Friday, September 22, 2017

I'm with the big dog

Years ago, Kent had a dog named Max. Max was part basset hound, part cocker spaniel, sized more like the Cocker Spaniel, but with the barrel chest of the basset hound. He was super sweet but not the brightest dog around. We knew he was getting old, so we got a second dog, Molly, thinking that we’d have two dogs for a while. Molly was mostly German shepherd and pretty big, about 75 pounds.

About a week after we’d gotten her, we took both dogs on a walk. Oh you should have seen Max—he practically strutted with his tail way up in the air, so pleased to be out with Molly. If he could have talked, we were sure he’d have been bragging to everyone: “Look at me, I’m walking with the big dog! Isn’t this the coolest?”

Anyway, last weekend when my sis was in town, she ran with me. Now you have to know this about Amy: she’s always been a hero of mine in the way she’s stayed active, climbed crazy high mountains, gone ice climbing, run marathons. She’s just amazing. I don’t know anyone else who could go run a marathon at the last second when a friend asked her to.

So there we were out running last Saturday and all I can think is “I’m with the big dog! Look at me getting to run with her, isn’t this the coolest??” I was so proud and so happy to be out there running with her.

Before we ran

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Please get checked

TLDR: I had two places on my back biopsied in August during my annual screening with my dermatologist. One was diagnosed as melanoma. I don’t fit the typical profile, which goes to show even if you don’t either, you should get a skin cancer check every year. Also, while I am generally very private about my health, if my story motivates even one person to start getting checked, then it’s worth feeling a little uncomfortable about sharing this outside my immediate family.

Ever had a sunburn?

Ever?

Or do you have moles?

Then you should get an annual skin cancer screening by a dermatologist.

I’ve been getting screened every year since we moved back from Boston. Well actually, I got screened for the first time at 34 when one of my absolute favorite college professors, one who had a huge positive impact on me, died from melanoma. Because of his illness, I read up on melanoma and learned that your risk goes up for every sunburn you’ve had (it’s cumulative and there are no backsies on that kind of skin damage); you also have a higher risk if you have blue eyes, fair skin, fair hair and burn easily. I don’t fit that last bit at all, so I’ll be honest and tell you I truly never thought I would end up with melanoma. I figured it would be my red-headed husband who only burns, not me. Clearly I was wrong.

When I had my first ever scan at 34, everything looked fine. To be honest, I put the screenings on a back burner and didn’t bother again until 2013 when we moved back to Kansas. Since then, I’ve had something biopsied every single year:
  • 2013—a mole on my hip (no issues)
  • 2014—a spot near my collar bone (no issues)
  • 2015—a spot on my left arm (no issues)
  • 2016—a spot on the same arm but higher up (no issues)
On August 9 this year, my dermatologist biopsied two moles on my back. One scrape was about the size of a dime, and the other was more like a quarter. Both were above my bra line and in toward my spine. On August 17, my doctor called and let me know that the bigger biopsy came back as melanoma, stage 0 in situ. I was scheduled for outpatient surgery on August 24.

I’m lucky. Because I get these screens every year, my dermatologist is confident the change occurred in the last 12 months. And because we caught it early, he did what’s called a wide local excision and took a football shaped section of skin, then stitched me up. The incision is nearly three inches long, mostly parallel to my spine and sort of on my spine. I think this incision is going to end up as less of a scar than the original scrape biopsy was. If you're curious, the reason the excision is football shaped is so that when the edges are pulled together, the incision lies flat rather than puckering.

Last Friday, I got the pathology report; the margins of the removed tissue came back clear. This is good news and means my doctor got everything plus a bit to spare. You want clean margins because this particular cancer can be truly nasty when it grows down below the skin level. That’s when it often turns into the fast spreading killer kind of cancer, and that’s what happened to my professor.

Going forward, I will have screenings every six months for the next five years. If I don’t develop any more melanoma, then I will go back to annual screenings. But I’m realistic—since my body has done this once, I’ve got an increased risk (8 to 15 times according to this site and also my dermatologist) that it will happen again. As he pointed out, now we know my body will grow melanoma. Catching them really early will be the key to me continuing to survive this nasty cancer.

Please get checked. If I weren’t getting checked, then my diagnosis wouldn’t be nearly so positive.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Two more flowering things

And I don't know what these are either. They're both in the front yard.



And whatever the flowering bush/vine is that I posted last time? We saw it everywhere as we drove to Tulsa and back this weekend. I mean, that stuff was on the tops of trees, covering fences, bushes, you name it and that stuff was growing and flowering over it. I guess it's pretty invasive, whatever it is. It's still pretty, though.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Isn't this pretty?

I have no idea what it is, but I love the flowers on it this time of year.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Critters

Do you remember Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom? I used to watch that show when I was a kid, and loved it. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling like I could make my own wild kingdom show.

Leawood as nature preserve?
I live in an inner suburb—inside the I-435 loop, with medium-size yards and fairly busy streets. But you wouldn’t know that by all the wild life I see on my runs. You’d think I was running in the exurbs or in a natural preserve or something.

I wrote about encountering several raccoons on a run, and I’ve mentioned the crazy numbers of bunnies, squirrels and birds I see. I thought I'd also written about seeing a coyote a couple of times last year (pretty sure it was the same animal, and not a second, different one), but it looks like I only mentioned it on Facebook. That was pretty cool, to be honest.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve run past a gigantic owl on the ground in someone’s yard—it immediately took off and I could not believe how big the wing span was. I hear another owl at a different point on my daily runs, and after having seen the one that took off, I sure hope I never encounter the hooting one up close and personal.

Then there’s the opossum I saw early one Sunday morning shambling from someone’s yard and across the street (I silently urged it to hurry up). That same week, I came pretty close to yet another raccoon that immediately turned tail and ran into the nearest storm drain.

And one morning, as I left the house I saw what I thought was a small leaf twirling in the breeze. Only there was no breeze and it wasn’t a leaf. It was a mouse turning counter clockwise circles as though it could not stop. I have no idea what that was about, and I was pretty glad it was gone when I finished my run.

This morning, I turned on our porch light and stepped out the front door only to encounter an opossum on the front port about three feet from me. I stopped, it stopped, blinked, turned around and hurried off the porch and into our front yard, then started climbing the pine tree at the end of our front porch.

I like critters, I just wish some of these wouldn't get quite so close.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Windows

When we lost power July 22, of course we also had no AC. We’ve got curtains and/or blinds on the bedroom windows, but by design have never put any in the living room. Our fireplace is flanked by floor to ceiling windows that look out into our (no thanks to us) gorgeous back yard. We love that view and also like the views from the patio door, and the other two more typical windows in that room.

Except we get full sun on the east window and a lot of sun through our west-facing patio door. For those 53 hours, that solar heat was awful. About midday on the first day, I tacked up some beach towels and fabric to block the sun. My make-shift solution worked, even if it was ugly as all get out.

Two weeks ago, we picked up some curtains at IKEA (do we ever shop anywhere else for home goods? No, no we don’t), but only for the patio door and the east window. We’d thought we could leave the other, normal window uncovered but honestly it looked like we forgot something.

Last weekend, we went back and got another pair of curtains, and two matching pillows for the couch. Those pillows hadn’t been there the previous week—and I’m not sure if you can see in this photo, but the flowers and stuff are also embroidered. I think that’s why Wally adores the pillow.

Today, I decided that our kitchen window, the one over our sink, also looked bare. But as with our flanking windows, I didn’t want to obscure the view into the backyard. So I made a simple valance, and now everything looks planned, cohesive and complete.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

I’m not doing that again

I prefer a very firm feather pillow—I’m a side sleeper so I want my neck in a straight line. I don’t care for foam or those weird memory foam pillow, I’m Team Feather all the way.

Unfortunately, I appear to be in the minority in terms of how firm I like my pillow. I’ve found exactly one pillow that was firm enough from the start; I bought it in Boston in 2008 and could not believe how perfect it was. Over the years, of course, it compressed and got flatter, so I sewed a seam about four inches in from the end so that the feathers got mooshed together more. Finally, though, I admitted defeat and gave the pillow to Kent (who likes firmer pillows but not as firm as I do).

I’ve looked ever since, tried a few that didn't work and ended up as pillows in the guest room. I finally ended up with IKEA’s version of a firm down pillow. It wasn’t firm enough, so I started with the sewn seam trick, and it did OK.

But I’ve always wondered if I could take feathers from one pillow and overstuff another one to get the pillow I really want.

Today, I gave it a try.

If you've ever worked with feathers, I'm sure you are already shaking your head and saying "oh no." I haven't worked with down or feathers before, and I’m confident I probably never will again. That down went everywhere! I’d started the pillow stuffing process in the house but pretty quickly moved to the garage because feathers and down were flying everywhere!

I got it done (I didn't want to have made that giant mess for nothing), and I've got a firmer pillow, although I haven’t tried sleeping with it yet. I sure hope this worked, although I’m not sure what I’ll do next time.