Saturday, February 27, 2010

minimal side effects

uh oh. i don't feel well. hurt all over, vibrating like a tuning fork. radiation?

Friday, February 26, 2010

danger will robinson

the area in the hospital where they do the radiation is posted with large yellow danger signs that say "HIGH RADIATION AREA." i can't help wondering why, if it's so dangerous, we are deliberately radiating me. and the admonishment not to wear deoderant because of the aluminum in it concerns me; i have visions of what happens when you accidentally put metal in a microwave. and they told me not to load up on anti-oxidants because they actually work and prevent damage. no, we certainly wouldn't want that.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


i've got the routine down now: get up, let once-again-annoying little Cancer Dog out, get dressed etc. (but no deoderant is allowed. i might possibly burst into flames, but i don't really know that), let Cancer Dog in, feed Cancer Dog, drive to radiation, drop off car at valet parking, scan my id card, change into hospital gown and donated crocheted hat, lie under big scary machine, change into clothes, wait for car, drive to school.

today, though, my routine was thrown off slightly as there was a woman in a wheelchair waiting for radiation outside the changing room when i came back from being irradiated. she was wearing a hat just like mine, so she was obviously a cancer patient, and an inpatient because she had a wristband. she was a large woman, with a large personality. she spoke to all of the hospital staff as they went by, very friendly and jovial. they were very nice to her. therefore, i am sure she is dying. i know this because in every movie, the bigger-than-life, friendly, positive, outgoing patient whom everyone likes is always doomed.

i said a noncommital "hi" on my way into the changing room, to which she barely responded. being friendly to the staff is a matter of survival; i am irrelvant. i hid in the changing room until she was gone.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

collateral damage

radiation works by killing cells that reproduce more often, same theory as chemo, except fortunately this is localized. they have taken very careful measurements and much care to be sure that only have to destroy a very little bit of my right lung, which i probably didn't need anyway.

staying still

so i am lying on my back in a cold room with my feet rubberbanded together so i don't move them (which is probably necessary as i am a foot wiggler), breast exposed, my arm above my head in a brace, after being positioned in careful alignment with my previous self, my tiny tattoos lined up with the image projected on my body by the giant machine looming over me. then everyone else disappears into a radiation-proof room while the machine moves around me, shooting electrons at me as i try to stay very, very still.

i don't like it when the technicians disappear. if i am ever abducted by aliens, i think this is what it would be like.

Friday, February 19, 2010


i have had several preliminary appointments where they marked me up with sharpies, made several tiny tatoos, and used trigonometry to figure out how to radiate my breast without damaging my heart or lungs. (i am glad someone passed trig.) during this process, the technician said he would try to keep me covered up as much as he could, to try to let me keep some dignity. oh yes. i remember when that might have been important.

i waited in the little dressing room with two other bald women, one much too young for this. all of us relieved to be through chemo, figuring nothing could ever be as bad. hopefully that is not foreshadowing... i start monday.

like flying

i went ice skating yesterday. some of the kids ice skate for PE, and i went with them. i fell within the first twenty feet, but then... i got up. it felt so good to move, to move fast (or at least faster than i can walk). i was so happy. after barely being able to move from bed to the couch, it was like flying.

it probably looked like a bad lifetime movie though: cancer patient triumphs and goes ice skating. hopefully, i am not in a really bad lifetime movie, in which, of course, i would have to have a re-occurance and die.

Monday, February 15, 2010

i feel good

wow. i feel SO good. it was great to be back at school. i tromped around in the snow. i helped clear snow off the buses. i got things done. i felt completely alive for the first time in what seems like a very, very long time. i had James Brown's song of the same name running through my head all day. i didn't actually burst into song, but only because i can't really sing.

just go back to sleep

i have been waking up in the middle of the night thinking about someone i know whose husband is dying of cancer.

they set him up in a hospital bed at home on the first floor. i know that people often do that, so that the dying person can still feel like part of the comings and goings of the family, and that it is a loving and caring act. but i can't think of anything sadder than the moment a person is moved to the hospital bed if his or her spouse is still living. because isn't that the moment when you know we will never sleep together again?

the whole mate-for-life, til-death-do-us-part thing that so many of us do--or try to do--is so sweet but by definition so inevitably heartbreaking. we have to work hard to be oblivious to its inevitable end, despite knowing people we care about who have gone through it. 

i have been tempted to wake chad up, to tell him how terrifying the concept of the hospital bed at home is to me, but he would be annoyed with me for even thinking about it. seeing as how it won't ever happen. to us, anyway.

so i go back to sleep.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


i want hair. real hair.

i find myself making note of every hair product commercial on tv--and there are many, many of them--forgetting that i have absolutely no use for them. not the cover-your-grey ones, the strengthen-your-hair ones, or the make-your-hair-ultra-shiny ones.

my little hairs are about a quarter of an inch long now, translucent, and stand straight out from my head. i still look completely bald, unless i look carefully after putting on my reading glasses, which, i must say, certainly adds to the look.

i want hair.

the special k challenge

i dreamed i was sexy again. not the mature, comfortable-in-your-own-skin kind of sexy. but the twenty-something-flip-your-hair-and-flaunt-your-body kind of sexy. it was fun. and then i woke up. disappointing enough.

but then i learned from the back of my cereal box that to lose the fourteen pounds that i lost, all i had to do was eat cereal for two out of three meals for several weeks.

there's really no silver lining side to all of this.

Friday, February 12, 2010


i told my new favorite doctor (radiologist) that i had recently been in her hospital's emergency room and about the young doctor who announced he was having me scanned to see if my cancer had spread to my brain or lungs. she was appalled and asked me if there was any chance i remembered his name. no, but crumpled up in the bottom of my purse (score one for disorganization) i had my discharge instructions that highlighted his name in bold, all caps. she's going to have a conversation with him... and he will be a better doctor for it. when he's no longer grounded.

my next doctor

i thought maybe the weirdness of all of this was over, but... no. it turns out that radiation is not the picnic we hear it is and has its own set of side-effects--not as devastating, but more in the adding-insult-to-injury category. however, the radiation center at the hospital does have free valet parking and yoga classes...

the doctor was wonderful, of course, apparently they all are in this cancer-thing field--incredibly knowledgeable, insightful, empathetic, and a mom of two daughters just a few years older than mine, which was a nice extra for me. she spent TWO HOURS with me! (somewhere there is a health insurance executive spinning in his chair in horror.)

she talked about how daughters react to having their moms go through this (worried, concerned) compared to sons (angry, terrified), and how husbands tend to react (angry, terrified). apparently general pissieness (not that i speak from experience) is a typical manifestation of this in husbands who feel they should have somehow been able to protect their mates. according to the doctor, that is.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

waking up

something happened yesterday. it was still snowing, it was still cold, but i woke up. it felt like the point where the wizard of oz goes from black and white to color. and today there is sunshine.

oooohhh... but i have a lot to do now.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

miles to go before i sleep

the blizzard started friday. twenty inches of snow. i sat outside in a little shoveled spot, leaning back into the snow, letting the snowflakes fall on my eyelids while chad and a neighbor shoveled our walk. i could have stayed there until i was buried in snow, but coal wouldn't let me, and chad would have, presumably, noticed.

so back to bed. i have slept eighteen out of every twenty-four hours.

someone welcomed me back to "the land of the living" after i finished chemo. it really is like that--except i'm not sure i am ready. i've been far away, even as i've dragged myself into school or occasionally the grocery store (with which i obviously have a complicated relationship).

i still can't stand without leaning, i am still shaky and out of breath, but even ignoring all that, i am still so far away. the blizzard is perfect. i can sleep and sleep and there will be no school and nothing that i really need to attend to for days. and maybe by then i'll be ready to go back. back to the land of the living.

Friday, February 5, 2010

at the end of chemo

tiny, fuzzy hairs
puffy eyes
sparse eye lashes
eye infection
bleeding gums
no upper body strength
one breast smaller than the other
fourteen pounds lighter
intestinal issues
numbness in finger tips
bruised and flattened fingernails
"profound fatigue"
numbness and tingling in feet and legs
still alive

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


now that i don't have chemo tomorrow, i am going to go condition the teeny, tiny hairs that are all over my otherwise bald head. i don't exactly know which type of conditioner would be best for this purpose... maybe it doesn't matter. maybe anything will do to let them know i still believe in them, and that they are important, and that they can do it. grow, little hairs.


dear representative of The Univeral Forces That Be,

please pass this on to your supervisor: screw you. cancer sucks. cancer treatment sucks. you could cure this--and other sources of human and animal misery--if you just took a little time out of your day, or epoch, or whatever. if you are too busy, just leave a note on the night table of some hardworking researcher, explaining the tricky part. and an apology would be nice too.

meanwhile, now that i've done chemo to reduce my odds of having a recurrance from one out of five to one out of seven, i would like to request that i not have a recurrance. i will try to be a better person and all of that. but only if you can do it without throwing someone else under the bus. unless she is truly horrible, like maybe she has been stealing babies and selling them on e-bay or something. then, to hell with her.


katherine (and don't act like you don't know my last name)

i am free

i may still be able to button a button, but apparently i do not walk very well on my tippie-toes, a sign that my neuropathy (the numbness in my fingers and feet) is getting worse, not better. when i asked, "so that will go away, right?" my oncologist said, um, actually, no. so she is discontinuing my chemo. she explained to chad and me that there are no studies showing that six treatments are better than four for this type of cancer, and that at this point the risks of the more aggressive treatment outweighed any possible, but unproven, benefit.

(i hope her decision wasn't based solely on the tippie-toes demonstration, as she had never seen me try that before chemo; there were several dance teachers in my youth who were sadly disappointed when i would move from the barre to the floor.)

so there is still radiation, and oral medication, but no more chemo.

so i am free. i feel like i have suddenly been released from a dark cell and am standing bewildered in the sun.

Monday, February 1, 2010

between me and despair

i was so sad saturday, the day i felt so sick. i watched television. the high cheap windows in the 70's california houses on househunters made me sad because you have to stand up to see out of them. it would be like sleeping in a jail. a story about an elephant and his best friend, a dog, made me sad because elephants live so much longer than dogs. how will he cope when his friend is gone? everything seemed very very sad.

i take a handful of pills these days. after my excursion to the emergency room, i had new pills. they are the prettiest pills i have ever seen: very small, little drops of amber, like jewels. while i was examining them through my reading glasses, i noticed something wedged in the drain of my bathroom sink. hmmm... it appeared to be a partially dissolved zoloft. ah ha, here, sitting in a little wet lump was two thirds of my antidepressant dose for friday night, slowly melting into our watershed. two thirds of the antidepressant i didn't take when i thought i had.

is everything really umbearably sad and i'm just pretending it isn't? was that little lump really the only thing between me and despair?  it might not seem as bad if it were the magical-looking amber pills... but this is just depressing.