Seriously???

Got this letter in the mail while I was in the hospital for the Big Dig, aka reconstruction. I don’t even know what to say.

And that doesn’t happen very often.

As you lovely readers know, I usually have a lot to say, about a variety of topics, and one of my favorite things about blogging is being able to blab away about whatever tickles my fancy at the moment. Sometimes silly, sometimes ticked off royally, sometimes serious, but rarely speechless.

When I saw yet another envelope from the Methodist Hospital, I didn’t think much about it because I get a lot of mail from that fine place. Between the bilateral mastectomy and the post-mastectomy infection, I’ve spent a lot of time at Methodist, both in Sugar Land and at the Medical Center. Getting mail from Methodist is nothing unusual. (If you click on the Sugar Land link above, you’ll see a pic of several doctors on the Methodist SL home page. The dark-headed one on the far right is my oncologist, Doogie Howser. Yes, he is that young, and yes he is that cute in real life.)

But this letter is definitely unusual.

Now I’m not dogging Methodist. I’ve had most excellent care there on all of my visits, and I don’t for one second take for granted the supreme luxury of having such esteemed medical care right around the corner (Sugar Land) and a short hop down the toll road (Med Center). I know that people come from far and wide to seek care at the places that are easy drives for me. So let’s be clear that I’m not dogging Methodist.

One of my favorite things about Methodist SL is this:

Love that. Hell yes, I should get special parking, right up front, at the breast center. Even though until just a few days ago I had no breasts, I still liked the special treatment that Methodist SL affords its breast care patients. Wish the grocery stores and Target would follow suit.

But back to the letter.

I know, I know it’s a terrible picture. The iPhone camera stinks, but it’s convenient, and let’s remember, people, that I am 5 days post-op here, with 6 JP drains sprouting from my body, and today was my first day without any pain pills, so keep your comments about the shoddy photography to yourself. This is not a photography blog, after all. I probably shouldn’t even be typing yet, but I’m dedicated to bringing severe belly laughs to you, my lovely readers, so you’re welcome. 

Since it’s such a shoddy photograph, let me reiterate the juicy parts: The Methodist Sugar Land Hospital Breast Center’s records indicate that based on my US mammo f/U uni performed on March 22, 2010, it is time to schedule a routine screening mammogram.

Oh, you mean the mammogram last March that set off the chain of events, preceded by my annual well-woman exam, that led to me being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40? That mammogram?

The letter goes on to tell me that I need to be aware that many breast cancers do not produce symptoms. That “early detection requires a combination of monthly breast self-exams, yearly physical exams, and periodic mammography according to your age and physician’s recommendations.”

And that I should contact Methodist Sugar Land Hospital Breast Center at 1-800-HOW-STUPID-IS-THIS to make an appointment, and they thank me for my cooperation.

Wow.

The irony is stifling.

On one hand, it’s nice that the MSLHBC is so on top of things as to remind its patients that it’s time to come in for the good old smoosh & squeeze. Lots of women need reminders, and the hospital certainly should not be tasked with knowing I don’t happen to be one of those women.

On the other hand, it’s pretty hilarious and utterly ridiculous. And scary, too; don’t forget scary: the idea of anyone touching my newly sculpted chest, much less putting it through the greatest flat iron ever, makes me very, very afraid.

Thank you, Methodist, for the reminder. I will get right on it.


It’s not about the chest, stupid

Ugh, yet another reminder that my brain is filled to the brim with cancer ca-ca. I mentioned a few examples of the ca-ca recently, and here I am once again, consumed with it. The latest: while browsing on etsy, I came across a “store” called ETC Chest. My first thought was, hmmm, wonder what kind of breast cancer stuff they have in that “store.” Guess what kind of breast cancer stuff they have? NONE.

ETC Chest stands for “Embroidered Treasures and Crafts” Chests. It has nothing, nada, zilch to do with the human chest, flat or reconstructed.

Well, duh.

Reminds me of my second-favorite Far Side cartoon:

And because you’re probably curious, my all-time favorite Far Side cartoon is:

Thank you, Gary Larson.

This little exercise in idiocracy (I think I just made that word up; I like it. No, wait there was a movie by that title. Never mind.) reminds me of how pervasive the cancer fatigue can be. Lots has been written about how a cancer diagnosis wrecks your life, and even when the cancer is vanquished and you end up with the best-case outcome, it’s always there. The fear, the weariness, the unseen scars.

My blog friend Lauren writes an incredibly eloquent blog called After Five Years. I highly recommend you check it out if you’re curious about what it’s like to live with cancer. She recently wrote a post about going back for a mammogram and it so perfectly captured the fear, the anxiety, the all-around shittiness of living with cancer. I held my breath throughout the entire post, then was gasping and sputtering and although it was only 9:30 a.m., felt like I needed a nap.

Lauren is a lot farther along in the “cancer journey” than I am, and in fact I can’t even comprehend getting a mammogram right now. Of course, having no breasts, it would be a physical impossibility, but still. I’m not yet to the point of having the routine scans that every cancer survivor endures at regular intervals. The stress and anxiety of knowing that there’s a (hopfully) comprehensive sweep through your body to sniff out errant cells is all-encompassing. I can imagine people all over the world watching the calendar, knowing that an appointment is upcoming. The anxiety of waiting for the appointment time to approach is nothing compared to the feelings that course through one’s body during the actual scans (or blood tests, as the case may be), and even that is a drop in the bucket compared to the sheer terror of waiting for the results. Talk about PTSD. It’s a wonder each and every cancer survivor isn’t a raging alcoholic. Or seriously addicted to Twizzlers. I can see myself going down either path, maybe both. And I’m just getting started on this “cancer journey.”

Life goes on for survivors. That’s a beautiful thing, and it becomes all the more precious when a serious illness rudely interrupts your life. But it’s not easy. Cancer is a sneaky beast. It invades your body, and even when it’s caught early, small, and contained, it has a unique ability to rattle your cage, big time.


Is there a Hallmark card for that?

I ran into my OB-GYN yesterday. That’s always kind of weird. Remember when you were a kid, and you would see one of your teachers outside of school? Not in a Mary Kay Letourneau kind of way–that’s creepy–but maybe bump into them at a restaurant or the grocery store. It always struck me as strange to see them out & about in the real world, because they were so confined in my mind to the classroom.

It’s sort of the same thing running into one’s doctor out & about in the real world.

So there we were, playing tennis on a Sunday morning, and through the fence of the court I saw my OB-GYN walking toward the gym. I’ve seen her at the club before, sweating away on the step mill or the recumbent bike. We’ve exchanged pleasantries and then I’ve gone my way and left her to her workout.

But I haven’t seen her since she found the lump in my right breast in March that turned out to be malignant and led to me having a mastectomy and getting an infection and going through some crazy stuff on this “cancer journey” and changing my status from regular person to survivor. It was kind of important to me to say something to her.

But what to say?

What’s the right thing to say to the person who essentially introduces you to your cancer? Is there a Hallmark card for that? I’m guessing not.

After she wrote my orders for the mammogram in March, the scenario could have had 2 different outcomes: either the mammo comes back clear and she sees me at next year’s well-woman exam; or the mammo comes back scary and she refers me to a specialist.

I’ve had a mammo every year for the last 5 years, a bit ahead of the recommended guidelines. Not because I like tests or crave extra attention, but because my mom died of a reproductive cancer, so my OB-GYN, who is married to an MD Anderson oncologist, has always been  especially pro-active with me. To me, that’s a sign of a competent person: I didn’t have to say, hey since my mom died of uterine cancer, what extra steps do I need to take to ensure my health? I never had to ask because she was on top of it. 

Thank goodness she was.

When my mammo came back scary, she called and told me and referred me to Dr Dempsey for a biopsy. I love her for that, because Dr Dempsey was the exact-right, totally perfect surgeon for me.

From there, Dr Dempsey referred me to Dr S for plastics and Dr Darcourt for oncology, and my OB-GYN was out of the loop. She called me a couple of times after she got the pathology report from the biopsy to check on me and see if there was anything I needed, but I was knee-deep in researching this beast, having tests run, scheduling all my appointments and keeping my regular life going that I never called her back. Then the infection took hold, post-surgery, and my life was topsy-turvy, to say the least.

I did sit down after all the brouhaha to write her a note to say thank you for finding the lump and saving my life.  That’s just the way my mama raised me, to write a thank you note to someone who had extended you a kindness or given you a gift. I especially like the gift part, but the kindness part is good too. 

This one was a strange note to write, though, and I found myself at a loss for words. That doesn’t happen to me very often.  I don’t remember what I wrote but probably scratched out something along the lines of “thank you for finding the lump that saved my life.” Whatever the words were, they were a feeble attempt to convey a mountain of gratitude and I sure wish I had had just the right words to let her know that she really and truly has made a difference in my life. 

So when I saw her from the tennis court yesterday, I didn’t even think about it, I just hollered her name and ran toward her. We were right in the middle of  a game and not at a good stopping point, but this was important, so I didn’t care, and neither did my tennis friends.

She asked how I was and I told her the truth: I’m good.

I’m good.

There wasn’t much to say after that; we had covered the important stuff.

She said she was really glad to see me, and to see me playing tennis especially. I said, me too. I thought I would want to say so much more, but we really had covered the important stuff.


10 tips

So I’m getting groceries, minding my own business and trying to get on with my so-called normal life (as normal as life can be after breast cancer but before reconstruction), and I see a pamphlet titled “10 Tips for Getting a Mammogram.” This ought to be good.

Tip #1: “Yearly mammograms are recommended starting at age 40 and should be done every year for as long as a woman in in good health.” And if you’re not in good health? More often? Less often? That kind of construction bugs me.

Tip #5: “Try not to schedule a mammogram when your breasts are likely to be tender, as they may be just before or during your period. This will help lessen the discomfort.” Really? They think that’s going to help? I say try to schedule a mammogram after slamming 3 grande margaritas to help lessen the discomfort. But then I remember that I have neither breasts nor periods anymore, so I guess I can go straight to the margaritas.

Tip #8: “Only you and the technologist who positions your breasts will be present for the mammogram. Most technologists are women.” Most technologists are women? Now I’m really curious about the ones who are men. What percentage? Do women complain about having a male do their mammo? Is there a support group for male mammo techs? Are they cute?

Tip #9: “The entire procedure should take about 20 minutes. Your breasts will be compressed between 2 plastic plates. The compression may be painful, but should only last a few seconds.” I could make a smarty-pants comment about how long the pain of a mastectomy lasts but I’m not even going to go there. I will tell you it’s more than a few seconds.


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