I was mindlessly folding clean laundry this morning and remembered something from the beginning of my cancer “journey” that was so funny it warrants an encore. From my Caring Bridge journal, the precursor to this little blog, on Friday, May 26, 2010. To set the scene: Macy and I were at the ballpark, walking from the parking lot to the field for one of Payton’s baseball games. I was just shy of the 2-week mark since my bilateral mastectomy, and this was one of my first outings that didn’t involve a doctor’s appointment. My chest was flat as a board, but I didn’t care because the cancer was gone.
As we walked up to the field, Macy said totally out of the blue: “Mom — did they do something to your chi-chis? Because they look all shrunken.” My mind was racing at this point because #1, I have NO idea where this is going, and #2, I thought I’d explained the surgery to my kids. I have yet to find a parenting book or video that guides me through moments like these. So I told her yes, they did do something to my chi-chis: they cut them off! That’s what the surgery was all about. Then she says, “Well, are they going to fix them? Because they’re not looking so good.”
From the mouths of babes.
If you’re looking for a laugh or an inspirational story, you’ve come to the wrong place. I’m in a funk and there’s no amount of lipstick that’ll pretty up this pig (the funk, not me). My thoughts are scattered like leaves falling off a tree (if only that conjured up visions of the russet colors of fall, of leaves parachuting off of trees as they ready themselves for the change of season. That does happen in some parts of the world, but here, in the land of eternal summer, and in this infernal record-breaking, never-ending summer, the only leaves falling from the trees are brown and crackly, dead from the drought. How’s that for a cheery thought?).
I’ve been struggling the last few days. I’m frustrated with the pace of the healing from the latest surgery–yes, I’m a whole lot better, but I want to be done. I’m madder than a wet hen about the effect of the last surgery on my tennis game, and wonder if I’ll ever get my serve back. I’m worn out from the swirling, worrying thoughts of whether I’ll ever have the results I want. I’m both impatient for and dreading the next round of revision. I’m tired of being tired. I’m pissy about the fact that I’m still battered and sore. I’m ready to rip the port right out from under my skin because it catches on my clothes and shoots a sick sensation up my neck that reminds me the damn thing is sewn into my jugular vein. Oh, and it looks weird, too. I’m sick of cancer and all its many fallouts.
Normally, my solution to such a funk is alcohol. Lots of alcohol. Every night is ladies’ night when the funk shows up at my house. But there’s a niggling voice in the back of my head reminding me that alcohol is a major contributor to breast cancer, both initially and in terms of recurrence. And since not a day goes by that I don’t think about recurrence, perhaps I should avoid using alcohol as a balm for my beat-up soul. Dammit. Yet another way cancer has wreaked havoc in my world. If I can’t in good conscience comfort myself with booze, I’m in real trouble. This is no fun.
When I was diagnosed last year, Dr Dempsey gave me a stack of play money. She handed it to me and said it is very important currency. Each “dollar” bill was a free pass to be in a funk. To throw a fit. To have a pity party. As she put it, “to lay in bed watching Lifetime and eating ice cream.” I laughed and thought, pfffft! I won’t need that. I got this. Me and my positive attitude can kick this cancer no sweat.
While I am happy to report I’ve spent not one day in bed watching Lifetime and eating ice cream since cancer shat upon my head, I’m thinking I may need to pull out one of those dollars. How crazy is that — after all the crap I’ve been through, after seeming like I was finally getting close to the finish line, now I fall into the funk?
Don’t worry, I’ve already run through all the reasons I have to be happy: I’m alive, the worst is behind me, I’m not in the hospital, I have neither drains nor a wound vac attached to me, I’m cleared for exercise, I have great doctors and comprehensive insurance, I have a stellar support network, blah blah blah. Yes, all of that is true, and I know in my heart of hearts that there really is more good than bad in my life. I know that one day this whole “cancer journey” will be a speck of dust in my rearview mirror as I travel along the grand highway of a happy life. But right now, the funk rules.
Those of you who are within shouting distance have been hearing about it. The frustration, the impatience, the pissy-ness. What you won’t hear, though, is “Why me?” because really, does it matter why? Not so much. What matters is how ya sweep up the mess that’s dumped on ya, and most days I’m armed and ready with the broom & dustpan. But for now, I’m frustrated, impatient, and pissy. And mad. I’m mad, too.
I’m mad that this damned cancer “journey” has to be so hard for so long. I’m all for rolling up my sleeves, gritting my teeth and getting through it. I fully support Winston Churchill’s idea of “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” I believe Eleanor Roosevelt 100 percent when she said “A woman is like a tea bag — you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.” I gather strength from Robert Frost telling me “The best way out is always through.” But geez, does it really have to be this arduous? The ways in which cancer robs us are seemingly endless, and breast cancer in particular is a repeat offender, a pathological thief.
I just read this article, “What’s It Really Like to Live Through Breast Cancer?” Today especially, I needed to hear other women’s stories. Valerie, age 52, said that “she needed symmetry. She needed things to be as they should. She needed, after two years of surrendering to the opinions of doctors and the input of the cancer Web, to have an ounce of control over her body.” Yeah, me too.
Renee, age 47, said that “when I had her mastectomy sutures taken out, I asked the surgeon to remove the Sharpie mark she’d made—the black line that went across my ribs like a big smile—and the surgeon asked what line? I pointed. Her eyes got big and she said, ‘That’s your incision, Renee. We opened up your body. We removed a lot of tissue.’ ”
There are lots of Valeries and Renees out there. One in eight women will be diagnosed with this dreaded disease in the United States alone. Worldwide, there are 1.3 million new breast cancer diagnoses a year. That’s more than a million women who will endure this disease. Of them, some 465,000 will die from it. But even those who survive it, like me, will carry the weight of the disease. The physical scars Renee spoke of are nothing compared to the emotional ones. People say we’re lucky that our cancer occurs in a body part that can be removed. True, but it also means that we see evidence of that cancer every day; if I had a kidney removed, I wouldn’t be confronted by the railroad tracks of a long, harrowing journey every time I undress.
Sure, it’s better to be scarred than dead. No question. But being alive doesn’t mean I have to be happy all the time. It doesn’t mean I won’t get in a funk and be frustrated, impatient, pissy, and mad sometimes.
But the funk will pass, hopefully sooner rather than later. Like in Carl Sandburg’s beautiful little poem, the funk, which can come in like a herd of elephants or on “little cat feet,” will overlook my city “on silent haunches,” and then move on outta here.
(thanks to google images for making it so easy to pretty up my blog today)
Trevor is trying to get life insurance on me. I’m sure that should make me nervous on some level; however, I think he knows that even on my worst day, his life is a bit easier with me in it. Right?? Right??
Here’s what’s funny: I had to fill out a bunch of online forms, knowing I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being accepted. It’s ok, I have really thick skin. I don’t worry too much about rejection.
The online application has a big section on heath issues, conveniently divided up into categories: physical exam; common conditions; skin, hair & nails; musculoskeletal; women’s health; and “other.”
I’m sure I would pass the physical exam, as long as they give partial credit for having partially finalized body parts. The common conditions section included questions on whether one has had problems with things like colds, flu, allergies, as well as kidney stones and appendicitis. Since when did the latter two become common? I hope I never have either.
The skin, hair & nails section sadly had nothing to do with how fastidiously or fashionably maintained one is. I would pass with flying colors on exfoliated, moisturized, and sunblocked skin, as well as highlighted hair and a nice mani-pedi. But no, they want to know about boring stuff like shingles and psoriasis.
Musculoskeltal was a little more interesting with queries about back pain, bone spurs, fractures, and plantar fasciitis. No, yes, yes, and yes. That was easy.
Women’s health dealt with exactly what I’d expect: birth control, menopause, hormone replacement therapy. In other words, some of the most depressing topics on the website. No need for birth control when you’ve been thrown into early menopause. The baby-making department has not only been downsized but is out of business and closed for good. Menopause? Yep, in spades. Every symptom under the ‘pause banner got a big, thick checkmark from me. Hormone replacement therapy? No chance. The damn hormones fed my cancer machine, so there’s no way I’m going to replace them. Not even if they begged me to come back.
The “other” section inquired about a smorgasboard of topics: concussions, cycts, hernias, and plastic surgery. Hmmm, seems strange to throw the plastic surgery one in there. I can’t wait to tell Dr S that his exalted specialty is lumped in with such ordinary things.
After checking the boxes and reading the laundry list of symptoms and conditions, I had to give specific detail about any “health concerns.” This is where I’m expecting the giant red “rejection” stamp to hit. The questions:
“#1. During the past three years, have you for any reason consulted a physician(s) or other health care provider(s), or been hospitalized? #2. Have you ever had, or been treated for, any of the following: heart, lung, kidney, liver, nervous system, or mental disorder; high blood pressure; stroke; diabetes; cancer or tumor; drug or alcohol abuse including addiction?”
No amount of creative writing or playing fast & loose with the facts is going to help me here. During the past three years, I have indeed consulted a physician(s) or other health care provider(s) and been hospitalized. Further, I have indeed been treated for cancer or tumor; the jury is still out on the mental disorder and the drug/alcohol abuse issues. I’m thinking those could go either way.
Today is a very good day, for 3 reasons, maybe more. #1: Macy started two weeks of Fine Arts camp, which she loves (and I’m rather fond of having a few hours to myself while she’s off doing fun projects that someone else cleans up, and by “someone else” I mean anyone but me). While she hasn’t gotten quite this messy in a while, she’s definitely still got it in ‘er.
#2: I did push-ups at the gym this morning. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to do them, and there’s a bit of pride on the line since I was working out with my 12-year-old son. I wasn’t about to let him see me doing “girlie” push-ups with bent knees, so I tried the real thing, and while it didn’t feel great, I did it. Pre-cancer, pre-mastectomy, and pre-infection, I used to be able to do 50 push-ups like it was nothing, and while I’m not there yet, I’m getting closer.
#3: The article for which Payton and I were interviewed was published in our community newspaper. Corey the reporter was nice, and I think he’s a good writer. He has covered the district All Star games for all the ages, and he’s made the games come alive in his stories. P really enjoyed being interviewed; I like the drama of the article, especially the part in which I’m portrayed as “fighting for my life” (cue the dramatic music here).
It’s a good reminder to be careful what you say, too, because I joked with Corey about P having gotten his mad baseball skills from my side of the family. While it’s true–my dad’s baseball career started with PeeWee ball in 1948 and ended with him playing for the University of Tulsa–I was being smart-aleky, and Corey not only took it seriously but also included that in the article! I certainly don’t want to sound like one of “those” baseball moms. I think my kid is a good player who happens to have some natural athletic ability and a body built for taking some hard knocks. However, I’m under no illusion that he’s going to play ball for a living when he grows up, and his *$#& most definitely stinks.
While I can take or leave the publicity, reading the latest article did make me realize that a whole lot has changed since this time last year. And most of that change has been good. Really good.
This time last year, Payton’s All Star team was preparing for the sectional tournament, which they totally dominated, BTW. But I was fighting another battle against that damned nosocomial infection and was back in the hospital. Again. So after P’s team swept the sectional tourney, they were preparing to go to the State Championship in the lovely Tyler, TX. I remember thinking on that Monday, the day I was admitted to the hospital–again–that we’d get the infection under control, pump in some more vancomycin and I’d be on my way to Tyler.
Yes, I was that delusional.
Instead of the scenario playing out the way I’d envisioned, it went something like this: I was admitted on a Monday and didn’t get out until Thursday. An area that started as a red, streaky site on the mastectomied right chest wall had to be opened up, drained, excised, and packed with gauze. Repeatedly. The packing part was particularly brutal. See, there was a bunch of fluid inside my chest wall from the infection. Dr S cut a track–sans anesthesia, I recall–to open and elongate the drain hole, to let the fluid out. Once the track was there, though, it had to be packed with gauze to soak up all the nasty fluid. It wasn’t a quick process, because the hole and the track were small but had to be completely filled with gauze, for maximum soaking. Thus, a lot of shoving in an already sore, infected, and aggravated area was required. As was a lot of xanax. At one point, after Dr S shoved the gauze into the open wound, my blood pressure was 212/65. That’s a little high for me.
I survived 4 days of intense wound-packing and hard-core IV antibiotics. But just barely. I missed the entire State Championship experience, then put my kids on a plane for summer vacation, that I didn’t get to attend. I did manage to stay out of the hospital for 2 and a half weeks, but had IV antibiotics at home and a home health care nurse packing that wound. I was hoping to have turned a corner after all that (and more than once wondered what it would take to finally kick that infection) but was back in the hospital again the week before school started.
It was not a good summer, to say the least. This one has been much, much better. While the bar wasn’t exactly set very high after last summer, this one is pretty sweet.
Texas is a baseball powerhouse in general, and our neck of the woods is no different. We’re right down the highway from Pearland, whose Boys of Summer blazed a trail from Texas to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, last summer to go nearly all the way in the prestigious Little League World Series.
This truckload of Pearland boys could be from any Little League in Texas; hopefully in a couple of years it will be my kid’s First Colony team. We watched every game last summer, cheering for those boys in blue and hoping they would prevail. We laughed at the way the media zeroed in on the Pearland moms and their blinged-out team shirts. I guess not everyone “does” baseball that way, but around here, it’s de rigueur for baseball moms to have glitzy shirts, often with their kid’s number emblazoned in rhinestones. Writer Ken Hoffman said the Pearland team “tore through Texas tournaments and blew into Williamsport with tape-measure home runs, speeding- ticket-worthy fastballs and bedazzling mothers that the Little League World Series won’t forget.”
All Stars is an exciting time. Grueling, too, with practice 7 days a week until the games start. We plan our vacations around the All Stars schedule, and schedule our daily activities around practice. The first tournament begins Tuesday, and I sure hope the Big Red Machine blows through District and Sectionals the way they did last summer, blazing a trail straight for the State Championship in Tyler, TX.
Since I missed pretty much all of it last summer, I didn’t realize that our district, Texas East Little League, “stretches from the Sabine River in the East to I-20 in the North to I-35 on the West to San Antonio and from there to the Gulf of Mexico and back to the Sabine River,” according to the Texas East website.
We’re that little strip of green in the middle, District 16. Texas is a big state, the second-biggest in the country in both population and area, and baseball is serious business around here. I don’t know how many Little Leagues there are in Texas, but considering that this great state is 773 miles wide and 790 miles long and populated by some 25 million people (thank you, Wikipedia), I’d say there are a bunch.
I’ve written a lot about having missed so many of Payton’s games last summer. Don’t worry, I’m not going to re-hash it today. Suffice to say that if it had just been the bilateral mastectomy in mid-May, I would have been in fine shape for the All Star summer schedule. But no, the post-mastectomy infection had to surface, and the resulting hospital stays and surgeries meant there would be no trip to Tyler for me. From the moment that infection reared its ugly head, my life became one complication after another, and I began to live the famous Winston Churchill quote of “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Just do it without being able to watch your kid play the best baseball of his life. From mastectomy to infection, to nearly 30 days in the hospital, to multiple tissue excisions, to saying good-bye to the tissue expanders, to a shaky recovery involving all manner of antibiotics and home health, to slowly very slowly getting a semblance of a normal life back to finally getting around to reconstruction, to the long recovery process after The Big Dig. Quite a circuitous route I took, with very little baseball.
So this summer, I’m going to soak it all up. Every scorching minute of it. Since Texas is in a major, seemingly unending drought, we probably won’t have to worry about getting rained out, like we did a few times last summer. I’ll be in my blinged-out shirt, cheering hard for the boys in red, and reflecting back on how much I missed last summer at the ballpark.
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!
Summertime, and the living is easy. Sam Cooke said it, well, sang it actually, a long time ago. The fish were jumpin’ and the cotton was high. The girl he was singing to had a daddy who was rich and a mama who was good-looking. All was right in Sam’s world.
Well, the living is easy all right. No alarms waking me up before I’m ready, no lunches to pack. Payton’s lunch is easy: sandwich, bag of baked chips, string cheese, Rice Krispie treat, and a drink. No lunch box, no ice pack — he’s too cool for that. Macy, on the other hand, is quite particular about her lunch, requiring 5 different things, some of which must be washed & chopped and placed into small tupperware. She does at least take the same thing every single day, much like her mama did as a schoolgirl. I had a homemade egg salad sandwich on wheat bread every day of my schoolgirl life, and didn’t care one lick that the other kids thought the egg salad looked gross and the brown bread looked weird. They could have their stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth Wonder bread PB&J any day. I was perfectly happy with my gross-looking egg salad on weird-looking bread.
So no lunches to pack, yea. No mountain of school paperwork to wade through, only to find that other than glancing at the grades at the top of the completed work, there’s not a single thing in that mountain that really matters. No racing the clock to get out of bed, gobble down breakfast, get dressed, and get out the door. No meanie mom enforcing a highly unpopular bedtime so the little darlings don’t act like feral hogs in the a.m. Last but not least, no school projects. Oh, how I despise the projects. After 18 years of living with the original slacker student, who did minimal work and gasp! even skipped school projects altogether yet made good grades and somehow managed to become a contributing & successful member of society, my opinion on school projects has definitely changed. Changed to hatred, that is. They’re messy, time-consuming, inane, and require ME to go to Hobby Lobby AND help with said project when I could be playing tennis.
Ok, rant is over.
I certainly hope I didn’t offend any teachers out there. If I did, please direct your hate mail to my husband, the original slacker student. It may take him a few days to reply, because he’s busy running a software company. I’m not sure he could have risen to such heights and attained 2 graduate degrees without that pivotal diorama he made in 3rd grade at Jenks Elementary.
Ok, now my rant is over.
So we are blessedly free of the strict schedule imposed by the Fort Bend Independent School District, and most thankfully free of the blasted school projects. We can go where we want to go when we want to go there, stay up late, and eat lunch when we please. All that sounds great, right?
Except for one tiny detail: I don’t do well with unstructured time. Remember me, the busy-body? I don’t blossom with a lot of downtime. It’s day 3 of summer, and I’m already feeling a little itchy, a little twitchy. As much as I dislike the hustle & bustle of the imposed school schedule, it does keep us on track. And I like that. I need that. I would have been great in the army.
Lots of people enjoy their downtime and get into being lazy. For me, laziness makes me feel icky. I really like having a to-do list every day and relish the feeling of being productive. Some people were laughing at me that on the first day of summer, I cleaned out the garage, did 4 loads of laundry, vacuumed the entire downstairs, and bagged up discarded clothes for donation. Before lunchtime.
Now that my kids are a little older and a bit more independent, summer isn’t as stressful because I can still get my stuff done without having to watch them every second. The ever-present possibility of a toddler finger in a light switch cramps my style and interferes with me crossing things off my to-do list. With the luxury of semi-independent children, I’m trying to relax more this summer. That, and the burning desire to suck every drop of summer this year, since last summer was such a bust.
Last summer, I was not only recovering from a bilateral mastectomy but also playing hostess with the mostess to a nasty, long-staying bacteria that exploded into a messy, hard-t0-diagnose-and-even-harder-to-eradicate infection. I spent some extra time in the hospital, multiple times and multiple hospitals, and had a few extra surgeries. I weathered the ups & downs of being an impatient patient, and learned the hard, hard lesson that no matter how nicely I treat my body, it can and will betray me. As my sweet mama would have said, “That is rude, crude, and socially unacceptable.”
Last summer I missed out on a lot, thanks to Mr. Mycobacterium. This summer is going to be different. I’m going to spend some idle time, and hopefully learn to like it. I’m going to float in the pool with my kids and my crazy dog, and not worry about the laundry piling up or the dishwasher needing to be emptied. I’m going to teach my kids to cook, and not stress over the messy kitchen. I’m going to drag them away from the TV and computer games and into the museum district, and not get discouraged when they complain about how boring it is.
However unstructured this summer is, it’s gonna be great. Summertime and the living is easy.
Well, we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Grandparents’ Day, and even Bosses’ Day for pete’s sake, so why not Cancer Survivors Day? Makes perfect sense, as there are millions of us around the world. I do wonder, though, why there’s no apostrophe in the title. I double-checked it on the NCSD website and sure enough, no apostrophe.
It’s today, by the way — I feel like I should wear a shirt that says “Kiss Me, I Survived Cancer” but I’m not really the kissy type. I guess I could wear my “cupcakes” t-shirt, which I love, but then it seems like my “cupcakes” get the credit for kicking cancer to the curb when really, they were the culprit in the first place. Without them, I never would have had breast cancer, so I’m not giving them the credit for having survived it. I will wear it to the gym, though, because I love the look on people’s faces as they read it, then do a not-so-subtle double-take at my chest.
So what is National Cancer Survivors Day all about, anyway? Probably something a little more meaningful than wearing a snarky t-shirt and giggling to myself as the shockwaves from said shirt ripple through the gym. According to the NCSD website,
“National Cancer Survivors Day® is an annual, treasured worldwide Celebration of Life that is held in hundreds of communities throughout the United States, Canada, and other participating countries. Participants unite in a symbolic event to show the world that life after a cancer diagnosis can be meaningful and productive.”
Well, I’m certainly proud to be part of an annual, treasured worldwide celebration of life. Although I think I missed the parade. Considering how many people are affected by cancer, you’d think this day would get a bit more press. There’s probably a Lifetime for Women movie about it and I missed that too.
As usual, I have lots of questions about this annual, treasured worldwide celebration of life. Who qualifies as a survivor? And when does survivorship begin? What time was the parade? The National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation defines a “survivor” as anyone living with a history of cancer – from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life. I think it’s perhaps a bit more personal than that. I also think it’s more than just surviving cancer. I also survived a nasty infection and a nearly year-long regime of some pretty bad-ass antibiotics. I survived a complicated and intense reconstruction process, and I survived yet another long, hard recovery.
I considered myself a survivor as soon as my mastectomy was over. Surgically removing the tumors, and thereby the cancer, from my body was when my status changed from “regular person” to “survivor.” So for me, I became a survivor in the late afternoon of May 13, 2010. Although I certainly didn’t feel like much of a survivor at the time, bandaged and battered, stitched up and sore. Moving my body at all was a seemingly unattainable feat, and raising my arms high enough to put chap stick on my lips was definitely unattainable. I wasn’t able to slick my own lips for a day or so.
At the time, I had no concept of what a double mastectomy truly meant or looked like. So focused was I on ridding the cancer that I gave zero thought to the aftereffects of the surgery. Even now, in the hazy afterglow of just one year’s time, I struggle to remember exactly what I looked like after that first surgery. In fact, when Trevor gave me The SCAR Project book for my birthday a few days ago, I looked at the portraits of mastectomied women and asked, were my scars vertical or horizontal? For a brief moment, I couldn’t remember. (They were vertical, BTW.)
That’s why I’m so grateful for things like The SCAR Project and for women like Deborah Lattimore. Like the women who were photographed for The SCAR Project, Deborah Lattimore didn’t want to forget what she looked like after being mastectomied. This defines a survivor, IMHO: facing a shitty situation with not just courage but with moxie. Reading Deborah’s blog, I’m so impressed and moved and in awe of her take-no-prisoners attitude. I immediately felt a kinship with her as I read what she wrote about her post-cancer silhouette soon after her bilateral mastectomy: “my body is still ‘re-architecturalizing’ and will for the coming year. eventually my chest will be completely flat and the scars will be an even line. i really love my skinny small body!” Cheers to Deborah on this annual, treasured worldwide celebration of life. Wish I could tell her happy National Cancer Survivors Day to her face, and to bask in the supreme power of a strong, confident, self-assured woman who tells cancer to bugger off then shows the world the true face of a survivor. No padded bras, no prostheses here. Not that there’s anything wrong with padded bras or cutlets. How we face the world post-mastectomy is an immensely personal decision, and I in no way want to imply judgement on how any woman makes that decision. For me personally, I applaud women like Deborah who celebrate their mastectomied bodies and view them as a badge of honor. In our breast-obsessed culture, this is no easy thing.
So happy National Cancer Survivors to everyone. I’m thinking we should all have cake. What kind of cake is appropriate for NCSD? Something festive, for sure (you know how I love celebrations). This one is nice:
Love the colors, but the pink butterfly kinda creeps me out.
Nah, I’m not much of a cat person, and it’s not a birthday cake I’m after, although I do love the idea of the cat eating a fish-shaped cake. Maybe we survivors should eat a tumor-shaped cake. Ewww, gross. Never mind.
Or not. Definitely not.
If you’re still searching for the exact perfect gift for my upcoming birthday, here’s a tip: don’t buy this.
It seems the marketing machine at Komen is looking to get a little more mileage from CEO Nancy Brinker’s book by cross-promoting a Promise Me perfume. Thanks to my blog friend Katie at Uneasy Pink for bringing this to my attention.
The more I learn about the Komen organization, the more I resent the “for the Cure” part of its name. IMHO we pink-ribbon girls do owe a debt of gratitude for the de-shaming of our disease compliments of Komen, but I don’t yet see what the organization is doing “to end breast cancer forever,” as it says in its mission statement.
We all know the story: Nancy Goodman Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she (Nancy) would devote her life to ending breast cancer forever. Suzy was diagnosed in 1977, in the dark ages of BC, and sadly she died from the disease at age 36, leaving behind 2 young kids and a grieving family. Give the Goodman family credit: they channelled their grief and put it to good use. In 1982 Nancy’s promise became Susan G. Komen for the Cure® and “launched the global breast cancer movement,” whatever that means.
Komen says that today it is “the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures.”
Perhaps Komen is best known for its Race for the Cure®, which has raised a ton of money and Komen claims to have “invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.” I love the idea of an army of pink in races across the globe. Walk, run, push a stroller, whatever, but get kitted out in pink and raise some serious cash. No argument from me on this one.
I wasn’t well enough to do the Houston race this year, but several people I know did, and the race was a success, financially and from a feel-good standpoint. One of my sweet friends, Paula, did the race in Salt Lake City and was kind enough to put my name on her back, something that touches me to the depths of my soul.
I have no argument with Komen’s claims to be the BC authority, nor with the money raised. However, it does bug me that Komen’s quest for “the Cure” has been so fruitless. While I very much appreciate Komen making BC the most glamorous cancer, where is the Cure? Komen has been working since 1982 to find it, and yes it certainly is a complicated bugger, but I’d sure like to know what progress has been made.
Forgive my pessimism, but I don’t see what Promise Me perfume is going to do to find the Cure. Katie was kind enough to break down the math on Komen’s latest marketing cash cow, and basically here’s how it plays out:
A 3.4-oz bottle of Promise Me Eau de Parfum sells for $59.00. Of that, 13.5% goes back to Komen , but only $1.51 per bottle will be spent on research.
No, that’s not a type-o.
$1.51 a bottle goes toward research.
Now, I’m not going to get into the many ways in which this is completely whacked, but suffice to say that $1.51 a bottle isn’t going to find “the Cure.”
I’ve looked at Komen’s figures before and was shocked to see how precious little is devoted to research. I’ve heard survivors who do the Race for the Cure complain that every penny of the entry fee goes to cover administrative expenses. Again, where is the Cure?
At the risk of sounding like the granny in the old-school Wendy’s commercials who asked “Where’s the Beef?” I do wonder where’s the Cure.
A quick peek at the charity navigator website talks a lot about Komen’s program expenses, fundraising expenses, and administrative expenses, with nary a mention of research.
Thus, I will not be buying the new Promise Me perfume, no matter how seduced I am by its “alluring Floriental fragrance combining classic elegance with a modern twist.”
I don’t even know what Floriental is, but I know I don’t want it. Even though its “initial impression is fresh and uplifting.” I can get fresh and uplifting from a bar of soap, thank you very much.
The marketing material claims that “as the fragrance becomes one with your skin, the floral bouquet blossoms in the heart, revealing sensual femininity.”
Oh, so that’s how I get my sensual femininity back after having both breasts chopped off? By spritzing some Floriental toilet water to lend “warmth and opulence and envelope the senses with a long-lasting trail”?????? How about find the Cure, so women like me don’t have to go through what I’ve been through? How’s that for an idea?
Maybe the “top notes of mandarin, bergamot, and blood oranges” blend nicely with the “base notes of white patchouli and creamy musk” to accomplish a good scent, but if you know what “sparkling yuzu” is will you please let me know? And tell me what it smells like.
Because I think it’s the smell of innocent consumers being hoodwinked.
You’ve got 5 more shopping days until my birthday. Don’t bother with the Promise Me perfume.
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.