Chemo Plan

Today was the last day of radiation so now I can load up on vitamins C and E to boost the healing of my skin.

On January 10th I begin the next step in kicking butt. The plan is for 4 3-week cycles of CEF (Cyclophosphamide · Epirubicin · Fluorouracil) chemotherapy and 8 2-week cycles of Docetaxel. I toured the chemotherapy treatment room where my weight and height were measured and all the possible side effects and how they can be dealt or coped with were kindly explained with advice to get an even shorter hair cut.

Regarding ongoing hormonal treatment, they want me to continue with the Tamoxifen and add Armidex (Anastrozole - I thought was mainly for post-menopausal patients). These should keep my overabundant estrogen from feeding any cancer cells.

The nieces are here so I can't spend too much time on line but I will be researching more after the New Year and collecting books I haven't read to take with me when I go to relax in my reclining chair or bed in the chemo room for a few hours.

The nieces, by the way, are ever so pleasant; they cheerfully keep my 4 well entertained and wash dishes too. They offered to shop for and make dinner tonight, so J helped out and learned how to make "corn cream stew" with lots of onions, potatoes, carrots, a little chicken, a can of corn, roux, and milk. We're headed out to sightsee a little tomorrow.


Christmas Dinner Chez Nous

Christmas Dinner on Kotatsu
Originally uploaded by Koggy.
This is our not quite 4 lb. turkey with the can from the cranberry sauce for perspective. Christmas dinner tomorrow will probably be something simple like vegetable stir-fry and rice as we'll be enjoying lots of special meals while the nieces from Kyushu are visiting from the 26th to the 1st.

Bonsai Bird

J requested turkey for dinner on Christmas Eve. Fortunately, a few turkeys are available at the local supermarkets for about 3 days a year, just before Christmas. I found a 4 pound bird, the largest that will fit in our oven, and thawed it out on our balcony overnight. Last week we steamed our Halloween pumpkin (we'd drawn faces on the pumpkin instead of carving, so the pumpkin was still in good shape) and pressed the pulp through our strainer to freeze until we were ready to make a pumpkin pie. Today J helped me make pie dough and filling, reading to me from my 22 year old copy of "The Joy of Cooking" and measuring with my precious U.S. measuring cups. While the pie was baking, we steamed the extra filling (I think my pie pan is slightly smaller than 9 inches) and peeled potatoes. She and I enjoyed our pumpkin pudding before chopping and sauteeing some onions and 3 types of Japanese mushrooms to toss with a 16 small chunks of French bread and whatever seasonings I could find (black pepper, parsely, rosemary, garlic) to make just enough stuffing for our bonsai bird. After the pie came out of the oven, we brought the turkey back inside from the balcony, discarded the plastic wrapping, rinsed, blotted, stuffed, basted and covered with a small piece of aluminum foil (the heating element is about an inch away from the top of the bird) and placed in our oven for the required 80 or so minutes (20 mins. per pound?). Cleaning up, I noticed the package had lots of Arabic on it, although the frozen turkey was imported from Brazil. The Christmas turkey we bought on the Shinto Emperor's birthday was, according to English translation on the package, slaughtered per Muslim custom, by hand with a sharp knife. With the turkey cooking, it smells like a holiday, to me anyway.


Today's hospital entertainment

was breakdancing between the amused wheelchair occupants. L loves the well polished floors and lies on his side, running around his own head in a nearly perfect circle, spin polishing the surface even more with his right sleeve and hip. Tomorrow is the Emperor's birthday, a national holiday, so I have a 3 day break before the final 3 days of radiation.

The tender skin under my arm doesn't look too good, but the rest of the radiated area is only slightly pink. The doctor exclaimed "That sure looks itchy." about the underarm. I refrained from commenting on how lucky I was that my surgeon (a different doctor) had left that area numb, not knowing if she'd consider this the bright side or not. Without the urge to scratch, I expect it will heal quickly. I will get an extra tube of steroid/antibiotic to tide me over during the New Year's holidays, when the hospital will be closed for about a week except for emergencies. I may not have much time to post much here while the kids are all home until Jan. 10th.



L has accompanied me to the hospital each morning this week as he is on winter vacation. He's been good about waiting in the hall with the receptionist while I have my treatment. Today took a little longer than usual, as the doctor and four other people had to position and mark me for the new radio-therapy that will begin tomorrow. Patiently waiting on the table, I heard a clack-clack-clacking sound that just got louder and louder, coming from the hall. Two of the technicians rushed out to see what it could be and found L enjoying himself with some paper cups, entertaining the other patients with some percussion while they waited their turns. They let him come into the treatment room to see where Mommy disappears to everyday, watch the marking process and check out all the equipment. He was then happy to wait in the hall for a few minutes until I was finished.


Stategy Update

Hair Strategy - Wednesday I had a little time so I went to a hair salon near our station and asked for advice about a hairstyle for chemotherapy. The sweet young man (cute too) said he'd had other clients who had lost some or all of their hair due to chemo but that they all had their hair back and were doing well by the next year and recommended a short, layered cut which will look OK if my hair only thins and minimize hair clean-up if all my hair falls out. As he was drying my hair he commented that with my volume, if I lost half of my hair I'd still have more hair than some of his clients. I'll try to get a picture of my new doo soon. I do notice that it's short enough that it doesn't move much, even in strong wind.

Radiation Strategy - Last Thursday my red guide lines seemed a little faded but the technician enthusiastically said "Oh, you're so close to finishing! I'll just write with my marker instead of using the dark red ink and brush." Today the head of the department gave me a check-over and the radiotherapy team decided that I only need 2 more days of high power x-rays and the remaining 5 days of radiation will be proton therapy, which is more focused and only reaches an inch or two in depth rather than going right through me. Less healthy tissue will be radiated, so this is good.


Kisaburo Yamakawa

Before I knew much Japanese, my image of Grandfather Y was that he was a gruff, grumpy and scary old man. After a few months in his home, when I returned from a summer weekend camp for exchange students, he was home alone as the family had taken a short trip and been delayed by a big typhoon. He was very surprised when I arrived, not knowing that I hadn't gone with the family and then understanding that I'd managed to get all the way from the camp on the other side of already far away Tokyo on the delayed trains all by myself with the little Japanese that I'd picked up by then. He told me I should have the first bath (which he had cleaned and run for himself) and made himself busy in the kitchen, having decided that it was his duty to feed the hungry host grand-daughter. He made some lovely tempura out of some mountain ferns he had gone hiking to gather the day before the typhoon. I complimented him as much as I could and he leaned over the table and asked me, in a loud voice (to be sure I understood), not to tell the rest of the family that he could cook or they would abandon him and move to Tokyo where life was more exciting for his daughter and her family. He also told me a little about his time in Siberia as a POW, which was the last time he'd had any close contact with "foreigners" like me. It was the first time he ever really said more than a word or two at a time with me and it was a turning point for me in terms of getting used to living in a new family and country.

At the end of my year in his house, I spoke to him of how much I'd miss his family after returning to the U.S. and he looked completely shocked. He asked me why I wasn't staying for another year or two to finish high school at my host-school. Apparently he had gotten used to having me around and rather expected I'd be around longer. Then he told me he wanted to do something special for me and he got all the ingredients together to make a batch of fresh udon (thick white noodles in broth) from flour and water, kneading them by putting them in a big plastic bag and stepping on them with his bare feet (I was grateful for the plastic bag at the time). He rolled the dough out on the table and cut it into noodles for Mrs. Y to boil. They were sooooo goood! I think he was a little proud that I gained about 25 pounds living in his house...

Mrs. Yamakawa called last night with the news that her father, my former host-grandfather, had died. He was 82 years old and strong enough to drive himself to his regular medical check-up last week, where his doctor checked him out and told him he should be in the hospital because of bad lungs. She went back to the town where he lives and was able to spend some time with him during his two remaining days in the hospital. I haven't seen him in years, but felt comforted knowing he was getting on with life capably, out and around his town in Tochigi and sent and received the usual annual New Year's postcards. Sadly, this year, I can't send him a card.


Slow Weekend

No treatments on weekends so I didn't have to rush off to catch the bus today. I did have a building management committee meeting today after which we hurriedly erected and decorated the big plastic Christmas tree for the lobby. After a quick lunch of fried rice with garlic and mushrooms, the kids all went out to play in the nearby park until 4:45 this afternoon when a chime is sounded over the citywide P.A. system letting kids know that it's time to go home. Of course, without daylight savings time, it's usually dark by then anyway.


Fifth Grade Music Fest

I asked a neighbor to put L on his kindergarten bus this morning with her son who is in the year behind him. That way I could catch an early bus to the hospital to get back by 10 a.m. for the city-wide elementary school music festival. I was third in line and in and out of treatment quite quickly, no troubles with side effects yet. I managed to make it to the local civic center before 10 quite easily.

Fifth graders from 6 of the 18 public elementary schools performed at the local civic center today. After about a month of practice, each school's entire fifth grade sang one song as a chorus and played another using whatever instruments the schools provided. M auditioned for one of the eight an accordionist positions their instrumental piece and won a spot. She had a cold the week before the chorus part auditions and her hoarse voice earned her a place among the altos for the choral piece. I splurged and bought her a new outfit so she wouldn't look too raggedy in her usual (and favorite) hand-me-downs on stage. I got a big laugh when I heard that everyone else in the class was also in new clothes today. They sang a Japanese song "From Space" and played "Csikos Post" by Herman Necke. I was moved by the teamwork the 100+ 10 and 11 year olds achieved, some learning new instruments for the event and all carefully watching their conductor.


Results OK

Today's radiation went as smoothly as always, with very little reading time in the lobby before my name was called. After the treatment, I took my file up to the third floor where I had an appointment with my main doctor at 11:30. There were several signs posted regarding doctors whose schedules were running late, mine among them. I took my book to the cafe on the sixth floor for a cappucino and returned to the exam reception area an hour later to wait for another 15 minutes before my name was called. My bone scan pictures and previous ultrasound pictures were on the wall mounted viewer when I walked in and the doctor informed me before I could even say hello that the results were fine. He clicked around on his computer and brought up the most recent blood work to confirm and inform that these results were also fine and said he wanted to wait until the radiation treatments have been completed before planning any specific chemotherapy menu. He also confirmed through examination that the lumps have diminished in size and sent me on my way to have another test tube of blood taken to repeat the blood work. Whew! And I made it back home in time to type this up before L gets home on his kindergarten bus.

I must look robust. A trio of old women at the bus stop were all complimenting me on my Japanese and asking me if I was a student. They acted very surprised to learn that I'm married and have 4 kids. "Did you marry really young?" they continued to ask shaking their heads in awe when I told them "I'm 41." Must have been the rosy cheeks from the overheated hospital...


Bone Scan

S woke up early today to put L on the kindergarten bus as I had to leave early to get a morning injection of radioactive stuff to scintillate my bones for an afternoon bone scan. After my injection, I had time to go around the corner and downstairs to the radio-treatment area for my usual one minute dose of x-rays. Then I had time for a long walk outside, reading time and time for lunch in the cheap basement cafeteria before my 1:30 photo session. The image taking was finished in 30 minutes and I'll see results on Tuesday when I have an appointment with my main doctor after my radiation. He'll also have my most recent blood test results then. Still no side effects from the radiation, fortunately.