Tag Archives: cancer

MomDay Monday – Could the Fat Lady Sing Already?

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It’s almost over.

Radiation is done and I didn’t even have to lose my hair. (Well, except the hair under my left armpit but I’ll just count that as less shaving to be done. Bonus considering I’m heading to Florida in 29 days but who’s counting.)

30 trips to the Cancer Center. 30 leave work, drive like crazy, park, run in, change, fight with myriad strings on johnnies, give name & birth date, give name & birth date again, get on table, line up tattoos, 97.6 on the lat, 100.3 on the vert, SSD 90.4, microwave my left breast from both sides, put clothes back on, make sure shirt isn’t inside out, drive back to work while shoving crackers & peanut butter in my face, try to get on with my day even though this is a tired like I’ve never felt before, fail miserably, go to office with coffee & cookies & pretend to read email.

30.

Six weeks.

And now I’m only one mammogram, one meeting with the surgeon, and one meeting with the oncologist away from being declared cancer free.

But…

It will never be truly over.

This has now become my life. This is now what I will have to do every six months. Mammogram. Oncologist. Mammogram. Oncologist.

I have never, throughout this process, asked “Why me?”  because frankly, why not me? It can happen to anyone. It just happened to hit me. What I did ask was “Why my kids?” Why do they have to have one more thing piled onto their young plates when they’ve already dealt with so much.

But now I’m faced with the six month follow-up and this is where I think “Why me?”. Like having to go to the dentist every six months. Because to be perfectly honest… I suck at keeping those appointments. I get the reminder call the day before & realize there is no way I will make it & have to call to reschedule. (My experiences with Bitchy McSnipe, Dental Receptionist are fodder for a future post.)

I can’t do that with this. I HAVE to go. I HAVE to stay vigilant. No choice.

So while it’s just about over, it will never be entirely over. It’s a specter that I will live with for pretty much the rest of my life. (I said “pretty much” because “for the rest of my life” sounded way too dramatic.)

Please say a prayer or wish me luck or send good vibes – whatever is your inclination. And if I could ask a favor… Remind me about my appointments.

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MomDay Monday – Tanning from the Inside Out

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I’ve spent the past couple of months seeing any doctor with the term “oncologist” attached to their title. Radiation Oncologist. Medical Oncologist. So many people have touched my left breast, the right one is getting an inferiority complex.

I was completely clueless going into this. Coming up with a treatment plan is like being part of a semi-well-oiled machine. The Surgeon meets with the Medical Oncologist. The Medical Oncologist meets with the Radiation Oncologist. And because all of my doctors are from different countries, The Philippines, Spain & Austria, I like to imagine a little UN conference going on over the fate of my left breast. Or what’s left of it.

After several meetings & one big test that got a piece of Lefty sent out to California, it was determined that I did not need chemotherapy.

Phew. Dodged that bullet.

Of course I have such issues with my hair, it would have been nice to get a fresh start.

So now I’ve started Radiation Therapy. Or as I like to call it – Tanning. I go tanning every day, Monday through Friday. Of course, I’m only tanning a one foot section of my chest, and it will end up looking more like a bad sunburn than a tan, but it amuses me.  And this way, I don’t have to call my boss over the walkie-talkie & say, “Hey. I’m leaving for my daily radiation treatment.” He knows where I’m going for that hour every day so it’s easier to just say that I’m going tanning. Bonus: It confuses the people who I’m not really close to & don’t really want to have the discussion with. One of the guys at work has said that he thinks I’m really going for a nooner every day. And since I don’t really get to eat lunch & end up shoving something in my mouth while I’m in my car, it kind of sounds like it could be a nooner.

Some things I’ve observed during my daily sojourn:

– I’m glad the johnnies smell like bleach. I’m comforted by the idea that these things have been bleached to the point that any living organism that may have clung to it from the previous patient is actually now extinct.

Speaking of johnnies, the sign on the bin of clean johnnies that reads, “Please put soiled johnnies in the basket” is just a nice way of saying “If you wore it, put it in the hamper”. Just because you didn’t actually “soil” it does not mean it goes back in the bin with the clean ones. I won’t touch a johnnie in that bin that doesn’t look like it’s been folded there for at least a week.

– Another note on johnnies – I’m eight treatments in & I still can’t figure out how to tie these suckers. And you’re supposed to wear two. One with the opening in the front & one with the opening in the back. Really? There’s so many strings attached it’s like an Italian man and his mother. Maybe after I finish all 30 treatments I’ll have it figured out.

Because you go for treatments at the same time every day, you see the same people every day as they’re coming & going from their appointments. Note to the older gentleman who goes before me: Please put the toilet seat down. Every freaking day I go in & it’s up. But thanks for the tip on the cafeteria food. Maybe I’ll give it a try sometime.

– That room is cold. And it’s winter. Kind of makes me wish I had brain cancer so I wouldn’t have to take my clothes off for treatments.

Because of privacy laws, hospital rules & the fear of malpractice suits, I have to state my name & birthdate twice before I get on the table. Little joke that only my medical professional friends will get: “Knock Knock.” “Who’s there?” “HIPAA.” “HIPAA who?” “Can’t tell you.”

– And finally, I have the best rad techs. (Julie is my favorite, but don’t tell the others.) Somehow with all they see in a day & all the sick people they treat, they are the most upbeat, positive people I think I’ve met throughout this entire saga. I would not be getting through this every day without such a great group.

MomDay Monday – Cancer Isn’t Funny, Is It?

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I know what you’re thinking. “Every post isn’t going to be about cancer is it?” No, but obviously, this is something that is on my mind right now so indulge me if you will. After all… I have cancer. You have to be nice.

I’ve explained to The Kids what’s happening with me & am doing my best to be honest with them. I had a friend tell me that his mom died of breast cancer, and no one told him or his sister for more than a year. He said what they imagined was so much worse than the reality & wished his parents had been up front. That conversation was huge in my decision to tell the kids everything. I had initially thought that I would tell them I was having surgery, but I didn’t need to actually say The “C” Word, did I? But I noticed as I said it more, it took on less power. It became less scary. The first few times I told someone I had breast cancer, I started crying as I said it. The last time I told someone, I didn’t really bat an eye. Just told them. Then gently pushed their lower jaw back together with the rest of their face & moved on.

The following was part of a text exchange that took place shortly after I was diagnosed with my beautiful niece – let’s call her, oh, say… Alyssa.

Alyssa: “Do the kids know about the cancer? That word is terrible. I feel guilty even saying/typing it. Like if I whisper, it won’t hear me.”

That’s when I realized… Cancer is like the Voldemort of diseases. It has become “It That Cannot Be Named.” And dammit, I’m going to do what I can to stop that. What I’m trying to say is a long, convoluted way of explaining why I wanted to be fully honest with The Kids. Why hide it? Why create more of a stigma around it? And why make my family & friends tip toe around it  & wonder what & how much The Kids know.

So I sat them down one night – it was right after Trick or Treat so they were all sugared up & ready to have a good ol’ serious one-on-one with mom. I told them that I had something that needed to be taken care of & that I was going to be having surgery. Then I asked them if they knew what cancer was.

The Boy: “I’ve heard of breast cancer.”

The Girl: “Me too. We did that walk with Girl Scouts, remember?”

Me: “Awesome. (high fives all around) Do know what cancer is?”

lots of head shaking

Me: “It’s a disease where bad cells start growing in a person’s body & if it’s not taken care of, those bad cells will start to take over good cells. Mine was found really early so once I have surgery, I’ll have some other treatments & then hopefully it will be all gone. Does that make sense?”

And this is where the sugar kicks in….

The Girl: “So it’s like the bad cells are sitting there telling the good cells: ‘Come to the dark side. We have cookies.”

Me: “Um…. Something like that…”

The Boy: “See, I pictured it more like the bad cells got hit by lightning & mutated into like a Godzilla thing & started rampaging through your city.”

Me: “Okay… so we seem to have a clear grasp of what’s going on. Any questions?”

The Girl: “So where is your cancer?”

Me: “In my boob.”

The Boy: “I will pay you to not ever say ‘boob’ again.”

They have both since had good days & bad days. The Boy wanted to be home with me immediately following the surgery, claiming that he needed to be here to help me. The Girl has told everyone she’s met & has often come home with comments such as, “My CCD teacher has cancer, too. He’s going to call you.” I’m glad she’s talking about it. She’s probably reached more people than this blog.

One thing that many people have told me is to maintain my sense of humor. It seems as though The Kids are trying to take that approach as well.

Of course, nothing has made me laugh more than a comment made by The Joan as she was trying to explain my particular type of breast cancer: “It started in her Milk Duds.”

She may need her own blog.

MomDay Monday – The “C” Word

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No, not that one.

The other one that everyone hates.

Cancer.

It took my friend Dianna (see Dearest Dianna). It’s been annoying a good friend of The Ex’s for the past four years. It took my grandmother. And my aunt. And the moms of two dear friends. Two women at work are battling it even as I write this. And there are countless others waging this war every day.

Now it’s my turn.

I found it myself. About a month ago, I noticed a strange dent on the top of my left breast. “That’s new,” I thought as I started poking at it. And there it was… a weird lumpish thing underneath. It wasn’t round, it wasn’t smooth… It wasn’t supposed to be there.

There’s a moment of panic where your mind goes immediately to the worst. But I went through this two years ago. Even had a biopsy. It was just a cyst. “I’ll just schedule a mammogram,” I thought, half kicking myself for not having one last year. It was the high tide of the divorce storm last year and a mammogram never crossed my mind.

The day of the mammogram – or mimmeogram as The Joan would call it – arrived without fanfare. “It will be nothing,” I told myself again. After the mammogram, I was told they wanted me to stay & have an ultrasound done on the area in question. Okay – same thing they did two years ago. And just like two years ago, the radiologist came in after looking at both the mammogram and the ultrasound. “That doesn’t look good,” she said.

Wait… What?

No no no. You’re doing this wrong, Doctor. You’re supposed to give me the generic “9 out of 10 times it’s nothing but let’s follow-up” speech. She told me she was calling my primary care physician as I was leaving the office & to follow-up with her & schedule an appointment with a surgeon. “Any questions or concerns?” she asked.

“Yes. I don’t like the looks of the dent on the top of my skin,” I said, giving her one more chance to tell me it’s nothing & we’re just doing the surgeon/biopsy thing to be sure.

“Neither do I. That’s very troubling,” came her reply.

Again, doc, you’re doing this wrong.

A little shaken, I got dressed and went home. Waiting for me was a voice mail from my primary care doctor – not her office… from her – telling me to call right away to schedule an appointment with her before I saw the surgeon. The next two weeks became a whirlwind of appointments with doctors, surgeons & eventually a biopsy. I so wanted to believe that this would be nothing but with each conversation with each doctor, my hopes were sinking. Unlike two years ago, there was no reassurance. The radiologist wasn’t encouraging. The surgeon talked to me like I had already been diagnosed. The only time someone tried to be reassuring was when my doctor brought in a medical student she was working with. But I think he only tried because, from the looks of him, mine was probably the first booby he ever touched.

I had to bring my mammogram films & ultrasound CDs to the surgeon so of course I opened them up & tried to see something by holding the images up to the kitchen light. Not sure what I was looking at or even which side was which, I pulled out the piece of paper with the written report. And there, in large black letters, were the words, “Highly Suggestive of Malignancy.”

That’s when I started bracing for the worst.

That week between biopsy & results was perhaps the longest week I will ever live through. And then the words that I will never forget… “Unfortunately, it is cancer.” I had wondered what I’d do if I had to hear those words. Would I cry? Yes, briefly. Scream? No. What would be the first thing that crossed my mind? The Kids. How would I feel? Utterly alone.

Only I haven’t been alone. You can never know what it feels like unless you’ve lived through it, but time & time again, as I’ve told people, I heard, “My mom’s going through that now.” Or “My aunt has been cancer free for 23 years.” Or in the case of my boss, “I know how you feel. Wait… no I don’t. But I’m still here for you.” People have been offering their help in droves. So much so that I sometimes want to make something up so they can help. (Who wants to rake my leaves?) The Joan has been with me every step of the way so far. The Ex is taking The Kids for a few extra days while I have surgery. KK & Hyde have been in touch almost daily just to check in. The few people I’ve told at work have been generous with their time, one of them sending me a surprisingly eloquent message reading in part, “Do what you have to do to get healthy and I will personally make sure whatever work you can’t finish gets done.”

It’s what has been keeping me going.

When I got home from getting the original diagnosis, The Joan said to me, “You’ll be just fine. You’re strong.” I know I am. It just gets so damn tiring sometimes. That’s when I need all the support I can get.

So thank you to everyone who has offered their help, thoughts, good vibes & prayers. I’ll keep you posted. You just keep on helping me be strong.