Thursday, December 22, 2011
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
I finally am in the ‘I’ of it all. “I” as in Apple as in IPhone. I finally got an IPhone. I have been meaning to get a new phone for some time now but even with the best of intentions, the legacy of my father’s incredible cheapness kept rearing its frugal head and so I waited until I was eligible for an upgrade. Then, I had no time. It’s a curious thing that cell phone stores are now like beauty spas of old. People hang out for hours and hours, and happily so. I want to get in and out in record time and not stand around fussing over a demo on a phone I am never going to buy. I tend toward expediency and efficiency in most all transactions so when three cell phone stores in a row told me that the phone I wanted was on back order and would ship in (vaguely) ‘three or four weeks’ I wasn’t interested. However, when I walked by the cell phone kiosk closest to my home and asked what the back order time was, the sales clerk held up an box and told me he had just taken receipt of a new crop of the very phone I wanted.
I quickly became a devote of everything Apple but, as my father’s cheapness again poked at my virtual wallet, I stingily only downloaded four apps; words with friends (we writers love this sort of thing), hockey radio, a daily calorie counter and of course Angry Birds.
I instantaneously developed a love-hate relationship with Angry Birds. That’s because I whipped through 20 levels with my eyes closed and then got stuck, stuck, stuck.
Stupid Angry Birds.
I never play on line games, not video, not on a phone, not anywhere but the sheer futility of Angry Birds, launching themselves, willy nilly, at smug green pigs that (virtually) stole their eggs really has some serious appeal. I totally get the whole Angry thing, cancer having brought all my simmering resentments and rage to the surface where they rightly belong.
This is why, stuck as I was for nearly four long days at level 21, Angry Birds remains oddly though incredibly therapeutic. Cancer taught me in the most brutal way possible that there are so many things outside of my control, even my health which I took such pristine care of for so many years. But I can still express frustration and rage even, launching Angry Birds at egg-stealing pigs. The results, which are rather temporary, can also be surprisingly soothing. Take that you miserable egg-sucking pigs, take that!!! Since my doctors all think I should find new ways to de-stress, I’ve decided to add Angry Birds to my regime of yoga, deep breathing, aromatherapy and meditation.
My initial take is that AB will do more for my stress level than all the other techniques combined.
If only I can get past Level 23…
Thursday, December 15, 2011
I whole heartedly endorse the notion of fully functioning adults running away from home. Children and teens, no, but adults, absolutely. This strategy represents an excellent down time/chill-lax option when your adult kids are living at home. It is even better when your son-in-law is tearing up your back deck.
My son-in-law has generously offered to replace my entire back deck; all I had to do was buy enough wood to raise a barn in Amish country or wipe out an entire mountain side in the Pacific Northwest which I happily did. Ever the optimist, he figured he would have the deck completed (don’t laugh, it’s rude) in one single day. And this was even before he figured out that the frame below the rotting wood was in pristine condition and would not require replacing.
This was also before he realized that the small pick-up truck my kids had would not begin to bear the weight or accommodate volume of wood we’d bought. He therefore he had to track down his uncle’s massive pick-up truck and after that logistics fiasco, oh let the DYI games begin. He didn’t even get started ripping up the old deck until after supper. Around 10, my daughter says she gently told him that firing up the band saw at that late hour might not endear us to the neighbors. Me, on the other hand, I was freshly showered and cozy in a local (clean) hotel, glass of wine in hand, making goo-goo eyes at the visiting boyfriend.
It was lovely.
For someone who travels a great deal on business, hotels generally represent a means to a business end. I check in, shower, order room service and get myself over jet lag, that’s what hotels are for. I don’t generally think of hotels as escape mechanisms or a way to relax but if you can afford it, by all means, hotels can make you sane again.
My daughter and her family are moving out just 24 days. They are actually doing the walk through for their newly purchased home today and will get the keys in just a week. After they paint (and you can now see why the deck had to be done prior to my son-in-law diving into the spackle and sheet rock world of DYI), they will move and I will get my home back. Just 24 short days from now and we all get some badly needed SPACE but tempers are increasingly thin and that’s because it is more than a little crowded with three adults, one baby, three seriously deluded freeloading cats and two dogs − all crammed into a small townhome. There is a turtle in there too but Gracie tends to shy away from conflict.To say we have been residing in close quarters the past six months would be an understatement. We’ve all tried to get along but sometimes we are just crowded out of our preferences for how we like to live day-to-day. That would mean me because Claudia the Baby takes precedence, always. Even last night as I was hurriedly headed out the door to pick up the boyfriend, suitcase in hand, the baby had her first ever major emotional melt-down. Check that, it was a virtual baby sob fest. I dropped my suitcase and ended up rocking a sobbing baby, hoping the boyfriend’s bag would be the last out of baggage claim. Claudia simply had a bad moment there, the first I am sure of many. And her sobbing, tiny self took priority over everything else. She had used up her baffled mom and dad by the time I was ready to leave so I offered to give it a try. Twenty minutes later, a red-eyed and still sniffling Claudia was in the bathtub, mollified and relatively speaking, calm. Well, at least calmer. I then ran away from home, secure in the knowledge that the kids had everything well in hand. And even if they didn’t, I knew they would be completely on their own in just 24 days so I had to let them fly solo at some point. So, I ran away from home.
There are currently ten living creatures residing in my small home. In just 24 days, seven of those creatures are moving. The cats haven’t been told yet but two of three of them are relocating, along with a turtle who causes me no grief. They all belong to my daughter, along with the world’s most obnoxious dog, Max. They are all leaving with me, one dog and a singular cat that has repeatedly made it know that she prefers to be an only kitten, behind. I can already see myself on my new back deck, relaxing while MY dog, the residential non-obnoxious canine, suns herself in absolute puppy calm. I am confident that this will happen because my daughter, sensing a long-term disastor on the immediate horizon of her life, called in some serious, heavy weight 20-something male reserves in the form of family friends, both whom have done this sort of work before. My kid is nothing if not pragmatic.
Meanwhile and until the deck is completed, I just may have to make a serious habit out of running away from home. Not only can my kids leave the dirty dishes in the sink and I won’t stage those a silent hissy fits over SOMEBODY putting my expensive cookware in the dishwasher (a total no-no), but everyone gets more breathing and living space. This can only be good for my continued recovery.
Oh, yes, that’s totally what I am going with.
Monday, December 12, 2011
I make it a habit to never get involved with local politics which I like to think is because I don’t have the time for petty agendas and small minds. I also fancy myself as someone who should be spending what little mental mind share I have leftover at the end of the day pondering a Higher Cause. But that’s only an excuse. A great deal of this localized avoidance is the direct result from having been slightly acquainted with, eons ago, an extremely minor local politician who took to leaving her poor young children at my house for days on end without ever calling to tell me when she was going to pick them up. She defined self absorbed behavior and could be downright creepy. My daughter tells me that we ran into her years later (I am proud to say that I honestly didn’t remember her) and the first thing out of her mouth was to ask me, ever so anxiously, if I had a boyfriend, as if no woman of value could exist without one. Imagine how I reacted internally to what I perceived as a perfect stranger, asking me such intimate questions. And thank goodness this was BC, Before Cancer, because had this happened after the Big C, I cannot vouch for what would have come out of my mouth.
Especially since the CP, Crazy Person, could not fathom that I didn’t remember her, nor than I’d gone on with my life to the point that I no longer had a clue who she was. That kind of God-given deluded self absorption can be impressive to behold as it is usually reserved for deposed royalty and third world dictators.
Since we apparently still live in the same little hamlet, upon occasion I run into this whack-a-doodle. My daughter says I’ve become incredibly adept at avoidance, hastily departing from random public locations all in the name of not having to deal with Crazy Person. I do this still because I am frankly uncertain of her mental stability if she accidentally figures out that I don’t share her belief that she is center of the universe. And again, I have no clue what will come out of my mouth only that it won’t be pretty.
These days I simply don’t trust myself not to blurt out The Truth. My ‘inside my head voice’ seems to be seeping out of my mouth in the form of words best left unsaid all the time now. I used to call it ‘Chemo Mouth’ wherein the brutal truth would just pop out but I know I can no longer use that as an excuse.
But I still try and blame the cancer. I figure after the battles I’ve fought that life is uncertain, brutal and often unfairly cruel on a good day so why waste my valuable time suffering fools? Only The Truth will serve and I find that anyone who crosses my path that I have no use for, I continue to run the very real risk of letting them know it. In fact, the last time I ran into Crazy Person, I spent the entire uncomfortable and mercifully short time in line at the dollar store on a business call with China, a call that could have surely waited until I got back to my car but it sure seemed a deal better than listening to her talk endlessly about her so-unimportant self and to ask, ever so anxiously, if I have a boyfriend because, as we all know, a woman just can’t be recognized as a viable human being if she isn’t openly claimed by a man via being in a relationship.
Really? No, not in my book even though yes, the old ball and chain and I have been together a lot longer than most marriages we know of. That being said, I maintain that I was a viable human being before I got into this – or any other – relationship. And really, what kind of rational person whom you haven’t seen in eons presumes to ask a now virtual stranger such personal questions? The solution is simply that it is best to avoid such whack jobs.
Thus I keep my mouth shut and occasionally run the 50 yard dash out of a local retail establishments, all in the name of keeping my inside my head voice firmly inside because believe me, after facing down death and fighting cancer, it’s all I can do not to blurt out The Truth every chance I get.
Friday, December 9, 2011
I have calmed down since my last blog entry. At least calm enough to feel genuinely sorry for anyone so in denial about the necessity of cancer treatments. I get how scary it is to think of losing your hair – my oncologist actually warned me that it was going to be the toughest part of chemo and he was right. And these days, it is actually the first thing I tell any breast cancer patient, fresh from the terrifying news that they are going to need chemo. It’s always the first thing they ask, what weighs most heavily on their minds. In fact, I usually jump the gun and just come right out and tell them all:
“Five weeks, five weeks to the day after your last chemo treatment your hair will start growing back.”
I realize this exact timeline is probably slightly inaccurate as the experts say that hair starts to grow back anywhere from four to eight weeks after the cessation of chemo but I picked five because I can also hold up my hand to a frightened woman and even if she is not registering the meaning of most of my words, the number five always sticks. And I am never happier when I get the inevitable email with the exciting news that yes! Hair is growing back! It’s the one milestone that actually resonates with every breast cancer patient, fresh from the horrors of chemo. And despite the fact that most will be in starting radiation and still feeling pretty dreadful, the moment they realize their hair is growing back is the moment they realize that they are going to make it, that life continues. There is hope in every fuzzy little strand. And this rings true even when the regrowth is typically goofy. Mine was initially bizarre; coal black with a couple of splotches of pure white, a baby panda’s fur run amuck. A quick trip to my intrepid hairdresser Gina fixed that right up.
In a few short months it will have been two years since my hair started its triumphant comeback tour. Already it’s nearly shoulder length though this is something I don’t promise other cancer survivors. Human hair grows, on average, a quarter of an inch a month so that’s just three scant inches a year. On the other hand, mine grows at more than double that rate so I’m careful to set the proper expectations with survivors on that front. And what grows back is always a crap shoot, the color, texture, it’s all up for DNA grabs. I started out with my father’s coal black curly locks but now, nearly two years into regrowth, I’ve managed to get back my usual reddish brown hue, minus most of the white so a bit of a reset that some of us get after chemo. Oddly enough, we don’t go ‘gray’ in my family, we turn white as snow, at least those of us without the male pattern bald gene. My mother’s hair, in her twilight years, was such a lush shade of silvery white, she often was asked who her hairdresser was and what color that hairdresser was using on her. My mother’s hair grew about an inch a year so she rarely needed to go to a hair salon for more than a manicure and never for color, the icy perfect white was all mom. I like to think of it as going back to our baby roots, my dad and I were born silvery tow-heads. I was extremely blond for my formative years and fancy the idea of coming full circle on the hair front. It just has a nice feel to it.
So the whole point is, hair grows back. It’s not something worth risking your very life over as one of my oncologists, now retired, once told me. He had just come from another appointment, a patient with advanced bladder cancer who was refusing chemo. The patient was not going to lose their hair and to me the shocking part was that it was a male patient. All I could think was, men’s hair looks perfectly normal after just a few months regrowth. But this guy was willing to die to keep his hair and according to my oncologist, he was certainly going to die, without chemo he was definitely terminal. Instead of being sad, the whole thing just made me angry. I am sure this guy had a family, friends, loved ones yet vanity kept him from fighting for them and his life. The thing is, cancer is a fight club nobody wants to join but you have to, you simply have no choice unless you want to end up like that poor deluded D-list celebrity who is risking so much more than her hair.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
I am beyond fed up to here with Hollywood bimbos and their erroneous spreading of frankly dangerous, false medical information. It’s bad enough that the American public actually has, from time to time, elected these under educated and not terribly bright people to public office but when they start spouting really dangerous medical stats – stats that are completely and dangerously false – that’s where I draw the line.
Another Hollywood type has dramatically announced that she has breast cancer which I’m sorry about, truly. Should not happen to anyone much less a woman in her late 30s trying to get pregnant but there you go, life is inherently unfair. Fast forward to after her first round of surgery and now she’s making the media rounds claiming (and hold me back because this just makes me want to scream) that even though her cancer has clearly spread (no clean margins generally means it’s spread folks) she is claiming that if she has a double mastectomy the chances of the cancer returning are…(wait for it) ‘less than one percent’.
Just the cursory, preliminary research I did puts this woman’s odds for a relapse much higher, 22-25 percent. So, it begs the question, is this bimbo really that deep in denial or is her doctor really that incompetent? I know of NO ONE who didn’t get clean margins who didn’t do chemo. Thus, a double mastectomy would only be the beginning folks. She needs chemo and radiation (likely under the arm). Did I mention that she is also forgoing the all-important five year stretch of meds? Really? Clearly, we are not talking early Stage IA generic breast cancer here, we are talking vanity and denial at the ferocity of her cancer having spread AND simply at having a much more aggressive form of cancer. If she’s so afraid of chemo and the meds (both which age you horrendously, I’ll admit) then she had better throw in the towel now. She needs to bank her eggs, get a surrogate like all the rat-thin, terrified of gaining an ounce Hollywood bims and face up to the brutality chemo. I know of no one with her cancer profile who actually didn’t do at least EIGHT rounds of chemo, mastectomy or not. Even with the meds, her odds are much lower than some of us got, certainly not the 92 to 95 percent I got.
So, that being said, she can do what she wants, it’s her life to play Body Roulette with after all. I am not disputing that. What infuriates me is the gloss and party shine they are trying to put on this in order to save her brand and make no mistake, celebrities are simply brands with big therapist bills and loads of plastic surgery. I completely resent the fact that she’s out there, making all the boo-hoo, media rounds, claiming her odds of getting cancer again are less than one percent. Five seconds into my cancer diagnosis I knew better than that. Heck, I was thrilled to get the 92-95 percent odds I got but then again, I did everything possible, chemo a brutally short week after my third surgery; chemo even when I went into anaphylactic shock not once but twice. Still reeling and nauseating full time from my final round of chemo, I started radiation a scant week later. You could say that I earned my odds. I did the chemo, had radiation and still take my meds faithfully every single day. I know all this aged me and I hope to feel up to the rigors of having some self-esteem enhancing (minor) nip/tucks soon but meanwhile, I’ll take being alive and cancer free over pretending that I’ve got incredible odds without serious, evasive medical treatment. Clearly, the facts say otherwise. New research also suggests that even Stage I breast cancer patients may benefit, in terms of long term survival, from doing chemo, so really people? Seriously? Do the absolute minimum and then compound that very questionable decision by pretending that you have odds of less than one percent for relapsing.
Clearly, some of us take exception to celebrity vacationing on the island of denial. I know I sure do. It is an affront to every single brave soul I know who bravely faced down the dragon that is chemo. All the beautiful women who lost their looks from the ravages of chemo when they were not worried about losing hair or not being able to maintain a frankly fake tan the way this D-list celebrity seems to be. These heroines were determined to survive and did not go around telling everyone a double mastectomy gave them 99 percent odds.
One time, when waiting for a radiation appointment, some woman told me she was doing radiation for Stage IIB breast cancer. I marveled at her long lush hair and she smiled saying she didn’t do chemo because it, ‘would not improve her odds’. The radiation nurse had to drag me away, nearly kicking and screaming. “Don’t you EVER tell any breast cancer patient that chemo doesn’t improve their odds!” I shrieked at her. I was beyond livid, especially when she got defensive and said she wasn't about to lose her hair to chemo, the REAL REASON she didn't peruse the most aggressive form of treatment: vanity. The poor nurse patted my (good) arm and commented that all the treatments I had been through sure can make one testy. Uh, ok, let’s go with that. As I left that day I marched by Miss Denial and looked her in the eye and commented that her odds were now around 70 percent now, not 92. “Enjoy your long hair,” I snapped. “I hope it was worth it.”
I figured Miss Hair was an anomaly but now I’m not so sure. Are there really that many women out there fresh from a scary diagnosis that persist in such life threatening denial all in the name of vanity? Heed some advice from someone who has made it (unless you count skin cancer) two years, two months, seven days and change cancer free: Consider the scorched earth approach to medical treatment, people. Scorched earth. You may not be pretty when it's all over but you will still be alive which is probably more than I can say for celebrity bimbos in denial.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
I know it is going to be one of those trips when I show up at the airport in Newport News, VA and all six kiosks for checking in with United are crammed with people who have clearly never used said kiosks. God help me but I am not the nicest person when I see things like this. I just know it is going to be one of those trips whrein I end up muttering under my breath about the world needing a weekly, “Family Fly Day” which of course, would never be schuled on a day I happen to be flying.
Still this trip was more entertaining than usual, at least for the TSA folks who (gently) patted me down and found me to be wrapped underneath my clothing like an 11th century Chinese concubine. Or a terrorist strapped with a bomb. Judging from their initial reaction when I tried to tell them, IN ADVANCE, that I was wearing some wrapping to thwart lymphedema, they were not nearly as entertained as I was. They totally freaked out. The poor girl who stammered that she needed me to step inside a nearby room for privacy clearly was not very relaxed though I calmly kept repeating myself until I was able to flash her an inch of extra skin and wrapping. Only then did she visibly relax.
What? Some middle aged American woman was going to blow up a couple of TSA agents in VA? Did not seem very practical or likely even if I knew how terrorists went about their business which I don’t.
After she resumed breathing, the TSA agent actually asked me why I was wrapped up and she wanted to know what lymphedema was. I told her, as concisely as possible, because I had to get moving and to my gate. “Does it hurt?” she asked, young and native, charmingly innocent now that she was convinced I had nothing more lethal strapped to my chest than an expensive bra from Victoria’s Secret. I told her it often did hurt and then I shrugged. What are you gonna do, is my latest mantra/point of view. Very east coast, or at least wry. I am going for wry with a side dish of ironic these days. It seems to get me through publically uncomfortable situations wherein I believe people are basically well meaning and thoughtful. All those horror stories about TSA agents demanding people all but strip in public or getting patted down in humiliating ways are honestly rare. The people who patted me down were just doing their jobs and the girl actually kept asking if she was being gentle enough. Yes, yes she was.
So while I am not giving up on my quest for a National Family Traveling Day wherein people with screaming children and old people in wheelchairs are given nearly exclusive rights to travel for 18 hours a week, I am resigned to more pat downs and searches. And then there are amazing moments when I run into people like Jason, a young man who I encountered while boarding a plane. He was wearing a pink band and we both instinctively lifted a wrist and our eyes met with instant understanding. “You a survivor?” he asked. Two plus years I told him and then the inevitable, “Are you wearing this for your mom?”
He nodded and I knew instantly. “She died four years ago on Nov. 28th,” he said, the pain in his voice as fresh as the day he lost her, I was certain. I then did something I never do ─ I reached over and touched a perfect stranger; patted his massive bicep, doing what his mother could no longer do. “I’m so sorry,” I stammered. “For your loss and for losing your mother.” He nodded and I nodded back. This hugely muscled man, as big as a defensive tackle and I wanted to wrap him in my little skinny arms and hug him because his mother no longer could. I could not protect him from the loss of his mother any more than I could from the harsh reality that cancer claims more than just the person inflicted, cancer takes so much more than that from the wives, husbands, daughters, sons, ─ everyone who loves the patient, they are victims too, cancer robbed them not only of a loved one but of ever feeling safe again.
I wonder then, about my own family. Will Claudia The Baby grow up feeling safe? Will my battles with cancer, while she was in vitro and then again so young, will the nightmares that were fighting cancer stay muted, fading deep in the past or will she simply grow up with the havoc and uncertainly that cancer causes being part of the fabric of her daily life? I hope the fear and uncertainty fades and she only grows up with me vibrant and full of life and cancer free. I don’t ever want to see the look of pain and regret that I saw in that young man’s eyes in little Claudia’s beautiful face. I want her to be free of the damage that cancer has done to my psyche and what it has likely done to my daughter and loved ones. If I get anything moving forward out of surviving cancer, I want it to be that someone who loves me is free of the specter that was my cancer.
Posted by High Tech Survivor at 4:54 PM