How I Use My Notebooks: Daily Planner Update

I last posted about my planner and to do list setup here. To recap, my planning system includes two large Moleskine hard cover squared notebooks, one in which I plan my week, and one in which I use as a daily to do planner. I started using this setup once Covid hit and I started working from home. It worked very well for a year and a half.

Then I got cancer.

I was hospitalized for a month, in which I discovered that I have zero control over my time or how my day will shape out. When I got out I was already on a Chemo regiment. I had to make adjustments to my life, this time because of my personal health, not a global pandemic.

Score (another) one for self-made planners.

My old system was generic enough that it fit into my new lifestyle with very little adjustment. The weekly notebook stayed mostly the same, as you can see below. The main difference is that I manage less stuff there and more using reminders in Fantastical. It’s not that I don’t like paper planners any more, it’s just that Chemo Brain is a possible side effect of my treatment and I don’t want to risk not getting something important done because I forgot to check my weekly planner at the right moment, or I saw something there but didn’t remember it after I’ve seen it.

So why keep the weekly planner at all? Because it helps me see how the week is shaping up, and because it allows me to do a little long term planning, despite everything. All my plans at the moment are in two week batches (dictated by my chemo regiment), and this layout allows me to manage them.

Another addition to this notebook is a few tracker pages, marked by tabs. Some track purchases that I’m waiting for, some track bureaucracies that I need to take care of, others list things that I want to get done eventually but I haven’t decided yet when or how.

As for my daily planner notebook, I just finished one and started another. Here’s the finished notebook:

Moleskine Large Hardcover squared with a Star Wars The Last Jedi decal on the cover.

Here’s the new notebook. I love using these decals to make these notebooks my own:

Moleskine Large Hardcover squared with a Star Wars Chewbacca decal on the cover.

I used to manage every day on a full spread, with personal to dos on one side of the page and professional ones on a another. Since my life is less busy now than it used to be, I’ve downsized my to do to one page per day, with personal and professional mixed in (I work from home). This is a sample of my least busiest day: it’s a chemo day and I wasn’t planning on working after this treatment since it was a long one. Door to door I was in the hospital from 6:40 to 14:00, and completely wiped out after it. I don’t usually list my meals or naps in my notebook, but chemo days are so crazy (in terms of what my brain does on steroids) that I have to write everything down. Things that I didn’t do get a strike in them and are moved forward to another day.

Everybody has different needs from their planner, and those needs oftentimes change unexpectedly, and out of sync with “planner season”. It’s one of the reasons why I find making your own planner, working just a few days or a week or two ahead is the best and most consistent way for me to manage my time. There are some great planning systems out there, but if you’ve struggled with using them, or if your circumstances make you need a very flexible system, I highly recommend picking up a squared or lined notebook and creating your own.

Resilience: A Health Update

While I was taking a walk a few days ago I saw this tree branch grow out of a tiny crack in a solid stone wall and I was impressed enough by its tenacity and resilience to draw it. By chance this drawing is on the opposite page of the one I made for my last health update, which seems appropriate.

I underwent a PET CT on the 9th of September, and thankfully the results were good. The treatment is working, kicking my cancer’s ass and not just making me feel bad. I went through another round of Chemo on the 12th, my fifth round so far, and the side effects are stronger and taking longer to fade away between sessions. This is to be expected, as the Chemo’s effects are cumulative, but I’ve decided to be like that tree: resilient. I’m making minor adjustments to get me through the post-Chemo days, working out ways to help me ride out the pain and unpleasantness of the worst of the side effects. It’s hard to pick up a pen or brush in the first days after treatment, and I sometimes lose fine motor control. So I’m using larger and lighter pens, and I take photos of things that I want to draw instead of working on location. At home I can take my time while sketching, take breaks, experiment with looser drawing. The drawing above isn’t large or complicated, but it took me two days to complete (one for line work and one for the watercolour).

Resilience. One treatment at a time.

Yom Kippur 2021

I had a strange Yom Kippur this year, as is to be expected. I decided to commemorate it in my sketchbook, this time using Faber Castel Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils in addition to my usual Schmincke and Daniel Smith watercolour mixture.

Drawn on a Stillman and Birn Alpha. Ink is Iroshizuku Ina Ho (lines), Robert Oster Fire and Ice (heading and text) and Sailor 123 (2021).

Health Update for the New Year

It’s been a while since my last update, so I thought that I’d write a new one. On August 24th I had my fourth chemo treatment, and it went rougher than the ones before it in terms of side effects. The worst of the bunch has been my neuropathy, which until now has been not so bad. This time however, both my hands were numb and tingly, and the tips of my fingers actually hurt. It’s been hard typing, holding a pen, drawing. It’s not that I’ve stopped doing these things, it’s just that it’s been a challenge to overcome the pain, to focus more to get my hands moving the way that I want them to. But I haven’t given up, and I’ve managed to type, write with my pens, and even create this drawing:

Not bad for someone with semi functioning fingers, right?

My hands have gotten better with time, but they are getting better slowly, and they still haven’t returned to normal. I’ve discovered that lighter fountain pens with bigger barrels are the best in terms of being easy on my hands, and although my handwriting has suffered a bit due to the pain, it is still recognizably my handwriting.

What’s next? On Thursday I have a PET CT which will determine what the rest of my chemo treatment will be, and on Sunday I’ll have the fifth chemo treatment. I’m not looking forward to either of these things, and as the PET CT is approaching my anxiety levels are rising (I really need good results on it). Meanwhile I’m trying to distract myself with work, books and season 2 of “Ted Lasso”. Here’s hoping for good results, and less pain for the Jewish New Year.

How I Use My Notebooks: Three Good Things

I’ve been going through a rough time lately, and as many people have been so kind to say, staying optimistic despite all the bad things that I’ve had to deal with lately is key to getting through this terrible time. That is, of course, easier said than done. My mind tends to latch on to the painful and scary parts of the day, to the bad feelings, anxiety and doubt. It doesn’t help that we are all living through difficult times, and it’s hard to see and end in sight.

So I’ve started a new habit during the past month, and it’s helping me end the day on a positive note, with an added bonus of helping me use up some of my many notebooks.

I end each day by writing at least three good things that happened that day. I dedicate a page for each day, in my Dingbats notebook, with “Three Good Things” as the title, the date and day, and then the list of good things. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to find that day’s three good things, and for most days so far I’ve managed to find more than three good things to reflect on. They are usually conversations that I had with friends, or moments where I felt like my old self, or things that I enjoyed reading or watching.

Writing these down has been so helpful in getting me to see the good in each day, and in trying to stay positive when life is pretty tough.

The Secret Garden

In the middle of London’s West End there’s a beautiful secret garden, the Phoenix Garden. Ever since I accidentally discovered it, it has been my number one favourite place in London. There’s something about the green and the peaceful quiet in the middle of one of London’s busiest areas that is mesmerizing. During the rough parts of my latest hospitalizations I shut my eyes and transported myself to my favourite bench there.

So I decided to create a very quick sketch of one of the benches there, and try to work on my plant textures. This is clearly something that I still need to work on, but it’s good to know where I started.

Watercolour sketch of a bench nestled in greenery at the side of a reddish path.
Quick sketch of a bench in the Phoenix garden

Here’s a photo of this magical place:

Skyscraper in the background, pigeon flying on the left, and green garden with a red brick path in the foreground.
The Phoenix Garden in all its glory.

Cutty Sark, Greenwich

When I visited London in June Greenwich ended up being one of the biggest disappointments of the trip. The place was hard hit by the pandemic, and everything that made it so special to me seemed to have been wiped out because of it. There was no vintage and antique market next to the movie theatre. There were no grandmas selling baked goods for charity in the movie theatre foyer. Nauticalia, the maritime themed shop on zero longitude, had shut down. A good third of the stores around the Greenwich Market were permanently closed, and there was a general dismal aura around the place. The Maritime Museum required pre-booking an entrance, and so not many people visited it. Greenwich is a place that needs tourists to thrive, and with a pandemic and pandemic restrictions it felt deflated, a shadow of its former, sparkling self.

What still is vibrant and lovely is the place itself, and to remind myself of its potential and of my potential to visit it again someday in better times I created a quick sketch of the road leading to the Cutty Sark.

The Cutty Sark ship in the background, with a circus tent before it and buildings to the left, all drawn in ink and watercolour.

Schminke and Daniel Smith watercolours, Noodler’s Lexington Grey ink, Stillman and Birn Pocket Alpha.

An Update on My Health

Since my last post on the subject about a month has passed, and boy did a lot happen during that month.

The super traumatic biopsy I went through didn’t yield results, so I had to be hospitalized again (for the third time) to get a mediastinal biopsy under full anaesthesia. My first ever operation.

The procedure went well, but my recovery took more time than planned, and the results of the biopsy took two weeks to arrive (hello, Grey’s Anatomy with your very realistic “8 minutes for a biopsy result”). By the time the results arrived I had more and more difficulty breathing, to the point where on the day of their arrival I came into the hospital to be hospitalized for the fourth time, this time because I just couldn’t breath.

I never thought about my breath so much as I did during those few days. I was connected to oxygen and pumped full of steroids and still had to consciously think and struggle for each breath, for every inhale and exhale. You can’t talk, you can’t sleep, you can barely eat, you just breath, breath, breath.

Luckily the biopsy results were better than any of us could anticipate: I have Classic Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It’s very treatable, and though it requires chemotherapy, the course is less intense than I had anticipated.

Two days after my biopsy results arrived I got my first chemotherapy treatment (ABVD, for those interested), and an hour and a half after treatment I could breath independently. I didn’t need oxygen. I could speak in whole sentences. I could be released home.

View of succulents and other plants with the sea in the background.
I have to replace my runs with walks now, but luckily I live in a place with nice walking views.

I have a chemotherapy treatment every two weeks. I’m slowly rebuilding my routine around those treatments, and so hope to start posting more often now that my life isn’t a complete chaos of hospital/home/hospital/home. There are things that I won’t be able to do for a long while (such as running, which is a heartache), but luckily most of my hobbies and all of my work are things that I can do indoors, at a computer or a desk.

Take a good, long, deep breath for me and appreciate it. It really is precious.

I Have a Tumour

I debated whether to write this post or not, and whether to write it now or wait for later, when I know which tumour I have. In the end I decided to start a post and write what comes out, and not try to overthink it.

I have a tumour in my chest cavity (mediastinal). Back in February this year I was forced to stop running for about two months due to a rather serious bout of Plantar Fasciitis. Due to Covid restrictions I had delayed replacing my insoles, and this was the price pay. After two months of rest, stretching and a course of anti-inflammatory pills I felt better and in the beginning of April I started running again.

Or at least I tried.

I had shortness of breath once I started, to the point where I had to stop running a few times during my run. I thought that it was due to me not running for almost two months. But the runs after that first one didn’t get better and after a few more I went to the doctor.

My GP said that my lungs were clear and he couldn’t hear anything. I told him that I was wheezing at night (at this point I was), and that I found running impossible and walking increasingly difficult. He said that it was a virus that was going around, and prescribed something to help with congestion. It was a 10 day course of tablets, and it did nothing to help with my shortness of breath or my wheezing and coughs.

I knew that something was seriously wrong, and thought that at the age of 39 I may have developed asthma. At this point it was time to fly to London, so I took my mother’s inhaler and went on the trip. I have no idea how I made it through 13-15,000 steps per day for 12 days there, but I did.

Once I returned I went to see my GP again, this time demanding a referral to a spirometry test and and to a lung specialist. Last Thursday I took the spirometry test and the results were abysmal. I had 35% lung capacity, and I scared the technician enough that she tried to do everything possible to get me to see a lung specialist that day. She didn’t succeed but my family managed to book me a to a lung doctor that day. He said that it wasn’t asthma, but he had no idea what it was. I needed to get a CT done.

I took a spirometry test at 13:40. I saw a lung doctor at 16:30. At 18:30 I had a CT angio done (my first CT ever). At 19:10 I had the results in my inbox.

A large mediastinal tumour. Possibly lymphoma.

Me, a healthy, non-smoking, non-drinking, physically active 39 year old.

I was admitted to hospital on Friday, and had a series of tests done, including a super painful, super traumatic biopsy on Sunday. I was released home for a few days of rest on Tuesday, and now, Saturday night, I’m back in hospital waiting for my very first PET CT on Sunday morning.

The hospital

I have no idea how I’m coping. For now I’m in a cloud of uncertainly and with zero control over my life as a phalanx of very good doctors try to figure out exactly what we’re dealing with here. It’s a tumor for sure, the question is which kind exactly. I’m moving around in my life as if it is someone else’s.

I’m back to journalling, after a break due to my mom’s health problems, Covid and several other personal issues. Recording everything as it happens has helped me deal with things. Analogue tools are still best for processing, and even though I would have loved to luxuriate with a Parker 51 on some Tomoe River Paper, I know the practicalities of hospitals enough to use a Karas Kustoms Render K with my favourite refill (Uni-ball UMR-85) and a Moleskine instead.

London: A Trip to a City Emerging From a Pandemic

I was in London for the past two weeks, and it was a strange and unique experience. Until Covid-19 I used to visit London once a year, every year. Once the travel restrictions changed so that I didn’t have to quarantine on the way there or on the way back, I decided to book a trip. It ended up being a good but somewhat bittersweet trip, with a lot of interesting new caveats and restrictions that I had to take into account.

Kensington Gardens on a sunny Sunday with very few people outside.
Kensington Gardens on a sunny Sunday with very few people outside.
  • I was travelling to London from a Green List country. That meant taking a Covid test 72 hours before the flight, filling a Locator Form, and taking a Covid test within 2 days of arrival. On the way back I had to take a Covid test 72 hours before my flight back, as well as another test upon arrival. These were all PCR tests in my case, which were uncomfortable to take (first time I took a Covid test) but not painful. They were expensive, and dealing with them did add an added layer of hassle to the trip. In London I bought a test package from Randox, using the British Airways code to bring the price down (it was still much, much more expensive than local tests here – 60 GBP per test after a 50% discount), and dropped the test at a clinic near the British Museum. I would have said that the experience was smooth, except one of the kits that I ordered had a test tube that wasn’t sealed properly, which meant that all the preserving liquid inside leaked. I got a replacement from Randox, but it was a hassle to get them on the phone and get my test kit replaced.
  • London is not for the spontaneous at the moment. You have to book every museum visit in advance. There are fewer musical and theatre tickets on sale as social distancing requirements are still in effect, and there are less show on, which means you need to book well in advance and there is no lining up for day-of tickets. Exhibitions are also at limited capacity, which means that for the popular ones at the V&A, for instance, you will have to book more than a month in advance. Concerts are the same deal, and many churches no longer offer concerts due to social distancing requirements. If you want to see or hear anything, you’re going to have to plan it out to the minute well before your trip.
  • Places are closed or have closed down. I expected that to some extent, as this was case here as well, but I was taken by surprise by the amount of closures, considering just how much support (relatively) the UK government provided to citizens during the lockdowns. Antique markets seem to have taken most of the brunt, with Portobello being a gutted (many arcades are half or three quarters shuttered), Spitalfields reverted mostly to crafts and food, and Greenwich losing one of its markets. A lot of stores in the most expensive and touristy parts of town (Covent Garden, Oxford/Regent Street) are closed and papered over with posters etc so you won’t notice as much. Some have moved to places with lower rents, most have shut down.
Socially distanced performance of Six: The Musical. Chairs with the cardboard sign remained empty. About half the chairs in the picture are marked with signs.
Socially distanced performance of Six: The Musical. Chairs with the cardboard sign remained empty.
  • There are upsides to visiting London now: there are much fewer tourists, which means much fewer lines to things, accommodation prices are lower, and as long as you book a ticket in advance, museums and attractions are emptier. There’s no shortage of cabs after a show, and you usual can find a place to sit in any restaurant you want to.
  • A lot of places have moved to contactless payment only (i.e. no cash), and restaurants are among the most aggressive of the bunch in terms of movement to no cash payment. In many places you will order your meal via an app or a website, and in almost everywhere you’ll be required to scan in via the NHS covid tracker app, or provide your personal details for tracking purposes. If that’s something you feel uncomfortable with, I understand, but do know that you are in one of the most surveilled cities in the world when you’re in London, so maybe it’s not the city for you.
  • Masks and disinfectants everywhere. Not much else to say about that.
  • Museums and larger stores have designated entrances and exits now, which means that you can’t go in through any door that you want.
Trafalgar Square deserted.
Trafalgar Square deserted.
  • London is still London though: there are a lot of interesting things to see and do, especially if you plan ahead. We saw the refurbished wings of the National Gallery (they take you through one of three set tours across the gallery, or you can do more than one tour. It’s not a guided tour – just a path that they want patrons to follow). It’s well worth the visit. We saw the Alice exhibition in V&A and it was wonderful, and the Fantastic Beasts exhibition the Natural History Museum, and it was nice, especially for children (very interactive).
Covent Garden. very few people outside.
Covent Garden. I have never seen it so empty before.
  • We also heard a jazz concert in St Martin in the Fields, heard Handel’s Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall, and even managed to see Princess Diana’s dress at Kensington Palace. All in all it was a good, if peculiar trip.
Fantastic Beasts