Wednesday, November 26, 2014

25 gift ideas for the single mom (to fit any budget)

Hard to believe that the Christmas season is here! And now the serious shopping begins. Here are 25 gift ideas for the single mom. Let me tell you, if I got any of these, I'd be shouting for joy! My latest on Divorced Moms.

25 Holiday Gift Ideas For The Divorced Mom
by Lizzy Smith                    
November 26, 2014
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I asked my single mom gal pals for a list of gifts they'd love to find under their tree this holiday season. After gathering their answers, it boiled down to these top 25 answers.

1. Dating site membership
Not every divorced mom is ready to start dating again, but if she is, a membership to a dating site is a fabulous idea.

2. Kid-sitting
Offer to watch her children for an evening or a day. Time without kids is the perfect gift.

3. House cleaning
What mom wouldn't love her home cleaned? If it fits your budget, hire a cleaning service. If you're looking to save money, consider doing it yourself.

4. A good book
If she's dating, consider getting her a book on relationships (my favorite is He's Just Not That Into You). I have also gifted books that I've enjoyed reading myself, travel guides, cookbooks, and coffee table books. With a little thought, you can't go wrong with this option.

5. Pedi/massage
A gift card for a massage or pedicure is a great way to help the frazzled mom relax. Better yet, go with her and enjoy a fun afternoon of bonding.

Keep reading...

Should myeloma patients achieving complete response with induction therapy defer transplant?

A VERY important question in the world of myeloma. An article I wrote for www.myelomacrowd.org.

Should Newly-Diagnosed Myleoma Patients Defer Transplant?

Should Newly-Diagnosed Myleoma Patients Defer Transplant?

BY LIZZY SMITH

Is it reasonable to defer transplants in patients achieving complete responses to their induction therapy? MedPage Today asked that question of three top myeloma doctors:  Matt Kalaycio, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic, Carol Ann Huff, MD, of Johns Hopkins, and Hani Hassoun, MD, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

To watch the interview, click here: MedPage Today: Should patients defer transplant?

The answer is… It depends who you ask. Dr. Kalaycio says to proceed with the transplant; Dr. Huff says perhaps wait; and Dr. Hassoun says there is no definitive answer. All have great points– there are some studies to suggest one answer over the other, and each of us patients need to decide which protocol makes sense for us.

For me, when I was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma in January 2012, I immediately began treatment for a tandem auto stem cell transplant. It was pretty crazy– I had 95-percent myeloma cells in my bone marrow biopsy (that’s no typo!) yet I had no bone lesions or organ damage. Just before my stem cell transplant, I was almost in remission thanks to my initial high-dose therapy. I asked my treating oncologist if I should wait to have that transplant until my numbers started creeping back up. Ultimately, we decided to treat me as aggressively as possible. I was young and otherwise really healthy and we felt that my body could handle the treatments. I can’t say that, knowing what I know now, I would make a different decision but I’ve always wondered if that was, perhaps, the “best” or “only” viable option for me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Believe it or not, I'm grateful for cancer and divorce

Happy Thanksgiving week! It's time to make my annual "grateful" list, which is the topic of my latest Divorced Moms column. Today I am very tired and after posting this, I'm taking a nap and later today, hitting up yoga. Not a bad way to start off my favorite time of year.

This Thanksgiving, I'm Grateful For Cancer And Divorce
by Lizzy Smith                     
November 25, 2014
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Thanksgiving.jpgIt's Thanksgiving week and I think all my Facebook friends are posting a list of all the things they're grateful for. I've decided I don't want to do the expected thing and post my own list. Because if I did, it would include the typical:

1. My daughters
2. My family (especially my parents, who opened their home to me and my two children when I was newly diagnosed with cancer and left my husband)
3. My friends and loved ones
4. The luxury of traveling

...oops! I just started the list that I promised I wouldn't. I think I'll stop right there.

But on Friday, I headed off to my weekly oncology appointment. Though I'm in full remission from multiple myeloma (a blood cancer), I am on indefinite maintenance therapy, which includes a chemo pill that I take daily, and a weekly injection of another chemo-type drug. (Neither of these drugs cause hair loss-- I already went through that!) I also get labs every three months. At that appointment, I got revaccinated. This was necessary because when I first entered treatment, I had two stem cell transplants, which wiped out my entire immune system. So all the vaccines I've had growing up were basically cancelled out. Here I was two years later getting new shots (progress!) because I was finally healthy enough to get them. And as I was sitting in clinic getting one poke after another (seven in total!), I started thinking about the radical direction my life has taken since getting cancer, and, wow, I realize how grateful I am for the experience. I mean, I wouldn't wish cancer on anyone, and I'm not happy I got it. But I did, and cancer was the catalyst for many amazing life lessons and experiences.

So I think I'll make a different kind of "grateful list"-- a list of why I'm grateful for the Cancer Journey.

1. I got a divorce
I wanted a divorce since just months after the wedding. During our dating phase, my husband pretended to be someone he wasn't-- a nice (and sober) guy. Soon, his disturbing personality patterns emerged and a few months later, he confessed that he was an alcoholic-- a highly functioning, closeted, raging alcoholic. Our marriage was a Hell that's hard to describe. And as many times as I asked for a divorce, and dreamt of a world without my husband, I had yet to pull the trigger. The minute I found out I had cancer, that all changed in an instant. I left my husband within days of diagnosis. While divorce sucks, a bad marriage sucks a whole heck of a lot worse. Some people need to be cut out of our lives just like a tumor. My husband was one of them.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

I'm revaccinated, baby! Progress in kicking myeloma in the arse

I always hesitate getting too braggy when it comes to my quest of kicking cancer in the ass. That's because cancer is POWERFUL and SCARY. Nonetheless, on Friday, I got re-vaccinated! Since undergoing two stem cell transplants, I had the immunity of a newborn baby. And that means that all those vaccinations growing up were non-existent. Wiped out. A clean slate. So almost three years later, I marched off to my weekly maintenance appointment at Huntsman Cancer Institute.

First, before leaving home, I took my 20 mg of Dex, swallowed a ton of vitamins (all the vitamins in ONE of the slots)...


... Then I drove to Salt Lake City and stopped at my favorite place, Salt Lake Roasting Co, for my organic coffee and a delicious cranberry-oatmeal cookie (OMG I love that place), arrived at HCI where they weighed me (holding steady, yay!) and took my vitals, told me that my mammogram results were clean (whoohooo!), helped me schedule my first-ever colonoscopy for next month (that should be FUN), and accessed my port, which, turns out, BOTH SIDES were clogged up. Yep, I got poked twice in my dang port, barely got a "pink" blood return on one side-- just barely enough to give me my Velcade. This Friday I'll get an extra long appointment so that we can put anti blood-clotting stuff in them. But that's ok, it's just one tiny eentsy weentsy hiccup in my myeloma treatments. I can't even complain because I'm in REMISSION, I'm ALIVE, and I'm treated at Huntsman, a really FABULOUS place (for a cancer hospital).


And then I got all my new vaccines, five shots in total. So before I left, I got poked SEVEN times-- five vaccines and two in my port. And before I went to bed, I had to self-inject in my stomach so I won't get blood clots. Yes, that's EIGHT shots for me in ONE DAY. Good thing I'm over the whole "I hate needles" thing. I hardly wince anymore. That makes me... A WARRIOR!

I raced out of my appointment, drove all the way home, picked up Siena and her friend Gavin, and Morgan and three of her friends, and William, and we drove all the way back to the University of Utah for the state high school championship football game. American Fork High School lost, bummer, but it was a beautiful day and it was fun to gather up the whole gang and watch it.




After the game, William and I dropped off all the kids, went to an adult-only dinner party and met some new people, and then called it a night. Saturday, I hit up Bikram yoga in hopes that my very sore arms from the injections would loosen up (it worked) and later that night, watched Catching Fire. It was ok-- I wish they didn't split the last book up into two movies. This movie was dark and kind of dragged out. Ok, Catniss, we know you are desperately trying to SAVE PETA!!! Got it.

We were supposed to get snow this weekend and we barely got any. We did eat pre-Thanksgiving meals (turkey and the trimmings) and shopped. And now it's Thanksgiving week. And boy oh boy do I have so much to be grateful for. I will be writing up that post later this week.

Until then, here's to vaccines. It means I'm one more notch up on the SURVIVOR ladder. And for that, I'm so incredibly grateful.

Jenny and I are featured in The Daily Utah Chronicle!

How Social Media Helps Myeloma Patients Become Advocates

A new platform for patient advocacy




While the chronically ill have always been something of a disenfranchised class, the Internet and social media now provide patients with a unique opportunity for collective self-advocacy. Jenny Ahlstrom and Liz Smith are two such patients who have recognized and embraced this opportunity. Their work provides an excellent example of how patients can and should utilize the connectivity of the Internet to advocate for themselves.

Both Utah women are myeloma survivors. Their website, myelomacrowd.org, is an example of successful cancer patient advocacy. “We met because I went on Twitter,” Smith said. She and Ahlstrom connected in Utah Valley after each discovered that the other was a myeloma patient. Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma; like many people, I hadn’t heard of it before. Extremely rare in those under 40, it’s a serious disease not only because it is a cancer, but also because it attacks the immune system.

Ahlstrom was already working on launching a myeloma website when she met Smith, who has a background in marketing and public relations. They’ve since successfully created an exemplary online patient community that has an influential voice at important cancer research centers like the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Myelomacrowd.org works to connect myeloma patients and those caring for them. Ahlstrom and Smith have eschewed the site-specific forum model, instead opting to reach out to myeloma patients with existing platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

It’s important that patients find ways to connect with clinical researchers and trial therapies. Ahlstrom stresses this point: “One of the key problems in cancer research is that, in adult cancers, less than five percent of the patients participate.” It’s not easy for adult myeloma patients to try to find myeloma-specific treatment, so many end up looking to their local general oncologist for care.

“If you have a specialized disease like myeloma, you really need to see a specialist … I started this [website]…because I was trying to get patients educated so that they would want to join the clinical trials.”

Their website has been providing patients with clinical trial information and evaluations via outlets like mPatient Radio, making sense of different approaches to treatment, and connecting patients with the same variants of the disease with the goal of increasing access to clinical trials. This approach has been adopted not only to accelerate research by increasing trial patients, but also to help patients get better treatments that have been shown to be more effective in treatment of their variant of cancer.

They are not the first myeloma patients to benefit from this approach. Ahlstrom recalls the story of Stacy Erholtz, a myeloma sufferer who made headlines when she beat her cancer with a modified version of the measles virus after proactively getting herself into a clinical trial at the Mayo Clinic.

Patient-driven advocacy can and should extend to funding research. The organization over myelomacrowd.org, the CrowdCare Foundation, is now using the collective voice of its patient community to help drive research through crowdfunding for myeloma research projects. The organization is choosing projects from proposals from the patient community, vetted by both scientific and patient advisory boards, and is planning on introducing them at an international hematology conference in December. The organization already has one crowdfunding project in motion, the Kickstarter campaign “Songs for Life,” a music project intended to raise money for cross-cancer research.

The Internet provides formerly under-represented groups, such as patients with an advocacy solution, but only if members of those groups individually step up to the plate and participate in the process.
“We’ve been waiting on a cure for cancer for some time now. Something has to change. Our premise is that patients have to be more involved in helping to accelerate the cure,” Ahlstrom said. Patients should recognize that they can assist research, find better healthcare solutions and better advocate for themselves by reaching out to the burgeoning online patient community.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mommy Makeover time! My tips for looking younger without spending tons of cash



Fresh from my winter wardrobe shopping spree (which included pictured here: Ugg boots from Scheels, tights from Walmart, cream skirt from H&M, Sweater from Ann Taylor, and earrings compliments of William) over the weekend (which, admittedly, I overdid it and am feeling a bit lot guilty), I wrote this article for Divorced Moms. I could write more and explain more but it's pretty self explanatory. Now if only I can figure out how to get rid of crows feet and bags under my eyes without surgery and lots of cash.

It’s Time For A Sexy Mommy Makeover! 13 Ways To Look Younger Now
by Lizzy Smith                      
November 20, 2014
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When balancing kids, job, budgets, household management, meals, dating, and divorce stress, it’s easy to forget about ourselves. But a “refresh” may be just what the doctor ordered. Not only is shaving years off your look rather simple (and inexpensive), it’s a great emotional pick-me-up.

Color your hair
Dull or grey locks add years to your appearance. Now is a great time to chat with a good stylist and pick a flattering color for you. Avoid extremes or harsh colors, including going too blonde. Warm, natural hues are the most youthful and will soften the appearance of facial wrinkles.

Get a good haircut
Damaged ends, hair that’s too long, or frizz all make a girl look old(er). Get a good trim and add some layers. Refrain for over-styling and spraying your hair. (If you’re using loads of product or are going through a can of hairspray every few days, you’re doing something wrong.) Even if you like your hair, if you haven’t tried something different in a decade, it’s time for a switch.

Refresh your wardrobe
Pitch the mom jeans, sweats and frumpy T’s immediately. Clean out your closet and be brutal. If something is old, worn out, you haven’t put it on in years, or it doesn’t fit right, it goes. Now it’s time to replenish. You need not spend a fortune—visit Target, Walmart and Old Navy. Better yet, H&M (if you have one near you) is a fashion bonanza for inexpensive and trendy options.

If you’re starting from scratch, a good pair of figure flattering jeans are a must, as are a few good sweaters and tops in softer colors, and a great pair of shoes (no sneakers!-- look for boots or booties during cooler months). For work, skirts with tights or fitted trousers are solid choices. If you opt for a skirt, make sure hemlines are at the knee or slightly above. Mid-calf skirts are dated looks and they add on pounds (yikes). Pair the skirt with heals (not too high) or boots, and a basic sweater. And don’t forget to add a good handbag (no stains, rips, or tears).

Whatever you do, avoid trying to be too sexy or you’ll look ridiculous. Watch for plunging necklines, heals too high, skirts too short, and massive amounts of makeup and hair. No matter how great your figure, showing butt and boobs isn’t appropriate unless you’re at the beach.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Winter is here. I love!

On Saturday evening, William, Morgan, Siena and I met up with my brother Jason, his wife, and their two year old son, Dylan, for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony and concert at the Lehi Outlets. We froze our tushes off, it was so cold! And I loved it. Well, sort of. We forgot where we parked the car and walked around the parking lot for a solid 35 minutes in temps with the wind-chill that hovered around five degrees. That part sucked, but the rest was fun. We danced, sang along, and shopped at H&M. Afterwards we got dinner. This is a great way to usher in winter, the holidays, and chilly temps. I love the seasons. In San Diego, it was mostly summer all year long. It's lovely. But I also love snow, bundling up, being cozy, and wearing winter clothes, coats and boots.
 

One thing was noticeably absent-- my fatigue and fuzzy/buzzy feeling. The reason? Because Friday was my first day back in my ongoing myeloma maintenance treatment and those meds have yet to take affect. I haven't needed to lie down like a must typically do almost every day. I haven't felt that weird fuzzy-buzzy feeling. No fatigue. Just general malaise thanks to my fight with a cold. Every six months, I really need to advocate for myself that I need a two to three week break from treatment. My body needs it (I think). My brain needs it. It's nice to be reminded what I felt like pre multiple myeloma diagnosis. It's a great pick-me-up.

Earlier that day, I engaged in some major retail therapy. I do this once per season and I felt sort of drunk afterwards, I gotta say. I purchased all kinds of fun new clothes, including booties, velvet skinny jeans, two cocktail dresses, sweaters, a skirt, and more. Siena took photos and cheered me on. Morgan wasn't nearly as thrilled with waiting for me to try stuff on. Oh well!


Yesterday was not a fun day. Morgan is struggling with a back injury (more on that one later). And I saw a photo of my ex husband. I haven't seen him for almost 2.5 years. He looked the same-- drink in hand, dirty T-shirt... I know Morgan saw the photo, too, and it was a dagger in her heart. She misses him and it breaks my heart what he has done to her. I know he says "well you made the decision to move to Salt Lake City from San Diego so live with it." How can you ever resolve anything when someone thinks like him.

So William came over and surprised me with... an outfit! Beautiful Ugg boots, necklace, Spyder vest, sweater, and Fossil handbag. It was so nice and cheered me right up. We then all went to dinner, William, the girls and me, we dropped him off, and then I took Morgan back to Urgent Care because of her back. I could tell that her spirits were lifted from the time I picked her up from school (when she saw her dad's photo) to the time she went to bed. I love my daughters so much it hurts. Every time they are in any kind of pain, I am devastated. How anyone turns children into weapons to be used against someone else is utterly baffling to me. Well, I can't control anyone else so I've given up even trying.

And so as I battle this cold and get ready to work on the registration page for the Myeloma Beach Party in Fernandina Beach, Florida this coming March, I celebrate winter, change in season, cold, feeling decent, and life. Cheers!