Thursday, July 29, 2010

Healthy goodies for visitors

Friends and family came by regularly just after surgery.  I'm a hostess by nature, but didn't have the energy to make a big fuss. everyone gently reminded me....I was not responsible for entertaining during my recovery time.  Old habits die hard!  Janey found this great recipe and whipped up a batch of muffins, which were enjoyed by all!  I made a batch with blueberries about a week later, also great.  They are quick and easy.  My recommendation is to take a batch as a gift!  Enjoy!!

Healthy Muffins

Stir in large bowl:
  • 2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
Stir in smaller bowl:
  • 1/3 cup light-colored agave sweetener
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1 cup low-fat (1%) organic milk
  • 1 egg, beaten OR ½ ripe banana, smashed  (Great vegan alternative!)
Pre-heat over to 400 degrees.  Use non-stick muffin tin or, line pan with non-stick spray or paper liners.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients for the wet ingredients. Pour in wet ingredients and stir quickly – the batter will be lumpy and that’s OK.  Stir in fruit if desired.
Fill muffin openings 2/3 full.  Bake 18 to 25 minutes (check after 15) until golden brown

Recipe makes 12 (standard muffin tin) or 6 (Giant muffin tin)  muffins.

For fruit muffins, stir 1/3 to 1/2 cup fresh fruit into batter.  I really love fresh, organic blueberries from the farmer's market, but any fresh berries would be great.

For walnut muffins, stir 1/3 finely chopped walnuts into batter.

If you can have sugar,  home made crumb topping (think apple pie) is perfect.  Sprinkle a generous teaspoon onto each muffin before baking.

Again, if you are allowed the sugar: Manuka honey (health food store item) is a great alternative to butter.

No known recipe credit.  Thank you....wherever you are!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hospital Gown + Confidence = Oxymoron

Fifteen years in retail fashion taught me many things.  But the most important thing I learned is that when I feel like I look good, I honestly feel and "do" better.  To this day, if there is an important event - interview, meeting, presentation, date, etc., I will take the time to make sure I have the perfect outfit and all the correct accessories.  Then I only have to worry about what I'm going to say....not about how I look.  Why, you might ask, is this important to share with you???

In my opinion, going into the hospital, for any reason, is a time for making sure all of the confidence chips are stacked in your favor.  The night before my mastectomy, I laid out a cute, but comfortable outfit.  On surgery morning, I showered and got dressed.  Took time to do my hair.  No make-up, but made sure my face was clean and moisturized.  My friend picked me up promptly at 5:00AM with "wow, you look adorable!"  With my confidence boosted, I was ready for surgery!  

At 5:30AM, the pre-op nurses, put a quick and decisive end to my adorable-ness when they handed me a bluish-gray, standard-issue, one-size-fits-none, hospital gown w/unmatched robe, white compression stockings, gray slipper socks with white grippey stuff on the top AND the bottom and an over sized "hat" that most self respecting cafeteria workers would not be caught dead in!  In the span of 30 minutes, I went from confident patient, to just another patient to be operated on, and I was less than thrilled.  Now, before you start in, I can practically recite all the reasons for this change of garments, but does it really have to be that way?????

According to Rachel Zinney, the founder of Dear Johnnies, the answer is a resounding NO!  The tagline "the get better hospital gown", is true!  With a little pre-planning and some cash, I gave myself the gift of dignity and style, in a place where there is precious little of either!!  You can give yourself or someone you love, the gift of a hospital gown that is bright, stylish, improves the color in your cheeks, covers your assets AND meets the needs of your medical caregivers.  A win-win all around! 

It will probably take a little work to convince the nurses, that your hospital gown is not just any gown you brought from home to wear in the hospital - but I promise you, it is absolutely worth the effort!!  The minute I changed into my own gown, I started to feel more like Kathie and not "the patient in room 95W".  These gowns are the genuine article - open in the back as needed, but snap closed and tie in the back to protect your dignity as you walk around the floor, and have shoulder snaps to accommodate IV equipment or nursing.  Size these gowns come in a couple of sizes, including Plus for several styles.  Once my nurses were satisfied that they would not be inconvenienced, they were quick with the "oooohhhs" and "aaahhhhhs". Sprung from the hospital, I re-gifted my COCO gown to my friend Megan, an ALS patient who is in and out of the hospital....hopefully she will feel just as stylish!

Thank you Rachel for giving us confidence and dignity at a time when we feel especially vulnerable!

Props to Peter Shankman and HARO for sharing the Dear Johnnies link earlier this year!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Communication Sanity

Back in January, as I was beginning my journey with breast cancer, I quickly discovered that, one of the biggest challenges of getting sick, is that
my friends all wanted to know how I was doing, and more they could help me. I found myself fielding lots phone calls at all times of the day and night, and I felt like I was always repeating myself...."haven't we already talked about this?"  I didn't know who I'd spoken to, couldn't remember what I'd said or who I'd spoken to, and frankly, it was tiring for me.  But I clearly understood the love and concern of my friends, and their need to know what was going on, so that I didn't feel alone.  

In frustration one day, as I chatted with my friend Patti, I remember saying that "I just needed an easy way to communicate with my friends and family, you know, post it once and let them log in to see what was going on."  I've been around technology long enough that I was sure there was a solution, I just didn't know about it.  Her answer,"why don't you just set up a CaringBridge site?"  My startled response, "I've never heard of CaringBridge."  Turns out this is the best kept secret on the internet!! 

It was easy to get started.  Once the basics were in place I could start typing my thoughts into the journal section.  I can share thoughts, test results, updates and more, once.  Then friends and family can log into the site with a web browser and get the exact same information, when it's convenient for them.  Did I mention that the best part is I only have to post it once!?  My CaringBridge journal has significantly cut down on the number of phone calls, which allowed me to get the rest I needed and heal.

I still get lots of calls, but now it's to offer good wishes, fill in some of the details on what I posted and catch up on their's the best!  Since I started using Dragon Naturally Speaking, I just speak my thoughts into their journal site and it's even quicker!  The guestbook section allows anyone to leave encouraging messages, which has proved invaluable over the past few months, helping to keep my attitude positive and strong.

CaringBridge is easy to setup, easy to maintain and more importantly it easy to share the login credentials.  This was a huge help when I was in the hospital, when everyone was the most worried!   No one had the burden of answering a million phone calls to find out how I was doing!

The most time consuming part of getting started was collecting all of the e-mail addresses of friends and family and sending the URL once I had the site set up.   This part requires a bit of advance work, but it's worth the extra effort.  To the Dev team at CaringBridge, if you're would be awesome if there was a built-in tool to import an address book!! 

I use Outlook.  I used the export feature and created a master list of friends and their phone #/e-mail addresses.  From there, I created about 10 logical categories, based on a common thread (e.g. church, relatives, colleagues, belly dance, etc) and asked one friend in each group to be the point person.  I gave each point person a list of close friends associated to that group and then gave the master list to my friend Cindy.  Several friends sent out an advance notice, pointing their list members to the site early!

The best part of all this, in my opinion, happened on surgery day.  Cindy made about 15 calls and one posting to the site to start the communication tree; notifying about 450 of my friends and family members, scattered across the world, that I had made it through surgery with flying colors. It was awesome!

To get started, go to  Have fun, pass the word about this cool resource, and let me know how it's going!

Friday, July 23, 2010

School was NEVER this much fun!

I'm a student again!!!  I've returned to a learning mode, working to learn the craft of blogging.  In the past few weeks, I've read a number of blogs and have stumbled onto some great practical resources. One of them is On July 15th, Darren Rouse, the author of posted a challenge to his readers to take part in the 7 Link challenge.  The idea is to publish a post a list of seven links to posts that you and others have written that respond to the seven questions listed below. This sounded like a lot of fun.  

So, while it's a little after the fact, here is my entry for Darren's challenge:
This was a fun challenge to complete! I urge you to check out some of the posts, then head over to Darren's site to check out other entries.   If you are a fellow blogger, consider sharing your entry with me and I'll check out as many as I can.  If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment or become a subscriber. 

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Off the bench....Back in the lineup again!!

I am a huge baseball fan! And…even though they regularly break my heart, I remain true (29 years and counting) to the orange and black jerseys worn by the San Francisco Giants. My brother, an equally devoted Oakland A’s fan, and a few other friends have offered to pay for therapy! Hopefully, this bit of insight into my psyche sets a context for this post.

I’ve missed writing. I’ve been on the bench for 6 months after taking an “I found a lump” curve ball to my left breast on January 21st. Four little words that have significantly changed my strategy to playing this game called life. Turns out, I was lucky to get a “brush back” which allowed me to assess my life and make some changes, so that I have the stamina to stay in the game.  Here are just a few of the life lessons I’ve learned from baseball and my time on the bench:
  • In January, when it’s still gray and icky, my heart leaps hopefully when I can start counting the days to spring training, along with all of the sports pundits. Hope springs eternal in January – it’s a new season and this could be the year we go all the way!  Every 365 days, I get to be hopeful - to start over to reach my personal dreams.
  • There’s a lot of strategy to baseball. Pitching rotations and match-ups; hitting lineups; officiating; home or away; number of days on the road, and so much more. Same as life. Lots of things to consider when making changes, but it helps to know my team, how rested I am, am I on my home turf or on the road, what/who can I always count on?
  • It’s a team game that takes 9 players, plus a cast of back-ups. And…any one player can be the hero or the (scape)goat for any given game. I’m only as good as the people I surround myself with.
  • One game does not a season make. One has to shrug off a bad break or performance and mentally get into the next game fast. There’s never a lot of time for boo hoo-ing or second guesses. Equally important, a good performance today, does not guarantee a good performance tomorrow!
  • Each player is a specialist, but there are times when opportunity knocks and one needs to abandon specialty to get the job done.
  • 168 games makes for a long season, so players must have endurance and be resilient to make it through a full season. Health, training/preparation, attitude, support and flexibility, all play into one’s ability to make it through a long season.
  • The game is on the field! Fans and coaching makes a difference, but in the end, the coach and fans are not on the field, the players are. If it is to be….it’s up to me!
  • For a variety of reasons, players can spend a lot of time on the bench and not on the field. No one wants to be on the bench any longer than they have to! Time off is good. Too much time off is not good – at least for me!
  • From a purely biased perspective, San Francisco has the cutest little ballpark in the league, and where else but a ballpark, can you enjoy beer, friends, and the smart crack of a line drive? It’s good to remember to stop and smell the roasted peanuts!
Six months has brought many changes and insights which are great topics for a blog about meaningful giving. For now, I am ready to play ball, so I’ll see you on the field - or in this case - on this blog!!!  For all the baseball fans, what are your favorite ballpark memories? What life lessons has baseball taught you? Please comment and share your stories!!

If you are interested, my CaringBridge online journal chronicles much of my personal journey with my breast cancer diagnosis.

Photo by Backpacker.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Planning for the future includes planning for the end....

In my last post, I wrote about the tough task of planning for the end. Once we got set up with hospice, we set about the process of planning Bill’s celebration of life. Now…again, this post may be a bit uncomfortable but I hope it will inspire you to be an active participant in planning the celebration of your well lived life.

Once you are gone, it will be up to your loved ones to plan your services. I can assure you that it’s hard enough to grieve your passing without having to guess at your wishes. You will not be around to answer the myriad of questions they'll have.  Questions like: casket, cremation or other; what clothes you want to be buried in; who will carry your casket; organ donation?; what songs were meaningful to you; where should your ashes be scattered; who will give your eulogy; will there be more than one person to speak; who will write your obituary, and about a million other details.

If these questions are thought through ahead of time, a couple of things happen. First, you and your loved ones can develop a project plan (of sorts!) and tasks on the list can be delegated to friends and family members, allowing them a way to focus their energy during this time of grief. Second and more importantly, sharing the work eases the burden on the primary family members and allows everyone to feel like they helped. The event is truly a celebration and becomes “our” sendoff. It allows for a deeper sense of closure. I was pretty fortunate to have assistance from my closest girlfriends and guidance from my financial advisor Jean, a great friend and veteran planner. She gave me a wonderful worksheet/checklist, which helped guide the conversations Bill and I had. I have a copy of the document in MS WORD format. If you would like a copy, please use the comments section to request, and include your email address.

Our friends stepped up to plan Bill’s services just as carefully as any software release I’ve ever worked on! Bill was an active part of the planning. Answering questions with “talkie” and keeping us all laughing. Janey and Terri agreed to be the project managers, leaving me free to care for Bill as we got closer and closer to the end. There was a work plan, deliverables, due dates and accountability. Friends finally convinced Bill that now was the time to develop Volume II of Bill’s favorite songs. He was added to the project plan and held accountable, just like everyone else. I remember these sessions very fondly!  And the celebration was indeed memorable - exactly what Bill wanted.

Every picture tells a story. One of the very special moments during this planning time was the “audition” of the young women Bill asked to sing his favorite songs. On a beautiful, bright, Sunday afternoon, Lyndsay, Meredith and Lauren came to the house, along with our friends Connie and Eric. The girls are sisters in every sense of the word. They’ve known each other since grade school and have been singing together just as long. Their voices are truly gifts from God! They gave Bill a private concert that Connie, Eric and I were privileged to share. They sang, we cried, they laughed, we asked about college plans, they sang, we cried some more. It was a spectacular day! You can tell that Bill and the girls had fun!

Peace be the journey….

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It’s good to have a plan…

If you are a patient with a chronic or life threatening disease, to the extent you can, you need to be actively engaged in your healthcare decisions. And that’s great, as long as you have the stamina and voice to speak for yourself. So what happens when you really can’t care for yourself? Or when all of the information and decisions become overwhelming for your primary caregiver? Earlier this year, I attended a one day conference in San Francisco. The topic: learning to be a better patient, to be your own health care advocate.  Adriana Boden, a former colleague and Julia Hallisy, a Bay Area Dentist, pulled together an amazing group of patients and professionals for a day of straight talk. The event has grown into the Empowered Patient Coalition, a non-profit group created by patient advocates devoted to helping the public improve the quality and the safety of their health care.

Joanna Smith, LCSW, MPH is a professional Healthcare Advocate and the founder of Healthcare Liaison, Inc.  She is just one of the many caring people I met at the conference. What exactly is a Healthcare Advocate? “Health advocates are professionals who specialize in helping individuals navigate the healthcare maze to ensure they get the help they need, when they need it, and in the most appropriate setting. This specialized profession has grown in recent years, reflecting its recognition as an effective resource for dealing with the growing complexity of our health care system, and its value to individuals and families of all ages. There is a broad spectrum of health care advocacy firms ranging from large national organizations providing concierge services and relying heavily on telephonic consultation – to smaller local or regional firms like Healthcare Liaison that emphasize in-person assistance. The key is working with an advocate with whom you feel comfortable.”

Cleaning out some files the other day, I rediscovered Joanna’s handouts and asked if I might reprint them for my readers. I am grateful for her permission to share:
When You Don’t Know What to Do: Ten Tips to Guide You with Your Healthcare

What happens when you receive healthcare information that overwhelms you? It can be about unexpected test results or the need for surgery. It might be for you, your partner, spouse, child or parent. Maybe you heard it while you were at the doctor’s office, at work or at home; you didn’t know what to d do next, and you weren’t sure how to approach it. You want to figure things out, but how?
In a crisis, everyone needs ways to “re-group”. Here are Ten Tips that can help:
  1. Take a deep breath before you do anything – including going to the internet! There is a lot of information out there; make sure you go to reliable, impartial sources.
  2. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. It is normal to only hear bits and pieces of stressful information. You need to keep gathering information until you are sure you’ve understood it all.
  3. Bring a family member or friend with you to future medical appointments and have them take notes. What you miss hearing, they’ll remember for you.
  4. Don’t try to “go it alone.” Decide who your support system is and use it! People with the most extensive support systems manage stressful situations the best.
  5. Make sure you know the potential risks and benefits of any step you’re considering, and take all the time you need to understand them. Everything in healthcare has a possible “plus” and a possible “minus”.
  6. Look at how you’ve managed uncertainty in your life before. Some people like to make lists of what their options are and then order it by preference. It’s a good technique to help you gain control over the situation.
  7. If you’re overwhelmed by a decision to be made, break it down into smaller decisions. For example, the question of whether you want to try an experimental drug becomes “I’ll try it for “x” number of weeks and then decide if I want to continue.”
  8. Get a second opinion. Insurance companies are generally willing to have you go for a second opinion before you make a major healthcare decision.
  9. Realize that many insurance benefits have some negotiating room build into them. If you make a treatment decision and your insurer says it doesn’t cover it, ask to talk with a case manager at the insurance company about your specific situation.
  10. Make sure you feel comfortable with your healthcare provider. If not, talk with friends, co-workers and other medical professionals about referrals.

Finally, stay open to new treatment options; in the future you could make a different decision. Medical systems are complex, and constantly changing. Give yourself time to explore the options before you make a decision, and know that you can change your mind.

(© 2009 Healthcare Liaison, Inc. All Rights Reserved)

The bottom line is we must each be responsible for our own health. We must ask the questions, do the research and become active partners in all decisions regarding our healthcare. And when we can’t speak for ourselves….It’s good to have a plan B!