Sunday, January 31, 2010

almost a date

i've been sick for the last few days. just a cold or flu thing, cough, etc. but then last night i couldn't move from one room to the other without being out of breath. so off to the emergency room we go, through the dark and the snow.

i see that if you are sick and your oncologist calls ahead, you get to jump ahead in line. one of the many perks of having cancer. right behind the poor woman whose husband cut off the tip of her finger in front of her kids.

i was so tired and the warm blankets felt so good. they put me on oxygen and I felt better. (no wonder cancer dog perked up when they put him in the oxygen crate.) then the doctor, who appears to be about twenty-years-old, comes in to tell me they are going to to do a chest x-ray to look for pneumonia (fine) and a ct-scan to make sure the cancer hasn't spread to my brain or lungs (what?). oh, sure, ok, let's do that.

while i'm waiting to find out if i'm dying or not, i'm not allowed to eat (no problem) or drink (a problem) anything. meanwhile, chad eats the snacks he brought with him, and then the special box-lunch and sodas the nurse got him when she saw he was hungry, informing me as he eats of the excellent quality of the apple. then off i go for scans.

my scans are clean. i have a choice of being admitted over night to keep an eye on things or going home with meds. hmmm. warm blankets and oxygen or comfy bed and cancer dog?

we go home. it was our first night out in a long time.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

the history channel

i think i might be dying of scurvy. i saw it on the history channel, and realized i have all the same symptoms, albeit in milder form. they showed pictures--and it wasn't pretty.

on another note, i've lost a total of 14 pounds.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

acting lessons

everyone around me wants me to feel better, which is very sweet. and they are happier when i feel better, because they care. i don't feel better, but i have discovered that i can pretend that i do--and people believe me. (they even tell me i look good, which is clearly a triumph of wishful thinking.) so now, having discovered that, i almost have a responsibility to pretend. but it's really, really hard.

i understand now that how i feel won't last forever, but i also know it won't get any better until it is over. (i think this is the acceptance part.) 

could i just say that? that i feel like junk, but i know it won't last forever so it's ok. wouldn't that be all right? i am really too tired to pretend.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

physical inventory #3

as i was recently taking another physical inventory of myself, i remembered reading in "Chemotherapy and You" that i should notify my doctor or nurse if i have any tingling or numbness in my hands or feet. tingling and numbness? check. so i dutifully notified them. betty said to call back if I can't button my clothes anymore or i start tripping. yep, i'll be sure to do that.

Monday, January 18, 2010


on february 4th, 1976 i was in a village on lake atitlan in guatamala. i was traveling with a friend, wandering through central america, lost in ways that only someone who doesn't have to worry about survival can be lost.

at 1:00 in the morning, a 7.5 earthquake hit.

most of the buildings in the village where we were staying were made of wood and survived in some shape or another, including our hotel. but voices yelling in the dark told us to get out and go either to the soccer field or the churchyard for the rest of the night--or so we assumed, as we ignorantly spoke virtually no spanish and certainly none of the mayan dialect.

as i lay on the ground on the soccer field in the starlight, i could hear and feel the aftershocks rumble from deep within the earth to the surface where we lay. each time i watched the remaining phone lines start to sway and then whip into a synchronized frenzy as the ground moved in waves. in the morning, we saw that the cliffs below which we had been swimming the day before had collapsed into the lake, and that a jagged piece of the soccer field, and the school bus sitting on it, had disappeared into the water, as well. the stone church had collapsed, and there were rumors that three people who had run in to pray had died. we had no idea yet that tens of thousands of people had died in guatamala city and in the stone and stucco villages hidden away in the hills.

we found our way to a clinic miles away and gave blood. having nothing else to offer, we tried to get out of the way, piling onto a bus snaking through mountain roads around landslides to el salvador, leaving the destruction to eventually find our ways home.

i was a privileged kid who led a charmed life. there was no reason for it. there still isn't. i am so sorry about haiti.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

back to duty

coal has accepted the failure of his coup. he has put on the uniform (which appeared at our doorstep) and recommitted himself to his duties as Cancer Dog.

just in time, as i feel like shit. back to work, little dog.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

bad dog

Cancer Dog looked right at me, raised his leg, and peed on our bedspread. this was not poor-dog-couldn't-make-it-outside-in-time-pneumonia dog. this was a little dog, snatched from the jaws of death, who after two weeks of being hand-fed tidbits off my plate to entice him to eat, being carried outside, licking peanut-butter-disguised pills off my fingers, and hanging out without his collar decided that he is the alpha dog. machiavellian little poodle.

that was it. he slept on the floor that night.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

beyond whining

i don't know what to say to people who point out that i'm "halfway there." because it is true that i have finished three chemo treatments and i only have three to go. but the thing is, it's accumulative. my mother described it as a ball that has been dropped and bounces lower and lower after each bounce.

there's just no way to respond without seeming negative and ungrateful. but there is so much i need to do and want to do, and i can't. i am so f*&^ing tired already--and i have chemo tomorrow! i'm afraid that "doing what is essential" may come down to just breathing.

when my oncologist had asked what was essential to me, i had said our school. i had been able to come in for half-days or more during the second and third weeks after chemo, but this time i couldn't last at school for more than a couple of hours on most days, and have even missed a few days.

there is a lot i can do from home. but i miss being at school. i miss the kids. i miss our teachers. i miss norman and joseph, our pigs. i even miss shanna's little dog, who is as fiercely devoted to her as coal is to me--and doesn't even like me. and what i miss most right now is just hanging out, sitting on the floor in the hall, surrounded by this wonderful, warm, funny energy that is our school.

not only do i miss school, but i know i am dropping some balls and feel bad about breaking promises or disappointing people--even by not being positive. and i am dropping them despite the extra responsibilities our teachers have taken on to help (actually i feel bad about that too). i even felt bad this afternoon because i told norman and joseph that i would be back with treats, but then i didn't come back.

i don't think this is rational. about the pigs, at least. they are well-taken care of and they don't really know what i said.

this must be the depression phase.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

good-by home depot

it's saturday, and i attempted to run just two small errands this morning. not a good idea.

"fatigue" is a major symptom of chemo. i clearly underestimated what that means. apparently it means falling asleep at home depot.

i was trying to track down an order in the kitchen cabinet department, and the designer told me to use the phone at one of the other design desks around the corner and call the manufacturer. i was on hold for a long time listening to sad instrumental muzak--a poor choice, in my opinion, for any customer service line.

i put my head down on the desk and home depot began to fade away. next thing i know, i hear the high-pitched whimpering of a little dog. i open my eyes and am face to face with a concerned dachsand in a knit sweater. (oh little dogs of the world. i am so sorry i scoffed at you for so many years.) his person kindly asked if i was ok. i thanked her and assured her i was just tired. i hate to think what i must have looked like.

i guess i should stay out of home improvement stores for the duration.

its a miracle

Cancer Dog has been saved. he is past his crisis. since he's gotten out of doggie intensive care, we've been hanging out in steamy showers, i've been pounding on his little ribs, enticing him to eat by offering him things from my plate, hiding his meds in peanut butter, sleeping with a humidifier. he is doing so much better, and we are now so far beyond ridiculously bonded that the next thing i know, he and i will be buying things off the home shopping network together.("that's really a cute top, don't you think?" "i don't know, you don't look that good in green." "well, thanks.")

i almost can't believe it. a friend told me that dogs will hang on to life with everything they have until they feel like they have your permission to go, and that i just had to tell him he couldn't go yet. so i told him. and he made it.

it's a miracle. well, ok, a $2,500 miracle, as chad would point out. but a miracle never-the-less. and i am so happy to have him back. he feels so much better now that he's already back at work, curled up at my feet. Cancer Dog revived. cancer patient restored.

Friday, January 8, 2010

second update to physical inventory #2

fingertips are sore and fingernails all look like i have slammed each finger individually in my car door. which i haven't. 

not that my nails ever looked nice, but, really?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

a wonderful life

i'm participating in a study that is being done at VCU. the study is looking at work & quality of life issues and breast cancer, and involves three extensive phone interviews.

i did the first interview yesterday. for all of the questions, i was told to think back to shortly before my diagnosis. questions about my job satisfaction: all "highly or extremely satisfied." questions about my health: all "very good." questions about my energy level: all "very high." questions about my family: all "very well." questions about my overall happiness: all "almost always." questions about my view of the future: all "very positive."

by the end of the interview, i was sad. i missed my life exactly as it was.

i had a wonderful life. and the thing is, unlike jimmy stewart, i knew it. i didn't need clarence (or breast cancer) to show me. oh well, maybe my walmart angel will keep me fully appreciating it when i get it back.

i ran a marathon once

eight years ago i ran a marathon, for no apparent reason. when i was first diagnosed, i dug out the medal and hung it on my bathroom mirror to inspire me to get through this.

i'm not sure why i was thinking the medal would inspire me because when i actually look at the medal, i remember that i hated training for the marathon because i hate running. when i got to the long training runs, i had to get chad to drive me fifteen miles away and shove me out of the car so that i would have to run in order to get home. 

when the race started, i watched as walkers twenty years older left me in the dust. as i finally dragged myself towards the finish line (six and a half hours later), the spectators were gone, they were taking down the barriers and the signs, and the street sweepers were right behind me, so close that if i had fallen i would have been swept up with the rest of the debris, never to be seen again. chad was there waiting for me, a little concerned having noticed the pursuing street sweepers himself. and although it felt great to finish, i have never run again.

i don't know exactly what this means... i'm guessing it means i'll get through this but it won't be pretty. i won't do it with grace or strength or any exceptional determination. i'll just muddle through, and chad will be waiting at the end.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


i know i'm over-identifying with Cancer Dog, but this is a little weird. the recipe for home-made special dog food that the vet gave us for coal's convalescence contained only three ingrediants. and these three ingrediants also happen to be the only things that i can consistantly eat: turkey, rice, and cottage cheese.

there's nothing better these days than a completely plain turkey sandwich, or cottage cheese, or best of all, white basmatti rice with just butter and salt. (well, except on eat-nothing-but-potato- salad day or eat-nothing-but-blue-berry muffins day--which occur randomly, and which i can only get away with when there is no one around to notice my temporarily disordered eating.)

so, i guess i'll just make enough for two now.

Monday, January 4, 2010

close call for cancer dog

i almost lost Cancer Dog last night. if i hadn't been so wrapped up in my own cancer thing i might have noticed a day earlier that he wasn't well. he has pneumonia. the vet at the animal emergency clinic suggested we think about euthanasia because he is thirteen and was really sick. i was devastated.

but we decided that as long as he wasn't suffering, we were going to do everything we could for twenty-four hours and then see. so they had him in an oxygen crate, on iv fluids and antibiotics, and receiving nebulizer treatments. they took x-rays and did blood work. he started doing much better: he started eating and they gradually weaned him off the oxygen. they called at 5:30 this morning to tell us he was doing well. i went to see him on my way into school. he looks like i look at chemo with iv ports and tubes, but he was alert and happy to see me. i get to take him home tonight and take care of him.

to go to extreme measures for a pet goes against all of chad's financial and philosophical views, but he did it for me. he knew i couldn't face the rest of chemo without my sweet, obnoxious, loyal little dog.

i know that in a world of limited resources and triage, a small dog should not receive that kind of intensive care, but it's not a world that makes sense, and it's not like i bought some stupid coach bag. he's Cancer Dog. he still has a job to do, and so do i.

thank you, chad.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

joy restored

this is the story of how if tried to buy joy at lowe's but found it for free at walmart.

during an overly-ambitious excursion to tappahonnock, and a ridiculously long trip through lowe's where i used my cart like a walker and purchased random supplies for various projects, i noticed holiday things were 50% off. so i added a wooden "joy" sign to my cart. i rejected the "hope" sign as too results-dependent, and "peace" was too overwhelming and way beyond my control.

as i threw the stuff in the back of my car, i noticed that "joy" was broken. i dragged myself back into lowe's to the returns desk where i explained that joy was broken. "you see, here, part of the J is missing. can i just leave this one here and go find another?"

"do you have your receipt? i have to return this one and then ring up another one."

"do you really want me to go back out to my car, root around through all the bags, and then come back here just so i can replace this with one that isn't broken?"

"yes." fine. i go back to the car, search through everything and can't find it. oh, wait--there in the bottom of my purse under all the other miscellaneous papers. i return to the cashier and present my receipt, then i sit down on a lumber cart, exhausted. i think she may have felt a little bad then because she became somewhat solicitous and brought me the receipt to sign so i didn't have to get up. finally, transaction completed, i clutch "joy" and get back in the car, feeling anything but joyful.

on my way out of tappahannock, i pass the walmart. one last chance to pick up something that i couldn't find at lowe's. so once angain i wander through the aisles, leaning on my cart like i am 105 years old. i find the aisle where the item should be and they are out. so i go up and down the aisle, as if it will miraculously appear if i look long enough.

i find myself face to face with a girl pushing her mom's cart, probably around eleven years old, not at all precocious, just a kid, just a little bit pudgy, her long light-brown hair frizzie and framing her open face. she smiles at me, i smile back. she smiles even bigger, looks right into my eyes and says, "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" (somewhat unexpectedly, this being the 29th of december). "merry christmas to you too!"

i am pretty sure she was an angel. my joy was restored.

i'm so sorry

it was a get-together right before christmas. i wasn't really complaining--this time anyway--just trying to say that in the future, cancer treatments will be so much more targeted than they are now. i mean, my friend's husband is a kind, gentle man, but a man of science, a cardiologist. i was trying to be adult about this. then he says, "my mother died of breast cancer."

oh shit. "i'm so sorry."

"when i was two-and-a-half." jesus christ.

"there really weren't any treatment options then. i remember the room where she was in an oxygen tent, but they wouldn't let me in. my brothers could go in but i was too little."

this little boy, desperate to get to his mom, and his brothers desperate to hold on to her. what could possibly be more heart-breaking? i could behave better than mother teresa for my whole life and never deserve a better outcome than this family deserved. there is no fairness. there is no reason.

ok, yes, the little boy did go on to become a doctor, and save lives, and all that, but i can't believe that was part of a bigger plan. if it was, it was a shitty plan.

heavy machinery

i have been very responsible about not "driving or using heavy machinery" while taking pain pills. there was, however, a minor incident involving a sewing machine and a pair of scissors. not to worry. nothing that a lot of toilet paper and a little duct tape couldn't take care of. but note to self, apparently i can't be trusted to do anything while under theinfluence other than watch another season of The Office.