Oncology report

My latest visit to Dr Darcourt was uneventful, which is my favorite kind of doctor visit. Despite the fact that I have to get stuck for blood work and step on the scale every time I go see him, I still like going. As much as you can like going to an oncology visit.

In the beginning of this “cancer journey,” it freaked me out to say “my” and “oncologist” in the same sentence. Not something one usually wishes for, to say the least. But if I have to have an oncologist, my guy is pretty great. Not just because he’s young and Peruvian, either. Although that doesn’t hurt.

Since you’re probably going to google him now, I’ll make it easy on you: 

There ya go.

Just a disclaimer: he was the third oncologist I consulted, and didn’t choose him based on the fact that he’s young and Peruvian. Not just.

Ok, so the appointment was uneventful, and he said the words I love to hear: “I have no reason to think your cancer will come back.” Music to my ears. We talked about Tamoxifen, the chemo pill I take every day and will stay on for 5 years, and the artificially-induced menopause brought on by it and the Lupron shot I get every three months for hormone suppression. In a nutshell, since my cancer was fed by estrogen, it’s easy to control it by depriving it of estrogen. It means I go through menopause a bit early, but that’s a small trade-off for ensuring the cancer doesn’t come back.

The trick is to determine if I’m really in menopause or if once we stop the Lupron shots, we also stop the ‘pause. This is important because it affects the chemo pill I take. Tamoxifen is for pre-menopausal women, i.e., if you weren’t in menopause at the time of diagnosis, you take it. If you’re post-menopausal, you take a different drug, mainly Femara or Arimidex. Either way, I will be on one of these drugs for 5 years. I’m ok with that, because I’m pretty reliable at remembering to take it every day, and it’s another weapon in my arsenal against my cancer.

And taking a pill every day is much easier than getting that Lupron shot. Even though Ionly get it once every 3 months, it’s dreadful. The needle is really big: 20 gauge.


The 20 gauge needle is what is used for port access. It has to be big enough in diameter to not only pierce the skin and the membrane of the port, but also allow for blood to be drawn back out through it.

That’s a big needle.

If you don’t like needles, like me, you may get a little squirmy right about now. That’s ok. Don’t worry if your palms start to sweat, if your heart races, and you feel a little nauseated. All normal reactions to seeing a wonking big needle. But if I have to see it, so do you. I’m good at sharing.

The drug itself is very thick, and has to be warmed before being injected. You know it’s going to hurt. Because it’s thick, it takes several seconds to push the drug through the needle into the body. So the pain lasts. Then once the drug is in, it burns. On the skin and inside. I literally can feel the drug trailing into my body. And yet, I do it willingly. Because I want to starve any cancer cells that may be entertaining thoughts of reforming. I don’t want any uprisings on my watch.

I may take that shot willingly, but I still complain about it. I get it in my left arm, and the bruise from the previous shot, 3 months ago, is always still visible. For several weeks, I will have a hard little knot at the injection site. My arm will be sore for the rest of the day after I get the shot, but then life goes on and it’s business as usual, for the next 3 months.

But yesterday, I made a BIG mistake when getting the shot. I glanced over my shoulder as the nurse was getting ready to inject it. I saw that big-ass needle, glinting in the florescent lights, looking as menacing as an inaninate object can.

Oh, I wish I hadn’t seen that. Somehow the visual reality makes it so much worse. I had to grit my teeth and concentrate on not yelling.

I usually console myself with a beer or a glass of wine on shot days. But yesterday, I was trying to dry out from our Napa trip, so I tried to refrain. I didn’t get very far, and ended up with a Pinot Noir in my glass. But now I’m back to drying out, because I was reading one of my favorite blogs today, and misread one of the lines. It describes waking up and “waiting for the new day to open like a spring margarita.” Oh, wait–it’s
“spring magnolia.” Oops. Guess I’d better get on the wagon, sore arm and all.

Don’t annoy the crazy person

I saw this t-shirt and wondered why in the world I don’t own it. This may well be the single best piece of advice. Ever. “Don’t Annoy the Crazy Person.” Brilliant. Talk about a public service ad. This is a message to humanity. Wonder if I can get community service hours for providing this message.

I should have purchased this shirt a long time ago, but now that cancer has came to town and invited along not one but two unseemly infections, I could really use it. I might just wear it every day.

I certainly would wear it any time I ventured out in public, to deal with the hoi polloi. Seems you can’t swing a cat without bumping into someone who’s going to do or say something annoying. (No, I’m not really going around swinging cats, so settle down already.)

The latest annoyance is this: drugs that come individually wrapped in impossible to open blister packs. Yes, I’m well aware that overdosing on iron supplements can be fatal, but my kids are long past the stage of putting any- and everything in their mouths, and frankly, the sheer volume of prescription drugs perching on the countertops in my kitchen and bathroom render such toddler temptations trite, banal and just part of the landscape on which my kiddies exist. I have zero fear of them getting into any of my drugs. As for myself, if I were looking to overdose, it would not be on iron supplements. Just sayin’.

This is my iron supplement, Ferrex, that my cutie-patootie oncologist prescribes for me.

Notice the peeling and scraping and pressing of the layers of paper in an effort to get the pills out of the packaging?

I was doing pretty well with it for the first 3 or 4 pills. I started out by following the directions, bend at the perforation, then grasp the corner that is ever so slightly raised and pull to unpeel the first layer.

But that was taking a long time and was not nearly as satisfying as the application of brute force to pierce and punch the layers apart. I used some tools, which always feels good. Started out with a nail file but graduated to this:

I didn’t even break into the toolbox in the garage; that’s just what I had on my desk in the mug that says “I’d rather be drinking tequila,” which has been on my desk for more than a decade. When I used to work for a living in an office, I had this mug on my desk, and now it’s in my “home office” where I don’t do any real work.

And yes, I keep a small knife and hammer in my tequila mug on my desk. You never know when you may need such tools.

But I am also ready in an instant to dump the tools from the mug to fill it with tequila. I’m pretty flexible that way.

Back to the iron supplements. My oncologist prescribed them because my red blood count was low after the post-mastectomy infection and subsequent tissue excision this summer. At least, that’s the reason I think the hemoglobin is low. Mr Smarty-Pants onco thinks it’s because I don’t eat meat. He’s a big carnivore himself and doesn’t understand why someone would willingly forego the wonders of the meat world. Whatev. Point is, he says I need it so I take it. That is, when I can get it out of the *&%$ blister packs.

So I started thinking about the “Don’t Annoy the Crazy Person” t-shirt, and had a quick look-see on the web to see where to get it. This is what passes for online shopping while I’m under house arrest and have loads of time to fill. Yes, I could be checking out the hot new looks for spring at nordstrom.com or any number of websites, but instead, I’m looking for t-shirts for crazy people.

That makes perfect sense.

If you’re a crazy person.

Looks like it’s a popular theme. You can also get this version:

or this one:

I’m not quite sure what it is, but the cracked glass implies that something bad either happened or is about to happen. Things can unravel at a moment’s notice when dealing with the crazies.

There’s a bumper sticker, in case you need to warn people while on the road. That sounds like a good plan. I like to know which cars contain the seriously crazy people. In a town like Houston, which always ranks in the top 10 nationwide for bad traffic, it’s a really good plan. An article in the Chicago Tribune ranked Houston #5 in the worst cities for traffic, saying that 22 hours a week are spend in congestion; the average speed while congested is 13.2 mph; and the heaviest traffic is Thursdays at 5 pm. Interesting. I’m really glad I don’t have to face a rush-hour commute every day. Although I don’t do it while I have kids in the car, I like to drive as fast as I can everywhere I go, so 13.2 mph would seriously hinder that. I’d also be a good candidate for road rage. I have a lot of angst these days. If you see a navy Tahoe hauling A down the road, gimme a wide berth, ok? I don’t have the bumper sticker announcing myself as a member of the crazy tribe (yet), so look for the Red Sox license plate frame and tow hitch as I fly by.

If you’re not ready to commit to a bumper sticker maybe you’d prefer to have your dog do your talking for you. If so, get this:

It’s made in the USA, after all. I can see Pedey wearing his proudly. Except no one would ever see it, since he spends 99 percent of his life sitting in my lap. Lord knows that Lazybones doesn’t venture outside to see & be seen; too tiring. 

I’m guessing the doggie t-shirt doesn’t come in Harry’s size. Although the crazy label does indeed apply to him. If we did find one big enough and get it on him, he’d throw his back out trying to wrestle it off his body, then knock out a tooth ripping the fabric to shreds. Sweet boy.

Here’s some high fashion for your baby. Need a onesie to announce the craziness? 

You can also get a button, to warn people off:

I especially like the woman chasing the man with the knife, and the Edward Gorey-type illustration. Classy.

If you feel the need to announce your craziness in the kitchen, get this apron. Splatter some tomato sauce on it to look like you’ve been in a dangerous confrontation.

There’s also a handy card available, presumably to hand out while swinging cats at the hoi polloi. That’s convenient. Wonder what the minimum order is on that?


Got this letter in the mail while I was in the hospital for the Big Dig, aka reconstruction. I don’t even know what to say.

And that doesn’t happen very often.

As you lovely readers know, I usually have a lot to say, about a variety of topics, and one of my favorite things about blogging is being able to blab away about whatever tickles my fancy at the moment. Sometimes silly, sometimes ticked off royally, sometimes serious, but rarely speechless.

When I saw yet another envelope from the Methodist Hospital, I didn’t think much about it because I get a lot of mail from that fine place. Between the bilateral mastectomy and the post-mastectomy infection, I’ve spent a lot of time at Methodist, both in Sugar Land and at the Medical Center. Getting mail from Methodist is nothing unusual. (If you click on the Sugar Land link above, you’ll see a pic of several doctors on the Methodist SL home page. The dark-headed one on the far right is my oncologist, Doogie Howser. Yes, he is that young, and yes he is that cute in real life.)

But this letter is definitely unusual.

Now I’m not dogging Methodist. I’ve had most excellent care there on all of my visits, and I don’t for one second take for granted the supreme luxury of having such esteemed medical care right around the corner (Sugar Land) and a short hop down the toll road (Med Center). I know that people come from far and wide to seek care at the places that are easy drives for me. So let’s be clear that I’m not dogging Methodist.

One of my favorite things about Methodist SL is this:

Love that. Hell yes, I should get special parking, right up front, at the breast center. Even though until just a few days ago I had no breasts, I still liked the special treatment that Methodist SL affords its breast care patients. Wish the grocery stores and Target would follow suit.

But back to the letter.

I know, I know it’s a terrible picture. The iPhone camera stinks, but it’s convenient, and let’s remember, people, that I am 5 days post-op here, with 6 JP drains sprouting from my body, and today was my first day without any pain pills, so keep your comments about the shoddy photography to yourself. This is not a photography blog, after all. I probably shouldn’t even be typing yet, but I’m dedicated to bringing severe belly laughs to you, my lovely readers, so you’re welcome. 

Since it’s such a shoddy photograph, let me reiterate the juicy parts: The Methodist Sugar Land Hospital Breast Center’s records indicate that based on my US mammo f/U uni performed on March 22, 2010, it is time to schedule a routine screening mammogram.

Oh, you mean the mammogram last March that set off the chain of events, preceded by my annual well-woman exam, that led to me being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40? That mammogram?

The letter goes on to tell me that I need to be aware that many breast cancers do not produce symptoms. That “early detection requires a combination of monthly breast self-exams, yearly physical exams, and periodic mammography according to your age and physician’s recommendations.”

And that I should contact Methodist Sugar Land Hospital Breast Center at 1-800-HOW-STUPID-IS-THIS to make an appointment, and they thank me for my cooperation.


The irony is stifling.

On one hand, it’s nice that the MSLHBC is so on top of things as to remind its patients that it’s time to come in for the good old smoosh & squeeze. Lots of women need reminders, and the hospital certainly should not be tasked with knowing I don’t happen to be one of those women.

On the other hand, it’s pretty hilarious and utterly ridiculous. And scary, too; don’t forget scary: the idea of anyone touching my newly sculpted chest, much less putting it through the greatest flat iron ever, makes me very, very afraid.

Thank you, Methodist, for the reminder. I will get right on it.