If you’re like me, once you read the title of this post, you’d end up with “Don’t Stop Believing” running through your head.
“Hold on to that feeeeeeeeling….”
Yes, we are simple creatures at times, and prone to even simpler suggestion.
As I wrap up the Napa series of blog posts, I reflect back on a fantastic trip, an outstanding weekend, and the kind of memories that would keep me warm on a cold winter’s night if I didn’t live along the Gulf Coast of the great state of Texas. Not that the memories aren’t that good, but that there’s little need for warming around here. Especially with my hot flashes. Thanks, early-induced menopause, because pre-summer in Houston isn’t steamy enough.
Thinking about the trip and preparing to say good-bye to our visitors from Boston today makes me a teensy bit sad. I don’t like transitions. I’m in for the long haul and can work long and hard at a steady pace, but I don’t care for the ups & downs, the twists & turns, the stops & starts. This sentiment applies, for me, whether we’re talking about vacation or illness. Going from my “normal” life to vacation mode takes me a little bit of time. Getting into the vacation frame of mind is a conscious shift for me, even when it’s a vacation I’m looking forward to. Having our friends from Boston here is most definitely something I look forward to, but it still requires me to make that shift in my head.
Now that our vacation with them is ending, I find myself again shifting, from the luxuryof sleeping in on a school day and spending the day by the pool, drinking early and often and into the evening; to hauling my carcass out of bed to pack the kids’ lunches, sign their folders, forge notes about their absences, and getting back to my normal life. I like my normal life, so this isn’t inherently a bad thing; it just required me to shift gears and change my mind frame.
I’ve never been good at handling change, and that may be why I’m not a great traveler. I don’t like the idea of having to decide in advance what I’ll be wearing, and then pack it, taking care to not forget anything. It seems that once I get used to the new location, it’s about time to go home, and then there’s another adjustment to handle. I do it, and without the need for intervention, but it’s an effort.
That’s why this phrase spoke to me:
It was on the wall of the Cost Plus World Market in San Francisco near our hotel, where we popped into for supplies (and by supplies, yes, I do indeed mean champagne) our first night in California. We were at the checkout, clanking bottles and deciding whether to add chocolates to the purchase, when I saw this saying on the store wall. The other shoppers might have thought me a bit mad to be snapping a photo in the middle of a store, but I stopped caring about things like that a long time ago.
The saying spoke to me because I know that Lao Tzu is right. He was a mythical figure in ancient China and is said to be the father of Taoism, so you know he’s smart. His ancient quote about the good traveler retains relevance today because people like me continue to buck the journey in favor of the destination. I know that it’s not about the destination, yet I can’t wait to get there. I will jump through all the requisite hoops along the journey in order to get to the destination, but for me, the destination is the goal. Wrong, I know, but still I persist.
Some say that dealing with cancer gives you greater clarity on “the things that really matter.” Or that having survived cancer, you become more aware of and grateful for the things around you. Then there are the idiot-balls who say that cancer is a gift. To them, I say choke off. This is no gift. Yes, it does afford the opportunity to re-evaluate priorities and habits, but it’s no gift.
I spend a lot of time in my personal “cancer journey” marking off time and accumulating milestones. Maybe that’s a coping mechanism, I don’t know. I do know that I can tell you to the day how long I’ve been on oral antibiotics (251 days), and how long it’s been since The Big Dig (49 days). More likely, it’s because I’m focused on the destination and not the journey. I can’t wait to “be done” with this cancer business: the disease itself, the surgeries, the recoveries, the uncertainty, and the drug therapies. I don’t aspire to ever be free of the worry that the cancer business drops on my doorstep like an unexpected and oversized parcel. It will always be there, in the back of my mind. I liken it to the childhood sensation of rolling your tongue through the newly-created hole of a lost tooth. Your brain knows the tooth is gone, but your tongue can’t resist checking for sure, by sliding through that narrow, slippery, and slightly nauseating space. My brain knows my cancer is gone, yet it can’t resist double-checking.
I refuse to live in fear, however. I don’t want to have any regrets: about life in general, and certainly not in this “cancer journey.” Each decision I’ve made along this “journey” has been nitpicked and examined half to death, with risk and reward calculated to within an inch of their lives. Some decisions have been difficult, and some have been easy, but none have come without a lot of thought.
I heard from a fellow breast cancer blogger who is dealing with an infection, possibly of her tissue expander, just as I did. She’s on IV Vancomycin, like I have been many times. I commented on her blog to tell her that the Vanc works and it will cure her, hoping to offer some support. She replied that she can’t imagine how I endured that process multiple times because it’s so stressful. Yes, it is. No doubt there. And if someone were to ask me how I endured it, I don’t know that I would have an answer. I don’t know how I got through it, other than I just did it. Just gritted my teeth, tucked my head and did it. Because I didn’t see any other choice. Saying “I can’t” wasn’t going to make it go away.
I do like to make myself focus on good things, or to “walk on the sunny side of the street” (thanks, Mom!). Yesterday I wasn’t feeling well, for the 3rd day in a row, and was a little put-out that my “cancer journey” was once again interfering in my fun. I wanted to visit and eat & drink with my friends who were in town, but instead I had to lay down and take a nap. Take a nap. In the middle of the day, and in the middle of my friends’ visit. That made me grumpy, and I was just starting to think about getting out the pity-party supplies.
Then I told myself to shut the hell up, get in the shower and get on with the day. There was dinner to prepare for our last night together and 3 bottles of bubbly in the fridge, so there was no time for a pity party.
While in the shower, I was wondering why the hell my belly incision is still so tight and sore after 48 days, and when in the sam hell it’s ever going to heal all the way so I can take a shower like a normal person, without wincing as I lather, rinse & repeat, and just be done with it.
Then I realized: I AM taking a shower like a normal person. There were no JP drains to deal with. There were no holes in the side of my body to keep dry. There was no dressing over the accessed port-a-cath that had to be kept dry.
When my port is accessed, i.e., has a butterfly needle piercing my skin and the port to deliver medicine, it has to be covered to keep it sterile. The port itself is smaller than a quarter, and the butterfly needle (while really thick) doesn’t extend the area. Yet the whole thing has to be covered with this giant dressing. That’s it above, stuck to my clavicle, shoulder, and neck area. My skin hates these dressing with a passion. The sticky tape irritates my skin as much as Sarah Palin irritates me. After I peel the dressing off, there remains a red, raised outline in the exact size & shape of the dressing.
And yet, I’m sans dressing. That’s a bright side, a good thing to be tallied and counted. I’m also sans sling bag. Not having the JP drains means I don’t have to wear the sling bag, cute as it may be, 24/7. That’s another bright side, and a very good thing.
Yep, it’s cute, and it served a wonderful purpose, and I love my runnin’ buddy for getting it for me. Being able to camouflage the drains by stuffing them in the sling bag, then hide the protruding rubber tubing by the cross-body bag, gave me freedom and kept me from being house-bound.
There’s nothing in there — look, Ma, no drains!! — and that is a reason to celebrate. I’m no longer tethered to plastic bomb-shaped udders collecting all manner of gross stuff, fluid and solid, that my battered body is shedding after yet another major trauma. I don’t have to plan my very limited wardrobe around the bright orange pattern anymore, but now I can do that just because I want to.
I will always be grateful to the sling bag for carrying my drains, and my drugs, in such style. The clear plastic compartment in the inside front is not likely designed for slipping in the essential few pills, but it sure worked well for me. I’ve heard that some people keep their driver’s license there instead. How weird is that?! Instead of my TX ID, featured here are my constant companions Bactrim & Minocycline, the antibiotics for the post-mastectomy infection; a muscle relaxer for the super-tight 17-inch belly incision; and a Xanax for any and all calamities, just in case.
So while this “cancer journey” is far from a gift and certainly does suck, I can still “walk on the sunny side of the street,” look on the bright side, and find moments of goodness contained within as I move forward, always searching for the finish line.
This signpost, sent to me by Jill in the Oakland airport en route from Napa back home, is a good mile marker in my journey. I love that my friends see bubbly-related things and think of me, and I love that no matter where this journey takes me, I’ll have great friends, a sassy sling bag, and plenty of bubbly for the ride.
Yes, I know the continuation of the Napa series is overdue, and I’m going to get to it today, I promise. I used to live & breathe by deadlines, but now that I’m “retired” from the publishing business and don’t really give a hoot about anything else except what’s in the forefront of my brain at this very moment, I can casually toss aside a deadline, even a self-imposed one. I do need to work on crafting shorter sentences, though. Mercy. You’d think I was getting paid by the word for that one.
‘Tis true I needed to think about how to best convey the utter perfection of our second day in Napa, and these things cannot be rushed, not even by me; these things take time. In this case, almost a week. This time last week, we were sleeping peacefully in San Francisco, with the entire Napa weekend spread out before us like the best buffet ever. I need to do that scene justice, and doing justice takes time. Maybe you’ll get lucky and I’ll post twice today.
I had every intention of writing that update last night, but I must admit I didn’t feel all that great. Again, me & my stupid assumptions. Because it has been 6 weeks since The Big Dig, I stupidly assumed that on day 42 post-op I would magically be back to normal. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. No, I’m not playing tennis, and I’ve been instructed by both doctors and my trainer to avoid any exercise that utilitzes my core for another 6 weeks. So my atrophying muscles and I will dejectedly comply (at least for now). In case you’re wondering, like I was, why the kibosh on using my core, it has to do with the risk of opening up that 17-inch-long abdominal incision (low); the skin becoming hyphertrophic (medium), and widening that 17-inch-long incision (high). I’d say that damn incision is quite big enough, and the last thing I need is to be widening it, no matter how much I hate being on the DL.
So, I’m back to reality after a most wonderful trip, I can’t exercise, I’m still struggling with post-op fatigue, and the operated-upon areas still bark at me more than I’d like. But alas, I have my doc to brighten my days and lift my spirits. I’m luckier than a dog with 2 tails because I got to see him not once but twice this week. One for an official check-up and again by chance.
My check-up was Wednesday. It’s always an adventure going to see him. He wanted to see for his own eyes that I survived the trip to Napa, and his first question was, “Did you get drunk?” Yes, all day every day. I told him that if I can’t start exercising yet, then we need to speed up the timeframe for fixing the “dog ears.”
These lovely little things are the globs of fat sitting on my hips that he said we need to “suck right out.” I agree. Dog ears are folds or the bunching-up of the tissues at the border at which the “corrected” tissue meets the “uncorrected” tissue post-surgically. So in my case, on either end of the 17-inch-long abdominal incision, or right on my hips. The main way to minimize dog ears is by making an incision longer, but in my case, my docs were dedicated to keeping the scar as small as possible, and making it longer would have entailed wrapping it around my hips onto my back, which aesthetically isn’t a good option. In a traditional tummy tuck, there’s more wiggle room for scar length, but in my case they were harvesting skin & fat from which to build my new boobs. So, I have dog ears on my hips. Not a real big deal, other than the superficial issue.
I would like to get it corrected sooner rather than later, so my doc and I are negotiating. He wants to wait 6 months from the date of reconstruction, but I think 3 months is ample time for healing. He is not swayed by my complaint that I have to go all summer long with extra fat on my hips. After some back-and-forth, we finally agreed on 5 months, but I’ll keep pushing.
The most entertaining thing about Wednesday’s visit came when I asked my doc if he knew another plastic surgeon, let’s call her Dr X. One of my friends is considering a “mommy make-over” with Dr X, and I wanted to see if me mentioning another surgeon caused him to get his hackles up. Ding! ding! ding! He wanted to know why I would possibly be asking about another doctor, as we all know he is The Best Surgeon In The World. For real. When I told him the real reason I was inquiring about Dr X, he got all googly-eyed at the idea of doing a “fun” procedure, as he described the “mommy make-over” and said that sure would be nice, and he asked me (tongue in cheek) to please try to “bring more fun” next time I come see him. After several deeps breaths to settle myself, I offered to bring a pinata to my next appointment. With a very big stick. We all got a big hee-ha out of that. I’m going to have to make a quick trip to the border, to get a real Mexican pinata, like the one we got for Macy’s 4th birthday. Look at the size of that thing! Now I just need to find a really big stick….
Before I start ranting again about how not fun all this has been F O R H I M!!, let’s move on. The other interesting thing that occurred in our tete-a-tete was him telling me about the tummy tuck he did that morning that looked fantastic. Better than mine?I asked? Oh, yes–much better, he said. No dog ears, I asked? Oh, no, he replied, certainly not. Big sigh. Well, at least he’s off to a conference in New Orleans about fat transfer, so he can have the latest & greatest technique when it comes to sucking the giant dog ears off my hips and giving me a fighting chance of fitting into my clothes again sometime in the near future. Meanwhile, I’m thinking of officially changing my ethnicity to Basset Hound.
Dr S’s sweet nurse Brenda was sick, sick, sick with a sinus infection and looked like she felt beyond miserable. I told her she needed some homemade soup, and if that didn’t cure her, forget about it. So yesterday I took her some soup. Lo and behold, there’s Dr S. I told him I thought he was going out of town. He told me he is indeed but he has to see patients first, he has to work, he can’t just fly off to Napa like me, and oh how he wished he had my life. Hahahahahahahahahahaha. So funny. He looked quite stylish in his jeans and lime green shirt under his white coat, tanned and ready to take on the world, one fat glob at a time.
I mentioned that I happened to exchange some emails with Jenn, Dr Spiegel’s PA, and she happened to mention that they typically do revision surgeries 4 months after reconstruction. Just coincidence, that conversation, seriously. Yeah.
He told me no, absolutely not, he was putting his foot down in the sand. I asked if he was also drawing a line in the sand, and he said if I want my revision in 4 months, I can go to Dr Spiegel.
We also re-hashed a couple of long-dead conversations about subjects on which he was right and I was wrong, and we were done with the latest round of verbal sparring. He was going to check on a patient in the hospital adjacent to his office, and I was going to visit with Brenda and Marcie a bit. Next thing I know, he’s telling me to come on, and he’s waiting by the elevator for me. Now that’s some good service. Him waiting for me to finish my chat with his ladies, so that we could ride down in the elevator together–nice. And, as I recall, last time he asked me to pull down my pants so he could take a gander at my dog ears, he did say please. Quietly and under his breath, but still. We’re making progress. What a great day.
In the elevator, I took the opportunity to tell him ever so sweetly that I think it’s not so nice for him to tell me about surgeries performed on other patients who end up with a better result than me. I can’t remember if he laughed at me or promised to do better in the future, but I’m think it was the latter.
Oh, I love that man. He gives me blog fodder for days.
I’ve learned the hard way from all this stupid cancer business that every day truly is a gift, as hokey as it sounds, and that life is short, as cliched as that sounds, and that you gotta grab each day and milk it for all it’s worth (I think I just made that one up).
It’s pretty easy to get bogged down in these crazy-busy lives of ours, which by the way, are supposed to be made easier and more relaxing with all the time- and labour-saving devices we have, yet it seems that everyone is still rushed off their feet every single day. Which kinda makes it hard to unwrap the gift that is each day and to savor the little things that form a meaningful amalgamation of life as we know it. I know my to-do list is always a mile long, and some days I have to rewrite chores on the new list, since they didn’t get done on their appointed day.
My to-do list is again long today as I prepare to go out of town for the weekend.
Yes, you read that right: I’m leaving town.
After an unfortunate series of non-starters all summer, in which no less than 3 much-anticipated trips erupted in a giant puff of post-mastectomy-infection-tinged smoke, I’m finally going on a trip. First it was the Duke girls’ trip to Tahoe. Gone. Then it was the All Star state baseball championship. Adios. And finally, the annual trek to Boston and Salisbury Beach. See ya. Missing one trip was a hard pill to swallow; missing 3 was just plain cruel. No way around the choking down of that horse pill.
But now, there’s Napa.
My beacon of hope in a long, barren season of maladies. Could it be that the end to that dreadful season truly is in sight? I’m starting to believe that it is so. There is a part of me, a teensy part, that still fears a blow-up. But just a teensy part. Or a woonty part, as our friends at Salisbury Beach say. The rest of me is full-steam ahead, preparing for one fabulous weekend full of bottled poetry.
Last time I was in Napa, I was pregnant with Payton, who will be 12 (gulp!) next month. Talk about needing a do-over. And what better reason for a do-over than a BFF’s birthday bash and a celebration of her “40 years of good living,” as the invitation states. I’m in. For celebrating my BFF, for getting a change of scenery, and for relishing this life of mine.
This “cancer journey” has turned out to be a bit more complicated than I thought. I’m still a destination girl rather than a journey girl, and I don’t think that’s going to change.
But starting tomorrow, if only for the celebratory weekend, I’m going to savor every bit of the destination.
Even if my titanium port-a-cath sets off the security alarms and I ended up getting frisked.
Even if traffic is heavy and the plane is late.
Even if I’m stuck sitting next to a mouth-breather on the plane (no, I’m not talking about Trevor).
Even if the weather turns yucky.
Even if the ever-present antibiotics have killed off some of my wine-savoring tastebuds.I’m going to suck up every ounce of enjoyment from a trip that has been much anticipated, meticulously planned, and a very long time in coming.
Our first stop in Napa is Domaine Carneros, maker of one of my favorite champagnes.
I may just skip all the other wineries and stay right there.