Tuesday, December 29, 2009

day four of chemo #3

the whole cancer experience is wasted on some people. for example, Cancer Dog and i are hanging out by ourselves for a few days at our cottage on the river. i could have spent the time contemplating the timeless beauty of the environment, marveling at the great blue heron and the eagles, wondering at the constant flow of water that came before me and will come after me, putting it all into perspective, i.e. i'm a teeny tiny meaningless speck in a beautiful but random universe. 

but no. on day four of chemo #3 i spent the day taking pain pills, eating the only thing that tasted good (potatoe salad), and watching the entire season three of The Office. (season four--and more pain pills--is waiting for me, thank god, when i get back from this little foray into civilization searching for internet.)

it's a good thing, though, that i already know that pam and jim will end up together or it would be unbearably sad. and i can't do unbearably sad right now.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


i'm worried that i am turning into octomom. (you know, the woman who deliberately had septuplets along with her two other children in order to get media attention and have her own reality show, thus confirming her existance on this planet.)

a neighbor told me she has been reading my blog, and that she had always thought of me as a quiet, private person but that i have really put it all out there. she was positive about it though, saying her sister had gone through breast cancer and she felt like this was "a journey that shouldn't be sugar-coated." but still, i started wondering...

then i got a call wishing me well from a long, long-ago boyfriend who had googled my name as he waited, bored, for something to download, and up came the article in the local paper about jack's fundraising show, which mentions me as the impetus for the fundraising, what with me being a breast cancer patient and all. in other words, he read that i have breast cancer in the newspaper.

i grew up in the mid-west. we don't talk about our feelings or personal things there. we are friendly but private. i have broken the rules. not only do i tell everyone that i have breast cancer but it was even in the newspaper. who does that?

i'm not giving up the blog though. it started out as a way of updating friends, then it became a way for me to process all of this, to find some kind of meaning or humor or entertainment value in it--or not--and to share that with other people.

but now, having been happily living my privileged, protected life up to this point, i find myself in this dark existential place that i have always known was there but (not being all that much about my personal growth) had thought maybe i could avoid. and that place is by definition lonely, no matter how many wonderful, giving people you are surrounded by.

so i write, therefore i am--except that it only really counts for me if someone else reads it, particularly if they actually enjoy it or find it funny or interesting or irreverant or whatever. it crosses that gap, in a way that would be too much in everyday life. and that connection has become essential to me.

i feel for octomom.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

i am here

back in september chad and i went to a memorial for an alumni parent. she had died in the spring of complications from heart bipass surgery. the auditorium was full--she was a very social person and had a huge network of friends. it was very nice: two hours of people saying nice things about her, complete with a slide show of her throughout her life with her kids, her husband, and her friends.

afterwards, in the reception that followed, somehow the bereaved husband was left standing alone, looking lost and confused. as we spoke to him, i found myself saying how lovely the memorial was and how much "jane" would have liked it.

i am an idiot. what a stupid thing to say. how ridiculously uncomforting. the poor man was  heartbroken and i did nothing to help. it doesn't matter that she would have liked it because she wasn't there. she didn't get to hear all those nice things, or see how moved people were by the slideshow of her life. and she wasn't there to help her husband get through this. the reason for a memorial is that the person isn't there anymore.

but because of this whole cancer thing, (it's always about me, isn't it) i have recently gotten to hear some people say some nice things about me, telling me about something i did for them sometime that meant something to them. i don't necessarily remember doing those things, which means they could be confusing me with someone else or making it up to make me feel better, but regardless, it was kind of them to tell me and has made me feel good. and i am grateful to be here to hear it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

the kindness of strangers

its odd having such a public illness. the baldness gives it away, even with hats and scarves (unless you are in a blizzard, as i have mentioned.). i suppose i could wear a wig, but it would be hard to find a wig that looks like i got out of the shower, forgot to brush my hair and it dried funny--and anything else would lok unnatural. 

people are kind though. strangers hold doors open for me, they offer to let me go ahead of them when a cashier opens another check-out lane and asks for the next in line, they smile at me on the sidewalk, and they even look apologetic when they have stolen my parking space and then see me.

i worry now though about all the people out there who have life-threatening conditions of their own in which there is nothing to give it away. they have been all around me, unacknowledged and struggling, as i have been obliviously living my life. who lets them cut in line?

but maybe if we could tell it would just be too much for everyone, to try to care about so many people as we do our errands and the business of our everyday lives.

whatever. i will try to do a better job of smiling and holding doors for strangers. just in case.

let it snow

there was a lull in the blizzard of '09 and i ventured outside. it was beautiful--a blue-white sparkling snow, clinging to bare branches, weighing down the evergreens. children were playing, grown-ups were shoveling or walking dogs in jackets, and everyone was wearing a hat. every single person. i looked completely normal.

i want it to snow until may.

addendum to physical inventory #2

i have pink eye.

yes, virginia, there is a santa claus

ours has to be the most desolate-looking house in the neighborhood this year as there are no holiday decorations of any type. not a wreath, not a candle in the window, nothing. i just couldn't do it.

two days of parent conferences were finally over, and it was dark and cold when chad and i got home. The lights were off but there was a strange glow coming from the dining room.

i peek around the doorway: there is the sweetest little christmas tree, sparkling with multi-colored lights. there are poinsettas by the fireplace, a wreath on the door, and snacks on the counter.

i am six years old again and santa has been here. i believe.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

just a stage

i have moved a little past the anger stage. no, really. i am not constantly pissed off any more. however i seem to have skipped the "bargaining" stage, maybe because there isn't really a contact person for whatever universal force i believe in.

i have substituted whining for bargaining. i can't help it. even though i know it could be a lot worse, etc. people ask me how i am and i tell them. i know i shouldn't do it--no one likes a tiresome, whining cancer patient. our job is to be upbeat and noble. i am neither right now.

i hope it's just a stage.

physical inventory #2

ok, two weeks after my second chemo:

  • my scar has healed nicely, the dent is a little bigger, and i've regained feeling in my armpit.
  • i have now lost a total of twelve pounds. 
  • the disgusting thrush is under control with meds.
  • my taste buds are completely whacked out and almost nothing tastes good.
  • i am tired by afternoon.
  • i wake up at 2:00. my brain is wide awake and annoying at that time, but i can usually go back to sleep.  
  • i am bald. not smooth bald, but bald like a newly-hatched chick, with just a few attempts at feathers
i am tired of the mind-body connection. i would like to send my body out for treatment, like dropping a coat off at the dry cleaners, while i hover around, body-free. i would pick it up later, when it is all clean and fresh, with the rips repaired and the missing buttons replaced.

Monday, December 14, 2009

dear food faerie

dear food faerie,

thank you for the food that appeared at our door. your note was sarcastic and self-deprecating, as i had always suspected a faerie note would be. but let me assure you that while theoretically i could have gone to Safeway, selected the gourmet soup and bread and other items, waited in line, taken them home, and brought them in, given that the very next day i was in tears in the frozen food aisle, paralyzed by the inability to choose, your faerie supper was very much appreciated.



Wednesday, December 9, 2009

a mistake has been made

the day before chemo i rode up in the elevator with just one other person, a nice elderly man. we had both declined to take the earlier, very full, undoubtably germ-filled elevator. H1N1 anyone? no, thank you.

i felt good that day; i was vibrating with energy. we stopped at the 10th floor and one of us almost leapt out of the elevator and the other slowly shuffled out using his cane. but as i waited  for him to make his way along the hall, i suddenly realized we were both going to the same place: the oncologist.

the waiting room that day was completely filled with very old, very frail, and very vulnerable people. one sweet couple were arm in arm. she sat there wearing a wig, slightly askew, in what was probably her natural hair color sixty years earlier, while her husband listened for the receptionist to call her name.

what was i doing here? clearly, a mistake has been made.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

a good dog

all dogs have a job, and their jobs are important to them. sometimes there are miscommunications about the actual job description. for example, our dog, a scruffy toy poodle, has thought his job is to notify us (and the neighborhood), in an ascending yapping frenzy whenever another dog or a child in a stroller passes our fence. but recently his real job, his higher calling, has become clear to him.

he is a lap dog. he has always been a lap dog, but it was a casual thing, a preference, a way to while away the time. but now he has taken it to a higher level, a mission. somehow he knows that he must now--at all times--be lying on me or, if he absolutely can't be on some part of my body, he must be pressed up next to me in a hard little ball of alertness. he has been waiting all thirteen years of his little dog life to be called to his vocation and he is ready. he is... Cancer Dog.

Friday, December 4, 2009

counting sheep

my word problems project did not help me sleep. so, i decided to count sheep. i did not realize how hard this is to do.

first i put all of the sheep on one side of a fence along the edge of the woods. on the other side of the fence i put a lush pasture. and then to make it easier for me to count them, i put an opening in the fence with a cattle guard--you know, those sets of metal bars that the animals are afraid to step on. so they would leap over the cattle guard one at a time.

sheep number one did just that. lept beautifully over the cattle guard then pranced up the hill to the yummy grass. so did sheep numbers two through twelve. but then sheep thirteen tiptoed across the bars, taking forever. sheep fourteen just threw herself down on the bars and waited for the other sheep to push and pull her across. meanwhile the other sheep are getting restless and getting themselves into trouble. I lose all control and can't seem to make them wait so we can get back to that lovely leaping. two are huddled down the fence with a wire cutter trying to cut a hole in the fence without me noticing. another is attempting to jump over the fence from a shed, landing in hay yet still managing to sprain his ankle. he limps up the hill. another is attempting to skateboard over the cattle guard, but the wheels get stuck. others begin to help him build a ramp, with much arguing over the best way to do it, but at last they succeed.

one way or another around fifty sheep make it over to the other side before I lose count, and i am completely exhausted. wide awake--and yet somehow amused but i am not sure why.

it wasn't until about 5:00 am that i realized that that chaotic flock of creative, inventive unherdable sheep was our school, and that that is why i love it. but i still couldn't sleep.

word problems

the night before chemo i couldn't sleep. at all. not one little bit. turns out that the steroids i have to take the night before and and the next day basically work like speed. ooops, no one mentioned that.

so i had lots of time to try to get myself to sleep. one project i worked on at around 2:00am was trying to quantify this whole predicament into mathematical word problems. here's what i came up with:

1. "kathy" has a certain type of breast cancer tumor that has a survival rate of 80%. What is the mortality rate?

A. she is doomed
B. she is being a baby about this, she'll be fine and should stop whining
C. hey, the glass is 80% full--what do you want?
D. 20%

2. rounding to the nearest person, what are her chances of having a "recurrance" (which is bad)?

A. i don't know, i've always hated math
B. one out of five
C. what do they know?
D. worse than russian roulette

3. if "kathy" has chemo, the survival rate goes up to 86% and the recurrance rate goes down to 14%. rounding to the nearest person, what are her chances then of having a "recurrance"?

A. she's cured? 
B. this is too hard
C. one out of seven
D. better than russian roulette

4. let's say "kathy" attends a luncheon for one hundred women who all have the same size genetically idenfied type of tumor diagnosed at the same time. "kathy" sits at a table of seven. they all have a lovely time. they decide that they should come to the five year reunion and sit at the same table and catch up. At the five year reunion, how many ladies are seated at the table?

A. seven. everyone is cured
B. eight. one lady who sat at the table next to them, still experiencing chemo brain, insists she had sat with them five years earlier, so they let her
C. six. one person had passed away
D. six, but no one died. "kathy" was unable to attend because she was in jail for a minor assault charge that arose in a grocery store incident when someone cut in front of her in line. she apparently has not moved beyond the anger stage, but she sends her best.

still a good patient

i love my oncologist. after exchanging pleasantries, she said, "ok. complain."

really? and i'll still be a good patient? this was great. i listed all my ailments, everything that made me feel like i was one hundred and five. so she listened and decided to discontinue the shot that put my bones into overdive making white cells but made them feel like they were broken--for as long as i can keep from getting sick.

this is where a little OCD could be helpful... i'm thinking i should only meet with kids outside on the black top, where i've drawn a five foot magic circle out of chalk to protect me. but i would miss the silly crowdedness of hanging out in the hall with everyone smushed together, hearing all the greetings and the gossip...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

going away

second chemo coming on thursday...

i feel like i'm going to be out of the country, someplace far away where i can't be reached. busy trying to get caught up on everything before i go, figuring out who is going to handle what while I'm gone. i don't have to pack, but i do need to do laundry. (but i always need to do laundry.)

meanwhile neighbors have been filling our freezer with casseroles--things we can microwave over the next week. this is especially kind of my neighbors because most of them know i don't cook normally. so this is an extra-special bonus; chad will eat much better next week than he usually does.