Beach boundPosted: July 29, 2012 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: family vacations, Fenway Park, getting back to normal after cancer, lobsters, Red Sox, Salisbury Beach 11 Comments
We leave tomorrow, bright & early, for our annual trip to Salisbury Beach. I. Can’t. Wait. My bag is packed, I’m ready to go. My favorite girl made a count-down sign and has been packed for a week. The two male members of this household have yet to pack but will throw trunks & toothbrushes in a bag at some point today. Between now and our 6 a.m. departure tomorrow, a few important things need to happen, including one last swim as I attempt to hit my goal of 800 meters before I let myself go completely to pot on vacay; delivering a birthday gift to our favorite 18-year-old (happy birthday, Alexis!); and one last cooking club gathering tonight with some of my besties. We’ll toast the waning of summer while sipping bubbly in the pool.
My math may be off, but I think this is our 9th year to make the beach trip. Two summers ago, I was benched by the heinous post-mastectomy infection. Missing the trip was as tough as the ordeal that caused it, and I’m still in do-over mode. I usually invoke a 10 a.m. start time for drinking on the beach, but in true do-over fashion, I may just relax that rule and say anything goes in the beverage-consumption department.
The beach trip is always special and much-anticipated for many reasons: spending time with our surrogate family, escaping the brutal Texas heat, lounging on the beach, eating lobster, and going to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game or two. The trip has taken on additional relevance for me in the wake of a health crisis, because it signifies the light at the end of the tunnel and the reward for making it through the really rough stuff. It symbolizes a return to normalcy after a hellish span of time.
The bittersweet part of this year’s trip will be leaving our little piggie behind. While she would be a fun addition to our beach party, the logistics of getting her from here to there and back again are too stressful — for her and for us. She’ll be in good hands, though, with Keely the piggie-loving pet sitter. We stocked up on provisions for our little piggie, so it will be business as usual for her as she fills the hours in between breakfast and dinner.
On the way home from Costco, with a half ton of produce in the backseat, I saw this car and smiled to myself. I viewed the whimsical paint job as a harbinger of good things to come: fun, carefree, colorful days in the sun, surrounded by the people I love the most. I couldn’t help but notice the placement of the Modelo billboard just beyond the St Arnold’s Brewery tie-dye car as I prepared for our big trip–that’s some good karma right there.
This beach trip will be full of all of our favorite things, and we’ll have the added bonus of sharing our favorite beach with none other than Amy Hoover, my medical sherpa, and her 3 boys as they make the long journey home from Maine. Salisbury Beach is right on their way home, so we’ll rendezvous on the beach. How fun!
We’ll be doing a whole lot of this
and of course, a healthy dose of this.
Odd girl out at the oncology officePosted: July 11, 2012 Filed under: breast cancer | Tags: cancer battle, getting back to normal after cancer, life after cancer, post-mastectomy infection, psychological effects of cancer, PTSD, survivor's guilt 31 Comments
I’ve been on hiatus from blogging but rest assured, all is well. No real reason for the hiatus other than the fullness of life. Although I’ve not been wrapped up in the hurried pace of the school year, so far summertime finds me still going & blowing as usual. Less than three weeks until our annual vacation to Salisbury Beach, though, and I will slow down then. As the sage Zac Brown says, I’ll have my toes in the water, ass in the sand, not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand. Can’t wait.
Yesterday was my quarterly check-up with my cutie pie oncologist. My intrepid appointment companion Amy is currently living the good life seaside on the East Coast, so I had to go it alone. She strongly suggested I reschedule, lest she miss a visit with Dr Cutie, but alas, I carried on without her. She’ll have to wait until November to lay eyes on him, as I’ve graduated to three visits a year with him. That’s my reward for being two years out from the dreaded disease: fewer oncology appointments.
Despite one fewer chance a year to gaze upon Dr Cutie as he imparts his wisdom, this is a good thing because I found myself feeling guilty sitting in the waiting room. Of the four other patients waiting for the good doctor, I was the only one with hair. The others were not only bald but quite sickly looking (and a good 20 years older than me, as well). As I perched on a chair in my workout clothes, planning to hit it hard at the gym as soon as I got the requisite visit out of the way, I was filled with a sense of guilt over my good health.
I could feel the eyes of the other patients on me, and I imagined them wondering, as I would in their shoes, what a strapping gal with a full head of hair, color in her cheeks, and a spring in her step was doing at an oncologist’s office. Had the shoe been on the other foot, I would have assumed this picture of health was meeting someone there, or perhaps had found herself in the wrong office and had not yet realized the mistake.
My guilt was somewhat assuaged by the stark recollection that there was a time, not so long ago, when I was the sickly looking one, dragging myself from one appointment to the next, consumed with healing after a double mastectomy and overwhelmed by a post-surgical infection. I remember well the days of envying the “normal” people who walked with ease and were unburdened by the pressing concerns of cancer, treatment, and their ugly fallouts. Ditto for all the days (close to 30 days all told that one summer) I spent in the hospital. Pushing my IV pole on endless loops around the hospital halls, I would gaze longingly at the healthy people out and about and wish I were among them.
Although I’m two years out from the dreaded disease (or, two years and 2 months, as Dr Cutie so astutely recited from memory), the recovery process from the infection was quite lengthy, and it’s really not been all that long since I was freed from the clutches of that wretched bug. Many times as I moved from the infectious disease team’s office in the Texas Medical Center to Dr Cutie’s office around the corner from home and to the plastic surgeon’s office halfway in between the two, I stared hard at the healthier specimens I saw along the way. I remember feelings that ranged from outright envy to smoldering anger at these people who went about their daily business the way I used to. I envisioned these people getting their kids off to school, hitting the gym, running errands, lunching with friends, and doing household chores with ease, the way I used to. I imagined the fabric of their lives being uninterrupted by cancer, the rudest of guests, and assumed that they sailed through their days focused on minor inconveniences rather than big-time medical crises. First-world problems like a cancelled hair appointment or a rained-out tennis match were screechingly replaced by real-world problems like a hole in one’s chest wall that just won’t heal and an insidious bacteria that evades treatment quite stealthily.
Was it survivor’s guilt that hit me yesterday in the doctor’s office? Perhaps. I’ve never been one to wonder “why me?” — neither in terms of the roulette wheel of whose genes will come up hinky and necessitate a diagnosis, nor in terms of why am I now healthy while so many others are sick. Seems like a colossal waste of time and energy to me. I don’t spend much time thinking back about the sheer hell I endured with that nasty infection; partly because I don’t want to go there, and partly because my brain works hard to protect me from going there. There are plenty of gory details I have to work hard to conjure up, and while my intellectual brain knows that of course I did go through all that, my sympathetic brain says let’s not rehash that ugly past and prevents me from really remembering how awful it was. Better to smile encouragingly at the other patients in the waiting room and spend a few minutes of quiet reflection on the road I’ve traveled and how far I’ve come.
Ice, ice babyPosted: July 6, 2011 Filed under: breast cancer | Tags: A Charlie Brown Christmas, anemia, aquaphobia, cancer battle, claustrophobia, Ferrex, getting back to normal after cancer, Hoshizaka ice maker, ice chewing, iron supplement, Lucy Van Pelt, mycobacterium, pagophagia, pica, post-mastectomy, psychological effects of cancer, Sonic ice, South Padre Island, Tervis tumbler, vegetarians, vegetarians and anemia, young women with breast cancer 8 Comments
Pagophagia sounds like one of those words Lucy spouted off in A Charlie Brown Christmas. You remember the scene, in which Charlie Brown pays a call to Lucy’s psychiatric booth (The Doctor Is Way In), and she confronts him about his prospective phobias. “Perhaps you have hycangeophobia; the fear of responsibility. Or maybe ailurophobia — the fear of cats. Or climocophobia — the fear of staircases. Or thalassophobia — the fear of the ocean.”
I remember those long, complicated names for the phobias because I played Lucy in my 5th grade production of A Charlie Brown Christmas. I remember the blue pinafore dress that was my costume, and I remember that it was kinda hard to pronounce and memorize the long words that marked the phobias from which Charlie Brown might well have suffered. Little did I know that as an adult, I myself would suffer from claustrophobia and aquaphobia. How ironic.
So the first time I heard the word agophagia I figured it must be a phobia. Nope, it’s a disorder. And I have it.
Agophagia is a form of the disorder pica, in which a person craves and is driven to ingest non-nutritious substances, usually because of a vitamin or mineral deficiency. People with pica tend to eat all kinds of weird things, from paint to dirt to chalk, and it can get really weird with people trying to eat things like batteries and feces. Gross. I must be pretty mild on the agophagia spectrum, because the idea of eating any of those things is not just weird but disgusting.
No, for me the agophagia manifests in a powerful addiction to ice.
Yes, that’s right, ice.
Not even ice that’s surrounded by a good cocktail, either, but ice. Just plain ice.
I am addicted to ice.
Hello, my name is Nancy and I’m an ice-a-holic. I’m an agophagiac.
I didn’t think much of it at first, but just chomped away happily at the ice that was left in the bottom of my water glass, or the cubes that collected once my iced tea was gone. Sonic ice left me positively swooning, but I didn’t realize I had a problem until I was going through the drive-thru just for a cup of ice. Route 44 size, please. Feeling a bit self-conscious about my addiction, I did a little research and learned I am not alone. Sonic ice has a Facebook page with more than 218,000 fans.
Excessive ice chewing is a symptom of an iron deficiency. Guess what I have? Yep, an iron deficiency. I am definitely anemic. I’ve been on a prescription iron supplement, but once I started feeling so puny from the long-term antibiotic I had to take, I stopped taking the iron pills. Not a good idea.
My cutie-pie oncologist likes to blame my iron deficiency on the fact that I don’t eat meat, but the fact of the matter is that it’s yet another fallout from the nasty-ass infection I contracted after my bilateral mastectomy. I was vegetarian long before cancer dive-bombed my house, and never had a problem with anemia. Once the mycobacterium set up shop, though, the anemia gained a foothold, and the ice obsession began for real. That dadgum myco caused a whole lot of problems, of which the anemia was the least of my worries. Once diagnosed with that wretched, wily infection, one of the many sites I consulted for research stopped me dead in my tracks with this: “Disease typically chronic, progressive; rare spontaneous resolution has been reported.”
Guess that means my ice-chewing obsession would be around a while.
Like most addicts, I was the last one to notice that I had a problem. My girlfriends would giggle at me when my input on where to go to lunch after tennis revolved exclusively on which places had the best ice. Yes, I have them categorized much as my dear friend Amy Hoover knows which places serve the best iced tea. Some places use the same filter for the flavored and unflavored tea, ya know.
We have an ice machine outside, in the outdoor kitchen. It makes these groovy mushroom-shaped ice cubes that I adore. Not as much as Sonic ice, of course, but they’re pretty darn good. In the height of my addiction, I would consume 3 or 4 rounds of a 24-oz Tervis tumbler full of ice. Sometimes I wondered if the chomp-chomp-chomping sound was disruptive to those around me. Most times, though, I chomp-chomp-chomped away anyway, blissful in my puffy little cloud of addiction.
I’m not one bit ashamed to admit that I’ve been known to dig through the Hoshizaka to find the choicest bits of ice. Some cubes are more delectable than others; it’s a fact. And those are the very cubes most desirable to an ice-chomping addict.
However, I did start to suspect I had a problem when the only thing I wanted to pack for a long evening at the baseball field in 98-degree heat was ice. No water, just ice. And when the only thing I purchased at the baseball field concession stands was ice. Again, no water, just ice.
The pivotal moment in my addiction came a couple of weeks ago, when I was on my girls’ trip with my Duke friends. When it came time for the beverage service on the plane en route to the beach, I requested ice. No water, just ice. And more than one cup, please. Once at the beach, I realized the ice-cube trays in the freezer of our condo would not suffice, so I had to run out and get a cup of ice. Every day. I got smart and ordered 2 cups so I could put one in the condo’s freezer (alongside the worthless ice) for later. Each night at dinner, I asked for a to-go cup of ice. In the past I’ve been known to request a to-go cup, but I can assure you it wasn’t just ice. These were unchartered waters I had entered.
After becoming seriously worried that I was going to crack my teeth on all the ice I was consuming, I decided it was time to start taking that prescription iron supplement again. Within days, my ice obsession had waned. Weird.
While I still covet really good ice and will still pick through my ice machine for the best cubes, I’m not driven to chomp cup after cup of it. In fact, I realized this week that I’d gone 2 whole days without chomping any ice. Today while watching Macy’s tennis lesson, I got a cup of iced tea (extra ice, natch) and actually left most of the ice in the cup.
I’d like to think that my waning obsession with ice is a harbinger of my return to normal life, after a protracted cancer battle. I’ve had my share of complications on this “cancer journey,” and the idea of things turning around for real is pretty sweet. I relish the thought of being able to put that “cancer journey” on ice and getting on with my life.