Sunday, December 20, 2015

Got kids? Here are fun things to do with them over the Holiday Season school break

So while I may not be doing many of the items on my list this year (because I'm in the midst of a stem cell transplant), I've managed to do several. Plus, I rely on my husband and parents to pitch in. It's ok, that's what our support structure is for, right? Anyway, here is my latest via Divorced Moms.

Merry Christmas, my dear readers!

15 Fun Activities For The Holiday Season
by Lizzy Smith for Divorced Moms                    
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December 20, 2015
635546040239802207Fotolia_63711874_XS.jpgMost children are out of school for the next two weeks. I used to fear that time because I had no idea how to keep them busy while I was trying to finish up my plans for the holidays. And then I had a mind-switch. My children were the priority, not the upcoming holiday parties. So I really attempt to get all my Christmas shopping and decorating done before school lets out. Then I am free to have fun with them, some serious mommy-daughter time. We create memories the best we can.
Together, we developed a list of things to do and we work on getting around to doing many of them. Here goes:

Go to a Nutcracker performance
This is a tradition that we have had for years. We are lucky to have an incredible ballet company in Salt Lake City. But even local Nutcracker productions, even if it’s from an elementary school, really get us in the spirit of the holidays. And I love the costumes. They are dreamy.

Hit up local Holiday concerts
I don’t know about your town, but where we live, there is some kind of holidays concert almost every night of the week—at high schools, civic centers, churches… We hit up several each season.

Go to the symphony
Yesterday, my parents took my daughters to a 45-minute Christmas symphony that was especially for children. Santa was there and the symphony played to the backdrop of Frosty the Snowman. Even my daughters, who far prefer hip-hop, loved it.

Listen to Holiday music
I almost exclusively listen to a radio station that only plays holiday tunes. My daughters get tired of it but it reminds me that it is Christmas time!

Keep reading...

I'm in the midst of stem cell transplant, lord help me

Last Tuesday, I received high dose melphalin. It is a high dose chemo used to treat multiple myeloma. It goes in through my port, all that heavy-duty poison going into my veins, killing all those myeloma cells and everything else. The injection takes place over about an hour, with the melphalin lasting only about 30 minutes. And my job is to pack my mouth with ice for that entire time, non stop, so I don't develop all kinds of awful mouth sores. Afterwards, I drove myself home and got some lunch. After all, I should not feel the effects of this horrible chemo for a week or so.

Wrong they were! That night, I felt queasy and twitchy. Like my muscles all over were twitching. I felt "not right" at all. I scrambled and packed my bags. My intent was to go to clinic the next day, get my stem cells injected, go home and spend the evening with my family, and then drive myself to my clean apartment in Salt Lake City that night alone. Think again, I knew I would feel to awful for that to happen.

The next morning, I picked up my mom and we went to clinic. It was stem cell transplant day. Very anti climatic. They gave me pre-meds, which knocked me out, and then over the course of an hour, I got 7 million of my own stem cells back into my body. This is it folks, I have no more stem cells on ice. This is my last stem cell transplant and this one has been so awful, I'm not sure I can handle another one again anyway. After this, onto new lines of therapy, which are so much more promising if you ask me-- immunotherapy, Car T Cell therapy, all the new drugs....

After I was released from stem cells, my mom and I drove to the Residence Inn, checked in and unpacked. I went to Bucca di Beppo, which is across the street and ordered pasta and pizza. With my appetite changing it's all that sounded good. My dad came. I took a nap. What the heck, I am NOT SUPPOSED TO BE FEELING THIS AWFUL SO FAST!!!!

Here were are a few days later. My husband dropped off all our Christmas gifts and I decorated. He also dropped off my daughters, who are our of school for the holiday break. I am not alone. I am surrounded by my amazing, supportive, loving family. I wish I felt better. Yesterday, they went to the symphony, then went out to lunch. I slept on the couch and then watched the University of Utah-BYU football game (it was an ugly win but at least my Utes won). I felt nausea all the time. I layer up my an nausea meds, which make me tired. I feel worse when I'm walking. I feel hot, clammy and prickly. I know I will pass out if I stand too long. I never know if I feel better with food in my stomach or nothing. I am experimenting. I mostly crave pasta, noodles, sourdough bread with butter. Perrier. Water. I am low on potassium. Instead of taking those awful horse pills, I am attempting to eat my way out of the hole-- bananas, avocado, tomatoes, pasta sauce, potatoes...

They tell me that my worse days are ahead of me. Those are coming tomorrow (Mon), Tues and Weds, and then I should start turning a corner and feeling better, engrafting. And I should be able to go home on Dec 26.

My treatment schedule has robbed me of my birthday (I was in the hospital), Thanksgiving (I was in the hospital), Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (we will be in this clean apartment). I hope and pray that I will be feeling well enough to revel in the excitement of gift opening. I purchased everything early, with great thought behind each gift.

Beyond that, I hope that this stem cell transplant process keeps me out of the hospital and that I survive it relatively intact. The next few days will say it all.

Wish me luck! And if you're the praying kind, please keep me in your prayers.



Sunday, December 13, 2015

Merry Christmas! Our Holiday makeover (not by choice)

All I Want for Christmas Is... Love. Our Do-Over Holiday

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BY LIZZY SMITH for Divorced Moms
December 13, 2015
635230232734748849Fotolia_46782517_XS.jpgI absolutely love the holidays. But this year, it hasn't started out so great. Thanks to a horrible bout of pneumonia, I was robbed of our Thanksgiving entirely, forced to be away from my family because I was in the midst of a 15 day hospital stay while I tried to get well.

While my daughters and dad went to Chuck-a-rama for dinner because no one could cook for them, and my husband was in Seattle visiting his daughter, my mom and I were hanging out in my hospital room while I ate popcorn in bed. It was awful. I was heartbroken that instead of spending several days prior cooking and baking and getting the good dishes out on the table, I was eating horrid hospital food. Instead of shopping, I was getting horrible tests to determine my type of pneumonia.

This year won’t be a typical Christmas either. I will be some 45-minutes away in a “clean” apartment awaiting my recovery from a stem cell transplant. Because I knew I would be away from home for Christmas, I had to make some BIG decisions about what the holidays meant to me, my children and family so that I could craft how to make this season work for us.

We have family traditions that run deep: big meals, lots of relatives eating together, opening gifts on Christmas eve, watching the news for Santa sightings so the girls could get in bed before his annual visit, waking up the next morning to open mountains of gifts and join more family members for food and games. It really is special, joyous and fun. And over their break from school, we were planning on baking endless amounts of cookies, going to lots of holiday parties, shopping and wrapping gifts. I bought then season ski passes and I was going to put them in ski school and arrange ski dates with friends on the slopes.

But, scratch all of that. Since I am required to move into my clean apartment in just days, my daughters and decided together that, expense aside, I would rent a two bedroom/two bath room at Marriott’s Residence Inn. It comes with a full kitchen, living room and fireplace. That meant there was room for them and my parents (my caregivers through my transplant) to join me. And while we cried crocodile tears, we purchased a tiny tree and gifts for those we love. We wrapped them and put them in a big pile to take up to my apartment.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Is this it? Am I getting ready to flatline? My scary myeloma experience

I am heading into stem cell transplant next week to treat multiple myeloma. On Tuesday, I got for my high-dose melphalin where I will need to chomp on ice non-stop for about 20 minutes. The following day, I will be moving into a two-bedroom Marriott Residence Inn for some two weeks and also getting 20 million of my own stem cells injected back into my body. Fun times! I rented the apartment so that my family and I can spend Christmas Eve and Christmas together. I purchased a tiny Christmas tree and I am taking up all the gifts and decorating. This is not an ideal situation but at least we will all be together.

So leading up to transplant, last week I was scheduled to get platelets (I am always low on platelets since starting wicked D-PACE chemo in the hospital in early November), Zometa to strengthen my bones, and IVIG that strengthens my immune system. IVIG takes forever, followed by the two other treatments, all via IV, that when I showed up for my treatment, we decided to give me two of these meds at the same time -- IVIG and Zometa. I have a double port, which means that I can receive two meds going into two different veins simultaneously.

So we started the meds and all was fine. I was writing my Divorced Moms column and then, all of a sudden, I wasn't feeling that great. I pushed the feeling aside, attempted some deep yoga breathing and tried to center myself. That went nowhere and I immediately started feeling worse. Racing heart, sweating, feeling sick... I pushed the button to call for my nurse.

"I don't feel well," I said. "I'm going to throw up." She gave me a pan and I threw up. And I felt worse. I can't even describe it but it was out-of-body scary. I closed my eyes.

Before I knew it, I could hear the nurse calling for backup. I opened my eyes and the room was filled with people. My blood pressure was dropping and my heart wasn't consistent. I felt horrid. And then I heard the voice of my husband. William had arrived and he put is hand on my shoulder. "I'm here," he said. I nodded and started crying. I was sure I was going to flatline. So this is how it ends, I thought in the nether regions of my brain. But my husband was there.

They wheeled me down to the ER. They gave me fluids and meds and I don't know what else. I still didn't feel ok. I shook and nodded my head and sort of heard people speaking but could process nothing. My life is ending slowly... ebbing. My heart will stop and my spirit will exit my body and, just like I've heard others describe their near death experiences, I will look at all those people looking onto my lifeless body...

And then, just like that, I was feeling ok. I opened my eyes. And ten minutes later, I said I wanted to sit up and I was hungry. And I ordered room service and ate shrimp salad and soup and carrot cake.

It was so horrid and weird and awful. They said that I had a reaction to the injection, not the meds. We gave me the platelets, I finished up the Zometa, and I declined the rest of the IVIG. I was afraid of it.

And there you have it.

Yesterday I had a bone marrow biopsy. Instead of being a brave warrior and having it done without any meds, I insisted on sedatives. I was given IV fentenol. I was floating. I felt nothing. A little pressure but that was it. But I paid for it, yes I did-- I spent the rest of the day feeling tired and hung over. I threw up five times. I slept. I felt "not ok." And then I did. We went and got pizza and watched a movie and my day improved.

The joys of a myeloma journey. And they are about to get a lot bigger and grander next week. I need to remind myself that as awful as I feel, after a few weeks I recover, I feel better, I begin living again. And I reward myself handsomely. This will be no exception. We will go somewhere beyond fabulous for Spring Break of summer vacation, at least that that is my plan. Somewhere like Rio or the Seychelle Islands or Fiji... Thinking about it and making out our short list keeps me going, keeps me hopeful and looking forward beyond icky transplant.

Peace and joy,


Friday, December 4, 2015

Cheater Cheater. When Is It Ok To Start Dating Again Post Split?

My latest via Divorced Moms. A touchy, but oh so important, topic. And one I feel passionately about.

Are You Cheating By Dating Before Your Divorce Is Final?
by Lizzy Smith (for Divorced Moms)                    
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December 05, 2015
635650960363111103Fotolia_22160162_XS.jpgSeveral weeks ago, I got an email from a reader asking if I thought that dating before your divorce was final was considered cheating. This, honestly, is a complicated question. Sure, the marriage is over, the two of you have officially split, the divorce petition is filed… So, is it ok to jump into dating? And, if you do, while likely hurtful to your soon-to-be ex, is it considered cheating?

I’m going to say that, yes, it is cheating. And if it isn’t cheating, it definitely is wrong. And the reasons are many. I speak with experience. As I’ve written a million times, I despised my now ex-husband while we were married. I never loved him. He was a volatile, mean and abusive alcoholic. He was evil and frightening at times. When I finally left him in the wake of my cancer diagnosis, I was so over it (and him). Yet… when we left, there were two very confused and hurt children. I was sick (extremely sick, like life-threatening sick). We were confused and scared… There were so many unresolved issues between my ex and me, like filing for divorce, all of my belongings were still in our shared home, we had many assets to divide, even dogs that needed to be split. Life was so “up in the air.” While the girls and I were trying to settle and make sense of a life that none of us chose or foresaw coming, and I was getting chemo and losing my hair and dropping weight at an alarming rate, my husband was on dating sites within days of our departure. Within several weeks, he had a new girlfriend, the one he is with some four years later. It was devastating to me to think that while we were in such turmoil, he was having new sex with a woman he just met and enjoying the start of a new relationship. And, truly, what was this very emotionally sick man doing dating instead of healing, dealing with his severe alcoholism, and concentrating on confused and bewildered children.

As he dated so quickly, what was he teaching his two older children about family and marriage? That is mean absolutely nothing at all. It was all just so… so WRONG.

And for the new woman in his life, I had to wonder what kind of idiot dated a man under these circumstances. And why she chose to hop into the middle of someone else’s marriage and complex divorce. As a survivor herself of a divorce, she knew how horrible the entire process could be. While my ex and I had split, for her, dating a guy under such horrible circumstances meant she was dating a major asshole with huge unresolved emotional issues. Why would any woman do something so stupid on purpose? I had to think she was as emotionally sick as he was. And she had now inherited a deeply sick, disturbing man. Have fun! (And guess what, he hasn't change a bit. A friend of mine who lives in Rob the Great Alcoholic's  neighborhood sees him pounding drinks at bars all over town.)

And for me… it made me dig my heels into the proverbial sand when it came to our divorce even that much harder. If he wanted to enjoy having fun while I was so sick and the kids were so hurt, I was even less willing to have conversations with him that would make the divorce easier on him. I knew what I was owed (a lot, considering I loaned him a ton of money to pay off his former wife) and I was hell-bent on making sure I got exactly what I was entitled to.

So, based on my experience (and the experiences of others I know), here is why, if you ask me, you should refrain yourself from dating until after your divorce is final (even if your husband is jumping back in already):

Keep reading...

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Cancer Healing & Hospital Food (WTH?)

So this myeloma warrior spent 15 days in the hospital recently battling pneumonia. One of the most horrible parts of being in the hospital was the food. No joke, it was making my physically ill.

First, I was put on a neutoropenic diet, which means no fresh fruits and veggies unless they come in a heavy peal (like bananas and melons) or are cooked up. That alone drives me a little crazy because I absolutely love fresh produce. Like I probably eat an average of eight servings per day. The thought behind this rule is that if I get any kind of food-born illness, I have no immune system (like ZERO) to fight it.

Second, Huntsman gives you a room service menu that we patients can order off of any time we want from 6AM to 9PM. So when I first got into the hospital, no problem. I was ordering salmon, onion rings, steamed broccoli, green apples, soup... I was making as healthy choices as possible but the food was really disgusting. It was cold, under cooked or over cooked, inconsistent... Like once I ordered a tuna sandwich on sourdough. They brought me half a sandwich with almost no tuna. It was like two slices of bread with a small amount of spread. No pickles... nothing. The next day, I order the same thing. This time it's a full sandwich loaded with tuna and two pickles. The pizza dough was nearly raw. The steak un-chewable...

And then by day four I would eat breakfast and throw up. Lunch... throw it all up. For two days, I had zero calories because I could keep nothing down. Honestly, the food was horrid and just looking at the menu made me queasy. The nutritionist came to speak with me.

"I cannot eat this food," I told her. "It is too salty, raw, over cooked, overly processed. Even the soup comes straight out of a can. It is making me sick."

"Well," she said, "Here are our most popular items: milkshakes (we can add a banana), sole, enchiladas..." Instead of trying to find better and healthier ways for me to eat, it was what was most popular.

My doctor told me that to get discharged I must eat, not continue losing weight. So I started ordering milkshakes. The sole was horrid. The medical team ordered me meds to help me keep this disgusting, awful, unhealthy food down. It worked. Despite feeling awful just looking at the menu, I ate. And I stopped dropping weight. And I got discharged. Unsurprisingly, the minute I got home and started eating "real" food, I didn't need meds to keep poisonous food down. I just ate and started healing.

I have NO idea how cancer hospitals (or any hospital) can feel its patients like this. Foods that stress out our immune systems and help keep us sick. And then when our bodies revolt (like mine did), the response is to give us meds to hep us keep that disturbing food in our guts, making us weaker and sicker. This food does NOT aid us in healing.

One day when I was still in the hospital, I made this case to my doctor. "You must release me. I cannot heal anymore here. The food is making me sicker. It is stressing my immune system and is preventing me from healing. I don't eat like this at home. I need proper nutrition. I need proper rest. This is critical to my health."

I came home and reveled in cooked spinach and garlic with fresh lemon juice, salmon with minimal sodium. Cantaloupe. Quinoa. Grilled apples and oranges with cinnamon. Imagine this-- in the hospital I was continually low in potassium and needing massive potassium supplements. Of course I was! My diet in that hospital was vitamin and mineral deficient. I got home and after eating fresh grilled tomatoes, lots of avocados, bananas and potatoes, my potassium levels became normal.

Shame on hospitals! We sick people NEED and DESERVE far better than highly processed, sodium heavy, and highly unhealthy food. We deserve foods that support healing and health, not help poison us. I call for a complete overhaul. Shameful!

As I head into my stem cell transplant, we originally were going to do it in-patient in the hospital. But after 15 days of eating that food, I just can't. We are attempting this out-patient. One of the main reasons? I can't fathom eating that horrid, awful, unhealthy, poisonous food for two more weeks. I need food that will help me weather this procedure as well as possible. And staying away from hospital food is one way I hope to do this.

My Very Cute Christmas Purchase by Sterling Pear

Every once in a while I find a great purchase and have to share with my readers.

First, I have a cat named Princess. She is a rescue and we adopted her just prior to flying to Russia to adopt my youngest daughter (she was almost three years old when we brought her home from an orphanage in Yekaterinburg, Russia). I purchased the cat for my older daughter as a sort of "you're no longer going to be an only child" celebratory gift. We went to the Pet Adoption League in Carlsbad, California and there was this fluffy black cat who was friendly and we fell in love.

Princess is not only friendly, she loves people and isn't afraid of humans. She loves to sit in laps and snuggle up at night. She is such an important part of our family that splurging on a gift just for her was a no-brainer.

Here's Princess...

Here's are the two items: a stocking which I will stuff with treats and toys and, behind her, a pillow that I can add a photo of Princess that says she'll promise to be better next year.

Here's a better photo of the pillow. From Sterling Pear on Amazon retails at $14.99 and available for Prime customers, too.  As you can see, it's a deep red and of satiny-type material. Quite a conversation piece. It's on our couch and Princess loves to snuggle up with it (hey, true to form, it's "new" and she is claiming it as "hers."

And the stocking, also available on Amazon by Sterling Pear, which retails at $14.99:

Both of these make great pet gifts or even hostess gifts.

I love the Holidays and I love finding unique items. These definitely fit the bill.