I am ramping up for All Hallows Eve like never before. Two years ago, I had just come out of my third surgery and my first round of chemo not trick or treat.I had not even told most friends that the cancer had spread ─ thus necessitating the additional surgery. They took my lymph nodes, probably way more than was necessary, and I would not be told for a few more days that only two lymph nodes had been compromised with cancer but I already knew I was going to need chemo.Two out of the sixteen lymph nodes were removed and the onslaught of chemo crashed down on me a short week later.I was swathed in gauze two years ago Halloween, and not the mummy/zombie kind.I had tubes coming out of me all over the place which compromised my mobility and the chemo had started working its toxic mojo.I dug out large, flowy tops from the back of my closet and wore them to work. Yes, I was working; any executive armed with minimal survival skills working in Silicon Valley would know better than to stay home unless on one’s death bed and probably not even then. The tubes coming in and out of me were a new thing according to my surgeon.They delivered about five days’ worth of topical numbing medicine to my horrific wound/incision which kept me on my feet after two surgeries to the very same location in less than a week.I actually felt very little until my surgeon pulled the needle out of my healing skin.That I totally felt.Oh yes, and I let him know it.
So, this Halloween is different but really the same. We decorate the front of our home in a cheesy, scary theme worthy of early Dark Shadows ─ remember when you could see the strings holding up the totally fake bat that Barnabas Collins had evilly morphed into? I don’t know about you, but I was terrified.So, I get why little kids are totally freaked out at the site of my front porch, all swathed in creepy gray curtains, with cheesy, scary Halloween music and a fog machine.
Doesn’t take much to scare little kids as it turns out and I should know.But the ‘scare nothing in a toddler-sized pink tutu or panda costume’ still holds.I prefer the kids who are a few scant years from getting their driver’s permits.They deserve to have the crap scared out of them. I know this because I spend a good hour post-Halloween every year clearing the egg goo from my abused garage door.
I think this is because of my daughter. Back in high school she and a few friends, fresh from drama class, staged a vampire killing in the middle of our street.It was well done, a glorious fake death replete with fake blood and campy plastic fangs.It was a performance worthy of some vapid, pale faced guy named Edward who, unlike every other male I’ve ever known, talks about his feelings and emotions and sulks like a 13 year old girl.It was, in retrospect, completely hilarious.At least we all deep into a couple of bottles of vino sure thought so.The nine year old boy who happened by en route to Trick or Treating, did not think so.He ended up completely hysterical, convinced vampires had taken over the neighborhood and he actually called 911.After the cops arrived, he stood quaking in his super hero costumer on my doorstep, in tears no less, with a local officer in tow. The bemused officer, who had one heck of a time keeping a straight fact throughout, insisted on officially interviewing the guilty fang bangers and, after checking to make sure everyone was indeed not among the undead, he assured the young man that nobody in my home was a card-carrying member of the undead because, being undead was, of course, totally against the law. To wit, everyone had a pulse.
That kid soon moved out of the neighborhood but not before his parents (and where were they Halloween night I still wonder) gave me dark and dirty looks every time they happen to see me en route to the duck pond or getting into my car.Sorry about that.I had no idea your kid was such a head case and a wuss.
Still, scares like that don’t come along every Halloween so you have to take what you can get.The neighborhood kids know that I can terrify with the best of them and we’ve actually had groups of kids return, not for the candy, but for a second and third scare.That’s like the ultimate when you are an adult (by age) and looking to celebrate the holiday in style.
My only regret is that I may not be dressing up this year.I was totally feeling the rocker chick zombie thing but I think the make-up might frighten Baby Claudia and because she’s doing her Tinkerbelle thing, I can’t risk messing with her baby holiday.
The other kids, the ones I’m not related to, well, they better brace themselves.
I am getting beat all to heck these days. Grandbaby Claudia, a.k.a. Baby Claudzilla, lacks that learned, tender touch.It’s not her fault though, it took fully two years, just last week, before I had finally experienced a completely pain-free day.So I would deem me fairly fragile to say the least.Two…..long…years.
Reporting this astounding milestone news to my BFF presented an opportunity for her to wax philosophic about surgeries in general.It took just as long, she assured me, for full recovery from her latest hip replacement. Her bones are surprisingly good but her joints fail her at every turn.She had to have two full hip replacements well before she hit the big 6 - 0.And this was after she blew out her shoulder when her exuberant Welsh Springer Spaniel Jazzy dragged her half way across a local dog park.What can I say, the dog is a squirrel magnet and every good hunting breed knows that squirrels are evil canine terrorists; Puppy Enemy Number One. And my BFF still has pain in her shoulder from time to time, to say nothing of how her hips can bother her.
So, I try not to complain, at least not too much.It does no good anyway.I remain quietly proud that I take no pain meds and solider on through most days. And trust me, I am no martyr, in fact, far from it.I spend a good deal of time loftily reminding my boyfriend that I need more sleep and to that end, his dogs need not sleep right on top of me.As if a dance, I move an inch, they move an inch, I roll over, the dogs scoot in tandem. Contact, it seems, must be maintained at all times.Bob likes to claim that this is all part of the ‘security detail’ they provide but I suspect they are simply pack animals and enjoy the warmth.Particularly, it seems, during loud thunderstorms.And while this is not always painful, sometimes with the lymphedema, any movement hurts.
I need to remind cancer survivors out there that recovery is all about the half.Half a percent that is.I estimate that we all feel about ahalf of one percent better every week into recovery.
Seriously.That means it takes a whole year to feel just 26 percent better and two long years to get half way to normal.If my math holds, that means I should be feeling a hundred percent in another two years.
Keep in mind that my oncologist, when he asks how I am feeling, he generally means in the context of the ‘new, post cancer’ me.Pain, exhaustion, fatigue, neuropathy...the menu that makes up daily annoyances in my life.And the special of the week? A restless, near sleepless night.Yum, yum.
Mega hot flashes constitute the sometimes dessert that I surely would prefer to skip.
But this is the new normal and I’m fairly excepting of my lot.It is a whole lot better than the alternative which is why those of us with decreased quality of life are so accepting.We know what our lot could be.We could well go the way of the late Steven Jobs who reportedly, after learning that he had cancer, delayed surgery for nine long months.This was likely the one decision could have well cost him his life. Wow, for such a smart guy, did he not know that herbal cleansings simply don’t work?
If they did a whole bunch of wonderful oncology specialists would be out of a job.
I am a sometimes expert on perspective so when I found out that the tiny red lesion on my leg was actually the beginnings of skin cancer, I actually didn’t so much as blink. When youare the color of an anemic vampire and half of your relatives have had numerous bits of skin removed, you actually grow up not so terrified of generic, eminently curable skin cancer.
So, I asked the dermatologist whose dry, acerbic wit oddly matches my own, when do we operate?It was the very next day, today, and the whole thing went so fast that I wasn’t even tardy for work.The whole procedure took less time than I spend checking voice messages in the morning; with the longest time being waiting precisely 173 seconds for the shot to numb up the spot on my leg.Bandaged up, I departed the doctor’s office some ten minutes later utterly underwhelmed and wholly unimpressed with myself.
I am still so not special. This is because skin cancer runs in, out and through the fairer skinned members of my family.Like Gamma rays only less deadly.Having grown up in the Cretaceous Era of no sunscreen in Southern California and possessing skin the pallid shade of an exhumed corpse, what did I expect? And I say no sunscreen because back in Ancient Times, sunscreen had not yet been invented.
I did handle the cancer news better than the last time with the sum total of my initial reaction being, “Uh, oh, ok, when how soon can I get this taken care of?”My oncologist would not have known it was me, seriously.I was oddly proud of that, the calmness of it all. It is so unlike me that I felt I had achieved a Zen state with respect to cancer. And the dermatologist even gave me a bunch of cool samples for super sunscreen, SPF 85 no less.Lovely parting gifts, along with the giant band aid on my leg of course.
Maybe I’m cool after all, I mused while stuck in traffic driving back into work, my leg still slightly numb but not a concern for the first time in weeks.I’ve grown rather fond of that leg, I thought, I am glad that like my breasts, I’m going to be able to keep it.
When I got to work, my work BFF happen to be in the hallway.“Everything ok?” she asked anxiously.Lord knows, I’ve put the good woman through enough.
“When do we do our lunchtime walk?” I replied.
Apparently, my ho-hum perspective was not going to include slacking off on the daily exercise routine we’d created.
Still, I think my daughter may not appreciate my darker side, the one that views having been diagnosed with cancer, twice and two different types, in just two brief years, as just part of the gloom and dank that drips all over my Karma these days.
“You have to be really nice to me,” I announced dramatically as I walked in the door last night.“On account of me having cancer until tomorrow.”
My pity party didn’t last very long, however.Just a few minutes ago my daughter called me at work to check on me.“Did they get it mom, all the cancer?” she asked.
“Yes of course sweetie!It’s all gone and I’m just fine.Awe, you were worried about me, weren’t you?”
“I was actually wondering how much longer I needed to be nice to you. Now that you are cured, you know what that means.”
Yes, I know what that means.It means that I’m back to being extraordinarily ordinary all over again.
I am pretty sick of D-list celebrities using the Big C to further their agenda which is always all about self promotion and staying in the public eye. This happens every month, it seems, and always ends with some extremely cosmetically altered wannabe on the cover of some tacky magazine blazing with some melodramatic headline of a sob fest, “Smacky Kandi’s Heroic Battle With Toe Cancer”.
I find there is nothing brave about using a horrific disease to further a private agenda, one’s career in Hollywood.Worse, if readers take the bait and buy these rags, one normally finds out that the so-called ‘tragic battle’ was little more than a new boob job and maybe some radiation, hardly the life and death battle such as the iconic Steven Jobs fought and tragically lost.One will note that the fiercely private Jobs rarely discussed his disease, preferring to keep the details private.Since so little of Jobs’ life was private, I totally get that.
If a public figure, with public clout, is going to come forward about a disease they are battling, for pity’s sake, let it be to further educate the public or to inform and raise awareness.Let it be to commiserate with fellow cancer survivors, not to grab self-promoting headlines.
The last thing I wanted when I first found out about my cancer was to talk about it, even with my own family.I was so trapped with fear in my own head that I was useless to everyone around me for quite some time.When I finally came out of it, well into my recovery, it occurred to me to help others, to pay it forward and blog about my experiences. I just wanted to give someone that, ‘ah ha’ moment so they would not feel so alone.This is because cancer truly is the one battle you fight utterly by yourself, no matter how many loved ones rally to support you.
I realize that I may be singular in my public and all-encompassing distain for celebrities.I’ve never even seen a reality television show and I don’t even know who Snookie/ Ookie/Pookie is.I have no idea what the Kardashians do and the only real housewife I sort of know is my next door neighbor who juggles three little kids at home. I never hear that woman raise her voice.That woman is a saint.
Everyone I hang out with has a career like me so that’s who I relate to; women like me.Still, I frustrate my BFF because she likes to call me up with conversations that start:
“Are you watching?
“Dancing with the Stars.”
“No, the Flyers are beating the crap out of the Penguins, it’s a massacre on ice….why?”
“Just turn it on, ok?”
“Really? Jody Shelley is back from his latest suspension and he’s about to drop the gloves with…what were you asking me?”
“Julie, please focus.Turn on Dancing with the Stars, its total drama, I want to ask you something about the tango, ok?”
“Ok, Ok, hang on.Shelley better not fight while I’m doing this.”
“OK, you there?”
“Yeah, yeah, so what did you want to know?”
“Are you watching the play back?”
“Uh huh, yeah, no, it’s not an actual tango move, that funny guy with the English accent is right, they broke the rules.”
“How do you know this stuff anyway?
“I was an uncoordinated kid, my mother was embarrassed so she made me take dance lessons.Next time ask me about the jive, I know lots about the jive.Say, while I have you on the phone, let me ask you something, ok?”
“The show is called Dancing with the Stars, right?So, who are all these people anyway?”
“Really? Are we going to do this again?”
“I kid you not, who ARE these people?I mean, aside from Chaz Bono whom you have to admire for putting himself out this way.”
“You really don’t know any of those people?”
“No I do not and so seriously, what is this show all about? Is it a contest?”
“You are completely hopeless….”
And so it goes on and on until my BFF basically grows tired of me wanting to get back to hockey and she gives up.
This is my general (low) opinion of celebrities and I live by that belief by not giving any of them space in my head or my attention.The glamour days of real movie stars ended when both Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor passed away anyway.You never heard tell of Newman talking about his lung cancer publicly and even the headline grabbing Taylor didn’t go the talk show circuit to wax poetic about her congestive heart condition.
And even if they had talked about their health issues in public, it would have been to raise awareness or to help others.Taylor’s AIDS charity work was legendary and Newman’s altruistic endeavors no less compelling.Bottom line, they used their celebrity status to make a difference.
So, to that point, it is still October (a.k.a, Breast Cancer Awareness month) folks, so get those mammograms!There are many programs in the Bay Area where I hail from, so you can get a very low cost or even free mammogram. So make sure you do that, get that mammo and stay healthy.Make a difference with your own family.
I spent an afternoon recently learning to breathe again. This was after a week of scary medical tests, inconclusive findings and….more tests.
Then came down from the medical heavens the magic word: Negative.
After never crying about having gotten cancer or even losing my hair, I decided that the doctor’s office was going to be my home base, like that magical place little kids tag and say ‘free’ where they are safe and can’t be tagged out.In my doctor’s office, I can cry, get upset and basically do not have to act brave for one single second.This is now where I get it all out.
This safety net mindset did not, however, keep the doctor’s assistant’s eyes from rolling in the back of her head when she initially took my blood pressure.
“Ummm, let’s try this again after you talk to the doctor,” she said, clearly astonished that I had not stroked out yet.
The doctor was kind, positive and encouraging.“This is a whole lot of…nothing,” she announced cheerfully after reading the MIR results.MY BP promptly plunged out of the stratosphere and back into Normal Range.Not only did the MRI not reveal anything to worry about, but it also showed perfectly normal ovaries, lymph nodes and various assorted perfectly cancer free body parts of the female pelvic region.At least in the south forty, my parts were workin’ fine.
I teared up for only a few seconds, the deeply sick feeling in the pit of my stomach finally starting to wane for the first time in days.The doctor told me they wanted a comparative MRI, in three months from now just to keep an eye on things which was I had already prayed to The Lord for.That had been my ‘best case’ scenario.And I got it.
Having already mentally prepared myself for the worst, I was a little more than astonished to get much more hopeful news. It wasn’t even ‘inconclusive’.It was negative.Nothing.Nada.Zip.Zero.Zilch.
Nothing could have made me happier.I was even able to call my daughter as I tottered − none too steady on my feet − into the parking lot.I’m ok, I managed to say, my voice as wobbly as my gait but it was enough.I left a couple of text messages for people I love and then I sat in my car, willing the sick feeling in my gut to fade faster.
Food, I realized, might be a good thing since I could not recall the last time I ate. And then perhaps a strollered up walk with Baby Claudia would be really fun.The doctor talked to me about my slightly porous bones, assuring me that the guilty party had been the chemo and how weight bearing exercise and a calcium-rich diet were the key.This I already knew.The good news was, the damage was far less than usual in these cases and somewhat reversible.I checked the sticky note she had given me for calcium and Vitamin D and realized I was still going to be able to watch my grand-daughter grow up.
My fear de jour had been that Baby Claudia would grow up with sad, scary dim memories of her Nana, me, dying.Bald, sickly, painfully thin, and wasting away in front of her youthful baby eyes.I could not bear it.I had to be and to stay healthy.I wanted her to think back on her Nana with pretty hair, great shoes, incredible chic and absolute, above all else, cool.The cool, above everything else.I didn’t want her seeing me cry or in constant pain or her mother sobbing at the thought of losing Nana so young to cancer.I wanted what we all want, time but time with quality.
And this latest journey in the Zone of Fear brought it all back into sharp relief: I was still here, I was still cancer free and I had many years ahead of me.
I hate not knowing. I hate everything about uncertainty. And I hate waiting most of all.
Unfortunately, waiting is what battling cancer is mostly about.Waiting to see the doctor, waiting to hear test results, waiting to find out if those test results will result in a biopsy, waiting to find out if the biopsy is cancerous….the wait just never ends.
One would think that battling cancer would have taught me patience but in reality, all it has taught me is The Drill.
I know The Drill.Whatever medical test you are doing is precautionary, test comes back with questions or ‘concerns’.Somebody doesn’t call you to reassure you that it’s probably nothing, even the doctor who read the initial test said so but you don’t know this or hear this.Instead, you get a call out of the blue, a disembodied voice from an unknown and ominous sounding testing facility.The voice is saying you need to schedule an appointment for yet another, more complicated test.For a second, you go blank and you mentally free fall. Oh boy, do you know this feeling. This is precisely how you felt when you first heard you had cancer, wasn't it? This is followed, in short order, by a flurry of frantic phone calls, usually to the oncologist office wherein you try and get answers that nobody has.
More waiting.Finally somebody gets on the phone and forces out words of patience and caution.Don’t worry, the voice says, it’s probably nothing.The voice tells you to wait and see.
So, then more waiting.Waiting for the next appointment.Smiling politely when the technicians all tell you not to worry, the more complicated test is strictly precautionary, etc.God, but you have heard this before.Still, you try and listen when they tell you that nobody gets both uterine and breast cancer, in a two year period.It’s so very likely a fibroid, you repeat to yourself, it actually becomes your mantra.It will turn out to be nothing, nothing at all.
And yet, in your head, in the face of all that tsunami of logic and reason, all you can hear is that little voice saying back to you, “Yes, that’s what they said about me getting breast cancer in the first place.”
Cancer taught you that anything is possible, odds mean nothing.
So, you do the next test, you suck it up.You even get all the veins in your ‘good arm’ blown out by some well meaning doctor who clearly hasn’t stuck someone with a needle in 30 years.Your arm looks like somebody chased − and caught you − with a hammer.Black and blue up and down the length of your arm and you think, wow, my arm never looked this bad during chemo and I never even had a shunt.
Then it hits you, the ‘good arm’ is blown and if the test results come back with bad news, you don’t even have a ‘good arm’ for the surely necessary surgery IV. Crap, you think, how long will I have to wait for all this to heal? Tick, tick, tick, in your head the clock is already ticking and the cancer already spreading.
Or will they just ram an incredibly painful needle into some deep tissue vein in my leg and cut me open anyway? You try and shut down the screaming panic, the rabid fear inside your head.If only for a moment.
Then, because you have so much free time on your hands what with all the waiting and panic is supremely exhausting so you give in, you digress.You realize, if only for a second, that you are being morbid and totally paranoid and you take a prudent mental step back.Worse case, you think, a fibroid biopsy won’t require being put out and therefore you won’t need an IV, they can biopsy you anytime while that poor, beat up arm heals.
Because you think like that when you have fought cancer, you really do.Your body becomes nothing more than a flesh and blood map, muscle and skin, tissue and organ strategy for getting rid of what you are totally convinced is more cancer.
And this even after you have combed all the cancer survivor web sites and blogs and survivor postings and you know, you truly do, that all the bulletin postings of cancer survivors who have gone through the very same ordeal, they all seem to have come out of similar situations cancer free.
Oh sure, one or two had a D&C, a couple of others had their meds changed up, one woman with long term ‘plumbing issues’ even had a hysterectomy but still…overall, you cannot find one single posting of somebody who suffered what you are sure you are going to suffer, another form of cancer.
In the middle of this extended wait-panic-panic-some-more period, you find a crusty red spot on one of your legs and know, JUST KNOW, that it’s skin cancer.You rush to the dermatologist who tries to assure you that it is likely not skin cancer.Yeah right, you think.You don’t care how it looks, you ask, three times, for a biopsy but only because you don’t yet know how painful that particular procedure is.The doctor is nice, however so he does the biopsy.Then he tells you with humor, not to be so paranoid, that you have nothing to worry about with respect to the little crusty red mark on your leg and asks you to call him next Monday so he can tell you if the little crusty patch, now bleeding profusely, needs to be burned off.
Apparently, the ‘cure’ for ordinary skin cancer is quicker and less painful that the actual biopsy.You truly wish you had known that before you demanded the biopsy. And you honestly wonder why he didn’t just burn the dang thing off on the first visit.Your leg is now wrapped in layers of gauze and cotton.You had no idea one tiny spot, about the circumference of the average drinking straw on your leg could actually bleed so much.The needle must have been the diameter of a canon you think, as you fish out your black tights from the bottom of your sock and hosiery drawer.
Meanwhile, you are right back where you started from, this familiar caught in the middle of your non-life, on the verge of panic, trying not to freak out, trying more than anything else, to remain rational and calm and reasonable and all because?
I wax poetic a great deal about the metaphorical rabbit hole and how we cancer survivors stand on the brink and have to be ready to launch, head first, back into that terrifying round of tests, biopsy, surgery, radiation, chemo, more tests. The fear just never ends.So, when I got a call to schedule a MRI that I knew nothing about, I knew the drill: find out what the heck is going on, who ordered the test and why.This came on the heels of a perfectly clean (negative) mammogram so I was foolishly thinking it had to be some mistake.
Alas not.Seems the so-called routine scan on my pelvis may have found a possible fibroid but if there is good news, better on the uterus than the ovary.At least that’s what they are saying it is, ‘probably’, a fibroid. Probably.So they say.Maybe.Should be. We think.
Even when I 'worse case' this news in my head (and I always do), I logically know that uterine cancer is slow growing, that they would have caught it early, etc., etc., etc.
Does not help one bit since I don’t know what I am truly dealing with yet. And even though the test results say, ‘likely a fibroid’ my heart does not buy that for one single minute. I likely didn’t have breast cancer either and what was when I wasn’t considered high risk which is what I am considered now.
High risk.The very sound of it is ominous.That’s because the meds I take to stave off a recurrence of the breast cancer come with a slight increased risk for uterine cancer. And this when I already know that three out of four women get uterine fibroids at some point in their lives, they just don’t know about them because they tend to come and go, I could have had this for decades, blah, blah, blah.
God, but the fun never ends.
But news like this is where I excel. I have, as they say, A PLAN.Of course, it’s not a very good plan, certainly not rooted in logic or clearly thought out, but it’s a plan nonetheless.
My plan is basically this; when in doubt, take it out. I will have everything removed that can be removed.Sounds drastic, I know, but after what I’ve been through with chemo and surgeries, I’ll go under the knife again before I will knowingly risk chemo and cancer.I’ll go balls to the wall as we say in the cancer survivor business.
This scorched earth medical approach to my health is reflective of my panic-but-do-something personality. I have calls into my surgeon and every other doctor on my team, just in case I need to jump on this.
So while even though I know, logically, it is likely the fibroid they say it is, I am poised and ready.
Move over white rabbit, Alice may need to tumble down the hole and come for another visit.
Where is that smack talking, hookah toting caterpillar when you need him the most?
I always appreciate someone who has a way with words. So, when my OB/GYN office called and left me a message, the caller was incredibly careful to say that the test results they wanted to discuss were of a ‘non-urgent’ nature.Meaning, I suppose, they remembered me and knew me quite capable of melting time and bending space over various quark-type universes if I didn’t get an answer.And this when I already could easily deduce that the call was simply to go over bone density baseline scan results. Meaning, I already knew the call was not directly related to cancer.
That being said, it’s a funny thing about chemo, turns out, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.And giving and giving.Always when you wish it wouldn’t.This is worse than your Great Aunt Tillie’s annual holiday fruitcake on crack.Post chemo, my dentist warned me my teeth and dental health could suffer long-term damage though he happily reported after an exam that this did not seem to be the case.Incredibly lucky was how he put it. Come to think on it, post chemo every other doctor I have met with has warned me that chemo could cause a virtual bolideof medical problems from now until death and we are still not so sure about after that.
Thus, some two years post-cancer, as I got scanned for my bone density baseline, I was annoyed to hear from the otherwise charming technician that yes, chemo can pretty much suck the very marrow from your bones and this before it ever blows all your chances of procreation.Really?What part of me doesn’t chemo ruin?? I wondered stormily at the time.It messes with your fertility, nuro pathways, energy level, blood, short term memory, teeth, immune system…
Am I missing anything?
This being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, every women’s magazine I subscribe to is currently featuring some brave soul. A survivor story wherein the some woman has bravely confronted and beat breast cancer.
The beat cancer part always works for me but in that I am as brave as your average garden gnome, I am never that pleased to read about the astounding courage of my pink warrior sisters out there.Anyway, one of these women, who has valor written all over her, wrote about chemo and how she got chicken pox or as we adults tend to call it, shingles.Having never had so much as a sniffle during chemo, I silently counted myself lucky.The woman in the article I read ended up in the hospital and not just one time.Me, I crawled under the covers in my bed and suffered, as I am wont to do, mostly in silence.Plus, it was simply too exhausting to complain out loud, seriously.
I did feel like a connection with a certain television journalist who said that post chemo, she forgot everything and wondered if it was being in her 50s or the fallout from chemo.Trust me, girlfriend, it’s from the chemo.And I had to smile when she said that leg pains convinced her that she had bone cancer.
Its neuropathy or maybe even generic leg cramps from the tamoxafin trust me, I would know. I am a virtual buffet of what ifs and brace yourself, medically speaking.And turns out, everything is within normal save for L1-L4 which could use a bit of, no surprise, calcium.The femurs are at risk but most of the spine is within normal range yes, despite the ravaging effects of chemo. My BFF, who has GREAT bones (though her joints totally suck), said despite the fact that I don’t like my weight right now, I still have teeny, tiny bones.OK, I am small boned and that combined with my maternal history of broken hips, puts me at risk genetically, chemo notwithstanding.
So, another gift from chemo, more health-related issues on my daily to-do list which pretty much, since vanquishing cancer, has gone like this:
2.Go to work
3.Be nice to everyone
4.Lose some weight
5.Don’t get cancer again
And come to think on it, not a bad list after all.
I am not sure what to say that thousands have not already said about iconic Steven Jobs. A modern day Da Vinci, a visionary, perfectionist, icon, genius.
But he was also a father, a husband, a brother, a friend.
And yet, the press in their frantic quest to disseminate the news may forget that.
I met Jobs once, in the line at the Whole Foods in Palo Alto, some ten years ago.He had eggs, which the star struck cashier promptly dropped, spattering broken egg shells all over the counter.Jobs smiled shyly at me, self consciously, and asked if I would hold his place in line while he got another dozen eggs.
Would I?I nearly fainted, the guy was so cute and frankly, hot.And while the poor star-struck cashier hastily mopped up bits of broken yolk and shell, Jobs apologetically smiled again and bought his eggs while we shared a few comments.He remarked that his wife also liked the spa around the corner that I was spending the day at; we both smiled knowingly at the nervous grocery store clerk whom I was fairly certain was going to faint dead away and finally, he said thanks to me −though I’m not sure what for, and with that he was gone.
The icon had left the building.
So for me, Jobs was also a regular guy, and all just because of that one chance encounter.A dad picking up eggs on his way home for the wife and kids.I liked that image of him and once I knew that both he and I had fought cancer, I felt a certain kindred spirit with the man.I had no clue what it would be like to be mercilessly hounded by the press and Apple fanatics on a worldwide basis, but I knew what it was to fight cancer.So, on some very deep and abiding level, I am pretty sure I got Jobs, that I got what drove him.
The job, the amazing career, the revolutionizing the electronics industry, all great accomplishments he achieved, I know that Jobs would trade it all, as would I in his place for something that none of us, no matter how profound our impact on the world or our genius, can have more of: time.
Post cancer, I’m no day at the beach when it comes to doctor appointments or even the most mundane, standard medical tests. In fact, I feel sorry for anyone who has to deal with me. I’m usually so distracted and wound up and edgy thinking of the (bad) news I might receive that I morph into this entirely different person.This is why I actually decided to take an entire day off for all my medical appointments.I can only wedge three or four into one day but it’s also enough that I get my mammogram, right on schedule.
Mammograms are only briefly uncomfortable, you feel a sort of pinch when the machine clamps down on tender breast tissue for about ten seconds but nothing else.It takes only a short amount of time to complete too.This is why I was so surprised to meet the director of the breast cancer center where they have always taken such good care of me.That’s where my go-to man Andrew works too. He's the amazing young man who displays such compassion and professionalism under such pressure. And trust me, when you need answers and something is wrong, that's a lot of pressure but Andrew handles it with such grace and care that I have to thank his mom who must have raised him right. You can tell when someone is special, has that gift with people the way Andrew does.
So back to my mammo. There I was, garbed in that bathrobe-y thing you wear for your mammo, trying to relearn to breathe in the changing room when somebody knocked on the door and introduced herself as the director of the center.
What, I thought, with characteristic humor, have I done now?
But it turns out, I'd actually done nothing wrong. For once I mean.
The director had simply heard I was coming in and wanted to make sure I was ok.
It was my blog folks, she’d read it.And I had written, months ago, an entry about my original (horrific) experience of learning I had cancer. What was not clear, however, was that the incident in question took place at an entirely different facility.Meaning, the great folks at this particular place, had absolutely nothing to do with my first, initial terrible experience.I hope I was able to convey to the lovely director that much, I am sure I wasn’t being very cohesive in my conversation because when it comes to mammograms, I have trouble breathing, much less thinking.
What I never was able to say to her, at least not in the way that I really wanted to, was that The Breast Care Center is where I go to feel safe.I do not like having tests and sometimes I’m frankly terrified of the impending results but I do feel safe when I am there.They know I’m a cancer survivor, they know how we survivors roll, one day at a time, forever on the edge of having to go back down the rabbit hole at a moment’s notice.They get it.They are gentle, professional, imminently kind and thorough.I could not ask for a better place to get my testing done nor a more compassionate staff of professionals.
This is all very good for the likes of me who has been known to scour the Internet to find out if my odds of long-term survival have changed in any way.Thus I know that if you get past certain years; two, five, nine, your odds go up.The inspiring Elizabeth Edwards never made it past two years (post treatment) before her cancer returned with a vengeance.
We miss you Elizabeth.
So, I knew better than most how important that two year milestone was going to be.I mentally prepared myself to wait for the inevitable (treasured more than gold) pink letter detailing the ‘all clear’ in the mail. Takes about three to four days usually.
But the fates were on my side on the day of my mammogram because that kind woman who’d read my blog actually got the doctor to read my film the very same day so I knew.
I knew because she actually took a few minutes from her impossibly busy schedule to call me and tell me the results.I missed the call but not the news and then?
I wept for the most beautiful word in the world to me, ‘negative’ and I wept for the kindness of a near stranger who understood the fear and the pain we cancer survivors live with every single day.
And I wept at the vision that had come to me the instant I heard the word 'negative' on the message. As I heard the good news, I saw, in a flash, my granddaughter Baby Claudia, at around the age of 7 wearing a frothy pink tutu, power pink ballet slippers slung casually over her tiny shoulder and her funny pink legwarmers lopsided and endearing because I already know that's the way Baby CJ would wear them.In this vision, I was holding her tiny hand and greeting a little boy, about five.He was clad head to toe in hockey goalie gear, stick in hand, nearly completely round in his padding and gear. He had not even changed out of his tiny skates.
My God, I thought, as I took a deep breath willing the vision to continue, that’s my future grandson. And the image of the two of them, with me picking them up from hockey and ballet practice was so real I could actually feel the hard plastic of the hockey helmet my not-yet-conceived grandson was wearing and I bent down to kiss his head in greeting and he, already totally cool at five, tapped me lightly on the thigh with his stick in a return standard-hockey issue greeting. Clearly, my future grandson had been watching some major hockey with his parents. I felt the shape and feel of Baby Claudia’s hand none better because she has my hands, her Nana's hands.
My God, I realized, I am going to have that moment.