Friday, December 16, 2011


You'd think the two large Vicodin that I took would have knocked me out for a good eight hours.

At 4:57 I woke to the sound of Alice in her bed . . . slurping and licking . . . something on her back end.  I poked her with my toe.  Whatever was there is gone or drowned, so let's wrap this up, shall we?  She stopped and went back to sleep. 

I couldn't.

I laid there thinking . . . of Christmas presents . . . pathology . . . going back to work . . . money.  Suddenly, I had a lot of things to do at 5am.  I also had a very warm bed, gray light outside my window, the lingering grogginess of prescription pain killers and nowhere to be. 

Pathology: not much I can do to change that, and I will learn more about a second round of radiation at my next doctor's appointment.  Let it go.

Going back to work: not until Monday.  Three more days off, and UCLA seems to have survived just fine without me.  Let it go.

Money: not where I want to be, but I'm fine.  Contemplating Christmas presents, so it's a first-world problem.  Let it go.

*slurp, slurp, slurp*

Clearly my toe did not get its point across. 

I scooped Alice out of her bed and put her in ours.  She pawed and nudged her way between me and D.R and snorted smugly as she settled her warm nose by my neck, right next to my new incision.  (Dogs know.  Oh, they know).  She was already snoring as I draped my arm over D.R.'s chest and his feet and knees intertwined with mine. 

The chilly morning is turning pink outside and I am warm and happy.  There is some serious stank breath between the three of us and Alice's head smells musky and--geeze, is that onion?! Where this creature sticks her head, I cannot say.

And it occurs to me that perhaps it was not worry and the Unknown that woke me early this morning. 

Perhaps it was gratitude.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I'm Dreaming of a . . .

Christmas has finally come to the Dunn/Edmonds Alliance.

D.R. LOVES Christmas--like, silly-clapping-school-boy loves Christmas.  It's pretty cute.  I certainly have my ideas of how decorations should go up (organization and order, maybe?), but I have learned over 5 years of co-hab that Christmas is D.R.'s domain.  My Martha Stewart-y visions have been replaced by glitter garland, fake cotton "icicles", and random Santa figurines (Harley Santa!) placed on any empty flat surface.   I cannot control it; I can only hope that our little apartment can contain the merriment.

A few things that make our Christmas village complete.

Denver Broncos candy canes.
Our tree is jam-packed with ornaments.  Some branches have two or three, but we can't stop ourselves from buying more.  We probably should create some sort of ornament database to prevent repeat purchases (there are a lot of cake ornaments), but the end product is always a twinkly catalog of our childhoods, travels and memories.  These are our Christmas stories. 
Lord Vader and the Holiday Armadillo always make an appearance. 

We tape all of the Christmas cards we get to our front door.  We had a pretty impressive collection last year, which serves as a reminder of how loved we are even from afar.  Wonderful.
Holiday window gels.
Finally--finally!--I convinced D.R. that we had to pare down our collection (do you think Martha has window gels?) when I showed him this collection of random winter objects and creature parts that looks more like an autopsy than a winter wonderland.  He agreed under the condition that more would be purchased to replace them.  I'm fighting a losing battle here, folks.

Not just Santa's village, giant cross-country skiing Santa's village.  Santa smash!
Besides the tree, I think this is my favorite bit.  I wasn't kidding about those random Santa figurines all over everything. 

Hope you are all enjoying the season.  If you're not, come on over and D.R. will make you enjoy it.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Zut Alors!

I fell all over myself when I had LadurĂ©e macaroons ("macarons", depending on how French you're feeling) in Paris last year.  Initially, I was cynical, because I thought it was just a cookie--butter, flour, sugar, eggs--with a flavored filling sandwiched in the middle.  Uhhhhhh, thanks France.  I'm holdin' it down in the sandwich cookie department with my Oreos.  You can't mess with my Double Stuf. 

Oh, how good it is to be wrong.

Get them in my mouth!
French Macarons are actually tiny meringues made mostly from egg whites and almond flour.  Crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, they are like cake, a cookie and candy all in one.  The colors and flavors are amazing (salted caramel just about made my brains fall out) and they can be popped into your mouth with a ridiculous ease.  Your eyes will cross.  You'll probably moan and grunt with delight.  And before you even know what's happening, you're scheming ways to move to Paris with nothing but your pastry bag and a smile.

Is that just me?  Weird.

People go to culinary school for years to learn how to make these delightful things.  Nevertheless, I was inspired by my recent Christmas ornament purchase to attempt French macaroons in my own kitchen.

This will make my Christmas tree VERY happy.

So, uhhhhhhh . . . here's mine.

Almond orange with chocolate ganache filling.

There was no puffing and nary a frilly edge to be seen.  Honestly, this trio was the most photogenic of the bunch.  Safe to say that LadurĂ©e will not be calling me anytime to soon.  That said, they are pretty scrumptious.  D.R. says they taste like a giant Froot Loop.

I'm OK with that.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Blip Is Back

I delayed writing this post until I was a bit further along in the process.  Today, I met with the man who will splay open my neck for a second time and go hunting for some diabolical sons o' bitches--my lymph nodes.

That's right, the blip is back.

Actually, it probably never left.  I distinctly remember the look on my surgeon's face and the tone in his voice when I visited him for a check up after surgery.  As I explained that I was feeling well and adjusting to my hormones, he slowly nodded his head and made a face that, simultaneously, wrinkled his forehead, puckered his chin and made his lips disappear in a weird frown.  He nodded, sighed and slapped his knees as he stood up from the spinning exam stool.  "Well, I'll be interested to see what happens with you in the future."  At first, I was flattered.  I mean, it's not like I was going to see him again, right?  What a sweet guy to be interested in my recovery and subsequent trajectory to awesomeness.

But . . .

As days went by, there was something about his voice during that meeting that left me unsettled.  Something knowing.  Something he didn't know how to tell me.  Did I say something inappropriate while waking up from anesthesia?  Did I have a gown malfunction?  What did my mother say that I did not expressly authorize as acceptable mother/surgeon conversation?  Shit.

Now I know. 

Along with my thyroid, he took 20 lymph nodes, 8 of which were cancerous.  His "interest" in me was his way of saying I did the best I could.  I scraped out as much as I could find, but I can't guarantee I got it all.  

The good news is, there is not much left to get.  4 lymph nodes lodged in the right side of my neck that were probably too small to see the first time around.  I'll be in the hospital overnight and have a spiffy new neck scar for my collection.

The great news is, I now have the benefit of working for some of the best surgeons in Los Angeles.  I would be a jackass if I didn't use my resources, so I rolled into my boss's office and said, "Say a girl needs a good surgeon.  Any idea where I could rustle up one?"  As only someone who chooses to slice people open for a living can, he was down right gleeful to set me up with his favorite scalpel wielder.  In the time it took me to walk from his office back to mine, the email was written.  15 minutes later there was a reply, and 15 minutes after that I had an appointment.  Boom.

The really amazing news is D.R. will be there when I wake up.  Alice B. will rest her head on my chest while I recover on the couch.  My family will call incessantly to make sure I'm alright.  My friends will stop by, bring food, send messages and ask if I need anything. 

I am, and will be, love smothered. 

I just need to give my new surgeon fair warning about my mother.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Tomorrow, D.R. and I will celebrate 5 years together.  We wanted to do something special to commemorate the event but we just couldn't land on the quintessential thing that encapsulates 5 years of D.R. and Samantha Awesomeness.  A big blowout dinner?  A weekend away? 

Thankfully, Alice B. came to the rescue.

She had to have a lump removed from her side and D.R. and I scrambled the money together to make it happen.  She came home from the vet sporting a large, somewhat Frankenstein-ian incision, the dreaded plastic cone, and a week's supply of pain pills.  She was in the cone for a couple hours--whining, falling asleep standing up, running into walls--before we could stand it no longer.  We MacGyvered an old t-shirt into a bandage/kimono and Alice B. is officially on the mend.

Today, I looked at D.R. and said, "So, what are we doing for our anniversary?"
He glanced at Alice sitting lopsided on the floor, coming down from her latest dose of pain pills and giving us the big brown googley eyes.  "Uhhhhh, saving our dog's life."

At least our anniversary fund is adorable.

Do you think dogs get the munchies?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dunnshine's Favorite Things, #3

Ta da!

I have emerged from the last two months which I am dubbing Oh, Now I Remember What It's Like To Have a Job With Real Responsibilities.


I do love that the universe continues to remind me that I must actively seek and maintain balance.  It is not something that will always be there once it is achieved.  It must be loved, nurtured and cultivated . . . saucey minx though it is.

With that in mind, I make my triumphant blogging return with a few more of my favorite things.

1. Intention. 
I don't know about you, but there are days that I wake up . . . do stuff . . . go to bed and think Wow, I didn't actually DO anything today.  I believe those days are necessary and mentally beneficial, but since starting my job, I realize I may have gotten a little too comfortable in my free time.  An actual task that probably would've taken all of 17 minutes to complete would be put off, and put off, and put off--I've got time, and those reruns of Nigella Feasts! ain't gonna watch themselves--to the point where it became this insurmountable, dramatic thing.  You want me to change the BRITA filter?  That will take foreeeeeever.  Yeah, I'm 31-years old and still a second-grader at my core--I need structure, I require challenges, and I must apply myself.  Otherwise, I get feisty for no reason and start shit by the monkey bars.

Knowing this about myself, I can honestly say that I love having a job because it requires me to be intentional with my time for 40 hours a week.  This, in turn, requires me to be intentional with my free time so I can avoid having the things I love (blogging, maybe?) go the way of the BRITA filter.

So, I feel like I'm getting more of handle on the job and a handle on my free time.  I appreciate both of them even more. 

Mrs. Asti would be so proud.

2. Red Heels 
As part of Intention Quest 2011, I am enjoying my business-casual dress code and putting forth a bit more effort in the fashion department.  Left to my own devices I am an average fashionista, but I am always looking for some inspiration or finesse.  Tina Fey pretty much nailed my fashion dilemma in a Vanity Fair article a few years ago.  "Because of the Greek-girl thing, I have, like, boobs and butt.  I only have two speeds – matronly or a little too slutty. I have to be steered away from cheetah print."  I am about 5'9" and have my share of lovely lady lumps.  Much like Ms. Tina, I have two speeds--Dorothy Zbornak and Amazon/dominatrix.  I embrace my height and build, but certain items have no business in my closet:  spaghetti straps, neon, cap sleeves, fringe of any kind, "bralettes", 5" heels, mini skirts, pleated pants, and those dresses that highlight the sternum/ribcage (when did counting a woman's ribs become attractive?).  I keep my clothes pretty neutral and structured and add color with scarfs, blazers, a print here and there, and now, these lovelies . . .

Aren't they fabulous?!

I found them at ROSS, tossed under a rack in the clearance section.  I knew they would put me a little closer to the Amazon/dominatrix camp, but when I slipped them on--oooooooo, girl!--I knew I had to make them mine. 

Oh, the power of the red heel.  They comfortably handle my daily trek around campus without making my toes feel like they're stuck in a vice.  They are instant mood and confidence enhancers.  And, I don't feel as if people are staring at me like I'm dragging a stripper pole.

Ladies, get thee to a pair of fabulous colorful heels.

3.  Alice B.'s Oral Fixation
Two and a half years ago, D.R. and I made the decision to rescue a dog and off we went to a Los Angeles Animal Shelter.  I, of course, wanted all the dogs and broke down crying no less than three times.

Then, we found this face.

The day we became her humans.
Would you have been able to walk away from those wonky ears and the soulful brown eyes?  Neither could we.

When she gets anxious or excited, she soothes herself by carrying things in her mouth.  Recently, this fixation has gotten a little--uhhh, skewed.

Started off harmless with the fuzzy blue cow.

Moved onto the fuzzy orange bone.

Clearly my peanut butter obsession has been a bad influence.

A train ticket?  Really Alice?

We should probably intervene at some point, but it's so fun to see what she brings us.

4.  Anthony Bourdain
Used to be a whole pig.  Try not to think of Charlotte's Web. (source)   

My liking of Anthony Bourdain was a slow burn.  I knew him mostly for his judging on Top Chef--fine and astute commentary, but did he need to be so snarky?  Then, I found myself with nothing to do on a Saturday (see item #1) and a No Reservations marathon on the Travel Channel.  I was sucked in by his morphing hair styles, his gangly swagger that is half Please accept me, I only want your love, and half I will punch you in the neck if you say anything about my leather jacket in 80 degree weather.  The man has a somewhat dark past, but his love for food comes from a good and pure place.  For all his foul language, quick and biting wit, and less-than-high-regard for Food Network personalities, there is a true respect for food and its place in a culture.  Bourdain wants you to get riled up when he shoots his mouth off about Paula Deen because then maybe you'll also get riled up about the food your eating.  What are you eating?  Why are you eating it?  Where did it come from?  I cringed during the "Cajun Country" episode when he shot a pig in the head (he is from Jersey after all), but I have also never seen such loving documentation of the breaking down and flavoring up of meat.  I mean, they film the whooooooole process.  Bourdain is making a point--you gotta respect the animal that gave its life for your pork chop.  Bourdain loved that pig.  Every last bite of it.

5.  The Breakfast Cookie
With the start of the new job, leisurely morning coffee and nursing a bowl of oatmeal is a thing of the past.  Now, my mornings have to flow as smoothly and efficiently as possible.  This little beauty really helps.  Wish I could take credit for it, but I can't.  I can, however, take credit for my tweaking.

Dunnshine's Breakfast Cookie
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 scoop of vanilla protein powder (about a tablespoon, maybe a little more)
2 Tbsp. of peanut butter (I'm sure any nut butter would be fine here, but I just can't part with my Skippy Natural)
2-4 Tbsp of milk of your choice (I've been using vanilla almond milk)
1 Tbsp of flaked coconut
1-2 Tbsp of raisins
Sweetner (I've used agave syrup, Splenda and honey.  Depends on your taste)

Mix the oats, protein powder and peanut butter.  Add enough milk until it comes together and is no longer crumbly.  Mix in the coconut, raisins, cinnamon and sweetner.  Spread onto a small plate and flatten into a "cookie".  Leave in the refrigerator overnight.  In the morning, the oats will have softned and it will taste somewhere between a bowl of oatmeal and an oatmeal cookie.  Get your coffee in a travel mug and off to work you go!

I promise I'll be back sooner than two months down the road.  I've figured out my priorities in life and I'm renewing my commitment.  Let's spend our lives together.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


I've read that breaking a fast correctly is just as important as the actual fast.  Therefore, to prime my system once again for sugar, I will be reintroducing it very slowly.

With this beautiful thing.

The Chocolate & Peanut Butter S'mores with Vanilla Ice Cream

I think that's slow enough, don't you?

I just drooled all over myself (and maybe a little on the dog snuggling in my lap) watching this come to life on the "Ice Creamy" episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate.  Prime 112 in Miami serves this, and it's the kind of thing that makes me want to mind-meld with pastry chefs.  Unfortunately, Miami is not high on my list of travel destinations.  I'd go for the food (I'd go anywhere for the food), but the regional penchant for mini skirts and self-tanner keeps me away.  My scarred knee caps and creamy white thigh flesh are fine with this decision.

Alas, I will be tinkering with recipes in my own kitchen.  The chef was happy to disclose the five wonderful layers of goo and gorgeousness:
  • Graham cracker crust baked in the bottom of a ramekin (easy enough)
  • Peanut Butter Ganache made with brown sugar (easy enough . . . if I don't eat it out of the bowl first)
  • Chocolate Ganache (now we're just getting silly)
  • Scoop of vanilla ice cream.
  • Suffocate the whole wonderful mess with marshmallow cream and torch until roasty (commence sugar-gasm!).
The 30-Day Baked Goods Ban ends on Thursday, August 11th.  I'll give myself until Sunday, the 14th to experiment and put this together.  Let's face it, I won't last much longer past that.

There will either be pictures of the finished product, or pictures of me scooping peanut butter with my fingers in defeat.  Either way, that's just good internets.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dunnshine's Favorite Things, #2

1.  Being Right
A few weeks ago, my doctor increased my hormone dosage.  I know that regulating the thyroid hormone can be a process (often more frustrating then surgery and treatments).  The lucky thing is that I went into this whole thing healthy and pretty in-tune with my body.  So, I noted any and all changes to report to my doctor.

First, the Ladies.  Sweet baby Jesus, how they hurt!  I mean, I'm toting around a rather large and impressive pair (all natural, just so we're clear) to begin with.  Since the hormone replacement, they have felt like heavy (and heavier) bags.  Also, my lower back and hips are operating like someone three times my age.  There's popping, cracking, and it hurts to bend over the sink to brush my teeth.  I'm not in agony by any means, but things are wonky and unpleasant.  This past month, my uterus decided to join in the fun.  Let me say, without getting too graphic, that my bits have operated like clockwork since that fateful day in the girls' bathroom outside of Mrs. Larson's 7th grade English class.  Therefore, when that clock went haywire, I was on the phone with my gynecologist ASAP.  She asked all the necessary questions:
Are you pregnant?
Did you miss pills in your birth control pack?
Are you stressed out?
Uhhhh, YEAH!  My body is currently running a hormonal experiment on itself.  You could say I'm a little stressed out!

So stressed, in fact, that I broke down in tears on the phone with my gynecologist.  That's another thing--the crying!  I've always been a cryer.  Songs, movies, opening presents, good news, bad news, a really good piece of cake--I'm a puddle.  For the first few years of living together, I had to constantly reassure D.R. that crying is my body's natural reaction to just about anything, and it has nothing to do with him.  Crying is not new for me.  What is new is how intense it's been lately.  Granted, I am job hunting, which, anyone who is in this same boat knows, is a frustrating massacre of pride and self-worth, certainly worthy of a few breakdowns.  But, as D.R. ever-so-gently pointed out, 2 or 3 times a week for an hour at a time is a little much.  Even for me. 

This is what makes hormones frustrating:  even perfectly balanced, they are so unique to the individual.  They are affected by stress, mood, diet, and other lifestyle choices.  And, if something is off, the symptoms can be so non-specific (headaches, joint pain, mood swings, low energy, weight fluctuations, dry skin, etc.), it could be any number of things.  You may just be stressed out; you may have cancer.  Dealing with those extremes, it's difficult to keep perspective and not feel like a lunatic.

After my crying jag ended, my gynecologist recommended I see my doctor and get my levels checked again.  Armed with my list of recent shenanigans, I rolled into my doctor's office.  He was sympathetic, but explained that all the symptoms I am experiencing usually only happen when someone's thyroid is "way off".  Well, considering I no longer have one, I'm guessing it's pretty off!!  I think he was trying to protect me from being alarmed and scared by attributing all my symptoms to the stress of job hunting, but he ended up sounding condescending and dismissive.  This infuriated me more because, since my diagnosis, I have been diligent about nutrition, exercise and stress.  I am by no means a picture of zen and glowing health, but I am treating my body better now than I did before the diagnosis.  AND I WAS TRAINING FOR A HALF MARATHON AT THAT TIME!  If it sounds like I'm bragging, it's because I am.  I got the motherfuckin' memo, kids!  I don't care how easy thyroid cancer is to treat.  Cancer gets to cross my path unchecked exactly one time.  After that, it's fists up, and you better believe I'm comin' fo ya!

But I digress.

After a lengthy discussion, my doctor did a blood test and called with my results.  Turns out my thyroid levels were "way off".  So off, in fact, that he was surprised.  He took the time to explain all the medical stuff, but I just kept thinking, Ha, sucka, I was right!  I know my body, and I. Was. Right.

It's easy to pin it all on the doctor, but really, he doesn't know my body the way I do.  All he knows is what I tell him, and whatever the gooey stuff under the microscope tells him.  If those two things don't make sense, who do you think he's going to be skeptical of?  It's not the microscope.  Yes, doctors should be advocates for their patients, but they're not oracles; they don't have all the answers.  At the end of the day, we have to take responsibility for our own health. 

I am happy to report that my doctor increased my dosage by quite a bit (112mcg to 150mcg).  It's only been a week, but the Ladies seem to be happier and lighter.  Looking forward to the other stuff working itself out.

Also, did I mention that I was right?

2.  Frosted Cupcakery
Strawberry/cream cheese deliciousness.
D.R. with his beet juice.  So not a cupcake.
I stumbled onto this place a little over a year ago, and will continue stumbling into their strawberry/cream cheese cupcake.  Some Angelenos have allegiance to Sprinkles, and they really are wonderful cupcakes.  But the 30-minute wait, only-available-on-certain-days flavors, and the trip to Beverly Hills is not worth it to me.  Frosted is closer to our apartment (although, not walking distance--hallelujah!  It's a good thing that I gotta work a little for those frosted beelzebubs.) and all the flavors are always available.  The flavors are pretty standard but executed well.  When you bite into the strawberry cupcake, you bite into actual strawberries.  No crazy flavor combinations here to distract from poorly made cake and/or frosting.  The cake is delicious on its own; it's not there just to give the frosting something to sit on.  And good-NESS!--the vanilla/salted caramel hi-top is just stupid delicious.  I could eat a dozen and welcome the sugar coma with open arms.  This is the place I take new friend applicants, and if they don't like the cupcakes, there's a real chance I'm going to be "too far away from my phone" whenever they call.  Cupcakes are serious biz-nass in my house.  

So serious that my sweet friend, Joey, brought over some cupcakes on Sunday, including the latest Flavor of the Month, key lime/cream cheese.  Unfortunately, Joey was unaware of the 30-Day Baked Goods Ban, and I wept inside as I turned down that fluffy frosting for some . . . beet juice.  I did, however, watch Joey as he ate a cupcake.  I told him he had a purty mouth.

3.  Nutritional Yeast
Since I'm not eating cupcakes right now, I'm focusing on healthier options.  Nutritional yeast is a huge help in this department.

A few months ago, my lovely friend, Nari, came over to cook dinner with me.  She thrust a jar of homemade salad dressing into my hand, along with a piece of bread for tasting.  Then she stood back and waited for my reaction.
"Holy shit, that is the best dressing I've ever tasted!  What, besides crack, is in that?" I asked.
"It's nutritional yeast!"
"Umm, what is that, and please tell me it won't cause itching or burning?"
I ran right out to Whole Foods to see what this stuff was all about.  It comes in dry flakes that are a golden yellow-ey color (kinda looks like fish food), and it has a cheezy nutty flavor.  Evidently you can sprinkle it on popcorn, pasta or what have you, but I've pretty much used my entire supply in, what is now referred to in our house simply as, The Dressing.  Once you make it, you will not need any other dressing in your fridge.  I'm serious.  Like, for realsies seriously serious.  

The Dressing
adapted via Nari, via "Hollyhock Cooks: Food to Nourish Body, Mind and Soil"
  • Whole head of garlic (that's right, the whole thing.  It's somewhere between 9-12 cloves.  Do not fear it.)
  • 1/3 cup of Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/3 cup of Soy Sauce or Tamari
  • 1/3 cup of Water
  • 1/2 cup of Nutritional Yeast Flakes
  • 1 tsp. of Dijon Mustard
  • 1 1/2 cups of sunflower or safflower oil (I've also used olive oil and it's just as tasty.)
Combine everything except the oil in a food processor until the garlic is finely minced.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Turn the processor back on and slowly drizzle the oil in until there is a happy golden-beige sauce of joy.  I would advise not having any kind of bread handy when the dressing is fresh, otherwise you will stand at your kitchen counter dipping bread into the dressing and moaning.  Makes about two cups that will keep in the refrigerator for about two weeks.  Drizzle over salads, turkey sandwiches, fresh tomatoes, Greek salad, shrimp, corn salad . . . the list goes on.

4.  Dolphin Pose
I've mentioned a few times that I love yoga.  Usually, I pop in a DVD and stretch and sweat in my living room.  A few months ago, however, I latched onto an instructor at my gym and I've been regularly attending his class.  While it is a beginner/intermediate class, he does a great job of reading the group and challenging us with new poses.  The first time I attended we did dolphin pose, a pose I had never done before.

It looks like downward dog, but it's amazing how one change--resting on the forearms instead of the hands--can change the entire intention and feel of the pose.  I usually go into downward dog for rest and to regain control of my breath.  Dolphin pose, however, requires all of my strength and concentration.  My shoulders burn, my back engages, and I fight hard to hold onto the calm.  For a little more challenge (as my instructor says, "If you're looking for a little more joy . . . "), he has us extend our legs back and up, one at a time.  This helps prepare for the eventual execution of an arm balance.


I can't do the full arm balance yet, and my whole leg and foot trembles when lifted; my forehead is just a faucet of sweat. But, the other day, I glanced in the mirror and saw my very long leg extended upwards and my toe pointed perfectly.  Damn, it was graceful!  And that's the wonderful thing:  those surprising moments when you see the progress, even when it doesn't feel that way.  So often we are too much into ourselves, and we get buried in the turmoil and the exertion.  But if we just allow some moments to glance outward and see the grace and beauty that has come as a result, we can take the grace back into ourselves.  Who says grace can't tremble and wobble?

5.  Lake Gregory
I have lived in Los Angeles for almost five years now.  I really do love it here, and one of the perks of Los Angeles is that I can leave Los Angeles.  I can drive for about an hour and be in the mountains.  For a girl raised in the Rockies, this is a big perk.

We started going up to Big Bear a few years ago.  It's really beautiful up there, but with the "rustic" lake-front mansions, "rustic" drivers in their Cadillac Escalades, the "rustic" Starbucks, and every woman (and some brave, fashion-forward men) in fur-lined boots in case they get caught in an avalanche while at the "rustic" day spa--it's lost its mountain-y-ness for me.  We started looking for alternatives, and that's when D.R. found Lake Gregory.  It's a comparatively small lake in the vicinity of Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead.  I'm sure most people just skip it on their way up.  I'm here to tell you, stop skipping it.

All of the houses are further up the mountain, leaving the lake shore pretty open.  There is a water slide and swimming area for kids and families.  There's a baseball diamond on one end that seems to act as a dog park when there's no game.  There are nice stretches of shore for fishing, or just sitting and enjoying fresh, non-smogged air.  People acknowledged us when they walked by, and some--what?!--struck up a conversation.  I can't say for sure if boats are allowed on the water, but there were none while we were there.  It was lovely and quiet.  The few hours we spent there made me forget we are city-dwellers.  We're going back tomorrow.

Also, you can hit the hoppin' towns of Blue Jay and Twin Peaks (no affiliation with the TV series).  D.R. and I had dinner at The Grill at Antlers Inn.  While it's clearly the hot-spot (the only spot?), and people were dressed pretty snazzy, they had no problem with us rolling up in shorts, sunglasses and smelling of lake water.  The menu ranges from sushi and Italian, to bistro fare and brunch.  It's not the best food I've ever had, but I think they are aiming for variety, not excellence; it gets the job done.  I think, however, we're going to the all-purpose town diner next time.  Mountains always bring a craving for chicken-fried . . . something.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Last Supper

Here's what I'm eating right now:
  • Chunk of double-cream brie cheese
  • Chunk of very sharp cheddar cheese
  • Scoop of boysenberry jam
  • Scoop of sharp dijon mustard
  • Hunk of whole grain (how healthy!) bread
  • Glass(es) of white wine.
(Just so we're clear, 'chunk', 'scoop', and 'hunk' are all precise measurements.)

Here's what I will be eating later this evening:
  • The Maple Brown Sugar Bundt cake from Trader Joe's
  • Scoop(s) of Peanut Butter Tracks ice cream from Trader Joe's
  • Glass(es) of white wine.
(I'm also flipping between Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Just Friends.  Ryan Reynolds and Ron Weasley make my heart go pitty-pat.)

Does this sound like a gluttonous last meal to anyone?  If so, you are correct.  D.R. and I are about to embark on a challenge . . .

I first read about the 101 in 1001 here--a friend from college, one of my favorite bloggers, and an uber-gifted storyteller.  I read more on it, and decided to write a list myself.  It took a while to compose (so long, in fact, that goal #64 is "Finish this damn list!"), but I felt motivated when it was finished.  I have been slowly crossing items off the list, strategically avoiding #34, "No alcohol, baked goods or candy for a month."  While I do love a glass of wine at the end of the day and a bag of M&M's every now and then, I knew it was the lack of baked goods that would pose the greatest challenge.  Have I mentioned that I'm kind of a slut for all things baked, frosted, buttery and gooey?  I find pastry crumbs on my clothes at the end of the day more often than is acceptable for one functioning in polite society.  It's a problem.

While I do consume obscene amounts of cakes and brownies, I have also, lately, been consuming a lot of information about juicing.  I don't feel like enough of an expert to preach to you all, but Kris Carr has an amazing story about the benefits of fresh juice in her diet, as do Joe Cross and Phil Staples.  My idea is not as extreme, but I decided it would be a nice challenge to fill in some of the holes left by tiramisu and blueberry tartes with wholesome juicey goodness.  And, I am lucky enough to have a sweetheart that is committing along with me.  We've agreed to cut each other some slack for the first sugar- and alcohol-deprived days.

And so . . . 

The Contenders:  D.R. Edmonds and Samantha Dunn

The Challenge:  No alcohol, baked goods or candy for one month (July 11th-August 11th).

The Amendment:  Consume 8-16oz. of fresh juice every day.  One day can be missed, but not two.

The Reward:  Sure, "health and wellness" are wonderful, but I'm going to need something concrete at the end.  I shall think more on this.

Rainbow of goodness straight out of the juicer.

You should see how I look when I consume the cheese, bread and cake.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

No Pressure

A few months ago I had grand plans to run two or three half marathons this year.  Then, as I was researching races (and wincing at registration fees), I had a thought.   

I don't want to do this

Last year, I was excited to train and sweat and pound and push, but I can feel my body resisting that idea.  I'm feeling good these days, but kinda . . . fritzy.  I understand it's a process to find the "new normal" with hormones, so I don't want to add to it with tight joints and sore muscles.  Right now, inflicting the violence of running seems mean.  At the risk of sounding hoakey and new-agey, I feel I have to honor that. 

With a mileage-free calendar, I have been experimenting with classes and workouts.  I completed eight weeks of Boot Camp H20, which was a lovely and welcome challenge.  As a runner, I was pretty smug about my cardiovascular fitness . . . right up until I was asked to swim the entire length of the pool under water.  People, I am not an amphibian; my lungs are built for land.  The first time, I had to come up for air three or four times.  By the last class, I came up for air once.  I was also able to do a minute and a half of pull ups, in the water, off the starting blocks.  Certainly easier than pull ups on land, but as a member of the Scarred Elementary Students asked to "stop straining and just sit back down before the vein in your head pops" during those abhorrent fitness tests, it counts.  You better believe it counts. 

Yoga has been a staple the last few months as well.  I could certainly expound on the mental and physical benefits of yoga, but I'm currently loving it because of the instructor that stays just this side of inappropriate when he reminds us, in a breathy somewhat lecherous tone, to "go deepeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer."  It makes me laugh, which reminds me that there is room for amusement and joy during moments of exertion and unbalance.  That's just life.

I'm thinking a triumphant return to Spinning could be next, with a few Zumba classes sprinkled in.  I watch So You Think You Can Dance every summer and it reminds me how much I love to shake my untrained, less-than-coordinated groove thang. 

I do sigh longingly when I see those sweaty runners on our neighborhood streets.  This is reassurance that the need to run will return in time.  But, for now . . . no pressure. 

In other news, the highly anticipated juicer arrived yesterday.  More to come on that, but here's a sneak peek . . .

Armload of awesome.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

This Old Airport's Got Me Down, It's No Earthly Good To Me

I returned to Billings in February of 2004.  After spending the holidays with my dad and stepmother, I saw they needed help.  My stepmother has highly progressive Multiple Sclerosis and, at the time, was buckling under a barrage of new and diabolical symptoms.  It was a scary and uncertain time for her: would she be able to walk?  How bad is her vision getting?  Why isn't her digestive system working correctly?  How long will her hands be clamped shut?  MS is an evil, relentless disease and Sonjah was getting bitchslapped.

My father was a red-hot mess as well.  He almost died from an aneurysm in 1993 and was never quite the same after that.  He broke his ankle, which led to his 6'3" frame lumbering unevenly on his hips.  Eventually, hip replacements were necessary.  To spice it up, he acquired a staff infection in the hospital that required intravenous antibiotics.  He also had heart disease and hypertension.  Because this was more stress than any one human can handle--and dad was not great at handling stress to begin with--he also suffered from horrible anxiety.  In the middle of the night, I would hear him vomiting into the kitchen sink.  The inability to relieve Sonjah's pain; the fear that his own health was critical; and just the general worry he carried at any given time would catch up with him, and he would, quite literally, expel the emotions the only way his body knew how.  He would stand over the kitchen sink for 30-45 minutes vomiting bile when there was no food left in his stomach.  One night, it got so bad I drove him to the emergency room.  I sat next to him in a fluorescent room and held a pink basin under his chin.  Nurses administered medication that didn't help.  Even when his body was weak from continuous vomiting, his internal worry and turmoil continued to rack his guts.  I was helpless; he was powerless.  I read almost all of The DaVinci Code in that hospital room.  Doctors scolded and pleaded with him to care for himself and learn to manage his stress. But his job, and caring for Sonjah in any way he could left little time to--ya know, meditate and find inner peace.

So he found his peace with alcohol.

Dad struggled with drinking since his days as a musician.  There were times he struggled longer and harder with it, each time snowballing from the previous.  That summer, he was a reclusive drunk.  He would drink in his office when no one else was there, or, he would pour a glass and sequester himself in the bedroom.  Normally chatty and animated, he preferred silence or the white noise of television.  We could look at his face and know that the "DON'T POKE THE INEBRIATED BEAR" sign had been turned on above his head.  Sonjah and I kept our distance unless absolutely necessary, because there was a real possibility of him telling us exactly what he thought about his life and/or us.  And trust me, when he was in pain, he could level pride and self-esteem in one biting verbal punch.  It's this contradiction that continues to be the hardest aspect of his death.  Anyone that met him talked of his charming and likable ways.  He was a storyteller, a bit of a philosopher, and he could play the hell out of any Gordon Lightfoot song ever written.  He was loving, insightful, and could say the perfect thing to lift me out of sadness or defeat.   When people tell me I remind them of him, it's a compliment.  How could someone so awesome have this destructive and tragic flaw? 

In between working, playing at the local theater, and having a secret fling with one Mr. D.R. Edmonds ("Oh, it's nothing really.  We adore each other, but he's moving to Los Angeles and I'm moving to Chicago.  We don't really have a shot."), I got to know my father better--the good, the bad and the ugly.  On my 24th birthday, I asked him what he was doing when he was 24.  Amanda and I had not yet rocked his world, so I knew there were some good stories.  He was a little fuzzy on the details, but he told me he was traveling with some buddies in a van to Washington in pursuit of a woman named Ruth.  It's possible there may have been some mind-altering substances in said van.  His eyes sparkled and he chuckled at the old memory.  I smiled, grateful for the new memory.  It was those moments and exchanges--learning about him as a man, and not just as my father--that built a connection that only comes in adulthood, and only comes through the realization that I am more like him than unlike him. 

Before I left for Chicago in September, one of dad's oldest and best friends, Grant Sears, came to Billings.  Grant knew, through recent conversations, that dad was hanging on by some very thin sanity threads, so he came on a sort of rescue mission.  He arrived on a very large, very shiny motorcycle and my father was immediately seventeen years old.  He circled the bike, stroking his chin and rubbing his head, conjuring ways to lovingly swindle Grant out of this gorgeous machine.  Grant offered a ride and dad couldn't get on the bike fast enough.  I am grateful that the last image I have is my father holding onto his best friend, riding a few moments in a dream to forget his wounds and his worry.

Dad continued drinking after I left.  I would call to tell him of my latest adventures in Chicago, and, while enthusiastic and proud, there were long pauses and slurred words.  Finally, Sonjah--having had one too many encounters with him in addition to her already delicate health--called a friend who was in AA.  I was absolutely supportive of him joining, but I had my reservations.  Previous attempts to get him help had been unsuccessful, but I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  We all were.

One Sunday, in December, I was putzing around my apartment when he called . . . to apologize.  He sobbed as he acknowledged for the first time that he had been wrong and hurtful at times, and that I was on the receiving end of those episodes more times than he wanted to admit.  I was so stunned and emotional, all I could say was, "It's okay."  We bawled together and promised that we would revisit and rebuild what had been broken between us--between all of us.  We would have conversations and be honest about feelings and circumstances.  No more of this sweep-it-under-the-rug-and-ignore-the-pain--a cornerstone of the Dunn-family mission statement.  He told me he would call me next week to update his progress.  As always, when we hung up, he told me how proud he was of me and that he loved me.  He sounded renewed.  He sounded committed.

I did get a call the following Sunday.  It was the call to tell me that he had died in the night due to heart disease complicated by chronic alcohol abuse.  I remember Sonjah begging to have the "chronic alcohol abuse" removed from his death certificate.  It wasn't that she wanted to deny and ignore it.  She wanted, as a final gesture to her husband, the certifiable acknowledgment that he was taking the steps to value his own life even though his body gave out.  Unfortunately, an autopsy is an autopsy, and the truth is written in 10pt capital letters. 

Almost seven years have passed since that devastating day, and my grief changes.  It began as a constant weight with no respect for time and place.  Break down over the cantaloupes in the produce aisle?  You betcha.  It was heavy and hard to carry, but I adjusted my stride, and carry it I did.  For the past few years it's been certain moments or memories that get me: the way his ankles cracked when he walked up stairs; how he scraped every jar of JIF peanut butter clean; how he struggled to sing sad songs because he was so emotional about music. 

But, today--Father's Day--I realize I miss him differently than ever before.  Today, I miss the man he was going to be.  I picture what he would look like now:  almost 65 years old, clear eyes and a strong, settled heart.  I picture him and Sonjah finding peace and comfort in their life together.  I picture him holding Isla, his only grandchild, who looks so much like him it's eerie.  I picture him and me sitting on a sunny porch, drinking iced tea and tinkering on guitars.  We would play "Early Morning Rain" for the 107th time (and cry for the 107th time), then I would say, "Dad, let me introduce to you 'Mumford & Sons'." He'd be impressed and intrigued by the guitar arrangements.  He would still have the uncanny ability to say the exact sentiment that Amanda and I need to hear when our lives get overwhelming.  He would give us the insight that can only come from a man that has walked that road and come out the other side.

Because I believe he did come out the other side.  He is proud and confident that the souls left down here will carry his life and his memories.  And he is calm and joyful somewhere in the heavenly whirls. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dunnshine's Favorite Things

In an effort to take my writing down a road not populated by thoughts of cancer, recovery, and medication, I am shamelessly stealing this idea from . . . a number of blogs that I read.  It's no schnitzel with noodles, but here are a few of my favorite things:

1.  My Bookmark
I visited the Art Institute of Chicago once during the two years I lived there.  I love wandering the galleries of an art museum just as much as the next person, but I don't find my soul awakened by gazing upon a canvas painted entirely one color by a one-bristled brush made from the hairs of a rare amphibious creature that only comes on land at 11:33am on Thursdays.  An art aficionado I am not.  That said, I completely fell in love that day.

She was on a wall near the exit, kind of bunched in with some others.  Maybe it was the tilt of her head; maybe it was the look on her face; maybe it was her heavy-handed rouge application.  Regardless, I had to know her name.  According to the placard nearby, it is Woman with a Necklace, 1917, by Modigliani.  At the time, I couldn't tell you anything about Modigliani other than I thought he needed to jazz up his painting titles.  My goal was to snag a print from the gift shop and feel very smug that I had a real piece of art on my wall.  My checkbook, however--all $12.56 of it--had other ideas.  I bought the largest print I could.  A postcard.

I like to call her Beatrice Firecheeks.

Since I left Chicago (almost five years ago) I have searched for a print online.  Nothing.  I told D.R. it was my favorite painting, and in a sweeping gesture of romance, he said, "I will find you a print."  He's still sweeping.  I've called the Art Institute for suggestions.  The "art authority" I spoke with didn't even remember the painting being a part of the collection.  Nice.  All the while, I've carried her around as my bookmark.  The white stress lines at the top are from poking out the top of books that are thrown into my purse or luggage.  A couple years ago, she lost her red bouffant hair and I lovingly swaddled her in packaging tape.  She's taken a couple swims because I like to read in the bathtub.  She's still lovely, but I would like to get a larger print before she is lost or disintegrates.   

2.  The Green Monster Smoothie
I discovered this concoction last year while training for my half-marathon.  It makes a great post-run recovery meal (protein), and--well, it's just damn tasty, so have it whenever.  All that cancer-fighting spinach isn't bad either.  Just sayin'.

There are numerous recipes to finagle, but my favorite is:
  • 1 1/2 cups of milk (I use unsweetened vanilla almond milk, but any milk will do.)
  • half of a frozen banana (frozen fruit eliminates the need for ice.)
  • 1/3-ish cup of some other frozen fruit (I've used blueberries, strawberries, mango, pineapple, nectarines, really anything works here.  Although, I did not have good luck with avocados.)
  • 1 scoop of protein powder (optional)
  • 1 scoop of greens powder (I buy mine at Trader Joe's, but it's available online or at health food stores.  Again, optional.)
  • 2-3 cups of washed baby spinach (must be fresh, frozen spinach does not blend properly.)

Add all ingredients to the blender in order listed.  The amount of spinach will depend on the size of your blender.  I pack mine down a bit to get more in.  If you are so inclined, add a glug of honey or agave syrup for sweetness.  Turn on the blender and wait for the smooth bright green gorgeousness to appear.

I would post a picture, but it is in my belly.   

3. Bootcamp H2O 
Sometimes I get burned out on running and have to spice up my fitness routine.  For the month of June, I joined these crazies.  This endeavor is accomplishing a few things:
Photo by, Igor Porciuncula
  • Renewing my love of swimming.
  • Renewing my fear of drowning.
  • Knowledge that my classmates are jealous of my bright blue floral swim cap.
  • And bright yellow swim fins.
  • Thanks to Bossypants by Tina Fey, a new appreciation for my crotch biscuits--"the wobbly triangles on one's inner thigh".
  • Thanks to my long torso, high-cut leg holes, and the placement of my tattoo, a new appreciation for my hip biscuits. 
  • A sense of wellness and freedom as I move through the water, building strength and stamina each time I attend class.  Of course. 
4. Peonies

    These are in my living room right now.
    This time every year, Trader Joe's is stocked with these gorgeous flowers.  They start out in tight little balls that do not resemble anything even remotely floral.  But, get them home into a loving container and they just open and bloom for days.  I am compelled to smell them almost every time I walk by.  De-lic-ious. 

    5.  "Unctuous" 
    I often fantasize I am a guest on "Inside the Actors Studio".  James Lipton is somewhat creepy, but I do love the end-of-show questionnaire.  Currently, my answer to "What is your favorite word?" is "unctuous".  Defined as an oily or soapy quality, it describes any number of things from people ("She was unctuous in her pursuits of his fortune.") to cuisine ("The clams gave off their unctuous aroma.").  I love it because it sounds somewhat sexual, but it also could be a new band (The Unctuous Monkeys!) Also, I challenge anyone to use the word in a sentence and not lay down some shoulder action or make a strange face.  "Unctuous" is not for the faint of vocab.

    Friday, June 3, 2011

    Hormone Drama

    My doctor started me on 100mcg of Levothyroxine after radiation.  Even then, he was sure that dosage was too low, but he wanted to see how my body responded after the trifecta of surgery, radiation and hormone replacement.  Last week, he called with the results of my latest blood test.  Very bluntly, he asked, "Umm, are you even taking the medication that I prescribed for you?  Your levels are really high."
    Confused and defensive, I answered, "Yes I am.  Why, what's wrong?"

    I know that prattling off a bunch of medical lingo is a fast way to make friends, but I prefer to dramatize what I believe to be the discussion Levothyroxine is currently having with my brain.  In this scene, I picture Ed Asner playing my brain, and Rob Lowe playing Levothyroxine. 

    (Curtain Up)

    Levothyroxine:  Good afternoon, Brain.  First, I just wanna say that I'm a huge fan of your work.  Unfortunately though, we've had some complaints about your performance.

    Brain:  Complaints?  About what?

    Levo:  Did that neuron come by and let you know Samantha doesn't have a thyroid anymore?

    Brain:  It's possible.  I can't recollect exactly.  As you can see, I've got a lot on my hypothalamus today.

    Levo:  No worries.  It's just that--well, ummmm . . . how do I put this diplomatically? . . . it's possible that you gave Samantha cancer.

    Brain:  What!?  I would never do such a thing.

    Levo:  Well, it's a delicate situation and we have teams working all the time to figure out what exactly went wrong.  She does breathe that Los Angeles air, but it could also be something in the milk she drinks.  There does seem to be a family history so it could be you were working with contaminated information to begin with.  Of course there is her penchant for sugar--

    Brain:  Levo, your point, please?  I've got a progress meeting with the Amygdala in a few minutes.

    Levo:  Certainly.  As I was saying, I've sent some messages your way letting you know that you can stop pumping out so much hormone.  I'll take it from here.

    Brain:  Well, I just sent some hormones down there a while ago.  Nothing out of the ordinary has been reported.  None of this "Samantha doesn't have a thyroid" that you speak of.

    Levo:  Yes, that's where I come in.  I've been called in to sort of . . . revamp the landscape, if you will?  Samantha requires some specialized attention.  I'm taking over this particular project so you don't have to devote so much time to it.  I mean, I know the heart and lungs keep you busy.  Listen, Brain, you will always be a part of this.  I appreciate you laying the groundwork for me and I'll be sure to keep you updated on her progress, but it's time for you to back off a little and let me do my job.

    Brain:  And what if I don't back off?!  What are you gonna do then, huh?! You replacement hormones come in here with your well-timed sparkly transmitters thinking you own the place.  You know, I've been doing this job for almost 32 years and Samantha has been operating just fineI don't believe your hippy voodoo replacement hormones are any better than what I'm pumping out up here.  So, what do you think about that? Levothyroxine schmevothyroxine . . .

    Levo:  I know this is hard to wrap your brain around, but you are pumping out too much hormone.  The bottom line is, if you don't stop, there's a chance the cancer could come back.  We all just want what's best for Samantha, so I'm asking you--one chemical compound to another--to lay off.  Right now, I'm keeping it low key; I'm asking you nicely.  But, if you don't start cooperating, I'm gonna have to bring in more of my boys and we're gonna have to get rowdy, OK?

    Brain:  OK . . . fine.

    Levo:  Thanks, Brain.  Hey, by the way, that dream last night with Samantha and Julie Andrews running a tannery--some really good stuff in there.

    Brain:  Aww, thanks.  REM sleep and I were pretty proud of that one.

    Levo:  OK.  Good talk.

    (End Scene)

    So, my doctor has upped my dosage and we'll see what transpires from here. 

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011

    At Attention

    I'm guilty . . . of the very thing my doctor warned me about. 

    It's been over two months since my radiation treatment, and I show my gratitude by going radio silent.  Classy.

    Four days after my last blog entry, I returned to my doctor for the results of, what I lovingly refer to as, "being lit".  Anxiety was immediately upon me when I woke up.  What if the scan isn't clean?  What if it has spread?  What if they have to do another round?  I took a few attempts at optimism, but was brushed back by waves of uncertainty and--well, just bleeeeech.  Even if the scans are clean, I have to visit this damn hospital practically every month while they regulate my hormones.  I have to be back in three months anyway for another scan.  I am going to spend way too much of 2011 in the bowels of Cedars-Sinai hospital.  Bleeeeech!  Not even my turquoise sweater--if I'm getting bad news, I'm going to get it looking good!--was enough to make me feel better.  It was a quiet drive to the hospital.

    I sat cross-legged on the exam table while D.R. sat patiently in a chair next to me.  My doctor came in carrying my chart.
    "As we expected, your scans look good.  All of the traces were localized in your neck, which is where we want them.  We seem to have removed all the cancer with surgery; it has not spread."  
    Ooooo, I think I just heard a choir and lots of tambourines.  "I need to schedule another scan in three months, right?"
    "Actually, no.  We need to do a scan in 6-12 months to see if it has recurred or spread.  We'll do an ultrasound instead of the radiation scan, and we'll do some blood work.  Those two things will give us the answers we need."
    "Wait . . . 6-12 months seems like a wide range of time."  I need hard and fast numbers, people!
    I saw him scrunch his chin and smile slightly.  "Let's split the difference and have you back here in 9 months.  How's that?"
    I felt a tiny bit foolish.  I was so caught up in numbers and levels and protocols that I lost my ability to do simple math, nor did I recognize that he was giving me flexibility as an offering of comfort and reassurance.  
    "I thought I had to come see you, like, every month for--I don't know--stuff that requires tourniquets and needles?"
    "We will need to periodically check your hormone levels to get that regulated, but that requires a simple blood test every few months.  I don't even need to be there."  He was enjoying a moment of ironic satisfaction that I was ecstatic about not seeing him for a while.  

    And just like that, it was kinda . . . over.  Along with my test results, my doctor gave me back the proverbial breath that I had been holding for four months.  I don't remember what I did next.  I have a vague recollection of D.R. and I taking Alice B. to the dog park later that afternoon.  I may have eaten a sandwich.

    I just went . . . on.

    It is here that I must apologize because I did the very thing my doctor warned me about.  He begged me not to Google thyroid cancer when I was diagnosed because he knew that for every horrible account I read online, there were many more healthy and grateful survivors living healthy and grateful lives.  Why aren't they sharing their stories?  Because they are busy living their stories.  I wanted to be the person that shared my triumph and my overcoming!  I wanted to send my light of hope over a sea of gigabytes!  I wanted to detail all the wonderful ways that my life and perspective have changed!  But that's the thing . . .

    It's not really all that different. 

    Don't get me wrong, it hasn't been all skipping and Skittles since March.  I had a horrible taste in my mouth for about a month that made everything I ate or drank taste like a penny.  I have varying degrees of boob pain that--best-case scenario--have me slapping D.R.'s hands away, and--worst-case scenario--had me convinced I was pregnant and would have to terminate the pregnancy because of radiation (scary, awful, and I've never been more grateful for my period).  I've had back and joint pain that no amount of stretching or massage can alleviate.  My skin is dry, and there are days when eight full glasses of water don't quench my thirst.  These are all symptoms that, I'm told, will go away as my hormones are regulated.

    Any time D.R. walks around without a shirt (wahoo!) I am stealthily inspecting his freckles.  I am incessantly reminding my sister to get her thyroid checked (she finally went to a doctor this week), and quizzing family members about their medical history.  A few of my female friends have been on the business end of lectures about thyroid health--pointing fingers and all.  Old episodes of Grey's Anatomy make me cry more than they used to (that could just be because I miss when it used to be a good show. Ya know, before Izzy started sleeping with a dead guy?).  These are all symptoms that, I'm told, will go away once my emotions catch up with my brain. 

    It's all a matter of healing, and we all have a different process.  I'm not skydiving.  I'm not learning foreign languages.  I'm not writing my autobiography (yet).  I'm not dying my hair green, going vegan and moving into a yurt.  

    I am, however, listening more.  I am crying more.  I am running faster.  I am standing up for myself.  I am letting the laundry pile up higher than I used to.  I am keeping cookies in the house even though there is a chance I could eat them all in 3.5 minutes.  I am writing things down that I want to write about later.  I am teaching my momma the ways of the iPhone.  I am having conversations with my stepmother that we normally wouldn't have had.  I am taking chances and stretching muscles that haven't been stretched in a while.  I am telling more people in my life that I love them. 

    I am, once again, finding the life in the every day. 

    Maybe that's the secret:  life can change in an instant, but sometimes that instant isn't grand and booming.  Sometimes it's small and quiet and just gives a wee nudge to the left or right.  Sometimes it takes a tornado; sometimes it takes a conversation.  Maybe it's a new old dream; maybe it's a new old couch.  Could be tears and laughter; could be scotch and soda.  I love when life changes my point of view and gets my attention.  'Cause life, my friends, deserves attention.  

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    Safety Dance

    I was released from the hospital this afternoon.  My discharge papers suggest I "indulge in creativity during this time" and "get some exercise, but not enough to make you tired." Since I am too tired to cook, bake, or run, I am calling today's writing my creative cardio.  I'm so efficient.

    When I was admitted on Monday, I was chalk-full of information on radiation, exposure, and contamination.  After the email, followed by the written explanation, followed by the hour and a half long meeting with a nuclear safety officer, I was confident I knew exactly what to expect and execute during my 48 hours in bio-hazard-dome.  My admitting nurse seemed to have skipped the training.

    Things weren't right from the jump.  Lab tests were missing, so they had to draw more blood and get a urine sample before they could administer the iodine.  Even as the nurse repeatedly sighed and clicked her tongue at me for having "small veins"; and blamed my recent sip of ice water for her failure to get an accurate read of my body temperature.  Really, after 10 minutes of no ice water, you still can't get it?; and forgot the kinda-vital-to-recording-vital-signs blood pressure cuff, I remained calm and compliant.  When she put me on the bed, which doubles as a scale, and announced my current weight, I said, "Um, that's incorrect."
    She gave me a patronizing look and said, "Oh, ok honey, I'll subtract five pounds because of your street clothes and shoes, and what appears to be a very heavy hospital bracelet."
    Listen here! I will unleash five pounds of Kiss My Ass if you don't shut your--! "Actually, what I meant is, that weight is too low.  If that is, in fact, my current weight, I have miraculously lost 35 pounds in about two weeks."
    "Oh.  Well, are you at least close to that weight?"
    "Uhhhh, not since about 6th grade."

    Finally, all tests and vital signs were logged and I was ready for transition to my bio-hazard garb.  The safety officer had been very explicit about this part of the process: I would change out of my street clothes into a hospital gown.  All items I wanted to take home--wallet and cell phone--would be placed in plastic bags in a closet, safe from contamination.  Once all of that was completed, I would be administered the iodine.  I waited for my nurse to return with gowns and plastic bags.  Instead, my doctor arrived pushing a trolley with what appeared to be an overgrown paint can.  He explained that the radioactive iodine pill, encased in yet another internal steel cylinder, was inside.  I brought his attention to my lack of hospital gown and general unpreparedness.  He just kept repeating, "It's OK, it's OK."  His impatience was growing (understandable, in the presence of a radioactive substance), as the process had already been delayed.  "We need to give this to you right away."  So, I washed the pill down, and, as if his ass was on fire, he left the room with one final instruction.  "Start drinking water immediately!"

    The water thing: during this type of radiation treatment, the iodine is sucked up by any remaining thyroid and cancer cells.  These iodine-saturated blobs then show up on a scan indicating if and where there is any remaining cancer.  The rest of the iodine leaves via bodily fluids.  Since they don't want radioactive iodine hanging out any longer than necessary, you are given one job during the 48 hours of isolation: drink yourself silly.  More specifically, drink enough water that you are peeing every hour.  Again, I was given very explicit instructions beforehand, and assured by my safety officer that before I am even administered the pill, I would have my own personal refrigerator in my room stocked with water and juice to swill until my bladder's content.  I opened the refrigerator in my room.  Empty.

    So, recap:  In my street clothes.  No hospital gown.  No plastic bags.  Wallet sitting on the end of my bed.  No hydration in sight.  Radioactive.


    I express my concern to the nurse that some safety protocols may have been overlooked.  She apologized, but in light of the fact that I was now radioactive, there was not much to be done.  Everything was contaminated and would have to remain at the hospital after I left.  Honestly, I was fine with my clothes not coming home with me.  And, I had the foresight to put my phone in a Ziploc, per the safety officer's instruction, so I knew it would be alright.  Also, as one who hears and understands safety instructions (am I tooting my horn, here, too much?) I did not bring any reading material or comfort items that I was not prepared to leave there.  I didn't even bring my purse.  Now, I admit, I could've left my wallet at home and brought only my ID and insurance card.  But, those would've been in the contaminated pocket of my contaminated pants.  The point is, regardless if I brought in my wallet, my purse, or the frakkin' Die Hard movie collection, all of these items were supposed to be in a plastic bag far away from me while I built a fort out of empty water bottles. 

    Do you hear that?  It's the sound of someone dropping the ball.

    It took an HOUR for my hospital gown to show up.  It wasn't until another nurse came on at 7pm that I was brought a large jug of water to get me through the night.  And, when I woke up the next morning with pain in my jaw and neck (to be expected, as the iodine is also picked up by the salivary glands) and asked for more water, I was kindly reminded that I was in isolation for a reason, and every time the nurse walked in, she was exposing herself to radiation.  Really!?  Boy, that sounds unsafe.  Perhaps steps could've been taken to prevent having to come in here so many times. 

    At 1:00, my nuclear safety officer--my guardian of sanity--came in.  He mentioned that the nursing staff alerted him that I might have some "questions about my treatment".  When I described the events of the previous day and the morning, he confirmed I was not crazy; safety protocol had not been followed.  When I got to the part about the water he said, "You're supposed to have two dozen bottles of water in the room upon your arrival.  That prevents the nurse having to enter except for meals and emergencies."
    "Thank you!" I said. 
    "Miss Dunn, I'm sorry this happened at such a strange and scary time for you.  It must've been frustrating given everything we went over beforehand."  Whether it was real or just good acting, I never thought sincerity could be achieved by a man standing 6 feet away, in a yellow paper safety gown and rubber gloves, while holding a Geiger counter.  But this guy nailed it.

    Five minutes after he left, my nurse returned with a case of water and six hospital buckets of ice.  "Is there anything else I can get you Miss Dunn?"
    "No, thank you.  That should hold me for a while." 

    The nuclear safety officer was also kind enough to scan my clothes and wallet for radiation levels.  All items were safe to take home.  Sadly, there was one casualty:  a tube of chap stick I'll never see again.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    You Gotta Respect the Blip

    Today marks seven weeks that I have been sans thyroid.  I had every intention of updating after my surgery, but I felt . . . weird . . . about it.

    The surgery went beautifully; my hospital experience was superb; the aftermath has been a breeze; my scar is healing well; the support and love from family and friends is the stuff of dreams.  I take a tiny pill every morning, and my day unfolds much like it did before.

    Still, I feel weird about it.  Why?

    I didn't respect the blip.

    When my doctor called with my diagnosis, he immediately followed it with, "If you're going to get cancer, thyroid cancer is the one to get.  This will be nothing but a blip on your radar a year from now."  And I ran with that.  A "blip" sounds perfect.  I am young and healthy, so getting through this will be easy.  This is a speed bump on the road of life, and I am an excellent driver.  This will be something to survive and push me forward.  I can do this. 

    Talking with a good friend on the phone, he told me that, while en route to his house for Christmas, his sister-in-law--married with a 6-year-old--received the news that she had breast cancer.  She would have to undergo a full mastectomy, chemo, and radiation.  There was no time to waste; it had to happen, like, yesterday.  They immediately returned home to begin treatment.  Evidently, cancer doesn't wait for Christmas.  My friend did not intend this story to be a comparison to my experience, but a testament to how quickly (almost absurdly so!) life can change, and how quickly we adapt.  When I hung up the phone, I was grateful that all I had was a "blip".  Some people, and their 6-year-old, don't have that luxury.

    I listened to, read, and recollected my own heartbreaking and heartbolstering stories.  Stories of loss and survival in the face of cancer and other incurable, unexplainable, and destructive diseases.  Some I would recount here if it were not for the fact that they are not my stories to tell; I could never do them justice.  The cycle of loss, grief, and triumph of the human spirit is as personal and intricate as a fingerprint.  I filed them away, and whenever my chest tightened and my nose tingled with tears of "what if . . .?", I would pop one into the forefront of my brain and let the gratitude work on me like a cold glass of milk after too much peanut butter.  I even came up with a clever response whenever anyone asked me about it. "I have the paper-cut of cancers."

    The days leading up to surgery were a hurricane of emotion. But on the day of, I was great.  Bases were covered, my mom was here, and D.R. and I had decided he would come back home while I was in surgery to walk Alice B.  He would be back with plenty of time to greet me in recovery.  Take that, hurricane!

    A lovely orderly named Jose picked me up from the waiting room, and I swapped my street clothes for the latest in hospital couture.  I crawled into the bed and snuggled with toasty blankets fresh from the warmer.  Nurses came by to check on me, check my chart, check my bracelet. 
    "Do you have any allergies, Samantha?"
    "Not unless you plan on bringing a cat into the O.R."
    "Your neck has a bit of rash on it.  Are you sure you're not allergic to anything?"
    "I'm positive.  It happens whenever I'm nervous."
    "Are you comfortable?  Can we get you anything?"
    "How about a shot of tequila?  No?  Then a willing surgeon will suffice."  
    The anesthesiologist with eyes like Paul Newman hooked up my IV and explained the administering of the happy juice.  It may have been the eyes, but I was supremely confident in his abilities.  My O.R. nurse came in with the chief resident and asked me to state my full name.  I did.  Date of birth?  Certainly.
    "Samantha, what procedure are you having done today?"
    "Do you understand why?"  I get that this line of questioning was a security and liability measure to be sure we were all on the same page, which is why my reaction was a little surprising.
    "I have can--" I choked on the word, and the tears answered for me.  I laid my cold hand on my chest in an effort to soothe the heat rising up my neck and onto my cheeks, turning them red once again with nerves.
    The chief resident took my other hand, and in a manner both matter-of-fact and gentle, said, "Samantha, this will never not be a scary thing.  It's OK"  For her comforting delivery of truth bombs, I will always be grateful to Dr. Cavanaugh.
    I took a deep breathe and made my second approach.  "I have cancer."

    It occurs to me that, while writing this, the very same nervous rash is crawling up my neck and cheeks.

    I remember waking up in recovery and seeing D.R.  Like a good little Type-A, the first thing I said was, "Is the dog alright?"  My mom came in but I don't remember what we talked about.  The next thing I remember is coming out of the bathroom to see my surgeon, Dr. Margulies.  He had changed out of his scrubs into this beautiful olive green shirt and matching tie with gold and pink speckles.  I really wanted to tell him how much I loved the look, but in my drug haze I was paranoid that decorum prevented me paying my surgeon a compliment.  He grinned and told me everything went as planned.  He took out twenty lymph nodes along with my thyroid.  A bit more than he expected, but he was happy with the result.  "From a surgical standpoint, you are cancer-free."

    I recovered well.  So well, in fact, my mom went back home two days earlier than planned.  At my post-op appointment, Dr. Margulies was pleased that I was energetic and happy.  He commented that my voice didn't sound gravelly or strained.  I confirmed that I had returned to perfect pitch almost immediately.  The pathology showed that eight of the twenty lymph nodes removed were cancerous including the "complex cystic structure" that started the whole thing.  He apologized for it not being caught sooner.  I told him I was just grateful that "the aliens" were removed before they became more of a nuisance.  He told me to follow-up with my endocrinologist and schedule radiation 6-8 weeks after surgery.  Just to insure we were all using the same medical lingo, I asked, "Do you think this time next year, this will be but a blip on my radar?"
    "Absolutely."  Decorum be damned, I threw my arms around Dr. Margulies's neck and thanked him for his fine scalpel skills.

    Feeling like the hard part was over, the relief washed over me.  Family and friends asked how I was, and I didn't lie.  "I feel great; the surgery was a breeze."  The best part was I was back to running 11 days after surgery.  I felt powerful and fulfilled during my runs.  I felt my body actively healing itself one mile at a time.

    I met with my endocrinologist a few weeks after surgery.  He was pleased with my progress and response to the medication.  He explained that my upcoming radiation treatment was really more of a clean-up mission.  It would wipe out any remaining thyroid cells as well as any, uhhh "hangers on", if you will.  He went on to say that if I have "clean" scans for the next year I will be considered "cured".  Yes, he did the air quotes, and no, I did not like them.

    That night, sitting on the couch, D.R. observed that I seemed quiet.  I told him that I wasn't sure why, but the use of the air quotes in the doctor's office really bugged me.  The doctor hadn't changed the plan, we were still steady as she goes.  Everything he said was good news or something I had known before.  Yet there was . . . something.

    Kathy, from Nuclear Medicine, scheduled my radiation for Monday, March 14th.  She explained that I would be given a large dose of radioactive iodine, which would get rid of  . . . what needed to be gotten rid of.  The catch is that I have to stay in a stainless steel room in the hospital for two days with no visitors, as I will be radioactive.  I will have a TV and phone in my room, but all reading material must be left at the hospital to avoid contamination.  They will provide all the hospital gowns I can handle, but any clothing worn against my body must be left at the hospital and properly disposed of.  Nurses will be available if I need them, but interaction is minimal to avoid contamination.  A medical physicist will scan me periodically to measure radiation and make sure it's dropped to a safe level before I am sent home.  But the fun does not stop there.  D.R. and Alice B. cannot stay in the apartment with me for three days.  I have to eat off disposable plates and utensils, and whatever linens I use and clothing I wear has to be washed separately in very hot water.  I am not allowed around small children and pregnant women for a week after I arrive home.  Oh, and if there were plans to get pregnant (which there are not!), put that on hold for a year.  Let me explain something here:  I don't like to sleep with the door closed; I don't like it when drapes are completely shut; and you might as well give me a padded room if I can't have the windows open.  It started to feel institutional before I hung up the phone, and the fact that my own body would be a danger to other humans and creatures . . . .

    Somewhere between nuclear medicine and nuclear meltdown, I figured it out.

    This was not supposed to happen, goddammit!!  My father died 6 years ago of a heart attack.  I was ready for doctors to tell me I had high blood pressure, circulatory problems, etc.  I was ready for them to tell me I was at risk for diabetes if I don't keep my weight in check.  I was even ready for thyroid issues.  But cancer?!  No!  That was not on my list!  I'm a runner.  I've never taken drugs.  I don't down a bottle of Jack every night.  Barring my addiction to cake and pastries, I am a healthy, vibrant woman.  Why does this happen?!  What.  The.  Fuck?!?! 

    D.R. got the business end of my spewing rage.  I left a weeping, rambling, hiccuping message on my sister's phone.  I Skyped with my stepmother, Sonjah, for an hour and a half.  I cried on the phone to my mother in the parking lot of Whole Foods.  I didn't edit myself with stories of loss and survival greater than mine.  I didn't pull myself up by my bootstraps.  I didn't let the gratitude wash over me.  I didn't use my favorite euphemisms to soften the sharp point of words like "cancer", "recurrence", and "survival rate".  And as the pounding anger quieted in my ears, I heard a very soft, rhythmic noise . . .

    Blip -- blip -- blip -- blip -- blip.

    Ah ha, be careful what you wish for.

    I realized that when I choked on the word "cancer" in pre-op, I was choking on the truth that I wasn't fully embracing.
    The truth that I didn't feel I deserve to be counted with The Real Survivors because my treatment has been pretty easy and straightforward.
    The truth that CANCER will forever be on my medical record no matter how healthy I am from here on out.
    The truth that I will never function at 100% without the help of modern medicine.
    The truth that, while thyroid cancer patients' survival rate is 90%, my endocrinologist's air quotes were a reminder that I must make peace with that 10% of uncertainty.
    The truth that life, for us all, is really a series of blips.  And if all we are doing is waiting for this unpleasant, or that unfortunate blip to pass over, we are missing a whole lotta life that surrounds it.

    Respect the blip, kids.  It just might be the thing that changes your life.