A Run for Sarah

April 10, 2012 at 10:11 PM (Awareness, Cancer, Energy, Faith, Family, friends, Happy, Karma, kids, Mood, Real Life, Silver Lining, Uncategorized, Zen) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

On Monday, April 16, 2012, I will run in the Boston Marathon as part of the Dana Farber Marathon Challenge team.

While this will be my third Boston, it will be the first without Sarah cheering me on from the sidelines. I last ran in 2009, and I remember running through Wellesley close to the half-way point, seeing her there with our boys. I yelled out as loud as I could, “I love you, Sarah.” I remember the pride and love I felt as I saw them there together. And I remember my tears, knowing we had a battle ahead of us that was not going to be easy.

As I trained throughout this winter, I’ve thought long and hard about Sarah. I’ve thought of things we used to talk about, or things we did together. The way she used to encourage me. There were so many wonderful things she did for us. An integral part of our family that made us whole.

I’ve also thought of her strength and how she just kept going, on and on with all the surgeries, chemotherapy and trials to see if we could find something that would work. She never gave up. And this is a lesson that I take to heart. She’s with me every day. Every time I go running I find a deep strength knowing she is there.

I made a short film about running and training for Boston over the winter. But, it’s really not about me. It’s about Sarah and all she did for our family. It’s about that amazing strength she gave us.

When I run on Monday, I will be running for Sarah. I will be running for our boys. I will be running for all our friends and family. I will be running for our friends who have died from cancer over the past year. I will be running for our friends who are still fighting and surviving.  And I will be running for a future without cancer. If you would like to support my run, please watch this short film. It’s only 3 minutes long. And if you can make a donation to the innovative research program at Dana Farber, please visit my donation page. 100% of funds raised go directly to cancer research programs.

Lastly, please share this with your friends. Let’s remember Sarah, the Carcinista, as we approach May 3rd.

With love,

Mr. Wonderful

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Today Has Been Brought to you by the Letter ‘I’

April 19, 2011 at 2:11 PM (after chemo, Energy, Family, Help) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

‘I’ for “insane”. “Incredible.” “Inconceivable.” “Ican’tbelievethisishappening.”

Last Monday was completely off-the-charts crazy. Let me tell you all about it.

No, wait, it’s way too much. Lemme give you the highlights:

  • Awoke at 5:15AM to make 7:00 phlebotomy appointment (say that ten times fast) at The Cancer Factory.
  • Finally allowed myself to be wheeled around TCF in a chair, since I had trouble catching my breath after walking up three steps and across a lobby on Saturday night, even with 3 L/min of O2
  • Didn’t think to attach nose hose to air tank on wheelchair; stayed connected (for 3+-hour tour) to portable liquid canister that I’d been breathing on since 6:15am. Usually I hook onto a wall nozzle for most of my visit. [NOTE: this is foreshadowing.]
  • Navelbine not living up to expectations; i.e., breathing continues to worsen. Please go to radiology for immediate CT scan.
  • “Immediate” is a relative term; arrive promptly, but sit-and-wait for two hours. Scan, then return to NP’s office for further instructions.
  • A mere 45 minutes later(!), NP finds me to say that scan shows further, millimeters-larger growth of tumors in all areas. No point in continuing Navelbine infusions as they are clearly not working. Please make appointment for Thursday to come back and talk with oncologist about other potential treatments, their side effects and efficacy rates.
  • Wheel downstairs, return to parking garage, check out. Turn onto Brookline Avenue to realize my port is still accessed.
  • Around block, park at old building drive-up entrance, persuade door guard that Mom can live-park there for five minutes while I dash down to Radiology to have my port de-accessed (remove needle from chest port, left there for cancelled infusion).
  • Find available phlebotomist, convince her I don’t need access anymore today, have needle removed. Start to climb (slowly, slowly) spiral staircase from basement to street level. Get winded, stop to rest multiple times. Reach lobby, resting elbows on knees to catch breath in chair; approached by stranger who asks if I’m okay. Tell him I’m just headed to car, and stagger out front door just to realize that my portable tank, on which I’ve been breathing for over 4 hours, is completely empty.
  • Collapse in front seat as panic sets in; huffingly tell SuperMom to return to valet in other building and find wheelchair with O2 tank so I can breathe while we go back to clinic to have portable tank refilled for drive home. Total panic; feel tingly all over, nauseated.
  • Ticket-gate attendant finishing long chat-up with driver in front of us (as I continue feeling more nauseated and frantic) finally gives us our turn; SuperMom, holding it together nicely while explaining what we need, gets ticket, whips around to valet and tells him to get a chair with a tank NOW (see “Shirley MacLaine, Oscar-winning speech”), while finding me a plastic bag into which I yak my blueberry yogurt (fuchsia pink; poor dude with rescue chair must have thought I was exploding or something) twice. Finally chair dude hooks hose to tank and I’m back on three liters. Mom hands off the keys and we go back up to 10th floor. Emergency passes, and I’m pleased to notice that I’ve not only managed to keep fuchsia barf off floor and out of hair but also off pristine white tee-shirt. ::Rockstar.::
  • On 10th floor, Receptionist pages Respiratory Therapy to come help; Super-tech David gets me hooked up with a higher-caliber portable liquid tank and a complimentary refill that will get me home safely.
  • FINALLY leave hospital around 1:30 and get my post-hospital-visit chocolate milkshake by 2:10. Nap by 2:30, feeling like I’ve been run over, backed-up-on, then re-run-over by a sizeable piece of construction equipment. .
And that’s only the half of it. More to come this week. Don’t you wish you were me?

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Au Bout de Souffle

March 22, 2011 at 11:50 AM (Energy, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

It’s been an interesting week since I got home from the hospital. Breathing is not better than it was last week, and I still need to rest to catch my breath after changing my shirt, walking down the hall, or visiting the loo in the middle of the night. My medical team keeps exhorting me to give the old-reliable Navelbine a chance to work, that it’ll be at least three cycles (yesterday) and probably four (next Monday) before we start to see results. I’m hanging in there, and trying to keep my inner cynic quiet while twiddling my thumbs.

I’ll have plenty of time to do that, what with my new pain meds keeping me from driving and everything. SuperMom has come to town indefinitely to fill in my gaps…er, gaping holes. I hope that a switch to a Fentanyl patch next week will allow me to drive again, but for now I’m a Roxy-Zombie who’s great at conversation and sleeping, but not much else. Well, except finding pretty patterns in the rug or wallpaper or shadows and clouds.

Another delightful development is that our spring break is taking on a whole new shape. I’d say “I don’t want to talk about it,” but with my acceptance of my path on this journey comes a little peace at changing plans about which I can do nothing. Yesterday, Dr. A told me that she doesn’t feel comfortable with me taking an airline trip anywhere, which, following my last flying fiasco, I completely understand. And I certainly can’t be spending ten days (10!) on St. John at the end of April. No good medical facilities nearby; no liquid oxygen delivery, no emergency aid. Cancel the trip to my happy place — no one wants to go without me unless and until they have no choice.

So instead of flying, we’re looking for a driving vacation, preferably something within a couple of hours’ drive of Boston, justincase. I think we have a couple of good ideas; now we need to start convincing the kids that they’ll have just as much fun in New England in April as they would have had in the Caribbean, a vacation to which we have all been very much looking forward since, oh, the day we left in 2010. They’re good sports, but how much of the rah-rah Kool-Aid will they drink?

The good news is that we’re getting to the stage of my illness when people start coming round to see me all the time. Just for coffee and a chat, but I’m having lots of visitors, people I don’t see nearly as often as I’d like. It’s lovely! They come sit on my couch in the sun, bring me Starbucks, visit, tell stories and make me laugh, then go home just in time for me to take my nap.

Wow, I sound like an old person. Scrabble, anyone? (With all these meds on board, I’m an easy target.)

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Hosed

March 10, 2011 at 11:26 AM (Energy, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Quickly, before it falls off the current-events list: The Carcinista’s Oscars Red Carpet Review! Who hit, and who missed? Which actor had the worst tux? And, most importantly, how many collagen injections has Nicole Kidman gotten since the Golden Globes? Stay tuned, faithful readers, for the latest…hot…umm…news…

Hmm.

It appears I have missed a few days on the calendar. Where on earth have I been?

Riiiiight, sick. Started last Monday with my crack-of-dawn PleurX catheter insertion, followed by a surprise night admitted to the hospital. They wanted to drain me for 24 hours, then get an X-ray, so I spent the WORST night of recent memory not sleeping for more than 45 minutes at a stretch (roommate fell asleep with TV on; nurse turned it off; finally fell asleep, then shift-change vitals check; took 2 nurses to untangle my hoses so I could go pee, etc. etc.). I swear, those women get paid by the depth of the shade of the dark circles under your eyes the day you leave.

Tuesday I was raring to go home, and after some false starts (and one out-of-order X-ray machine), they sprung me, and Mr. W dragged my carcass home for a nap. Pain was under control with Dilaudid, left lung had been drained; I was tired, but SuperMom was in da house and taking care of business for me. I slept well, ate little, thought I was recuperating.

Went to see my oncologist (Dr. A) for a treatment revision on Thursday morning. Cancel the clinical trial, start chemo again. This time: Navelbine (“nav-” as in “navigate”, “-bine” as in “coffee bean.” It’s Fransh). All members of the team were “go” with the chemo; we’d start on Tuesday, no waiting. Great – I love a plan. Home to rest for the weekend.

I felt so decent (i.e., not in pain) on Saturday morning that I decided it was time to quit the dilaudid. I had started to get twitchy at the end of my four-hour dosing schedule, and I hate that. I thought Tylenol would get me through, with Tylenol PM for the evenings. Ooooh, was I wrong.

I lay awake twitching most of Saturday and Sunday nights, moving from the bed to the couch and back in search of a comfortable position. (I’m a side sleeper, and once my right side gets bored, I usually rotate. Only I had this big hose hanging out, and two incisions. Ow.) I tried propping my left side on pillows; lying flat on my back; lying on my stomach with pillows propping me up. Child’s pose. Happy baby pose. Nothing was comfortable. Not to mention that I felt like I wanted to crawl out of my skin.

Fortunately, when my home nurse arrived on Monday morning, she chided me that it was “way too soon” to stop taking pain meds. Thank heaven. Took a big, fat Vicodin and a three-hour nap. But you can’t take narcotics and drive, so…

…When I arrived at The Cancer Factory for my new chemo on Tuesday morning, I was pain-med free and eager to talk about it. My fantastic NP was so empathetic — the first thing she did was order me a quick-acting (and quick-ending) dose of morphine so I could relax. Then she set up an appointment for next week with the pain-management and palliative-care specialist doctor to work out a plan, which will probably include a Fentanyl patch for 72 hours of continuous relief.

Stop freaking out — “palliative” doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m on the way out; it’s a specialty that focuses on the quality of life of patients with chronic illnesses, and on easing their pain issues as manageably as possible. I can work with this doctor for YEARS.

So, short story long: lung tapped and putting out about 25cc (3 Tbsp.) every other day. Tube uncomfortable, but tolerable with Oxycodone and Tylenol. New chemo is okay (side effects: constipation [woo hoo] and fatigue [oh, yes]); I’ll get it once a week provided my blood counts stay healthy. Dragging the oxygen hose around my house is like a bad Keystone Kops sketch, what with the 50 feet getting wrapped around the dog, the kids, my legs, stuck in doorways and over dresser drawer knobs. And despite advice, I have yet to Beadazzle my Casino Canister (thanks, Pateeta!). Possibly I will wrap it with feather boas. To match each outfit.

And we watch and wait. Hope you’re more patient than I am.

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This Is the Droid You’re Looking For

February 24, 2011 at 5:51 PM (Energy, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Oh, it’s been an interesting week. I know I’ve been quiet, but I really can’t bring myself to clog the ether with the neck-snapping back-and-forth that leads from one mile marker to the next. Now that the dust is settling, I’ll net it out for you.

Two lung taps; one three weeks ago, one yesterday. Not much fluid, but it made a difference in my breathing. (It sure didn’t improve my blood pressure — the first appointment, I waited over two hours; yesterday — three-and-a-half.) But as soon as I left the hospital last night I started coughing and couldn’t stop; when I called my medical team this morning, they prescribed Cipro against a possible infection, and home O2.

This is an image I’ve been avoiding since I first heard my lungs had metastases: the feeble little cancer patient, stooped and dragging her green canister around with her, unable to do anything. I knew it was out there, somewhen, but didn’t think we’d get there quite so soon.

But vanity must fall to the ability to breathe (and talk — I could barely talk!!!) And so, this afternoon, R2-D2 moved in.

37 liters of fun. And no, it's not a kegerator.

That little beige guy on the right is the portable unit, thank heaven. So I can shop without dropping. Or dragging my little-old-lady tank cart behind me.

I’m now breathing 2 liters per minute of pure oxygen. I suppose I should be grateful — don’t people pay big money for this service in nightclubs all over Scandinavia? I’ll let you know if my wrinkles disappear.

Also, on Monday I’ll be getting a pleurex catheter, a permanent installation between my left ribs with a little catheter that coils up and gets taped to my side. That way, I can drain my OWN lung when it needs it, instead of schlepping downtown and waiting all afternoon. Downside: no swimming. Ugh.

I also might be changing treatments, going back to one of the conventional chemos I haven’t tried yet: navelbiene (I know, it sounds ridiculous) or hexalen. I’m disappointed that my trial isn’t doing a better job; the first six weeks were so promising! I must have MENSA-smart tumor cells, so clever at adaptation that they can outsmart any new therapy within two months. I wish there were an application to take advantage of all this primal smartitude: discovering the key to nuclear fusion, balancing the federal budget, finding Jimmy Hoffa…

…curing cancer…

Photo credit: The Carcinista

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Am I The Only Cancer Patient In A Hurry?

January 31, 2011 at 1:57 PM (Energy, Funny, Karma, Real Life) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

WARNING: The following blog post contains a fair amount of selfish kvetching.

Last Friday morning, I had a CT scan scheduled for 12:00, which meant I needed to arrive for my delicious contrast (don’t forget to ask for Gastrografin in Crystal Light instead of the thick banana shake!) at 11:00. Now, as frequent readers will surely recognize, this runs into my inviolate naptime of 12:00, which allows me to get up at 2:35, get a parking place in the pickup line, and get my kids when they’re sprung at 3:00.

In the spirit of taking the bull by the horns, I left home at 9:45, which would normally get me to The Cancer Factory by 10:30 – nice and early, in hopes of pushing the whole process forward a little and getting me home for some vestige of my dear, sweet slumber. (It didn’t help that the cat was snoring peacefully under her paw and the furry nap blanket when I left.) Unfortunately, the universe had other plans.

Traffic was a nightmare. Pursuant to our drubbing of snow in the recent weeks, there is nowhere to put it, any of it. Thus people pulling off the interstate were unable to find parking places, meaning surface streets were jammed. As a result, the interstate was jammed, too. FOR EIGHTEEN MILES. So my quick little jaunt in town got me to the radiology department promptly five minutes late for my 11:00 appt. Thus I started my contrast drink at 11:15, and didn’t get my scan until 12:30.

While I sat and sat and sat and sat waiting for my scan, I couldn’t help but notice that not only did everyone else in the waiting room have a friend with them, but they were all placid and peaceful and walking slowly. I, on the other hand, was tapping my foot, looking impatiently down the hall, and checking the time repeatedly (why? So someone would notice and move me up the list? Bitch).

I was starving (and fuming about how I wouldn’t get home until 1:30) by the time I left, but as they’ve recently opened the new treatment building here at TCF, the cafeteria had moved there and it was too far to go for food; I’d have to wait until I got home.

And the people in front of me as I was leaving the building were walking too slowly. And the nice attendant who showed me how to use the new parking pay-station was helpful but clearly not going anywhere. Neither were the parking attendants who made me park FIVE floors underground, even though there were plenty of empty spaces above that. Neither were all the twits who were obviously out for a lunchtime scenic drive as I was trying to get back to the highway.

I know that most cancer patients tend to be older people, often retired, and that they have nothing to do that day but their appointments and possibly some liver ‘n’ onions at the Early Bird Special. I know that cancer patients, whatever their age, are worn-down and tired beyond comprehension. I know it’s uncommon to be a five-year cancer warrior who has to pick up her elementary school kids but sneak home for a nap first. I know that I’ve had a bit of a speed-demon issue (stop laughing) since I first learned how to drive. But seriously, I don’t have time to waste in traffic anymore! I can’t shuffle slowly into the elevator and whistle cheerfully while it hits every. floor. on. the. way. down. My life is SHORT, people, and I think I oughta get a special sticker or a dome light or something, at least a special parking place, to indicate that while I am a cancer patient, I’m also BUSY, and way too cute to be stuck in this hospital any longer.

At least I had a good excuse all lined up for the statie who never pulled me over: CT contrast creates a vigorous urge to be near your home plumbing. NOW.

****************************************************************************

Oh, the scan results? STABLE DISEASE. A little fluid around my left lung, but only 10% tumor growth since 12/15. I’ll see a thoracic surgeon in the next 10 days Thursday to see about tapping the fluid, but it appears that the drug is doing SOMETHING. I’ll take it.

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It Just Keeps Getting Better

December 20, 2010 at 8:36 AM (Research, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , )

Thanks to everyone for your warm wishes for my procedure last Friday. I’m not sure whether you weren’t concentrating hard enough, or whether the fact that my new boots hadn’t arrived yet threw off my mojo, but the stent insertion was a no-go. Apparently, the cancer that is constricting the ureter has a death-grip on it, and no matter how my cute Dr. Kenneth Branagh tried, he couldn’t force the tube in. So when I woke up, not only was there no pain (and thus no need for interesting pharmaceuticals), but no success.

What’s next, you may ask. Well, just because I’m so very fond of pee, poop, private parts, the handling and the discussion thereof, my next step is a nephrostomy. Yes, the universe seems to think that the brief stint with the ileostomy wasn’t enough torture, so my next appendage will be a urostomy bag. Probably temporary, but who really knows. Probably done tomorrow, but I’m waiting for phone calls.

And maybe, if I’m really lucky, my next trip through a TSA checkpoint I’ll get to get a pat-down instead of a little extra radiation.

Today, though, I’m starting my new trial. I’ll be here at The Cancer Factory from 8 to 6, taking pills, peeing in cups, giving blood at regular intervals. Would you all mind focusing just a little more closely on your good wishes today? I could use a break.

The cookies, however? Are AWESOME. XOXOXOXO

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These Boots Were Made for Kickin’ Cancer’s Ass

December 16, 2010 at 11:01 AM (style) (, , , , )

I bought ’em.

Thanks, everyone, for your support. I’m going in for my stent tomorrow afternoon (probably won’t wear the boots since I’ll be mostly in a super-sexy hospital johnny, freezing my butt off), but you bet they’re going to go with me to The Cancer Factory as soon as they arrive in the mail. Hopefully by Monday, but I’m not holding my breath. GO, UPS!!

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Creeping In

December 14, 2010 at 11:26 AM (Energy, Faith, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , )

Wow, this cancer is serious business. By my calculations I’ve been off of chemo for just three weeks, but I can feel things growing in there. A knot of lymph nodes in my neck that had gotten smaller during chemo is getting bigger again, and is now, literally, a pain in my neck. The pelvic tumors, which were actually responding to the chemo at first, are growing again and pushing on my left sciatic nerve. And, most disconcertingly, I’m finally understanding that classic ovarian-cancer symptom of “a feeling of fullness or inability to eat” — most of the time, it feels like my dinner consisted of six or eight large bricks. (Don’t worry; I’m compensating for the lost calories with french vanilla ice cream.)

So, is this the part where I start complaining? Maybe. I’m trying to keep my mouth shut around the house, because I know how upset it makes certain-members-of-my-family-who-shall-remain-nameless. And we’re all trying to keep our eyes on the prize: I’ll start this trial next week and the drug will do a bang-up job of knocking back the cancer’s growth and all my symptoms will fade.

I must admit, though, the cynic in me is starting to get up a good head of steam. The hope is still there, the belief in miracles, the willingness to place my life (again) in the hands of one of the most capable medical teams in the country. But combined with the respiratory stuff that’s been going on since the end of September, these new symptoms are stark reminders of just how close to the edge I’m riding these days.

In August, I asked my oncologist (one of the foremost experts in the field) to be honest with me. I said, “I know doctors don’t like to make prognoses, and I promise I won’t hold you to anything you say, but you have a lot of expertise with this disease, and I need to know. If I stopped treatment today, how long would I have?” (A part of me couldn’t believe I was asking this; I have spent so much of this illness focused on the fact that I will get better that even broaching the question of not was a shock.) She told me that I’d have about six good months, and around a year altogether. At the time, I thought, “Well, thank heaven I’m not stopping treatment. I need WAY more than a year.”

Only none of the damn treatments have worked. Do I have six good months left? The cynic figures I’d better really enjoy Christmas this month. Like, REALLY enjoy it. And then the hope side chimes in, “People have been sicker than you are now and recovered. Miracles happen every day.” Yeah, but they don’t, too. People who were diagnosed after I was are already dead. Maybe I’ve already used my miracles — IP chemo, my crazy HIPEC surgery, my previously stellar fitness level. That 35% five-year statistic wasn’t threatening to me a bit until about three weeks ago. Now I’m wondering about May. Whether I should have had a 39th birthday party. Whether it’s worth buying a new pair of flat-heeled black boots.

Though I’ve been sick for four and a half years, aside from acute times like post-surgically or during chemo, I’ve been able to live a relatively normal life. But now, I can’t ignore it anymore. Now, there’s always something.

photo credit here.

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Up In the Air

December 3, 2010 at 2:19 PM (Real Life, Research, Treatment, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

With apologies to Mr. Clooney (and if he’d like to drop by, I’d be happy to deliver them in person), this week has been the definition of “up in the air”. I’ve been to The Cancer Factory three times looking for a plan, and each visit has given a teensy glimpse of what my upcoming schedule could be, but also another question or two that need answering before any decisions can be made.

So if there’s any truth to that “chronic-stress-causes-cancer” thing, I’m fooked.

Today’s downtown journey revealed another medical truth: no matter how much iron you consume the night before, you cannot pass a failing hemoglobin test. (Although if you’re looking for an excuse to eat grilled grass-fed buffalo rib-eye and sautéed spinach with pancetta, garlic and shallots, which I HIGHLY recommend, I won’t blow your cover.)

Wednesday I met with the urologist, who aside from being a nice guy, said he could fit me into his schedule for my left stent any time, all I had to do was figure out when the Phase I gang wanted me to have it done and call his nurse to book it. But I couldn’t get an answer from the Phase I gang until my hemoglobin was re-tested; 8.9 was not the 9.0 the “sponsor” (Pfizer) needs it to be for me to start the trial.

Yesterday, despite the fact that I hadn’t called to schedule it, I got messages during my nap from: the urologist’s office, the anesthesiologist’s office, and the admissions department at New England Baptist Hospital (where the procedure would be done) all telling me that I was to arrive this morning at 10:30 for my stent insertion. So I had to scramble and check with Phase I – no, they wanted me to get a transfusion (for my pitiful hemoglobin) before I had the stent placed, and I couldn’t start the trial within two weeks of a transfusion, so “no-go” with the stent procedure for today.

TODAY, I had a re-check of the hemoglobin, in hopes that my yoga, steak and spinach had helped it rebound from chemo, but no luck. Still 8.9. SCRAMBLE again to find Mr. W (and get him to answer his phone) to pick up the boys from school this afternoon, so I can get a two-hour transfusion (starting at 3:00 PM, yaaaaaawn), so I can start the trial two weeks from Monday. Which, in case no one has noticed, is the 21st of December. I’m sure I’ll have TONS of time that week to be down here three days in a row.

What I still don’t know is when I’ll be having my stent placed, but now that I’ll have a transfusion on board, I hope they can fit me in next week. But not too early, so I don’t miss Mr. W’s company Christmas Party, the only one (pathetic!) we’re scheduled for this month. And not Wednesday, ’cause Mr. W’s in an off-site meeting all day. Guess it’ll be Thursday or Friday… maybe?

It’s still up in the air.

Clooney? On second thought, I’ll meet you in Como.

Hopefully Elisabetta will be out of town.

Photo credit here.

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