Thursday, May 2, 2013
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
My latest blog entry that I wrote for MD Anderson. I am happy to report that my appointment went well and everything looks good. I am 1 year cancer free.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
I recently wrote the following information to share with others who are on their way to Houston for consultations. The opinions listed below are my opinions and not those of MD Anderson's.
Hearing a diagnosis of cancer for yourself or a loved one is stressful. Figuring out logistics regarding travel to a different city that you are going to for treatment or a second opinion doesn’t need to add stress to an already difficult situation.
I live in Florida but participated in a clinical trial at MDA in Houston for my recurrence with cervical cancer. The clinical trial that I participated in increased my odds of survival by 15-25%. Considering my odds were 15% with traditional chemo, I was grateful to have found the trial. Since my first visit to MDA in August, 2011 I have travelled from my home in Florida for 8 rounds of chemo and many follow up appointments. I have found an equation that eases the stress for me and want to share my experience.
I fly to Houston Hobby Airport. It is closer to Medical Center and has direct flights from Orlando. I have flown on Southwest every time I have travelled to Houston. They have been the most passenger friendly airline I have ever used. An important thing to remember when booking travel to Houston is to use an airline that does not have a charge for changing flight times. More than once I have had to change the return time or day of my flight because I needed to stay for more tests. There is not an additional charge on Southwest. The only charge is the difference in cost if the flight you are changing to is more than your original flight.
The first time I flew to Houston we took a cab from the airport to the hotel. The hotel gave us the name of a car service that we have used ever since. The owner of the company, Jiovani Kadar as well as all of his employees, have always been professional, respectful, and compassionate. His number is 832-455-3882. The cost of Jiovanni’s services is about $5 more than a cab from Hobby to Medical Center. The cars are clean and comfortable, which is not always the case in a cab. He will meet you at baggage claim and carry your luggage to the car. When I was going through treatment and couldn’t walk he assisted in getting a wheel chair to have my friend or husband get me inside the airport.
MD Anderson has a list of hotels that they recommend. Always ask if they have a medical rate. Some hotels have them. There are many hotels in the area. The following are the only ones in which I have had any experience
Hotel ZaZa – very nice. I haven’t stayed there but have been to their restaurant many times. They have cars that will take you to where you need to be. The ZaZa cars have cow skulls on the front. As odd as that might sound it’s really cool and exactly what a New England transplant living in Florida thinks Texas should be. ZaZa is near Hermann Park and Rice University. If you are a walker or runner, it’s a beautiful area to walk or run through. It’s also a short ride to Rice Village which has restaurants and shops. I have eaten in their Monarch restaurant many times. The food, drinks, and service have always been stellar.
I stay at the Courtyard Marriott Houston Medical Center on 7702 Main St. It’s not fancy but it is consistently clean and affordable. The staff is always pleasant and helpful. Be sure to say hi to Rita if she is at the front desk. She’s has happy face that will brighten your day. As do many of the hotels, this particular Courtyard has a shuttle that goes to MDA every half hour. The return isn’t as uniform. You have to call the hotel and they tell you what time it will be there. It’s usually 5-10 minutes. It’s a manageable process that is easy to navigate. There is a Kroger grocery next to the hotel that I walk to upon arriving so we have water and snacks in the room. There is a Starbucks in Kroger that I walk to in the morning. The hotel has a little “bistro” in the lobby. The food is ok but best for breakfast or snacks.
The other hotel I have experience with is Rotary House International. It is attached to MD Anderson via a sky bridge. I stayed there once. The décor of the hotel was dated. They have rooms with efficiency kitchens which could be very helpful for long stays. For me, this hotel seemed to have more sickly people, which is a ridiculous comment based on the fact that everyone there has cancer but, for me the benefit of the location didn’t outweigh my need to feel normal. Many people stay there and love the convenience of the location. It’s where everyone told me to stay when I first went.
We have found several restaurants that we go to while in Houston. There are cafeteria style restaurants at MDA. My favorite one is near the sky bridge between the main building and Mays Clinic. However, the following are a few of my favorites that are off site.
The Union Kitchen is my number one favorite for lunch. I have never been for dinner but if it is as good as it is for lunch I would recommend it. They serve delicious salads, wrap sandwiches, and burgers for lunch. www.theunionkitchen.com
Ruggles Green is also a great lunch option. I have only had salad there and it was very good. They have a little bit of everything on the menu including tacos, pasta, and flatbreads.
Monarch at Hotel ZaZa – We often go to Monarch for a late lunch on the first day which is usually a long day of travel. We generally eat off the bar menu which has healthy choices. It seems that they change their menu frequently but the deconstructed ahi roll and the fish tacos stand out in my memory. Monarch has great drinks too. They have outside seating that feels good after being in a hospital setting for hours.
Black Walnut is in Rice Village. Black Walnut is another option for good salads but has a vast menu of soups, salads, burgers, and sandwiches.
Chuy’s (Tex Mex) – Chuy’s is a casual Tex Mex restaurant. The chips and salsa are delicious. If you aren’t from Texas or maybe haven’t had any exposure to Tex Mex, Chuy’s is a great place to try it out. The environment is fun and festive.
Benjy’s is located in Rice Village. Benjy’s is a chic restaurant that has a menu worth exploring.
Cupcakes – If you need a sweet or would like to bring a special treat to someone who has made your experience a little easier, Crave Cupcakes are delicious and can be individually boxed. My favorites are the dark chocolate, strawberry and red velvet.
Ibiza - If you happen to be in Houston for your birthday, Ibiza is someplace you should consider going for your birthday dinner. The food is delicious but the birthday treat is really fun and different. Spoiler alert: It’s a beautiful cotton candy display in a silver goblet with a sparkler. It might be the best birthday gesture from a restaurant I have experienced.
Mark’s American Cuisine is a unique restaurant for a nice dinner or to celebrate a special occasion. Mark's American Cuisine is located in a 1920s renovated church. The atmosphere is peaceful.
Smashburger is a great walking option from Courtyard. They have consistently good burgers and the sweet potato fries are tasty. Smashburger is great option if you’re tired and want something quick.
Taco Cabana is a short walk from the hotel as well. It’s a fast food place but has the most delicious breakfast tacos. Something about the tortillas makes the breakfast tacos extra tasty.
The Chocolate Bar is located in Rice Village. It’s a giant candy store with every variety of chocolate you can imagine and a vast selection of candy. Better than the chocolate is the ice cream. I would recommend the snowberry flavor.
There is a Whole Foods Market on Holcombe. If you don’t have a Whole Foods in your home city, Whole Foods is a grocery store but also has sandwiches, a giant salad bar, a giant hot food bar, soups, and many healthy options that you can purchase by the ounce and eat right there. This would be a good option if you have your own vehicle.
If you happen to be in Houston in February or March, know that the rodeo is in town at Reliant Stadium. First, make your hotel reservations early because the city is busy at that time of year. If you have a chance you should check out the Houston Rodeo. It’s a true taste of Texas. Concerts, livestock and more cowboys than you can count!
A little known fact is that you drink more fluids when using a straw. Next time you have a glass of water take a drink and see how much you drank. Then put a straw in and take a drink and see how much you drank. Using a straw is a great tip for hydrating before chemo. Well, Kroger has the best straws. They are a little larger in diameter than most straws. They are orange and purple and come in a box. We have brought them back to friends in Florida who now love them and request that we bring them more.
On my first visit to Houston to meet with the doctors I had one day in between my doctor appointment and scheduled tests. We spent our free day at a large mall, The Galleria. It was about a $17 cab ride one way, but it was a nice distraction for the day. There are also plenty of stores in Rice Village which is closer. Rice village has some of the chain stores, such as The Gap and Ann Taylor, but also has small shops that have unique products. Parking can be an issue if you have your own vehicle. There are times that the hotel shuttle will drop you off in Rice Village.
As crazy as it might sound, Houston will always have a special place in my heart. Although I was in the city to battle cancer with drugs that made me sick and very weak, I am grateful for my time in Houston. I love the city that saved my life.
Friday, December 7, 2012
I started today being able to share some happiness with a woman currently fighting breast cancer. Unbeknownst to her, a friend wrote to ME STRONG to tell us how receiving some financial support would make her happy. The friend who wrote to us works with her. The money was given to her from ME STRONG but in honor of another woman who recently won the battle against breast cancer. Her name is Dawn and she is the woman I wrote about and prayed for at the hospital recently. Being able to give to others makes my heart smile. There were tears of happiness in the room but more importantly, there were smiles. The patient had the brightest smile. She smiled from the time that she walked in to the time I left. Right now her days aren’t fun. In addition to the side effects of chemo that you are aware of, her hands are burned from the chemo she recently received. To the point that she can’t drive because she can’t hold the steering wheel, but she was smiling. When I left I thought to myself, she is going to be ok. I don’t have any medical knowledge to support that statement but in my heart I feel that she will beat cancer. Her smile brightened her face. It brightened my day.
A special word between Dawn and me is HOPE. When she was first diagnosed and we talked on the phone I told her that there is hope. When being diagnosed with cancer it’s scary. It’s important to me that people don’t give in when they hear the diagnosis. They need to have hope. Dawn has given me a beautiful cross with the word “hope” on it and today a bracelet. Without hope, cancer wins.
I haven’t heard from my friend Constance in a week which is uncommon. Constance is the woman I met in Houston last time and have written about in a few blogs. She is the woman I prayed would find peace. She told me that I could use her name if I wrote about her again. After reading my last blog she said “Remember, there is always hope. In my case, hope that my death will be peaceful and as pain free as possible.” We were emailing daily and sometimes more than once a day. I sent Constance a message last Sunday and didn’t hear back. I know her strength has been limited so wasn’t concerned that I had not heard from her. I sent another message on Wednesday. After my meeting this morning I had a feeling that I needed to contact Constance’s son to check on her. He responded to me quickly that Constance passed away peacefully last night. He thanked me for being her friend. I am thankful for the gift of her friendship and her peace.
Monday, November 19, 2012
Some of you may have seen this on Facebook but I wanted to share with those who may not be. MD Anderson has asked me to submit blog entries to them. This link will take you to their site. Happy Thanksgiving.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Today I went for my second appointment to work on the edema in my leg. It’s not really that bad but if I don’t deal with it apparently the fluid will harden and that won’t be pleasant. I’m going to MD Anderson in Orlando for the treatment. Texas suggested I go there because there is a woman who specializes in oncology lymph edema. On my first visit I realized that I had been putting it off. If I think about why, the simplest answer that comes to mind is that I just am tired of dealing with my medical issues. The plan is to do some lymphatic massage and redirect the fluid. The therapist took measurements of my leg and the right thigh is two inches larger than the left. I asked her if I could possibly have lymph edema in my butt :). In addition to the massage I need to wear compression and see if that helps. Today when I was there they hooked me up to a “pump” which is really a body suit type of thing that they zip you into and then it fills with air. My right leg and stomach were in the suit and the air gently massaged my body. It actually felt good. I’ll go there weekly for a while. I don’t really see a need to go weekly for too long.
When I was done I went to visit with a friend who had a double mastectomy and reconstruction yesterday at MD Anderson. When I went to the reception desk to ask what room she was in I had a strange feeling. I had to fight the urge to give them my MDA medical record number. I’m not the patient! That’s a first in a while. When I got to my friend’s room she looked great, which makes me laugh because it was always funny to me when people told me I looked great during cancer. We visited for a while but she was tired and working through a headache from some of the medicine they had given her. Her attitude was so upbeat and the calmness she had was comforting to see. Yet again, cancer chose the wrong woman.
When I was leaving I got of the elevator on the second floor instead of the first. When I turned to see if I could find stairs I found the chapel. I stopped in to pray for two women in my life that I have gotten closer to because of cancer. The chapel is beautiful. It has 5 stained glass windows, each of a garden with birds and flowers. One has the word “hope” at the bottom, the next “love”, the next “faith”, the next “healing” and the largest window on a separate wall has the word “peace” at the bottom. As I prayed for my friend on the 9th floor of the hospital I looked at the words on the windows. Hope – she has hope, without a doubt. Love, absolutely, she is loved by so many. As we were chatting she talked about many of her “best friends” who were there the previous day supporting her. Faith. No question she has faith. She told me she went to church this past Sunday and I have seen her there on many occasions. Healing. She will heal. Her hope, faith and love will help her to heal.
My other friend is a woman I met in Houston during my last visit. I wrote about her in a recent blog. She is a woman I have become closer to via email since we met. There is a connection with her that is difficult to put in words but it is strong. The window with the word “peace” was the focus of my prayer for her. She told me last week that she has made the decision to call in Hospice. She no longer will be getting treatment to battle her cancer. My prayer is that she has peace during this part of her journey. I prayed for her peace.