Thursday, January 28, 2016

Office moving...hospitals...oven breakdowns...etc

I think if you post your New Year's Goals that you automatically jinx yourself.

Right after I posted all that stuff, my life went nuts. The heating element in the oven went no baking. My grandmother is not doing well, and then my dad had a health scare (he's fine, thank goodness), so I haven't been able to do much reading or exercising because of...well, life. However, I have managed to exercise almost every day (I think I have only missed two days). I just haven't upped my mileage as much as I would like. One day I managed four miles, but usually it is only one or two. Ugh. That has to change.

Added to all of this is the big move I made at the office. My coworker and I moved into offices upstairs in our building. The new offices are fantastic! But, you know how it is...exhausting.

Anyway, now that dad is doing well, the kitchen is back in order, and I have finished all of my moving stuff (sorry to say that grandma still isn't doing well), I can at least cook and perhaps work in a bit more reading/exercise.

This weekend, I plan to make a few things that I can bring to work for lunch next week. I'm really looking forward to it!

As for my book life, I haven't read that much this week. I am still reading The Last Days of Henry VIII (very is a good book, but I needed a break for some fiction...I am a little over halfway through it). I also read the new Sarah MacLean book, The Rogue Not Taken.

I've seen some mixed reviews for this book, but I really enjoyed it. I know people love Sarah MacLean, but some of her books have been hit or miss for me. This one was really enjoyable. I liked the heroine a lot, and the plot didn't drive me crazy. It is also the first in a new series, so I have high hopes for the next ones, too.

Last night, I picked up Dorothy L. Sayers's Gaudy Night

I've had this book since 2009, when I went to Oxford. (Note: The version above is the one I bought in Oxford, but I haven't seen that cover here.) I bought the book at Blackwell's, and I'm finally in the mood to read it. So far, I am loving it. 

Anyway, that is what I am up to these days. Hope your January has been great!

A Place on the Shelf

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Rest in Peace, Alan Rickman.

Yes, everyone knows of  my Alan Rickman love. He was an amazing talent, and he brought so many characters to life. Of course, I loved him in just about everything I saw him in. I first remember him from Die Hard, and I loved him in Sense and Sensibility. But I loved him best as Severus Snape. He took a character that so many people hated, and in the end, he gave such dignity to him. It was more than acting. It was an act of service to the readers and all of those who were devoted to the series. So, I thank him so much for playing that role over and over again.

Rest in peace, Alan Rickman.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A great memory!

I recently received a photo from an event I attended last year. My writers group met with author Julia Quinn, and we had such a great time! Thanks to Julia Muscari for sending me the picture!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Goals for the new year!

I stopped making resolutions a long time ago. They suck, and usually I make them too limiting. In the past, my resolutions usually had to do with denial, so I decided that this year I am going to make some goals for myself that include experiences and feeding the soul...rather than taking something away.

1. My reading goal on Goodreads is (heaven help me) 100 books in 2016. I have done this before, and I planned to do it last year...but life...well, yeah. Anyway, that is my goal, even if I read really short books! (Which, let's face it, is probably all I have time for anyway.)

2. Cooking more. When I cook. I feel more centered. I haven't done a lot of cooking in the last several years, and I miss it. I cooked a lot when I was an undergrad and working on my master's degree, but when I got into my PhD work and also started my job at the magazine, I let it slide. I mean, sure...I cook. But not what I call "soul feeding" cooking. You know what I mean. Those recipes that take some time and planning. Not just throwing the usual pasta in the pot or sticking something in the oven really fast. So, my goal is to try one new recipe a week (probably on the weekends). I am starting this week, and I am really  looking forward to it. UPDATE 1/13/16: This will be put off by at least a week. My oven just went out last night! UGH!

3. Writing. Wow. I have really let this one slide, and it has been my fault completely. Personal issues have really created a block over the last few years, but I'm feeling better now. But that hasn't been the only thing to stop me. Basically, I haven't been taking myself seriously as a writer over the last two years. That has to stop. I have to start saying no to family and friends and make sure that I have a set schedule of time for writing--whether that be note taking for research or free writing or anything related to what I am working on. I need set goals, and I started that today, too. My goal is to have a draft of a new novel by December 31, 2016.

4. Exercise. I've been good about being consistent with some form of exercise over the last two years. I do at least one mile six to seven days a week. But one mile, even jogging, is too easy. My main issue is fatigue. Sometimes, I just want to sleep! But, I have to push myself harder and get back to multiple miles each day. I stopped because I was getting too thin at one point. My body responds really well to exercise, in terms of weight loss, so I have to be careful. But I don't feel as strong as I used to feel. My goal is to do at least three miles a day four days a week. And maybe one day do something longer. Eventually (not this year), I want to do another half marathon. But that is something I don't feel the desire to train for right now, and I know what a commitment it is to train. You have to be all in, or you won't get anywhere.

5. Gardening. I used to do a little of this with my dad years ago. The ground outside is too hard for me to dig up and I don't have a tiller. So, I need to learn some container gardening skills.

I will keep you posted, because another goal is to blog more. :)

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey

I just finished up Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne last night. David Starkey is an interesting writer, and in some ways he is a great entertainer. I enjoy watching his specials about Tudor history (most of them are available on YouTube, if you are interested), and I was curious about this book because it covers Elizabeth's younger years. I find the conflicts that arose out of the Tudor reign to be fascinating, and though I have read much about Henry VIII and his wives, I haven't spent much time reading about his children or what happened in the aftermath of his death. The story is filled with tension, and it is a testament to both the story and Starkey's writing that I read this book so quickly.

Starkey's narrative style is great. He tells an already good story in a way that reads like a novel. Like I said, I am more familiar with Henry and his wives, but this book made me realize how long the consequences of Henry's reign (and those who ruled before him) carried into the future. I still want to read individual books on Edward VI and Mary I, but this was a great introduction to their stories (and Elizabeth's, of course).

Some reviewers have complained about Starkey's "high opinion" of himself and how he puts down other researchers. There is some of this in the book, but I didn't find it distracting; however, I am used to reading academic books built on argument, so maybe that is why it doesn't bother me so much. Starkey has spent most of his life studying the Tudors, so he does have his beliefs about what he's discovered. Some ideas seem to hold weight, while others...well, I'm not so sure. Still, it doesn't matter to me all that much. I enjoyed the book, and I would highly recommend it as an entertaining and informative read.

I found two things quite funny in this book:

1. Starkey hates Elizabeth I's writing style. He says she repeats her usual structure over and over, and he sarcastically refers to this style several times. 

2. He called the Dudley/Elizabeth affair "Clintonesque," and that was too funny in the context in which it was written! This comes near the end, so you will have to wait for it.

My takeaway from this read?

For the first time in my life, I am really happy that I am an only child.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

New Year, New Book Challenge

Yes, I am continuing to progress with the Book Riot challenge that I began late (even though they have a new one now). I did not meet the 100 book goal I set for myself last year, but that is okay. I am trying again this year, and I have high hopes of meeting it or coming much closer!

What am I starting off with this year?

Over the years, since I was 16, I have been obsessed off and on with anything Tudor related. It began by being sucked into the tragic (and largely fictional) tale of Lady Jane Grey that I came across in 11th grade. I've always been drawn to reading about this time period, and over the last few months I have gotten back into it. I picked up David Starkey's book on Elizabeth I a few days ago. I know there are some who have issue with him, and though some of their criticisms are worthy of attention, I am finding the book interesting. I also have his Six Wives, and I also received Philippa Gregory's The Taming of the Queen for Christmas. I really enjoyed her last book about Margaret Pole, and I'm interested in Catherine Parr's story. So, yay for more Tudor books, because I like even the ones that suck! I'm about halfway through Starkey's book, and I am really enjoying it...though not quite as much as I enjoy reading Henry VIII's tweets.  ;)

I do hope that this year brings good times, opportunities, and memories for all of us. Whatever holiday you have celebrated recently, I hope it brought you joy and peace. Until next time, happy reading!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

BRCA Genetic Testing: My Experience with the Ups and Downs of Waiting for Results

As a note up front: I eventually found out that I tested negative. I am posting this because while I went through this, I wanted as much information as I could find about the testing process. Not all testing is done in the same way, but I give you my experience in case you are interested. If you do test positive, search around and you will find some great blogs that detail everything certain women have been through. Information is power.

This is one of those posts you debate with yourself about putting out there, but today I decided that I would go ahead and share my experience with you simply because I was desperate for information when my doctor told me I needed to have the BRCA genetic test.

Back in August, I went for my usual yearly exam, and while filling out the usual paperwork, I noticed that my doctor's office had added a new information gathering sheet. The form asked for information about family history of cancer, and some of the questions were really specific--especially when it came to cancers like ovarian, breast, colon, and others. I had an idea that this was probably a way to find people who qualified for genetic testing, but I didn't think too much about it all.

I do have family members who have died of cancer. My paternal great grandmother had ovarian cancer and died before the age of 40. A great aunt on my mother's side had breast cancer, and another cousin on my mother's side had colon cancer. I assume there are probably other family members out there who had cancer, but I don't know who they are.

Anyway, my doctor came into the room. He had already gone through the sheet's information, and he told me he wanted me to be tested for the BRCA mutation. He explained about what would happen (a simple blood test), insurance would cover it because I qualify, and what would happen depending upon my results.

For those of you who don't know what BRCA testing is or what it tests for, you can get more information here: BRCA 1 and BRCA 2

Results are never universally simple if you have the mutation, and there are all kinds of options depending upon what they find, but my doctor told me that the results, if positive, could lead to me needing significant surgeries to prevent cancer--and I would need to have these sooner rather than later, because I am pushing 40.

Anyway, not sure that I would recommend that a doctor go into all of this with every patient, because it can seriously freak you out. I, on the other hand, am big into doing anything to prevent such outcomes, so hearing all of this actually made me feel better. I kind of went into the test by looking at it as a win-win situation: If I have the mutation, great--I can do something. If I don't, great--I can keep my schedule open for things other than surgery.

If this sounds all peaceful and calm to you...well, it was. I felt that way for a good 48 hours. Then, I started to panic with all of the "what if" questions. What if I had it? Would I be able to cope with all of this? I would do what I had to do, but how would we deal with it? (Those of you who know me well know that I have an unusual family situation...and dealing with two sick people would not be a good thing.) I wasn't afraid of surgery, but I was afraid of how I would cope with getting it all done (which might sound really odd, I guess).

The doctor told me all of this on a Monday. I came back to the office on a Thursday for the "simple blood test." My test was done through Myriad Genetics, and I don't know how other tests go, but this one took quite a bit of blood. I was thinking they would take a vial like they do when you have your blood drawn as usual, but I want to tell you (in case you are having this done) that the vial is much larger. I am fine with needles, and the test didn't hurt at all. But I wasn't prepared for the length of time it took. I keep waiting for it to be over, and finally I looked down (as I was starting to feel a little woozy) and realized what a big vial it was! Anyway, just be prepared. You don't feel it, but it is odd.

This was the same day, I might add, that I started feeling panicked. I wasn't at ease at all, and I just wanted out of there. I had a meltdown that night (my poor mom...ugh...bless her), and finally just resolved myself to being a nervous wreck.

Anyway, the nurse told me it would be about ten days before they got the results back. In the meantime, if the folks at Myriad saw that my insurance wouldn't cover the test or if I would have to pay more than around $350 for the test, they would call before processing the sample.

So, I waited. Almost a week later, as I was driving out of town for a meeting, I got a call from a number I didn't recognize. I didn't answer, but listened to the voicemail. It was a lady at Myriad asking me to call her. When I did, she told me that she didn't think I would qualify for insurance coverage because no one who had cancer was a first or second degree relative.

And this is where I come to my most problematic reactions to this whole testing thing: I've been told I need the test. I've been told outcomes. I've been nervous. And now I'm told I probably don't qualify.

Out of pocket expense for the test if I wanted to pay for it? 

Nearly $4000. 

Yep. People. I work for a nonprofit and have student loan debt. What the what? The problem is, I now had the question: "Well, if I don't take the test, and I do have the mutation, and I never did anything to stop me from getting cancer and I did get would I feel about that?" I felt confused and trapped and without a lot of information. Did I really need the test? I don't know about you, but $4000 is a lot of money for me.

So, the very nice lady at Myriad (she was awesome) told me she would process the request for payment to the insurance provider, just to see what would happen, but it would take about 10 days to get a response. She also told me that if I decided to take the test even if the insurance didn't cover it, Myriad would work with me to get a payment plan I could live with. But I was still confused and gradually became a bit angry about all of it.

So, another ten days passed. My nervousness lessened. I looked at the situation logically: Usually you see patterns of cancer, and we don't really have that in the family. My grandmother and her daughters are fine. Most ovarian cancers are caused by unknown reasons. And, most importantly (and I can't stress this enough), I went back to my "This test is a win-win" attitude again. Because it really is, when you think about it. And, yes, in spite of all of this, I had decided to pay for the test, because I can't deal with the idea that I "might" have a ticking time bomb that I could deactivate in some way.

Well, ten days came and went. Nothing.

Twenty days. Nothing.

I actually started to forget about it.

Sometime in mid-September, I received a note from my insurance company. They were approving the test. I hadn't heard from anyone at Myriad again, so I just assumed this would take place pretty quickly. I guess in the grand scheme of things it did, but it didn't feel that way.

Finally, in early October, I got the news that I am negative for the mutation. Very good news, of course, but what a journey to find that out. I really did dread the phone ringing, because I had to mentally prepare myself for whatever news I got, you know? When I finally did see my doctor's office name pop up on caller ID, I had a moment of panic again, but then I reminded myself (before answering) that regardless of the results, I would get through it and everything would be fine. Because it would have been.

I think my biggest fear was having to put my immediate family and household through all of that. It is hard enough when we have to take the dog in for her vet visits. How would we manage with me in the hospital for extended periods of time and a lengthy recovery? 

Still, I would have faced it somehow, and it would have been fine in the end.

So, I write this post to put another resource out there for anyone who is waiting for their BRCA results. Each situation is unique, and the circumstances under which we test are unique. Results will vary. But we do have to keep in mind that knowing is definitely better than not knowing. And, especially for those of you who have children (boys and girls, by the way...because boys can carry, too), and you qualify for testing, you need to know so that they know too. And so that you can do everything you can to be around those you love for a long time.

Anyway, just putting this out there, because you feel so lost during the process of all of this. In comparison to other things, it feels so little and insignificant, but when you are going through it, it feels like it is the most pressing thing in the world. If this helps someone, great. If not, that's okay, too. :)