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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You Say “Cancer”, I Say “La-La-La I Can’t Hear You”

We’re closing in on the second pinkest month of the year: February.  Yes, thanks to Valentine’s Day, next month will be saturated in pink and red, although thankfully, not pink ribbons.  However, if you just can’t resist the urge to add a little cancer reminder to your Valentine’s Day, I’ve got a splendid gift idea for you. 

I present for your consideration, The Pink Ribbon Snuggie.

I ask you, could there be a sexier Valentine’s Day gift?

And trendy, too, right?  I mean, everyone’s wearing a Snuggie these days.

Of course, your recipient may not have as much hair as our Snuggie model does.  In fact, she may be nearly bald, in which case may I suggest the addition of this little beauty?

A lint roller, you may recall, was a very handy tool indeed for removing the painful little dead nubbins from my nearly bald noggin.  How appropriate, then, that it come in pink ribbon flavor.

February is also the anniversary of my diagnosis, which was 3 years ago.  To look at me you’d never know, unless you know.   And therein lies the problem, because some people who know seem to have forgotten everything else they know about me.  The Cancer, it seems, has overshadowed any previous identity I had.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, that is one of the most difficult things about having the daggone cancer!  Seriously.  Being bald was a pain, but it only lasted a few months.  How many years will it take for people to stop associating me with The Cancer

Just yesterday, I ran into someone, who has seen me, repeatedly, over the past 3 years.    So she knows that I’ve been leading a normal life.  After about 3 minutes of small talk, the party in question lowers her voice into that hushed, concerned tone that people always use when they ask, “So, how is your cancer doing?  Is it still in remission?”  I tried (in vain, I’m sure) to hide my irritation, as I assured her that I’m just jim dandy fine.  “Well, I hadn’t heard anything, so I just wondered,” she said.  “That’s because there isnt anything to tell,” I replied, again, trying to hide my irritation.  Mini Me, who happened to be standing right there, just turned away to chuckle to herself.

First of all, let me just state for the record that I HATE it when people say “your cancer” like it’s a pet or a family member.  How’s your grandma?  How’s your kid?  How’s your cancer?  See what I mean?  Second of all, do I ask you about your medical issues?  “So, Opal, do you still have those hemorrhoids?  I hadn’t heard anything, so I just wondered.  You know, it’s funny, just the other day I was thinking of you, but I couldn’t remember your name, all I could remember was that you had hemorrhoids.”  And thirdly, I’ve moved on and you should, too.  For crying out loud!  Really, you know what?  I don’t even think about The Cancer at all until you ASK.  Next time, let’s just have normal conversation, okay?

So, my dear readers, how do you think I should handle these folks?  Respond, as Hubster suggested, with a vague and mysterious, “I don’t want to talk about it”?  Put my fingers in my hears and sing, “La-la-la I can’t hear you?” Or is there a better option that I’m not thinking of?

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.

Come on Barbie, Let’s go Party…

After my last post, reader Lizz suggested that perhaps the talking object featured at the wisdom circle could be a Cancer Journey Barbie or Ken.  Well, Lizz, you’ll be happy to note that Mattel is right there on the cutting edge of wisdom circle accessories with Pink Ribbon Barbie.  

pink-ribbon-barbie

(I can’t believe no one submitted this back in October!)

 The description for our plastic pink ribbon pal reads as follows:

 “For more than 20 years, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation has been leading the fight against breast cancer and now Barbie doll contributes to the cause. Wearing a pink gown with a signature pink ribbon pinned to her shoulder, Pink Ribbon Barbie doll is both a tool to help those affected with breast cancer talk to girls, and a way to support the cause!”

  See, Lizz, it even says right there that our friend Barbie is a TOOL to help those affected with breast cancer talk to girls.  Because, you know we’ve got all this pent up wisdom that just can’t get out without Barbie’s help. 

 However, I’m not quite sure that think Barbie should be all fancy like she is.  I think that sends the wrong message.  I mean, there they go making cancer look glamorous again.  Next thing you know girls will be trying to get The Cancer so they can look as cool as ol’ Pink Ribbon Barbie. 

 So, I’d like to suggest a more realistic Pink Ribbon Barbie.  Remember when you were little and you cut Barbie’s hair?  Well, that’s exactly what my hair looked like the day I had Hubster cut it off for Locks of Love, before we actually shaved it.  I think that’s the hair Pink Ribbon Barbie needs—not some Texas pageant hair like she’s got going on now.  And what’s with having two boobs?  Oh sure, they do kind of look like she’s got expanders, but if we’re trying to educate the youngsters, I think they need to know that sometimes The Cancer makes you have to have a boob lopped off.  Of course, we won’t let Barbie walk around lopsided, though.  She’ll need to have her own little foob and mastectomy bra. 

 Then there are the accessories.  Forget the Barbie Townhouse and the RV, Pink Ribbon Barbie needs the Barbie Breast MRI & Manicure Machine and the Barbie Radiation Station.  She’ll have a little tube of goop to put on her burnt chest and everything.  It’ll be great.  And don’t forget that Pink Ribbon Barbie mustn’t have any eyebrows, so she’ll have to come with a little pencil for drawing those on.  And of course, she’ll need an assortment of do rags and hats.  And a wig that looks just like B-52s hair—sold separately.

 I’m sure I’m missing something.  What else does The New Pink Ribbon Barbie need?

Hair I Am…18 Months Later.

me011409

Today is exactly 18 months from my last chemotherapy treatment.  I thought that there might be some folks out there who wonder what 18 months worth of post-chemo hair growth looks like, so I snapped a picture.  That’s my “I have HAIR!” face.  I’ve also had, if I remember correctly, 5 haircuts, not including the few times that I shaved my head post chemo to get rid of that chemo clear fuzz.  Yes, my hair IS naturally curly, and yes, it was that way before chemo.

 Also, check out the noob.  What, you can’t tell which one it is?  Mission accomplished.  And speaking of the noob, while I am still not allowed to really exercise, the noob has it’s own regimen prescribed by Dr Grasee.  No, the noob isn’t on the elliptical or taking a zumba class.  Instead, I have to push it around twice a day.  As Dr G put it, I’m supposed to shove it “north, south, east and west.”  Sometimes I even sing it song while it works out, like maybe a little Matchbox 20 or Salt N Pepa. You know I’ve got a whole medley worked out of push themed tunes. 

 I’m sure you’re wondering why I have to exercise the noob.  Well, all expander/implant reconstructions have a risk of capsular contracture.  The body forms a capsule around the implant, just as it would with any foreign object, and that’s fine.  But sometimes, these capsules decide to turn to a life of crime.  And so they contract, and become hard and painful.  When that happens, the implant has to come out, and we start over from scratch.  Since I had radiation, I’m at increased risk for this.  Like, there’s a 50% chance this thing might go bad on me.  So, I have to exercise my noob twice a day as opposed to the standard once a day. 

 Mini Me finds the idea of noob exercises disturbing to say the least.  But then again, Mini Me is disturbed by a lot of this, especially my willingness to show the new construction off to my girlfriends.  At church a couple of weeks ago, Angie wanted to see the newpple.  So, I say come on into the bathroom and I’ll show you.  Mini Me started to follow me, because she hadn’t heard what I was actually doing.  Unfortunately, Hubster gave her a heads-up.  I think it would have been way funnier if she’d have come bopping into the restroom and then actually asked why Ang and I were in the handicapped stall together.

 Last but not least, check out my cool-beyond-words necklace, sent to me by Shirley in South Africa.  Is that not awesome?  I have the coolest readers.

Moody’s Helpful Hints for Holiday Happiness

It used to be that far and away my most popular post was My 9 Practical Tips for Those Starting Chemo.  While that has remained a popular entry, it has recently been surpassed by my About page.  For a long time, I’d get a few hits here and there on the old About page, but nothing major. 

 So what happened?  Well, it appears to have spiked with my Pink Ribbon Overload series.  One day, it dawned on me: people are checking my cancer cred.  You know, they read my snarky posts about all the pink ribbon gear and they’re ready to tell me what an insensitive clod I am.  So, thinking to themselves, “Who is this jerk, anyway?” they naturally make a beeline to the About page.  There they find out that yes, I am indeed a full fledged member of the BC crew.  They’re still not sure if it’s cool for me to make fun of the stuff, but the only thing more taboo than that would be for them to hate on me.  Ah, I loves me some cancer amnesty. 

 Monday, while I was sitting outside the boutique, I observed a woman buying about one of everything in pink.  I gathered from the conversation she was having with the clerk—yeah, I was eavesdropping—that she was buying these items as Christmas gifts.  Yikes.  I considered sashaying into the boutique and offering my sage advice, but chickened out.  Later, Hubster suggested that maybe I needed to offer my gift giving advice here.  Apparently, my subtle hints in the form of an entire series of posts on ridiculous pink ribbon stuff wasn’t quite enough.  And so, with the belt of humor cinched snugly around my waist, and the shield of cancer amnesty grasped firmly in hand, I present to you…

Moody’s Helpful Hints for Holiday Happiness

 Unless you are absolutely sure that Eunice has completely traded in her identity, and now prefers to be known not as Eunice, but as an unpronounceable symbol shaped curiously like a pink ribbon, do NOT assume that she wants a pink Christmas.  Put the powder pink pajamas down and slowly back away.  Eunice likes to sleep in the nude anyway. 

 Maybe Eunice collects teddy bears, and so giving her one would be normal.  But, if that’s not the case, then forget the pink ribbon teddy bear.  Eunice is a grown woman.  What is she supposed to do with a teddy bear?  And don’t say “Take it to chemo.”  You want to get Eunice something handy to take to chemo?  How about an iPod?  Or better yet, a gas card so she can get there and back without taking out second mortgage.

 Perhaps you’re shopping in the bookstore, and you spy a copy of Chicken Soup for the Departing Soul on Her Deathbed—Breast Cancer Edition.  “Why, I bet Eunice would LOVE to curl up with this on a cold winter’s night!” you think.  Stop.  What kind of books does Eunice normally read?  Dean Koontz, you say?   Then why not get her the newest Koontz book?  Seriously.

 Now it could be that Eunice loves the pink ribbon stuff—your clue would be if she buys it for herself.  If she’s all about the pink ribbon purse and the Save the Ta-tas hoodie, then doggone it, you go ahead and buy her that five pound, gem encrusted pink ribbon pendant.  She’ll love it.

 But otherwise, use a little common sense.  Don’t get all wrapped up in the emotion of this thing.  I know loved ones often feel like they want to DO something, because they can’t really DO anything about the cancer.  But, folks, it’s not about you, okay?  Eunice has had her life, for the most part, hijacked by cancer.  There are a lot of things that she can’t control right now, and so she’s most likely cherishing whatever normalcy she can manage to scrounge up. 

 So, the best gift that you can give her is to treat her as you normally would.  Have normal conversations.  Not every conversation has to include cancer.  In fact, Eunice would probably prefer that none of them did.  That way she might occasionally, in spite of being completely bald, forget about the whole ordeal for a minute.  Go normal places.  Don’t make assumptions about what Eunice “feels up to” doing.  Just ask her if she wants to do it—in a normal way—not prefaced by “if you feel up to it”.  Trust me, Eunice will tell you if she doesn’t want to go.  And give her normal gifts.  If Eunice likes coffee, then why not get her a Starbucks gift card?  Sure, her taste buds might be jacked up right now, but they’ll get better.  And when they do, she’ll savor that latte even more.  Or, if you want to feel like you’re doing something to help take care of Eunice, how about a gift certificate for a pedicure?  Eunice may not have eyebrows, but doggone it, she’s still got her toenails.

May you and your Eunice have a very Merry Christmas.