In Eight Steps to Happiness Geshe-la says "'Self' and 'other' are relative terms, rather like 'this mountain' and 'that mountain ... 'This' and 'that' therefore depend upon our point of reference. This is also true of self and other. By climbing down the mountain of self, it is possible to ascend the mountain of other, and thereby cherish others as much as we presently cherish ourself."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Off to Tamara's Going-Away Party ...

then going away ourselves (taking the red-eye to Florida)!

West Seattle: Walking Along Lincoln Park

viewing the Olympic Mts and Puget Sound,
with my sister-in-law Vicki

Thursday, February 17, 2011

1 Doc + 2 Scans = 0 Radiation

Good news! I saw my main Radiation Oncologist, Dr. Vermulen, to talk about targeted radiation to a few small spots (tumors) in my brain that showed up on the Jan scan.
Before making the plan, she sent me for an MRI and a CT scan of my brain.
I was very surprised that the spots had disappeared! My whole-brain radiation was done last Wed, which was targeting my "brain snow," but I thought I'd still have a session or 2 of "CyberKnife" radiation, high-tech, "cutting edge" treatment to the spots.
I'll just have follow-up. Next scan in 2 months.

Thank you so much for your kind thoughts and prayers. As you can see, they make a difference.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Photos from Walk at Golden Gardens on a Sunny Day

Carol and I took SaraDog to Shilshole, at the far western edge of Ballard, where there's a marina and a park on Puget Sound. As you can see, on a clear day there are views of the Olympic Mountains, including the big peak, Mt. Olympus.

We were happier than the photo suggests; I wore sunscreen and covered up from the sun - not the cold.

Sara was really fascinated by a low-flying kite.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Excess Death

from Dr. Pullen
"Excess death or excess mortality is defined as by the Free Medical Dictionary is 'a premature death, or one that occurs before the average life expectancy for a person of a particular demographic category.'  Smoking is one of the major causes of excess death.  There is lots of debate about smokers rights, government intrusion into private lives, and reduction of government spending these days.  Here are some thoughts on government backed efforts to encourage and help citizens quit smoking.  This is on my mind today because  my [Dr. Pullen's] Mom died this week of a smoking related illness, throat cancer, and I was looking for any good news about smoking cessation programs or population based success stories. 

"If the entire US replicated this program, and had smoking cessation rates that match those in MI then by extrapolation we could add about 122 million years to the lives of Americans over a 10 year period if 6% less Americans smoked after the program.
When I think if the dollars spent to add a year of life by many medical interventions, this type of program seems like it would be a bargain. ..."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Changes I'm Making to Diet etc. [long]

This could seem mundane unless you're motivated by being healthy so that you can benefit others. Over the years I've made gradual changes to my diet, exercise routine, and other things. I hope that this info is of some help to you, in encouraging you take care of the "ambulance" (body) that is your vehicle for helping others.

Now that I have cancer again, I'm continuing to read lots of books and websites and to talk to various healers and friends who know a lot about nutrition. 
I still have a very complicated schedule of supplements and activities [remind me to write a post about those "logic puzzles], so I have been easing into these changes slowly, and making note of the ones I want to add later.
If you've read Anti-Cancer - or other books about cancer and diet - you can learn how changing your eating habits can keep your immune system and your whole body stronger, which means that cancer cells can be destroyed early, before they have a chance to gather together as a tumor, much less go on a "road trip" to a distant organ, where the treatments get tougher and the odds get longer.
On the other hand, I have a genetic mutation that gives me a much higher lifetime risk of getting cancer; my health history bears that out - that is, my DNA - really a form of karma [a blog entry I've been drafting in my head for a few years now]. 
When people get cancer, they ask, "Why? Why me." I'm odd, so I think "Why not me?" I know it's my karma ripening.
Most people looking for an ordinary explanation tend to look for 1 single cause, but I tend to think a cluster of ordinary things created the secondary conditions that allowed my karma to ripen at that time, in that particular way.

I read Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee, a thick but very readable history of the treatment of cancer from ancient times to the present. Mostly it tells about doctors attempts to carve out cancer surgically, then they tried dosing it with nasty chemo drugs, which sometimes killed the patients. Then Mukherjee talks about some of the promising new targeted or genetic or "personalized" treatments that use tumor assays and the like. 
Toward the end of the book, however, he also mentions environmental links, such as between asbestos exposure to workers and their rates of lung cancer. 
More than 10 years ago, I read a very interesting book called Living Downstream: An Ecologist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, by Sandra Steingraber. I gave away my copy, and the book went out of print, but will be back next month; I plan to re-read it.
Some day more effort will be focused on preventing cancer in the first place; right now, there are more incentives for companies and researchers to work on drugs that fight the cancer once it's already arisen. (And actually it's so expensive for the drug companies that the US government is stepping in to help.)

I've been vegetarian for several years. Richard grows a lot of our produce in the back yard. We try out a lot of different non-meat meats. 
If I could I'd be vegan because I really admire their compassion for animals, but I'm not ready yet.

Here are some of the things I've changed in the past several months:

* Dairy - Almond milk instead of Cow Milk mostly. (Rice milk is kinda thin and I don't think it has as much protein.)
Organic dairy, including butter (which I'm still very fond of) and yogurt (which hasn't appealed since I started chemo).

* Eggs - Organic, free-range eggs.

* Organic everything as much as possible, not just produce but also bulk foods, snacks, teas, etc.; if you have to discriminate, see the most and least important foods to buy organic at

* Sweeteners - I've rarely added sugar to things. Occasionally when I'm traveling and feel I really need caffeine, and there's coffee, which turns out to be quite foul, I'll add sugar. If they have some kind of organic or raw or sugar, I'll use that.
Now that my tastebuds are off because of the chemo, I'm learning Rebecca Katz's "FASS" method for how to adjust the flavor of foods so that I'm more likely to eat them. One of the Ss is "Sweet," and I do find a natural sweetener makes drinks like tea taste better.
Katz wrote 2 excellent cookbooks, Cancer-Fighting Kitchen: Nourishing, Big-Flavor Recipes for Cancer Treatment and Recovery and One Bite at a Time, Nourishing Recipes for Cancer Survivors and Their Friends. Even if you don't have cancer, I highly recommend them as excellent cookbooks: visually appealing, well-designed, with helpful notes in sidebars of recipes,  great reference material in the book, and a friendly, encouraging tone.  If you like, I can email you an excerpt. She has the best cooking lesson for how to adjust the flavor of foods. If I had kids, I'd teach them with it; if I was learning to cook, I'd keep re-reading it.

I tried Agave Nectar at a local teahouse and found it made non-caffeinated rooibos chai with almond milk taste even better. I hear Stevia's good too; also maple syrup - Rebecca Katz recommends Grade B syrup for better flavor; this is also what locals said when I lived in Vermont.
For more info, see PCC's Guide to Natural Sweeteners

* Protein - when you're on chemo, you need extra protein to help repair tissues that are harmed; when you're a vegetarian on chemo, you need even more. Here are some newer ways I've added more protein to my diet.

  • "Scotch" and Hard-Boiled Eggs - Richard makes a bunch of hard-boiled eggs, which I like a lot; even when you're in a hurry, you can grab a couple; I love them with salt and a bit of pepper. Thankfully, my blood-pressure and cholesterol are low. For extra protein, R will make "Scotch Eggs" by cooking (vegetarian) sausage and wrapping it around the hard-boiled eggs.
  • Rice Protein Powder - add to oatmeal, applesauce, smoothies and other drinks with "body."
  • Apple with Almond Butter or Peanut Butter - fresh ground from only the nuts - at the coop ("PCC"); I absorbed this from the residents at the Olympia Dharma house, especially Jamie; it's one thing to read about, but even better to see a friend actually doing it, regularly. Also works on banana. Right now we have a box of Washington Fuji apples R's sister Susie got right from the farm (she even paid in a donation box); hence the apple as the delivery vehicle for the protein.
  • Mexican - add Soyrizo, beans, organic cheese to Huevos Rancheros, burritos, etc.
  • Vegetarian Reuben sandwiches! Got the idea from Grand Central Bakery & Cafe, but they use a slab of tofu. Richard makes it by grilling the rye bread with butter, melting Swiss cheese, adding sauerkraut and fake "ham" or other choice of vegetarian meat, and topping with homemade Russian dressing. Serve with a simple soup.
  • "Meat" - Field Roast, grain-based protein which is local to Seatte; Quorn, which some people have trouble digesting but the rest of us find very versatile for adapting chicken recipes, etc.; Yves and other brands for sandwich meats. When combined with other ingredients or condiments, the fake meat basically provides "mouth feel" (texture). For more info, see Savory Meat Alternatives from the PCC
  • Salmon - Wild Alaskan; I haven't eaten fish in a long time but sense I could really use that form of protein; I always thank the fish for giving up its life for me and wish it an auspicious rebirth. Expensive. For more info, see PCC's Seafood Choices for Healthier Oceans.

  • Hummus - we've been eating it often for a few years; Richard and Dachog both make it from scratch, although sometimes we get it from a tsog puja or buy a flavored version if we don't have time to cook the garbazo beans.
  • Beans - Richard often cooks other beans from scratch, and we keep them in the fridge for burritos and sometimes other dishes. Very cheap!
  • Breakfast Sausage - add as a side when you're having eggs or toast. The Morningstar Farms brand of links or patties tastes fine to me. None of the fake meats is very cheap, but that's not an issue for me right now.

Next steps:
* Keep working to add more dark, leafy greens.
I really like the Emerald City salad from the deli case at the PCC coop.

* Eat more beets. They're supposed to be particularly good for my constitution, according to my acupuncturist, other nutrition experts I know, and Paul Pitchford's excellent - but very big - book Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. Great book for anyone interested in changing their diet.
Dachog made us pickled beets and hard-boiled eggs, which are some of my favorites and keep for a long time in the fridge. I also like the beet salad from the salad bar at Ballard Market.

* Make more smoothies and juices. I've been getting up at 4am, and haven't wanted to use the Vitamix, the juicer or the blender out of concern it would wake up Richard; later in the day, it hasn't been occurring to me ... yet. Add protein powder.

* Pull out and use crock pot again. Our good friends Marie and Tom use theirs all the time and think it's great.

* Sprout more mung beans at home - with just a 16oz glass jar, a canning rim, and cheesecloth.

What cosmetics, you ask? (I hardly wear any!) Well, it turns out that manicures, hair products and other beauty supplies often contain a lot of dubious chemicals. Lots of products are sold as "natural," but if you really want to know, you need to do a bit of checking elsewhere, not just reading the label.
For more info, see:
Skin Deep - a safety guide to cosmetics and personal care products the Environmental Working Group

* Deodorant - I just changed to Crystal, a non-Paraben, non-scented deodorant from PCC coop; this is the info from Skin Deep about Crystal.

Cleaners - for around house

For more info, see:
Alternative Cleaners and Recipes - using cheap, common ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, and castile soap
Washington Toxics Coalition - pesticides too; see info about kids safety and health too.

Celebrated Last Radiation Today!

Today was my last whole-brain treatment (#20 of 20)!
Hooray! I'm done ... with the bread of my sandwich.
Yesterday was my "penultimate" treatment - I like the sound of it - it means "next-to-last," which makes today's the "ultimate" and final treatment.

Those radiations were easy and quick, but ran every Monday - Friday; now I'll have more time without those appointments and the small travel time they each involved.
I asked Richard if he'd bake something delicious and somewhat nutritious that I could share with all the friendly, helpful people at Swedish, so he made oatmeal cookies, with some Ghirardelli chocolate chips. I also had a few last night and today at chemo. They definitely have the power of Yum, as cookbook author Rebecca Katz would say.
Believe it or not, I'm "sunburned in Seattle." When I get a chance, I'll add a photo. The burn is from the radiation. Even Dr. Mate volunteered that he didn't know why only your forehead and the corners of your eyes get sunburned, when they were radiating the whole top of my skull. It will go away by itself in about a week.
I've been very religious about using the Calendula Cream or the pure Aloe Vera they recommend to help prevent skin reactions. You just can't use any moisturizer 3 hours before treatment or it will make the sunburn worse. The burn itches a bit, for which they recommend a dab of hydrocortisone, but mostly I just ignore the itching.

I also need to wear sunscreen, and when we're in Florida Dr. Kaplan strongly recommended wearing a hat too. For the 2 Orioles Spring Training baseball games we're going to, he said I should wear a Yankee's cap (his team, which would provoke many Orioles fans, including the one who might otherwise sit next to me); I suggested maybe a Tampa Bay Rays hat;  Dr K suggested a baseball hat from neutral team like the Mariner's. 
I also mentioned that I had a good hat with a wide brim, which even protected me from the intense sun in Brazil. It packs well, is lightweight, and doesn't fly off in a breeze (important especially when you're on a boat, as I learned from Richard's Dad). Hat's good for hiking too. 

I'm looking forward to being in a place where you need a sun hat! Seattle was very sunny today, and is forecast to be sunny tomorrow too. We don't get many days like this in the winter, and it makes us really appreciate them. 
Do you know the movie L.A. Story with Steve Martin? He plays a TV weatherman who's bored because the weather in L.A. is always sunny! In Seattle, weather forecasters are never bored. We often say, "If you don't like the weather, just wait 5 minutes." It often does change that fast. On Tuesday it was sunny when I went in for my radiation treatment; when I got out 20 minutes later it was pouring; on the ride home it started hailing!

I'm tapering off the "D" - just 1x/day now - but judging by the time now, it's still affecting my inner clock. Time to go to bed.
Wishing all a good night and a good sleep.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My Pod of Refuge

Some of you who haven't seen me in person may be skeptical that I'm doing so well.
I say, "it's true!" And all because of my refuge in Buddhism, which means I seek help from Buddha; Buddha's teachings, Dharma; and my Buddhist community, Sangha.

Any adversity is a good chance to really test out the teachings, and for me everything I've learned is true. They work. Every different method I've learned protects me from suffering. For example, when you have a bit of suffering, you think about others and how many are much worse off than you are, especially when they have no faith in any spiritual path - Christian, Muslim, Hindu or whatever it is - and that gives me protection, because it evokes compassion. In Buddhism, focusing too much on yourself and too little on others is what causes our suffering in the first place.

So I feel safe deep inside. This is the part where it gets more impressionistic or poetic or something ...
Lately I feel like I can go into my heart, and my refuge feels like a like a mini white egg-shaped pod. I think I'm picturing something like that futurist individual transport from the old Woody Allen movie Sleeper, where he's in a one-person car that doesn't touch the ground. I could be mis-remembering it and mixing it with something from one of the Star Wars movies, where they're riding those ATV-like machines through the woods that don't touch the ground. Or maybe I'm combining with the white, egg-shaped Orgasmatron from Sleeper. (Think bliss!)

Actually, the top half of my pod is white and the bottom half is red : ) (We're studying Mahamudra Tantra in class now, which describes the indestructible drop at your heart this way.)

Richard pointed out that my pod would have headlights of 5 colors : )

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Unplug me - Funny!

from the online Ovarian Discussion / Support website I read ...

Living Will: A story.

"Last night my adult kids and I were sitting in the living room and I said to them, 'I never want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle. If that ever happens, just pull the plug.'
They got up, unplugged the computer and threw out my wine."


Need something to do to beat cabin fever? More Laughs

from the online Ovarian Discussion / Support website I read ...

Can't handle the boredom of being stuck indoors?

Just click here
OR follow these steps in your Internet browser:
1. Go to Google Maps
2  Hit Get Directions
3. Your starting point is USA
4. Your destination is JAPAN

Scroll down to #31 and have a good laugh.

See you in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Feeling Surprisingly Good

Just a bit tired, especially now in the evening. I'll be more fatigued the next few days.
Tomorrow we have Kadam Heather from Portland as a guest Teacher doing a day course on Karma, which I plan to attend, even if I have to lie down in the back for it.

I'll probably also be spending a lot of time on the couch, reading, and Sunday watching part of what Richard calls the "Stupor-bowl." As Carol F says, "May everyone play well, and no one get hurt."

I slept really last night well - all the way to 7am - and was quite productive until I left for radiation. I was feeling well enough to drive myself.

Oh, and this is very good news, Dr. K tapered my Decadron again, so I am now taking just 1 mg 2x/day. Probably part of the reason I slept longer.

More this weekend. ...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Big Sandwich This Week

Tomorrow, in addition to radiation, and in addition to the Taxol chemo I get 3 weeks out of 4, I will get the more heavy-duty chemo Cisplatin. They say it's a lot to bite off, but my body seems to digest it pretty well.

The first time I had this combo, my doctor recommended I have it in the hospital, so that they could monitor me and give me IV fluids - it's important to stay hydrated, because one of the side-effects of the "Cis" can be kidney damage.

Because I tolerated the chemo, I'll have it as an out-patient, like my other chemos, only I'll be at the infusion center all day, staring at 8:30 am. I'll be drinking a lot.
Given the Decadron steroid, which makes people ravenous, I will probably be eating a lot too. Note to self: Pack lots of food.

I also always pack my mala, a small Medicine Buddha statue, and a Dharma book. I bring my laptop and usually a New Yorker magazine. I bring plenty to keep myself occupied.

After they've hooked up my port-a-cath to the IV, they give me saline, then "pre-meds," which are a few different drugs to prevent nausea and vomitting - one of which, Emend, is very expensive - thank goodness for good insurance, and for karma to have those drugs work for me; they don't work for some.
Other pre-meds help prevent reactions to the chemo drugs. I think that's what the Benadryl is supposed to do; what it *actually* does is put me to sleep.

So I bring all these things, thinking I will get a chance to read, and then I immediately fall asleep. Plane rides can be like that too: You bring material to read, work or study, but if you're like me, you barely make a dent in them a lot of the time.

I will probably be fatigued after a few days - there's a bit of a time-lag - and it will last a week or so.