Sunday, July 31, 2011

Living my life

It's been too long since my last post, but I don't have anything to really share. I did see my local hematologist last week and my blood work was blissfully normal. Every single number, save for the red blood cells and platelets which were so very close to normal--I'm talking fractions here, that Dr. B. considers them normal.

Chris continues to be treated for medical issues arising from June's car accident.

I'm trying to get financial aid straightened out for the upcoming school year. I wasn't able to take enough hours last year to automatically qualify, so I must file an appeal and acquire documentation to satisfy the department as to the reason for my lighter than usual load. I think having a liver the size of a newborn and lungs full of infiltrates might qualify.

I continue to work on my independent study classes and keeping a low profile.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Excitement for the week

This past Monday, I received a paper copy of my schedule of upcoming appointments at MD Anderson. I'll be honest, I usually only skim these letters. I've become spoiled by the internet and prefer to check for my appointments through MDA's website. This time, I paid attention.

I was scheduled for a bone marrow biopsy in September. I'd just had a biopsy in June following March's strange findings. At my last visit in June, Dr. K. told me that I wouldn't need to be back until December. Having done this dance for the last 4 1/2 years, I have learned that something like this generally means that the results of your last test were questionable. It was the first thing that came to mind and it left me feeling a little disturbed.

I didn't feel like I had cancer. I certainly didn't feel like I had some strange mutated chromosome lurking deep in my marrow. I did have a t(4;11) translocation when diagnosed with leukemia. I know you can't feel something so very minuscule on its own, but you can feel the cascade of symptoms it accompanies, like leukemia.

I felt well. I felt like myself. I pushed the kernel of worry into the bag I keep next to the box in my mind that holds the really scary stuff. I sent an email to my transplant nurse asking about having a bone marrow biopsy so soon after my last one. I waited.

Cathy forwarded my message to Dr. K. I got the news yesterday: the cytogenetics from June were clean. The t(7;11) translocation found in March's biopsy was an artifact. I don't have cancer. I celebrated by going to the grocery store, because after so much time spent in isolation, feeling like a creature from another world, that's what you do. It made me happy to do something so fundamentally normal. Buying 3 types of ice cream didn't hurt either.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The other half

The last month that I was on steroids, my total weight gain ballooned to 30 pounds. I was still hitting the treadmill for 80-100 minutes a day, 5 days a week and watched every single thing I ate. I can only assume that my body's hyper-sensitivity to steroids was partly to blame. My pokey metabolism is also culpable.

I stopped taking steroids in March and for a month, I tried really hard to start losing the weight. I consistently worked on the treadmill and even started substituting low calorie, high protein shakes for lunch. To show his support, Chris even started drinking the not so yummy shakes. I managed to lose 2 pounds. He lost 8. My local oncologist assured me that once the weight started coming off, my weight loss would probably accelerate.

It didn't, so I decided to sign up for a weight loss program. I'd been dithering about doing it for weeks, but after talking to my sweet friend Wendy who was doing the program, I signed up. I'm not going to name the program since they get enough promotion, but will tell you that it's the one where you count points. Yes, that one.

I lost 3 pounds the first week. It's been 7 weeks now and my total weight loss, including the hard won 2 that I lost on my own is 14 pounds. The diet is really easy to follow and there's nothing that I can't eat so long as I balance my points. Chris is losing weight as well since he essentially eats what I've prepared.

I've been tinkering with some recipes and have come up with 2 that I'm happy to share. The first is for mac and cheese and was inspired by The Pioneer Woman's fancy macaroni. Her's is to-die-for delicious and laden with butter.

Here's my take:

Ingredients:
2 Cups uncooked wheat macaroni elbows
2 TBS butter
2 TBS all-purpose flour
1 1/4 Cups skim milk
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp nutmeg
4 ounces Kraft 2% milk shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 Cup 1% milk cottage cheese
3 strips bacon, cooked and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the macaroni according to package directions.

While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, whisk in the flour until it's completely incorporated. Pour in the milk, whisking until thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the yolk. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle some of the thickened milk mixture, about 1/4 cup, into the yolk. Once totally incorporated, add this back into the saucepan and whisk until fully blended. Stir in the salt, pepper, nutmeg, and onion powder.

Add the cheddar and cottage cheese to the saucepan and stir until the cheese has blended, about 5 to 10 minutes. For whatever perverse reason, the cottage cheese takes the longest time to break down. Be patient, it will happen. Once the sauce is smooth, stir in the chopped bacon.

Stir in the cooked and drained pasta, then pour the entire mixture into a small baking dish--I use an 8 x 10, and smooth out the top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. The recipe makes 6 to 8 servings.

As the recipe is written and divided into 6 portions, each portion is 8 points on the diet that shall not be named. It's a big serving and could easily be cut down. The recipe is really flexible and can be tailored to suit your tastes. Change the seasonings or the types of cheese. If you prefer stove-top mac and cheese, leave the egg yolk out of the recipe and skip the oven. The bacon adds a nice smokey, salty element. The cottage cheese makes the sauce incredibly creamy. It doesn't taste like diet food and passes the Chris test.

The second recipe satisfies my sweet tooth and gives me something to do with over-ripe bananas.

Banana muffins:

Ingredients:
3-4 really ripe bananas, mashed
1 egg
1/3 Cup butter, melted
1 1/2 Cup all-purpose flour
1/4 Cup plus 2 TBS packed brown sugar
1/4 Cup plus 2 TBS splenda for baking
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
dash of cinnamon


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 12 muffin pan or line with cupcake papers.

In a large bowl, beat together the banana, brown sugar, splenda, egg, and melted butter until thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes.

Add the flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda and mix until just combined. Don't over mix it or your muffins will be dense and tough.

Spoon the batter into the muffin pan and bake for 18 to 20 minutes. One muffin equals 4 points on the diet.

*I've tried this batter for banana bread. It doesn't quite work in loaf form.