Monthly Archives: August 2011

The calm before the storm

It has just begun to rain here. Irene is moving up the coast, and we are anticipating strong winds and lots of moisture for a rather sustained period.

Yesterday we were in Boston, picking up Pete after camp. It couldn’t have been a more gorgeous day.

It wasn’t just the weather that was perfect:  greeting all the kids and counselors as they returned from their week at Camp Kesem was one of the best experiences ever. Pete straggled in with his pillow and a big grin. “It was amazing,” he said. “Just amazing”.

Campers ranged in age from six to eighteen and Pete’s group was teens fourteen and up. An almost equal number of counselors, all MIT students, accompanied the group as they swam, hiked, camped out, canoed, played games, and participated in a ropes course. In the evening they hung out together and talked. All of the campers had a parent fighting cancer and in some cases the parent had died; Peter said the conversations were at times incredibly sad but also very moving.

What I witnessed on the day of pick-up, was a staggering amount of joy, love, support and energy. Pete was emotional as he hugged his new friends, both campers and counselors, goodbye. I had so hoped this would be a wonderful experience, and in fact it exceeded all expectation.

Grabbing a snack afterward

And so, from the Duff family, a big, big shout out to Camp Kesem (click here for more information about camps in your area and/or to donate to this very worthy cause). As for all the counselors (who volunteer their time and fundraise as well); you are beyond amazing. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

Twenty four hours on Nantucket

Last week Pete, David (freshly home from Singapore) and I took a prop plane out of Logan for a twenty four trip to Nantucket. We were the guests of Officine Paneri, hosts of a gala to celebrate the official launch of Sailing Heals and also the opening of the Opera House Cup Regatta.

David was immediately felled by a double punch of jet lag and latent food poisoning, but Pete and I attended the aforementioned cocktail party on the Nantucket Lightship with our friends Greg Vrettos (a fellow lung cancer survivor and patient at MGH) and his wife Janet. This was followed by dinner and an educational film about the history of the America’s Cup and all things sailing at the Nantucket Yacht Club.

Not only was this my first trip to Nantucket;  now for the second time in one week (and ever)  I found myself at a yacht club. Lily Pulitzer frocks and Nantucket Red chinos abounded. My own attempt at ‘nautical’ included metallic gold boat shoes I’d found on clearance (and in my size, woohoo!).

As I scanned the room, a young man caught my eye; rose colored chinos, blue blazer with a pocket square, mildly wrinkled shirt open to mid chest, and a head full of sun kissed curls. Obviously a Ralph Lauren model on holiday.

While on the island, Pete and I also embarked on a field trip to find our buddy Hannah Blount’s  jewelry line (carried by Hepburn in Nantucket). Hannah, a Nantucket native, is Jemesii’s close friend and an amazing artist. Her ‘Ruthie B.’ collection was inspired by the ocean (her father is a commercial fisherman and has a trawler named after Hannah’s mother) and includes a wee hand crafted skate egg pendant and barnacle encrusted turquoise and coral necklaces. Lovely!

And then, David feeling a bit better but sad that he’d missed the festivities, it was time to return to reality. Thanks again to our gracious hosts!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes and a profound realization (really)

Pete and I attended a matinee of the newly reprised Planet of the Apes on Sunday. Good, cheesy fun; although Peter’s appraisal of the cinematic merits of the film certainly exceeded mine (and this was his second viewing).

However…aside from the joy of sitting companionably next to my teenager in a theatre, there was a moment in the film that gave me such a strong sense of deja vu, I felt positively vertiginous.

In this particular scene, a large number of (animated) chimps were gamboling through the forest at a high rate of speed. With a start,  I recognized that their particular gait, running but using their arms to propel them forward even faster, was exactly how I often run in my dreams. An ancient memory from my primate ancestors tucked away in my DNA?

I related this observation to Pete, wondering if he shared my proclivity for simian ambulation. He was speedy in his dreams, but bipedal only. When we got home, I contacted Jemesii, but she also remained on two feet, unless she was flying. So then I called August. Bingo! He’d never thought about it in that context, but yes, he also sometimes runs like a chimpanzee when dreaming!

Now, we have a joke in our family. There are two distinct factions: David, (also doesn’t run like a chimp), Jemesii, and Peter are one unit. They are all three quite bright and able to retain and better yet, retrieve information at the drop of a hat. You know, smarty pants (all said fondly and with some undisguised envy).

And then there’s August, myself, and Buddy. Or as Aug likes to say; ‘you, me, and the dog’. Our attention and retention tend to be a bit spotty. Spontaneous, if you will. Carefree, charming, and goodlooking…okay. Now I’m making stuff up. The other faction is in possession of those qualities as well, and almost as much fun as ‘you, me, and the dog’ too (this is where I turn to one of my kids and say, “isn’t mom funny?”).

I’m pretty sure Buddy runs like a chimp in his dreams. Maybe even climbs trees. Anybody else out there?

Like a dream

Peter and I, along with our friend Melinda, experienced a rare treat on Thursday. Courtesy of an organization called Sailing Heals (which has partnered with MGH), we were guests on a spectacular vintage sailing yacht, the Mariella (skippered and owned by Carlos Falcone, the honorary Italian Consul to Antigua and Barbuda). Reporter Diana Perez from CBS in Boston was aboard as well, and a snippet of our voyage was featured on the evening news, which you may view if you click here.

After docking, we had lunch at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Marblehead, and Peter made himself a fast buck when he won a bet with Tim Dittrich, formerly Commodore of the yacht club and now on the board of Sailing Heals. Two gearheads, they had been discussing cars and the exact vintage of the Mustang Fastback that Steve McQueen drives in Bullitt. Well, Pete was sure it was a ’68, which was quickly confirmed by Google and an iPhone. Tim was a gentleman, and even upped the original bet from a quarter to a dollar, encouraging Pete to use his winnings to invest in an auto journal.

At the end of the day, we bade Melinda farewell and as we drove north to New Hampshire, agreed that the only thing missing from a perfect day was David, who unfortunately was on his way to Singapore for business. A big thank you to Michelle, Trisha, Katie, Carlos, Paneri, and Sailing Heals. Cancer took a back seat that day; we had the time of our lives.

Friendship can be habit forming

Kate, Amy, Sally, Melinda and I, friends since childhood, just had our yearly reunion. Per my request, our home was the venue. And this time, after putting it to a vote, my three boys were included. I prophesied that should David  be present, lattes, black bean steaks and lobsters; all outside of my skill set, might be on the menu. This may have swayed the decision making process. To wit:

RE: Should they stay or should they go:

I love lattes, meat, boys…alcohol…I’m game for everything!  Amy


They had me at lattes.  Sally

Such fun, funny friends. And no less so in person. It would seem we have a jollier respite from reality each successive time we assemble. The addition of David and Pete (you too, Buddy) proved a fine one. Just imagine the merriment we shall make in our elder years!

The realization that I selected my pals so well at a tender age does much for my retroactive self esteem. Such a fine judge of character! Or, I got very, very, lucky. No doubt a bit of each. I love you guys!

A few steps closer

We were in Mattapoisett this weekend for a dedication ceremony at the local historical society.  My mother-in-law, Polly Phipps, donated a nautical chart painted by the artist Clifford Ashley and the restored artwork was unveiled and celebrated for the jewel it is. This canvas mural had graced the ceiling of the ‘whaling room’ in the family home for almost a century, on a glassed in porch with a whale tooth for a doorstop and paneled walls where harpoons once hung (a number of which can now be found in the New Bedford Whaling Museum).

In addition to the cultural shebang and schmoozing with the family (my husband wryly noted that at least half the one hundred or so in attendance were related to him), we enjoyed time at the waterfront, lobster rolls, fried clams, a Chippi from Mirasol’s and a leisurely stroll through Ikea with Jem and Pete (sans David; he’s allergic to Ikea).

We needed to scurry back to Amherst on Sunday evening as David had to fly to Albuquerque on Monday morning and I had my weekly appointment at the Benson Henry Institute in Boston.

So that’s the garden variety news for the moment, but I’ve got a few things to report on the cancer front.

Sadly, Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, author of Anticancer, has passed away after surviving brain cancer for almost 19 years. One of his contributions to the literature on cancer was the facile way in which he broke down the science supporting his theories, making the information comprehensible and user friendly. I found inspiration in  both his holistic approach to disease, as well as his prolonged survival. Nineteen years was amazing; I would have wished him more.

And now two tidbits more curious than anything. First, researchers at the University of Oxford in England have announced that tall women are at a greater risk for cancer. In fact, for every four inches over a base height of five foot one, the risk increased 16%. Blimey. I thought adolescence and shopping at Shelley’s Tall Girl Shoppe were enough of a disadvantage. Of course, if you read the article carefully, smoking related cancers are not included (I’m not clear if that addresses those of us with lung cancer who didn’t smoke). Another study is mentioned which indicates that long legs are associated with an increased lifespan. So, there you go–it all balances out, and life really is fair.

The curiouser:  A molecular and cell biologist at UC Berkeley, David Duesberg, posits that cancer is actually an example of speciation, and can in fact be compared to a parasite.  It is an interesting if rather creepy concept but I feel there are more than a few holes in it. I also have a personal quarrel with this quote from oncologist Dr. Mark Vincent, another proponent of the view that cancer is an evolved species:

“I think Duesberg is correct by criticizing mutation theory, which sustains a billion-dollar drug industry focused on blocking these mutations,” said Vincent, a medical oncologist. “Yet very, very few cancers have been cured by targeted drug therapy, and even if a drug helps a patient survive six or nine more months, cancer cells often find a way around it.”

Excuse me? Six  or nine months? Ce n’est pas vrai! Leave the (billion?) dollar drug industry alone! Some of our very lives depend on said industry…

Which brings me to my final bit of news. On Monday Alice (Dr. Shaw) called to tell me that she’d already placed my name in queue for the Novartis LDK 378 and that two slots had opened up. If I were not to fill a slot, it was possible that I might wait several months for another chance.

I mulled it over for twenty-four hours. Physically my decline has been slow, but these things have a tendency to pick up speed and lately I am aware of building momentum.

When I emailed my affirmative  to Alice, she responded immediately in support of my decision.

That night I felt an anxiety lift that I hadn’t even known I’d been feeling. My sense of relief lasted until the following morning, when I really began to think about the implications of my situation. I felt a little bit afraid, and not so much about enrolling in a another phase I clinical trial, but about what would happen if I didn’t.

I’ve visited my mortality enough times now that you might think we’d become a tad familiar.

But no. I prefer to remain strangers as long as possible.

In a few weeks, I will be traveling down an unfamiliar path once again.  I’m hoping it leads to another miracle.