Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Final (hopefully) Cancer Frontier

July 26, 2014

It’s been a minute since I have blogged about the whole breast cancer journey, mainly because I finished treatments back in February and haven’t really done much else. A few weeks ago, I had my first three-month labwork and appointment with my oncologist. I was nervous before going in, knowing that they would be checking my tumor markers to make sure that they were not elevated (which would mean recurrence). Thankfully everything turned out wonderfully normal!

So a few weeks ago, I went back to the surgeon – Dr. Carolyn Garner, extraordinaire – who performed my bilateral total mastectomies last year, as well as my port placement and repair for chemo. A year or so before I even got diagnosed with cancer, my family knew and loved Dr. Garner’s work as a surgeon. She had removed the thyroids from our friend Holly, Holly’s mom, Erikka (right after Harrison was born), and my mother. Dr. Queen of the Thyroidectomy! One of the times that I had gone in with

My girls came to visit - and borrowed my bed!
My girls came to visit – and borrowed my bed!

Erikka before she had her thyroid removed, the doc did an ultrasound on my throat, just for kicks, since I had so many symptoms related to a problem thyroid. I didn’t have insurance at the time, but I did have an obvious nodule that was likely making my thyroid absolutely useless. Flash forward to 2014, when I finally obtained wonderful medical insurance. I had to wait until I was completely done with treatment, or at least that what was recommended, before finally addressing my throid or anything else that would require surgery. I went in, she wanded my throat again, and just confirmed that the nodule was still there, and appeared to be very calcified. We also discussed removing my chemo port, which she had previously sewn to my chest wall. Yes. Good times and great comfort, particularly all of the times that Harrison hit it with her head or body-slammed me. And then, as an afterthought, change of heart, whatever, I started asking about possible small reconstruction. She had removed my breasts and had gone as close to the chest wall as she could, and this left me flatter than a boy – I was actually caved in. Some shirts and swimsuits just don’t fit right anymore, and I had become very self-conscious about it (and I just KNEW that I wouldn’t care about that kind of thing). Well, apparently, I was wrong.

Two of my babies visiting me <3
Two of my babies visiting me ❤

Next thing I knew, Dr. G had my shirt off and was snapping pics of my chest with her iPhone, and then texting the pics to her friend the plastic surgeon, Dr. Sanderson. She said he was a fantastic plastic surgeon, and that I should consider a consultation with him before we scheduled surgery; and yes, all of the procedures could be done on the same day. When I left her office that day, I called and got an appointment with Sanderson for the consult, and a few days later was meeting him and discussing options. I ultimately decided that I would go with just a small, A-cup implant, and had just enough skin to do it and not have to get expanders. Within a few days, surgery was scheduled, insurance was verified, and I felt really good about my decision. Our anniversary trip was already planned and booked, so surgery would be the week after we returned, with plenty of time to heal and be up and about in time for the new school year that begins at the end of August.

Thursday, July 24th we checked in at the hospital at 8:30 AM for my 11:30 AM scheduled surgery. IV put in, visits from doctors and anesthesiologists, and soon I was in la-la land and off to the operating room. Dr. Garner took out my thyroid and chemo port, and when I asked her about the nodule, she said it was bigger than we anticipated (the size of a marble), and solid like a rock. She said that the lab will have to soak it in a solution that will soften it enough to cut it open and do the pathology on it. It could be cancerous, and if so, that will mean more treatment, but nothing near what I have already done. If it is, that means three days in quarantine taking radioactive treatments – and that is it! So I’m not overly freaked out about whether it is or isn’t, because while it may be an inconvenience, I can certainly handle three days of treatment and then it be over!

When Dr. G was done with her part, Dr. Sanderson took over for the reconstruction portion of the program. I think he was at it for a couple of hours, opening up my previous incisions, placing the implants, and building barriers on each side of them to keep them in place (since I had no expanders or pockets placed previously). I don’t think that I woke up at all in recovery, and was up in my room before I did. At first I didn’t think the pain was too bad – until the first time I had to get up to use the restroom. Whoa! When gravity hit, even in little boob gravity world, THAT was ROUGH. I had not been given the handy dandy little morphine button, and nobody knew why; but I made it very clear that I wanted and needed it! When Dr. S stopped by to check on me, I was in a lot of pain and he didn’t understand why I didn’t have the button either, so he was ON IT. Got me hooked up within a half hour, and I was much better – well at least every six minutes I was a lot better…hahaha. I soon discovered that the pain in my chest from the reconstruction was WAY worse than the double mastectomy, and I’m not sure that I understand why. But I went home after one night in the hospital for that one; this time I have been here going on three nights, and hoping to go home tomorrow. My chest is still wrapped really tightly in dressing and ace bandage, so I have yet to see the results. I know that it isn’t going to be much bigger than before the implants were placed, but I expect not to be caved in anymore, with just enough curve (hopefully) to fill my swimsuits.

Mama Burt stopped by to see me!  Love her!
Mama Burt stopped by to see me! Love her!

Soon enough, I will heal again, and start looking for tattoo artists that have experience in post-mastectomy tattoos. If I find someone good that will take me on as a client, then I will start with 3D areola/nipple tats. After that, I want to put the Biohazard symbol where my port scar is, and then later figure out some cool, non-floral designs over other portions of the surgery scars. I never, ever planned on doing any kind of reconstruction, but am glad that I reconsidered and left it as a possibility after all. We shall see!

Beautiful flowers from Mom & Dad, and a new Willowtree figurine from my awesome wife <3
Beautiful flowers from Mom & Dad, and a new Willowtree figurine from my awesome wife ❤
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(Review) Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs – Denver, CO

Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs          Three Star Rating

2148 Larimer Street

Denver, CO 80205

720. 746.9355

http://www.bikerjimsdogs.com

Before we traveled to Colorado for our family vacation, I had a fellow blogger comment that we MUST go to Biker Jim’s in Denver for the gourmet hot dogs there.  Well…we like hot dogs.  We like gourmet.  So hell yeah, what’s not to love about the idea of gourmet hot dogs??!!

We drove into Denver one day for lunch from Golden, so only about a 20 minute drive from suburb to downtown.  After we located the place, we discovered that parking was a bit limited, but there is a paid lot right next to the restaurant.  There were cool, trendy designs to the decore, and looked more like a hipster hangout than a family dining eatery – but we showed up with two kids in tow, nevertheless.

We went up and began to peruse the menu, each of us a little excited about how much we had built up the place in our minds before going.  My wife knew before we went that she would be trying the vegan dog, considering that she doesn’t eat meat.  She got the Vegan Herby (and it is also available in Spicy as well), with no extra toppings.  Upon her first bite, I immediately knew that it was NOT the dog that she had anticipated.  She said that the texture was way too mushy, and didn’t seem to like the flavor either.  She also got a side of baked beans with her dog, and seemed to like those okay.

Vegan Dog w/Baked Beans
Vegan Dog w/Baked Beans

We ordered a kid’s meal for the tot, but the choices were VERY limited:  All Beef Dog or Mac N Cheese Dog.  Sides were extra.  Drinks were extra.  Not really our idea of a good kid’s meal.  Plus, when we got the kid’s meal, we discovered that  the Mac N Cheese dog that we thought would be simply mac n cheese formed into a  hot dog shape was actually a meat hot dog with mac n cheese inside of it.  Needless to say, the kid wouldn’t eat any of it.

The teenager ordered an All Beef Dog wrapped in Bacon.  He also opted for no extra toppings, which was fine, because this dog was HUGE!  I think that he added some ketchup and onions, maybe some relish – just your typical hot dog fare.  He got fries for a side, and said that both his hot dog and his fries were really good.

All Beef Dog Wrapped in Bacon and Fries
All Beef Dog Wrapped in Bacon and Fries

Now, given all of the random meats that were available for Biker Jim’s gourmet dogs, I really thought that the kid would be more adventurous and try something odd.  But no, he opted for safe and what he knew.  So it was up to me.  I mean, listen to the selection of available dogs:  Alaskan Reindeer (REINDEER???  That’s crazy!), Jalapeno Cheddar Elk, Wild Boar, Rattlesnake & Pheasant, German Veal, Jack-a-Lope, All Beef, Louisiana Red Hots, Duck Cilantro, Vegan, All Beef wrapped in bacon, Southwest Buffalo, and Pheasant.  I went with the Wild Boar, described as being made smokey, with apricots and cranberries.  Sounded interesting!  I also chose to top it “Biker Jim’s Classic” style or cream cheese and caramelized onions.  To that I added some horseradish sauce, and very much enjoyed my combination of smoky, sweet, and slight spice dog; each bite exploding new flavors and sensations.  I wasn’t able to finish it because it was really big.  My side was a mixed green salad, with a great homemade dressing (fresh tomato vinaigrette, I believe) that I absolutely loved!  I wish now I had thought to ask how to make it!  There were about 7 ways to top your dog, if you so choose to, with various stages of heat along with various sauces and veggies.

Wild Boar Dog with Biker Jim's Classic Top and Mixed Green Salad
Wild Boar Dog with Biker Jim’s Classic Top and Mixed Green Salad

My wife did end up going back and ordering some of the Fried Mac N Cheese from the sides menu for she and the tot to share.  They were really hot when they arrived (hot meaning fresh is always a good thing; they just had a wait a bit to be able to eat them).  We considered some of the Deep Fried Pickles from the sides menu as well, but the description said that they make them with horseradish habanero pickles and served with a roasted carrot habanero sauce – so we opted NOT to get them due to the intended heat factor.

Lastly, the drink selection wasn’t all that great, in our opinions.  The fountain drinks were a selection of specialty sodas.  My wife got the diet cola one (as she is a Diet Coke drinker) – hated it.  I got the lemon lime one (hoping for a Sprite-type taste, as I am usually a Coke Zero drinker) – hated it.  Son got one of the colas, I believe – also hated it.  At first I thought that they all tasted funny because of the O2 of the fountain, but no, that is how they are supposed to taste.  And I know that it was totally us, used to our Coke products and not liking the difference of something new.  Fortunately, they were very nice and accommodating to us tourists from the South; they had regular Diet Coke and Sprite at the bar and made us some drinks from over there.  We really appreciated that!  I will also add that the bar was small, but looked like it had a decent selection of both craft beers and mixed adult beverages.  They also have desserts, which we opted out of, given that we had spent quite a bit of money on quite a bit of food; most of which we didn’t end up eating.

My take on Biker Jim’s is that it is geared more towards the younger and trendier crowd who enjoy the odd sodas and craft beer, than the older folks like us (30s/40s) and their kiddos.  Would we eat there again?  All of us?  Unlikely.  I would go back, probably by myself if I am being honest, just to try some of the other unusual flavors and styles of their gourmet dogs, and for more of that salad.  And I would be perfectly okay with having ice water with my meal.

 

(Review) Woody’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Watering Hole – Golden, CO.

Woody’s Wood Fired Pizza & Watering Hole         Four Star Rating

1305 Washington Avenue

Golden, Colorado 80401

303.277.0443

http://www.woodysgolden.com

After we arrived in Golden, Colorado this past June for our family vacation, we found that the condo patio looked down over the main strip of restaurants and shops on Washington Avenue – and just up and over Woody’s.  The pizza place had come highly recommended from several of our friends who either owned the condo or had stayed there before us, so it was high on the list of places to try.

The atmosphere was fun, with a full-size bar just beyond the front door.  There is some outside seating, and the weather there is pleasant enough (at least it was in June) for dining on the patio.  We had two kids with us, however, so we opted to go inside for the nice air-conditioning.  There was clientele of all ages and types, from couples, to groups, to families; with sports playing on televisions throughout the restaurant, and I think music was also playing.  It wasn’t quiet, but it wasn’t so loud that you couldn’t hear each other talking.  ALL of the staff were VERY nice, friendly, and accomodating.  When our two year old daughter wanted to stop a server and speak to them, they always did, and most of the time would squat to her level and actually talk to her – even with the restaurant mostly full with customers.  Our server was so great with both kids, and we really appreciate that when we go out, knowing how busy waiting tables can be.

2014-06-09 18.08.58
The special request pizza with anchovies

The main attraction that we had been recommended was the All You Can Eat Wood-Fired Pizza, Soup, & Salad Bar for $11.38 (kids 4 & under only $3.58, kids 4-10 only $8.78).  The salad bar was huge, with a fairly large offering of salady-stuff.  The soup was a beer cheese soup that was SO good.  And the pizza bar offered a pretty big variety of old favorites and unique types; and if you see something you didn’t like or wanted something that you didn’t see, the pizza chef would make it for you.  I saw one special request that was an Alfredo pizza with pineapple and anchovies.  Yeah.  I didn’t try that one.  They made an Alfredo Four Cheese for my wife, and a BBQ Chicken (Woody’s own whiskey barbecue sauce, wood-roasted chicken breast, bacon, mozzarealla & local honey) at my request…which I LOVED (I only wish I could have eaten more)!  I also tried the Italian Stallion (olive oil, Italian sausage, mushrooms, onion, black olives, roasted garlic, fresh basil, and mozzarella)….hearty and an awesome flavor combination.  We both tried the Margherita (olive oil, thin sliced Roma tomatoes, fresh basil, fontina & mozzarella) – very simple, vegeterian, but great flavor came from all of the fresh ingredients!  *I will add here that there were NOT a lot of vegeterian options on the pizza buffet until we asked for it; but they WERE very accomodating with anything that we requested.  They have a few vegeterian options listed on the menu under the pizzas, but we only saw one at any given time out and already made.

Pizza Bar
Pizza Bar

They also had options for the salad, soup, and pizza for those that didn’t want the All You Can Eat route.  If you want some of this, and some of that, it is exactly in that way that it is listed on the menu.  You can make a one-trip salad bowl for $3.99, a platter of salad for $7.98.  You can get just the salad bar for $9.38, or soup AND salad for $10.38 (no pizza).  If you want just soup, you can get a crock for $4.29 or endless soup for $7.28.  I loved all the options!  And slices of pizza for those who can’t eat very many, like mysef who got full after two, are $2.25 each anytime.

Salad/Soup Bar
Salad/Soup Bar

Our son opted for the Mark T’s Pulled Pork sandwich and fries – which was HUGE!  But for a fourteen year old boy, it was more than enough, and it seems that I remembered that as much as he loved it, he still had to get a box and take some back to the condo.  They have several options under sandwiches besides the pulled pork with one vegeterian as well as one fish.  The menu does say that gluten free buns are available as well.  There are also a few burgers available, and you can make it custom with cheeses, veggies, sauces, additional meats, or even swapping the beef for turkey, chicken breast, veggie burger patty, or a “skinny” burger with no bun.  I really like having the turkey and veggie burger options, since I prefer one of those on my burgers nowadays.  Next time we visit, maybe I will get a turkey burger!

There are entrees and calzones available for those who don’t want the pizza, sandwich, or burgers…but only a few options like mac ‘n’ cheese (3 types!), fish & chips, a couple of pasta options, and chicken tenders.  There were three calzone options that I saw:  lots of meat, no meat vegeterian, or create your own.  I like that option in a calzone personally!

There were several options for the little ones, which we were happy to see.  The $6.25 Kids Menu (includes a soda, juice, or milk) for ages 10 and under had:  spaghetti, chicken strips, mini burgers, grilled cheese, or mac & cheese.  Our little girl doesn’t eat meat, so she was plenty content with the mac & cheese, and trying our cheese/mushroom pizza.  You can also add a salad to the kid’s meals for just $1.99, which is a nice addition.  We gave her olives and broccoli from our salads, so she was a happy girl.  But if you don’t want to get one of the kid’s meals, there was always the Kid’s Buffet and Baby Buffets that I listed above.  2014-06-09 18.04.43

We didn’t see or hear of any desserts, and there aren’t any on the menu, but they DO have them – you just have to ask your server for the day’s selections.

I’m not sure if they deliver, but they do have a “Take and Bake” option, where you can pick it up and cook it in the comfort of your own oven.  One night when it was raining, and we were tired and didn’t want to go out again, we considered going and picking up to cook it ourselves – but didn’t only because we didn’t have a pizza cutter and honestly, just didn’t want to cook (yeah, we were THAT tired).

Overall, I loved all of the options, and the prices seemed pretty decent for a touristy, college town.  My only negative would be to have more vegeterian pizzas out and on the pizza buffet.  The ingredients were clearly fresh, and each pie made by hand.  I will totally return upon our future visits to Golden, and highly recommend it to anyone who happens across this hidden treasure of a locale!

(Review) K. Ann Diaz Photography – Napa Valley, CA.

K. Ann Diaz Photography     Zero Star Rating
http://www.kanndiazphotography.wix.com
707.400.3510

This is probably one of the oddest reviews I have ever written, as it will have zero stars. A few weeks ago, I started looking for photographers in the Napa Valley area, since I would be traveling there in July to celebrate my wedding anniversary. I found K. Ann Diaz Photography on Craigslist and thought that her photos were nice, and her prices were affordable. I first sent an email, asking if she would be willing to schedule a session (we are a same-sex couple and I know that some vendors will sometimes not work with us), and if she had the date open that I needed (our anniversary date – July 18th). She wrote back and was very friendly, verified her pricing, and after a few emails, we had the date, time, and place set.

My wife and I arrived at our specified location on the afternoon of our anniversary, and 30 minutes before our scheduled session we changed into our clothes for the shoot. We were scheduled for a 5 PM shoot at the Castello di Amoroso vineyard and winery in Calistoga. I sent a text to the number that Kimberly had provided in ALL of her emails and got no response. 5 PM came and went. At 5:20 PM, I called the phone number and it went straight to voicemail; no return phone call either. I walked back and forth between the entrance and the exit several times. As far as I know, she never showed for the session, never returned my text or phone call, never emailed me again.

I might also mention that I, too, am a photographer in the Dallas, Texas area. Perhaps this is why I was SO surprised at the outcome of this appointment. I have had my photography business since 2001, and have NEVER no-showed for any session or event. The rare occasion that I have had to be late for a shoot due to traffic or unforeseen circumstances, I have ALWAYS called and/or sent a text to notify the client. This incident was the height of unprofessionalism, and particularly when it is done to someone in the same field of work. Now I am a very fair, reasonable, understanding and even forgiving person; but several days have passed and I still never received any form of response. In this case, there is no “three strikes and you’re out,” or giving of second chances. This was completely unacceptable, as she left us dressed in our special clothes and without the special anniversary photos that I was so looking forward to having. I would and will not recommend this photographer for any session or event.

Fortunately, I had my professional camera with me, so we were able to get some photos of each other, and a few of us together thanks to a couple of kindhearted tourists willing to snap them for me after I set them up. Yes, I saved myself some money, but that was nothing compared to the huge disappointment that we had for being stood up.