A walk through the city, Infusion No. 4

My walking schedule has gone to the dogs since we moved a month ago. My main exercise has been moving boxes around, unpacking boxes, walking up and down stairs, organizing things. I did manage a short hike to the top of Mt. Davidson, the highest point in San Francisco, the day before infusion 4, but that’s only a mile or so round trip. The giant cross at the peak is impressive, though, a monument to those killed in the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century. The views are panoramic, of course, even in the rain.

The storm clears the morning of my appointment and I get ambitious. I never feel more vigorous than when I’m going in for another infusion. I’ve had three weeks to heal. I’m a little tired, sure, but mostly fine and eager to take on the world. So instead of driving to the Mt. Zion campus of UCSF, I decide to walk. My iPhone tells me it’s 3.8 miles and should take about an hour and ten minutes. That’s just a modest hike in exercise-mad Northern California. No problem.

So off I go: Down the stairs that cascade through our neighborhood, Forest Hill, down to Laguna Honda, which skirts a reservoir.

This is the small reservoir down our hill, there's water beyond the wall, I swear. The tower in the distance is Sutro Tower, built in the 1970s to overcome some of the challenges of transmitting radio and TV in a hilly city. You can also see the breast-like summit of one of the Twin Peaks, a favorite tourist stop.

Laguna Honda eventually turns into Seventh Avenue, and I walk about five long blocks through the Inner Sunset toward Golden Gate Park. This neighborhood was pretty plain vanilla when I was growing up, but the hardware stores, pizzerias and bars have been augmented by spas, independent cafes, ethnic restaurants and quirky boutiques.

A typical Inner Sunset block.

As Seventh Avenue ends at Golden Gate Park, I pass a woman in mittens, clogs, leg warmers and a giant Siberian hat with ear flaps, walking two designer mini-dogs. It’s only 58 degrees! Drop ten more thermometer points and San Franciscans will start getting out the long underwear.

I'm across from this house when I pass the Siberian hat dog walker lady. Of course they painted this non-descript 1970s aparment house Pepto Bismol pink. People do things like that here.

Entering Golden Gate Park, you come across some ball fields. In the distance you can see the undulating green roof designed by Renzo Piano for the new California Academy of Sciences. The twisting rust-colored tower is the new DeYoung Art Museum. Mt. Tamalpais, in Marin County to the north, peeks up in the far distance.

Looking north into Golden Gate Park. What would Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed both this park and Central Park and Prospect Park in NYC, think?

I turn right, following a dog walk path through some wood that parallel Lincoln Avenue, the southern border of the park.

Twisty trees

When I was a kid, I LOVED climing on these twisty trees: low to the ground, and goofy enough to be interesting to a child.

Though I’m only 15 yards or so from traffic, the dog trail feels like it’s remote.

All I need is a basket to feel like Little Red Riding Hood.

Emerging from the dog trail, I get a good view of the main UCSF campus on Parnassus Street.

If I hadn't been in a hurry, I would have thought to use the panoramic setting. The entire UCSF complex is twice as big as you see here.

Then past Kezar Stadium. The Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers used to play here. Now it’s used mostly for recreation, amateur sports leagues, and high school matches.

Led Zeppelin, The Doobie Brothers, Jefferson Starship, Tower of Power, Joan Baez, The Grateful Dead, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, Carlos Santana, Waylon Jennings, and Neil Young all played at Kezar, There used to be a big wall where that fence is. I think the 1989 quake brought those down.

Bet these signs could tell some tales.

Walking east, I come to the Haight Ashbury.

It flirted with respectability during the real estate boom, but I’m glad to see that it’s just as wild and scuzzy as ever: Amazing numbers of head shops and second hand stores, old hippies panhandling in wheelchairs, goth skateboarders doing tricks off the curb. This is the point at which I realize I’m going to be late for my check up appointment at the Breast Care center. I call the front desk to let them know. The assistant who answers is amused. You’re walking to chemo?

Apparently 3.8 miles in 1 hour 10 minutes does not apply to someone who’s childhood nick name was “piston legs.” My leg are short, and generally fast, but not fast enough for iPhone. I start to trot, clutching my large messenger bag. This not a form of exercise the oncology team recommended. Still, I manage to take in some Haight Ashbury details:

It wouldn't be the Haight without graffiti murals.

Strange things come out of windows on Haight. If only my legs were that long, I might get to Mt. Zion on time!

A typical row of houses just off Haight. I never get tired of the crazy colors.

A sale on hookahs! Haven't seen this many since Cairo!

Hulumphing and puffing, I get beyond the commercial part of Haight. Hurry past Buena Vista Park. Don’t remember this being so far! Finally, finally I make it to Divisadero. The hospital is on Divisadero. But about three-quarters of a mile north. I break into a true jog. Past the best car wash in the city…

The car wash guys stared at me. If they only knew!

Divisadero used to be a little dangerous back in the day, but as my lungs start to burn a little, I pass wine stores and bistros and boutiques, but also reminders of what this area used to be like.

Public housing in SF...If only the folks in NYC knew!

11:05. 11:10. 11:15. 11:20. Divisadero goes on forever!

FINALLY, I get to Mt. Zion.

UCSF Mt. Zion: The entrance to the wizard's domain.

They make me wait for an hour or so, but I messed up their schedule so that’s OK. It’s a good thing that this time there are four hours between my check up and my poison party. Plus, it’s a holiday week, the Breast Care Center and Infusion Center are deserted. Most folks are on vacation. Waiting gives me a chance to stop sweating, catch my breath, read a bit of The Economist, one of those “year in review” issues that I never seem to finish.

About 90 minutes after my scheduled appointment, Tara, one of Dr. Rugo’s nurse practitioners, walks into the exam room. I brace for being scolded about walking and running to chemo.

Tara laughs, “Oh that’s not me,” she says. “That’s Bridget. But you know, you could have walked that last mile. We would have fit you in.”

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About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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3 Responses to A walk through the city, Infusion No. 4

  1. Lee Ann says:

    Oh, Heather, you made me laugh with you all the way — and remind us all to stop and look around us. The world is there, in all its quirkiness and surprising glimpses of beauty, if only we remind ourselves to notice — and it can work its magic on us when we do. I enjoyed the walk!

  2. Lisa says:

    My sister is also being treated by Dr. Rugo. I live in NYC but was in SF between Christmas and New Year’s to be with her. She has been having weekly infusions all fall and now has a second type of chemo (the red devil) once every two weeks. I was there for the second to last just a few days ago. Met Tara, who was wonderful. The day before the chemo, my sister insisted on walking around the city all day and then climbing Coit Tower int the evening. Tara let her know gently that so much activity was not advisable. Recommended more rest. It seems as if you are both in very good hands. Thanks for the good blog. Best wishes to you and your family.

    • leftbreast says:

      Lisa, I totally understand why you sister would want to do all that walking. You want to seize the world and squeeze every ounce out of it before the chemo knocks you on your back for a week. Dr. Rugo, Tara, and all the other NPs are great. All the best to you and your sister as well.

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