Sunday, February 14, 2016

Tragedy & Comedy

You get through a day.  You see people you know.  You ask how they are.  You respond appropriately, "That's delightful. Have a good day."  Repeat.

How am I?   I'm clumsy.   I'm a sucker.  I'm solid.   I'm staring out the door of an open cage and I'm a damn good Mom if I do say so myself.  I need a haircut.  I've recently learned how to put eye shadow on by watching You Tube videos.  Things are looking up.

My writing mind feels like it's been slipping through a screen door sealed with that aerosol plastic tar you see on TV.  You know the fat dude rowing the boat with the sealed up floor?   That's my brain leaking in.  Not enough completed thoughts to fill a bucket.  Just enough to show that the shit doesn't work as advertised.

I'm looking at a flyer for our local improv comedy troop.  It says no experience necessary and to come unprepared.  The tragedy and comedy masks of theater go together for a reason.  If that is the case, then I am fucking hilarious.  Maybe I'll put my sorry ass on a stage next week to see if I can make people laugh on accident. 

Blog posts have sort of started a few times in the past ten months?  They were fleeting and hacked and hideously forced.  They have made me cringe even though they never left my fingertips.  I want to write tonight because I can hear myself telling a story but more so perhaps because I don't care anymore if anyone hears it.

I was on a roll last spring.  I remember pulling myself through the last parts of my book.  I was focused on the Writers Conference and meeting Catherine with something tangible for her to read.  

I saw a light at the end of the tunnel and ran straight for it. 

It turned out to be a train.

I started the spring with a fervor and intent on finding a moment of emotional closure: healing my marriage, solidifying us financially after busting our asses for five years.  I was healthy and strong.  I kicked it into fifth gear, rolled up my sleeves, went through two or three pairs of leather work gloves, burned slash,  raked coals and tree limbs, singed my eyebrows, hauled an acre of fallen wood and raked up the leftovers.  I worked my ass off on our land.  I hoped.  I remembered what I was capable of.  It dawned on me that in the six summers living at the lot, I had been sick for three of them.  I accepted time lost and damage done.

I wrote in Idaho from the camper.  I wrote from bed.  I wrote in family turmoil.  I let myself cry suddenly.  

My husband bailed in early June.  In a matter of a few weeks, everything changed for good - for good as in a measure time and certainty.  For good as in terms of good versus bad.  Everything changed.  For good.

I thought I was done and I finished a draft of this book that wasn't total shit.  Well, it's total shit.  But it helped me.  I needed to draw the ligaments between blog posts and make it a story; make us real people.  I needed an ending for myself. 

I even printed it and bound it.  I made two copies. 

I gave one to Catherine.  She remembered that I had promised her a copy.  I had been mentally prepared for her to not even remember me.  I was elated when she did. 

I left the other one on my dresser for my husband when I moved out in August.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Now What?

There is a gaping void in my posts.  There is a gaping void in my life; my relationships.  There is a hole; more like a deep well that continues down and down like Alice down the rabbit hole.  Some days I think I have it all figured back out; the right door, the right key the right size only to mess it up and find myself staring back up to the table, seeing the key out of my reach.  Somewhere in the background I can hear my husband and he’s likely pissed off.  I can see my daughter and she needs something. 

I’m like a perfectly functioning shell and I laugh and I live and I function.  I don’t feel whole.  I don’t feel back yet.  But nobody needs to know that.  The wholeness perhaps will come back if I take the time to reconcile what I just don’t seem to care about.  I have been marvelously talented at blocking things out or growing thicker skin as necessary my whole life but this feels different.  All those times, the feelings were still there – just managed.  Now, the feelings aren’t there.  No wondering why.  No regard for my imperfect body or why it looks like an ice cream scoop was taken out of my right armpit.  No real mourning either.  Just feels like a Y passed in the road that I am very, very far away from it. So now what?

It’s not the yellow brick road.  It’s not a mission.  It is a road that seems to have teetered on the edge of, and wallowed in, bad news.  Managed expectations they say but more accurately, managed reality.  And manage is the wrong word.  It implies a choice.  Since I’m all about being alive there was no choice, therefore no feelings have made it along for the ride.  This here kicks feelings to the curb in a logical manner.  A framework of "just being" resulted.  Like they teach my girl in school: “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”  So now what? 

I look around.  My hair is down to my shoulders.  Menopause has been quite rude to my skin tone.  I am captivated by my wrinkles and lifelessness of my complexion.  I stare at it, I see wrinkles and colorlessness and worry.  It bothers me but tanning is frowned upon.  I have faith that my soul will catch up with my new agedness.  It feels like a game of Red Rover…send my soul right over.  A shell, a functioning necessary life and existence hollowed by scalpels and anesthesia was set right back on its feet and now walks.  But where?  And why? 

One day. One more day at a time.  The pleasure will catch up.  Innocence probably won't.  The understanding will catch up and fill me up.  The sadness may not.  I don’t try to outrun it, I just don’t think it is there.  There was no choice in this Y in the road so sadness does not get to come along.  The alternative to not choosing treatment and life would not allow sadness either so it is like a lost emotion that has no place at the table but at the same time, I realize that sadness is such a necessary human requirement that allows us to bridge to next; allows healing. But there is no sadness here.  It feels like those scenes when people wake up from a time machine or coma in the movies and look around without the luxury of a connection to what has gone on around them, don't fit in and not sure what to look for but begrudgingly know that they were left behind either on accident or some kind of seemingly detached reason.  I'm here though and this is not a movie.  I suppose that is still enough.  The gift of time is enough.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Gooood Morning, Menopause!

God’s honest truth I’ve been working on this post for a long time.  I had this surgery in March and on this journey I always wait and ponder the disclosure of such personal things. Throughout the 30,000 words I’ve written so far, I’ve noticed that I eventually say fuck it and choose humor; truth comes out and I find something funny in the process.  When writing about an elective hysterectomy and oophorectomy (ovary removal) at the age of 40, I really could only describe it as choosing to wake up one afternoon in menopause. 

Good Morning Vietnam is one of the funniest and heartbreaking movies I ever saw and all that ran through my head while I worked through these drafts was Robin Williams saying “Goooood Morning Menopause!”.  

I wore out the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack tape back in the day and this post has read this way for months.  Though unfortunately now, it feels dated, a little unnerving and a lot sad.  I really wish I had finished this one a month ago because he deserves much more than lip service and some throwback cliché on a breast cancer blog.  Since I was a kid, he made me laugh so much more than most and I love people that make me laugh.  I admire how he laughed through what we now know, was most likely pain.    

You will have bad times, but they will always wake you up to the stuff you weren't paying attention to."  - RW

Gooood Morning, Menopause! 

The change.  Hot flashes.  Hormone patches.  Fountains of youth.  Suzanne Sommers.  Power Surges.  Change of Life.  Collagen treatments.


Fuck you, estrogen. 
Boys, FYI:  we are going to talk about girl parts.
So if you are single, move on because it’s true: we smell like flowers all the time, never get angry, love bunnies, don’t get gas and we never use the bathroom.  

However, if you are estrogen-curious, been rudely affected by a menstrual cycle or married to one, please feel free to continue. 

I just walked into a hospital at the age of 40 and voluntarily woke up in menopause! 

Long story short, I had the kind of breast cancer that flourished in the presence of estrogen.  My former C cells had little receptors that went all ape shit when they met up with it.  Destructive co-dependent relationship commenced, tumors ensued, blah, blah, blah.

So, given that this has occurred twice now in 3 years and ovaries produce estrogen, everyone keeps telling me to remove these little nuggets of vitality. 

I’ve taken Tamoxifen for these past three years.  Tamoxifen is a drug that for lack of a better word, cock-blocks the exchange of estrogen and estrogen receptor positive cancer cells.  Perhaps it worked, perhaps it failed.  We’ll never know.  I like to think it did the best it could.  
Recurrence in a lymph node and the spreading to a single place where even Doc Ward didn’t think it was anything says to me that the Tamoxifen gave the good fight.  Apparently this medicinal protection wasn’t tough enough. 

Let’s introduce my ovaries. 

(Intermission time for boys who still think girls are fragile little smell good bundles of rational happiness…)

My cycle was always like an atomic clock.  Lined out precisely with the full moon. 

No shit. 

My husband found it ironic but beneficial since the fishing is apparently good during full moons.

I have always felt somewhat ruled by my cycle and ovulating was a major pain in the ass.  Exploding pain.  I imagine that it wasn’t too far off from appendicitis.  Appendicitis that occurred on alternating sides and was predictable, that is. 

If ovulating was a musical, mine would be “Rollin’ down Rodeo with a Shotgun.” 

Rage Against the Machine kind of eggs.  Mean little bitches with teeth. 

Basically, I was myself about a week and a half a month.  My best friend and I laughed about it often as if I was in the center of my own reproductive tornado.  

Cramps?  Now that I have had a child, I can say that yes, my cramps were that bad.  I’m pretty sure those were contractions some months.  Bleeding?  I don’t know how I never needed a transfusion.  Again, the wisdom of a husband:  “Never trust anything that bleeds for a week and doesn’t die.” 

Stop wincing already, Mr. Guy-Acting-All-Shocked.  I fucking warned you. 

Breaking out.  Bloating.  Sore, huge boobs.  Iron pills.  Medium rare steaks.  Ibuprofen.  Fetal position.  Breathing exercises.  Exhaustion.  Black Widow like urges to reproduce and then immediately kill your partner.  Repeat.  Monthly. 

I was on the pill for a 7 or 8 years to just put a fucking end to the madness.  I longed to be the same person every day. 

Here’s a head’s up ladies:  being intensely familiar with something doesn’t mean you need to keep it around.  That goes for bad relationships, crappy jobs, crappy pets and your menstrual cycle.
That being said, I’m a woman.  I was 39.  I had just started toying with the idea of throwing caution to the wind and having a second child despite being on year three of remission and taking Tamoxifen.   Because like it or not ladies, your body is wholly designed to reproduce!  After five years of enjoying the little miracle I call my daughter, I now find this ability to reproduce a miraculous privilege. 

Women are amazing!  Our bodies do some incredible shit.

I could not believe that someone would think I should take out my ovaries.  Fuck no.  They may be a pain but they are my pain.  There are millions of little half-people living in there and they fight like hell to be the lucky one out each month. 


It was first mentioned casually in my Introduction to Chemotherapy Meeting.  Whatever.  I knew my BRCA1 and 2 were not mutated.  Not a crisis folks.  Fast forward to being beat down by chemo and while frying in radiation treatment, it gets brought up again.  Whatever.  I like my cycle – it means I’m alive; a functional living thing.  Why do you people want to castrate me so badly??

So let us revisit chemo.  Settling into 8 rounds of the “Dose Dense” chemo regimen was both an immersion into and a precursor out of my menstrual cycle.  Everyone said I’d stop and be warned:  “chemopause” could push you over the fence into menopause.  

Enter Jim Gaffigan whispering, “She's old??”  Whatever. 

Well, I immediately felt a little jilted as I started A/C/Red Devil.  My girls were pissed.  Ovary protests ensued.  “Always” took on a whole new meaning.  For the first two months of AC/Red Devil, I pretty much thought I’d bleed out daily. Talk about insult to injury.  It was not awesome. 

And you know what?  While I’m thinking about it, whoever in the hell made pink the color of this illness was a genius.  Because let’s just say an 800 number on an 8x10 glossy of a bald, feverish girl curled up on a bathroom floor wondering if she should change the Always with Wings, take an ExLax, eat a steak sandwich, finish the bowl of Special K on the floor next to her or get up to barf because she just simply looked at the bottle of fucking Febreeze, might not raise as much cash. 

I digress.

Once I progressed to Taxol eight long shitty weeks later, just the opposite occurred.  Chemopause did kick in. So did the hot flashes.  They were as if I was radiating.  Wow.  Didn’t really care though because everything else hurt so bad I was glad to not have to get up to head to the bathroom all the time. 

So, the good Lord has his ways.  Sometimes you get the Poo Poo Platter of possibilities dished out to you quickly.  Kind of like perspective and wisdom delivered via 2nd Day Air.  So was the case with quasi menopause on Taxol. 
I lost interest in it.  I had not fully realized I didn’t need the reproductive system anymore but somewhere on the bathroom floor I had hovered around the periphery of just not caring anymore. 

My gynecologist is a great woman.  She’s no bullshit.  She’s an advocate and she’s to the point.  “Breast cancer can kill you.  Ovarian cancer will kill you.”  She said with a smile.  No shit.  A smile.  Sigh.  I conceded.  She penciled me in.

But I cried.  And cried.  I came home from radiation to a relentless and somewhat terrifying winter.  I cried mostly because I was tired.  I was near the finish line and I was tired of being tired.  Tired of needles and IV’s and doctors and hospitals and radiation narcolepsy tired.  Tired of the full frontal assault of winter that came with a husband who had been home alone all winter and also tired but mostly irritated from living in a plow truck for weeks on end. 
He didn’t really understand why I was crying all the time and isn’t wired to even process such emotion.   And so I cried.  And so my other Doc, also female and the original one who sent me for the ultrasound in 2010, put me on Zoloft.  Bless her heart.  Hell, bless my heart.  It’s okay to need help folks.  Sometimes you need to relent and quit bullshitting yourself.  

So I just quit trying to stay out ahead of my feelings.  I just sat with them.  I stopped worrying about future shit.  I distinctly remember sitting on the floor by my bed and letting myself cry.  I acknowledged that given the choice, we would most realistically not want two kids anyways.  We knocked it out of the park with the one we have – why not just give her our all? 

So, I kept my appointment my gynecologist set for a laparoscopic hysterectomy and oophorectomy.   She explained exactly how it was done and I promptly threw up.  I have no shame; no pride left.  Squeamishness has returned.  Please bring me Saltines. 

I had a month or so to wait so I went back to the gym and went back to work.  I got reacquainted with the squat rack.  I did leg press.  I started to recognize myself a little bit.  My legs started to show signs of life.

By the time I was headed to my appointment, I was ready and more or less irritated that I would have to take a six week break from lifting.  The surgery went well.  My husband was by my side and slept another night on a crappy hospital fold out and helped me up and around all night and we enjoyed pizza and some quiet time.  When he stays in the hospital with me, it makes me feel like I’m the safest person in the world.  This helps me truly rest.

Doc was right.  The hardest part of the whole thing was keeping me down.  Not supposed to carry more than a gallon of milk for 6 weeks.  Well, I have a four year old and we drink a lot of milk.  I healed quick.

And I hate to be anti-climactic but guess what?   Five months later, I feel fine.  In fact, I feel great.  You know what else?  I don’t know exactly how to explain it so if you are that curious, Google androgens and estrogen production but long scientific story short I rarely have to shave anymore.  Haven’t worn or more importantly, needed to wear deodorant since.  Let alone deal with any other bullshit!  Seriously.  The ladies at work can thank me for the tampon stash under the sink.  I think sometimes I’m having a hot flash but I generally find it is just the office thermostat out of whack.  The ones I actually had while on Taxol were way worse.  I still sleep just fine.  I am myself.  I take my calcium but I did before.  I take my pill to suppress the small amount of estrogen that my adrenal glands kick out and I feel fine.   

I realized I really had been mentally looking over my shoulder wondering if my ovaries were going to be traitors someday.  If they went out in a blaze of glory like Death in the Afternoon and assaulted the doctor, I didn’t hear about it.  

I read the vain concern and fear online that “OMG!  My sex drive!  I’ll wake up and feel like Helen Thomas and never live again!”  Not true. You life is still your life.  You are healthy, get over it.  There are stories out there and warnings and Google searches about losing your mind at younger age.  “Caution!  Your bone mass will turn into a fresh Butterfinger bar!”  Your sidebar ads will start selling you a Luminosity memberships.

So my take?  For one, settle the fuck down.  You still have chemo brain, remember?  No.  Of course you don’t.  Never mind.  Accept your state of stupid-healthy.  For two, I’m forty and know I’m not living forever.  Neither are you.  And in all eventuality, I may actually end up looking like Helen Thomas but so long as I’m sporting a flask and can still read and take pictures I’m not going to give a big shit at that point and neither would you.  My point?  You have now.  Feel good.  Don’t over think.  I’m choosing to not believe the hype.  I feel great.  And if you are worried, that’s fair.  But notice that the pre-surgery smackdown is 3 pages and 1500 words long and the post-op is half a page.  That’s my point – it’s alright.  I learned it is normal to worry but actually letting yourself get to normal, isn’t so bad either. 


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Die Another Day II

My adrenal glands.  Did you know these little walnut sized bastards above the kidneys are the last hold-out for estrogen production?  I imagine Mighty Mouse – “here to save the day!”  On call; the reservist adrenal glands.  I imagine them like a busy distribution center; fighting or flighting and kicking into high gear with a Starbucks overload.  Revving it up when life gets real.  The human Nitrous kick. 
One little bastard has decided that he either likes the injection I get on PET scan days or that he wants to just flare up and let me know that the little insidious bastard C cells have invaded.  He rung up a 3.6 SUV’s in October.  Now he’s up to 4.9.  Quick math folks, that’s a 30% increase barring some kind of exponential measure that I did not go to school to calculate. “Most likely nothing”, I’m told, as a lot of things in these scans light up and mean nothing.  However, given my aggressive stance on all things biopsiable, I want to know what is up.  And I want to know now because of that whole getting back to joy thing is hinging on it.

This transpires into a three week long trip in patience, insistence and most certainly annoyance for those who provide me answers to such questions.  My Oncology crew here is the best and they put up with me wonderfully.  I realize a lot during this couple of weeks.  I realize that the outlet for my calm demeanor and silence is still chewed up and near-bloody fingers.  I’m human.
I didn’t let it consume me though.  Truly.  What else can they surprise me with other than a death sentence?  The chemo fear factor is gone and so are my boobs.  There isn’t a lot left to take out of me.  So to hell with it.  Being a seasoned military wife, I manage potential devastation like this:  it is what it is when you find out what it is.  Until then, all is just fine in the world.  I am determined to have a great summer and continue in this thing called “feeling like myself”.  Boating and fishing are on the agenda and fun in the sun and at our favorite campground has already started. 

However, in my outwardly rational state I am hopefully not dying of curiosity.  It would be a bitch in the big scheme of things.  I ask questions.  The coordinator in Oncology is so gracious about it. 

“Has the number increased?”  Yes.
“Was it there in November?”  Yes.
“Was it there in the first two tests?”  No.

Doc Ward has the nuclear medicine doc at Huntsman take a look.  Inconclusive but she doesn’t think it is anything.  Well, that was the response with my back.  “It” didn’t look like anything either but it was something and we killed it.  These little readings appeared at the end of chemo.  Insert imagination here:  I see roaming cellular bastards on the loose, ejected from my lymph system honing in on an estrogen production center; the Jr. Mother Ship, north of my ovaries.  I call my surgeon to see if he does this kind of procedure, just in case.

My imagination kicks ass.  I should consider fiction. 

Two messages here: don’t Google yourself to death, literally.  And own your treatment.  At the end of day, you are the customer.  Remind yourself that your doctor, albeit most likely more educated than you, does work for you.  We don’t see ourselves like that enough.  You or your insurance companies are the ones paying for your care and hopefully, we continue to have choices.  You can ask questions.   You can ask for layman explanations.  You deserve peace of mind or a plan if peace of mind is not available.  And you can persist until you feel satisfied in the answer.

Luckily, I have the support of a great crew that returns phone calls and respects my concerns enough to deal with my persistence.  Thank God.  I really do appreciate and love them.   And they have made me healthy. 

The actual disks of the scans travel to Jackson at my request.  I imagine they feel liberated from the sketchy medical mall strip mall too.  Paige, our wonderful Onco coordinator, takes them to Radiology.  I love the St. John’s Radiology group.  No really, I do. Doc Haling, Dr. Heath, Doc Berlin…all amazing.  Haling reads it.  It says, no mass, not a growth, not a problem, not possible to biopsy because it is nothing. 

So, I’m really okay.  For now.  If I choose to take my survival in these kinds of chunks renewing my joy of life every six to eight months, this may really keep me so high and aware of my existence, it could really change some things.  My soul is elated.  My mind is clear.  I’m smiling and I’m going fishing.