Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Week in Albuquerque

We just got back from a week long visit in Albuquerque and it was hot but pleasant in all other ways.

Our trip was planned to coincide with our friends' visit back to Albuquerque from their home in Paris. Our dear friends, Kit and Jean-Claude Desjacques, only travel back to New Mexico every two years so this was our one opportunity to get together while they were here in the states. We had a long leisurely breakfast visit one morning and later in the week attended a "Welcome Back" cocktail party hosted by one of their friends the last night we were in town.

Gil's sister, Genie (The Donor!), met up with us in Albuquerque for the entire week. We all enjoyed the hospitality and guest accommodations of my other dearest of friends, Terry Lee Heller, who usually hosts me by myself for "girl-time" but this time allowed the "family reunion" of Raffs to share the lodging.

We were able to see a number of people whom Gil had not seen for almost eight years. His physician colleagues and spouses. Our Jewish community friends. My past investment club women friends and their husbands. We got to the galleries in Santa Fe. We ate at The Shed and Tomasita's -- both serving authentic New Mexican food with hot and flavorful green chile smothering every dish. Such a treat.

Gil and Genie hiked through Bandelier National Monument one day.

We had planned a garden party at Terry's house (which actually did have a new garden recently installed) and spent one whole day food shopping, and prepping and cooking. Of course, ten minutes after the party started and the guests arrived, a thunderstorm came up over the mountains and chased us all inside for the remainder of the evening. But even rainstorms are welcomed in Albuquerque because this has been a very dry season for the city and state.

We had lunch with another dear friend, Elsie Berry, who helped keep our house neat and clean and cared for our kids when Gil and I were working and raising our young family in Albuquerque many years ago. I'm guessing she worked for us for 15 years while we lived in New Mexico.

Gil's one-time cardiology partners either had us to dinner at their home (Thank you, Neal and Susan) or treated us to dinner out at Season's (Thank you, Barry and Roberta) or met us at The Flying Star -- a favorite cafe -- for late afternoon coffee (Thank you, Kathy Blake).

Our plates were FULL! We were busy morning to night.

There are so many of you we did not get to contact or visit with. My apologies. Since this was Gil's first long distance trip, we had to carefully orchestrate a schedule that didn't leave him exhausted and vulnerable at the end of each day.

So we will plan a second trip and catch up with all of you we missed this time during our next visit.

Update on the kids:

Adam and Laura went to a lab-sponsored celebration over the weekend as a final congratulations party for all his years of hard work. He's finished in the lab now and has a week off (!) before starting third year medical school studies on July 6th.

Evan finished his medical boards last week -- an enormous relief -- and is coming to Michigan tomorrow for a week of rest and relaxation. He goes back to LA to start third year medical studies on July 6th, also.

Marika is back from her volunteer medical work in Panama and jumped right in to her MCAT Review Course with Kaplan and her summer school course. She's coming to Michigan for the Fourth of July weekend and will overlap with Evan's visit.

Gil got the iPad he had ordered earlier in the month and is, at this very moment, loading it up with all his apps and programs even before he unpacks his suitcase! He's addicted to the cool Apple products coming out of Cupertino. Has his iPhone 4 to replace his 3GS on order as well.

Okay. Vacation's over. Back to work!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Milford Garden Wannabe

"When I grow up, I wannabe a big, full, bountiful, blooming garden -- like Deb Peters' garden being featured on the Milford Garden Walk today," said my hopeful little garden surrounding our front porch.

"Okay," I said with a smile. "With a little love and sun and fertilizer, I think I can get you there."

Yesterday morning, when the morning light was just coming up, Gil and I headed over to (our friend) Deb's garden to photograph it at its height of display and before the throngs of garden gawkers come today to trample the grass, behold the blooms and get inspired to go home and try to get the same effect from similar planting ideas in their own gardens.

Gardeners get inspired by seeing what fellow gardeners can create -- unusual color groupings, intermingling of different heights of plants, and choosing foliage to serve as unique backgrounds for the more showy flowers.

Gil has an eye for the "detail hidden in the scene" and yesterday's photographic expedition was no exception. He found so many opportunities to capture just the right garden moment.

Yesterday's photo of leaves with morning dew above is one of my favorites.

Today is the Milford Garden Walk and includes six such gardens.

I plan to go and "trample the grass, behold the blooms and get inspired to go home and try to get the same effect from similar planting ideas in my own garden."

All things bloom in time
Given enough rain and sun
Late bloomers do, too!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

One Year Anniversary

It was exactly one year ago today that Gil was admitted to the ER at Beaumont Hospital.

Marika had just gotten home from Santa Barbara having finished her sophomore year at UCSB. She had completed a rigorous week of final exams and was ready for much needed time to catch up on sleep.

At the time, I was still taking antibiotics for a diagnosis of pneumonia which had landed me in the hospital the week before for a course of IV antibiotics.

Due to the pneumonia, we had just cancelled our trip to Santiago where Gil was going to give a talk and we were going to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. Surprisingly, at the time, Gil wasn't disappointed that we had to cancel our travel plans. "I'm really not feeling that well myself," he said.

When what we thought was a bad case of the flu worsened during the weekend, Gil's internist had him come to the ER. One look at the lab work and the diagnosis of leukemia only lacked final confirmation by a bone marrow biopsy.

That began the odyssey for the next seven weeks of diagnostic workups, identification of chromosomal defects, treatment options, insertion of a central venous line and the first of many weeks of chemotherapy, platelets and blood transfusions and total parenteral nutrition to keep...his...body...going.

A huge call-out to Dr. Zekman who directed Gil's treatment and gave hope when we were nearing despair. He directed Gil's care, called in specialists and coordinated all aspects of a very difficult situation.

Marika and I kept his spirits going in the early days. The boys and Laura arrived very early in the course of Gil's hospitalization to visit and buy the Kindle and the lightweight laptop that would keep him connected to the outside world. (He wouldn't be stepping out into the world again for seven weeks.)

Sisters Genie and Meryl came. We were all tested for donor matching potential. Genie drew the lucky number! Perfect match. She went back to California waiting to be called back when the time was right.

Childhood friend Barry Mennen came from NY to spend a weekend. Cousin Peter came from Seattle to lend support.

Fast forward. Gil came home in August for a month to get strong and regain his lost weight (all 35 pounds).

He had decided to seek the offered stem cell transplant here in Michigan at the Karmanos Cancer Center. In preparation for the transplant, he was readmitted to Beaumont for a second course of chemotherapy.

Adam came back to visit twice. Evan came. Marika left to go back to school as a Junior.

Admission to Karmanos in September was the beginning of the most hopeful of all treatments -- the final course of chemotherapy to destroy all his stem cells in preparation for the "rescue" Genie's stem cells would provide. Scary stuff.

The story, as you know, has a happy ending.

Gil is almost eight months post-transplant. He has the immune system of an eight month old baby. He is nearly off his immunosuppressive medications but it is not unusual for stem cell recipients to be on these medications for a full year. He is "looking good!"

We all learned a lot about blood cancers and neutrophils. We learned about the importance of family. About the generosity of friends. And we drew heavily on the karma points in the Raff spiritual bank.

We made good friends with fellow transplant patients who we continue to have dinners with each month celebrating our good fortune.

Thanks to each of you for your small part in Gil's recovery -- from neighbors who brought food, to friends who tended my garden, to visitors who kept up Gil's spirits, to nurses who gave great care, to colleagues at Beaumont who covered and kept things running smoothly.

With full gratitude and hope.
Knowing what it takes.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Summer: Cookout and Haircut

I guess we've officially embraced summer in Michigan. The first photo shows Gil's skills fanning the flames of the public grill in Kensington Metro Park a couple of weeks ago. The kids were here along with my mom and we had a cookout to mark the occasion.

The next photo is me just moments after I got my summer haircut. I was in the car leaving the salon and used the camera in my iPhone to snap the shot -- hence the seatbelt in the picture!

We've been busy making plans to visit our friends in Albuquerque near the end of this month. Flying is very expensive these days. There are no good "deals" to be had. We're fortunate to get free room and board with our dear friend Terry Lee while in Albuquerque. Her hospitality and accommodations are second to none.

Our longtime friend, Kit, and her husband, Jean Claude, are coming to Albuquerque from their home in Paris and will be in town the same time we are there. In fact, it's the main reason we chose to visit Albuquerque at that time. It's been ages since we've seen them. And we miss them.

Marika is in the midst of finals and will leave the day after she finishes her last exam to go to Panama for her Global Medical Brigades experience. She's been vaccinated for all the tropical diseases and is prepared for an extraordinary adventure with over 60 fellow volunteers from Santa Barbara.

The day she gets back from her 10 day travel experience, she jumps into her Kaplan Study Course for the MCAT exam (which she is scheduled to take in early September.) She'll stay in Santa Barbara during July taking a summer school class for the first UCSB summer quarter. Then she'll come to Michigan for the second half of the summer in August to finish studying and review for the MCAT on her own.

Adam and Laura are working through the summer in their respective labs. Adam will get one week off between his last day in lab and his first day of third year medical school. But the most important thing they're doing these next couple of weeks is cheering for their favorite NBA team -- the Celtics -- in this year's tournament.

Evan is rounding the corner and on his final lap as he continues to study for his required 2nd year Board exams. He's planning a vacation for the week immediately after. His plans for an exotic European trip may not materialize but he has scheduled one of his scheduled two weeks here in Michigan where he can sit on the porch, play with the dogs, do crossword puzzles, swim in our neighbors' pool, work out at our local gym, play some golf, eat good healthy food and sleep late. (Marika is coming home for the Fourth of July weekend and their time here will overlap.)

Gil and I went walking today on the Milford Bike Trail. He used the walking poles and I took Jamie on the leash. We've had a lot of rain lately so walks have been postponed. But we're getting back into it.

Gil is keeping busy with researching and writing a review article on radiation doses in cardiac CT scans. He says he's learning a lot by reading everything that's been published on the subject lately. He's splitting his work between the hospital and a 'virtual office'. Having an office in downtown Milford where he can read studies on his on-call days and otherwise work in a distraction free environment has made him very productive. He's feeling good about the amount of work he's getting accomplished.

I'm working out at the gym, doing all the cooking (it was quiche tonight!) and house maintenance, catching up on reading. I'm currently reading a great collection of short stories called The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis which I highly recommend. I first borrowed it from the library but bought my own copy soon after because I wanted to have it around. It's that good!

The garden is coming along beautifully. We've decided on a purple and white color scheme in one of the front beds and I'll take a photo of it in its full glory later this week to post on the blog.

We're coming up to Gil's one year anniversary of learning he had leukemia and all that would entail during the next (past) year. It was the end of May one year ago when I got pneumonia, we cancelled our trip to Spain and he started feeling sick. By June 13th, he had been admitted to the ER in pretty dire straits, and the following day, June 14th, his leukemia diagnosis had been confirmed via the first of many bone marrow biopsies.

Fortunately, this summer looks to be a lot healthier for all of us.