Saturday, May 31, 2008

Keeping Busy

One of the little gifts I received when I was just home from the hospital was a watercolor pencil set and postcard-ready watercolor paper with a note encouraging me to "make something beautiful while [I] heal." Now, I've got to be the absolute worst with watercolors, so I've got nothing great to show yet in that media (though I'm getting better). But think about that all the time and I have been getting a little more creative and a little bit busier of late. First, there's the garden.

We've just got a tiny balcony so it requires a lot of organization.

Did I mention I can kind of go berserk with organization sometimes? I divied up my scented geranium and planted a new batch of seeds a few weeks ago; parsley, cilantro, and oregano. I remembered last year I got my baby parsley and baby cilantro mixed up, so I decided to make all-weather tags. It's a good thing I couldn't find the laminator. Yesterday I planted an heirloom beefsteak tomato plant and transplanted seedlings. We've been getting strawberries in since April, but they're baby plants, so they're not terribly prolific.

We also have a new friend.

He started out his very proclamatory and constant song on this super-tall stump but has moved on to basically anywhere on our balcony.

So we decided to offer him more permanent accommodations. Mark's even willing to share the strawberries, but so far he's not interested.

We also have some older friends who just got a new house, and they absolutely needed a present. I've done variations of these before and I'm very happy with the way this one turned out. I bought the actual structure (haven't learned to weld yet, sadly) and then drew the designs on translucent paper and lacquered it to the glass. Al the lanterns I've done have had mehndi designs, because I think they're beautiful and befit a celebration, but this one's particularly fitting because our friends have some real connections to India.

I have one more art project completed, but I can't post it yet because it's a gift that has yet to be received. Which is because I haven't mailed it yet. I guess I should get a little busier.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Free With Purchase

So this is a weird phase. I finished radiation, and had just enough time to dance a tiny jig before visiting Dr. So. That meeting was just to begin the conversation about next steps, but it went really differently than I'd expected.
First, nobody's going to insist that I take Tamoxifen. It's pretty much up to me. So guess what? It's probably not going to happen.
Next, we talk about kids, which will be difficult to make, even without the Tamoxifen. Surprise. We are still learning about this, but there is a real risk in exposing my body to the sustained high levels of hormones that would come with a pregnancy. I'm not really sure how much I'll be blogging about that particular process. It's going to be very personal, emotional, and complicated. I can only promise to share what I feel comfortable with.
Just before ending the meeting I go out on a limb and asked the big question. When am I considered 'Cancer-Free'? I'm wincing as I ask this because I'm picturing years of scans to wait for and a very long time frame. But he looks at me and puts his hand on my shoulder and he says, "Now! Right now!"
Not the answer we were expecting. And I totally don't believe it.

Wait! I do! No, I don't. Not quite. Not yet. I keep trying not to, but even when I believe that I'm healthy, all I remember is what it cost me to get here. Maybe it's part of an ending; not having a daily fight of some sort to concentrate on. Maybe it's just time to grieve for some of these things. Maybe my next surgery will make a big difference. And I'm sure the regular scans I'll have for a very long time will be important. I'm a little bit sad that I'm not having the end-of-radiation party that I'd envisioned, but I'm also pretty sure this is so normal.

We are getting out of town in a couple of weeks, though. Hopefully we'll be able to take a break from some of the stress and drama that's been following us around here. First we'll be in Santa Rosa with Mark's family and then up to Portland for food, drinks, and books. We're banking on Portlad's public transport to keep out butts in check. I'd hate to have to fly home in my pj's.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Are We There Yet?

Not quite.

I was originally scheduled to finish radiation today, but after a peek at my chest, Dr. W decided to push trough to Friday. He'll be narrowing the focus 'til the end though, concentrating on the center of my breast and letting my crispy armpit take a rest. Things should continue to deteriorate for about a week after treatments end, and then start slowly getting better.

I'll be happy to give my skin a break, but it'll be weird, this new phase. I'll be meeting with Dr. So on Friday to start planning that, so I'm not really sure what it will be like yet. But I'm really going to miss the radiation center. I am constantly in awe of how the nurses, techs, and everyone do what they do. Some of their patients really struggle, and not all make it, but every one who works there has the most amazing positive attitude. They remember little details about us and tell us stories that reminded us of them. A, is the the very funny tech who did my tattoos. We have a nice rapport and I scolded him one day for calling me 'Rockstar' in front of the other patients. 'oh' he said, 'everyone has a special nickname.' It's true. The short great-grandmother who doesn't like waiting in a hospital gown, so she just doesn't, is 'Beauty Queen'.

Then there are the patients. I'm too shy to have gotten to know any of them well and now I see what a missed opportunity that was. I spoke to the Beauty Queen last week when I realized that we'd actually met in January at the symphony. Her great-grandson is one of the happiest babies I've seen. Then today, the husband of the woman who goes after me mentioned that he'd overheard that conversation. Turns out they've got tickets to the symphony on Sunday and wondered if I'd like them. His wife is in a wheelchair, doing radiation and chemo, and not feeling up to it. I accepted gratefully and then tried not to cry in the changing room. They're obviously dealing with so much and still thinking of ways to bring happiness to others. It breaks my heart and fills it up all at the same time.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Brandi asked me to re-tell the story of how I found my cancer and I realized that I'd never posted it here. I think it was finally emailed out after about 40 awful face-to-faces and phone calls. Gosh, I hated that part. Anyway, now, it's pretty amazing. So here it is.

My mom had breast cancer when she was in her early 40s. My father's mom had breast cancer twice, maybe 30 years apart. Both survivors and without whom nothing, let alone my health today, would have been possible. So needless to say I was on the alert from an early age. I did the self-exams. Somewhere along the line it was decided that I should start my (absolutely indicated early) mammograms at (the utterly arbitrary age of) 30. Off I went to visit my new primary this January and gave her my history and plan. She disagreed on the age I should start and told me to wait 5 years.

I didn't.

I called my husband and told him I was uncomfortable. He told a colleague of his, Dr. So. We went in together for a chat with him and he set up my mammogram. My tech was very nice and I knew when she popped her head in and said she wanted more images that something was off. She popped her head back in and asked if I wanted my husband. Yeah. So quite a few painful images later we were in the radiologists office, with the door open, and no chairs, hearing about micro-calcifications and that it looked not-good.

Then came the MRI, which told us it wasn't anywhere but my right breast but that it was not small. 4x8 cm. Then the biopsy, which told us it was DCIS. I never felt anything, not even when I knew exactly where it was. We found out after the surgery that I couldn't have, because it was multi-focal. I wouldn't have been able to feel a lump until who knows how many of those suckers had gotten completely out of hand, which is exactly why I decided to have both breasts removed now.

And on that note, I'm off to whip up some fruit salad for our Mother's Day picnic. Extra-Happily, because I can.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


I love getting comments from you all.

Laser Hair Removal Hurts

Is that a ridiculously obvious statement? I don't know, I was surprised.

So for my second surgery (I still don't know when that will happen) the tissue expanders will come out, implants will go in, and the salient details of typical breasts will be added. That's right folks, nipples and areolae. Feel free to stop reading if you just got the willies. The takehome for today is the title.

So, nipples can be formed from the skin already on my breast in an interestingly origami-like fashion. The areolae, however, have to come from somewhere else. I had to have that somewhere zapped with a laser today. Now it sounds like I'm talking about a super-secret place on my body. Okay, it's not. It's the inside of my upper thigh. You have one of those, too, right?

Anyway, I could have the hair zapped out after the skin moves up to my chest. But I feel like that region of my body has been taking enough stress lately. And why not get the whole bikini issue out of the way once and for all. Super plan. Except, holy crap it hurts. Even after slathering on a lidocaine goo beforehand. There isn't really a painless permanent hair removal option. Even waxing is uncomfortable (in case you haven't seen 40 Year-Old Virgin) though it's never bothered me that much. I was told electrolysis (whereby, electricity kills the hair's root instead of a laser) is far worse; I can't imagine. Unfortunately, it'll take 4 to 5 more treatments to get all the hairs. Fortunately, the areolae-est areas hurt the least, so if I have to I'll narrow the treatment area.

In other news, I'd down to FOUR radiation treatments now. I'm intensely excited to be done with that. Today when the radiation began I felt a very strong twinge in my sore spot, which was so surprising and strange that I almost jumped. There is absolutely no jumping allowed in radiation. Some of my cohorts even have to be sedated. But it's never been very difficult for me to be still; it's so much like sleeping.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Too Many

Hello there. I'm sorry I haven't posted in so long. I've not been avoiding you or any scary subjects, I promise. There's been little to report and lots of bustle. Mark's blog has the rundown on his birthday. We've also had friends in town and another friend's birthday to celebrate.

Here's the medical status:

I've got 7 more radiation treatments to go. My skin is red, I'm stiff and having trouble sleeping again. I saw Dr. W today and he's given me some good bonus lotion. Looks like there's an area that may blister before I'm through.

My mom is the rockstar of the family this week. She basically climbed a small hill with me on Friday and got to visit her horse, Clifford, for the first time since surgery #2. I think this will be a very good mother's day.

Here's the touchy-feely status:

Life can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop when you get cancer. People still behave terribly in traffic, cutting you off or driving 4 miles an hour while you're just trying to get to your radiation treatment. The rent still gets raised. You still get locked out of your house at 10 p.m. when you have to pee. I know I have a lot to be grateful for, but It was a very wise friend who told me to expect to be disappointed by people at some point in this process. Then I saw this today and it helped me laugh at everything again. Sorry, Justin.