Monday, August 27, 2007


Earlier this week, we took the dogs for a walk on the Matanuska Glacier. This is rather like stepping onto a planet with an atmosphere remarkably like Earth. There's ice and silt and rock underfoot, intense blue crevasses, and no sense of proportion at all. The picture I took would probably make as much sense upside down.
When Rocky goes to the glacier, he pretends he is the little dog Stickeen from Muir's "Travels in Alaska". He leaps heroically over the abyss.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

grave quilts

Friends are visiting from Massachusets, so I am out seeing the sites. One of my favorites is the cemetary in Eklutna Village. Most of the graves are covered with Athabaskan "spirit houses", painted bright colors every spring. (Jim says it reminds him of a minerature golf course.)
Other graves are covered with blankets or quilts weighed down with rocks. We need a quilt anthropologist here! It looks like the top of the quilt disintegrates first, then the batting, then the bottom. Here is one example, with just a fragment of fabric left. I suspect, from the size of the fabric scrap, that the quilt was placed on the grave pieced side down.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

no one cares what you had for lunch

But this is no ordinary lunch.
It was a working trip to Nome, and we were presented with an Innupiat Eskimo style banquet. Dried whitefish, salmon strips,
caribou sausages, muktuk, muktuk salad, seal oil, and walrus. I'm not sure the raw string bean is traditional, but doesn't it look nice? The paper plates and the saltines are sort-of-traditional. Pilot bread is more traditional than saltines. Both are used to soak up more oil. There was cooked salmon pineapple teriaki for a second course and blueberry buckle (not agootuk?) for dessert.
Now I fell in love with halibut, salmon, and crab the moment I entered Alaska. I have been thrilled with all preparations of moose and caribou. Seal meat is delicious, although my uneducated palate cannot distinguish it from walrus. I have often been told, "You eat good for a gussuck". ("Gussuck" means not an Alaska Native and more specifically, not Eskimo. It is said to be a corruption of "cossak". It is not a fighting word, there doesn't seem to be any malice in it, and we often refer to ourselves this way.)
I have been ambivalent about muktuk (slices of raw whale blubber and skin) and seal oil. Not disgusting, but the mouth feel was unpleasant and there seemed to be too much chewing involved,
Today, I slid happily over that barrier of strangeness. The seal oil was so lovely I poured it over my fingers as well as my whitefish. I licked if off my fingers and soaked it up with crackers thinking it was better than fine olive oil. The aftertaste in my mouth and the smell on my fingers were wonderful.
And muktuk! The contrast in color and texture between the skin and the blubber were thrilling, The texture was perfect, firm but yielding. I loved the smell, I licked my fingers, I treasured the soft feel of the fat in my mouth.
I am starting to think about leaving Alaska for a variety of reasons. I think of myself a few years from now, in a double wide in an active adult community in Florida, or a studio apartment in the Bronx. Craving muktuk.

Monday, August 20, 2007


The new disc in October, the new tour about the same time. With the whole E Street Band. Rock this time.

How lucky can we be! I remember waiting for Darkness, just hoping for one more album and one more tour. All the nights at Meadowlands when I wondered if there would ever be another show.

Now we are old and the music just keeps coming. This part of the long walk home might be the best.

Thanks Bruce.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Cancer has made me a more obsessive and reclusive person

I love Mirian Engelberg's breast cancer comic book. One of my favorite parts is how she began doing TV Guide crossword puzzles obsessively during treatment. There is one frame with her and the TV Guide and the thought balloon "Must avoid all conscious thought". That's how I still feel.

I should be back in my real life by now. The bird cage must be cleaned, the frog needs a mouse to eat, the garden needs work, the new quilt should be pinned and basted, the bathrooms need to be cleaned, I have guests arriving Monday night and no food in the house. So I'm doing this stupid jigsaw puzzle. Its all I want to do.

If I'd been reading Betty Rollin's new book, "Here's the Bright Side" instead of "Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person" I'd be worried about this behavior.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Here's the bright side ???????

(to view permalink, cut and paste this in your browser)

Here we are - Jane Brody at the New York Times writing about how people are so much better after a cancer diagnosis. Maybe I didn't have enough cancer or enough suffering. I'm just tired and irritable and my nipple itches.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


There's a family reunion in upstate New York this weekend. Rumor has it there may be 90 people - I would know all of them, except for the three new babies I have not met yet. This is the first time my generation - the cousins - have organized an event. It gives me hope that the family will not disappear when my aunts and uncles do. My aunts and sister have promised to tell me all about it. I feel terrible about missing the party, although I have spent a lot of time with these folks in the last year.

I spent all my vacation days and all my money and most of my energy on this damn breast cancer stuff.

I was trying to whine this morning when Linda convinced me to come with her and the dogs on a hike to Arctic Valley. We drove to 3,000 feet and the trail rose another 1,000 feet in about a mile. This was a bit much for me, but I almost made it.

The dogs had an even better time than we had. Sookie led the way with her little rear end wriggling, and looking back over her shoulder at us every few paces. Rocky was bad. He took off along a rabbit trail. Linda eventually lured him back with a biscuit and some water, and managed to leash him before he took off on another hunt. Cosmo was smiling from ear to ear.

A beautiful day in Alaska. But the family gathering reminds me that the Alaska idyll should end soon. I want to go home.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

still thinking about DCIS

This graph (Lancet 1999) compares recurrence rates for DCIS after partial masectomy.

This is really big business. Some treatment creep is occurring. The standard of care is now moving towards breast conserving surgery plus radation plus anti-estrogen therapy. The breast cancer message boards are full of women who have opted for all of that (or bilateral masectomy) for small, low grade DCIS. Any risk, any effort to avoid a recurrence. Of course as treatment gets more elaborate and painful and dangerous, the motivation to not do it again gets stronger!

Would research on DCIS divert attention from breast cancer that actually kills women? But its not like there is someone who actually makes decisions about health care resources...

Friday, August 3, 2007

Goodbye Tommy Makem

I must have seen him perform 20 times - in the Makem and Clancy years of his life, when I lived in New Hampshire as Tommy did. I'm ashamed to say that I have hung out in circles where Tommy was not considered authentic enough. I'm actually too young to remember the Clancy Brothers, and I never had much patience with those purist. Yes, the Weavers and the Clancy Brothers brought folk music to people who were not devotees of NH"s Grammy Fish and the others who made the pc cut. But they brought me music and joy and sorrow.

There has been nothing in my life as sad and as stirring as Tommy singing "Four Green Fields". I remember Liam introducing it, explaining that many thought of it as a folksong. Tommy wrote it in NYC in 1967. I can still feel the chills up my back as I stood and bowed my head to listen. I must have stood there 20 times. I only wish I could do it again.

I will sing it alone here in Alaska in Tommy's honor, with gratitude.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

I still have questions

Rocky surveys his domain.

DCIS: 60,000 new cases a year in the US and you still can't tell me...

* What mortality and recurrence stats are at 15 years?
* How well the partial breast radiation works?
* If Arimidex decreases recurrence rates in post-menopausal women?
* If or how DCIS outcomes are different for comedonecrosis vrs non-comedonecrosis?
* My USC/VNPI index is 7 - does that really predict anything?
* What is the risk of lymphedema (given sentinel node biopsy, partial masectomy, and radiation) for me?
* Do the standard recommendations for decreasing lymphedema (no manicures! not hot tubs! gloves for all activities! don't paint the bedroom!) actually decrease rates of LE and if so, how much?

The bad attitude is increasing as I think about this - and I think about this all the time.