The “little c” chronicles, Part 20: Merry TITSmas to me!

Yall, I have new boobs!

On Tuesday, December 12, I rolled up to the Surgery Center connected to (but across the street from) the hospital where I’ve received most of my treatments (all but the initial “has this spread” MRI and the radiation) since the beginning of this here ride, and had my expanders replaced with what they call “gummy bear” implants.

(Side note: if you now have THIS song stuck in your head, I’m sorry, you’re welcome, and you’re my people. If you instead have THIS song stuck in your head, you can stick around, but conversation is going to be stilted and awkward. We should probably start drinking. If you have NO songs stuck in your head as a result of my mention of gummy bear implants, who even ARE you? Why is there no music in you? Is your inner juke box broken? But I digress.)

The surgery was FAST! I mean, for ME, of course, it flew by in no time at all; I was prepped, wheeled into the OR and—unlike my port placement surgery and my mastectomy, in both of which instances I distinctly recall the last words I spoke to surrounding medical professionals before I conked out—all I recall before I went under for THIS surgery was seeing a nurse come into the (cold!) OR hugging a folded blanket like she was coming home from the library with a stack of her favorite books, at which point I thought, “Oh, good, I hope that thing is heated . . . ”

Sadly, I never found out, because approximately 40 seconds later, the surgery was over and I was in a different room, and a different nurse was trying her damndest to wake me up (despite my damndest efforts to resist). She kept feeding me sips of cold water through a straw, and asking me if I wanted food.

I kept saying no, and passing back out.

Finally, she asked me if I felt like I was ready to sit up and get dressed.

Again, I said NO.

To me that meant, “Girl, I will LET YOU KNOW when I’ve gotten my nap out and am ready to stagger home and take another one.”

To HER, that apparently meant, “Honey, YES! Let’s take these new boobs out for a spin!” because in response to my (very clear) NO, she said, “How about I go out [to the waiting room] and give [Love Tank] a ten-minute warning to bring the car around?”

Um. Hi, ma’am. In what world does “NO” mean “in ten minutes”? (I mean, unless you’re a small, stubborn child or a network marketing salesperson.)

Nevertheless, next thing I knew, I was upright, and groggily allowing the nurse to put pants on me (side note: that’s when we discovered that I’d accidentally flouted the nurse’s surgery-prep instructions and kept my underwear on when I changed into the hospital gown—a tiny, unintentional rebellion that gave me more satisfaction than it should have, but hey, SHE didn’t listen to ME, either, when I said NO).

And in several more minutes, I was in the car, molars clacking like someone had shoved a set of wind-up teeth into my face, while Love Tank blasted heat directly into my eyeballs and turned my seat warmer to to HIGH to stop the racket.

Here’s the thing though: the nice lady who called me a couple of days before my surgery, to give me instructions on how to prepare for it (back-to-back Silkwood showers, Gremlin rules for food consumption, etc.) said the surgery would take about two hours, and the post-surgery recovery would take about 1.5 hours (or possibly longer, depending). These timelines were confirmed by the nice lady at the Surgery Center desk, when we arrived at 6 a.m. on the day of surgery.

But that IS NOT how things went down.

(And OK. I know (I KNOW) that I am weirdly time obsessed. I mean, if I plan to leave the house at 2:30 to get somewhere, then NO, leaving at 2:33 IS NOT LEAVING ON TIME. I realize this is not universally understood, but dammit, it should be . . . but again, I digress, because time obsession does nothing to curb my unnecessary asides.)

First of all, when I got wheeled into the OR, the clock on the wall was already drifting past the 7:40 mark, when surgery was supposed to start at 7:30. So as far as I’m concerned, we’re already off to a wibbly-wobbly start. But then. THEN, once I’d been booted from the Surgery Center and my teeth had finally stopped clacking in the car, I looked at the clock, IT WAS ONLY 10:47.

So let’s math this:

  • Two-hour surgery, starting at 7:40-something = recovery begins at 9:40-something.
  • 1.5-hour recovery, starting at 9:40-something = B!@#%&!, it shoulda been 11:15 before you even THOUGHT ABOUT putting my pants on and discovering my surprise underwear rebellion!

Instead, here I was ALMOST HOME a full HALF HOUR before I should have even been forced to wake up!

And yes, I realize the surgery probably didn’t take a full two hours, I mean anyone with restaurant hosting experience knows to add a little buffer to time estimates so there’s more pleasant surprise than angry impatience on the customer end. And I also realize that leaving the hospital EARLIER than expected is GOOD news like 99% of the time (and, to be fair, it was good news this time)—but when you’re dealing with a timey-wimey freak who also loves sleeping, ya gotta manage your comms a little better.

Aside from that, though, things went mostly well! One surprise that came out of it was that I did not, in fact, end up with an arm sling (on the radiated side) as the plastic surgeon had predicted I likely would. I’m actually not sure exactly why he ended up changing his mind about that, but perhaps he worked as a restaurant host prior to his current career, and was going for the “pleasant surprise” approach.

Another surprise that came out if it (and as I’m typing this, I realize that this is a little bit of lede burial, so I’m sorry for that) is that when the anesthesiologist was going through my chart and asking me questions prior to surgery, she noted that the results from the echocardiogram I had in the beginning of this whole thing (to ensure that my heart could withstand cancer treatment) showed I had a leaky mitral valve.

UM. WHAT.

Perhaps y’all recall how relieved I was after that initial ECG, which I was told showed good heart function (because, as you may also recall, I have a family history of BAD heart function, so I was seriously sweating that test). And maybe you also recall that prior to starting the Red Devil, when I was nervous about cardiotoxicity from the treatment, Dr. Cool-and-Calm reassured me that the ECG had shown good heart function.

So needless to say, this leaky mitral valve was NEWS TO ME, and I said as much to the anesthesiologist.

She looked back at my chart and replied, “It says ‘mild to moderate’ here . . . ” and gave me a look of suspicion.

And it WAS probably hard for her to believe that NOBODY TOLD ME THIS, but I’m pretty sure I would have REMEMBERED any less-than-stellar news about my heart. Kidneys? Meh. Gallbladder? Maybe not. But for most of my adulthood, I’ve been focused on potential heart issues, so yeah. Nobody told me.

So 2024 will be kicking off with a search for a cardiologist.

But for now, things are good! I’ve had two post-surgery follow-ups with the plastic surgeon, and everything looks good. The single drain (much better than the FOUR I had after my mastectomy) has been removed, and now my only care/maintenance instructions are to lotion up my new girls to help alleviate the subtle ripples I can see under the skin.

Standin’ on your mama’s porch . . .
Chuckin’ out this mama’s port . . .

In other news (with apologies to Bryan Adams), back in October of this rapidly-ending year, I finally got my chemo port out! And I gotta say that of all the milestones I’ve hit during this process, many of which (end of chemo! end of radiation! end of immunotherapy!) came with the opportunity to celebrate by ringing a bell, THIS is the milestone that actually made me feel like I was finally, really DONE with something. I mean, at the end of the chemo infusions, sure I felt like a SMALL box had been checked, but I still had ALL of the things (mastectomy, radiation, continued immunotherapy infusions and chemo pills) ahead, so I didn’t feel anywhere close to done with anything. For that reason, I politely refused the offer to ring the bell, or even to have the nurse take a picture of me NEXT to the bell. In fact, I (accidentally) snuck out of the treatment center before the nurses even had a chance to present me with the chemo completion certificate they’d all signed.

At the end of radiation, I did get my picture taken next to the bell, because I had a couple more milestones (including the mastectomy) under my belt. But there was no ringing. Just a photo.

At the end of the immunotherapy, I didn’t ring or photograph anything, but as I walked out of the treatment center, I did have a moment that felt like an emotional exhale, because from that point forward, visits to the oncologist would be brief, and NOT followed by an hours-long stint attached to a pole (and not in a fun way). (And I did well up a little bit as I left my first follow-up oncologist visit after that, because just being able to walk out the door immediately after seeing him—rather than to a recliner at the back of the facility—made me feel so damn FREE.)

But getting the port out.

Man, that was a feeling worthy of all the clanging chimes (except the “doom” ones; not those). I mean, just knowing I’d be able to get the port removed was huge; my fear had been that, once I’d completed my immunotherapy, Dr. Cool-and-Calm would suggest leaving the port in for awhile, “just in case.” (I’d heard tell of such stories, where people had ports in for YEARS after finishing treatment, and I had been clenching all the things in preparation to be one of them.)

Although I’d been under general anesthesia for the insertion of the port, I was, happily, awake for the removal. There were no particular pivotal moments during that procedure; it was relatively quick, Love Tank got to stay in the room, and there wasn’t much pain (just some squickiness on my part, because I was thinking a little too much about what was happening). But afterward, seeing it lying there on a little strip of gauze, rather than forming a green-ish lump under the skin just below my right clavicle, was a watershed moment.

Now, the port scar is healing nicely, and . . . y’all . . . I’m thinking about going full bore into my midlife crisis and getting a tattoo to cover the scar.

I have two (small) tattoos already, both acquired in college. The first was with my friend Margo; I visited her at her college in Texas one Spring Break, and we decided that on that visit, we’d get tattoos together.

(I tell people that I may have actually gotten the world’s first tramp stamp; when I chose my design (a koi fish, ’cause I’m a Pisces, yo) and told the artist where I wanted it, he said, “I’ve never put one HERE before!” At the time, my primary concern—having a mother who, unhappy with her own weight, was constantly warning me (apropos of nothing) that I, too, would one day be trading my spindly little ass (NO, she did not use that term) for extra pounds—was finding a place on my body where the tattoo (a) could be hidden for professional situations, and (b) wouldn’t get all stretchy and warped if and when I became overweight and/or pregnant. So, middle of my lower spine it was! But wow, do I digress.)

My second tattoo, I got later in college, with my friend Truth; we’d both recently lost a good friend (to cancer, as a matter of fact, and now that I know what I know, it kills me that at the time, I didn’t know to ask any of the questions, so to this day I have no idea what stage the cancer was, where it was in his body, or even how he discovered it in the first place; I just know he left school and returned to his home town for treatment, during which time I saw him twice (and the chemo port snaking out of his chest once), and then he was gone)—and Truth wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate him.

“But I need someone to go WITH me,” she said.

I said OF COURSE I’d go with her, and she replied, “No . . . I mean I need someone to get one, too.” And I guess she figured I was a likely candidate, since I already had one.

Plus, she offered to pay for mine.

So I said yes. She walked away with a red peace sign on the back of one shoulder, and I walked away with an ankh on the top of my left foot (again, keeping with my previous tattoo placement strategy).

Since that time, I kind of intended to get more tattoos (for awhile in my mid-20s, I even considered breaking my own rules and getting an arm band, or at the very least, something cool on my outer arm right below my shoulder. But then I met and married a man who was not a fan of tattoos, so I thought, “Welp! Probably won’t be doing that anymore!”

But now, I mean . . . I love Love Tank, but if shitty experiences like this teach you anything, it’s that some fucks can just be dropped and allowed to roll into the gutter. (Love Tank himself is not the gutter-fuck, and certain opinions of his still matter to me, like whether I’m a good parent, or a kind person in general—you know, shit like that—but at some point, I gotta assume that if getting my boobs removed didn’t send him running for the hills, a tattoo shouldn’t, either.)

Mind you, I still haven’t 100% committed to this plan yet, but if I do it, I know what tattoo I’m getting, and y’all, it is CHEESY AS FUCK—but meaningful, because it’s in honor of the tattoo my dad had on his forearm. I say “in honor of,” because by the time I came along, my dad’s tattoo had seen better days—in fact, it wasn’t entirely obvious what it even WAS. The age of the tattoo (which he got when he was a kid, and so by the time I came along, it was already decades old), combined with skin damage he endured as a firefighter basically means that the tattoo I remember was a greenish-blue amorphous blob running from his wrist to his elbow. My sister remembers thinking, as a child, that it was a lady in a huge, flouncy skirt, dancing on one leg.

But in reality, according to my mom, it was . . .

A DAGGER PIERCING A ROSE, Baby.

I mean, does a tattoo get any more “TATTOO, MOTHERFUCKERS” than that????

But now that the idea has popped into my head, it won’t unpop. So while it is entirely possible that I’ll change my mind and not get a tattoo at all (because both of my tattoos were acquired SO LONG AGO that neither cost more than $50, I am anticipating a bit of sticker shock when it comes to current tattoo prices), it’s not likely I’ll change my mind about the design if I DO go through with it. But again, since I don’t really have a clear picture of what my dad’s looked like when it was first installed, I’ve just been combing the internet for dagger/rose designs I like. So far, this one is the frontrunner:

I will certainly keep y’all posted.

But in the meantime, it appears I’m kinda . . . done. At least for now. I mean, there will be follow-ups with the oncologist and the plastic surgeon, and all that. But it seems I actually have a bell to ring now.

Let’s get ready to RUMBLLLLLLLLLLLE . . .

Instead, though, I’m more in the mood to clean a motherfucker’s clock (which COULD result in some clanging chimes of doom) because my elder son has officially become a teenager—and ALLLLLLLLLLLLL that that implies. I mean, technically, he’s been a teenager for a couple of years, because he’s 15 . . .

But my people, 15 has hit all of us HARD. If parenting is not for the weak, parenting an adolescent requires buns, abs, balls, tits, intestines, sphincter, heart, lungs, and SOUL of steel, and brain of pure titanium.

Don’t get me wrong; he’s still a good kid, and it hasn’t been 100% adolescent bullshit, 100% of the time, but this year, that boy has been a hot mess, and Love Tank and I have been fuggin’ EXHAUSTED dealing with all the things that have come along with his surging hormones.

Not gonna lie; it’s been rough.

One good thing, though, that has come out of the past few months of sturm und drang is that he has joined the wrestling team at his school. We had some doubts about it, because his schedule is already NUTBALLS, what with honors classes, chamber orchestra at school (which requires some early-morning rehearsals), city youth symphony, and private cello lessons (and if this sounds like a humblebrag, it’s NOT, because he was already NOT managing THAT stuff particularly well), so we had a VERY hard time imagining how he was going to integrate two-hour daily wrestling practices into all that mess.

In the end, though, we agreed to let him give it a try, because we felt like the physical activity would be a good outlet for him (and he needs ALLLLLL the outlets right now).

A few days before my surgery, then, Love Tank and I, along with our younger son AND my sister and niece (who were in town visiting), marched ourselves into a hot, horribly stinky gym for our boy’s very first wrestling meet, and spent roughly 5 hours watching adolescent boys in singlets do their best to keep one another on the floor.

And y’all . . . he is GOOD (THIS part is a NOT-so-humble brag). Still quite green, to be sure—at this point, he’s relying largely on size and brute strength—but once he gets a few more skills and strategies under his belt, he has the potential to kick some serious ass at this! As it was, he walked away from that first meet with two wins and one loss; the loss was against an amazingly good senior, and even then I was impressed by how well (and how long) my kid held his own before he ultimately got pinned. His second match was against a freshman, whom he bested easily. But the third match was a sight to behold! Neither of them managed a pin, and they were incredibly well-matched in terms of size, strength, and talent, so the match went on for what seemed like forever, before my kid eventually won 8-1 on points.

So, much to my surprise, I LOVED (almost) EVERY MINUTE of that first meet (we’ll discuss the “almost” part a little later).

In addition to seeing my kid compete at something he REALLY likes, I also enjoyed seeing the collegial nature of the interactions between opponents (my son spent a huge chunk of the evening chatting with and getting to know the kid he was up against in his last match, before they actually competed; “he’s really nice,” he told us), and I especially loved the support I saw my son’s team members give each other. After the match he lost, he was surrounded by teammates patting him on the back and chest, talking him up, and giving him advice for the next round. I watched the more seasoned team members working one-on-one with him over to the side in between his matches—and in that last match that went on forever, several of my kid’s teammates lay on their stomachs at the edge of the mat, cheering him on (one of them videotaping the match on his phone to share with my son later). The way the last few months have gone, I don’t want to jinx anything by saying this, but I think wrestling is going to be a good thing.

Well.

OK.

I HOPE it’s going to be a good thing, because there is one significant way this shit could go downhill, fast.

You see, there was ONE other bad thing (much worse than the smell of that gym) that came out of that first meet: TWO kids in my son’s weight class broke their arms!

The first time, HOLY MOTHER OF GOD: I was sitting there watching the heavyweight match (the gym was set up like a three-ring circus, with matches occurring simultaneously, one for each weight class), when suddenly I heard screaming. The kid who’d been on top in that match rolled off and backed away, and—

***WARNING: THE NEXT FOUR PARAGRAPHS ARE NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH***

—the other child lay ON THE MAT, wailing in abject pain, with

***DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU***

HIS BONE STICKING OUT OF HIS SKIN.

Just as my brain registered what I was seeing, he was immediately surrounded by coaches and officials, and I couldn’t see much. But the screaming went on.

I guess what happened (according first to a kid who’d come up to the bleachers to brief his dad, who was sitting in front of us, AND then to our son, who came to sit with us for a bit shortly thereafter) was that the kid landed square on his hand with his arm completely straight, and HIS. ARM. BENT. BACKWARDS.

Yeah. I’ll give you a minute to start breathing normally again. Take your time.

***HERE’S WHERE YOU CAN START READING AGAIN IF YOU SKIPPED THE TRAUMA***

Long story short, that poor baby was held to the mat until paramedics arrived, got his arm stabilized, and pumped him full of pain meds—and at last, after what my sister said was a full hour (it didn’t feel quite that long to me, but I think I dissociated a little bit), he was finally wheeled away on a gurney, stoned out of his mind and giving us all a thumbs-up with his other hand while we cheered for him. His parents/guardians did not appear to be in attendance, so he was wheeled away alone, and OMG, can you imagine getting THAT call as a parent?

Once he left, the mat was cleaned up and, because the other weight classes had continued with their matches throughout the heavyweight injury delay, they finished their matches earlier, and the heavyweight kids ended up using TWO of the three “rings” to catch up on their matches. We were told, therefore, that our kid’s last match had been moved to the mat at the opposite end of the gym. We picked up and moved all our stuff down to that end so we’d be ready when it was his turn, and settled in to watch the matches leading up to his final bout . . .

. . . and during the second one of THOSE, a second kid broke an arm!

This time, there was no screaming, and no protruding bone (*shudder*), but that poor kid’s bone was sticking out (not THROUGH the skin, but underneath it) in a weird way just above his elbow.

By the time our son’s last match came around, I’d set up a few rows of of prayer candles in the bleachers, and was invoking all the higher powers from all the myths and cultures while chanting a single mantra: “He also plays the cello . . . he also plays the cello . . .”

He came away from that meet with all of his limbs intact. I think I may owe someone a bucket of lamb’s blood or an eagle foot or something.

His next meet took place in the evening on the day I had my surgery, and I was particularly happy that my sister was in town to look after me (while I basically slept off the anesthesia) so that Love Tank could go to the meet (and be available to accompany our boy on any potential ambulance rides). That meet resulted in two wins and a loss as well, so his current record is 4-2. And again, his limbs stayed intact (although his shoes did not; his last match was against a kid who had a nosebleed, and his wrestling shoes are WHITE).

His next meet isn’t until January, which has given us a little break from potential wrestling-related injuries.

So here we are, about to—as a friend I texted the other day put it—celebrate the fuck out of this Christmas (because after this year, it’s kind of a miracle we’re all still standing), and (perhaps more importantly) celebrate the end of this craptastic year.

But even as I complain, I look back at my blog post from Christmas Eve of last year, and can find bits of gratitude for all the things I’ve made it through over the last year, and all I have now that I didn’t have then.

I have a lot more free time between doctor visits now.

I have hair and eyebrows now.

I have a small, tiny scar where my port used to be now.

And I have brand new boobs.

And MOST importantly, I STILL have Y’ALL here, reading this madness.

God bless us, everyone!

The “little c” chronicles, Part 19: Comin’ outta the dark.

Ew. I don’t even like that song (although Gloria Estefan is one of those people I think I’d like if I knew her—not as much as I think I’d like Dolly Parton, but still). But for some reason, I can’t start typing until I’ve come up with a title. So let’s let this one be a working title, and see if I land on something else by the time I’m done (in which case I’ll have to delete this paragraph . . . but I digress).

YOU GUYS. I am getting SO CLOSE to being done with treatment. In 2023 alone, I have leapt through a bunch of flaming hoops:

  • Chemo infusions — DONE in January.
  • Mastectomy — DONE in February.
  • Radiation — DONE (THANK GAWWWWWD) in May.
  • Immunotherapy — DONE in August.
  • Chemo pills — ONE WEEK LEFT, BABY.

OK, technically, each “cycle” of the oral chemo involves two weeks of daily pill popping, and one week of popping nothing, so if you want to get official, my last cycle will be done in TWO weeks, but the last group of pills will take their plunge down my esophagus in about a week.

In addition, now that I’m largely healed from the horrors of radiation, I’ve been meeting regularly with my plastic surgeon, who’s been slowly refilling the expander in my right boob (which he’d UNfilled prior to radiation, to get it out of the way of the hell beams), so I’m mostly symmetrical now! He says he may do one more fill in November during my consult for my December 12 reconstruction surgery, but otherwise, I won’t see him again for a couple of months.

As for Dr. Cool and Calm (the oncologist), he’s kind of cooling our relationship, too. I had a three-week follow-up with him after my immunotherapy ended, and now he doesn’t want to see me again for a whole MONTH (after which he’s talking maybe THREE months before we meet again).

In different circumstances, I would feel unloved, but in THESE circumstances, I can’t say I mind being ghosted a little.

I HAVE rekindled the flame with my favorite occupational therapist, because following the radiation, I was starting to experience diminished range of motion AND a bit of lymphedema on my left side (not in my arm, but in my torso just below my armpit, which resulted in the consistent sensation of smuggling a hamster under there. So I’m working weekly with her on increasing range of motion and lymphatic flow, which hurts a little, but there are no needles involved, so SCORE.

Really, my only complaint at this point is joint pain (in both knees, and in one elbow—it’s the elbow pain that’s kicking my ass) which can be a side effect of the chemo pills I’m on. So my hope is that it will dissipate once I’m done with the pills, because I’ve just rejoined the Y, and am trying to start running again (which has been . . . damn unpretty and kind of unpleasant, but I haven’t given up).

(My elder son is trying to get me into weightlifting, too, and I’m proud to announce that I can bench . . .

. . . wait for it . . .

FIFTY POUNDS, Baby. Awwww, yehhhhh. Next stop: Hillbilly Havoc.)

And in other good news: at some point, I should be getting my port removed! Not gonna lie; I’ve been a little nervous that once the immunotherapy infusions were over, Dr. Cool and Calm was going to recommend leaving the port in for awhile, on a “just in case” basis. I’ve already heard plenty of stories about people keeping their ports in for months or even YEARS following chemo, and I just kind of figured that since I scored a pretty aggressive form of cancer, I’d be walking around with a circular bump in my chest kind of indefinitely. Which would be fine, I mean it doesn’t HURT or anything—but it would also be a little deflating as well, y’know?

So when the time came to meet with Dr. CaC last week, I was prepared to negotiate: if he thought I had a 70% chance or better of making it at least 2 years without a recurrence, I wanted the port out. If not, I’d leave it in (and go home and cry a lot and eat a shit ton of candy corn)—but then if I DID make it the two years, and there was no sign of recurrence at that point, I wanted it out ASAP. However, when it finally came up at our last visit, the conversation went something like this:

Dr. C: So yeah, it looks like you’re almost done with everything [in terms of treatment].

Me: Yep!

Dr. C: And your reconstruction is in December?

Me: Yep!

Dr. C: And your port? Is that coming out?

Me [girding my loins for the negotiations to come]: Well, I was going to ask YOU about that. Do you have a recommendation?

Dr. C: I mean . . . yeah, you’re done with it, so let’s get it out.

Me: [Ungirding loins and suppressing a slightly teary urge to make out with him] OK.

Unfortunately, the plastic surgeon isn’t going to remove it (I was hoping it could just be yoinked during the reconstruction—like a two (or three, since there will be two new boobies?) for one special), so Dr. CaC is going to put in an order with the oncology surgeon who installed the port, and the surgeon’s office should be calling me to schedule a date for port removal, sometime after I’m done with the chemo pills. Although it might be pushing it, I’d really like to get THAT done before the end of 2023 as well, because free surgery is DA BOMB.

S0, anyway. Wow. The end of this tunnel is in sight, man. A year ago, I was bald, browless, occasionally nauseated, and making jokes about being Powder for Halloween, and now, here I am, rocking my Mrs. Roper vibe (which would make for an EXCELLENT Halloween costume, but my stubborn littler dude, WHO IS SEVEN, has already decided he does NOT want to Trick or Treat this year, because he’s getting too old for it . . . WHO EVEN IS HE??? It’s like he was born 67 years old. Buuuuuut I digress).

Be it ever so humble . . .

And what will have changed (other than my hairdo) when I pop out into the light? Still figuring that out. In the meantime, I look for clues—which, so far, seem to be leading me in the direction of my hometown past.

Story time!

Several weeks ago, I ran across a post in a Topeka History Facebook group; the poster uploaded a series of old photographs of Black Topekans in the 1920s and 30s, and asked the group if anyone could help identify the people therein. Although I no longer even try to pretend I’m a spring chicken, the photos were a little before my time. So I figured I’d ask my mother, because she an even older-ass chicken than I am, and—having grown up in an era when Topeka was pretty damn segregated—tends to be familiar with most of the OG Black Topeka families.

(This used to drive me NUTS as a teenager; for one thing, my parents literally had hundreds of eyes on me most of the time, so I couldn’t get away with ANYTHING. Case in point: once, when I was learning to drive, I talked my brother (13 years my senior), who was visiting from St. Louis, into taking me out to practice after school . . . and before we even got back home, someone had reported to my parents that they’d seen me driving a car with a BOY in it (why that someone had recognized ME but not MY BROTHER, I dunno, but even WORSE was the fact that my parents didn’t even think about the possibility that my brother might be the “boy” in the car, so they were loaded for bear when we got home). So I just grew up assuming that any Black Topekan my parents’ age or older was part of their intricate spy network. When I became an adult, it became kind of charming to have a total stranger look at me and exclaim, “You’re Teeny’s daughter!” or “You look JUST LIKE your mother!” but during that precious, pimply time in life when you spend half your waking hours wanting the earth to suck you right down into a hole where you can bathe in all your solitary emo, that shit can be unsettling AF. But I digress.)

Being me, I got distracted by all the things, and forgot to show my mom the photos for a couple of weeks. But then, during our weekly Sunday breakfast a few weeks ago, I finally remembered to fire up my iPad and pull them up for her. As she scrolled through them, she said that some of the faces looked familiar, but no names were coming to mind.

Suddenly, she stopped on a photo of two men in bellhop uniforms.

“That’s LaVae!” she said.

She’d found her (maternal) uncle. She continued to scroll, and found a second photo of him by himself, which delighted the hell out of her.

(And I must say that although I’d already looked through the photos a couple of times myself, it wasn’t until my mom identified her mother’s brother in two of them that I looked at those particular photos and found it incredible that his face hadn’t looked familiar to me. He looks basically like a man version of my maternal grandmother (whom I’ve never met, as she passed away a decade and a half before I came along, but my mom has always kept a couple of pictures of her prominently displayed). But I digress. Again. Surprise.)

I went into the comments on the Facebook post to offer up identification of my great uncle, and saw that the original poster had added an additional comment, to say that the whole collection of photos is owned by the Denver Art Museum.

Well.

As luck would have it, I was boarding a plane to Denver THE VERY NEXT DAY, to attend the annual two-day “IRL” conference my (Denver-based) company floofs up every year, to corral us all from our remote locations and bring us into each other’s faces.

So now, in addition to gaining insights and inspiration from C-suite executive keynotes and getting up close and personal with the chin hairs and nose pores of people I’d previously only seen through a Zoom filter, I had a mission: visit the Denver Art Museum in search of my ancestor.

I did some Google searching, and found a web page dedicated to the photos . . . but I was unable to determine, from that information, whether the photos were actually on display in the museum. I did, however, learn that the photos had been purchased by the museum at an auction in New York City, and that apparently nobody AT the museum had any idea who any of the people in the photos were. So I figured if I was going to go to the museum in search of the photos, I should try to talk to someone there, to ID my great uncle (and to let them know there’s an old lady in Kansas who could tell them more of his story).

I’ll skip to the end of that story: I ditched lunch on the last day of the conference to hoof it over to the museum, but I did not get to lay eyes on the collection, or knowledge on the collection curator; however, the person with whom I spoke was very kind and helpful, and I walked away with contact information for both the curator and the Denver Art Museum photography department (and also with about $75 worth of overpriced art museum gift shop trinkets to take home to my family), so the trip wasn’t an entire bust.

And there’s MORE.

On the final night of the conference, all thousand or so of us were bussed to a fancy event venue for a party featuring roughly a million food stations (heavy hors-d’oeuvres, basically, but you know your girl managed to get miserably full on itty bitty tacos and mozzarella balls), an open bar, and a live band.

In other words, a bit of overstimulation for Yours Truly, who’s REALLY been leaning into the perqs of remote work.

So by about 9 p.m., after what felt like 172 conversations with 172 amazing people, I was ready to call it. I saw that the busses that had brung us were parked outside the venue and waiting to shuttle people back to the hotel (at 20-minute intervals, the sign said), so I boarded the first one in line (a different one from the one I’d ridden TO the party), and sank gratefully into the seat right behind the driver.

A couple of other people had already boarded, so as we waited for takeoff, I struck up a (173rd) conversation with the man across the aisle from me.

It didn’t take long for the topic to turn to tried and true, “Where are you from?” Typically, when this question comes up, I always answer, “Kansas City,” because I figure people from other parts of the country will be far more familiar with that than they will be with the suburb half an hour south of Kansas City where I ACTUALLY live.

However, when I said, “Kansas City,” the man seated BEHIND the man I was talking to piped up and said he lives in the suburb where I live!

So naturally, he became part of the conversation: I learned what part of town he lives in, where his kids go to school (plus what sports the younger one plays, and what the college-aged one is studying) . . . and then I started to feel like I was sounding kind of stalker-ish with my line of questioning, so I pulled back a little and asked him how long he’d lived in our little town.

“Thirteen years,” he answered, and then asked, “How about you? Is that where you grew up, or . . . ?”

“Oh, NO,” I responded. “I grew up in TOPEKA.” And I was just about to launch into my schpiel about how I’d left Topeka at age 18 for college in Atlanta, and was determined NEVER TO GO BACK TO KANSAS—until a dozen years later, when I went back to Kansas . . .

. . . but I didn’t get a chance to, because at that point, the BUS DRIVER (who by then had started the engine and had us en route back to the hotel) piped up and said, “Excuse me—I hate to interrupt, but did you say Topeka? I have family from Topeka!”

Long story (involving more stalker-ish conversation) short, turns out one of my mom’s closest friends (who’s lived in Seattle since before I was born, but I’ve known her my whole life, as she makes frequent visits “back home”; she’s met Love Tank and my kids, and once sent my elder kid $20 because she was impressed with his eight-year-old grasp of politics (hint: he was eight years old in 2016) . . . but I digress) IS THIS GUY’S GREAT AUNT.

I got his name and contact information to pass along to her, all while the jaw of the dude I’d ORIGINALLY started talking to dropped closer and closer to the floor of the bus.

That guy may very well think I’m some sort of sorceress now.

And the truth is, it was all kind of magical . . . but at that point, I was too exhausted to fully process it. But one thing that occurred to me as I drifted off to sleep that night was that the “Serendipity” theme of that day’s C-suite keynote speech had been spot-on.

And as if all this weren’t enough, my Topeka past continued to nudge me in the days following my return from the conference.

One thing many of you know about me is that I look at real estate listings for fun and relaxation. I regularly “window shop” for vacation homes in Bella Vista, AR (because I think Northwest Arkansas is really pretty, but mostly because my ideal vacation home would be a relatively short drive from where I live, which would allow for impromptu Friday-night decisions to head there for the weekend—and there aren’t many other pretty places that are easily driveable from here . . . but LAWD, the digression), as well as for houses in Colorado, New England, and all along the California coast (you know, in case I ever become rich enough to afford a private jet), and in my own metro area (it’s no secret that I dream of extra bedrooms, a finished basement, and a pool)—and if you tell me you’re house hunting somewhere, by golly, I will (virtually) join you in the search and send you links.

I keep a running tally of houses I like that are currently up for sale, so that if I suddenly come into a lot of money, I’ll be ready to jump.

I LOVE this shit.

So much, in fact, that when I’m desperate for new inventory to check out, I’ll even occasionally check out the listings in Topeka (the fun there is to see the homes I could afford in Topeka, as opposed to what I can afford in the Kansas City metro; I could be MUCH BOUGIER in Topeka) . . .

. . . which is what I was doing one day, when I saw a house in the “NEW” listings (I always sort by “Newest listings”) that I recognized as the childhood home of someone I knew in high school. I checked it out on the map, and sure enough, it was her house! At that point, I thought little of it (I mean, her parents probably haven’t lived there for years), and kept on scrolling . . . but then three houses down the list was ANOTHER house that used to belong to (the parents of) someone ELSE I knew in high school!

Both in the same neighborhood, both brand new on the market.

What THAT means, I have no clue, but I’m sure as hell feeling in touch with my Topeka roots these days!

Big thoughts, big dreams, and a big brown Mercedes sedan . . .

What I’m trying to get a clearer handle on these days, though, is my future; I would love to get some serendipitous glimpses of THAT now that I’m popping my whole head above the cancer treatment waters in which I’ve been eyebrow deep for the past year and a half.

So far, the crystal ball is murky, but one decision I have recently made is that my future MUST include a little old man who drives a Mercedes (and I think Love Tank will be willing to go along with this vision, because a couple of years ago, when he was desperately seeking a new car (his car engine having burst into flames on the highway), he DID check out some Mercedes models, unable as he was to find ANY new inventory for more practical, family-oriented vehicles; he eventually found and bought a hybrid Honda Accord, but there is definitely an Old Mercedes Man brewing in his soul).

Here’s what happened:

Fall-ish weather is upon us now, and after the insanely torturous late-summer temps we’ve been suffering, an 80-degree day holds a bit of a thrill. So Love Tank, who was working from home yesterday, popped into my office and invited me to go out and grab some lunch.

And although I am all kindsa behind on all kindsa projects, I figured why not? Working at home, I don’t get out much, so a quick dash out into the sunshine might do me some good.

So we headed to a cute little Mediterranean chain about 25 minutes away (if you’re in the area (or near Wichita), check out Meddy’s; huge servings of gloriously salty grub at a reasonable price) in search of lamb and hummus.

As we headed back, we noticed a (BEAUTIFUL) vintage convertible Mercedes stuck at a left-turn light, with flashers on. We pulled up alongside and asked the driver (also vintage) if he’d like a push. He said that he lived just around the corner (to the left) and about four houses down the block, and it sure would be nice to be able to call the tow truck from his own driveway. So we parked in a nearby lot and headed back over to shove him on home.

As we cautiously crossed a couple of lanes of busy midday traffic on foot, Love Tank suddenly cursed and sprinted ahead, just as another car started frantically honking. I assumed we were about to be mown down, so I started running, too, without a clear understanding of what was going on—but once my wits and my powers of observation caught up with me, I saw that the Mercedes was rolling BACKWARDS toward the car stopped behind it (the one that was honking), and that Love Tank had darted between the two cars to brace himself against the back of the Mercedes (cursing the low-tread loafers he’d chosen to wear that day) and avert a tragedy.

I feebly reached for the back right corner of the Mercedes to try to help—but in reality, it was Love Tank who saved the day (not to mention his own THIGHS, which would have suffered a greater tragedy than anyone’s bumper, had he not been able to stop the car from rolling).

Once traffic had cleared around us (and we’d assured multiple drivers-by that we were fine and didn’t need help . . . people really are lovely for the most part), we began (both behind the bumper this time) to push. (One man pulled up behind us at this point, and volunteered to push the Mercedes with his car, to relieve us of our duties, but we politely refused, fearing the damage it might cause to one or both cars—and while the other car was nothing to write home about, this Mercedes was too pretty to take that risk. But I digress.)

As we pushed, I started to think, “OK, old man, TURN! Turn the wheel! Start turning! Go LEFT!” and wondering why he wasn’t obeying my mind commands—but then he called out that the steering wheel had called it quits, and was locked up. So now there was no other choice but to stay put and call the tow truck from there.

The man stepped over to a shaded patch of grass on the other side of the street, and began trying to contact a tow truck, while Love Tank and I stayed standing behind the car, figuring that two people standing in the middle of the street would be a more obvious signal to folks that something was up and they should steer around the Mercedes.

As we stood guard (grateful once again for the glorious weather), ANOTHER old man, driving a newer model Mercedes, pulled up alongside the older Mercedes (into the diagonal-stripey area that separated the left turn lane from the straight-bound lanes) to ask if we needed help. We explained the situation, made some small talk, and he chose to stick around as well.

Y’all, I cannot tell you how quickly I fell completely in love with these two old Mercedes men. They were incredibly funny, sweet, and kind. As we chatted, Mercedes Man 1 good-naturedly told us that RIIIIIIIGHT before his car went kaput, he’d driven past a lady who’d called out, “Beautiful car!” and he’d responded, “Thanks! It’s 50 years old, and still runs great!”

10 seconds later, that car made a liar out of him.

(As we stood by the car talking, multiple other people drove by and complimented the car; I (jokingly) advised Mercedes man to STOP RESPONDING, lest he jinx himself even more.)

Eventually, Love Tank and I decided it would be OK to head off, since Mercedes Man 1 now had a buddy to wait with him for the tow truck—but as we drove away, I snagged a pic of my two new boyfs (whom I’ll likely never see again, but we’ll always have the Left Turn Lane of Love):

The CREASED JEANS, y’all.

. . . and who knows? If I’m lucky, then maybe 30 or so years from now, I’ll have my own Old Mercedes Man to love. Fingers crossed!

Pull up to my bumper, baby . . .

From there, Love Tank and I headed toward home, secure in the knowledge that we’d been and met good humans, and that life rewards kindness accordingly.

WE WUZ WRONG.

As we passed a nursery on our way home, Love Tank asked if I had enough time (what with those work projects pressing) to stop by and check out the mums, knowing I’ve been wanting to get some. (EVERY DAMN FALL, I tell myself I’m going to plant mums in front of our house, and every damn fall goes right by mum-less; however, this fall, we’ve procured one of those signs announcing that an occupant of our house attends a particular high school and participates in extracurricular activities at said school—and wouldn’t THAT look cute surrounded by a bed of gorgeous red mums?) I figured why not? An extra 15 minutes or so away from my desk wasn’t going to make a huge difference in what I’d be able to accomplish for the day, right?

We walked around a bit, and I found plenty of mums, but I hadn’t measured the flower bed where I want to put them, and so wasn’t sure exactly what size I needed. Meanwhile, Love Tank started scoping out shrubs to plant beneath the pull-down projector screen on the back of our house, but didn’t find anything he loved. We then remembered yet ANOTHER nursery we’d visited this past spring and liked, and thought maybe we’d give up for the time being, and visit that one after work, to check out THEIR shrub/mum offerings. We headed to the parking lot, and as we sat in our car, looking up the other place on Love Tank’s phone to try to remember what it was called, we were jolted by a big THUMP! and looked to see that another car in the lot had backed into us.

Love Tank turned off the car and opened the door, preparing to get out and talk to the driver of the bumper car, survey the damage, etc.—but Ms. Bump-up-the-jam had OTHER plans, and kept right on driving toward the parking lot exit. Thinking (naively) that maybe she didn’t realize she’d hit us (which even in that moment seemed unlikely, given the force of the THUMP), I began frantically honking the horn, thinking that would cause her to look around and notice Love Tank, who by this time had begun chasing after her on foot.

(Later, when our cooler heads kicked in, Love Tank wondered why he hadn’t just started the car and gone after her on wheels, and I wondered why, instead of continuing to honk even after it was obvious she was deliberately running the hell away, I didn’t grab my phone and take a photo of her license plate. But alas, we all learn hard truths about how we handle a crisis when we’re IN a crisis . . . )

As Love Tank continued to sprint after Hit-and-run Hattie, who was now hightailing it down the street and away from the scene (he said another driver who’d seen what happened even pulled up alongside her on the street, rolled down their window, and called out that she’d hit another car back in the nursery parking lot, but she kept right on rolling, made a right turn away from that car, and hit the gas), and I stepped out of our car to survey the damage, a kind man in a black truck rolled up to me and offered to go after her, but I’d been so focused my honk-tastic efforts, I’d failed to even take note of what kind of car she was driving, so I had very little info that could identify her.

Finally, Love Tank came back, and we discussed what to do. On the one hand, the damage to our car was not HORRIBLE (we may have even let it go, had she stopped), and it would eat up a significant chunk of our time to file a police report and all . . . but on the other, she fuckin’ RAN. She KNEW she’d hit us, and she RAN. Fuck her in the damn eye.

So we called the police (during his sprint, Love Tank HAD made note of the make of the car and the license plate), and then drove to the police station to file the report. The cops could not have been nicer, and we’re pretty sure they thought we were kind of silly for reporting what basically amounted to a few scratches (noticeable scratches, but not “now my bumper is headed for the scrap yard” scratches), but again: that bitch fuckin’ RAN. And I’m petty enough to want her to pay for that shit, even if it’s just a ticket (that she can afford—she drives a Beemer).

Anyway, after that, we headed home, sweaty and annoyed, and I did get back to work in time to catch my last meeting of the day: a happy hour to wrap up my employer’s HBCU week. (I did not make myself a DRANK for the occasion, thirsty as I was from the salty Mediterranean food and an afternoon spent mostly standing around in the sun for one reason or another—but it was still a nice way to decompress.) As for all the work I didn’t get done, I shoved it all off to Monday, which is going to make Monday suck ass, but by the time we got home on Friday, I was in no mood to try and crank out work.

I guess the bright side to this “No good deed goes unpunished” tale can be found by imagining how much angrier we’d have been if Love Tank already owned that Mercedes (and in the fact that Love Tank got like a whole week’s workout taken care of in just one afternoon).

Stop, drop, and roll

But the hits keep coming! Today (Saturday), feelin’ accomplished, because before lunchtime even rolled around, I’d (a) almost completed a blog post, (b) planned the menu and made the grocery list for this week’s dinners, AND (c) planned the elder dude’s lunches for the week (as I’m given to understand MANY young fellows this age do, he has become protein obsessed, and he expressed a desire to take chicken and rice meals for his lunch, so each week I figure out a couple of different recipes, and cook up a mess o’ chicken and rice at the beginning of the week, for him to parcel out into the meal prep containers I bought for the occasion—y’all know how I LOVE containers . . . but I am so digressy-pants), I hopped astride my motorcycle at around 1:30, and rode alongside Love Tank to that other nursery we never did make it to last night.

At one point in our journey, we had to make a u-turn, and as I gritted my teeth and looped around (I love riding my motorcycle, but leaning into curves still make me nervous), I glanced toward my left handlebar, where my phone holder is attached . . .

. . . JUUUUUUUUUUST in time to see that my phone was dangling precariously half-out of its case (the phone holder was still gripping the case just fine—but the case was giving up its hold on the phone). In the 1.7 seconds it took me to gasp and reach for it, it gave all the way up and dove on out of the case to the ground.

As Love Tank sped ahead, I cursed a bunch, zipped into the first parking lot I saw, parked my bike, and ran back to try to retrieve my phone from the street before someone ran over it.

I was too late.

Sucker looks like the Trouble Man movie poster on steroids.

By the time I had the phone in hand, Love Tank had realized I was no longer behind him, parked his own bike in the NEXT parking lot, and walked back to find out what was going on. The sight of both my phone and my face told him everything he needed to know.

From there, we stopped off at a Thai place for a late lunch that didn’t taste very good (what it lacked in salt, it made up for in excessive spiciness), and then home, where I am still cussing to myself about that damn phone.

So now I have heartburn, no phone, a scratched car, and perhaps (who knows?) a pitted OTHER car, because I just drove through a hailstorm to drop my elder child to meet a friend for dinner and a movie.

And the weekend is only half over! At the rate I’m going, Suck-ass Monday may come as a stark relief.

Anyway, as usual, if you’re still reading, I love you. If you’re not, I probably love you too, just for trying.

Wish me luck getting through Sunday!

The “little c” chronicles, Part 18: What a difference a year makes.

Y’all thought I gave up on this blog, didn’t ya? In fact, I did not; rather, I have just been doing ALL! THE! THINGS! that make up Summer With Children . . . and, OK, a few things that don’t. But more on that later.

As far as my health is concerned, I feel . . . NORMAL. Which is actually fantastic, from my perspective, because how long has it been since I’ve felt like a regular person? But I’m experiencing very few side effects from the chemo pills, so I’m not nauseated, my hair is coming back (which is a blessing and a curse, because I’m now at a stage where if I put on a muumuu and some chunky jewelry, I could easily be mistaken for Mrs. Roper), and although I can still get wiped out after a LOT of activity, the fatigue from radiation has dissipated enough that I’ve actually re-joined the Y with the intention of trying to start running again, for the first time in more than a year. Which ain’t gonna be pretty, but on the bright side, I won’t have to worry about my boobs bouncing around.

And speaking of THOSE bad boys . . . I’m still rocking only one, because my skin is still healing from radiation, but this week, I’m hoping to get the other expander filled and achieve some symmetry.

And speaking of radiation . . .

HOLY TWERKING JESUS WITH A UNIBROW, that business TURNED ON ME like you would not believe.

As you may recall, the last time I posted, I was sailing through radiation with relative ease. I’d show up every morning at 8, many times in time to have a pleasant conversation with the dude whose appointment was just ahead of mine (unfortunately for HIM, his radiation required a full bladder, so when he came out and made a beeline for the bathroom, I knew it was my turn). Then I’d don my little gown, grab a wintergreen Life Saver from the candy dish at the desk, head into the treatment room, and lie, listening to whatever music they piped in for the day (usually late-70s to early 00s), and by the time I’d finished my mint, it was time to go. In short, the treatments were quick and cozy, and I was experiencing no pain or peeling.

HONEY, THAT ALL CHANGED.

Oh, I made it through the last treatment (during which, instead of the usual vintage pop, the techs piped in Pomp and Circumstance) relatively OK; earlier that week, I’d started peeling a TINY bit, and experiencing a wee bit of discomfort, but all of it was easily ignorable with the least bit of distraction (and we all know my life is replete with distractions), so when I met with the radiologist after my final zap, I told him all was well.

He warned me that it likely wouldn’t stay this way—that it would, in fact, get worse before it got better. And he told me that if the pain got too bad, I should call him and he’d prescribe pain meds.

And I thought, “Psssshhhhhht! Whatever.”

I mean, after my surgery, I’d gotten by just fine on Tylenol, and hadn’t bothered with any of the hard core meds (read: opioids) I’d been prescribed—so although I didn’t say it aloud to the radiologist, I was all, “Um, if I can get through a double mastectomy without pain meds, I THINK I can handle radiation pain.”

(Just cocky AF, y’all.)

CHIIIIIIIIILE.

I.

WAS.

SO.

FUGGIN.

WRONG.

It . . . was shocking. I’ve told anyone who’ll listen that it was easily the WORST part of this whole “adventure.” Worse than chemo, worse than surgery . . . worse than being forced to listen to “We Built This City” over and over again for 48 hours straight (which has NOT been a part of my cancer treatment, thank God, but it’s on par with being poisoned and cut open).

Not only was I in PAIN! PAIN! PAIN! that required me to be as still as humanly possible in order to manage it, but my skin went through every stage of grief and did two laps through each circle of hell. It turned black. It turned scaly. It peeled off, revealing bright red, raw, sticky, occasionally bloody skin underneath. THAT tightened up and scabbed over. And through it all was just never-ending pain. But finally, after more than two weeks of this business (and after I’d developed a ridiculously expensive ointment-and-bandages habit), I woke up one morning and, while I still felt some discomfort, the abject pain was gone and the skin was starting to look a little less like I passed out for six hours on a bed of hot coals.

I know that everyone’s experience with cancer treatment is different, and I have tried to keep that in mind when people (typically people whose loved ones have just been diagnosed) have asked me for any wisdom about having cancer. But let me tell you what, the next time someone asks, I’m going to say this: Above all, do whatever is necessary to stay alive, but if there is any possible way you can avoid radiation (say, by having a mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy—an option I was initially offered, before the discovery of that rogue malignant lymph node), DO THAT SHIT. It could save you a world of pain.

Or, you could just be less of a dumb ass than I was, and TAKE THE PAIN MEDS. But I did not, because every day I was convinced that tomorrow would be the day it all started to turn around.

That day ended up taking almost three weeks of pure misery.

But on the bright side, if someone ever threatens me with a flaming machete that squirts lye and hot sauce, I’ma be like, “COME AT ME, BRO. I’VE BEEN THROUGH WORSE.”

But I digress.

Getting back to the boobs: the news there is that my reconstruction surgery (which entails replacing my current expanders with actual implants) is scheduled for December. And the good news is that, because I long ago met my out-of-pocket maximum for this year, the installation of them new boobies will be 100% covered by insurance. Merry TITSmas to me!

Papa, I don’t think I said I love you near enough

In NON-medical news, I have just come back from a trip which, last year, went extremely differently for me: the trek to fetch my elder dude from a week-long sleep-away camp in Minnesota.

Like last year, Love Tank drove solo to Minnesota to drop the boy at camp, while I stayed at home with Dude the Younger, and then all three of us piled ourselves in the car a week later, to pick up our missing piece.

Unlike last year, however, I was not completely freaking out for the roughly 36-hour trip.

You see, last year, the day we set off to pick up the kid from camp was the day AFTER I got the news that I had cancer.

More precisely, it was the day after I got ONLY the news that I had cancer; I was given no other information, about what stage, what (if any) the treatment plan was, what my chances were . . . NUTHIN’. All I knew was that I had cancer—and an appointment with an oncology surgeon in A WEEEEEEK.

So last year when I made the Minnesota trip, I was not entirely sure it wouldn’t be the last time I’d pick up my kid from camp. The last time I’d go Minnesota for ANY reason. Hell, the last time I’d take a trip ANYWHERE.

I recall very little about last year’s trip, aside from a few snippets:

  • Meeting a woman in the hotel (over continental breakfast), a Minnesota native who’d traveled back to the area from her new(-ish) home in Florida, to spread her late husband’s ashes;
  • My elder son’s sadness about leaving camp (which, when you’re holding back tears of your own, is not easy to handle, but I remember being also weirdly happy, because he’d clearly had a great time);
  • Getting stuck in traffic, in the rain, and driving (SLOWWWWWLY) past a semi truck in the median, engulfed in sky-high flames (later, once I figured it’d have hit the news cycle, I frantically Googled to find out if the driver had survived—which s/he had, and which brought me a rather astonishing (and bawly) level of relief, considering it wasn’t anyone I loved or even knew); and
  • Love Tank at some point having to turn off Dan Fogelberg, because damn that deep-feelings-crooning bastard for bringing us both close to tears with “Leader of the Band.”

Aside from these snippets, most of my memory of that trip centers on the feeling of having taken a lot of things my life for granted.

Kansas, she says, is the name of the star

And I mean, to be honest, hell, I’m 53, so in a few weeks’ time, I won’t recall much about this year’s trip, either, except that the vibe was totally different, because rather than freaked the [BLEEEEEEEEEP] out about all the things I’ve taken for granted, I just felt supremely . . . I don’t know what.

Grateful, to be sure, and fortunate, of course, but mostly I just felt really . . . “HUH. WOW.”

Like, suddenly everything was made utterly fascinating by the fact that at this exact time last year, I had no idea if I’d still be around by now to see/experience it. So all the things I saw/experienced on this trip became small miracles: wind turbines, fish tacos, my younger kid’s teeth, hotel soap, Aretha Franklin’s version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Raisin Bran, my older kid’s hair, rest stop bathrooms, chocolate shakes, hungry alpacas, air conditioning, Love Tank’s arm freckles . . . everything.

And while most of these are things I’ve experienced on the regular over the past year, it was like I’d just gotten hurled through a tornado and deposited in Oz, where everything was suddenly in technicolor.

So basically, Oz was just me tripping balls about a bunch of things that have been part of my life all along.

(Side note: was I the only kid who thought Dorothy should have clocked Glinda in the face when she found out she had ALWAYS had the ability to get back home, and didn’t have to go through all that flying monkey shit?)

At any rate, I think what it all boils down to is that at least one mystery is now solved: last year, I wondered if I’d still be here right now . . .

. . . and look at me, motherfuckers. HERE I AM. Pass me the Raisin Bran. That shit is amazing.

So what’s next?

Well. I’m not actually officially done with treatment yet; I still have a couple more rounds of immunotherapy to go, and will continue taking the chemo pills through September, and of course I still have to get my new boobs. But then, I dunno. I mean, as much as I’m aware that this is not likely to be my last rodeo with cancer, I kind of feel like things have officially been un-paused, and I can start planning things again, instead of just taking things day by day.

So to start: next year, we’re talking about sending BOTH boys to Minnesota for camp; Boy the Elder as a camper for one week, and a CIT for the next, and Boy the Younger as a camper during his brother’s CIT stint.

We’ll see what I’m tripping balls about THEN.

Great God in Heaven, you know I love you

In the meantime, you may be wondering what I’ve been up to since we last spoke. The answer is, like, EVERYTHING. But if I had to throw a theme on it, I’d say the recurring narrative has been about spending time with awesome-ass people.

To start, WAYYYYYYYYY back in April, I finally hit the runway with a group of phenomenal folx to raise money for Bra Couture KC!

It was so much fun. And so nerve wracking. But fun.

The day started at around noon, when the models gathered at the event site for lunch. We spent the afternoon noshing, chatting, rehearsing, and napping (OK, maybe that part was just me, but you throw me in a room full of recliners, I’m going to do what I do best) while we took turns cycling through hair and makeup (my makeup artist—who put more makeup on me for one night than I’ve worn in the last 25 years combined—pulled out a trick I thought had died with the popularity of Kajagoogoo: once she had all my makeup on, she blasted me in the face with aerosol hairspray to “set” it).

All the while, we were pampered like royalty: as we ate lunch, we were greeted by a couple of last year’s models, who’d come bearing CRAZY-generous gift bags for each of us, containing clothing, jewelry, beauty products, wine (and concomitant tumblers), restaurant gift certificates, winery gift certificates . . . swag for DAYS. In addition, each of us got a quick click session with a professional photographer once we were runway ready. And finally, each of us had an assigned “gopher” (who was assigned to one or two other models as well) to make sure we had what we needed: tissues, water, help getting dressed, you name it. Mine showed me pictures of her son with his adorable girlfriend, and told me the most amazing story about how she ended up adopting him from a gal she’d tapped to be an egg donor (but the gal ended up being like, “Hey, you want this baby I’ve already made instead?”) . . . but I digress.

Showtime was at 8 p.m., so by around 7, we were all dolled up, dressed, and gathered backstage. My runway debut was in the second half of the show, so I had a lot of time to cool my jets—during which jewels started leaping from my outfit like rats from a sinking ship.

Holy shit.

Enter my wonderful gopher, who saw me trying frantically to glue the jewels back onto my outfit (using glue from an “emergency kit” thoughtfully brought backstage for wardrobe malfunctions and other dramas), and enlisted a team of assistants, who banded together to re-jewel me while I stood, deep breathing, with my arms out like Jesus on the cross.

Eventually, my turn on the runway came, my song (Vehicle by Ides of March) started, and y’all. I DID NOT DIE.

Neither did I generate much money (my bra went for the least amount of money—$4,500, whereas another bra went for like $30,000), but I did come away with an understanding I didn’t have before about how the whole thing works . . .

The people aren’t actually bidding on the BRAS, per se—in fact, most winning bidders gift them back to the models—but on the “packages” that come WITH the bras.

And until I walked out on that stage, I had no idea what my package was going to be.

Turns out, it was kinda pud compared to some of the others (trips to the Amalfi Coast, Chiefs season tickets, etc.), BUT I figure that’s fair, since I only invited two people to the event (whereas other models booked party buses for their attendees).

By 11:30 p.m., I was dragging my ass out of there to make the 40-minute drive home, shower away all the floof (well, most of it, anyway; it was a couple more days before I was fully glitter-free), and drop into bed.

Overall, I’m glad I did it (and simultaneously glad it’s over), and am looking forward to seeing how I can stay involved in this event (BEHIND the scenes) in years to come. For one thing, my fellow models (SUCH AMAZING PEOPLE) and I are going to have some big shoes to fill in terms of coming up with good swag bags for NEXT year’s models. And if you’ve ever been to a birthday party for one of my children, you know how passionate I am about goody bags, so this business is right up my alley—although I don’t suppose Play-doh and monster masks would be appropriate in this case . . .

Ah, well. I have time to give it more thought. In the meantime, here are a few photos from the event (do you see what I mean about the glitter?):

Summer, summer, summer . . . it’s like a merry-go-round . . .

Approximately five minutes after the Bra Couture show, summer came in hot, loudly singing cuckoo. School ended, and then a whole new schedule got into full swing:

  • Boy the Elder started a summer Driver’s Ed class, which not only tested the limits of my blood pressure medication, but required daily drop-off and pick-up throughout the month of June. The good news is that he passed with flying colors, and I can now ride as his passenger while breathing somewhat normally. And because he’s my social kid, this summer has also involved near-daily activities with friends, so OF COURSE he gets to drive every time I drop him off or pick him up from a friend’s house. Which I suppose is good practice for both of us (driving practice for him; Zen practice for ME).
  • Boy the Younger started summer day camp, where Love Tank drops him off in the morning, and I pick him up in the afternoon. The good news THERE is that he is still IN camp (last year, he got booted a week before the end, for choosing violence as a solution to a kid who wouldn’t stop bugging him), and seems to like it (which is hard for me to imagine, since he spends all day outside in these apocalyptic temps)! In a couple of weeks, it’ll be over, and he’ll be at home all day errday for a full week before school starts, but at least I won’t have to worry about packing his lunch (which requires remembering to re-freeze his lunchbox ice pack every night), and where he left his water bottle. Small favors.

In the midst of all that whirl, Love Tank and I managed to sneak away for a quick anniversary trip, to celebrate our 20th. Our original plan was to whiz down to Northwest Arkansas on our motorcycles. However, we neglected to OK this plan with Mother Nature, so she planned both triple-digit temperatures and thunderstorms for that weekend, which kind of put the kibosh on the motorcycle-riding part of the plan. And that part of the plan was going to be the fun part for Love Tank (I think Bella Vista, AR is pretty and charming, but he’s ambivalent about it, so the location was strictly for MY happy, and the means of transportation was what was going to make it worthwhile for him—along with my sparkling company, of course). So we pivoted and decided to hop in the car and check out Sioux Falls, SD . . .

. . . which was . . .

. . . not exactly what we expected.

We booked an AirBnB (again, MY thing; Love Tank tends to prefer hotels) that was fine overall, but the thermostat was set at damn SEVENTY-EIGHT DEGREES—with a sticker next to it that said, “Please do not adjust.”

And the bedrooms were upstairs, where it was even WARMER . . .

. . . so basically, we were sleeping in a sauna.

We did manage a decent anniversary dinner, at one of those Brazilian steakhouses, where we both discovered that steak and gorgonzola are a magical combination. But we completely overindulged, to the point that we were both miserable by the time we returned to our sauna for the night.

The next morning, we got up and walked downtown for breakfast, choosing a cute fast-casual place I’d found online. He got an omelette, and I got scrambled eggs with avocado toast . . .

. . . and not only was it all rather bland, but the eggs were weirdly JUICY. Like, sitting in PUDDLES juicy.

Mildly squicked by the puddle-eggs (but fed and caffeinated), we headed out to see some of the pretty nature areas we’d found online . . .

. . . only to find that they were either not as pretty as the pictures, OR much smaller than we’d anticipated. So with that part of the day over more quickly than we thought, we hit a small museum downtown . . .

. . . which was not so much a MUSEUM as it was a largely empty historical building. With some dolls, an old timey car, and a taxidermied bison in it.

After that, we headed back to the sauna to rest a little, and then walked back downtown for dinner at another place we’d found online. By this time, we weren’t expecting much, but as it turns out, we were pleasantly surprised! The restaurant was adorable (with bejeweled wallpaper!), our server was charming and wonderful, and our dinner (Love Tank got a bison steak, and I, still gun-shy from our overindulgence-induced misery the night before, opted for a chicken caesar) was delish, as was the dessert (the key lime pie was on point).

After dinner, we decided to stroll around the downtown area (which was quaint and cute) in search of souvenirs for the boys, and there was this glorious moment when I thought, “Maybe this anniversary trip isn’t a complete bust after all . . . “

WARNING! WARNING! TMI FORTHCOMING!

SERIOUSLY, SCROLL PAST THIS NEXT PART NOW, BECAUSE Y'ALL KNOW I CAN BRING THE PERSONAL GROSSNESS. IF YOU KEEP READING, DON'T SAY YOU WEREN'T WARNED . . .

Then, shortly thereafter, I shat my pants.

YeeeeeeeUP, that’s right; I was just standing there, looking at a display of those cute blank books you buy and then end up leaving blank because they’re too cute to use (or maybe that’s just me), when suddenly I lost control of my bowels.

Diarrhea is one of the side effects of the chemo pills I’m on (and the only side effect I’m experiencing), but it’s not frequent, and it’s totally unpredictable; there’s no warning churning, burbling, or cramping, just a sudden, er . . . release.

For the most part, it’s been manageable, because again, it’s infrequent, AND I work at home, so when it hits, I’m usually close to all the supplies and amenities I need to get my life together.

This time, I was in a cute little bathroom-less boutique in downtown Sioux Falls, a 15-minute walk from our AirBnB.

I walked over to Love Tank (who was checking out the stuffed animals) and said, “We need to go.”

He looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and concern, and asked, “Are you getting tired?”

“Nope,” I replied.

“Feeling sick?” he asked.

“Nope.”

“Need to go to the bathroom?”

“Too late.”

To his credit, though he was a little taken aback by this news, he laughed WITH me, not AT me (I must say, the walk home was pretty entertaining, although both of us wondered if I caused a (literal) stink in the shop), and so far, he’s still married to me.

HERE IS WHERE YOU CAN START READING AGAIN 
IF YOU HEEDED MY WARNING.

We arrived back at home in time to celebrate July 4th as we typically do (nothing fancy, just some hot dogs, chips, and low-key fireworks with neighbors), and the next day, the offspring and I took off for our annual trip to Texas to visit family people.

That’s always a good time, because mostly we just sit around in people’s houses and gab while they feed us.

After a few days of THAT, we headed back home, and had three days of downtime before Boy the Elder headed to camp.

Once Love Tank had dropped him off and returned home, I took off for a couple of days in nearby LFK (Lawrence Fucking Kansas), home to both Kansas University and a couple of my childhood friends, because a THIRD childhood friend swooped in from out of state for a quick visit. She rented an AirBnB, and over the course of about 2.5 days, those friends and I enjoyed:

  • Three dinners (two fancy, one pizza)
  • One sleepover
  • One breakfast
  • Some shopping
  • A LOT of fancy cheese
  • Some deep, ugly laughs (you know what I’m talking about, where you can’t breathe, your face is leaking, and you know there’s blackmail fodder if anyone whips out a camera, but you’re helpless to stop it)
  • Some regular laughs
  • Some tears
  • Some bat sightings
  • A rousing sing-along to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and
  • Gloriously poop-free pants (musta been all that cheese)

Then, I returned home, simultaneously exhausted and renewed, and three days after THAT, we left for Minnesota to pick up the boy from camp. Arrived home yesterday, and here I am, FINALLY catching y’all up on my life.

Now I’m going to bed.

As always, THANK you for hangin’ in with me! Maybe we can meet up at the Regal Beagle soon. I’ll wear my best muumuu.

The “little c” chronicles, Part 17: [I will] remember the [23rd] night of September.

That’s right, y’all. The end of this here tunnel is coming into view.

If all goes as planned, I will emerge, squinting, from this (by that time) year-long underground adventure on September 23.

On that morning, I will take my last oral chemo pills—and at that point (again, crossing everything I have two of (yep—even those) that no surprises occur between now and then), my treatment will be complete.

So here’s the countdown breakdown:

  • Radiation — last treatment on May 22
  • Immunotherapy — last treatment on August 15
  • Oral chemo — last gulp on September 23

Now that surgery’s in the rearview and I have started all three of the above (the immunotherapy being the one PRE-surgery treatment that has continued post-surgery; the rest are new), and have more of an idea of how it’s going to work, I do have a few updates/corrections to make from my last post.

First of all, I originally thought I was going to be on the chemo pills for a year, because the letter my insurance company sent to let me know that the medication had been approved said that they’d approved twelve 30-day cycles (which is just a handful of days shy of a year). So I girded my loins for that . . .

. . . but happily, that’s not the case; when I met with Dr. Cool-and-Calm’s nurse practitioner to talk about dosage, side effects, etc., she let me know that I’d be taking the medication for EIGHT 21-day cycles (each cycle consisting of 14 days of twice-daily pill popping (three pills each pop) and 7 days of “rest”), which works out to about six months. I received the meds (which arrive by mail) on Friday, April 7, and started taking them that night, so my last dose will then happen on a beautiful (no matter WTF the weather’s like) Saturday morning in September.

As for the radiation, which I started on April 12, I was originally told I’d have 33 treatments. When I met with the radiologist today (after my first official week of radiation), however, I learned that I will actually only be having 28 treatments. Apparently, 33 is the maximum number of treatments, so they tell most patients they’ll be having (and schedule them for) that many—then adjust later if necessary, once they get the plan figured out based on each individual case. Weird, I know, but the nurse explained that it works a lot better THIS way than it does to give a patient an initial estimate that turns out to be LOWER than the amount of treatments they end up needing. This way, if there’s a surprise, it’s a good one.

But really, aside from the fact that it’s NOT ACTUALLY GOOD FOR YOU (although it’s useful if you have cancer), I gotta say I don’t mind radiation a-tall! I have a standing 8 a.m. appointment every week day, so I leave my house around 7:30 (without morning traffic, I could probably leave around 7:40, but it’s worth 10 extra minutes of car singing each way to get it done first thing). Once I get there, I check myself in by booping a little plastic card across a scanner. Then someone comes to fetch me and usher me into a private changing room, where I ditch my shirt and don a gown (keeping my pants and shoes on), lock up my belongings, and give some nice ladies my name and birthdate. At that point, I get escorted to a table in a lovely dark room (enhanced by back-lit ceiling art, which is lost on me because I close my eyes during the treatment), where I lie comfortably for ten minutes, covered in warm blankets and feeling nothing. Honestly, the worst part is that they drape a little square of brass mesh material (reminiscent—to me, anyway—of a disco halter top) over my exposed chest, and YOWZA! That sucker is COLD! (Since that first day, they’ve made a point of warming it up a little by draping it across my legs and placing the warm blanket on top of it for a minute or so before we get started . . . but it’s still mufuggin’ cold.) Otherwise, though, if not for periodic instructions to hold my breath, I could totally get a little snooze in during treatment.

And while I’m aware that the side effects from both the radiation and the chemo meds could increase over time, at this point I still feel pretty normal: no obvious side effects from the chemo pills (the ones I was told were most likely to occur are diarrhea and hand & foot syndrome—so I’ve been bracing for THAT potential ball-o-fun, but so far, nothing), and no skin burning from the radiation. I feel mild tingling maybe an hour or so after treatment some days—like a sunburn coming on—but all I do is slap some lotion on, and I’m good (I’ve yet to even use the prescription cream they gave me for the occasion—but the nurse told me today that I should go ahead and start using that sooner rather than later; I don’t have to wait for discomfort).

This may have something to do with the fact that, per post-op instructions from the plastic surgeon, I have been moisturizing my chestal area for a few weeks now. When I met with him to have my bandages removed, he said something to the effect of, “You can start using lotion in this area now, because that’s what your skin is used to.”

And I said nothing, but inside, I was thinking, “Uhhhh, WHUH . . . ? Are there people out there in them streets who are lotioning their tits?? Because I can assure you, mister, that these (former) ladies are NOT, in fact, ‘used to’ that.” Still, in anticipation of getting my expanders filled, I thought it might be of use to have more pliable skin in that area. Plus, a generous and swanky friend sent me some super-bougie oils for just that reason, so it seemed like the universe was telling me to grease up the girls. But I digress. Point is, maybe my religious moisturization of late is why the radiation has had little negative effect on my skin thus far. OR maybe it’s just too soon for me to get crispy. I suppose time will tell.

For the love of money

In other news, well . . . there’s NOT much other news. Life is (blessedly) pretty boring, aside from a few annoying insurance issues. Nothing major—I still feel really fortunate to have skated through thus far without the hairball of denials and appeals some folx go through—but basically the sea monkey (aka the hospital) has my money.

Because of the exhorbitant costs of both my last couple of chemo treatments (which occurred in January) and, of course, my surgery (in February), it took no time at all for me to reach my out-of-pocket maximum for 2023.

In fact, I thought I’d reached it after the first three bills came through. So imagine my surprise, after shelling out for those bills, to get a bill from one of my physicians (let’s call him Dr. Money Grabs) for roughly a thousand dollars! Thus began a close and personal phone relationship with my insurance company.

The first person I talked to said that the bill in question was eligible for reprocessing; she’d put it through the system again, and payment would be issued to Dr. Money Grabs within 10-15 business days.

The second person I talked to (the next day) happily agreed to phone Dr. MG’s office on my behalf and explain the situation, so it wouldn’t look like I was trying to skip out on my bill or anything. (Which was the whole reason for my call, so yay.)

The third person I talked to MANY days later, when I called back because I’d received an EOB showing “patient responsibilities” I didn’t understand (I thought I was done being a responsible patient for the year). She confused the living hell out of me, but one thing I got out of the conversation was that the claim for Dr. Money Grabs had ALREADY been reprocessed, and had, in fact, been billed correctly . . . so I still owed that money.

Because she was so confusing, and because our (40-minute!) conversation had run right up into school pick-up time for my littler dude, I thanked her politely, hung up, and whined to Love Tank, who kindly provided me with the receipts, as it were, to prove we’d already been billed for (and paid) the out-of-pocket maximum, so that I could call back armed.

The fourth person I talked to explained the situation A LOT more clearly (in the course of a roughly 12 minute call): What happened was that we got a HUGE bill from the hospital (eating up more than 90% of my out-of-pocket maximum), paid it (along with a couple of other piddly ones that sucked up the rest of the maximum) . . .

. . . and then, six days after we paid that big-ass bill, for reasons only God and The Shadow know, that claim got ADJUSTED, so that we actually owed $1000 LESS than what we’d already paid. Shortly thereafter, Dr. MG’s (hefty) claim came through—and because, according to the insurance company, I was now (thanks to that adjusted claim) still $1000 short of my out-of-pocket max, then I still owed a thousand bucks on Dr. MG’s bill.

So at this point, I have shelled out a thousand bucks MORE than my out-of-pocket maximum . . . and now get to begin the super-fun journey of getting the hospital to reimburse us for those extra thousand bucks we paid on that big-ass hospital bill. (Oh, and did I mention? The pluckers have now sent a SECOND BILL for the amount of the adjusted claim, like they ain’t already have too much of my money!)

So I guess the lesson in all of this is that it DOES NOT PAY to pay your bills on time!

And for real: how the fleck do people deal with this when they DO NOT have the good fortune of a decent savings account? I mean, there was a time in my own life where I most certainly did NOT have a thousand bucks to just fling around, and something like this would have sucked me under like a rip tide—so the fact that despite all this, my family has still been eating dinner is not lost on me.

And I suppose that’s the whole point of trussing myself up in a bejeweled leather number and traipsing down a runway for the Bra Couture fundraising event, which is in . . . holy shit . . . three days! I spent Sunday afternoon at a dress rehearsal, and that’s when I learned that each bra is auctioned off (which part I knew) WHILE THE PERSON MODELING THAT BRA IS STILL ON THE RUNWAY IN THAT BRA (which part was news to me).

“Don’t just stand there!” we were told; we’re supposed to be working the crowd, upping the bid!

This is going to be excruciating for me. But I guess it’s the least I can do, given that I’m not generating much money for the event through ticket sales—and given the fact that I understand even more accutely now why this money is necessary.

Wish me luck!

If you sing a song today, you will make a better way

I’m sorry, y’all; I just have to do something here to counteract the fact that the title of this blog post calls to mind the absolute worst song by one of the absolute best bands on the planet.

If you know me, you know that my constant complaint is that September is all the Earth, Wind, and Fire many people know. AND THERE ARE SO MANY BETTER SONGS (my knowledge of which is 100% owing to my sister; she gave me Earth, Wind & Fire, my brother gave me Boston, Steve Miller, and Kraftwerk, and my other sister gave me Marvin Gaye, The Dramatics, and The Isley Brothers . . . my childhood in my family was the musical gift that kept on givin’ . . . but I digress).

And I’ll say it—Boogie Wonderland ain’t it, either (although it’s better than September).

Allow me, then, to offer up nine of my favorite Earth, Wind & Fire songs (one for each member of the group) as penance for the title of this post. Listen to as many or as few as you’d like, but I hope you find at least one that makes you put dusty old September in a drawer.

For belting out in the car with the windows down (there will be waving of hands, but try to keep one on the wheel at all times):

Sing a Song
Sunshine (This one has a hella catchy refrain.)

For car-free (and carefree) occasions when you can wave both hands in the air with impunity:

Serpentine Fire
Devotion (This one has a special place in my heart—and, evidently, my psyche—because once, about 30 years ago, I had a dream in which I was sitting behind the pulpit in a church, and Earth, Wind & Fire came busting through the sanctuary doors in white spandex jumpsuits with colorful feathers down the sleeves, singing this song; I woke myself up laughing with delight.)

If your booty wants to join the party and wave itself around a little, too:

Happy Feelin’
On Your Face

For belting out in the shower (where good bathroom acoustics can take your game to the next level):

Fantasy (I mean, the opening instrumentals alone are worth the price of admission, but there is also the opportunity to SANG.)
I’ll Write a Song For You (WARNING: if you’re new at attempting to channel Philip Bailey, you could injure yourself with this one; it starts off slow and easy, but by the end, you’ll wish you’d stretched first.)

And finally, this one is good for whatever you need in the moment: you can belt it out, wave it out, or shake it out—it’s the whole potato.

In the Stone

Enjoy! And, as always, THANK YOU for hangin’ in. Y’all fill me with—ahem—Gratitude.

(Woops. Guess that makes TEN. But come on, how could I pass that one up in the face of so much love?)

The “little c” chronicles, Part 16: So on we go . . .

Hey, y’all! Perhaps you’ve been wondering what’s been going on since we last spoke.

The answer is . . . not much (which has been splendid)—and at the same time, a bunch.

Overall, the past month or so has been a nice little respite from intensive treatment . . . and all the ick that goes with it.

My hair is growing back with gusto, my eyebrows are getting stronger every day, and—on the sadder side—I now need to shave my legs again. In addition, despite having a uniboob (more on that in a minute), I’ve felt mostly like a regular, functioning human again, physically (the extra sparkle on this leotard being that I can sleep on my side—and even my stomach—again!), which has been pretty damn nice.

In terms of treatment, it’s almost GO TIME again: I’ve been working with a wonderful occupational therapist (whom I secretly want to be my bestie, although I think she’d judge me if she knew how many Oreos I can put away in a sitting) on my range of motion, and although there is STILL a lot more stiffness on my left side (where the tumor was and the ten lymph nodes were removed), my flexibility on both sides is in the “normal” range—which means I’m cleared to start radiation.

In preparation for THAT, I’ve also been getting chummier with the plastic surgeon, who’s been filling the heck out of the expander on my left side—and actually REDUCING the amount of fluid in the expander on the right side.

So basically I have one boob right now.

Y’all know the symmetry stan in my soul is twitching a little bit about this—but I understand the reasoning: the right boob has been “deflated” so that the radiation “laser beams” can shoot across the right side of my chest and into the left side at an angle that will allow them to steer clear of my heart; meanwhile, the left boob HAS to be “inflated” NOW, while the skin is more pliable, because the radiation to the left side will make that skin resistant to stretching (for this reason, the left expander has now been filled to a greater capacity than what the size of that boob will ultimately be, in anticipation that it will shrink with radiation . . . but in the meantime, I’ve got some real va-va-va-VOOM going on with Lefty).

So tomorrow is when it all gets underway. I’ll visit the radiologist for a simulation/scan, whereby they’ll figure out how to position everything for radiation, which will start on April 12. I will also get my radiation schedule tomorrow, so at this point, all I know is that it will happen every weekday for 4-6 weeks, and that they’re going to try to get me morning appointments, per my request. And I’ll continue seeing the occupational therapist, to maintain range of motion when radiation starts to clench things up.

In terms of the other treatment, I just got a letter from my insurance company, stating that those meds have been approved, so I’m just awaiting a “chemo education” appointment with the oncologist, after which I’ll get started on the oral chemo (which I’ll take for a YEAR, it looks like) along with a hormone therapy treatment called a Goserelin acetate implant—about which I learned FROM THE INSURANCE LETTER (Dr. Cool-and-Calm has a great bedside manner, but he sometimes fails to mention stuff).

Still doing the “Dr. Google” research on that, but I’m going to need to talk to Dr. CaC to get clear about (a) why it’s happening, and (b) why NOW. The reason I’m curious is because:

(a) the drug that’s going to be implanted (also known as Zoladex) is a hormone treatment, and from what I can tell (with the VAST medical knowledge I’ve picked up from a cursory Google search) it’s often prescribed for hormone-positive breast cancer, which mine is NOT—and . . .

(b) about a month and a half into my first phase of chemo, I mentioned to Dr. CaC that (TMI WARNING: skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know about lady crotch stuff) since starting the chemo (which coincided with the start of my period that month), my period had NOT STOPPED. At that point, he suggested Zoladex (injections, not implants) as a remedy—but once I read up on the side effects, I decided that those would be more annoying to me than this mega-period. And besides, I felt like I had enough physical crap to deal with—who needed potential mood swings as well? So I declined the offer. Eventually, I stopped bleeding on my own (shortly after I told the doctor about it, in fact), and haven’t had a period since.

AND IT IS GLORIOUS. I get a few hot flashes now and then, but otherwise, I got no complaints! My skin is clearer, I don’t get cramps, and I don’t get that horrendous PMS boob pain (well . . . I mean, NOW I don’t, for SURE, but even before the mastectomy, the girls were just all chill, all the time ).

In short, things are pretty damn good, hormonally speaking—and while I will happily rock that boat if it will increase my chances of sticking around here, I feel like I need more clarity around why I’m rowing my dinghy into those waters.

As we yearn, so we learn

Since I saddled up for this, my first cancer rodeo, there has of course been no shortage of shit I’ve learned—and as you know, my hope is that this blog may be of some use to someone down the line, who’s just climbed aboard their own buckin’ bronco. The two bits of recent education I’m about to share, however, are mostly for entertainment value . . .

The first of these, I learned from the last cancer memoir I read—since which time, I’ve finally moved away from those and back to fiction (I’m currently enjoying the heck out of Lucy by the Sea, by Elizabeth Strout) . . . but I digress. The point is, remember a few blog posts ago, when I was extolling the virtues of the Ursa Major skin care line? And talking about how pretty I felt?

(I mean, I really did feel pretty, which was kind of ironic given the fact that my eyebrows and eyelashes were gone; I chalked it up in part to the idea that maybe, with all auxiliary facial features stripped away, I was better able to appreciate the stuff I had left: the color and shape of my eyes, the beauty mark (read: mole) on my chin, my smile . . . and of course my skin, made smoother and dewier by, I believed, the constellation (*wink*) of skin care products I’d bought. I’d even started working out a chunk of blog post in my head to talk about it . . . but anyway . . .)

Well.

Thanks to that last cancer memoir, I learned that it was not the products contributing to my beauty . . .

It was the CHEMO.

I mean, sure, a little moisturizer never hurts, but in The Cancer Channel, the author talks about her own glowing skin, and how she learned from her dermatologist that because chemo drugs target fast-replicating cells—and skin cells are on that list—it often has similar effects on one’s appearance as a chemical peel or microdermabrasion! They call it the “chemo glow”—and although my rudimentary internet research didn’t turn up very much about it, I did find it mentioned in this blog—which I’m sharing less as definitive proof that chemo can make you pretty than as a “worth a read” discovery (I think it’s well-written, and now want to know more of her story).

Which, I guess, just goes to show that there are little gifts to be found in all of this. Not the least of which is that I can stop spending $85 on facial serum (which it seems I was going to have to do, anyway, since it hasn’t been in stock anywhere for months).

And speaking of entertainment value . . . the OTHER thing I’ve learned since the last time we spoke is that this whole situation has a connection to my childhood (a weird and tenuous connection, but still).

I’ve been getting my cancer treatments at Sarah Cannon Cancer Center—primarily at two specific hospitals, although there are Sarah Cannon Centers in hospitals across the Kansas City metro area. Up until now, I’ve been (a) focused on all the OTHER stuff surrounding this whole experience, and (b) just assuming the centers were founded by (or in the name of) some 80s-era socialite who had some sort of personal experience (either by way of her own, or a loved one’s diagnosis) with breast cancer, and access to some money (either her own, or a loved one’s). So, sad to say, I never really gave a ton of thought to who Sarah Cannon actually was.

Do YOU know . . . ?

I’ll give you a hint:

So there I was, awaiting an appointment with the radiologist, and I noticed a deck of Sarah Cannon Cancer Center pamphlets on a table next to me. I picked one up to pass a little time . . .

. . . and that is how I discovered that Sarah Cannon was none other than MINNIE PEARL.

While I was never a fan of hers in particular back in my baby years (tho’ I did have a little crush on Buck Owens), I did watch Hee Haw regularly, and got quite a little-kid kick out of it. (I was proud to know by heart the refrains to both “Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me,” and “Where Oh Where Are You Tonight.” I mean, that was heady stuff for a first grader . . . and apparently still is, as evidenced by the fact that MY first grader—who’s been keeping me company while I write this—is currently dancing around and singing, “Hee hee hee HAW HAW!” and looking up Hee Haw videos on my phone for his stuffed animals to watch. I’m pretty sure I already have some regrets.)

So there you have it: cancer has the power to make you pretty AND forge connections between you and 1970s prime time TV icons.

Like I said: little gifts. I mean, don’t get me wrong: given the choice, I’d return BOTH of these gifts, even if only for store credit—but look at me, finding nuggets of gold in the turd.

Le Freak! C’est chic!

. . . and one of the turdier parts of this whole business is that I have officially entered the Freaking Out About Everything phase.

I may have mentioned this previously, but I was surprised to learn that I will NOT be getting regularly scheduled scans to check for the return of the cancer once I’ve finished my treatments; instead, my oncologist will order them as he sees fit, based on my lab work and what I report to him during the regularly scheduled visits I’ll have with him.

While I’ve been assured by multiple people that this is (in most cases) protocol now, I’ve still already warned Dr. Cool-and-Calm to get ready for me to be paranoid about EVERYTHING from here on out.

And y’all, I’m here to tell you that “here on out” has officially begun.

First, it was a back ache. I got up from my office chair one afternoon, and my lower back seized in a way that had me shuffling around in that pelvis-first, old man kinda way. At first I thought little of it; I’ve had back issues on and off for years, often out of nowhere. (Once, during my first week at a new job, I swung my legs to the side to get out of my car upon arrival at work . . . and wound up getting pelvis-walked right back out to said truck and sent home, once my manager saw the state I was in. Another time, I was experiencing a mildly irritating twinge in my lower back BEFORE work (different job this time), so en route, I turned on my seat warmer, thinking that would help. BIG MISTAKE. By the time I arrived at work 40 minutes later, I couldn’t even swing my legs out. This time, I was escorted INTO the building by a coworker—possibly the same one who later wheeled me to the restroom in my office chair, having seen my slow and feeble attempt to shuffle my way there and taken pity on me. Or the one who informed the company owner of my woes, drawing her out of her office with her own personal Tens machine, which she attached to my lower back, getting full view of my tatty underwear AND my tramp stamp. Who knows? The more of that day I can wipe from my memory, the better. But I digress.)

THIS, however, was my first experience with back pain THAT COULD BE METASTASIS TO MY SPINE, HOLY SHIT. (I mean, technically, it could have been that at ANY point in the past—but in the past, the thought never would have occurred to me.)

Oh, it didn’t occur to me IMMEDIATELY—the fact that I’m sometimes slow on the uptake being an odd sort of mercy, here—but rather later that evening, at my mom’s house. I was still having a mild ache (which by then would disappear after three or four old man steps after standing up), and she asked about it when I rose from my chair and started crotch-shuffling to her bathroom. I blithely explained it away as I (figuratively) skipped to the loo, saying I had no idea what I’d done, but that it had started earlier that day . . .

. . . and then, as I peed, that slow-moving uptake sped up and hit me smack in the face.

And there I was, in my mom’s tiny little apartment bathroom, feeling all tingly and heart-beaty and twirly and melty all at once, but I COULD NOT start blubbering, because I had to go back out there to a 92-year-old lady and my two sweet-faced children, NONE of whom I wanted to drag into this particular moment of panic. So I took a few deep breaths and focused on the facts: the pain was already much better than it had been earlier in the day; even earlier in the day, I’d discovered that getting up from my desk and moving around made a huge difference; and I didn’t have any of the key symptoms of spine metastasis I found with a quick Google search (oh come on, don’t pretend you don’t take your phone into the john with you). After a few more deep breaths, I was able to return to the living room and act like a normal person.

Fortunately, an adjustment to my desk chair (one of the fancy ergonomic ones)—and to the way I sat in it—did the trick, and the back pain was gone entirely after a day.

Then came the vertigo.

Vertigo is yet another issue I’ve had in the past—and like in the past, it first hit me in the middle of the night. The first time (somewhere around 2013), I got up to use the restroom, and crashed straight into a wall. This time, I didn’t even get up; rather, I was rudely awakened by the sudden sensation that someone had managed to sneak me onto a carnival ride (which I already hate) while I slept. I opened my eyes to find the wall next to my bed rolling repeatedly towards my face. So I closed them again, but sat up and swung my legs off the bed (not sure where I thought I was going, except possibly straight into ANOTHER wall), then took deep breaths until the feeling passed.

In retrospect, the issues started earlier that evening, long before I went to sleep; I was lying in bed, on my right side, reading, and suddenly the pillow beneath my right ear started buzzing. I lifted my head, looked at the pillow, leaned closer . . . yep, that thing was definitely buzzing. Only . . . wait . . . it didn’t buzz when I lay the OTHER side of my head down on it . . .

As I struggled to make sense of what was happening, the buzzing noise turned into a whooshing sound, like someone had just flushed the toilet and it was still running. By now I knew better than to go and lay my head on the toilet; however, it became clear that the issue was neither the pillow NOR the toilet, but rather my ear. About the time I came to THAT conclusion, the noise stopped. I shrugged and continued reading.

Later, when I was awakened by the vertigo, I discovered that it had brought a friend: the familiar buzzing . . . which turned to whooshing as the spinning slowed . . . and then disappeared about the same time the whirling came to a halt.

All of this lasted fewer than two or three minutes.

But over the next several days, similar scenes would play out at random moments: sitting at my desk, working; sitting up in bed, reading; standing in the kitchen, making dinner; and once during a Zoom meeting WHICH I WAS LEADING (I tried to breathe through it and keep talking, but when I realized I was starting to repeat myself, with weird pauses in between, I finally ‘fessed up that I was experiencing my own personal Tilt-a-Whirl, handed the meeting off to a colleague, and went off camera to put my forehead down on my desk until the ride stopped).

After the first day of these episodes (which happened around three or four times a day in the beginning), I called Dr Cool-and-Calm’s office to report what was happening, hoping for some assurance that I did not have brain cancer. The nurse practitioner who called me back told me to hit up a Minute Clinic or an urgent care to have my ears checked for fluid, and called in a prescription for antihistamines. I chose to take that as, “it’s probably nothing,” and put some pants on to see someone about the spinning.

The urgent care visit turned up nothing in my ears; the nurse practitioner there shared with me that she’d been suffering from vertigo for FIVE YEARS, and nobody had yet figured out the cause. She sent me home with an instruction sheet for the Epley maneuver, and wished me luck in avoiding the five-year plan she was on.

Over the next few days, the paranoia gradually crept back into my soul—ironically, because the episodes were decreasing in frequency. Each time I racked up a considerable amount of time between spells, I’d allow myself to hope that I’d just had my last one—and by the time I’d gone more than 24 hours without one, I decided the whole ordeal was over . . .

. . . and then when the next one came, it reduced me to tears of frustration and panic.

Finally, I decided to try the antihistamines (which I’d picked up, but avoided taking because I didn’t want to be a walking zombie). Although the bottle said to take them “every 6 to 12 hours as needed,” I took them right after dinner for a few nights, and then crashed out as soon as my littler dude was in bed.

It seemed to help; the episodes became relatively mild—most of them, in fact, involved only the tinnitus, and NOT the vertigo, and when the vertigo DID happen, it was less intense, and lasted seconds rather than minutes.

Eventually, I made it THREE WHOLE DAYS without an episode of any kind, and last night, I ditched the antihistamines (warily but happily, as they’d begun causing some wicked restless leg). I’m happy to report that I’m still vertigo-free! I’d knock on wood for luck, but rapping myself in the head like that could cause a reoccurrence, so instead I’ll just eat a leprechaun or something.

The point of all of this, though, is just to say that for months, I counted the days until I was done with chemo—and then more days until the surgery was behind me—assuming THAT STUFF was the hard part . . . but HOO-WEE, the emotional sturm und drang of trying to hold your shit together (at work and at home) while you’re periodically panicking about metastasis every time you burp or find a bit of sock lint between your toes is NO JOKE.

Storytime: I have a friend (no, not a quote-unquote “friend,” but an actual person who’s NOT me) who once drove three-plus hours to a nearby city to give a client presentation for her job. When she got out of her car at the meeting site, she slammed her finger in the car door. She walked inside the building and went straight into the restroom to collect herself—but the pain was so intense that she PASSED OUT, knocking her head on the bathroom counter. She came to, arranged her hair to cover the new bruise blooming on the side of her face, walked into the conference room, and gave her presentation. Then, when the meeting was over, she drove the three-plus hours back home.

At the time, I thought she was OUT OF HER MIND—and OK, I still kinda do—but now I have a little more empathy, because I feel like that kind of energy is what I’m bringing to every day. Only instead of a probable concussion and a sausage finger, I’m presenting through a periodic sense of panic and a nagging sense of doom. Which may be how other people operate on the regular (journalists, for example, because how could they not?), but I’m not accustomed to it. So today, I looked up therapists who take my insurance, and contacted one for a consultation (I’m hoping that since I’ve already met my out-of-pocket deductible for the year, the therapy will be FREE—but I’m not entirely sure how that works, if it’s coded differently, or what). I figure it will be good to sturm-dump on someone other than Love Tank for a change.

Wish me luck!

I’m your vehicle, Babe . . .

And speaking of anxiety . . . I’m less than three weeks out from my runway debut! The Bra Couture KC event looms—and although the organizers now think I’m a total weirdo, they’re still letting me be a model.

It all started when I was on the phone one day with the Head Chick in Charge (HCIC) of the event; we were getting some other details squared away (including my music for the runway, for which I chose my official “batter up!” song), and I asked her about the deadline to purchase tickets with my model discount. She said she’d have the Ticket Queen (TQ) send me the information again.

TQ did send me an email—but shortly thereafter, she called me to ask if I had a ballpark idea of how many tickets I’d be needing.

“Two,” I said.

Silence.

“Have you . . . invited people?” she asked, haltingly.

I told her NO, I hadn’t, and tried to explain one of my many weirdnesses: whereas many people, when they’re giving a public performance of some sort, feel COMFORTED by having people they know and love in the audience (and, in fact, ASK people to come support them for that reason), I’m the opposite—I’m much less nervous in front of a crowd of total strangers.

After all, those are people I’ll likely never see again if I crash and burn before their eyes.

She laughed and told me I was funny . . . but then the whole thing turned into a (literal) game of telephone: next thing I knew, I was getting calls from HCIC—which I couldn’t pick up, because by then, I was in meetings at work. After two attempts to call me, HCIC then TEXTED me and said she’d spoken to TQ, who told her I was EMBARRASSED to be on the runway. She assured me that I DID NOT have to do this, and that she could find another model (by that time, in fact, she’d already given my designer (Galentino) a heads-up that there might be a pivot . . . so then Galentino was texting me . . . it was a whole thing).

When I was able to text back, I re-explained my weirdness, and assured her that I was not embarrassed by the idea of being on the runway; I could be reading poetry, giving a lecture on beluga whales, or playing the triangle in a Partridge Family cover band, and my feelings would be the same. However, I said, I understood that part of the point was to generate ticket sales, so if she had another person whom she thought would do a better job of that, I’d step down, no hard feelings. Whatever was best for the event, I was happy to do. Heck, I told her, I’d even buy a ticket and come to the event myself!

She wrote back and said her primary concern was that I was excited to be on the runway. So I did not get kicked off the island, and all was well. And I AM excited about my design! Galentino knocked it out of the park—and rest assured, I will share pictures!

In the meantime, as always, I’m so grateful to y’all for hanging in!

Great God in Heaven, you know I LOOOOOOOOVE youuuuuuuuuuu . . .

The “little c” chronicles, Part 15: Carry on.

Hey, y’all, it’s my birthday! First one I’ve had without boobs in a few decades—and I gotta say, I don’t mind it. Who knew? I said in an earlier post that I wouldn’t go flat because it would throw off my boobs-to-belly balance, but I’m actually discovering that even with a little middle-aged “love” around my mid-section, I still kinda like being flat-chested.

Granted, these days, there’s still a little discomfort involved (not PAIN, exactly—at least not most of the time—but a weird numbness over the whole area between my clavicle and the bottom end of my breastbone, extending into my left armpit and down the back of my left arm to my elbow, all of which CAN get a little achy if I go all day without Tylenol) and, due to continued swelling in my left armpit (where lymph nodes were removed during surgery), I cannot successfully sleep on my left side for very long—but I gotta say, I don’t miss those suckers nearly as much as I thought I would.

Honestly, the physical “accoutrements” it’s been (emotionally) hardest to lose during this whole affair have been my eyebrows and eyelashes—which, along with my hair, are coming back, baby! (Interestingly, while I’m thrilled by the return of my eyebrows—watch out, kids, Mama’s facial expressions are back!—I’m so-so on the hair; I’m at that weird re-growth stage right now where it’s kind of unclear whether I’m intentionally trying out a Sinead O’Connor vibe, or growing my hair back after a health-related loss. It’s kind of like that stage of pregnancy where people don’t know whether you’ve just been hitting the Taco Bell drive-thru a little too often, or if you are, in fact, expecting. But I digress. Point is, the look I have going on now is slightly more confusing—and decidedly less interesting—than being bald.)

But before I go down another random rabbit hole, I do have a WEE bit of “next steps” information to share. I say a WEE bit because most of it is currently up in the air a bit, due to a bunch of moving parts. I’ll try to explain my understanding of this whole situation as well as I can, but it’s confusing as hell, so if you walk away dizzy, just know you’re not alone.

So a couple of weeks after my surgery, I had A LOT of appointments with A LOT of specialists to outline my treatment going forward—and here were my takeaways:

  • The lymphedema specialist needed my surgical drains removed (alas, I did not make my goal of getting them out a week post-surgery, so I still had them in when I met with her) before she could work with me on exercises to improve my range of motion.
  • The oncologist needed to know my radiation plan/schedule before deciding when and how to administer the oral chemo I’ll be taking for the foreseeable future (but he also said he’d be waiting until I’ve recovered a little more fully from surgery, so there was “no rush” to start the meds).
  • The plastic surgeon ALSO needed to know my radiation plan/schedule before deciding when and how to fill up my boob expanders (because my right boob, if filled, could get in the way of the beams trying to zap my left side, where the tumor was, BUT the left boob should be filled as much as possible BEFORE radiation starts, because the radiation would make the skin more resistant to stretching with the fills).
  • The radiologist—whom we thought was the linchpin in this whole operation, but apparently not—needed all kindsa stuff from the other specialists:
    • The plastic surgeon’s plan for filling up my boobs so that he can perform a radiation simulation in order to determine my radiation plan and schedule (which will take a couple of weeks after the simulation is done)
    • The lymphedema specialist to help me improve my range of motion so I’ll be able to get my left arm behind my head (which I can do, but it’s NOT comfortable) for the aforementioned simulation (and, of course, the radiation treatments themselves)
    • Precisely 32.7 ml of blood from an axolotl named Cleophus
    • And BTW, ALL of this needs to be done in time for me to start radiation treatments within three months post-surgery.

It’s all giving “Who’s on First?”

Nonetheless, so far I’ve made some—though minimal—progress towards achieving this goal:

  1. I got my drains out (HALLELUJAH—or, as my littler dude says, “Hoo-RAY! Pa-TOWW! Wa-ka-ka-kahhh!” . . . no idea where that came from, but I love it and it’s kind of my new thing) exactly two weeks after my surgery.
  2. I’m still working at home on the range of motion exercises they occupational therapist sent home from the hospital with me . . .
  3. . . . in the hope of being able to break dance when I see the lymphedema specialist in a few days, so she’ll be impressed with my progress.
  4. . . . and also (because why the hell not?) to be able to do pinup-girl poses when the plastic surgeon starts filling up my boobs (ALSO in a few days).

. . . and of course, I’m continuing the immunotherapy treatments every three weeks.

So that’s the news I have in terms of my continuing treatment plan.

Nothing equals the splendor

In other “Carry on” news, last weekend I attended another youth symphony concert for my elder dude. Y’all may recall that at the last concert, I waxed rhapsodic about their rendition of Rhapsody in Blue—but for THIS concert, they went in a whole different direction, and I was equally enraptured.

This time, the guest performer was Mark Wood (and the Mark Wood Experience), who joined them to bust out orchestral renditions of classic 70s and 80s rock hits.

And YOU KNOW this here Topeka girl belted out every word of this number! I mean, I repreSENT, you know’m sayin’?

. . . and, by the way, so does my son, who played most of this show IN PAIN, which of course twangs my guilt strings a little.

About a month previous, the kid went bowling with a friend and came away with a sore wrist. Like the good parent I am, I let his initial complaints float by, figuring it would eventually get better.

It didn’t.

A couple of weeks later, when he was still complaining of pain, I chalked it up to the P.E. class bowling unit they’d just finished, coupled with his participation in his brother’s bowling birthday party (obviously BOWLING is the problem here; I mean, it’s a well-known fact that BOWLING = PAIN, right?).

A week or so after THAT, however, when he was still complaining about the pain, I promised to make him an appointment with his doctor.

Which I of course forgot.

Then, in the middle of the Saturday afternoon rehearsal immediately preceding his Saturday night Tribute to Old Farts (like Yours Truly) concert, he texted: “Hey, did you ever make me a doctor’s appointment?”

Which was his way of saying, “MY. WRIST. STILL. HURTS. Why don’t you love me?” (That may be the guilt talking, but I mean, what was the point of asking me that, in that particular moment, other than to point out my failures as a parent?) And because of all the extra cello playing (a Friday evening rehearsal, and a Saturday morning private lesson happened previous to the Saturday afternoon rehearsal wherein he subtly questioned my fitness as a mother), he was starting to suffer from this particular nugget of neglect.

Love Tank, however, came to the rescue by whizzing to the nearest CVS to pick up a wrist brace, and running that—and some ibuprofen—up to the rehearsal venue. He spoke with both the kid and the conductor, and all agreed that if the pain got bad during the concert, the kid should stop playing, in order to avoid exacerbating a potential medical issue.

However, although he said his wrist started hurting really badly after the first song his group played (I saw him grab it a couple of times, when the musicians stood to bask in the applause), my boy decided the show must go on—plus, he was concerned about confusing the cellists around him by suddenly stopping his own show—so he dug in and kicked ass.

As a reward, I treated him to a FOUR-HOUR Urgent Care experience the next day. He got an x-ray (which showed no abnormalities), a splint, and instructions to rest the wrist for five days—which got him out of a week’s worth of P.E. and orchestra activities, so it was practically like a tropical vacation!

At any rate, I gotta say, I am consistently blown away by the collective talent of this group of baby musicians. And the fact that my dude is among them is pure magic to my soul.

Take a look, it’s in a book

The other magic for my soul (which, as you may recall, was in need of a little salve after the semi-crappy news that came out of my biopsy results) has been—of all things—reading cancer-related memoirs.

When last I left you, I was about to start (re)reading this book, thinking a little levity around the subject of cancer might be just what I needed.

And sure enough, it was.

While I recalled having enjoyed this book when I first read it, I suspected (correctly) that it would, as the kids say, “hit different” now that I’m going through this shit myself. I got some genuine LOL moments out of it this time—including a couple of . . . well, not ROFL moments, per se, but some definite UL (ugly laughing—I’m making it a thing if it isn’t already) moments. Sister was HILARIOUS. If you (as many of you claim) enjoy reading this blog, I think you’ll REALLY like Lopsided. Give it a try if you’re so inclined.

From there, I didn’t really INTEND to continue reading memoirs about cancer, but—thanks to the Amazon algorithm which, because I ordered Lopsided, was like, “Oh, so I see you’re into true stories about people who died of cancer! Gurl, we gotchu!”—I stumbled across this book, which sucked me all the way in with its crazy-ass premise:

A medical emergency forces a brilliant Harvard oncologist to reveal that she has been hiding her advanced breast cancer for a decade. Her husband—also an oncologist—must set aside his anger and feelings of betrayal so that he can care for her during her final year of life.

I mean, what in the entire fuck, right? So once I was done with Lopsided, I bought In Sickness and dove right in—to discover that the Amazon synopsis was only the first of many times I’d mutter, “What in the entire fuck?” in response to this book.

Here’s what I’ll say: The writing is good (engaging, descriptive, flows well), and I did find the story fascinating (for a lot of reasons). However, if you are a person who has a zero-tolerance policy for questionable decision-making (and many of the people I love most are such people—you know who you are), WALK AWAY. You will have no patience with this narrator, and will end up chucking this book across the room—or worse, you’ll hate it so much you’ll make your own questionable decisions, and end up setting your expensive new curtains on fire trying to incinerate this bad boy.

IF, however, you’re someone (like me) who delights in armchair psychology (but who does not actually STUDY psychology, in which case you’d probably find the narrator’s (and his wife’s) behavior utterly predictable from a DSM perspective), you might be fascinated by this book (as I was). You’ll walk away with more questions than answers—but the food for thought will keep you burping for days.

Now that my gas has subsided, I’ve picked up this book. (“Yo, wanna read about MORE cancer?” Amazon said. “OK,” I replied.) I’m not very far into it, but my impressions thus far are:

  • The author wrote this book (which grew out of a blog) because she felt like what was missing from a lot of cancer stories was humor; and OK, maybe expecting this book to rise to the level of Lopsided humor isn’t quite fair—but so far, I’m not getting a ton of chuckles.
  • Also, I’ve already come across a couple of instances where she kind of seems to contradict herself. It could be that she needed a better editor, or it could be that these contradictions are part of her particular brand of humor, and I’m missing some subtle tongue-in-cheekiness, but twice so far, I’ve been like, “Wait, but three pages ago, you said . . . “
  • ALL that said, I’ve already encountered a couple of passages in the book that make me feel like this person and I should be total best friends, because we appear to share a brain (or a right hemisphere, anyway). On the one hand, this tells me I’m not the thought unicorn I’d like to be, but on the other, so much “OMG, SAMESIES!” that I’m starting to wonder if it would be weird to reach out to this person and invite her to drinks (leaving aside the fact that she lives on the west coast).

OK, who knew this blog post was going to turn into a BOOK CLUB? (I do think after I finish this book, though, I’m going back to thriller fiction or Amish romance or something; I’ve had enough cancer for now.)

At any rate, my boys (who are out fetching me a birthday cake—you know I’m the weirdo who, although I delight in making homemade birthday cakes for my offspring, LOVES LOVES LOVES storebought cake) will be back soon, and then there’ll be dinner (take-out of my choice—Hoo-RAY! Pa-TOWW! Wa-ka-ka-kahhh!), so I’m going to wrap this up now. But I’ll share more after the upcoming week’s doctor visits, and as always, thanks for hanging in!

Y’all are all the present a gal could ask for.

The fucking asshole “c” chronicles, Part 14: Welp, shit.

So I’m sitting here in my sky-high bed, drinking a Starbucks Cinnamon Dolce latte left on my porch by an equally dolce friend (it is DELICIOUS; I didn’t think I liked Starbucks, but I am seriously considering Door Dashing eight more gallons of this stuff), and even though it’s only been a coupla days since my last update, I figure now is as good a time as any to give y’all the updates I have right now.

They’re not great. Not THE WORST, but not great.

So yesterday morning, I had back-to-back post-op follow-up (my, that was dash-tastic) appointments at the oncology surgeon’s office, and the plastic surgeon’s office.

The good news is that the surgical sites look good—no infection, not much bruising, healing nicely, etc.

The bad news is that my hope of little to no cancer in the primary tumor was stomped to a pulp. Not only was the tumor the same size it had been before I started the Red Devil treatments (you may recall that towards the end of the Taxol treatments, an ultrasound indicated the tumor had shrunk by about 30% . . . but damn if that piece of shit hasn’t stayed the same size since then) but also—and here’s the real smack to the face with a cast iron skillet—the biopsy showed that more than 75% of it was cancerous .(I mean, I was prepared for them to find a little cancer still mucking around in there—but more than 75%? Holy shit.)

There was some other good news, too: The first bit, of course, being that my margins were clear (meaning no cancer cells were found at the outer edge of the tissue removed—i.e., they “got it all” during surgery and I won’t have to go back for a second surgery to have more tissue removed, because GAH, that would suck ass). Also, I mentioned in the last post that 2 lymph nodes had shown malignancy during surgery, and that 10 had been removed altogether. So the other good news is that NONE of the other eight nodes removed showed any malignancy.

So technically, I’m now “cancer free”—and of course, I’ll be doing all the things (radiation, continued immunotherapy, and—I’m sure, although I haven’t met with my oncologist yet—more chemo) in order to try and stay that way, but this cancer means BUSINESS, y’all. It took the ubiquitous “B-E AGGRESSIVE” cheer a LITTLE too seriously in high school.

And although I KNOW I’m not an oncologist (or ANY kind of medical professional, despite the fact that I sometimes list myself as Dr. Blackwell just for kicks when we renew our membership to the local art museum), what this looks like to me is that MY cancer told THE RED DEVIL to go right on back to hell.

From where I’m sitting, it appears that the most powerful cancer treatment on the market right now DID NOT WORK for me, and those last 12 weeks of treatment were basically for nothing. OK, technically, I don’t KNOW that (because for all I know, the Red Devil kept the tumor from GROWING), but I mean, WHAT IN THE ENTIRE FUCK?

Plus, there were other things in the pathology report that I had to Google to understand (things like tumor necrosis)—but the understanding I came away with was basically, “You in danger, Girl.”

(Again: take all of this with the knowledge that nobody with an actual medical degree has said these things to me, but, I mean . . . in the absence (so far) of any official indication otherwise, what else is there to think?)

Entitlement is a bitch

So I spent most of yesterday bawling and eating Thin Mints.

I’d like to say that I woke up TODAY with a renewed determination to kick this sucker’s ass . . . but that’s not exactly true.

What I did wake up with was the realization (which is not exactly NEW—it’s just coming from a new angle) that I’m not exactly accustomed to shit not working out the way I want it to. This past week, I’ve been watching “Shrinking” on Apple TV (I know some critics don’t like it, but I love it so much I could kiss it, I mean my boyfriend Jason Segel AND Harrison Ford in the same show (which makes me wonder if Segel TOTALLY plotzed when he knew he’d be working with Han Solo, because he’s pretty much the EXACT demographic of someone who would)? SPECTACULAR). And (no spoilers here) there’s a character in it whose mantra is “Everything goes my way.”

And, well . . . I’m pretty much that person, too. I mean, not EVERYTHING goes my way:

Do I own a vacation home on the California coast? NO.

Do I have the same metabolism I did 30 years ago? NO.

Am I Sheila E.? NO.

But overall, things DO tend to work out the way I want them to, and I’ve had this rather amazing life, wherein I’ve been able to do and experience things a lot of gals from Topeka, KS, have not, and have the amazing luck to know and be loved by so many of THEEEEEE most spectacular people (I mean, not Sheila E., but otherwise . . . ). Plus, despite a relative lack of ambition and/or direction, I have somehow landed in a life replete with ease, comfort, and privilege (I don’t wonder how I’m going to pay my medical bills, keep my lights on, or feed my children—hell, I just registered my older kid for sleep-away camp in Minnesota this summer). And I can only attribute that to some kind of crazy, lifelong good fortune, which (perhaps UNfortunately) has nurtured a huge sense of entitlement in me.

So the fact that yesterday didn’t bring “Hooray! Everything’s working out great!” news threw me for a bit of a loop.

(That amazing attitude y’all keep praising me for throughout this mess? Yeah, that has pretty much come from the fact that I assumed things would work out better at this point than they have.)

So what now (personally, I mean, not medically)?

Well. I don’t know. But when I first got diagnosed, there were three things I wanted out of this experience (aside, of course, from SURVIVAL):

  1. A clearer sense of priority in my life
  2. A determination to spend more time doing things that make me happy
  3. Something to write about.

I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at 2 and 3, but #1 still eludes me at times; like I still find myself telling my sweet-faced, beloved (and OK, sometimes annoying) children to go away when they pop into my office to ask me something while I’m trying to work (I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but the huge disadvantage of 100% remote work are snow days and professional days). I still find myself foisting off friends who offer to come bring me coffee or just hang out with me because I don’t feel like my house is clean enough (y’all know ’bout me and cleaning). Or I find myself reluctant to join Love Tank for an after-dinner movie date on the sofa, because if I do, I won’t get my laundry folded.

So maybe this is an opportunity to lean more into #1 and start telling my job, my vacuum cleaner, and my laundry to go fuck themselves. (Well, OK, we all know that’s not going to happen, because all three of them DO provide me a great deal of satisfaction in their own ways (plus my job provides me both subsidy for, and the means to pay, my medical bills, AND the fees for that summer camp) . . . but maybe they can be a little lower on the list than the people I love.)

In the meantime, I decided I could use a little irreverence, so last night I downloaded (for free, thanks to all the digital credits I’ve racked up on Amazon) a book I read years ago, by an amazing person I met once.

Here’s the unnecessarily long and winding story to go with that:

Many, many years ago, I lived in Oakland, CA. During part of that time, I dated a dude I’d known (but never dated) in high school, who happened to live in San Jose. Eventually, he dumped me (like a WEEK before my BIRTHDAY, for the love—although I gotta say I kinda deserved it (the dumping, not the timing thereof), because I wasn’t the best girlfriend . . . I mean, I didn’t cheat on him, or boil his bunny or anything, but remember, I’m the entitlement queen, so it wasn’t the most equitable relationship), but we remained friendly, and called or emailed one another periodically, just to say hello and for proof of life. We even had dinner, once, when he was in Oakland for work or somesuch.

And all was pretty OK.

One day, though, I called him to say hello, and he told me he couldn’t really talk to me anymore, because he had a girlfriend who wasn’t cool with it. Even emails were a no-go, he said, because she read his emails over his shoulder.

And I was DONE.

One thing to know about me is that I do NOT cotton to jealousy (of the romantic variety, I mean; I get plenty jealous of people who own vacation homes). And quite honestly, I’m flummoxed by people who (a) openly admit to operating according to a partner’s jealousy, and (b) expect me to understand and be OK with that.

I mean, OF COURSE I get that one’s partner is one’s top priority (unless there’s laundry to be folded). So sure, tell me you have to cancel drinks because your partner just scored surprise tickets to monster trucks. Bring me a t-shirt and I’ll reimburse you. If your partner’s mom broke a wrist and needs help around the house, by all means ditch our spa day and go give her dog a bath! Or if Friday night is your regular Pizza and PJs date night with your person, turn me ALL the way down for the movie premiere of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” I’m golden.

But miss me with anything smelling of “I’d LOVE to, but [INSERT NAME OF CONTROLLING PARTNER HERE] HATES it when I . . . ” (I mean, again, let’s be reasonable, here; if I invite you to play Russian Roulette, move permanently to Dubai, or have sex with me, I can see where your partner might have issues. But if it boils down to not wanting you to hang out with me (y’know, doing NORMAL stuff) because of jealousy? Or even TALK to me on the phone? Get TF outta here.)

And for my part, I am NOT the jealous type, either. (For one thing, I think I’m pretty damn awesome (see? entitlement), so if you’d REALLY rather be with someone else, knock yourself out; I think less of your taste now, so I’ll happily send you on your way. For another thing, while of course I DON’T want a partner to cheat on me, I want it to be because HE CHOOSES NOT TO—not because I’m monitoring his life in order to deprive him of any opportunity to do so. But I digress.) Which is a good thing, because a full 92.7% of Love Tank’s closest friends are women, so we’d never make it if I had jealousy issues. Or if HE did, because—as you may have guessed by now—that business is a non-starter for me. Anyway, where was I?

Oh, yes. So at this point, I’m DONE with the ex, because he is legit expecting me to understand that we can no longer stay in touch because his girlfriend won’t allow it.

Moving on.

Awhile later, another friend of mine from high school and his wife relocated to Oakland from the east coast. As one does when faced with the opportunity to have regular contact with good friends, I pretty much figured we had all the time in the world to hang out, so I think we saw each other ONE TIME, at a party in my apartment (at which EVERY straight man in attendance fell madly in love with my friend’s wife because she is da-bomb.com . . . but I digress), before I ended up deciding to leave Oakland and move to Philadelphia.

In preparation for my move, I had put some of my furniture up for sale on Craigslist (remember that?), and so was awaiting calls from futon seekers across the East Bay. If you know me, you know I feel very little obligation to answer the phone just because it rings, and am just as likely to let it go to voicemail if I’m in the middle of something, or heck, if I just don’t feel like talking. However, at that point in my life, I didn’t want to miss out on any potential buyers by failing to pick up the phone, so I was answering every call if I was at home . . .

. . . which is how one evening I picked up the phone and heard a feeble, “Hey . . . ” from my damn ex (whom YOU KNOW would otherwise have gone deep into the voicemail void and never returned, because I can hold a grudge like nobody’s business) on the other end of the line. Even though I was still mad that he’d ditched me, I talked to him long enough to tell him I was moving across the country in a couple of weeks (take THAT, you weak-ass, friendship-nuking bastard!). He asked if there was any sort of goodbye party planned, and I (truthfully) said no; I said that several friends had mentioned taking me out to a goodbye dinner, but so far nobody had gone as far as to suggest a date or time.

He suggested a date and time to take me out to dinner himself.

I caved and agreed (so much for that grudge)—and then another friend (who’d been pissed at this guy for dumping me in the first place) suggested we make that dinner my OFFICIAL good-bye gathering for EVERYONE, to thwart any potential plans Dude might have for some romantic moment with me before I left—which I doubted he had, but I went along with this plan, and started calling people to invite them to dinner on the date and time I’d set up with my ex (I did tell him about it, though—I mean I’m not THAT much of an asshole—and he didn’t seem to mind).

Among the people I invited were my east coast defector friend and his wife, who were disappointed to find out I was leaving. “We wanted to introduce you to our friend Meredith,” they said, “because we think you guys would love each other.”

I told ’em to bring Meredith along to the goodbye dinner—and, true to their prediction, I DID love her. She was so amazing and hilarious and fun . . . and she gifted me with one of the most satisfying moments of my life . . .

We were all at a long table in the restaurant, and she was sitting next to me, while my ex sat across from us. At one point, she leaned over and whispered in my ear (gesturing with her eyeballs toward my ex): “OK, is that dude your boyfriend?”

“No,” I whispered back, not bothering to explain the whole situation.

“Really?” she replied, “Because he is giving you THE MOST LOVING LOOKS—like he is REALLY going to miss you, if you know what I mean.”

OHHHHHHHHHHH, THE GLORY.

After that, I did explain to her that he was my ex, and she said, “Ahhhh, that explains it.”

But that moment cemented my love for her to a point that I almost didn’t want to move away from the opportunity to become besties with this spectacular person.

Sadly, I never kept in touch with her or anything—but because I kept in occasional touch with my friends who’d introduced me to her, I knew she’d developed cancer, and written a memoir about it, so I bought it and read it when it came out.

I also knew when she died.

I don’t remember a ton about the book (and I can’t even FIND my hard copy now), but I remember liking it quite a bit, and even though I had NO IDEA that a decade hence, I’d find myself in a similar situation, I remember appreciating the fact that it wasn’t some Chicken Soup for the Soul-type inspirational tome, but rather a funny, sarcastic, and irreverent take on what—let’s face it—is a shitty situation. I will be the first to admit that I’ve found some nuggets of gold in this pile of shit (all of you being one big shit-coated nugget, and I mean that in the best way), but I think what I maybe need now are not inspirational memes involving footprints or inner wolves, or—God forbid—the word “warrior,” but rather someone (even a dead someone) to sit in the shit with me, acknowledge that it is indeed shit, and make me laugh at the same time.

Yesterday and the day before, the weather here was great (upper 50s/low 60s), and on each of those mornings, I woke up thinking I’d get out of the house and take an afternoon walk. On the first of those days, I ended up hanging out in bed, talking on the phone to a friend for three hours instead, and on the second, I ended up again in bed, wallowing in self-pity because things didn’t exactly go my way at my doctor visits yesterday.

Today, it’s cold again, so I’m not even going to try to go outside. I think instead, I’ll hang out in bed, eat some more Girl Scout cookies, fire up my Kindle app, and start my new/old book.

Thanks, as always, for hangin’ in.

P.S. I initially titled this post “The asshole ‘c’ chronicles,” but it occurred to me that y’all could take that the wrong way and think the cancer had spread to my butthole or something—and that is NOT the case (small favors), so I added the ‘fucking’ for clarification.

The (even) little(r) “c” chronicles, Part 13: The boobs have left the building.

GAH, sorry sorry sorry, y’all, for taking so long to post an update! (Believe me, I heard about it from more than one of ya.)

But most of you already know the big news: On February 15, I underwent a double mastectomy, with kinda-sorta reconstruction (after the oncology surgeon did her thang, the plastic surgeon came in and placed expanders where my breast tissue used to be; in a year or so, the expanders will be replaced with permanent implants).

The news I have to share from that (so far) is a mixed bag: while I was still way down deep in General Anesthesia Wonderland, the oncology surgeon told Love Tank that she hadn’t SEEN any remaining cancer in the primary tumor (but of course, she didn’t slice it up and put it under a microscope, so this is by no means official news—just official HOPE, because after all the chemo was done, I was still able to feel the tumor, so I just assumed that meant there was still cancer in it, and it turns out that’s not NECESSARILY the case).

So that’s the good news.

The bad news is that she did find malignancy in two lymph nodes. She said she yoinked (although she didn’t use that term, I think it fits) out about ten lymph nodes, and of course the hope is that the additional ones will NOT show any cancer . . .

. . . but I’m still not happy about those two. I knew at the start of chemo, of course, that there was cancer in ONE, and my assumption (although i didn’t have the wherewithal to confirm with her after the surgery—you know they give you some damn good drugs when you get parts of you removed) is that the one we already knew about is one of the two in question, and it somehow convinced a buddy to go rogue with it. But I’m not sure; maybe the chemo worked on that one, and two OTHERS went rogue—who knows?

At any rate, what this says to me is that this business is on the move, and trying to reach out and touch some shit, which is NOT COOL.

What does that mean in terms of treatment, though? Not sure at this point. We will know more, of course, once the biopsy results come back from the tissue removed during surgery.

What it MAY mean is more chemo. (Blecccch.)

Since the surgery has revealed that there wasn’t a complete response to the chemo treatments I’ve already done (i.e., the cancer was not 100% gone), it’s possible I could end up doing oral chemo treatments now. OR I could possibly just continue the immunotherapy treatments I’ve been doing every three weeks for the next several months (which was already the plan). One thing I know is that whatever happens will be in addition to radiation, which was ALSO already the plan.

At any rate, again, I won’t know anything for sure until my one-week post-surgery follow-up appointment on Wednesday.

So until then, that’s all the REAL medical news I have.

Should I stay or should I go now?

Other than that, what I can tell you is that I have discovered something about myself. I think there are two kinds of people: those who CANNOT WAIT to get TF out of the hospital (to the point of going AMA if they have to), and those who are like, “Nuh-uh, mofos, I’m staying here as long as I can!”

And I somehow appear to be a little of both.

I knew going in that I’d be staying a night, but not really knowing what to expect (having only experienced two outpatient surgeries in my life previous to this), I didn’t have feelings about it either way.

Before I went in, though, a couple of people encouraged me to make them keep me in the hospital as long as possible (one shared an anecdote about an acquaintance who’d insisted on staying a second night after her lumpectomy, because even after that surgery, which was significantly less invasive than what I was having done, she didn’t feel well enough to leave the hospital after one night). I took it under advisement, of course, but since I HAAAAAAAAATE having an IV hanging out in my body (when I gave birth to my second baby, they stuck it in my wrist (*shudder*), and I was so skeeved out by it that the nurse took pity on me, cut the toe end off a hospital-issue grippy sock, and slid it over my wrist to hide the IV from my tender eyeballs), I assumed I’d be one of the “Get me TF outta here” types.

That is, until I woke up from surgery.

I’m about to digress, here, but here’s a thing I find amusing: in my life, I’ve had three surgeries involving general anesthesia:

  1. A tubal ligation after my second kid (thanks to which I discovered that general anesthesia makes me nauseated, which was a HUGE disappointment to me, because as much as I LOVE to sleep, I thought general anesthesia would be nothing but hearts, unicorns, and puppy butts for me . . . but I digress even further);
  2. The surgery to place my port for chemo treatments, and
  3. The removal of my boobs.

. . . and the last thing I remember before two out of those three surgeries (the latter two—before each of which I had the good sense to ask for anti-nausea meds in conjunction with the general anesthesia, so I did get more of the puppy-butt experience) is saying something along the lines of, “Yeah, you’re right” to a medical professional.

When I got my port placed, the last thing I remember is being on a gurney, watching the ceiling whizz by as I was wheeled to the operating room, and the anesthesia nurse saying, “You should start to feel the meds kicking in . . . .” After a second or two, I replied, “Oh, yeah, I DO feel that!”

. . . and that was all she wrote. Next thing I knew, I was waking up, my chest hurt, and someone was offering me ice chips.

This time, I actually made it all the way INTO the OR (which was fascinating: first of all, it looked a lot more like an auto shop than I’d anticipated, with stuff hanging on walls, and multiple tables around, AND it was far more colorful than the ones they show on TV, which are always white white white; basically, the one thing my Imagination OR and my Reality OR had in common were the hella bright lights . . . but holy cow, I’m never going to get to my point at this rate). The nurses wheeled my gurney up against the operating table, and helped me scoot myself onto the table. One of the nurses placed my pillow back underneath my head, and as I reached up to adjust it, she said, “Go ahead and fix that however makes you comfortable; I know the operating table isn’t the most comfortable . . . ” I replied, “Yeah, you’re right about that . . . ”

. . . and the next thing I knew, I was waking up, my chest hurt, and someone was telling me it was time to take me up to my hospital room.

So what this all comes down to is that apparently I am extremely agreeable right before I pass out.

Unlike the port placement surgery, though, waking up this time was much more of an ordeal. I can remember snippets of waking up and interacting with people:

  • I remember a nice man waking me up to let me know he was wheeling me up to my room, and warning me about the bumps I’d feel as he rolled me across the elevator threshold.
  • I remember the nice man announcing we’d made it to my room, and that at that point I struggled to open my eyes long enough to see if I had a private room, or if I was stuck with a roommate (the latter of which would certainly have influenced my desire to get out of the hospital—y’all know mama loves her alone time—but hallelujah, I had a private room).
  • I remember expressing, eyes closed, to the nurse who’d be in charge of my in-room care that I needed to pee (whether she asked, or I volunteered that information, I can’t tell ya)—but when she asked if I felt able to stand up and walk to the restroom, I very distinctly replied, “NUH-UH.”
  • She then asked if I was ready for pain medication, and I replied (eyes still closed), “UH-HUH.”
  • I remember seeing Love Tank sitting on the sofa next to my hospital bed, and trying SO HARD to wake up and talk to him, but my eyes kept drifting shut again and I’d tumble back down to the bottom of Knocked Out Mountain.

A full THREE HOURS later, I woke up to Love Tank smiling and very sweetly saying “Hi, Baby . . . ” in greeting. And also to a KILLER urge to pee, since once I’d told the nurse I wasn’t walking to the bathroom, she went on ahead and let me roll back down the mountain with my full bladder.

Love Tank called her in, and she helped me sit upright, stand up, and walk to the bathroom and HOLY MUTHA, I am here to tell y’all that I have never been so stunned by pain as I was in those moments. When I leaned forward slightly to lower my tush onto the toilet, the pain smacked so hard, I swear I hallucinated a little bit, got hit with a wave of nausea, and called out something like, “HOH-SHHYAGRHHHHHHT” through gritted teeth.

Once I was back in bed, I was thirsty as hell, but swore off liquids for the rest of my life, because I never wanted to have to use the restroom again.

The nurses were great about keeping me on top of my pain meds, though, and I discovered that if I lay supine and mostly still, the pain wasn’t so bad. If I had to sit up, though, CRAP ON A CRACKER IN THE MOONLIGHT, that shit hurt.

So once Love Tank had left to head home and see about our kids—and more importantly to take care of our poor, old-ass dog, who is having trouble walking these days (making it an act of Congress to get him outside to do his business, and Love Tank seems to be the most influential Representative in this household)—I lay comfortably on my back and called/texted people who’d asked to be kept in the loop.

It was during some of those conversations that I told people I didn’t think there was any way I’d be ready to return home the next day, because of the crazy pain. Besides, being in the hospital wasn’t so bad (except for the peeing); I had a bunch of TV channels at my disposal, a bed that would do a good deal of the work of sitting up FOR me, AND I’d been able to order a tasty dinner (and a fancy one—my mashed potatoes came with a flower on top!).

(I later realized I’d fallen victim to that phenomenon wherein that first hospital meal you have after not having eaten for almost an entire day is AMAAAAAZING . . . but then once you’re not starving anymore, the food’s not so great; happened to me when I had my first kid, too. But I digress.)

Later, thanks to the glorious combination of Percocet and Valium, I drifted off into a blissful slumber. SO blissful, in fact, that my ass forgot all about my current circumstances, and I instinctively tried to roll onto my side (which is how I normally sleep) . . . and LORD, hammercy, the HOH-SHHYAGRHHHHHHT pain yanked me right on up out of that bliss.

Once I was awake, I discovered I was STARVING (despite the glorious dinner), so I fished around in a balloon-adorned bag of goodies sent by a friend who for some reason loves me more than I can fathom (I mean, I’m not saying I’m not lovable, but this woman consistently shows me pure, unadulterated adoration, and I am not sure what I’ve done to earn it), and fished out a Twix bar, which I schlurped down at lightning speed. A few minutes later, the nurse came in to check my vitals, and I confessed I’d just finished a (literal) midnight snack fulla sugar. She offered me a list of other snacks she could bring me. 10 minutes later, I was eating the most delicious dry turkey sandwich I’d ever had (see what I mean about starvation and hospital food?), and chasing it with a Peppermint Patty from my goody bag.

The next morning, however, the hospital food magic ended (thanks to that midnight snack). When it came time for breakfast (I chose a cheese omelette, sausage, and breakfast potatoes), I discovered everything was kind of blecchy (the sausage was OK, and the coffee didn’t taste good, but it was HOT, which was pleasant, but otherwise . . . ). Same thing happened at lunch. But by that time, although I was still in some pain, I was able to sit up, walk, and make it to the restroom without assistance from the nurse, and without speaking in tongues. Plus, they’d removed my IPC devices, which I’d actually found oddly comforting—like a perpetual leg massage.

So it was time to go.

Technically, we had until midnight to vacate the premises, but once I’d received visits from both surgeons, a couple of surgical residents, and the occupational therapist, there wasn’t really much of a reason to hang around, other than the opportunity to spend time with Love Tank away from our children. (Hey, don’t knock it; it’s quiet, you can wear comfortable clothes (by then I’d changed out of the hospital gown and into my own attire under the supervision of the occupational therapist), you can watch movies, and if you’re on a high enough floor, you get a decent view.) So at around 2 p.m. (once the movie ended), I told the nurse I was ready to blow that popsicle stand.

By 3:30 or so, I was at home in my own bed. None of the people I’d talked to the night before could believe it, based on how much pain I’d been in when we’d spoken, and I think they thought I was trying to be a damn hero, but really, I’d just started wanting to be in a place where I wouldn’t have to think about getting up and going anywhere in the near future.

There’s no place like home

So here I am, four days post-surgery, and not doing too badly. Still spending a shit ton of time in bed, but I’m reaching a point where that’s at least 52% just because I wanna.

(Side note: five days before my surgery, we FINALLY received delivery of the new bedroom furniture we ordered in NOVEMBER . . .

. . . and y’all. The bed is SO DAMN HIGH UP IN THE AIR that we’ve put step stools on either side of that bad boy—partially to make it easier for our little one to climb up (the top of the bed comes up to his shoulder), but I’m not gonna lie: those stools also make it a lot easier for US to climb into bed ourselves (and we’re no Shorty McShort-shorts; I’m 5’7″ and Love tank is 6’1″)!

So while getting in and out of bed is a little extra challenging due to current circumstances, I am managing pretty well up here.)

Since arriving home from the hospital, I’ve been managing the pain pretty well with Tylenol, Gabapentin (for nerve pain), and Valium (to help relax the pectoral muscles that are probably still wondering WTF just happened). In fact, today I made it 12 hours without taking anything at all! (That’s actually a problem, because I’m supposed to be taking antibiotics 4 times a day, but I still consider it good news that I was able to forget about my pain meds all day.)

Still, this experience is not without its share of drama.

First of all, there’s the weirdness of, well . . . having no boobs (the expanders are in, but not really filled). Yesterday, I was finally allowed to shower (although really, after the two Silkwood showers I was required to take the night before and the morning of surgery, I didn’t feel too gross), and I was not sure if I’d be able to look in the mirror once I got all the dressings removed. I braved it, though, and while it was certainly a bit of a shock to look at my chest, the bigger shock (perhaps because I’ve only really had boobs for the past 20 years or so; before that, I was pretty flat-chested—and while I no longer have the nipples I had back then, a flat-chested me was not a wholly unfamiliar sight) was my ARMPITS. Unlike my flat-chested days of yore, these days I’m graced with that wonderful armpit fat that comes with middle-aged weight gain. And without boobs to balance that out, I basically have bigger tits in my armpits now than I do on my chest. But the weirdest part is that THEY ARE LARGELY NUMB. The right one has a little feeling, but the left one (also the side where the tumor and nodes were removed) has zip. Zilch. Nada. Putting deodorant on after that shower was a TRIP, y’all.

I’m not sure how long the numbness will continue, but I’m hoping to get some answers at my follow-ups this coming week.

Second of all, GAHHHH, the DRAINS. SO GROSS. I’ll spare you the details, but I have four of them (cradled snugly in one of three shirts I now own with drain pockets), and my most fervent wish right now is to be able to get them removed when I go back to the plastic surgeon for my one-week follow-up—but at this point, I’m not holding out much hope, because there are certain milestones I have to meet for that to happen, and it ain’t lookin’ good (at least not for two of them). So wish me luck on that.

Otherwise, though, I think all the thoughts, positive vibes, and magic love dust y’all have sent my way have worked spectacularly, because I feel better than I ever thought possible right now. And as a bonus, my blood pressure is normal again! Since this whole ball of wax began, my blood pressure—which was always perfect—has been practically in outer space! I used to actually LIKE getting my blood pressure taken (much like I liked the IPC devices; I guess being squeezed makes me happy), but since all the cancer-related doctor visits began, I’ve HATED it, because even when the cuff doesn’t hurt my arm (which it usually does now), the reading hurts my soul. Sometimes it’s so high that the nurse will take it again until s/he gets a lower reading; and if it’s a nurse unfamiliar with me, s/he’ll ask if I’m on blood pressure meds.

In short, it sucks.

So I’ve basically learned to not even look at the machine when my blood pressure’s being taken—and I stuck with that strategy while I was in the hospital after my surgery. But for some reason, when she took my blood pressure the final time before my release, the nurse announced it aloud . . .

. . . and it was NORMAL.

I actually SAT UP, TWISTED AROUND TO SEE THE MACHINE (YEEEEEOWCH!) and said, “WHAT??? REALLY???”

I wanted to kiss her right in the face. But I realized that that would probably hurt worse than the sitting up and twisting (especially if she was into it and chose to embrace me in response), so I kept my cool.

But it felt like winning the lottery.

So thank you, all, for all the good vibes. They’ve worked in ways I didn’t expect!

Bye Bye, Boobies

So the only thing left to share at this point are the things that prevented me from updating this blog before now—or, in other words, How My Boobs and I Spent Our Last Days Together.

Basically, January thru early March of EVERY year are kind of nuts (because EVERYONE in my household has a birthday during that time), but this year in particular, there was a lot going on.

Sadly, Love Tank’s birthday was kind of a bust this year, because it occurred three days after my last chemo treatment. And while—thanks to my friend Dr. Awesome Pants, who gave me a better strategy for managing my nausea meds—I had an easier time of it after that last treatment (even managing to eat regular food during the days following the treatment), I still wasn’t feeling like a par-TAY, so basically he got a handful of dumb gifts —the most amusing of which were custom Lego figurines I ordered of the two of us; I chose bald head attachments for both of us (because wouldn’t that be cute), but that didn’t actually turn out as expected . . . .

Ring Toss, anyone?

. . . but I digress. The point is that while Love Tank had a low-key birthday, we pulled out a few stops for the littler dude’s birthday. On his ACTUAL birthday, school was closed for a snow day, but we still had an engagement at the high school to see the older kid’s orchestra concert. But when the weekend came, it was party time!

Unlike his older brother, this kid has never really had any big birthday parties. When he was wee, we decided NOT to set the big-party precedent we’d set for our first child (who had TWO first birthday parties (one for friends and one for family), because we couldn’t fit everyone into our house at once), so his first few birthday parties were just two or three kids at our house. When he turned 4, we invited a few more kids to a party at the library, but we made all the choices: whom to invite, the party venue, and the party activities. Then the pandemic hit, and there were no parties to speak of (other than our immediate family, inside our house) for a couple of years.

But this year, he had his first “real” party, where he chose the venue/activity (bowling), and the guest list (which was far shorter than the number of kids the party package allowed, so we ended up with a whole free lane for our older kid and his girlfriend to have to themselves). I wasn’t generous enough to share control of the SWAG bags, because COME ON I AM SO GOOD AT THEM, and he’d just ruin it. But he didn’t seem to mind—largely because he didn’t even know there were any SWAG bags until the day of the party. But I digress.

Point is, we hosted our first “real” kid birthday party in YEARS—and then the next day we hosted a Super Bowl party for the older kid and a handful of his friends, and YOU KNOW your girl had the menu planned like two weeks in advance, right? I even brought my dad’s beautiful (and, I recently learned, STOLEN) chafing dish out of retirement for the occasion!

Then, a mere couple of days later, your girl had to show up in the kid’s classroom to be the ACTIVITY parent for the class Valentine’s Day party!

I mean. Y’all know me. I am ALWAYS about the food. So when the older kid was in elementary school, I’d make a beeline for every class party sign-up sheet to get dibs on bringing the snacks. (A couple of times, someone beat me to it, and I had to settle for the drinks, but still—refreshments have ALWAYS been my jam.) Although things are different now that the younger one is in school (unlike the previous sign-up lists, which were LONG and included items like plates, napkins, and other auxiliary supplies, the sign-ups now include only three opportunities—snacks, drinks, or an activity—and ONLY the parents who sign up to provide one of those three things are allowed to come to the party), I’m still the snack-tastic person I’ve always been.

So imagine the GLORY when I got to the littler dude’s classroom sign-up list in time to call dibs on the snacks . . . and the HORROR when I asked him if he had any ideas about what snacks I could bring, and he took one look at the sign-up list (which I still stupidly had up on my computer) and declared he’d like me to do the ACTIVITY instead.

“Oh, babe, that’s not really Mommy’s thing,” I tried feebly. But he just kept repeating, “CRAAAAFT” over and over again (under the part where it says “Activity,” the parenthetical suggestion is a craft or game, and curse that little bastard’s ability to read).

So by golly, for love of a little boy, I signed up for the craft.

(Later that day, Love Tank took a look at the sign up list, and found it curious enough to see my name listed under “Activity” that he CALLED me from work, thinking there had been a mistake, especially since the food slot was still wide open.)

So basically, for the last week in January, and the first two weeks of February, I was busy planning, researching, purchasing, sorting, preparing, and packaging items for a birthday party, a Super Bowl party, Valentine’s Day craft kits, AND a Valentine’s Day game (because once I figured out the craft, I got concerned that we’d have time leftover after it was done, and I don’t have the improv skills to fill dead air with a bunch of first graders).

And y’all, it all actually WORKED OUT. Four of the five kids invited to the birthday party were able to make it, and although TWO HOURS of bowling is a long time for first graders (so we had some issues with boredom and kids running amok), nobody got lost, and there were no injuries.

Because of how the past three years have gone, we’re a little out of practice at the hosting game, so not all the Super Bowl food turned out exactly as planned: the BBQ meatballs were a little dry, the sandwich trays I ordered were sub-par, and the Jell-O cookies I tried to make in red and yellow to represent KC Chiefs colors turned out more MAUVE and yellow, and they came out WAYYYYYY too sweet—but overall, I managed to pull off a decent spread without too much stress, I think the kids had fun, and the Chiefs won, which is what counts.

The best part, though, was that the Valentine’s Day activities (about which I was the MOST nervous) actually went FINE! Most of the kids seemed to really like the love bugs we made!

Plus, despite the fact that the craft involved sharp cocktail picks, there were no casualties— and we even had time leftover after the craft to play the BINGO games I created! Unfortunately, I learned too late that the BINGO prizes I distributed to the kids who won—boxes of old-school candy hearts—did not taste good at all (at least according to MY kid, who scored a leftover box) . . . so there MAY have been tears about THAT, but by that time, the kids were at home, where their parents could deal with their disappointment.

I’m chalking all of this up as a WIN.

On Valentine’s Day evening, we returned to the school for an uneventful parent-teacher conference (which, again, if you know this kid, is ALSO a win), then had a late Valentine’s Day take-out dinner . . .

. . . and then the next day, I had my boobs cut off.

But I’d like to think they got a good send-off.

And speaking of send-offs, if you’re curious about the rat drama, four out of the ten babies have found new homes, and we’re keeping two more of them ourselves. But we’re still in search of homes for the remaining four. So now that I’m through surgery, maybe y’all could direct some of those powerful vibes towards ridding our home of some rodents.

Then you can shoot those vibes right back in my direction for the next steps to come, because we’re not finished yet! But I’ll tell you what—having this part done is an INCREDIBLE relief (which may have something to do with my back-to-normal blood pressure), and I couldn’t have made it this far without y’all. So as always, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.

(Thank-you rats are available upon request.)

The “little c” chronicles, Part 12: One mo ‘gin.

Note: I know that when I started this business, I promised to include health-related info first, so as not to make you dig for any REAL updates about my situation before I start endlessly rambling about all the other things; but as I write this, I’ve already written several paragraphs of rambling, and I’m in the FLOW, yo, so I’m taking a moment to append this message to the top of the post, just to say that although I’ll be sharing a few slightly personal and wholly unnecessary physical weirdnesses with you in this blog post, things are pretty much the same: I have 15 treatments done, and ONE TO GO. As I write this (6 days past treatment), I’m still feeling somewhat puny—still largely in the applesauce and rice phase, although I’m planning chicken enchiladas for dinner tonight—but have gotten past the part where I hate everyone. That’s it. Carry on.

So, I’m down to ONE chemo treatment left.

The most recent one happened two days after Christmas, and hit me a little harder than usual, because of the cumulative effects of these drugs over time, I’m sure—but also because I’m a ding dong and forgot to take my nausea meds.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So on the Tuesday after Christmas, I went in for not only my penultimate chemo treatment, but also the lab work that I typically do on the Monday prior to each Tuesday treatment (but couldn’t on the Monday following Christmas, as it was a holiday). That meant a two-hour wait between my arrival for my appointment and my actual visit with Dr. Cool-and-Calm, because ain’t NOTHIN’ happening until the lab work comes back.

Following the blood draw, I was ushered back to the chemo treatment area to wait for the lab results. I was delighted to find that my favorite treatment “pod” (as you may recall, there are three treatment areas, each with anywhere from 3-5 recliners—and my favorite one is the one nearest the bathrooms) was sparsely populated (only one other guy, accompanied by, presumably, his wife) AND that the “good” recliner (one of two close to the windows, but NOT the one folx call “the catapult” due to it’s rather violent foot rest spring action) was free!

I happily settled in to await my doctor consult—and to nap because, in anticipation of the coming week plus of “chemo blues,” I decided to do ALLLLLLL THE THINGS on the Monday before treatment: coffee with a new friend; a day of post-Christmas shopping with Love Tank in cusstastically frigid weather (you couldn’t walk a block with out spitting an f-bomb through clenched teeth, but it was WORTH IT, because I got new Trina Turk PJs, and Love Tank got a leather jacket, both on super-sale); and dinner (plus baby-squeezing!) with my Mother in Law and other beloved family people I haven’t seen in far too long.

And you know how this exhaustion is doing me lately, so Mama was WIPED TF OUUUUUUUT, people.

Yet and still, the nap didn’t come. The nurse brought me a heated blanket (they don’t even have to ask me anymore if I want one), and I snugged down into the recliner with my pillow . . .

. . . but as I swirled down into dreamland, my brain began to process noises coming from the television in the pod, and be like, “WTF is this fresh RV shitter full of bad burrito aftermath?”

I opened one eye.

The other occupant of the pod had turned on Fox News.

And I tried to live with it; I screwed my eyes shut again, breathed deeply, and willed sleep to set me free from this bullshit. Failing that, I sat back up and tried to occupy myself on my phone (mostly by sending “FML” texts to Love Tank and my friends to complain about my current situation). Still the swill infiltrated.

So I got up, stretched, and took an ever-so-casual stroll past the other two treatment pods—you know, just to stretch the old gams—and found, to my dismay, that they were all FULL.

I trudged back to the Fox hole (which was STILLLLL 50% empty) and sat back down.

I considered asking the couple (who otherwise seemed lovely; upbeat, friendly, and genuinely fond of one another) if we could change channels (thinking maybe they just had it on for company, or to coax the dude getting treatment to sleep), but alas, they were actively watching—and at some points, discussing—the broadcast. To their immense credit, they did NOT discuss any of the typical fuckery that comes out of Fox News faces; rather, they only discussed the one or two unbiased, fact-based aspects of the broadcast—for example, they discussed how horrible it was that so many people had died in the winter storm that hit Buffalo (which I, too, found horrible—who wouldn’t?), and refrained from discussing any of the subsequent Fux Nooz Vyooz about how this was somehow all the fault of the Democrats.

But I still couldn’t take it.

So when my nurse came to tell me my lab results were in (NORMAL ranges across the board, baby, EVEN for my once-tanking hemoglobin and potassium!), and asked if I’d like the doctor to come to me where I was, or if I’d like a private room for the consult, I asked for the private room and, once she’d ushered me inside, nearly yanked her off her feet to get her inside the room with me so that I could ask to be relocated. I told her I couldn’t take one more minute of Fox News.

She responded, with a meaningful “tone” (if you catch my drift) that she respected that, and seemed to be pickin’ up what I was layin’ down . . .

. . . but then she launched into something about how things were depressing enough without having to watch the news, so now I’m not sure if she caught my ball at all. But she did find me a vacancy in the pod furthest away from the bathroom, which may well have saved my blood pressure.

Insurance can kiss my ass.

What nearly wrecked my blood pressure all over again, however, was meeting another patient in the second treatment pod. Lovely woman, accompanied by her son, who was equally friendly. I don’t recall how we started talking, but once I’d settled into my new treatment digs to start the poison drip, we shared some stories.

And hers broke my heart, y’all.

In a nutshell: she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021. Although her cancer was at Stage 3 (whereas mine was Stage 2), her treatment plan was otherwise pretty much lock-step with mine: chemo, then surgery, then radiation.

HOWEVER.

Remember the echocardiogram I had back at the beginning of this ride, to ensure that my heart was going to be able to withstand treatment? Well, my new friend was unable to get hers, because INSURANCE DENIED IT. She fought, the doctors fought . . . and eventually, she said, she “just got tired.”

And as a result, she went A YEAR without treatment.

Of her STAGE THREE breast cancer.

Finally, her son (the one who was with her for treatment, although she has other kids) found her SEIZING one day, and got her to the ER—and lo and behold! She was finally deemed sick enough by her insurance company to do ALL the things necessary to start chemo treatments for her cancer.

Now, though, the plan has changed. The cancer has spread to her spine (although she can stand for brief periods, she now relies heavily on a wheelchair) and brain (hence the seizures), and though she says radiation took care of the brain lesions, surgery is now off the table, and she has been told she’ll never be cancer-free.

There are so many things to say, here, but y’all know. Y’ALL KNOW. So I’ll refrain.

Instead, I’ll wrap this up by saying that at one point, when the woman and her son had wheeled away so that she could visit the restroom, my kind nurse (having witnessed chunks of the lengthy conversation between me and my new friends as she came back and forth to change out meds for both of us) lightly joked, “So much for your nap, huh?”

But I told her I’d rather stay up for THREE DAYS STRAIGHT talking to that woman and her son (as enraging and sad as it was) than watch three more minutes of Fox News.

Ding dong, the bitch forgot her meds

So on the Thursday following treatment, I woke up my sleepy head, rubbed my eyes . . . and TRIED to get out of bed, but was knocked right back down by worse nausea than I’ve become accustomed to. There was no THOUGHT of eating or drinking; rather, I just burrowed and hoped it would subside.

By the early afternoon, when things didn’t seem to be getting better, it hit me: I hadn’t taken any of my anti-nausea pills since leaving treatment.

Merde.

(Sorry; I’ve been watching Emily in Paris—mainly for the clothes and the scenery, because the story line is getting way too Three’s Company for me.)

Of course I took some immediately, stayed up later than usual that evening just to take the next dose (which couldn’t be taken until 8 hours later), and from then on, popped those bad boys like like (kinda literal) clockwork . . .

. . . but now I get why from the beginning, the nurses have always said, “Don’t wait until you feel sick to take your nausea meds—stay ahead of it!” because once I got behind, I never quite caught up; I continued to feel worse than usual for the rest of the week.

For example, by the Sunday following treatment, while food still does not taste good, I’m typically able to participate in our weekly Breakfast with Grandma (wherein the boys and I pop over to her place on Sunday morning, bearing something brekky (usually pastries of some sort) and fancy coffee shop drinks), because the mere idea of food no longer grosses me out. This past Sunday, Grandma requested McDonald’s for breakfast, and I happily obliged, because even though I felt a little punier than usual, I’m accustomed to Sunday being the day I’m able to move beyond the rice and applesauce diet (not TOO far beyond, as I don’t eat much—and sometimes applesauce is included—but I can usually do a croissant or something).

However, I took one bite of my sausage, egg & cheese biscuit, and everything in me said, “Aw, HELLLLLLLLLL naw; we not doin’ this today.”

Not one to shy away from a challenge, I took another bite, and then everything in me said, “Oh, you think we’re here to PLAY? Well, let me tell you something—”

So I decided to try a bite of the hashbrowns instead.

“WHAT. DID. I. SAYYYYYYYY, MUHFUGGAH???” my body replied.

So I gave up on my breakfast, apologized to my body, and eventually it forgave me enough to let me drink the orange juice that came with my meal. (“You eat that sandwich! You NEED food!” my mother chastised, when she saw me gingerly wrapping the biscuit back up, because my body had told me not to even LOOK at it. But I kept wrapping. I’m no fool.) But I digress.

The point is, this time it was a FULLLLLLL week before my body stopped carrying nunchucks around in case of any more encounters with *actual* food.

Therefore I will depart unkissed.

Here’s the thing about the nausea, though: I described it at length in a previous blog post, in terms of all the things my gut does. But I haven’t told y’all how my mouth participates in this party. And truly, I shouldn’t because it is DISGUSTING—perhaps most of all to me, because you know I have a thing about mouths, right?

I mean, first of all, I can’t handle excess saliva. Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you that seeing someone drool sends me straight to Gag City. (Y’all remember all the drama I had surrounding the idea of doing a spit test to see if I had the BRCA gene mutation, right?)

Second of all, I can’t handle the sight of someone puking. Or the thought of someone puking. With a great deal of intestinal fortitude, a buttload of love, and the help of Jesus, I have been able, on most occasions, to deal with puking children (ONLY my own; NOBODY else’s) without contributing to the barf-o-rama myself, but anyone else’s puke is OUT OF THE QUESTION (and quite frankly, I haven’t had to deal with the older one’s puke in years, so it may be that I’m only equipped to deal with my kids’ puke when the face it comes out of is little and cute, and not when it’s hairy and manly).

Needless to say, I can’t even WATCH that scene in The Big Easy when Ellen Barkin kisses Dennis Quaid (a) with a mouthful of toothpaste, and (b) AFTER SHE JUST BARFED. (But if you’re feeling brave, be my guest. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

Anyway. You get the idea.

So imagine my revulsion to discover that this second line of chemo treatments does horrible things to my mouth. (Warning: this is WAYYYY TMI, y’all.)

During the first few days following treatment (the days when food is disgusting), the inside of my mouth becomes irrevocably slimy. In addition to having a horrible, metallic taste in my mouth, I get this gag-worthy, thick, slick coating over my tongue. I guzzle blistering hot tea in an effort to melt it away . . . chew strong, minty gum in the hope of generating enough saliva to wash it away . . . scrub the shit out of my tongue with my toothbrush . . . and still the slime prevails.

But what’s even worse is that during Slime Time, the inside of my mouth LOOKS different, which I accidentally discovered on a Facetime call with my sister; every time I caught a glimpse of myself talking, I noticed that the inside of my mouth looked weirdly . . . white.

Once we hung up, I went to the bathroom mirror to get a better look . . . and—hand to God—my tongue looked like a flokati rug, y’all. It wasn’t just white, it was covered in this thick, furry-looking grossness that shocked and horrified me.

Meanwhile, my gums had their OWN party going on: whereas my tongue was slimy, white, and furry, my gums were dark and sandpaper-y.

I mean, WTF is going ON??? SO GROSS.

Fortunately, it goes away after about a week (and THEN, for another week, food is completely flavorless, but it’s not entirely disgusting), but when it’s happening, I have the absolute grossest maw on the planet. And in MY book, that’s saying something.

And if thy right shoe offend thee

The other weird thing that’s been happening with the Red Devil treatments is that I’ve developed this sort of . . . associative nausea. When I visualize the treatment area in the hospital, for example (which I do naturally, as I’m sharing treatment stories here and in other conversations with friends), I start to feel nauseated.

Similarly, there is one particular pair of shoes, and one particular pair of yoga pants I no longer wear—and don’t like to look at—because they’re part of my “treatment outfit.” When I first got diagnosed, I’d been eyeing this cute pair of bootleg Adidas yoga pants that I couldn’t justify buying because they were, like, 70 bucks, and who needs to spend 70 bucks for yoga pants?

Once I got diagnosed, however, I started justifying ALL THE THINGS, so I bought the yoga pants. Then I rationalized that I couldn’t wear my Asics sneakers with very obviously Adidas pants, so I bought a pair of Adidas sneakers to go with them, and determined that I’d wear this little get-up to treatment, thinking they’d give me a little boost of happy in the midst of all the shit.

So I did—and THEY did—for awhile. But now, I find I can’t even look at the pants or the shoes—let alone WEAR them—without feeling mildly nauseated and squicky.

The good news is that the awesome bag Love Tank got for me to take to my treatments has NOT lost its charm—largely, I’d imagine, because I stopped using it VERY early on, once I realized I was just going to sleep through my treatments, and therefore didn’t need to bring a bunch of stuff to keep me entertained.

But needless to say, I’m being kind of careful about what I do (and by “do,” I mean wear, eat, cook, watch, read, love, etc.) these days, lest it become something I start to associate with chemo (and the concomitant sickness), and therefore start to hate.

At what price beauty?

One of the things I’m ever-so-cautiously growing to love, however, makes NO kinda sense at all, because it is—of all things—a friggin’ BEAUTY product.

First of all, I’m not much of a beauty products gal; I mean, sure, I like to try stuff here and there (fun masks and stuff), but unlike some other women, I don’t have a set beauty regimen I started honing at age 13, or invest in a lot of different products. Heck, I don’t even wear makeup, so my skincare routine doesn’t go much beyond washing, exfoliating, moisturizing, and cussing about the fact that I still get pimples at my age.

Second of all, I HAVE NO EYELASHES OR EYEBROWS (hell, there’s more hair on my TONGUE than on my face these days), so why I’d choose NOW to start buying fancy face products is anyone’s guess.

Well, OK. ONE reason I chose now was because, after months of spending the $80 monthly “wellness” stipend I get from my employer on (automatic) membership payments to Hotworx—even though I stopped going in the middle of last summer—I finally canceled my membership . . . which meant I had to find something else to do with that 80 bucks in December. And it’s a “use it or lose it” situation, so I had to spend it IN December, giving me little time to waffle about what to buy. Plus, with two treatments in December, and all the Christmas fruffle in between, I was afraid I’d forget to buy something if I didn’t just do it while I was thinking about it.

Now, if you know me, you KNOW that I am a marketer’s DREAM. I’d say fully 73.78% of the items I buy for myself or others are items that I discovered via Facebook ads.

Thazz right. I’m the “OooooOOOOOooooh” Girl. No joke; I literally HEAR myself saying, “OooooOOOOOoooooh!” when I scroll past an ad for something intriguing I’ve never seen before. But I digress.

The point is, I got sucked into checking out Ursa Major products by a Facebook ad. However, while I stand by the aforementioned 73.78% statistic, my ratio of “stuff I check out because of an ad” vs. “stuff I actually buy because of an ad” is like 94:1. (These are extremely accurate numbers.) So I didn’t actually have any intention of BUYING anything from Ursa Major, due to all the reasons listed above—and also because the product I found most intriguing was the Mountain Glow serum, which cost $84. (Just for comparison, the serum I typically use costs $12.)

But of course, the ads kept coming. And I kept “window shopping.”

And finally, one day, with my $80 bucks of “use it or lose it” funds burning a hole in my pocket, I thought, “What the heck?” and bought the serum.

Which actually came with a “first-time buyer” discount (so I didn’t even have to spend the whole 80 bucks, let alone the extra four + tax I thought I’d spend), AND a free sample of another product of my choosing (I picked the Golden Hour Recovery cream).

Been using the serum and the sample for two weeks, and Y’ALL. My skin is SO SOFT. I’m kind of obsessed with it, and I can’t stop touching my face (although with the Triple-demic raging, and a weakened immune system, I should probably stop that shit). I don’t know that I LOOK any different—but I will say that (a) it’s the middle of winter and my shit is all glow, zero flake, and (b) I may have already spent my January stipend on the Golden Hour Recovery cream (with a free sample of the Forest Alchemy eye cream this time).

WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME???

I know this sounds like a paid testimonial (or one done in exchange for free product), but I assure you it’s not; that’s not how I roll (and if I did, I would pick a different free product, because I can’t tell you how long I’ll be obsessed with my face, but I can promise you I will ALWAYS be obsessed with FOOD . . . except when I have slimy flokati mouth). I do not care about your skin care routine. I do not urge you to try Ursa Major anything. I think you’re fine the way you are.

I will say, though, that for a gal with no eyebrows, I sure feel pretty.

And that perhaps the reason I was drawn to this particular product line (and the reason I’m less afraid I’ll start associating it with chemo sickness) was that I once had a rat named Ursa Major—and I tend to associate rats with cuteness and love.

Anyone want to adopt a rat?

And speaking of rats and love . . .

Y’all. It happened. Hot Jack is knocked up.

Philly Roll’s surprise balls were, in fact, balls (after such a long time with no evidence of pregnancy, we had begun to think maybe they weren’t b’doobies after all)—and working ones at that.

We made the discovery this evening, when my elder dude managed to catch Hot Jack by grabbing the entire structure in which she was snuggled (sister is FAST; he’s had a hard time socializing her, because all you have to do is glance in the direction of the cage, and no matter where she is (even if it’s in one of the little hidey cubbies where you can’t even reach her) she darts away like she grew a rocket launcher out of her ass, and wedges herself behind the litter box on the bottom level of the cage). He brought her, structure and all, over to me to say hello (weirdly, once she’s caught, she’s totally chill about being handled), and commented about how easy it had been to catch her this time. I said I’d noticed, as I cleaned the cage out the last couple of times, that she seemed less determined to dart away—and slower when she did.

There was a moment of silent reflection for both of us, and then, suddenly, we both had the same thought.

The boy reached into the structure to try to pull her out—and he didn’t succeed (once she was in his hand, he couldn’t get it back through the entrance), but he thrust the structure at me with raised eyebrows and said, “Mom . . . reach in there and wrap your hand around her body.”

“Oh, shit,” I said, once my hand made contact with her.

Love Tank, who’d been in the living room listening to this conversation (which took place in my dining-room-turned-office, where the rats live) requested that Hot Jack be brought to him to check out. He managed to coax her out of the little house (he’s her favorite), and when we SAW her, we were all like, “OHHHHHHHH.”

My girl was PLUMP-a-DUMP.

Now, keep in mind that I clean the cage EVERY OTHER DAY (really, I should do it DAILY, but since the previous rats did not poop NEARLY as much, and only required alternate-day cleanings, the habit’s been hard to break), and I lay eyes on her EVERY TIME . . . but not until TODAY did she become the chunk of cheese she is now.

Thing is, although I know rat gestation periods are about a month, I have NO idea when she started gestating; my guess, based on the looks of her, is that we finna have babies SOOOOOOON (like TOMORROW, even), but maybe I still have time to plan a shower . . . ?

Help, y’all.

And HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 Jingle Bells. You know, deck them halls and all that stuff.

Welp! ‘Tis the season, y’all, and boy has it flown by in a hurry! We went from Turkey Lurkey to Jingle Bells in about 72 seconds flat! And during that time, there’s been—as usual—nothing and everything to report.

Health-wise, things are pretty much the same; I got my second Red Devil treatment on December 6, and my body’s reaction to it followed a pattern similar to the first time. The primary difference was that the whole ball o’ fun started a day earlier; whereas last time, Thursday was when the adventure began in earnest, this time the strict, days-long diet of applesauce and rice (and avocado rolls from a nearby sushi joint—a specific sushi joint, I discovered the hard way (by trying rolls from a different, closer place, and being turned ALL the way off by their flawed rice-to-avocado ratio)—which I would have eaten for eight meals straight if I could have) started on Wednesday.

The other difference, this time, was that it was December, which meant that during my gastrointestinal sturm und drang, my children were popping into my bedroom to ask me questions like, “When are we going Christmas shopping?” and “Are we decorating gingerbread houses this year?” (My responses: “Not sure, but not THIS week, Baby Cheese,” and “Maybe—we’ll see, Cookie Butt.” The answers in my heart: “Fuck if I know, Baby Cheese,” and “Fuck that shit, Cookie Butt.” Too harsh? Y’all know I love those boys more than all my favorite socks combined, but their timing sucks.)

I have also noticed that I seem to be losing hair in earnest, now; I may have mentioned my surprise, once I shaved my head early on in this process, that my hair kept growing. And while that’s still the case, it’s a LOT sparser, and my eyebrows and eyelashes have LEFT THE BUILDING, earning me both a new nickname around these parts, and a too-late Halloween costume idea:

My family now takes great delight in making fun of me, because along with my eyebrows went 92% of my facial expressions. I now apparently have a sort of vacant RBF going on all the time, which has resulted in a lot of smart-ass “Why are you giving me that look?” comments from my loved ones, anytime I look in one of their directions. Even the little one (who has been my staunchest ally throughout this process, staying in bed with me for hours on end during the days following my Red Devil treatments, and eating white-rice dinners alongside me in solidarity) has turned on me and joined in on the ribbing; “Hey, Mom, make a mad face—I want to see if it works!” he’ll say. Then, when I give him my best mad-Mom frown, he’ll say something like, “Nope! You just look disappointed and sleepy.”

Story of my life, kid. Story of my life.

But I digress.

The point is, I now have two Red Devil treatments down, and two to go—the next one happening two days after Christmas—and although they certainly aren’t FUN, they seem to be relatively predictable so far: about a week of rice and applesauce, followed by a few more days of eating regular food, but not getting much enjoyment out of most of it (which did have a negative effect on Thanksgiving dinner; all I could really taste was the stuffing, which leads me to believe it was probably WAY too salty for everyone else), and then about a week of feeling “normal” before the next treatment begins.

Even “normal,” these days, though, sometimes involves bone pain (mostly in my ribs, and it’s nothing debilitating, but I find sitting in the same position (at work, or in the car) for too long can make me achy) from the bone marrow stimulant they jab me with on the day after each treatment—and has, for awhile now, involved blackening nail beds on five of my fingers (two on the left hand, three on the right):

Those have become a little achy, too, giving me to know just how much I use my fingernails as tools, because I find I can’t do that anymore, without a little pain (and a little fear that one of those suckers is going to pop right off the next time I try to pick a stubborn label sticker or glue booger off of something).

And finally, I’ve noticed that fatigue can jump on me suddenly and HARD, like a baby grand falling from a 4th story window onto my head. Case in point: one of this month’s Advent calendar surprises for my dudes was an afternoon at the movie theater, which we’d rented out for a private screening of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (yeah, we don’t do the traditional 24 days of Advent chocolate; we go HAM, baby). Boy the Elder invited his girlfriend and a couple of other friends, and afterwards, we schlepped the girlfriend along with us to dinner and then to a low-budget holiday lights tour (i.e., just us, in our car, looking up neighborhood displays on our phones and then driving to check them out).

And MAAAAAAN, I was WIIIIIIIIIIIIIIPED afterwards! In fact, I cut the tour short, because I was so exhausted by . . . just . . . SITTING all afternoon and evening—first in the movie theater, then in the restaurant, and then in the car through three measly neighborhood displays—that I was struggling to stay awake by 8 p.m., in bed by 9, and conked out by 9:15. I slept for 10 hours straight (GLORY!), but I still felt like I’d been felled by a freight train for the entirety of the next day, and had to beg off work early to squeeze in a SECOND nap before dinner. And this without even the fun of egg nog overindulgence!

Otherwise, though, I’m doing pretty well for an old gal who’s being poisoned.

It’s the next phase, new wave, dance craze, anyways . . .

So now that I’m almost through chemo, I’ve begun the process of planning my surgery. Throughout this whole ordeal, I’ve managed to maintain a one-step-at-a-time focus, so when I was doing the weekly chemo treatments, I only thought as far ahead as the Red Devil. And now that the Red Devil is halfway over, I’ve begun thinking about giving up the girls.

To be honest, the reality of that—of the fact that the boobs I have had for 40-some years now are on their way out—has not really hit me yet. And it may, like the loss of so many other things (mostly of the filamental variety) throughout this bullshit, leave me surprisingly unfazed . . . but I’m prepared for a mild freak-out to jump on me at some point. In the meantime, Nurse Navigator Peppy (remember her?) has booked me an early-January consult with a plastic surgeon, so shit is definitely getting real.

I’ve already decided a few things with 97.4% certainty:

  • I’m going for a double mastectomy, as opposed to a lumpectomy or a single mastectomy, both because I want to be able to say I did EVERYTHING I could to prevent this motherfucker from taking me down, AND because I have a weird affinity for symmetry.
  • I will have reconstructive surgery. We have the technology. We can make them better than they were. Better, stronger, faster. (I’ve been asked if I’ve considered going flat—after all, I resisted wearing a bra for the first 15 or so years of my adult life, and aside from perhaps a couple, at most, of misguided pre-adolescent longings, have never really wished for bigger boobs—and honestly, if I were still 25, I WOULD consider it, but at this point in my life, the “flat” part would end at my sternum, and then the un-flatness of everything below that would be especially, er . . . pronounced. So in an effort to maintain some sort of chest/belly balance, I’m gonna go ahead and get new boobs.)
  • I’m going to get implants. This decision was more recent; I was originally leaning toward the DIEP flap method of reconstruction, because how awesome is the idea of taking fat away from your belly to make you new boobs? However, the more I read about the recovery process, the more it sounded like pure hell—because you’re basically recovering from breast and abdominal surgery simultaneously. So although I was initially hesitant about implants (another personal weirdness: although I know implant sickness is a thing, I was more just squicked about having a foreign object—or, well, TWO—inside my body, which made little sense, because if I broke a hip and had to have it pinned, or needed a pacemaker, I wouldn’t hesitate . . . but I digress), I am now looking at implants as the way to go. If nothing else, they’ll make it easier to achieve the symmetry I crave. But it’s my hope that I’ll also have an easier time, er . . . bouncing back (pun intended) after surgery.

Nothing, of course, is set in stone at the moment, and the consult with the plastic surgeon could reveal some new intel that changes things, but for now, I feel relatively clear about what I want to do, so assuming nothing changes, all that will remain is to set a surgery date (likely sometime in February, about a month from my last chemo treatment on January 17).

Waxin’ Rhapsodic

On the heels of my little dude’s star turn as a duck in his school play came my elder dude’s opportunity to flaunt his own mad showmanship skills, in concert with the city-wide youth symphony in which he’s played cello for three years. When he first joined, COVID prevented in-person rehearsals, so he participated in a 45-minute virtual rehearsal once a week (and a virtual concert at the end of each semester). For the past couple of years, though, he’s been rehearsing in-person for two hours every Monday night, and this season (which began in September), he earned a spot in the more advanced-level ensemble—a difference which was obvious from the first rehearsal.

“How was it?” I asked, as usual, when I picked him up that night—only instead of giving me the usual answer—a shrug and a cursory “Good” (which most parents know could mean anything from “I got to play with an entire litter of puppies today and then scored a free donut” to “I flunked three tests, then accidentally dropped my lunch into the sewer, and I had to fight a rat to retrieve it, so I may have rabies”)—he replied with an exasperated, “Humbling.”

He went on to talk about this horrendously long, complicated, and difficult piece they’d started working on, and how there was NO WAY they were ever going to be able to learn it by the December concert.

As time went on, and I asked how the piece was going, he was still doubtful they’d pull it together in time. At one point, he mentioned that they were flying a pianist in from Germany to play the piece with them, and was stressed about the fact that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to rehearse with her until the day before the show, which was going to make it hard for the cello section to hit their cues.

On the weekend of the concert, they rehearsed for three hours the day before the show, and three MORE hours on the day OF the show, perfecting this beast of a piece.

The funny thing was that I never asked him the name of the piece; because I’m not well-versed in the classical music canon (aside from the Nachtmusik/Für Elise basics), I just assumed it would be some esoteric piece I didn’t know, perhaps by a composer I’d never even heard of.

Imagine my surprise and utter delight, then, when Song Long and Impossible turned out to be Rhapsody in Blue! (I guess this is a testament to my ability to tune the boy ALL the way out when he’s practicing at home.)

Y’all, they KILLED IT. Earned themselves a standing ovation (granted, 99% of the audience were likely their parents and grandparents (not the harshest critics), but still—we didn’t stand our asses up for any of the other songs they played). And all I kept thinking, as I hooted wildly from the second row, was, “THIS was it. THIS was the song that’s been making him grumbly every Monday night for three months!”

Rubbing it here, and scrubbing it there

The other lovely thing that FINALLY happened in December is that I got a CLEAN HOUSE. After weeks of texting back and forth, apologizing to one another for one unexpected turn of events or another (viral illness in my house, school obligations for her), the house cleaner commissioned and funded by my wonderful (bossy) friend was finally able to enter my house and face the nightmare. She brought reinforcements (i.e., another person to help her and likely lend emotional support), and together they spent three hours getting my business sparkling.

Well, most of it, anyway; I gave them a list, in priority order, of what I needed done (first and foremost: scrubbing all the Great Dane head-shake-flung flotsam from the walls), and excluded all four bedrooms, thinking that there was no way they’d even get through all of my list. But damn if they didn’t get every last thing on my list done before dashing out to their next appointment.

And me? I hung out in my bedroom with the flotsam-flinging Dane (the other dog staunchly refused to come upstairs with me, even with the lure of treats, so the ladies graciously offered to work with him downstairs, which likely means they had to mop around his old grumpy ass, as I often do), eating, reading, sleeping, and folding laundry while the magic was happening. It was like a Christmas miracle, yo.

I’d rather have it 30, 20, 10, 5 and let it freeeee-eeeeze . . .

So it seems only fitting, after the small homage to Heat Miser in my last post, that Snow Miser would demand HIS day in the sun cold. Which he did in the form of the winter storm that’s knocking temps below zero across the U.S.—and in the concomitant discovery (by Boy the Elder) yesterday that the pipes in our hall bathroom were frozen solid.

Which was odd, because our other full bathroom—with pipes on an outside wall—still had running water, as did our washing machine and kitchen sink (also along outside walls). Meanwhile, this ONE bathroom, fed (we suspected) at least partially by inside pipes, had no running water. But without cutting, perhaps fruitlessly, into the drywall, we weren’t quite sure where exactly to find the frozen pipes to wrap them or blow-dry them or whatever people do. So Love Tank just busted out the space heaters, and placed one directly in the defunct bathroom, one in boy the Elder’s room (which shares a wall with the bathroom) and one in the pantry/laundry room located directly below the bathroom, to warm that sucker up from as many directions as possible. Then he cranked the taps and closed the door, and we prayed to both Santa and Krampus that nothing would burst.

And lo and behold, as I walked up the stairs to bed last night, I heard water running from behind the closed bathroom door. At first, I thought nothing of it, except, “Why is the elder dude taking a shower at THIS time of night?” but then my brain cloud cleared, and I threw open the bathroom door. Sure enough, both the sink faucet and the shower faucet were running full blast, and I started shouting, “Water! WE HAVE WATER!” until my family came running from all directions to witness the second Christmas miracle of the season.

And to all, a good night

So this brings us to Christmas Eve morning, with a still-relatively-clean house, and all of us nestled snug in our beds—Love Tank and me by choice, the boys because they started fighting at breakfast (after I went out in single-digit temperatures to get their asses Panera) and got sent to their rooms.

But don’t pity them too much, as their final Advent goodies were stacks of books in honor of Jolabokaflod, which we started celebrating last year, because HOW AWESOME are books and chocolate on Christmas Eve?

But I digress.

The point is, since the boys like to open each day’s Advent goody first thing in the morning, they have brand new books and brand new candy to keep them occupied, not to mention a slow cooker full of hot chocolate, which I whipped up before they started fighting, so they could enjoy it with their books—all of which seems to be working, because although it’s edging up on lunchtime, the house is still blissfully quiet.

And that may be the greatest miracle of all.

God bless us, everyone.