Tuesday, September 29, 2009

my surgeon's mother

i have a relationship with my surgeon's mother.

right before surgery, my surgeon--looking like a cast member on Grey's Anatomy, while I, unfortunately, appeared to be playing the part of a faded but spunky late-middle-aged patient--said she had something for me from her mother, something her mother had made for me. in a hot pink bag nestled in hot pink tissue paper was a guinea pig-sized bright pink pillow. she said it would make me more comfortable while i recovered.

over the next few days, i snuggled up with this pillow, tucking it just so--so that my breast was supported and the incision in my armpit was protected--and it worked, it made everything feel better. and while i lay there, i thought about my surgeon's mother, who had raised this brilliant daughter who could use steel and lasers in a cold operating room to excise cancer, and how proud she must be of her daughter.

but as i felt the hand-stitching that closed the pillow, i thought about how she also knew that even brilliance and steel and lasers weren't quite enough, and how she wanted to help her daughter's patients, too. and how her daughter let her help, and was proud of her mom for helping.

her mom made that pillow for me.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

mystery solved

while not alarmed, i did wonder why my pee is green. not a tacky st. patrick's green--which would have been alarming--but a pale, blue-green. really quite a pretty color.

i vaguely remember them saying that i was being injected with a radioctive blue dye in order to find the tumor. in fact, now that i think about it, they made quite a big deal out of that. they just didn't tell me it would turn my pee green. really, i can't expect them to tell me everything. mystery solved.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


everyone knows someone who has breast cancer or has had breast cancer. there seems to be this need to put each person's experience on a relative scale: a mastectomy is worse than a lumpectomy (which is really a partial mastectomy); chemo is worse than radiation; affected lymph nodes are worse than non-affected lymph nodes; having small children to deal with is worse than not having small children to deal with; being younger is worse than being older; being terminal trumps all, unless you are young and terminal which trumps old and terminal. everyone is somewhere on the scale.

so if you are towards the good end of the scale, you feel guilty that your cancer doesn't suck as much as the people further along the scale's cancer sucks. and if you are further along the scale... well, i can't really imagine.

but somehow we all get the same t-shirt.

the pink tent

do you remember the book, the red tent? it was about the place during biblical times where the women went during childbirth and during their periods, where only women were allowed.

i have been to the pink tent.

the patients were women, the nurses were women, the techs were women, the doctors were women, except for the anesthesiologist who all of the women obviously thought was clueless (and he was). poor chad at least knew he was an interloper; when he asked a question, everyone stared at him like the chair had spoken and then ignored him.

but i found it comforting. not the ignoring chad part, but the all-down-through-time part. the pink tent part.

Monday, September 21, 2009

xanex and percoset

surgery is tomorrow. they gave me two prescriptions to fill ahead of time: Xanex and Percoset.

this is alarming. why would i need these?

i don't like Xanex. Xanex doesn't do anything for me that curling up in bed with a pillow over my head won't do. and the last time i was on Percoset i bought a bus on e-bay.

the bottom of my purse

they gave me a manual. it's actually called "Cancer: 101." they probably thought about calling it "Cancer for Dummies," but decided against it. it's in a three-ring binder--not the depressing 8 1/2" x 11" size, but the cute 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" size, in clear plastic and apple green, and comes with a matching organizer for keeping all your notes and receipts and doctors' cards in a place where you can find them, other than smashed in the bottom of your purse where mine are.

this is concerning. i have always been able to manage my life out of the bottom of my purse.

taking charge

i read somewhere that i should take charge of my cancer, so Chad emailed me a list of questions to ask my doctor. when i got there, i realized i had forgotten the list. no problem. i was early and totally prepared with a notebook and a pen so i think, i'll just write down a list of questions. how hard can that be?

hmmm. forty minutes later what i have is 1.) why are there only four small fish in a very huge and elaborate tank? 2.) why is the waiting room set up in little conversation areas? and 3.) does everyone here have cancer?

ok, so i don't have a very helpful list of questions, but i have a notebook and a pen and i can take notes. the surgeon explains everything and writes it down for me as she goes so i don't have to. then she asks me if i have any questions. nope. not a single question. except, why?

she says she doesn't know.

Friday, September 18, 2009


is someone's estrogen level dropping? i think so. great. and this is before the tamoxifen. 

so I can't take my HRT because my cancer cells love estrogen as much as I do. this means i will be menopausal again but this time with mismatched breasts--not a pretty picture. the bitchiness, i mean. 

time to up the anti-depressant. and NO writing from now on before eight. hang-in there, loyal readers.

for the record, I have been doing useful work in between these posts. really.

not a morning person

ok, so it really is 5:50 in the morning this time, and i see that if i had been writing my previous posts this early, they would have been much darker and more depressing.

on my five minute trip to school i passed the nursing home where there were three firetrucks with flashing lights (someone's heart stopped--just let him go), and an accident involving a motorcycle with even more firetrucks and flashing lights (don't let him go yet). clearly nothing good happens at this time of day. (i know that's a logical fallacy but I don't care.)

i have to be at the hospital Tuesday by 6:00. i am not a morning person.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

large breasts, small tumor

The breast surgeon was amazing. i want to be her when i grow up. i have nothing sarcastic or snippy to say. and i'm sorry that i accidentally stole their copy of Piedmont Virginia magazine.

pretty good news! apparently, I have large breasts and a small tumor, a good thing. she recommended a lumpectomy (also known as breast conserving surgery/partial mastectomy), six to eight weeks of radiation, followed by tamoxifen for several years. she said they wouldn't know about chemo until after the surgery but she was 95% sure i wouldn't need it.

that almost seems like cheating.

time zones

it has been brought to my attention that i appear to be writing these posts very, very early in the morning. i want to assure you that it only appears that way because i didn't figure out that i need to change the time stamp from California time to EST. i also want to assure you that am not so sensitive or suffering that i would write at the ungodly hour of 5:00 AM.

no, in fact i prefer to write when i should be doing something else. my blog is just another tool in my procrastination tool box.

i also want to state that anyone worrying about me excessively will be blocked from the blog. i am sure you don't want that to happen.

remember, this is like when your college freshman calls home to tell you how miserable he is. When he hangs up, he feels much better and goes on about his life happily while you are left feeling terrible. i write the blog, then i feel much better. so the deal that i have to have with my loyal readers (all eight of you, bless your hearts) is that you understand that this is where i whine and am self-indulgent, and that things will always sound worse than they are, and that you will not worry about me. ok?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

i am nothing like wendy wasserman

you know who wendy wasserman is. She is the incredibly articulate, passionate, and effective congresswoman from florida.

i am nothing like wendy wasserman.

first, she is a congresswoman whereas I forgot to run for public office.

second, she is on tv all the time advocating for important public policy whereas I was only on once, and that was to whine about something.

and third, she recently had a press conference in which she announced that she has had breast cancer for the last year, gone through a bilateral mastectomy, radiation, and several breast reconstruction surgeries. Without telling anyone. Except her husband, who would have, presumably, noticed the temporary absence of breasts. And then she burst into tears.

whereas in three weeks i have now told everyone i know. And am starting to move on to people i don't know. A pool which will never run out, although at some point i may need to start attending large sporting events just to wait in the lines for the ladies room.

i hope wendy--and i can call her wendy now because we are practically like sisters--did this because she is an incredibly private person, and not because she thought she would be less effective as a woman with breast cancer. Because i am sure she paid a price.

hearing the kind words of close friends and new acquaintances, and receiving the hugs or shy inquiries from my students, has been like curling up on the couch with hot chocolate on a snow day. Warm, comforting, and calming. Missing that is not a price anyone should have to pay.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

slippery slope

used my bc as an excuse for the first time. This is a slippery slope. I have many things for which an excuse would come in handy and don't know if i can be trusted with this. I could become very, very irresponsible.

under control

sent a letter to school parents reassuring them that everything is under control and nothing will change.

i want a letter like that.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

a bump in the road

they must teach this in medical school because I have heard "It's a bump in the road" now from three doctors. No. A bump in the road is when you are driving down Russell just a little too fast, go over a speed strip, hear a clunk, and think "Oops."

i know it is said with the very best intentions. But what they really mean is:

1) you are not going to die. (Oh wait, we are all going to die eventually. Even me. Shit. Thanks for the reminder.)

2) you will probably feel like hell at some point. (That sucks. But I feel fine now. Well, except for that queazy feeling when I think about it.)

3) you will definitely use up more than your fair share of health care resources. (There's no way on a cost/benefit basis that I could possibly deserve that. Now I feel guilty.)

4) and those resources will be filled with indignities. (Which will, however, allow me to utilize my adolescent sarcasm as a refuge.)

which reminds me of my favorite Animaniacs cartoon, in which the little cartoon character is sitting happily at the bottom of a cliff while we see an anvil falling directly above him. The action stops and a deep, booming voice pronounces: "Denial. The last refuge of the doomed."

well, I thought it was funny.

Friday, September 11, 2009


i lost five pounds over the last two weeks. I thought that's good. Then it occurred to me that I might need more tummy fat for a reconstruction. So, I made a batch of brownies and ate half the batter. Yum.


the technician said I should be pretty comfortable because I am thin. Why yes, I think, thank you very much, I certainly feel slim and attractive at the moment, lying in the MRI machine on my stomach with my breasts poking out through two holes.

you have to hold very, very still for thirty minutes or they make you come back and do it again.

it is very, very hard to breath without moving your breasts.

a big nuisance

while I waited for my MRI in my oh so attractive medical gown, I chatted with a vivacious woman in her seventies. When I told her why I was there, she said, "Oh, I had breast cancer twenty years ago. It's a big nuisance! It takes about a year to get used to everything--the stress, the worry, the procedures--so just plan on writing off a year." She was hoping her knee pain was due to "decrepidousity" rather than a recurrance of cancer.

she wished me luck. I wished her luck.

waiting rooms

I have discovered that generally unfriendly medical office receptionists become much nicer to me as soon as they read my diagnosis. I do not think this is good.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

good luck

met with my gp. While she was somewhat testy when I saw her last due to my--I'm sure annoying--self-diagnosis based on a ten question internet quiz, she was very kind and friendly yesterday. She basically said the surgeon and oncologist take it from here, and then said, "Good-luck!" Again, I'm not sure those are words you want to hear from your doctor.

pink everywhere

so I noticed last week at Staples that Susan B Konan foundation pink products are everywhere. There was an especially nice pink planner which made me feel queazy thinking that it would be handy for scheduling doctor's appointments and chemo. Last night I was at AC Moore picking up art materials for the Carpenter's Shelter project when I decided--in some sort of domestic delusion--that I might want to learn to knit. While I was looking at yarn, I backed into something, turned around, and it was a huge--well maybe not huge--display of Susan B Konan pink yarns with a free pattern for... a "chemo cap."

I'm grateful to them, really, and I will benefit from all they do, but... Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

so we begin...

September 9

got my pathology report at exactly 3:00 as we were standing in our closing circle. It's better than it could be but worse than I was secretly hoping for...

It has a name: "infiltrating lobular carcinoma" with a special added bonus of "lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)" which appears to mean that I have a 20% chance of getting breast cancer again after a lumpectomy. Hence some women's decision to have a double mastectomy.

The words "double mastectomy" are not good words to hear from your radiologist. For that matter, even having a radiologist is pretty creepy...

am sure kids are wondering why I got such a nice long hug from Chad there in the parking lot... particularly the new kids who haven't figured out we're married!

have decided that life is short so just mentally upgraded the cottage kitchen cabinets to custom. poor Chad! (less shallow people in this position would decide that material things are irrelevant, but now I think bright blue cabinets are essential!)