Jersey Girl

“Exactly why is she in Jersey City?” is the 2nd question everyone asks after inquiring about Emily’s health.  Originally, Emily and Miles envisioned a cosmopolitan life in the Big Apple, living in a quaint neighborhood, shopping at bodegas, and strolling through Central Park.  Then reality set in: treatment would be demanding, weather would be severe, and the cost of housing made LA seem like a bargain.  Two bedrooms (to accommodate caretakers) with an elevator, indoor exercise center, and business services for Miles would run 5 figures a month.  And most places wanted it all up front, sight unseen.  Would there be adequate heat? Hot water? Bed bugs?

That’s when plans shifted to nearby Jersey City, where family was eager to help and EmTay could vouch for the local Marriott.  The hotel manager was receptive to Emily’s needs and her story and they have provided a welcoming, affordable environment for recovery.

The Living Quarters: 

Mariott Living Room

Located on the top floor, Emily and Miles have a two-room suite that includes a separate bedroom and a spacious living room. Shelley and Kevin stocked the kitchen and dressing areas with baskets of food and supplies. EmTay’s godmother sent a blu-ray player, and discs arrive frequently from thoughtful supporters.

Mariott Bedroom

Two thermostats allow Emily (and her stuffed faux Ginny companion) to keep her quarters at a toasty 80 degrees while her internal systems adjust.

Miles’ desk swings around and transforms into a perfect dining table.

Miles’ desk swings around and transforms into a perfect dining table.

And the pièce de résistance is the Leather Throne.  When Miles learned that patients who had a lung removed felt most comfortable in a recliner, he immediately went online and ordered this behemoth beauty.

And the pièce de résistance is the Leather Throne. When Miles learned that patients who had a lung removed felt most comfortable in a recliner, he immediately went online and ordered this behemoth beauty.

Miles uses binoculars from his desk to watch construction of the World Trade Center on the southern tip of Manhattan, while Emily has this amazing view from both her bed and Leather Throne (with the lights changing colors nightly on the Empire State Building).

Miles uses binoculars from his desk to watch construction of the World Trade Center on the southern tip of Manhattan, while Emily has this amazing view from both her bed and Leather Throne (with the lights changing colors nightly on the Empire State Building).

The Environment: The hotel staff has been great, delivering mail to the room twice daily, providing extra supplies, cleaning late in the afternoon so Emily can sleep in, and efficiently carting away A LOT of delivery boxes. 

More Packages

More packages for me?

Champagne and Godiva chocolates, anyone?

Champagne and Godiva chocolates, anyone?

 

In the lobby, Emily can sip tea by the fireplace while Miles works and keeps an eye on her from the business center.

In the lobby, Emily can sip tea by the fireplace while Miles works and keeps an eye on her from the business center.

The Jersey City waterfront has a beautiful boardwalk for when the weather warms up. In the meantime, Emily logs in her miles walking the hotel’s hallway (seen here noting laps on the window with an erasable marker) and on the treadmill, while Miles and Rich make use of the weights and pool.

The Jersey City waterfront has a beautiful boardwalk for when the weather warms up. In the meantime, Emily logs in her miles walking the hotel’s hallway (seen here noting laps on the window with an erasable marker) and on the treadmill, while Miles and Rich make use of the weights and pool.

Mall

And just across the street is a three-story mall with 11 movie theaters, and clothing stores that you just don’t find in California. Emily selected these gems for Webmaster Annie’s June wedding.

The immediate neighborhood includes a drug store with a very helpful pharmacist, a Whole Foods-type grocery store, numerous restaurants that deliver, and a lively Irish pub. Plus a liquor store, in case you need something to keep your heating pad from falling off your shoulder.

The immediate neighborhood includes a drug store with a very helpful pharmacist, a Whole Foods-type grocery store, numerous restaurants that deliver, and a lively Irish pub. Plus a liquor store, in case you need something to keep your heating pad from falling off your shoulder.

The Crew:  Foremost is Aunt Grace.  When Michele’s older brother, Jim, left seminary life and married Grace, the O’Malley family got their very own Mother Teresa. 

Grace has embraced Emily like one of her own and the TLC has been overflowing.  She also houses her in-laws and gives up her car on the days of Emily’s medical appointments (walking three miles to work in the bitter cold).

Grace has embraced Emily like one of her own and the TLC has been overflowing. She also houses her in-laws and gives up her car on the days of Emily’s medical appointments (walking three miles to work in the bitter cold).

Grace has not stopped cooking since the Californians arrived in Jersey City.

Grace has not stopped cooking since the Californians arrived in Jersey City.

Grace keeps a notebook of Miles and Emily’s favorite dishes. Grandma Mercedes’ pot roast topped the list until Emily got a taste of Grace’s Chicken Pot Pie, and ate it straight from the pie plate.

Grace keeps a notebook of Miles and Emily’s favorite dishes. Grandma Mercedes’ pot roast topped the list until Emily got a taste of Grace’s Chicken Pot Pie, and ate it straight from the pie plate.

Miles’ parents stay with Jim and Grace and make the brisk one mile walk to the hotel several times a day to deliver meals and supplies and to pick up laundry.

Miles’ parents stay with Jim and Grace and make the brisk one mile walk to the hotel several times a day to deliver meals and supplies and to pick up laundry.

The arrangement helps reduce housing costs, gives Emily and Miles their privacy, and offers a great kitchen for preparing nutritious meals, like Michele’s homemade chicken noodle soup.

The arrangement helps reduce housing costs, gives Emily and Miles their privacy, and offers a great kitchen for preparing nutritious meals, like Michele’s homemade chicken noodle soup.

Rich delivering the soup: “I now know why people move to Florida.

Rich delivering the soup: “I now know why people move to Florida.”

The daily visits mean continued well-intentioned advice from the in-laws and Emily is as receptive as always. When she discarded half of her sandwich from the popular 2nd Street Bakery (unofficial motto: Everything is better when stuffed into bread) during this “lite lunch” in the lobby, Michele lectured Emily on the importance of beefing up for radiation. Miles jumped to his wife’s defense: "So, Mom, when are you leaving? Michele: “When Emily is 150 lbs." Emily, without missing a beat: "Miles, toss me a sausage roll."

The daily visits mean continued well-intentioned advice from the in-laws and Emily is as receptive as always. When she discarded half of her sandwich from the popular 2nd Street Bakery (unofficial motto: Everything is better when stuffed into bread) during this “lite lunch” in the lobby, Michele lectured Emily on the importance of beefing up for radiation. Miles jumped to his wife’s defense: “So, Mom, when are you leaving? Michele: “When Emily is 150 lbs.” Emily, without missing a beat: “Miles, toss me a sausage roll.”

Josh Visits

Emily has now turned a corner in her recovery. She is visibly stronger, breathing deeper, and just more of her old self. For the first time, she feels up to socializing and, naturally, Josh was her first visitor (how is he always in the same city and have they ever considered a restraining order?).

Cousins & EmTay

This past weekend, Emily ventured out and climbed two flights of stairs for Sunday family dinner with the cousins, who were all overjoyed to see her radiant smile and awed by her recovery.

 

Even Uncle Jim, whose drink of choice is usually a Pepsi, toasted the occasion with a flute of bubbly.

Even Uncle Jim, whose drink of choice is usually a Pepsi, toasted the occasion with a flute of bubbly.

And that should just about answer the question of why Emily and Miles are living across the Hudson, just a stone’s throw from New York, in Jersey City 🙂

The Effects of Chemotherapy

There have been a lot questions about the effects of Emily’s chemotherapy, along the lines of: How is she REALLY doing?  She looks different, but what is it?  Is she as happy as she looks in her photos?

Following each of Emily’s chemotherapy treatments, I [Michele Taylor, MIL] spend 7-10 days in LA with Emily and Miles to help care for my daughter-in-law.  As her nurse, maid, cook, and couch companion, I am able to witness firsthand Emily’s fight and, in particular, the effects of the chemotherapy.  As such, I offered to address some of these effects to help everyone understand what Emily is going through.

Nausea

The greatest challenge from chemotherapy has been the management of nausea.  There are several medications – one injected, one swallowed, and one that dissolves on the tongue – all of which last different lengths of time and carry different side effects.  Managing the meds and the food preparation is a delicate balancing act.  It goes beyond making her comfortable.  Too much medication can lead to severe agitation and discomfort; while too little can lead to nausea and vomiting.  And just when you think you have it down, and make a plan for the next round, circumstances change.  For example, we initially prepared all of Emily’s favorite foods during chemotherapy week to entice her to eat, but then those foods became intolerable as her brain associated them with nausea.  Later, we had to eliminate all cooking in the house as she became highly sensitive to odors.  With the completion of the sixth round, treatment will no longer include carboplatin, the chemotherapy associated with the harshest side effects, and we are hopeful the new “chemo-lite” cocktail will produce less nausea.

Appearance

Overall, the chemotherapy’s effects on Emily’s outward appearance have been minimal, particularly in light of what others have experienced. 

Hair

No, this is not a magazine photo shoot for Dom Perignon, just Emily dancing at a New Orleans wedding two months before her diagnosis.

Emily has always had very thick hair. When told that chemotherapy would cause her hair to thin, Emily’s reaction had a positive spin:  “Cool, I pay a boatload right now to have it professionally thinned and now my health insurance will cover it!”  And while Emily’s hair has thinned progressively with each treatment, I can attest as the person who operates the Swiffer each morning that their dog Ginny is well in the lead when it comes to shedding.

Nails

No more salon mani/pedis on the schedule as Emily can’t risk any cuts.  One of her meds reduces the blood’s ability to coagulate; the others reduce white blood cells to fight off infections.  So she either paints her own nails, or uses the new peel-on polish strips (when she feels a strong desire, as she did last week, for black plaid fingertips).

Skin

Keep this girl out of the snow – she might disappear!!

Primary symptoms have been a combination of acne (from steroids) and dry skin (from chemotherapy), and internal bruising under the eyes (from meds).  She is also paler, which is associated with chemotherapy and not being allowed out in the sun.  And, in her defense, we frequently shoot photos of her early in the morning when she is without make-up, even though she says, “No, don’t take a picture of me now! [in the same breath], ok wait, [smiles], go ahead.”

Weight

Prior to the start of chemotherapy, Rich cooked up a storm and Emily put on some pounds in preparation for treatment.  Printed material from the hospital instructed her to eat anything that sounded appealing.  Emily has always been thin, with a robust metabolism, and we were concerned that chemotherapy would lead to massive weight loss and deplete her nutritionally.  Maintaining or gaining weight was a top priority.  Six rounds down and Emily is now a good 15 pounds above her normal weight, and at times is surprised by her own reflection in the mirror.

After her last doctor’s visit, she called to enthusiastically report:  “The weight gain is from water retention and it’s a side effect of the chemotherapy!  I can expect to gain 1-2 pounds every round, no matter how much I exercise or eat.  So, I don’t know what you had planned for tonight, but I’m thinking maybe burgers and sweet potato fries!?!”

Chemo Fog

Michele gives Emily a coconut oil scalp massage and hair treatment to nurture hair follicles damaged by chemo.

Emily will be the first to tell you that memory has never been her strongest asset, but now she has “chemo fog,” a cognitive dysfunction associated with short term memory loss and difficulty concentrating.  When we asked if she’d like to play a board game a few days after treatment, Emily responded, “No, that involves thinking . . . and thinking hurts my brain right now.”

Does she find it frustrating?  Not in the least; she has embraced it with relish.  Making no move to find anything on her own, she plants herself in the center of the room and asks, “Where is my make-up bag?  Has anyone seen my sunglasses?  Has the dog been fed?  I love this!”  Between Emily’s chemo brain and my propensity for reorganizing drawers and closets, I know to answer the phone on the day after returning home: “Hi, Em, what are you looking for?”  And then I get to hear her laugh.

Strength

It is natural to look at photos of Emily playing in the championship softball game six-days post chemotherapy and conclude that she is experiencing few debilitating side effects.  What you don’t see is her struggling to catch her breath as she circles the bases over the course of the inning, or that she collapsed and slept for 14 hours once she got home.  Still, there was never a question whether she would play, because she is a true competitor, and determined to get the most out of life (and this was, after all, the Championship Game of the F Division of the Santa Monica rec league, so there was a lot on the line).

Lifestyle

With family and friends managing household duties, and an amazingly supportive employer that has arranged part-time disability, Emily has been incredibly fortunate to get all the rest she needs to allow her body to both fight the disease and recover from chemotherapy rounds.  She is in bed by 9:30 PM and sleeps 10-12 hours, then adds twice-daily meditation sessions, and frequent naps.

Good luck keeping this girl away from the mall

The three week chemotherapy cycle consists of a “sick week” similar to having a nasty flu with nausea, fatigue, and restlessness, a “risky at-home week” where she must avoid large public settings and air travel when white blood cell counts are low, and a “normal week” where Emily returns to work and is able to socialize and get back out into the world, although if Miles had his way she’d never set foot in a shopping mall again (yeah, good luck with that one, Miles).

The chemotherapy schedule has been friendly in that Emily has been able to make quite a few of the big dates on the calendar, although she had to forgo her 10-year high school reunion, a cousin’s NYC wedding, and our family vacation to Costa Rica.  On the other hand, her lung cancer has resulted in some very fun, memorable events, like the 5k lung run, the college volleyball game in her honor, and a fundraising gala in San Francisco.

So many lives have been altered since the news in late June that Emily was battling advanced lung cancer.  But what hasn’t changed, and what never falters, is Emily’s spirit, Emily’s smile, and Emily’s determination.  It’s no act.  Emily chooses to be a positive force in the world and I have never witnessed anything to the contrary.  It is what makes her so special and what makes us believe she will beat this.

(Love you, EmBen 🙂 )

Michele-isms

For those of you who have not had the privilege of meeting Michele Taylor (Emily’s MIL), she is a caring, funny, and all around wonderful person.  Various events over the past few months have revealed that she is also a wealth of helpful information.  Here are a few pearls of wisdom that Michele has been kind enough to enlighten us with…

On being nice to people
[Background: Miles was on the phone and thought he was calling Emily, but had actually called Michele]
Miles: Hey sexy!
Michele: Huh?
Miles: [still doesn’t realize it’s his mom] Hey sexy!
Michele: [pause] You know, thank you. That is really nice. I think we all need to be nice to each other right now, so thank you!
Miles: [awkward silence, realizes it’s his mom]

On crying
[Background: Annie had been telling Michele that she’d made it through a certain number of days without crying]
Michele: I have decided that it is ok to cry, because through your tears, you will lose salt, and then it is ok to eat popcorn.

On running speed for the BJALCF 5K
[Background: Michele was wearing a cute running skirt while her daughter, EmTay, was wearing goofy green shorts.  Michele’s plan was for EmTay to win the ladies portion of the event so that “Emily Taylor” would be announced as the winner]
Michele: Do you need those to run fast?  If so, you should wear them..

On navigating the subway
[Background: Michele and EmTay were in New York and about to get on the subway to go to Mt Sinai to meet with a leading thoracic surgeon to discuss Emily’s case]
EmTay: Do we need a map?
Michele: No. I am like a rat. I’m really good underground.

On saving money
[Background: Some of Emily’s colleagues collected donations in exchange for lung cancer awareness bracelets to help raise money.  The results of the effort included a rather large stack of cash and checks]  
Michele: Don’t deposit cash at the bank. The teller will think you are a prostitute.

On nausea
[Background: Emily just underwent her first round of chemotherapy and had been sitting on the bathroom floor next to the toilet all day feeling nauseas (but hadn’t actually vomited yet)]
Michele: Miles, I’ve been doing research and it says that the smell of citrus can help alleviate nausea [squirts some lemon juice on a clean cloth and gives to Miles]
Miles: [takes citrus-y smelling cloth to Emily in the bathroom] Hey babe, mom says that the scent of citrus is supposed to help with nausea. Here, smell this [puts cloth up to Emily’s nose]
Emily: [Vomits immediately, and continues to do so for the next 4 hours]

On fashion
[Background (this one is a throwback): Rich, Michele, EmTay, and Miles all attended a family wedding a few years back.  Michele picked out Miles’ tuxedo]
Miles: I look like Randy Travis.

 Happy Friday everyone, have a wonderful weekend 🙂

Lassie, Version 2.0

Michele and Rich Taylor are back in Los Angles to help Emily and Miles during Emily’s second round of chemotherapy.  The following anecdote is from Friday (8/17) as told by Michele..

The last couple of days have been rough on Emily.  The doctors cautioned them to stay on top of the nausea this round, so Miles started the anti-nausea meds earlier and scheduled them around the clock. 

As the days progressed, Emily was sleeping 19 hours/day and was not very coherent when she was awake.  But we weren’t worried, figuring her body was doing its chemo thing.  So when Rich and Miles joined the guys for tennis Thursday night, I had no concerns about staying with her.  

I had just started reading when Emily got up the first time and appeared to be having hallucinations.  She described them as “bad nightmares while awake” and decided to go back to sleep.  An hour later, she was back up, but when she tried sitting upright in a chair, she couldn’t, and headed back to bed.  I was pretty sure she was overmedicated and planned to suggest they cut back on the meds. 

Still, I was not too worried.  That is until Ginny came bounding into my room, clearly agitated and barking.  I couldn’t quiet her and she kept running back and forth between my bed and the hallway.  

Now, I grew up on Lassie, and when Lassie came home barking, it was because Timmy had fallen into a well.  So I immediately concluded that Emily was in distress and Ginny, being most in tune with her, was alerting me.  I spent the next half hour tip-toeing into Emily’s room, checking on her breathing and pulse count.  She seemed fine, but Ginny didn’t let up and I started getting worried.

When Miles came home, I told him I thought we were over dosing Emily on the anti-nausea meds.  He heard it that Emily had OD’ed while he was gone.   He was running around frantic, pulling at his hair, and then hooking her up to a blood pressure machine.  When Emily’s stats came back perfectly normal, he yelled, “Why the hell did you think there was something wrong with her?”  I told him about Ginny barking at me and running into the hallway over and over again.  He said, “Are you kidding me?  That’s what she does when her ball rolls under the sofa and she can’t get to it.”

Well, that would have been nice to know…

Weekend Update:  The old Emily is back 🙂

Tales from the MIL

Prior to Emily (EmBen) starting chemotherapy this week she underwent fertility treatments to preserve her and Miles’ dream of one day having a family.  Her mother-in-law (MIL) Michele was there for support every step of the way.  While Michele probably never imagined that she would be so intimately involved in the creation of her future grandbabies, the story is something that we can all laugh about.

What you will read below is not the script of a Saturday Night Live skit.  It’s the tale of Day 2 of EmBen’s fertility treatment told by Michele.

Miles mixes a mean hormone cocktail..

To set the scene, we need to go back to Day 1.  We are all in EmTay’s (sister-in-law) apartment, gathered to celebrate the news that the cancer is confined to the lung and has not spread to the brain and liver.  Music is playing, wine is flowing, steaks are being carved and the sun is visibly setting over the Pacific Ocean from the floor-to-ceiling balcony windows.  Then seven o’clock rolls around and Miles and EmBen retreat to the tiny bathroom determined to overcome their major needle phobias and inject EmBen with the fertility drug that will bring them the large family they always desired. No such luck.  They call for help; EmBen ends up keeled over in pain while Miles lays face down and lifeless on EmTay’s bed.

Realizing that we have another two weeks of this, we all gear up in our individual ways for Day 2.  To re-emphasize what we are dealing with here, my pathetic family melts at the mention or sight of a shot, syringe, vaccination, or needle.  They physically turn ghost white and disappear into the floor.  This includes Miles, Rich, EmTay, and to a lesser extent, EmBen.  Personally, I don’t get it; I could shoot up all day long.  However, I am determined to make this as comfortable as possible for my daughter-in-law, so I spend the day researching the art of follicle stimulating hormone injections.  I learn that this drug can be painful as it enters the body and so I watch hours of YouTube videos of women inserting needles into their “muffin tops” and take notes on tips for reducing the discomfort (all the while wondering how my life evolved into this in two short weeks).

But resigned to do anything for the woman who brings absolute joy to my son, I walk from my daughter to my son’s apartment the next night armed with insider tidbits for executing a less painful injection.  We position EmBen up against an array of pillows on her king-sized bed, her mother resting alongside her, holding her hand.  I have the needle positioned to insert when Miles decides it’s a Kodak moment and we all plant fake grins on our faces, mine the most bizarre as I am holding the needle Dr. Kevorkian style.

Michele, Emily, and Shelley preparing for hormone injections. Miles is passed out on the floor off camera.

Take 2, I tell EmBen I will be rotating the needle after insertion to disperse the medicine.  She tries to pay attention to what I am saying, but is distracted by the music emanating from the laptop computer that Miles is holding at the base of the bed.  The screen displays a slideshow of Anne Geddes baby photos, meant to comfort EmBen as she is shot up with hormones. The moment is brief, as Miles starts to pale, EmBen worries that their pricey laptop will come crashing to the ground, and she redirects him to Stage Left, into the bathroom, where he can lean against the sink and continue to safely play his baby video while keeping eye contact with her.  Did I mention he also has photos of morphed baby faces that he has created using software that combines both of their faces together?

Take 3:  I ask EmBen to grasp her abdominal muscles and apply pressure to the point of pain to supplant the pain of the injected fluid.  She grabs hold, her mother is steadfast at her side, I position the needle, and then out of nowhere, Miles starts singing, loudly: “Si-i-lent Night, Ho-ol-ly Night.”  We stop, look at him, his face in a grimace, eyes clenched shut in denial, unaware that he has interrupted the process, trying only to block out what is happening so as not to collapse into the shower stall.  EmBen screams, “Stop, wait!” (to prevent me from poking her) as she throws her head back in gut-wrenching laughter. EmBen’s Mom smiles good naturedly but had to be wondering if it is wise for her daughter to procreate with this weenie.  Personally, I’m impressed because I thought the only song Miles knew the lyrics to was “Happy Birthday.”