Thursday, November 8, 2012



1 October 2012, Minneapolis MN USA

A new month. New things to see and do, experience and remember.  I just read that Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its integration, something I remember well since I was in high school at the time.  The article made me think about my friend Tanja who died of cancer a couple of years after my son Peter died.  Tanja, her husband and son emigrated to Minneapolis from Leningrad (St. Petersburg), Russia.  We met when she was looking for a ride to downtown St. Paul for her internship at the Hill Reference Library, which was across a park from my office.  Tanja had been a scientific research librarian in Russia; her husband Edward, a physician; Slava was 13.  They lived just a few blocks from our house.  For about a year Tanja and I drove Peter to school, then continued across the Cities to our jobs.  I tried to get Peter to let Tanja teach him simple Russian words as we drove each day, but he was too embarrassed.  They bonded though.  Peter stayed in touch with Tanja years later when I moved overseas.

Edward finished his foreign medical grad requirements at the U of Minnesota, then went to Mayo for a fellowship and eventually Salt Lake City and later Jackson, Mississippi, as a practicing pathologist.  Although I found it odd that Russian emigres should end up in such places rather than New York or Detroit or LA, Tanja embraced each one.  A smoker, she wouldn’t smoke on the outdoor deck of their SLC house because she didn’t want to offend her Mormon neighbors, whose backyard looked like a junkyard of kids’ toys. In Jackson she delighted in telling people I was her friend from Warsaw (where I lived at the time) and seeing the looks on their faces.  

The first time I saw Tanja after my move to Poland she commented that I probably understood her better after that experience.  And she was right.  When we met, Tanja could not understand how the landlord could toss them out of their apartment if they didn’t pay the rent on time. Of course I understood perfectly: no rent, no room.  But I learned in Poland, that under communism, housing is a right. You may not have much space, you may share a bathroom and/or kitchen with others, but you have a right to four concrete block walls and a roof over your head.  Street people were virtually non-existent when I lived in Poland.

Tanja and Edward worked as hard as I did when Peter’s cancer was diagnosed.  Hardly a day went by when I didn’t get a call or email with some new information, an oncologist to contact, a treatment to explore.  And when her stomach cancer was diagnosed not long after Peter’s ocular melanoma was, Tanja made me promise not to tell Peter so it didn’t distract him.  The last time I saw Tanja was my last trip to Jackson.  Previously she’d shown me everything possible there, including Eudora Welty’s house which was not on any tourist maps.  This time she insisted we go to New Orleans for the weekend, where I thoroughly enjoyed the food and Tanja did her best to find things she could eat.  Another day we drove to Vicksburg and Natchez, river towns and huge Civil War sites. 

All of that is by way of saying that I miss Tanja.  After she died, I lost contact with her family despite sending Christmas cards for a couple of years.  They were an important part of opening me up to the rest of the world and what it has to offer.

3 October, Minneapolis
Tomorrow I will sleep in my very own bed!  When my nephew Christopher moved out, I let him take the  mattress and box springs which had belonged to one of his sister’s roommates anyway, left when they moved out.  So I’ve been bunking at Janet and Ed’s again, always a treat because Ed’s a great cook and he cooks “healthily” - no salt, good fats, lots of veggies. 

My new chairs
Chris also took the chair-sleeper because he had left a dent in the seat.  He’s 6’7” tall with commensurate weight.  Yesterday I bought two cool chairs at IKEA instead of replacing the chair-sleeper.  Sabrina helped me put them together this afternoon.  Definitely a two-woman task.  But we did it.  Now I’m rolling out the foam mattress pad and some blankets, and I’m going to spent the night here.  Tomorrow my nephew Craig will come over to hang out and help put furniture back in place.  I had all of the carpets cleaned on Monday so the kitchen, bathroom and laundry room are full of chairs, books, lamps etc. etc. 

My short respite here in Minneapolis has been hectic -- more annual doc appointments, the carpet cleaning, purchases and deliveries, putting my clothes back where they belong and sorting things I don’t use, making future reservations and appointments.  So of course my gastro-intestinal tract had to act up.  I did three days of liquid diet which segued well into the cleansing and detox programs that I’m starting under my niece Tomery’s guidance.  Now it’s no sugar, no wheat, no dairy, no beef, no citrus fruit ... but I can have lots of other things once my innards settle down.  And the “power shakes” she’s recommended actually taste good. When I was on the Alaska cruise last month, I made a commitment to myself to do this.  I don’t want to be 75 and wishing I’d taken better care of my body.  And I know my joints will feel better if I’m carrying less weight and eating better.  So ...

6 October, Minneapolis
So far, so good on the change in eating habits.  I’ve gotten through my niece Michelle’s “pre Twin Cities Marathon carbo load” without eating pasta (hummus and veggies plus lots of salad without dressing and water, water, water).  Tomery’s right -- I do feel better.  Probably me taking charge of my diet and taking my water ex classes regularly as much as the diet changes, but whatever.  It feels good.

Today I went to Northfield to see Lois, my oldest friend in Minnesota.  I’ve written about Lois many times -- we’re writing her memoirs and have promised we’ll get back to that once my life settles down in Minneapolis again.  She’s doing well although her eyesight continues to deteriorate.  We had lunch at St. Olaf College, then on to Target to pick up items she needs.  We ran into several of her friends, a usual occurrence when we are  out together.  One was a particularly interesting professor that I may have to ask her more about next time.

7 October 2012, Washington, DC
Will be in DC for almost three weeks, including David’s last day of radiation and this cycle of his chemos.  Then he gets a month off before starting six four-week chemo cycles.  He, Inga and Frankie picked me up at the airport, and he continues to look and sound good.  His oldest brother Jeff is here.  Haven’t seen Jeff since Inga and David’s wedding.  Jeff leaves Tuesday and has said he’ll take David to JHU on Monday and Tuesday so Inga can sleep in. I’ll get up with the girls, starting with Frankie at 5:30.

Frankie studies at the computer every night 

Tosia is learning the violin

11 October 
Everyone closely affected by cancer needs something to help them feel in control because it’s such an out-of-your hands time.  For Inga, it’s preparing a detailed schedule of what’s going to happen when.  Inga’s always been a better planner than I will ever be, and now she’s in high gear.  From David’s treatments to the girls’ school conferences, it’s all on her handmade Polish-style (weeks start on Monday, not Sunday) calendar.  Today we spent some time plotting out the six four-week BSI and chemo cycles to determine how the family can get some time away for two family weddings as well as holidays and school breaks.  I’ll go over this with Silvia, the nurse in charge of the BSI research, tomorrow to be sure we have it right.

Frankie is interested in joining a health club so she can work out and perhaps swim afterwards.  I did some Internet searching and clubs with pools are hard to find.  David and I convinced her to try to Y, so she and I drove there today after several around the block side trips.  It’s got lots of facilities, including tennis courts and an outdoor pool that usable as long as the temp is above freezing.  Frankie was not impressed.  It’s an older building that despite being clean and well maintained, looks like an old Y.  So we’ll see.

Last night I was in the ER with Inga.  She had severe abdominal pains just as we were all gathering for dinner.  Seated on the floor in a fetal position, she couldn’t move her legs without pain.  It took a couple of hours before David and I convinced her to take one of his 500 mg ‘tylenol,’ just before she agreed to let me take her to the ER.  After examining her, the hospital did blood, urine and ultrasound tests and found nothing wrong.  I thought the pain was her body telling her to take care of herself for a little while, and that’s what she did for the nearly three hours at the hospital.  Tomorrow she’ll sleep in, and Tomek and I will take David to his radiation treatment. 

12 October
Not sure what my impression was of radiation treatment but it definitely took far less time than I had expected.  Which, in hindsight, I know makes sense. There was a camaraderie among patients and their family/friends, who provide moral support with information and humor.  

When David finished, we went in search of Silvia so I could review Inga’s tentative calendar. We’d almost given up when the elevator doors opened for us and there she was.  I was able to get the additional info we needed -- schedule for MRIs in relation to treatment and breaks.

This afternoon I spent some time helping in the kitchen, peeling two bulbs of garlic into a glass jar for future use.  And in the evening watching the Orioles and Nats lose in the postseason baseball playoffs.  Since I’m in DC, I’ve become a Nats’ fan, and they were off to a great start in Game 5, only to lose in the end.  Reminds me of the Northwestern football team back when I was a freshman ... win 4 Big 10 games, then lose 4 and your coach, Ara Paraseghian.

14 October
What a gloriously sunny and warm day today.  I sat outside for a while reading and didn’t need to wear a sweater!

Yesterday Frankie and I went shopping for new jeans for me.  I wanted Not Your Daughter’s Jeans which I finally found at Bloomingdale’s.  They’re the kind of jeans that fit no matter my weight.  I found a pair I liked but wasn’t 100 percent satisfied with the fit -- they seemed to bag a bit in the bum.  So I passed for now.  We extended our shopping to find gifts for the two girls’ whose birthday party Frankie attended last night.  And later Inga and I returned to the Apple Store in Bethesda to see if the Genius Bar tech could unfreeze her phone.  Not possible.  It was an old iPhone 3GS, no longer sold, that had been jiggered with software to bypass ATT and allow connection to T-Mobile.  Unfortunately when Inga’s friend tried to connect the phone to a new iTunes, it froze.  The tech couldn’t even wipe it clean and reinstall the software.  So Inga got a new iPhone 4.

Got the photos inserted into my September blog at last and posted same, arranged to have dinner with Peace Corps friend Larry who’ll be in town this week and talked to friend Dan on the phone for first time in years.  As Dan observed, our communications of late have been too virtual.  Time for real-time talking.  Dan is one of two friends who were with Peter when he died.  He lives in west Texas now, developing his long-term dream, Estrella Vista, and helping juveniles who are charged as adults with serious crimes like murder. You can copy/paste this link to your browser to learn more about this important work --

The whole family including Tomek and I were transfixed to the TV and watched the first space jump, holding our collective breaths until Felix Baumgartner arrived safely back on terra firma.  The whole thing reminded me of my one and only parachute drop at now long dead Riverview Park in Chicago.  I was Frankie’s age, and staying with Aunt Bobbi and Uncle Bob (family friends).  They took me and the son of one of their friends to the amusement park one night.  Uncle Bob insisted that I go on the parachute ride with him.  Sitting on a small wooden board with only a chain across our laps to hold us in I was terrified the entire way to the top.  The fall was blessedly quick.  Given that experience, I was in awe that my ex Bob had been a paratrooper.

15 October
Watching baseball playoffs and start of football season with David.  I sounded like my sister when RGIII ran 76 yards for a game clinching TD. Sorry, Minnesotans. I’m in DC and thus a Redskins fan.  Redskins were ahead but score was close; they could have done a Nats and blown their lead and lost.  I went to bed the other night, sure the Nats had taken their division pennant ... only to wake up and learn they’d lost in a spectacular game closing.

19 October
Today David ‘rang the bell,’ a JHU tradition as a patient completes treatment.  David had his last radiation treatment today and starts a four week vacation from chemo.  I posted on caringbridge the photos Inga took , including two she took the other day of David with Silvia, the BSI research nurse.  After seeing the smiling initial photo, Inga asked them to pose for one for David’s Polish friends.  Silvia, whose background is the former Czechoslovakia, knew exactly what to do -- she added the perfect frown to her face, as did David to his.  Check out the site -- -- to see both photos.

After returning home, everyone got ready for a weekend away, their first break since arriving in the US in mid July.  They aren’t going far but the resort hotel has lots of amenities that everyone will enjoy.  I’m staying with Beza, who looked forlornly through the glass storm door as they left.  

21 October
My detox is going well, at least I think so.  I haven’t weighed myself yet; must ask Inga if she has a scale as I haven’t seen one in any of the bathrooms.  Yesterday I had lunch at a Cheesecake Factor restaurant with friends Aideen and Regina and their sons.  I had been wanting to introduce them since their both are single moms with sons and in the same industry, international development.  Regina’s job hunting, and Aideen just started a new job, at a firm headed by someone Regina knows.  Regina’s boys Liam and Roan have October birthdays so we sang to them.  Despite some glitches in food, it was a festive time.  The boys bonded immediately, wreaking occasional havoc that had to be reined in.  We women had a chance to catch up.  And I was able to stay on my detox with brown rice and steamed broccoli for lunch.

I made quinoa/brown rice with garlic, mushrooms, onions and steamed cauliflower and some shrimp for dinner.  Had something similar last night, and it’s quite tasty.  Need to ask Tomery if I’m allowed shellfish.

22 October
What a beautiful day.  Fall has definitely fallen here in the DC area and although mornings are crisp, temps at midday rise to the 70sF. And this week, it’s to be 81F on Wednesday.  The leaves have finally started to turn for real but nothing as pretty as Minneapolis when I left ... nor anywhere near the Western Pennsylvania autumns that I remember from my growing up years.  Fall is my favorite season and the only time I am homesick for my childhood environs.  I’m so glad Dan, Barbara and I are going to Pittsburgh next month.  The leaves may be gone, but we’ll get a chance to do the drive down memory lane and see how much has changed (or not changed).  And of course, watch the Steelers trounce the Ravens.

23 October
JHU called yesterday about blood tests that weren’t done on Friday.  Someone there “oops’d.”  So Inga had to take David today.  In the meantime, I ran errands -- bought a new garage door opener at Sears and arranged installation, vacuum cleaner bags and printer cartridges.  I drove Inga’s Lexus hybrid SUV, which seems a little like an oxymoron.  But it runs on a battery as well as gasoline and gets tremendous mileage.  The only problem -- it’s too quiet.  Step on the brake, turn the key, shift into drive, and off you go with nary a sound.  Since I occasionally stall my stick shift Focus, I am always afraid I’ve stalled the Lexus.  But I hit the gas pedal and off it goes.  It’s nice sitting up higher than usual, but it’s still too big a car for me. 

Inga wants to be able to get one car in the garage this winter so she can pull closer to the house and unload groceries and such.  So yesterday we checked out the garage door opener, which works fine from the hard-wired wall unit.  But we couldn’t get the two remotes she found to work.  I went on line to find out what Sears had to say, we tried everything and got nowhere.  Inga asked their neighbor Henry who is very handy to come over.  He had no more luck than we.  He even called the previous owners who said they never used the remotes and rarely the garage.  

Henry’s an avid eBay seller.  So when he noticed the old double-oven and dishwasher in the garage, he offered to put them on eBay for Inga.  She’d be happy if someone just cam and hauled them off.  We’ll see what happens.

Tonight we celebrated my birthday at dinner.  David grilled the salmon perfectly, and Inga added an array of steamed veggies and fried potatoes.  Tomek brought a chocolate mousse cake for dessert.  Most of the meal was well within my new eating regime and where I “cheated” (cake), I only had a small amount ... and it was well worth every single calorie and guilt free.

24 October, Minneapolis MN
Turned the phone on as I deplaned and there was a ‘happy birthday one day early’ message from my brother.  Called him once I got settled at home for a nice catch up chat.  He’s running for the board of the home owners association where they live in Reno.  He’d make a good board member -- interested, does his research, has time.  I hope he gets elected.

Off to a new middle eastern restaurant with friends Janet and Ed and my sister Barbara for more celebrating.  Ed and Janet are picking me up as I’m going to  a glass of wine, the first in almost a month!

25 October, my #67
It’s official -- Minneapolis had its first snowfall today, on my birthday.  I can only remember that happening once before, and it was similar -- not a snowfall that accumulated, just lots and lots of flurries that melted on hitting the ground.

Thanks to everyone for your cards, gifts and good wishes.  It’s been a great birthday.  Dinner last night was excellent, and I haven’t had any ill effects.  I wore a pair of slacks that I haven’t fit since last fall, and today I wore a pair of jeans that were way too tight in the waistline last time I tried.  Hurray and thanks to my niece Tomery who helped me get this detox and weight loss started.  Another great gift was Inga’s call with good news about David.  Because of the possibility of bacteria in raw fish, someone with a compromised immune system like David can’t eat sushi.  Before he started the treatments, we were eating sushi several times a week because he loves the stuff.  Now he can eat it again.  His latest blood tests were so good that the docs approved. 

28 October
My dad was looking down upon me this morning, shaking his head and laughing his distinctive laugh.  I just know it.  Back in my teenage days, I put potatoes on the stove to boil one day, then went to watch television ... forgetting all about the potatoes until I smelled something burning.  Water gone, the potatoes had started to burn.  Pop was incredulous.  So he made me peel and boil potatoes every day for a week.

This morning I put six eggs into a pot of water, set it on the stove and turned the heat to medium high.  I figured it would take about five minutes for the pot to come to a boil, so I could work on my crosswords, then turn off the heat, put on a lid and let them cook.  A recipe for perfectly cooked eggs.  Except, as often happens, I got engrossed in the Sunday crosswords, and I totally forgot about the eggs.  Eventually I could smell something cooking -- thought maybe someone was fixing brunch in the condo below.  By the time I went into the kitchen for a glass of water, the pot was dry and two very well done eggs had already exploded all over the stove, the side of the refrigerator, the counter and floor.  I could see the look on Pop’s face and hear his voice.

30 October, Lansing, Michigan
Could I have picked a worse day to fly to Lansing?  Oh, my friend Thom was on time to pick me up at 4:30 am, and the on-time Sun Country flight was pretty uneventful, especially considering the pounding Hurricane Sandy was giving the East Coast and many of my friends there.  But the weather in Lansing could not have been more unexpected.  I should have checked before I left. It was freezing cold with rain that turned to snow and ice as I found my rental car.  And the airport is diagonally across the city from the hotel where I’m staying ... or two sides of the big square loop of interstate that goes around the city, the preferred route. 

I was grateful to be able to check into the hotel, a clean, friendly, serviceable Holiday Inn Express that’s not far from the highway to Jackson, 40 minutes away and where my aunt is. Her husband, my dad’s baby brother, died in March, so she’s all we have left of our parents’ generation. She was being moved from the assisted living facility to a hospice home today, and I wanted to be there.  The transfer went smoothly, including the stop in between for a mandatory chest x-ray.  By the time her nephew John, his wife Nancy and I got to her room, she was pretty alert though not entirely in 2012.  But at 93, she can pick the era she wants to inhabit and the people she wants to ask about, like her parents who died decades ago.  Much to our surprise, she ate her entire lunch, scraping the bottom of each dish thoroughly (she often eats virtually nothing).

1 comment:

  1. Suzi, you are a wonderful friend.Hearing about your adventures taking care of your friends and family makes me try harder. Glad to hear you had a wonderful birthday. So sorry I missed you when you were here. I am much better and have had no more health scares. Take care and give me a call the next time you are in SF.