohol in them, were a bit nervous when the only parking space was in front of a parkway tree with a man standing against it clearly in vertical passed-out mode. As a lifelong Chicagoan with a keen sense of danger, I assured them he was harmless although I prayed that if he needed to vomit, he’d turn around and avoid my car.

We hustled into Lincoln Karaoke, which was divided up into private rooms. The perimeter was lined with stain-resistant seating and a stage that doubled as a coffee table or vice versa was in the center. Flat screens were on each wall with the “word ball” bouncing along the lyrics and beautiful nature scenes, which made NO sense in the background. In walking to our room at the end of the hall, I wondered what went on in the other rooms that are rented by the hour. Then I decided not to wonder.

A pleasant Asian woman entered, distributed four microphones and demonstrated how to select a song from the binder listings, which were arranged by title. The first half of the book was in Korean. The second half was in English.

We leafed through the plastic-covered pages and ordered beer. Given my deadline with a week of Trentenoin/ATRA pills, I did not indulge. It wasn’t long before the coffee table was designated as a stage and the one male in the group had to sacrifice his running shoe. One of the partiers had filled it with beer and passed it among us. This didn’t make being on the wagon very difficult and I don’t need alcohol to make a fool of myself.

I LOVE to sing. Sometimes I can sing well. Other times I can’t. Usually if I open my lungs, I get better. The variety of songs was hilarious, and anyone who wanted to sing was welcome to join in. My highlight was bellowing Gloria Gaynor’s, “I Will Survive,” which sort of sent me to my own little place in the room unaware of everyone. I guess it ended up being a “Fuck yourself, cancer” moment.

Although it was one-thirty when I got home, I was hyped knowing I still got it in me to do things like survive getting home at one-thirty—even though I don’t really plan on doing that again. Maybe when I hit 60 in January???  May we all be able to retain our party souls into our 8Os.

L, we LOVE you. Have a great year.

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September 5, 2012 Extreme Family Reunion… Before Chemo Returns

Posted on September 6, 2012. Filed under: Art, Cancer, Family, Just fun! | Tags: , , , , , , |

OK….My brother arrived a few weeks ago from Dubai. My in-laws arrived with their spouse last week. One couple came from Austin, Texas on Friday evening and the other couple via Hawaii from Sydney, Australia on the previous Tuesday. Saturday we had breakfast at my mother-in-laws. We visited the Art Institute of Chicago for the Roy Lichtenstein exhibit. We saw the movie Hope Springs (which I’m happy to say that it didn’t portray our six-year marriage. we celebrate September 30). That night, we all descended on the poetry slam where I read my love poem to Scott.

Before the slam, we went to the Shedd Aquarium while I got a few things done at home and prepared for the Labor Day Brunch that we’d decided to throw for 15 people. Crazy, right? Take that, leukemia!

The brunch guests were all family and people who feel like family. They are aware of my diagnosis, so I took comfort in having a great excuse for embracing imperfection. One of the highlights was Veronica training Anthony and Alyssa in server skills to help take drink orders—complete with paper mustaches, bow ties and the obligatory towel draped across their arms. Our last meal together was snarfing down pizza at Giordanos. It was all awesome. With my background, it’s refreshing that siblings and in-laws are mature enough to get together without drama and dysfunction—even the kids. But I know the drama is the fun part, so I’ll go on to other topics.

Cancer Drama
Today, after my two-week hiatus, I was back in the Cancer Center at 9 a.m. for the beginning of the end. This time it’s the Daunorobicin and Atra with nausea medication. And of course, the PICC line, that 15-inch tubing that goes into my upper arm, through my veins and into my heart to dump the drugs. This is my fourth insertion, so I don’t know why my anxiety level was higher than ever? Maybe because it’s my fourth one and I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with it?

Picc a Vein, Any Vein
OK…the Picc line means you don’t have to be pricked every time they take something out or put something in your veins, but it is damn inconvenient too. I had to buy lightweight blouses for summer with longer sleeves to cover it. Then I started wearing short sleeves with a bandage. It seemed to me it’s better to look like you’ve got tennis elbow than chemo treatments. Then I started to not give a shit, at least around the house…which meant if someone rang the office bell, I felt I had to quickly install the wrap. Then there’s bathing. I have to put this rubber armband around my arm because the insertion point cannot get wet. Getting it wet is on the “Call your doctor immediately” section of the discharge instructions. This little ritual gets old fast.

Plus, the procedure is intimidating. You are clothed in a gown, and I don’t mean chiffon, and taken to a surgical room where four people stand in basically hazmat suits acquiring and sorting their collection of overpriced medical supplies. My arm is laid out perpendicular to my body for a straighter path to the heart. They wash it down with green stuff that makes me look like the Hulk’s cousin. They tell me to look away so I don’t breathe on the site and infect myself with my own germs. A physician’s assistant warns me that I’ll feel a “prick and burn, prick and burn, prick and burn” over and over as the numbing Lidocaine is injected. Meanwhile, I huge alien craft descends to three inches over my chest to reveal my inner workings on a screen the PA uses to feed the line through. I can’t help wondering if this equipment will be found to cause cancer in another five years. I want to go to my happy place. But this isn’t going to last much longer and I don’t want them thinking I’ve passed out. Bad form.

In a few more minutes, I’m down the hall for a blood draw. By the way, Scott is with me because we don’t know exactly how I’ll feel when I leave today. Besides, he’s good moral support. After my blood is declared healthy enough to pollute, I get IV anti-nausea drugs. Then comes the daunorubicin. It’s in a HUGE syringe that gets injected into the Picc line slower than our dripping bathroom faucet. It’s also red and makes you pee red after a few days. This could be alarming if you didn’t expect it. The session was followed by a weird pressure in my back on only the right side. The nurse took my vitals again and my blood pressure was a mean 183/109! At the beginning, everything was normal. So we waited a bit to see if this was a passing phenomena. It was. On to the pharmacy where I picked up one week of Atra meds for $1800. Geez. Luckily, Blue Cross is my friend, right now.

Kudos to Effleukemia
On a more positive note. One of my fellow cancer comrades/fellow bloggers, who also cycles just scored a column for Cycling Illustrated’s online mag. That’s cooler, but even cooler is that he inspired me to do something similar. I’ve got the cancer card. I write and paint. What the hell! I need to leverage my diagnosis. It has to be good for something! So I spent some time googling sources. I didn’t find much, but I didn’t get that far because I was kind of pooped from treatment. If anyone has any ideas, let me know.

My friend Karen arrived from NYC on her way to Hawaii as well and stayed with her sister in the remote burbs. Hopefully, we will get a chance to catch up. In Florida, Kathy is patiently waiting for a window to open so she can visit.

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Thursday, August 2, 2012: Maintaining Coolness

Posted on August 2, 2012. Filed under: Art, Cancer, Just fun! | Tags: , , , , , |

After treatment on Tuesday, I caffeined up for an afternoon of actual work. As usual, I was energized by evening, so Scott and I went for a walk for well over my minimum mile. I even got the urge to sprint a half block before pooping out.

Yesterday, my friend Maria picked me up and kept me company during treatment. It went so FAST! Our conversation truly made it feel as if I’d been there a fraction of the time.

Nurse A has taken care of me for several days in a row. She is very attentive and professional, but looks as if she’s just celebrated her sweet 16 birthday. In trading weekend plans, Nurse A said she was excited to have Lallapalooza tickets and asked if we knew what it was. Maria and I traded glances amused that we were perceived as “old people.” Not that we aren’t…or at least I’ll admit to it. We reassured Nurse A that we knew all about Lallapalooza and asked who was playing. We could see Nurse A run through the list of bands in her head searching for the old-school names we might recognize. Red Hot Chili Peppers and Black Sabbath came to mind. I did not mention that about 10 years ago I was on the board of an organization that invited Billy Corrigan, of Red Hot Chili Peppers, to read his poetry at the Art Institute and I was happy he’d gone back to music—although I did have the urge to establish our “coolness.”

Afterwards, Maria had a yen for breakfast ,so at Nurse A’s suggestion, we drove over to the Original Pancake House on Green Bay Road. I had the spinach crepes, which were great. After that, I was ready to crash, so I took a nap when I returned home. I needed to be recharged to get to my art class later that evening.

I was pleased to bring my finished Letter to Picasso painting and then identified one more little spot to tweak. I also started another “poem painting” based on the idea that being a parent is like being a potter. Stay tuned for the JPG. As usual, the class is as social as instructional and relaxing.

Meanwhile, Scott was a Veronica’s place installing a Magic Jack phone he found for her birthday. For dirt cheap, she can use her Internet service for unlimited local and nationwide long distance. She’s been using her iPhone, but she lives in a reception vortex, so too often Veronica sits on her stoop to make calls…not fun in the winter.

Today, I’m back in the merry-go-round room. This morning’s blood work came back good, which allowed us to order up the arsenic drip. I wonder if there’s a drug to maintain one’s cool factor?

Let’s see what else I can get done here in the next few hours.

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    A writer and cancer survivor chronicles her renewed dedication to art and words..

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