Yesterday was the first day since my surgery–exactly one week ago–that I didn’t have a fever for most of the day. I wasn’t exactly fever-free, as my temp peaked at bedtime, but that’s the best it’s been for one very long week, so I’m claiming it. After coming this close to needing IV antibiotics — again — I’m beyond thrilled to have been (mostly) fever-free yesterday. I’m guessing that the docs in my life would laugh a little, shake their heads, and maybe massage their temples a bit at me claiming yesterday as fever-free. I’m guessing my friends in the white coats would consider my being almost fever-free akin to being a little bit pregnant–it’s an all-or-nothing condition. That’s fine. They can chuckle and shake their heads at me, I’m still claiming it as a victory.
See, fever can indicate infection, and after my surgery last week, the fear of recurrent or new infection abounded. That fear was thick in the OR and it was pervasive in the days after surgery as we waited to see what would happen. It’s still lingering, in the back of my mind and on the fringes of my daily activities. I’m not a big fan of that loss of control. We did increase my course of oral antibiotics — both in duration of course and milligrams per dose. The usual suspects in the roster of awful side effects are back, but that tells me the abx are working. If there was a niggling infection trying to re-establish itself, the mounds of abx I’ve been taking for the last 7 days have contained it. I’m almost afraid to say this out loud, but I think I’m out of the woods.
Can it be? Like the joyous girl in the gorgeous Maria Pace-Wynters art, coincidentally titled “Out of the Woods,” I want to smile big and enjoy the view of the woods from the other side. I want to feel the relief that washes over me as I realize that the 6-day fever has broken, the pain & redness & swelling in the original infection site have abated, and I may be able to breathe easily now.
My infection-induced PTSD makes me wonder if I really can believe that the tide is turning, that I may be out of the woods. It’s been a long, long haul. A super-long haul. Reflecting back on the havoc that the post-mastectomy infection has wrought makes me very uncomfortable. I’m not yet in that happy place, and the calamity is not far enough in the rear-view mirror yet. Instead of feeling enormous pride, accomplishment, gratitude and general kick-ass-itude that it’s over, I’m gun-shy and untrusting.
This time last year, I was fresh out of the hospital, having just served day 27 of intermittent, back & forth hospital stays and at-home IV antibiotics. The last hospital stay to treat the infection was at Methodist in the Med Center, so I’d served time in 3 different hospitals–Memorial Hermann Southwest, Methodist Sugar Land, and Methodist Med Center–which allowed me to sample Houston’s best. I recall the direct-admit to the Med Center for the last stay, late on a Sunday night just before school started. Sweet Dr S had handled the details for me so I had a “fast pass” to get admitted quick, which allowed me to circumvent the circus that is a Med Center ER on a weekend night. Dr S and I were texting back & forth during the speedier-yet-still-complicated process so he would know that I was in the room before he had to get up and leave his family to come see me and get all of our ducks in a row.
I remember being furious about having to go back into the hospital. At that point last year, I’d been on antibiotics all summer, oral and IV, in every imaginable combination. Biaxin. Cipro. Minocycline. Zyvox. Vancomycin. Cefapim. Doxcycline. Bactrim.Vancanese. Levaquin. We were on the cusp of finding the magic bullets that would target the slow-growing and slow-to-kill infection (Bactrim & Minocycline), but it would take time to decimate the wily bacteria, so the infection still had the upper hand. As I settled into my room after navigating the maze that is Methodist Med Center, I was completely and utterly pissed at the ugly-ass artwork in my room. The shoddy impressionist landscape was hideous, the colors were barf-inducing, and the mere site of it reminded me that I was once again a prisoner — of my failing body and of yet another hospital. I couldn’t avoid that uproariously unpleasing “artwork” because it was in my face and I had nowhere to go to avoid it. That framed print became a symbol, a poster-child if you will, for all that had gone wrong last summer, and I was stuck staring at it. If I hadn’t been so ticked and so upset, I would have taken a picture of that “artwork,” and one day it will make me laugh instead of making me want to punch someone. But not yet.
Here’s what I wrote upon settling into that room; note the frustration surrounding the words that described the room but actually meant a whole lot more:
So I got through the masses in the ER pretty quickly and got into my room and thought, yuck, this place is a dump compared to my lovely one-bedroom suite at Methodist Sugar Land. Call me a snob, but I like those hardwood floors and new, unchipped paint. I don’t really need the laminated sign on the wall here reminding me not to leave my dentures on my lunch tray. The view out my dirty window is of a wall, with patient rooms too far away to spy into [one of my pastimes at Methodist Sugar Land]. The chair I’m sitting in to type this is vinyl, and there is a lovely faux-cherry-wood desk with ornate colonial drawer pulls. I could sit there, but the desk chair is super scratched with dingy upholstery on the seat cover. And don’t even get me started on the artwork on the wall across from the 20-year-old bed covered in ultra-scratchy sheets. No wonder people get sick in hospitals. It’s from the decor as much as the bacteria.
I was one unhappy girl.
I was coming to terms with the fact that the infection superseded the cancer in every way. For a while, that was a good thing — being so focused on the infection kept me from thinking about the fact that I was a 41-year-old mother of 2 young kids battling cancer. The cancer was easy compared to the infection. While a cancer diagnosis is one of the scariest things ever, the treatment for and eradication of that cancer was, for me, much more logical and linear than the infection. The cancer left me flat-chested, but once the tumors were removed and the lymph nodes declared clear, it was done. My game plan was defined: a 5-year course of Tamoxifen for adjuvant therapy along with hormone suppression to snuff the cancer’s fuel. The cancer battle was over and the treatment had begun, but the infection war hadn’t even revved up yet. Little did I know that more than a year later, I’d still be fighting that war, and that sometimes the infection would gain ground and force me to retreat.
The infection left me with a hole in my newly flat chest — literally. The excised tissue created a wound that measured 5.6 cm long and 3 cm wide. Grab yourself a ruler and feast your eyes on those dimensions. That bad boy took 8 weeks to heal, almost double the healing time required by my bilateral mastectomy. I’d faced my diagnosis, done my research, made the hard decisions, endured the systematic removal of both breasts, and was still standing. The infection, however, was a whole ‘nother ball game. There was no logic and nothing was linear — it was a guessing game. Educated guesses by a crack team of infectious disease docs, but a guessing game nonetheless. Will this combo of antibiotics work? How long will I need to stay on them? How will we know if they’re working? What are the side-effects of long-term abx therapy? Will I ever get my normal life back? The questions were many, the answers were few. I wrote this after one particularly frustrating day in the infection war:
All this talk you hear about being a pro-active patient, being your own advocate, researching and digging up as much info as you can and thinking for yourself — forget it. Today is one of those days that makes me wish I was a sheep. I just want to follow along and do what I was told. Except I can’t. It’s not how I’m made. So I continue to ask questions and solicit advice, all the while feeling like I don’t have all the puzzle pieces. Sometimes there are a few pieces missing, or you have to wait a while for them to fall into place. You can’t force it, although I want to. I am impatient and a forcer. An impatient forcer.
And I’m still waiting for the pieces to fall into place.
That’s about all I have to say.
Recovery is tough, and it’s not one of my favorite things. It’s nowhere to be found on the list of my favorite things. I’m a terrible patient — impatient, restless, and intolerant of my dependent state. However, I’m quite the pro at the recovery process now, after multiple surgeries, and don’t fight it as much as I did in the beginning. I’m not going to win patient of the year award in this lifetime, but I’m not gnashing my teeth over the process this time around. Baby steps.
In addition to the regular wear-n-tear on the old body that is anesthesia and surgery in general, I’m healing from a couple of very specific “injuries” from the procedure. Disclaimer: this picture is pretty gross, so if you have a weak stomach or get sicked out easily, scroll down now.
That’s the bruise on the back of my leg as of Friday, two days post-surgery. I’ve got a matching one on the back of my other leg, but didn’t want to post two pics of such a gross site. The bruising has actually migrated downward in the last few days and is now approaching the back of my knees, so it’s even bigger than what’s shown above. Rather than incite a public riot (and because I feel like hell), I’m staying home and not subjecting anyone to seeing this as they’re out & about taking care of their business. It is triple-digit hot, though, so I’m wearing shorts. Yesterday the high in Houston was 107, that’s right 107, which is mighty hot even by Gulf Coast standards at the end of August. The bruising is still tender enough that even having clothes resting against my skin is painful, but I’d scare myself if I went sans clothes, so I’m sucking it up. I am utterly amazed that people put themselves through the lipo process willingly and simply in pursuit of vanity. Not judging just saying “wow.”
The little red spot in the photo is the site of a couple of stitches, and they itch and pull a bit as they heal. There are 8 or so spots on my legs and chest; I haven’t counted all of them because frankly I haven’t been brave enough to look that closely. I also have 4 open “poke holes” that drained a bunch of yucky stuff the first two days but are healing up nicely now. I expect the stitches will come out sometime this week.
A slight complication arose yesterday: I didn’t feel good. A slight fever, sore throat, extreme fatigue, and overall malaise ruled. My doc asked me to call him over the weekend, especially if the fever didn’t go away. I appreciate how accessible he is to his patients, even on the weekends. When my fever spiked yesterday afternoon and didn’t break, and when my skin at the original infection site became red, warm, and streaky, I knew I needed to call him but didn’t want to interrupt my weekend either. I stayed in my jammies and laid around all day yesterday, and when I didn’t feel a whole lot better this morning, I called.
We had a short, purposeful conversation that started with me saying, “I don’t think we need to panic” and ended with him saying, “I have surgery in an hour so come in right now. ” Amy and I appeared in his office post-haste. He said he thought about checking on me, but he knew that I would “start asking what about this? and what about that? and what are we going to do next? and when are we doing to do it?”
That sounds so unlike me (ha!).
He knew that if I was in a bad way, I would call him, and I knew that it could wait until today. No need to go getting ahead of ourselves and risk getting myself admitted to the hospital on a Sunday night.
The fever was down this morning, and the red, warm, and streaky spot looked a little better. The pain is still there, but not as intense as yesterday. It feels like a hot, localized pinch. If I didn’t know that feeling so well from my multiple run-ins with post-surgery infection, I might think one of the stitches was pulling or it was just part of the healing process. But I know better.
After much poking and prodding of the hotspot, we decided to let it be and wait and see. I thought for sure he’d want to open it up and see if there was fluid to collect and culture, but he said nope, not at this stage, let’s give the newly rounded chest a chance to settle this on its own without us intervening. He extended my course of oral antibiotics just to be on the safe side, and as much as it pains me to admit this, I agree with him on both fronts. Really, we’ve done everything we can to prevent infection: a week of pre-surgery prophylactic antibiotics, 2 bags of 2 different IV antibiotics during the surgery, more oral antibiotics after surgery, the most thorough scrub-in process in the history of modern medicine, and over-the-top precautions to preserve a sterile field in the OR. At this point, if the infection can combat all of that, I will concede. But I will be a very sore loser.
The one thing we’ve got going for us in the anti-infection camp is the fact that this last surgery didn’t involve any foreign bodies. No tissue expanders and no implants, just good old-fashioned fat. It was sucked right out of my thighs (hence the super bruises) and injected right into my sunken chest. He carefully explained the fat-extraction process to Trevor and Amy while I was in the recovery room.
The plan is for me to lay low for the next 2 days, check in on Wednesday afternoon, and go from there. If I weren’t so tired and puny I’d be saying, “Come on with the healing already!”
I sure would like to say that today is a lot better than yesterday, but I’d be lying. I’m still very, very sore, and moving around is pretty uncomfortable. I can’t see how bruised I am on my legs because I’m snugly encased in a compression garment. I joked with my doc yesterday that he and I know each other on a whole new level now, with the pre-op business. He looked slightly confused and I was greatly comforted to think that the “new depths of indignities” as Trevor put it, didn’t seem to register with the good doctor. I know now that when he sees a body, splayed out and nekkid, he’s seeing just that — a body. Not mine or yours or anyone’s specifically, just a body.
Whew. That’s a good thing, because he saw every bit of mine. Up close and in his face. Yikes. I thought we had plumbed the depths of indignities before, with the “grab the fat” games and the up-close examinations of the fattiest regions to determine where best to cull from in the reallocation surgery. Ha. That was amateur night compared to the real deal on the big day. Anyone who’s been thinking I am lucky to get “free lipo” may well reconsider after reading this. Do I need to deliver my lecture on opportunity cost, again?
Getting marked up for surgery is not new to me. Baring my chest for the doctors is old hat, as is the alcohol-y smell of the Sharpie markers they use to draw the roadmap for cutting and stitching, as well as the feel of the Sharpie sliding over bare skin. Lest this sounds like a Nora Roberts novel’s love scene, let me assure you there’s nothing sexy or sensual about it — if a doctor is drawing on your bare skin with a Sharpie, it means you’re in trouble. The kind of trouble that can only be fixed by scalpels and sutures. There’s nothing romantic about that.
So getting marked up Wednesday for my revision surgery should have been no big deal; been there, done that. Except this time it wasn’t just my upper body that needed to be bared, it was the whole thing. Since my doc was going to be extracting fat & skin from my hips and legs, he had to well, mark up my hips and legs.
Did I mention that the surgery center is under construction, and that as I went from my suite–where I changed into the gown, compression hose, and shower cap–to the triage room–where I would get my pulse and blood pressure taken and get a needle shoved into a vein in my hand to start an IV–that I had to walk down a hallway with my surgical gown tied not so securely in the back, with construction workers all up and down the hallway? I’m pretty sure part of my backside was hanging out, but really, at this point in my “cancer journey,” I can’t be bothered with such an insignificant concern.
I can, however, be very bothered by the utter horror of standing buck-naked in front of my good friend and beloved surgeon while he maps out his surgery plan via Sharpie. Always the jokester, I tried to keep the mood light and make jokes, but if I had access to an open bottle of vodka I would have chugged like a girl in the desert. Anything to ease the embarrassment of that moment.
After I stood up for the Sharpie fest, my doc wanted me to lie down so he and Katie the surgical nurse could check that the lines were even or whatever they check for. They did their checking and calculating, and my doc left me to go scrub in. The surgery was about to begin. Katie covered my nakedness with a gown and a blanket and went to scrub in herself.
Note I have not yet mentioned the “cocktail” that the anesthesiologist provides to relax the patient before administering the hard-core anesthesia to knock one out for hours at a time. I had of course inquired about my “cocktail,” multiple times during the Sharpie fest, in fact, and was told that I would get it in the OR because they needed to prep me for surgery standing up.
Prep me standing up? As in, I’ll be awake for that part? I’ve envisioned the prepping required for all my surgeries, and before too many thoughts of my leaden, sleeping body being manipulated and scrubbed down enter my head, I quickly chase those thoughts off with thoughts of puppies and bunny rabbits instead.
This time, I was to be stone-cold sober and awake for that particular horror show.
Oh, the depths of indignities just keep on getting deeper.
Once everyone was scrubbed in, someone came to collect me. I walked from my cozy suite to the OR, probably with my ass hanging out for all the construction workers to see, and entered the last level of humiliation. In Dante’s Inferno, there is no mention of the level of hell that is being prepped for surgery while wide awake, but there certainly should be. There should also be some sort of extra prize for someone with a reconstructed body — full of scars and mess and reminders of the impossibly hard road that’s been traveled — who has to display that body in the presence of strangers in order to try and reclaim some semblance of normalcy. The two males in the room, besides my doc, did a good job of averting their eyes from the trainwreck that is my body while they counted scalpels and readied surgery supplies.
I was instructed to drop my gown and stand — buck naked — with arms and legs spread wide. Not sure what the yoga pose is but I’m going to call it shamefaced patient. Two nurses, Katie & Mary, and my doc himself, scrubbed me down with betadine swabs. Katie was nice enough to warm them first, and that small kindness went a long way toward soothing my jangled nerves. My favorite doc was on high-alert against any possibility of infection. Much discussion ensued between the 3 health-care providers about who was swabbing which area of my body, and let me tell you they were quite thorough in getting all the nooks & crannies. Once I’m finally allowed to take a shower I may be scrubbing for days. There were a few commands of “turn this way,” “raise your arm higher,” and ahem, “spread your legs a bit wider, please” as they doused me with the foul-smelling but surprisingly tan-enhancing liquid. I may be splayed out like a deboned chicken (again) for all the room to see, but at least I was golden brown.
Once they had slathered me in the betadine, it was time to get on the OR table. For every one of my previous surgeries, I’ve already been in la-la land when it was time to get on the table. I don’t know how they got me onto the table in the past, but I expect someone lifted me, because the anesthesiologist had mixed and administered the “cocktail”and I was out like a light. This time, I had to be wide awake and fully cognizant of the humiliation that had ensued.
That OR table is narrow, people, and the last thing I needed after my abject embarrassment was to slip off it, all goopy with betadine. My doc was very, very specific about the sterility of the room, the people, and the table, and insisted that Mary and Katie hold my hands as I got onto the table so I didn’t touch anything. The table is high and I am, well, not tall, so we had to use a stool. I managed to haul my carcass onto that high table without touching anything or falling off and was quite pleased with my effort when the anesthesiologist said I needed to scooch down closer to her, at the head of the table. Egads. More maneuvering and cussing on my part, then I was able to settle.
At last, the sweet relief from this latest horror show came in the form of the anesthesiologist finally giving me some Versed. I asked her to also give me something to make me forget all that had just transpired. Whatever form of mind-altering, memory-erasing drug will work, just give me plenty of it.
The Versed worked swiftly and completely, and I don’t recall a single thing beyond that point. I woke up in the recovery room, somehow stuffed into a compression garment but blissfully unaware of how that happened. I was released from the surgery center and delivered home, to bed, where I could pretend that this was all a bad dream.
The good news: I feel a lot better than I did yesterday. The bad news: I have a slight fever. No one is thinking infection thoughts yet but blaming it on the trauma my body endured yesterday. We took every precaution, including 2 bags of antibiotics via IV (Levaquin and my old friend Vancomycin) and a thorough pre-surgery scrub-down, with enough betadine to cover a small village, applied by 2 nurses and the good doctor himself. Yes, he scrubbed me down with betadine himself. How’s that for red-carpet service? More on that later; you haven’t lived until you’ve experienced something like that.
Long story short, the surgery was successful and the after-effects are manageable. I’m not going to lie and say I feel great, but I’m not barfing any more, so progress is being made. I was trying to figure out, though, why I feel so crappy considering this is the easiest surgery to date; then I realized it’s because for all the other surgeries, I’ve been in the hospital with a morphine pump and shots of morphine in my booty. That’s the difference.
My doc changed his game plan just before going into the OR: instead of taking fat from my inner thighs to plump up my collapsed chest, he went for the “flank” area which is more commonly known as ye olde saddlebags. I’ve got about half a dozen incisions that are stitched up on my flanks and chest, and two “poke holes” near my hips that he left unstitched so they can drain. Lots and lots of bruising. I look like I was run over repeatedly by a Hummer, and feel like it too. Nothing unexpected, though.
I’m not certain because I was pretty groggy, but I think we got home about 3:00 yesterday, and I started barfing shortly thereafter. Being an all-or-nothing kind of girl, I kept it up until bedtime. I will admit to a momentary panic when I couldn’t keep down Jello or a banana, but realized that food plus moving around was problematic. Stop moving, stop barfing. I like simplicity. One I settled in bed, I was still queasy but not barfing.
I have already been to see the good doctor and we are both very pleased with his handiwork. He’s not so pleased with the fever, but no one is in panic mode just yet. We’re in watch-it-and-see mode. Fingers crossed, of course. I’ll see him again tomorrow morning and will hopefully be fever-free.
I’ve been slowly but surely freaking out about this surgery. I was all ready for it this time last week, but it was not to be. Having to wait a week because of pokey construction at the surgical center didn’t make me happy; I don’t like to wait in general, and on something this big and this important, even less. If there’s more than one person in line ahead of me at the grocery store, I consider that a long wait, so imagine what waiting a week has been like.
The wait is over and the day is here. I’m ready.
I prepared in numerous ways, including waking up multiple times each night; making myself half crazy with worry; imagining every possible way the dreaded infection could sneak back into my life; going overboard on stocking the house with groceries; meeting myself coming and going with laundry and errands; and cooking meals that my children won’t eat.
No wonder I can’t sleep at night.
Why do I do this to myself? I know full good and well that watching that stuff is going to creep me out. Picturing my beloved doc doing those things while I’m sawing logs really creeps me out. I trust him with my life but hate to think of what he’ll be doing to me this morning. I’m gonna be one sore chica.
I scrubbed myself with Hibiclens this morning, to kill off any friendly or hostile bacteria living on my skin. You know your life has changed — and not for the better — when you have a bottle of the Hib in your shower (insert sad face here).
Here’s the game plan: I’ll show up at the surgery center at 8 a.m. without having had my daily cup of coffee or one bite of food since bedtime (I’m not very pleasant when I’m hungry; I’ll be the first to say it. And BTW, packing my kids’ lunches without being able to have one bite of food myself is cruel. There’s not much in their lunches I would eat anyway, but still). I’ll put on the hospital gown and shower cap, and possibly the compression hose. I’ll get marked up by my doc, which involves standing naked in a small room while he peers at and examines up-close the fattiest parts of my body; he’ll use a Sharpie to annotate the choice cuts that he’ll be removing, and I’ll try to slink into the OR with my dignity intact. I’ll endure the inevitable digging by the anesthesiologist and/or nurse anesthetist in a fruitless attempt to find a vein that doesn’t roll over and play dead; this usually involves multiple pokes and results in a giant bruise. I’ll watch the clock and wonder how much longer until they give me the shot that makes none of this hardship matter as I drift off into a heavy-limbed, blissful sleep. I’ll endure who-knows-what kind of horror show as my doc and his team manipulate and position my sleeping carcass to extract maximum fattiness. Some he will keep, and some he will throw away. The fattiness he keeps will be spun in a centrifuge to extract all the liquid. Then the liquid-free, pure fattiness will be injected into my sunken chest. I’ll wake up in the recovery room several hours later, trying not to barf and thinking how good it will feel to get home and leave the hospital stink behind. I’ll hope that I get home before my kids’ school day ends, and will hopefully, fingers crossed, please, please, please be one step closer to reaching the finish line and being done with the aftermath of breast cancer.
That’s me. I admit it.
Yesterday was the first day of school, yet did I take one photo of my kids before they descended into the joys of another school year? Nope. Not even with my iPhone camera. How lazy & shiftless is that?
It occurred to me at some point last night that this will be the first year on record without a back-to-school photo, and I suppose I could have hauled Macy out of bed and pried Payton away from ESPN long enough to recreate a photo. But it would have been dark on the front step, where we always take the photo, and Macy would have had to change out of her jammies and back into her school clothes, which were no doubt in a heap on her bedroom floor. I had to admit defeat and accept that it wasn’t going to happen this year. A second-day-of-school photo seems too lame to contemplate, so this will be the year with no back-to-school photo. Macy’s entre into 4th grade and Payton’s into 7th will go unchronicled for time immemorial.
And yet, I think we will survive.
Chalk it up to cancer fatigue, or to pre-surgery jitters, or to me being a slacker mom. Either one. The reason isn’t all that important, really. The kids don’t really care if we have a photo, and I’m pretty much over it as well. I will state for the record, however, that Payton did indeed wear a Red Sox shirt for the first day of school, as has been his tradition since kindergarten. Some things never change.
If you thought I was done with my slacker mom antics and were ready to forgive me, hang on. True, it’s been a rough ride. It’s been a long year, full of medical drama and pain & suffering. I feel perfectly comfortable saying I deserve a free pass from juggling all the balls, getting everything right, and catering to everyone’s individual needs (ok, maybe that last one is going a bit far; I’m not much of a caterer).
However, life goes on and I’ve yet to find the slot into which I insert my free pass. I’m looking for something like the coupon slot at the grocery store self-checkout, but I haven’t found it. Also curiously absent is the “make it so” button — push the button and make it so, whatever “it” happens to be. In this case, it would be the back-to-school photo. I would push the “make it so button” and a photo would fall out of the sky, into my cupped hands. If only.
I certainly needed the “make it so” button last night, when Macy’s loose tooth came out just as she was getting into bed. She has been wiggling it for days, and it was hanging by a thread, or a root, or whatever loose teeth use to hang on. She emerged from her bedroom clutching a slightly bloody molar, grinning hugely and aquiver with anticipation about the upcoming visit from the Tooth Fairy.
Slacker mom was not prepared for this. See, Macy and the Tooth Fairy have a “special bond” as she described through her tears this morning. The Tooth Fairy doesn’t just leave a few bucks or some loose change, like she does for most kids. Her Royal Dental Highness knows that Macy isn’t at all concerned with or motivated by money. She likes stuff. She’s funny and quirky and a bit outside of the box. And the Tooth Fairy is usually well-stocked. Lip gloss, a stuffed animal, a stationery set…things like that rock Macy’s world. The Tooth Fairy usually picks up such items throughout the year, as she’s running her errands and comes across something that she knows Macy would like. But the Tooth Fairy was ill-prepared this time. Even though she knew that tooth was loose, the light didn’t come on and make her think, hmmmm, I better make sure I have a nice prize for Macy when that tooth comes out.
So the Tooth Fairy was forced to resort to the lowest common denominator, and she left a $5 bill. Macy was not amused. See, she had written a note to the Tooth Fairy, which she always does, and asked for a unicorn Domo. I imagine the Tooth Fairy said WTF?? I know I did. I’m fairly certain that a unicorn Domo does not exist. Or it does, but only in Macy’s imagination. I guess it would be a cross-breed between a unicorn and Domo. Interesting. But not readily available, and certainly not at 9:30 at night.
See my dilemma? I had no problem finding images of these guys on googleimages. I even found a t-shirt of Domo riding a unicorn, which I was all set to order pronto but it’s sold out online. Of course it is. Who wouldn’t want a t-shirt like this?
If I find one for Macy, I may have to get one for me too.
I can see why the Tooth Fairy flubbed this one, big time. Some requests are too tricky and unique, even for the TF.
As I may have mentioned once or twice in this space, I love champagne. It’s one of my all-time favorite things on Earth. Now that my kids are off to school (hallelujah!) I have plenty of time to wax poetic about my favorite drink. I could drink champagne every day; contrary to popular opinion, a special occasion is not necessary. But there’s nothing more festive and celebratory than the pop of a cork. and I don’t hesitate to find a reason to drink some bubbly.
National Pancake Day? Bring it on. Armistice Day? Don’t mind if I do. Birthdays & major holidays? Duh. International Margarita Day? I’m not afraid to mix my liquors.
Not only is La Grande Dame a superb champagne, it also has a great story behind it. Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin married Francois Clicquot and was widowed after 7 years during the late 1700s. Francois left his family’s business — champagne-making — to her. At age 27 and knowing little of the fledgling business, she took the reins of the company and never looked back. She invented champagne-making techniques that are still in use today, and those greatly reduced production time, which means less time for the bubbly to get in my glass. She became one of the shrewdest — and wealthiest — businesswomen in France, and IMHO she deserves a place in history.
There’s a book about her called The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It. I’m a sucker for girl-power stories, so I bought the book, but had trouble reading it because it made me so dadgum thirsty. There are a few things I was able to glean, though, that are worth sharing about the widow who was “a young witness to the dramatic events of the French Revolution and a new widow during the chaotic years of the Napoleonic Wars.” Sounds exciting even without the bubbly.
Barbe-Nicole rebelled against convention by taking over the Clicquot family wine business. She was brave and ballsy, and through “dizzying political and financial reversals” she became one of the world’s first great businesswomen. By her late 30s, she was one of the richest women in France. Clicquot sales are estimated to have been $30 million a year under her command. One of her lasting legacies was to portray champagne drinking as a lifestyle. She “took champagne from marginal to mainstream and made it synonymous with style,” according to the book about her.
I’m not a big French Revolution history buff, and I won’t bore anyone with the details on the first day of school (hooray!!!), but suffice to say that Barbe-Nicole was smart enough to realize that if she could get the Russians hooked on her bubbly, she’s have it made. She “arranged clandestine and perilous champagne deliveries to Russia one day and entertained Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte on another.” Toward the end of the Napoleonic Wars, she cornered the Russian market by gambling 10,000 bottles of her best vintage. The Russians took the bait, and she became the queen of the bubbly.
The occasion for my enormous treat surprisingly had nothing at all to do with cancer. It wasn’t the marking of a milestone or the celebration of a clear scan or other good news. It wasn’t a drowning of sorrows, which is a very good thing, because all the drinking that’s been required since cancer came to town would make a very deep river.
No, the occasion was a reward for a little party-planning provided for my runnin’ buddy Staci’s 40th birthday fete. I helped her hubby, my buddy The Rajah, plan her soiree and he was kind enough to show his appreciation by flashing the beloved yellow bottle. He’d been teasing me with it for weeks while I was out of town, texting to tell me he was making mimosas with it — oh the horror! The humanity! The thought of mixing such a fine wine made me nearly weep. He’s soooooo funny.
The moment just before the lovely lady was opened, at La Vista (which is such a great restaurant. If you live anywhere near Houston and haven’t eaten there — go there tonight!!). It was a beautiful moment, ripe with anticipation. The bottle glistened with condensation after being chilled in an ice bucket table-side. I kept it as close to me as possible while it chilled. I fretted over it like it was a newborn baby fussing in a Moses basket — was it cold enough? too cold? just right?
As soon as I heard the pop of the cork, I knew — it was indeed just right.
Tiny, tiny bubbles that hit the bottom of the glass and skyrocketed upward in an elegant trip to the open mouth of the glass. Beautiful amber color, like the last rays of the sunset after a most-perfect day. Teensy hint of fruit and even teensier hint of yeast. The delicate scent of bubbles and dry-but-not-bitter loveliness. From the first sip, it was apparent that this was vintage. This was the good stuff.
That’s my version. Here’s another:
“Known among connoisseurs as one of the finest champagnes in the world, it’s the pride and joy of the Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. Ethereal, free and original, the Grande Dame teases aficionados with its rarity, making an appearance only when nature offers a concordance of perfect conditions.” — eat, love, savor magazine
Well, nature certainly did offer a concordance of perfect conditions, when a group of friends gathered at the end of the summer to celebrate the passage of time, the newest member of the “over-40 club,” and the savoring of the finer things in life. Cheers to the good life! And thanks, Rajah!
Remember the Crazy Lady I ran into in the grocery store a while back? I think I met her sister today. She was a hot mess and put on quite the floor show.
Because of the fire at the Walgreens around the corner from my house, the next-closest Walgreens is handling the overflow business. I was in the drive-through because I was too sweaty from tennis to go inside. Just a little public service from me to you. So the lady in the drive-through line next to me was the closest to the building, practically nose-to-nose with the pharmacist behind the window.
Apparently there was a mix-up with her prescription, and the conversation between her and the pharmacist got heated, fast. She wanted to talk to the pharmacist who usually helps her, at the store that’s now closed because of fire damage. The current pharmacist was patiently explaining that she wasn’t available; their work schedules are all akimbo because of both stores’ staff trying to work from the one store.
Crazy Lady’s sister wasn’t having any of it, would not listen to reason. She was mad and she didn’t care who knew about it. It seems there was a shortage on her drugs and there weren’t enough to make a complete month’s worth. They had 8 pills to give her, and she could pick the rest up later. That’s happened to me plenty of times. Instead of grumbling about a minor inconvenience — having to make another trip to the pharmacy to pick up the remaining drugs — she went nuts and was screaming at the pharmacist, through the glass.
Now I’m really intrigued.
She wanted the pharmacist on duty to call the pharmacist she usually deals with, and of course pharmacist on duty said no can do. Can you imagine being the pharmacist who’s off duty, getting a call from a co-worker about the Crazy Lady who’s screaming about her drugs?
When that didn’t work, Crazy Lady recited the litany of reasons she couldn’t make a second trip to pick up the rest of the drugs: she has a meeting to get to, people are waiting on her, she has deadlines, blah blah blah. As if the pharmacist cares. She advised the pharmacist to get on the phone, speedy quick, and find someone else who could give her the balance of her drugs. When the pharmacist on duty said sorry, we’re out, you have to wait for the next shipment, CL said she was going to go to the fire-damaged Walgreens and “beat on the doors until they let me in and give me my drugs.”
I’m giving her a wide berth. Don’t want to be anywhere near her when she implodes.
As I completed my transaction, I heard CL screaming that is she doesn’t get her drugs, there will be hell to pay. She said, and I quote, “I need my goddam Xanax.”
Truer words have not been spoken.
If I wasn’t so scared of her and her craziness, I might have offered her one of mine. I keep a nice little stockpile, just in case. But like a rabid dog, it’s best to not make eye contact with Crazy Ladies.
Antibiotics. The mere sight of that word makes my skin crawl and my stomach clench, but I have to be a big girl and take these damned drugs. Again. It’s for a short time this time, which is good, and for which I should be grateful.
Just like I should be grateful that I have enough sense to suggest a prophylactic antibiotic with yet another surgery on the horizon.
I should be grateful that I have comprehensive health insurance and can get 2 prescriptions filled for less than $10.
I should be grateful that even though my Walgreens around the corner had a fire and is closed for a month, there’s another store a few miles away that had my prescriptions ready.
I should be grateful that I have the means to also buy the $50 worth of probiotics I’ll need to keep my intestinal tract from revolting against the onslaught of preventative drugs.
I should be grateful that I have an unlimited supply of Greek yogurt to help the probiotics battle the imbalance of bacteria in my gut.
I should be grateful that I have this forum in which to bitch, moan, and complain about having to go on these damned drugs yet again.
I should be grateful that my cancer wasn’t worse, was caught early, and is manageable.
I should be grateful that although I was one of the unlucky ones to get a post-mastectomy infection that rocked my world and wrecked my summer, I got better. Slowly (veeeeery slowly) and surely, I got better. Mountains were moved, heavens and earth were too, but I got better. Just when I thought it was never going to happen, I got better.
I’ve never been a big fan of all the “shoulds” in our life. I tend to favor a more laissez-faire attitude of do what you want to do, as long as you fulfill obligations and inflict no harm. I’ve also got a bit of a stubborn streak, so as soon as I hear that I “should” do something, my first instinct is to turn around and do the exact opposite. Charming, I know. Seatbelts are the prime example. It’s a state law in Texas — “click it or ticket” — for drivers and front-seat passengers to wear seatbelts. If you’re busted unbuckled, you’ll be looking at a hefty $200 fine. I know full good and well the statistics on seatbelt use and crash fatalities, and of course my kids are buckled every single time we’re in a vehicle. Yes, I know that Princess Diana might well have survived her fatal car crash if she’d been buckled. Same goes for my sweet Uncle Wilford. But I don’t like to wear my seatbelt, because the State of Texas tells me to. My kids usually bust me before a cop has the chance to. They’ll notice I’m unbuckled and fuss at me, so I comply. But I don’t like it.
Sometimes the “shoulds” get the best of me.
I’m trying really hard not to be discouraged by the latest bevy of bad news. Picture me squeezing my eyes shut as tight as they will go, turning a bit red in the face, and willing it to happen. Don’t. Get. Discouraged. Having my surgery postponed and being smacked in the face with the idea of another post-surgery infection is not my idea of fun. Being told we need to keep the port that I’ve been so looking forward to having removed was equally not fun. I’d actually begun counting the days until saying adios to the port. It’s served me well, but I’m so so so ready for it to be gone. I could almost imagine sleeping comfortably on my left side again, with no kink in the line that’s sewn into my jugular vein. I could picture myself in a sundress, sans the alien-looking bump with prongs under my skin. But alas, it’s not to be. Once again, the hits keep coming, and I have to suck it up and deal.
I’m trying really hard. So hard that I just wrote a beautiful post, if I do say so myself, about the effort. The words were flowing and I was thinking, “This is going to be good.” Then promptly lost it. All of it. Instead of “save” I hit “cancel.” And with one keystroke, it’s gone. I will attempt to recreate, but already know it won’t be as good.
I’m trying really hard to remember that while yes, being diagnosed with cancer–at a young-ish age no less–is bad, plenty of women have it worse than me. There are lots of rarer, more-aggressive forms of breast cancer than mine, and the battles are many. While my recurrence odds are low, the mere fact that I have odds reminds me in a terrifyingly real way that there’s always a chance that it will come back. As another fellow cancer chick so eloquently put it: “It’s losing your innocence all at once, rather than in bits and pieces over a lifetime.” Being diagnosed with cancer at a young-ish age is bad enough; fearing recurrence is even worse. Then you factor in all the other junk that comes with it, and before long it’s like inviting one person to a party and having them bring a village of savages with them. They drink all the good booze, hork down the delicate hors d’oeuvres, manipulate the conversation, interrupt with Buddy-the-Elf-esque burps, wipe their dirty mitts on the pretty towels in the guest bathroom, spill red wine on the beige carpet, and change the tinkling background music to heavy-metal hair bands. The cancer crew is most unwelcome. And yet they overstay their welcome in myriad ways.
I’m trying really hard to not freak out as the possibility of infection scares the tar out of me. There’s a kindly gatekeeper in my brain that shields me from the harsh memories of the battle royale that occurred last summer between my war-torn, ravaged body and mycobaterium fortuitum. While of course I remember being there and going through that, it’s as if I’m watching a movie of myself enduring that hell. It’s a gauzy, soft light, much like the lens filmmakers use to shoot a scene with an aging star. The gatekeeper that usually protects me from windexing the lens to see it unfold clearly, in all its replayed gore, is off duty. What I want to do it pack up all those horrible memories of the events last summer and put them in a box and leave them on the side of a deserted highway. Then I want to put the pedal to the metal, burn rubber, and beat feet away from them, without even once glancing in the rearview mirror. I want to find myself on a pastoral country road, with tall, leafy trees and big puffy clouds–somewhere far, far away from any hint of cancer or infection.
I’m trying really hard to be calm and not freak out about the possibility of infection. Of course I know that anytime one goes under the knife, the chance of infection is there. But rather than a distant “maybe,” infection is a real thing for me, and I have a visceral reaction to the idea of going through that again. And while the preventative antibiotics are just that — preventative — I find myself with real fear instead of comfort. The prophylactic effect should make me feel better, but instead I feel worse. There is a very fragile peace that was brokered between my body and the bacterium, and peace without the threat of war is meaningless.
I’m trying really hard to not gag on the antibiotics. I dutifully swallow the two pills that are my front-line defense against the wily bacterium that may want to set up shop again. Those bacterium were evicted after their long, comfy stay in my concave chest wall, and they may well want to reestablish their presence. So I swallow the pills, knowing full well that soon, very soon, I will feel like utter hell. The all-day nausea, the roiling queasiness, the lost tastebuds, and the sore throat that were my constant companions for 267 days are making a return visit. Back by not-at-all-popular demand is the diligence required in spacing the drugs 12 hours apart, and the taking them on a stomach empty enough to allow them to do their thing but not so empty as to make me puke. Instead of feeling comforted by the preventative drugs, I’m scared.
I’m trying really hard to think happy thoughts. Right now I’m remembering a highlight of our recent vacation, in which we were all in the ocean battling giant waves as the tide turned. These were seriously bitchin’ waves, a good 8-feet tall, and we were in the thick of them. I was ecstatic that the water was warm enough for me, a Gulf Coast chicken; that the waves were so accommodating for body surfing and frolicking; and most importantly that I was there to experience it. As I came up from being tumbled ass-over-tea-kettle by a giant wave, Macy overheard me say that that wave just bitch-slapped me. She misheard me, though, and thought I said that the wave had “fish-slapped” me, and she wanted to know if it was a flounder, because they tend to be especially evil. I’m gonna smile at the idea of being fish-slapped, even though I feel like crying instead.
I’m trying really hard to focus on how far I’ve come instead of how many setbacks I’ve had. The race is long, yet I’ve continued to put one foot in front of the other. Keep on keepin’ on. Several people have tried to help along the way by telling me that God only gives us what we can handle, and that he must think I can handle a lot. Thanks, but zip it. I don’t believe it, and I’m not comforted by that. While there are a host of helpers along the way, there’s only one person involved in this battle, and that’s me. No one is doling out the hard knocks in an insane game of “let’s see if this will make her crack.” It’s random, it’s uncontrollable, and it’s life. It’s life, and my job is to keep on truckin.
I’m trying hard to remember that this is temporary. As my wise survivor sister Jenny reminded me countless times during diagnosis, surgery, and treatment, this is temporary. This mess won’t be at the center of my life forever, as difficult as that is to imagine now. The ennui I feel today won’t always prevail. It’s easy to get caught up in the quagmire of unpleasant things that have come my way. I can see just how easy it would be to slip into the loving arms of pills, booze, rage, and self-pity. Name a vice, any vice; I’ll take it. It would be so, so easy to say I’m done, I’m out. Let the vultures pick my carcass clean because I give up.
I’m trying hard to walk on the sunny side of the street, as my sweet mama always advised. There are some dark and ominous alleyways around me, but I will seek out the sun and pound the pavement until all this madness is over. Those who have been on this “journey” before me assure me that one day it will all be a distant memory. I know this is true, yet it seems impossibly far away today. One day I will look back at all this and think, “Man, what a shit-storm that was.”