# Can you help me solve for X lbs?

Did I ever mention that my Grade 12 math teacher advised me to drop calculus before I failed the final exam? Probably. I always share my inadequacies openly and include you in all my failures. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and I want to ensure you’re well aware of my weaknesses.

That’s why I’ve never believed that people could do anything they set their minds to, although sometimes I wish this were true. For example, I know I could never have been a mathematician, or physicist, or engineer. I was always more of a “soft science” kind of girl.

This image is a reasonable facsimile.

When a simple mathematical quandary arose recently, one related to babka consumption, I was completely stymied. “What the heck is babka?” you might ask. Babka is a Jewish coffee-cakeish, brioche-like treat, the best loaf you’ve ever tasted. It requires yeast and butter and eggs as well as resting and rolling and layering and twisting and, often, chocolate. Baking babka is an all-day affair. As a one-bowl baker, I have never attempted babka myself.

Since Calgary is not known as a babka hotbed, where did I acquire this magnificent loaf? Our dear friend, P., baked it, fulfilling a promise to J. that if I righted both my heart and my liver after my most recent health blip, I deserved babka. And so I did, and so she did, and there sat the gorgeous loaf on my counter, just begging to be eaten. Let’s just say that, as the Jewish person in my marriage, I did almost all of the eating. (Sorry, J.) And when I was down to the last large piece–I couldn’t let it go stale, could I?–I made a pig of myself on the way to the dog park.

So I wondered: If a person eats babka while walking the dog, do the two actions cancel each other out? Does the size of the piece factor in? How long would I have to walk in order to burn off all the calories in that large piece? All day? Would Jelly protest the long excursion in the heat of the sun? Would I get skin cancer because I didn’t diligently put on sunscreen, eager as I was to snarf down the babka?

I spent the day seeking answers to these questions–Google is inadequate in certain situations–until I wrote the baker. P. is a teacher by training who is not only multi-talented but is wise beyond her years. I imagine she breezed through the hard sciences, although I don’t know for sure. Here is P.’s highly educated answer: “[The walk and the babka are] totally cancelled out! Especially if it is sunny out, because everyone knows you sweat out calories. As for the size of the piece, the suggested serving size is as much as you can fit on a plate at once so you don’t have to waste energy going back for seconds.”

I may not be a mathematician, but I see two fallacies in P.’s logic. First, P. assumed I might go back for seconds. What seconds? I finished the loaf! Second, P. surmised I had a plate. I was walking. Holding a plate would have looked ridiculous, although no moreso than my Cookie-Monster-esque consumption of the babka. But the rest of her logic was flawless, don’t you think? No wonder I haven’t gained an ounce.

# I’m coming back as a rock

This stunning rock could be me.

I know I’ve been unsettling you lately with all my talk of death, but we have a bit more to cover. Don’t be alarmed; this is not a bad-news post. On the contrary, I hope to surprise you and delight you and make you laugh.

I wouldn’t be writing about death again so soon were it not for my darn CBC Calgary app. Every time I check the local news, I am confronted with images of dead people memorialized in three-dimensional stone images. This picture is associated with a story on a funeral convention that took place in Lake Louise earlier this month. I’m thinking CBC should update their darn Calgary app page a little more often.

I did learn a lot about trends in funerals, though, information which may come in handy some day. Did you know that, in addition to creating likenesses of themselves in stone, people are now live streaming their funerals? “No worries if you can’t make it to my funeral. Just watch it on line!” That is not me speaking. I’ve already told you I expect you to come to my funeral. I want a good send off from all of you.

I’ve mentioned previously that cremation isn’t my thing, but I may have to reconsider. I learned from the article that I could have an urn in the shape of a football, which would be silly since I have no particular fondness for football and I don’t want anyone throwing me around by mistake.

Also, cremation could allow me to finally give J. the rock she’s been longing for. Yes, from a starting price of \$3000, I can have my ashes compressed into a diamond, and diamonds are forever. How romantic is that?

While we’re at it, we might as well talk about the obituary and the eulogy. Let’s be clear here that I will not be passing away (too passive), or going to heaven (not for the reasons you might think), or being called up by God (too much time spent coveting and consuming bacon); I will be dying. But I won’t go down without a fight. I may be battling cancer, but my battle is anything but courageous. I am a chicken, remember? (Any comments to the contrary will be gratefully trashed.) My only bravery may be sharing my fears so openly with you.

If you want to speak at the funeral, you’ll have to run that by J. But there will be no sentimental stuff and no tears allowed. Funny stories only because even in death I want to make you laugh. Sadness is grossly overrated.

Finally, I’d appreciate it if you’d consider familiarizing yourself with the song I’ve chosen for the special day so you’ll be able to sing along. It’s called Dream Big by Ryan Shupe and the RubberBand, and I doubt you’ve heard it before. J. and I first discovered this song during a vacation. Dream Big is catchy and upbeat and even a bit twangy and I really need to stop singing it at full volume in my car. Because I’m not keeling over for some time yet. Trust me on that.

# Sometimes an apology is warranted

I really misjudged Friday’s post. I was intending to emphasize good news but hadn’t considered all the death talk you’d have to weed through to get there. If I unsettled you, I am truly sorry. I am fine, readers, I promise, and I did not intend to worry you. Maybe this post will help convince you.

At my Cancer Centre visit last week, I anticipated positive feedback because I’d been feeling so much better lately. More energetic, no medical crises, a-okay. Sure, I still seem to be walking around with my fly undone most days–please alert me if you notice–but these lapses are minor.

I still have leukemia and polycythemia; my genetic mutations have not reverted back to normal. I know the doctor will never be able to tell me that. Blood disorders aside, I’ve somehow developed more platelets and more red blood cells in recent weeks. I needed these counts to rise before Dr. Blood would consider that new chemo I mentioned a while back. Remember the pill I didn’t want to take if I could have a second round of radiation, but then wanted to take once more radiation was kiboshed? I’m terribly fickle.

This chemo, an addition to my current drug arsenal, won’t cure anything but may keep my polycythemia-related symptoms at bay. My still-quite-large spleen may even shrink. The doctor is hopeful that I may start to feel better. More energetic? Less sick? Better able to remember to do up my fly? Whatever “better” means, I’ll take it.

But there are potential side effects. When I start a new chemo, a Cancer Centre pharmacist sits down with me to outline those potential negative effects. I learned that this pill may depress my red and white blood cells and my platelets so I may again: a) become anemic; b) develop an increased risk of infection; and c) bleed out and die. As kind as these pharmacists are, they leave me feeling like I’m taking my life in my hands by ingesting their miracle drug.

Big deal. My other chemo threatens all those things and I’m still here, almost 3 years later. I can do this! Heck, I may even feel better if I don’t a) become anemic; b) get an infection; c) bleed out. But the doctor will stop those bad things from happening by monitoring me closely over the next while. Yes, I’ll be hanging out at the lab a bit more, but only for short visits since I’ll be sure to make an appointment.

But first, I asked the doctor for a short reprieve. J. and I were hoping to book another getaway this weekend, the only summer weekend Marriage Commisioner J. isn’t uniting anyone. (J. has found the best gig ever, by the way. She barely needed a shingle for people to beg for her services.) So that’s the fantastic news. We’re going away, thanks to Triple D.’s partner R., who will graciously dog sit while her special friend helps other clients. (Now do you understand why I haven’t given you 3D’s number?) And I get another few weeks for my blood counts to rise before their upcoming onslaught. Then we’ll see what happens. I’m hopeful and even excited.

So please don’t worry about me. Everything is great here. And you know I’m a terrible liar.

Who would do this to a poor dog?

# Honesty is the best policy, even with chickens

True confession: I’ve had death on the brain lately. My health has been a bit unstable of late, as you know, and, except for last week, I’ve been visiting an awful lot of doctors. My recent ER visits were particularly unsettling, not just because of what the doctors found but also because of the kid gloves they were wearing. They treated me as if I was dying, which I may be at some point, but not tomorrow.

Then the Double Ps came to visit, and despite their riotous nature, we did not talk about anything funny. Rather, we talked about death. They alerted us to Being Mortal, a fantastic PBS documentary which just happened to be on TV last weekend. J. and I watched it together. Wow.

The narrator, Dr. Atul Gawande, wrote the book on which the documentary is based. He spoke of how ill equipped physicians are to deal with patients who are dying, and how they tend to be overly optimistic rather than get-your-affairs-in-order honest. The show also highlighted the feelings and fears of a few patients who were dying.

Consider watching this documentary, but not alone. It’s not easy and it may make you cry. Still, it was enlightening and inspiring and J. and I were both glad we saw it. It prompted a discussion about some really important issues.

Both J. and I need the straight goods about my health. Despite my anxiety, I want to know what I’m facing, and I know J. does too. I wondered whether, since my doctors know I’m a chicken, they would tell me the truth, even if the news were bad. And I wondered whether all those Dr. Doomsayers I’d been meeting were being more honest with me than my usual medical team.

My weighty discussion with J. prompted a conversation with Stephanie, my wonderful nurse practitioner, during my visit to the Cancer Centre this week. I hadn’t seen Stephanie in a long time because, despite the fact that she is highly capable, Dr. Blood has taken over since I’ve been sicker. When Stephanie appeared from behind Door #2, I breathed a sigh of relief.

We told Stephanie about Being Mortal and I asked her, in my usual indelicate manner: “Are you guys lying to me? Is my death imminent and you’re just not telling me?” She told me, in no uncertain terms, that Dr. Blood is not the lying type, and that she and Dr. Blood both have no idea what’s going to happen to me because I am an enigma. My one-of-a-kind body makes predicting my future especially daunting. But she assured me I was looking a lot better than she’d expected based on recent reports.

Ironically, I timed this discussion poorly because my health has turned a good corner. My red blood cell count continues to rise–anemia be gone!–and my platelets are being fruitful and multiplying as well. I’m now stable enough to proceed with a new intervention. Stay tuned for more on this next week.

J. and I both left the appointment trusting that my medical team is indeed being as honest as possible with me. And I was glad we shared our expectations so we could trust that honesty would continue, whether the news is good or bad. Even chickens want to know the truth.

# How I win friends and influence people through my blog

That last post was a bit of a downer–thanks to all of you who sent words of support my way–so I’ll try to make it up to you today. This post will be nothing but rainbows and butterflies.

It’s a day for celebration. This is my 200th blog post. That means that those of you who have been following me from the beginning have muddled through upwards of 100,000 written words here. That’s persistence! Think of all the time you’ve spent with me when you could have been weeding your garden/tending to your children/earning your paycheque.

We all need a purpose and goals, and I lost mine when I was diagnosed with leukemia. My focus for so many years was helping people. Sure, I am still a family member and a friend and an inconsistent baker and an uncoordinated yogi but I missed my psychologist self. I also missed exercising my brain, and Lumosity just wasn’t doing the trick.

And because my energy had tanked, I felt disconnected from so many of you, despite your best efforts to stay in touch. So I started writing, and you kindly started reading. I had a new way to connect with you when I couldn’t manage it in person. Between dog walks and yoga and Food Network reruns and naps–there have been a lot of naps–I could sit on the couch and write. Just knowing you’d be reading kept me going.

I think about how the blog has made friends from acquaintances and brought close friends closer. Maybe you were my neighbour down the street or someone I’ve known (but not known) for years through yoga or at the dog park. By following my blog and talking to me about it, not only have you gotten to know me, but I have come to know you in ways I wouldn’t have imagined before.

Did you know all the things I’m supposed to be doing to extend my life with cancer? I should be taking high doses of vitamin C and cutting out sugar in my diet (fat chance of that) and meditating mindfully and eating organic food, but I haven’t done any of those things. Instead, I’ve been dragging you through my ups and downs with my blog.

Turns out the best predictor of positive health outcomes is social support, which happens to be a lot cheaper than organic food. Yes, you, dear readers, by virtue of reading, are keeping me alive. I am touched knowing that you care about me enough to follow along, and that maybe even a few of you will miss it when I can’t write anymore. And I’m teeming with gratitude for your encouragement to keep writing.

Never forget your role in my longevity.

Every so often, when I’m feeling kind of blue or I’m bored with Food Network reruns, I too read my blog. After I correct all those editing errors–why doesn’t anyone tell me about those editing errors?!–I marvel at the thoughtful feedback and supportive comments I’ve received, all tangible signs of your participation in my project.

Oh, and then I laugh at my own jokes. Just trying to be honest, as always.

# Our paucity of play dates

A recent Friday night was a bit of a downer. J. got a welcome last-minute invitation to the symphony and off she went to spend the evening enjoying music with a dear friend. That left me at home to occupy myself. My mood tanked.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not begrudge J.’s leaving me at home on a Friday night. I’m a great believer in each member of a couple having her own friends and doing her own thing. In fact, I’ve long encouraged J. to spend more time with her friends because one day I may not be able to go out and play anymore. I don’t want J. to be at loose ends when I’m gone.

So then why did her going out set me off? I felt sad because I was thinking about how much our lives have changed and how rarely we go out together in the evening. I’m the one who doesn’t have the energy, but J. still does. Why should she be hanging out at home all the time just because I’m too tired to go out? How fair for is that for her? So when an opportunity arises, I am happy that she can get out with someone.

But I can still feel sorry for myself can’t I? Maybe it’s more accurate to say I feel sad that I can’t participate in as many activities as I used to with J. anymore. I miss our before-cancer life of going to movies and plays and concerts and even out for dinner. I used to know what was going on around town but now I can only give you a detailed rundown of what’s on TV, assuming I don’t fall asleep during the show.

After a few hours of pathetic self-pity, I realized that J.’s being out in the evening opened up a world of possibilities for me. I could eat whatever I wanted for dinner and dessert, I could leave my dishes in the sink for hours if I chose, I could watch Food Network all night, and I wouldn’t have to boot J. off the couch in order to make room for Jelly. Friday evening had the potential to be perfect…except that J. wasn’t here. And I can affirm that Jelly is not the greatest dinner companion nor conversationalist.

Then J. came home and told me that, as much as she had had a lovely evening with her friend, she felt miserable about leaving me at home and she wished we’d been out together. And she had to fight for a few measly appies while I was emptying the fridge at home.

Before I was diagnosed with leukemia, I thought the hardest thing about having cancer would be fear of dying. Sure, that’s part of it: I have days where I’m terrified of not being here any more. But, honestly, most of the time I’m in complete denial about the death part.

What’s harder, I find, is the way life has changed while I’m still here. There are so many things I miss from my pre-leukemia life that sometimes I feel overwhelmingly sad. I just wish J. didn’t feel that way too.

# My storytelling well runs dry

Sadly, this not my dear friend, Triple D.

Daily posting is just too much for me. I was exhausted from having to generate so many witticisms in such a short time. Hence yesterday’s break.

Today, since I’ve run out of my own material–or at least material that does not touch on this week’s forbidden theme–I’m stealing a story from a dear friend. I realize I may start losing coffee dates for fear of what might show up on my blog, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

You may recall Triple D, so named not because her womanly parts enter a room before the rest of her but because her parents stuck her with those tease-worthy initials. Triple D (hereafter 3D) is one of those lovely neighbours we met through our dogs. She has become our beloved dogsitter–no, you still can’t have her number, even though we haven’t been able to book her much lately–and our very dear friend. She and her partner, R., have bailed us out many a time with dog care when we have been otherwise indisposed. We are indebted to them both.

Triple D is smart and funny and, some days, absolutely exhausting because, like any Maritimer, she talks nonstop. I love her for constantly setting new goals for herself and striving to meet them. In fact, she has almost mastered her New Year’s intention to check her email daily, so she may discover this post before next November. J. and I know that if we can get a word in edgewise, 3D will drop anything and everything to help us.

To fully capture 3D in 3D, I will share one of my favourite stories about her first venture into the world of lottery. 3D is very careful with her funds and does not pay this “tax on the stupid”, as one of our friends calls it. The week of a particularly high jackpot, however, she decided to get in on the action. She went to the kiosk, carefully selected her favourite numbers–no Quik Piks for this gal–and brought them to the clerk. Then she asked for three tickets with this same set of special numbers.

Can you identify the logical flaw here? Of course J. did immediately, but I didn’t at first. I trust you will understand, as the clerk did. She looked askew at 3D and seemed resistant to selling her the tickets. Then she said snottily: “You’re sure you want three tickets with the same numbers?” Poor naive 3D did not understand why the clerk was being hostile with her. In fact, 3D responded just as haughtily, insisting on three identical tickets. At no point did it occur to 3D that maybe the clerk’s hostile question was intended as valuable feedback.

Where’s that eureka when we need it?

So 3D threw her money away on three identical tickets and went home to tell the story. R., in her wisdom, knew immediately why the clerk had been hesitant. She explained to her beloved 3D that, by buying three of the same tickets, she was not increasing her chances of winning the jackpot.

When we first heard the story, J. rescued 3D by noting that in the event of 4 or more jackpot winners, 3D would be awfully glad she owned three of those tickets. Oh, that J. is my problem-solving idol! But no, 3D did not have a chance to benefit from J.’s reasoning. Not one of her tickets won a dime.

What is the moral of this story? Some mistakes you only make once. Remember those expired passports?

# My sly use of foreshadowing

It’s me again, on a Tuesday, just trying to shake things up a bit. Routines can get so boring. I am imposing another 500 words on you today, as you might have suspected I would based on yesterday’s post. But that’s not all.

After yesterday’s poop icon reference, I thought I might write about poop again. No, not my poop. Been there, done that, and I barely got a reaction from any of you. Rather, a post on dog poop is long overdue. Fecal matter is quite the obsession of any dog owner, from: “How many times has Rex pooped today?” to “Who left dog poop on my lawn?” It is the latter question we will delve into today.

I can assure you that, if you discover dog poop on your lawn one day, and you did not leave it there, it’s not my dog’s. When I walk my dog, I always have multiple poop bags on me, one for my own dog and extras for all the people I come across who “forgot” theirs.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. There was one time that I forgot bags altogether, only to realize it when my dog did her business. So I knocked on the door of the neighbour who owned that lawn and sheepishly asked her for a bag. In case you didn’t know, if you knock on a stranger’s door asking for a poop bag, that stranger will likely comply. This lovely older woman was back in a flash with what I needed.

On another occasion, as my dog pooped and I stood over her, bag in hand, this lawn’s owner was not as receptive. In fact, he opened his front door and screamed: “How would you feel if I pooped (that’s not the verb he used, by the way, but this blog is G-rated) on your lawn?” Had I had my wits about me, I would have calmly responded, as I picked up my dog’s poop: “Well, Mr. Neighbour, I’d hope you’d pick up after yourself.” My actual R-rated response cannot be repeated here.

Which brings us to the day that Jelly and I were having a lovely walk in the neighbourhood, stinky full poop bag in hand, when I was stopped by an elderly couple. They pointed to their property, which was several houses down, and asked me whether I knew whose dog had left poop on their lawn.

I realize you cat people may not be able to distinguish a chihuahua’s and a Great Dane’s poop. Yes, when I had more than one dog, I could usually identify whose poop was whose. Let’s just say each dog’s poop looks different. But I can assure you that I have not memorized the dog-poop defining characteristics of all neighbourhood canines. I am no fecal fetishist.

So I responded, in my most polite neighbourly voice, that I had absolutely no idea whose dog left that deposit on their lawn. (Perhaps, in light of my other neighbour’s poop tantrum, I should have also confirmed that the poop was not mine.) I would have hoped my nonverbal behaviour–that stinky poop bag I was holding between us–might have conveyed that it was not me, but I cannot say. Off Jelly and I trotted to the nearest garbage can, and then finished our walk in peace.

# If I’ve seemed a little distant lately…

I have become much too predictable. You can almost count on my posting three times a week, usually Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You’ve figured out that Monday and Wednesday’s posts are often on more serious health-related topics, while Friday’s is light and funny. I try hard not to be Annie Anhedonia just before the weekend. (How could I pass up that alliterative allure?)

But this week will be different, owing to a dramatic change in my circumstances: I am without any medical obligations all week. In fact, I picked up a prescription yesterday so I would have 7 full days free from labs, doctors, and all forms of medical intrusion. I’ll skip the wellness resolutions since the last one landed me in hospital, but I am indeed hoping for a medical-crisis-free week.

And so I have the perfect opportunity to break my blogging patterns. I will share only light and funny material through Friday, which should be easy because the Double Ps are visiting tomorrow, and you know how hilarious they are. Just take a look back at their comments on my posts sometime. I almost peed my pants when I read their response to my last one. Whoops, nothing medical, I promised.

To start our week out, I thought we might talk about texting. As a writer obsessed with punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure, I had some difficulty jumping on the texting bandwagon. You’ll rarely see TMI or LOL or WTF or 2 for “to” in my texts, even though they’d save time and space. I just can’t cope with not spelling words out. I know, I’m old and rigid.

I may avoid the abbreviations, but my inner psychologist quickly developed a strange affection for emojis. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? My favourite is the really big smiley face because, in my fantasies at least, I am a happy, carefree joker all the time.

Serious pupil of all things, I studied all the emojis options on my BlackBerry and began inserting emojis liberally in my texts. Except the poop one. I think that brown pile is kind of gross. I’m not afraid of writing about poop; I don’t need an emoji to express it.

Just as I’ve mastered this new skill, our operating systems have developed a communication breakdown. Lately, I’m often unable to read others’ emojis, which appear as uninterpretable black squares. I am a trained professional, I’ve spent years reading people’s emotions, yet I don’t know how to interpret those squares. And we all know how the written word can be misconstrued. Without those emojis, I am lost.

To punish all my affluent iPhone-using friends whose emojis are lost on me, I’ve stopped sending emojis as well. I figure if I can’t read others’ emotions, why share mine? No psychologist wants to be the only one sharing her feelings. And forget suggesting I incorporate the old symbol-based emoticons instead. That 90-degree image rotation is a killer for someone with my spatial limitations. : (

So in the future, if you want to know how I’m feeling, you’ll just have to ask. I’ll tell you within my texting character limit, which is far less than 1000 words. Right now, for example, I’m angry I can’t afford an iPhone. What’s the emoji for that?

# We’re not anti-cat, we’re just pro-dog, or so I thought….

How would you answer this question? A home without a dog is: a) lonely; b) quiet; c) cleaner, especially in the winter; d) not a home; e) all of the above. I can assure you that J. and I would both answer “e”.

J. and I have both owned dogs throughout our adult lives, before we got together and now that we are. In fact, we first met through a dog. Although we’re pro-dog, we’ve never considered getting a cat because, even though some of our best friends are own cats, we’re just not cat people. That’s different than being anti-cat, which we’re not. We like cats, we’ll pet them, heck, they’ll even purr for us. Did you know that yesterday was Hug Your Cat Day, cat lovers? You’re welcome.

I especially enjoy cats who are like dogs, i.e., the ones who follow me around and seek my affection. I once met a cat who could fetch. I was pretty impressed, since Jelly is a failure at fetching, except of course her ball.

But we can’t have a cat because both J. and I have never been able to get our heads around the whole kitty litter thing. Think about it: cats hang out in the litter to do their business, cover their deposit up with those cute little paws, and then walk all over every surface in the house. I’m not the clean freak that J. is but those little invisible paw prints haunt me.

I always thought J. held the same pet views as me, until our dear friends, the Double Ps, wrote to say they had forgiven J. for the photo she had recently sent them. “What photo?” I asked, so they forwarded it to me. You’ll understand why I was horrified.

Before we go any further, you should know that the Double Ps have been pro-dog and pro-cat for as long as we’ve known them. They have always parented both species, rescuing a series of wayward souls. In fact, we had no trouble deciding they could provide a better home for our foster dog, Jenna, than J. and I could. She would be moving to a two-parent home–this predates our co-habitation–in a posher neighbourhood with people who once ran an SPCA. As a bonus, she’d have not just one but two cats to chase. What more could any dog ask for?

Well, I must tell you, I was a bit devastated to hear about this exchange between J. and the Double Ps. We are good friends with them. In fact, they were the only witnesses at our mini secret wedding. The Double Ps will be visiting us next week from out of town, and I’m praying everyone won’t fight like…oh, what’s the expression?

J. and I will have been married 3 years tomorrow, and we’ve been together almost 15 years, yet I never knew she felt such hostility toward cats. To think that she exposed this side of herself to our cat-loving friends before me! Just goes to show you: you may think you know everything about the ones you love, but they’ll always harbour a few secrets. You just have to hope those secrets are not as devastating as this one has been for me.

Happy third anniversary, honey! You may be anti-cat, but somehow you’re still pro-me. I love you. XOXO