Stricken?

Early August 2016- With the possibility/probability (according to my internist, Dr. Appelbaum) of a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, my entire world is suddenly colored by cancer. Radio spots for planning ahead for loved ones, funeral arrangements etc. now have a new immediacy. My biggest concern is Kenny, whose own diabetes-related health issues require 24/7 monitoring. I actually help – by just being there if nothing else.  What will he do without me? That’s really my only concern. Other than my immediate family, I have very few other family members that I’m fond of, but a zillion good friends. They will surely miss me – the one who’s the most fun in the crowd, if I do say so. Don’t worry, they’ve heard me say this with tongue in cheek, of course.

Watching Woody Allen’s latest film, “Café Society” this afternoon was a great escape, but why did I have to hear the father say, “I’ll accept death, but under protest.” His wife, a hilarious Jewish mother, played by Jeannie Berlin  responds, “Protest to who?” The movie was funny and as the credits rolled, I heard someone in back of me say, “Woody Allen gets better with age.” This time he chose a good alter ego in Jesse Eisenberg.  I watched the credits, but this time not for their artistic value, but to escape going back outside to face the real world. I never expected a nightmare to be real.

Car ride home after the movie: Why did I have to hear Seals and Crofts singing, “We May Never Pass This Way Again”? Gad! And then the “Midnight Cowboy” theme song with “I gotta keep going where the sun keeps shining/Through the pouring rain.” I strongly suspect I have a battle ahead- my first real battle in a very happy life.

For the past two days, when I see “Buy 2, get the second 50% off,” I have not gone for it. Yesterday it was Sensodyne toothpaste and today, Fiber One cereal. I did find  a heads up shiny penny in the parking lot of Rite Aid. If only…

Thursday tennis game: Played hard in hazy, hot and humid weather for 90 minutes with the usual crew. Went to a tie break  and won it at 10-8 with Sylrena as my partner. Felt great! Tennis, golf and running are so life affirming. On the down side, here I am, seeing all of the friends in my life and holding in this secret for the past two days. And I will spend tomorrow morning with Joan on the golf course.

August 12, 2016- Due to the extreme heat, golf was cancelled today, but I did meet Joan and Paula to swim at Joan’s East Hills pool. Oh boy, two more friends with whom I will have to eventually share my plight. But it was a fun day. Can’t let this get to me. We swam (I did 6 laps in the designated lanes), schmoozed and had lunch at the pool. I had also run on the dread mill this a.m. since I didn’t want to venture outdoors in the soupy, 90 degree early morning. Gotta keep up the exercise. Then Joan invited  us back to her house to watch the final two episodes  of  “Grace and Frankie” because she said they were really hilarious. Wait till you hear the subject matter: Estelle Parsons appears in the next to last episode as an aging California hippie whose “cancer has come back” and she has decided to end her life the very night she throws  a big party at and Grace and Frankie’s beach house. This is a bad joke. Did I really want to see this? On second thought, if I said I didn’t want to see it, what would have been my excuse? I really didn’t want to raise any suspicion, so I mulled it over in my head and decided that gallows humor is okay. After all, I have an unfinished manuscript entitled, “Wake Me When Shiva’s Over.” Keep it light.

In the past three days, I saw my mother, spoke to Emily who’s vacationing in Mexico, called Andy and spent time with three separate groups of friends. NO ONE was told anything. I’m sincerely hoping I won’t have to. On Wednesday, after I had my blood test, I met Sharon Chernoff, Sharon Feig and Ritta for lunch at the Bethpage Golf Course. I hit 80 balls at the driving range just prior to lunch. On Thursday I played doubles with Sylvia, Linda and Sharon C. More silence. And today, Paula and Joan. As of today, only Diane and Glenn know anything and they have been sworn to secrecy.

One week later – Everyone who is anyone knows now that my surgery is scheduled for Monday, August 29 –  all but Bonnie, Risa and Barb Philleo. Gotta find a way to talk to them this weekend. Here is what I sent to the members of  my book club. Sande already knew because I spent Monday walking the Long Beach boardwalk with her.

Dear Bookies,
 If you notice that I am not at Mim’s on the 30th, I do have an excuse. (That black and blue yellow fin that I always order will have to wait.)
On Monday, 8/29, I am scheduled to have a radical hysterectomy to remove tumors in the ovarian area and a nodule on my right kidney. I will be in very good hands with the head of oncological gynecology at North Shore LIJ (too many ologies and ectomies for my taste, but what can I do?)
I will be hospitalized for about 4 days (NS/LIJ on Lakeville Road.) In the meantime, between freaking out and carrying on my fun-filled life, I’m doing okay. I played tennis this morning, have another game tomorrow and a golf game on Friday. On Sat. we will be celebrating my Mom’s and her twin sister’s 95th birthday! Sunday, golf with Kenny.
I’m busy all day and see lots of people. I have lots of support from friends and I include you in that group. Feel free to call me if you want. I’m very upbeat, but I do take 1/2 Xanax every night before bed.
Sorry I had to write this, but calling to announce the news is just not me.
Love, Melinda
Today I am seeing Marie D. and Ellen for golf. I need to leave shortly, but I have to tell you what Kenny called to tell me when he was on his way to work this morning: “Hit ’em hard, hit ’em long, hit ’em straight.” At first I thought he was referring to tennis, but no, how could he have been?
I played great (for me.) Nothing to lose mentality. Why stress over golf (which is what I’ve done for the past 6 years- EVERY time I’ve played.) I seriously felt good about my game- had many really nice shots.
Prior to my surgery, I made a true confession to Kenny. For four years I’ve held it in. I lost his mother’s diamond wedding band – the one I wore everyday and constantly received compliments on. It was set in yellow gold and really was quietly striking. In case I didn’t make it through the surgery  I didn’t want him to go through my jewelry box only to find a cheap piece  of crap that I replaced  it with. God forbid he’d go to sell it and find out  “his mother’s” wedding ring was fake!  So I told him I lost it in the parking lot  of the beach in East Hampton. At this point I wasn’t stressing over anything material and I hoped he wouldn’t be too upset. It passed. Whew! I am sorry, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I was careless on that day four years ago.
Fast forward to September 29, 2016. Four weeks post-surgery. I will spare the details but yes, it certainly was ovarian cancer. Kenny covered the hospital experience deftly in email blasts to my nearest and dearest. And now when I get up tomorrow morning I will be headed to the Monter Cancer Center in Lake Success for my first 3-5 hour session of chemotherapy. The oncologist that I chose for this reviewed the pathology with us last Thursday. She said twice (once then and  once  over the phone) that there will be a good outcome. It is Stage 2 as opposed to an advanced cancer but a slight technicality really makes it Stage 3. This I will explain because it initially freaked me out.  I should be inured already- bad news and  more bad news, but always with lots of hope for recovery. I do know I’ve recovered very well (and continue to do so) from the August 29 surgery. Lots of unfit people tell me how my fitness level has helped me. I’ll go with that. When the oncologist at Monter said I have Stage 2, we mentioned that my surgeon said the cancer was not caught early. We left it at that. On Monday, she called me to say that she met with my surgeon and discussed this. The fact that there were some cancer cells removed from outside the pelvis near the abdomen makes it Stage 3, but she said it’s just a technicality. “Your outcome is still very good.”
Friends have stepped up like there’s no tomorrow. I came home from the hospital on Thursday morning, Sept 1st  and have had non-stop company since Sept. 3rd (mostly 2 at a time according to my plan.) Outpourings of generosity and love have boosted me up for an entire month. Yesterday Eileen Hudon gave me a sterling silver bracelet with “Strength” engraved on it. It will be on my wrist tomorrow. The cards, meals, food, visits, homemade Linzer tarts, my favorite sandwiches and wraps- OMG! It sounds trite, but it’s not : I feel the love.  But by far, the one who has been with me every step has been Kenny, my love. I just hope he’s not getting too run down – and I do remind him daily. I’m also there for him with his recent transition to the insulin pump. He keeps telling me we’re here for each other.
This is the email I put out on the day of my first chemotherapy session: It’s called “Piece o’ Cake.”
To my nearest and dearest,
     I called this “a Piece o’ Cake” because I was told today that I need to put on a few pounds. So, let me eat cake!
     Waiting to be called into the inner sanctum for my first chemotherapy treatment, I couldn’t help but notice the gray crewcut brigade of patients milling around. That won’t be me, babe, because I’m already “on it” with a natural looking wig about to be ordered, possibly as early as tomorrow. With a pair of sunglasses added to the mix, you will be permitted to gasp, “Is that Melinda Ehrlich behind those Foster Grants?”
     Today’s session was scheduled to last from 3-5 hours, but we were waiting for our car to return home in just under 4. That even included lots of detailed explanations every step of the way, including a visit from a nutritionist. So I now know that the longest sessions will be 4 hours every fourth week and the others, just over an hour.
     Regarding the nutritionist: Kenny and I could have been the nutritionist with all of the knowledge we’ve gleaned from his diabetes regimens. However, not to minimize her knowledge and oncology experience, she did recommend that I eat more broccoli, spinach, peanuts, walnuts, almonds and oatmeal. I have always shied away from oatmeal, but I know it’s good and fresh berries can be added to it so it’s not so bland. I’ve never been into sweeteners and I was reminded that that’s a good thing. Artificial sweeteners are definitely bad. I’ve been eating right for years (BFD – look where it got me.)  Green tea is out because it interacts with one of the chemo meds that will be dripping into me every week. I love black teas anyway. Whatever they suggest, I will comply with. It reminds me of something my beloved late father-in-law once looked at me and said,
“Melinda, if they told you pigeon shit was good for you, you’d eat it.” He was right.
     Finally, I need to use an alcohol-free toothpaste. Colgate and Crest make one, so it’s farewell to Sensodyne with whitener. I hope my smiles remain bright. As of today, I’m smiling an everlasting smile (a la The Bee Gees.)
Love to all of you.
                     Melinda
   P.S. Please don’t forget, Nothing on Facebook.
Thanks
Here is the 2nd installment of my chemo therapy session; A Piece o’ Pancake
To my fabulous friends and family,
      Accompanied by my dear friend Sande, my two and a half hour visit today could not have been smoother. This time the IV was placed in my left hand, so Sande was asked to forge my signature on the paperwork. No problema.
     It was characteristically cold in the center so I was given a warm blanket and I got one for Sande as well. And the drip goes on… In between visits from various personnel (social worker, my doctor’s nurse practitioner and the delivery from the pharmacy), Sande showed me stunning photos from her recent trip to Norway.
     I asked the social worker if she thought meditation might be used to help me sleep better. I really do not want to take Xanax or anything else if I can help it. I had to laugh (to myself, of course) when she recommended coming to a Gentle Chair Yoga session which incorporates meditation. Visualizing “chair yoga” got to me, but I will definitely explore meditation. The last time I meditated was in 1971 when my three college housemates and I were initiated into Mahararishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation. We volunteered to have a guru stay at our house so we could waive the initiation fee. All of the students at the college were asked to bring the requisite flower and handkerchief for the initiation ceremony and they were, in turn, assigned a mantra. It was a real scene and we loved every minute of it. We had been instructed by the guru to never, ever disclose our mantras to anyone, but somehow, thirty years later we all discovered we had the same mantra. Oops. Glad we didn’t pay.
     This morning our friends Steve and Abbie also suggested preparing a banana tea with cinnamon that should act as a soporifc. Stay tuned. The water’s boiling as I type.
     Once I was unhooked and released today, Sande and I went out for lunch. I had a short stack of pancakes with real maple syrup. Yum. She then drove me home on this gorgeous afternoon and we decided to go for a walk at the beach in Oyster Bay. It was a full day but that’s what evening’s rests are for.
Love to all of you and again, thank you for your good wishes.
 Melinda
This is my email entitled “Chemo Session 3: Do You Want Fries With That?”
To My Loving Friends and Family,
     The day began with the good news that Bob Dylan, my absolute favorite singer-songwriter and poet, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature! To the naysayers who claim he sounds like a an alley cat in heat, I urge you to try analyzing his visionary poetry. Who can deny brilliant lyrics such as these:
“Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.”
     Now to segue into session 3 of chemotherapy. Surreal, eh?
My good friend Ritta (a tennis and golf buddy too) accompanied me today. She went to park the car while I checked in.
     Today’s session at the Monter Center began with a visit with my oncologist. She examined me and is very pleased with my progress. Ritta sat with me for the infusion which took just over an hour. She entertained me with conversation and a book called, A Girl’s On Course Survival Guide to Golf. Once I was unhooked from the IV, Ritta drove us towards home and we stopped for lunch. Are you ready for today’s menu? Turkey cheeseburger sans bun for me, a spinach mushroom omelette for Ritta and we shared a small side of French fries! My maiden voyage in the world of fries – and I loved them.
Gimme a Head With Hair
     This past week I’ve had expert advice from my hairstylist/friend Joan in my quest for the perfect wig. We had lots of laughs and it could have been made into a script entitled “Looking for Mrs. Goodwig.” We wound up working with a rather eccentric Argentinian wiggest {sic} in her 70s. I made three visits to her studio before making my purchase. She trimmed it in the front and added, “If you wear it and you feel you need to have it thinned out, come back any time.” No problema. Gracias. I said, “How ’bout I make an appointment once it grows a little?”
Thanks again for all of your prayers and good wishes.
 Love, Melinda

E-mail sent out after Chemo Session 4:

Dear Friends and family,
     In keeping with the season, the leaves are falling and so is my hair. It’s par for the course, I am told (although I have never come close to parring a golf course. I have, however, hit many a tennis ball that was out by a hair.)
     So with a nod to Stevie W., here’s my little ditty I’m calling “The Wig Song”:
For good times and bad times
I’ll be on your head forever more
That’s what wigs are for…
     Kenny accompanied me to today’s double whammy infusion session, meaning that I had two separate drugs dripping into me, one following the other. My blood count was very good, so we went ahead with the treatment. (That’s the protocol – check blood first and if all is groovy, the show goes on.) It took 3 1/2 hours, all in. I was told from the get go that I could experience fatigue, but that hasn’t happened yet in the 4 weeks of this madness. We shall see what this week has in store. Today was routine, but I did have a reflexology session thrown in. A combo of the reflexology and the Benadryl that was added to the drip made me drowsy and I dozed for the last part of the infusion. Kenny was sitting by my side but I wasn’t very stimulating company. (Actually I’m sure he was happy to have a little peace and quiet for awhile. It’s like when Ellen tells me I need duct tape on my mouth when I play golf.) We went out to lunch and without going into my menu this week, suffice it to say maple syrup was involved. They did not weigh me this week. I could always weigh myself on my regulation Detecto scale, but I like to see their reading at the center.
     I am back to tennis – played friendly doubles games twice this week and I will return to two leagues next week. Doubles is very doable. It’s social and you’re not hitting every shot. Last week I hit some singles with my friend Barbara, but I felt as if singles was too demanding right now. Haven’t picked up a golf club since August 28, but the driving range is calling out to me.
     Just one comment on last night’s entertainment. It was a post-debate line from a talking head on CNN.  He said something to this effect: “Watching the debate felt like it was 11:30 on a Saturday night and I was watching Alec Baldwin on SNL.”
Once again, thank you for your thoughts, prayers and friendship.
Love,
        Melinda
October 24, 2016: Shaven. I know it’s fall, but it was too much work “raking” up the falling hair, so after six days… Hi Joan.  I actually had her give me a Pixie haircut two days prior, but the long and short of it is hair, hair, everywhere. So I got a buzz cut. Don’t ask how it looks because I haven’t had the guts to look – seriously. I wear my wig when I’m out and one of three head coverings generously sent to me by Debbie Bushman when I’m at home.
October 26, 2016: Who am I kidding? I got up the nerve to peek at my bald head and I look like the picture I have of Diane and Glenn’s twin granddaughters, Kayla and Sasha before they grew hair. We could be triplets. Honestly, though, bald has never been my cup of tea- on anyone but Yul Brynner so I cover my head- even to sleep.
October 27, 2016: Chemo Update # 5 Email- Infusion Not Intrusion *
My dear friends and family,
    (*attributed to Nancy G who used this in an email to me.)
Though it was a short infusion day, this a long email, so start reading. The blood work was a-ok, so the show went on. And what a show it was (just kidding.) This week I was accompanied my friend Barbara C. who is a neighbor and tennis buddy.
    I was promptly hooked up to the IV, got my hot blanket to cover me and let the games begin – literally. Barbara had read a previous email in which I described how Ritta brought a funny golf book to “entertain” me. The pressure was now on for Barbara to figure out how she would help me to pass the time. She brought a Scrabble game with a Lazy Susan-like rotating board. Perfect. It was a fine diversion, but we kept get getting interrupted by various medical personnel that I had requested earlier. They walked in to check on me and answer my questions. First, in walked the nutritionist and all of my concerns were addressed… Back to Scrabble. Next, in walked the reflexologist who asked if she could turn down the lights. No problema. After all, it’s a relaxation therapy. She was terrific for the second week in a row… Back to Scrabble. Next, in walked the social worker. I had met her two weeks ago and at that time she had only one leg and wore a dress! Brave. Today she had two legs and wore slacks. She is really lovely and runs support groups at the Center. Kenny and I plan to attend one in November. And  finally, in walked the lady with the alligator purse…Back to Scrabble.
Scrabble Interruptus
    We were doing really well when suddenly Barbara rotated the board and toppled it, scattering the pieces all over the floor. It was near the end of my infusion anyway, so we packed in the game.
    After inquiring as to whether or not I can have an occasional drink, each of the people who stopped in told me I’d have to ask my oncologist. I put in a call to her and just as I arrived home, a member  of her team called me to say, “I don’t know why not – but just an occasional drink. Not every day.” I’ll take it! Tired of being a teetotaler for the past five weeks, I will indulge in either a wine or a vodka on Saturday night.
    I know some of you are interested in today’s post-chemo lunch menu. We went to Bagel Boss and had a delicious bagel with smoked salmon spread.
Back to the Beloved Tennis Bubble
    I’m thrilled to report that I’ve returned to tennis – doubles only for now. Played two sets on Monday and a match on Wednesday. I’m looking forward to seeing some of you at the Friday league.
Hairless in East Norwich
    Being the lump of vanity that I am, I don my wig in public at all times. In the house I wear one of two head coverings and when I looked in the mirror last night, I saw Dopey from the Seven Dwarves.
Chemo Update #6: Wine-Boggling

 My dear friends and family,

    Let me begin by apologizing to my hairstylist friend Joan, who says she was “highly offended” when she read last week that my “hair” never looked this good.
    But truth be told, I have been getting compliments all week. On Halloween, my new next door neighbor escorted her kids trick or treating and when she saw me on the driveway, she exclaimed, “Wow, you look great. Fall must really agree with you.” I thanked her without sharing anything. She should only know this really is a costume. Then the next day, the cashier at Rite Aid said, “Oh, your hair looks so nice. Did you get it cut?” And, of course, my tennis friends…
    Kenny drove me over to the center this morning so that he could sit in on the appointment I had with my doctor prior to the infusion. All is groovy. I gained two pounds (although I hate that they insist on weighing me with shoes on, jewelry and clothes. My personal routine is to go on the scale first thing in the morning, naked without even a necklace on – before I even brush my teeth so the rinsing water isn’t even in my system. I know I’m nuts.) But hey, they know what they’re doing and they allow two pounds for the paraphernalia.
    After complimenting me on my hair (sorry ad nauseum, Joan) the oncologist said, “You’re doing fine. Your readings are good. Eat what you want.” That was after I had some questions about sugar intake. I really don’t overdo sugar, but I did have some concerns. Kit Kats, here I come! (I lost my loving feeling for dark chocolate, the “healthy” choice- ha ha ha.) On the way out of the wing where my doctor’s appointment was located, I spotted a witch’s cauldron of candy and I grabbed a Kit Kat. I even broke my rule of not eating chocolate before noon.
    After the appointment, it was hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work Kenny goes…Thank you, honey, for being there.
    Changing of the guard: Accompanying me to today’s session of the wide, wide wonderful world of chemo was my good friend Sharon C. (also a golf and tennis buddy.) She took her cue from previous emails to find some means to entertain me, and so she brought Boggle, Eno and a deck of cards. I chose Boggle since I used to play it. Of course, just as we were in the middle of the third round, in walks my new BFF, the reflexologist. This was her third consecutive weekly visit. Sharon quipped that she could use a pedicure but was told, “No, that’s not a service I offer.” Did that really merit a response? I don’t think so.
    So, we broke for reflexology (it sounds like a bad bumper sticker: “I brake for reflexology.”) and I groggily resumed it later.
    Although Boggle’s generally a quiet game, it gets noisy when you shake up the cubes – sort of like a Martini. But as loud as Boggle was, nothing beats the guy from the cubicle across from us. He was sprawled out in a chair, snoring his head off. His wife, hooked up to an IV, was forced to wake him up, to which he complained, “Whaaaat? It’s not as if I’m in a comfortable chair!” And to think he’s her designated driver!
    After my chemo session ended, Sharon drove me home and we stopped for some tuna sandwiches. We were both hungry by 2:30.
    Last Saturday night I had a nice glass of Chianti when we went out for diner with Emily and Susan to celebrate Susan’s birthday. It was a really nice evening. The doctor said today I can drink wine and vodka with a splash of grapefruit juice – in moderation, of course.
    Another nice gesture was made last week from my friend Bobby’s twin sister Leslie. She sent me a coloring book and pencils with a great message in the card: “I hope you don’t have time to color.”
Well thankfully, I sure don’t!
Thanks again for keeping me in your thoughts and prayers.
 Love, Melinda
Chemo Update # 7- Double Dripping
My dear friends and family,
    Today’s session involved the double drip (2 bags of chemo drugs) for what is scheduled as one of my “long sessions.” Kenny drove me to the center and waited with me until Diane arrived. Diane is our friend whom we consider family – and vice versa. It took her 2 1/2 hours to drive down to meet us. (Now that’s a friend – or is it family?) Once she arrived, Kenny went off to work ’cause as Springsteen croons, “It’s the working, the working, the working life.” But have no fear ’cause my Loverboy is “working for the weekend.”
    Diane and I had a great visit. We talked non-stop for the three hours we were there. No need for any games as there was so much to discuss – from the election upset (%$&*) to her son Keith’s upcoming wedding to Paula, to the recent visit with her adorable kids: Corinne, Lail, and 2 year-old twins, Sasha and Kayla.
    Of course, before I was hooked up with the IV drip, my blood work had to be checked. We’ve been keeping an eye on the to-be-expected depletion of white blood cells due to the chemo drugs for past 6 weeks. Surprisingly, they are low but not as low as they were last week. Go figure. All good once again and the drip goes on…
                                Patient Observations
    While waiting to be called in for my infusion this morning, I couldn’t help but notice a woman sitting nearby who was wheezing and sighing with every breath. Poor thing. She managed to wrench a sandwich out of her satchel, making weird sounds all the way. When I got called into the inner sanctum for my infusion, guess who was in the next cubicle? I heard her; no need for a visual. A few minutes later, she wheeled by with her walker on her way to the bathroom. She said to the nurse, “I may as well say goodbye now,” to which Kenny said  to me, “Is she planning to jump in?” I cracked up.
    Diane arrived soon after. She was really impressed with the way the center was run – nice amenities and gentle, caring treatment. I got my warm blanket but no reflexology today. The reflexologist was too busy to fit me  in, but I will call ahead next week.
    On the way home we stopped at Messina Market and I’m happy to report I can eat with the best of them. My appetite is as good as ever- if not better.
                                Physical Activities
    This brings me to a favorite pastime of mine: running. Several thoughtful friends called me this past weekend to say they were thinking of me on NYC Marathon Day. I thanked them. I was thinking of me too. The only one I knew running the race this year was Sharon Chernoff’s daughter. It was her first. Go, Michelle!
    Besides walking practically every day since my August 29 surgery, I’ve been trying to get back to running. I hadn’t been ready, but look out! Walking is effortless, but running has been my life since 1985 and that is precisely the reason I want to get back to it. This sounds pathetic (to me) but, as of this week, I can run 1/4 mile without stopping. I go to the track, walk and run a little. By the end of three miles, I can run once around non-stop. If I stretch out my distance to four miles, I run another 1/4 mile lap. Now to string them together.
    Since I returned to my tennis doubles leagues two weeks ago, I’ve won 3 out of 5 matches. I play on Wednesdays and Fridays with hours of chemo sandwiched in on Thursdays. I’m just so happy to be playing and seeing my friends on the courts..
    My friend Mary S. writes in a score each week: Melinda: 40, Chemo: 0
7 treatments down with 11 weeks to go. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. They do not go unappreciated, I assure you.
Love, Melinda
     I’m finally looking forward to speaking with an ovarian cancer survivor.  She’s the ex-wife of our good friend in L.A. When he heard what was going on with me back in August, he offered to have me speak to her. We used to be very friendly, but I wasn’t ready. As you know from reading my posts, I do not do research (as per  doctors’ orders right from the start),  am not interested in statistics, and I take my prompts from my experienced medical team. I also find it painful to be told to speak to this one  or that because “she had ovarian cancer.” Well. guess what? No one’s had ovarian cancer – they’ve all had cervical or uterine. I do not want to minimize anybody’s life-changing bouts with cancer, but  since my diagnosis, I’ve had the need wanted to be able to speak to an ovarian cancer survivor and until today, I’ve been out  of luck. Someday I may be ready to talk to everyone who has a story, but certainly not at this moment amid my chemo therapy treatments.
     When our West Coast friends were still married, we partied it up with them in L.A. , Club Med and New York when they visited. Kenny and I have fond memories of her. I hear she  is looking forward to my call this weekend as well.
Chemo Update # 8: Single Infusion, Double Therapy
To my dear friends and family,
    Today my friend Ellen K accompanied me to the wide, wide world of chemotherapy. This reminds me of  “Better Living Through Chemistry,” the old advertising slogan for DuPont. Ellen is a former tennis friend who lives in my neighborhood. My neighborhood is like the Nick Bollitieri Tennis Academy – for seniors.
    Ellen and I were called in, I was ushered to my cubicle, and met the two R.N.’s  assigned to me as we awaited the results of this week’s blood work. Once it came in, I was told the Neutrophil # (white blood cell count) continues to drop, but my oncologist determined I was good to go again. Whew! I didn’t want to be all dressed up with no place to go.
    Ellen and I talked about books, book club recommendations and assorted other topics. When I was being hooked up to the IV, I noticed she was trying to meditate, but to no avail. As usual, too many interruptions.The social worker stopped in today and she remembered that Kenny and I signed up for a support group meeting next week. This is very different for me but we’ll give it a shot.
   A young man stopped into my cubicle (not sure of his title) to go over my new schedule of treatments for December and January. We went  over each date, but he was taking a very long time to figure it out. He was apologetic as he finally printed it out. While this was going on, I noticed Ellen meditating. With all the chatter, I’m surprised she was able to get a breath in edgewise, but she’s a psychotherapist and very focused. After the guy left, she did mention that he looked like he was working on his Master’s thesis for all the time he took.
  Well, finally this past weekend, the promised “fatigue” kicked in. I rested on Saturday but still went out for a 45 minute walk. Still tired on Sunday, but found some time to walk on the trail to the beach at Sagamore Hill with Kenny. The trail spills out into Cold Spring Harbor and it was beautiful. When it comes to being tired, all I can think of is Madeline Kahn in “Blazing Saddles.”
                                            I’m tired,
                                Tired of playing the game
                                    Ain’t it a crying shame
                    I’m so tired God dammit I’m exhausted.
    Tennis is tough, especially the long rallies, but with a little help from Gatorade and a PB & J sandwich at the changeovers, I’m doing fine. So far, I’ve won 4 matches and lost 3. So I’m not tired of playing the game.
    With a compromised immune system, I am advised to steer clear of crowds. That takes care of my participating in the massive Million Woman March on Washington on January 21, the day after the Inauguration. At this juncture, I’m not allowed to be at a gathering of 10 or more, so 999,999 other people is out of the question. I will still have another week of these chemo treatments at that point.
Thanks for reading and caring.
 Love,
  Melinda
 Friday, November 18- Played another match with Marie, my doubles partner par excellence. We were on clay this week and won handily.  I took my Gatorade and PB & J regimen during the match and wasn’t tired (except during long rallies.) Afterwards I went to lunch with 3 of my singles league friends. Great camaraderie and lots to talk about. I would have had a Kirin Light since it was an Asian fusion restaurant (everything was delicious, by the way) but Mary had to return to work after lunch and that would be an issue if she drank at lunch. Next time.
Chemo Update # 9- Hold MY Hand and We’re Halfway There

My dear friends and friendly family,

Today marked chemotherapy session # 9. I would have preferred it to be love potion # 9, but hey, you can’t have everything. It is a significant milestone and as “West Side Story’s” Tony and Maria so passionately sang, “Hold my hand and we’re HALFWAY THERE

Hold my hand and I’ll take you there

Somehow, Someday, Somewhere.”

This musical is very dear to our hearts since Kenny played Tony, singing skillfully and dancing nimbly in a high school production (so I hear- I didn’t know him then) and I taught “Romeo and Juliet” followed by “West Side Story” at least 50 times. Who ever thought I’d be married to Tony? Te adoro Anton.

Today Kenny drove me to the center as he wanted to be there for the appointment with my oncologist. Although, as to be expected, I am anemic and my white cell count is very low, she was impressed with my strength and overall well-being. I told her I get fatigued but I do rest accordingly (when I’m falling on my face.) No, seriously, I am taking good care of myself. I gained a couple of pounds (with clothes on – gimme a break!) and I told her my appetite is outrageous. That’s good for the remaining 9 treatments. Numbers talk and while we were waiting for today’s blood count, we discussed options in case she decided my immune system couldn’t tolerate the single drip today.

Once the doc’s appt. ended, there to accompany me for the infusion was my good friend and tennis buddy Sylvia, aka Sylrena as in Williams. Bet you didn’t know I am known as Meltina Navratilehrlich – only on a very good day, might I add.

Finally today’s blood count came in and I was given 2 options: 1) go home and come back next week, giving the white blood cells a chance to build up or 2) have the infusion today and return on Friday for an injection of Neupogen, a common regimen for chemo patients. I was given the requisite documents on this injection and called Kenny to discuss. My decision was to get the shot. The R.N. and doc are confident that by next Thursday, the count should have increased. Lin-Manuel Miranda would be proud that “I am not throwing away my shot!”

Sylvia brought along a card game called Phase 10, taught it to me and we played it once the IV was hooked up. The time flew by and we didn’t even have a chance to finish one game. She too was impressed with the level of care at the Monter Center. The reflexologist was not on site today so she no longer qualifies as my new BFF. I haven’t seen her in 3 weeks, but then again, thankfully without any signs of neuropathy, I don’t really need her. Perhaps someday there’ll be a time for us…somewhere, someday…(all right, enough already!)

No tennis for me this week. The leagues are suspended for the holiday. Happy Thanksgiving and I send my love to all of you.

Melinda

Chemo Update # 10- Detour/Recalculating

My dear friends,

    As Peter Noone sang with his band, Herman’s Hermits,
            No milk today, my love has gone away
The bottle stands forlorn, a symbol of the dawn
No milk today, it seems a common sight
But people passing by don’t know the reason why.
   Here’s “the reason why.” Well, it was bound to happen: my blood platelets are too depleted to have my treatment today. When I called Kenny to tell him, he started singing “No Milk Today.” All of the personnel I saw today (2 R.N.’s and a nutritionist) reiterated that this  “no drip today” is normal and to be expected. Hence, my new mantra: “This is normal, this is normal.” The white blood cell count improved from the last few weeks, thanks to the shot of Neupogen last Friday. Yes! If it weren’t for the platelets, it could have been biz as usual today. I’m still anemic and was advised to continue eating the super foods to fight it, which I happen to really love. Seven grain bread, tomatoes, seafood, raisins, hard-boiled eggs, spinach, spinach pie, peanut butter and nuts, particularly pistachios! What could be bad?
   Today my super, devoted sister Emily left her home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at 7:30 a.m. She managed to beat the traffic and beat us there! She had left extra early (I told her she could arrive by 10 even though my appointment was at 9) but she’s been on the money throughout. Since Em was already there, Kenny left and it was hi ho, hi ho for him.
    I feel very well and strong, but I do get tired when walking up a flight of stairs and during a long tennis rally. Played a match yesterday and did very well. One game in which my friend Lisa was serving went to 15 deuces! Now that’s good competition. Since all of this nonsense started and I rejoined my tennis leagues, I find it necessary to routinely sit down during changeovers (after 2 games) for a hit of Gatorade and a bite of my PB & J sandwich. I was talking to Lisa and Andi, the opposing team, and I was apologetic about disrupting the rhythm of the game by sitting down. Andi looked at my partner Sherry, who was madly texting and really wasting too much time at every changeover and said, “Are you kidding? She’s on her fucking phone!” We all had a good laugh.
    My friend Ellen R. saw me yesterday and said, “Your skin is so smooth! Not a wrinkle.” I thanked her and told her what I really do on Thursdays is go for a spa treatment.
    My instructions before I left the center this morning were to listen to my body, continue doing what I’m doing, but if I feel tired, respect what my body is telling me and cut back. No problem. I get it. There is nothing I can do (barring a blood transfusion – seriously) to increase the platelet count. With a week off from the toxic drip, they should regenerate themselves.
    I am disappointed, don’t get me wrong, but Emily drove me home and we made lemonade out of a lemon. We stopped for a late breakfast and called our cousin Jackie who lives nearby. She met us to schmooze for an hour. Then it was hi ho, hi  ho for Emily, the Broadway music copyist. She hardly is a nine to fiver, so that works for her.
    So what did I learn today, boys and girls? I learned that I cannot pinpoint when this 18 week regimen will end, as it’s already extended one week. This is normal and I’m okay with it. I will restez calme and carry on.
Love,
Melinda
My glass of red, red wine, makes me feel so fine…

 

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Is a Graphic a “Novel?”

Welcome to the world of graphic novels and young adult (YA) lit. I never knew James Patterson has a whole series of young adult novels, but there they were on the desks in an 8th grade English class. I noticed a few of the kids had graphic novels that they were reading during the 20 minute “Independent Reading” segment. Before I could even get my question out, a boy defended himself, “Our teacher lets us read them.” I’m old school where graphic novels are equated with (God forbid) comic books. Anyway, an adorable boy was stumped about how to express the mood that was created in his book. He said it was “kind of like when you eat a Tic Tac and it has a lot of flavor at first, but then it wears off.” Hopefully he can find some textual details to support this great imagery. This Tic Tac Queen never thought of that one.

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Sub Stories

Melinda Ehrlich

April 5 at 7:30pm ·

In a World History class the kids were working on Document Based Questions (DBQ) about Gorbachev and glasnost. I was circulating around the room when a hand went up.
Me: Do you need some help?
Girl: No, but my friend really likes your nails.
OMG! Flashback to my Maxwell days where hair and nails ruled.

********

“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!” Wow! When was the last time I taught “Romeo and Juliet!” It had to be around the Millennium since I didn’t teach freshmen for a few years before I retired in ’05. But I’ll tell ya, it’s like getting back on a bike. You never forget. The kids have a quiz tomorrow and reviewing the 6 scenes of Act II with them felt so natural. The best part is that I may “exeunt” today and need not be thither on the morrow.

Talk about spacing out! A class was taking a practice Living Environment Regents exam (better known to us as Bio.) The real deal is scheduled for next week. Fifteen minutes in, I noticed a girl totally immersed in splitting the ends of her hair. I went over to remind her to start her test and she looked up and thanked me. The kicker is I can relate to this behavior. True confession.

Here’s a very heartening story. There is a young man with whom I have had a less than warm relationship whenever I’ve substituted in his classes. In fact, he was such a hostile presence one day that I “wrote him up.” (OMG! He hated me even more after that.) Nothing too serious; he’s just a senior who’s had senioritis ALL year. Today I covered a self-contained special ed. class for 3 periods and who shows up to have one of the school aides in the room sign his yearbook? You guessed it. We ignored each other and I allowed him to get his book signed. But while he was waiting, I couldn’t help but notice how he fraternized with the 8 developmentally delayed kids in the class. He was high-fiving, even hugging a couple of them and they all knew him. I went over and said, “Joe (not his real name), I’m seeing a whole other side to you right now and it’s really nice.” He smiled (at me – wow!) and said, “This is the field I’m going into.” He’s planning to minor in special education in college. That’s all.

Covering science classes today when a young lady walks in with a full head of purple hair. “Aren’t you the teacher who wrote the book?” she asked. Flattered that she remembered, I said, “Yes, but did you have purple hair the last time I saw you?”
“No, it was green,” she answered matter of factly.
ROY G BIV lives.

 

 

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It’s Greek To Us

One day last week I covered a math program – Common Core mathematics, which confuses the issue in a new and improved way. I never saw more baffled students as they left their math class and went on to their next subject. I know because I’ve talked to them. I sat in on a geometry lesson (an Inclusion class) in which the teacher was introducing pre-trig. concepts. She appeared to be a good teacher – well-prepared and familiar with the subject at hand. She presented well. She incorporated the good old SOHCAHTOA formula for finding tangent, sine and cosine. I got those concepts, but not with the method that was being scrawled all over the Smart board. My deepest sympathy to the struggling students. Thankfully, many of them have a math review class in their schedules. Just don’t ask me to help; Common Core is Greek to me: Sigma, delta and theta.

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Take Off Your Crown and Spit Out Your Gum

Covering a great English program today. Honors, A.P. English and Creative Writing. What could be bad – and how can one teacher be so lucky to have this program? (And with a program like this, why is she absent?) Meeting an 11th grade Honors class in the computer lab, I assisted with “memoirs,” really one-page autobiographical essays. They had been previously written and edited and had to be printed and ready to be submitted to a contest tomorrow. Semicolons, or a lack thereof, posed a problem in every paper I looked at. They just didn’t use them, but who did in high school? When I was teaching writing, I always made it a point to teach usage and punctuation, even when it was out of favor in the dumbing down of America’s curricula. Oh well, these kids will survive. Their stories were otherwise nicely written. The A.P. English class was reading about Nietzsche’s theory of the Ubermensch. They actually sat quietly all period and concentrated on this. Their homework assignment was to read Part I of Crime and Punishment. Very lofty, but it’s Advanced Placement with the exam coming up this spring. On the flip side, the class clowns are in their glory whenever there’s a sub. In today’s Creative Wriitng class, a senior (yes, a senior!) was sporting a Burger King crown. The weird thing is, I think I was the only one who noticed it. It’s been 11 years since I walked away from the classroom and it feels nice to be back on this very limited basis. No strings attached, no emotional investment and best of all, no papers to grade.

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Relax, It’s Only Tennis

At my Friday doubles game, Marie, my partner extraordinaire, was playing very well. I was just okay. We were neck and neck with our opponents, but every time I made a stupid error I became more aggravated with myself. Marie knows me so well. She said, “Relax – it’s only tennis.” I joked, “If I’m like this with tennis, imagine me in real life.” So I heeded her advice, took a deep breath, but  lost the next two points! That was it. My intensity (aka tension) returned and we closed out the set 6-4. We looked at each other and Marie sheepishly admitted, “It’s never only tennis.”

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The Difference Between a Teacher and a Sub

Setting: The hallway on the second  floor of the local high school in which I have been substitute teaching. This period I am assigned to hall patrol in a school where the halls are dead for the most part.  There’s really nothing to patrol. I brought a book with me and would have read a few pages during the period, had it not been for the friendly fellow substitute teacher I met. I didn’t know he was a sub until we introduced ourselves. He told me that he is a retired cop with a teaching license  (wait a second – shouldn’t he be doing the patrolling?) who has been working per diem in this school for a few years. He loves it, he says, and “they know can call me as late as 7:35 in the morning (school starts at 7:50) and I can get here because, hey, I don’t have to blow dry my hair (he’s pretty bald) and I live right across the street.” All this I found out within the first five minutes of our conversation. He was walking down the hall and stopped at my post – and didn’t leave until the bell rang! I mentioned the word “golf” in the conversation and bingo! He talked golf for the rest of the period. Golfers can do that. I managed to get a few words in edgewise, but he was fired up about the birdie that eluded him. I get it. I sized him up as the type of guy who knows all the ropes at this school; hence, a good person to know.

Now here’s my point. If I were working as a regular English teacher, would I have time to schmooze for 40 minutes? Never! So as Diane Keaton liked to say in “Annie Hall,” la di da.

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Marji, Allan Ginsberg and Me

Marji & Me @ the Museum
Back in college, Marji’s dorm room was decorated with the sensuous posters of Maxfield Parrish. How do I remember that? Posters were important statements of who we were in those days. I had a “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?” poster whose slogan was ascribed to Carl Sandburg. Of course we can’t forget that black & white pop art poster of Paul Newman in a T-shirt hanging on the ceiling over my bed. (TMI?) We had good times, no doubt.
Recently the Nassau County Museum of Art mounted an exhibit of Maxfield
Parrish’s work. I contacted Marji and we made a date to see it. A docent-led tour filled in the blanks on Parrish’s technique of achieving that luminosity and the cobalt blues that he used have come to be known as “Parrish Blue.” His posters, magazine and calendar illustrations are really stunning & Marji & I are glad we reconnected for the occasion.

As for the posters that adorned our rooms, many were wavy, psychedelic abstract designs painted in Day-Glo. If you had a black light, it would glow in the dark, often providing an evening’s entertainment. We didn’t need much. Peter Max was big, as my friend Barb reminded me when she read the above post on Facebook. So was artist Milton Glaser, whose now-iconic Dylan poster was included as a bonus in the album cover  of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits in 1967. Lots of vinyl record albums included posters as bonus material and they were decorating the rooms of a whole generation of baby boomers. My roommate and I even took a trip to the Village expressly to buy posters for our room. Hendrix and Jim Morrison were prominently pinned up on walls, as were any band you can name from the Sixties. Posters of Jefferson Airplane from the Surrealistic Pillow days and Fillmore East and West concert posters were everywhere. Marijuana was still very illegal and you had to be careful about the posters you hung up. In fact, paranoia struck so deep (sic) that I removed a poster of a peace march featuring Allen Ginsberg flaunting a sign that said, “Pot is Fun.”  Getting busted for a poster would not have been fun.

The ubiquity of peace signs and anti-war messages reminded everyone that the Vietnam “conflict” was a-raging. Picasso’s famous bouquet of flowers (Fleurs et Mains) and Maxfield Parrish’s mellow, sensuous landscapes…Dorm room décor included them all.

 

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A Can o’ Worms

Oh my! That last blog opened up a can ‘o worms. All the funny stuff that happened while I was a teacher is rushing back. Stuff that was not included in my book like that overweight teacher who wore a sweat band while she was teaching. What a workout! And it was not in the gym!

I had commented on the “Wizard of Oz” poster that adorned the French classroom at the local high school in which I am currently subbing. Well,  I had forgotten to point out another – a take-off on that familiar morale boosting poster: Restez Calmes et Parlez Francais. Originally “Keep calm and carry on” was a British slogan/poster, created in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II. As I carry on calmly, I have a new ploy. Next time I face a new class, I don’t introduce myself in the mundane manner I have been doing: Hello, my name is Mrs. Ehrlich and I taught English in New York City for  over 30 years.” Bor-ing! My new line is,”Hi, I am not a sub; I am here to gather material for my next book.” Let’s see how this is received…

Ah, to be in a suburban English classroom filled with lots of book shelves and class sets of the books you plan to teach for the term at your fingertips (instead of trudging down the hall or even to a different floor to count out books and pray that there are enough. I refer to NYC.) I saw neatly shelved copies of “The Crucible,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Macbeth,” “A Separate Peace, “The Odyssey,” “The Namesake,” and “Sophie’s World,” a new one for me, but billed as “a page-turning novel that is also an exploration of the great philosophical concepts of Western thought.” Good stuff. In today’s subbing assignment, the classes were reading Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” and “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” After meeting these classes, I think those last two books may be a stretch, but one never knows. It all depends  upon the teacher and how ambitious he or she is.

Kids are kids and they are intent on seeing what they can get away with once they get wind of a sub in the room, but look out, ’cause I’ve got “skills” from years of classroom management. I could easily wing it, but thankfully the teachers leave detailed plans for every class – even enough photocopies for every student. There seems to be a nice camaraderie amongst the teachers who share the rooms and everyone I’ve met has been helpful. I had to laugh when I saw a young teacher writing an “Aim” and a “Do Now” on the whiteboard. I noticed the Aim began with “To read Chapter One and discover the main characters.” I told her in New York City, that structure went  out the window 20 years ago. Instead, it would have to be written in the form of a question: What have we discovered about the characters we met in Chapter One?” Such nonsense. She agreed.

We acted out the screenplay of “A Few Good Men” – expletives and all – in one class and those who read parts were really good! In any other class, a kid who used such language would be written up, but not here. They could “handle the truth.” Now I have to see the movie again.  Another class took a quiz and once it was handed in, they were instructed to read a chapter from the Chabon novel, which segued into talking amongst themselves. Since there were only a few minutes left, and being the talker that I am, I jumped right in. Then the bell rang. School’s out till next week…

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Pimples, Pimples Everywhere

Now that golf season is just about over (who can complain when it extended well into December – in New York!), it’s time to go indoors for a little something different. So I interviewed at a local high school to work as a sub two days a week. Ha ha, a sub, you laugh. But it’s a very civilized little school with polite kids, a courteous, well-dressed (no jeans) staff and four minutes from my house.

Impressions

Day 1: I haven’t seen this many pimples since I retired ten years ago.

Spent one period on hall patrol (they seem to assign regular teachers this period of R & R) and in 40 minutes, only two Ugg-clad students shuffled by my post – and both had cameras for the yearbook. What happened to the stragglers and the cutters I was so used to seeing in the city? They don’t exist here.

During the first period, which runs from 7:50 a.m. to roughly 8:35, the halls were alive with the sound of music – not piped in, but band practice around the bend. (The school layout is square-shaped.) On my first morning I was instructed on how to take attendance on the computer and I had to do very little in most classes whose teachers had left detailed lessons for the kids to complete. (I did come prepared with a couple of my own emergency poetry lesson just in case. ) And get this: In 5 class periods that I covered, only 2 kids were absent! I don’t want to ever hear a teacher in this school district complain how hellish the teaching profession is. They are truly sheltered and can be considered blessed, in some circles. Of course, I thrived on the daily challenges thrust upon me for 33 years in the NYC public school system. It made for great material – and in retrospect, something to be proud of. This is not to say the teachers aren’t teaching here; they most certainly are.

A few kids even thanked me as they exited the room at the end of the period. Were they thrilled that they had a sub or did they thank me for providing them with some entertainment? I read the French classes an excerpt from my book, Take Off Your Hat and Spit Out Your Gum – A Teacher’s Memoir. I carry a copy to school since it’s about high school and for the French classes, I read a section entitled, “The Only Thing To Fear is the French Teacher Herself.” The French teacher who was absent has a beautifully decorated classroom, adorned with knickknacks and souvenirs from France and even a magazine rack stocked with French magazines and comics for the students to read. My favorite poster was one of Dorothy that said, “Toto, je dois le sentiment que nous ne sommes pas plus au Kansas.”

Let’s see what the New Year brings in the wonderful world of substitute teaching. All I know is it feels great to leave the building without a care in the world about having to come back the next day.

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