We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Best Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas with Red Sauce

by Michelle
"Happiness is a kitchen full of family." Unknown

My nieces frying the corn tortillas and assembling the enchiladas.
   More often than not when my extended family gets together for a meal we prepare Mexican food. Nearly three years ago, we made carnitas for my daughter, Maddie's graduation, along with shredded beef tostadoscreamy refried pinto beans, coleslawstrawberry-infused margaritas, and pineapple-ginger auga fresca. For the past two years we gathered together for festive afternoons of making tamales in early December in early preparation for our Christmas dinner. My sister Linda was known for her Feliz Navidad Fiesta Menu during the holidays, which albondigas soup and cheese enchiladas were key components. It seems as if we can never get enough of a good thing. We all love the spicy food hailing from our neighbors south of the border.

I use a combination of chiles for a more complex flavor. 
   Last month a handful of our larger group were all together again at my house the day before Thanksgiving. The day before turkey day I am energetically baking pies and prepping sides for the feast. If I'm too busy cooking the night before Thanksgiving, which is normally the case, my husband picks up pizzas and a big salad so that I can avoid making dinner. I love the fact that I can be too busy cooking tomorrow's meal to cook tonight's dinner. In my family everyone cooks, and cooks well, so I figured that I would put all that talent to good use and ask everyone to pitch in to help put a homemade dinner on the table instead of bringing-in take-out. Ask and you shall receive.
   My niece, Sonora volunteered to fry the corn tortillas and her sister, Avalon agreed to stuff the enchiladas. In a pre-planning move, I made the enchilada sauce the prior weekend along with a taqueria-style salsa. My sister, Juliette shredded the specialty Menonita cheese (made by Menonites) that she purchased just over the border in Mexico specifically for the enchiladas. Maddie arrived home a little later than expected because traffic was predictably terrible. She was thrilled to have a margarita poured for her shortly after walking in the door, plopping down her bags, and letting out a deep sigh of relief to be safely home for the holiday. No rest for the weary, I promptly tasked Maddie with making the guacamole and the Mexican crème fraîche, which always seems to be her assigned job. I was in charge of making the homemade refried pinto beans that everyone adores. As a group we can forgo the rice but we can't skip the beans. Many hands make light work and within short order we finished prepping the garnishes and made a really delicious dinner together while we chatted, sipped margaritas and laughed. This cherished time together is what memories are made of.

Ready to pop into the oven. 
Best Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas with Red Sauce

Monday, November 27, 2017

Linda's Double Chocolate Cookies

by Michelle

   I have a confession to make. Until last week, I haven't made cookies in years. So many years, in fact, I can't recall the last batch of cookies that I baked. This lapse in cookie baking is due to my daughter, Maddie. Once Maddie was old enough to bake, cookies were her thing. If our family and friends wanted cookies, Maddie happily obliged their cravings. Maddie makes excellent cakes, too. Me? I continued on with the fussier side of baking, making delicious pie crusts and triple chocolate meringues. But now that Maddie's away at college, if I want cookies, it's up to me to make them.
   I was invited recently to a photography event and the hostess asked for all the attendees to contribute to a potluck meal. I adore chocolate chip cookies, but I wanted to shake things up a bit and that's when my mind began wandering through the halls of time to recall other superb cookies from my bygone cookie baking days. It didn't take long for me to fondly recall my sister Linda baking up batches of cookies when my daughter was small and we all lived together for a brief time in 2001 before our world got permanently turned upside down after September 11th. This browniesque cookie is our favorite from that time. 
  The recipe is adapted from a Baker's chocolate recipe called Death by Chocolate Cookies. Linda changed the recipe a bit, which she always seemed to do, based upon her years spent as a pastry chef in the Santa Ynez Valley. The recipe couldn't be easier. All the kitchen equipment you need is a large glass bowl, a whisk, some measuring utensils, a couple cookie sheets and an oven and your on your way to producing an excellent batch of cookies. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Linda's Double Chocolate Cookies

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Creamed Baby Peas with Leeks and Bacon (Naturally Gluten-Free)

by Michelle

  This is one of my favorite holiday side dishes. I have been making it steadily since 2004 when the recipe appeared in the Thanksgiving issue of Food and Wine Magazine. Aside from the traditional holiday menus that include oven-roasted turkeys and big ol' hams, the peas are spectacular all year long with Danny's Beer Butt Chicken, and tortellini tossed with my basil pesto. The dish also pairs quite beautifully with Beef Bourguignon.
   I have modified the recipe over the years to make it even easier to prepare. The author, Grace Parisi, calls for frying most of the leeks as a garnish, which sounds like a great idea. However, much as I have tried, I cannot get the leeks to crisp properly and I dislike cleaning the stove after the frying. I now sauté the leeks and don't bother to garnish the final dish unless I already have some minced parsley on hand to shower over the top. I did flirt with the idea last year of making spiralized crispy onions to sprinkle on top of the dish, but I was too busy and directed my attention elsewhere. Such is the life of a hostess; always mentally computing what to add or discard to a recipe, to a menu, to a table setting. With or without a garnish, this simple, satisfying recipe is delicious.

You can substitute dried thyme if fresh isn't available. 
Creamed Baby Peas with Leeks and Bacon

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

El Día de los Muertos and Juliette's Tamari Pepitas

By Linda and Michelle

"After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."  —J.K. Rowling                                
El Día de los Meurtos celebration in Petaluma, California. 
 By Linda
November 1, 2015—I thought it only fitting that I start to tell the story of my breast cancer journey-battle on this—El Día de los Muertos—the day celebrated throughout Latin America as the day the the veils of the world thin, allowing the worlds of the living and the dead to interact for a short time. This day is thought to be the time in which one just might be able to connect with those loved ones that have now passed through this realm and on to the next. We sisters have celebrated the holiday with gusto and reverence for many years now. 
   Each year we devote a Salvation Sisters' blog post to an aspect of the holiday. My sister Juliette outdid herself this year, by creating an amazing sugar skull that was featured on the current issue of Edible Baja—a regional magazine in Southern Arizona where my sisters both reside. Although I just remembered that I am forgetting about the year that she handmade such an amazing community altar to honor our sister Maria who died of a cerebral aneurysm at the age of 31 in 1992, leaving two young daughters behind. The Red Cross asked if they could take Maria's altar on a tour of the United States as part of a program to educate the public at large just how valuable it is to be an organ donor. Our sister's body helped over 300 recipient families to have better lives with the donation of her organs, bone and tissues.

Even celebrations of the macabre need sweet treats. 
   In my 58 years on this planet, I have experienced the death and disappearance of many that I have loved dearly. My beloved grandmother Maxine, my sister Maria and my son Joshua have all departed this Earth plane for the realm of the spirit, and each has moved on to the next great adventure. In reflection I should add that I feel it is significant in my present circumstances that I have been abandoned by several lovers—traumatic events that each left me feeling bereft, scarred and alone. They had all been relationships that I was convinced would stand the test of time, and yet they did not. In contrast though, I have known great and lasting love—a life-long bond with my remaining two sisters, Juliette and Michelle, both of whom have provided me with a solid connectedness—firmly anchoring me with the living.
   As I begin to write on this holy day, I wonder if I will have departed planet Earth for the next realm by this time next year? There is really no way to know, but I have already begun in earnest to try and wrest the reigns from death, and stay here among the living for awhile longer.
   I walked downtown this afternoon for a pedicure, thinking that I would not go this year to the procession for El Día de los Muertos—too macabre even by my liberal sensibilities. For the last seven months I have thought about death a considerable amount—an inordinate amount even. Enough already, I said to myself this weekend, no more dwelling on death and dying, and yet when I turned the corner onto Kentucky Street which bisects the historic downtown of Petaluma, I was greeted with a Mexican Día de los Muertos street festival in full swing, and I had to laugh, the joke being on me.
   "Welcome to the Día de los Muertos Celebration of 2015, Linda. It's quite possible that you might be the honored ancestor at next year's festivities." I said to myself.
   I can only describe it as a very sobering experience. However I did not weep, nor did I not feel sorry for myself. Instead I did what I am sure I will be doing until I draw my last breaths, or am just too weak to put the viewfinder to my eye—I pulled out my camera and started shooting.

Linda captured these photos in 2015 in Petaluma, CA.

My daughter Maddie is proud of her Auntie Juliette for making
 the sugar skull featured on the October 2015 cover of Edible Baja Magazine.
Three skeletons and a selfie-stick at the All Souls Procession 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.
By Michelle

   Last November my sister Juliette, her daughter Sonora and I attended the All Souls Procession in Tucson like we have in year's past. Linda had been living in Tucson with my husband and me since April of 2016. After enduring both chemotherapy and radiation, and almost dying, she had regained her mobility and was getting out and about with the aid of a walker. The oncologist advised that while Linda's breast cancer was not curable, it was treatable, and that the "virgin" cancer cells might take a wollup of a beating after meeting chemotherapy for the first time. As the saying goes, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. After receiving treatment in February and March at UCSF, before moving to Tucson, Linda did rally over the summer months and steadily improved, albeit temporarily.

   In September, Linda was dealt an emotional blow when a brain MRI revealed multiple small tumors. With this gloomy news, Linda could not bring herself to attend the All Souls Procession, suddenly developing an aversion to a celebration that was once near and dear to her heart. When pressed on why she didn't want to attend, Linda snapped, "You wouldn't enjoy either if you were dying."
   Juliette replied, "That's the point, none of us know when our number is up. Día de los Muertos is about paying our respects to our loved ones that have died." They're dead. You're alive. Let's go remember them, together, while we still can. Then, that was that. There wasn't any more conversation about it. We went, Linda didn't.

  The irony is that Juliette, Sonora and I totally missed the procession. The three of us met in the late afternoon to mill around the starting point for the Procession. We wanted to see how participants were dressed and the late afternoon light afforded me the opportunity to take about a million photos without having to attach a flash to my camera. 
   The three of us eventually got hungry so we wandered around until we found a restaurant to get a bite to eat. We found a nice place to sit outdoors on a patio under a large tree that shielded us from the late afternoon sun. We ordered food to share from a food truck parked in the beer garden. One thing lead to another, one topic of conversation flowed into another, and by the time we picked ourselves up and walked to a nearby street on the parade's route, we discovered much to our chagrin (and embarrassment) that the Procession had already passed by.

Top photos, Juliette and daughter, Sonora. Bottom photo, Sonora and me.
Juliette decorated hats for herself and me to wear specifically for the Procession. 
   Not wanting the evening to end too quickly, we walked to Hotel Congress, which has been a popular destination in downtown Tucson since 1919. We were lucky, once again, to find seats on the outdoor patio under a large, beautiful tree with sprawling limbs. A talented band was playing for our entertainment, so we happily ordered a round of cocktails and effortlessly picked back up our conversation. I can't imagine the weather being nicer anywhere in the world than a desert evening in Tucson in the first few days of November. The majority of the crowd was dressed for the Procession. Faces decorated as sugar skulls illuminated the night under the dim yellow-hued lights strung above the patio and swagged across tree limbs. 
   And while I may not have time this year, due to recovering from a surgery (yes, it has been quite the year), to make sugar skulls or throw a sugar skull decorating party or make Sonoran Hotdogs or Dead Man's Party CookiesI will certainly without a doubt pay my respects to my all my loved ones, but especially to my dear sisters, Linda and Maria, whom have gone before me into the great beyond. I hope they will always feel my continuing love and devotion wherever they might be.

The scene on the outdoor patio at the Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson.

The hat Juliette decorated for me to wear at the Procession. 
Juliette's Sugar Skulls and Pumpkin Soup
El Día de los Muertos in Southern Arizona and Banana Salsa
El Día de los Muertos in Petaluma and Everyday Carnitas

Halloween Dead Man's Party Cookies (Traditional and Gluten-Free)

El Día de los Muertos in Tucson, Arizona: The All Souls Procession and Famous Sonoran Hot Dogs

The restaurants near the Procession route enjoy a brisk business in the late afternoon.

Juliette's Tamari Pepitas (Pumpkin Seeds)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Instant Pot® Wild Rice Chicken Stew and Adventures in Moving

by Michelle

   Although I haven't written previously about the Instant Pot®, I have fallen for the time-saving kitchen appliance just like every food blogger on the planet, or so it seems. I must admit though, I was slow to the pressure cooking party. And I would probably still be resisting the appliance if it wasn't for my sister, Linda. My steadfast mantra pre-Instant Pot® was that I didn't need one more appliance in my kitchen. I was wrong.
   Last fall during the small window of time that Linda felt well enough to start cooking againone of her life-long passionsshe volunteered to start making dinner during the work week. Although Linda was experiencing an upswing health-wise, she didn't have a lot of stamina. Linda wanted to cook and be productive but she didn't want to spend an inordinate amount of time getting dinner on the table.
   After reading many favorable reviews about the Instant Pot®, Linda ordered the 7-in-1 6-quart model and began using it on a regular basis. I was able to witness the ease of which she was able to quickly produce pot roasts, soups, beans and chili, poached chicken, shredded meats and even breakfast items such as steel cut oats. Although the Instant Pot® is a multi-use appliance, we have primarily used the pressure cooker function. Because it is an electric pressure cooker, it doesn't need monitoring while the food is cooking so it is as simple as pressing the settings and walking away, freeing up time to pursue other activities.

Ain't moving grand? Happiness is... finishing moving in.
   After two years of living in a college dorm, in August my daughter Maddie and two friends moved into their first apartment that is conveniently located near the university. The bad news for most young people is that an unfurnished apartment requires furniture, kitchen equipment and a stocked pantry, if one wants to cook, which after two years of enduring dorm food is exactly what the ladies wanted to do. Unlike most college kids, Maddie moved in to her first apartment with a fully loaded truck as if she was thirty years old.
   My family, we are the keepers of things. I hesitate to use the word hoarders. We do like to have the right tool for the right job, as our father taught us. Interesting knickknacks decorate every nook and cranny. We appreciate clothes; our closets runneth over. We cook, we bake, we barbecue. We adore thrifting and entertaining. Although let's be honest, we liked entertaining more in years past than we do now. We are artists, which requires a stock of art supplies. We craft together, making things like sugar skulls and paper flowers. As sisters we have passed on our handy ways, our decorating styles, cooking skills and our love of velvet to our children... well, at least to our daughters. To be fair, the sons are handy and like to cook (if they like velvet, they keep it to themselves).
   As we were working outdoors in August to get Maddie packed up, I remarked to my husband that I couldn't believe Maddie had enough "stuff" to fill-up a 15-foot truck from floor to ceiling. Without missing a beat my husband made an antagonistic crack about how I was successfully completing my mission to burden the next generation, that these belongings would act like an anchor tied around Maddie's waist. Noting my sour expression, he quickly turned his mouth from a frown into a smile as if an insincere facial expression would counteract the instant flare-up of ire that I was urgently trying to tamper inside myself before it boiled over into a rancorous retort. Our inside joke is that you can pretty much say anything to anyone as long as you have a smile on your face. A delayed smile is a smile given too late. Mount St. Michelle was on the verge of erupting.

My house has been a jumble of home furnishings for the better part of six months as we sorted
and distributed Linda's personal belongings and household goods across our family.  
   The conversation could have quickly escalated in to a full blown argument, but it didn't. Largely because I did not take the bait. My numerous years of circling the sun on this planet have taught me many valuable lessons, such as... moving sucks! On top of the moving drudgery, we were both feeling the wearing effects of the intense heat and humidity of a scorching summer day in the Sonoran desert. The afternoon high would reach a steamy 103 degrees. Crabbiness will naturally escalate in triple digit heat. It was simply too hot to put our withering energy into an argument, especially while in our front yard in earshot of our daughter and neighbors. We're not that kind of couple... yet.
   Although I didn't appreciate my husband's snarky comment, I couldn't necessarily in good conscience disagree with him either (much as I wanted to). I love the saying, "Keep it light enough to travel." Yet I've never managed to take the advice for myself, even when I've attempted to put it into action. My personal failure doesn't stop me from making the recommendation to others because it is still good advice. Much to her dad's chagrin, Maddie seems to be highly satisfied with her collection of possessions, a mix of new purchases as well as familial hand-me-downs and inherited items from Linda, including furniture, housewares, decorative items, kitchen equipment, and that magician of an appliance, the Instant Pot®.

Keep calm, it's moving day. 
   I have mentally taken note over the past few months that Maddie uses the Instant Pot® frequently. After cooking on a gas stove all these many years at my house, Maddie is totally bummed over having an electric stove. The apartment's stove does seem pretty lame. So much so that when I called Maddie the other night she was using the Instant Pot®'s sauté function to fry Boneless and Breaded Chicken Breasts instead of using a skillet on the stove. She said that not only does the stove take a long time to heat up, but it also doesn't get very hot. I recommended that she submit a maintenance ticket, which is, after all, the beauty of renting.
   After eating chicken upon chicken in myriads of ways for weeks on end on her limited budget, Maddie was more than ready to cook something different, so I recommended Nom Nom Paleo's Instant Pot Kalua Pig. Maddie was thrilled to cook up a big batch of the porky goodness and marveled at how easy it was to prepare (and inexpensive). While the pork was cooking unattended, Maddie did never-ending homework.
   Maddie froze leftover portions of the shredded pork in several ziplock packages for future meals. A packet can be quickly defrosted in the refrigerator overnight, or popped in cold water to defrost in about an hour, or slipped directly from the freezer into marina sauce to reheat slowly for a rustic ragu to ladle over cooked pasta. One base recipe of Kalua Pig can be taken in multiple directions, including  Mexican, Italian, Hawaiian and Southern barbecue.
   I have used the Instant Pot® so much over the past year that I decided to upgrade to the larger model, the 7-in-1 8-quart/1200W.  I'm glad I did. The extra capacity of two quarts makes it easier to cook larger cuts of meat, especially a whole chicken. Maddie and I love our Instant Pot®'s so much that they have earned permanent homes on the limited real estate of our kitchen counters.

Instant Pot® Wild Rice Chicken Stew

Friday, September 29, 2017

Portraiture in Palm Springs and Wellness Salad

by Michelle

I captured the portrait of my husband in the heat of a summer's day in Joshua Tree National Park.

   I love the adventure of a road trip. A few weeks ago my husband and I drove from Tucson to Palm Springs, a short six hour drive. The impetus for the trip was for me to attend The Portrait Masters Conference so that I could further pursue my interest in portrait photography. My husband tagged along because he considers spending a few days at a Hyatt Regency and swimming in the lovely pools a swell idea.
   I began following and learning from my photography mentor on-line nearly six years ago. When The Portrait Masters Conference was announced back at the beginning of the summer I vacillated on whether to attend. The ticket price was high enough to give me pause, and I would also need to factor in the cost for lodging, food, extracurricular activities and transportation. I got over the hump by rationalizing that the money spent on attending the event was not an expense, but rather an investment in myself. In other words, given enough time, I can talk myself into anything.
   It's been a turbulent couple of years riding shotgun with my sister on her rough and tumble journey with breast cancer. (I shared our story in Linda and the "C" Word.) After Linda's death at the end of March I was left with the realization, once again, that life is short. Incredibly short. So I said yes to Palm Springs and yes to following my interest in photography and yes to a mini-vacation with my husband. Yeses all around.

A portrait that I captured of my daughter, Maddie.
   While heading west to California we drove into a massive monsoon in the Mojave desert. People are terrified of other natural disasters, but there doesn't seem to be much of a fear factor related to monsoons. For the uninitiated, that is. But let me tell you, between the lightening strikes, the booming thunder, the gale force winds and the shear downpour of torrential rain, monsoons can cause significant damage in a minimal amount of time. While Hurricane Irma was terrorizing the East Coast, there was a mini Irma creating havoc on I-10 near Joshua Tree National Park.
   My husband and I were caught in the eye of the storm, just where we didn't want to be. Even with very low visibility, cars continued to rush past us in the left lane at 50 miles per hour as if there were no storm at all. An eighteen wheeler stalled in the right lane, which made driving even dicier as traffic narrowed from two lanes to one. Even though it wasn't a great situation, at least the stalled truck made traffic slow to stop and go traffic for many miles. Unfortunately the majority of drivers don't seem to know how to merge anymore. A few rude drivers wanted to rush around merged cars and cut in at the last minute. As Tom Robbins would say, "People of zee wurld, relax!" We made it to the hotel a little worse for the wear. That's why God created happy hour.
Into every life a little rain must fall, even while on vacation.
   The next day we visited the Palm Springs Art Museum where we particularly enjoyed the mind-bending Kinesthesia exhibit. After exposing ourselves to art (figuratively, not literally - c'mon people) we drove to the nearby Colony Palms Hotel to eat al fresco at the Purple Palm restaurant, which resides in the beautifully landscaped inner courtyard adjacent to the large rectangular pool. This is a resort where the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Kirk Douglas, Clark Gable and many more Hollywood film stars used to hang out back in the day. I'm glad I did my restaurant sleuthing in advance because this place is a gem.
  Initially it seemed like a good idea to eat on the covered patio but we urgently had to move indoors midway through our meal. The sky unleashed its wrath and let loose a vicious storm that came barreling over the tall peaks of the San Jacinto mountains. It rained so hard and for so long that we could not leave the restaurant after we finished our meal. I had my camera with me and I did not want to risk it getting wet while dashing to the car. Or, worse yet, falling and causing injury to myself and my camera while dashing to the car over slippery pathways. So we waited, then waited some more.

Scenes from Palm Springs (above) and a photo opportunity at the Kinesthesia exhibit (below). 
   As we sat at the bar and waited patiently for the raging storm to pass, we watched with increasing trepidation as the patio began to flood, and the water in the pool rose ever closer to escaping over the deck. The rippling water on the patio threatened to flow over the threshold into the restaurant. The monsoon was showing no signs of stopping anytime soon so I decided to while away some additional time by indulgently imbibing in an adult beverage. Although the air was not frigid, it was after all September in the Mojave desert, the pounding rain and ominous gray thunder clouds induced me to consider ordering a coffee drink even though the temperature was just below triple digits.
   Our cheery waiter, Michael offered to go off menu and make me his favorite coffee drink, the one, according to him, he frequently makes at home. Gotta love a guy that routinely makes strong coffee beverages at home. Michael delivered to me a large steaming mug filled with two shots of espresso, a full shot of Jameson Irish whisky, half shot of Bailey's Irish Cream, half shot of Kahlua and topped with frothy steamed milk. One sip and I was sold. Thank you, sir! I'd love to make one every morning henceforth, if I could, without, you know, the stigma of starting off a day with two shots of the hard stuff in my double cappuccino. But, the holidays are coming, and without a doubt I know what I'll be making on Christmas morning. Merry Christmas to me.
Sipping the "Michael Special", an off-menu adult coffee beverage at the Purple Palm.
  The photography conference was just what I needed to help me find that spark I've been searching for these past six months since Linda passed away. Including my mentor, I learned from seven of the best portrait photographers in the world over the course of the event. I networked by chatting with the trade show's vendors, introduced myself to new acquaintances and along the way, I decided what I want to do moving forward. To jump-start my plans, I came home and ordered more camera equipment. Although word on the street is that the quality of the equipment doesn't make the photographer, well... it certainly doesn't hurt the creative process either. As Oprah would say, this is what I know for sure.
   I'm building a portrait portfolio so that I can launch my business website later this year. Stay tuned for that and more announcements to come. Hopefully 2018 will look much different than 2017. I know that many people will share the same sentiment after experiencing a bummer of a year, too. Can I get an amen? In truth it's been more than a single bummer year, it's been a difficult couple of years dealing with Linda's illness and then sorting and finalizing all the subsequent "stuff" that needs to be settled postmortem. 
   Here's to all of us investing in ourselves and walking steadily and firmly towards what we really want with focus and determination. And, along the way, as I venture down this new path, I will mix up my routine and eat more salads like I enjoyed in Palm Springs. One must stay healthy to feed inspiration and to achieve big goals. The old adage is true, if you don't have your health, you have nothing. Stay well, my friends, stay well. 

Purple Palm Wellness Salad

Friday, August 4, 2017

Hatch Green Chiles and a New Mexico Road Trip

My Traveling Tales by Michelle
Hatch green chile season begins in August and is over by the end of September.
   About this time last year Linda and I devised a spur of the moment plan take a road trip from Tucson to Santa Fe to visit the Indian Market that is held annually in mid-August. Over the years my sisters and I had talked in broad terms about how much fun it would be to attend the Indian Market, but our conversations did not transcend into actually making a plan. Cancer has a way of expediting a decision making process. We both agreed that there was no time like the present, while Linda was feeling well enough, for us to both mark a mutual item off our bucket lists.
   In July of last year Linda was feeling much better than she had felt earlier in the year after enduring six intense rounds of chemotherapy and ten radiation treatments to combat breast cancer that had metastasized to her lungs and bones. The chemotherapy seemed to bring Linda to the brink of death before she rebounded gradually. After nearly five months of feeling horrible and being mostly confined to a wheelchair, Linda had graduated to a walker and was getting around on her own two feet (much to everyone's elation). She was even smiling again (hallelujah).
   The dates of the market fit quite nicely in between Linda's routinely scheduled bi-weekly doctor's visits. And to everyone's satisfaction there had been no recent changes to her medications and she was tolerating quite well the myriad of pills she took daily. The future looked brighter than it had in a long time.
Yours truly on the left wearing my new Heishi necklace and 
Linda on the right holding a Godfather cocktail.
   To proceed with caution we needed to factor in to the sightseeing equation that Linda could not walk long distances and that she might very well tucker out midday, which would necessitate a nap to recover her energy for evening activities. We also suspected that finding parking every day during the market hours would likely be awful and we needed control over that variable. With these contingencies in mind, it made sense for us to stay in the heart of Santa Fe near the action of the market, even though the cost of lodging would increase exponentially. Linda was surprised and pleased to find one available room at the historic La Fonda Hotel, which is conveniently located on the plaza near all the events we planned to attend.
   As with all great road trips, one thing leads to another. It didn't take long for us to figure out how to extend a quick weekend getaway in to what looked more like a mini vacation, or as we like to say, "Sistercation". If we were going to go all the way to Santa Fe, we agreed that we might as well tack on a couple of additional days and travel further north to Taos. If we were going to go to Taos, then Linda wanted to visit Chimayó to make a pilgrimage to the sanctuary. Linda worked the internet like a champ to put together a complete itinerary for sightseeing and dining. She scoured websites, read restaurant reviews and secured reservations for lodging and meals.

Linda and I enjoyed the performance of this fancy dancer champion.
I employed a couple of photo apps to create a painterly effect.
  The week before our trip, Linda's oncologist ordered a MRI of Linda's brain because Linda's tumor score had been increasing but comparative CT scans of the mid section of her body didn't reveal any significant changes. The day before we were to leave for Santa Fe, the oncologist called to give Linda bad news. Much to our dismay, the brain MRI revealed that there was indeed a tumor. If there is good news at such a time, it was that the tumor was small and treatable with radiation. Chemotherapy wasn't an option because it has trouble crossing the blood-brain barrier.
   The oncologist asked Linda if she had experienced any recent headaches or dizziness. Linda confirmed that she was asymptomatic. As a precautionary measure the oncologist prescribed a steroid that we needed to pick-up at the pharmacy in the morning on our way out of town. Linda was directed to take the medication, if needed, to counteract headaches or vertigo, should those symptoms suddenly occur. Linda and I mulled over whether we should cancel the trip. We mutually decided to override our concerns and to move forward with our plans. With the oncologist's blessing we were cleared to travel with the caveat that we needed to stop every 60 to 90 minutes so that Linda could stretch her legs and walk around a bit to get her blood moving.
Our favorite event that we attended was the Indian Market Haute Couture Fashion Show.
  The discovery of the brain tumor was a critical turning point for Linda. We knew that once we returned from the road trip that Linda would be meeting with a radiation oncologist to discuss treatment options. The unknown loomed large as Linda and I headed east the next day on I-10. We agreed that we would do our best not to let the news dampen our excitement for the trip or our enjoyment of our time together in New Mexico. We would be as carefree as possible and would not focus on the gravity of her situation.
   We understood from Linda's diagnosis at UCSF in Feburary that her stage IV breast cancer was treatable but not curable. We also understood that metastasis to the brain is fatal. Doctors will attempt to pacify a patient with statements that invariably start with, "Every patient is different and we do not know how each individual will react to a treatment." The doctor decides upon a course of action and if the treatment doesn't work then the next step is to try something different to see if it works. A treatment plan is just an ongoing experiment punctuated with many questions and few answers.
   What we knew for sure is that cancer spreads quickly in the blood-rich environment of the brain. If there was one brain tumor then there were likely multiple brain tumors that were at this point too tiny to see on the scan.
   We decided to move forward like everyone does by putting one foot in front of the other or, in this particular case, by shifting the car into drive while watching the miles speed by through the windshield of Linda's black Honda Civic Coupe (that she nicknamed Little Blackie after the protagonist's horse in the novel True Grit.)

A photo-worthy dilapidated truck with Taos mountain rests in the background.
   The driving time between Tucson and Santa Fe is about 7-1/2 hours. Roughly the half way point is Hatch, New Mexico where the famous, multi-varietal Hatch chiles are grown. Hatch chile season runs from the beginning of August through the end of September. Living in the southwest it is easy for us to source the coveted Hatch green chiles at our local farmers markets and in grocery stores.
   Last year we purchased about 20 pounds of fresh, flame roasted Hatch chiles at the Rialto Park farmer's market. Linda and I brought the fragrant chiles home, removed much of the charred skins with our fingers and then froze the prepared chiles.
   Some of the chiles I left whole and froze individually on sheet pans. My plans included making chile rellenos, which are roasted green chiles stuffed with a mild white cheese, dipped in batter and fried until golden. Also, a large portion of chiles were diced by hand with the aid of a chef's knife and then frozen in one and two cup portions. I planned to make dishes such as Green Chile and Cheese Soufflé and Green Chile Stew.
   What I particularly like about New Mexican food are the green and red chile sauces. Where many Mexican food eateries in the southwest seem to skate by using canned red sauce for enchiladas and smothered burritos, New Mexico is fanatical about preparing sauces from scratch. Linda and I happily ate New Mexico cuisine for every meal of the day and on several occasions we ordered our entrees Christmas-style, which means a dish is served doused with both red and green chile sauces.
The garden at the Fechin House, Linda wearing her new Heishi necklace, and Mexican sunflowers.
   The Indian Market is amazing and worth visiting if you are interested in Native American culture and in particular silversmithing and hand-crafted items, including jewelry, shoes, hats, drums and paintings. The market was so vast, with over a thousand booths, that Linda and I did not have the opportunity to visit every artist. We both purchased necklaces made of turquoise Heishi beads. Heishi beads were first made by the Navajo of the Kewa Pueblo (formerly known as the Santo Domingo Pueblo), located about 25 miles southwest of Santa Fe, which seemed like appropriate and special keepsakes to remember our trip.
   The visitors to the market were clearly turquoise aficionados and stacks of bracelets—easily worth thousands upon thousands of dollarscovered the arms of women and men alike. Linda adored the ostentatious fashion statement and proceeded to boldly wear every bracelet she brought with her for the rest of the trip. She continued to do so after we returned to Tucson, too. More is more, and more is betterclearly betterin Santa Fe. People watching is definitely a part of  the spectacle during the Indian Market.
   Beyond visiting and talking directly with the artists there is much to do and see in Santa Fe during the Indian Market. There are dance exhibitions, a film festival, music performances, art exhibitions, and other activities taking place in the parks, galleries, hotels, museums and civic center. Our favorite event, where we just so happened to snag front row seats by arriving early, was the Indian Market Haute Couture Fashion Show. I took about a thousand photos (I kid you not) of the models who strutted their stuff down the runway wearing gorgeous fashion statements created by Native designers.

El Santuario de Chimayó is a Catholic church and pilgrimage site for seekers of  miraculous healing.
   After experiencing the bustle of the Indian Market, Taos definitely felt calm and relaxing to us during our stay at El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spaeven though we packed in a full two days of sightseeing by visiting the the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, the Rio Grande Gorge, the Millicent Rogers Museum, The Harwood Museum of Art to view the art collection of Mable Dodge Luhan, and last but not least, the ancient Taos Pueblo. Instead of being tired by all the activity, Linda was invigorated.
   On a whim as we drove back to the resort after our first day of sightseeing in Taos, we stopped by a grocery store and purchased Scotch Whisky and Disarrano Amaretto to make impromptu cocktails for happy hour back at our well appointed room before enjoying dinner at the hotel's fine dining restaurant.
   The base recipe for a Godfather cocktail is a 50-50 mix of whisky and amaretto poured over ice. No special equipment is required. The ice machine was down the hall and there were two glass tumblers in the room. The ratios of whisky to amaretto can be adjusted according to taste whether one prefers a stiff drink on the drier or sweeter side. We sat on the deck in comfortable wood chairs, sipped our cocktails and enjoyed watching a storm move in that brought a sweet sprinkling of rain and lowered the temperature to the point that we both had to put on a warm sweater and coat.

A panoramic shot of a multi-storied, multi-tenant adobe building located on the Taos Pueblo. 
    On the return drive home, we were still on the road about an hour outside of Tucson, when we watched the sun make a slow descent towards the horizon. The sky burnt pink and orange and puffy gray clouds heavy with rain dotted the luminous sky. Linda, thinking out loud in a low voice, said that she'd like to attend the Indian Market again the following year... if at all possible. Her voice trailed off and I sensed that she was mulling over the possible ramifications of the brain tumor.
   Pushing angst and what-if scenarios aside, we agreed that we'd make plans to return in twelve months and we hoped that our sister Juliette could join us. Juliette is a talented artist who has a deep appreciation for Native American design and craftsmanship and she also has a penchant for intricate bead-work.
   Linda and I wanted something to look forward to, something that we could hope for, to discuss and make plans for, even though the future seemed more unsure and foreboding than ever before during the course of her illness. After Linda passed away at the end of March, I did not cancel the hotel reservation at La Fonda for this year's Indian Market. I held on to some sliver of hope that perhaps Juliette and I might make the trip together.
   As the event looms nearer, I have come to accept that Linda is indeed gone and that this is not the year for Juliette and I to go on a road trip together to New Mexico. With a sigh passing through my lips, I must acknowledge that this particular situation is what it is. Linda's gone and I'm not going to Santa Fe in two weeks. A few minutes ago, with sadness and resignation, I cancelled the reservation. My husband said to me gently, "There's always next year." But that's not always a true statement, is it? There's only now. You must do things while you are able, before it's too late, like taking mini vacations with your loved ones and buying Hatch chiles while they're still in season.

Preparing Hatch Chiles

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Linda and the "C" Word

The Memory Keepers by Michelle

Linda photographed on October 17th, 2015 at The Hess Collection in Napa, California.
The last really great, happy, carefree day I spent with my sister.
 "The greatest gift our parents ever gave us was each other." ~Unknown

Let me start by stating that my family doesn't get cancer. Or so I thought. My tribe mostly die from strokes and heart attacks, but not the dreaded cancer in any of its myriad of forms. This stupid misconception, this false sense of security that my family is somehow magically immune to cancer was unceremoniously dispatched in September 2015 when my sister Linda called to give me the horrid news that she had found a lump in her breast. When? Not recently, but six months prior in March. I was incredulous. For siblings who may go months between conversations this lack of disclosure may have been less of a surprise, but I spoke over the phone with my sister nearly every day. In addition, we frequently shared texts and emails.
   By now we all know and understand that early detection and prompt treatment are the keys to a successful recovery from any ailment. Why, oh why had Linda kept this health crisis a secret? The answer was simple. She did not want to pursue a cure through allopathic medicine. As a trained herbalist, Linda believed in the efficacy of naturopathic treatments. Linda thought she could heal herself, and that it was incumbent upon her to do so. If Linda did not share the fear inducing news of discovering a lump in her breast with her sisters, her son, or her parents, then she could proceed as she wished without conflict, without having to answer difficult questions, or justify her reasoning process to the people in this world who cared about her the most.
   As Linda had anticipated, as soon as she shared the news with Juliette and me, we began asking the tough questions. Her answers were unsatisfactory and left us wanting. We learned that Linda did not receive a diagnosis from a medical doctor. It was a chiropractor whom had confirmed Linda's worst fears. Juliette and I were dumbfounded. One does not go to a chiropractor to diagnose or treat cancer. Furthermore, it might not be cancer. The tumor could be benign or a cyst or something else. For all our efforts, we could not reason with Linda. Juliette and I could not fathom why Linda steadfastly refused to make an appointment with a board certified medical doctor. Didn't Linda want to investigate all the available treatment options and understand the corresponding pros and cons? No, she did not. Linda had set a course for herself and much to our chagrin she rigidly stayed on that course until her actions nearly took her life in the second week of February 2016.
Linda photographed in 1977 by Danny Townsend in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
   Linda started her self-prescribed treatment plan by taking multitudes of supplements. When the breast gradually got worse she consulted the chiropractor in early September. The chiropractor advised that Linda better change things drastically in her life if she wanted to live. On September 18th, Linda completely overhauled her diet. Linda began drinking fresh green juice every morning and left behind coffee, refined sugar, all grain, vegetable oils, pork, eggs and any processed foods (essentially the Gwyneth Paltrow diet). Linda was enamored with Dr. Budwig's anti-cancer diet plan that included a lot of flax oil mixed with cottage cheese and she could enjoy the occasional glass of wine, or preferably champagne.
   Between September and December Linda lost over 50 pounds. In December alone she took off more than 15 pounds. Linda continued to use supplements of all kinds and she tried a variety of treatments including DMSO, black seed oil, MSM, maple syrup and baking soda, turkey tail mushrooms, cannabis oil and at least 15 other things. Nothing worked.
   In November due to pain and restricted breathing, Linda believed that the cancer had metastasized to her ribs, back bones and lungs. All her life, Linda's Achilles's heel were her lungs. Problems associated with asthma increased. Not wanting to let her teammates down, Linda continued to work full-time during the hectic holiday season at Whole Foods Market, but it became increasingly difficult for her to do so. The asthma caused more fatigue and exercising became more difficult. She was in pain. And yet she persisted, holding fast to her decision to self-treat. Juliette was especially vigilant in arguing the case for Linda to seek medical help. Linda dug in and got angry that Juliette wasn't being supportive.

The Beaumont Sisters with our mother and Linda's identical twin boys, Jordan and Joshua (circa 1979). We're standing in front of our dad's cement mixer - it must have been a joke,
because there were much prettier places around the house to gather for a family portrait.
Left to Right: Juliette, Maria, Jordan, Mom, Michelle, Linda and Joshua.
   A couple of days before Christmas Linda finally made an appointment with a Naturopathic Doctor who had a special interest in oncology. Linda abandoned the Budwig diet in December due to an increasing aversion to dairy products and congestion. The N.D. agreed that Linda needed to eliminate all dairy from her diet, even products made from goat's milk. To Linda's surprise, because he is an N.D., he thought that she might need a mastectomy. To his credit, he immediately referred her to a surgeon at UCSF, but the first available appointment was not until early February. The N.D. also ordered a large panel of blood tests and a Thermogram to confirm that she had breast cancer.
   In the meantime, the N.D. recommended that Linda read Radical Remission a book that details other types of treatment based on research that the author completed with hundreds of people who survived cancer, and it delves into the nine top things that the survivors did to heal themselves. Linda also started biomagnetic therapy with a practitioner in Santa Rosa, California who purportedly had very good success treating cancer patients with paired magnets.
   Linda also sought the help from her long-time acupuncturist. When the elderly Chinese man saw Linda's breast he exclaimed that he could not help her, that she should go see a doctor immediately. Post-haste. Oh boy was Linda angry. How dare he suggest such a thing. We held our tongues and rolled our eyes. Except for Juliette, who told Linda, to once again, get a frickin' clue.

The Beaumont sisters circa 1967.
Front: Linda and Michelle
Back: Juliette and Maria
   Finally, in late December, two days after Christmas Linda threw in the proverbial towel and went on medical leave. Linda felt less guilty over the decision because she pushed through with sheer will power to make it through Christmas Day. And while the next few days would still be busy in Whole Foods stores through New Year's Eve, the worst of the holiday season was over.
   A few days later, on our dad's birthday, Linda sent an email to our extended family disclosing that she had breast cancer. Happy birthday to you, Paul. That's not even passive-aggressive, it's just aggressive. Dad said it was the second worst piece of news that he's received in his life. The first being when he learned that my sister Maria had died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. Linda once again stated her position in the email that she was a believer in natural medicine and that she had decided many years ago that she would not have breast amputation, radiation or chemotherapy. I have learned to omit the word "never" from my vocabulary. Because once you say the words "I will never do...__________", it is highly likely that you surely will do it.

Linda in the fall of 2013 while visiting Monterey, California.
Photograph by Mark Glasser. 
   In January, Linda limited her diet even further by following the Cantin Ketogenic Diet. She continued energy work with the magnet lady and started Vitamin C drips in the N.D.'s office. She integrated the Ketogenic regimen with the Gerson Protocol for Cancer diet, which mostly consisted of a lot of juicing and little else.
   In early January Linda wasn't convinced that she needed to retain the appointment with the surgeon at UCSF because she felt like she was improving. Regardless, we all urged her to keep the appointment, reiterating that receiving a proper diagnosis was of utmost importance. Thankfully, she did not cancel. By the end of January Linda was feeling weak and shaky and wondering if she needed to be hospitalized.
   The day before Linda went to UCSF she shared her thoughts in an email, "I have felt strongly compelled to see if my body couldn't heal with just supporting my immune system with diet, supplements and the other things that I have tried. Now I know that it cannot, and I will need to rely on conventional medicine."

On Juliette's wedding day in 1992. There ceremony took place in Bisbee, Arizona.
Juliette was pregnant with her oldest daughter, Avalon.
From Left to Right: Michelle, Juliette, Mom, Dad and Linda
   The medical staff at UCSF were outright shocked by Linda's condition. It is rare for a triage team to meet a new patient with such an advanced progression of the disease. The final diagnosis was bad news. Linda had stage IV breast cancer metastasized to the bones and lungs. Sure enough, so many months before, Linda had correctly self-diagnosed herself. The doctors concluded that Linda was treatable, but not curable. The breast was not operable. The disease had progressed too far. They could perhaps give her a couple good years. The doctors said that everyone responds differently to treatment, so all they can do is set a course of action and measure the results. In other words, they try something and see if it works. We'd hear this refrain again and again over the course of the next year.
   On February 9th Juliette and I flew to California to be with Linda and to help provide assistance to Linda's partner, Mark. Linda's son drove to Petaluma to also lend his helping hands. As a team we would assist Linda with her treatments and form a plan to provide for her short-term and long-term care.
   Linda was in and out of the hospital over the next couple of weeks. Juliette and I braced ourselves for the worst. We understood that Linda was at a critical intersection between life and death. Juliette and I saw Linda's malfigured breast for the first time during a medical examination. The doctor gave us the choice to leave but we declined the offer. Once we saw the disfigured breast, we would never be able to unsee it. No wonder the chiropractor and the N.D. said she had breast cancer. We could have diagnosed it too.
What my face wanted to look like
every time I saw Linda's breast tumor.
   We marveled that Linda could look at her breast in the mirror and think for one second that she could heal herself with a new diet, some supplements, acupuncture and a pair of magnets. To make a horrible situation even worse, Linda almost over-dosed on aspirin, of all things. Before being admitted to UCSF, aspirin was all Linda had in her arsenal to combat pain and she simply took too many. The medical team went to Defcon 1 when they discovered that Linda's blood was too alkaline and the staff had to urgently correct the pH balance of her blood.
   The doctors started prescribing lots of drugs: long term morphine, short term pain morphine, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, anti-nausea, steroids, laxatives (to counteract the effects of the opiates), and other meds. We kept a daily scorecard of the pills Linda took and when they were administered. The specialty equipment arrived: an oxygen condenser for the house, oxygen tanks for the car, a wheelchair, a walker, a commode, and a shower chair. As Linda said at one point, quoting the Talking Heads while lying in a hospital bed, "This ain't no party, this ain't no disco."
   Then there were the countless hours spent driving between Petaluma and San Francisco. Linda was chauffeured back and forth for chemo treatments, thoracentesis to drain the lungs, MRIs, CT Scans, a PICC line insertion until the port placement, among other things. Getting Linda in and out of the car and into the house or into the hospital took a minimum of two people. The two steps outside Linda's front door leading to the driveway became the bane of our existence. She'd either have to be spotted and guided with a walker or the guys would put her in a wheelchair and carry her over the threshold and over the steps. The smallest things become the biggest obstacles.

   After resisting traditional medical treatment for so long (to avoid angry patriarchal doctors that lived to chop her breasts off - her words, not mine), Linda was shocked, and perhaps a little overwhelmed, and maybe a smidge sheepish to encounter the compassionate care provided to her from the staff at UCSF. Interestingly, the team treating Linda was almost completely comprised of females. Linda's oncologist in California was Dr. Melanie Majure. To this day we refer to Dr. Majure as "the unicorn" because she is a magical being. We all loved her, especially Linda.
   Within a few weeks of our arrival at Linda and Mark's house, it became apparent to Mark, Juliette, Jordan and me that Linda would need long term care and that staying in California was not sustainable. This is an excerpt of an email that I wrote to my parents on February 14th:

"Overall Linda is doing much better than when Juliette and I arrived. However, "better" is a relative term. Linda is having trouble moving, although she is standing and walking (with difficulty), slowly and with the help of a cane and the grabbing of furniture and door handles as she moves through the house from the living room to her bedroom and bathroom. She is still on oxygen 24 hours a day. She is managing pain with a regimented routine of morphine and oxycodone. She's a little hard of hearing. She doesn't always remember what she's said or what somebody else has said to her. However, she feels well enough to micro manage the house's occupants. "Do this", Do that", "Get this", "Make this", "Toss this", "Rub this", etc. And if the demand isn't met lickety-split then there is hell to pay. If a demand slips from her mouth, it's got to be done now. As in right this moment, even if it is a non-urgent matter. We're all collectively taking a deep breath and hope that the chemo works really fast to get her to a much better, less demanding place. We've got to figure out long term care for Linda because it is taking a village at this time to take care of her and not one of us has the choice of not working. We've all got responsibilities of our own and we have bills and mortgages to pay. Juliette and I cannot relocate to California. Jordan has some time before he need to return home for fire season. Mark can only take a 2 to 3 month leave and he'll be stretched too thin on his own with no back-up if she doesn't make quick progress. The hope is that the chemo will enable Linda to become self-sufficient without the need for round the clock care. The medical staff seem to think that we'll have a good idea within three to four weeks of how the chemo is reacting in Linda's body.
   If Linda will need to continue to receive round the clock care, the only conclusion that we've been able to reach after looking at the situation from all angles is that Linda must move to Tucson. We don't know how resistant she will be to the proposal. We need to gather more information to verify that a move is possible. We need to investigate her insurance plans, both medical and disability, to understand if there are any issues if she were to relocate. But before we can do anything, Linda needs to get stronger and stabilize. So, we haven't broached the subject yet, even though it is the elephant in the room. We're hoping to have that conversation with Linda before Juliette and I return to Arizona. Logistically it will be a big pain in the ass to pack and move Linda. That will take a village too. And if she's still being Ms. Bossy Pants at that stage in the game then one of us (or more) will surely lose our minds."

   After a couple of weeks Juliette and I returned to Arizona. As the world turns, our mother was experiencing health issues and needed assistance. In the words of Murphy's Law, "What can go wrong will go wrong." Juliette moved in with my mother and began attending to her needs. Juliette is still with her today. I returned to California to help Mark.

Portrait of Linda taken March 2016 in her home in Petaluma, California.
We thought this styling channeled her inner Imperator Furiosa.
   The long and the short of it is that Linda did relocate and it indeed took a village of friends and family to get her packed up and moved to my house in Tucson. One doctor said we couldn't go, that Linda could easily die during transit. A few folks said we shouldn't. I hate these words: couldn't, wouldn't, shouldn't. Caught between a rock and a hard place, we did what we had to do. We knew this for sure: Linda's life in Northern California was not sustainable.
   Thankfully we had the support of Linda's oncologist. Dr. Majure advised that we avoid planes so we made plans to drive. Dr. Majure promised that she would do everything in her power to help us relocate and that she would strengthen Linda as much as she could for the journey ahead. The doctor was a true blessing in a time of great need. All the while I steadfastly hoped that the 1,000 mile road trip would not look like a conjoining of the films Weekend at Bernie's and Little Miss Sunshine.

The Beaumont sisters in Lompoc, California circa 1970. Photograph taken by Paul Beaumont.
Left to Right: Cheyenne, Juliette, Michelle, Maria and Linda.
   My daughter, Maddie flew out for spring break and we began packing Linda's belongings the first week of March. Friends packed boxes and cleared the pantry. Another plant-loving friend accepted the generous gift of Linda's well cared for potted plants and trees. Jordan and his friends rented the largest moving truck available, loaded his mother's belongings and drove to Tucson in one straight shot, about fifteen hours of driving time.
   My husband and I caravanned in two heavily laden vehicles, Linda's car and a rented van. We departed Linda's house on the last Monday in March and nine hours later we stopped for a two-day layover in La Quinta. We stayed with our dear family friends in a beautiful house situated on a golf course in a gated community. It was a blessing because we all needed time to recuperate. While Linda napped, Jay and I spent hours in the courtyard soaking up the mild sun. Between continuing to work full time, assisting with Linda's care, and packing the house on nights and weekends, it was the first time in months that I sat and did absolutely nothing. I reveled in the nothingness.

Linda at the Taos Pueblo in August 2016.
   The wife of our host, and my mother's best friend, was a victim of breast cancer. He and his partner, a lovely woman whose husband had passed away several years ago, treated us with kindness, while also not shying away from openly discussing the brevity of our situation. His observation was that chemotherapy takes the patient to the brink of death. And that the path back to health is a slow and arduous climb. As individuals they were no strangers to sadness and grief and yet they have forged ahead and found happiness together. We enjoyed hearing about their travels and their shared interests. He played the piano for us and together they prepared our meals, made margaritas and poured wine. God bless the caregivers.
   We arrived in Tucson on a late Thursday afternoon after a smooth drive through the desert. Linda's son, Jordan and his two buddies arrived with the moving truck and moved some of Linda's things into the house and the remainder into a large rented storage locker. Linda had her first appointment with her new Oncologist five days later. As promised, the unicorn helped to facilitate the transfer of care and all went smoothly, much to everyone's relief. I patted myself on the back that Operation Relocate Linda was a success. Upon arriving in Tucson Linda was quickly set-up with a course of ten radiation treatments to treat the metastasis to the bones.

A sisters portrait gone completely wrong. Go ahead laugh. It's okay.
   The good news was that the chemotherapy knocked the virgin cancer cells for a loop. By early May, Linda's tumor marker score was cut in half. We finally learned how to heal the bed sores that had for months plagued her and me (since I had to assist with treating them). One of the things I never imagined for myself is that I'd have to apply medication and bandages to the insides of my sister's butt cheeks, but there we were doing just that. The medication wasn't going to apply itself.
   The physician at the wound clinic said that Linda could cure the sores if she consumed a minimum of 90 grams of protein a day. It was as simple as that. We were relieved and frustrated at the same time. Why hadn't anyone with a degree in medicine mentioned this before? Within two weeks of a dietary regimen that included supplementing with Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides in addition to Jay Robb Egg White Protein Powder, the awful sores were healed. We always felt as if we were learning everything the hard way, no matter how many questions we asked or how much research we did on the internet.
   With a physical therapist's assistance, Linda started taking short walks outside with the aid of a rolling walker. By early June all the home care providers had discharged Linda. And while Linda still used supplemental oxygen in the house, particularly at night, she no longer required it when we ventured away from home. We felt so free not having to drag an oxygen canister around with us wherever we went. By early July Linda had weened herself completely off morphine and was able to lift her camera again to take photographs, a lifelong passion.

Selfie of me and Linda celebrating my birthday in June 2016.
   In June Linda started pestering me about driving. I was hesitant about the idea and shared my thoughts with my dad in an email:

   "For the last two weeks or so, Linda's broached the subject of driving her car again. I wasn't too excited by the idea. Linda trotted out rebuttals, such as "it will make your life easier", and my favorite: "I won't be driving that far". To which I replied, "Most accidents happen within a five mile radius of home." Granted she has been steadily improving, both physically and cognitively. She's almost completely off the heavy drugs, and what she takes, she takes at night to help her sleep. Linda is certainly more alert, but is she alert enough? I trotted out another rebuttal, "What about getting the walker in and out of the car?" In an act of defiance, she did just that. She went and pulled the walker out of the trunk unfolded it, and the folded it and put it back in the trunk. 
   We chatted with the doctor today about the subject. The doctor said she was fine with it as long as Linda isn't driving at night while on any meds. The doctor recommended that somebody drive with Linda a couple of times to see how she does. Linda was not too excited by this idea because, as she pointed out, I've never been a fan of her driving ability. True that. We'll give it a go and see how she does. Granted, driving in Tucson is not driving in San Francisco. Everything Linda initially wants to do is within a few miles of the house. Linda even suggested that we take a night class together at the Pima College Extension Campus that is just down the street. Even if I didn't attend with her, she could certainly drive herself there and back."

   To help rehabilitate her hands (the chemo gave Linda peripheral neuropathy of the hands, in particular her left hand), she decided to take up knitting. Linda ordered a kit online that contained the yarn, special knitting needles, a pattern and access to online videos that showed how to do the project step-by-step. In the hottest part of the summer, Linda began working on a beautiful, thick red scarf that she said was for me. We'd jokingly say that she was knitting an heirloom. And, that I'd need to go to Antarctica to use it. If I didn't see her work on the project during the day, I'd say, "Get to work on my heirloom. Winter is coming." Everyone loves a little Game of Thrones humor. Now that she was feeling much better and it seemed that she had perhaps years, and not months to live, we'd say in good humor that she now had time to knit everyone in the family an heirloom.
Linda and I took a road trip to New Mexico, the land of enchantment, in August 2016.  
   In August Linda and I took a spur of the moment road trip to Santa Fe to visit the Indian Market. We three sisters and our mother, and now our daughters, all have a deep appreciation for turquoise jewelry. (And clothes made from velvet, but that's another story.) Juliette wanted to go with us, of course she did, but decided that it was pertinent to stay with our mother and attend to her needs.  
   Linda and I splurged and stayed at La Fonda on the Plaza so that we'd have easy access to the room in case Linda got tired and would need a nap. After the Indian Market ended on Sunday, we drove further north and a little east to make a pilgrimage to the famous Santuario de Chimayo. We rubbed the holy dirt on our foreheads and said prayers for Linda's health. We drove further north and stayed two nights in Taos at the gorgeous El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa. We visited the Taos Pueblo, the Millicent Rogers Museum (a kindred spirit, for sure) and wandered around the Nicolai Fechin House and garden. Linda's appetite had fully returned and throughout the trip we ate delicious New Mexico cuisine made with Hatch green chiles.
Linda and I made a pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayo in New Mexico. 
   By September Linda was strong enough to garden. This was a big deal. Everywhere she has lived, Linda has always made her little corner of the world a more beautiful place by planting a garden. Occasionally in the ground, but mostly in containers. Linda drove herself to local nurseries and selected a variety of flowering plants, vegetables and herbs. Along with the plants, she'd return with pots and potting soil. Wearing a sundress and a straw hat, with gloves on her hands, she'd go about confidently planting her new purchases.
   Linda invited birds to the yard by installing a large bird bath and multiple bird feeders. From her seat at the dining room table, she loved watching the goldfinches, house finches, doves, hummingbirds and the birds of prey  owls, hawks and kestrels. A pair of male and female cardinals made rare appearances in the yard, which made spotting them an exciting event.
   The day before the road trip began Linda found out that she had a brain tumor. She did not have any outward signs, but the doctor called in a steroid that we had to pick up on our way out of town. Linda was to take the steroid in the event of headache or dizziness. Linda's tumor marker had been increasing but her CT scans looked good. The oncologist thought it wise to take a look at her brain and an MRI was scheduled. Of course, having breast cancer metastasize to the brain is really bad news. We didn't let the news damper our enthusiasm for the trip. After our return from New Mexico, in mid-September Linda received stereotactic radiosurgery, a radiation treatment, to eliminate the tumor. It's a fairly straightforward, fast procedure that is done in an outpatient center.

Linda's container garden in Tucson that she tended with love and care.
"Sisters are different flowers from the same garden." ~Unknown 
   We moved into the rhythms of the holidays. Linda declined to attend the All Souls Procession in downtown Tucson with Juliette and me, and Juliette's daughter, Sonora. Although Linda previously adored Día de los Muertos celebrations, she was now prickly about all things related to death. She said that Juliette and I would be too if we were staring death in the face. Juliette and I reminded Linda that no one is getting out alive, that we all have the same fate. Linda angrily said she was closer to death than we were. To quote the film, Gladiator, "I knew a man once who said, "Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back." And that's what we did. We went to the Procession and Linda stayed home.
   I hosted Thanksgiving and we prepared a ginormous 26 pound turkey and all of Linda's favorite side dishes. At Christmas, we made sure to buy a tall gorgeous tree, a Nordmann Fir from Oregon. I pulled out all the old family ornaments, including some bedazzled heart shaped ornaments that Linda had sewn in her twenties. Linda and I took our time decorating the tree together and enjoyed reminiscing about Christmas's past. Linda's son came to visit. My daughter was home from college. Two of three of Juliette's children and her grandchildren were with us. Linda made sure that we all posed for family photos on Christmas day. I'm glad that she insisted. Based upon how she was feeling Linda mused that it would be a miracle if she lived to see next Christmas. All I could think to say was that I believed in miracles.

Thanksgiving Day 2016 with, left to right, Michelle, Maddie, Linda and Juliette. 
   One need not be a doctor to determine that the prescribed oral chemotherapy was no longer working. In retrospect, we're not sure that any of the oral treatments worked. In January, Linda's oncologist recommended starting a course of intravenous chemotherapy to battle the cancer that was actively blooming again. This news took the wind out of Linda's sails. She all too clearly remembered how ill the first round of chemotherapy made her feel. The stigma of a bald head. The insistent nausea. She described most foods as tasting like metal in her mouth. The oncologist assured Linda that the side effects with this new chemotherapy would be less severe. Linda should not lose her hair and food should continue to taste good.
   Unfortunately in March more brain tumors were discovered via a routine MRI and stereotactic radiosurgery followed by mid-month. Chemotherapy typically does not cross the blood brain barrier. Therefore the only treatment for tumors in the brain is radiation. The radiation oncologist thought the best treatment option was whole brain radiation, but the oncologist instead recommended targeted radiation to save the whole brain radiation as an option for later. Whole brain radiation can be performed only once and no other radiation treatments can be received afterwards. It's a one shot deal.
   My observation is that the radiation procedure was difficult for Linda both mentally and physically. Her uncomfortable state was compounded by the fact that she was having a lot of trouble with her lungs. Breathing took effort. A lot of effort. The cancer was clogging the pleural cavity that resides between the lungs and the wall of the chest. Linda once again had to have a procedure called thoracentesis, whereby excess fluid is removed by inserting a needle into the chest. The doctor recommended inserting a catheter into the chest so the lungs could be drained daily at home. Linda declined, concerned about the potential for infection. Linda was back on oxygen full time and she was disappointed that after working so hard to get off morphine, she was back to taking it consistently to manage pain and shortness of breath.

Linda photographed at Tohono Chul in Tucson, Arizona in December 2016.
   Linda passed away two weeks later. The week before she had been diagnosed with pneumonia and anemia. She began taking an antibiotic to fight the lung infection and received a blood transfusion to give her a much needed boost of red blood cells. Neither treatment seemed to make a significant difference. Linda continued fighting but she was flanked on all sides by the ever nimble, ever growing cancer.
   Three days before her death Linda made the difficult choice to stop treatment and transfer to palliative care with hospice. The oncologist said that Linda perhaps had upwards of two months to live. To the contrary, once Linda made that choice, she opted for a quick exit. She metaphorically flipped the switch and the decline was steep and swift. Everyone was taken by surprise at how quicklywithin 72 hours Linda transitioned from this life to that great unknown; whatever it is that is next.
Linda, circa 1959.
   I cannot even begin to describe how difficult it is to bear witness to a loved one, in particular my beloved sister, succumb slowly to cancer. It's a nasty, nasty disease. She fought a valiant fight and was courageous to the end. Cancer tried to take her dignity, it failed in that regard.
   Even though it is a futile exercise, I cannot help but wonder if Linda had immediately pursued medical treatment after discovering the tumor in her breast, if she'd now be living a full and productive life. I saw so many women independently receiving treatments at the infusion centers in San Francisco and Tucson, and then walking out, car keys in hand, to go about the routines of their normal lives. Surviving cancer is all about quick and decisive action to seek a cure.
Juliette, Linda, Michelle and Maria at Surf Beach circa 1968.
Photograph by our father, Paul Beaumont
   The moral to this story is to be your own best advocate for protecting your health. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Visit your doctor for an annual wellness check. Both women and men should perform routine breast exams. Men develop breast cancer, too. Women: get a mammogram. Even better, if you can afford it, get a thermogram. Never heard of it? Not a big surprise. A thermogram will one day replace mammograms, but insurance companies currently only cover the costs of mammograms. On a side note, you can request a CT scan on your heart to learn if there is any calcification that could lead to a heart attack. Has your doctor ever suggested one? Probably not, but out of pocket it only costs about $85.00 and you'll have a much better understanding of your risks for heart attack.
   And one more piece of advice, if you will indulge me the opportunity. Actively choose to be happy. Don't like your job? Find another. Don't like where you are living? Move. We tell ourselves stories that keep us trapped and stop us from pursing what we really want. As my mentor says, everything is "figuroutable". Decide and then take action. It may take a while to get from "here" to "there". That's okay. Be consistent. Slow and steady wins the race.

The three graces enjoying Sistercation in Northern California in October 2012.
Photograph by Mark Glasser.  
   Recently I met a breast cancer survivor who worked with an N.D. while she was receiving chemotherapy. She scheduled routine Vitamin C drips and supplemented her diet with a plethora of vitamins and herbal remedies. She attributes her recovery to chemotherapy and radiation, but feels strongly that she benefited from the supplements and herbal remedies that complemented her treatments. The old saying comes to mind, and it comes to me in my father's voice. "You don't bring a knife to a gun fight."
   Linda made her choices and then had to abide by the outcomes. There are no do-overs. She said she had no regrets. In my opinion, that's just stubbornness talking. After Linda passed away at Casa de la Luz hospice, I returned to my house followed by her son, Jordan and ex-husband, Danny. We stayed up into the wee morning hours, having a wake of sorts, drinking Jameson's Irish whiskey on the rocks while we talked and reminisced. I was lamenting the fact that Linda did not seek treatment earlier, even though everyone kept urging her to do so, especially Juliette who took the brunt of Linda's wrath for not supporting her alternative treatment plan. Danny's reply resonated deep within me. He said, "Linda's passion overwhelmed reason because her passion was so committed." Truer words have never been said.
   Linda and I were about as close as two sisters could be. We were two little peas in a pod. We sounded alike, dressed alike, and shared the same sense of humor. I hope you rest in peace, Linda. We shall meet again. I loved you resolutely and completely in this lifetime, and I will continue to do so until the end of time.

"A loyal sister is worth a thousand friends." ~Unknown
Michelle, Juliette and Linda enjoying Sistercation in Bisbee, Arizona in September 2013.
Photograph by Fernando Serrano.
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