Fiat fever!

I’m very fortunate to have a good and generous friend in the car business. Thanks to the Rajah, I have been tooling around town this week in the hottest car to hit the streets in a long time — the Fiat 500C. It’s even better than the <a title="I Fiat 500 I drove a while back.

I am in love. The industry’s talking heads have lots of good things to say about this car, namely that “the cutest car just got cuter” with the addition of the fully-automatic canvas soft top. The 500C is super cute, super fun and super chic. I love every single thing about it, which came as a bit of a surprise for this card-carrying member of the “bigger is better” SUV club. Downsizing from a Tahoe loaded with more features that I even know how to use to a Fiat that could practically fit inside the bed of a pickup truck is extreme. And fantastic. And liberating. Oh so very liberating. 

I’ve had so much fun driving this zippy car. I’ll admit, I just wanted to drive it but wasn’t even considering buying it. My Tahoe is cool and comfy and big enough for a family to live in, but after driving the Fiat I realized the Tahoe is not fun. Or zippy. Or chic. It’s nice looking, luxurious, and functional, but not fun. And don’t we all need more fun in our lives?

I’m not a die-hard convertible lover. Trevor has had several convertibles over the last 15 years, and I have to say I’ve never loved any of them. Every once in a while, on a beautiful day, it’s fun to take his car, but I never wanted a convertible.

Until now.

The Fiat’s 3-way power retractable roof changed my opinion about convertibles.

The 2-layer canvas roof is awesome. With the push of a button, you have 3 options for topless excitement: sunroof, in which the top slides back from the windshield; panoramic, in which the top slides back further to open up the roof over the back seat; and the full monty, in which the entire roof folds itself accordian-style into a neat stack above the trunk. This effortless motion is quiet, smooth, and fast. And the best part: you can operate the roof while driving up to 50 mph. If raindrops start falling on your head, no need to pull over to put the top up, just push the button as you keep on truckin’. Multitasking at its finest. The rear window is glass, and it covertly slides out of sight when the roof opens. Another super smart feature is that when the roof is open and you need to access the trunk, the car automatically moves the neatly-folded pile up a bit and out of the way, allowing full access to the trunk. If only everything in life worked that smoothly.

Perhaps the best part of the 500C is that when the top is open, the roof rails stay in place. It’s quiet and you’re less exposed to road noise, allowing for normal conversation and stereo volume with much less wind. It’s having your cake and eating it, too: you still get the convertible experience without the wind-blown hair. 

The divided side-view mirror on the driver’s side is nice too. The smaller pane of glass shows a more remote view of the traffic behind, so changing lanes is safer. The specs are in line with what you’d expect from a small, sporty car. The engine is a 4 cylinder, 84 cubic inches (whatever that means). The 16 valve engine has 101 hp. The 6-speed automatic that I’m driving is plenty zippy in the 40 to 50 mph range, which is the majority of my driving. On the highway, you’re not going to win a drag race with a bigger car with a more muscley engine, but you shouldn’t be drag racing on the highway anyway. The top speed is 110 mph, which is plenty fast even on Houston freeways. This little beauty weighs somewhere around 2,550 pounds and I’m no car expert but am guessing its lithe frame accounts for its zippiness. (I think I just made that word up but am granting Fiat full permission to use it in promotional materials.)

It may be small, but it’s safe. With 7 airbags, I feel very secure, and I like that the 500C earned Best in Class for rear seat leg and shoulder room, as well as Best in Class for interior sound quality. Another safety feature is the Blue&Me, Fiat’s collaboration with Microsoft that provides hands-free mobile access in the car. As long as your phone is in the car, whether on the dashboard or in your purse, you can make and receive calls using the in-vehicle, voice-activated Blue&Me system.

The gas mileage makes me want to dance, then drive around all day. It sips instead of guzzling (hear that, you greedy Tahoe?). The standard transmission gets slightly better gas mileage than the automatic, at 30 mpg city/38 highway, but the automatic is no slouch at 27 mpg city/36 highway. Even with my limited radius of driving, i.e., noncommuter driving, I was filling up my SUV to the tune of $80 to $90 every week or 10 days. The Fiat can go, go, go on its petite 10-gallon tank. I always dreaded filling up my SUV, not only because of the cost but also because it took forever to quench that beast’s thirst. The Fiat fill-ups are quick & easy, just the way I like it. 

I haven’t attempted this pose, because I don’t actually own the car yet, but this chick at the 500C launch party in England makes it look tempting.

Supermodel Elle Macpherson has the exact car I’m driving, except her steering wheel is on the other side. She’s a loyal Fiat owner who’s been quite outspoken in her love for these cars.  “I love the Fiat 500C, it has that sexy, cool, Italian thing going on!” 

With all the color combinations and the retro styling in the interior, it’s as much a fashion accessory as a car. Here’s the inside of Elle’s 500C, which looks just like mine except for the stickshift and the steering wheel on the right sideHere’s mine.The bone-colored leather steering wheel is so fine, and the shiny red accents across the dash are the most stylish thing in the car world. 

George Clooney is a Fiat fan, too. Check this out.

In one article I read about the Fiat 500C, the proclamation was made that “If you like being the center of attention, never has the price of admission been this low.” This car most definitely gets people’s attention. I’ve seen drivers craning their necks to get a better look as we drive; several times I’ve come out of the store to find someone taking a picture of the Fiat in the parking lot. I’ve answered lots of questions (how does it drive? what’s the gas mileage? how much do they cost? what colors are available?) and happily introduced the curious people in my neck of the woods to this cute little car. 

At the New York Auto Show, the 500C was called “relentlessly adorable” and it was said that its “oddball modernism still astonishes.” It’s “super-chic, super-stylish, and effectively retro.” Nice. 

I read another review that had this to say about this little Fiat: “The new 500 is remarkably similar to its predecessor with a flowing and harmonic design which softly mutters – rather than screams – retro. In flowing Italian. The end result of Fiat’s effort is a car that people smile at – on the streets, in parking lots and in traffic jams. Not many cars can be called ‘sweet’, but the Fiat 500 can definitely satisfy any automotive sweet tooth.”

If you need a sweet little Fiat, get with the good people at Fiat of Clear Lake. Tell Joey and Donald that you need a dose of Fiat fun. Ciao!




Sausage casing

It’s been 2 weeks since my revision surgery; the good news is I’m healing. The bruising that I subjected y’all to seeing is much, much better thanks mostly to my stellar lymphedema and massage specialist, Tammy. She did some manual lymph drainage on my bruised areas Friday, and by Sunday the bruising was almost gone. For real. The bad news is that the healing is ongoing. Why is that bad news? Because I’m impatient, man, and I’m ready to be done with this stage so I can get back to my regular life — albeit temporarily, in between revisions — and pretend to be a normal person who’s not affected by cancer.

Yes, I know, I’m far from normal. And yes, I know I’m waaaaaay affected by cancer. And furthermore, I know it’s never over. But I’m impatient nonetheless.

In addition to being an impatient patient in general, I’m so super ready to be done with this latest round of healing for two rather large reasons: it’s perfect weather for tennis, yet I can’t play; and I’m sick to death of the compression garment.

This is what mine looks like — although that’s not me in the photo; it’s someone from googleimages. My garment, which I refer to as sausage casing, comes up higher beyond my waist and goes down lower. It’s basically a thick fabric (mostly spandex but way thicker than workout clothes) with a 4-inch-wide waistband that sits just under my newly plumped breasts and ends mid-calf. It has a zipper on each leg that extends from mid-thigh to the top of the waistband, and multiple hook & eye closures under the zipper. Lovely, huh? I’m not sure which is worse, the fact that it is HOT or the fact that I have to wear it 24/7. It’s still summertime in Houston, with highs in the mid-90s. The sausage casing is not a warm-weather accessory. Both of those facts are sucky to the nth degree.

What’s the purpose of the sausage casing, besides an instrument of cruel & unusual punishment for the unlucky recipient of random gene mutation that causes breast cancer in an otherwise healthy 40-year-old woman? That’s a question I’ve pondered a lot over the last 14 days. The last LONG 14 days.

The theory is that the sausage casing reduces movement of the skin that’s been traumatized/sliced & diced/sucked out/reallocated, et al. Ideally, the skin needs to stay in a compressed state and it needs to avoid any unnecessarily movements, because unnecessary movements can affect internal wounds and get in the way of healing. The garment also decreases swelling and promotes the flow of blood and lymph fluids, working to move the yucky stuff (blood from the massive bruising and other toxins) out of the body.

That’s all well and good, but let me tell you people, the sausage casing is not comfortable. Not one bit. It’s HOT (did I mention that??) and while the spandex helps it look and feel sleek and soft, it’s still thick and tight. It also irritates the back of my knees when they bend, and sometimes it bunches up like old-lady pantyhose and has to be yanked and tugged back into place. I try not to do that in public, but sometimes I can’t stand it. The damned thing is snug enough that one spot on my right hip is caved in (see the right hip area in the photo above). Yep, caved in. And yes, it can be permanent. Dr S was a little concerned about it during my visit yesterday, and if he’s concerned, so am I. He had a solution, of course, but I’m still a bit concerned. His solution? Extra padding, because the sausage casing isn’t enough to deal with. So now, in addition to the sausage casing and its bulky zippers, I have a wad of soft cotton stuffed in the casing, between my caved-in skin and the second-skin of my garment. The wad of cotton shifts around a bit, so I’m constantly having to adjust it to make sure it stays between me and the point of the garment that is caving me in. This means that I’m not only yanking and tugging the sausage casing, I’m reaching in over the waistband to rearrange the wad of cotton. I know, it’s mesmerizingly attractive, right? Stop the ride, I want to get off. Enough already.

I guess it could be worse — I could have the sausage casing on my face:


Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester is one of my heroes. Not only because he’s a bad-ass left-handed pitcher who delivers for my favorite team but also because he’s just celebrated a milestone worth coveting: 5 years of being cancer-free.

Lester was just 22 years old when he was scratched from the Sox lineup in late August 2006 because of back pain. At that point in his rookie season, he was 7-2 and his pitching was on fire. After a few tests, doctors at Mass General determined that his lymph nodes were enlarged, and a few days later they delivered unthinkable news to an uncomprehending pitcher: Lester had anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, a rare and fast-spreading cancer. The Red Sox announced the news on September 2, 2006, and manager Terry Francona said that Lester was beginning a “journey that few us can comprehend.”

I’m almost embarrassed to type the words “being diagnosed with cancer is devastating.” Duh. If only I could invent new words to convey the devastation. If only. For a 22-year-old major league pitcher, I imagine the news was shocking and gut-wrenching, to say the least. As a 40-year-old non-pro athlete, the news of my own diagnosis was shocking and gut-wrenching. Duh.

Lucky (?) for Lester, his type of cancer is non-Hodgkins lymphoma and is highly treatable, with a cure rate of upwards of 80 percent. I’m sure his youth and his physical fitness helped, too, but no matter who you are, the diagnosis is a bitch, and Tito was right, Les was on a journey that few can comprehend.

No one thinks it’s going to happen to them, but cancer bulldozes through millions of people’s lives every single day–atheletes, celebrities, and regular people alike. Sometimes I think: if someone like Jon Lester isn’t safe from cancer, who is??

Not me, obviously.

Lester and I have a similar attitude toward our cancer. “It sucks,” he said in more than one interview. “But you can’t let it define you.”

“I hate hospitals to begin with,” he says. “I hate needles. I hate anything related to doctors. Getting blood drawn every 10 days [during chemo] … it drags on. You’re tired all the time. You want to do stuff, but you can’t. You’ve got to watch where you go because of germs. It’s not something you would wish upon anybody.”

Yep, that’s right.

Lester says as a pro athelete, his pursuit of excellence helped him demand a willingness to accept constant physical challenges, something with which cancer patients are quite familiar. He spoke of his frustration of feeling weak, of wanting to be active but his body saying no. He learned to listen to his body and to accept that he wasn’t in control of every aspect of the treatment and recovery process. I’m no pro, but I know that feeling — of wanting to overcome but being thwarted at every turn but none other than your own body. Suck.

Lester endured 6 cycles of chemo and lost his hair but not his drive. He wanted to pitch again, and to be known as a great pitcher, not as a cancer survivor.

On October 28–barely more than two years after being diagnosed–Lester started and earned a win in the final game of the 2007 World Series against the Rockies. The following May, he pitched a no-hitter against the Royals.

taking the mound for the final game of the World Series

no hitter for Lester!!!

I’d say Lester did it. He’s a pitcher first, and a cancer survivor second. Throw hard, Les!

The penguin and the polar bear

Someone very nice sent me a card with this message a while back. I enjoyed the simplicity of the words: matter-of-fact and purposeful without being overly froufy or cheesy. I wasn’t familiar with Mary Anne Radmacher but liked her message enough to find out if she was someone with whom I should be familiar.

She and I have something in common: we love words. On her website, she says: “i have a history of fascination with words, starting from a very young age. my writing reflects philosophies inherent to my being. these include: a commitment to passionate, intentional living; valuing wellness; and embracing the moment.” (she also writes in all lower-case letter, like one of my favorite poets, e.e. cummings.)

I was afraid she was going to get all touchy-feely on me — something I really don’t like, but she reigned it in. I’m so glad. Because I really like her statement on courage, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately during recovery mode. This last surgery was harder than I expected, and the recovery has been way more arduous than I imagined. Knowing that this surgery isn’t the last one is rough as well, but I’m trying to be a brave little soldier.

I’ve always equated courage with bravery. To me they go hand-in-hand and seem like very good friends, and they also seem like something one is born with but can develop. Being diagnosed with cancer at a young-ish age is a challenge that draws on all of one’s resources, and courage is at the top of that list. During this “cancer journey” I’ve had a lot of people say things like “You’re so strong,” and “I don’t know how you do this,” and “I’m not sure I could do it.” While I’m very appreciative of the support, being strong or being able to “do this” isn’t for me an acquired skill or a specific endeavour. It comes down to a very simple fact: whether you’re strong or weak doesn’t matter much in a cancer battle. The cancer will do what it’s going to do, and curling up into a little ball isn’t going to make it stop.

Courage, however, does play a role. Not so much in the facing the bad news or dealing with the endless heaps of unpleasantness that comprise a cancer battle; that’s more a question of strength and endurance. Research. Appointments. Decisions. Testing. Pain. Fear. Worry. Medical bills. The heaps are indeed endless. While it certainly does take strength to face a diagnosis, the fact of the matter is that you will hear the doctor’s words and you will see the summary on the pathology report whether you do so with eyes wide open or while sobbing uncontrollably. You will deliver the most unwelcome of news to your circle of friends and family the same way: with a quiet strength or in hysterics. The message you hear and relay — that you have cancer — is the same regardless of how strong you are. While curling up into the fetal position upon diagnosis definitely is an option, it doesn’t change the message. Perhaps it buys you some time, but the message remains the same. Living with that message and putting its effects into play takes courage.

Footloose and fever-free (mostly)

As I predicted yesterday, my favorite doctor and all-around funny guy Dr S did indeed shake his head at me when I reported that I was fever-free until evening time. He shook his head, just as I expected, and said if you had a fever — even one that didn’t come until evening time — you were not fever-free. I said yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m claiming it. It counts. Even if I’m the only one who thinks so, for the record I was fever-free. So there.

He probably would have argued with me if I were still feeling like something scraped off the bottom of someone’s shoe and if the redness/soreness/streakiness/swelling hadn’t tapered off considerably. I still look like I’ve been beaten mercilessly by a very large stick after last week’s surgery, but I feel a lot better. Yesterday followed the same pattern as the day before, with me being fever-free until the end of the day. Last night the fever came on even later than the day before, and I expect this means it’s pulling off a long, protracted, and overly dramatic good-bye. That’s my official medical opinion; don’t try to talk me out of this idea or change my mind. I’m operating under the assumption that my body is working it all out, and that a slight fever at the tail-end of the day is emblematic of the trauma my body endured last week and not indicative of anything infection-related.

My visit to Dr S was quite pleasant, and as usual, we scuffled a bit over a few points. The main scuffle is an ongoing one in which the good doctor claims that before The Big Dig, i.e., my DIEP surgery for reconstruction, I did not have a waist. This has always struck me as seriously funny because one thing I’ve always had, maybe even from birth, is a waist. I was curvy before it was cool. Way before J-Lo, Beyonce, and Kim Kardashian, I had a waist and a round butt, and I’ve never had skinny legs. Not that I’m a tub-o, but I’ve always had meat on my bones and muscle. I learned long ago that certain fashion trends were not for me, and I’ve lived 42 years without ever wearing a pair of skinny jeans, quite happily I might add.

So it’s always struck me as funny that my favorite surgeon said that in the course of restructuring my body during The Big Dig that he “gave me” a waist. Of course I wasted no time in correcting him, and we’ve gone round and round about this issue ever since.

That's me in the red, w my runnin' buddy, pre-cancer

I reminded him that unlike a lot of his patients, I was pretty happy with my body before cancer invaded and necessitated surgeries that would change so many aspects of my physical self. I’ve always been physically active, and can truly say I’m one of those weirdos who likes to work out. Every time we watch the Biggest Loser, I get a little envious about the contestants being able to spend hours in the gym every day. I know, weird, huh?

As much as I enjoy working out, I love, love, love to play tennis. Back in the day, pre-cancer, my favorite day was Monday because I would have a tennis lesson, then work out, then go to a tennis drill. I’d stop for a snack in between the lesson and the gym, and change clothes then have lunch before drill, then happily collapse in a heap. Super weird, right? Some of my happiest days ever were spent at Newk’s tennis camp, where we played tennis for 16 hours over the course of a too-short weekend. If you’re a tennis player but have never heard of Newk’s, get online now and make a reservation. It will be one of the best weekends of your life.

gearing up for all day on the courts

Carianne, Rebecca, Sharon, Staci, Melanie and I played hard and had a blast. We fully embraced the camp philosophy of “Eat, sleep, and breathe tennis,” and we found it true that while at Newk’s, you have “No worries, mate!”

Kim, Staci, Sharon and I were so thrilled to meet John Newcombe himself. What a kick to be at camp with him, visit with him, and watch him in action — yes, he still plays like a pro. He’s a stand-up guy who entertained us with his tennis tales and inspired us to become “rock solid.” They say his moustache is insured for $13 million, and I believe it! My favorite thing he said about his longevity in the tennis world: “I’m basically living the same, I just curtailed the stupidity.” I’d say anyone who chooses to build a first-rate tennis academy in the Texas Hill Country has indeed curtailed the stupidity. The scenery surrounding Newk’s place is gorgeous, the pros are fun and knowledgeable, and the weekend camps are the best!

Directors Chris & Sal and the other pros earned their money the weekends we visited. We played hard, sassed them, and tried to drink them under the table. They’ve got youth on their side, though, and all-day tennis while hungover would bother me more than it would them. Team Mexico and Team Australia entertained us royally, and we will be back for another hard-core weekend soon. Planning to return to Newk’s has kept me going during this long, drawn-out, and unpleasant recovery from the dreaded disease and the even-worse infection.

That’s part of why this idea of me not having a waist has been so funny. I have indeed always had one, and to settle the issue once and for all, I went to my appointment yesterday loaded with physical evidence.

Photos. Lots of photos. 

Starting way back, you can see a waist. The photo is old and the quality isn’t great, but by golly there’s a waist. 

Then there’s the wedding dress. Again, the photo is old — coming up on 19 years — but even in all-white, the least-flattering color for full-body shots, I see a waist. I also see a very sweet look on my mama’s face, and remembering her in that sparkly pink dress brings a bittersweet smile to my face. 

This green dress was my favorite piece of my work wardrobe. I still have it, and might just try to squeeze into it for my next appointment with Dr S. Part of what I loved about it was that it wrapped around the front and buttoned at the waist. Yes, at the waist!

Like a lot of women, I found myself a bit bigger after childbirth, but looky here — I’m a mom, and I have…a waist!

My final piece of evidence was this photo of Yvonne and me at our Cooking Club Christmas party before I was diagnosed in April. Our Cooking Club goes all-out for the Christmas party, and since it’s the only time all year we invite the men, sometimes it gets pretty wild. Thankfully this photo was taken before the wild rumpus began, and again, I see…a waist!

After scrutinizing my photo evidence with his highly trained eye, Dr S had a few things to say. First, the cheerleader photo was from too far back in history. Second, that I looked very young in my wedding photo (compared to the ravaged old hag I am now, I guess), and when I told him I’ve been married 18 years he asked, “To the same person?” I know, I know, Trevor deserves a medal. Third, he said Yvonne is so pretty. On that point, the good doctor and I agree (xo, my friend!).

So the long story short, after examining my evidence, Dr S concluded that he never said I didn’t have a waist, but that he “enhanced it.” Like a lot of skirmishes, one must choose whether it’s a battle worth fighting. I unloaded my ammo in this skirmish, proved to my favorite surgeon that my waist pre-dated him, and smiled in satisfaction. I will admit that I enjoy these little scuffles with Dr S. He’s a worthy opponent in the stubbornness department, but I think he bests me in the “dogged determination to prove you’re right arena.” I’ve got him in the “who can hold a grudge longer” contest, though. We’ve gone toe-to-toe more than once, and I suspect that trend will continue.

My latest scuffle with the good doctor reminds me of my favorite quote by Kim Clijsters, one of my tennis role models. The reigning champ of the US Open and the Australian Open was the first mom to win a major title since Evonne Goolagong did it in 1980. (If you thought Evonne won a title for strangest last name in tennis, you would be wrong.)

Kim is a scrappy, smart player who gives it all on the court. Her “split shots” wow me every time.

She talks of how losing motivates her more than winning does. She seems to like the battle as much as the result, and believes that “it’s the imperfect matches that make you great.” I think so too. But that’s not my favorite quote of hers; it’s this:

“It’s nice to win 6-1, 6-0 but there’s nothing better than when it’s 5-all in the third set and nobody knows who will prevail.”