Weepily we roll along

Ach, how embarrassing. We didn't row outside tonight because the gasoline that fuels the coach's boats floated away in the rain and wind over the weekend. I had not been on an erg (rowing machine) since April, I think. I am getting over a cold, reacting to the high mold count in the world nearby, have been anemic for at least a year--pile on, pile on, the excuses, Sando. I'm being tested for a second blood cancer. What else? I am a wimp. In the past I thought that when I was itching a lot from exercising, and I felt weepy, that that was a signal to stop. But I don't know now. It was so very very hard to row hard and quick. Coach B came by a few times to see how I was doing--if I was overheating, getting itchy. I got up at one point and bit a hydroxyzine tablet in half, and swallowed the half. It was just so hard hard to pull and push with my legs, knowing always that I am the slowest person, the weakest person, in the whole group. I swear, once this large, out-of-shape-looking woman came to see what our team was, and she got on the ergs and was faster and harder than I. Tonight it was so tiring so very tiring, it shouldn't be that tiring, should it? And yet how could I complain, when Coach J just did the marathon? Wasn't that hard? The thing is they do these hard things and I don't like to do them. Coach S used to push me push me to keep going and then I would have asthma for three days. But I survived. The whole problem with doing your all is that next time you'll have to do your all again and then some. Better numbers.  At least when we're keeping score. Coach B said to stop if I needed to and I wanted to tell her about the anemia and bone-marrow biopsy but I didn't because what would that fix? They are excuses, perhaps reasons. But I know tonight I wasn't crying because I was overheated or itching. I was crying because it was so difficult, so unpleasant, and so tiring, and I felt so sorry for myself. When I finished Coach J said something encouraging. I feel I am the team's goat. Just the goat. I am the goat.

The boat goat.

S hadn't been able to row for a year and when she came back the other week, she said after practice: You must be getting better because the coaches didn't tell you to slow down your stroke. Personally, I think this is a left-handed compliment. But I am not the worst rower on the team. But close. I have rowed with the novices a couple of times, because I missed a rowing practice with my peers, the masters. We are the masters because of time. I think after a season on the water, one is a master, automatically. So Woody Allen's quip about most of all you need to show up, that's accurate here. You are rewarded for your longevity. For making it through a season. When I was rowing with the novices, I was amazed that so many of them were proficient--much more proficient than I was my first five years. And as proficient as I am now. How could that be? Perhaps they are coordinated. That is a possibility. The mystery, and I can't figure it out, is why I continued to come to practice for eight years, when it wasn't fun for most of that time. At Passover last year S and J asked me about rowing and I told them that I didn't do it to be with the other members of ROW, that I didn't particularly like rowing, and they laughed and asked me why I did it. Like that Jewish joke with this punchline:  It's only a hobby. 

Giving Thanks

The mesothelioma folks asked me what I'm grateful for. I told 'em:
I am most grateful for my Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance. I get it from my husband, who worked for a union as staff.
We went out for nine years before we got married, and I was diagnosed with breast cancer three years later, and with blood cancer (polycythemia vera) not much after. I had a mastectomy and chemo at a place in Chicago I call Fancy Hospital. My hematologist is also there, and I’m on a new pill for my polycythemia, called Jakafi. Retail value is more than $10,000 a month – I pay $20.

Hi, blog readers. I've moved on to other things, but sometimes ya just gotta write about being one-breasted. 

Did you click on "write about"? That's what you're supposed to do. Or you can click underneath my photo.
Underneath, or au dessous, as we say in the French, since this shows me sans sein au bord du Seine.

Cancer Bitch


So proud of myself--I had a phone conversation in French today, with someone at l'Alliance Francais, about taking the de Gaulle course instead of the literature class. I'm more interested in de Gaulle, though that's C-level, and I'm B-level, as is the lit class.
I listen fairly often to La marche de l'histoire podcasts on my phone. I understand between 40 and 70 percent, depending on the subject and how fast the guests speak. I was thinking last month or so that La march is just too hard for me, and I was listening to a show about Sainte Catherine de Sienne, and she didn't eat, and I was thinking to myself, Sounds like Simone Weil, and two seconds later, the host said, Like Simone Weil.

I guess I can follow, at least some.

The Untimely Death of Stonewall Jackson

The Woman Who Could Not Take It Any More felt very very very very sorry for herself. The Woman Who Could Not Take It knows she is her own enemy, but not her own worst. That distinction set aside for old bosses. It wasn't that she didn't blame herself too. She imagines conversations with said bosses, none of which would end well, with power on her side. But that is not what this is about. This is about the $12,000 retail monthly medicine. And the dead friend who floats into her mind and stays and then leaves. There were no regrets when she died. But now. 
The Woman Who Could Not Take It Any More did not make sure that her hematologist approved the costly drug for six more months. The Woman Who Could Not Take It Any More also did not order her monthly Jakafi a week or so in advance. Because she did not do these things she spends four hours on phones and in the Walgreens at Fancy Hospital. The Woman has a few admirable traits. She can make the pharmacy rep laugh over the phone. We were not expected to have such interesting lives, her sister's junior high school friend writes to her on Facebook, probably 45 years after they have seen one another. There is sorrow throughout the land. The poor groundhog, dead in New Jersey Feb. 1. Why was he named Stonewall Jackson? The Woman Who Could Not Take It Any More saves her cousin from committing libel on Facebook. The Woman Who Cannot Take It Any More hangs up accidentally on the pharmacy-insurance gatekeeper. She wants to play the cancer card though she suspects that most people who call the Specialty Pharmacy are in the same boat, that boat being smack in the middle of Shit Creek, the long crab claws reaching in from the water, over the gunwales, even. She hates the quaver in her voice. Knows that she is privileged. Cannot control the quaver in her voice, in spite. It is the 21st century. She is alive in the 21st century. 
She is alive in it. 
She is a slave to her emotions in it. Despite: Buspar (generic), Effexor (generic) and Remeron (generic). She is one of those people who digs deep into her backpack in public. Sometimes she calls it a knapsack, knowing that she is speaking from the wrong place and time. Rucksack. She has rescue medicine for her skin, her lungs, her brain--or wherever the emotions are seated. Some said it was the uterus, of which she is still a proud owner.  
How can she feel so young so alone when she has grown old?
The people who are worse off are already dead.

Will it never end?

There are so many things I do not know though I am growing old, Father William, but you would think such a person as I, so interested in my very self, would know something about that self in question. But I do not.

Tonight at rowing we did a circuit, I believe it's called, where we rowed as fast as possible for 500 meters on the rowing machine aka erg, then did some very silly things having to do with moving your legs like this and your arms like that and stretching like this and jumping your feet back and forth like that in a way that is very awkward and then going back to the erg to do it again, all the way through, and then back again. I say, If this does not fill you will the futility of life, then you're moving too fast. And I was moving that fast, though not as fast as anyone else in the room except a new recruit who looked older than I, and then I got overheated on the erg and felt like crying, and there was a time when I would keep going until I was weeping and would take a couple of hours to get over the weeping and feel that someone was clearly at fault, but not I, not I. Not me. Maybe two years ago I decided I would row until I felt like crying, and then stop, taking the crying as a sign that I had pushed myself too far, and so today I stopped and stood in front of the upright fan (crying a little) and then took my mat to the other end, over there, and did some sun salutations and Coach S complimented me on my downward-facing-dog (le chien tête en bas, as we said in French yoga), and I admit, I do a nice downward dog. The secret is to keep pushing down with what my Taiwanese yoga teacher used to call the back of the small, which was such an enchanting word switch that no one wised her up.

So was I overheated, because of the other other cancer? I don't know now. Maybe not. Then why did I feel like crying? What was the fear? Or was it discomfort? Or was it my body warning itself that it was about to overheat (what is that, really?) and become uncontrollably itchy? But my itching has been under control lately because I'm taking a higher dose of Jakafi and the temp is colder. When I truly overheat I feel depleted and weak and sometimes light-headed (am I making that up?) and so--should I keep going? I say no. The young coaches used to tell us not to listen to our bodies, that our bodies would want to stop when we needed to keep going, but I thought it was not good advice for a 25-year-old athlete to be giving to 50-year-old cancer survivors. Then again I'm not like K, who at least once has rowed so hard that she threw up. I am not willing to go that far.

Then again, if I stop before I am awash in tears, then the chances are that I'll be more predisposed to come back to practice. The thing, of course, is to get yourself not to cry, but how is that done, I'd like to know. I was doing the yoga to calm myself down, to take the tension out of the boat, as the Michigan coach says, and there was a time about six years ago when rowing hq was at the place before this place, and I pushed and pushed myself and I was crying and felt depleted and this same Coach S (who thought with J that I was uncoachable) said something about it being good that I was learning my limits. Or something like that. And here am I, who not a week ago was talking to another J, who was telling us about all the emotionally spent college students she has who are crying with anxiety and fear about getting everything done, and I said that crying was just an expression of feelings. Hah, the diminishment has come home to roost, has it not?

Black cohosh, welcome back!?

Cancer Bitch was sorry to say goodbye to black cohosh pills, which she had been taking for hot flashes way back in pre-cancer days. She said goodbye to the substance because it was deemed an aider and abettor of estrogen-positive tumors.

But--(and now I change POV) I just was looking up something for a friend who has a 91-year-old mother with breast cancer (Google: older women, Susan Love) and found this on Dr. Susan Love's site:

Black Cohosh

Black cohosh is an herb that has long been used by Native Americans to treat menstrual and menopausal symptoms, but its mechanism is not understood. More recently it has become popular in the United States as a suggested treatment for hot flashes. A study of Remifemin Menopause, made from an extract of black cohosh, found that 70% of the 150 peri-and postmenopausal women in the study who took 40mg of Remifemin for 12 weeks reported a decrease in menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes. The group taking the higher dose did not do better than the lower standard-dose group. There was no placebo group in this study to compare the response with.
Black cohosh may be a good option for some women. The advantage of it over other alternatives is that it doesn't have side effects, like clonidine and antidepressants. But it's also clear that more is not better, and that women who do decide to try it should stick to the standard dose.
The question for breast cancer survivors is whether it is estrogenic. On this front we actually have some data. First of all there is no known phytoestrogen in black cohosh. Second, there is no evidence that black cohosh binds to the estrogen receptor. Finally, in a petri dish, breast cancer cells were exposed to black cohosh in the absence of estrogen, in the presence of estrogen, and in the presence of tamoxifen. They found that the black cohosh given alone inhibited cell growth. When estrogen was added it blunted the growth usually seen and it enhanced the effects of tamoxifen. This effect has been replicated in four other studies on cell lines. Studies in women have confirmed this lack of estrogenic effect.
So--Good news and bad news. Good news is, of course, that I can get back on cohosh, which helped in the past. I am in the running for the hot flash world record. The flashes started at least a dozen years ago, and have been exacerbated by: menopause, Tamoxifen, polycythemia vera (You must have seen the commercials: "Polycythemia vera, the other other cancer," a direct copy of "the other white meat" ads. Nonetheless, it remains a rare blood cancer, and has not been taken up by the masses). Bad news, of course, is that women who are in menopause are "older." Older than what? Red dirt? I have news for Dr. Susan Love: Menopause Women are young, young. Who's older? Mothers. Mothers of Menopause Women. And don't you forget it.
But wait! Sloan-Kettering begs to differ, telling us ER+ Menopause Women not to take black cohosh if: You currently have, or have been treated for, an estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) cancer (It is still unclear whether black cohosh acts in the same manner as estrogen, and might therefore stimulate growth of these tumors)
Ugh!! I am writing to S-K for clarification and will report its reply.