Dragging a bit, but hanging in here

I've had a busy week consulting people about jobs and about planning for the future as it looks like I need to contribute more financially. No specific plans have been made as I am still in the information gathering stage. Frugal yet nutritious recipes would be welcome.

My Cancer Center guardian angel fellow survivor brought me some delicious inari sushi she'd made so I enjoyed lunch during my IV yesterday and came home after a quick trip to the market to pick up some sushi egg omelets paid for and requested by a downstairs neighbor. Oysters, with which I've had some bad gastrointestinal reactions a long time ago, were being marketed nearby and I had a sudden revelation "Hey! I bet I could eat oysters on Tuesdays with all the anti-nausea and steroids I get for the chemo..." I didn't try it out though. Just a weird idea that came to mind.

I did find a cheap turkey at the poultry wholesaler so we'll have a turkey dinner on Saturday and turkey fajitas and turkey noodle soup later in the week. Something to look forward to.


OK, who was the last person out of the bath?

Our family follows the Japanese custom of using one big, deep tub of hot water for all of our baths each night. The actual washing is done outside of the bathtub and we soak up to our necks in relaxing hot water. A little hot water is added along the way if it cools down too much and each person lats the next person know that the bath is free when they emerge in their pajamas. When the kids were all small, it was easy to toss them all in at one time and do sort of a factory automation version of shampoo, shampoo, shampoo, shampoo, rinse, rinse, rinse, rinse, soap, soap, soap, soap, scrub, scrub, scrub, scrub, splash, splash... but now they're all big enough to enjoy relaxing on their own in the tub. The last person is expected to replace a roll-over cover we have to keep the water warm in case S wants to take a bath after he comes home or to keep condensation down. I can use the water for laundry the next day if it is still fresh enough.

This morning I heard a big splash and some sneezes from the bathroom as I was getting breakfast ready. I rushed over to see what it could be to find Koro swimming around in circles in last night's bathwater. She'd jumped up to where she must have expected the hard cover only to dive in to the bathtub. What a surprised but not angry look she had on her face. She seemed quite happy to be scooped out and wrapped in a towel. I should have checked that the top was on last night but I got tired of waiting for everyone to finish up and I went to bed earlier than the last couple of bathers. Once the toddlers are big, it's easy to let one's guard down. Wet cat!


Another Good Day

I figured out the mystery of the woman who gave me lunch last week. Her name isn't Chiyoko after all but Mariko. I'd planned to bring her some persimmon bars that I'd baked without sugar but the kids liked them so much that there weren't enough left. Also, I made them with butter instead of oil and Mariko is avoiding dairy products. Today she brought me more genmai rice balls and a tangerine for lunch, some pretty pickled onions and peppers in a jar, some more rice for dinner and a tupperware box with potato salad and broccoli for dinner. We chatted and her children are my age, but in Kyushuu, one married with a child and the other a nun in a Trappist order, busy baking Christmas goodies this month.

It looks like the Tuesday crowd is getting to know me; a man and his wife waiting their turn (his probably) for a blood draw smiled and told me to keep up the positive attitude and enjoy all those children of mine. The wife had been talking with my new friend Mariko. It seems like a lot of people smile in my direction there and I wonder if my wig might be askew sometimes. I usually smile back anyway. I'm getting used to seeing some of the same faces and I'm sure they remember me.

My monthly exam with Dr. F. was as thorough as ever and things are well. He scheduled me for the next season's round of scans and tests all the way through April so I could get into the system before it gets all crowded. I asked about changing the Christmas I.V. to the 28th as it is a waste to not keep blasting away and I'll have January 1st off, giving me a 2 week break from Taxol anyway.


Yay! Grr! Ack! and Beyond

Monday was the annual foreign wives cookie exchange and the large container full of lemon bars I baked on Sunday night evolved into two containers of a delightful variety homemade cookies from a dozen or so other wives and moms. The kids were quite impressed with the beautiful creations but didn't hesitate to enjoy munching away at the delicious treats.

Tuesday I made sure that two out of four were awake and sitting at the breakfast table before I headed off to Tsukiji. I got a seat on the train (yay!) and arrived in time to check in at the machines which accept our plastic Cancer Center cards and print out our itinerary for the day (yay!). Then I discovered I'd brought the wrong bag with me and that I didn't have my plastic card (Grrr!) so I had to wait until the manned reception desk opened at 8:30 a.m. to check in. I expected this to delay treatment a bit as I couldn't go for the blood tests until after that and I'd end up having to wait a little longer to check in at the chemo room. Oh well, what's a few extra hours of reading time before treatment starts...

The nice lady at the reception counter was able to re-issue a card, print out my schedule and send me on my way upstairs very efficiently. As I read my schedule on the escalator, I saw that I didn't have a blood test scheduled after all (Yay!, I get enough of them and they're always well within the safe limits to get treatment anyway.) I was able to advance directly to the oncology nurse station right when my doctor was walking by to his office. He looked around to see that the usual nurse was busy out back and asked me and another of his patients to hand him our files so he could send us on our way upstairs to the chemo room. (Yay! Back on schedule again!).

The other woman was dressed flowingly in muted oranges and bright pink and stood out as much as I did in the sea of grey, brown and black. She announced to me "Chiyoko went to the mission school." I assumed she meant herself, as sometimes people refer to themselves using their first names (but not much after elementary school). Her husband is/was and artist and she gave me a copy of a painting he had done of Mary. She said the original was currently on tour. We registered upstairs and headed back to the lobby to pay our bills before the late morning / early afternoon congestion at the cashier's counter. A gentleman of 70 or so was headed to the escalator too and he made a nice gesture and told us "After you" in English with a pleasant smile. My new friend Chiyoko was quite excited as in her 76 years she'd never received such treatment or so she said as she gave the man a huge smile and thanked him. I think is was our brighter colors and my blond wig that gave him a few smiles.

I went to the ATM so get some cash to pay at the counter only to find that the credit card bill for last months groceries had been deducted from the account yesterday and I had to shuffle funds from several accounts to get enough cash for the payment. (Ack!) This took a little more time than expected but I was able to hand in my paperwork and pay before heading back upstairs.

We sat together and talked while we waited for the bills and Chiyoko-san said she's on the same treatment as mine now but that she'd had full brain radiation (gamma knife) recently for the metastases to her brain. She seemed to be doing very well. She disappeared somewhere as I was paying my bill only to reappear back upstairs, outside the chemo room with some rice balls she'd taken from her lunch box to wrap in paper towels and offer to me for my lunch. We were each called by the nurses then so I thanked her for lunch and went to my reclining chair for my full course. She was on her Herceptin only day so she finished and left before I did although I was done by 12 (yay! so early!). I expect I'll see her next Tuesday too.

I walked to Ginza again to get a little exercise, catch a different train back to Shinjuku and save a few yen and I was home before 2 p.m. Today I'll go update the bank books and see why I haven't heard from city hall about September's reimbursement.


Slumbering Angels

My downstairs neighbor had her quarterly check-up at the Cancer Center today and I took a later train than usual so we could go downtown together. I made sure to put breakfast on the table and leave the Tupperware and chopsticks that J and M needed to take with them for their post final exam rice cake pounding event before waking J up with instructions to wake everybody up in time for school. My neighbor and I managed to arrive at the hospital a little after 8 a.m. and go our various ways for check ups and treatments. Her survivor friends also scheduled their appointments today so they could get together. They kindly invited me to lunch with them when I met them after my treatment just as they were finishing up with Dr. F.

Thinking that the kids were already home as both schools got out a little early today, I decided I'd go ahead and join the ladies for lunch as it was already too late to rush home and be here before they got home anyway. We had a pleasant time and my neighbor and I got home around 4 p.m. to an empty house as the older girls were at club or team practice and the elementary kids were out in the park with friends. I noticed the answering machine light flashing so I pressed the button to hear "This is Mr. H. from junior high school. Neither J nor M have arrived at school this morning..."

That's when I found the uneaten breakfast on the table and deposit of pyjamas, discarded school uniforms, dirty socks etc. scattered over the yet to be folded and put away futons. Guess I should have called the kids from the hospital instead of assuming they were all already in school. Oops.

I called the school to make sure that the girls had arrived in time to take their exams and was told that they had arrived with a few minutes to spare, just after the teacher had called. Whew!

S went to help out at the rice pounding event, kindly taking the necessary Tupperware and chopsticks that had escaped notice in the apparent rush to get out the door. J said that there was one 7th grade boy running a few hundred feet behind her as she ran in the front gate so she was glad that she wasn't the latest kid.


Wishy Washy Day

I gave a sample for my blood work this morning and was promptly called in for my check-up. My oncologist had printed out results from my Ct scans of July and of last week to show me how much the Taxol (the ultimate head lice control drug) had shrunk the tumors in my lungs. This was encouraging. He asked about all the possible side effects and examined my hands, checked for lumps, listened to my breathing, looked carefully for any swelling and asked about the general quality of my life to determine if the treatments have been affecting my quality of life. We discussed extending the Taxol treatments until I notice more side effects and he typed in a schedule for up to 26 treatments in the computer. So far, the only side effect that is worrisome is the gradual numbing of my feet. For some reason, my hands haven't been affected yet (knock on wood) but my feet feel like I've been skiing all day and my old (not very warm) ski boots were buckled too tightly. This isn't really a problem as I've always been a little clumsy and as long as I wear my SAS shoes or other well cushioned sports shoes, I'm OK. If this neuropathy advances to a point where it changes my gait, I will probably stop the Taxol and, per the original plan, keep up with the Herceptin. There goes the 20 time countdown goal.

I asked to see the bone scan results from a few weeks ago and he showed my that my skeleton had a little illumination on a spot on my upper left rib cage and another spot on my right hip that weren't there last November. As I have no symptoms (pain) the current course of action is to stay on the Taxol/Herceptin menu and keep an eye on the spots. These scans detect trauma (breakdown and regeneration) to bones and it might not necessarily be metastases to my bones and could be a number of things (I am a little clumsy and could have bumped my hip and the rib cage spot was radiated two years ago...). I need to research a little more. I tend to think that it is cancer spread, but feel that the Taxol is probably working on this too. Not shattering news, but still a little dismaying.

I walked around Shinjuku Station and Yoyogi today to get my exercise and look at the hundreds of men setting up billions of Christmas lights the Takashimaya Times Square area. What a lot of electricity and manual labor for a generally Shinto/Buddhist metropolis.

Sunday Fun

J and I left breakfast and lunch on the table with a note for the younger siblings and S who were sleeping when we tiptoed out the door at 8 a.m. to go to a musical instrument fair in Yokohama. Getting everyone out the door in time and dragging them to Yokohama would have detracted from fun for the day all around (J would have had to rush through the exhibit so we could get out before the other three broke anything and they would have been grumpy about tagging along when they could have slept in) and increased our total round trip time ("Where's L? OK, now where's N?...."). Our student/sometimes helper and his sister came over in the afternoon to play with the younger kids and the kitten, so they weren't at all unhappy about being excluded from the day trip.

We checked out Xaphoons (handmade bamboo saxophones from Maui), ouds (guitar-like Middle Eastern instrument with beautiful mother-of-pearl inlay and 11 strings), saz lutes and all sorts of unique instruments as well as a plethora of mainstream instruments and accessories. J was most impressed with the contra bass saxophone in this photo. There are apparently only four of them in Japan and this is the only privately owned one. The other three belong to various symphonies of bands. She was ecstatic when the people at the booth kindly encouraged her to play the monster sized sax. She actually managed to play a song from her brass band fall concert program, but it was hard to get the sound on the video of my cell phone as the very large conference center was filled with booths of other visitors sampling instruments and the low frequency output of the huge instrument couldn't compete with the din of clarinets, trumpets, alto saxophones etc. She had a great time.

We arrive home to sit down and play with Koro and her guests who were kind enough to bring Baskin Robbins ice cream.


An Early Day

Today was a Herceptin only day so I finished fairly early and had time to walk to Ginza and back before my early afternoon CT scan. On the main street, it is much closer than I thought from my previous foray via round-about back streets.


Nice Nap / Neighbor in Distress

The pre-Taxol antihistamine really hit me hard today so I took a nice long nap after I got home and L complained about my loud snoring. I woke up very refreshed and started getting batter and vegetables ready for tonight's OKONOMIYAKI.

Around 5:30 the little older lady from the third floor came up with a cane today, a first for her. She'd fallen down on Sunday and can't go shopping but is extremely reluctant to call for the government provided care services which she is eligible for or to go see a doctor. She asked if I'd be shopping tomorrow and if I could pick up a few things for her, giving me some money. I've decided to keep a record of the money as she tends to hand out more than necessary and I now she'll run out of cash before her next pension payment arrives in December at this rate. She stayed, talking while the kids and I cooked our dinner at the table, declining any because she had already eaten, but carefully watching how we cooked it all at the table. She'd never seen an electric griddle (hot plate) before and was very curious. After I finished cleaning up, I escorted her downstairs with some rice, tangerines, crunchy KARINTO sweet snacks and moleskin type medicated pads to put on her injury.

Next time I'm at city hall, I'm thinking of asking at the advisory desk about available assistance for solo geriatric citizens who really need assistance but are so reluctant that they would rather sit at home and drink tea for three days in a row before asking anyone for help shopping for food. It seems a little "Big Brotherish" but I've seen posters encouraging neighbors to feel free to consult. I know that ultimately it will be up to my neighbor to accept the assistance and I hope that the city hall personel will be professional and well equipped to convince her that she shouldn't feel shy about accepting the subsidized assistance she is eligible to receive and is actually already paying for with her health insurance payments.


A Variety of Events

M was up and out early with a lunch of two types of onigiri (rice balls); salmon and wakame seaweed and pickled plum and dried perilla. I sent her off with some other moms of athletes on her team for the second day of the big metropolitan jr. high track meet. Then I came home to make a sushi salad lunch for J to take to school open house observation day at school(M was exempted from school but her team mates who didn't qualify for the track meet had to go to school). She managed to drag herself out of bed and off to school grumbling a little about not being able to go to the neighborhood field day with S, N and L. I then packed appropriate lunches for the field day group; a dish called KATSU, which is a homonym for the verb "to win" (small pieces of pork breaded and deep fried), slices of spinach omelet, simmered sweet potatoes, more onigiri rice balls in several flavors, apple slices and barley tea. That got wrapped in a large square cloth and put into a bag with the plastic picnic sheet and cameras.

L and N woke up soon after the bag was packed and we all got ready to go. I took the picnic lunch to school with S, N and L to watch the first few events before heading off to the jr. high school for the "First International Communication Event" for the 7th graders. While I was setting up our picnic sheet, the head of the management committee from our building came over to say hello and give me some tickets for free games at a nearby neighborhood festival. He'd gone out of his way to get four tickets so the kids could all play at least one game. I gave them to N and explained that she and L could go after the field event, warning her not to dawdle as the festival would be over at 4 o'clock.

I left the field day fairly early, politely declining to join the tug o'war team for my corner of the school district in favor of meeting my Bulgarian friend for an early light lunch. We then headed of to J's and M's school to help set up. Our British friend soon joined us and the fun began.

The kids made and ate lots of minestrone soup and then heard the trio of foreign women with Japanese names talk about school in our countries. The 7th graders did a great job and my friends and I managed to talk long enough but not too long, coming away leaving a pretty good impression, according to some of M's friends who reported to her about the afternoon when she stopped by school on her way home from the track meet this evening.

L and N picked up a friend, one of our students, at the festival and he was entertaining them and enjoying the cat when I arrived home around a little after 4 o'clock. S was off giving a make-up class for one the students missed yesterday due to a standardized test eating in to the usual schedule.

It looks like we'll all call it an early night and go to bed soon after such a busy day.



Here she is. The name "Koro" is equivalent to "Spot" as N excitedly referred to the yet unnamed addition to the household as "the dog" when she thought it was her turn to hold it and pet it last week. She kept shouting "Who has the dog? I want the dog!"

Things have calmed down considerably and Koro seems happy to have people around 24/7, gladly curling up on the closest available lap. S was a little gruff about how much responsibility a pet will be and how we shouldn't have one, but he has been caught coo-cooing and playing with the kitten on several occasions and has inquired about the kitty food supply a few times, so Koro is here to stay.


Yesterday's Herceptin/Taxol infusions went well. It looked like rain so I decided to get my walking in for the day done by strolling through the Ginza, Tokyo's fashionable shopping area. It is about a 10 minute walk from the National Cancer Center and a universe away in atmosphere. The Cancer Center neighborhood has lots of guys in rubber boots and aprons hawking all sorts of seafood, vegetables, restaurant supply stuff etc. and stands selling cheap bowls of noodles, curry or raw fish on rice in fire hazard narrow alleys. Certain shops had lines of disheveled morning shoppers waiting for famously cheap and good treats for post shopping snacks or early lunch. The Ginza area has the Hermes, Fendi, Salvatore Ferragamo, Bulgari, Cartier, Chanel crowd tapping down the avenues in heels that would cover a few treatments at the Cancer Center. There was a long line of aromatic, well dressed ladies in front of a coffee shop selling Belgian chocolates. Fortunately the pre-Taxol part of my IV has anti-nausea meds so the perfume wasn't too overwhelming.



J rescued a kitten from the middle of the street today. She put it on the side of the street and tried to walk home but it squeaked and mewled miserably and followed her so she picked it up and asked around the neighborhood to see if anyone might be missing a kitten. Nobody knew of any recent litters of kittens and she ended up bringing it (her)home. She really wants to keep the kitten but our building has a "no pets" rule that can be broken for goldfish and other critters which can live quietly in small aquariums but not for puppies and kittens.

I found a comfy cardboard box to keep drafts out, trimmed the kitten's long and sharp front claws and fed it a little well mashed cat food and evaporated milk diluted with warm water and the mewling doesn't seem so pathetic now. When S gets home, J will attempt to convince him to allow the rules to be broken for a while and she'll try to find a home for the little thing. It looks like it's about a month old.


Lots and Lots of Tuna

The bloodwork room at the hospital was a little busy today after a three day weekend so my results weren't ready until a little after nine this morning. When they were available, I had my pre-treatment exam with Dr. F. and things look fine. I noticed a little pain over my lower ribs on my left side so we decided to move this year's bone scan up a month and I'll go back to Tsukiji on Friday morning for an injection of isotopes, wander around the fish market for an hour or two, go back and take a nap in the cramped machine where my radioactive bones slowly project their images up and out of me.

I finished my Herceptin/Taxol treatment at about 1:00 p.m. so I went to buy some sushi style egg omelets to use in J's and M's lunches tomorrow. I wore my Meg Ryan (more like Tryin'!!) wig and a cute guy at one of the tuna specialty shops called out his wares to me, addressing me as a young woman (ojousan). He must be partial to blonds; he gave me a 50% discount on a huge pile of very fresh tuna. (It was almost closing time, so that may have factored in...)

J was off at a friend's house when I got home, studying for the rest of her mid-terms tomorrow. She called at about 6:30 to ask how much longer she could stay. When I told about tonights menu, sushi rice topped with nori flakes, tuna, chunks of the omelet block, sesame seeds, soy sauce, chopped green onions and wasabi, she decided that she'd studied enouh and would come right home. I told her to invite her friend and they both rushed right over with a 5 kg bag of rice as a house gift from the girl's very generous mom. This is the mom who invited all four of our children to spend a few nights with them when I was in the hospital three years ago.

I had the kids assemble their own "maguro don" tuna rice bowls and all were pleased with the very fresh fish and the sheer quantity. Usually I have to creatively spread the tuna to hide the rice but thanks to the cutie at the market, today was a real treat for all. I sent some fresh sushi omelet (I bought two types, one plain, one with chicken and vegetables mixed in) home with J's friend in appreciation of the rice.

I wonder what style of hair the men at the big vegetable and fruit stand like...


What's Missing From This Picture?

I figured that my parents haven't seen this much of my head in about 42 years so I thought I'd go ahead and post a photo of my coiffure or lack thereof. I don't have many eyelashes left and I need a little practice drawing eyebrows...I'm down to the final 8 Taxol treatments and should finish in early December so I'll have more hair by Christmas.


I'm so full!

Our nephew and his son and daughter picked up his parents, sister and niece at Haneda in a rental car and drove them over here early this afternoon for a late lunch. The kids were excited about the visit because they had such a good time last year when we all went to a hot spring/spa in downtown Tokyo for a day the last time they were in Tokyo. I chose simple make at the table type food so I could sit down and enjoy the visit. The make-it-yourself sushi rolls and cook at the table takoyaki went over well. We topped the meal off with a plate full of persimmons, Asian pears and big purple seedless grapes around 5:00 p.m. and nobody was particularly hungry for dinner. A few slices of apple were all that some could manage.

N, however, in her usual bottomless pit style, is munching away at a unique roll of sushi she's made with leftover salmon, salmon roe, tuna, squid, cucumber, edamame (boiled green soy beans), chrysanthemum petals, wasabi, soy sauce and sushi rice in nori. She even took pictures with my cell phone as she created so she could have her sushi and eat it too. She inadvertantly achieved a dreamlike quality to her photos by rubbing her slightly greasy fingertips over the camera lens (now the phone smells like day old fish). I love it that she absolutely has to try everything, but hope that she doesn't want to share her sushi with me just now. I'm avoiding making eye contact with her by posting on the blog.

J and M were very glad to spend time with our grand-niece R from Kyushu. They've met her a few times when we visited Kyushu and when SIL and she and came to stay for a few days a few years ago. She's in the same grade as M, but is almost a year older. She and her mom brought pretty blue topaz necklaces for me and the girls as gifts.

S seemed to enjoy the meal with his brother. It was great to relax with everyone here at home instead of going out somewhere and worrying about keeping all the kids entertained and under control. Out nephew's son and L are the same age and his daughter turned 6 yesterday. N had fun playing older sister and even took all the "younger" kids to the park for a while.

Our niece (R's mom) and SIL were very helpful and all the dishes were washed and the kitchen was sparkling before they all drove off to our nephew's place to spend the night. I enjoyed the time we spent together as they are very pleasant and encouraging people.


Still Tickin'

Every three months I get a heart ultrasound exam to make sure that the Herceptin isn't damaging that important organ. The doctor who did today's exam confirmed that my ticker is as strong as ever and that staying on the drug is no problem at this point. I'd stopped by the chemo room to put in my order for today's treatment before heading upstairs to the ultrasound room and they were ready for me as soon as my exam was over. I finished before 11 and was home for lunch.



M was in the city track meet yesterday. She jumped and ran in three events and came home with two gold medals and a bronze medal. Not bad.


12 Taxol Treatments Under My Belt

It looks like I'm tolerating this stuff fairly well and it is working (hurray!), so the plan is to stay on for a while longer, possibly up to 20 times, so I should start growing some hair around Christmas.

Next week is my Taxol break and I'll have a Herceptin only day so I've scheduled my quarterly cardiac ultrasound then too to make the most of the trip to Tsukiji. S's brother and family will be visiting on the Sunday afternoon after that so I'm glad I'll have a little more energy next week.

M will be in a city-wide track meet on Sunday so I expect we'll take a picnic lunch and enjoy what we hope will be fall weather. It has been so hot that J still has swimming in gym class this week.


Invitation to Speak

M's teachers have been asking her lots of questions about me lately, trying to scope out whether or not I'd make good lesson material. She confirmed that I could probably manage to speak in Japanese and that I'm not a terrible cook, among other things. I must have qualified; I had a call today from the head of the year asking if I could participate in a general studies session/event on Sunday October 21st during a school open house and talk to the 7th grade about my first impressions of Japan and provide a recipe (and probably the actual cutting and cooking) for a "foreign" food that can be cooked over campfires behind the school and consumed at lunchtime with rice.

I suggested a big pot of minestrone soup, thinking that it might be economically feasible and epicurically (I know, it isn't a word, it just sounds like one) tweak-able to a simple enough flavor that the students won't waste the entire pot just because of too many tomatoes and a little oregano. It might not be particularly American, but neither is chili, either of which were more likely to be approved than Rocky Mountain Oysters (bread crumb clean-up is pesky and the hot oil is too scary over an open fire...even if I could find the proper ingredients locally).

They liked my idea and will be in touch with me again after they recruit a few other parents for manning the fires, chopping, stirring etc. They're hoping I can bring a few friends from other countries to talk about food and culture and things which may have surprised them when they first came to Japan too. I said I'd ask around but that most of my friends might not be available on Sunday or, if they were, might not be able to contribute to the menu. So...any takers?

The now bilingual recipe (which may just show up as gobbledygook on non-Japanese encoded computers), using local ingredients, is as follows:

Simple Minestrone Soup for 5 (100) people
5(100)人前分 かんたんミネストローネ・スープ
120 g (2.4kg) carrots, chopped 1cm角に切ったニンジン
90 g (1.8 kg) chopped cabbage適当に切ったキャベツ
1/2 (10) celery ribs, thinly sliced薄くスライスされたセロリ
1/2 (10) onion(s), chopped 1cm角に切ったタマネギ
1 (20) slices bacon, chopped 適当に切ったベーコン(optional)
3 g (60g) garlic clove, minced みじん切りニンニク
10 ml (200 ml) vegetable oil サラダ油
710 ml (15 l) water お水
1 (20) (14.5 ounce/ 411g) can(s) diced tomatoes, in tomato juice            
3 (60) beef, chicken or vegetable bouillon cubes固形スープ(コンソメ)
95 g (1.9 kg) cooked elbow macaroni 茹でたマカロニ
0.5 g (10 g) pepper胡椒
0.5 g (10 g) salt 塩

Saute carrots, cabbage, celery, onion, bacon and garlic in oil for 5 minutes. Add water, tomatoes and bouillon; bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in macaroni, salt and pepper; heat through.

A bay leaf or two and/or some oregano would be nice, but not necessary I suppose...


Busy Weekends

J is in the second of three years of junior high school. That's as far as mandatory education goes in Japan and, although public high school education is available, entry to high school, public or private, is determined by rigorous entrance exams. This means that there is a variety of schools to choose from and that most of the nice ones are a bus or train ride away. It also means that J needs to check out a few schools to see what she wants and figure out where to focus her studying over the next year and a half until the entrance exams (each school has their own $300 entrance exam so we'll try to whittle it down to a challenging school and a shoo-in). Hopefully she can qualify for and want to attend the better public schools as they only cost about $2,500 a year in tuition and other costs plus whatever the textbooks will cost that year. Private schools are three to four or more times that plus fees for uniforms.

Last weekend many schools had open house / school festival events so we went to three high schools in three days to do our scouting a little early. There were many anxious looking 9th graders checking out the schools as well. They'll be taking exams in early February for April matriculation. Of course we had to take N and L with us and there were lots of fun things for them to enjoy while we checked out each campus. Some of the classes had organized games or scare house fun.

L insisted on going through the haunted house at one school but begged me to go with him. We were handed a flash light and directed into a dark classroom where all sorts of things popped up in front of us as we made our way through, thoroughly scaring him. The "ghosts," all 10th graders, had trouble not smiling when they saw how cute he was, so it wasn't all that terrifying though. One even apologized for jumping out a few seconds too early. "Boo! ...Ooops, sorry." M didn't have track practice that day, so she came along with us and seemed to be inspired by how fun high school looked and how outgoing the students there were. She'll have to work a little harder if she wants to go there because it is one of the more competitive schools to enter around here. Somehow a picture of me in my beanie at the PTA coffee shop showed up on the school's website. Ugh!

The kids got to try tea ceremony at another school and learn more about taking trains to get around. We stopped by a station with a discount shoe store on the way home on Sunday and got L equipped for his fall season of running away from all the girls and had lunch at a cheap spaghetti restaurant where N spilled a large iced tea all over herself and the floor, prompting the kind staff to quickly mop the floor where she then proceeded to noisily drop her silverware. Wet and embarrassed, she was a perfect little lady for the rest of the meal and we bought her a new outfit at the post-summer clearance at UniQlo nearby. $5.00 for a skirt and a T-shirt and she even looked like a little lady. I carried her raggy and wet favorite sportswear home in a plastic bag.

The next day, N forgot her "handbag" on the train on our way to the Tokyo Metropolitan International High School causing a slight delay. The stationmaster told us that the cleaners would check the train at the end of the line and he took my name and a description of the dollar shop bag and advised us to stop by on our way back through the station later that day. The bag was found and placed in the lost and found at that end of the train line, in Chiba prefecture, a mere two hour detour..."Ah, I think I'll pick it up before my IV tomorrow because it is closer to the hospital and I can't be late for class today..." got a sad nod. She was having a tough weekend with all of these learning experiences...

Of course the next morning I had to leave for the hospital on a later train than usual because S was away and I had to make sure that everybody was up and ready to go off to school before I left so I decided to make the detour on my way home instead. I managed to get to the hospital by 8:30 and my doctor saw me at the reception desk on his way by so he went and got my files to approve them and send me on my way for treatment before his first appointment. I was finished by 1:00 p.m. and back on the train soon after.

A few stops, a transfer and 20 minutes or so later found me at the very far end of our train line where N's bag, complete with about $30 and her library card, was waiting for me to sign for and take home. There was also a vegetable stand right in the station selling the local produce so I bought some nice big potatoes for baking and a big bag of fresh tomatoes for a very good price. The cheap and fresh veggies made up for the extra train fare and I was back home by 3:00, a few minutes before L walked in the door from school.

N was very happy that her bag came home and only complained about a few pieces of origami paper she thought might be missing. All were happy with their baked potatoes for dinner. Next weekend we'll visit a few more schools and spend some time at the Shinto Fall Festival in the street near our house on Sunday.


Looking Goooood!

I had an x-ray before treatment yesterday and got to see the results. Compared with the early July x-ray, the spots in my lungs are much much smaller, some are even hard to find at all. It's nice to be able to breathe more easily physically and psychologically. I spent the morning at the gym swimming laps and feel full of energy now. S's elder brother (#2) and his wife and daughter will be in Tokyo for three days next month so I'm getting a little more serious about keeping off any more weight and hopefully loosing some by cutting out on sweet snacks and swimming more. Every new medication I've had so far lists weight gain as a side effect but I think I can take some of the responsibility...

I joined Skype this week because I finally got a headset with a microphone for the computer. It was fun to talk with a friend in Vermont without worrying about phone bills although we did have a few echo cho cho choes. The only other problem I see is that none of my friends or family are awake when I'm up and online...I'm sure we can coordinate sometime via advance e-mail notice....

J is off every day to a movie prop company in the neighborhood on a three day work experience for school. She was impressed yesterday with a large storage area full of nothing but samurai headgear and another room full of books in foreign languages for use on TV show sets. It sounds like most of the work she and three other classmates are doing is lifting and carrying.


Safe and Sound

The worst of the typhoon was during the night and we had no worries in our big concrete building. There was a cyclone about half a mile away from us and that neighborhood was out of power overnight because the electric company couldn't make repairs in the typhoon. The children were happy to sleep late on Friday morning and the sun came out as predicted, that afternoon.


Typhoon No. 9

Today's after-school activities have all been cancelled and the students have been sent home promptly as the edge of this season's ninth typhoon has reached Tokyo. Heavy winds and much rain are expected when the main part of the storm hits Tokyo around 7 p.m. today so I rushed out and stocked up on beer for S. The children each came home with a letter informing me that school will not be canceled but rather postponed tomorrow so they don't have to walk through the worst of the wind and rain which is scheduled to stop abruptly at noon.


Last Weekend of Summer

M has made the transition from U.S. East Coast time to Tokyo time very smoothly. We made sure to keep her awake until at least 9 p.m. and sent her to track practice the morning after she returned. She had no trouble waking up early this morning to go to a track meet with her team by train and bus. She wasn't here when the coach registered everybody so she and a few other team mates who missed a few days of practice won't actually participate, but they're expected to go to the meet anyway as "practice" for another meet that they will be in at the end of this month.

I was a little tired from the trip to Narita to get M plus the usual late nights and early mornings. I was up a little before 6 this morning to make a lunches for M to take with her and for the rest of us to take with us as we had plans to celebrate the end of summer homework pressure by ignoring the homework and going swimming with friends. The pool wasn't too crowded as most kids were probably home slaving away at their homework.

Tomorrow is more lunches and more places; M will go to the second day of the track meet to cheer the team on and we'll cycle over to cheer S on at the second half of the citywide PTA softball tournament. In the afternoon we'll pack up all the school stuff so each child can grab it and take it all back to school on Monday. It will be nice to have more space on the floor and no crustaceans in tanks among the jumble of shoes in the entryway.

We'll get all the futons out and make some dinner for S (who will be off teaching in the evening) before we leave for the evening soccer game so we can crash as soon as we get home and be ready to wake up and start the second trimester of school and the fall routine. Whew!


A Quick Note

I've been a little busy since Tuesday and haven't had time to post. All is well and I'm off this morning to pick up M at the airport when her flight arrives around 3:00. My parents called to report of her safe departure and had all sorts of heart warming compliments that made me awfully proud to be M's mom.

The siblings made a "Welcome Home" banner to hang on the wall and we'll have roll-your-own sushi rolls for dinner tonight to celebrate. I hope that M will be able to stay awake for dinner. We're all looking forward to seeing her today.


Festival Fun

The street in front of our house was closed for a few hours this afternoon for the annual YOSA KOI Dance Parade. The local commerce committees of neighborhoods at either end of the street hosted street party festivals and we spent the day being entertained and nibbling on barbecued seafood.

The kids were in a contest to see who could drink a bottle of fizzy soda called ramune http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramune the fastest to win two seats at a soccer game on Sunday night. My son finished first in his group of 6 1st and 2nd graders and then my daughter finished first in her group of 3rd and 4th graders so we now have 4 "SS reserved seats" at Ajinomoto Stadium in western Tokyo for a J League professional soccer game between Tokyo Verdy 1969 and Thespa Kusastu. It's nearby so I may send the kids alone if they're all ready for school the next day. I could wait outside at a cafe.

We were given some tickets for a neighborhood raffle. The prizes were donated by shops along the street where we live so they ranged from coupons for free massages at a neighborhood clinic, 11 lb boxes of greenhouse tangerines, autographed soccer goods, household electronics, cosmetics, coupons for yakitori chicken, rice crackers, a digital flat screen TV, a fancy semi-powered bicycle, 22 lb bags of rice etc. Friends and I laughed about how much we'd appreciate some of the prizes and which prizes we didn't really need, like a hair dryer or 30 lbs of kibble (not much hair, no dog).

The drawing began and a neighbor was the first to win a 5,000 yen box of two deluxe watermelons. We only had a few tickets and didn't expect to win anything but were enjoying the afternoon breeze and just being out with friends. It was a very big surprise to hear our number being called for the next prize, which was......drum roll......the hair dryer.

I and my friends whooped with laughter as J went up to pick up our new powerful 1200w professional-use beauty tool, retail value 8,190 yen. It is probably nicer than the dryer we already have which nobody ever uses but we've decided to put it up for sale in a local Tell and Sell Yahoo group. I think it would blow what little hair I have right off.


Final Week of Summer

We're down to the final few days of summer (but not necessarily the summer heat) and will spend this week shuffling stuff around the apartment making sure all the back-to-school things are in order and that space is cleared to make room for M's return. L will spend this afternoon finishing up his summer homework so we can check it, put it in his school bag and forget about it. N will have a friend over to complete their joint origami project and torment L.

I took N and L with me to a foreign wives coffee morning and was glad to see some nice ladies and hear how their summers have gone. Having the young ones with me meant that I didn't have to rush home to feed them lunch so we did a little shopping with some department store coupons I'd been carrying around for a while and bought some dinner ingredients and a little gourmet ice cream to treat them for being generally well behaved.

I spent the rest of the day tying up loose ends on a few jobs, taking L to the dentist and cooking dinner. The school pool will re-open for a final week of swimming fun tomorrow so I won't have to work so hard to keep N and L entertained.


Nine Days

Nine days until M returns. We are all anxious to see her soon. Cousin Richard sent some photos from a family gathering and we were glad to see that all look well.

Today's trip to Tsukiji was uneventful. It was a little busy this morning and I had to wait a little after my consultation with Dr. F. before my blood test results arrived on his computer. He saw a few patients after my exam and called me back in when the results were available to ask a few more questions and send me on my way upstairs to the chemo room. It was almost 11 by the time a recliner opened and my costly cocktails were mixed and ready for my IV to begin. I watched a Steve Martin movie on a DVD player, both borrowed from the nurse station, during my Herceptin hour and napped on steroids for my time on Taxol.

I walked out of the gentle airconditioning of the Cancer Center into the wilting Tokyo summer heat and swam through the humidity a hundred yards to the subway station and its cooler underground air and highly airconditioned trains. Now I'm at home on the 7th floor with all the windows and doors open, catching late afternoon breezes and thinking about actually starting on some of the translation work which has a Thursday deadline as well as about what to do for dinner. Harry Belafonte is telling Senora to shake shake shake, jump in "de" line and rock her body in time and the steel drums and calyspo are helping us pretend we like the weather.


Crayfish Crisis

L brought one of the second grade crayfish home to take care of over the summer. It had grown considerably since its capture over a year ago when the then first graders hiked to a nearby agricultural high school's experimental farm to fish for the creatures in the farm pond, which must have been stocked for that purpose every single child managed to catch one...The students who didn't want to keep a crayfish as a pet at home let theirs go back into the farm pond and each group of four or five students adopted one to keep at school and observe.

The clear plastic case had a list of names of the children in his group who usually take care of feeding the crustacean and cleaning the cage during the school year. None of them volunteered for the summer job so L brought the case home with him on the last day of school, along with a plastic bottle with a baby crayfish for him to keep, and did a fairly good job of making sure the water was changed and food was offered regularly with a little help from N. His friends asked about the crayfish from time to time, making sure that their group still had a crayfish.

Well...while we were off on our annual camping trip, the balcony must have gotten too hot as both crayfish failed to survive three days of neglect, even though we'd tried to shade their cases to keep them out of any direct sunlight. L was very sad at the loss and also worried about what his group would do without a crayfish. We decided to tell his friends about the demise of their crayfish and ask them if they felt we should take some chunks of squid on string to try to catch a new crayfish for their group to observe. They all agreed that they were sorry to lose their original crayfish but that they still wanted to care for a crayfish at school from September.

So...N, L and I headed off on our bikes for L's first (very wobbly) on-road bike ride to see if the ag. school farm about a mile away was open to the public or not and if we could catch and keep a crayfish or two. The teacher in charge told us that usually they don't allow the crayfish to be taken home as it would be a problem if people let them go in local rivers and the crayfish population became a problem. When I explained the situation, he agreed to let us catch two to take to school in September. Whew! Now L will write about his exciting first bike ride and the crayfish crisis as part of his summer homework.


Smooth Sailing

I arrived at the National Cancer Center early and had to wait a while for the reception desk near the examination rooms to open so I could give them my patient card to get my charts and have my oncologist authorize the day's treatment. A few minutes before the offices opened for the morning, my oncologist came striding down the hall and gave me a big smile on his way to his examination room. He must have decided that I looked well enough for treatment because he came back out of the "authorized personnel only" area a few seconds later to ask me for my bar-coded patient card so he could personally access the hospital computer and authorize my treatment a few minutes early. The receptionist was surprised to see me already on my way up to the chemo room on her way to the reception desk and I was finished with treatment early enough to enjoy a leisurely lunch with one of the wonderful women who have been encouraging and supporting me through these treatments. Now I feel very refreshed and am ready for for our annual camping trip, except for the picnic lunch that I should be making as I type...Okay okay! I'm on my way to the kitchen and beyond.


Shrink shrank shrunk

As expected, the CT scan I had last week showed that all the tumors in my lungs are much smaller. My doctor asked all sorts of questions to determine if I've been experiencing any neuropathy, did a manual and visual exam to make sure I don't have any lumps or swelling where I shouldn't and carefully inspecting my fingernails (which aren't particularly more brittle than usual) and finally we spoke of future plans. Other than a few creepy crawly feelings across the top of my feet once in a while, which could be short hairs landing after a gentle descent from my still thinning breeze-catching coiffure and blowing away before I actually see them or could be the beginning of temporary nerve damage, I haven't noticed any nerve troubles so far. No palpable or visual troubles were found. Next week is Herceptin only and then the following three weeks will be more Herceptin and Taxol, another Herceptin-only week and then three more Herceptin-Taxol weeks before returning to the weekly Herceptin maintenance regime. He asked about my summer plans to see if any rearranging in the treatment plan might be needed and also let me know that he'll be away on the 23rd of August but that another competent oncologist would look at my pre-IV blood work and authorize the treatment for me.

I slept through the entire I.V. and had to splash my face with a little water to perk myself up for the train rides home. I was back before 3:00 and off to school to pick up some forms from City Hall for L's upcoming dental appointments. He had a few cavities according to the school dental exam so we'll take care of that over the summer.

J arrived home from Canton last night so we made pizza tonight to celebrate and let her have something that wasn't Asian for a change. The three of them are watching a DVD from a set of three that she bought for about 300 yen in Canton which has 140 Tom and Jerry cartoons in it. The disks have Chinese and English soundtracks and subtitles which can be selected accordingly. She had a great time with her classmate's relatives. Now she has to settle into the rhythm of summer in Tokyo, which is cooler than Canton but still hotter and more humid than I prefer.

J says that this was a royal bed...

Lion? Bulldog?


Summer is Here!

N and L have been falling asleep very early this week because of their strenuous playing and swimming every day. We spent a few hours at the elementary school summer festival to cool down yesterday evening but decided to skip the second evening there and relax at the city pool in the afternoon instead. I was careful to wear a swim tee-shirt and lots of sunscreen. We enjoyed cool and colorful shaved ice at a stand after our swim. L is getting a little heavy for the back of my bike, especially back up the big hill on our way home from the pool, but he's still not quite ready to ride his own bike outside of the local park just yet. N and L are looking forward to J's return on Monday, expecting souvenirs of course.


L's Day Out

With N busy all morning with softball and swimming, J and M away and S off teaching all morning, L decided he'd rather go with me to Tsukiji than sit around home alone until his afternoon swimming so he took the 6 a.m. train with me to Tsukiji. We had seats on both trains all the way and had a little time to go up to the 19th floor of NCC to enjoy the view before I started on my round of blood draws, a consultation, a CT scan, pre-payment of today's bill, shopping for more tea to go with our onigiri (rice balls) and the weekly Herceptin-Taxol IV. He was very curious about all the needles and got to watch all six stabs I got today.

It should have been 3 stabs; one for the blood draw, another for the CT scan contrast and then a final one for the IV. My veins were not cooperative today and the CT scan tech needed 2 tries and and so did the chemo room doctor and then we had to switch the treatment IV after the first Herceptin part as it was leaking outside of the vein which would have been a big problem if it had been the more caustic Taxol. I ended up letting the CT scan tech and the chemo room guy use my surgery side arm to save a few veins in the usual IV arm. This is a no-no in terms of lymphedema (swollen arm) prevention but I figure that the arm has survived without much lymphedema for two years and eight months my arms were covered with tufts of sterile cotton and clear tape by the time we finished.

L borrowed a DVD player and some DVDs from the reception desk and sat at the end of my bed to enjoy "Toy Story" and "A Bug's Life" while I relaxed with my drip. He managed to eat his lunch and snacks without mashing too many crumbs into the sheets and only spent the final ten minutes spinning around and around on a nearby stool out of boredom.

We stopped by at a friend's house on the way back for coffee, conversation, creme brulee, and a book exchange. L was very glad to play with a friend and shyly impressed by the friend's pretty three year old sister. I was glad for a chance to do something social to break up the day. Very refreshing!

On the train on our way home, I heard someone call my name and looked up to see a former colleague sitting across the aisle from us. It was a pleasant surprise to see her after 14 years. She's still working at Sogo (my old company) and had heard of my ongoing treatments from Mrs. K., the boss' wife who came to Chofu for coffee and catching up last month. We re-exchanged phone numbers and said good-bye at Chofu Station where L and I got off to rush home to N.

N did a good job of holding the fort down this afternoon and was rewarded by the arrival of a child sized softball mitt from a kind and generous foreign wife friend in one of my Yahoo Groups (Thank you R). She did take a three hour nap after her morning exertions but it looks like she'll be ready for bed by 8:30 tonight, as will L.


Tsukiji Update

As I only had Herceptin last week, there was no need for a blood test this week to monitor my white blood cell content so instead of seeing my doctor for a pre-chemo check-up, I was supposed to just ask the nurse at the examination room reception area for my file and continue on up to the chemo room for my treatment. It always takes five to ten minutes for my file to be produced and the nurse to confirm that "yes I feel fine" and there have been no problems over the past week.

I was lightly snoozing in my chair near the reception desk when I heard a man's voice call my name. My doctor had brought the file out himself to tell me that he'd scheduled me for a CT scan at 10 a.m. next Tuesday and warn me to skip breakfast until after the scan. I'm looking forward to seeing how the Taxol is working. If the results are good, I won't hear about them until the next week's consultation but I expect he'll call if there is any bad news so we can re-group and plan the next strategy quickly. This is a month earlier than I expected to get a peek at my lungs.

I have energy today so I finished up some translating work, went swimming and did some shopping before logging in and frittering the afternoon away on the Internet. Class as usual tonight and then tomorrow I take M to Narita on the early morning bus for her flight to the States. Her suitcase is ready to go and we just need to find something appropriate to wear on the journey.


Precursor to Summer Vacation

We're in the middle of a very wet three day weekend before the last four days of school and then summer vacation. A friend is here and they're all playing well together.

I would enjoy summer vacation a little more if it were indeed a vacation. The kids are expected to go to school every day for the first two weeks for swimming lessons and the junior high schoolers are expected to go to club or team practice every day. They'll all have loads of homework to be turned in on the first day of school in September. N has signed up for the summer softball team at the elementary school and practice is every day from 6 to 8 a.m., before swimming. The tournament is on August 19th so she won't have practice the last two weeks of summer vacation.

M and J will have a few points taken off of their gym marks for not showing up for summer swimming as they will be making the most of some multi-cultural opportunities and won't be around at the required time. I hope black marks of non-participation won't affect their future prospects. (eyes rolling)

I'm wondering when we can fit in some quality summer fun. I'm sure we'll manage somehow and that I'll be glad when school starts again (mainly that I won't have to think about what to feed everybody for lunch everyday, even noodle lovers can tire of cold noodles).


Taxol Break

In order for me to continue to tolerate Taxol for as long as possible, I'll be taking a break after every three treatments. This week was my first break and I went in on Tuesday for Herceptin only instead of Herceptin and Taxol. I started early and finished early and was home again by lunchtime. I feel much more energy this week so I guess the Taxol was a little more taxing than I'd thought it would be, but tolerable. Last week and the week before I had to drag myself out to walk or get errands done but I could get out and around.

I felt great today so I went to the gym to swim a little. After I showered and stretched I noticed that the water level in the pool was down about a foot from the usual level. The usual little old ladies walking and swimming their laps splashed away as usual but all had to stop and laugh when big old Kathy stepped in and the water only came up to my hips (I was laughing too, thinking that my very presence raised the level a little for the rest of them). I managed to swim for forty minutes before heading off to the showers and bath. It looks like there will be some maintenance in August so I hope they fix whatever the problem is.

Then I tackled the huge pile of laundry and sorted out clothes for M to pack for her upcoming trip next week. I accomplished quite a lot and actually found the floor in the back room. Now I'd better stop writing and get some dinner on the table before going out for my Wednesday evening classes.


Hot and Humid

I appreciate the nice air conditioning all morning on Tuesdays these days. This morning I had an X-ray scheduled for 8:30 a.m. so I took the 6:30 train (before it got hot) and arrived at 7:30 to avoid the crowds and register for my pre-consultation blood tests and get the x-ray over with ASAP. I finished all the consultations and treatments by 1 p.m. and was home a little after 2. The x-ray showed that the Taxol has been shrinking the tumors a little.

Next week is my Taxol break and I'll only get Herceptin because taking a rest after every three treatments should keep me in shape enough to continue the Taxol longer. My scalp is feeling a little tingly and there is lots of hair on my pillow in the morning but I look no different in the mirror. The white hair seems to fall out first, I guess because it grows faster than the brown hair so the Taxol attacks the fast growing cells. I wonder if they should up the dosage to accommodate for all the Taxol that goes to my overabundance of hair... :-).

I think I'll try to get early appointments all summer so I can be home when the kids are home in the afternoons.


Better Day Today - Whew!

The pains yesterday didn't make any repeat performances today and the doctor thinks it was muscular pains from the symptoms I told him about. Blood work went well and I got my Herceptin and Taxol lunch special and made it home by 3:30 this afternoon. I am so glad that I feel so much better today. I was a good girl and I wore my white surgical mask there and back.

The jr. high school students are home early from school this week as there are no extra-curricular activities like band practice or track and field so the kids can study a little before their final exams. It is M's first experience with "tests that count." and she's been diligently looking through her textbooks and notes.

The elementary school should have started swimming lessons during gym class but they have a policy of no swimming in the rain or if the combined air and water temperatures are less than 50 degrees C (122 degrees F). What a waste of the school pool! What's wrong with purple lips? They've been begging me to take them to a pool every weekend but I think I'll pass on that and try to enjoy activities a little closer to home with fewer people around.


Holy Cow!

Until this morning, I've managed well enough with annoying discomforts that can be endured for the purpose of shrinking the ugly cancer in my lungs. This morning I managed to get up, feed the kids, make some lunches for the two who had no school lunch today and send everybody off to their respective schools. A half an hour later I started to get an ache in my chest which I felt could be from coughing all week. I noticed one of the girls had forgotten to take her packed lunch so I set off on the bicycle to deliver it to her school. By the time I got to the school I was wondering if I was having a heart attack the pains became so severe and spread all over my left side and around to my back (but not the arm). I didn't feel up to climbing to the fourth floor to find out which daughter forgot her lunch and lucked out when a teacher headed that way offered to take it to the teachers' room to have the homeroom teacher deliver it for me. A quick guess at which daughter might be lunchless and some thank yous later, I was wobbling back home on my bike, the pain increasing.

I decided to lie down for a while to see if the pain would subside and it did, after a little less than an hour. I slept all day and went off to teach my Monday afternoon classes and will definitely ask my oncologist about this at tomorrow's visit.

This is the first "pain" and not just discomfort I've had in this cancer experience and because I've always thought that I had a fairly high threshold for pain, it worried me that I had any pain at all. There could be a number of reasons for it from listed Taxol side effects (I'd have thought that this type of pain would be closer to the time of infusion and not 6 days later though) to panic attacks, tired muscles from coughing all week, pleurisy, viruses or heart attacks. It'll probably be something like a bra that was fastened too tightly (Where did I put that bra extender?).

Seems like I'll never run out of things to talk about with my oncologist. I'm glad things have calmed down at any rate, whew! The good news, I got the right daughter and she was grateful for the delivery.



Feeling incredibly light headed after deciding when and where to leave the majority of my locks. I've heard varying stories regarding hair loss on Taxol either thinning or complete loss of hair and decided to start out with a very short cut and wait and see what happens.

Here's the "before" shot from last Saturday. I enjoyed a wonderful evening with the women from our old English playgroup, celebrating a birthday of the current leader with some nice wine and wicked chocolate cake. Very relaxing and lots of laughs. I don't know why this text is bigger than the text above, but hungry children are needing some lunch...


Hair We Go Again!

I asked about this cough that has been keeping me awake nights since the weekend and my oncologist sent me for a quick x-ray to determine if we should go ahead with today's Herceptin or not. He also prescribed some antibiotics and cough suppressants which I had to buy at a pharmacy near the hospital so that cost won't be included in this month's high medical cost refund system. Fortunately these medications were only 1,300 yen. Anyway, I went on up and got my x-ray after a fairly long wait as it was a busy day at the NCC. Then I made my way back down to Dr. F's office and he brought my fresh images up on his high resolution computer screen as well as results from my last x-ray a few months ago. He said that my coughing is from the cold but that it may be worse than just a cold as the cancer in my lungs is taking up important breathing space and that I could start on Taxol right away or next week (if I wasn't feeling up to it because of the cold) instead of in August. Basically, we were waiting for some symptoms to kick in before bringing in the big artillery and this cold qualifies as a symptom in his book. Being well enough to truck on in to the NCC qualifies as being well enough to get treatment so I opted for starting today.

So, I had to send an e-mail canceling plans to meet a New Yorker BC survivor friend who also lives out here in western Tokyo who is getting daily radiation at another downtown hospital. We'd been planning to head on home together. She was finished by noon, but I was just getting started on my five course deluxe treatment. I took a photo with my mobile phone...

The menu?

176 mg Herceptin in 250 mL saline solution for 1 hour (kick butt)

8 mg Dexart (Steroid) in 50 mL saline solution for 15 minutes (anti nausea)
?? mg Zantac (just noticed this was in the mixture too)

10 mg Chlor-Trimeton (Antihistamine) in 50 mL saline solution for 15 minutes (anti allergic reaction)

160 mg Taxol in 250 mL saline solution 1 hour (kick butt)


50 mL saline solution 10 minutes (flush veins)

I asked about anti-nausea meds over the next few days as this is what I've done in the past but as I'll be getting the Taxol weekly, the doses are smaller and the premedication steroids by I.V. are supposedly all that I'll need. So far, so good, I made it home OK on the train a little before 5 p.m. and actually feel better than I did this morning now that I have some cough medicine and anti-biotics. Now I have to look for a few more bandanas, scarves and summer hats to be ready in two weeks if and when the hair starts falling out. A cool look just in time for the heat of summer.


Martha Stewart Moments

A neighbor reminded me today to cook the pie and not the books to avoid getting Martha Stewart style ankle accessories. Good advice.

The recipe for J's birthday fruit tarte tells me to roll the sweet pastry dough to about an eighth of an inch thickness after I've chilled the dough for 20 minutes to make it a little firm and easy to work with. In the 30 seconds from refrigerator to the table, these 20 minutes of refrigeration were negated in the heat and humidity today. I tried, I really did, but I ended up scraping it all back together into a ball and manually pressing it into the pie pan for a more rustic appearance remniscent of my Play-Do years. It is now chilling and letting the the poor mangled gluten rest a little before I line it with aluminum foil and uncooked beans or rice to bake until golden brown. The oven light is not working so I guess I should get the flashlight out of the disaster readiness box so I can peek in from time to time.

While the dough was enjoying its first cool rest I went ahead and made the vanilla custard. With six egg yolks this tarte is not for anyone on a low cholesterol diet. My right arm is a little tired from all the whisking but this part of the tarte can qualify as a success. I even made a glaze by diluting, heating and straining some apricot jam. This will need reheating before brushing on the fruit topping at the last stage of assembly. After I bake and cool the shell, I'll coat the bottom with a little couverature chocolate that I've been hiding from the kids (who would want to use it for banana chocolate fondue upon discovery). This should keep the hopefully golden brown pastry from getting soggy after I fill it with the lovely custard.

Then the kids get to finish the process by trying to hide all the custard with mango cubes, cherries, sliced kiwi fruit, sliced bananas, blueberries, chunks of canned peaches and whatever other fruit we can find and brushing with the reheated apricot glaze for a brilliant sheen. This is the dangerous part, as too many cooks can jostle the pie and dump it on the kitchen floor. I have an emergency caramel roll sponge cake hidden in the back of the fridge for such contingencies.

I've finished the tough parts and have washed all the unnecessary utensils that I will remember to skip using next time and now should probably get started on making dinner as I'll be out teaching tonight.

I had my regular heart ultrasound yesterday and it is still big and strong so there is no trouble with continuing Herceptin.


Time flies!

It's already time for another ultrasound exam of my heart to make sure the Herceptin isn't doing me in faster than the cancer would have. I haven't had any palpitations (but I haven't seen the new Johnny Depp "Pirates" movie yet) and have been walking and swimming regulary so I expect to come through with flying colors.

Speaking of colors, both junior high girls were on the "green" team last Saturday at their school's sports day. They ran fast but were not able to surpass the "red" team this year. There weren't enough girls in their respective classes so both J and M were asked to run twice in the class relay race to even out the numbers. I washed and ironed the long green sashes that the school lent them to use as team headbands. They had Monday off to make up for the school event on Saturday.

M will run in a western Tokyo jr. high track and field event this weekend. L and N have school on Saturday as a special parents' observation day and emergency/disaster school pick-up drill. They get next Monday off while J & M head off to school as usual. I hope to pick them up at school on Saturday and rush off to the station with a bag full of onigiri to head out to the track where M will be running as it is her first event and we'd like to be there even if she's going through the "Oh no, I'm so embarassed my little sister and brother are here!" stage. Knowing my luck, we'l get there just after she finishes. At least we can see some of her teammates compete and walk around Minami Osawa on the way home.

Next weekend is the junior high Saturday observation day so J & M will be home the Monday after that. That's four Monday's in a row with two kids home. It confuses my sense of time a little and I never seem to know what day it is anymore.


May Onco. Update

I saw my oncologist today and the lung mets seem slightly smaller but now he's concerned about an enlarged lymph node right smack dab next to my heart. (Roseanne Roseannadanna "If it's not one thing, it's anuthah!") We compared the same images from February's scans and it's a little hard to tell if it is swollen or if my position was 5 mm off from 3 months ago so a slighly different perspective is offered.

I still have no cancer related symptoms so we decided on careful observation and continued weekly Herceptin IVs for now. He did give me a very big smile when he said that the Herceptin is working. If the August scans show further enlargement we'll blast away with Taxol and keep up with the Herceptin. The Taxol would be weekly with a one week break every month and I'd have to be careful about neuropathy so I don't mind waiting until I have some symptoms that need relieving before beginning possibly debilitating treatments.

Today seemed to take forever as it was fairly crowded so I didn't get home until about 4 p.m. but I did enjoy the time as a British friend came along to talk the time away. We worked on crossword problems and laughed at trashy magazine articles and news.


A Very Sunny Day

After a very wet day yesterday, we were concerned that today's sports event at the elementary school would be postponed. The fourth graders made 101 "sunshine dolls" (teruteru bouzu http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teru_teru_bozu ) to ward off the rain and they worked a little too well. It was so sunny and hot that the teachers announced a special break halfway through the morning to get the kids out of the sun for a short time and let them drink cold barley tea in their classrooms while the spectators roasted away outside. This was a first in our eight years at that school. I'm glad I used sunscreen and wore sunglasses.

The school was divided into two teams, red and white, to play against each other. L and N were both on the white team this year, fortunately, and they lost 601 to the red team 626 points. The difference was small enough that all the kids seemed to have fun and nobody was too excited about winning or losing. Some of the events were non-competitive, like dancing or gymnastics. We're all a little tired after a long day in the sun.


Kiddy Sumo 2007

I took L and N to the Wanpaku Sumo registration tent at the local shrine at the appointed 7:30 a.m. on Sunday. After a lot of waiting around, some long speeches at the opening ceremony and some demonstrations of improper moves (using the mayor as a test dummy) the matches began. Halfway through the first grade matches I sent L off to get his mawashi, the wraparound Sumo "underwear" put on over his gym shorts. AS it was a tournament type event, each player continues until he or she loses and then they watch their friends or go off and enjoy the extra activities like catching goldfish, spinning tops, walking on stilts, making cotton candy or eating some of the special Sumo cuisine a former wrestler who runs a restaurant prepared in a huge pot under a tent.

L managed to win his first match but was pushed out of the ring after many unsuccessful attempts by his opponent to topple him in the second match. He seems to have good balance.

N went to be outfitted with some nylon sumo pants (J and M had the wraparound outfit but times are changing and the pull-on style seems more popular with girls these days) as soon as L's matches were over, but it took a long time for the 3rd graders to finish their qualifying matches so she had lots of time to play. She caught a bunch of goldfish which are now swimming in a bucket on the balcony as the crayfish L caught last spring is housed in our single aquarium. The crayfish might enjoy some sashimi, but I doubt the goldfish would enjoy sharing the same tank.

When the 4th grade girls finally did begin their matches, I got a good spot for taping it and sat to watch. N won her first match and was very pleased. Several of her friends were also participating so she seemed happy just to be their with them all. Her second match was against the running champion from last year, a willowy tall blond girl from the American school. N got in to push the girl out of the ring but the girl pushed her shoulders down and N touched the ground with her hands, losing the match. The other girl went on to become this year's champion again and I expect we'll see her next year and the year after unless her dad gets a new job somewhere else. N says she had fun and wants to go back next year, but I think it may have been the cotton candy as well.


A Little Music

We had a few days of dusty wind and then rain and I felt this way when the bright sky seemed to pour in the windows this morning.


Well into Spring

It's getting downright hot! The train to the Cancer Center runs in sort of a loop so I took the train in the longer, clockwise route instead of the usual jam-packed route this morning. It took about 15 minutes longer to reach Tsukijishijo Station, but I had a seat all the way and was able to relax after the crowded train in to Shinjuku. The treatment went well and I made it home in time to fry some noodles for S' lunch before heading off for parent-teacher conferences at the elementary school for L and N.

L and N's teachers tried hard to sandwich the difficult-to-say parts with news like "He/She is the fastest runner in the grade." or "He/She gets along well with the other classmates." L needs to work a little harder on his Chinese characters; he has trouble fitting them in the space provided and balancing the various components. N needs to slow down a little and do things one at a time; her work gets a little careless in her effort to finish first all the time.

J and M's school has returned to a three trimester system so we'll get report cards at the end of July and there won't be parent-teacher conferences until December, if then. Their school seems to cutting back on a number of things to get in enough hours of required classes. M is enjoying track and field and I'm the "parent supporter" in charge of relaying various club info to the other 7th grade moms. Fortunately, I can e-mail most of the messages on my cell phone of by computer.

We're gearing up for the annual Kiddy Sumo on the 20th, the elementary school sports day on the 26th and the junior high school sports day on June 2nd. That's a lot of rice balls...


Golden Week

The calendar shows a three day weekend at the end of April and a four day weekend from May 3rd. We've closed our language school for the week even though the kids still have school for two days this week.

M's U.S. passport has just expired so we need to take her downtown during embassy business hours (the embassy has both U.S. and Japanese holidays so they're only open Tue. and Wed. this week) to apply for a new one pronto. So much for a perfect attendance record at jr. high, she has to be present when we submit the application, as do both parents as she is under 14 years old and the passport agency is trying to avoid international abduction issues. If only one parent can go, an expensive notarized letter with reason for absence and notarized permission to apply for a passport for the minor is necessary. The nearest U.S. style notary is AT THE EMBASSY...Japanese facsimiles of notaries charge about a hundred dollars for each signature.

Actually, J and L's passports have also expired but N's is valid until the summer of 2008. With no immediate travel plans, I think we can wait until summer vacation so we won't have to keep them out of school for a day to apply in person. I think that the embassy notary can notarize the necessary forms free of charge so S won't have to go all the way downtown again. J will be 14 by then and no longer need permission from either parent (Yeah, sure...J: Arrivederci! I don't need you old folks, I'm off to see the world.) I'm glad that we managed to talk S into a trip downtown anyway.

With treatment on Tuesday and the embassy on Wednesday, I'm getting out and around a lot these days. Hopefully we can go do the pool with the slides that everybody likes or cycle over to Nogawa park with a basket full of rice balls wrapped in seaweed on Thursday or Friday so the kids can say they actually went somewhere or did something during Golden Week.


Tokyo Tuesdays

I think I'm getting used to this weekly routine now. I manage to find the right part of the train where I'm likely to get a seat in the morning rush, make the transfer to the downtown subway smoothly and not forget to get off the train at the station near the National Cancer Center (only forgot twice, suddenly remembering "Hey! That was my stop!" just as the train doors close and the train pulls out). That seems to be the worst part of my Herceptin treatments.

The treatments themselves are pretty simple; hand my file to the chemo station staff, take the escalator back down to the reception lobby where I can pay my bill in advance at the accounting counter which is not yet busy in the morning, get a bottle of green tea, return to the chemo room to be assigned a chair, get set up for the IV and sit for an hour and a half in a nice reclining chair sleeping or reading while the drug and a saline solution chaser drip. As soon as I'm done, I can go right out the door and get the train home instead of waiting for 20 or 30 minutes at the busy accounting counter to pay my bill.

The subway and train home are not at all crowded so I can sit and finish my book. It takes about an hour one way and I'm usually home for a late lunch and a short nap before the kids come home from school.


X-Ray Results

Well, the good news is that the ugly spots in my lungs are no larger than they were 6 weeks ago (the largest of the five I could see in the x-ray is about 6cm long and 2 cm wide) and may be a little smaller even. Also, I remain symptom free unless anyone looks at me with X-ray vision and sees the blobs. It isn't as encouraging as I'd hope it would be but women in a Herceptin support group said that basically this is what to expect. Their mets shrank with additions of other chemotherapy drugs to the Herceptin.

As I am not lacking oxygen or getting palpitations, I'll wait until after May's CT scan before possibly starting with more chemo with my Herceptin. I'm glad that the Herceptin has stopped the advance of the cancer in its tracks and will continue with treatments to keep it that way.

I used my postal account for today's treatments and was comforted to see that more friends have contributed to my treatments. I really appreciate everyone's generous support through messages and contributions.

Today's treatment went well and I got home earlier than expected so here I am on the computer.



M has been admitted to the local junior high school and will begin her one mile walk there tomorrow morning with a big bag to carry all of her new textbooks home to be labelled with her name. Fortunately, by junior high school, the children can do this themselves and I won't have to write or stick her name on every tiny item she might need at school. The weather cooperated and a neighbor offered to take a family shot of the three of us so here it is:

I finally got over last week's cold and am ready to go tomorrow for an x-ray to see how the Herceptin is working and to get my weekly dose of it. I guess I'd better plan an easy breakfast and lunch for the kids who won't be up when I walk out the door or who will be home for lunch because the junior high doesn't begin school lunches until Wednesday.


Celebrating Spring

Back to School

Three out of four returned to school today for a morning. M's entrance ceremony will be on Monday. I have a very nice Anne Klein black pants suit to wear as a lovely woman in the breast cancer survivors yahoo group I joined decided to cheer me up with a box full of nice clothes and even some treats for the kids. M will wear her new school uniform, which is the same as J's but a few sizes smaller. I'm glad that I won't need any anti-nausea medications or a wig for this year's ceremony because Herceptin is not so caustic as the chemo-cocktail I was on a year ago. I'm also glad that I can go at all and am sure to shed a few more tears at how grown-up M and her classmates all look in their clean new uniforms.

Next Tuesday I'll get an x-ray before my fifth treatment to monitor how the regime is working. I'm hoping that it is doing the wonderful things that I've heard it has done. If not...the next step will be to add another drug to the infusion, probably one called Navelbine, and get the hats and wigs out again for a while. I am comforted by the fact that there are options that I may try yet but am still hoping that the easy to deal with (physically anyway) Herceptin is working its magic. I'm also comforted by all the support I've been receiving through my cyber groups, emotional and financial.


Oops, I Missed a Week or So...

M got a new pair of eyeglasses the day before graduation. The red frames stand out a little but she likes them enough to wear them even at graduation so I don't have to worry that she'll try to get by at school squinting at the blackboard. The graduation itself was pretty much the same as J's ceremony last year. The kids were all nervous about maintaining formality that they all walked stiffly, without moving their arms when the fifth graders played Pomp and Circumstance for the grand exit.

A few seconds after the final student left the gym, the vice principal asked us to remain in our seats as a boy who had been ill and in the hospital for most of the past year had managed to come to school that day after all and they felt he should receive his diploma from the principal like the rest of his classmates. It took about five minutes to get all the sixth graders back to their seats as one class had actually made it all the way back to their third floor class room. The kids all seemed a little excited by the unexpected and unrehearsed portion of the event.

When everyone was assembled again, the principal had the boy's teacher call the boy's name and the boy climbed the steps to formally receive his diploma. The fifth graders weren't sure whether Pomp and Circumstance would be necessary again but the principal signalled to the music teacher that she should play something on the piano, much to their relief. She broke into the Alma Mater and the fifth and sixth graders all jumped right in spontaneously, singing the lyrics while the relaxed and smiling sixth graders casually jogged back out of the gym again with their classmate. Not a dry eye in the gym...

We had to hang around for the final class photo and then form two lines outside for the new graduates to walk through and receive flowers. M's teacher, Mr. Ono, was N's first and second grade teacher and this is his first year to have a sixth grade class. Halfway down the recessional line some of the teachers grabbed him and tossed him up in the air like a baseball star to celebrate his first class to graduate. After congratulating and being congratulated we returned home for buckwheat noodles for lunch. S took my afternoon class so I could attend the post graduation bowling and curry rice party with M.