Meet Piper!

It was a most excellent Christmas at our house this year. So good that I’ve been rather busy doing all things festive and haven’t blogged in several days. I have a good reason, though, for my lack of blogs. A very good reason.

Meet Piper, the teacup pig.

She’s Macy’s big Christmas gift this year. If you’re inclined to tell me I’m crazy for letting my 9-year-old have a pet pig, don’t bother. I already know it. 

But spend just one second peeking at the look on Macy’s face and you’ll understand the craziness. The insanity. The absolute lunacy. 

Starting to understand, huh?

Here’s the thing: we need another animal in this house like we need a hole in the head. But Macy’s BFF is moving to Corpus Christi in the next couple of months, and my girl needed a distraction from the heartbreak that is losing your best friend because of a job relocation. My BFF moved to Dallas when I was a kid, and I’m still not over it.

Plus, my girl has loved pigs her entire life.

All 9 years of it.

When most little girls were enamored with horses or kittens, my girl was attracted to piggies. She’s always thought the swine is fine. We have every piggie gadget on the market: flashlights, key chains, tiny frying pans, magnets, bookmarks, sink stoppers, ink pens, Pez dispensers, spatulas, egg timers, egg cups, mugs…the list goes on. If there’s a pig-related product out there, my girl has it. People who know and love her see a pig-themed item and buy it for her.

For her 3rd and 4th birthdays, she had pig-themed parties.

One year we had a pig pinata, straight from Mexico. 

This girl has always loved pigs.

She’s wanted a teacup pig as long as I can remember. We always said, someday.

And now, someday is here.

My girl did her research. She looked online for weeks to find photos of teacup pigs for sale. She emailed breeders and called farmers to see if there was a pig that matched her criteria, just in case we said yes to the pig. She made a list of all the reasons she wanted a teacup pig. I admire her thoroughness and tenacity, but we really need to work on her spelling.

This is the breeder’s photo that made her heart go pitter-patter: 

Who wouldn’t want that little piggie?

You would think that deciding whether to add a teacup pig to an existing menagerie would be the hardest part of this equation. But you would be wrong. This time last week I was embarking upon the hardest part of the equation. It should have been quite simple, but it turned out to be a big ol’ mess.

See, the piggie my girl wanted was in Ohio. The breeder has a farm there and a farm in a small town about 75 miles from Houston. The piggie was going to fly from Ohio to Houston, and the breeder would pick her up then meet me to hand her over. Simple, right?

Not so much.

I was at the assigned meeting place on time and ready to take possession of the pig. I had a blanket, a beach towel, and Macy’s bathrobe, so the piggie could get used to her smell. The breeder had a drained phone battery and no sense of direction. None. Not even a teeny bit.

She texted me to say the plane was a little late but that she’d be at our appointed meeting place 30 minutes late, and that her phone was dying. She’d told me that she was driving a black Ram truck. I waited somewhat patiently in the Long John Silver’s parking lot next to the pawn shop and the Parrot Cove lounge with my bud Christy. Who knew that pawn shop was such a happening place 3 days before Christmas? A steady stream of cars, including 5 black Ram trucks, turned into the parking lot, only to head straight to the pawn shop. Not one of those trucks has a teacup pig in it. Two and a half hours later, the breeder finally called. She had no idea where she was and even less idea how to find me.

Long story short, our simple exchange took 5 and a half hours to conduct. Once we finally found each other and exchanged the pig, we had an hour’s drive to get her home. Poor little piggie had been yanked away from her mama and siblings, put on a plane, driven around in a truck with a directionally-challenged driver, then dropped into another car for another long car ride. Poor little piggie.

The stress of the exchange was quickly snuffed by two bottles of champagne shared round with great friends who turned out to meet the new addition. And the look on Macy’s face when I walked into the house with that little black & white bundle in my arms was priceless. At first she thought the pig was a stuffed animal and that I was “pranking her.” Once she realized that it was not only the real deal but also the pig she wanted most, she was overjoyed. 

The champagne drained and the friends departed, it was time to put the little piggie to bed. Her first night was a breeze and she slept soundly. The next day was a bit chaotic, though, with a trip to the feed store to buy piggie supplies as well as all the last-minute Christmas preparations, baking, and wrapping. Out of all the research Macy did on teacup pigs, it never clicked with me that it’s rather like having a baby in the house at first. Piper was needy, hungry, scared, and poopy. Several times a day. Thankfully the little zookeeper cared for Piper while I made the Christmas magic happen, and before the end of the second day, Piper had learned how to use the litter box. She’s a smart little piggie.

Details: she’s half micro-mini and half Juliana. We haven’t weighed her but I’d say she’s 3 or 4 pounds now, with an estimated full-grown weight of 15 to 20 pounds. She eats hog chow (dry pellets) and fresh fruit and vegetables. She’s eaten apple wedges, carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and uncooked oatmeal. That’s a way more varied diet than that of the 12-year-old boy who lives at my house. Cherry tomatoes are her absolute favorite, and she’s not shy about demolishing an entire bowl. Seeds squirting, juice flying: she’s a happy piggie when she has tomatoes.

She sleeps in Macy’s bed and prefers to be snuggled under the covers. That’s her backside and one rear foot poking out of the sheets. 

Piggies get along with all animals, and will walk on a leash like a dog. They love to snuggle and be part of “the pack” and be involved with the family. Our little piggie makes lots of different noises, from grunts and snuffles to sighs and chirps. She comes when we call her, and follows us around the house. She’s not the least bit shy about jumping right into our laps, and this morning when Macy was taking a bath, Piper jumped right into the tub! Teacup piggies don’t need baths, but they do need a little baby lotion once a week. Their skin gets dry from being inside. They don’t stink or shed (which is more than I can say for our dogs), they will use the bathroom outside, and they don’t need vaccinations.

Stay tuned for more piggie adventures. 

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Another BC casualty

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You  may not know her name, or you may know her only from her pageant past. Now you’ll know her as yet another victim of the breast cancer beast. Eva Ekvall, former Miss Venezuela, died Saturday. She was 28 years old.

28 years old.

She was diagnosed shortly after giving birth to her daughter, who is now two years old. Way too young to lose her mama. As far as I can tell, one is always too young to lose one’s mama.

guardian.co.uk

Ekvall died Saturday at a hospital here in Houston. Another casualty of the breast cancer beast.

Her death is garnering attention because she was famous, and because she was so young. She was crowned Miss Venezuela when she was 17 years old, then clinched the third runner-up title in the Miss Universe pageant in 2001. After that, she worked as a model, actress and TV news anchor. All of those accomplishments are notable and interesting, and no doubt  her physical beauty propelled her to success. What impresses me most of all, however, has nothing to do with her work on TV or runways but her work as an author.

Fuera de Foco (“Out of Focus”) chronicles her struggle with cancer, and she included some graphic photos of herself during her cancer battle. Of the book she had said, “I needed to send the message of the need for cancer prevention.” She gets extra kudos from me for focusing on prevention as well as baring herself in less-than-flattering photos. In a culture some would say is obsessed with looks, she was brave to show the real side of cancer. The ugly truth.

amazon.com

For Ekvall to appear on the cover of the book with a shorn head must have been a scary thing for a woman who was raised in the pageant world and who made her living based on her appearance. She wasn’t shy about showing photos of herself as she was during treatment. “I hate to see photos in which I come out ugly. But you know what? Nobody ever said cancer is pretty or that I should look like Miss Venezuela when I have cancer.”

guardian.co.uk

Nobody ever said cancer is pretty. Amen to that.

Anyone who’s endured the cancer “journey” or has cared for someone on the “journey” will find the above photo familiar. For Ekvall, the 8-month regime of chemotherapy, radiation, and then a mastectomy left her exhausted, bald, and puffy from steroids. Of this stage of her life, she said, “It’s painful to look at yourself in the mirror. Your face gets swollen. You lose every single hair in your body – your eyebrows, your eyelashes. You become some weird animal or something, you don’t recognise yourself. That was scary. Especially because my job has to do with my looks. I had to look decent and not appear sick.”

Such a tremendous burden: the pressure to look good and look  healthy. To paint a rosy picture of a situation that is anything but pretty. I am in awe of her courage and honesty.

When presented with the idea for the book and photos by Venezuelan photographer Roberto Mata, she was hesitant. “In the beginning I wasn’t sure if I looked good or not. Then I realised that wasn’t the point. I wasn’t supposed to look good, I had cancer. The pictures were very shocking because nobody had ever seen me that way. Nobody had seen me bald, without makeup.”

She had hoped that her book would help shatter the existing idea of female beauty and wanted to “move  breasts from the realm of aesthetics to that of health and disease.” Working toward awareness and away from shame and taboo was important to her. She spoke of the irony between a country known for plastic surgery and its resistance to breast cancer awareness: “There’s a huge taboo around breast cancer. But in this country [Venezuela] people get their boobs done every day so I don’t understand how breast cancer can be a problem when everybody’s showing their breasts.” The fact that Venezuelan women “rushed to get cosmetic surgery yet needed encouragement to get mammograms” confounded her, and she set out to change that.
Ekvall was honest about her anger toward her cancer. “I was very angry [when diagnosed] because I should have known. My aunt had breast cancer twice and my grandmother died from breast cancer. And I just let time go.When I got sick and knew my breasts were sick it’s like I didn’t want them any more. I wasn’t fond of them. I was angry at them. So getting rid of them, even though it was horrible because I had all these scars, meant I felt better.”She went on to say that “getting a mastectomy is not what I’d planned for my life, it’s not what I wanted to happen,” and that the fear of recurrence would always rule. “That’s the fear you live with for the rest of your life after you get cancer. But I made sure I told my story.”

I’m so glad she did tell her story.

R.I.P., Eva.

 

 


Giuliana Rancic

I wasn’t planning on writing about Giuliana Rancic’s breast cancer diagnosis in October or her decision to have a double lumpectomy or her announcement  that her double lumpectomy has morphed into a double mastectomy. Much has been written about it, and she’s done the talk-show circuit, and I didn’t feel the need to comment on the latest celeb to begin a cancer “journey.” However, the more I read about her story, the more compelled I am to comment.

First, when her cover issue of People magazine hit the newsstands, it nearly caused me to have a heart attack. I was mindlessly unloading my loot from my shopping cart and putting it on the conveyor belt when I caught a glimpse of this:

I didn’t notice the photo or her name, but was drawn in by the bold yellow headline and wondered, who’s that and what’s she got that is serious enough that she has to fight for her life??? Imagine my shock when I read the fine print and realized that it’s Giuliana Rancic and she’s got what I had — breast cancer. After the shock wore off, I thought I’d better see how serious her diagnosis is; after all, if she’s fighting for her life, it must be bad. I’m thinking stage 4 with mets everywhere.

The article in People, titled “The Fight of My Life,” speaks of her “devastating cancer diagnosis.” I’m thinking this is really bad.

As I read on, though, I learned that her BC was caught early and had not spread.

Whew!

So does this mean that early-stage, non-metastatic BC qualifies one to be deemed “fighting for one’s life”? If that’s the case, what does that mean for women whose BC is not early stage and has spread?

This kind of overwrought journalism really bugs me. I know that People has to sell mags, but good grief, how about a little truth in advertising? The cover story of  “I’M FIGHTING FOR MY LIFE” in big, bold letters nearly caused me to stroke out, and left me thinking I really underplayed my BC story. My cancer was in both breasts, not just one, and I never declared that I was fighting for my life. I’m thinking I seriously mishandled this.

I’m certainly not one to kick a sister when she’s down. That’s not my intent at all. I wish her the best; I truly do. Cancer is a terrible thing, no matter what age or what stage one is when diagnosed, and I certainly don’t mean to give Rancic grief — she’s enduring enough of that as is. However, I do wonder about some of the comments she’s made. I was hoping they were taken out of context, but ….

She said that the double lumpectomy didn’t get all the cancer so she was moving forward with a bilateral mastectomy, and I totally support her saying that deciding to have a mastectomy “was not an easy decision but it was the best decision for me.” Agreed. But when she went on to say  “Not only can it [mastectomy] save your life, but you can come out feeling healthier and with a positive self-image”

Really?

Ladies, raise your hand if your bilateral mastectomy left you feeling healthier and with a positive self-image.

Come on, show of hands.

Anyone? Anyone?

Maybe I’m the odd girl out, but the process of lopping off my breasts certainly didn’t make me feel that way, and 18 months later, it still hasn’t. I’ve talked to more than a few BC gals, and never once has the topic of feeling healthier or having a better self-image come up. Not once.

On The Wendy Williams Show the other day, Rancic spoke openly about her surgery and how she thinks it will affect her: “Listen, I love my girls, but I’m gonna feel more like a woman when this is all done.”

“I’ll be able to say that I survived something major and it’s made me stronger. I will be a better woman for it.”

 Oh boy. More like a woman and a better woman. Yikes.

I hope she’s not setting herself up for a very big, very traumatic fall.

Rancic went on to say that “scars are beautiful. I think scars tell a story.”

Yep, there’s a story there all right. Millions of women can attest to that. There is most definitely a story there. Hopefully not a horror story.

I wonder if she’s seen any images from The SCAR Project. I was blown away by photographer David Jay’s shots the first time I saw them, and receiving The SCAR Project book is one of the best gifts ever (thank you, Trevor). The women are beautiful, and their strength and kick-assed-ness is beautiful.  The scars, not so much.

thescarproject.org

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thescarproject.org

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Giuliana Rancic speculated of her breasts after reconstruction: “They might come out looking even hotter. You gotta have fun with this. We find the humor in everything. Bill helped pick ’em out. I’m like, ‘Bill, that big? Really?'”

They might come out looking even hotter.

I’m gonna have to linger on that idea for a minute.

And when I’m done, I will contemplate the damage that occurs when people say things that imply that facing breast cancer is a tidy event that requires surgery and treatment then fast-forward on to the happily ever after. While the happily ever after certainly can, and does, happen, I think it’s misleading to say that BC is something you deal with and move on. The idea that after cancer comes transcendence is flawed. The idea that all you have to do is wrap a big pink ribbon around a cancer battle is flawed. The idea that everyone comes away from breast cancer a better, stronger person is flawed. It’s not that easy, it’s certainly not pretty, and it doesn’t always result in the kind of change you would consider positive.

In speaking of Rancic’s mastectomy, her husband Bill said, “Our goal is to be done with this by Christmastime and not look back. We’re taking the rear view mirror off the car and we’re not looking back, because we’re going to be done.” Well, considering she had the surgery two days ago, and is still in the hospital, I hope she’s “done” by Christmastime. It’s good to have goals.

Maybe the whole cancer thing is still too fresh for me, too raw, but the idea of not looking back is weird and foreign and borderline incomprehensible. Maybe there’s a pair of magic “don’t look back” glasses that gets passed out upon diagnosis, and I missed out on that. I can see how that might happen as I’m always in a hurry and might have scooted out of Dr D’s office before anyone had a chance to give me the “don’t look back” glasses. Or perhaps I was supposed to get them from my oncologist, but was so freaked out by the fact that I have an oncologist that I ran out of his office before I got the magic glasses. Maybe Giuliana got her glasses in advance; one of the perks of being a celeb and having cancer. Personally, I don’t know how one can experience a cancer “journey” and not look back. I hope it works out for her.

Giuliana is definitely on the fast-track. She says, “I hope for a full recovery by New Year’s Eve. We’re planning to be in Times Square!”

If any of y’all are going to be in Times Square for New Year’s Eve, look out for Giuliana. And be sure you don’t bump into her. Those mastectomy scars and JP drain holes take a while to heal.


What I know for sure

I take Oprah’s magazine, O. My friends who aren’t from around here laugh when I say that I “take” a magazine. I never knew that was a southern way of saying I have a subscription. Learn something every day, even if it is from Yankees (kidding, of course — I love my Yankee friends. Just hate the team the Yankees).

Now that we’ve cleared that up, back to the magazine. That I take.

In every issue, the last page is Oprah’s column on what she knows for sure. It’s the first place I turn to each month when the magazine appears in my mailbox. Then I go straight to the food section, followed by the book recommendations. I can’t say that I’ve ever made a recipe from O magazine, but the food stylists and photographers do an outstanding job. I have definitely taken book recommendations and have not been disappointed.

The What I Know for Sure column was spawned by Gene Siskel asking Oprah what she knows for sure. On the surface, it seems like a simple question, yet it had Oprah “flustered and stuttering and unable to come up with an answer.” She explains it: “The late film critic Gene Siskel used to ask in his celebrity interviews, ‘What do you know for sure?’ The first time he asked me this question, it threw me. Since then the question has become a way of taking stock of my life—hence the monthly column, in answer to Gene.”

Siskel inspired her to find out what she knows for sure, and every month she shares what she’s discovered. Say what you will about Oprah — some people think she walks on water while others can’t stand the sound of her voice — when she talks, people listen. Sometimes she gets a little too “out there” for me, but for the most part, I agree with what she says and usually come away from her What I Know for Sure column thinking, “Yeah! What she said.”

Because it’s the holiday season and I’m in the giving mood (and because I’m still waiting for the answer to the question of my next surgery to be handed down from the mighty GYN oncology tribunal at MD Anderson), I give you Oprah’s Top 20 List of Things She Knows for Sure.

1. What you put out comes back all the time, no matter what. (This is my creed.) [Oprah’s creed, not mine. Although it is a good creed.]

2. You define your own life. Don’t let other people write your script.

3. Whatever someone did to you in the past has no power over the present. Only you give it power.

4. When people show you who they are, believe them the first time. (A lesson from Maya Angelou.)

5. Worrying is wasted time. Use the same energy for doing something about whatever worries you.

6. What you believe has more power than what you dream or wish or hope for. You become what you believe.

7. If the only prayer you ever say is thank you, that will be enough. (From the German theologian and humanist Meister Eckhart.)

8. The happiness you feel is in direct proportion to the love you give.

9. Failure is a signpost to turn you in another direction.

10. If you make a choice that goes against what everyone else thinks, the world will not fall apart.

11. Trust your instincts. Intuition doesn’t lie.

12. Love yourself and then learn to extend that love to others in every encounter.

13. Let passion drive your profession.

14. Find a way to get paid for doing what you love. Then every paycheck will be a bonus.

15. Love doesn’t hurt. It feels really good.

16. Every day brings a chance to start over.

17. Being a mother is the hardest job on earth. Women everywhere must declare it so.

18. Doubt means don’t. Don’t move. Don’t answer. Don’t rush forward.

19. When you don’t know what to do, get still. The answer will come.

20. “Trouble don’t last always.” (A line from a Negro spiritual, which calls to mind another favorite: This, too, shall pass.)

My favorites are 2, 5, 10, and 17. Because I’m a little on the OCD side, and because it’s the biggest storyline in my life to date, I equate most of Oprah’s list to cancer. Well, numbers 2 and 5 have been my style from the get-go, way before cancer so rudely interrupted my otherwise fabulous life. It’s just the way I was made and it’s how I roll. I don’t know how it happened or if it is just imprinted into my DNA, but I don’t give a fig what other people think. Sure, I want the general impression of me to be one that’s positive, but when everyone is wearing skinny jeans, I’m gonna pull out my boot-cuts. My swim-against-the-current ways predate my diagnosis, for sure, but those trend-bucking ways have defined my cancer “journey.” From eschewing lumpectomy to questioning the doctors to rejecting that status quo and doing my own research, I’ve bucked the system and made choices based on what I truly believed. When a Very Important Person took offense with this little blog, I said it’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to. Don’t like it? Don’t read it. I will be fair and will endeavor to be balanced, but I will tell it like it is.

Number 5 has been a harder row to hoe than numbers 2 and 10. I’m a worrier, and that too is stamped into my DNA. While I make a real effort to not let the worry overtake my more rational side, it is definitely an effort. My good friend and health-care sherpa Amy Hoover has a saying: “Don’t borrow trouble.” That saying has become my mantra in this cancer “journey,” even if it is quite the effort to leave the borrrowing behind.

I’ve never loved Oprah more than when she declared to millions of people around the globe that motherhood is the hardest job ever. For someone who doesn’t have children to get this is quite gratifying. I adore my kiddos and feel immensely grateful to be raising them but it is a hard job. Not hard in the sense that it takes a lot of education or training, but hard in that you never know if all your hard work will pay off. You can do all the right things as a mother and still end up with kids who lose their way or thumb their noses at your values or vote Republican. It happens. There are plenty of how-to books on parenting, but none of them can guarantee the outcome you seek. Sorta like with cancer.


Come on, karma wheel!

Just came across this story about a jackass in Austin who couldn’t be bothered to report to his probation officer as part of his plea-bargain for a burglary, so he claimed he has breast cancer and was undergoing treatment. He even provided a fake letter from an oncology office to that effect.

Seriously??

He accepted more than $1,500 from a benefit staged on his behalf.

Seriously??

This guy must have thought he was pretty special; while 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s more like 1 in 1,000 for men. This year alone, more than a quarter of a million women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and another 57,000 will get the news that they have DCIS breast cancer. For men, 2,140 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected, according to breastcancer.org.

Yep, he’s special all right.

I sure hope the karma wheel catches up with him.


Inquiring minds

So yesterday I had my appointment with the gyn oncologist, and I haven’t taken the time to report back. Many thanks to you dedicated readers who’ve inquired about the appointment. Y’all are keeping me on my toes.

A little refresher: Dr B was recommended by Dr P, my new favorite OB-GYN, for my strange and complicated situation: to remove or not to remove my ovaries? That is the question. And then the follow-up question: how to remove them? After a recent week from hell with more conflicting opinions than skeletons in Herman Cain’s closet, the newest doctor in my supporting cast at long last added some clarity. Well, sort of.

Dr B says there certainly is reason to proceed with the surgery, based on my maternal family history. Although I tested negative for the BRAC gene, there’s enough cancer, of various sorts but mostly reproductive, to justify yanking my ovaries.

But, on the other hand, my recurrence score is quite low.

But, on the other hand, I do favor the scorched-earth policy of doing every- and anything I can to assure that this blasted cancer doesn’t have a chance to come back.

But, on the other hand, the oophrectomy would be surgery #9 for me since I was diagnosed 18 months ago. As much as I dig the morphine, I’m not exactly embracing another surgery.

But, on the other hand, perhaps it would be nice to breathe easy knowing I’ve formally cut ties between my body and the pesky hormones that caused cancer to so rudely interrupt my life.

At this point, you might be wondering just how many hands this new doctor has.

And you might now be quite enlightened as to the utter confusion of my current situation.

Dr B said that she’d like to give me an answer to my question, but there really isn’t a cut & dried, definitive answer.

I should have known.

Nothing, and I do mean nothing, has been easy or normal or gone according to plan thus far; why should this be any different?

Rather than flipping a coin, which at this point seems as reasonable as anything else, she proposed what sounds like a great idea: she will present my case and all its myriad complications, to a consortium of oncologists at their round-table discussion Thursday morning. The group of docs in this brain trust will pick apart my checkered past, render opinions, and hopefully provide an answer.

Who wants to put $20 on a hung jury?

As much as I would love to have Dr B call me at our appointed time on Friday to say, it’s unanimous (one way or the other, at this point I don’t really care as long as I don’t have to make the decision), I am completely prepared for her to say, we dunno.

And so I begin yet another round of the waiting game.

The good news is that Dr B said if I decide to proceed with the surgery, she can indeed do it laparoscopically. That makes for a much easier recovery, and at this point in my cancer “journey,” I sure would welcome something easy.

As much as I resisted getting yet another doc involved, and as much as I really didn’t want to have to trot out my medical history once again, I’m glad I was a big girl and made the decision to go the distance. I like Dr B a lot, and getting myself into the hallowed MD Anderson halls wasn’t nearly as complicated as I expected. Perhaps I’d had enough time to rest up after faxing the huge sheaf of medical records, pathology, and test results to her office. I was almost taken down by the “welcome packet” that arrived, in 2 separate envelopes, from Anderson. I managed to survive the process of filling out another sheaf of papers and documenting the gory details of my family and personal medical history, including a nosey question about how many sexual partners I’ve had. Geez, all I want is an opinion on an oophorectomy, not the Spanish Inquisition. 

The hilarity continued during the actual appointment, when the fellow who shadows Dr B was going over the sheaf of papers and her eyes bugged out when she got to the answer to the Spanish Inquisition.

Not really. That didn’t happen, but I imagined it happening. If my answer to that particular question was higher or lower than average, the fellow (whose name I cannot remember but who I wouldn’t identify anyway, because that might invade her privacy) didn’t let on. And I’m grateful for that. I’ve long since lost any shred of modesty or dignity in this cancer “journey,” but I do appreciate not having to get into that subject with her.

Along with the fellow who may or may not be judging me based on my answer to that one question, Dr B has a nurse practitioner and a visiting doctor from China. All four of them looked under the hood, so to speak, when we reached the exam part of the appointment. Nothing like bringing 4 new people into the inner recesses of the wild and wonderful world that is my body after breast cancer. I wanted to offer to let the receptionist and the janitor and the Fed Ex delivery guy come in, too, but I wasn’t sure if the group of 4 would get my humor, so I kept my big mouth shut. Maybe next time.

 

 


The gift that keeps on giving

I’ve been remiss in blogging the last few days. I could be a big baby and say I haven’t been feeling so great, but I won’t. Even if it’s true. Cancer. It’s always cancer. Seems that nary a day goes by without someone I know or a friend of a friend being newly diagnosed. It would be easy to get bogged down in all things cancer, but I won’t.

Something bad happened last week. Not “recurrence” bad, but side-effect bad. Something I’ve been scared shitless of since learning that this foul thing even exists. Until last week, said foul thing had not gotten ahold of me, but then on Wednesday last, everything changed.

Lymphedema.

The dreaded swelling of a limb following surgery, particularly surgery in which lymph nodes are removed.

Since my mastectomy 18 months ago, I’ve been on guard against the dreaded lymphedema. I have a fantastic lymphedema specialist, Tammy, who has become not only a vital member of my health-care team but also a great friend. Visiting her is like a trip to the spa — serene setting, trickling water fountains, dim lights, soothing music, and lovely & caring women. It’s a safe haven among the shitstorm that is breast cancer.

I started seeing Tammy as a preventative measure all those many months ago, and while I never had lymphedema, she worked her magic on my scar tissue and rough spots after my surgeries. With her help, and that of office manager and “salt police” Janice, I’d educated myself about lymphedema and had, until now, been successful in preventing it.

All that came to a screeching halt Wednesday. The proper care, the education, the prevention, the vigilance — gone. Just gone. My left arm swelled up like a balloon and felt heavy, tingly, tender, and sore. I was scared.

The thing that scares me so much about lymphedema is that it can come out of nowhere, months or years after surgery. And it can be permanent. The last thing I want after being handed a cancer diagnosis at age 40 is to go through the rest of my life with a balloon arm. That would put a serious crimp in my tennis game.

Luckily, Tammy and her staff of lymphedema slayers were on the ball and treatment commenced right away. I got to experience the joys of “the pump,” in which the offending limb is encased in a stockingette, then stuffed into a huge, padded wrist-to-shoulder sleeve reminiscent of the padding used to train police dogs, then encased in a plastic-y sleeve attached by thick cables to a machine that squeezes the limb rhythmically. The idea is to squeeze the excess fluid out of the limb and guide it back through the battered lymph system to then be filtered out of the body and released into the atmosphere, hopefully never to be seen again.

The plan was to rest (egads), avoid lifting anything with my left arm (bye-bye strength training), and wear the compression sleeve (oh so fashionable, and yet another palpable signal to the world that there’s something wrong with me). Pump it every day, drink as much water as I can hold and then some more, and hope it goes away. After laying low, being a gimp, wearing the sleeve, pumping and adding some k-tape, and drowning my innards 5 days, there is some progress. The swelling is down, but not totally gone. I want it gone. IMHO, 5 days is more than enough time for it to be gone.

Y’all know how much I loooooove being a patient, enduring complications, and being sidelined.

Not.

This latest complication and sidelining was rather tough. Mentally more than physically, which is a change. I guess it’s good to shake things up every now and again. The getting back to “normal” was getting kinda boring, and the idea of finally putting this cancer experience behind me probably was a pretty stupid one. Why not insert a wrench into the plan?

There are lots of things that aggravate the hell out of me with lymphedema. Lots of things. First and foremost is how rudely it interrupted my foray back into my “normal” life after the latest surgical procedure. I’m a busy girl and an impatient girl, so the “stop-start-stop-start” nature of getting back to “normal” after cancer and in between the 8 procedures I’ve had is trying. Just as I was getting back to “normal” after the October revision and hitting it hard at the gym, the balloon arm strikes. In fact, one of my fellow gym rats was just telling me, the day before the lymphedema arrived, that it looked like I was back. As in, back to my usual workout routine and getting stronger. Two weeks in a row, I’d had 3 hard workouts in a row. I was actually starting to see some progress, and with no more procedures on the horizon, my future in the gym seemed quite bright.

I should have known it was just a tease and wouldn’t last. I should have realized that cancer and its many ugly aftereffects will always have a hold on  me and will get the better of me. I should have recognized that no matter how hard I work and how many things I do right, my arch nemesis will forever be skulking around in the shadows, waiting for the perfect time to shit all over me once again.