Saturday, February 28, 2009

Thyroid Cancer

After an interesting few months (years really), Robb was diagnosed with thyroid cancer this week. Specifically, with papillary carcinoma. The good news is that if you're going to have cancer, this is the kind you want. The treatment is fairly straight-forward and recovery rates are phenomenal. The bad news is that it's cancer and cancer sucks.

About 10 years ago Robb was admitted to the hospital for a severe lymph node infection. At that time they told him to keep an eye on his thyroid, as it was fairly large. Since then he's had occasional blood tests, but everything has come back normal in his hormones. In November Robb went to see the Dr. because he had been having breathing problems and dizzy spells. They did a battery of tests, EKGs, blood tests, etc. They also looked at his thyroid. Again, the blood tests came back normal, but they were concerned with the size of his thyroid. So several other tests were started. They did an ultrasound and found very large nodules. Then they did a fine-needle biopsy, which came back as abnormal. However, they still weren't sure if it was malignant. And since it was so large and affecting his breathing (probably because it was encroaching on his esophagus), they decided to take out half of his thyroid. Also, they would test the part they take out for malignancy. They would avoid taking out all of the thyroid until they could tell if it was malignant or not. That's because once the entire thyroid is gone, you have to be on medication for the rest of your life. So I guess the idea is to wait and make sure the thyroid needs to be removed, before actually doing it.

So the scheduled surgery was on Monday. I took Monday and Tuesday off of work and we went to the hospital in Seattle early. The surgery went fairly well. He survived the sedation and was kept in the hospital overnight. He's still on sick leave, but feels much better. His throat hurts, but feels better each day. He's scheduled to go back to work on Tuesday.
The surgeon told us that they took out a 5 centimeter tumor that was almost completely calcified. That is HUGE. A decent sized nodule is 1 centimeter. A big nodule is 4 centimeters. So 5 is a big problem. (Once we found out he had a growth on his thyroid, Robb and I could see it and feel it from the outside.) The fact that it was so large was concerning and pointed to cancer. The fact that it was calcified was also a concern. So, coming out of surgery we knew that the chances of it being benign weren't good. We finally got the pathology report on Thursday, papillary carcinoma.

We're not really concerned about the cancer aspect. It sucks. But again, this is a cancer that is beatable. It's everything else that goes along with the cancer. Another surgery will have to be scheduled to take out the rest of the thyroid. Then about 4-6 weeks after that Robb will have a one-time radiation treatment. (That's kinda freaky. He will be isolated in the hospital for 24 hours so he doesn't contaminate anyone. Then, when he's released , he will have to have limited contact with me for a few days.) Then he has to be on thyroid medication and monitored for the rest of his life. Robb only gets like 5 sick days a year and he's used almost all of them for this first surgery. So he may lose out on money if he has to take time off. My sister's wedding in Florida is in March, so we have to try and figure out if surgery can be scheduled around this. And it's just stressful trying to figure out the side effects that we can expect in the future.

Robb's still recovering from surgery, but he's doing well. He has an appointment on Monday and then we'll know when the next surgery will be scheduled. So, we're doing okay. One day and step at a time.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tacoma: Food, Proctor, and History

Robb and I finally took a day last weekend to be tourists in Tacoma. Tacoma's backend literally bumps up against Federal Way's backend, but the only time we had spent in Tacoma involved work or hospital visits. (Oh, and that time when we visited the zoo.) So, last weekend, we decided to stop being Seattle snobs and see what Tacoma had to offer.

Of course, like most of the reasons for our adventures, the reason for this visit involved food. We get a subscription to the magazine Seattle Metropolitan which discusses all things Seattle and tends to have reviews of restaurants, shows, etc. It's rare that the Seattle magazine will discuss a Tacoma restaurant, but apparently this authentic Mexican restaurant was so tasty, that Seattlites could not be denied. So we headed to Vuelve a La Vida to check it out. This restaurant was definitely authentic (no chips and salsa, but plenty of weird meats like marrow and tongue), and very tasty. We tried a fish cerviche to start, which was amazing. My burrito was pretty good. And Robb had three soft tacos, each with a different meat: pork, goat, and marrow. Robb's trying to eat 30 new foods before he turns 30, so when he saw marrow on the menu, he felt compelled to try it. He thought it was okay and tasted exactly like what you think marrow will taste like. All I know is that I tried a bite and I have to say that I don't care for marrow. After paying a very reasonable bill, we headed out. We'll definitely be stopping there again.

After lunch we headed to the tiny Proctor neighborhood. We'd heard nice things about this area of town and wanted to see what it was all about. Plus, this is where the Tacoma Metropolitan Market is which we wanted a peek at. Proctor has the potential to be nice. However, on a Sunday afternoon it is basically shut down. Almost all of the stores were closed. So we quickly walked around and then left for our next destination.

Like all good Pacific Northwest towns, Tacoma honors the salmon.

Our final stop of the rainy afternoon was the Washington State History Museum in downtown Tacoma. This small museum presented displays on everything from Native American culture, to the logging business, to the Japanese interment camps during WWII. It was a nice little museum, with lots to learn and a lot of interactive displays. The building the Museum was housed in was gorgeous and was right next to the historic Union Station. Right before the Museum closed we headed upstairs to the special exhibition on Washington: Then and Now Photos. This exhibit was really neat. It showed photos of Washington landmarks taken decades ago, alongside photos of the exact same spot taken in the past few months. To see the changes were really remarkable; and at the same time, the lack of changes were really interesting as well.

The first picture is of the Museum. The second picture is of Union Station, now a courthouse.

All in all, Tacoma's not a bad place to visit. There are some other "attractions" that we still need to visit, so I'm sure you'll be hearing more about this city soon...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Running Machine

So I've mentioned my running endeavours a couple of times now. I started running regularly almost a year ago. I've slowly built up my mileage and participated in a couple of races, an 8K in Seattle and a 10K in Florida. I am a fairly slow runner, but my goal was never to be fast. I was happy with my mile average being between 10 and 11 minutes. I was happy just to not HATE running anymore and to not WALK during a race.

So what does this have to do with living in the Northwest? First, I feel that people who live up here, as a general rule, tend to be healthier and more fitness-oriented. I want to be a part of that, and now I am. Additionally, it was REALLY too hot to run in Florida. I hated the humidity. Sure, it's cold here occasionally, but the mild weather here makes it much easier for me to keep up with a running routine.

In order to keep up with my running during the winter months, I decided that I should try something new. In December I joined a local running group. We meet every Thursday night for a run and then hang out to eat and drink beer in a local sports bar. I was nervous to join the group because I knew they run a little faster than I generally go. However, I also know that running with other people is the best way to get faster. I approached my first run with a little trepidation, but I kept up with the slowest member of the group and ran 4.2 miles in a record speed. And I just keep getting faster every week. I now can run 4.2 miles, averaging an 8:17 mile. The group members are fantastic and are really good at pushing me and encouraging me.

And I didn't stop with my Thursday night running group. I wanted to up my mileage and I was having a hard time motivating myself, so I joined a lunchtime running group at work too! I've been running at lunch 2-3 times a week for awhile now. I can get in a 30 minute run and shower, which allows me more time in the evenings to do my own thing. I've come across a running group occasionally on my solo runs, and they invited me to join them. So at least once a week, I join the work group for a run that is generally 35-45 minutes. This also challenges me. This group also moves a little faster than my normal pace and they go on trailruns. I had never done trailrunning before, because even though the trails are close to work, I felt uncomfortable running in the woods by myself. So this group introduced me to the trails. Let me tell you, trailrunning is hard! Running on the street is fairly easy; trailrunning requires more muscle engagement in order to balance and not trip on the uneven terrain or get attacked by tree branches.

So now, no matter what happens, I always run at least twice a week. Generally I supplement these runs by running on my own 2 more times a week. I'm trying to build up to 5 times a week total. I'd like to get my mileage up to 20-25 miles a week. This past week I definitely achieved that goal because of an awesome long run. On Saturday my local running group held a little fun run for its members, the Million-Inch-Run. They created an approximately 16 mile course with some water stations. I knew that I wouldn't go that far, but the course was an out-and-back, meaning I could turn around at anytime and go back. The farthest I had ever run was a 6.2 mile race on Thanksgiving. I figured I would shoot for a 7 or 8 mile run as a challenge. Well, I didn't make that goal; I exceeded it beyond my wildest expectations. I ran 10 miles without stopping. So last week I hit my 20 mile goal. Now I just need to keep it up! The good thing is that now I have tons of people encouraging me and helping me achieve my goals.

(Picture is of me after I got home from my first 10-miler. I look exhausted. I spent the rest of the day on the couch. But I quickly recovered and feel ready for a run again!)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Balanchine's Jewels: A Ballet Lesson

My Christmas present in 2007 from Robb was the promise to take me to any ballet I wanted to. It was important to me to choose a ballet that I hadn't seen or hadn't performed in before, but it also had to be a classic ballet. So I kept checking the Pacific Northwest Ballet's website until I found the perfect show, which took over a year! So February 1 (also Superbowl Sunday), we headed to Balanchine's Jewels.
I was impressed with the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Their home is McGraw Hall at the Seattle Center, right next to the Space Needle. McGraw Hall was really lovely and the lobby was beautiful with an amazing, whimsical sculpture hanging down. I also really appreciated the bar available for intermissions. Before the ballet there was a 30 minute free lecture to discuss the ballet, George Balanchine, and answer any questions the audience had. And if the Superbowl hadn't already started, we would have stayed after the ballet for the Q&A with one of the dancers. Apparently they do this for every ballet, except Nutcracker. I think it's a real nice touch and a great way for people to learn more about ballet.
Balanchine is a famous choreographer,with the bulk of his work in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. In 1967 he created Jewels. Jewels is a full-length, abstract (meaning no story) ballet in three acts: Emeralds, Rubies, and Diamonds. Each act represents a different style of ballet. Emeralds represents the romantic French ballet of the 18th century. Rubies was an American-stylized ballet, with a more jazzy or chorus line feel. And Diamonds was a stunning representation of Russian classical ballet; when you think of ballet, this is what you think of. It was really fascinating to see the different styles of music, costumes, and dance styles. I had a great time and I don't think Robb was too bored.

After the ballet we headed to a bar so we could watch the rest of the Superbowl. We walked in right after the 2nd quarter started, so we didn't miss too much. We enjoyed a few beers, some nachos, and watched a decent game. Football and ballet: all in all, a good day.