Wednesday, November 26, 2014

25 gift ideas for the single mom (to fit any budget)

Hard to believe that the Christmas season is here! And now the serious shopping begins. Here are 25 gift ideas for the single mom. Let me tell you, if I got any of these, I'd be shouting for joy! My latest on Divorced Moms.

25 Holiday Gift Ideas For The Divorced Mom
by Lizzy Smith                    
November 26, 2014
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I asked my single mom gal pals for a list of gifts they'd love to find under their tree this holiday season. After gathering their answers, it boiled down to these top 25 answers.

1. Dating site membership
Not every divorced mom is ready to start dating again, but if she is, a membership to a dating site is a fabulous idea.

2. Kid-sitting
Offer to watch her children for an evening or a day. Time without kids is the perfect gift.

3. House cleaning
What mom wouldn't love her home cleaned? If it fits your budget, hire a cleaning service. If you're looking to save money, consider doing it yourself.

4. A good book
If she's dating, consider getting her a book on relationships (my favorite is He's Just Not That Into You). I have also gifted books that I've enjoyed reading myself, travel guides, cookbooks, and coffee table books. With a little thought, you can't go wrong with this option.

5. Pedi/massage
A gift card for a massage or pedicure is a great way to help the frazzled mom relax. Better yet, go with her and enjoy a fun afternoon of bonding.

Keep reading...

Should myeloma patients achieving complete response with induction therapy defer transplant?

A VERY important question in the world of myeloma. An article I wrote for www.myelomacrowd.org.

Should Newly-Diagnosed Myleoma Patients Defer Transplant?

Should Newly-Diagnosed Myleoma Patients Defer Transplant?

BY LIZZY SMITH

Is it reasonable to defer transplants in patients achieving complete responses to their induction therapy? MedPage Today asked that question of three top myeloma doctors:  Matt Kalaycio, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic, Carol Ann Huff, MD, of Johns Hopkins, and Hani Hassoun, MD, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

To watch the interview, click here: MedPage Today: Should patients defer transplant?

The answer is… It depends who you ask. Dr. Kalaycio says to proceed with the transplant; Dr. Huff says perhaps wait; and Dr. Hassoun says there is no definitive answer. All have great points– there are some studies to suggest one answer over the other, and each of us patients need to decide which protocol makes sense for us.

For me, when I was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma in January 2012, I immediately began treatment for a tandem auto stem cell transplant. It was pretty crazy– I had 95-percent myeloma cells in my bone marrow biopsy (that’s no typo!) yet I had no bone lesions or organ damage. Just before my stem cell transplant, I was almost in remission thanks to my initial high-dose therapy. I asked my treating oncologist if I should wait to have that transplant until my numbers started creeping back up. Ultimately, we decided to treat me as aggressively as possible. I was young and otherwise really healthy and we felt that my body could handle the treatments. I can’t say that, knowing what I know now, I would make a different decision but I’ve always wondered if that was, perhaps, the “best” or “only” viable option for me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Believe it or not, I'm grateful for cancer and divorce

Happy Thanksgiving week! It's time to make my annual "grateful" list, which is the topic of my latest Divorced Moms column. Today I am very tired and after posting this, I'm taking a nap and later today, hitting up yoga. Not a bad way to start off my favorite time of year.

This Thanksgiving, I'm Grateful For Cancer And Divorce
by Lizzy Smith                     
November 25, 2014
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Thanksgiving.jpgIt's Thanksgiving week and I think all my Facebook friends are posting a list of all the things they're grateful for. I've decided I don't want to do the expected thing and post my own list. Because if I did, it would include the typical:

1. My daughters
2. My family (especially my parents, who opened their home to me and my two children when I was newly diagnosed with cancer and left my husband)
3. My friends and loved ones
4. The luxury of traveling

...oops! I just started the list that I promised I wouldn't. I think I'll stop right there.

But on Friday, I headed off to my weekly oncology appointment. Though I'm in full remission from multiple myeloma (a blood cancer), I am on indefinite maintenance therapy, which includes a chemo pill that I take daily, and a weekly injection of another chemo-type drug. (Neither of these drugs cause hair loss-- I already went through that!) I also get labs every three months. At that appointment, I got revaccinated. This was necessary because when I first entered treatment, I had two stem cell transplants, which wiped out my entire immune system. So all the vaccines I've had growing up were basically cancelled out. Here I was two years later getting new shots (progress!) because I was finally healthy enough to get them. And as I was sitting in clinic getting one poke after another (seven in total!), I started thinking about the radical direction my life has taken since getting cancer, and, wow, I realize how grateful I am for the experience. I mean, I wouldn't wish cancer on anyone, and I'm not happy I got it. But I did, and cancer was the catalyst for many amazing life lessons and experiences.

So I think I'll make a different kind of "grateful list"-- a list of why I'm grateful for the Cancer Journey.

1. I got a divorce
I wanted a divorce since just months after the wedding. During our dating phase, my husband pretended to be someone he wasn't-- a nice (and sober) guy. Soon, his disturbing personality patterns emerged and a few months later, he confessed that he was an alcoholic-- a highly functioning, closeted, raging alcoholic. Our marriage was a Hell that's hard to describe. And as many times as I asked for a divorce, and dreamt of a world without my husband, I had yet to pull the trigger. The minute I found out I had cancer, that all changed in an instant. I left my husband within days of diagnosis. While divorce sucks, a bad marriage sucks a whole heck of a lot worse. Some people need to be cut out of our lives just like a tumor. My husband was one of them.

Keep reading...

Monday, November 24, 2014

I'm revaccinated, baby! Progress in kicking myeloma in the arse

I always hesitate getting too braggy when it comes to my quest of kicking cancer in the ass. That's because cancer is POWERFUL and SCARY. Nonetheless, on Friday, I got re-vaccinated! Since undergoing two stem cell transplants, I had the immunity of a newborn baby. And that means that all those vaccinations growing up were non-existent. Wiped out. A clean slate. So almost three years later, I marched off to my weekly maintenance appointment at Huntsman Cancer Institute.

First, before leaving home, I took my 20 mg of Dex, swallowed a ton of vitamins (all the vitamins in ONE of the slots)...


... Then I drove to Salt Lake City and stopped at my favorite place, Salt Lake Roasting Co, for my organic coffee and a delicious cranberry-oatmeal cookie (OMG I love that place), arrived at HCI where they weighed me (holding steady, yay!) and took my vitals, told me that my mammogram results were clean (whoohooo!), helped me schedule my first-ever colonoscopy for next month (that should be FUN), and accessed my port, which, turns out, BOTH SIDES were clogged up. Yep, I got poked twice in my dang port, barely got a "pink" blood return on one side-- just barely enough to give me my Velcade. This Friday I'll get an extra long appointment so that we can put anti blood-clotting stuff in them. But that's ok, it's just one tiny eentsy weentsy hiccup in my myeloma treatments. I can't even complain because I'm in REMISSION, I'm ALIVE, and I'm treated at Huntsman, a really FABULOUS place (for a cancer hospital).


And then I got all my new vaccines, five shots in total. So before I left, I got poked SEVEN times-- five vaccines and two in my port. And before I went to bed, I had to self-inject in my stomach so I won't get blood clots. Yes, that's EIGHT shots for me in ONE DAY. Good thing I'm over the whole "I hate needles" thing. I hardly wince anymore. That makes me... A WARRIOR!

I raced out of my appointment, drove all the way home, picked up Siena and her friend Gavin, and Morgan and three of her friends, and William, and we drove all the way back to the University of Utah for the state high school championship football game. American Fork High School lost, bummer, but it was a beautiful day and it was fun to gather up the whole gang and watch it.




After the game, William and I dropped off all the kids, went to an adult-only dinner party and met some new people, and then called it a night. Saturday, I hit up Bikram yoga in hopes that my very sore arms from the injections would loosen up (it worked) and later that night, watched Catching Fire. It was ok-- I wish they didn't split the last book up into two movies. This movie was dark and kind of dragged out. Ok, Catniss, we know you are desperately trying to SAVE PETA!!! Got it.

We were supposed to get snow this weekend and we barely got any. We did eat pre-Thanksgiving meals (turkey and the trimmings) and shopped. And now it's Thanksgiving week. And boy oh boy do I have so much to be grateful for. I will be writing up that post later this week.

Until then, here's to vaccines. It means I'm one more notch up on the SURVIVOR ladder. And for that, I'm so incredibly grateful.

Jenny and I are featured in The Daily Utah Chronicle!

How Social Media Helps Myeloma Patients Become Advocates

A new platform for patient advocacy




While the chronically ill have always been something of a disenfranchised class, the Internet and social media now provide patients with a unique opportunity for collective self-advocacy. Jenny Ahlstrom and Liz Smith are two such patients who have recognized and embraced this opportunity. Their work provides an excellent example of how patients can and should utilize the connectivity of the Internet to advocate for themselves.

Both Utah women are myeloma survivors. Their website, myelomacrowd.org, is an example of successful cancer patient advocacy. “We met because I went on Twitter,” Smith said. She and Ahlstrom connected in Utah Valley after each discovered that the other was a myeloma patient. Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma; like many people, I hadn’t heard of it before. Extremely rare in those under 40, it’s a serious disease not only because it is a cancer, but also because it attacks the immune system.

Ahlstrom was already working on launching a myeloma website when she met Smith, who has a background in marketing and public relations. They’ve since successfully created an exemplary online patient community that has an influential voice at important cancer research centers like the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Myelomacrowd.org works to connect myeloma patients and those caring for them. Ahlstrom and Smith have eschewed the site-specific forum model, instead opting to reach out to myeloma patients with existing platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

It’s important that patients find ways to connect with clinical researchers and trial therapies. Ahlstrom stresses this point: “One of the key problems in cancer research is that, in adult cancers, less than five percent of the patients participate.” It’s not easy for adult myeloma patients to try to find myeloma-specific treatment, so many end up looking to their local general oncologist for care.

“If you have a specialized disease like myeloma, you really need to see a specialist … I started this [website]…because I was trying to get patients educated so that they would want to join the clinical trials.”

Their website has been providing patients with clinical trial information and evaluations via outlets like mPatient Radio, making sense of different approaches to treatment, and connecting patients with the same variants of the disease with the goal of increasing access to clinical trials. This approach has been adopted not only to accelerate research by increasing trial patients, but also to help patients get better treatments that have been shown to be more effective in treatment of their variant of cancer.

They are not the first myeloma patients to benefit from this approach. Ahlstrom recalls the story of Stacy Erholtz, a myeloma sufferer who made headlines when she beat her cancer with a modified version of the measles virus after proactively getting herself into a clinical trial at the Mayo Clinic.

Patient-driven advocacy can and should extend to funding research. The organization over myelomacrowd.org, the CrowdCare Foundation, is now using the collective voice of its patient community to help drive research through crowdfunding for myeloma research projects. The organization is choosing projects from proposals from the patient community, vetted by both scientific and patient advisory boards, and is planning on introducing them at an international hematology conference in December. The organization already has one crowdfunding project in motion, the Kickstarter campaign “Songs for Life,” a music project intended to raise money for cross-cancer research.

The Internet provides formerly under-represented groups, such as patients with an advocacy solution, but only if members of those groups individually step up to the plate and participate in the process.
“We’ve been waiting on a cure for cancer for some time now. Something has to change. Our premise is that patients have to be more involved in helping to accelerate the cure,” Ahlstrom said. Patients should recognize that they can assist research, find better healthcare solutions and better advocate for themselves by reaching out to the burgeoning online patient community.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mommy Makeover time! My tips for looking younger without spending tons of cash



Fresh from my winter wardrobe shopping spree (which included pictured here: Ugg boots from Scheels, tights from Walmart, cream skirt from H&M, Sweater from Ann Taylor, and earrings compliments of William) over the weekend (which, admittedly, I overdid it and am feeling a bit lot guilty), I wrote this article for Divorced Moms. I could write more and explain more but it's pretty self explanatory. Now if only I can figure out how to get rid of crows feet and bags under my eyes without surgery and lots of cash.

It’s Time For A Sexy Mommy Makeover! 13 Ways To Look Younger Now
by Lizzy Smith                      
November 20, 2014
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When balancing kids, job, budgets, household management, meals, dating, and divorce stress, it’s easy to forget about ourselves. But a “refresh” may be just what the doctor ordered. Not only is shaving years off your look rather simple (and inexpensive), it’s a great emotional pick-me-up.

Color your hair
Dull or grey locks add years to your appearance. Now is a great time to chat with a good stylist and pick a flattering color for you. Avoid extremes or harsh colors, including going too blonde. Warm, natural hues are the most youthful and will soften the appearance of facial wrinkles.

Get a good haircut
Damaged ends, hair that’s too long, or frizz all make a girl look old(er). Get a good trim and add some layers. Refrain for over-styling and spraying your hair. (If you’re using loads of product or are going through a can of hairspray every few days, you’re doing something wrong.) Even if you like your hair, if you haven’t tried something different in a decade, it’s time for a switch.

Refresh your wardrobe
Pitch the mom jeans, sweats and frumpy T’s immediately. Clean out your closet and be brutal. If something is old, worn out, you haven’t put it on in years, or it doesn’t fit right, it goes. Now it’s time to replenish. You need not spend a fortune—visit Target, Walmart and Old Navy. Better yet, H&M (if you have one near you) is a fashion bonanza for inexpensive and trendy options.

If you’re starting from scratch, a good pair of figure flattering jeans are a must, as are a few good sweaters and tops in softer colors, and a great pair of shoes (no sneakers!-- look for boots or booties during cooler months). For work, skirts with tights or fitted trousers are solid choices. If you opt for a skirt, make sure hemlines are at the knee or slightly above. Mid-calf skirts are dated looks and they add on pounds (yikes). Pair the skirt with heals (not too high) or boots, and a basic sweater. And don’t forget to add a good handbag (no stains, rips, or tears).

Whatever you do, avoid trying to be too sexy or you’ll look ridiculous. Watch for plunging necklines, heals too high, skirts too short, and massive amounts of makeup and hair. No matter how great your figure, showing butt and boobs isn’t appropriate unless you’re at the beach.

Keep reading...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Winter is here. I love!

On Saturday evening, William, Morgan, Siena and I met up with my brother Jason, his wife, and their two year old son, Dylan, for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony and concert at the Lehi Outlets. We froze our tushes off, it was so cold! And I loved it. Well, sort of. We forgot where we parked the car and walked around the parking lot for a solid 35 minutes in temps with the wind-chill that hovered around five degrees. That part sucked, but the rest was fun. We danced, sang along, and shopped at H&M. Afterwards we got dinner. This is a great way to usher in winter, the holidays, and chilly temps. I love the seasons. In San Diego, it was mostly summer all year long. It's lovely. But I also love snow, bundling up, being cozy, and wearing winter clothes, coats and boots.
 

One thing was noticeably absent-- my fatigue and fuzzy/buzzy feeling. The reason? Because Friday was my first day back in my ongoing myeloma maintenance treatment and those meds have yet to take affect. I haven't needed to lie down like a must typically do almost every day. I haven't felt that weird fuzzy-buzzy feeling. No fatigue. Just general malaise thanks to my fight with a cold. Every six months, I really need to advocate for myself that I need a two to three week break from treatment. My body needs it (I think). My brain needs it. It's nice to be reminded what I felt like pre multiple myeloma diagnosis. It's a great pick-me-up.

Earlier that day, I engaged in some major retail therapy. I do this once per season and I felt sort of drunk afterwards, I gotta say. I purchased all kinds of fun new clothes, including booties, velvet skinny jeans, two cocktail dresses, sweaters, a skirt, and more. Siena took photos and cheered me on. Morgan wasn't nearly as thrilled with waiting for me to try stuff on. Oh well!


Yesterday was not a fun day. Morgan is struggling with a back injury (more on that one later). And I saw a photo of my ex husband. I haven't seen him for almost 2.5 years. He looked the same-- drink in hand, dirty T-shirt... I know Morgan saw the photo, too, and it was a dagger in her heart. She misses him and it breaks my heart what he has done to her. I know he says "well you made the decision to move to Salt Lake City from San Diego so live with it." How can you ever resolve anything when someone thinks like him.

So William came over and surprised me with... an outfit! Beautiful Ugg boots, necklace, Spyder vest, sweater, and Fossil handbag. It was so nice and cheered me right up. We then all went to dinner, William, the girls and me, we dropped him off, and then I took Morgan back to Urgent Care because of her back. I could tell that her spirits were lifted from the time I picked her up from school (when she saw her dad's photo) to the time she went to bed. I love my daughters so much it hurts. Every time they are in any kind of pain, I am devastated. How anyone turns children into weapons to be used against someone else is utterly baffling to me. Well, I can't control anyone else so I've given up even trying.

And so as I battle this cold and get ready to work on the registration page for the Myeloma Beach Party in Fernandina Beach, Florida this coming March, I celebrate winter, change in season, cold, feeling decent, and life. Cheers!

Staycation from home! How we're celebrating Thanksgiving week right from home

My latest via Divorced Moms. How to fill up Thanksgiving week since we're homebound. I've never been one to simply do nothing, after all. And thanks to my few weeks' break from myeloma treatments, I'm feeling quite well. Sooner than later, however, I'll be getting my fuzziness and fatigue back but until then... hooray!!!

Home For Thanksgiving Week? Plan A Staycation At Home!
by Lizzy Smith                    
November 18, 2014
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For the first time in, like, forever, Thanksgiving week is coming and we have no plans whatsoever. No trips, no visitors, and a whole five days of no school. I’m so dang excited, let me tell you. No structure, no homework packets, or after school shuttling to endless activities, and no “hard” bedtimes. Hooray! But since I’m not one to “hang out” at home, what to do, what to do...

So I’ve decided to do a staycation right here at home. I made a list of options and I’ll let the girls decide what we’ll do each day. So if you’re not going somewhere or not already locked into major commitments, try thinking outside the box and do something different, unique and fun during the week, right in your own backyard. The important thing is that we do it together and bond.

Hang GlidingA few weeks ago, I treated myself to my first-ever hang gliding experience for my birthday. It was spectacularly fun, amazing and memorable. I asked my instructor for age limits and he told me that a few months prior, they took a 106-year old woman! (Oh, Lord, please let me be that fun and adventurous in my old(er) age like that.) Nonetheless, my children meet the age restrictions so this one made our list. Weather permitting, we're doing it.

Game DayGame Day will include bowling, laser tag, and miniature golf, followed by lunch or dinner someplace we’ve never been trying a new cuisine. I pick Indian food but they get the final decision.

SkiingHere in Salt Lake City, most of the nearby ski resorts open this weekend-- hooray! I just went through all their ski stuff and minus a couple of minor items, they’re ready to go. One day next week, I’m putting them both in ski school for a day of refresher training (which means I get a day to myself!), fresh air, and loads of fresh vitamin D.

Bikram YogaI am a huge fan of Bikram yoga-- 90 minutes in a room heated to 104-degrees. It is one of the things that helped me heal from cancer treatments and divorce (which I did simultaneously). My 14-year old can go with me and we’ll do at least one class that week.

Keep reading...

Friday, November 14, 2014

What are your life's most romantic moments? Here's mine!

Well color me happy-- this is literally the funnest article I've ever written. I'm feeling all lovey and romantic after taking a walk down Memory Lane. Here are the six most romantic moments of my entire life. Now it's your turn-- I think you should make your own list. You'll see how very fun it is, trust me.

My 5 Most Romantic Moments Ever. Now It's Your Turn To Make A List!
by Lizzy Smith                    
November 14, 2014
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A few days ago, I was chatting with my close friend, Amy, about men and relationships. She asked me my most memorable romantic moment. That was a good question. Romantic moments, best thing a guy has said to me, or done for me... I needed to sleep on that one. So this morning, I am writing them down.

6. I miss you, so I'm flying from New York City to Salt Lake City. See you in a few hours!
When I was in college, I got a job as a cocktail waitress at one of the nicest hotels in town. One night at work, I met a guy ten years my senior who was in town on business. Let's call him "Stan." Stan worked for a big investment firm on Wall Street in New York City. At the time, that was one of the most exciting jobs I could think of, on one of the most famous streets in the world, and he was living in one of the most exciting cities to boot. I had never been to New York City before. Actually, I had never been to the East coast. In total, I had only visited ten U.S. states and had stepped out of the country just a couple times when my parents drove us over the border to Canada. Stan got my phone number, took me out to dinner, we sipped Dom Perignon (at $125 a bottle) champagne together, and when he went back to New York, he called me every day. I was totally enamored.

Stan was handsome with chiseled features, an amazing physique, and fitted Brooks Brothers suits. He was smart (he had an MBA from Harvard), a world traveler, and had more money than I could fathom. Over the next several months, he came to Salt Lake City every few weeks for work and, when he did, we were together every day. I felt like I was living a Danielle Steele novel. One day, he called me early in the morning. I was still asleep and he woke me up. "I'm at the airport. What are you doing tonight? Because I miss you so I'll be there in a few hours and we are going to dinner."

I went shopping that afternoon for my first-ever cocktail dress, decent pair of shoes, and new perfume. I charged it all on my "almost to the limit" credit card. Stan arrived, he rented a car, and we spent a romantic evening together. The next day, he flew home and went back to work.
I never fell in love with Stan but when we stopped communicating, I was really bummed. Nonetheless, I cherish the memories. And his flying a few thousand miles almost across the country just to take me out to dinner is definitely on my list of "most romantic moments."

Keep reading...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thank you, Lord-- myeloma progress continues!

Do you know how frightening it is to have cancer? Unless you've ever gotten The Diagnosis, you can only imagine. Let me tell you: It's HORRID. As awful and terrifying as you think it might be, it is worse. That said, once the shock wears off and you enter treatment, life continues. You live within your new reality. And your new reality is far, far different than it was pre diagnosis. Your whole world changes. You're not the same person anymore, and your relationships change, too. They are either deeper and more significant, or the relationship simply doesn't matter (so much) at all anymore.
 
For me, I was terrified most that I wouldn't be around to raise my daughters until they at least graduated from high school. And then I looked at my pregnant sister in law, Nancy, and I was terrified that I'd never get to know Dylan and that he wouldn't remember me. I had the huge ginormous pleasure of being present for Dylan's birth. I had never seen a live birth before (my two daughters are adopted) and it was one of my most amazing things I've ever seen. Maybe THE most amazing thing. Please, Lord, I needed to get to know this little guy. And then... it was not finding love with anyone worthwhile again.
 




Flash forward almost three years. I am still here... And I am thriving. Granted, I'm thriving within y 80% former self. But I'll take that 80% any day.

...And if my oncologist, Dr A is to be believed (and he is!!!) and if what I read today and wrote about on www.myelomacrowd.org, I have much hope for the future. I WILL be around for my daughters' graduations-- college graduations, mind you. I will get to know my niece Beautiful Natalie. And Dylan is my little buddy and makes me laugh. And, love, yes, love.

I took two solid weeks of no cancer treatments. No Velcade, or Dex, or Thalidomide. Tomorrow, I start back up that regiment indefinitely. I will, however, advocate that every six months I take a full two week break. I am starting to feel "normal" again-- even though I'm fighting an awful cold. That said, for the past three days, I haven't needed to lie down horizontally for a bit because I feel "fuzzy and buzzy." I haven't had extreme chemo fatigue. My neuropathy in my feet at night, however, seems to be getting more intense. I simply keep using peppermint oil. It helps. I do Bikram yoga three times a week. It helps with circulation, stimulation, and just helping me keep my sanity. I got my massage this morning. And tomorrow I am back at Huntsman, learning to live within my limitations. It's ok, it really is.

So read on. Pray for cancer warriors. Pray for cancer treatments. Pray for cancer CURES. Because, unfortunately, the odds are that if cancer doesn't touch you, it will touch the person next to you, or across from you. Evil, dark, powerful, horrible cancer. But we can, AND WILL, kick cancer in the ass and spit on it when we're done. God willing.

Recent Improvement In Myeloma Outcomes Likely To Continue, According to MedPage Today

BY LIZZY SMITH

Last week, I had my two-year post auto stem cell transplant oncology visit. I hate getting restaged, I mean who does? Bone marrow biopsy (ouch!), 24-hour urine collection (gross), and labs. I wasn’t nervous at all for the doctor visit. I’ve been on a two-year maintenance plan of Velcade-Dex (weekly), and Thalidomide (daily) and I’ve felt as normal as I ever can. Therefore, I didn’t think that much has changed for me. And then I went into my exam room and waited for my doctor. At that moment, I wanted to puke, I was so nervous. Dr. A came in and it was great news– stringent complete remission. I wanted to jump up and dance. Before the visit, I knew it in my heart and gut, but actually hearing it is always exciting. And then, better yet, Dr. A said beautiful words: “I don’t want you to be nervous. There are so many new drugs and therapies in myeloma. You’ll be fine.” (I’m paraphrasing and summarizing a much longer discussion.) While I’m not about ready to get lazy and overly confident (I will never cease being terrified of cancer’s evil and horrible power), I am relieved and feeling rather… good.

And so it is that today I read this article in MedPage Today, which I think does a great job of describing some of the more promising therapies that are rather far along in the approval process. I learned a lot by reading, I think you will, too. More hope? I think yes.

Therapy for Myeloma Continues to Expand

Published: Nov 12, 2014
NEW YORK — Recent improvement in myeloma outcomes will likely continue into the foreseeable future, as new classes of agents become available, including immunotherapy, according to a review of therapeutic progress.

However, considerable room for improvement remains, particularly in terms of boosting long-term survival, said Sundar Jagannath, MD, of Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, at the Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium.

“There has been dramatic improvement in the overall life expectancy of patients with myeloma, but if you look at the [SEER] data, we still haven’t reached 50% survival at 5 years,” Jagannath stated. “At individual institutions where young, fit adults participate in clinical trials and are able to go through stem-cell transplantation, the median life expectancy has been increased to 7 years or longer.”

Despite the progress, myeloma remains a challenge because of a complex biology that has, to some extent, frustrated therapeutic development. Patients may have multiple clones at diagnosis and different clones emerge over time and are influenced by the treatment a patient receives, Jagannath said. The existence of multiple clones at diagnosis means that combination therapy will work better than a single agent will.

Keep reading...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How my husband sucked me in and (tried) to keep me there

I haven't written new content from my marriage in quite some time. But soon I will be writing about the final year of life with my ex-husband, Rob the Great (Alcoholic). As I prepare to write that series, which will be on Divorced Moms and I will post here, as well, I really do believe my Guardian Angel was holding my hand along the way-- small things that were preparing me to finally ditch my husband because, really, I had no other choice. God and my angels wanted me out of that marriage and they were going to drag me out of it one way or the other. God and my angel were preparing to save me, and they were putting all the preparations in place during that last year we lived together. It really is am amazing story.

And as I get the energy and motivation to tackle the story (which I feel is ready to be told, email exchanges between the two of us and all-- they're a whopper) I write this article for Divorced Moms below. Looking back on my marriage and writing about it, I am at times amazed that I lived that life and that, yes, my husband really was that horrible. That was really the hardest part of my divorce-- coming to the determination that my husband was NOT a good guy with a horrible addiction (and if the addiction would just go away, I'd be left with a great guy), but rather a really horrible "man" (who could, when there was an audience, pretend to be good). Truly, a terrible person in a costume that he stripped away when he got home and there wasn't anyone but us poor victims called his family, to see it. That is the most awful kind of all-- the fraud.  How I lived with Evil for five years is nuts.

And I also wonder about me. How the heck did I allowed this kind of treatment from a guy I didn't love, wasn't attracted to (at all), had a nub for a penis and sucked in bed, had a shrill woman's voice, and wasn't very smart and, worse yet, was so boring. No hunger or thirst for knowledge, improvement, or expansion (just an insatiable thirst for beer and all the horrific side effects that went along with it). I have learned, however, from that entire sordid experience and I'm teaching my daughters to set their expectations high when it comes to boys. Because I would never have dated Rob once if I had been in my "right" mind (and I wasn't-- I was madly in love with someone else). (Not a good time to "accidentally" find a new boyfriend and, in my case, a (fraud) husband-- and for that, I am to blame). I am also sharing my story, raw as I am in my writing, so perhaps my readers will learn something, too.

 Life with an alcoholic (and cancer, which is a whole different learning experience of its own!) has given me a purpose in life. It came with much pain and suffering, but how else do we learn? Ok, enough about that, read on...

My Abusive Husband Nearly Destroyed Me. Here's How
by Lizzy Smith                    
November 11, 2014
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A few days ago, I recived an email from one of my readers who was struggling with her abusive boyfriend. So many of my stories resonated with her and she was desperately trying to find enough strength to leave her guy. Despite all the horrible things he was doing, she knew that he was capable of being a good person. After all, he started off as a great guy when they first met. Right? Wrong! That’s the pattern of an abuser. He sucks in his victim and, before she knows it, she’s in too deep. That’s the point.

Here's my story...

When I met my abuser, “Rob,” he portrayed himself to be a really great guy (which he reminded me of throughout our marriage) until he had completed his sales pitch. Then the real Rob showed up and, well, yuck. Horror, actually. Rob blamed all his bizarre temper tantrums at the feet of his ex-wife, Tina. This woman was, in his words, nothing but a lying, lazy, whore who only cared about his money and their GINORMOUS amazing house (except when I saw this BIG house, it wasn't big or impressive).

Within weeks of our meeting, Rob asked me for a commitment. Within a month, he told me he was in love with me. I felt sorry for him. This poor innocent boy had no real life experiences because his ex-wife stunted his emotional development. What a line a crap he sold me. During the first Rob temper tantrum, I was literally speechless and horrified as I witnessed a grown man act in a way I had never seen in my entire life. Soon, the Rob tantrum cycles became disgustingly apparent: Pressure, pressure, pressure-- EXPLOSION. BAM. And EVERYING for Rob was pressure and he couldn’t handle ANY of it. Problem is, had to handle his job at the utility company. Everything else, well, fuck everyone-- we victims got to pick up all the pieces of the disaster known as his life. Rob couldn’t handle the pressures of parenting, dogs, paying bills, or managing the vacation rental, or anything at all. All he could really handle was drinking, diving and going on vacations. Rob would get this crazed look in his eyes just before a Rob tantrum and just-- EXPLODE. And nothing I could do would prevent those horrible, awful, inexcusable explosions.

And this is how I ended up with an abuser:

1. I got sucked in
Rob did this by saying he loved me, slamming through a huge commitment from me, pulling out all the stops to sell me that he was a great guy and would be an amazing husband, companion and father. Sheesh, all he had to do was show me (and continually remind me) of all the millions of friends he had and the really close relationship with his family. Except, truly, none of his friends truly "know" him beyond diving trips and a few war stories.

Keep reading...

Saturday, November 8, 2014

My 47th birthday is one to remember - I went hang gliding! My latest story via Divorced Moms

Happy birthday to me, Happy birthday to me, Happy birthday Dear Lizzy, Happy birthday to me! I went hang gliding! Check one off my bucket list. I'd write a lot more about it but since I already did in my latest Divorced Moms column, read below. Afterwards, William and I spent the day together running errands, then we went to dinner, and I got lots of gifts (including beautiful diamond hoop earrings, a plush bathrobe I never want to take off, and jammies). Kind and generous, he is. But you know what's best? Spending time with the people I love. Tomorrow, we celebrate my birthday with the whole family but already, this has been the best birthday week ever. I got a great health report from Dr. A earlier this week, did some cool stuff, and I'm surrounded by love. I went to Bikram yoga this morning with my friend, Katherine, and I gave many thanks to God for all my countless blessings. My Bikram class sang happy birthday to me and my favorite teacher, Joann, told the class that I am a survivor in more ways than one. Hear, hear. That's me-- not a cancer hero, but a SURVIVOR. As we head into Thanksgiving, I don't even know where to begin when listing all the things I'm grateful for. No doubt I'll do it soon but for today, I'll just hang out in my joyful, happy peace bubble.

Next up? I trip to San Francisco for five days so I can attend the ASH conference, where I can report to my myeloma community all I can learn about our disease. I am very much looking forward to it.

The View From Here Is Amazing! Life Outside The Comfort Zone
by Lizzy Smith                    
November 07, 2014
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I used to hate birthdays. It meant was I getting older, and I didn't want to get old. I dreaded my birthday, hoped everyone would forget about it, and wore lots of black on that day. Let me tell you how quickly that all changed when I got cancer. Because when you're fighting for your life with everything you've got, birthdays become huge achievements. One more year for me, hooray! Please, God, let there be many more of these.
So prior to my 47th birthday, I finally sat down and made my Bucket List. In reality, I am living exactly as I want to these days. I do what I love (write, blog, advocate for cancer warriors, work towards finding cures for multiple myeloma, spend time with the people I love (my family, children, closest friends and boyfriend), and explore the world around me (as much as I can afford to do). Nonetheless, that Bucket List... I needed to write it out. So I did:
  1. Boudoir photography session - I scheduled my photo session for next month! Why? To celebrate my aging, flawed body and find the sexiness in it. I can't wait to write about it after it happens. It's a bit "out there" for me, which is the whole point. Get out of my comfort zone and shake things up.
  2. Go skydiving
  3. Go on a hot air balloon ride
  4. Write a book of my experience of living with an alcoholic, divorcing him while simultaneously fighting cancer, healing, and recreating a life afterwards - I'm working on this already! Most of it will come right from this blog, starting with my Marriage Hell series. If you haven't read it yet and you have some time, check it out!
  5. Travel to Dubai - I want to do this out of curiosity and to see what modern architecture can accomplish (at the expense of the environment, mind you).
  6. Swim with dolphins - We are going to Honduras in early April and I plan to hang with the dolphins on that trip!
  7. Go to the Griffith Observatory - Next time we are in LA, I'm finally going to do it!
  8. Visit the Holy Lands - Even if it seems a bit unsafe, will it ever be? Probably not in my lifetime and I am just not going to live that way
  9. Go to Istanbul
  10. Fly first class overseas - Ok, so I might need to hit the lottery to realize this goal but I can dream, right?
  11. Take a backcountry tour in an off road vehicle in Moab
  12. Hike Machu Picchu
  13. Go hang gliding
Above all else, when I realize that my journey on Earth is winding down, I want to look back on my life and marvel at my experiences and relationships. After all, nothing else matters to me, not the stuff I've accumulated, not my job, or my 401k. It's all about the relationships and memories.

And so on my 47th birthday, a day of true celebration (thank you cancer!), it was time to review my Bucket List and cross at least one thing off of it. And so I did-- I went hang gliding!

Keep reading...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I'm still in myeloma remission! Having no fear


I'm buckling up and driving forward. Let's do it!


I used to hate birthdays, like detest them. I used to tell everyone that I was 38 years old, year after year. That's because 38 was my favorite year. It was before I married Rob and my life took a dramatic downturn. But no more. Since getting myeloma, each year, each day, is a gift. And this being my birthday week, things have started out with a BIG HUGE BANG.

I never tell the world when it's time for me to get restaged for myeloma because I'm afraid to jinx myself and it was One Big Reminder that I am battling CANCER. Most days, I can pretend I'm just normal and fine, but not when it's RESTAGING TIME AND I HATE IT. But since the results and it's all over, I can report and share.

Two weeks ago, I started all those awful tests, which culminated in my bone marrow biopsy last week. I hate biopsies. They are painful and I go without any kinds of medications or sedatives for that test. I get on a table while my PA, Mary, drills a hole into my back, sticks a long needle into my bone marrow, and extracts a piece of bone and marrow blood. Holy hell, it is not fun. It hurts like a BITCH The only thing that made a difference this time was that I started sharing with the three women in the room my experience with a Brazilian wax. And, truth be told, the pain of a bone marrow biopsy is nothing in comparison to when my privates are being waxed and stripped of hair. Except one has everything to do with vanity and the other with cancer. Anyway, I survived the biopsy and even laughed at parts of it. I'm still sore in the area where that needle was shoved into bone but, whatever, pain is pain and I grin and press forward.

Today, I had my twice per year visit with my oncologist to get my results of all those tests. I wasn't nervous at all until I was seated in that room with my mom and dad and awaiting my oncologist, Dr A to enter the room. Then I wanted to puke. But he arrived, told me that I remained in stringent complete remission. Whoooohooooo!!!!!!! After that, nothing else mattered. Not the fact that I am off of the pill Xarelto for blood thinner and back on injections in my stomach each night. Not anything. He also said something even more beautiful: "Don't be afraid. There are so many medications and treatments for you, and so many exciting things happening with myeloma. You will be fine." I wanted to kiss him. And then, together, we decided that I will remain on my maintenance therapy as is. That means weekly infusions of Velcade and the wicked Dex pills that make me hyper one day per week, and a monster for two days a week, and have the fatigue and crash one to two days per week. My weekly pill of Thalidomide, which costs out of pocket, some $2,300 per month as a co-pay after insurance pays their $5,000 piece of it. But the great news there is that I got a grant to cover 100% of my co-pay. That's right, I pay $0. Thank goodness. But who cares? I am 80-90% of my former self but I have managed to craft a purposeful life in that space. I will survive, thrive, and kick ass. I will always have profound respect, fear, and amazement at cancer's horrific, evil power. That said, I will overcome. I will beat it and spit on it when I'm done.

So today I am happy, excited, grateful. In that room with my doctor, I wanted to fall to my knees and thank God for answering my endless prayers. While this journey has been frightening, without it, I just may be back in San Diego working like a dog and trying to survive living with a monster (my husband) and wondering how I could ever escape that horror. Today, I will just be grateful.

Hope, peace, prayer, birthdays, life, purpose and meaning. Hmmm.... not bad for an almost 47 year old.

Monday, November 3, 2014

My birthday week & Divorced Moms column - The Dilemma: Who Comes First, Our Kids Or Our New Love?

This is the week of my 47th birthday! I used to hate birthdays because it meant I was getting older, more wrinkled, and coming closer to death, I thought about age and aging endlessly. But thanks to cancer and multiple myeloma, these days, I celebrate age. Every day I get here, every birthday I achieve, is one big reason to CELEBRATE and CHEER! So this week I will celebrate in some fun and grand ways (I hope) but I can't jinx anything by telling you what or how that is so I'll just be silent for now and report as I can. And, really, if I do absolutely nothing but hang out with the people I love the most, then it's a fabulous birthday anyway.

We are finally getting chilly weather in Utah and I love it! Today I'm wearing a skirt but with tights, boots, a scarf, and a killer faux fur vest. I am warm and cozy and happy, sitting in Starbucks sipping my morning coffee and writing. Perfect. Tonight is Mommy-Morgan date night while Siena is at sewing class, and then I'm ending my evening with Bikram yoga and heading to Williams' house afterwards, all "zen"-ed out.

So today I post my latest on Divorced Moms. Enjoy!

by Lizzy Smith                     
November 03, 2014
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Last week, I watched a Dr. Phil show about a mom, her new hubby and his daughter, and her daughter. Her daughter was doing drugs, steeling her step sister's clothes, not coming home at night, and more. The new hubby didn't like the daughter and openly admitted that he wished she were gone and it was just him, his new wife and his daughter living in their home. The step sister didn't like her either. And Mom said she didn't blame either of them. Dr. Phil was horrified. Stepping into this girl's shoes, she was living in a home where no one liked her. Three people against a 16 year old. What was this girl supposed to do to try and survive living in a household where she wasn't wanted?
Which brings up a very real dilemma. As we start dating again, what happens if our new love isn't all that crazy about our children? And what if our children don't like him either? Who gets top priority? Our wants or the wants and needs of our children?

I was part of this scenario in my past marriage, and it was awful. I went into that marriage totally na├»ve and clueless. No joke-- The Brady Bunch, one of my favorite TV shows of all time, taught me everything I knew about blending families. After all, I am not the product of divorce and neither were most of my friends. The only real blended family I "knew" were the Brady kids and, minus some hiccups, they were one happy crew.

So when I met Rob and we decided to get married, I thought everyone was happy. My daughter, Morgan, was getting a dad, so she was thrilled. And his daughters "Kellie" and "Nicky" were getting a nicer and bigger house with a pool. No problems, right?

Keep reading...

Saturday, November 1, 2014

My News Interview (side effects of Bortezomib/Velcade)

http://www.ivanhoe.com/contentclientvideo/MB_videozip/mb3858.mov


http://www.ivanhoe.com/contentclientvideo/MB_videozip/mb3858.mov

In September, I was interviewed for a news segment about my experiences with Velcade, or bortezomib. One of the side effects is low platelet counts, which I experienced pre transplant. Let me assure you that when you have low platelets, you feel like you're dying and you don't even care. My organs were getting ready to shut down. It is not a fun feeling and when you get infused with platelets, you feel like a new person. So anyway, here is the interview. I was battling a horrific stomach flu on the day of filming. I can't believe that I don't look pasty white. Anyway, enjoy!