Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

As a sophomore in college, I took a course called “Plant Physiology and Horticulture,” or some such thing. It was a “science for non-scientists” elective for those of us who weren’t among the 900 pre-meds at UCI. To me the best part of this course was that the lab was to plant and maintain a garden in a plot assigned in the UCI Community Gardens, conveniently near my dorm (sadly, I think this area is now a parking lot).

My farmer dad was very excited when he heard I had registered for this course. He kept asking me when was I going to get to plant my garden so *he* could get ready. You see, this opportunity combined two of his three favorite pastimes: puttering in dirt AND helping us with our schoolwork (the third was golf). Finally to him, although I recall it was just the second week of class, I called him to say my plot was assigned to me, so come on down.

He arrived on campus that Saturday morning with the car loaded with garden tools, bags of soil amendment and fertilizer, and seedlings. Growing up, my help in the industrial-size garden he always put in each summer was limited to “changing the water,” meaning switching the hose from row to row, or picking the vegetables for my mother before mealtime. As my dad was unloading everything out of the car, I realized that despite having grown up in the shadow of serious agriculture, I really didn’t know how to do any of it myself.

No matter. My dad really wanted to do it all. I tried to look helpful and capable in case any classmates were watching. (They weren’t. It was pretty early Saturday morning. But still.) As he worked, he explained to me what he was doing, and why. He gave me a complete tutorial. When he was done, my plot looked nothing like anyone else’s: it was a mini-farm. All it needed was a vegetable crate with the “Kamei Brothers” label nearby for effect. He cast his eye over the neighboring plots and pointed out what he would do differently, not, as he wanted me to know, because he was being critical, but because he wanted me to observe how those plants fared so I could assess the differences myself.

When my professor checked out my plot mid-quarter, he smiled approvingly and waved his hand over my plot, saying, “You’ve done this before.” I smiled modestly. My dad laughed gleefully at that report. Right on script, my cabbages, cauliflowers, lettuces, and carrots turned out picture-perfectly. At the end of the term, the professor said it was the best looking garden he had ever had in his class. And that was what my dad wanted to hear.

That tutorial garden activated in me the Kamei family farming gene, although 14 years would elapse before we moved into this Howard Street house and I could try my own hand at my own garden. One of the first things Bing did was build me a series of raised beds in the back. My goal each summer was to grow enough quantity and variety to be able to cook with our garden ingredients: pastas with grilled zucchini, crookneck squash, and tomatoes; salsas; insalata caprese; salads with arugula, mache, frisée, and oak leaf lettuces. Basil pestos went into the freezer, sun-dried Roma tomatoes were packed in olive oil, and eggplant became “karashizuke.”

More recently I’ve grown “Bright Lights” swiss chard, spinach, potatoes, Maui onions, cucumbers, and heritage tomatoes – Yellow Zebra, Black Krim, Carmello, Sun Gold cherry tomatoes. Now I don’t think I could ever cook without fresh herbs on hand.

Over the past 20 years, when I have had matters weighing on my heart and mind, I have gone out to the garden to work. I think things through while I’m digging, weeding, sowing, trimming, staking, and watering. The September chemo derailed what would have been the winter garden and kept me from my own “garden therapy” when I really could have used it.

Last Saturday, a rainy afternoon, I looked out my kitchen window and was surprised to see a flat of winter vegetable plants on my back brick patio. My neighbor Greg turned out to be my “garden elf” and his thoughtfulness gave me great cheer and encouragement. Right now I do have a second crop of green beans growing along the side yard fence on trellises, and that makes me happy. This first week of Bortezomib has been so much better than the first week of the September chemo that I tempted to think ambitiously and hopefully that I can function normally over the next couple of months, including being at work and in the yard.

One good outcome from this diagnosis is that it has forced me to be realistic about the upkeep of the rest of this lot, which is actually larger than the square footage of this house. Tomorrow I start some major relandscaping plans to reduce the water and maintenance requirements and to clean up problem areas that I hadn’t mustered the vision, courage, or money to address before. So I’m hoping that when it is all said and done in a few weeks, I won’t have to pay much attention to the rest of yard, and I will have the time and energy again to just putter in my garden plot and be a farmer’s daughter.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A quick report that Day 2 of Bortezomib was far more pleasant than Day 2 of Cladribine+Rituxan in September. No fever or “night sweats” last night and I woke up this morning feeling remarkably normal. So I hopped into dean clothes and put in a long, hectic, productive day at the office.

I’m so glad that I put off starting this treatment for two weeks and ended up with a month of “reprieve.” I have felt so much stronger these past couple of weeks and think I am much better off having regained some normalcy before going into this next chemo stretch.

My platelets fell but are still in the normal range. My white blood count is in the tank, but that’s just the way that is going to be. Most everything else stabilized or is pretty close to normal. So my doctor was pretty pleased to have such a hardy patient.

The treatment schedule is Tuesday/Friday/Tuesday/Friday, with one week off, for a total of four cycles until the first week of January. Could have two to four more after that; we’ll see.

I’ve also been a busy beaver walking the USC Norris Hospital corridors to get my records together to send to Dana-Farber: biopsy slides and sample from pathology, CT scans from radiology, lab reports and chart info from medical records. And lining up my family members to participate in the study on the hereditary links in Waldenstrom’s families.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

With “live life” enjoyment a couple of Saturdays ago, I visited the Norton Simon Museum here in Pasadena expressly to see its current exhibit “Hiroshige: Visions of Japan.” The Norton Simon has an extensive collection of Japanese wood block prints with particular emphasis on Hiroshige’s works, in part because it acquired the collection of Frank Lloyd Wright who was especially taken by this revolutionary artist.

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) turned to art to supplement his meager income as a firefighter. He became known for his ability to capture nuanced landscapes in his wood carvings and to produce prints saturated with rich colors conveying great visual depth. Among other works, the Norton Simon’s impressive exhibit shows two versions of his most popular series, “The Fifty-Three Stations on the Tokaido Road.” Based on his personal observations on the 300-mile road between Edo (present-day Tokyo) with Kyoto, Hiroshige made a print of the scene at each one of the 53 travelers’ stations. Because of the popularity of this series, Hiroshige produced multiple versions of the “Tokaido Road Stations.”

What I found fascinating about the Norton Simon’s presentation was that one series was displayed along one side of the gallery, with another series mirrored along the other side of the gallery. The visitor begins with one “Station 1” on the right, and the other “Station 1” on the left, and ends with one “Station 53” on the right, and the other “Station 53” on the left. I enjoyed comparing the similarities and differences between the two versions. After a while, I had to remind myself I was looking at woodblock prints and not photographs, because Hiroshige includes such detail. The bit in the mouth of the horses being watered, the facial expressions of the silk kimono-clad ladies purveyed on palanquins across swollen streams, the early-morning yawns of the daimyo’s servants, and the geisha’s hairpins on the windowsill drew me in.

I wanted to see this exhibit because my father studied Japanese woodblock prints. During our family’s memorable trip to Japan in 1972, he invested in a Hiroshige work. I remember standing next to him in a Kyoto art emporium as he made his selection.

What I did not realize from the small landscape my father chose but saw in this exhibit was that Hiroshige had a humorous and wry perspective on the life of his time, the life of ukiyo-e or “the floating world.” In his foreword “The Buoyant World of Japanese Prints” to Andreas Marks’s Japanese Woodblock Prints: Artists, Publishers and Masterwork 1680 - 1900, Stephen Addiss explains that ukiyo-e is originally a Buddhist term referring to the transient nature of human life and experience. The ukiyo-e message, says Addiss, is to accept the flow of life without grasping: enjoy the momentary pleasures of life, much like the cherry blossoms that are all too soon lost to wind or rain. Hiroshige’s appeal is in his ability to capture life’s moments so we can savor everyday detail.

Although I needed to sit down around Station 35 and napped for the rest of the afternoon, it was altogether appropriate that I spent a couple of hours contemplating beautiful details from the end of the Tokugawa era, which allowed me to forget my “chemo world” and revel in life’s moments of that Saturday. Just a couple of weeks later, I’m feeling remarkably better – not 100%, but pretty darn normal. Just in time to start the Bortezomib this Tuesday.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010

About two years into my position with the Urban Land Institute, we were on a roll. The investment of start-up effort that the ULI leaders here in LA and I had made was beginning to really pay off, as we were having a number of successes to show for our hard work. Because our LA operations were meant to be a template for future ULI business operations, I felt a certain responsibility, even pressure, to report out our successes, to keep the investment of good will and capital justified and coming in at that critical stage of our entrepreneurial venture.

I quickly reached the classic time management question: do I take time away from getting the work done to tell people about what we were doing, or do I just stay focused on getting the work done and worry about telling people about it later? I recognize that, as is the case with many trade-offs in life, the best answer is do as much of both as possible.

I’m afraid I’ve worried some of you because I haven’t posted anything for a week and a half. Two reasons account for my “blog silence.” First, physically I’m doing much better. The more distance I get from the September chemo, the better I feel. This past week I was able to ratchet back up to almost full-time work and to throw some forward momentum into the rest of my life before the next chemo starts next Tuesday. I even made it to the gym one night.

But my reality is, when I run out of steam, it is a full-engine stop. The price I pay for undertaking a “normal” life outside the home is to come home and pretty much collapse into bed. So I confess a redux of my ULI dilemma – I’ve been living life instead of writing about it, when I haven’t had the energy to do both.

The second reason I haven’t blogged lately is because I am still coming to grips with the notion that I can feel better, but I am still “sick.” The cancer has not left me, and as one friend put it not long ago, this remains a game-changer. Unless and until they find a cure, I live with this, no matter how I feel. I haven’t had much else to say about this, my other sober reality.

But this weekend actually has been one filled with many special experiences which have raised my spirits. I want to thank Howard and Luana. I want to say how much I love, appreciate, and admire Ray and Marilyn, Steve and Jane, Kelly and Janice. I want to throw my arms around Ron and Sue and let them know how much I love them, too, and pledge to them my 110% support. I was so happy to visit with David and Karen, and feel their love and support in person. They all know the reasons why.

As Ron said today, the Lord’s vision for us is much broader than we can imagine for ourselves. It was good to be reminded of that, because as I said to Randy and Ladell, I don’t like being “sick.” I’m not comfortable being a consumer of, instead of a contributor of, service. As soon as I figure out what the larger purpose is supposed to be of this experience, I promise you I will take the time to report it out. And if you get the inspiration for me, please feel free to clue me in.