Posted: October 12, 2011 | Author: pinkunderbelly | Filed under: breast cancer, menopause | Tags: alcohol and breast cancer, artificially induced menopause, breast reconstruction, DCIS, hormone suppression, invasive ductal carcinoma, Linda McCartney, Lupron, oncology checkup, ovarian suppression, Paget's Disease, the Big Dig |
Yesterday was my regular check-up with my onco-crush, Dr D.
He’s so young and so cute ya just want to squeeze him. And he’s a hugger, too, so squeezing him is definitely an option. Me, I’m not much of a hugger, as my book club buddy Laura will tell ya. She manages to get more hugs out of me than anyone. I’m not very touchy-feely by nature, but I’m working on it.
I got a couple of hugs from Dr D yesterday, and since I won’t see him again until January, he said Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, too. That makes me panic a little, thinking the holiday madness is upon us and I don’t have enough time to engage in the consumerism that has become de rigueur. I also don’t tend to think that far ahead. I’m more of a small-picture kind of girl who’s learned not to look too far down the road, because there might be something wicked lurking, like a 15mm invasive ductal carcinoma and its nasty friends, DCIS and Paget’s Disease.
Dr D is very big-picture, though, and he’s not at all worried about something wicked lurking down the road. That’s one of the many reasons I like him — every time I see him, he tells me he doesn’t think my cancer is going to come back. That’s music to my ears and a balm for my worried soul. When I told him that I think about recurrence every single day, he tut-tutted and told me to think about something happy instead. Duly noted.
We had a long talk about my love affair with alcohol, as we do at every visit. He knows I’m a fan of the sauce and while he would like to see me cut back because of alcohol being a risk factor for breast cancer, he also advises his patients to live their lives, and he’s realistic about the studies being inconclusive about just how big of a factor alcohol is anyway. I pointed out the tragic and really-not-fair example of Linda McCartney, wife of the famed Beatle, who died from breast cancer even though she was a hard-core vegan, ate 100 percent organic, had no family history of the disease, and never drank. You can’t live much cleaner than that, and the bastard still got her. I’m not vegan, but I am hard-core vegetarian, I eat a lot of organic, I actually like fruits & veg, and had no family history of the bastard disease, so I’m going to enjoy raising a glass here and there. Not every day, like I would like, but that’s my choice. There’s nothing I like more than having a glass of wine while I cook dinner every night. I don’t do that anymore. But I’ll still say cheers to the freaky weekend. And if a certain someone shows up with an unexpected bottle of bubbly because it’s Tuesday, then I say life is for living and pop that cork.
Once we discussed and debated the effect of alcohol on BC patients, we (thankfully) moved on to other topics. He has a very nice bedside manner that involves him spending a good deal of time looking right in his patients’ eyes and asking how the feel. How they are coping. How they are emotionally. He knows that fighting the vicious beast that is cancer is way more than a physical battle, and he spends the time necessary to check on the non-physical battlefield. Smart man. In this process, however, he might have bitten off more than he wanted to chew by asking me if I’m happy with my reconstruction. Cue the $100,000 question.
Do I think my surgeons did a good job with my newly reconstructed chest? Yes. A fantastic job. Does it look 1,000 times better than it did pre-reconstruction? Way. But am I happy? Not so much.
See, we had a conversation very similar to the one last week. And I pointed out to Dr D, as I have to other docs, that I am one of the uncommon BC patients who was happy with her body before cancer ignited a stinking bag of dog-doo on my front porch. Sure there were some things that I wanted to tweak, after having babies, nursing babies, and turning 40, but overall I was happy before. That makes it kinda hard to then be happy with the after side of multiple surgeries and their far-reaching side-effects. I predicted that long after my “journey” is complete and I go back to my pre-cancer life, I will always see the scars instead of the progress. Not to be a Negative Nellie, mind you, but because I am very realistic. I know that the 17-inch scar on my belly will fade. In fact, it already has, and it started out looking way better than a lot of what I’ve seen in doing my research. I know that the “flaps” of skin used to create my breasts will settle into the landscape of my battle-scarred chest. I suspect that some day I will be more “me” and less “it” when it comes to thinking about how cancer has changed my body. But I’m not there yet, and Dr D listened and counseled me.
He gave me a very good piece of advice. So good that Amy jumped up and wrote it down on a piece of paper towel in the exam room. He said, “Focus your attention on the things you have achieved, because you have achieved a lot, but you still have a ways to go.”
He’s right, of course.
I just don’t tend to think that way. I’m way too busy thinking in the here & now (do I have enough bread to pack the kids’ lunches? Did I move the clothes from the washer to the dryer? It’s Mary’s birthday tomorrow; where’s the card I bought for her 4 months ago?). I need to stop a sec and shift from the here & now and the never-ending “to do” list and think for a moment about how far I’ve come and what I’ve achieved. My “journey” has been far from ordinary, routine. As my nurse-friend Laura says, “Everything that could go wrong did, and you were as far from a textbook case as could be.” True dat.
Two really great things came out of my appointment with Dr D, besides the pep talk and his blessing to have a drink. The first is the end of the Lupron shots. Hooray! I endured a year of that blasted drug, and am thrilled to say adios to it. The needle was huge, the drug was of the ilk that burns like fire upon entering the body, and the side-effects were hideous: hot flashes often enough to power a small city. Sweating more than Leon Lett after his infamous fumble against the Dolphins. Mood swings that make people run and hide from me. Joint pain that sometimes catches my breath. Decreased bone density that I can’t feel but fret about anyway. Bye-bye nastiness. Of course the flip side to being done with Lupron injections for hormone suppression means that I have to get serious about the oophorectomy. Gotta get those ovaries removed for good. As much as hate the idea of yet another surgery and yet another recovery, I am of the “slash & burn” mentality when it comes to cancer. Get ’em out so they can’t cause any trouble.
Item #2 in the “this is really great department” was the very last port flush. Hooray! I’ve had my port for almost 18 months, and it has served me well. It’s made my life easier and saved my already-floppy veins from being blown out once and for all. It’s allowed me to endure so many needle sticks that a 20-gauger no longer makes my palms sweat. But I won’t miss it. I will happily bid adieu to the titanium disk sewn into my jugular. I will not miss the monthly flushes with saline and Heparin. I will keep it, though, as a souvenir. As a reminder of all that I’ve achieved. Of all that I’ve endured. Of all the crap that was flung at me but how little of it stuck.
Posted: May 10, 2011 | Author: pinkunderbelly | Filed under: breast cancer, kids | Tags: after5years.com, cafepress.com, cancer battle, carcinista.com, Dana Farber, funny t-shirts, hating Mother's Day, infection, invasive ductal carcinoma, Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer, lettersinheaven.com, loss, missing mom, mom died from cancer, mycobacterium, Nancy's Point, post-mastectomy, Rumi |
I wasn’t going to blog about this, because I don’t want to sound like a broken record about how much I miss my mom. That’s a worn-out, overplayed, scratchy, non-Top-40 hit, for sure. It’s a sad song about gut-wrenching loss and about life going on despite the hole in my heart. You know that one person you always want to invite to the party, because they can talk to anyone, they bring a light & an energy into the room, and they become the most fun person there, regardless of the guest list?And because they come early to help set up, bring food, and stay late to clean up? That was her.
So I wasn’t going to write about her this year on my most-dreaded holiday. But then I remembered that blogging isn’t exactly a customer-service driven business. At least my little blog isn’t. It’s neither a business nor does it have customers. It’s my blog and I can write what I want to. So there. If I want to bitch & moan about missing my mom and hating Mother’s Day, I can and by golly I will.
For the first year since my mom died, I wasn’t dreading Mother’s Day as much as I usually do. Usually, I feel a terrible tug between wanting to savor my kids and their homemade, heartfelt gifts yet feeling more inclined toward wishing the day would just end already. I despise the advertising blitz that leads up to Mother’s Day and think genuinely unkind thoughts about the merchants that hawk their wares in an effort to extract the maximum dollar amount from adult children filled with guilt about not doing enough to honor Mom. I’m usually envious of my friends who have to juggle their mom’s wishes for the day with their own. Even thought my day can be whatever I want it to be with no juggling required, I never feel that excitement that comes from being treasured, being pampered. The day always, always, always ends in crushing disappointment.
But this year, I had resolved to do better. I was going to be better. I read several blogs written by members of the pink-ribbon sisterhood who also lost their sweet mamas to cancer. My blog buddy Lauren’s Mother’s Day entry in particular spoke to me. Her blog has led the way and shed much light for me as she is four years ahead of me in the “cancer journey” and the happily-ever-after life of a survivor with no mom of her own and 2 kids to raise. Reading this first thing on Mother’s Day this year reaffirmed my goal (stupid as it was) to enjoy the day. This line especially made me want to make it a good day:
“I am so thankful that I had her for a mom, however short a time it was. For how she loved and nurtured me to the tips of my toes, and for whose warmth I still feel surround me, especially when it is dark and it seems everyone else is gone.”
Yes, I still feel my mama’s warmth surround me, especially during the really rough times. Thanks, Lauren, for the reality check; you know I needed that, girl.
My decision to make it a good day, despite the hole in my heart, was affirmed by the supremely wonderful and true friends I have who know it’s a shitty day for me that never fails to disappoint. No less than 11 friends texted me Sunday morning, some to say “have a great day, I love you” and some to say “I know this is a hard day and I’m thinking of you,” and a few to remind me how lucky I am to be here, after waging an uncertain battle against not 1 but 2 vicious beasts. And a couple tried to make me cry (which is not easy to do) by telling me that my mom is proud of me and is thanking God, in person, for my triumph over cancer and mycobacterium.
Another blogger friend, also named Nancy, wrote poignantly about spending Mother’s Day without Mother. Like me, she spent last Mother’s Day trying to pretend everything was normal while staring down an uncertain future filled with tests, scans, surgery, and pathology reports. She writes:
“Even now, she would know things to say to make me feel better. She would be calling to see how I am doing. She would feel my pain and understand my fears, even if she had not had breast cancer herself. My mother would have understood about the ache I sometimes felt deep within and about the terror of facing life without breasts, or hair, or worse. She would have understood what it felt like to be a woman living on the edge unable to stop thoughts about dying from simmering during the wee hours of the night. She would have understood why I cried sometimes without even knowing the reason for my tears. She would not have cared if I was irritable, blotchy-faced or just plain unpleasant to be around. She would not have thought such things were even odd. She would have loved me and understood because that’s what mothers do.”
Yes, indeed that is what mothers do.
Marie writes a super-informative blog called Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer. Her mum is still on this Earth, but suffering from dementia, so Marie understands how hard Mother’s Day is. Her beautifully written entryabout the painful topic resonated with me and reminded me that our mums don’t have to be gone to leave us feeling empty. Marie’s quoting of Persian poet Rumi made me smile: “Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.”
I’m trying, Rumi, I’m really trying.
Another blog I love, “dear mom can you get letters in heaven?” is written by a young woman who lost her mom to ovarian cancer. Her take on Mother’s Day is so sweet and so heartfelt that it’s almost painful to read, but her outlook save it from being too sad to bear. Like me, she usually hates every minute of Mother’s Day, but this year came to the realization that her mom is happy, and that sustains her. Sami writes something that I feel so deeply, and I’m grateful to her for putting it into words. The weird dichotomy of feeling grateful to have had an awesome mom while still feeling so very, very sad that she’s gone:
“It’s just so bittersweet. I feel lucky to have known you, and I always will, but there’s that part of me that will just remain sad. I’m sad that I will never buy you another sappy Mother’s Day card or cheesy gift; I’m sad that I will slowly forget exactly how your voice sounded; I’m sad that you never got the chance to be one of those cool moms on Facebook, or own an iPhone, or watch the season finale of Survivor (and the new season too– you would love it!)”
I too fear that I will forget the sound of my mom’s voice. It’s easy to recall her “sick voice” and the way she sounded while being ravaged by uterine cancer, but I really have to work hard to remember her regular voice. And that’s a shame because she had a great, big laugh that made the world a better place, just by hearing it. I love but also hate that Sami mourns her mom missing out on Facebook, an iPhone, and Survivor. I could make a long list of similar, everyday things that I hate having my mom miss out on.
One last blog round-up, and this one breaks my heart into a million pieces. It’s the Carcinista, a blogger I just recently “met” and got to know via our blogs. She was smart and snarky and brutally honest about how she felt going through the ups & downs of ovarian cancer. All the things I aspire to be in my little blog, she was. And I say “was” because smart, snarky, honest Sarah died last week after deciding to stop her treatment.
She chose quality time with her husband and 2 boys over the certainty of feeling awful and the uncertainty of whether treatment was working, and I admire her for that terribly difficult decision. Even toward the end, when she saw the writing on the wall, she didn’t lose her sense of humor, and she faced the most-unhappy ending with courage and her trademark mission to “wear something cute and make each day count.” She referred to Dana Farber as The Cancer Factory, and I remember laughing out loud at her recounting a terrible visit to TCF in which she was so sick she vomited up her blueberry yogurt, but said “I’m pleased to notice that I’ve not only managed to keep fuchsia barf off floor and out of hair but also off pristine white tee-shirt. Rockstar.” RIP, Sarah. Your humor and balls-out approach to cancer will be greatly missed.
This year, I tried. I tried to not hate Mother’s Day. I tried to enjoy it, for my sake, my mom’s sake, my kids’ sake. We spent a nice day by the pool with lots of champagne and yummy food, in the presence of 2 of my dearest friends, 2 of my all-time favorite people. I had such high hopes, such great expectations. But in the end, I should have just given up and worn this t-shirt: