They’re baaaack

It’s Halloween, and what could be more terrifying (for me) than to find myself eyeball-to-eyeball with the dreaded oral antibiotics? Not much scares me after dealing with cancer and its many-tentacled aftereffects, but these drugs certainly do make me want to run screaming from the building. 

Bactrim & Minocycline, the drugs I dutifully swallowed twice a day every day for 267 days, are back. Just a quick 10-day course this time around, as a preventative measure following Thursday’s revision surgery. No big whoop, right?

Uh, not so much.

I gladly received two giant bags of IV antibiotics in the OR Thursday. Levaquin and Vancomycin are the old standbys, and they coursed through my veins Thursday morning like a herd of mighty stallions clearing the path of any wily mycobacterium that might be hanging around after last year’s post-mastectomy infection. IV abx don’t bother me one bit, but the oral ones give me the heebie-jeebies.

After puking my brains out all the livelong day after surgery, I was not ready to swallow those pills. I put it off as long as I could, and had to have a “come to Jesus” meeting with Trevor to make me get back onboard the abx train.

You would think that after taking these drugs for 267 days, a mere 10 days would be a piece of cake.

You would be wrong.

Something inside me seized up and said “Uh-uh, no way, not gonna do it.”

I couldn’t convince myself to start taking these drugs.

Trevor astutely pointed out that instead of seeing this short course as easy, my brain sees it as the equivalent of swimming the English Channel because I’ve used up my lifetime supply of mental and physical tolerance.

He’s clever that way.

I knew I had to take them, of course. I knew the risk of re-infection vastly outweighed the inconvenience of taking the drugs. But I also knew just how awful I was going to feel, and while my rational brain said take the drugs, my irrational self whined like a tired toddler way past naptime. 

Here we go again. 

One dose in, on Saturday, my tastebuds were already shot. I tried to savor one last glass of champagne, to toast surviving yet another surgery and to say salud to my improved shape. But the damage had been done, and my lifetime supply of physical tolerance was exhausted. Cue the nausea, the roiling tummy, the overall puniness, the malaise, and the distinct feeling that something died in my mouth. Nothing, and I mean nothing sounds good to me. Not even Halloween candy. And I really like candy. Especially Twizzlers.

I spent the weekend feeling sorry for myself and wondering how long it will take this time to get back to “normal.”

So far no sign of the elusive “normal.”

Macy sent me off to surgery with her best buds, Froggy and Baby Snoopy. They kept me company Thursday in the triage area while I awaited the arrival of my favorite surgeon and his pack of Sharpies. The nurses who took my vitals and started my IV thought it was so cute that my little girl sent her posse to look after me. I explained that she’s only 9 but she’s wise beyond her years.

Pedey the Weasel Dog kept me company all weekend and happily obliged my sedentary schedule. He’s really, really good at being lazy and laying low, and I’m trying to take a page out of his book.

He makes it look so easy.


Comfortably numb

That’s what I want to be. I’ve got the painkillers, and I’ve got the booze, but the antibiotics have killed my tastebuds in record time so nothing tastes good. Guess I’m gonna have to face this recovery without my trusty side-kicks, Vicodin and champagne.

Back among the living

I’m happy to report that today is a much better day than yesterday’s barf-o-rama. I lost count after the puking reached double digits, and admit to a moment of panic when I realized I hadn’t kept anything down all day. Not even a pretzel. I did learn that there is quite a hierarchy in grossness of what comes back up — some food items are way more disgusting than others when vomited up. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. By 9 pm I decided to throw in the towel and just go to bed. I won’t say I slept especially well, but I didn’t throw up any more so I’m calling it a victory.

The surgery was successful. Very successful. My doc achieved something I honestly didn’t think was possible — he sculpted, tucked, cut, and stitched to create exactly the look I was hoping for, but didn’t think would happen.  The shape and symmetry are both very much improved, and instead of an elliptical uniboob, I now have two distinct and rounded boobs.  My port is gone, and the ever-thoughtful doc even injected a little bit of fat into the port-removal site because sometimes after the device is removed, the skin collapses a bit to create a divot. But not for me, thanks to my forward-thinking surgeon. How nice is that?

I’m pretty battered and sore, and the port-removal site hurts worse than I expected, but I’m happy. I even told my doc this morning that as much as it pains me to admit it, he was right all along. He was right, I was wrong: he was indeed able to fix my messed-up chest, and his artistry certainly prevailed. I never expected the DIEP surgery to result in one-and-done results; I knew that revisions, plural, would be necessary. But I had fallen into the abyss of wondering if things would ever look right again. I can’t tell you how happy I am to report that I’m no longer in that abyss, and all is right in my world.

I’ve got to lay low and be very still for a while, as everything that was sucked out and relocated settles in. Thanks to everyone who checked on me, and thanks for all the prayers and good wishes sent from near and far.

Surgery Update 2

Just got Nancy home a few minutes ago. She’s doing very well. Amy is with her while I’m at the drugstore picking up the Vicodin. Thanks for checking in, I’m sure she will be back to updating within a day or two.

Surgery Update

Trevor here: the doctor just came out and spoke to Amy and me. He said the surgery went well and her chest looks great. Amy and I will go see Nancy soon. Will update then.

Home on the range

I’m having a very peaceful sort of day. That’s pretty weird for me. My days are usually hectic and borderline chaotic with me trying to cram in as much as humanly possible into the 7-hour window in which my children are at school. Because I’ve been such a busy bee the last few days, I’m all set for surgery in the morning and this day has ambled on by without the usual hectic pace and chaos: stripped all the beds, washed sheets & towels, packed lunches, had a nice unhurried workout,caught up with a friend at the gym, visited the girls at Beauty Envy, threw the tennis ball a few hundred times for Harry, and read the newspaper.

I rarely read the newspaper. I don’t like the way the newsprint gets all smudgy, and most of the news is either creepy or weird or depressing or all of the above. But this story caught my eye and it’s none of the above. As my good friend Amy Hoover says, “I’m quite up to date on all the current events in my own household, and that’s enough.”

There’s a small herd of bison, 11 to be exact, living in a park in north Houston. They’ve been there for 40 years, but they’re moving.

all bison photos by Mayra Beltran

That’s kinda sad. 40 years is a long time to live in one place. But it’s time for greener pastures, literally, as the seemingly unending drought in these parts has destroyed the bisons’ main food supply. The grass is dead, so the bison have been eating corn pellets and cottonseed along with hay shipped in specially from Florida. Not sure why the bison can’t eat Texas hay, as it seems to be plentiful, but the newspaper article didn’t address that point. 

I saw this load of hay on Hwy 59 the other day, coming home from Costco, and had to snap a photo of it because all I could think about was how happy some animals would be to see it coming down the road. Maybe this isn’t the right kind of hay for bison, or maybe it’s being exported to another country. Being a cityslicker, I have no idea of such things.

I like having wild animals around. Reminds me of a few years back, when my kids were toddlers. Both of them were wild banshees, but in completely different ways. Payton was willful and stubborn (remind me to tell the potty story some time). Macy wasn’t stubborn at all but man, was she ever destructive. Give that girl a marker and a blank wall and stand back.

Even though we live in the suburbs, we’ve got plenty of wildlife around us. There’s the field around the corner full of donkeys. I always enjoy seeing them out & about.

There’s the grey horse all alone in a small field I drive by on my way to the club. He used to have a couple of donkeys to hang with but they’ve been gone a long time. He’s so handsome but seems lonely. One of these days I need to pull my car over and feed him an apple.

The house next door to Payton’s hitting coach has a bunch of Shetland ponies. So tiny, so cute. 

There are deer everywhere. As I dropped Payton off for his hitting lesson today, there were 4 young deer in the yard. The smallest of them had trouble hopping the fence, and the others didn’t wait up. Nature can be cruel. 

Around the corner, this guy (or gal) was grazing in another yard. I know they’re a nuisance and eat the landscaping, but I like to see the deer doing their thing.

Back to the bison: they’re heading to Medicine Mound Ranch in Hardeman County, owned by the Summerlee Foundation, a nonprofit whose focus is on animal protection and Texas history, according to the Chronicle. They’ll have 6,400 acres to roam and graze, and hopefully the grass is nice and green up there.

But they will be missed. A man named Clifton Antoine will likely miss them most of all. He’s had the delightful job of feeding the herd every morning for the last 7 years. He’s named the 11 bison that belly up to his bar: Betsy, Wild Bill, Robert, Mabel, and Junior got their names printed in the paper. No details on why the other members of the herd weren’t mentioned. That kind of reporting bugs me, by the way. Instead of concentrating on the story, I’m wondering what the other bisons’ names are and why they weren’t mentioned.

I could  have done with a few more details. This is nice but I want more: “Betsy nudges him out of the way as he dumps feed into the trays, Antoine said. Wild Bill is rambunctious and does a lot more rolling in the dirt. It’s best to clear out when Robert, the alpha male, shakes his head up and down; other times the old bull will eat out of Antoine’s hand.”

Safe travels, y’all. Hope you like your new digs.


My surgery has been postponed a day, so I’ll be going in Thursday morning instead of tomorrow.


I’m a bit rigid on scheduling. Don’t like change. Once I’ve got my ducks in a row, I like to forge straight ahead without any detours, so this pretty much stinks. But, one day doesn’t really matter (or so I keep telling myself) and I’m working to shift gears. Luckily, my army of handlers can shift gears, too, and everyone who’s stepped up to help is still available on Thursday.

Including Trevor, who incidentally is The Birthday Boy today. Happy birthday, Trev. Glad you finally caught up to me. I hope they’re doing something nice for ya in Calgary. Being away from home on the day of one’s birth is no fun, but at least you’re getting a break from the heat and the swarming mosquitos. Those darn bugs are cramping my convertible style, big time.

Instead of relaxing in my windfall of an extra day, I am–you guessed it–running around like a crazy person, wanting to cram more, more, more into my life. Get ‘er done is usually my motto. The to-do list is long, and an extra day means not only more time to accomplish those tasks but also some wiggle room to add even more jobs to the list.

Crazy, I know. I could sit on the couch and watch the 22 episodes of Cake Boss that Macy has Tivo’d , or finish my book club book, or flip through the pile of magazines waiting patiently for me to get some “free time,” but no, I’m making a grocery list and planning how many meals I can whip up real quick to have on hand for my convelescing.

Crazy, right?

Here’s what’s even crazier — me, who does not eat meat, doesn’t even like to look at it in the grocery store and avoids buying it at all costs, putting 7 lbs of ground sirloin in my grocery cart. On purpose. Willingly. Yikes. I usually avoid the meat section of the store like the plague. I might tiptoe around the outskirts to grab a package of all-natural, hormone-free turkey breast for Payton’s lunchbox, but going headlong into the moderately bloody counters that stretch on for days? Not for me. I swear I can hear little cries of “Moo!” or “Cheep” if I do look into those cellophane-wrapped packages of former animals.

Despite the snippets of Food, Inc running through my head, I piled my cart full of meat (after putting the cellophane-wrapped packages into a plastic bag and scrubbing my hands with antibacterial wipes, of course). Then I took that meat home and actually put my hands into it to mash the eggs, breadcrumbs, and parmesan cheese together to make Mrs C’s famous meatballs & sauce. I rolled an endless line of meatballs with my own two hands and cooked them up the old-fashioned way: in hot olive oil studded with slivers of garlic.

It was a meatball factory in my kitchen. The flash on my iPhone camera gives everything a yellowish tint, but you get the gist. My dogs just about hyperventilated from sniffing the smells of meat, fresh meat, in their very own home. They don’t get that much. Tofu doesn’t have much of a scent.

The first pile of the finished product. This batch of meatballs was rather erratically shaped because I was being a big baby (I admit it) and was trying to roll them as fast as I could to avoid the amount of time the meat came into contact with my body. After I saw how lumpy they were I decided to suck it up and roll them for real. The next batch came out much more even and pretty. Not that it matters one little bit, because once they take a dip in the sauce and simmer for an hour, it’s hard to tell what shape they are, and once they are on the plate, they tend to be devoured quite quickly by the meat-eaters of the world.

After the balls were cooked, it was time to create the sauce. It’s a simple red sauce, composed of tomato puree, crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste. No chunks in this age-old favorite. A generous sprinkling of parmesan and a glug of red wine is all that’s needed for flavor. Sometimes I’ll throw in some fresh basil but today I had none so the sauce went unadorned of herbs.

The tile backsplash behind the stove isn’t that ugly in person; again with the too-flashy iPhone camera, and me in too much of a hurry to fiddle with it to get the light just right. I’m cooking, man, no time for fiddling.

If you’re wondering why there’s such a copious amount of sauce and such a sky-high pile of meatballs, you’re not alone. I thought the same thing as I searched for a small oar with which to stir the vat of sauce. The recipe makes a lot to begin with–enough to serve double-digit guests or one very fat Italian family. I doubled it to pass some along to a friend who had surgery recently and has 3 hungry kids underfoot. Some for my kids, some for hers and everyone is happy.

Meatballs & sauce done, so it’s on to the chicken pot pie.

I was happily chopping the onions and celery — chopping has always been weirdly therapeutic and calming for me — when I realized I’d completely forgotten the carrots. My mind is going a million different directions, and apparently the chopping therapy isn’t working so well.

My sweet mama always said the skinniest carrots taste the best, so I dig out the narrow ones to get chopped.

Next comes garlic. I like a lot of garlic. I am Greek, after all. 

The chicken is poaching while I’m chopping, but I’m not taking a picture of it because raw chicken is even more disgusting — IMHO — than raw ground sirloin, so use your imagination there.

Once the chicken is poached and the veggies are sauteed in olive oil, I combine them with a can of corn and a simple white sauce. Throw in a few potatoes and away we go.

While the pot pie cooked, I thought maybe a batch of chocolate chip cookies would be a nice addition to the meal for my friend, so I whipped those up to finish off the meal. 

Nesting complete.

Wisdom from the DL

I’ve been on the DL — disabled list — an awful lot since cancer came to town, and I don’t like it. I don’t like it, but I think I’ve gotten better at it. I’ll never be good at being a spectator in my own life, and I’ll never be one who enjoys the journey in my haste to get to the destination,but I have learned the value of time & place and that sometimes you have to be instead of do. I’ve learned to chant “It’s temporary” a thousand and one times to remind myself that while this is my life, it won’t always be like this.

Josh Beckett all wrapped up,

Being on the DL has taught me a lot. Being forced to watch my tennis team while I waited for my body to heal enough to be able to play was one of the single best things I could have done for my game. If someone had suggested it to an able-bodied, healthy me, however, I would have laughed at the idea of sitting instead of playing. But watching helped me appreciate the game on a whole new level. I could focus on the strategies being employed, instead of being on high alert for the ball coming my way. I could study the nuances of each player’s serve, noticing how very different and personal a serve is. I noticed for the first time that everyone — even the best players on the court — makes bad shots. That was enlightening for an always-hard-on-herself player like me.

Andy Murray joins the DL.

With my next revision surgery scheduled for the day after tomorrow, I prepare to go on the DL yet again. I played my last match of the season last week, and we played our usual Sunday morning 4 sets yesterday. I enjoyed both immensely, knowing that I won’t get to play again for several weeks. But this time, instead of being bummed about having to sit out again, I realized something. Something important. Like my cancer “journey,” being on the DL is temporary, and instead of being anxious and impatient to get back, I find myself contemplative and introspective about my game. It’s not about playing as much as humanly possible, it’s about playing the very best tennis possible for me.

Kim Clijsters succumbs,

This time while I’m recovering, I’ll be thinking about getting back to basics: swinging through the ball; having the discipline to not hit a bad toss; moving in on a high ball; shifting to cover the middle. I won’t be thinking about whether everyone on my team is improving while I’m standing still. I won’t be thinking about all I’m missing. I’ll be thinking about all I have. I’ll channel Sheryl Crow, who may not play tennis but has the wisdom to remind us: “It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.”

Kevin Everett beat the odds,

I’ll never say that I want what I’ve got in terms of having been diagnosed with cancer at age 41, in the prime of my life AND my tennis game. But I can say that I’ll smoke ’em if I got ’em. I’ll make the best of my situation, regardless of how shitty it is and no matter how many times I go back on the DL. In addition to channeling Sheryl Crow, I’ll channel the wise & wonderful Dalai Lama and repeat a thousand and one times his mantra of “When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways–either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.”

I’ll be finding my inner strength.

Never, never, never

My sweet friend and lymphedema guru Tammy has a sign in her treatment room that I’ve looked at a million times and always find strength in it. Since I’ve been having a rough go lately, I thought I’d post it but then couldn’t find the photo I have of it. So I did a google search, thinking I’ll buy the sign as a little pick-me-up for myself, a “love gift” as my runnin’ buddy would say. Can’t find it. Anywhere. If I asked Tammy where she got it, she’d probably give it to me, so I’m not going to ask.

I did find a reasonable facsimile, and here it is. Meanwhile, the search will continue, and I will refuse to give up.


Cancer is so not fair.

It just sucks.

It’s such a bitch.

I hate it.

One badly timed comment; one errant remark.

That’s all it takes to go from normal to an emotional wreck. Suddenly I’m on the verge of tears–in front of other people, which is awful, and in front of one person I’d rather take a beating than cry in front of. Pride is a terrible burden sometimes.

Just one comment.

All was going according to plan at my pre-op appointment until one little utterance, slightly misinformed on the doctor’s part and hugely misinterpreted on mine, sent it all akimbo.

I was ready for this next revision. Six days and counting. Schedules rearranged, favors called in, sacrifices made…again.

I had signed up for this revision and was willing to go along with it quite voluntarily, even though it meant more pain and downtime and missing out on some important stuff. Well, important to me anyway: the annual Halloween tennis tournament at our club, which my runnin’ buddy and I won last year and hoped to recapture this year. The rest of the tennis season, for which I’ve only played 2 matches total for the entire season (and lost both, BTW, so suck it, everyone). Our regular Sunday morning match & beer-drinking with our buds Christy and John. Lots of tennis will not be played by me while I recover, yet again from yet another revision. The last-minute Halloween rituals, in which costumes are finalized and trick-or-treat dates are secured. All of this will be superseded by yet another recovery. The everyday, average tasks and duties of a regular life. All put on hold, in pursuit of a normalcy that seems ever elusive, just out of reach.

All I want is symmetry and improved shape to my newly created breasts.

Is that really so much to ask?

I’m well past the point of buying into the BS of “Bummer about the cancer but at least you get new boobs.” That dangling carrot didn’t quite pan out for me. Thanks to the ol’ post-mastectomy infection and a much-more-complicated-than-expected reconstruction known as The Big Dig, the prize at the finish line of my cancer “journey” isn’t much of a prize at all. It’s more a reminder that no matter how skilled the surgeon, no matter how many versions of revision I endure, my body is never going to be the same. It’s never going to look like it did before cancer shat all over my head at the ripe old age of 41.

I’m not stupid. I don’t expect my body to look like it did pre-cancer. I don’t expect my life to be carefree and manageable like it was pre-cancer. But I really didn’t think it would be this bad, this hard. I really didn’t think it would be so bloody difficult to deal with the reality of cancer day in and day out.

Sure wish someone would have warned me.

Because I bought into the “get through the scariest, worst experience ever and you’ll live happily ever after.” And silly me, I thought I was dealing with all the repercussions of the post-cancer life.  I’ve faced the ugliness head-on. I’ve tucked my head and kept on truckin’. I’ve plastered a smile on my face and counted my blessings. I’ve poured out my feelings — good and bad — in an effort to “deal with it.” I’ve done the research and shown up for all the required appointments. I’ve endured more poking, prodding, and pinching. I’ve suffered through humiliations large and small. I’ve managed the pain and the crazy emotions. I’ve found myself smack-dab in the hell that is chemically-induced menopause and lived to tell about it. I’ve made a point to take my medicine, literally and figuratively, even when it tasted like poison and burned my insides to a crisp. I’ve learned to accept that schedules don’t matter to cancer, that there is no way to predict or prepare for the twists & turns that comprise this cancer “journey.”

I thought I was dealing with it all, and dealing with it quite well.

Silly, silly me.

Thank you, google images.