“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called opportunity and the first chapter is New Year’s Day.” — Edith Lovejoy Pierce
I’m a couple of days late, but the sentiment stands.
Welcome, 2012. I have every hope that this year will be waaaaaaaaay better than the last. 2011 was a humdinger, and not in a good way. 2012 is bound to be better, just by default.
I’m not one for making resolutions as a new year dawns, but I do like to set goals. I’ll leave things like world peace and matching-making for those pathetic Kardashian sisters to a higher power; I’m motivated, but am not a miracle worker. Without further ado, my goals for the coming year, in no apparent order:
drink more champagne (I’m sure some are wondering, is that even possible??)
improve my forehand (more depth and more angles, and quit hitting right to the person on the other side of the net. Sheesh.)
make my own salad dressing (no more Newman’s Own for me, although I want to figure out how to get his face on my bottle of dressing)
take my calcium supplement (every day, no excuses, just do it)
That’s it. A simple list.
Happy New Year!
It’s Thanksgiving and I would be remiss if I didn’t remark upon the things for which I am thankful. This time last year I was fresh off the post-mastectomy infection train and trying to navigate life as a survivor. This year, the infection is finally in the rear-view mirror, and 8 surgeries later I’m on the road to reclaiming my normal life.
Living in Texas, where it’s warm enough to swim on Thanksgiving. People joke about how Texas is a whole ‘nother country, and it’s true. Everything is bigger here, and better.
Tennis. I’ve learned so much from the game, most notably humility, and continue to be challenged. People laugh when I say I started playing tennis because I like the clothes and had no idea how hard a game it is, but it’s true.
Things that challenge me to get outside of my comfort zone. Like modeling in the Couture for the Cause a few weeks after my latest hospitalization last fall. Yikes. After wondering what in the sam hell made me agree to do it, I ended up having one of the single best experiences of my life. And plan to do it again in March. Get your tickets now, before it sells out!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
As I predicted yesterday, my favorite doctor and all-around funny guy Dr S did indeed shake his head at me when I reported that I was fever-free until evening time. He shook his head, just as I expected, and said if you had a fever — even one that didn’t come until evening time — you were not fever-free. I said yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m claiming it. It counts. Even if I’m the only one who thinks so, for the record I was fever-free. So there.
He probably would have argued with me if I were still feeling like something scraped off the bottom of someone’s shoe and if the redness/soreness/streakiness/swelling hadn’t tapered off considerably. I still look like I’ve been beaten mercilessly by a very large stick after last week’s surgery, but I feel a lot better. Yesterday followed the same pattern as the day before, with me being fever-free until the end of the day. Last night the fever came on even later than the day before, and I expect this means it’s pulling off a long, protracted, and overly dramatic good-bye. That’s my official medical opinion; don’t try to talk me out of this idea or change my mind. I’m operating under the assumption that my body is working it all out, and that a slight fever at the tail-end of the day is emblematic of the trauma my body endured last week and not indicative of anything infection-related.
My visit to Dr S was quite pleasant, and as usual, we scuffled a bit over a few points. The main scuffle is an ongoing one in which the good doctor claims that before The Big Dig, i.e., my DIEP surgery for reconstruction, I did not have a waist. This has always struck me as seriously funny because one thing I’ve always had, maybe even from birth, is a waist. I was curvy before it was cool. Way before J-Lo, Beyonce, and Kim Kardashian, I had a waist and a round butt, and I’ve never had skinny legs. Not that I’m a tub-o, but I’ve always had meat on my bones and muscle. I learned long ago that certain fashion trends were not for me, and I’ve lived 42 years without ever wearing a pair of skinny jeans, quite happily I might add.
So it’s always struck me as funny that my favorite surgeon said that in the course of restructuring my body during The Big Dig that he “gave me” a waist. Of course I wasted no time in correcting him, and we’ve gone round and round about this issue ever since.
I reminded him that unlike a lot of his patients, I was pretty happy with my body before cancer invaded and necessitated surgeries that would change so many aspects of my physical self. I’ve always been physically active, and can truly say I’m one of those weirdos who likes to work out. Every time we watch the Biggest Loser, I get a little envious about the contestants being able to spend hours in the gym every day. I know, weird, huh?
As much as I enjoy working out, I love, love, love to play tennis. Back in the day, pre-cancer, my favorite day was Monday because I would have a tennis lesson, then work out, then go to a tennis drill. I’d stop for a snack in between the lesson and the gym, and change clothes then have lunch before drill, then happily collapse in a heap. Super weird, right? Some of my happiest days ever were spent at Newk’s tennis camp, where we played tennis for 16 hours over the course of a too-short weekend. If you’re a tennis player but have never heard of Newk’s, get online now and make a reservation. It will be one of the best weekends of your life.
Carianne, Rebecca, Sharon, Staci, Melanie and I played hard and had a blast. We fully embraced the camp philosophy of “Eat, sleep, and breathe tennis,” and we found it true that while at Newk’s, you have “No worries, mate!”
Kim, Staci, Sharon and I were so thrilled to meet John Newcombe himself. What a kick to be at camp with him, visit with him, and watch him in action — yes, he still plays like a pro. He’s a stand-up guy who entertained us with his tennis tales and inspired us to become “rock solid.” They say his moustache is insured for $13 million, and I believe it! My favorite thing he said about his longevity in the tennis world: “I’m basically living the same, I just curtailed the stupidity.” I’d say anyone who chooses to build a first-rate tennis academy in the Texas Hill Country has indeed curtailed the stupidity. The scenery surrounding Newk’s place is gorgeous, the pros are fun and knowledgeable, and the weekend camps are the best!
Directors Chris & Sal and the other pros earned their money the weekends we visited. We played hard, sassed them, and tried to drink them under the table. They’ve got youth on their side, though, and all-day tennis while hungover would bother me more than it would them. Team Mexico and Team Australia entertained us royally, and we will be back for another hard-core weekend soon. Planning to return to Newk’s has kept me going during this long, drawn-out, and unpleasant recovery from the dreaded disease and the even-worse infection.
That’s part of why this idea of me not having a waist has been so funny. I have indeed always had one, and to settle the issue once and for all, I went to my appointment yesterday loaded with physical evidence.
Then there’s the wedding dress. Again, the photo is old — coming up on 19 years — but even in all-white, the least-flattering color for full-body shots, I see a waist. I also see a very sweet look on my mama’s face, and remembering her in that sparkly pink dress brings a bittersweet smile to my face.
This green dress was my favorite piece of my work wardrobe. I still have it, and might just try to squeeze into it for my next appointment with Dr S. Part of what I loved about it was that it wrapped around the front and buttoned at the waist. Yes, at the waist!
My final piece of evidence was this photo of Yvonne and me at our Cooking Club Christmas party before I was diagnosed in April. Our Cooking Club goes all-out for the Christmas party, and since it’s the only time all year we invite the men, sometimes it gets pretty wild. Thankfully this photo was taken before the wild rumpus began, and again, I see…a waist!
After scrutinizing my photo evidence with his highly trained eye, Dr S had a few things to say. First, the cheerleader photo was from too far back in history. Second, that I looked very young in my wedding photo (compared to the ravaged old hag I am now, I guess), and when I told him I’ve been married 18 years he asked, “To the same person?” I know, I know, Trevor deserves a medal. Third, he said Yvonne is so pretty. On that point, the good doctor and I agree (xo, my friend!).
So the long story short, after examining my evidence, Dr S concluded that he never said I didn’t have a waist, but that he “enhanced it.” Like a lot of skirmishes, one must choose whether it’s a battle worth fighting. I unloaded my ammo in this skirmish, proved to my favorite surgeon that my waist pre-dated him, and smiled in satisfaction. I will admit that I enjoy these little scuffles with Dr S. He’s a worthy opponent in the stubbornness department, but I think he bests me in the “dogged determination to prove you’re right arena.” I’ve got him in the “who can hold a grudge longer” contest, though. We’ve gone toe-to-toe more than once, and I suspect that trend will continue.
My latest scuffle with the good doctor reminds me of my favorite quote by Kim Clijsters, one of my tennis role models. The reigning champ of the US Open and the Australian Open was the first mom to win a major title since Evonne Goolagong did it in 1980. (If you thought Evonne won a title for strangest last name in tennis, you would be wrong.)
Kim is a scrappy, smart player who gives it all on the court. Her “split shots” wow me every time.
She talks of how losing motivates her more than winning does. She seems to like the battle as much as the result, and believes that “it’s the imperfect matches that make you great.” I think so too. But that’s not my favorite quote of hers; it’s this:
“It’s nice to win 6-1, 6-0 but there’s nothing better than when it’s 5-all in the third set and nobody knows who will prevail.”
Lyle Lovett said it best:
I understand too little too late
I realize there are things you say and do
You can never take back
But what would you be if you didn’t even try
You have to try
So after a lot of thought
I’d like to reconsider
If it’s not too late
Make it a cheeseburger.”
I don’t eat cheeseburgers, or any burgers, but I love Lyle Lovett, and his clever and playful lyrics have been running through my head all day as I contemplated my latest visit to my cutie-pie oncologist. Last time I saw him, we discussed whether I need yet another surgery, to remove my ovaries. See, those little suckers pump out estrogen, and estrogen happens to be fuel for the type I cancer I had. So the theory is this: cut off the fuel, starve the cancer and ensure it has nothing with which to reconvene. Since I wasn’t physically well enough to undergo the oophorectomy because of the post-mastectomy infection, we put that surgery on hold, but in the meantime I began getting a shot of Lupron once every 3 months. Lupron essentially does the same thing as removing the ovaries, which is to shut off the supply of estrogen.
I thought the plan was set: continue the Lupron shots until I was deemed well enough to undergo the oophorectomy, which would likely be in the fall of this year. Get the kids back to school, recover from the August 17th reconstruction revision, and get rid of the ovaries. I like having a plan. I like sticking with a plan. I’m not a fan of changing the plan.
Today, Dr Cutie Pie said he didn’t think I needed to keep getting the Lupron. I’ve been getting the injections for nearly a year now, so even though I was scheduled to get one today and was planning on getting one today, he thought I was done. The plan had changed.
Granted, I had complained to him about the major side-effects of Lupron: hot flashes and sweating like a pig in heat. It’s summertime in Houston. Not just regular old hot-as-Hell summertime in Houston, either, but record heat and record drought summertime. I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that hot flashes and Houston summertime are a wretched combination.
Do I think the hot flashes and sweating like a pig in heat are sound enough reasons to discontinue the current path of hormonal suppression? No. I haven’t murdered anyone (yet). Dr CP said there’s really not that much difference between hormonal suppression from Tamoxifen alone and suppression supplemented even further with Lupron. A year of Lupron injections seemed to be enough, in his opinion. The daily Tamoxifen will go on, though.
Disclaimer: I did not beg, whine, or persuade him to make that decision. Not like I did last summer with Dr S when trying to sway him to release me from yet another hospitalization or disconnect me from the dreaded wound vacuum, Sucky. I did not employ any such tactic with Dr CP today. He came up with the idea to cease & desist all on his own.
He also said maybe that oophorectomy isn’t necessary, either. While I’m completely in favor of eschewing yet another surgery, my gut instinct tells me to rip those ovaries out (gently, though, and with lots & lots of morphine).
Life is so uncertain. What’s the right choice? How does one make such a decision? Stop the Lupron or not? Pursue the oophorectomy or count my blessings that I won’t need another surgery? Where’s the Great and Powerful Oz to tell me what to do?
That’s the problem with cancer. One of the many problems. Big-ass decisions need to be made; life-and-death decisions. And while there’s research aplenty and resources available, there’s no clear answer. I like clear answers. And unchanged plans. Neither of which prevails in one’s “cancer journey.”
Nonetheless, we moseyed along through the rest of the check-up with the usual and quite popular assertions from Dr CP that my cancer is not coming back. I like that part. He says this at every visit, and I really like hearing it. He told me that my reconstructed chest looks fantastic, and I really like hearing that (even though I think he’s shining me on, because there is definitely some tweaking and fine-tuning that needs to be done). I still like that he says it, though, even if he’s shining me on.
We chitty-chatted about his new baby, my tennis game, and other pleasantries. He said he’s started playing tennis and is thinking about taking some lessons. When he told me he plays once a week, I told him he’ll never get better that way; it’s not often enough. He got all puffed up and said it’s enough for him because there’s such a thing as talent.
In the immortal words of Steve Martin, “Well, excuuuuuuuuuuuuse me!”
He even strutted down the hallway a bit, then turned to say something about how he’ll be ready in about 6 months to kick my butt on the tennis court. I said, maybe in about 60 years.
How on Earth do I manage to find such cocky doctors?????
We parted ways, him to daydream about beating me in tennis while I headed to the infusion room to get my port flushed. For the last time. Ever.
Yipee! That makes me very, very happy. I’ll get my port removed next month, when Dr S does my reconstruction revision. Can’t wait to bid adieu to that little guy (the port, not Dr S).
But while in the infusion room, I started to second-guess the decision to stop taking the Lupron shots. It didn’t feel right to me. The instant-gratification-girl inside me said, “Hell, yes, let’s forego the shot — that sucker hurts and leaves me bruised for weeks.” But the more-measured-approach-taking girl inside me said something doesn’t seem right with this decision. What’s the harm in continuing the Lupron therapy (besides the obvious, 20-gauge needle harm, that is, and the hot flashes and sweating like a pig in heat harm)?
Dr CP walked by a few minutes later, as I was discussing the pro’s and con’s with my patient advocate extraordinaire, Amy Hoover, and we grabbed him to say I’m not sure about the Lupron decision. He listened intently as we reviewed the pro’s and con’s and said there’s no harm in getting the shot. So I got the shot. Still not sure if it’s the right choice. No idea if it’s the right decision. My gut says yes, and my gut usually is right. However, the fact that it took 3–count ’em–3 tries to get the shot makes me wonder. The needle went in, but the Lupron wouldn’t go. Ow! 3 needle sticks with a 20-gauge needle could easily make a girl question her decision to question her decision. But, as Lyle Lovett says, “Life is so uncertain.”
In addition to battling cancer and a nosocomial infection, I’ve also been busy battling plantar fasciitis.
The PF preceded the BC, and while not as nasty–and certainly not life-threatening in any way–it’s a major drag. My feet hurt all the time. All. The. Time. Maintaining my busy-body active lifestyle is pretty tricky with feet that hurt All. The. Time. It also severely limits my footwear. Cute shoes are pretty much out, as is going barefoot. I haven’t resorted to orthopedic shoes, but I’m not out of the woods yet, either. I have custom orthotics that go in my tennis shoes (don’t be jealous), and if I’m not wearing my tennies, I’m in my very dear Cole Haan flip flops or my not-s0-cute but cushy crocs flip flops. Thank goodness I don’t work in an office that requires closed-toe, pinchy shoes. I’d have to quit or get fired. Probably option #2.
I’ve seen a foot doctor, I’ve tried herbal remedies, I’ve taken copious amounts of RX anti-inflammatories, I’ve iced and elevated and slept in a splint. I had high hopes that while recovering from The Big Dig and taking several months off from tennis and most of my daily activities beyond laying in bed bemoaning my pitiful state would provide some respite from the foot problems that plague me. Alas, it did not. In fact, having foot pain while lying in bed doing none of the active things I want to do gave me more about which to bemoan.
My tennis buddy and dog-spoiler extraordinaire Christy had the answer to my problems. Dr Scott Kelly of the Airrosti Clinic. I need another doctor in my life about as much as Lindsey Lohan needs another bad-influence friend. The thought of adding yet another doctor my circle of docs did not appeal to me one little bit, but desperate times….
The Airrosti Clinic uses an intense treatment model that involves some serious hands-on time with the doc. And when I say hands-on, I mean he’s gonna put his hands on your tenderest injured spot and mangle the hell out of it. For real.
See, fascia is connective tissue that covers most of our body. It covers the different muscles, blood vessels and nerves “much like plastic wrap holds the contents of a sandwich together,” as it was explained to me. Problem with fascia is it’s everywhere, so your chance of injuring it is great, and it has little or no blood supply, so your chance of healing said injury is not great.
That’s where the laying of hands comes in. Dr Kelly gets his long, strong, mean hands into the damaged fascia and starts kneading it like bread. Then stretching it like taffy. Then punching it like a speed bag. All the while laughing maniacally at the moans, cries, screams and curse words coming from the patient. (Ok, he doesn’t really laugh maniacally but he does seem to enjoy his work very much, and when I showed him the line of bruises on my calf after his first hands-on treatment he smiled with obvious pride and said that’s his signature, and if he could sign his name in bruises, he would. That’s one autograph I don’t really need but apparently am gonna get. Repeatedly.)
When I met him last week, he grabbed ahold of my foot and said he could diagnose me in 30 seconds. I said I didn’t realize this was like speed-dating. He rolled his eyes, then told me that he could cure my PF in 3 treatments. I asked if he could also name that tune in one note. Why oh why don’t any of these doctors get my humor??
As skeptical as I was, I have to say that after the mangling, kneading, stretching, punching, and cussing, I could tell a difference. It took a while for the shock and trauma to subside, but once it did, I could tell that we were getting somewhere. The day after my first treatment, I got out of bed and walked barefoot on the tile without pain — something I hadn’t done in at least a year.
There’s homework, of course, that involves standing on a golf ball and rolling the ball all over the bottom of my feet, paying special attention to and lingering on the really tender spots. There are also a couple of exercises involving a 36-inch by 6-inch foam roller.
And then there’s the K tape.
Kinesio tape. In every color of the rainbow, according to the image on ktape.com. The website is pretty glowing about this product:
“It’s designed for Professional athletes, Olympians, and active people world-wide who take health & fitness seriously and who refuse to stop training, playing, or living life active and free. The design is minimalist, the results are magic.”
That’s me: I refuse to stop training playing, or living life active and free. Bring on the magic!
I’d had K tape before, when I was treating my PF myself, and again when I started seeing my lovely lymphedema specialist, Tammy. She’s a certified K tape master. She’s been using K tape on my post-mastectomy chest and now on my post-reconstruction belly. I’m a believer in the magic of K tape. As part of the scar-tissue-management on my 17-inch-long incision on my belly, Tammy puts a couple of strips of K tape and we wait for the magic happen.
So when Dr Kelly wanted to tape my feet after my first treatment and asked if I’d ever heard of it, I said as a matter of fact, I have some on my belly right now. We hadn’t been through the whole song & dance about the BC business; I was hoping to keep the BC beast out of the sports medicine arena. Well, the elephant was certainly in the room when I mentioned I had K tape on my belly. In for a penny, in for a pound, and I had to explain.
Yes, those are bruises just above the shorter piece of tape. If you’re fluent in the language of torture, you can probably tell that that’s how Dr K signs his name.
Dr Kelly seems to be a bit competitive, and wanted to tape me up real nice so that Tammy, the other K tape master, would approve. She did. And then she took it a step further. I guess she’s a bit competitive, too.
Instead of just using a couple of strips on the scar tissue on my belly, Tammy used a new technique she’d just learned at a K tape workshop. Could this be Turf Wars part deux?
I can’t wait to show this to Dr Kelly. The battle of the K tape is on!
I hope neither he nor Tammy sees this K tape image and gets any big ideas:
I’m ok with the crazy blue racing stripes on my legs & feet, and with the Frankenstein pink on my belly and over my new belly button, but I’m drawing the line at a pink ribbon made from K tape. No thanks!
Today’s the day, people.
I’m paying a call on my true love. Nope, this isn’t a tell-all expose a la Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I’ve been cleared by my favorite doc to start playing again. To ease back into it and with specific instructions to stop in my tracks if I feel even a tiny pull in my 17-inch-long belly incision. That super-long, super-bad incision is healing up quite nicely, and it’s my job to guard it and baby it.
When I got the green light from my favorite surgeon, I asked his nurse to please put a note in my file and have him sign it to that effect. A permission slip of sorts, so that when I see him again in a couple of weeks and mention tennis, he doesn’t forget he’d given me the go-ahead. The last thing that man and I need is another argument. Although, it has been a while since we had one….
With the tennis ban being lifted, I realized that I haven’t so much as picked up a racquet since The Big Dig, nearly 3 months ago. In fact, I had to dig around in the garage for my tennis bag. Sadly, it had been consigned to the garage instead of riding shotgun like normal, and it hung on a hook, quite forlornly, I might add, all this time. Over the course of almost 3 months, things like stadium seats and insulated cooler bags were hung in front of my beloved bag, and it took on the role of wallflower instead of constant companion. I had to take my racquet out, just for a sec, and hold it in my hand. Just like old times.
Today’s return isn’t full of the fanfare the met my return to the court last fall, after finally triumphing over the God-awful post-mastectomy infection and all its myriad complications. You loyal readers know the story so I won’t bore you with the details yet again, but suffice to say that the bilateral mastectomy would have been enough, but the nosocomial infection that required 3 more surgeries, nearly a month in the hospital, and endless antibiotics was really enough.
No fanfare, because while returning to tennis after the mastectomy and infection mess was a lot, but it’s easy compared to recovering from the DIEP surgery. Good thing today is just a 1-hour drill, which is the perfect venue for me to see if I remember how to swing that racquet. I’m not giddy with excitement like I was last fall, because the cautious side of me is bracing for disappointment. For this return to not quite work out for me. Although I’ve been cleared, there’s no guarantee that my body is on the same schedule as my heart & mind, and I may well be met with resistance from the battle-weary bod.
See, this is one of the unseen side effects of a cancer diagnosis. Even after getting through all the hard stuff–comprehending the devastating news of diagnosis, all the gut-wrenching decisions, the surgeries & hospitalizations, the never-ending antibiotics & their grueling side effects, the cornucopia of doctors’ appointments, the worry & fear & fatigue–I’m still shell-shocked enough to automatically look for disaster. Although the 267 days of oral antibiotics worked and my infection is cured, there’s still a little part of me that assumes the worst. I can’t even remember the last time my skin opened up to let infected fluid escape, yet I still think I feel it a couple of times a week. It’s PTSD for patients.
So my job today is to say screw the PTSD. Can the shell-shocked tendencies. Bust right through the doubt. Ignore the niggling little voice that asks if I’m sure I want to do this.
Hell yes, I want to do this. More than anything else, tennis to mean means I’ve healed. More than being able to go about my busy little life, more than getting back into the gym, more than being able to lift my arms enough and twist my core enough to dress myself. Tennis means I did it. It’s over.
My friend who also battled the breast cancer beast has dusted off her racquet and returned to the game we both love. While I’m unhappy with the unfinished parts of my reconstruction and she’s unhappy with her not-yet-grown-back-in hair, we’re getting back in the game.
I’m going to take the advice of tennis legend Billie Jean King in my post-cancer tennis strategy:
“Ladies, here’s a hint. If you’re up against a girl with big boobs, bring her to the net and make her hit backhand volleys. That’s the hardest shot for the well-endowed.”
My friend and I are both differently-endowed than we were before breast cancer came to call, but we survived that unwelcome visit and are ready to tear it up on the court. Even if we both get our asses handed to us in match play, I suspect we’ll both be smiling. Happy to be there, happy to have a racquet in hand, happy to be alive.
Y’all know I’m a milestone-observing kind of girl. I’ve written about my cancer-versary, about a revelation, about week-old recollections after The Big Dig, aka my reconstruction, and returning to the tennis court after a long absence full of longing.
I’ve written about the anniversary of my sweet mama leaving this earth. That was early on in my blogging, and I hadn’t mastered the art of inserting photos. The photos of her are woefully displayed, and in my free time (!) I need to go back and fix them. She deserves better.
I’ve also observed the end of the worst year of my life. “Don’t let the door hit ya” was my message to 2010 as it went out like a lion. A mean, underfed, on-the-hunt-for-victims lion. Almost halfway through 2011 and I’m happy to say it’s turning out to be a much better year. Course, we didn’t have far to go to make it better than its predecessor.
Back to the current milestone. One year ago today, I said bye-bye to my breasts and was the lucky recipient of a flat–but cancer-free–chest. This was me, this time last year. On this very day (although it wasn’t a Friday, it was May 13th. Having a bilateral mastectomy on Friday the 13th would be cruel).
Trevor snapped this photo of me waiting for my surgery, in the holding pen before moving to a pre-op room. My brain was swirling with lots of thoughts, too many thoughts, and I was likely firing off a quick email to our BFF Ed with some last-minute kid-wrangling instructions. Notice the pink notebook in my bag: my cancer book, full of pathology reports, doctors’ notes, research, and bills. Bills, bills, and more bills. I think the current estimate of the cost of my last year medically is in the range of $260,000. And we’re not done spending yet.
One year ago today, I wish we’d thought to take a close-up shot of my chest instead of the deep wrinkle snaking across my forehead. My chest would never be the same, and would become a major battleground–and that was after the mastectomy. If I’d seen that pic before going under, I would have asked Dr Dempsey, breast surgeon extraordinnaire, to give me some Botox while she was in there. Yikes.
I didn’t know what to expect from the surgery, other than the basics. With subsequent surgeries, I’ve learned that actual procedures are available for viewing on youtube and I’ve watched a few. Gross. But amazing.
All I knew, really, was that I had breast cancer and I wanted it gone. I could have had a lumpectomy, but chose the slash-and-burn option instead. I’m not a half-measure kind of girl, and the idea of just taking a part of the infected breast instead of the whole thing wasn’t anything I ever seriously entertained. Slash-and-burn meant taking both breasts, even though the cancer was only detected in the right one. Only. Ha! Good thing I lost the pair, because the post-mastectomy pathology showed the left one had some problems, too. If you can call an area 5 cm in diameter full of cancerous junk a problem. I can, and I did. Little did I know then, one year ago today, that pretty much anything that could go wrong with my post-surgery self would go wrong. As my nurse practitioner friend Laura says, “Your case certainly has not been textbook.” Truer words were never spoken, but we didn’t know that one year ago today.
Because there were only 3 weeks between my diagnosis and the mastectomy, and because most of that time was consumed with tests, tests, and more tests, there wasn’t a lot of time for freaking out or being scared or crying about my fate. Not that I would have done any of those things anyway. There was a problem, and we were going to fix it. ‘Nuff said. I had a great team–breast surgeon, plastic surgeon, and oncologist– and was in a nationally ranked and highly acclaimed hospital. Course, I’d end up adding a kick-ass infectious disease team, home-health care nurse, a beloved lymphedema specialist, and wound specialists to my team before it was all said & done.
and Macy & I pampered ourselves with a Chinese foot massage.
I squeezed in as much time as I could with my girls
Going into surgery one year ago today, I had no idea that I’d end up spending nearly a month more in the hospital and undergo 3 more surgeries; minor surgeries compared with the mastectomy, and of course reconstruction was way off in the distance, with even more days in the hospital. I had no idea how much I’d miss my kids while hospitalized
I had no idea how much infinite kindness my friends would bestow upon me. We were on the receiving end of many, many meals delivered to our house, a kindness for which I’m so grateful. The rides to & from my kids’ activities helped more than I could ever guess. The sleepovers and outings that my mommy friends provided kept my kids’ life normal when everything else around them was off-the-charts abnormal.
Keith’s crab towers were chock-full of healing properties.
Yes, lots of champagne eased the way from being an average, suburban at-home mom to becoming a statistic. From regular woman to cancer vixen. From got-it-together overachiever to at the beast’s mercy. And my bubbly companion continues to ease the way, from cancer victim to cancer survivor. Cheers to that.
although Pedey enjoyed every lazy minute of my recouperating.
I’m not sure I ever got that pair back from her.
I certainly have learned a lot over the last year. Things I never knew I would have to learn, like the difference between invasive ductal carcinoma and in situ carcinomas. Like how a tumor is graded to determine the stage of the cancer. Like cure rate statistics and recurrence stats. Like how fine a line there is between the science of medicine and the art of medicine. Like how fighting a wily infection could be even worse than fighting cancer.
The crash course in all things infection-related was a big education. A very big, most unwanted education. My biggest lesson in this arena is how many unknowns exist. I wanted to know when, where, how, and why I got this infection. No one knows for sure. I wanted to know why it took so long to diagnose it, and why so many drugs have to be involved. I learned that my oncologist could have me all my drugs delivered to my doorstep via UPS. I learned to love vanocmycin and to depend on probiotics. I learned to eat breakfast as soon as I got up, hungry or not, because I needed to time the antibiotics right so they hit an empty stomach. I learned that morning sickness-style nausea doesn’t go away as the morning changes to afternoon and then to evening. I learned that there was nothing, not one single thing, I could put in my stomach to ease that awful nausea. I learned that washing those drugs down with alcohol doesn’t make me feel worse; that in fact it made me feel a whole lot better. I learned to develop a schedule and a rhythm to taking my antibiotics every 12 hours for 267 days.
I learned that “We’re discontinuing the antibiotics” are the sweetest words I’ve heard in a long time. I’ve learned about the complete and utter relief of dumping my remaining oral abx out, because I don’t need them anymore.
That’s the tip of the iceburg, or what my friend Michele would call “a booger’s worth” of the practical things I’ve learned. The topical aspects of changing one’s status from normal person to cancer patient. Then there’s the other side of it.
There’s the stuff I’ve learned in the last year about the unquantifiable side of a serious illness. The depth of inner strength required to get through something like this. The well of emotion that accompanies the clinical stuff. The patience and fortitude I didn’t know I had (although I’m still working on the patience part). The measure of gratitude toward the people who’ve helped along the way. The unbridled joy of making new friends in the midst of a shitty situation. The passion for writing, long dormant in the day-to-day of child-rearing, and the love of blogging. The understanding that my doctors are just regular people under those scrubs & white coats, and while they’re full of knowledge, there’s a whole ‘nother side of unknown things for which they make an educated guess and hope for the best. And, I have to admit, how much fun I’ve had getting to know these people in the white coats.
While being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40 certainly does suck, I’m lucky that I made the decision one year ago to not let that diagnosis define me or impede me living my life. There certainly were times in which I was miserable from surgery and infection, and down in the dumps about my limited capabilities during recovery. There were also times over the last year in which I thought for a second I can’t take any more–not one drop more of bad luck, rotten news, and beastly complications. But those times didn’t last long and they did not prevail. Cancer did not prevail. Not over me. No way. Nuh uh. That’s perhaps the most important thing I learned over the last year.
After 267 days, I finally heard the words I’ve been dreaming about: “We are discontinuing the antibiotics.”
Cue the hallelujah chorus.
I saw Dr Samo instead of Dr Grimes today, and he delivered the most-excellent news. He is my new best friend. All of the cultures run during The Big Dig came back negative, which means we can safely assume the post-mastectomy infection is gone. Yes, at long last, the mycobacterium has been vanquished.
Let me say that again: the infection is gone. I’m cured.
No more twice-daily dose of minocycline and bactrim. No more nausea. No more planning my consumption of food & drink around my doses. No more remembering to take my drugs. No more antibiotics.
Oh, happy day!
I’m still in a mild state of shock, or maybe just slightly buzzed. Could be the celebratory champagne straight away after returning from the medical center (duh), and the margarita at my tennis team’s end-of-season lunch.
We broke out the good stuff and gathered our close circle of friends who would never say “it’s too early” and question the wisdom of popping a cork at 11 a.m. To Amy, my chief medical correspondent and chauffeur to & from appointments: thank you. For everything. To Jill & Keith: thank you for rushing right over, then leaving as soon as the bubbly was gone. But for planning to come back with dinner.
The infection is gone. Ding dong, the witch is dead.
I half expected the citizens of Munchkin Land to come out and dance their little legs off and sing in their froggy voices to celebrate.
I admit, I’ve been wondering all week if my visit to the infectious disease doc today would result in the end of the abx. I was trying to not get my hopes up, and while I knew not to expect it, I would have been disappointed if they’d said keep on swallowing those pills. No matter. It’s all good now.
I will also admit that when the nurse was taking my BP and temp and asking me the reason for my visit, I felt funny saying “yes” to her question of “are you here to see if it’s time to get off of the antibiotics?” It was almost too much to hope for. Almost.
Then when Dr Samo uttered those glorious words of “We are discontinuing the antibiotics,” I was stunned. It was a bit surreal. Once I grasped what he’d said, my first thought was that “discontinuing” meant taking a break, not stopping them altogether.
It was almost too much to take in.
As my best buddy Ed said, “I feel I should shove you and yell ‘Get Out!’ like Elaine on Seinfeld.
“Get Out!” indeed.
The end of the antibiotics is like an end of an era. My life has revolved around them for so long now–one week shy of a year, in which I’ve been on some form of abx, whether oral or IV. Nearly a year on some pretty powerful drugs, and none of them the fun kind. Nope, these are the ones that tear up your stomach and make your insides cry like a baby.
But no more.
The fat lady can sign her heart out right now.
We interrupt the “All Napa, All the Time” marathon with breaking news. Imagine the tornado sirens going off right now (or maybe that’s just in my head). If you’re looking for news of Day 2 of our recent Napa adventure, you’re gonna have to wait.
Yesterday I did something I haven’t been able to do since The Big Dig. I’m very excited about it. It’s been 5 weeks since the excavation that gutted me like a fish in an effort to restore my post-mastectomy sunken chest. 5 long weeks. There are lots of things I’ve been unable to do, and y’all know I’m a very impatient patient. I tend to rush things and push the envelope, and sometimes that results in a set-back, or at the very least, a lot of frustration for my handlers. I’ve been trying, really trying, to be patient, to not rush things, and to avoid any potential set-backs. I’m not much of a people-pleaser by nature, but I do try to keep my handlers happy. They make a lot of noise when they’re unhappy with me.
I rode my bike.
Yes, that’s the breaking news.
Hope you were sitting down, because it’s really big news.
See, I’m one of those weirdos who loves to exercise. I’m restless and have a strong “productivity” drive. Like how some dogs have a high food drive, or our crazy dog Harry has a high “must have something to carry in my mouth” drive, I have a high “productivity” drive. I also like to eat. And drink. But don’t like when my clothes don’t fit, a wonky equation to say the least. Some people don’t care much about food, and I don’t understand them. I’m usually planning my next meal as I’m eating the current one. Different strokes, people.
I’ve mentioned before in this space that I’m not good at lying around, being lazy, and doing that thing called relaxing. What is this practice of which people speak? Apparently I missed the memo, because I’m no good at it.
All this to say that being grounded for the last 5 weeks has been hard for me. I’ve really missed my daily exercise. Whether it’s tennis, the gym, or riding my bike, I miss it. And yesterday, I rode my bike.
Macy and I have a routine of riding to the pet store every day after school to buy crickets for Cincko, her leopard gecko. He’s got a big appetite, and I’m always afraid he’ll start banging on the sides of his tank if he doesn’t get fed. He eyeballs Pedey, our little dog, and puffs himself up as if he’s going to attack that dog the way he pummels the crickets who are dropped into his tank. Thus, the need to procure crickets is a big one, and I haven’t been able to ride with her since my surgery.
Yesterday after dinner, she wanted to go for a ride. Not to the pet store, but just around the neighborhood. After proving to myself and my handlers that I could keep up in Napa last weekend, I felt good about giving it a try. I told Macy I’d do a lap down the driveway and see how it felt. A test run, of sorts. If it didn’t feel good, I’d concede. She reminded me not to push it, that we could wait until I was more healed. That child knows her mama well.
The test run down the driveway felt fine. Felt better than fine: it felt awesome. Other than a little tightness across my abdominal incision, it felt like old times. It’s true that you never forget how to ride a bike, and my muscles remembered how to fire their pistons to propel me forward. I wanted to get down on my knees right there in the driveway to thank the great gods of healing for bestowing their kindness upon my beleagured and battered body. But that would have caused Macy to roll her eyes at me and say that I’m embarrassing her, again, so I refrained.
Instead, we made a 2-mile circle around our neighborhood, dodging pedestrians, watching for bumps in the road, and intentionally riding through sprinklers. We enjoyed the drier-than-normal Houston air and rejoiced in the birdsong. We admired the neighbors’ yard work and noticed how lush and green everything is in our part of the world.
It was a very good ride.
Ok, this is the part that my handlers should skip over. Y’all don’t want to read this; I worry about your blood pressure.
As I reflected this morning on yesterday’s ride and conducted my mental inventory of how much my various hotspots hurt, I realized that they didn’t really hurt. Not any more than usual. Maybe I really am healing after all. Finally!
Satisfied, I ran through my workout options for today: I could ride my bike again, I could take Harry for a long walk, I could go to the gym for cardio or for strength training. Then I realized that it’s Tuesday. It’s tennis drill day. I haven’t drilled with my team in 5 weeks. I could go to drill! Yes, I could go to drill. I may have to dust off my racquet, but I could go to drill.
Ok, handlers, you can start reading again.
Then I realized that I’d better settle down. I’d better take it easy. I’d better ease into it and not go head-long, full-speed into resuming my normal life.
Maybe next Tuesday.