13 October 2016

The Sodium Chronicles

My cancer affects the efficiency of my kidneys. If I eat too much sodium, my body retains water because my kidneys can’t filter out the sodium as quickly as they used to. So, too much sodium and I retain water; retaining water leads to edema, which leads to weight gain and additional strain on my kidneys making me a generally unhappy camper.

It’s taken me a while to figure out that a certain meal eaten at a restaurant one day leads to a weight gain the next. Research pinpointed sodium as the culprit. Further research indicates that I pretty much cannot eat any meals at any restaurants ever again (it would seem).

Keeping in mind that the daily recommended maximum of sodium is 2,000 mg, I’m trying to eat no more than 1,000 mg of sodium at lunch (and very little at breakfast and dinner). This means I can’t eat Pei Wei’s Pad Thai any more because it has (get ready) more than SIX THOUSAND mgs of sodium in a bowl. A wrap at Jersey Mike’s has more than 2,200 mgs (I can eat half today and half tomorrow, I suppose). A wrap at Chipotle has more than 2,300 mgs.

This is only a problem when I eat out. At home, eating low sodium is a breeze: cook from scratch, don’t add salt to foods, etc. Easy peasy. But, who doesn’t like to eat out once in a while? I know I do (or, I did).

28 September 2016

Son of Thalidomide

I was having a nice chat with my chemo doctor Tuesday. I asked him to recommend for me a book or paper that would explain in detail how my daily drug Revlimid works. All I knew prior to that question was that it was a derivative of the dreaded anti-nausea medication Thalidomide, and that it somehow prevented the creation of new blood vessels, thereby killing off cancer cells the way its parent drug killed off the creation of arms and legs in babies in the 1950s.

He explained that scientists don’t know how Revlimid works. He clarified that it enters the bone marrow (where my cancer comes from) and kills off the cancer cells. Okeh. Then he told me that my kind of cancer was originally treated with Thalidomide.

Color me surprised. I hadn’t heard that. Although it helped, the original treatment had so many side effects that some clever doctor figured out what exactly in Thalidomide worked against the cancer and pulled out that small part -- resulting in Revlimid, what my doctor called “the first designer drug.” 

Revlimid, in general, has few side effects and those are pretty mild. Thankfully, I’ve had virtually none of them, so that makes me really happy. According to my doctor, my numbers are still doing really well and that makes him really happy. I guess the situation is the best it could possibly be for a cancer that I’ll have the rest of my life and a drug that I’ll keep taking for the same length of time.

23 September 2016

Everything You Wanted to Know About the "James Murray Mysteries" but were Afraid to Ask

The 1930s were a long time ago and Los Angeles a very different world. And now, a year after the last James Murray Mystery was published, I've published an encyclopaedia of sorts that explains all the little inside jokes, esoteric bits and pieces of historic information, and the background behind some of the choices I made as the author of the five novels set in 1930s Los Angeles.

The James Murray Mysteries Companion is filled with all kinds of information -- like the actual people who were the basis for the mysterious Miss Compton and the dashing Buddy Rogers in the first novel. The origin of Scott Hobby in the second novel. The real person behind the fictional scientist in the third novel. (Hint: he’s not a scientist!) Why I chose baseball as the setting for the fourth novel. Some of the famous Hollywood stars who have cameos in the fifth novel.

You’ll uncover my favorite actress, my favorite movie, my favorite dessert and my favorite restaurant in Los Angeles as they all make appearances in one or more of the novels. I also explain how a real-life medical condition of mine was used to inform the plots of two of the novels.

So, sit back, relax and discover some of the secrets contained in the five James Murray Mysteries

[You’ll find the link to the book in the column to the right called “My Books.”]

28 August 2016

Two Faced

I’ve always been a stoic person -- dealing with pain or hardship and trying really hard to not show it to others (except Matt, my spouse, of course; he has to endure my bitching and complaining). I always figured everyone had problems: making a fuss about mine isn’t going to make mine better and sure is going to make things harder for everyone else.

When I had surgery for my heart defect (January 2015) I didn’t make a big deal about it. I told few people, was in and out of the hospital lickety-split, went back to work 13 days after I got out of the hospital and basically returned to the life I had before.

When I was diagnosed with cancer in December 2015 (obviously, not a good year for me) I did the same thing: told only those who needed to know, started the chemo and endured the side effects with little complaint. When I go out to see people I do everything in my power to put on a happy face. There are whole groups of people who interact with me who don’t know I have cancer because I’m always so upbeat and optimistic. But cancer and chemo are exhausting; and, while things are better now (reduced chemo, etc.), it’s still a challenge.

I think because I present my “can do” attitude, they think my cancer is not bothering me. I was discussing this very issue with Matt just a few days ago. I think people are expecting more from me because they think “His cancer isn’t bothering him, so he can do this.” Well, it is bothering me and, increasingly, I can’t do it.

Now, of course, when I have to turn down things -- like lunch dates, extra work assignments, etc., which is bad enough -- I also have to explain that my cancer and chemo are the reasons why. I can just imagine people thinking “He’s lying. He’s always been fine with his cancer and chemo. It’s just an excuse.”

I’m not sure what to do: I don’t want to have to explain everything to everyone, I don’t want pity, and I don’t want people to stop inviting me to lunch because they’re afraid of exhausting me. I guess the best I can hope for is an understanding that I have good days and I have bad days. I like to laugh and carry on like everyone else and I certainly don’t want to be defined by my cancer.

03 August 2016

02 August 2016

Gone to the Dogs!

My incredibly talented spouse, Matt, just started a big sale of his original silk-screen prints in his Etsy store! The prints are of famous children's-book characters silk-screened onto pages of their own stories! He takes old and damaged books, puts the pages on Bristol board and then adds several layers of silk screened images to them. It's recycling at its best! He's got lots to choose from, including Nancy Drew, Dorothy (from Wizard of Oz), Huckleberry Finn, Sherlock Holmes, and even some dog and cat prints! Remember, the winter holidays are right around the corner. It's never too early to start buying presents! Just go to his LitKids store, before the end of September, and enter the checkout code DOGDAYS. You'll get $5.00 off your purchase of $20.00 or more. Shop now!

27 July 2016

57, and all its Different Varieties

When I was in high school, I was certain that I would be dead before the age of 30. No specific reason, just a certainty. After reaching 30, then 40, then 50 I decided it would be kinda cool to live to be 80 -- to see how the world changes in my lifetime.

Then, the subtractions started:

When I found out I needed surgery to correct a heart defect, I was all for it. My father died (lung cancer) when he was 71 and I was determined to live until at least 72.

Then I found out I had a type of cancer that could not be cured and for which the average life expectancy after diagnosis was only 5 years. So, I became determined to live to be at least 61.

Today I turn 57 and I’m pretty happy to have made it this far. Although my cancer treatment is going well, there is always the possibility things may take a turn for the worst, or that I will get hit by a car, or shot by one of those “good” people with a gun.

But then, the additions started:

Tuesday, I had a visit with my cancer doctor. I’ve been doing a “maintenance” chemo regimen that has contributed to my numbers getting even better each month. My doctor said “If I were a teacher handing out grades, I would give you ‘A’s right across the board.” He even smiled when he said this. :-) I asked him frankly about the 5-year average and he said I could pretty much forget about that, that he would feel confident giving me at least another 10 years, by which time there would be new and hopefully better treatments. (Out of the blue he said “I can’t guarantee you’ll make it to 80” -- which I thought was an interesting coincidence.)

So, I guess it’s true to say that -- for me, anyway -- life begins at 57!