Archive for the 'Health' Category

19
Nov
18

tick tick tick tick

As those of you who follow this blog regularly already know, I have recently been diagnosed, and am in the midst of treating, breast cancer.

Since my tumor was on my left side, they like to have you do what they call breath-hold radiation, so that your breast is as far from your heart as possible when they zap it with their cancer-killing laser rays. (I might be paraphrasing.) for what is probably obvious reasons, they actually want you in the same position every time they do this, so you have to be put into position, have a system for repeating it, and learn how to hold your breath just so.

My radiation setup appointment was last Friday. First I had to lie on what they called a bean bag (hardest bean bag I ever laid on) on a sliding table that looks a lot like it’s going into a very small MRI machine, with my arms above my head. Then they let the air out so that you end up being encased in a kind of mold (as in “cast” not as in “green fuzzy stuff that grows on old food in your refrigerator”).

Next you put on some nose pincers (piercing, ouch), put your mouth onto this scuba-like breathing contraption (have I mentioned my overly reactive gag reflex?), and a pair of goggles while they teach you how to hold your breath at 75% capacity for 30 seconds. This is actually really difficult to do. Especially around 22 seconds, when every cell in your body is yelling

BREATHE 

At first they want you to breathe normally though, which I thought was kind of funny. Because it’s every day that I’m lying on a hard “beanbag” in a cold hospital room, with a hospital gown untied and folded down around my middle, three random people standing around watching, while wearing a pair of virtual reality goggles, scuba mask, and nose pincers.

r12_627_3902_2825_w1200_h678_fmax

Like this, but she didn’t get the cool goggles.

See? Totally normal.

I do have tattoos now, albeit three tiny little dots I can barely find, and I know where they are.

It’s interesting/funny/odd/strange. The nurse who called with my biopsy results told me I had the “best possible bad news” and that “this would not be the source of [my] demise.” Except there is still an 11% chance of recurrence. And breast cancer has a funny way of coming back elsewhere and causing more problems. So even with radiation, and tamoxifen (of which I read all kinds of horror stories about side effects, which worry me greatly, especially the arthritis ones in which it doesn’t go away even after stopping the medicine — not what a pianist wants to hear!), it could still come back.

I know I’ve said this before, that it wasn’t like I thought before that I would never die and now I know I will. But now I also feel like I might be carrying around the thing that kills me, and there isn’t a whole lot I can do about it.

This is very difficult.

Like there’s a teeny tiny time bomb lurking somewhere in your body, too small to see, but when it’s really quiet, you can hear it…. tick……tick……tick…..

Let’s hope I’m wrong.

31
Oct
18

cancer, depression, and (looking for) the light at the end of the tunnel

So according to the National Cancer Institute, depression is “a comorbid disabling syndrome that affects approximately 15-25% of cancer patients.”

Also, apparently, women are more likely to experience depression than men, especially in the transitional period between pre- and post-menopause.

I can’t help but wonder what the percentages are of menopausal women with cancer. Sounds like a lot of really sad women.



I did just get my blood work back from the medical oncologist visit on Monday. At which I cried, more on that in a minute. Apparently I am post-menopausal. Who knew?


Does probably explain the subsiding of the hot flashes even though I’ve stopped HRT, the weight gain over the past couple of years, the moodiness, the lack of interest in….well, just about anything. (Phew! That was close!)

So here I sit, with a breast cancer diagnosis and the best possible prognosis. These details include:

  • Estrogen and progesterone positive—100% and 70%, respectively—which means that my good friend The Tumor, (whom I have named Bobba Fett), had every available surface covered with little seats in which estrogen could rest its weary head and on which the tumor could feed; 70% of it was also receptive to progesterone. This characteristic makes it very vulnerable to blocking those hormones in the body. And apparently it would seem that I’m almost out of them anyway, but not so much so that I won’t have to take Tamoxifen or, more likely given my hormone status, Aromatase Inhibitors, for 5-10 years. And AIs sound like a lot of fun, with side effects like joint pain, loss of bone density, weight gain (yeah, I really need that), vaginal dryness, carpal tunnel syndrome (great for a pianist), increased blood pressure, and mood swings (cuz I’m not having enough of those already).
  • HER2 negative. HER2 is a protein in some breast cancer tumors that seems to make the tumor more aggressive, both faster growing and more likely to spread. HER2 negative means no chemo.
  • Lymph nodes negative—no indication that Bobba Fett has tried to set up little colonies elsewhere in my body, although that is always held out to be possible.
  • Negative genetics for any kind of cancer that is currently identifiable through genetic testing
  • OncoDX score of 17 (out of 100)-–which means it is in the “low-risk” category for spreading, albeit still an 11% chance. Husband likes to point out that that indicates an 89% chance that it won’t spread, but somehow that’s not really where the mind goes. At least not mine.

Apprently once cancer is detected it has been in the body for many, many years; little sneaky sleeper cells lurking around with tiny little time bombs strapped to their  backs.

Bastards.

And most people think that this “best possible prognosis” would mean that I was walking on cloud 9, surround by sunshine, chirping birds, and harp music.


But I’m not.

When I posited the theory that maybe I should be to my medical oncologist earlier this week (right before the tears started) she scoffed, and said, “Pah! It’s still a prognosis, and nobody wants one of those.” The recognition of that, and a prescription for a teeny-tiny bit of Lexapro, has made a big difference.
My bullshit tolerance meter is set to zero. But maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing (equivocation, anyone?)

But I do apologize if I’ve “yelled” at you in anyway in the past few weeks — verbally, via email, or even in my head. I sincerely hope, at some point in the not-too-distant future, that the


sign stops blinking in my head and leaves room for other things. Until then, be well, be safe, get your mammogram, and if somebody snaps at you for no apparent reason, remember, they might have something really shitty going on in their lives right now, and they’re probably really really sorry.

28
Sep
18

down the rabbit hole

So I have breast cancer.

mindblown

I know, right? Like I could have led in so much more gracefully, cushioned the blow a little for all of you.

But that’s not how it feels when you find out. Hits you more like a sucker punch in the gut.

So there it is.

I found out 9 days ago, with the whole process starting 7 days before that with a screening mammogram. The first one in 6 years, which now kind of seems like a mistake, but the surgeon actually told me it kind of worked out well, because it’s small enough and my breast tissue is dense enough it might not have shown up a year ago, in which case I might have decided every 5 years was often enough, and 4 years from now we’d be having a completely different conversation.

Please know that I’m not recommending going 6 years between mammograms. Two might be reasonable, unless there’s a family history. If I’d gone every two, we’d still have caught it when we caught it.

Anyway.

We’ve all had those moments when we realize that life will never be the same. My 5 would be:

  • the Challenger explosion (senior year in college, my best friend came and interrupted my piano practicing to tell me, I didn’t believe her at first and couldn’t believe she would make such a cruel joke);
  • 9/11 — working on a doctoral project, my now 17-year old daughter an infant in her little bouncy seat, watching the television footage of the first tower while the commentators speculated on how such an accident could happen when the 2nd plane hit;
  • the day I realized that I couldn’t stay married to my first husband and father-of-my-three-children anymore;
  • finding out my daughter, then 13, had thyroid cancer, with a tumor the size of a sweet potato; and
  • this.

I won’t bore you with the details, as they are much the same for everyone going down this road: mammogram, follow-up mammogram, 3-D mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy, and you find your life has been hijacked. A barrage of phone calls and pre-ops and appointments and blood work. They measured my head for crying out loud! (apparently there’s a link between large head size and cancer; sorry kids!)

My mind is full of platitudes, and mutually contradicting thoughts that I find myself forced to hold in my head at the same time. Principally: gratitude (it could be so much worse) + anger  (I have four sisters, and I’m the youngest of the five; why do I have to be the one to get cancer [first]?)(sorry sisters, it’s not that I’m wishing this on anyone, but it does seem to be a little unfair)(I know, I know, life’s not fair) + fear (whatifthey’rewrong, whatiftherearepositivelymphnodes, whatifitcomesback, whatifthegeneticstestmakes-mysurgeonthinkIneedtohaveadoublemastectomy, whatifwhatifwhat???). Along with those, which are probably obvious to most of you, are a whole lot more: I love my job, my job exhausts me and often involves shitty hours; my husband is the best person in the world, why does my husband chew like that; my daughter is precious and dear and what would she do if I died when she wasn’t yet in her 20s, my daughter is making me crazy with her selfishness and moodiness and shallow concerns; I want another dog, one small enough to carry around in my purse who I can take everywhere as my “comfort object,” the dog I have not peeing in the morning even after a 30 minute walk is making me crazy [Idon’thavetimeforthis]; I will eat nothing but fresh fruits and vegetables and drink green tea, I want to go to bed every night just a little bit drunk from the half bottle of wine I (used to) have with dinner.

I actually feel a little bit like, maybe for everyone else’s sake, I should just go live in a cave until it’s all over. Maybe a cave on a beach in Fiji.

fijiisland

It could actually be much worse. It’s hormone receptor positive, so very responsive to hormone blocking therapy. Which of course means I’ll be pushed into full menopause immediately, at which point I picture myself a dried up old woman who has gained another 40 pounds and lost all of her teeth. There is, of course, a chance that this scenario is a little alarmist. It’s also HER2 negative, which means I probably don’t need chemo, unless the lymph nodes are positive, which we won’t know until after surgery. It seems to be slow growing, non-aggressive (Ha! Is it just me, or does cancer in general seem kind of aggressive? I mean, what else shows up where it’s not wanted and makes you fight like hell to kick it out of your house?Lucy_Ninja

 

Does it matter that I don’t want it?

As if anyone does.

I had a dream the night after I got the call with the diagnosis. Glowing angels came with golden bowls and scooped the cancer away.

angel

I liked that.

I’ve found a couple of new friends already. Well, not really found. They were friends already. But I would call them better friends now, and I am very grateful.

One just finished her chemo, and had some wise ideas to offer. The most helpful of these was not to get too ahead of myself. Just to focus on what I need to do next, and then I can worry about what to do after that. I expressed to her at one point that I was trying really hard to stay grateful, given how much worse the news could have been, and she texted back that gratitude was overrated. I snorted with laughter. Maybe it would be clearer to say that it’s important, but probably insufficient to the task at hand. At least some of the time.

They gave me a form to fill out the day of my meeting with the surgeon and oncologists. It asked you to rate your anxiety, from 0 to 10. I bracketed the whole thing and wrote along the side “depends on the moment.”

Sheesh.

The thing that feels the worst to me is that I fear I will never feel completely carefree again. I know that I’m 53 years old, and the time for never believing I’m actually going to die is long past. But there is a line now, before which I never COMPLETELY believed I would actually die, and now I know I will. Even though it won’t be from this*. This kind of pisses me off.

And yet.

What I’m not grateful for:

  • the nurse scheduling my biopsy pushing kleenex on me and telling me and my husband how awful this is, that we’ll get through it together, what a “terrible diagnosis” (this was BEFORE my biopsy, note)
  • calling my primary care physician to set up my pre-op appointment for my lumpectomy and the scheduling woman at the desk telling me that there were no appointments available and that they usually get calls for pre-ops more than two weeks in advance (I’m so sorry my cancer didn’t give you all more notice, are you f*ing kidding me?)

What I am grateful for:

  • *that this won’t be the source of my demise–at least that’s what the nurse on the phone said
  • that my husband is my best friend, an excellent cook and lover and cuddler, that he’s willing to accept and forgive me when I’m snappish and defensive (even when I haven’t been diagnosed with cancer)
  • that my children are healthy and beautiful and independent and strong
  • that I have access to some of the best healthcare in the world, and some of the best doctors I’ve ever dealt with, especially my biopsy doctor who was also the radiologist who caught the cancer in the first mammogram
  • all of the friends who have sent me such generous and loving emails and texts and phone calls; my heart is full with their love

I do realize that some other friends will find out through this post, and I hope you will forgive me for not calling each of you personally, and understand. I find I can deal with only a couple of these conversations a day, on my best days.

Love you all.

 

 

 

07
May
17

What?

You’ve got to be monkey-flipping kidding me.

Kind of makes you wonder if the scientists involved (all male, I’m sure) were getting a kickback from the feminine-sanitary-products industry.

Blergh.

26
Feb
17

In case you haven’t laughed yet today

NSFW

But watch it anyway. It’s hilarious.

21
Apr
15

Man-made disasters

Seems like this + this would not be a good idea.

USmap

Guess we can count on Kansas and Colorado to be the buffer zones.

Add into that the fact that we’ve just about exhausted antibiotics’ usefulness, half of our government is working against the other half in brokering deals that might help prevent nuclear annihilation, the planet is cooking and/or drowning, and we’re going to standardize-test our children into creative and intellectual automatons, and it’s pretty clear that things aren’t looking very good for the species.

Other countries seem to get it, with mandated declining use of antibiotics in meat production, fair and imaginative teaching for all children, and efforts to preserve the rain forest.

Of course, the lists in both paragraphs could be much longer. And one might imagine that the planet as a whole might be “grateful” for our demise.

What I can’t figure out is how, despite intrinsic self-interest in self-preservation, we seem to be so darn good at being the engineers of our own destruction. It’s like 20 year olds taking up smoking, because they still believe they’ll live forever.

[Not at this rate, we won’t.]

02
Oct
14

every single time

I flinch.

Every single time I watch this.

Please share it with everyone you know, love, everyone who owns a cell phone, everyone.

https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152195912647751




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