As we prepare to bid adieu to 2010, I took a stroll down memory lane in the months since I joined the club of which no one wants to be a member. There were some great moments in the first few months of 2010, or BC (before cancer), and I made it my mission to ensure that the months that followed had the same. Two weeks before I was diagnosed, life was grand, as evidenced by the happy girls in this photo of Yvonne’s birthday dinner at Stella Soli. So fun! Who knew that something wicked this way comes?
The day before my surgery, Macy and I had the great good fortune to meet Jeffrey, a baby mockingbird rescued and rehabilitated by our friends the Hoovers. I’m sure I had a million things to do to get ready for the big day, but meeting Jeffrey was high on the list, and I wasn’t going to miss out on the chance to have this sweet little guy hang out with my favorite girl.
An awful lot of people did a whole lot of nice things for my family and me, following my surgery, including but certainly not limited to custom-made cupcakes,
One of my first post-surgery outings was around the corner to dinner at the Cremers’ for Keith’s famous crab towers: lump crabmeat topped with a most delectable avocado-mango salsa atop a bed of greens with a citrus-y vinaigrette.
Y’all know how much I love my bubbly.
Some may say I love it more than my kids, but that’s not fair.
We all know it would be a tie.
Two weeks after the surgery, but before the dreaded infection showed up, it was my birthday. Those who say it’s all downhill after 40 may not realize that to a cancer patient, each and every birthday is a gift, and I met birthday number 41 head-on with a welcome embrace: Mexican food, margaritas and the cutest cake ever with my girls. None better. Who cares that I still couldn’t wash my own hair at this point? Not me! I was happy to be upright and out of the house.
A week after my birthday, the bottom fell out of the extraordinary recovery I was experiencing post-surgery. We were at a joint birthday party for 3 June girls (but there were no joints at the party; that’s how rumors get started!), and I didn’t feel good. After two weeks of slowly but surely making progress and feeling better, this was weird. What was really weird was waking up the next day to a huge red rash and blisters at the surgery site on my right side. You don’t have to be a doctor to know that is not good.
and embarked on one of the most memorable summers ever, for baseball. Memorable because the team did so well (District champs, Sectional champs and on to the State championship in Tyler) and because the boys chose to show their support for me very publicly by wearing pink sweatbands all summer. These warriors in pink tore it up on the baseball field and made this mama so proud.
I only made it to a couple of games but got to follow along with all the action thanks to an iPhone app that allowed Trevor to “broadcast” the games to a website that I followed on my iPad from the hospital. I will never forget the look on the nurse’s face when she came into give me a shot of morphine and I told her I needed to wait (I never turn down the good drugs) because I wanted to keep my wits about me and follow the game. Also memorable was the wound-care specialist who had two sons go to State as All Stars who called me from home at 10:30 pm to see if Payton’s team won. They did.
In between hospitalizations, I spent a couple of hours one day in my backyard in the sunshine, watching Harry frolic in the pool. After being cooped up in a dreary hospital room and feeling lousy, the fresh air, sunshine and unbridled canine joy were just what I needed.
One of the best days of all was in early July, in between hospital visits. I had been to see Dr Darcourt, my third oncologist, and learned that he agreed with all the research Trevor had done: no chemo! Celebration was in order, and when Amy & I ordered champagne at lunch, our sweet waiter at PF Chang’s asked if there was something special to celebrate. He had no idea but we filled him in!
Another highlight was getting to spend the weekend in Galveston with Christy & Alexis, who were kind enough to teach Macy how to fish. And fish she did: that girl caught the biggest fish of the trip! Later that night, I caught a baby sting ray (not my intent, for sure). I still feel bad about that poor little guy happening by the tempting lure on my fishing pole. All’s well that ends well, though, and with some help from some more seasoned fishermen, the little guy was freed. More importantly, I had a fun weekend with great friends that approximated a return to what most people consider a normal life.
Despite the idyllic setting, that weekend was just an approximation, though, of normal life, and the infection would puzzle and vex not one but two set of infectious disease doctors. After two more hospitalizations and a new team of ID docs, we got a handle on it, and although the last thing I wanted was to go back to the hospital, and to the Medical Center at 10:30 on a Sunday night no less, I wasn’t alone in the joint.
Macy loaned me her beloved Froggy to keep me company, and he took his job seriously. He didn’t left my side until I was allowed to go home, and then he went straight from the suitcase into the washing machine lest he brought home any nasty germs from the hospital. We’d had quite enough of those in our life.
Early August was bittersweet: I was on the mend, literally, but still on IV antibiotics at home and not well enough to travel to Boston for our annual vacation. After already having missed my Duke girls’ trip to Lake Tahoe in early June and all of the State championship in Tyler, I was beyond sad to miss this trip, which is always the highlight of our summers. Leave it to Macy, though, to bring me a fantastic souvenir: Continental Airlines had unveiled a new drinks menu on her flight home from Boston, and she got me a pomegranate martini mix and, once home, brought two glassed full of ice, two lime wedges, and one shot of vodka. My favorite girl and I had a welcome-home drink together. Of all the bevvies I’ve consumed, that one may be my all-time favorite.
A few days after school started, and a week or so out of the hospital, Macy & I had tickets to see Jack Johnson play at the Woodlands pavillion. After a string of disappointments all summer, I was determined to make it to the show. It poured rain on us and traffic was horrendous, but we made it and had a great time. What would be an already-sweet occasion was all the better because I was there, upright and out of the house!
I got through the rest of August and September without incident, and was starting to think maybe, just maybe I would be able to actually make and keep some plans that didn’t involve a hospital.
October marked my first foray into Breast Cancer Awareness Month as a survivor. While always aware of the fact that every October is earmarked and punctuated with lots of pink ribbons, it’s a different experience on this side of a cancer diagnosis. I was tickled pink (sorry, couldn’t resist), when Payton’s baseball team played in this tournament.
Next up was an event that was huge for me: the Witches’ Open tennis tournament at our club. I went into my double mastectomy in the middle of our tennis season, not knowing how the surgery would affect my game. Of course it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t get my game back, the question was how much and how soon. So playing in the Witches’ Open was a stellar event. Not only did I play with my longtime running buddy, Staci, but we won! I’m pretty proud of our little trophy.
That same night, still basking in the sweet glow of victory from the Witches’ Open, I made a return trip to the Woodlands pavillion for the Maroon 5 concert. Talk about a perfect day: tennis then a road trip & dinner with super fun girls, then the show. That great day slid into a great night, and again I was beyond happy to be upright and out of the house.
As if this month hadn’t been great enough, the last Friday night in October was the icing on the cake. I gathered by BFFs for the first annual Pink Party. Prepare to be seeing photos of this event every year for the rest of my life. It was that good. Many a nights laying in the hospital bed, I thought about what I was going to do once I finally got well enough to do something for my friends to show my appreciation for all the love and support they’d so freely given during the worst time of my life. The Pink Party was all I had envisioned it would be, and the fact that I was able to put on the dog for my girls was monumental for me.
Next on the calendar was Thanksgiving, and at the risk of sounding totally hokey, I had an awful lot to be thankful for this year. At first, as we approached the holiday, I tried not to think too much about it, for fear that reflecting back on all that had happened would overwhelm me. Then I realized that’s whacked, and instead of avoiding it, I should be relishing it–every bit of it. Another major triumph for me was making my mom’s famous crescent rolls. I’ve made them before with limited success, but this year, they rocked.
After Thanksgiving of course was Christmas, and the first ornament to go on our tree was this one: the cocktail shaker that says “Shake It Up.” I intend to do just that in the New Year.
And for the record, it was Macy who picked that ornament to go on first, in my honor. That girls knows me so well. Like most families, we have lots of cute and meaningful ornaments in our collection, but it makes me smile that she chose this one to kick off our Christmas season.
So as 2010 draws to a close, I can’t say that I’ll miss it. Unequivocally, it has been the hardest year ever. But amid the chaos and confusion and abject misery, there were a whole lot of bright spots. Those moments and memories outshine the yucky stuff.
When you think of a breast cancer survivor, what comes to mind? A granny all decked out in pink? A joyful gal in a ball cap crossing the finish line at the Race for the Cure? How about a sad sack sitting in yet another hospital waiting for yet another test? You might think that surviving the diagnosis, the surgery, the treatment(s) and any subsequent complications means you’re done, right? Wrong. You’re wrong. It doesn’t end there, and there’s no prize for getting through it.
Welcome to the next phase of survivorship: the constant vigilance required to ensure the cancer isn’t making a repeat appearance. Although I’m just getting started, I’ll quit my bitching just long enough to say I am grateful that my doctors are vigilant, that I have good insurance, and that I can get the majority of my tests done 10 minutes from home. That said, it’s still a giant suck-fest.
Today’s test is a CT scan to check 2 little spots–1 on my liver & another on one of my lungs. These little gems were uncovered during a CT scan the last time I was hospitalized, in mid-August. No one seems too worried about them because they are so small, but once you’ve had cancer, you learn the hard way that there is no sure thing. There is no guarantee. A spot is a spot, no matter how small, and a spot is never a good thing once you’ve had The Big “C.”
Hence today’s CT scan. I’ve never had an abdominal scan before, so I didn’t know that in addition to the fasting and IV contrast (where they inject dye into my veins), I also get to drink the dye. So instead of my daily cup of coffee (which, by the way is the #1 reason I get out of bed each morning), I had to gulp down two big cups of Sprite mixed with contrast dye. No ice. No vodka. That’s just mean. I don’t like Sprite on a good day, and by good day I mean one in which the Sprite is mixed with vodka. Lots and lots of vodka. The only good thing about drinking these 2 vile cups is that I could have burped loud enough to seriously impress a room full of middle-school boys. Too bad the waiting room was full of old people, who either wouldn’t hear it or would think it was rude to launch into a Buddy-the-Elf style burp.
After the Sprite-fest was the IV contrast. Ugh. I really don’t like needles, but have had enough of them in the last 6 months, whether IVs or blood draws or shots or port flushes, to kinda get used to them, but I still don’t like them. My veins on the left side have been used so much that they rebel. They act nice at first, so right after the big stick, to pierce the skin and enter the vein, it seems as if it’s going to work, but just as the nurse is threading the needle higher into the vein, that vein says, nope, no farther. The nurse typically digs around a while before giving up and moving to the other arm.
Cue the complication: because my infection was on the right side, and because I’m working hard to avoid lymphedema (swelling from surgery or trauma that can be permanent and that is seriously contraindicated with tennis), I’m supposed to avoid getting my blood pressure taken or blood drawn from my right side. But that’s my good side! That vein hasn’t been used & abused so much that it pouts and throws a tantrum like a toddler who’s way past nap time.
Luckily, the nurse was very nice. She listened to my long, drawn-out story about my bad luck on the right side and bad veins on the left, and rolled up her sleeves to try and make it work. Work, it did, with just a little big of digging on her part. After the IV it was time to lay down on the CT machine. No big whoop. No trick there, just suck it up because it’s hard plastic instead of Tempurpedic. And then the fun part: injecting the contrast. If you’ve never experienced this, let me be the first to tell you that if you have to go through this, remember: as the dye enters your vein and travels throughout your body, you will feel a warm, wet sensation. Don’t panic and think you’ve wet your pants. Don’t worry too much about it because before you know it, the “did I wet my pants?” sensation is replaced by a crushing headache and the feeling of wanting to simultaneously vomit and pass out. It’s also ok to want to cry for yo mama. The good thing (!) about all this is, it doesn’t last very long. So before you know it, the “wet pants, gonna puke, but wait I might pass out” feeling is over, the scan is done, the nurse yanks the needle out from your vein, and you are free to go. Come back in three months, though, to do it all over again.
So the survivor vigilance is a lot of work. It’s hard enough to live with a monkey on one’s back, wondering if/when the cancer is going to recur. It’s hard enough to wonder, am I doing enough? Asking the right questions? Worrying about the right issues? Researching the right stuff? It’s hard enough to put complete trust, and thereby one’s life, in the doctors’ hands. They are human, ya know. As schooled and trained and rich in experience and purpose as they are, they’re still human. So as much as I do trust them, there’s always that little voice in the back of my head wondering, what if they’re wrong? What if they made a mistake?
Nobody said it would be easy, but I really didn’t think it would be this hard. That’s why I have this cute little pillow on my bed, to remind me that yes it’s hard, but dadgummit, I am indeed a survivor. Period.