Pink Ribbon Overload: The Blow Dryer

Dear Madge,

I heard you started chemo, and I wanted to get you a little something to let you know how much I care.  I saw this pink ribbon blow dryer, and of course I thought of you, since cancer is your new identity and all. 

Buying one for you made me feel so doggone good about fighting cancer, that I decided to get one for myself, too.  Every time I dry my hair, I’ll think of you and say to myself, “Thank God I’m not bald like Madge.”

I hope you enjoy your blow dryer during the next two weeks that you still have hair.  Of course, you’ll have hair again some day—in about a year or so, you’ll even have enough to warrant a more than a towel dry!  And when that day comes, you’ll have this really pink dryer to remind you that once upon a time you were bald ’cause you had the cancer.

Your Friend,

Eunice

The Pink Parade, and Why I Won’t Be in It.

Saturday is the day of the local Race for the Cure.  Last year was my first year participating in this event, and I have to say, it was a good time.  When I did it last year, I was still mostly bald from chemo.  When I did it last year, it was the weekend before my mastectomy—in fact, I had the mastectomy date bumped out just so I could attend.  When I did it last year, I had only had two surgeries.  When I did it last year, I was another month away from beginning radiation. 

 

I didn’t participate in the survivor activities.  Didn’t go to the breakfast.  Skipped the survivor parade.  At the time, it just all felt really weird to me.  I was in the middle of my various treatments, and I didn’t feel like I’d survived much of anything yet.  Several of my survivor friends asked me, “Hey, where were you?” when they saw me after the parade, and I told them I’d just been hangin’ with the fam.  I was way more comfortable watching the parade than I’d had been walking in it.

 

Fast forward.

 

I’ve now done the radiation.  I’ve had three more surgeries.  I’ve been cut, and fried, and poisoned so much that people long ago got bored with my drama and stopped sending cards.  (Probably couldn’t afford to, what with the price of postage these days.)  My hair is long enough that if you didn’t know, you’d never know.  I suppose I’m probably an official survivor now, but I still don’t want to do the parade. 

 

This time last year, I thought maybe I’d feel differently the next time around.  I don’t.  I know that it’s supposed to be a celebration of survival, but to me, it still feels like “Woo hoo! I’ve got the cancer!”  You know, I’m not special because I’ve had to go through this crap.  I’m just me.  And I’ve gone through some crap.  That’s all.  And I don’t like the squirmy feeling I get inside when it seems that people are admiring me for simply living.  “Look at YOU!  We thought you were gonna die, and here you are breathing and everything!”

 

That’s not to say that I want to be all in the closet with my cancer experience or anything.  Obviously, that’s not the case.  If nothing else, I’d wear my pink shirt just because I think people need to see that there are a whole lot of young survivors.  (Isn’t it cute how I’ve somehow convinced myself that I’m still young?)  Maybe one of these days that will result in some better options for post-mastectomy garments.  The kind that say “Grrr!” instead of the kind that say “Grandma!” 

 

So, I’ll be at the Race, but I’ll pass on the survivor celebration.  I celebrate every day by living a normal life. 

 

p.s. Tomorrow is October 1, the official start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  (What?  Breast cancer?  Who ever heard of breast cancer?) Check in to see the first of my readers’ favorite pink ribbon products. 

Retro…or Just Plain Wrong?

Is 80’s hair back in style?  Not late 80’s ginormous hair.  I’m talking about late 70’s, early 80’s hair.  The kind that required a big comb be stationed in the back pocket of your Jordache jeans at all times.  I ask because my hair appears to be regressing, and I’m hoping that its new look will just happen to be coming back in vogue.  Otherwise, I’m going to look like I never left 1983, or at least never wanted to. 

 As we all know, I’ve been through more hairdos in the past year than most people have even had since 1983.  Yet, I’m doomed to look like an outdated dork unless my 7th grade hairstyle is suddenly somehow trendy again.  Sometimes, I think that bald wasn’t so bad after all.  At least when you’re bald, people usually grab the clue that you didn’t actually choose to be that way.  Even when your hair is first growing in, it’s pretty obvious that you just finished up chemo, so you really don’t feel like a dork. 

 However, once you get a few months down the road, it’s not so obvious anymore.  Makes you feel like you need to wear a sign at all times explaining that your head is a work in progress.  “Please excuse my light bulb hair—6 months ago I was bald.”  I’m way past the light bulb stage now, but my five inch long locks have their own set of issues.  They’re at the place where leaving them curly results in Richard Simmons hair.  Yet, trying to straighten them requires more patience than I would have even if I used my entire life’s allotment.  Besides, I’m a homeschool mom, remember?  I’m running on the half cup of patience I had to borrow from the next door neighbor as it is. 

 Lately, I’ve been trying to use a round brush the approximate diameter of a can of pork and beans to create a sort of in between look.  I’ve found that if I round brush it under while drying, what I end up with after some goop and manipulation is a sort of generic Everymom look.  That’s okay, I guess, but I recently decided to try round brushing it up instead.  In my mind’s eye, I was envisioning some kind of cool retro flip thing.  What I ended up with instead was my 7th grade hair, except instead of being parted in the middle it’s parted on the side. 

Maybe I should just own my 80’s hair, regardless of whether or not it’s actually back in style.  You know, I could just jump right into that whole look with both feet.  After all, it’s no big deal to starch my shirt collar up, right?  And, I’m sure I can find a pair of penny loafers somewhere.  If only I still had the purple parachute pants that went with that shirt—dang it!  Because, of course, I’d still fit into them, right?  I mean, my driver’s license says I still weigh 118 lbs, and that’s an official government document, so it MUST be right. 

Now, you might be concerned that I’d be an embarrassment to my family, but fear not.  Why, Hubster still has a pair of Eastlands.  He never has quite left the 80’s himself.  And just the other day I taught Mini Me how to peg her jeans.  We’re all set!  Look for us next time you’re out and about….we’ll be the ones drinking New Coke and driving a K car.

Anniversary

This past weekend, Hubster and I celebrated our anniversary.  Now the funny thing about this is that we almost missed it.  Indeed, we’d both forgotten about it when a card arrived in Saturday’s mail from Hubster’s aunt wishing us a happy anniversary.  When he told me we’d gotten an anniversary reminder in the mail I had to think, “What IS today’s date, anyway?  The 12th…oh hey, it’s tomorrow!”  Of course the next question was, “So, what are we going to do?” 

Over the years, Hubster and I have done a variety of things to celebrate our anniversary.  Some things were glamorous, or romantic, like going to a bed and breakfast or Symphony on the Prairie, and some things not so much.  Like, say, the year we spent our anniversary butchering chickens.  This year, we were blessed with a beautiful, sparkling day, so we decided that the first thing we’d do after church was take the canoe out and go fishing.  With Mini Me off to my friend Angie’s house for the night, it was just the two of us.  Now you may not think of fishing as a great anniversary activity, but to this canoe girl, being out on the water was like deep fried, chocolate covered heaven on a stick. 

Later, we got cleaned up and went into the Haute, planning to take in a movie.  We almost never actually go to the movies, primarily because it’s stinkin’ expensive and there usually isn’t anything we want to see bad enough to take out a second mortgage.  True to form, once we got in town we decided that there wasn’t really anything playing that was worth the investment.  So, we did something even better: went to Steak & Shake for dinner.  Mmmm….cheese fries.  After all, why go to a movie that’s over in a couple of hours, when I can add cheese fries to my thighs and keep them with me for years to come? 

Then, as we were tooling through town I said, “Hey, let’s go to Fairbanks Park.”  So we went and walked along the river, swung on the swings, and enjoyed the evening.  As I was swinging side-by-side with Hubster, I thought, “Gee, I hope we don’t break the swing set.”   Then I thought, “You know, this is one of the best anniversaries we’ve had.”

Now of course, part of that is because of the cheese fries, but it’s mostly because after all these years, I’m still madly in love with him. And after spending my summer vacation doing chemo last year, I’ve come to appreciate normal a whole lot more.  Sure, I still like the fancy anniversary-type stuff, but man, after last summer, I’m just so doggone glad I can actually TASTE the cheese fries!   

I am crazy blessed.

Artistic Freedom

When I read something written by someone I know, I “hear” it in their voice. So, I’m curious as to how everyone hears my blog posts. People often say that I write like I talk—so that makes me think that they must be reading it in my voice. But, I’ve also heard of some people printing out my posts and reading them aloud to someone else. If it’s someone I know, that is kind of disturbing to me because instead of hearing my voice, they’re hearing the voice of the person reading. The control freak/blog diva in me wants to scream, “Stop that! You’re ruining it!” (But of course, I’m way to humble to actually do that—at least, I wouldn’t do it to your face, anyway.)

Then there is the matter of the folks who’ve never actually heard my voice—how do I sound to them? Since they’ve never met me, it’s hard telling what voice they hear opining about dowdy camisoles and multiple tourniquets. Do they hear my posts in the voice of Pepe LePew? James Earl Jones? Roseanne Barr? Buckwheat?

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My eyebrows are dwindling. What’s up with that? Sure, there are a few new hairs starting to come in, but they’re more like 5 o’clock shadow than actual eyebrow hairs. In the meantime, I am down to literally 3 eyebrow hairs on the right side, and I have no doubt that I soon won’t have any. While this has given me the opportunity to develop some serious eyebrow sketching skills (anybody need a personal eyebrow artist?), it has previously been a matter of filling in where the brows were thin—not drawing them on altogether.

However, there is artistic freedom in this. With no actual hairs to define where the brows should go, I can draw whatever type of brows I’m in the mood for on a given day. In fact, I think I might even be able to adapt my brows to my mood. Feeling inquisitive? How about one eyebrow arched? Need to think logically? Try the Mr. Spock eyebrows, like the girl who works at the Brazil Walmart. Frustrated to the point of clobbering someone with a hanger? (Which is exactly how hot flashes make me feel) Select the Joan Crawford look. I might even try a unibrow just to see if anybody says anything.

The possibilities are endless! Who knew chemo side effects could be so much doggone fun?!

Hot Flash Rage

Wooooooo Hooooo! The genetic test results came back negative for both breast cancer genes. Praise God! That’s good news not only for me, but also for Mini Me, Garlic & Bagel. Aside from the obvious good news, I’m just thankful that I don’t have that hanging over my head anymore. One of the most stressful parts of this whole deal is all the waiting involved.*********************************

We met with Dr Schmidt yesterday and I got a date for my surgery: October 9th. They tried to give me October 2nd, but I had them push it out a week so I could do the Race for the Cure. Sometimes I think Dr Schmidt doesn’t quite know what to think of me. Keep in mind that the vast majority of his patients are at least old enough to be my mom, if not my grandma. Most of them aren’t asking questions like, “Hey, can I go to the Mellencamp concert a couple weeks after surgery?” Although he told me no firmly, but nicely, the expression on his face told me that what he really wanted to say was, “Are you smokin’ crack?! No, you can’t take your freshly stapled together self into a crowd of 7000+ people! Sheesh!”

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Remember how I said that I was on the verge of an episode of hot flash rage? Well, it almost happened in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. Because Dr Schmidt is The Man when it comes to breast cancer, he’s got about 652,000 patients, at least half of which can be found in the waiting room on a given Monday or Thursday. This means that you’re pretty much guaranteed a substantial wait—anyone who’s been there more than once ought to know this is the case. I don’t mind because A) he’s the best and B) I know that part of the reason the wait is long is that new patients who have not yet been diagnosed are worked into the schedule ASAP. It wasn’t so long ago that I was one of those, and I’m thankful I didn’t have to wait weeks to get in to see him.

So, when we walked into the waiting room and it was almost completely full, we knew we were going to be there for a while. The seats we chose were back to back with a couple of elderly ladies. For the next 40 minutes we heard a running commentary about how long they were having to wait. Oh, there were a few little asides thrown in there, but for the most part it was, “Well! Those people came in after we did…I can’t believe how long we’ve been sitting here…I think they’re messed up back there…blah, blah, gripe, gripe, blah, blah.” Both went up to gripe at the girl behind the desk and asked when they’d be called. It was all I could do not to turn around and say, “You know, I WISH that the length of my wait here, and the fact that I might miss seeing Alex Trebek tonight were the only things I had to worry about!” Grrr!

The waiting room was so much more peaceful once they did finally get called in.

 

The Land of 10 Thousand Tourniquets

 I had an appointment with Dr Birhiray (that’s pronounced Beer-Hurray! for those of you who are new here) today, and it was the perfect occasion to debut my new t-shirt. The shirt is my chemo completion present to myself. The nurses were all crackin’ up when they saw me. Dr. Birhiray liked it, too, and I even got him to pose for pictures. Everybody say, “Hi, Dr Birhiray!”

Dr B also gave me some samples of another med that’s supposed to help with the hot flashes and enable me to sleep better. Hopefully this one won’t make me feel like I’m taking hammer blows to the head. Of course, some of the potential side effects include sweating and insomnia…gee, that’s kind of counter-productive. Let’s hope it doesn’t do that. I can’t imagine sweating MORE and sleeping LESS than I am now. I really would be holding up the coffee shop at spud gunpoint.
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Not to be outdone, Hubster brought his newly mountain-bike-accident-sculptured face along to the doctor’s office. Oh, sure, steal my 15 minutes of oncology office fame, Honey! Monday Hubster and G went mountain biking (those of you who know Hubster know where this is going) and within the first ten minutes he’d managed to take his face for a stroll down a big chunk of concrete. So, he comes back all bloody and Dad has to patch him up—picture Mick patching up Rocky’s cut eye for the umpteeth time so he can go back out and fight Mr. T, and you’ll have a pretty good idea what this was like.
You’d think from the picture that I’d be freaking out, but ‘tis not so. You see, with my husband, blood and mountain biking go together like peanut butter and jelly. I just expect them to be together. My fear was that we’d end up at the emergency room on a holiday. There has to be some pretty severe trauma to motivate me to do that. Like, maybe if he’d come back with a bunch of pieces of his head piled up in his helmet, or with half an arm tucked into his back pocket, or a spoke sticking out of his eye, I’d have considered it. Thankfully, Dad’s patch job worked and the ER was not necessary.
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I had the MRI today. It was pretty uneventful. The most exciting thing about it was the lady who was supposed to set my IV tried to kill my hand. She put a tourniquet on the forearm, about 4 inches from my wrist. Tight. Like as tight as humanly possible. My hands were cold, so she went to get me a hot pack, leaving the tourniquet on while she did so. She was gone at least a minute.

My hand, at this point, was not the same color as the rest of me. Then she came back, and since she still couldn’t see a vein, she put *another* tourniquet on my arm, in between the first one and my wrist, explaining to me that this was a “new trick” they had for making this whole thing *easier*. (And you know I was thinking to myself, “Gee, Self, this is WAY easier than it normally is when it only takes about 20 seconds and my arm’s the right color.”) Now my hand is really feeling asleep and it’s definitely not the right color. She’s still looking at it and feeling for a vein. I’m thinking, “Make a decision, Lady, are you going to stick it or not?!” I’m also beginning to wonder if she’s A) a Manpower temp, B) on work release, C) the cleaning lady or D)she stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night. Finally, she decides to put another tourniquet on…no, I’m kidding…finally she decided to release the blood back to my digits. And, thankfully, she called another lady over to put my IV in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep Fried Love

I am SO over this whole hot flash thing. Sheesh! I think I woke up about every half hour last night sweating like a pig. Could I be any more gross? Then, this morning I had been out of the shower for about 10 minutes when I broke out into a sweat. (Whew! Putting on a shirt is some hard work, I tell ya.) Between the sleep deprivation and the general nastiness of it, I think this whole thing is making me crazy. And it’s definitely making me crabby. (After that description, you’re all wailing and gnashing your teeth because you don’t live with me, aren’t you?) I know you’re probably thinking, “But, Moody, you’re already crazy. After all, you are the person who lint rolled her head, and removed surgical marker from her body with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.” Yeah, but this isn’t *that* kind of crazy. This is the flip-out-and-have-an-episode-of-hot-flash-rage kind of crazy. Who’ll bail my out when I’m arrested for holding up Java Haute with the potato gun Hubster & Mini Me made for science last week? “Hand over the Iced Caramella with whipped cream or I’ll spud your eye out!”

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Last night we went up to the Little Italy Festival with the Kx6. Okay, only half of the Kx6, but you know half of their family is equal to all of a regular family. The purpose of this jaunt was to secure some rosettes. Mmmm. If love could be deep fried and dusted with powdered sugar, this is what it would taste like. Hubster, Mini Me and I scarfed down 2 dozen in a very short amount of time. What made our visit to Clinton even better was running into our old friend Chris. Chris and I share the same sophisticated sense of humor, much to the dismay of our long-suffering spouses. It’s no wonder that we haven’t all gotten together for a long time, as neither Hubster nor Mrs Chris really liked the movie Dumb and Dumber, and care even less for the live version that Chris and I create.

My 9 Practical Tips for Those Starting Chemo

1. If it’s long enough, donate your hair. I read all the suggestions about cutting your hair shorter before chemo starts so it won’t be as traumatic when you lose it and I say “Baloney!” It’s going to be traumatic to lose your hair, just realize that right off the bat. But, you can either wallow in that, or make some good come out of it. The organization Locks of Love makes high-tech wigs for kids who suffer from long-term or permanent hair loss. You think it’s traumatic for you to lose your hair temporarily? Try being a permanently bald 13-year old. Wait until about a week or so after your first treatment, put your hair in ponytails, cut those puppies off and donate them. Then shave your head (Trust me, after seeing yourself with the “Look, Mommy I cut Barbie’s hair” ‘do, bald will look great) and wear the head covering of your choosing—or not.

2. Dress as you normally would, or maybe a little nicer when you go for treatment. Why? Because this fight is as much mental and emotional and it is physical. Cancer does tend to hijack your life, but you don’t have to let it steal who you are. If you dress like you’re sick, then you’re more likely to feel like you’re sick. Besides, when you dress nice, you’ll get compliments—and THAT will make you feel better.
3. If you wear make-up (or maybe even if you don’t) get yourself some Bare Escentuals Bare Minerals make-up. My mom got some of this stuff for me and it’s great for getting that natural look. The powdered foundation easily blends into your bare scalp without making you look like you’re wearing a mask. Who wants to look like Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie? Good stuff.

4. Drink as much water as you can stand—especially the day before, and the day of treatment. Not only will it help flush the poison out of your system, but it’ll make nice, juicy veins for easier sticking.

5. If you’re at chemo during lunchtime, don’t get anything to eat that you really like. Seriously. The first couple of times, I didn’t realize this would be a problem and I got stuff I really enjoyed. By the middle of my treatment, I couldn’t even stand the thought of those things. It wasn’t because I puked them—I never did get sick like that—it was simply the association between that food and the chemo drugs making me feel yucky a few days later. Really. I still don’t want that formerly yummy pizza from Bravo because the mere thought turns my stomach.

6. Get a lint roller—for your head. When your shaved off nubs start falling out, they will most likely hurt. A lint roller helps remove them so you don’t have to feel their pain anymore. I was all OCD with my lint roller for a while because I was tired of painful nubs and also tired of my patchy-looking head. I actually blew through the entire roll of sticky paper just rolling my head.

7. Keep plenty of lotion on hand and apply frequently. Your skin tends to get dry during chemo. This goes for the scalp, too. In fact, I use Skin-So-Soft bath oil on my scalp every day in the shower. Now you all know how I keep it so shiny.

8. Eat small amounts frequently. I didn’t lose weight on chemo because I kept eating even when I didn’t feel like it. When you feel queasy, you probably need to eat something. If you don’t eat, you’ll feel more nauseous and more fatigued, which will only serve to wear you down mentally. Keep things like yogurt, granola bars, and bananas on hand and eat a little every hour or two.

9. When you feel good, get out and make the most of it.

 

 

Say What?

Some cancer survivors use the phrase “cancer sucks”. I don’t. I just don’t care for the phrase: [insert random thing I hate here] sucks. First of all, I just find it kind of crass. It begs the question: Sucks what? Uh-huh. We all know what. Second, it’s just not a terribly clever thing to say. It reminds me of some sullen teenage boy complaining about having homework, or being grounded, or finding out his favorite band is breaking up: That sucks! “Gee, Biff, that was mighty profound, and craftily worded—did you have to use a thesaurus to come up with such an eloquent turn of phrase?” Thirdly, it just sounds so daggone bitter. While I realize that some people like to wallow in their bitterness, I try really hard not to be bitter. Not only is bitter not healthy, most importantly, bitter’s not FUNNY. Have you ever met a bitter person and come away thinking, “I really had a good time hanging out with Mrs Bitterbuns—her bitterness is both refreshing and uplifting.” No. You’re more likely to have thought, “Man! I thought I’d NEVER get away from Old Bitterbuns—she totally saps my will to live!”

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I’m 36, but the skin on my face has never progressed past the age of 15. When I was 15, I thought that one day my face would no longer break out—maybe when I was 20. And to that my skin has said, “Ha!” But, the one good thing about chemo is that it has cleared up my skin. That’s a blessing because, good grief, like I need to be bald AND have a bad complexion! When you have no hair, all your facial features become more prominent—whether they be the permanent kind, like your eyes, or the kind that erupt over night. Unfortunately, here I am about 2-1/2 weeks out of chemo and my face is apparently feeling like its old self because it’s breaking out left and right. I’m thinking, “Hey! This isn’t cool, I’m still bald!” While I’m not having a Brady Bunchesque pimple-before-the-prom type crisis, neither am I terribly happy about it. Why does that have to be the first thing that gets back to normal? Why couldn’t it be my body’s ability to regulate its temperature, or my taste bud function? Why can’t my face put its energy into rebuilding my eyebrows & eyelashes faster so I don’t have to keep trying to Jedi Mind-Trick everyone into thinking I still have a full set?

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If I hear the question “do you feel up to it?’ one more time, I’m going to poke myself in the eye with a spork. The answer is “Yes, I feel up to anything—except being asked for the millionth time if I feel up to it.” I appreciate the concern, but can we please from now on just ask regular old questions without prefacing them with “do you feel up to…”? Other than needing extra sleep, I’m feeling great. You won’t offend me by asking me to do something normal. In fact, I’m a big fan of normal these days. And if for some reason I don’t “feel up to” doing whatever it is, I’ll tell you so.

I say this not to make anyone feel badly, but because I know that folks don’t always know what to say and do. Sometimes I think it’s more important to know what *not* to say than it is to know what to say. For example, it’s in poor taste when upon meeting someone with cancer you spout, “Oh! My Aunt DIED of cancer.” (Yes, that really was said to me—fortunately I have thick skin and think myself immortal.) You don’t need to say anything special—just be normal. If there’s one thing we cancer patients crave because we lack, it’s normalcy. Sometimes we also crave nacho cheese.