Nadir

My oncologist used the word “Nadir” to describe the point I’m at right now, which sounds more poetic, and a bit more scary, when said with a Czech accent.  Hell, LIFE is better when said with a Czech accent…

The process I’m going through is very similar to what we experience when Gerry had his Stem Cell Transplant in 2007.  For a period of time, his body was built up with blood transfusions, antibiotics, platelets, and then he was left to let all of that goodness pump him up.

THEN they came back at him with an extremely high dose chemo, although his infusions were just over 3 days.  They basically took a baseball bat to his immune system, trying to keep him as strong and as pain-free as possible during the chemo

My own chemo took place over 5 days, 1 day off/ 1 day on, so it waa 3 full days of the chemo, but divided up to make it a bit easier to deal with.

In my case, it wasn’t until about 5 days after my last chemo, or Day 10, that I began to feel REALLY terrible.  Days 7-9 were pretty low, but Day 10 was hellish.  I’ve been unable to eat simply because I cannot stand to smell food, so I’ve been getting my calories from the Kirkland protein milkshakes, which seems to be working well.  I can keep them down, and they fill me up enough that I don’t wake up hungry.

Recently I’ve been adding cut up apples a few times a day, which is so comforting.  I love Apples.  I can also keep them by my bed, cut up and ready to eat, to snack on when I wake up.

Today’s experiment is a roast beef sandwich that Andy’s bringing.  I’m hoping the smell is not too strong, and that I can get a good bit of the sandwich down!

I could use the energy boost of a good roast beef sandwich; I’m SERIOUSLY exhausted (but better than I was yesterday.) The exhaustion is very, very difficult to deal with.  The Physical Therapy folks would like me to get up and walk around a bit each day, and that’s a valid goal, but the energy involved in managing a walker and my IV pole can be absolutely nuts.  I took a short walk yesterday, and was proud of myself, but once I got back to the room I crawled into bed and did NOT move from position I landed in for over 6 hours.  Just me, clutching the covers, waiting for a bit more energy.

Monday I’ll be getting a Bone Marrow Biopsy in the OR so they can sedate me (I’m nothing but trouble…) and I am crossing my fingers that whatever positive numbers they’re looking for in my marrow will be bright and shiny and perfect!

The goal we’re working toward is a Bone Marrow Transplant, which is what Gerry had, although I haven’t talked about it at length with any of the oncologists.  They — wisely — adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude so we’re not putting the cart before the horse.

Well, speaking of horses, my lunch is here and I’m ready to strap on the feed bag.  Wish me luck as I attempt to have a roast beef sandwich!  Thank goodness for Andy!!

 

I Have Achieved Exercise Bike!

PT

The past two days I’ve felt a bit under the weather for PT, but today I was feeling much better (odd, since I got my final infusion of the bright purple Vyxeos last night) so a different PT fellow walked me down to the gym (a workout in itself, at the END of the hallway.  Once there, joining another patient with leukemia who was on the treadmill, I was allowed on the bike and did about the equivalent of a round-the-block ride.  Amazing.

That was it for me.  Back to the walker, back to the room.  My goal is to keep my heart rate below 122 while I do this, nice to have goals.  And to do a tiny bit more each day if I’m able.  I’m not going to push myself more than I feel is good.

The attitude toward PT here is much more realistic and nicer than at St. John’s.  There I felt that from the moment the PT’s walked into my room I was a disappointment, never walking far enough, etc.  It was sort of one-size-fits-all, or it felt that way, but this feels a bit more tailored to me.  And we all know that something tailored is much more flattering!

KNITTING

More knitting today, and I have to write up my Sellers Disclosure for my house.  I’m so happy that it’s moving apace, and SO grateful to Cami, Ken, Andy and Natasha for working together to get the final few things done at the house so it can go on the market.  You will never realize the burden you’ve taken off of my mind!

UPDATES

One of the really nice things about U of M Med Center is the update they give me every few days of my condition.  It’s so helpful to see how my caregivers are viewing me, and I see hints in there as to what they’re hoping to accomplish in the near and far future.

think I’ve noticed where they’re discussing a bone barrow transplant in late March, but it’s in med-speak so I have to discuss it with someone who knows.  Having a date assigned seems odd and scary, I remember how long the lead up to Gerry’s was (we were preparing at the Mayo from June to Sept, when he got the actual transplant on Sept 1)

VISITS

Today my Max comes home for a visit, and I get to see my Andy for the first time in several days!  Andy and Evan have been at ‘Camp Chain-Saw’, where they’ve been learning the ins and outs of some of the equipment they’ll be using this Summer for their Conservation Corp jobs.  Max is taking the bus down from Morris this evening, it lets him off on the University campus, about 20 min walk from my hospital (convenient!) and will be staying over in the pull out bed I have in my room for just such an emergency (VERY convenient!)

I cannot want to see my kids again, including Evan (not really MY kid, but he has a way of really growing on you!)  I hope Evan is doing well with all of the Americorp stuff.  In a perfect world (where’s that?) it seems as though this may be a very nice ease-into a job situation, something everyone should have experience with, a rite of passage!

I’ve asked Andy to bring a buttload of stuff (a mug, toothpaste and shampoo, different clothes) to make my room seem homier.  As of today I am OFF of the drip, although I’ll keep the PICC line for blood draws, etc.  Since I have more movement, I want to make my room seem a bit homier so I’ve asked for my “pretty quilt and sham” to come in.  I hope it makes everything seem brighter and happier!

MEALS

The food here is great!  Seriously, very good stuff!  Aside from the whole wheat pasta, which tastes like toilet paper roll, everything’s been delicious.  My favorite is the butter crust cod, so good, especially with the hash browns for breakfast!  YUM!

Sometimes, though, even the thought of just ORDERING the food is enough to make my stomach flip, and I am SO grateful to Andy for bringing me the Costco milkshakes that have kept me going during many, many periods this past year.  Good protein, low sugar, decent carbs, and a very good price.  Gerry would be proud.

Three Lovely Guests

It feels as though I’ve been in UM Hospital for a week, but it’s only been 4 days.  They’re exceptional here, and I may be most impressed with my physical therapist.  He knows how to get me to do good, steady work, and is steady with his praise.  Today he said I’d shown so much improvement since yesterday that if I do this well tomorrow I may get to walk to the gym and get on the bike!

Along wit that crazy news, I had three excellent visitors today!

LONDON

My friend London came by and brought me home made sugar cookies!  We had the loveliest chat, life and kids, and she made me feel almost normal!

London and I have been friends almost since the day I moved here, her daughter is Max’s age, and she and Todd have been very important in our lives!  I don’t see as much of them as I’d like, I miss seeing her more, but our friendship is strong and we’ve both enjoyed watching the changes in each other’s lives as we’ve grown over the years.

NATASHA

Then my exceptional Realtor, Natasha Cujedo, once again went above and beyond the call of duty; bringing me paperwork to complete and getting the contract to sell all done and dusted.  The house is being staged even as I write, it’s looking lovely, and I think we’re well on the way to getting it ON THE MARKET very soon!

We’re pricing it, oddly, at exactly what I paid for my new house.  So after $5,000 for fees and $3000 for the move, I’ll pretty much break even if it sells for asking price.  Cross your fingers.  It’s expensive to move, but this was vital, and I’m SO HAPPY that when I’m released from the hospital after my RECOVERY I’ll be returning to a new, accessible home!

Natasha has become more than an agent, she’s become a dear friend.  Her daughter goes (went?) to the same college Andy attended, we’re in the same place in our lives and have shared many experiences, good and bad, and she’s such a straight shooter.  If you need a real estate agent in the twin cities, I cannot recommend her more highly!

ROBIN

Robin has had what I’m beginning to think of as a “signature Annie year” – it’s been bad.  After falling and doing a terrible number on her shoulder, with a year of . pain, surgeries that didn’t work and immobility issues, she’s FINALLY had a surgery that’s working well, and she looked more rested and less in pain than I’ve seen her in a few years!

Unfortunately, the day she made her appointment for her surgery, it was discovered that her dear, dear husband, Jack, had a tumor in his colon.  He was in such bad shape that his hemoglobin was at 5.  After building him up a bit, he had surgery and is now undergoing 12 rounds of chemo. GO JACK!

Add to this the deaths of several dear aunts and Jack’s mom in hospice, and you have the portrait of a care giver who is at the point of being stretched too thin!  Thankfully, the cancer center where Jack’s getting his chemo is very close to their home, which makes everything easier.  Robin brought me yarn and needles, and I’m happily knitting up a Slippy Cowl to keep my fingers in the game.

I find myself wondering if this hospital allows dogs to visit.  I’m thinking probably not (I’m in a sterile ward) but I would give so much to see dear Jasper and get some puppy love!  My three wonderful guests were a great substitute, though, and I’m grateful they braved the U of M parking garage to come and see me!  Note: If you do come, there’s valet parking here, and I think they validate at the nurse’s station!!

This All Seems So Familiar…

I can’t believe I’m back. This blood cancer thing is like the NY Mob; Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!

Our story thus far: In Aug 2018 I was diagnosed with Double Hit Stage 4 Lymphoma.  It was a shock, and a fearful surprise, and we rallied our troops (you readers & friends among the most vital) and we beat it, I thought.

Fast forward to this past Sept/Oct when I began feeling very tired, more exhausted than I thought I should, and my blood work numbers were’t great.  I got my blood drawn for numbers every 3 months, visited my oncologist, and had a pet scan every 6 months.

Annie & Kathleen at “The Crack”

In January the bloodwork looked even worse, and I was worried enough myself that I offered to my oncologist to cancel the vacation I’d planned, and prepaid, for myself and Kathleen to go to Hawaii.  2018/19 sucked so bad that I felt I deserved a little joy, I’d never been to Hawaii, and I got a good deal on the trip.

Dr N, my oncologist, said I should go to Hawaii.  So I did.  I felt miserable most of the time, hardly able to walk to breakfast, but it was beautiful and I could see the ocean (and whales!) from my room.  I’m still kind of pissed about that, because looking at the numbers I feel that he should at least have requested a pet scan and bone marrow biopsy before I left – there would have been time.

When I returned I DID have those two tests, the results were terrible. I saw the bloodwork on my health providers online patient portal, and it scared me. I contacted Dr. N, and asked if he wanted to see me, “today or tomorrow?” and was messaged back by his nurse that he’d see me on the 21st of Feb, as we’d scheduled.  A full week away. At this point I couldn’t walk to the bathroom without stopping for a break on the way, I was weak and exhausted.

The next day I received a call from a different doctor at my hospital, he called me to tell me that he thought my numbers and test results indicated AML Leukemia. He asked me to get to St. Johns immediately and they’d give me a transfusion.

I was there in a half hour. Good thing I rushed [/sarcasm]

I sat in the ER for 4.5 hours, then they admitted me, still no transfusion. The next day; still no transfusion. Dr Shanks had a talk with me and told me St. John’s wasn’t the hospital for me. He transferred me to UM Hospital, and they’ve been pretty stellar in the 3 days I’ve been here.

They stared me on my chemo regime (1 day on, 1 day off for 7 days, then 21 days recovering) and are discussing a stem cell transplant after my chemo is done, if the outcome of my chemo is good.

If it’s not, then there’s probably no need to consider a stem cell transplant.

So I’m booked into this place until the end of March, not to leave the building, and rarely to leave my room.  Everyone wears a mask when they visit me, to keep me safe, and a PICC line was inserted yesterday so I can get my chemo and do the CONSTANT blood draws with as little pain on my part as possible — Huzzah!

Goodbye, Hawthorne!

I’ve been updating folks on Facebook, I’ll try to keep this blog up AND FB as much as I can.  I know folks get news on either feed, but we like what we’re most used to!

Everyone has been SO kind to me, to the family, and we’re very grateful.  Andy’s just started a new job today with Americorp / Conservation Corp (so ironic since I had to back out of my Americorp job in September when I began feeling so low!)  It’s work I think Andy will love; lots of canoeing, clearing streams and rivers, and just general convserving; it’s what she studied for at Earlham for years!

Jasper is a very patriotic doggie

We do have worries (aside from health). We’re in the middle of putting our house on the market, cross your fingers for me that we can get that wrapped up, and the house sold soon so I can pay off the mortgage I had to take out to purchase our NEW home where I can do all of my living on one story.

Another worry are the pets.  They’ve wonderful, but they need looking after because I can’t be at home, and Andy & Evan will be spending days away training for their new job.  I’ve put a DONATE button on the upper right sidebar of this blog, if you would care to toss us $15 or $50 to help us offset the boarding and pet day care fees, it would be GREATLY appreciated!

Please click on this link to donate any amount to help us cover Jasper & the kitty’s boarding fees while I’m in the hospital for AML Leukemia treatments. Thank you!

Foxie is a Cuddler

Ginger the fat cat & [still] Gerry’s #1 fan!

Max & Nitro Cat & Stash

Do I LOOK Like Jack Nicholson?

I just had one of the most annoying—yet entertaining—encounters I’ve ever had with room service.

At the where we’re staying, they offer a “Big Kahuna” burger on the menu with SPAM and lots of other stuff.  It’s $16, and aside from the beef and spam, I don’t really want anything else that’s on the burger.

On the patio menu, which I could literally PICK UP FROM OUR ROOM WINDOW (if I had 6’ arms…) they offer a double cheeseburger for $12.  Still insanely expensive, but I can literally eat half for lunch and half for dinner, that’s how big it is.

I called room service to see if I could order the double cheese burger and they told me I can’t order it, but I COULD order the Big Kahuna burger and they’d take off the spam.

So I asked,”Could I order the Big Kahuna Burger and you take everything off but the beef and add another patty of beef and two pieces of cheese and charge me $12?

Pause while they went to talk to the manager.

Yes, they can do that.  But there’s a $5 delivery charge.

Kathleen is ON THE FLOOR LAUGHING.  She wants me to call down and order toast next.

Here are some views of our hotel, which is about all I’ve seen, because I’m feeble and sitting out by the pool for 4 hours today wiped me out.  But I’ll take it!

The hotel, and a shady place to sit!

Another beautiful redhead was at the pool.

Pigeons joined us for breakfast!

Poolside wire crochet.

Packed and Ready!

Last January I was at a very low point.

I was finishing up my chemo, which was great, but I’d lost my dear Gerry, and even though my treatments for Lymphoma were almost finished, I felt terrible.  Walking to the door was a problem, and I was relegated to a wheelchair for most of my adventures out of the house.

A year later I’m walking better, I’m actually getting out and running errands, although when I need to do shopping I STILL rely on the wheelchair/carts at Cub and Costco to get me around.  Standing, or walking, more than 10-15 minutes knocks me out and there are new pains in my back that I can’t quite reconcile.

I decided last January that I needed something to look forward to.  A trip, but one to a place where I hadn’t been, and would be excellent for someone who might not be able to move as well as I’d like.  I also wanted to take my business partner, Kathleen, because she has stepped up to the plate SO spectacularly that I felt she deserved an amazing trip, too.

A bit of searching and I found a relatively inexpensive trip to Kauai for the both of us, I booked, it, and have been paying it off for the last year.  I also, wisely, got trip insurance in case something came up to prevent us from going.

Well, something has come up.  But I’m not letting it stop me.  I’ll talk in greater detail when I return, but suffice to say I may be revisiting my journey of 2018.  With that in mind, I pondered long and hard about the wisdom of a trip right now.  But my oncology nurse said, “Go.  Have a wonderful time.  It will all be waiting for you when you get back!”

And I’ve decided to use that as my mantra!

I’m packed, we leave at 6:30 tomorrow morning (at the airport at 5:15!) and I’m filled with butterflies!  Crochet work is packed for the long flights, and I’m as prepared as I can be.  I’ve also arranged for wheelchairs at the airport because — well — some things remain the same…

Hawaii, here we come!!

A Year Out

This month marks a year since I completed my chemo last January, and in some ways I feel I’ve just been marking time.

When I look at my own recovery this past year, it seems SO slow that at times I felt that I was moving backwards.  That’s why it’s so good to have friends who only see me every 3 or 6 months, they can give me a much better assessment of how well I’m doing.

We moved this week.  We found a house that allows me to do all of my living on one floor (LR, Kitchen, BR, Bathroom all on ground level!) with a floor for Andy (attic, charming and cozy) and a floor for Max (basement, not as cozy, but he has a space heater…)  The bonus is that the laundry and storage rooms in the basement will lend themselves nicely to dyeing.  This also means that we’ll have to build some kind of wall dividing Max’s space from the dyeing space, but we have until Max graduates in June.

And, every three months I’ve been going in for my checkup with my oncologist, every 6 months I get a pet scan to make sure the Lymphoma’s not returning.  So far, so good – until today.  The numbers were a bit wacky, so I have to go back on Thursday for some more decisive tests.  I’m expecting all to be well, it’s really the only way to focus my mind and not go a bit crazy waiting for test results.

The weirdest thing is that this has been a year without Gerry.

For the first half of the year, I’m not sure I was even fully aware that Gerry was gone.  Yes, I KNEW that he had died in October, but I was spending so much of my energy, mental and physical, on just coming back from Lymphoma and sepsis that I compartmentalized his loss and worked hard not to dwell on it.

Sometime in July it really hit me hard, though, and I started attending a Grief and Loss group at the Twin Cities Gilda’s Club.  I only wish they had one closer than Wayzata, but it’s a lovely group and I look forward to it every week.

I miss Gerry, and I do feel a bit lonesome sometimes, but I’m very fortunate to have amazing kids who have promised to be with me for a few more years, and now we have a lovely house that I can actually GET AROUND IN, and where I can live a more normal life than I could in our old house.  And, mentally, I think it was probably time for a fresh start.

So I just keep on keeping on.  Walking is still very difficult, my legs are still numb from toes to waist and I don’t feel much positive movement there.  Next week my business partner Kathleen and I will be traveling to Hawaii for a long-awaited and much deserved break (she, because she’s run the company single handed; me, because I have survived!!) Boy, that feels weird, saying I’ll be leaving for Hawaii next week.  I hope I come back with a bit of sun to see me through the rest of the Minnesota winter!

Advice, From Within & From Outside

I’m not going to lie, the past 10 days have been rough. It’s probably because I overdid it a bit at Thanksgiving, but I was OUT OF COMMISSION, as in flat-on-my-back in bed, for a week.
We had the MOST amazing Thanksgiving in Wisconsin with Evan’s parents, so much good food and games, movies and fun!  We were snowed in for an extra day — and ENJOYED it — so that says a lot about our wonderful weekend!
 
The past few days I’ve been able to get up and go downstairs once or twice a day, but I paid for those excursions with incredibly nausea, headaches. Must have been the change in elevation (joke…)
 
At any rate, I’m more myself today, I actually made yogurt, and if all goes well I’ll try to make it to Gilda’s Club tomorrow.
 
It’s hard to swallow that this is still my reality 11 months after finishing my chemo. I definitely have ups and downs in my recovery, and when I overdo or force myself past my limitations, I end up paying for it afterward.
 
That’s the hardest thing to accept. I can’t push myself out of this, I have to just let recovery happen in it’s own time.
 
There’s an unhelpful voice in my head that tells me, “Other folks have ended their chemo and they’re back to their regular lives!” That same voice tells me that I’m being lazy, not really applying myself, not working hard enough to get better.
 
That voice is often joined by the voices of folks who would like to point me in a specific direction for my recovery. That’s been happening a lot this week in private emails (folks are worried because I’ve been on radio silence)

ADVICE ON GIVING [Medical] ADVICE
So, with that in mind, I’d like to offer my OWN advice for what is not terribly helpful when you’re speaking/writing to someone battling a serious disease*
 
• Please do not feel you need to comment with some new herb or mud-bath regime that a sick friend MUST do. Often those kind of “helpful” suggestions simply make one feel even worse, as though they, themselves, are definitely to blame for a slow recovery.
 
• If you know a person, and you’re friends in real life, and you’re speaking from personal experience, suggestions are easier to take.
 
• If you’re just passing along something you ‘heard’ from another friend or from the media, please keep it to yourself.
 
• Please don’t insist that your sick friend MUST try something because it’s GUARANTEED to work. Nothing is guaranteed.
 
• Please don’t try to guilt someone with an illness if they don’t do exactly what you feel they should do (a friend is now a former friend after a series of messages explaining that eating meat is DEFINITELY what caused my cancer…)
 
I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the love and concern that folks have shown me! Sometimes, though, the medical-friend advice can be a little hard to take when I’m at a low point in my recovery. Thank you for understanding!
 
*I’m in remission, my last scans have been good. But I still consider myself battling cancer as my exhaustion, back and hip pain, and numb legs are due to the Lymphoma and the chemo.

Living Through Reality

My post yesterday was about gratitude, and also joy.

Today my post is about the days when I can’t seem to dig deep enough to find the gratitude I know is within me.  When I’m in so much pain, my mind is so muddled and my heart is so sore that I don’t know if I can — or if I want to — make it through another day.

In 2017 the USA had the highest suicide rate in 28 years.  It’s a fraught time for many of us, socially and politically.  Even folks who are agnostic politically can’t help but feel the blowback of their more passionate friends.

About 8 years ago I had a brush with suicide while on a drug, Lyrica, which caused suicidal thoughts and actions.  I haven’t seen that drug advertised much lately, I wonder if the I-have-no-pain-but-I-want-to-die issue is the reason.

After such a rough year, and especially after the loss of a life partner, it’s not unusual for folks to begin growing weary of life, fearing a lonely future, seeking an escape.  I’m not in that group; my two young-adult kids are reason enough for me to want to hang around and annoy help them through the next phase of their lives.  As I wrote yesterday, my life is pretty great, for what it is.

I do feel alone quite often, but that’s a function of my recovery.  It’s hard to get out and socialize; moving is painful, I get so tired, and being in a crowd (even in a restaurant) seems to unsettle me in a new way.  I don’t know if it’s because for 18 months I’ve essentially lived most of my life in a hospital room, a bedroom or my living room, but my Living with Loss group at Gilda’s Club (6-10 people) is about as large a group of people that I feel comfortable interacting with.

I see a therapist regularly, I interact with folks online through social media and my blog, and I have friends drop by on a fairly regular basis.  I am very lucky.

There are folks, though, who don’t have the resources I have.  They’re alone, they’re ill, but they can’t find their way to a path toward human connection.  You might know someone like this; a relative, a neighbor, a friend’s mom, who is living a life with little human interaction.

Once I was on a bus in NYC on my way to an appointment, and we passed a church bulletin board which read, “WE ARE ALL ONE”

Coming home a few hours later I saw that one of the letters had fallen off, and now the sign read, effectively, “WE ARE AL ONE”

If you have the resources and opportunity to help someone in your life, do it.  Help them figure out how to receive and send email, set them up with a protected facebook account so you can check in with them, ask them if you can take them out for coffee every now and then.

If there’s no one in your life like that, check out organizations like the ones below which can provide a structure to allow you to help someone whose life may —quite literally— depend on a kind word or a visit.  As the recipient of SO much love this past year, I can tell you what a difference it makes when you feel that folks really care how your day is, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed with life.

The list below is from the Prefer Home Website.  There may be other organizations in your area that aren’t listed here, but it’s a starting point.  Ironically, just before I was diagnosed I had applied to deliver food through Meals On Wheels here in St. Paul.  Of course, with the cancer and my continuing difficulties walking, this isn’t possible anymore.

The journey from active life participant to person needing help and company can be very short, I’m proof of that.  Pay a bit of love forward and reach out to help someone who may be feeling a tiny bit neglected emotionally in your community.

We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but it never hurts to help tip the scales of Karma when possible!

10 Charities For Older Persons

1. Honor Flight Network: flights for veterans

As a thank you to those who served, The Honor Flight Network takes veterans on free trips to Washington, D.C. Currently, they focus on escorting World War II veterans to the memorial created for them. The program also takes veterans who are terminally ill.

2. Meals on Wheels Association of America: nutritious meals

Local programs provide congregate meals (at places like senior centers) or deliver meals to homes. Some programs also distribute food for homebound seniors’ pets.

3. Independent Transportation Network: rides

A network of affiliates provides what the charity calls “door-to-door, arm-through-arm service” to people who are generally 60 and older. Adult children can even volunteer as drivers and store up transportation credits for their parents. Gift certificates are also available. The rides aren’t free, but there is a program to help low-income seniors pay for them.

4. SeniorNet: computer training

Volunteers teach seniors to use computers. Classes include “Internet and E-mail” and ”Buying and Selling on eBay.” There are also discounts on computer-related products.

5. Second Wind Dreams: dream granting

This charity grants dreams for people living in long-term care communities, such as nursing homes, assisted living communities and hospice facilities. The dreams range from simple ones like a dress for church to big ones like reuniting with family members or swimming with dolphins. Donors can choose the dreams they want to sponsor.

6. Oasis: active living

Oasis helps people 50 and older keep their minds, bodies and social lives active through a variety of programs. Some are intergenerational, such as the tutoring program in which volunteers help kids learn to read.

7. Alzheimer’s Association: support and education

If you have a disease, there’s probably a charity for it. The Alzheimer’s Association is one example. This large charity is involved in advocacy and research support. But it also offers a number of programs that directly help patients and families, including a helpline, support groups, education programs, and safety services for people who wander. The association also helps people find clinical trials.

8. Alzheimer’s Foundation of America: support and education

Not to be left out when talking about Alzheimer’s charities, this one offers a hotline, educational workshops and free memory screenings. It also provides services for people with dementia, such as intellectual stimulation programs and adult day services, along with respite care to give their caregivers a break.

9. The Pets for the Elderly Foundation: pet adoption

Pets can help combat loneliness, so this charity helps people 60 and older pay pet-adoption fees at participating shelters in 29 states.

10. Socks for Seniors: holiday gifts

This is a fun one for the holidays. Elderly people who are living alone, living in nursing homes or homeless get a visit from a cheerful volunteer and a new pair of socks—often bright, festive ones. The point is to let them know they’re not forgotten during what can be a depressing time of year.

To find more charities, or to evaluate these, here are three helpful websites: Charity Navigator, GuideStar and Independent Charities of America. And to check for benefits you or an elderly loved one may be eligible for, visit BenefitsCheckUp.org.

Grateful Every Day

To say this has been the hardest, perhaps worst, year of my life is an incontestable truth.

I’m still dealing with the pain and exhaustion of my disease, and with that comes fear (of relapse, future mobility, everything else!)

But in the middle of the discomfort and anxiety is a profound sense of gratitude.  Some days I feel it more than others, every day I struggle to make it stronger, but it’s always there.

No, I don’t have Gerry, but I HAD him.  I was so lucky to have 25 years with him.

No, I’m not perfectly healthy, but I GOT THROUGH Lymphoma and Severe Sepsis, and lived.

I’m certainly not rich, but I have all that I need, and a bit more.

Every day I wake up to a full pantry, hot running water, entertainment, and so much love.  I am, in all seriousness, one of the most fortunate folks I know.

And this weekend I’m even luckier, still!

Andy has been dating Evan for 9 months.  Evan’s dad and I are friends from college (crazy coincidence), his mom is a delight, and we’ve had lunch a few times, so we decided to do Thanksgiving all together in Wisconsin at a cabin deep in the woods this year.

We’re buckling down because a ‘once-in-a-decade’ storm is supposed to be coming, although at this point it’s six hours late (and it will probably be angrier for waiting…)  One friend is writing, his wife is making Swedish pancakes and the kids are organizing a board game for later in the day.

The dogs (3!) are generally pretty happy with each other, doing doggie things, and the lake is 5 different colors of grey.  I’m about to put the fire on with a flick of the wrist, and I contend that I’m the luckiest person in the world today.