Dear Pat,

You asked me what I’ve learned from The Cancer, and it didn’t bother me in the least because after all we hadn’t seen each other in over 10 years, and if you hadn’t brought it up, The Cancer might have sat there in the booth casting its elephant shaped shadow over our conversation. It’s an interesting question, for which you may have expected a clichéd answer, but might have suspected that’s not really what you’d get from me. Sometimes people say that having The Cancer has made them appreciate life more. Well, I don’t think I had a lack of appreciation for life before, but I told you what I didn’t appreciate enough: nose hairs and eyelashes. It’s astounding how much stuff gets in your eyes without lashes to protect them, and it’s crazy how many random nasal drips you have when there are no nose hairs to keep them corralled.

I told you about being follicularly challenged, but our conversation moved on to other things, and later I didn’t really feel like I’d given you a good answer. Thinking about your question, I remembered that when I was in the middle of that summer of chemo, I was waiting at the orthodontist one day and decided to write down on tiny Post-its some things I had learned. I only found two of those, but the central theme was the same for all of them as I recall: Your life is now. Sounds strangely like a Mellencamp lyric, perhaps because it is.

At any rate, if there is one thing that I’ve learned—not from The Cancer, but from God, who allowed me to go through this process—it’s that we don’t get to pick our situation, only what we do with the moment. And there is value in every moment. I don’t mean that in a sappy “life is precious because The Cancer tried to kill me” sort of way, but in a “we need to make it count” sort of way. What I wrote on that first Post-it was this: Say the kind things you think, but don’t always communicate. Don’t waste an opportunity to show love to people.

We don’t have to do what the world considers to be something big with our lives. Sometimes the small things are really the big things. But we need to do those now, because we have no guarantee that we’ll have the opportunity or ability to do them at any other time. So, that’s the big lesson, according to me. I hope I’ve answered your question a little better this time. Thanks for making me think—I’m so glad you’re my friend.

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Pink Ribbon Overload: Permanent Reminders

My friend Jody sent in these two entries, with the following comment:  “I think you should get a pink ribbon tat & navel ring to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness month!  Here are a few for you to check out!  If you don’t like these, don’t worry…they come in many different styles!”

JJF-00646_thumb You know, Jody, I was just thinking to myself the other day, “Why Self, can you believe you haven’t had a surgery, or any other sort of invasive cancer-related thing for nearly a year?  I mean, gee Self, pretty soon you might just forget you ever had The Cancer and go back to a normal life.  You know, aside from the implant, and the 10-inch long scar, and the newpple that’s made from a piece of your groin, there’s really nothing to remind you of the year you spent your summer vacation being bald and having no eyebrows.  You know, Self, your memory is pretty bad, thanks to the Tamoxifen you take every night.  How will you ever remember the summer after chemo when you only had one boob, and had to find a Foob compatible bathing suit to wear to the water park?”

 I was really worried.  I mean, gee, if there’s one thing I never want to forget, it’s the ridiculous constipation that chemo causes.  So, Jody, I was SO glad when you emailed me the pink ribbon tattoo.  Of course!  Here I was planning to get my newpple tattooed to look more natural, and all along I was missing a grand opportunity!  Why, with a pink ribbon tattoo on the noob, I’ll never forget about The Cancer.  But gee, I just don’t know.  It seems like such a waste to put all the awareness someplace where only I can enjoy it.  So, I’m thinking perhaps I’ll go for the always classy neck tattoo. 

 pink ribbon navel ringJody also suggested the navel ring.  There again, who’s gonna see it?  Hubster?  Oh Honey, trust me, he’s already aware of The Cancer.  Of course, given my penchant for the gaudy, there’s a good chance that gravity would have the Flava Flav sized ornament I’d pick stretching out my belly button, and swinging between my knees like a Focault pendulum. Still, just to be on the safe side, I think I should probably get a pink ribbon belly shirt to go along with it.   Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find one of those online though.  A tube top might work, too, but I haven’t seen one of those either.  Dang it.  Maybe the belly button ring isn’t such a good awareness tool, after all.

Doctor Day – Part One

Normally I go to see Dr Birhiray at his office up at the Breast Care Center.  In order to do that, the appointment has to be on a Tuesday or Thursday, because Dr B spends the rest of the week at other offices. I like going to his office at the BCC, because it’s all breast cancer patients, and I usually go in and show off my long hair and generally be a poster child for life after breast cancer.  Another reason I like it is that it doesn’t have a TV with which to blare soap operas like the Hux Cancer Center where I did my rads. And I think I’ve mentioned before how I do not like going to the main oncology place because it’s full of people in all stages of a variety of types of cancer, and it really just weirds me out.  I much prefer to go to the BCC where, for the most part, you don’t see anybody who looks like they’re on their last leg.  Bald, yes, but that is a temporary thing, and we can handle that.

 However, the last time I scheduled an appointment, it was going to fall in the same week as my follow-up with Dr Grasee, so Hubster said, “Can we schedule it for the same day so we don’t have to make two trips?”  Well, we *could* but that would mean that I’d have to go seen Dr B in his office in Noblesville.  Despite my whining about not being able to go to the BCC for my appointment, Hubster insisted that we kill two birds with one stone and schedule the appointments on the same day.  And since I didn’t have any better argument than to whine, “But I wanna come heeeere” we made the appointment when Hubster wanted it.

 The appointed day arrives and first stop is Dr Grasee’s office in Carmel.  This is the follow-up visit where they will take to official “after” picture of my reconstruction.  Dr G is very pleased with how the recon looks, smiling and commenting how it’s really not obvious that the tissue has been radiated.  If you remember, I had to sell the idea of the expander/implant to Dr G, who wanted to do the LD flap procedure because of the radiation.  I take pleasure in reminding her of that as I sit there looking all fabulous.

  So, now that I’m all super-fabulously reconstructed, I asked Dr G about getting the newpple tattooed.  Because the newpple is just regular skin color, many cancer girls elect to have it tattooed—in my case it will be matched to the color of the remaining nipple.  So, Dr G referred me to a woman who specializes in such tattoos.  Her name is Cricket Hemp. 

Cricket.  Hemp. 

Given the name (is there even a remote possibility that it’s her real name?)  I’m pretty sure a Janice Joplin wannabe is going to be doing my newpple tattoo.  Should I be worried about this?  I mean, what if she tattoos a peace sign on there, or worse yet, a smiley face?  You know, I get kinda grossed out by needles, so I probably won’t be watching.  And forget Hubster—he’s really squeamish.  My only comfort with this deal is that she works for Turkle and Associates rather than Cricket Hemp’s Groovy Booby Tattoo Palace.  Dr Turkle is top notch, so I’m clinging to the hope that she wouldn’t hire some crazy hippy.

 I guess I’ll know for sure when I see her on October 29th.

Muscle Weighs Heavier—No Really.

A while back I posted about how I’ve been doing Zumba a couple of times a week in hopes of trimming some flab.  Of course, all that gyrating was thwarted by my lack of willpower, coupled with a big, fat chocolate cake.  And so, I was a little anxious about the upcoming weigh-in & measuring session, scheduled for the first of the month.  Since I was nearly dying every Tuesday and Thursday night, I was going to be really disappointed if I found out that I’d gained weight. 

 The good news is that I did not gain weight or inches.  Whew!  In fact, I lost 1½  lbs, in addition to ¾ of an inch.  (Shut up!  Something is better than nothing.  Besides, I’m building muscle, which we all know weighs more than fat.  So there.)  Jamie, my Zumba instructor, tried to encourage me by saying things like, “That’s not bad.”  But when I lamented that I’d hoped for a little more, she was quick to point out that if I’d just stay out of the chocolate cake, I might see more progress.  Some folks might have been offended by having their fatness thrown back onto their own lack of willpower, but I just laughed.  Yup.  I know.  Chocolate cake—bad.  Zumba—good. 

 I’m apparently the kind of girl that makes folks feel like they can just tell me about myself.  Because this is a fairly regular occurrence these days.  Just the other day I was talking to Molly and had a similar experience.  Molly is one of my besties, and our relationship is pretty much one big long episode of telling ON ourselves to each other, and telling each other about herself.  So in our conversation the other day, I was griping to Molly about how I’d picked up this new shower cleaning stuff because it was on sale, and it didn’t work very well.  “I hate that!” I griped, “I spray it on, and it’s supposed to cut through the soap scum, but it doesn’t!  I’ve done it, like, 6 times and it’s barely made a dent.”  To which Molly replied, “Well, I think that stuff works if you don’t wait ‘til you’ve got ¾” thick soap scum before you decide to clean the shower.”   

 Wow.  So, between Jamie & Molly, I’ve gathered that I’m both flabby and nasty.  Go me!

 It’s actually been almost another month since that weigh-in, and I’m feeling a little more confident this time because I think my pants are looser.  Not, like, a size looser or anything, just looser than they were.  And I feel like I’m just all around less flabby and more firm, which is good because it indicates that I’m building muscle (see, I told you that was why I only lost 1½  pounds!) which is important to anyone whose been through breast cancer treatment.  All the surgery and chemo and what-not tend to cause an increase in body fat.  In fact, evidence has shown that chemotherapy changes body composition—causing a loss of lean body mass.  Muscle being replaced by fat!  And more body fat increases the risk of cancer.  So this exercise thing is way more than just vanity for us, girls.  And I’m only half kidding when I talk about that muscle weighing more than fat thing—I really AM building, or rather re-building muscles lost to treatment.  So, if you needed another reason to exercise, here it is…now get your Zumba or whatever on and don’t give The Cancer a chance to sneak up on you.

The Pink Mafia

There haven’t been too many haters show up here.  Except for Jamie, the person who told us all that we were collectively lame and needed to “get real” because we made fun of breast cancer Barbie.  Funny, I haven’t heard a peep out of ol’ whatsherface since I explained that I’ve got a 10 inch scar across my chest that gives me the right to dis’ BC Barbie all the livelong day.  Of course, it could be that she was just so disgusted by our fun that she’s never come back.  But I like to think that it was the verbal beat-down  she got that silenced her.  Take that, fun sucker.

 Sometimes, I write things that I know might provoke those humor vigilantes out there.  Of course, I do enjoy a certain amount of immunity.  You know, one of the perks of having The Cancer is the immunity you gain.  I think this may be rooted in the pity people feel, which would probably annoy me if I really thought about it, but I don’t.  I just enjoy the benefit. 

 In real life, the Cancer Immunity was way more powerful when I was bald.  Shoot!  You can get away with just about anything when it’s obvious you’ve got The Cancer.  If I were smart, I would have robbed a bank or held up Starbucks.  Chemo brain would have ensured that I forgot where I left the getaway car, and I’d have had to run away on foot.  Sure, I’d be easy to spot—you don’t see too many bald women running around with big bags of money slung over their shoulder (like a continental soldier)—but gee, can you see me getting arrested like that?  No way!  They’d feel too sorry for me. 

 But these days, I don’t get much protection from The Cancer Immunity, because it’s not obvious to the random person I run into.  Dang it.  I don’t want The Cancer, but I want Cancer Immunity forever.  I do get a little bit of that when I blog though, since the blog started because of The Cancer and I continue to talk a lot about The Cancer.  However, there is one fear that always looms over me when I post snarky things about breast cancer awareness: the fear of getting hated on by The Komen. 

 So, the other day when I got an email from Mildred Jones* with the subject line “Susan G Komen for the Cure” my mind flew immediately to all the smart-alecky things I’ve ever written about the pink ribbon, survivor walks, etc.  Oh crap.  It’s the Pink Mafia.  I’m in trouble now.  They’re gonna bring that pink ribbon cement truck over here and make me some new shoes to go swimming in. 

 I must just have a guilty conscience.  All Mildred really wanted was to see if I was planning to be a team captain at the Race for the Cure in October.  Guess she hasn’t read my blog after all. 

 *Not her real name, because like I said, I don’t want to anger The Komen.  Nothing to see here, Komen.  Move along.

I’ve Been Robbed

Perhaps you guys have seen the recent news story about an American family’s Christmas photo that mysteriously ended up in advertising for a grocery store in Prague.  Apparently, this lady had sent out Christmas cards with the photo of her and her husband and their two kids last year.  Recently, an old college friend of hers was bopping down the street in Prague, when he spotted the life sized image in a store window.  So he emailed her.  Turns out, she doesn’t have a clue how the picture ended up there.  (This scenario immediately made my think of the stolen video camera in European Vacation—but I digress.)

 I can guarantee that, in spite of having posted my picture on here numerous times, this would never happen to me.  Oh, I’m not saying that the Kroger of Lithuania wouldn’t cob onto my picture—you know, The Foob  may be hocking croissants in France this very minute. It’s just that if they did, I’d never know, because I certainly do not have friends fancy enough to be motoring around Europe.  Moody’s friends are lucky to get to the Indiana State Fair on vacation, let alone someplace exotic.   Deep Fried Twinkie, anyone?

 However, I recently discovered that, indeed, someone had lifted a picture off of this blog for use on another website.  A picture of me.  I first noticed this because WordPress keeps track of incoming links.  When I saw this one, I was like, “What is that?” and of course I clicked through to see for myself.  Turns out it’s one of those generic websites that purports to contain info about a topic, but is really just a collection of links to other sites.  Wanna know what this one is about?  Coloring Hair After Chemo.  Wanna know what picture they used?  Well, see for yourself.

 Um, yeah.  I’m bald in that picture—except for the maimed, purple and grime colored, rubber spiky ball I’ve got stretched over my cranium.  That’s great!  You have no idea how funny that is to me.  That somebody earnestly seeking information about coloring the hair they just spent the last 6 months growing would come across that picture just slays me.  Look at me—I even look like I could be trying to sell you something.  “Yes, ladies, with Dr Follicle’s Instant Hair Growing & Coloring System, you too can look like you’ve got a nasty purple spiky ball on your head!  [insert shiny tooth bling here] Simply apply the two-part formula, and then sit back and enjoy a glass of sweet tea.  By the time you’ve quenched your thirst, your hair will look like Molly’s dog chewed a hole in a purple, spiky ball and you pulled it over your scalp!  It’s that simple!” 

 (Also available in Canine  Breath Cancer Black, and Hot Flash Fuschia!)

I’d Rather Have a Butterfly Hand Than a Crab Arm

Yesterday I had my check-up with Dr Birhiray.  The worst part of that these days is the blood draw.  Lymph node removal on the mastectomy/reconstruction side dictates that  blood pressure cuffs & needles are forbidden on that side forever.  For-ev-er.  The reason being that any sort of infection in that arm could lead to lymphedema, a condition in which the lymphatic fluid doesn’t drain out of the arm like it should, and causes the arm to swell.  Permanently, in some cases.  This always makes me think of the fiddler crabs we saw a few years ago on Little Tybee Island, and while I thought they were neat, I really don’t have any desire to sport the fiddler crab look.  So, I try to avoid punctures and other arm trauma at the doctor’s office, although I only sometimes successfully manage to avoid such things in the kitchen.  So far so good, though.  No crab arm yet.

 Anywho, the end result is that any time blood needs to be drawn, it has to come out of the right side.  And these days the right side is putting it’s foot down and refusing to give the requisite blood.  You can only poke the same place so many times before it forms a shield of scar tissue not unlike the armor plating on the Batmobile, or at least as tough as that really sorry excuse for Indian flatbread I made the other night.  (No wonder that cookbook was on the clearance rack at Half Price Books.)  Yesterday was the second time in the last three visits that I’ve had to have my blood drawn via the little butterfly needle in the hand that is normally used to administer chemo.  More than once I’ve suggested that they stick my foot.  The foot has nice, plump veins that look up at me and laugh as I’m sitting there for 5 minutes waiting for an adequate amount of blood to be drained from my hand.  But, for whatever reason, they never take me up on that. 

 After my blood was drawn, I could have gone back out to the waiting area like a normal person.  But I like to visit my chemo nurses.  Maybe because we bonded during chemo, or maybe because they always tell me how great I look.  Okay, probably the latter.  So, I went back to the chemo area to say hi to Leslie and Karen, and I told them that I started chemo on May 8th, so it’s been almost exactly 2 years.  As usual, they commented on how much my hair has grown, and then they said, “Come out here and meet some of these ladies.  They’re just getting started, and they’d probably be encouraged to see you.”  As is often the case when I’m visiting back there, I’m like their poster girl for good attitude and good health.

 So, I got to meet some of the ladies on the chemo floor.  Nurse Leslie pointed out to one group of ladies that I’ve “been through everything you guys are going through and look how great she looks.”  I then explained to them that I’d been through chemo, radiation, and 6 surgeries, so indeed, I had done it all within the last couple of years.  They asked me questions like “Did your hair come back the same color?” and “How soon did you hair start growing again?”  Hair, as you can see, is a hot topic with chemo girls. 

 Soon, though, another nurse came and fetched me.  For once, Dr Birhiray was only half an hour behind, and my exam room was waiting for me.  But, I’m so glad I got to spend some time talking to those ladies—even if Hubster did wonder what had happened to me.  I am so blessed to have the opportunity to encourage folks by sharing my experiences.  I enjoy doing that in person, as well as here on the blog, so please don’t ever hesitate to ask questions.

 While I was there, I showed Dr B his fan club page on Facebook.  Not being on Facebook himself, at first he was a little confused—he thought I’d moved my blog or something.  But I soon had him straightened out, and he read the messages and got a big kick out of the whole thing.  So thanks to those of you who joined the club and left him a little note.