I wasn’t planning on writing about Giuliana Rancic’s breast cancer diagnosis in October or her decision to have a double lumpectomy or her announcement that her double lumpectomy has morphed into a double mastectomy. Much has been written about it, and she’s done the talk-show circuit, and I didn’t feel the need to comment on the latest celeb to begin a cancer “journey.” However, the more I read about her story, the more compelled I am to comment.
First, when her cover issue of People magazine hit the newsstands, it nearly caused me to have a heart attack. I was mindlessly unloading my loot from my shopping cart and putting it on the conveyor belt when I caught a glimpse of this:
I didn’t notice the photo or her name, but was drawn in by the bold yellow headline and wondered, who’s that and what’s she got that is serious enough that she has to fight for her life??? Imagine my shock when I read the fine print and realized that it’s Giuliana Rancic and she’s got what I had — breast cancer. After the shock wore off, I thought I’d better see how serious her diagnosis is; after all, if she’s fighting for her life, it must be bad. I’m thinking stage 4 with mets everywhere.
The article in People, titled “The Fight of My Life,” speaks of her “devastating cancer diagnosis.” I’m thinking this is really bad.
As I read on, though, I learned that her BC was caught early and had not spread.
So does this mean that early-stage, non-metastatic BC qualifies one to be deemed “fighting for one’s life”? If that’s the case, what does that mean for women whose BC is not early stage and has spread?
This kind of overwrought journalism really bugs me. I know that People has to sell mags, but good grief, how about a little truth in advertising? The cover story of “I’M FIGHTING FOR MY LIFE” in big, bold letters nearly caused me to stroke out, and left me thinking I really underplayed my BC story. My cancer was in both breasts, not just one, and I never declared that I was fighting for my life. I’m thinking I seriously mishandled this.
I’m certainly not one to kick a sister when she’s down. That’s not my intent at all. I wish her the best; I truly do. Cancer is a terrible thing, no matter what age or what stage one is when diagnosed, and I certainly don’t mean to give Rancic grief — she’s enduring enough of that as is. However, I do wonder about some of the comments she’s made. I was hoping they were taken out of context, but ….
She said that the double lumpectomy didn’t get all the cancer so she was moving forward with a bilateral mastectomy, and I totally support her saying that deciding to have a mastectomy “was not an easy decision but it was the best decision for me.” Agreed. But when she went on to say “Not only can it [mastectomy] save your life, but you can come out feeling healthier and with a positive self-image”
Ladies, raise your hand if your bilateral mastectomy left you feeling healthier and with a positive self-image.
Come on, show of hands.
On The Wendy Williams Show the other day, Rancic spoke openly about her surgery and how she thinks it will affect her: “Listen, I love my girls, but I’m gonna feel more like a woman when this is all done.”
“I’ll be able to say that I survived something major and it’s made me stronger. I will be a better woman for it.”
I hope she’s not setting herself up for a very big, very traumatic fall.
Rancic went on to say that “scars are beautiful. I think scars tell a story.”
Yep, there’s a story there all right. Millions of women can attest to that. There is most definitely a story there. Hopefully not a horror story.
I wonder if she’s seen any images from The SCAR Project. I was blown away by photographer David Jay’s shots the first time I saw them, and receiving The SCAR Project book is one of the best gifts ever (thank you, Trevor). The women are beautiful, and their strength and kick-assed-ness is beautiful. The scars, not so much.
Giuliana Rancic speculated of her breasts after reconstruction: “They might come out looking even hotter. You gotta have fun with this. We find the humor in everything. Bill helped pick ’em out. I’m like, ‘Bill, that big? Really?'”
They might come out looking even hotter.
I’m gonna have to linger on that idea for a minute.
And when I’m done, I will contemplate the damage that occurs when people say things that imply that facing breast cancer is a tidy event that requires surgery and treatment then fast-forward on to the happily ever after. While the happily ever after certainly can, and does, happen, I think it’s misleading to say that BC is something you deal with and move on. The idea that after cancer comes transcendence is flawed. The idea that all you have to do is wrap a big pink ribbon around a cancer battle is flawed. The idea that everyone comes away from breast cancer a better, stronger person is flawed. It’s not that easy, it’s certainly not pretty, and it doesn’t always result in the kind of change you would consider positive.
In speaking of Rancic’s mastectomy, her husband Bill said, “Our goal is to be done with this by Christmastime and not look back. We’re taking the rear view mirror off the car and we’re not looking back, because we’re going to be done.” Well, considering she had the surgery two days ago, and is still in the hospital, I hope she’s “done” by Christmastime. It’s good to have goals.
Maybe the whole cancer thing is still too fresh for me, too raw, but the idea of not looking back is weird and foreign and borderline incomprehensible. Maybe there’s a pair of magic “don’t look back” glasses that gets passed out upon diagnosis, and I missed out on that. I can see how that might happen as I’m always in a hurry and might have scooted out of Dr D’s office before anyone had a chance to give me the “don’t look back” glasses. Or perhaps I was supposed to get them from my oncologist, but was so freaked out by the fact that I have an oncologist that I ran out of his office before I got the magic glasses. Maybe Giuliana got her glasses in advance; one of the perks of being a celeb and having cancer. Personally, I don’t know how one can experience a cancer “journey” and not look back. I hope it works out for her.
If any of y’all are going to be in Times Square for New Year’s Eve, look out for Giuliana. And be sure you don’t bump into her. Those mastectomy scars and JP drain holes take a while to heal.
I take Oprah’s magazine, O. My friends who aren’t from around here laugh when I say that I “take” a magazine. I never knew that was a southern way of saying I have a subscription. Learn something every day, even if it is from Yankees (kidding, of course — I love my Yankee friends. Just hate the team the Yankees).
Now that we’ve cleared that up, back to the magazine. That I take.
In every issue, the last page is Oprah’s column on what she knows for sure. It’s the first place I turn to each month when the magazine appears in my mailbox. Then I go straight to the food section, followed by the book recommendations. I can’t say that I’ve ever made a recipe from O magazine, but the food stylists and photographers do an outstanding job. I have definitely taken book recommendations and have not been disappointed.
The What I Know for Sure column was spawned by Gene Siskel asking Oprah what she knows for sure. On the surface, it seems like a simple question, yet it had Oprah “flustered and stuttering and unable to come up with an answer.” She explains it: “The late film critic Gene Siskel used to ask in his celebrity interviews, ‘What do you know for sure?’ The first time he asked me this question, it threw me. Since then the question has become a way of taking stock of my life—hence the monthly column, in answer to Gene.”
Siskel inspired her to find out what she knows for sure, and every month she shares what she’s discovered. Say what you will about Oprah — some people think she walks on water while others can’t stand the sound of her voice — when she talks, people listen. Sometimes she gets a little too “out there” for me, but for the most part, I agree with what she says and usually come away from her What I Know for Sure column thinking, “Yeah! What she said.”
Because it’s the holiday season and I’m in the giving mood (and because I’m still waiting for the answer to the question of my next surgery to be handed down from the mighty GYN oncology tribunal at MD Anderson), I give you Oprah’s Top 20 List of Things She Knows for Sure.
1. What you put out comes back all the time, no matter what. (This is my creed.) [Oprah’s creed, not mine. Although it is a good creed.]
2. You define your own life. Don’t let other people write your script.
3. Whatever someone did to you in the past has no power over the present. Only you give it power.
4. When people show you who they are, believe them the first time. (A lesson from Maya Angelou.)
5. Worrying is wasted time. Use the same energy for doing something about whatever worries you.
6. What you believe has more power than what you dream or wish or hope for. You become what you believe.
7. If the only prayer you ever say is thank you, that will be enough. (From the German theologian and humanist Meister Eckhart.)
8. The happiness you feel is in direct proportion to the love you give.
9. Failure is a signpost to turn you in another direction.
10. If you make a choice that goes against what everyone else thinks, the world will not fall apart.
11. Trust your instincts. Intuition doesn’t lie.
12. Love yourself and then learn to extend that love to others in every encounter.
13. Let passion drive your profession.
14. Find a way to get paid for doing what you love. Then every paycheck will be a bonus.
15. Love doesn’t hurt. It feels really good.
16. Every day brings a chance to start over.
17. Being a mother is the hardest job on earth. Women everywhere must declare it so.
18. Doubt means don’t. Don’t move. Don’t answer. Don’t rush forward.
19. When you don’t know what to do, get still. The answer will come.
20. “Trouble don’t last always.” (A line from a Negro spiritual, which calls to mind another favorite: This, too, shall pass.)
My favorites are 2, 5, 10, and 17. Because I’m a little on the OCD side, and because it’s the biggest storyline in my life to date, I equate most of Oprah’s list to cancer. Well, numbers 2 and 5 have been my style from the get-go, way before cancer so rudely interrupted my otherwise fabulous life. It’s just the way I was made and it’s how I roll. I don’t know how it happened or if it is just imprinted into my DNA, but I don’t give a fig what other people think. Sure, I want the general impression of me to be one that’s positive, but when everyone is wearing skinny jeans, I’m gonna pull out my boot-cuts. My swim-against-the-current ways predate my diagnosis, for sure, but those trend-bucking ways have defined my cancer “journey.” From eschewing lumpectomy to questioning the doctors to rejecting that status quo and doing my own research, I’ve bucked the system and made choices based on what I truly believed. When a Very Important Person took offense with this little blog, I said it’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to. Don’t like it? Don’t read it. I will be fair and will endeavor to be balanced, but I will tell it like it is.
Number 5 has been a harder row to hoe than numbers 2 and 10. I’m a worrier, and that too is stamped into my DNA. While I make a real effort to not let the worry overtake my more rational side, it is definitely an effort. My good friend and health-care sherpa Amy Hoover has a saying: “Don’t borrow trouble.” That saying has become my mantra in this cancer “journey,” even if it is quite the effort to leave the borrrowing behind.
I’ve never loved Oprah more than when she declared to millions of people around the globe that motherhood is the hardest job ever. For someone who doesn’t have children to get this is quite gratifying. I adore my kiddos and feel immensely grateful to be raising them but it is a hard job. Not hard in the sense that it takes a lot of education or training, but hard in that you never know if all your hard work will pay off. You can do all the right things as a mother and still end up with kids who lose their way or thumb their noses at your values or vote Republican. It happens. There are plenty of how-to books on parenting, but none of them can guarantee the outcome you seek. Sorta like with cancer.
I’ve been remiss in blogging the last few days. I could be a big baby and say I haven’t been feeling so great, but I won’t. Even if it’s true. Cancer. It’s always cancer. Seems that nary a day goes by without someone I know or a friend of a friend being newly diagnosed. It would be easy to get bogged down in all things cancer, but I won’t.
Something bad happened last week. Not “recurrence” bad, but side-effect bad. Something I’ve been scared shitless of since learning that this foul thing even exists. Until last week, said foul thing had not gotten ahold of me, but then on Wednesday last, everything changed.
The dreaded swelling of a limb following surgery, particularly surgery in which lymph nodes are removed.
Since my mastectomy 18 months ago, I’ve been on guard against the dreaded lymphedema. I have a fantastic lymphedema specialist, Tammy, who has become not only a vital member of my health-care team but also a great friend. Visiting her is like a trip to the spa — serene setting, trickling water fountains, dim lights, soothing music, and lovely & caring women. It’s a safe haven among the shitstorm that is breast cancer.
I started seeing Tammy as a preventative measure all those many months ago, and while I never had lymphedema, she worked her magic on my scar tissue and rough spots after my surgeries. With her help, and that of office manager and “salt police” Janice, I’d educated myself about lymphedema and had, until now, been successful in preventing it.
All that came to a screeching halt Wednesday. The proper care, the education, the prevention, the vigilance — gone. Just gone. My left arm swelled up like a balloon and felt heavy, tingly, tender, and sore. I was scared.
The thing that scares me so much about lymphedema is that it can come out of nowhere, months or years after surgery. And it can be permanent. The last thing I want after being handed a cancer diagnosis at age 40 is to go through the rest of my life with a balloon arm. That would put a serious crimp in my tennis game.
Luckily, Tammy and her staff of lymphedema slayers were on the ball and treatment commenced right away. I got to experience the joys of “the pump,” in which the offending limb is encased in a stockingette, then stuffed into a huge, padded wrist-to-shoulder sleeve reminiscent of the padding used to train police dogs, then encased in a plastic-y sleeve attached by thick cables to a machine that squeezes the limb rhythmically. The idea is to squeeze the excess fluid out of the limb and guide it back through the battered lymph system to then be filtered out of the body and released into the atmosphere, hopefully never to be seen again.
The plan was to rest (egads), avoid lifting anything with my left arm (bye-bye strength training), and wear the compression sleeve (oh so fashionable, and yet another palpable signal to the world that there’s something wrong with me). Pump it every day, drink as much water as I can hold and then some more, and hope it goes away. After laying low, being a gimp, wearing the sleeve, pumping and adding some k-tape, and drowning my innards 5 days, there is some progress. The swelling is down, but not totally gone. I want it gone. IMHO, 5 days is more than enough time for it to be gone.
Y’all know how much I loooooove being a patient, enduring complications, and being sidelined.
This latest complication and sidelining was rather tough. Mentally more than physically, which is a change. I guess it’s good to shake things up every now and again. The getting back to “normal” was getting kinda boring, and the idea of finally putting this cancer experience behind me probably was a pretty stupid one. Why not insert a wrench into the plan?
There are lots of things that aggravate the hell out of me with lymphedema. Lots of things. First and foremost is how rudely it interrupted my foray back into my “normal” life after the latest surgical procedure. I’m a busy girl and an impatient girl, so the “stop-start-stop-start” nature of getting back to “normal” after cancer and in between the 8 procedures I’ve had is trying. Just as I was getting back to “normal” after the October revision and hitting it hard at the gym, the balloon arm strikes. In fact, one of my fellow gym rats was just telling me, the day before the lymphedema arrived, that it looked like I was back. As in, back to my usual workout routine and getting stronger. Two weeks in a row, I’d had 3 hard workouts in a row. I was actually starting to see some progress, and with no more procedures on the horizon, my future in the gym seemed quite bright.
I should have known it was just a tease and wouldn’t last. I should have realized that cancer and its many ugly aftereffects will always have a hold on me and will get the better of me. I should have recognized that no matter how hard I work and how many things I do right, my arch nemesis will forever be skulking around in the shadows, waiting for the perfect time to shit all over me once again.
I need a break from cancer: from thinking about it, from writing about it.
Thank you, Eddie Miller, for providing that break.
Miller is the brains behind sheep-scaping, the newest trend in landscaping. Instead of a crew of guys, Miller employs Panda, Nerd, Princess, and Carol. They’re Jacob sheep by breed, “organic lawn pruners” by trade.
When he graduated from Boston University with a double major — Economics and Environmental Science –last year and couldn’t find a job, Miller founded Heritage Lawn Mowing using sheep instead of a lawnmower. Sheep are cheap, sustainable, and much greener than conventional lawnmowers. Business was booming in Oberlin, Ohio. He started small, with two sheep who grazed in his parents’ backyard, and admits that the impetus for buying the sheep was that his (now ex-) girlfriend thought they were cute. Once the first two sheep chowed his parents’ lawn, Miller started moving his tiny, hungry flock to the yards of friends. While walking his sheep from house to house, he realized he had an innovative business model on his hands. Thus, sheep-scaping was born.
Customers pay $1 per sheep per day to have their lawns sheep-scaped. Most jobs require two sheep and cost on average $8 — far less than the going rate for commercial landscapers. Miller says that Jacob sheep eat broad-leaf plants, dandelions, clovers, and grass. They seem to know not to eat flowers and ornamental plants. “They have a built-in weed whacker,” he said. Because they lack teeth on the top, they don’t rip grass out by its roots.
They’re a delightful breed of sheep, according to the Jacob Sheep Breeders’ Association: “The American Jacobs are an old world sheep which, unlike many other old world breeds, have not undergone improved breeding and out crossing to satisfy the commercial marketplace. They have a more primitive body shape, are slender boned and provide a flavorful, lean carcass with little external fat. The carcass yield from hanging weight to freezer is high when compared to the more improved breeds.”
I didn’t need to know that much.
Let’s focus on how cute they are, instead of what good eatin’ they can be.
So now Miller is a sheep-less shepherd in Big Sky Country. He’s set his sights on elk, which apparently are rampant in Wyoming. He wants to work with the National Parks system to develop a permaculture farm with elk and pine trees. I hope he makes it.
It’s Thanksgiving and I would be remiss if I didn’t remark upon the things for which I am thankful. This time last year I was fresh off the post-mastectomy infection train and trying to navigate life as a survivor. This year, the infection is finally in the rear-view mirror, and 8 surgeries later I’m on the road to reclaiming my normal life.
Living in Texas, where it’s warm enough to swim on Thanksgiving. People joke about how Texas is a whole ‘nother country, and it’s true. Everything is bigger here, and better.
Tennis. I’ve learned so much from the game, most notably humility, and continue to be challenged. People laugh when I say I started playing tennis because I like the clothes and had no idea how hard a game it is, but it’s true.
Things that challenge me to get outside of my comfort zone. Like modeling in the Couture for the Cause a few weeks after my latest hospitalization last fall. Yikes. After wondering what in the sam hell made me agree to do it, I ended up having one of the single best experiences of my life. And plan to do it again in March. Get your tickets now, before it sells out!
At the risk of alienating friends and loved ones and inciting harsh judgement against my Scroogy self, I say it again: I hate Christmas.
The reasons are many, and I won’t rain on anyone’s parade or crush anyone’s candy cane by listing them here. Suffice to say that the “holiday season” fills me with dread, and I grit my teeth and power my way through it. I wish I enjoyed it. I really do. While I do smile sweetly at the cashier who wishes me “happy holidays” on November 1st, it’s a pretty fake smile.
I do enjoy the annual Christmas Eve get-together with my cousins — a great meal, festive drinks, and the tradition of gathering in a circle to exchange gifts. My cousin Jimmy’s Texas Trash is a most-favored gift every year. I enjoy getting cards and photos from far-flung and nearby friends, seeing how big the kids are getting and taking in new additions of puppies, boats, and what-not. Ok, and the music. I do like Christmas music.
But that’s pretty much it.
I love Thanksgiving, and it’s a shame that it’s overshadowed and steamrolled by the creep. Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday: gathering around a table to celebrate the bounties of life with nary a gift exchange in sight. It’s about the sentiment, not the stuff.
Each year I wonder, sometimes aloud and sometimes in my head, at what age my kids will be old enough that I can skip putting up a Christmas tree. Last year I finally caved and bought an artificial, pre-lit tree, to ease some of the drudgery. I should have done it several years ago when our real tree had a wonky trunk, only to be discovered after it was encased in gallons of water, lit to the heavens, and laden with fragile ornaments. The day that tree came crashing down, literally, I added another entry to my “I hate Christmas” list. Water and pine needles all over my hardwood floor, ornaments shattered into millions of pieces, lights half on and half off, and two doggie cardiac arrest cases later, I should have pitched the deficient tree and its remaining lights and ornaments right into the street and sworn off this wretched holiday altogether.
But I didn’t. I went to the garden center and got another tree and started all over, cursing all the way.
My dislike of the most wonderful time of the year hasn’t mellowed, and this year when the Christmas merchandise appeared in the grocery stores the day after Halloween, I was ready to punch Santa square in the face.
I know, I know that would rocket me straight to the top of the naughty list, but I suspect I’m already there.
Halloween candy bags had barely been picked through when the marketers decide it’s past time for a holly jolly Christmas. It’s especially painful to endure in Texas, when it’s 89 degrees and shoppers are sweating their way through Target. There’s something just plain wrong about summertime conditions juxtaposed with a winter wonderland. ACs are blasting, but we’re dreaming of a white Christmas.
The Christmas creep seems to start earlier every year. Maybe it’s right on time and I’m just getting crankier every year, but it seems like the school supply displays are barely dismantled before the light-up wire reindeer lawn ornaments magically appear in a big box retailer near you. One of my neighbors has a Christmas light installer every year for the outside of his house. They started last weekend. Oh joy. Maybe they’ll get the Griswold Award this year. Or throw a breaker. The wreaths have been up on the shopping center exteriors and neighborhood entrances for a while now, too. I can’t very well avoid the grocery store, and I have to get into my neighborhood somehow, which means it’s hard to avoid the Christmas creep.
The Black Friday deals are already on, and inciting panic attacks. Just this morning I had 2 emails in my inbox, one from The Gap and one from Off 5th, telling me that Black Friday Starts Today!! With Black Friday Prices Now!!
But it’s only Wednesday. Black Friday should be on Friday, not Wednesday. No exceptions. Stupid creep.
My favorite girl hates the creep, too. Loves the gifts, but hates the creep. She writes a little blog herself, and recently posted about the creep. Now, let me warn you that her writing is a little out there. She’s a big-time outside of the box type thinker. Sometimes her writing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it’s always creative and wacky. For example, her recent post on Reasons Not to Carry French Fries Around Buffalo:
We all know that you shouldn’t carry French fries around buffalo,but do you know the reasons?
1. Buffalo come from Belgium, where French fries were originally made, they find it offensive that’s it’s called French.
2. Scientists find it unhealthy for buffalo to be eating French fries,also scientist are always watching you.
3. Buffalo have the worst fast food craving out of all the animals except mice, and when you eat a French fry they want a French fry then they pelt you with mushrooms. So stay away from those undersize Musk Ox.
Her post on the creep is titled Nobody Cares About Thanksgiving, and she has a point, if I do say so. An excerpt:
This news was discovered by an insane 9 year old. You know when it’s 3 weeks before Thanksgiving and there are already Christmas specials on TV, and in magazines there are 20% off on Christmas gifts for the little acorns. Now it’s a way to become a Thanksgiving Hater- Christmas Maniac-Rainbow Zombie!!! The worst part is the Pilgrims come back and they are all upset that nobody cares about them and their back hair!! So stop the Christmas specials before all of the zombie rainbows and apple sharks start to fight over the cow that makes the best milk!!! Or was it spaghetti nobodies turn into spaghetti somebodies? Either way no one wants that to happen, (except the spaghetti nobodies because they all want to be a somebody).
My favorite girl wants to crochet. She’s pretty crafty and likes doing stuff like that, which is great. Problem is, I’m not so good with the handicrafts. Sitting still and being precise aren’t my forte (hence the slapdash nature of this blog — I have a thought, I sit at my computer and bang it out; no laboring over every word or nuance. Plus, there’s something about the directions to crafty things that just don’t compute in my brain. Sure, I can read the directions but they make no sense to me.
But my girl wants to learn how to crochet, so I’m going to help her.
My girl is impatient like her mama, and doesn’t want to wait until next Sunday to learn how to crochet. She wanted to make a scarf and she wanted to make it right then & there. I can respect that.
But I can’t crochet.
Trevor found her a simple video on youtube that helped her get started. She was crocheting up a storm like she’d been doing it her whole life. I was quite amazed. Pretty soon, she had one long chain for her scarf. As my sweet mama used to say, she was cooking with gas.
When it came time to create the second chain, to make the scarf wider, we were in trouble. The turning stitch is kinda tricky, and neither the book nor the youtube videos were making it click. We were stuck.
My favorite girl wasn’t ready to give up, but she was frustrated. She wanted to keep on crocheting, she just didn’t know how.
I was just sick, absolutely sick at the idea that neither my sweet mama nor my favorite aunt Sophia was still on this Earth to teach my favorite girl how to do a turning stitch. Both of them could crochet like a house on fire. Those ladies cranked out afghans like it was nobody’s business. That gene must skip a generation, though.
There was nothing I wanted more than to call my mom or Aunt Sophia and set up a crochet date for Macy. And if there were still here, I know there’s nothing they would have like more. Instead, my favorite girl and I piled into the car and drove straight to the Sugar Land Yarn Company, a sweet little store full of yarn, knitting needles, patterns, and best of all, crafty women.
I explained our dilemma to the store owner, who said that she does not crochet. However, we were in luck because on Sundays, they have Afternoon Knitting, where women bring their projects and camp out in the store’s comfy chairs to knit and visit. If I were crafty and had a store that offered such a thing, I’d call it Stitch & Bitch, but these women clearly are much more civilized than I.
The store owner called out to the Afternoon Knitters and one of them, Miss Kathy, kindly volunteered to help my favorite girl with her turning stitch. Miss Kathy made it look easy. She demonstrated several times on two different crochet projects she is working on, and she spent a fair amount of time explaining it to Macy. I could tell by the look in M’s eyes that she wasn’t, getting it, though, and sadly, neither was I. Miss Kathy might have been speaking in tongues for all the sense it made to me.
I think Macy realized that there was a bit more to crocheting than just looping a single chain, and I guess by then she’d gotten enough of the new hobby out of her system and was content to wait until her class to learn the turning stitch. I was ready to head on out and leave the Afternoon Knitters to their projects and conversation, but my girl was lingering.
She watched each of the four knitters with her big, beautiful eyes, noticing the colors of their yarns and the patterns in their projects. She was quiet and still and respectful (good girl!). But there was something else, too — she was peaceful. I would expect most 9-year-old girls to be ready to blow that popsicle stand as soon as it became clear that we had received all the help we were gonna get. I would think most 9-year-old girls could think of a million things they’d rather do than hang out with four strangers who are at least 50 years her senior. The store was quiet and absent any music, TV, or video games, just the regular and rhythmic click of knitting needles. Yet my girl was peaceful in the company of the Afternoon Knitters. She would have stayed all afternoon if I hadn’t shooed her out of there, feeling like an interloper among the skeins of yarn. And she said that once she learns to crochet, she wants to come back and join the Afternoon Knitters.
It hit me then like a ton of bricks — my girl craves the company of a YaYa who died from uterine cancer before Macy could tie her shoes or write her name, and that of her favorite aunt who was swallowed up by glioblastoma in May. I guess neither Macy nor I realized until we barged in on the knitting circle how much she misses their company and their tutelage.
Another startling example of how much cancer steals from us.
I was nearly flattened by the unfairness of it all. It would have been very easy to fall into the abyss of grief, anger, and loss that comes when someone you love–and need–is stolen away by cancer. If not for cancer, my girl would be happily crocheting the day away with beloved family members. I have no doubt she could master the turning stitch under the watchful eye of my mom or aunt. Instead, I have to solicit help from strangers. Instead of enjoying the company and the bonds of one generation teaching the next, I’ll be sending my girl to a class in a hobby shop.
Cancer steals so much.
Thank you, Dr Nido Quebein, for telling me that. After the rough start I had last week, I was disheartened at the idea of starting over — from Square One — in finding a surgeon to do my oophorectomy. I needed a little attitude adjustment and Dr Q’s lovely quote provided just that.
Here’s the thing: my cancer “journey” has been long, complicated, circuitous, and seemingly endless. What is essentially a rather simple cancer that should have been easy to eliminate turned into a wild game of “how much can you take?” Just as I thought I was nearing the end of my “journey,” with what could be my last revision to reconstruction, the game became more intense and complicated and pretty much blew up in my face.
The next step of my “journey” should have been quite simple — have a routine procedure to remove my ovaries and eliminate the hormone production that fed my cancer. It’s outpatient surgery and rather easy compared to what I’ve endured thus far. But rather than being simple and working according to plan, it got hairy and I got overwhelmed. The idea of yet another doctor becoming involved filled me with dread, and it was like I was back at the beginning of this “journey,” newly diagnosed and jumping through hoops, frantically doing what’s needed to get to the next step.
Here’s where we are now: after standing on my head and reciting the alphabet backwards while juggling flaming batons, I was granted an audience with the lovely lady who schedules appointments for the next doctor in my ever-expanding roster. Oh happy day, after trying for 4 days to get through to this lovely lady, success was mine! I learned that this doctor only has office hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays because she’s in surgery every other day. Makes perfect sense, as she is a GYN oncology surgeon at the world’s #1 cancer hospital. What doesn’t make sense is why her staff doesn’t seem to be around on those other days. But apparently that’s not my concern and as long as I jump through the right hoops, maintain my headstand and keep those flaming batons twirling, I will eventually get what I need.
Silly, silly girl.
You’d think I would have learned at some point on this wretched “journey” that even when one does all the right things, and completes all the required steps, one still does not get what one needs.
When a human voice finally appears on the other end of the line, I think I’m going to actually schedule an appointment. I’ve cleared my schedule to accommodate hers. I am ready and willing to appear in her office at MD Anderson whenever she can see me. It’s the absolute last thing I want to do, mind you — see another doctor about another surgery. To add insult to injury, factor in the psychological warfare involved in knowing that this next doc works in the same facility–and in the same department–where my mom sought treatment for her cancer, and her “journey” didn’t exactly have a happy ending. Not even close.
Nope, scheduling an appointment isn’t that easy. First, there’s the prerequisite litany of questions: name, address, phone numbers, email address, birthdate, insurance carrier, group number, ID number, policy holder’s DOB and SSN. Then comes the question of what’s your diagnosis? When I replied, breast cancer, the lovely lady not so lovingly informed me that this office doesn’t deal with breasts. Duh. I patiently replied that I understand that and know that this office deals with the more southern ladyparts, but because of my breast cancer, I need to consult with this doc on an oophorectomy. Seems clear, right? Then the lovely lady wants to know why I want to have my ovaries removed.
Because I’m bored. Because it’s been too long between surgeries for me. Because I miss the prick of the IV desperately searching for a vein in my tapped-out venous system. Because I’m lonely for the company of people in scrubs & white coats. Because I’m hankering for the smell of Betadine and the commotion of the OR. Because I long for the feel of the plastic mask on my face as I lie completely naked under a bright light in a room full of strangers. Because I’m hoping to lose a few lbs before the holiday glut and think the all-day vomiting that inevitably comes to me after anesthesia is a good diet plan. Because I haven’t spent enough time recuperating from surgery while the world around me marches ever onward.
If there’s a contest for most horribly worded question, this lovely lady would win it, hands down.
Once again, I’m called upon to gather my composure and marshal my manners to answer. I resisted the mighty temptation to give her a smart-ass answer and calmly replied, because my oncologist recommends eliminating the source of the cancer-causing hormones. I wonder if the lovely lady could tell I was answering her through tightly-gritted teeth and with fists clenched as I battled the urge to make her ears bleed from a long, colorful line of cuss words. I wonder if I should have told her that when you’re diagnosed with cancer at age 40, with elementary-school-aged kids at home, and when your own sweet mama died an anything-but-peaceful death from cancer at the still-young age of 67, you’ll take whatever steps are necessary to increase your odds against this savage killer.
Lovely lady went on to inform me that I would need to provide documentation of my breast cancer being ER+ and PR+ (estrogen and progesterone positive), along with a host of other documentation. I would need to provide pathology reports from my breast biopsy in April of last year, when the idea of becoming a cancer patient was the last thing on my mind. And go ahead and throw in the pathology reports from my bilateral mastectomy and the paperwork on my last Pap smear, too. Wait–don’t forget to have Dr P, the OB-GYN who referred me to the GYN oncology surgeon, send his notes as well. After that, and after verifying my insurance, the GYN oncology surgeon will review my case and see if there is sufficient evidence to proceed. Lovely lady promised to call me back and let me know where I stand.
Ok, so more hoops to jump through, more due diligence on my part. Luckily I’m a rather fastidious cancer girl, and I have a very thick pink binder containing copies of everything the lovely lady requested except the Pap report and Dr P’s notes. Two phone calls and one online consent form later, that information is en route to LL.
Hurry up and wait.
After making the phone calls and gathering my records, I faxed 24 pages of the juiciest details of my breast cancer. All the nitty-gritty deets about tumor markers, mitotic index, prognostic markers, lymphovascular invasion scenario, anatomic pathology diagnosis, sentinel lymph node results, tumor size, and Elston-Ellis modified scores. It’s a fascinating read. And a wonderful trip down memory lane, just as I think I’m putting a little distance between myself and the cancer show.
I’ve done my part, now I wait.
Nobody said it would be easy…but I certainly didn’t expect it to be this hard. “It” is my least-favorite part of the cancer “journey,” which is the uncertainty and the waiting. The uncertainty and the waiting are far-reaching and apply to many aspects of the cancer “journey,” whether in awaiting pathology results, trying to schedule an appointment with the litany of doctors involved in one’s care, or marking time on the calendar between the latest procedure and getting back to “normal.”
The uncertainty and waiting applied this week to my attempts to move forward on the long-ago planned but not yet executed oophorectomy. When this whole mess began, and by mess I mean breast cancer so rudely interrupting my otherwise happy, healthy life, I knew that I would at some point need to have my ovaries removed. Those two oval-shaped organs have got to go because of the estrogen and progesterone they produce.
Monday I saw an OB-GYN, let’s call her Dr P, who is part of my OB-GYN practice but not my doctor. She delivered Macy because she was on call when my little girl made her appearance into the world. I chose to see her this week because her reputation as a surgeon is stellar and she is known for her patients not having complications, something that appealed mightily to me, the reigning Queen of Complications. I’m more than ready to take off that crown and pass it on to my successor.
Anyhoo, Monday’s visit with Dr P wasn’t terrible but it introduced a fly into the ointment when she enlightened me to the fact that a laparoscopic oophorectomy wasn’t an option for me because of the abdominal incision on my belly from The Big Dig. This was something I hadn’t even considered and is another example of how much of what one needs to know along this cancer “journey” must be learned the hard way. Hate that.
So I left Dr P’s office on Monday trying to wrap my head around scenario #1: the idea of open surgery, which is most unpleasant to me, and that she won’t be able to use the existing incision but will require another incision, below the 17-incher I’m already sporting. That incision is healing so nicely, and is so razor-thin and in the process of disappearing altogether. The idea of messing with it and disrupting its lovely healing is not my favorite.
In discussing the shifting scenario on Tuesday with the cabal of Amys, my two dear friends whose previous medical professions have made them trusted members of my decision-making team, it becomes clear that while Dr P is a great surgeon, she may not be the right one for me. I’m not ready to give up on the idea of doing this next surgery laparoscopically, which means I need to get a second opinion. As much as my petulant self did not want to set foot in one more doctor’s office, and as much as my weary self hated the idea of making yet another appointment, paying yet another hefty co-pay, and trotting out my sordid cancer history one more time, I knew it needed to be done. I got lucky and there was an opening to see the second Dr P on Thursday. Perfect.
I already had a doctor’s appointment for Thursday, with Dr N to investigate the idea of getting a little nip/tuck for my bladder. If we’re going with scenario #1 and doing open surgery for the oophorectomy, might as well take care of the bladder, which is showing signs of wear & tear that will only get worse with time and my balls-out style on the tennis court. I really like Dr N and went from dreading the idea of the nip/tuck to seeing how it can seriously improve one’s daily life. And I love that Dr N called me the “perfect candidate” for this simple procedure. Hooray! “Perfect” and “simple” are two terms that have not applied to any of my cancer “journey” thus far. After all this time and a case that’s been anything but textbook, I’m the perfect candidate. That was satisfying on many levels. Dr N works with both Dr P and the second Dr P, so it appeared to be a simple case of choose which OB-GYN to do the oophorectomy, and Dr N would coordinate. I’m lucky that Dr N works with both of the OB-GYNs I’m considering, because he doesn’t work with docs in the med center, so lucky me: I have my choice of OB-GYNS and the fantastic Dr N right in my backyard. I left Dr N’s office with something that’s been painfully absent in my cancer “journey” of late: hope. I was hopeful that this next round of surgery was going to come together, despite the shifting scenarios.
That hope was summarily dashed when the second Dr P has yet another differing opinion on how to do this surgery. What was I thinking, having hope and feeling good about the direction I was headed? What an utter fool I was for believing, however briefly, that the tide was turning and for once things were going to work according to plan. Granted, the plan has changed several times in the short span of a few days, and with each new doctor there comes a new scenario for which I have to wrap my head around, but I actually felt good after the visit to Dr N and went into the visit with the second Dr P thinking this would all come together.
I absolutely love, love, love the second Dr P. I loved him before officially meeting him when I overheard his phone conversation with a patient as I was escorted into an exam room. I have no idea what the reason was for the phone call, but he exuded care and concern with that patient via phone, and although I don’t know any details it was clear he was finding a solution. He is everything the first Dr P is not: warm, energetic, full of personality, an outside-of-the-box thinker who was genuinely interested in finding the best solution for me. He agreed with the first Dr P about my belly not having enough wiggle room to allow for laparoscopic surgery, and he introduced yet another troubling facet to this already-troublesome situation: if we do open surgery, whether using the existing incision or making another one, there’s precious little room to close that incision. The skin is just too tight–too tight to allow the area to be inflated for surgery, and too tight to close after surgery. He was also adamantly against open surgery because of the infection risk.
But the second Dr P isn’t giving up, and he hatches a new plan. Scenario #3: consult Dr K, a GYN oncology surgeon who does robotic oophorectomies.
I didn’t know such an option existed. Again, learning the hard way. And by the hard way, I mean the most exhausting and mentally taxing way. I told the second Dr P that as much as I appreciate his obvious care for the best possible outcome for me, I’m a bit on the Type A side. I’m a planner, I like things to go according to plan, I dislike change, and I do not shift gears well. In the span of 3 days, I’ve gone from laparoscopic; to a whole new incision; to using the same incision; to not favoring open surgery; to re-exploring laparoscopic; to nope, it won’t work logistically; to robotic surgery.
That wears me out.
I worked hard to wrap my head around the second Dr P’s plan. I really tried to embrace scenario #3, even though it meant adding another doctor to my roster. The second Dr P was sympathetic. He understands that I don’t want to get another doctor involved, and that I thought I had a plan and now everything is topsy-turvy. He reminded me that it’s worth it to see yet another doctor because he truly believes the robotic surgery will give me the best possible outcome, and with a shorter recovery time to boot. Sounds win-win, right?
Except that, just as I’m shifting gears clunkily and going along with this plan, another *&@%^ complication arises: Dr K, the doctor who would do this robotic surgery, is leaving the country — tomorrow — for 6 weeks.
Shoot me now.
That was it. I’d had it. I marshalled every ounce of self-control I had in order to avoid bursting into tears right there. And I am not a crier. Especially not in front of other people.
The second Dr P’s nurse, Maria, saw my distress and said, let me catch Dr P when he comes out of the exam room to see what else we can do. Thank you, Maria.
So she caught the second Dr P and told him that Dr K was unavailable for 6 weeks and that if this already-mentally-unstable patient has to wait that long to even see if scenario #3 will pan out, she may go bat-shit crazy and take us all out in a to-the-brink umbrage from which there will be no survivors.
The second Dr P called Amy and me over to the nurse’s station and hatched an alternate plan: use another GYN oncology surgeon who does robotic procedures. Thank goodness I live in a city that is ripe with specialty surgeons. But alas, both Dr K and Dr B, the second GYN oncology surgeon, work in the med center, which screws up my plan to incorporate Dr N into the surgery. Great googlie-mooglie, the idea of finding another urologist to do the bladder surgery –when I felt so good about Dr N doing it–was altogether too much to think about. I’m really on the brink now.
Sweet Maria offers to call the second GYN oncology surgeon’s office and make the appointment for me. At this point, she could have strapped me into a lunar module and sent me on a one-way trip to Mars. My brain was beyond fried so I blithely nodded my assent.
Would you believe that surgeon’s office was already closed for the day? And is closed on Fridays, so I have to wait until Monday to even see whether I can get an appointment. Cue the to-the-brink umbrage. And the beer for dinner. Five doctors in this week–and more to come–and I’m no closer to having an answer.
This brings us back full circle, to my least-favorite part of the cancer “journey,” which is the uncertainty and the waiting. I’m uncertain about which scenario will play out, and I’m waiting to get an appointment with yet another doctor, who I fully expect will come up with yet another scenario. Here’s one thing I am certain of, and there will be no waiting on this fact: I’ll be having beer for dinner again tonight.
I thought about titling this Deliverance, as in the iconic 1972 movie. Like the movie, this week has been fraught with a “grueling psychological and physical journey” as I once again maneuver the rapids of this cancer “journey.” Ok, this week hasn’t been so fraught with the physical journey, as the most taxing part of it has entailed sitting in doctors’ waiting rooms for hours on ends. Not exactly a physical trial, but what it has lacked in the physical hardships, it’s made up for in the psychological difficulties.
If you haven’t seen the movie Deliverance, consider this a tip: it’s not pleasant to watch. Yes, it has Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds, but it’s also got some inbred locals and some nasty mountain men. The term “squeal like a pig” will never seem the same after one particular scene in Deliverance. The “Dueling Banjos” may well be forever lodged in your brain as well. Good luck getting that “song” unstuck from your head.
In the movie, the city slickers take a canoe trip down a river in a remote part of Georgia. They want to travel an uncharted section of the river before a dam project forever changes the river’s course. Initially, the trip is thrilling and chock-full of natural beauty, but things take a decidedly ugly turn as the foursome gets separated and the river becomes rougher. Eventually, the men are face-to-face with the reality of survival as they struggle to prevail over nature and win back the ability to exist in a civilized manner.
Going toe-to-toe with the worst that nature dishes out is an epic journey, much like the cancer “journey.” Cancer has dished out some nastiness, and my body has struggled mightily in an effort to right the listing ship and get back to “normal.” This week has been far off of normal as I’ve encountered some trouble in getting to the next surgery, the oophorectomy. The surgery has always been in the plan, it was just a matter of when to do it. The time is upon me, but the OB-GYN I met with Monday left me with more questions than answers in what should be a settled matter. In addition to being hell-bent on reiterating the risks and espousing the wide-ranging unpleasantries of surgical menopause on a “young” woman such as myself, she introduced a new fly in the ointment by decreeing that a laparoscopic oophrectomy was not an option for me because of the existing abdominal scar from The Big Dig.
Cue the confusion and emotional scrabbling that occurs when a doctor brings up an issue I’m neither prepared for nor expecting. Just as I’m wrapping my head around the new idea of open surgery and all its risks and recovery issues, everything changes. Now I feel compelled to get another opinion on whether this surgery can indeed be done laparoscopically. And that’s what I’m going to do.
So as much as I hate the idea of getting yet another doctor involved, and as much as it pains me to realize that this “journey” is yet again complicated by things beyond my control, I pulled my battered self up by the proverbial bootstraps and made the appointment. And I will endure more hours waiting for another doc to weigh in on my disheartening situation. Getting on the phone and scheduling an appointment doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but when you’re confused, emotionally drained, and frankly, pissed off at the world, it is a big deal. It also means rehashing–again–my long, complicated history with breast cancer and infection, which truly is something I’d like to just forget, put behind me, and move on down the road. Where is that damned magic wand, anyway??
All this bitchin’ and moanin’ leads me to the reason for this post: the day of deliveries. Just when I was at my wit’s end and was beyond ready to give up and declare myself the loser in this epic battle, I hear the rumbling of the FedEx truck coming down my street and stopping at my house. Imagine my utter delight when a box appears on my front doorstep.
This delivery smells good, feels nice and weighty, and has a delicate crumb sneaking out of the wrapping.
A homemade pie that’s magically appeared on my doorstep.
Just when I needed the boost that comes from a decadent treat, there it is.
I cut that pie and scarfed down a big ol’ piece without thinking twice. I couldn’t care less about the calorie content or the ungodly amount of sugar contained in that piece. Instead, I enjoyed every minute of it. Derby pie, which is pecan pie on steroids, is something that would normally be a very occasional treat; in fact, it’s been more than a decade since I’ve had a piece. But the flaky, buttery crust and the nutty, caramely, filling with the sinful addition of chocolate chips and whiskey could not have come at a better time. How great is that to have a delicious pie that’s not only sweet and gooey and nutty and chocolatey but also boozy? Heaven on Earth. Finally, something worth smiling about! And what a wonderful coincidence that I’m eating delicious homemade pie mere days after I guest-blogged about … drumroll, please … homemade pie on my friend Marie’s blog. Marie is going through a terribly rough time right now, and her blog friends banded together to stand in the gap for her while she tends to the awfulness that is a dying parent (Huge kudos to Lauren for being the mastermind behind this lovely gesture). I was beyond honored to help, and thought pie a fitting subject to distract us from the gravity of her situation. I’m going to go out on a limb here and declare pie a temporary panacea to the emotional trials, large and small, that plague us.
As if my full belly and sugar-high weren’t enough, I soon heard the rumble of another delivery truck at my house and could hardly believe my fortune at getting another surprise delivery. Two in one day? Fantastic!
Oh, how I love fresh flowers. There’s something so cheery about the pinks, yellows, and greens all working together to present a beautiful palette. I just adore the way the individual flowers nestle against one another to comprise a unit. They’re separate but when combined with others, they become cohesive. And the fact that their lifespan is fleeting makes me cherish them all the more — enjoy them while they’re here. Another decadent indulgence that makes me smile. Many thanks to my pie-shipping friend in Minnesota, and to my in-laws in Kentucky for turning around a rotten week. Three days in, I was ready to chuck this week and start over, but no more.
Finally! Something wonderful comes my way.