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.

The “little c” chronicles, Part 10: Let’s just call this the TMI Train.

HOOOOOO, y’all.

The Red Devil is no joke.

Before I go on, I will wholeheartedly acknowledge that, thanks to a Facebook support group I joined after I got diagnosed, I KNOW this little demonic fucker has been much harder on other folx, and that I’ve had it rather easy in comparison to some.

But compared to my experience on the weekly Taxol treatments, OY. This shit sucks butts.

I will also acknowledge that some of my Red Devil suffering has been made worse by my own unrealistic expectations. I mean, I anticipated that I’d get hit a little harder with the Red Devil, of course—but I didn’t think I’d get hit so much . . . LONGER.

So I got my treatment on Tuesday, as usual, and despite the fact that the Benadryl is no longer part of the pre-med cocktail, I took a guh-LORIOUS nap during the first part of the treatment (and as a bonus, it wasn’t all restless and twitchy like it often is with the Benadryl). I woke up, however, for the infusion of the Red Devil; rather than slinging a pouch up onto my IV pole, hooking my port up to it, booping some buttons and walking away until something starts beeping, the nurse sat across from me (draping a pad across our laps, to ensure that none of the fluid leaked onto either one of us) with two GIANT syringes of red poison, which she pushed slowly into my port over the course of about 10 minutes.

Aside from development of a sudden headache—which made her pause the push for a couple of minutes until it faded—there really wasn’t much to it. But if you want to completely freak yourself out, Google “extravasation injury” (if you want to freak yourself out MORE and you’re not in the middle of dinner, do the image search)—which, my friends, is what happens when the drugs leak out of the blood vessel into the surrounding tissue. So while my supah-star nurse was pushing Satan into my soul, she frequently checked for blood return through my port, to ensure the port needle was in the right place and not poking a hole somewhere to let Lucifer leak free.

As soon as she was done, I excused myself to the restroom (I get a saline flush after each medication goes in, so there are a lot of loo visits during my treatments) . . . and my urine was already pink from the medication! (Luckily, I’d been warned about this, but was surprised by the immediacy of the rosé pee—which only lasted through the evening, but in order to avoid exposing my family to my still-toxic tinkle, I relegated myself to using only my en-suite bathroom, and flushed twice with the lid down after each use, for the next 48 hours.)

Because the Red Devil infusion only took 10 minutes, the entire visit went by pretty quickly, and I was back at home before I knew it. And because this was a new set of drugs, Love Tank had arranged not only to stay at home with me for the rest of the afternoon (which he always does on treatment days), but to work from home for the rest of the week, so he could be nearby (and pick up our little dude from school), since we weren’t sure exactly how the effects of these meds would roll out.

Tuesday afternoon, I secretly figured that probably wasn’t necessary; I did spend the rest of the afternoon (after lunch) in bed, but mostly because (a) I could, and (b) I wanted to see if I could relive that amazing infusion nap. I had another decent conk-out, but still managed to sleep through Tuesday night (which was ALSO a gift, because as you may recall, I typically stay awake all night on Tuesdays, contemplating all the mysteries of the universe, thanks to the steroids).

The TMI train is leaving the station.

By the end of Wednesday, though, I began to suspect that Love Tank had been right about working from home. I woke up Wednesday morning feeling kind of blecchy, but I leaned into the fact that I’d taken my anti-nausea drugs (even upgraded myself from the Zofran to the Compazine) and logged on for work as usual. I didn’t eat much during the day, because nothing sounded particularly good—but still, when my mom, with whom the boys and I usually have dinner (she treats us to takeout at her apartment) on Wednesdays, called mid-afternoon to see how I was feeling, and if I thought we’d make it, I assured her that we’d be there. By the end of the workday, however, I was pretty wiped, and decided a quick nap was in order before Grandma dinner . . .

. . . and I woke up an hour later feeling . . . not HORRIBLE, but several scoots closer to Hell. I called my mom and cancelled dinner, and stayed in bed for the rest of the evening (prompting Love Tank to skip his Wednesday night teaching gig—which made me feel bad, but by that point, I was beginning to trust his stay-at-home wisdom more and more).

Thursday morning, I again tried to start work (I generally start at 6 a.m., and take short breaks to shepherd my littler dude through his morning routine), but by the time I’d waved Love Tank and the wee dude off for their walk to school, I was ready to crawl back into bed. I made my excuses at work, and burrowed. My initial intention was to see what a couple of hours of rest would do for me, and maybe rejoin the Land of the Living after lunch . . .

. . . but that was not in the cards. I felt gross, food was gross, air was gross, life was gross. I’d made a couple of attempts to eat, but not only was food gross, it um . . . made a rather hasty retreat right back out of my body pretty much as soon as I put it IN there. (At the risk of going WAY overboard with this particular bit of TMI, I will say that I never puked . . . )

Running a-fowl

The thing was, that night was my young one’s premiere (and ultimate) performance as a duck in his school’s production of Turkey Lurkey—and I was NOT trying to miss it! I reasoned that if this kid could manage to stand on a stage and say/sing his lines even though HE was feeling crappy, I could sure as hell sit on a chair and watch him do it while I was feeling crappy.

(Oh, didn’t I mention? The boy is sick. The previous Saturday evening, Love Tank made some off-hand and apparently ABJECTLY CALLOUS remark to him, like, “We need to teach you to ride a bike when the weather warms up again, Buddy!” before blithely heading upstairs to get ready for our planned grown-up dinner out with friends. When I came DOWNstairs—ready to go myself—and encountered my little dude, he was bawling on the sofa about it. (That should have been my first clue that something was up with him, but I chalked it up to his personal brand of weirdness.) He requested a hug for comfort . . . and when I pulled him close, it was like snuggling Heat Miser. Took his temperature, and sure enough, he was Mister 101.4. The fever roller-coastered through Sunday; it broke early Monday morning and stayed gone (so he was able to return to school on Tuesday), but he continued to sound gravelly. When he arrived home from school on Thursday, he came up to my bed, crawled in next to me, and conked out almost immediately (and unlike his mama, this kid NEVUHHHH naps; hasn’t for half his life now, and he’s only six). An hour or so later, Love Tank woke him to ask what he, as the star of the evening, wanted for dinner (Sonic—always Sonic), and when Love Tank left the house to go pick it up, the poor kid passed back out! When the food arrived, I woke him again and sent him down for dinner, but stayed in bed myself (as part of my plan to conserve every ounce of energy I had for the play), until it was time to leave for the school—although as soon as I set foot on the first floor of our home and got a whiff of all the corn dogs, tater tots, and chicken fingers that had gone on down there, I damn near RE-lost the lunch I’d already given up hours before, so I had to head back upstairs and wait until everyone was shoes-and-coat ready to walk out the door, and then make a run for it, holding my breath. But I digress.)

So I rode through the gastrointestinal drama (skipping dinner—which wasn’t appealing, anyway—to avoid more of it), took myself to the school, and crossed my fingers I wasn’t in for The Mousetrap (which I doubted, what with a cast full of first graders with bedtimes).

Y’all, he did GREAT—and Sir was WEARING THAT DUCK HAT like a bawss:

Pork chopsPlain rice and applesauce

Friday played out much like Thursday—except I’d learned a few things from Thursday, and therefore didn’t really make any valiant attempts to eat like a normal person. (Luckily, I’d already seen the Friday hell forthcoming, and so I’d told my team as soon as I officially bailed on Thursday that I’d be out on Friday, too, and would see them after Thanksgiving, as I’d previously arranged to take the whole Thanksgiving week off.) Yet and still, my gut was a constant pendulum of cramp: when my stomach was empty, I’d have the kind of cramps you get when you’re damn near starving, to the point where it feels like your insides are gnawing away at themselves and the backstage side of your belly button is straining to kiss your spine after years of estrangement; but if I ate anything at all, the cramps would turn into the kind you get when you’re about to throw up, and your gut muscles clench up like a line of football players grunting and hurling themselves full force against a five-man blocking sled. Rinse. Repeat.

I will reiterate, though: I never threw up. Small favors.

Saturday, I felt a bit better, and made some attempts at normalcy, like accompanying Love Tank on an errand that would not require me to get out of the car—but I still felt pretty puny, so I continued eating very little and very carefully, sticking for a second day to just unsweetened applesauce, plain rice, chicken noodle soup, and water.

And y’all, my sweet little duck, in a grand show of solidarity, ate only plain white rice himself for dinner Saturday night.

I mean.

(In reality, he probably just didn’t want whatever Love Tank and my elder dude were having, but I’m sticking with the solidarity story.)

But I digress. The point is, by Sunday, this business was really starting to get to me. On Thursday and Friday, I kept saying, “If this is as bad as it gets, I can handle it.” But I didn’t anticipate having to handle it for so LONG. I mean, by Sunday, I did feel better overall compared to Thursday and Friday, but rather than the post-treatment pattern I was used to—a steady, inchy progression towards normal once I hit my “Friday low”—this recovery was more of a “two steps forward, one step back” kinda deal, where each morning I’d wake up thinking that day was going to be the day I would start to get back to normal . . . and then I’d end up circling the drain again. In addition, whereas the weekend used to bring an end to the ick (leaving me a day or two of glory before the cycle started over again on Tuesday), my body was still on the struggle bus come Sunday night—and it took my mood straight into the ditch.

I was TIRED of fuggin’ RICE. SICK of friggin’ “chicken” (because come on, I’m supposed to buy that those gelatinous pink cubes actually come from a bird?) noodle soup. OVER applesauce. And most of all, I was FED UP WITH FEELING LIKE CRAP. It had been almost FIVE DAYS of this shit.

I hated everything.

But then . . .

Monday morning, when I woke up, the clouds let a little sunshine peek through. Oh, I didn’t fully trust it, because I’d already experienced a couple of “Oh, this is better!” mornings already, and that Sealy Posturepedic feeling didn’t last. But I did notice that my hunger felt “normal” (rather than the navel-to-spine thing I had going on before) and the cramping was gone—so, after a couple of hours of careful consideration (read: FEAR), I decided to try venturing beyond the rice diet.

For breakfast, I made myself some Cream of Wheat (in addition to prunes, cottage cheese, and candy corn, this is one of my lifelong Old Lady proclivities).

And it was kinda gross. And I felt kinda gross after. But I managed to (a) eat it all, and (b) move past the icky aftermath with the help of several sticks of peppermint gum (and by laying low and lunchless for the day), and by dinner, I was ready to try the black beans I’d simmered on Sunday in the hope that one day soon I’d be able to pair my rice with something a little more colorful.

It is ridiculous how excited I was for this dinner.

AND IT WAS GOOD, y’all! The black beans and rice tasted good. I felt good.

Well. OK.

The black beans and rice tasted SO good that I gobbled down WAYYYY too much of it (third helping, anyone?), way too fast, and then I did NOT feel particularly good; but once again, the peppermint gum came to the rescue, and by bedtime, when all of those beans and their rice brethren were still inside my body, I chalked it up as a triumph.

My saucy/starchy little saviors, topped with sour cream (oh, yeah, I got BOLD, baby).
After I took this photo, I remembered I’d planned to add chopped tomato on top, but I didn’t want to wait one more second (let alone the eon it would take to chop up a tomato) to eat this glory, so I told myself the tomato would have been too acidic for my delicate constitutional state, anyway, and went on wit ma bad self.

(As a completely unnecessary aside, I was reminded, when I began inhaling my dinner on Monday night (fully aware that I could end up, er . . . exhaling it), of my 25th birthday party: Bobby, a kind veteran bartender at the restaurant where I worked, threw a joint party at his townhouse in honor of me and Mike, a fellow server with whom I share(d) a birthday. As if that weren’t enough, he gifted each of us a bottle of liquor—not like a cutesy little pint just for show, either, but like a fifth.

I got Rumplemintz.

Which I have not drunk since, and shall never drink again.

But a part of my psyche shall be forever grateful to Bobby, who was still my friend even after I lost my dinner in his guest room—and to Mike, who laughed with such kindness as he gingerly plucked bits of that dinner out of my long, curly hair while I sat, slumped and regretful, on Bobby’s staircase watching Bobby scrub black beans, rice, and cranberry juice out of his carpet.

Wherever you both are, I still love you—and unlike that night all those years ago, I’m saying that totally sober. But I digress.)

So here it is, Tuesday again, and although I woke up feeling a bit shaky (I felt good enough to drive the progeny (at the elder one’s request) to a bakery 20 minutes away for breakfast pastries, but stopped short of buying one for myself), I’ve decided I’m gonna live. And now, if nothing else, I have more of an indication of how I’ll need to adjust my work schedule going forward: I’m thinking maybe I just plan on taking off treatment days AND the week following each. Because truly, with last Tuesday’s treatment, it took until Monday for me to stop hating everything, and until TODAY for me to feel OK enough to try to behave like a human being (which I did today, by meeting a friend for a (no-raw-stuff) sushi lunch that would have been a lot cheaper had I realized that the only part of it I’d find enjoyable would be the avocado roll . . . but look at me, digressing).

Another plus, I suppose, is that now I have two more weeks until I start this business over again, which I think I’ll appreciate a little more deeply now.

The biggest silver lining in what I’ve experienced this past week, however, is that it’s given me an excuse to do very little except binge-watch ALLLLLLLLL the HEARTLAND. I mean days and days replete with Heartland! I’m still only on season 6, because although I’ve been watching it for years, I don’t watch it regularly—but I have made quite a bit of Heartland progress (which they call “PRO-gress” in Canada) this past week. It’s been immensely comforting. Heartland is like the mashed potatoes and gravy of television. The homemade mac and cheese of the small screen. Horses make everything better. (Nevermind that I’m afraid of them in real life.)

Slide some oil to me

In other news, since my last post, I’ve met with the amazing, adorable woman (at my age, it’s tempting to call her a girl, because she’s young enough to be my daughter—and I don’t mean in a “teenage pregnancy” way, either, I mean in an “I chose to establish my career and enjoy my 20s before having kids” way, so it kinda blows my mind that she’s a full-fledged adult) who’s going to be designing my outfit for the Bra Couture KC event in April of 2023. We can call her Galentino (although in real life, she has the same first name as one of my former bosses, which means when it came time to text her my measurements for my runway couture, guess who I accidentally sent them to instead? But anyway . . . ).

Galentino is a pure delight! And so, it seems, is her family: apparently her grandfather restores old motorcycles, and since I’m going with a motorcycle theme for my runway look (I tried for skulls, but that idea was kind of a bust for a CANCER-related event, so I offered up that my motorcycle is my happy place), she is a perfect match for me. Y’all, I’ma be wearing motorcycle parts ON MY HEAD. When Galentino first mentioned the idea, I was game, but a bit wary, because I didn’t want to wind up looking like Nipsey Russell in The Wiz. But then she sent a photo of the design elements she’d mined from her grandpa’s shop for my headpiece (which I like to think of as a crown) . . .


. . . and I was sold. The reflectors are EVERYTHING.

Aside from the headpiece, however, I will refrain from sharing any more spoilers about my runway design. I’ll just say that I’m really excited to see how everything turns out! My sister, who happened to be in town visiting, and so went with me to meet my designer for the first time, seems to think—based on eavesdropping on some of the conversations between the other models in the room and their designers—that my design is gonna be the best game in town, but there was A LOT of immense talent in that room. And to be fair, my sister’s a little biased; I mean, her idea of fun was shooting straight from the airport to the roller rink on the evening of her arrival in town, just to hang out with me and my kids at the smaller one’s school skate night and eat shitty rink pizza . . . which makes it obvious that she loves me and mine more than the average bear (hence the bias). So although I DO think my design is going to be FIRE, I think the rest of them will probably be equally spectacular. You know. Minus reflectors.

Gonads and strife

And speaking of fire—particularly as it relates to the flames of love . . .

Remember how I mentioned we’d gotten sweet new baby rats after the sad demise of our pandemic rats? Well, what I may NOT have mentioned was that when we get rats, we always get two girls. I always figured (based on my 1970s-era conventional dog owner wisdom) that two boys would constantly be fighting for dominance (although since the 70s, I’ve read that once a bunch of male dogs establishes a pack order, they pretty much stick with it, whereas it’s the GIRLS who are always fighting for dominance . . . but I digress)—and I had ZERO interest in what would happen if we got a girl AND a boy.

So when we went to the pet shop to get our new fuzzballs, we fished around in the tank of little baby rats, and came up with three girls. (It’s pretty easy to tell which are which, because male rats—even baby ones—tend to have VERY (indeed, disproportionately) obvious . . . boyness.) My children, of course, wanted to get all three, but we narrowed the field to two based on the fact that (a) two of them were almost identical (which means one of them would have to go, in order to avoid confusion), and (b) one of said “twins” was demonstrably less skittish than the other.

Off we rolled with two new rats, for whom we worked out names on the drive home (a conversation to which our children contributed the vast majority of suggestions), finally landing on Philly Roll for the gray one, and Hot Jack for the brown one.

When we got them home, we gave them a couple of days to stop freaking out about what I imagine they viewed as an alien abduction, and then my elder son started working his magic to socialize them (he’s really dedicated, and good at it). As part of that effort, if we were sitting around doing nothing, he would often bring one rat to me to play with while he played with the other one.

So there I was, chilling in my bed one evening, watching Philly Roll wander around on the bedspread (and watching diligently for droppings or drips), when I suddenly got a good, clear look at her backside and thought, “Why does it look like she’s growing . . . boyness???” (It wasn’t as obvious as the boys in the pet store, but . . . boyish nonetheless.)

I pointed this out to my son (only later imagining him at age 27, sitting on a therapist’s couch and saying, “I think it all started when I was 14 years old and my mom made me check out rat genitalia . . . “), and his eyebrows raised. “OH . . . !” he exclaimed, before handing Hot Jack over to me and taking Philly Roll downstairs to show Love Tank—who is apparently the official Arbiter of Rat Boyness (I was going to say “Rat Sex,” but there was a possible interpretation there that wasn’t quite working) in this household.

He came back with the news that Love Tank, too, suspected Philly Roll was packin’ balls.

I looked down into my hands at sweet little Hot Jack.

Since then, SO FARRRRR, there have been no midnight Barry White parties in the corner of my office (where the rat cage lives) that I know of . . . but it’s only a matter of time, I’m guessing. Although, maybe, with the comparatively small jewels Philly Roll is packin’, there may be some fertility issues? At any rate, I’m now wondering about the cost and logistics of neutering a rat. I mean, what do you say to the vet? “We thought we were getting a girl, so please cut those off”???

Thanks, Universe!

The nut smuggler.

Gritty, grimy gratitude

I will say that aside from the surprise cojones, the Universe has actually been delivering quality gifts to me—most recently in the form of good-ass friends.

After my last post, SO many of you reached out with offers to clean my house that I honestly felt a little guilty; I hadn’t made the post to compel anyone to help, but rather just to vent about the fact that my pathetic little “vacation” plans had been thwarted (although, after this past week, I’m glad things happened the way they did, because if I had gotten treatment TODAY as I’d originally planned, Thanksgiving would be RUINED). So of course I politely declined the numerous offers to spic and span my stuff . . .

. . . until one particularly bossy friend (who started out texting me about it, but then actually CALLED to give me a good talking to when I kept foisting her off) came at me with the offer of professional housecleaning services. She and a group of mutual friends, who’d been looking for ways to help, had come together and decided that this was a good way to do it. She was recruiting her OWN housekeeper, and the group would split the cost for her to get my shit shining.

I explained that, although my house was (and still is) currently kind of a disaster, what I really needed was not so much someone to dust, vacuum and mop, but rather someone to go deep: to scrub my walls (that’s the big one); to scrape the scritch from baseboards and corners; to wipe down cabinet doors; to clean the OUTSIDE of the fridge (and beneath and behind it)—that kind of stuff.

“She can do that,” my friend said.

So by golly I’m gonna let ‘er. I’ve made a list. Turns out the hardest part is working out a time, because between the housecleaner’s work and school schedule, and my treatment and other drama (like kids with fevers), we haven’t been able to land on a good day/time for her to come. But I’m hopeful that by my next treatment, I’ll be able to lick the wall behind my refrigerator.

And I sincerely thank the hell out of all of you who offered to help. You are amazing. You’re just, apparently, not bossy enough. 😂

The countdown begins

Other than all of the above, the only other news I have is that my plan for the boys’ countdown-to-Christmas calendars is set, the stuff is purchased/arranged, and now, once this week (during which they are both at home all day errday) is over, I can start filling those suckers up. If you know me, you know that this is HUGE, as typically I’m scrambling on November 30 to get my shit together (because as you also know, I can get kind of elaborate with these bad boys, so I often make the plan way in advance, but then falter when it comes to the timing of the execution). And I suppose I could still end up scrambling with execution on November 30, but at least I won’t still be buying stuff halfway through the month for the days toward the end of the month, and praying Amazon pulls through. AND, knowing I have another treatment (read: another Hell Week) coming the first week in December, I’ve even worked out the plan so that none of the calendar goodies for the 8 days following my treatment require any effort or participation on my part. Look at me go!

Now, I just have to get my mom’s countdown calendar arranged (I started that tradition during the 2020 holiday season, what with so much time to engage in projects at home), but I have a plan for that, too: tomorrow, I’m giving each of the boys a budget, and setting them loose to find 24 Grandma-tastic items to stuff her Advent drawers.

Let the season begin!

Lots of gratitude, love, and merry to you all, as always.

The “little c” chronicles, Part 9: Feelings . . . whoa, whoa, whoa . . .

Look at me, throwing another post up so soon after the last one! Part of this is because I have a little bit of kinda-sorta news. The other, of course, is just because I feel like talkin’.

The News

The news—or, more like an updatey clarification—is that I talked to Dr. Cool-and-Calm at last week’s visit about the ultrasound results. While I took the 30% reduction in tumor size to be good news, technically I didn’t know how it stacked up against the results most people get in my situation. Should I expect closer to a 50% reduction in tumor size, based on the fact that I was nearly halfway through treatment when the ultrasound was performed? Or is the expectation that the next round of treatment, being more powerful, will result in faster, more significant zapping of the little bastard?

Dr. CaC described my progress (i.e., the degree of shrinkage) as “moderate.” He seemed satisfied with it, but I guess I was right about it not being Jesus-toast miraculous. He also seems to have a lot of faith in the next phase of chemo drugs, though; I asked him what the goal was for that phase in terms of tumor reduction, and he said, “Gone.” I asked if that was even a possibility, and he said it was, in fact, possible (HOW possible, I dunno), and mentioned that these were the strongest chemo drugs on the market for breast cancer.

Which has the effect of being both hope-ifyng and horrifying.

Another interesting tidbit that came out of this discussion, however, was that I’m no longer QUITE as worried about how the second-phase chemo drugs will affect my heart. As many of you know, three members of my family of origin (my dad, my brother, and one of my two sisters) died of heart attacks (in 1996, 1999, and 2005, respectively). So when I started reading up about the possibility of cardiotoxicity from these particular drugs, I became more than a little nervous—and I shared those concerns with Dr. CaC. He asked some questions about the health of the aforementioned family members (dad: healthy weight, unhealthy habits, died at age 68; brother: healthy weight, (mostly) healthy habits, died at age 41; sister: unhealthy weight, (mostly) unhealthy habits, died at age 51), and calmly explained that the chemo drugs don’t affect the arteries, but rather the heart muscle itself—and reminded me that the echocardiogram had shown my heart function to be good. If the same is not true of my arteries, well, that’s on me (and Taco Bell), but if that’s the case, the chemo drugs aren’t likely to make that part worse.

So that was a bit of a relief. The new pain in my ass is that I can’t seem to get a handle on my potassium levels. When I first started seeing Dr. CaC, he advised me that my potassium was low, and that I should start eating bananas. I like bananas, but feared I wouldn’t if I had to eat them every day, so in addition to the bananas (which I scarfed down occasionally), I got potassium supplements, and started taking them daily, along with all the other things. Still, every week, he’d tell me my potassium was low, and ask if I was eating bananas. I’d say not DAILY, but that I was taking potassium supplements in lieu of that. Finally, he told me I should double up on the supplements. So I did. STILL LOW. Now he’s advised me to triple them. Which makes me glad I opted for the supplements, because if I’d put all my faith in the consumption of bananas, I’d be up to like 12 a day now.

In other news, I have started receiving Neupogen shots, to boost my white blood cell count. My count had been dancing around on both sides of the “low” threshold for a few weeks, but finally started to show a steady decline, so now, on the day following my chemo treatment, I get jabbed with some juice to give my bone marrow a little zhuzh. I was told I might experience bone pain as a side effect—and that starting Claritin ASAP would help—but since I’m still working (and it’s hard enough staying on top of my to-dos as it is, what with a 2.5 to 3-day work week), I was hesitant to take anything that was gonna make me sleepy (and EVERYTHING makes me sleepy—always has (even the “non-drowsy” versions of certain medications); hell, I use ibuprofen as a sleep aid) unless I REALLY needed it. I’m happy to report that so far I haven’t; I’m not experiencing any pain at all. Cross your fingers this continues, because if I have to start popping Claritin on the regular, I’ma be REALLY interesting in Zoom meetings.

Other than these small updates, though—and the fact that I just had my LAAAAST Phase 1 treatment, woo-hoo!—things are the same. I’m feeling the cumulative effects of the chemo a little more these past couple of weeks—tiring out more easily, and having fewer days per week (like one and a half, as opposed to two or three) when I feel mostly normal—but I’m still largely able to function like something resembling a regular human most days.

You can’t always get whatcha want . . .

The WORST news, really, to come out of the past week is that I DON’T GET MY BLACKLIGHT CLEANING WEEK.

When I first met with the nurse practitioner in Dr. CaC’s office for my “chemo education” prior to starting treatment, I was given the information that if all went according to plan (i.e., assuming I didn’t have to delay or switch treatments because of some other health issue), my second phase of treatment would begin two days before Thanksgiving. Because Thanksgiving is (as many of you know) my favorite holiday (I mean, all you do is hang out with people you love, EAT, and take naps (and, OK, watch or play football if you want, but I’m all about the naps); how is that not the best holiday ever?), I was pretty bummed about that, but the NP said that I’d probably still be feeling OK a couple of days after treatment, and quipped that I’d also be full of steroids, so I’d be hungry for that gravy-coated stuffing!

(These days, however, most things to eat kinda gross me out—nothing tastes right, to a point where nearly everything is off-putting—so even when I AM hungry, I often don’t want to eat . . . or, conversely, ALL I want to eat is the ONE thing that I don’t find disgusting in that moment, so I’ll wind up eating, like, three fried eggs, or a thing of fries, or a bunch of fun-sized Almond Joys as an entire meal. About those arteries . . . )

But I digress. Point is, imagine my surprise, upon leaving last week’s chemo appointment—and stopping, as usual, by the desk on my way out to pick up the schedule for my next round of treatment-related appointments (consisting of the day-before blood draw, the oncologist visit, the chemo infusion, and now the day-after marrow zhuzh)—to see that my first Phase 2 appointments were already booked . . .

. . . for the week BEFORE Thanksgiving—AKA the week I’d planned (and already arranged!) to take off work so that I could scrub the shit out of all the goddamn things in my house.

I expressed my surprise to the kind scheduler, and she asked me if I’d like her to push that treatment back a week, so I wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of rearranging my time off work—but that seemed a little ridiculous even for ME, I mean, who prioritizes a houseful of sparkling commodes over their own health? And besides, if this whole venture took a turn for the worse, I didn’t want to have to wonder if sticking with the scheduled treatment plan (instead of delaying it a week in the name of achieving lickable baseboards) would have made a difference.

Still, not gonna lie, I was pretty upset.

In fact, when Love Tank came to pick me up from that treatment, he took one look at me and asked what was wrong.

And—hand to Tupac, y’all—when I started telling him about it, I legit started bawling.

In the three-plus months of living in this whole ordeal, I have not cried about ANY(related)THING at ANY POINT (aside, of course, from the initial diagnosis, and the week that followed, wherein I had NO information whatsoever, and so went full-on doom-and-gloom and started thinking about which Earth, Wind & Fire songs I wanted played at my funeral) . . . until THIS.

Love Tank, in typical fashion, tried to come up with a way to help: “Make a list of what you want done,” he said [ed. note: NOT because he doesn’t know how to clean, but to make sure he knew which cleaning projects I cared about most], “and [Elder Boy] and I can do them.”

And I suppose that’s not a bad idea . . . but y’all don’t know how GENUINELY excited I was about Clean Freak Week. It wasn’t just about the resulting clean house (which LAWD knows would be nice, because I have been letting A LOT of my routine chores slide with the idea that I’d get to catch up on ALL of it in a couple of weeks), but also (maybe even moreso) about the cleaning itself.

I like to clean! I had a daily schedule all written up (wherein I was planning to devote 4-5 hours per day to this project) for that week! I already had a bunch of anticipatory cleaning supplies chilling in my Amazon cart!

I HAD A BLACKLIGHT READY, people.

I was looking forward to this like it was a week in Aruba . . . and now I’m going to have to trade my (figurative) snorkel for a pleather recliner and an IV pole.

This shit is SO not fair.

I make no apologies for being this ridic . . . but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize that I am.

(In my defense, though, I will also say that in addition to making me feel happier and more relaxed, having a clean house also gives me the ability to be the kind of parent I want to be: the kind who mostly says YES to last-minute sleepover requests.

I DID NOT have those kind of parents (Lord, a sleepover request in my house either involved my birthday or a three-week lead time; all I wanted, just once, was to come home from school on a Friday and be like, “Can Lisa spend the night tonight?” and have some hope of a YES)—and while becoming a parent myself has given me FAR more empathy for my own “no sleepover” parents (I mean, nothing ruins the bliss of a Friday night plan for pantsless drinking and a Freaks & Geeks binge on the couch like a boy begging to have [insert Bestie of the Week here] spend the night), I still take great pleasure in being able to (frequently, but admittedly not as often as I’d like) be the parent I wish I’d had.

And it REALLLLY helps me to be that kind of parent when saying YES doesn’t involve a last-minute scramble to scrub bathrooms/clean the floors/rid the fridge of any unintentional science experiments/de-crust the dog bowls/etc.

Here’s a thing about me: my ultimate goal in life—pathetic as it may be—is to have my house in such a state that if someone dropped by unexpectedly, I wouldn’t feel the need to apologize for anything or strategically place myself in a position to hide something gross (like, say, awkwardly leaning against a wall to hide the five-inch, oddly-brown, dried rivulet of Great Dane spit flung onto it weeks ago during a vigorous head shake).

So back in January of this year, thanks to remote work, I started cleaning during my lunch hour every day (I’ve always eaten at my desk, anyway, and having unfettered access to my own kitchen all day makes that even easier). I started with a single DEEEEEP cleaning task every day, and eventually was able to move on to daily maintenance, so that by a couple of months in, I was ready for surprise visitors. And I didn’t really get any—but what I DID get was the glory of being able to say YES to more sleepovers, because I didn’t have to worry about some sweet kid getting buried under a dog-hair tumbleweed if he slept on the living room floor, or getting his feet stuck to the kitchen floor, or being rushed to the ER with E. coli because he needed to use the bathroom. I Swiffered the hardwoods daily, vacuumed daily, and cleaned the fridge, bathrooms and other areas weekly, so the most I’d have to do to be sleepover-ready would be to maybe load the dishwasher or scoop up the littler dude’s Magnatile mansion or most recent art happening from the living room floor. And buy snacks, of course. There must always be snacks.

So there were a couple of glorious months in there when I was a happy, relaxed, “YES” mom.

And now they’re over. A HUUUUUUUUGE summer project at work, coupled with the mid-summer whirl of doctor appointments and the late-summer chemo kick-off (i.e., shorter work weeks) means that I fell further and further behind—and then kind of gave up entirely—on my daily lunchtime cleaning regimen. Which I was able to let go with the idea that I’d get caught up between now and the start of the next chemo phase . . .

But now that’s all gone to shit.

So last Sunday, when my older son asked if he could invite his girlfriend—whom I like quite a bit for someone I’ve only met twice—to carve pumpkins with us on Sunday evening, I damn near plotzed, thinking about how gross our house was; not gonna lie, I was relieved when she couldn’t come.)

Deep Thoughts . . . by Auntie Fester
(I’m going a little dark, here, people.)

I suppose you could argue that my blubbering over the loss of my cleaning week goes a little deeper than bathroom grout grime . . . and you’d probably be right.

In fact, I’ve heard from a couple of friends this week, who’ve expressed something along the lines of, “You seem to be handling this well, and staying really positive, which is GREAT—but if you’re ever NOT doing those things, that’s OK, too.”

And of course, if there were ever a time for a mofo to fall apart emotionally, this would be, conceivably, one of the best ones. So I’ve been getting a lot of “Yeah, but how are you REALLY?” vibes from more than a few people, who stand ready to throw down an inflatable mattress to break my fall if I start to topple . . .

. . . but so far, I’m still upright . . .

. . . which has gotten me thinking about how I have always been this person—the person who handles BIG, AWFUL THINGS (to reiterate: dad, brother, sister) with stoicism and grace. The thing is, it’s the little things—things that other people pretty much move past after a glass of wine and an evening of self-pity—that knock me on my ass emotionally.

The death of someone I love? Oh, it sucks, don’t get me wrong, but as corny as it is, I kind of buy into the cliché about how grief is a prime indicator of having loved well—so I can lean into that and somehow feel a nugget of good fortune in the midst of it, because ultimately, it means I got to have some amazing people in my life.

A BREAKUP, on the other hand? I mean, I haven’t experienced one in decades now, but those suckers (well, some of them, anyway—you know, the ones that weren’t MY idea) were sheer and utter TORTURE for me, even in cases where I knew it would happen eventually. I mean, was I really going to spend the rest of my life with the under-toothed stoner dude who scavenged clothes from garbage bins and whose wardrobe included a single, flowered footy sock (because the bin in which he’d found it hadn’t included its mate) that he wore regularly with a sock that didn’t match?

NO; however, when he and his footy merrily staggered off in another direction, I called in sick to work and curled up in my bed for DAYYYYYS, forcing friends to come and knock on my door to check on me, since I wasn’t answering my phone.

And then I wallowed in misery (I worked, but I wallowed) for a few more months (prompting both casual acquaintances AND MY EX to be like, “hey, have you lost weight?”), until I fled town (yes, permanently) to escape it.

(On a related note, know who I think are the most bad-ass people in the world?

Teenagers.

More specifically, teenagers who fall all the way down deep into love, and then—after the breakup—are forced to see their exes EVERY DAMN DAY at school. Forced (if, God forbid, there’s a set seating chart) to stare at the bear-shaped birthmark behind their ex’s left ear all through Biology. Forced to see their ex laughing with friends at lunch like everything is fine. Forced to find out from that snarky bitch Brianna in gym class that their ex has asked someone else to Homecoming.

How do they do that shit?

I mean, I know this happens to adults as well; some adults have to continue seeing their exes at work, or church, or backstage at the community theater production of The Crucible, and still others have to co-parent in difficult situations.

But they’re adults, not kids with whirling hormones and fragile first-love baby hearts!

Plus, adults have some modicum of control over their lives, so if it gets unbearable they can find new jobs, or churches, or seek out a new group of thespians. (Doesn’t work as well with the co-parenting issue, but at the very least they can avoid co-parenting with John Proctor.) Or in some cases, they can even—ahem—skip town. Teenagers, on the other hand, typically have nothing but (a) new love, or (b) graduation to save them from the torture of everyday ex sightings.)

But as usual, I digress. The point is, I’ve always been the person who can handle an impaling far better than I can handle a paper cut. And while a psychologist could probably come up with a bucket full of reasons for that, here’s what I think:

For me, when the worst, most shitty thing happens, well . . . the worst, most shitty thing has happened. And I’m sitting right in the middle of it. And there’s nothing to do but survive it. But when SEMI-shitty things happen, there’s always a way they can get worse—which gives my brain plenty of fodder to torment me with the possibilities—and therein lies the misery.

The death of someone I love means I’ll never see that person again, which is horrible, yes—but it’s OVER; a breakup, on the other hand, means I MIGHT have to see that person again, WITH SOMEONE ELSE, even, and then I’ll fall apart all over again.

A bad day at work (bearing in mind that MY bad work days don’t involve lives lost or anything, so again, I’m aware I’m being slightly unreasonable) keeps me up all night, because what if I get fired?

A stupid fight with Love Tank clenches my gut all day because what if we end up divorced (see breakup notes above)?

Accidentally saying something that offends someone at a party wrecks my soul, because what if I’m actually a total loser who never even deserved friends in the first place, and everyone has been waiting for this moment for years so they’d have an excuse to cut me out of their lives entirely?

You get the idea. And of course, any one of these situations could result in me living in a van by the river, surviving on Slim Jims (which I don’t even like) and ramen, and cuddling an empty KFC bucket outfitted with a Sharpie-drawn face and paper-towel-roll limbs as my only friend.

And there’s no statute of limitations on this, yo; my brain hangs on to these things FOREVER, so with every SEMI-shitty thing that happens, I remain convinced that at any moment, I could suffer some sort of KFC-bucket consequences, even if it happened 17 years ago.

Having cancer, though, basically plants me smack dab in the middle of my “worst case” scenario. It is HARD, don’t get me wrong, and I’m not always Little Mary Sunshine about it—and yes, it could certainly get worse in SOME ways (the Red Devil looms). But at the risk of being macabre, the WORST possible outcome (which, for the record, I DO NOT expect to happen) is going to be much harder for those people who love me a lot than it is for ME, isn’t it? (Unless they’re people like me, who prefer the impaling, I guess . . . ) If it DOES happen, I won’t be the one suffering. (Of course the mere thought of leaving my babies motherless and sad breaks my heart into 54.5 million pieces, and . . . I can’t really stay in that head space for too long, or I WILL topple over emotionally. But ultimately, again, I’m not the one who’s going to have to LIVE for days/weeks/months/years with that pain. They are.) So in essence, I am, once again, sitting in the middle of what, for ME, is the worst thing that could happen. And this is kinda my comfort zone.

It may be whack. But here we are. Now. Let’s lighten this bitch up a little, shall we?

That was Halloween, that was Halloween . . .

So in lighter news, we just wrapped up a damn good Halloween! For those of you who don’t know, Love Tank goes a little cray decorating our front yard and garage for Trick or Treaters.

This year’s masterpiece.

We don’t get Trick-or-Treaters in droves—like what you see in movies, where the whole neighborhood is deeply invested in Halloween, and hordes of kids are traipsing up and down the street amongst the swirling leaves, collecting candy from every house—rather, we mostly get them in moderate trickles; however, this year, Love Tank launched a brilliant marketing strategy: he put a sign down at the end of our street, pointing the way to our home haunt, like people do when they’re having garage sales.

It worked! Still no hordes, but we got quite a bit more business!

My Halloween thing is to make homemade cinnamon rolls. It started years ago, before we had kids, on a particularly frigid Hallows Eve. I thought it would be nice to be able to invite grown-ups we knew (neighbors, and friends of ours who were driving over to see Love Tank’s masterpiece) inside to warm up with the rolls and some hot cider while their kids traipsed around outside, checking out the scene.

And somehow it turned into a thing. (A thing which has morphed over the years, as our kids have come along: I used to wait around inside the house for Love Tank (who hung outside with the candy) to send people in for treats, but once it became necessary for Love Tank and me to tag-team Trick-or-Treating duties of our own, I started distributing my goodies outside, either before the ToT-ing began, or afterwards, when it was my turn to sit outside and man the candy bucket while Love Tank prowled the streets, towing a kid in search of full-sized Milky Ways.)

I have skipped the cinnamon roll tradition ONCE in the 17 years we’ve lived here: the year I totaled my car at the outset of October, and then went down with the flu shortly before Halloween, which meant I had used too much PTO to be able to afford my usual day off work to make my rolls (each batch of 18 takes me 2+ hours, and back in those days, I made two or three batches). Since then, however, I’ve held strong—and heck if I was going to be brought down by little c THIS Halloween!

So although my best customers (now basically down to my favorite neighbors and my kids) didn’t expect them this year, I did crank out a batch. (There was no hot cider, though; since (a) I never drank it, (b) I never got as many takers on it as I did for the rolls, (c) my husband and elder son prefer it cold, anyway, and (d) temps were in the 60s on Halloween night, I just bought a gallon of cider (for TEN BUCKS—WTF???) and left it in the fridge for my dudes—no heating or spicing.) I distributed some of the rolls to neighbors, and sent a bunch away with my older kid, who spent the evening hanging out with friends at one of their houses . . .

. . . which left just enough for me to eat one and, what with my taste buds being wonky, find it unenjoyable, and therefore let my kids eat the remaining four (which I’d normally hoard for myself).

I did do a little Trick or Treating—about one and a half hours’ worth—with my little guy and another family and it was lovely, but HOO-WEE, it wiped me the EFF out, and afterwards, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck.

Still, I was beyond grateful that Halloween fell on a Monday this year; usually, I’d hate that (it means the festivities tend to shut down early, since kids have school), but with my Tuesday treatment schedule, Mondays are my best days, so this year’s timing worked out marvelously.

Oh! And if you’re wondering, I didn’t end up going with any of the costume ideas I considered; after having gone with the family to the elementary school Trunk or Treat the week before, and then showing up at the school on my “bad” day (Friday) for BOTH the costume parade in the morning, and the class party in the afternoon (for which I’d signed up to be the Snack Mom), and then carving pumpkins on Sunday, knowing that cinnamon rolls and Trick or Treating (PLUS my weekly blood draw) were still to come on Monday, I decided I’d get plenty of Halloween this year without a costume.

Now I can start planning Countdown-to-Christmas calendars for the boys—which is the pain in the ass we choose in lieu of Elf on a Shelf.

I got a brand new pair o’ ro-odents, they brought some brand new pee . . .

Apologies to Melanie for the lyrical liberties, but in other good news, we got new cute baby rats over the weekend! (We considered a couple of degus for a change, but ended up going with the tried and true once again, with the plan of researching degu care for next time.) Names (which we have) and photos (which we don’t, because they are some hidey little muhfuggers, and we’re giving them time to adjust) to come in the next blog post.

In the meantime, THANK YOU as always for stickin’ in. As we roll into the season of gratitude and love, my good fortune in knowing y’all is not lost on me.

The “little c” Chronicles, Part 8: That’s about the size of it.

If, after reading the title of this post, you immediately started singing this song in your head, you are my people.

But look at me, already digressing, when I have BIG—er, actually, SMALLER—news:

My tumor has shrunk by 30%. Yeah, BABY!

While I myself could see and feel the tumor getting smaller (i.e., the dent in my boob that started this whole chain of events was less noticeable, and I had to dig around a little to feel the lump, which had previously been detectable with a much lighter touch), MY anecdotal assessment seemed—as Love Tank put it—rather “unscientific.”

Mama wanted PROOF.

And last Wednesday, I got my wish; I went in for an ultrasound to measure progress, and both the breast mass and the rogue lymph node measured smaller than they were at the outset of this fun adventure (the lymph node was not as much of an achiever, having only shrunk by about 9%, but it was smaller to begin with—so small that the first radiologist missed it, as you’ll recall—and hey, smaller is smaller, so I’ll take it). Like most things that have come up during this experience, it’s hard to know EXACTLY how worked up I should get about it, because I haven’t talked to Dr. Cool-and-Calm (my oncologist) about it yet—but I’m counting it as good news! Not MIRACULOUS news, like the liquefaction of ancient saint blood or the appearance of Jesus on a piece of toast—or even like Ric Ocasek’s freaky-looking ass somehow landing the likes Paulina Porizkova as a wife and mother to his children—but good.

I mean, not to speak ill of the deceased, but COME ON.

In other medical news, I’ve stopped taking the Gabapentin. After I discovered, thanks to my friend Dr. Awesome Pants, that the Gabapentin does nothing to stop or reverse chemo-related nerve damage (which I didn’t understand when it was prescribed), but rather only masks the symptoms thereof, I wanted to get a clear idea of just how bad the neuropathy in my hands and feet actually WAS.

The good news THERE is that so far, it’s not bad; it’s still what I’d call mild, and mostly in my feet rather than my fingers, so I haven’t been required to ask Love Tank to button my clothing for me.

(Which is good, because just thinking about that gives me traumatic flashbacks to my freshman year in high school, when I played clarinet in the marching band. After a particularly frigid halftime show—during which it was so cold I couldn’t move my fingers on my clarinet keys and didn’t even bother to blow into it (both because my lips were frozen and because, due to the finger issue, I wouldn’t have hit the correct notes anyway)—I found myself unable to get out of my band uniform, as there was no way I could manage the fasteners with my frozen digits.

Enter my sweet dad, who attended every game (I’d like to say it was to cheer me on—and to some extent it was—but I’m betting the football part held more appeal for him than the part where I and a bunch of my fellow nerds marched in the shape of a (likely lopsided and only marginally identifiable) rotating sunflower while tooting out an ersatz version of Sussudio). As I stood in the band section of the bleachers, shivering and humiliated, rendered helpless as I was by my utter popsiclization, he extracted me from my band uniform (beneath which I was FULLY dressed, I mean it wasn’t butt-in-the-wind humiliating or anything) and wrapped me in his parka until I thawed out enough for my cheeks to be reddened by mortification rather than windburn. By that time, thankfully, the second half of the game was about over, and I could go home and burrow under the covers, mentally replaying the shame of reliving my toddlerhood in front of my peers, until I fell asleep. But I digress.)

I will say, though, that I now understand why some folx refer to the neuropathy as “painful.” When I first started experiencing it, I wouldn’t have described it that way at all, and I found it odd that other people did. “I feel numbness,” I told Love Tank, “but there’s no PAIN.”

Last night, however, I felt . . . STILL not PAIN, per se, but a mild ACHE in my toes that wasn’t there before. Luckily, I’m two treatments away from the end of the Taxol treatments, and Dr. Cool-and-Calm tells us that the next combination of meds—while it offers a whole host of other potential atrocities—does not cause neuropathy, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to ride to the end of Phase 1 with little to no permanent damage.

I used to say . . . she and she . . . now it’s I . . . now it’s me . . .

(Again, if you’re channeling Baby Michael Jackson right now, we are soulmates.)

So in sadder news, over the past few weeks (and couple of blog posts), both of my sweet rats have died.

We got them during the pandemic. After a couple of rounds of less-than-stellar luck with a couple of other pairs of rats who didn’t live very long at all—although one of them, Lawd hammercy, spent TWOOO LONG DAYYYYYS dying; I actually created a little rat sling (similar to the kind parents use to tote around their newborns) to keep her close to me, because eventually I needed my hands back so I could work—we got these girls, who’d been with us a couple of years. (Actually, it wasn’t so much less-than-stellar LUCK that caused us to cycle through the previous rat pairs so quickly, but rather less-than-stellar education; we’d been choosing rats from pet store enclosures labeled “jumbo,” thinking that “jumbo” indicated a breed of rat, when actually it indicated age of rat—so once we realized that the smallest rats were not, in fact, destined to be tiny forever, but were literally just BABIES (and that we’d essentially been buying rats that were kinda long in the tooth by choosing the jumbos), we chose these two little guys (or gals, I should say), and had much better “luck” keeping them alive.)

Rickets went first, on the day our littler human split his head open on the playground at school. I think maybe I didn’t have the energy to hit y’all with ALL of that during the last blog post, but yep. That was a day of more dramas than one. I’d started watching her closely that morning, because she seemed a little lethargic, and was sticking to one area of the cage. I’d managed to get her to nibble some snacks with a decent degree of enthusiasm, but still, she wasn’t really interested in moving around much. So I figured I’d keep an eye on her, and if she didn’t pep up soon, I’d get my rat sling back out.

My initial fear was that she’d been hurt worse than I thought on a day, maybe a week or so prior, when her ding-dong ass FELL OUT of the cage onto the floor. Unlike her sister, Pleurisy, Rickets has always been more of an introverted homebody type; whereas Pleurisy popped to the front of the cage whenever anyone approached, and would crawl out onto your hand if you opened the door, Rickets always hung back (and made you pluck her out of the cage yourself if you wanted to hold her). You could leave the cage door open for six years and she’d never venture out, whereas Pleurisy would be out and crawling around on top of the cage within six seconds. So one day, when I had taken Pleurisy out and put her on the floor of my office to let her explore a little, leaving the cage door open, I was surprised to hear a soft THUD and see Rickets on the floor! Although she seemed to have landed on all fours, she was standing stock still, looking rather shocked by this turn of events.

I rushed over and picked her up to see if she was OK, and she emitted a loud SQUEAK, which startled me enough that I dropped her back onto the floor, and the drama started all over again. While I fussed over her and got her back into the cage (which took no more than like FOUR MINUTES tops), Pleurisy saw an opportunity to fuggin’ DISAPPEAR and WENT FOR IT. That little whozit managed to get her ass ALL THE WAY to the second floor of my house and into my bedroom (where I unwittingly trapped her, because the first thing I did when I realized she was on the lam was to run around the house and close all the doors so I wouldn’t have to look in EVVVVVERY nook and cranny for her), resulting in half a day of panic searching for THAT damn rat after panicking that the OTHER damn rat had given herself a concussion. In the end, though, Pleurisy was found, and Rickets seemed to be OK . . .

. . . but then, a week or so later, she didn’t seem to be so OK. Instead of carrying HER around in a miniature sling, however, I spent the day in the ER with a blood-crisped child, and by the time we got back home, Rickets had gone to meet her maker. (I was pleased to find that Pleurisy had kept a respectful distance; decades ago, one of my rats died while I was at work, and by the time I got home, the other rat had EATEN HER HEAD. That was perhaps the moment I knew Love Tank was a keeper, because although he had no matrimonial obligations to me back then, he took care of the situation while I fled to Pier 1. But I digress.)

Once Rickets was gone, we started talking about whether or not to get Pleurisy (who seemed a little depressed after the loss) a new sister. In the meantime, we tried to give her extra attention and play with her as much as we could in the absence of her old sister . . .

. . . but then this past Friday, my elder son (who always goes into my office to greet the rats before he leaves for school) brought Pleurisy to me on the couch (where I’d stationed myself to spend my day of rest, since I wasn’t working) and suggested I keep an eye on her, because she was making a wheezing noise as she breathed, hadn’t come out of her hammock to greet him when he opened the cage and started talking to her.

So I hung out with her on my chest, and within the hour, she had gone to join her sister in the big sewer in the sky—as confirmed by Love Tank who, since that long-ago horrible rat head-eating incident, seems to have established himself as the Rodent Death Handler in our household.

Now my children won’t stop asking when we’re getting new rats, as if it’s a given, like when we run out of dog food or strawberry jam: “Hey, we’re out of rats.”

Pretty Pleurisy (Rickets never wanted her picture taken.)

Giftin’ and Upliftin’

So that’s about the size of it: the tumor is shrinking, as (temporarily) has our number of pets (we’re down to two dogs and a snake; practically an empty nest)—but my appreciation for y’all just keeps swellin’, as you continue to send notes I can’t keep up with, gifts I’m remiss in thanking you for, and so much love.

The big, gorgeous earrings are still rolling in (although the full-on alopecia has yet to arrive; it’s making its way in slowly, so although I’m still shaving my head occasionally, I’ve noticed I’m unintentionally rockin’ my ’90s eyebrows again (my Gen X ladies remember what I mean), and have finally achieved the “occasional-shave” legs I wished for in the ’80s as opposed to the “daily-shave” ones I actually had), and I’d be horribly remiss if I didn’t mention THEEEE PERFECT gift from Love Tank in honor of my new blog domain:

No words required.

Other than that, I’m gearing up for treatment 11 today; one more after that, and then a BREEEEEEAK before I start the next treatment phase.

I think I mentioned I’m taking a week off work during that break to clean the schnizz out of my house during that time . . . but did I mention I have a BLACK LIGHT for the occasion?

Mama didn’t come to play.

(Although, knowing Mama, she will actually play (read: sleep and Netflix binge) more than she means to, and only manage to get half the cleaning done that she has planned. But right now, I’m looking at my schedule for Cleaning Week, and making a list of supplies I’ll need to order within the next couple of weeks. Whoever invented Mr. Clean Magic Erasers can go ahead and start shopping for that second yacht now.)

All the love, thanks, Xes and Os!

The “little c” chronicles, Part 7: You betta WERK

So this week’s theme is partially around my 9 to 5, which I haven’t mentioned much up to this point . . . but also around me achieving my 5th grade dream of being a runway model.

Oh, wait, no. That was 6th grade. In 5th grade, I still wanted to be a Solid Gold dancer.

BUT more on that later.

First, a few health-related updates:

I just got treatment 9 out of 12 for round 1 (and good news: the blissful Benadryl nap came back!), and so far, so good healthwise . . .

. . . . except for the fact that a couple of weeks ago, I finally started experiencing neuropathy in my hands and feet. There I was, blithely traipsing around at the local Renaissance Festival, and I realized my toes were numb.

I’d experienced this before; a couple of years ago, at the beginning of the pandemic, I was out for a solo run, and my feet went numb. I panicked; WTF was happening??? The good news was that because of it, I allowed myself no breaks; I was afraid of what would happen if I stopped running (would the numbness start to spread up my legs? would my legs stop working altogether, leaving me collapsed and forced to call Love Tank to come rescue me with a wheel barrow (since I was on a trail, not a sidewalk)? but I digress). When I made it home, I mentioned it via text to my pre-pandemic running buddy, and she told me it was because my shoes (which, as a matter of fact, were new) were tied too tightly. Which turned out to be true.

SO, when my toes started to tingle at the Ren Fest, I stopped and loosened the laces on my (new) sneakers, hoping that would solve the issue.

It didn’t.

At my next visit to my oncologist, Dr. Cool-and-Calm, then, I told him the neuropathy was finally beginning to set in (he’d asked me about it every week previous, and I was always like, “Nope!”), and I wanted to nip it in the bud, to try to prevent it from becoming permanent, so he ended up prescribing Gabapentin, which has alleviated the symptoms nearly entirely . . .

. . . HOWEVER, I mentioned it to my oncologist FRIEND yesterday over lunch, and she said that I still needed to be careful and report worsening symptoms to Dr. Cool-and-Calm, because the Gabapentin does alleviate symptoms, but does not actually stop or reverse nerve damage. To help with that, she suggested adding Vitamin B6 to my current pillsy cocktail, which already consists of iron supplements, Vitamin C, potassium supplements, daily Zofran (I discovered a few weeks ago that one a day keeps the nausea at bay), and, of course, the Gabapentin.


I’m gonna need a bigger throat.
(If that didn’t conjure an image of Roy Scheider at sea for you, I’m not sure we can be friends).

Not a HUGE health update, but I thought I’d mention it in case (God forbid) this information should come in handy for one of y’all.

Now, onto the stuff that’s not useful for anyone, but might be entertaining for some . . .

Workin’ 9 tew 5 . . .

I haven’t talked much about my job in these posts, but I should mention here that I work (in a 100% remote position, hallelujah) with some phenomenal-ass people. From the moment I told my boss and team the news, I’ve had tremendous support. In fact, I just got a NEW supervisor, who started about a month ago, and who let me know almost immediately that her primary expectation of me was to take care of myself. And my team has jumped in like the flackin’ superheroes they are, to make sure I’m adequately covered when I’m out of the office.

So my initial agreed-upon work arrangement was to take Tuesdays off for treatment (although often, since I tend to feel GREAT on Tuesdays prior to treatment, I’ll jump online in the morning, and get a few things done before I head to the hospital for the poisoning, which is usually scheduled for around 10 or 11 a.m.), plough through Wednesday and Thursday (sometimes knocking off a little early on Thursday afternoon, when I feel myself starting to swirl the drain), and then take Friday off to rest, since that tends to be my worst day.

HOWEVER. Since my previous supervisor left in May, I and a coworker have been taking the lead on aspects of a HUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGE project (involving a million moving parts and people) in the absence of a senior manager for our team.

So up to this point, I’ve basically been giving up (at least part of each of) my Fridays to the cause (while Love Tank and my elder son look askance at me, clacking away at my keyboard on Friday mornings: “Aren’t you supposed to be OFF on Fridays??”)

But now that the project has launched (it flew into the wind at the end of September), I’ve taken the last two Fridays off to lie face down in my bed and feel sorry for myself, as God and FMLA intended . . . and it has been GLORIOUS. You know. Aside from the fatigue and mild nausea.

Once I begin getting treatments at 21-day intervals with new meds (starting the week of Thanksgiving), I’m going to have to figure out what my new FMLA arrangement looks like. My guess is that I’ll be taking a WEEK or so off at a time, as opposed to the scattered half-weeks I’ve been taking, which should work out fine; my arrangement allows for 5 days every two weeks, and I’m anticipating taking about a week every THREE weeks . . . but we’ll see what the Red Devil brings. (Not gonna lie; I’m scared of that mofo, y’all.)

Life! Life! Tell it like it is . . .

In the meantime, though, I’m still truckin’ through this treatment without a tremendous amount of disruption to my normal life. (I mean. Aside from the baldness, the mild nausea and fatigue, and the ever-dwindling number of fucks I have to give.) This past weekend, we walked a 5K on Saturday morning, and treated ourselves to breakfast afterwards (well, Love Tank and I did; the kids got donuts prior to the walk, and they weren’t even interested in pancakes, gee, darn). Then we got our older dude all trussed up and hauled our cookies to a golf club on Saturday evening to embarrass the shit out of him while we and a bunch of our fellow parents took photos of him, his date, and his group of friends prior to their homecoming dance. After that, since we deserve ALL the foody delights, we treated ourselves (and our younger son this time) to dinner at a small Cuban joint, while our elder dude, no doubt incredibly relieved to get away from us, jumped into the car of the (masochistic) parent who’d offered to drive all the kids to dinner at an Italian joint and then to the dance. (Love Tank was the masochist who stepped up to pick him up from his girlfriend’s house, where he’d been invited to hang out after the dance until the Pumpkin Hour.)

So, you know . . . life don’t stop the show.

Monday, bloody Monday (Redux) . . .

In fact, last Monday, life gave us a bit of a HORROR show. Our home phone (even though 75% of my household members have cell phones, we still have a landline, because I’m old and it makes me feel safe and warm) rang, and it was the younger dude’s school. He’d injured himself at recess, I was told, and he was bleeding, but he was refusing to let the nurse look at the cut (if you know him, you ain’t shocked), so they wondered if I could come try to get him calmed down enough for him to let someone take a look.

Thanks to the glory of remote work, I was there within about 10 minutes, and after a lovely chat with my elder dude’s former 3rd grade teacher (who is not-so-secretly my favorite of his former teachers; he never had a bad one (well, OK, there was this one long-term SUB I wanted to kick in the tooth), but this one is an extra-magical, glitter-shitting unicorn . . . but I digress), I walked into the nurse’s office to discover that the situation was a LITTLE worse than I’d initially thought.

This was the side the head wound was on (he’s holding a paper towel on it in this photo); however, he somehow managed to get his other side nearly equally covered in blood.

All the nurse and his teacher kept saying was, “You should have seen him before we got him cleaned up!” Apparently dude looked like Carrie at the prom, with blood rivulets running down his face, and dripping from his elbow.

Although the cut appeared small, the amount of blood it generated, and the fact that he was unable to remember what happened (which resulted in an extra little horror show in the form of grainy playground camera footage that showed him conking his bean on a zipline beam, then tumbling OFF the zipline into a crumpled heap on the ground, where he lay motionless for several seconds; it’s a damn good thing I already knew how that movie ended before I watched it) alarmed the nurse sufficiently enough that she suggested getting him to a doctor, predicting he’d take a staple to the head before this was all over.

Luckily, Love Tank was nearby when I called to share the news, so he met me at home, and the three of us went to the ER at the local children’s hospital (as recommended by his pediatrician, whom we called first), two of us sporting fresh boy blood (did I mention I was wearing a NEW white sweater?).

NOT so luckily, we waited for 3.5 hours in the waiting room (during which I dashed to a different, grown-up hospital for my weekly Monday blood draw and back, and also dashed to the children’s hospital cafeteria to get a container of pepperoni and crackers for the boy, who hadn’t had lunch), and another half hour to see a doctor once we finally got a bed.

In the end, he didn’t get a staple (by that time, the wound was scabbed over, and his hair and clothing were crisp with dried blood), but the doctor did seem rather surprised that the wound was so small (both he and the nurse searched the rest of the scalp for an additional laceration, thinking the tiny one we’d presented couldn’t possibly be responsible for the bucket’s worth of dried blood coating the boy’s hair and clothing), and did order us to limit his activity (and eliminate screens) for 72 hours, and to wake him up during the night that night.

By the time we’d been discharged, we had JUUUUUUUUUUUUST enough time (with a little speeding and a friendly wind) to make it to the boy’s parent-teacher conference—no time to go home and change, or anything—so the three of us squealed back into the elementary school parking lot with two of us still wearing all the blood. Good times.

But I’ll bet any teachers or administrators who don’t know what happened, and who saw us that night, ain’t about to mess with OUR asses!

After that, Love Tank went off to his Monday night teaching gig, dropping the elder boy at his Monday night orchestra rehearsal on the way, which just left me and the little dude to find dinner (I told him he could have whatever he wanted; he chose Sonic) and wash off the blood. By the time I got him into the tub after dinner, the kid smelled like a bucket of rusty pennies. But by the time we got him all hosed and sudsed, he was basically back to normal (enough to be HIGHLY resentful of those 72-hour screen and activity restrictions, the enforcement of which turned out to be way more difficult than getting the blood out of our clothing).

Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it

So I haven’t mentioned this thus far in the blog, because (a) there was a lot more medical information to impart, and (b) it wasn’t official yet—but now the rubber has met the road.

On Sunday this past weekend, I attended a kick-off meeting for Bra Couture KC—I’m going to be a model for the 2023 event.

When I first announced my diagnosis, my (stay with me, here) husband’s dad’s cousin’s wife (let’s call her Bad-ass Fam Lady, or BFL for short), who is just about the most delightful person you could meet (and I know A LOT of delights), sent me a message.

That in itself was nothing new; she is a staunch advocate for Black lives, LGBTQIA issues, and reproductive rights, and, knowing I care deeply about these issues as well, is always trying to make me be a better person by letting me know of events where I can get my ass out into the street and fight for these causes. I say TRYING, because while I always INTEND to show up, my inherent sense of laziness and sloth tends to take over. This past Mother’s Day, for example, BFL let me know of a reproductive rights rally she’d be attending. My elder boy, when I told him I thought I would attend, was like, “MOM. You’re going to an ABORTION RIGHTS protest on MOTHER’S DAY? Isn’t that a little messed up?” and I told him it was actually kind of perfect, because there are a lot of different voices and stories that need to be represented. My story is that I adore my children more than cheese, and I absolutely LOOOOOVE being their mom. Wouldn’t trade it. But they’re also expensive and smelly and annoying and difficult, and parenthood is NOT for everyone (in fact, it wouldn’t have worked out NEARLY as well for ME had I started that journey even 10 years earlier)—and when people are deprived of the choice about whether or not to have a baby, it can work out badly for the parent(s) and the child(ren). And frankly, Mother’s Day is not a bad time to get that message across. “That’s fair,” he agreed, “but is that REEEEALLLY how you want to spend your Mother’s Day?” Nonetheless, Love Tank and I made plans to ride to the event on our motorcycles (easier parking). We left early to get breakfast first . . . and then, once we were full of omelette and the day had started getting hotter, we decided to eschew the potential heat strokes and go back home. But I digress.

The point is, BFL doesn’t give up on me; if she’s not sending me information about protest events, she sends me photos of fun merch to buy in support of a particular cause, photos of her sweet grandkids making protest SIGNS, or pics of her in her RBG Halloween costume.

This lady is legit.

And when she read about my diagnosis, she sent me a care package of fun goodies, including THEEEEE most amazing earrings that took me right back to 1983 (not that I’d want to BE 13 again, but the part of my psyche that still remembers that part of my life was utterly SQUEEEEEEE).

In addition to the fun gifts, she sent me a message (the one I mentioned a million paragraphs ago, before all the digressions), saying she’d like to nominate me to be part of the Bra Couture KC event. She attended the event as the guest of one of last year’s models, and really enjoyed it. So she sent a kind, way-too-complimentary email to the event organizer to offer up my name (after getting my permission, of course).

So here I am, a couple of months later, having just met an amazing group of people who are going to hit the runway along with me, wearing a specially-designed “creation.” (They don’t really call them bras, because (a) sometimes they’re corsets or some other type of garment, and (b) there are now men who participate in the event, and so far I don’t believe any of them has chosen to wear a bra. Plus, whereas the fundraising event used to benefit underinsured/uninsured patients with breast cancer, it’s now been expanded to include patients with all types of cancer. And while breast cancer does not preclude men, expanding the scope to different cancers certainly includes a lot more of them.)

I’m also given to understand next year’s event will be different from past events in a number of other ways. For one thing, we were told at the kick-off meeting that in the past, designers would do their thing and design the bras, then deliver them, and THEN each model would be matched with a bra—er, creation. THIS year, however, each model will be matched with a DESIGNER, and partner with that person on the creation.

And they want us to think outside the box.

Which, honestly, should be NO problem for my fellow models. At the meeting, we went around the room and told our stories, and mine was BORING, y’all, compared to what some—nay, MOST—of these people have survived! By the end of the meeting, I had SO MANY questions about all of their fascinating lives and experiences, but we’d already run an hour longer than we were supposed to, so I’ll have to save most of them for later. A few of these people have gone on to create their own foundations to raise awareness and money to help other people going through the same thing . . . and all I’m raising is this lousy blog. But I digress.

Point is, my box-busting thinking starts NOW (I will meet my designer next month), so if you have ideas, share them. Otherwise, you KNOW I’m going with skulls (which could send the wrong message about cancer . . . ).

As always, I love you for being here, and for sticking it out this long, both with ME, and this blog post.

You’re a superstar. Yes, that’s what you are—you know it!

The “little c” chronicles, Part 6: Small surprises

Hey, there! Been awhile, huh? As I said in the last post, I’ve always anticipated a point when all the early-stage whirly-whirl that immediately followed the diagnosis would slow down, and I’d reach a point where I didn’t have much news to share.

And that point is kind of now, in terms of any new medical developments.

Absent any tests, scans, or results thereof, the only things I have to report are minor things (mostly weirdnesses) that count more as anecdotal babble than medical updates:

  • I’m halfway done with Round 1! I’ve now undergone 6 out of 12 weekly treatments, after which I’ll get a short break, and then start treatments at 21-day intervals for the following 12 weeks.

  • I can crack my knuckles again. If you’re one of the folx who have known me for decades, you might remember my constant cracking. And due to my own special brand of weirdness, for most of my life I took particular pleasure in being able to crack all of my base knuckles and middle knuckles in one “popping” (not ALL AT ONCE, Lawd, no; I mean one at a time with no “holdouts” that failed to emit a satisfying POP sound).

    But as I’ve grown older, particularly within the past 5 years or so, I’ve found that not only are what I used to call “perfect pops” a thing of the past, but more often than not, most of my knuckles won’t pop at all; I squeeze, and I get all PAIN, no pop.

    It’s probably been a good thing, really, because it’s broken me of the habit . . . mostly. I still give it a shot every now and then . . .

    . . . which is how I discovered, sometime over the past couple of weeks, that the boys are back in business! Now my knuckles crack with ease . . . and I’ve even experienced the heady (er, knuckly) rush of a perfect pop or two! It’s like being 15 again (although I’m not sure I really want that in ANY way other than this . . . and maybe pant size)!

  • Steroids are a helluva drug. As you may recall, my weekly chemo treatments for this first round are on Tuesdays. And typically, even though I sleep through most of the treatment (thanks to the Benadryl they give me beforehand), and then take another nap after I get back home (BECAUSE I CAN), I have no issues going back to sleep at bedtime.

And, OK, I still don’t have any issues going to SLEEP at bedtime . . . but for the past two Tuesdays, I have been popping back awake after an hour or two, and then staying awake ALL NIGHT LONG, thinking deeply about ALL THE THINGS, and feeling AMAAAAAZING. Like, “I could go for a run right now!” amazing (except I don’t, because it’s like 2 a.m.). Then I generally fall back asleep an hour or two before I have to wake up for the day.

I’m attributing this new midnight mania to the steroids they pump into me just prior to treatment. I guess my body’s decided to take advantage of them. So far, I don’t mind it (because I’m always in a great mood as I’m coming up with profound philosophical wisdom in my head all night), but eventually it might start to make me kind of a wreck on Wednesdays.

  • Alas, the once-sweet Benadryl is no longer a helluva drug. In counterpoint to the late-night euphoria provided by the steroids, I have also been experiencing bummer Benadryl naps. Previously, I’d knock out immediately and, aside from a few trips to the loo (after some experimentation with other areas of the chemo ward, I’m discovering the Bathroom Bay is my favorite), enjoy blissful oblivion for most of the treatment, typically waking about half an hour before time for Love Tank to take me back home. However, the other thing that’s been happening for the past two Tuesdays is that while I still sleep through most of the treatment once the Benadryl kicks in, the sleep is restless and wiggly. I get a lot of restless leg going on, which makes me flip and flop around in my recliner, because it’s hard to get comfortable. And the sleep itself is not so much the bliss of yore, but rather a kind of groggy anxiety.

I guess everything’s a trade-off.

At any rate, as I said, no real new medical news to report.

So instead, I’ve been focused on getting my blog moved over to this new domain, kindly purchased for me by Love Tank, who coined the moniker for me when I shaved my head.

Bonus content: The Story Behind the Name

Many, many years ago, when my life was full to overflowing with a small house I'd bought myself, an office-based day job, a coffee shop side gig, and a spoiled dog, I joined an online message board, sponsored by Petsmart, to talk with other dog people about my dog, Ezra, and the awesomeness of dogs in general. 

Per common practice on the site, my user name was Ezra's Mom (I mean, some people went rogue and called themselves ONLY by their dog's name, and sometimes people with multiple dogs would actually be bold and eschew the de rigueur naming convention so as not to play favorites, but for the most part, the only variations to the practice were for dog DADS—or for British people, who used "Mum" instead of "Mom" . . . but I digress). 

As I spent more time on the site and developed my first little cyber friendships, people on the message board began abbreviating my name, referring to me as EM. 

At some point during that time, my sister became pregnant, AND I WAS THRILLED. And because by that time, I'd developed some pretty solid friendships on the message board (some of us sent each other Christmas gifts!) I shared the news there and, knowing I was from Kansas, some clever cyber friend asked, "So can we call you AUNTIE EM now?" 

I loved it more than cheese.

So, when I decided to branch out and join another message board (this time without a single focus, such as dogs, but more just a space for super-smart, liberal nerdy types to showcase their oddity and intellect), guess what I chose for my user name? AUNTIE EM! 

And it was that user name that first captured the attention of Love Tank, who was lurking in the corners of the site. He thought perhaps I shared his enthusiasm for the Oz books by L. Frank Baum (and I had no such proclivity—which he learned the hard way when he tried name-dropping some of the more obscure book characters to woo me (see? oddity and intellect), and I had no idea what he was talking about—but somehow I snagged him anyway). 

Occasionally, over the years, Love Tank will still refer to me as Auntie Em; however, now that Ezra (that weird-ass dog) is long gone, and my sister's children are adults, I have a new "Auntie" moniker to roll with, at least for now. 

Ya gotta admit, it works.

Who loves ya, Baby?

Ohhh, yeah, so it’s probably obvious by now (especially for those of you who saw Love Tank’s post on Facebook a couple of weeks ago) that I am in full-on Kojak mode.

I’d gotten to a point where my clothing, pillow, and anywhere I lay my head to rest became instantly adorned with multiple strands of my hair. Love Tank joked that if I were suspected of a crime and the Fuzz needed DNA evidence to bring me down, all they’d have to do to get a sample would be to walk behind me for half a block in a mild wind.

Same, I guess, if someone wanted to put a spell or curse on me. But I digress.

Point is, my hair had begun falling out at an alarming rate—running fingers through it would get you a handful of it (“How does that not HURT you?” Love Tank wondered aloud), and a BRUSH? A brush would get you enough to knit a small dog sweater.

So I decided it was time for the hair to go — because of the rate at which my scalp seemed to be setting it free, yes — but more specifically because it needed washing, and there was no scenario in which I could imagine that happening without me winding up mostly bald, anyway: if I kept my weekly blow-out appointment, the force of the dryer would likely blow 70% of my hair off my head and directly into the face of the poor, innocent lady in the next chair—and if I were to try to wash it myself, the mere attempt to detangle my wet tresses in the shower would result in a drain full of Cousin Itt and a foggy mirror full of Gollum:

So a couple of weeks ago, after an uneventful dinner at home, my little family and I had a low-key Mama-shearing party. My older son had been QUITE eager to be the one to shave my head when the time came, and I was fine with that, but Love Tank astutely (and privately) pointed out that if I thought I might cry, I shouldn’t let the boy do it, because making his mother cry would only make him feel awful (and y’all remember age 14—there is no shortage of things to feel awful about, with those kind of hormones whipping around). So Love Tank ended up doing most of the honors.

Both of my younger dudes did, however, get to chop off quite a bit of the length before the shearing began in earnest. (Amazing how the YOUNGER-younger dude enjoyed participating in chopping my hair off, since HE’s the one who burst into tears when I told him, earlier in the day, that we were going to get to shave my hair off after dinner!)

Somewhat surprisingly, I did not cry, and I gotta say, I’m not mad at the results!

“Dude, you are going to be in SO MUCH TROUBLE when she sobers up . . . ” (I kid! Sadly, I haven’t had a drink since starting chemo. Sigh.)
Matchies!
Headed out for post-shearing shakes in my debut statement earrings from Kenya.

I’m pleased to announce that my bare scalp did not reveal any weird lumps, dents, or ripples—just a mole I already knew about, and a small scar I’d forgotten about, from stitches when I was a kid. So I don’t half mind being bald! It eliminates all the sturm und drang around trying to shower without ruining my blowout, and I can pretty much walk out the door to anywhere without having to check and see if I need to wrangle my hair first. I just rock a ball cap (because Love Tank, who has a few years of baldness experience on me, reminds me I need sun protection) or go straight-up Mr. Ms. Clean, as I have decided head wraps aren’t for me—and thanks to the deluge of statement earrings that have flowed my way from people I love, I think I’m kinda rockin’ this shit.

One thing that HAS been a bit surprising is the fact that my hair keeps growing back! I guess I thought that shaving it would somehow signal to my follicles that it was OK to just go ahead and give up production—BUT IT HAS NOT, so I still have to take an electric shaver to my pate every once in awhile, to get my Kojak back.

Hoops and dangles and bling! Oh, my!

No matter what complaints I may have about this whole adventure (eat my shorts, Benadryl), I can never, EVER complain that I’ve felt unloved! So many of you have sent messages and other goodies that have been carrying my heart and ass through this business in a way that leaves me—not gonna lie—feeling kind of arrogant about the number of amazing people who like me, but also humbled and grateful.

And when I said I wanted statement earrings, Y’ALL UNDERSTOOD THE ASSIGNMENT:

The ONLY earrings on this rack that I owned prior to diagnosis are the silver hoops at the top left.

And that’s not even ALL of them! I just bought this rack a couple of days ago, and it was basically inadequate from jump (good thing it was only 10 bucks). But at the very least, this will give my little dude—who gets to choose my earrings for outings (so far, he’s partial to the Kenyan ones at bottom left, the orange tasselly ones at bottom right, and the black stars on the bottom row)—a little more visibility to most of the options, which were previously jumbled up in a basket.

So thank you, accessory patrons, for hooking (yuk yuk) a bald gal up! Y’all are magical.

Costume Conundrum

NOW all I have to do is figure out how to parlay my new look into a Halloween costume! I mean, the options are legion:

  • Uncle Fester (of course)
  • Mr. Clean
  • Kojak
  • Daddy Warbucks
  • Yul Brynner
  • Sinead O’Connor
  • Shel Silverstein
  • Captain Picard
  • Caillou (although that could get me murdered, annoying little bastard that HE is)
  • Bull from Night Court

One friend pointed out that I could don a bike helmet, spend a few hours in the sun, and go as George from Alien Nation (which I kinda love) . . .

. . . however, thanks to another friend, who sent a couple pairs of funky sunglasses (in addition to a deluge of earrings) to complement my new look, I quite accidentally stumbled upon the best costume of all . . .

When the package with the sunglasses arrived, my elder dude brought them up to me in bed (I’ve been fortunate thus far to only have spent a couple of (baaaaad) days confined to the bed—but that doesn’t mean I don’t take advantage of this situation to camp out up there on most evenings after work). I unwrapped them and donned a pair, and instantly both of my kids cracked the F up. Having not seen myself yet, I picked up my phone, turned the camera on, and flipped it to get a glimpse of what I looked like . . . and what to my wondering eyes should appear but (where are my old-school Sesame Street people?) a Bip Bippadotta backup singer!

No, not the pink Mahna Mahna cow creatures—these guys.

TELL ME I’M WRONG.

I’m not going to go quitting my day job or anything, but I think I have a halfway decent side gig possibility, here.

Anyway, that’s what’s up for now: rockin’ the clean dome, settling into a groove with the treatments, and counting the days until November 1, when I’ll get my last Round 1 chemo treatment, and then commence a short break before starting the second chemo round. Is it weird that I’m planning a week off work during that time—to clean my house? I’m legit SO EXCITED about it. Those dog hair tumbleweeds behind the fridge are going DOWN.

As always, thank you for being here! It means more than you know.

The “little c” chronicles, Part 5: The times, they are a-changin’

So I thought this would be the (or, at the very least, the first appreciable) point in this ride where I’d stop having much to say. The mad whirl through all the kick-off procedures, subsequent procedures, phone calls, doctor visits, and emotional adjustments has slowed significantly, and now I should be settling into a kind of groove where every week would pretty much be the same, right?

Heh. Wrong. But more on that later. First . . .

This week’s news

News #1: Good Lookin’ Innards
The CT and bone scans apparently came out clear!

Well.

Clear of cancer metastasis, anyway; turns out I have some cysts here and there (some of which I knew about, some of which are fun new friends), and some “degenerative change” in my feet. But aside from benign internal lumps and old feet, the report showed nothing concerning! And as a bonus, it showed that my “nipples appear symmetric.”

Y’all know how I feel about symmetry, and that I’m a weirdo, so I’ll admit I took a little bit of pride in that.

Also, as I predicted, since there was no horrible news, I did not receive any “early warning” phone calls (which has thus far been the case; each time there’s been bad news, I’ve received a phone call earlier than I was even expecting results, based on the timeline I was given after the procedure). In fact, I didn’t receive any phone calls at all. Still haven’t. What I did receive were imaging reports through my online patient portal (which I may have begun obsessively checking roughly 17 minutes after the CT and bone scans were over) . . . I read them, and they seemed like decent news, but I am a not a doctor—nor do I play one on TV—so I relied A LOT on Google to parse those reports, and thereby found a couple of things that gave me pause:

  1. Renal cysts. These bad boys are a prime example of why one shouldn’t Google in the midst of a health crisis, because they fit under the category of Things That Are Most Likely Nothing But Then Again Could Take You Down Tomorrow. And the deeper you get down those Google rabbit holes, the faster your head spins.
  2. A “single tiny focus of marked activity” on one of my ribs during the bone scan. The report stated outright that it was likely “an artifact of radio tracer contamination,” (in other words, a drop of the nuclear goo that leaked onto the OUTSIDE of me during the process of getting it INSIDE me)—but also mentioned that it “may represent a focus of osseous metastatic disease.” (Again—Could Be Nothing, Could Be Imminent Doom.)

At this point, I gotta give a shout out to one of my middle school besties (whom we’ll call Dr. Awesome Pants unless she chooses to be otherwise identified), who grew out of her awkward years and into a career as an oncologist (I grew, too, and have a career, too, but somehow I’m still in my awkward phase). Thanks to the magic of the internet, we reconnected over a decade ago, and although we haven’t seen each other since one heady lunch we had when our kids were wee (and one of mine did not yet exist), we’re still connected through Facebook. And when she learned about my news (likely through Facebook, but to be honest, I never asked; coulda been a mutual friend, a prophetic dream, or a mystical semaphore), she contacted me with a bunch of experty questions. Through that conversation, she learned about the (then) upcoming CT and bone scans, and lovingly pestered me thereafter until I had results.

When I finally got them, I mentioned to her that they seemed like good news, but there were those couple of things. She asked me to send her screenshots of the reports so that she could try to reassure me. So I took her up on it, and she DID reassure me that this did, in fact, look like good news!

I expected to have the good news confirmed on Tuesday, during my pre-chemo visit with Dr. Cool-and-Calm, but it turned out he hadn’t received the reports yet. So technically, since my fancy doctor friend is not actually MY fancy doctor, I suppose the good news isn’t official—but again, typically when there’s bad news, there’s a phone call.

I’ve never been so delighted to feel so ignored.

News #2: Genetic Glory
The OTHER good news in recent days is that my genetic test results came back, and—WOO HOO!—”NO wonky BRCA gene, Baby!

When I received the report in the mail, the letter lied and said I’d been given the results by phone (which I had not, and still haven’t), but any anger or annoyance I could have mustered up about that little business was instantly swept away by the whoosh of relief I felt.

I’m still not 100% clear on how (or IF) this news may change my surgery options. In the beginning (before any other testing or scanning was done), I was told my choices, after chemo, would be either:

  • a lumpectomy with radiation, or
  • a mastectomy

. . . and that there wasn’t much difference between them in terms of the chance for recurrence, UNLESS it turned out I had the BRCA gene mutation (in which case a mastectomy would probably be the smarter move). At that point, however, we thought the cancer was ONLY in the breast; since the cancer has now been found in the rogue lymph node (which is becoming enough of a recurring character that perhaps IT needs a name . . . I’m taking suggestions), I’ve now been told that I’ll likely end up having radiation no matter what (so if I was leaning toward the mastectomy in order to avoid radiation, I shouldn’t count on that). So on balance, the positive lymph node and the negative BRCA test may just be a wash. In that case, I guess at this point I’ll just focus on hoping the chemo works as well as possible, and figure out what to carve out or cut off when I get to that bridge.

In the meantime, though, I’m taking great comfort in the fact that I have not unwittingly passed down a mutant bad-boob gene to my children. While it’s true that both of my children are (birth-assigned) boys, the gene could manifest in them as another type of cancer—or as breast cancer, since men can get that, too—and would put them at higher risk of cancer in general. In addition, the gene could pass through them to their own daughters (or sons). So just knowing I’m NOT the Typhoid Mary (er . . . Breast Cancer Bonnie?) in this situation is a tremendous relief in itself.

Anyway, that’s the news for this week. Now comes the babble . . .


Chemo Treatment #3: More like a (dirty) TRICKment

My third Chemo Tuesday started out with two breakfasts. Under orders to eat before each treatment, I made myself a bowl of oatmeal at home and scarfed it down, not realizing that when Love Tank came downstairs to drive me to my treatment, he was going to say, “I’m hungry. Are you hungry? Do you want to pick up food on the way?”

I mean. When you’re talkin’ to ME, “Do you want to pick up food on the way?” basically qualifies as a rhetorical question.

So I ate a second breakfast on the way, thinking the snacks and lunch I’d packed to bring along were probably going to go uneaten.

My third chemo treatment, however, “hit different,” as the kids say. It started out as usual: a visit with Dr. CaC (the only surprise there being—as I mentioned—that he hadn’t yet seen my CT and bone scan results), followed by my choice of empty recliners for the duration of treatment.

Again, I chose the area closest to the bathrooms, except this time, there was only one person sitting in the Bathroom Bay. I merrily commented that for a second there, I thought I was going to have the whole section to myself—but the man sitting there didn’t respond, so I figured he’d probably thought the same thing, and was disappointed by my intrusion upon his solitude. So I shut my flap and sat down, because I’m all about respecting a person’s solitude—or at least their desire to NOT make small talk with a stranger.

The nurse came over to start getting me hooked up, and mentioned that once the pharmacy delivered the goods, they’d start me on the pre-meds and Benadryl. Soon, another nurse arrived and said, “OK, we’re going to get you started on the Benadryl.”

“Oh,” I said. “I thought the pre-meds came first.”

She replied, “Sometimes we start with the pre-meds, sometimes with the Benadryl.”

And that was fine by me . . . until the guy next to me suddenly struck up a conversation RIIIIIIIIIIIGHT as they hooked me up to the Benadryl.

His story was fascinating: five years ago, he got laid off from his job. Faced with losing his health insurance (let’s take a moment of WTF here to contemplate how ridiculous it is that health care is tied so closely to employment in this country . . . and now back to our program), he decided to get a thorough check under the hood, so he did all the testing he was due for at his age—including a colonoscopy, whereby he found out he had stage 4 colon cancer.

The cancer had metastasized to his liver, so he underwent resections of both his liver and his colon. When I met him, he was on his fourth round of chemo (the five years since his diagnosis had involved periods of remission, the longest being 1.5 years). “You never really get used to it,” he said. But he did acknowledge how amazing it was for him to be sitting there five years after a diagnosis like that.

I’m sure there were more interesting details to his story, but in the middle of our conversation, the Benadryl started kicking in. As we talked, I found it harder and harder to say words like “remission” and “radiation,” and eventually just had to come clean:

“I’mmmm shorrrrrry; I know my shpeech iz startn ta slurrrrr. I feela Bennndrill kickin’ innn. I mightt fallaschleep onnn ya.”

The last thing I recall clearly is him telling me that he doesn’t let them give him Benadryl prior to treatment. “I hated it,” he said.

I recall thinking, as I drifted off to sleep, that that was a good reminder to self-advocate; which for me means not only SAYING no, but even being aware that I CAN say no in certain situations! Mind you, I got no plans to give up the Benadryl—Mama loves a good nap—but honestly, before that point, it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to TRY.

But I digress.

The point is that next thing I knew, I was waking up (having previously been woken up briefly, asked for my birthdate, and informed that I was being started on the Taxol drip) with a DEEP, GNAWING HUNGER—I mean, the cartoon kind, where every sentient being appears before you as a juicy roasted chicken. I sat up, dug into my bag, and ate every bit of the lunch I’d brought (a turkey sandwich, two string cheeses, and a container of watermelon chunks) before polishing off the tin of almonds and the bag of dark chocolate açaí blueberry balls I’d brought for snacks. Then I had nothing left to eat, but I was still hungry, so I chewed my way through half a pack of gum I found in my purse (it was leftover from my last dental appointment, when I realized I’d forgotten to brush my teeth before I left the house (I mean, I brushed that DAY, but I always brush right before heading to the appointment), and so stopped at CVS for a pack of minty freshness to chew en route).

And that was only the beginning. When, Love Tank came to pick me up and take me home, he asked if I was hungry and YES, I WAS. So I ate another lunch when I got home.

Then I ate dinner.

Then I went to bed, but woke up starving at around 11 p.m., so I ate a “midnight snack.”

Then I lay back down to try and sleep . . . and immediately my esophagus was ablaze with horrible heartburn (and I’ve never experienced heartburn IN LIFE outside of being super pregnant, therefore we don’t stock any sort of heartburn relief in this house). So there wasn’t much sleep to be had after the snack, but I dutifully got up to start my day at 6 a.m. on Wednesday . . .

. . . and the fun continued! I was hungry, hungry, hungry—but everything I ate made the heartburn worse and, as a bonus, made me feel like puking.

This was not how Wednesdays were supposed to go! Wednesdays were supposed to be primarily OK, with maybe a little weirdness (like, mild achiness or a teench of nausea that could be willed away by finding something else to focus on). Not like this gastrointestinal freak show!

Ultimately, I stopped trying to eat anything, took a couple of naps during the day, and managed to will my way to school pick-up time for the littler dude. But once he was safely home with his afternoon snack, I gave up on the rest of the day. Crawled into bed, canceled our weekly Wednesday dinner with my mom (which phone call resulted in a lecture from her—once I’d described the WWE-level smackdown happening within me between the insatiable hunger and the heartburn/nausea double-team that resulted anytime I tried to eat anything—about how I didn’t need to be eating too much anyway, because I don’t want to put on weight . . . moms, amirite?), and passed TF out.

When I woke up later that evening, the hits kept coming with another double-team disaster: a splitting headache (that laughed in the face of ibuprofen) coupled with deep-deep-DEEEEP muscle aches in my neck and shoulders.

Now basically pinned to the mat by this whole gang of WWE characters (because the heartburn and the nausea didn’t leave the ring when the headache and muscle aches arrived, oh, no, they did not), I was in no way able to get comfortable enough to fall back asleep, so I lay there for two hours, trying to deep breathe my way through it (while my kids periodically came into the room to show me stuff or ask what I was doing; eventually I became unable to maintain any semblance of a brave face, and so started responding (in a whisper, and without even opening my eyes), “Just trying not to puke.”)

They left me alone after that.

(The rule in our house, as it applies to our dogs, is that whoever (a) witnesses the dog puking, or (b) first discovers the pool of puke cleans it up, so I’m pretty sure my children didn’t want any part of seeing me puke (which, FTR, I never did), for fear the rule extended to me, too. Because unlike the dogs, who can’t rat them out when they pretend they didn’t even NOTICE the steaming pool of dog urp smack dab in the middle of the living room carpet, I’m a far more reliable witness.)

Thursday morning, the head and muscle aches were gone, but the gastro issues were still here to play. I made it halfway through the day at work (largely thanks to a pack of peppermint gum I received as part of a glorious care package from a friend I’ve known since first grade; I’m not typically a gum person, but despite having brushed my teeth, and having had nothing to eat or drink aside from little sips of water, I had a HORRIBLE taste in my mouth—so I plucked the pack from the pile of snacks on the kitchen island, and popped a piece in . . . and lo and behold, the nausea calmed TF down a little)—but eventually I gave up, made my apologies to my team, and crawled back into bed until it was time to pick up the little dude from school.

Thursday evening, when I felt the Ache Twins coming back to the party, I nearly cried; but the good news was that by that time, the heartburn was gone, and the nausea (thanks to the fact that I’d finally broken into the prescription nausea meds I’d been given for home use, and they were finally starting to kick in) was down to a dull roar.

Friday, the clouds finally began to break. I managed to eat some things (a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, a bowl of white rice for lunch) with no dire repercussions, and so started weaning myself off the nausea meds (because while I appreciated them when I needed them, they made me BURRRRRRRRRP like a sweaty drunk guy with three-day-old stubble; I was frequently emitting lip-rippling blasts like Predator with a bullhorn). In addition, I actually managed to accomplish some things at work for the first time since Monday. (My arrangement with my employer was to have Tuesdays off for treatment, and then possibly Fridays off, depending on how I felt, because up to this point, Fridays had been my “worst” days. But no previous Friday had ever brought anything near the misery I felt on Wednesday and Thursday of last week, and since that misery forced me to bail on work early both days, I went ahead and worked on Friday morning.)

My kids had a half day of school that day, and once they were both home (one by bus, one by mom), I took them out to pick up their lunch. Then I took a nap—more by choice than by absolute necessity—and as I drifted off, I recalled how a friend of mine once described the day after a 54-hour migraine:

. . . the best day ever . . . my dogs and husband are hilarious, the gym is a paradise, the QuickTrip parking lot is a delightful puzzle, the people at Ace Hardware are my best friends, every song on the radio is my favorite.

-my friend Mimi

In that moment, now that the abject horror of the past two days was starting to lift, I felt a soul-deep understanding of that feeling, that complete and abiding love for all the light-filled beings in the world once you come back into it from the darkened basement hovel in which you’ve been living for a couple of days. And that kind of day-after sunshine ain’t a bad antidote to the dark.

By the long weekend, although I wasn’t feeling 100%, I managed to make it to a movie (The Invitation), to a friend’s backyard for food and a firepit (most hilarious part: a “drum circle” consisting of my two children—and, at one point, my friend’s husband—channeling Tito Puente with plastic buckets), and also made it out for a motorcycle ride to try out a new Cuban place with Love Tank (my litmus test is always the Cuban sandwich, and this one was created according to spec (roast pork, ham, mustard, Swiss cheese, and dill pickles—that’s it!—no fancy aioli or pickle relish, and ya gotta PRESS it; don’t put it on some artisan French roll, dammit), but the cheese left a little bit to be desired; it was like the Velveeta version of Swiss).

Chemo Tuesday #4 Begins

So as I wrap this up, I’m back in the chair for treatment #4, a little terrified of what’s to come. On the bright side, I guess I now know I can survive whatever hell comes (I mean, not that I WANT to, but I can). And if nothing else, this past week was a lesson in giving myself permission to say NO when I needed to (or hell, just WANTED to, because what—someone’s going to argue with the bullhorn-burping cancer chick?). Oddly, though, I’m discovering that while I’m embracing the power to say NO to whatever the flupp I want, I also feel like there are more occasions when I want to say YES, because of that niggling need to do all the things I feel up to doing (even things that seem small and seemingly insignificant, like going to Target with Love Tank to check out the Halloween stuff)! It’s a weird place to be, but I’m rolling with it.

And thank you, as always, for rolling alongside.

The “little c” chronicles . . . let’s start calling them PARTS instead of Weeks, shall we? Part 4

It occurs to me these days that life rarely goes according to plan, and since the last “week’s” update was damn near TWO weeks’ worth of stuff, I’m going to dispense with my plan to update by “week” and start updating updating by “part,” since those can be big or small (tee hee).

So, Part 4 begins with some (not so good) news from Part 3. By the time I got this news, I was 75% of the way through the Part 3 update, so I decided that rather than re-jigger the Part 3 opening updates to include this, I’d add it to the to the TL;DR intro for Part 4, and here we are, so . . .

The most recent big news

It turns out that, contrary to what we originally thought—that the cancer was localized to the left breast—it is, in fact, also in a lymph node (at this point, it’s looking like just one, but I’m no longer making declarative announcements, because it turns out that’s a lot like making plans). The MRI (which occurred just a few days before I started chemo) showed a suspicious node just below my left armpit, so during my first chemo appointment, I was told I needed to come back in two days for an ultrasound, and a possible (which turned into a definite) biopsy of the rogue node. That biopsy showed malignancy.

What this means:

  • While there will be no change to the chemo/immunotherapy treatment plan at all, this news will change the eventual surgery, because now the surgeon will want to remove lymph nodes as well. (I’m already checking out cool compression sleeves, so I can be ready to rock a fake tattoo sleeve when the time comes.)
  • From what I can tell, this moves the staging of my cancer from 2A to 2B.

Staging is determined using three primary factors:

T: The size of the tumor
N: The involvement of nearby lymph nodes
M: Whether or not it has metastasized to distant organs

My cancer was initially clinically staged at 2A, because although the tumor was a decent size (~4 cm), there was no spread to nearby lymph nodes (or so we thought), and no metastasis (or so we THINK . . . see next bullet). Now, the size of my tumor AND the involvement of the naughty node move it into stage 2B, again, with the assumption that it’s just the one node, and the assumption that it hasn’t spread anywhere else—but in order to determine THAT . . .

  • I have now been required to undergo CT and bone scans to check for metastasis to other parts of my body—so far, no results yet from those (but by the time I get 75% of the way through THIS update, who knows?).

So here’s what’s been going down since we last talked:

Cast of Characters

Jovial Jim and Welcoming Winnie—the other patients I met during chemo round #2 (my elder son has proposed a sitcom called Friends at Chemo; I initially laughed and blew it off, but now I'm starting to think he's onto something).

Stinky Sally—a woman with very bad perfume, whom I encountered in a hospital waiting area.

Dr. Cool-and-Calm—my oncologist.

Love Tank—my husband.

Monday, bloody Monday

So, when I went in for my #1 chemo treatment, I learned that each week, they’ll need to take a blood draw for labs before the treatment can begin. (This was not necessary for the first treatment, because I’d had labs a few days prior, and since I hadn’t started treatment, it could be assumed that there hadn’t been significant enough changes to my health in the interim as to alter those results.) I was told that I had the choice of coming in the day before treatment each week for a blood draw, or doing the blood draw the day of treatment.

The primary benefit of doing the day-before draw is to save time; because the treatment can’t begin until the labs come back, doing a day-of draw would mean twiddling my thumbs for 1-2 hours, waiting for lab results before getting hooked up with the chemo (and no, I wouldn’t be allowed to leave and go get some pancakes or something during that time).

The primary benefits of doing the day-of draw are:

  • To save gas and a middle-of-the-workday dash to the hospital and back (this point is somewhat negligible, since the hospital is only about a 15-minute, mostly-highway drive from my house, which means less than 45 minutes out of my day, and probably only a couple bucks’ worth of gas—or less, if I take my motorcycle (but unlike Love Tank, I AM NOT ready to drive that thing on the highway, so I’d have to take a longer route, although it would be much more fun—but I digress), and
  • To save myself a needle poke, because for day-of draws, they’re able to use my port to get the blood, but for day-before draws, they go traditional and jam a needle into my arm.

While you’d think that second point alone would be enough to convince my needle-phobic ass to do the day-of draw, I chose the day-before option, mostly because the nurse who discussed it with me was REALLY pushing that as the way to go, promising a quick, “get in, get out” procedure. And so far, she’s true to her word: I arrived about 5 minutes before my 3 p.m. appointment on Monday, and was walking out the door by 3:02. So I suppose I’ll stick with this method going forward, as long as that kinda speedy service stays consistent. And as long as I keep getting THEEEEE most amazing nurse, who has now drawn my blood TWICE, and I BARELY felt anything either time! I may need to marry her. Will keep you posted.

Treatment #2sday

So unlike treatment #1, treatment #2 kicked off (as, I’m given to understand, will all treatments henceforth) with a visit with Dr. Cool-and-Calm. For this visit, he mostly just asked about my symptoms following the first treatment, and talked a little about the results of my labs from the day before.

As far as the symptoms went, I only had a few to report:

  • Vague nausea (never bad enough, IMO, to take the prescription pills I’ve been given to combat it)
  • Moderate achiness/stiffness in my neck, shoulders, and upper arms (bad enough to guzzle ibuprofen a couple of nights, and to try sleeping with my neck on a heating pad for one of them)
  • Mild fatigue (typically following an attempt to do some mundane thing—walking the little one to school, my lunchtime cleaning spree, etc.—at my “normal” level of functioning (i.e., walking at my typical fast pace once I ditch the shorty-legged kid at school, shoving big-ass furniture around to clean beneath and behind, etc.) rather than my current slightly-puny level of functioning).
  • A weird feeling that I can only describe as “feeling my heartbeat”—an occasional experience of . . . not pain, but just . . . being acutely aware of my heart glub-glubbing in my chest, which sensation is typically reserved for those times when that sucker is beating demonstrably faster than usual (like when I’m (a) running after a dog who’s hell-bent on dashing out onto a major street; (b) about to get sideswiped by the Culligan Man on the highway; or (c) getting an eyeful of Love Tank cruising Cool-Rider style down our street as he returns from work on his motorcycle)—only in this case, it’s beating at normal speed.

As for my lab results, they raised a couple of areas of mild concern:

  • Anemia. “That’s only going to get worse,” Dr. Cool-and-Calm cautioned (and, he mentioned, could be what’s causing the weird heartbeat thing), so per his advice, guess who’s now taking iron supplements (and—TMI WARNING—experiencing the concomitant black poo)?
  • Low potassium. This time, Dr. CaC advised handling that by way of my diet, but I went ahead and got some postassium supplements as well, so I don’t burn out on bananas.

Immediately following my short visit with Dr. CaC, I headed on out to the chair. Unlike last time (when a specific chair was reserved for me because, as a newbie, I needed to be in the line of sight of the nurses’ station), I got to choose which area (of three) and chair I wanted, so I chose a chair by the window, in the area closest to the bathrooms (recalling the ungodly number of times I peed during the first treatment).

I found instant camaraderie with the two other people in the Bathroom Bay. One, an athletic-looking middle-aged man who still had hair (and who was getting some sort of infusion via IV rather than a port) declared jovially, “This is the VIP section!” and the other, a slightly older woman with no hair (who was chatting amiably with the friend (sister? wife?) who sat, knitting, in a chair next to her recliner), called out happily, “Welcome!”

We didn’t talk much after that, but Jovial Jim got a lunchtime visit from his wife, who was equally jovial, and Welcoming Winnie did strike up a bit of conversation with me towards the end of my visit. I can’t remember how the conversation started, but she asked about what medications I was receiving, and warned me that the Taxol would make my hair fall out. From there, we discussed:

  • The scalp pain she experienced prior to her hair falling out (I was glad to hear there might be some sort of warning sign for me, because I’ve been getting weekly blowouts lately, and I’m always paranoid that my stylist is going to wind up with a fistful of my hair and freak tf out, so I’ve been waiting for some indication of when I should start warning them in advance).
  • How what’s even more difficult than the baldness is the loss of eyebrows and eyelashes (“I mean, they define your whole face,” Winnie astutely pointed out).
  • How we’re both choosing to eschew wigs, because they tend to look so . . . “wiggy.” And although more than one person has told me there are some wigs out there that look really good, I think about all the “bad wig” moments in big-budget movies and TV shows, and I figure that even though Love Tank and I make a pretty comfortable living, my comparatively meager wig budget is still likely to have me looking like this:

But I digress.

Sadly, I’ll only see Winnie every three weeks, as she’s on a 21-day chemo cycle (SEVEN HOURS each time, blecch). But she did give me a lead on a local shop with good head coverings (she said the bamboo ones, like the one she had on, are the softest), so by the next time I see her, maybe she and I will be sporting matchies.

At any rate, overall, the second round of chemo was FAST (only three hours this time, since I didn’t get the Keytruda (the immunotherapy drug) this round), far less pee-ful (fewer drugs mean fewer saline flushes in between), and a little less sleepy; I still got the Benadryl, but only napped for about 40 minutes or so on it, as opposed to the HOURS I conked out the first time. I was still a little tired when I got home afterwards, but overall, it didn’t seem to knock me on my ass for THE REST OF THE DAAAAAYYYY, so I was able to whip up dinner that evening (“Really?” my family looked at me, surprised (and, in the case of my elder kid, disappointed, since he’d been hoping we’d order Indian food) as I began browning pork chops) and enjoy it with my sweet little fam.

Procedurepalooza, Part 2: half a day of dye-ing and scanning

On Friday, I arrived at the hospital at 7:30 a.m., ready to be stuffed through some tubes. Although I had experience with MRIs previous to this, I’d never had a CT or bone scan, but I’m not claustrophobic, so I anticipated—or at least hoped—that they’d be equally satisfying experiences.

I was wrong.

GAH, they were awful. Well, OK, the scans themselves were not too bad, but all the stuff that has to be in your body for them to work would not even be worth the price of admission for an MRI (which, as you may recall, I LOVE).

Upon arrival, I was given contrast dye to drink for the CT scan. It appeared to be a big jug of red wine, but alas, held none of the fun. It tasted like pure ass (a man who sat nearby with his own jug of ersatz hooch to drink pointed out that at least this time it had some flavoring; apparently last time he’d done this, there had been no attempt to make it the least bit palatable), and it didn’t even get me to a state of wanting to kiss everyone (like a few glasses of wine will); instead, it skipped me straight through to the next-morning nausea, because the more of it I tasted at the back of my throat, and the more of it I felt sloshing around in my empty stomach, the more I thought I might hurl.

The last straw was when a (probably kind and compassionate) woman, who’d accompanied a patient to his medical appointment, sat down in the chair next to me (as I deep-breathed and silently pep-talked myself into taking one more, and then another sip of that swill)—and her perfume was so strong, and so horrid-smelling that I knew I’d yurp my gut fulla contrast dye straight onto her lap if I didn’t get the hell away from her STAT . . . so the second she and her cloud-o-fumes sat down, I picked up my purse, my jug, and the little styrofoam cup I’d been given along with it, and noped all the way over to the other side of the room. (I spoke in a long-ago blog post about how I’d reached the age of giving no fucks, but in this moment, I hit a new low in fucks to give, because I was legit ready to hurt every single one of an innocent woman’s feelings by telling her she smelled like Satan’s unwashed ass if she dared to call me out on moving away from her (which, I mean, why even would she, since 100% of her focus was probably on the health of the man she’d brought to the doctor—but still, I WAS READY); I wished a mufuggah WOULD.)

The good news, if I have to find some, about this whole scene was that I was provided two breaks from choking down the contrast dye:

  1. A couple of styrofoam cups in, a handsome young fella in scrubs came and fetched me for the insertion of an IV to inject me full of radioactivity for the bone scan (and I hate to admit it, but yes, the injection of radioactivity into my body was a welcome reprieve from drinking that stuff). I warned him, as I do anyone who’s about to jab me with a needle, that I HATE needles. For the most part, I’m sure it does nothing except make them afraid that I’ll start screaming or kicking or something, but I like to think it makes them try to be a little gentler with the stick of doom. This time, however, he asked (having already determined via a series of earlier questions that I have cancer) if I happened to have a chemo port. When I answered YES, he asked if I’d like him to just use the port to inject the nuclear goo (OK, that’s not what he called it) rather than inserting an IV. As a bonus, he told me the CT scan folks would be able to use the port as well, for the injection of THEIR goo. I was thrilled. He accessed my port, injected a couple of small vials of atomic serum, left the access tube in place for the CT people, and sent me back to the waiting room (where Stinky Sally no longer sat, but I could still smell her perfume).
  2. A short time later, a young woman with a killer nail polish color came to fetch me for the CT scan. I’d been told, when I was given the jug of Hell Juice, that I’d have about an hour to finish it before the scan, and here I was only 40 minutes in, with a good 12-15 ounces left to drink! I looked at her in panic, thinking she’d start chanting, “Chug! Chug! Chug!” and I’d have to finish it all at once (I glanced at her shoes to see if they were puke proof)—but instead, she looked at my jug and said, “You drank plenty—they gave you a LOT—so you’re good.” Then she took what was left in my jug, and my little cup, and tossed them into a nearby trash bin. And at that point, I DID actually want to kiss her. But mostly, I still wanted to throw up, so I didn’t take that chance.

Unfortunately, although the nice CT scan lady had saved me from the torture of the contrast dye, she was also the bearer of bad news: because the CT scan folks were unable to determine whether my port was a “power port” (after my port placement surgery, I was given a card that apparently contained this information, but heck if I had it on me), they could not, in fact, use it to inject their goo. So I had to get a damn IV inserted, anyway, which they used to inject me, during the scan, with what I can only describe as Instant Hot Flash. The nice woman had warned me that I’d start to feel warm, and that it would FEEL like I was peeing myself—but, she assured me, that would not actually be the case. Turns out she underestimated the feeling of warmth; I hadn’t worried too much about it, I mean, I LOVE Bikram yoga (in fact, this past winter, I bought a membership to Hotworx, because it’s the closest approximation to Bikram that’s available in these parts), so how bad could it be?

OH MY GOD, it was like all my internal organs morphed into the earth’s core, and were incinerating me from the inside—which did NOTHING to help my nausea; my only hope was to keep my mouth shut so the magma churning inside me wouldn’t come glurging out and melt my face. What she OVERestimated was the pee-pee sensation. I felt it, but barely, and it came nowhere close to making me believe I’d tinkled on myself. I guess the good news was that neither sensation lasted longer than about 12 seconds.

The other good news is that I only had to keep the IV in for the duration of the CT scan; both it and the access tube still attached to my port were removed immediately following the scan.

But the BEST thing that happened after the CT scan was that I got to EEEEEEEAT. Before the scan, when I was given the dye to drink, I was told that I could use the restroom, but that I was to have nothing to eat or drink from that point until the CT scan was completed. The bone scan came with no such requirements, so in the hour and change I had “free” following the CT scan and before the bone scan . . . well . . . I’d like to say I went and treated myself to a fancy, four-course meal at a place with at least three dollar signs in its Yelp profile, but (a) it was only 9:30 in the morning, and (b) Mama was HONgry, so in reality I whizzed to the nearest Wendy’s drive thru, ordered a #9 breakfast, and started eating it as soon as it was handed out the window to me, so it was GONE by the time I’d driven the two miles back to the hospital. The silver lining THERE is that it went a long way towards alleviating the nausea I’d been feeling all morning (and as a bonus, shoveling the food so quickly down my gullet helped scrub away the red dye stains I noticed on my lips and tongue when I first got into the car and looked in the rearview).

When I arrived back at the designated waiting room for the bone scan, I still had an hour to kill, so I conked out in my little chair for about 45 minutes. Then the handsome dude who’d injected me with the Area 51 brew came back to get me for the bone scan.

About 20 minutes (and a warm blanket) later, I was out of that tube and (at long last) on my way back home (where I crashed for the rest of the day). I’m told I’ll have results Monday or Tuesday. I’ve been checking my patient portal to see if any results have popped up early—and none have—but I’d like to think that this means my scans will come out clear. It seems like every time I get news before I’m expecting it during this process, it’s bad news. So maybe in this case, “on time” news will be good news. Cross your fingers.

This week's BONUS content: Livin' for the weekends.

So the pattern that seems to be emerging, in terms of how I feel with the chemo treatments, goes something like this: 

Tuesday: Treatment day. Feelin' good, but a little sleepy from the Benadryl. 
Wednesday: Feeling fine, maybe a little left of center, but not to a noticeable extent (in other words, if I didn't know I was fulla chemo drugs, I could easily blow off the weirdness I feel). 
Thursday: Feeling a little more pud, but still not too bad. 
Friday: Feeling noticeably gross now, but can still accomplish what I need to. 
Saturday: Starting to ride the upswing.
Sunday: Swinging up even more. 
Monday: Feeling easily 97.4% normal, JUST in time for the next treatment. 

(The thing that makes it challenging to assess how I'm feeling after chemo is that so far, I've been required to undergo additional, unpleasant medical procedures within a couple of days after each treatment—first with the lymph node biopsy (on a Thursday), and then with the CT and bone scans (on a Friday). And on those days, I end up feeling pretty bad, but I can't help thinking that without the added stress and physical effort required for those procedures, I wouldn't end up crashing so hard on those days of the week. But I digress.)

So for the past two weekends, I've actually been able to function relatively normally. The weekend after Treatment #1, Love Tank and I functioned as our "normal" RIDICULOUS selves and drove to Omaha, NE and back (three hours each way) in a single day, because several weeks prior, he'd discovered that a movie theater up there was going to be showing Grease 2 on Sunday, 8/21. And he loved me enough to not only TELL me about it (he could have taken that shit to his grave), but to buy us tickets. So off we went, and it was GLORIOUS. 

(No, no, not GREASE. Grease TWOOOOO, baby, Reproduction, Cool Rider, and Who's That Guy? all the way! The summer I was 13, I came down with a HORRIBLE case of chicken pox while I was in Texas visiting my grandparents, and was stuck inside for a substantial amount of time. During that time, I watched Grease 2 FOURTEEN times on HBO, and Michael Carrington retains a special chunk of my heart (even though he can't sing for shit). THIS time, however, was my first time seeing it on the big screen, and it was (somehow!) even MORE magical! Love Tank (and a larger-than-life Adrian Zmed sliding down a bowling lane on his knees and belting out high falsetto) is the gift that keeps on givin'.) 

This past weekend, we eschewed the ridiculous-variety "normal" in favor of some NORMAL-normal: our older son had a friend sleep over, which has become sadly rare as we've been trying to adjust to life as it is now, and prepare for life to come. He's been a real trooper, and hasn't even really asked to have any sleepovers at our house in forever (he used to ask damn near every weekend). But this weekend, he did, and I was feeling pretty good, so I said "Sure!" And being able to give him that little slice of "normal" in the midst of all this made me feel even better. 

As always, if you’re still reading, you’re BANANAS, but I can’t thank you enough for staying on this train. I can’t seem to figure out a way to respond directly to each of your comments on this blog (there used to be one, but it doesn’t seem to work for me anymore?), but I see, read, and love ALL of them . . . and you!

(Special shout out to those of you—you know who you are (and yes, there are more than one of you, which I love)—who’ve been thoughtful enough to ask if I need edibles, and to let me know you can get me the “good ones.” I will keep you on speed dial.)

The “little c” Chronicles, Week 3 (and then some): Oy, Whatta Week.

OK, technically, it’s been more than a week; my plan was to work on updates over the weekends, and post them on Sunday or Monday—but here it is Wednesday, and I’m just getting started, which means by the time I post this, it’ll be damn near time to make another update, according to my carefully-laid plans. In addition, since I’m behind schedule, I have even more to babble about than usual. So strap in, y’all. Be sure to take a potty break first. This sucker’s gonna be a long one.

BUT! Before I get too far in, here are the nitty-gritty updates for anyone who nerds out on details, or just likes having stuff to Google:

  • I was mistaken about the chemo drug I mentioned in the last post; the day after I posted last, I received a letter from my insurance company that the following drugs had been approved for my treatment, at my physician’s request:
    • Keytruda (immunotherapy drug; all the rest are chemo drugs)
    • Carboplatin
    • Taxol
    • Cytoxan
    • Doxorubicin
  • I was also kind of confused about the frequency of treatments. Initially, I was told (by Dr. Get-It-Done, at my initial post-diagnosis consult) that I’d get treatments every three weeks; then, I was told by Dr. Cool-and-Calm that my treatments would be weekly. Finally, at my “chemo education” meeting with Nurse Practitioner Patience-and-Grace (see box below), I learned that neither of those statements was a lie: for the first 12 weeks of treatment, I’ll go weekly—and for the second 12 weeks, I’ll go every three weeks, and receive a different series of meds. So here’s the (even nittier, grittier) breakdown:
    • First-round meds: Keytruda / Carboplatin / Taxol
    • Second-round meds: Keytruda / Cytoxan / Doxorubicin

And here are the treatment-tastic events (now with jump links!) that have occurred since my last post:

This Week's New Characters: 

Nurse Practitioner Patience-and-Grace: The NP responsible for sitting with me and my husband to give us the down-and-dirty details about my treatment plan, what to expect, etc. 

Princess Erudite: The genetic counselor. 

Dr. Eagle-Eye: The radiologist on my care team. 

Nurse Poke-n-Prod: The kind and friendly, but ham-handed anesthesiology nurse who unfortunately had to insert my IV for port placement surgery. 

Love Tank: My husband. And OK, he's not new (had him for two decades), but the nickname is.

The Genetics consult
Subtitle: Blood vs. spit: the great internal skeeviness debate

Two Mondays ago, I had a phone consult with a very kind genetics counselor. I’m not sure how heavily she’ll feature in future posts, so I’m not sure if she needs a name or not, but she was able to explain quite a bit about the kinds of factors she considers during a genetic consult, to determine a patient’s likelihood of inheriting a specific health-related gene, so I’ll call her Princess Erudite. At any rate, there are only a couple of key takeaways from that conversation:

  1. Yes, based on the aforementioned factors, I should be tested to determine if I’ve inherited the BRCA gene.
  2. Yes, I am ridiculous, because once she told me about the testing options, I realized that both of them were going to be problematic for me: the first option is a blood draw, and needles (particularly when they’re sucking something out of me as opposed to putting something in) make me cry; the second is spitting into a tube, and saliva makes me puke.

True story: a few years ago, my mom decided to learn more about her heritage with one of those Ancestry kits. I happened to be in her apartment when she was filling the tube with saliva, but she was in a different room, so I was just FIIIIIINE. Until she suddenly and unexpectedly appeared before me, wielding her little tube-o-drool and asking, “Do you think this is enough?”

I puked.

And before you ask, YES, I have taken, and taken my elder son to get, a series of drive-thru COVID tests, and I made it through those incidents without puking, but GAH, it was hard. (And when I had to take my son, I legit stepped OUT of the car and walked around until he’d filled his tube and returned it to the attendant. The struggle is real.
)

I was already leaning toward a blood test, because throughout this whole process, I’ve been tolerably poked and prodded enough to think maybe my “needle skeeves” were coming to an end (they are NOT, it turns out—but more on that later); however, when Princess Erudite asked if I had any blood draws coming up (suggesting that they could just slurp out an extra vial for genetic testing while they’re at it), I became determined to orchestrate a two-for-one blood draw. (Meanwhile, my husband was listening to my conversation, shaking his head, and asking, “Why don’t you just do the spit?” But y’all know I own my weirdness.)

The Echocardiogram
Subtitle: Taking the little wins where I can

The echocardiogram procedure was largely uneventful; it went smoothly, and I had the nicest conversation with the tech, who happens to live where I live, and who ALSO has a child starting high school this year. (She’s a little concerned about her kid socially, as 8th grade was apparently really hard—but we had a great chat about how middle school sucks for 92% of us, and high school is where you really hit your stride: find your people, find your fun, make your moves . . . And yes, I did wonder how she was managing to do her job and have such an in-depth conversation with me at the same time, but overall, I trusted her, and actually had kind of a great time talking to her.)

The most important bit of news about the echocardiogram is that it showed I have good heart function—which, if you know my family history, is nothing short of a small miracle. I’ve told easily 70% of the medical professionals to whom I’ve spoken during this whole show so far that for most of my adult life, I’ve been worried about my HEART, not my breasts! I’ve always thought that if I should develop a serious health issue, my heart would be the problem. So my fear was that the echocardiogram results would show an issue that would (a) be . . . well, an ISSUE, aside from all that’s already going on, and (b) prevent me from getting the most effective treatment to kick little c out of my boob.

BUT THAT DID NOT HAPPEN.

And just like when I learned that my cancer was at Stage 2 (rather than at Stage 4 like I feared), this news made me want to kiss all the people.

Procedurepalooza: MRI and port placement surgery
Subtitle: A naptastic day

Thursday was a doozy. As you may recall, my initial MRI was denied by my insurance carrier, and Nurse Navigator Peppy scrambled to get me in for one at an insurance-approved independent facility. Well, the new-location MRI just happened to get scheduled for the morning of the same day when I’d be having port placement surgery in the afternoon. (Honestly, I can’t recall which was scheduled first, but as eager as I was to get this treatment party started, it’s not like I was going to postpone either one.)

The key news that came out of the MRI procedure is that MRIs have not lost their allure for me. I LOVE THEM, yes, I do. They are pure sleepytime magic for me. You know those weird babies who can only be lulled to sleep if their parents put them in their car seats on top of running clothes dryers filled with sneakers and footballs? I would, apparently, have been one of those babies (except for the fact that there WERE no car seats when I was a baby), because I can snooze through an MRI like a Disney princess under a curse. I had doubts about this one, however, because when I told Dr. Get-it-Done at our initial consult how much I love MRIs, she warned me that a breast MRI required weird positioning that may not provide me the sweet slumber I anticipated.

As it turns out, though, Mama got one helluva nap in that bad boy, even like this:

Image credit: Mayo Clinic. I think they got a good likeness of me, don’t you?

After my MRI nap, I headed straight to the hospital for the port placement. The procedure was scheduled for 3 p.m., but I was told to arrive at 1, in order to undergo all the prep. As it turned out, the prep time was condensed, because my port surgery got moved up on the docket (due to another surgery that had to be postponed). So pretty much as soon as I was taken back and gowned up, I was bombarded by people asking questions: the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, a couple of nurses, and a student. There was some confusion about what was happening, because people on the downstream end of the surgery-prep process had been told to come and do their thang—but then they’d arrive behind my little curtain and see that some of the upstream parts of the process still hadn’t been done. So there were a lot of apologies to me about the confusion (and about the fact that Love Tank would no longer have time to come and be with me before the surgery), but honestly, I wasn’t pissed; I was just glad to be able to get the whole thing over with a little sooner.

The only thing I was kinda maddabout—as I hinted at earlier—was that JUUUUUUST when I had begun to think I was getting over my abhorrence of needles (having had a number of blood draws since climbing aboard this train, and an IV insertion earlier that day for the MRI dye) . . . JUST when I’d started to think that dammit, when this was all over, I might just start donating blood . . . I underwent a horrid IV insertion by Nurse Poke-n-Prod who, upon learning about my issues with needles, promised, “If you let me do this, I will give you really good drugs.” I told him he had a deal, again thinking I was getting over this needle thing, anyway, so really, “letting [him] do this” would be a small price to pay.

I was wrong.

He made two prolonged and PAIIIIIIIIINFUL attempts to insert the IV into my right arm, at one point even speaking directly to my vein (“Come ONNNN,” he pleaded, “don’t play me like this!”), then cursing (“Dammit!”) and finally huffing, “It popped!” before withdrawing the needle, scrubbing my right arm rather roughly to wipe up the blood (at least I assume that’s what he was doing—hell if I was going to look) and trying again (successfully, thank Jesus) in my left arm.

For THAT I could have used an apology.

But he did keep his end of the bargain! As I was wheeled down the hall toward the OR for the port placement, I remember Nurse Poke-n-Prod walking alongside me, saying, “You’re going to feel the anesthesia start to kick in . . . ”

And the very last thing I remember was staring up at the ceiling as it whizzed past, and responding, “Oh, yeah. Yeah, I DO feel that . . . ”

Next thing I knew, I was waking up in a room full of snoozing patients, there was vague pain near my right clavicle, and someone was offering me ice chips.

Within about an hour, I was dressed and leaving the hospital with Love Tank. I’d actually planned to attend the Back to School night at my elder kid’s high school that night after arriving home; I’d even asked the anesthesiologist—after she told me that I’d be “legally intoxicated” from the anesthesia for 24 hours following the procedure—if it would be possible, and she said it likely would. However, I woke up from the procedure in enough pain that I accepted the prescription pain pill I was offered before being released . . . and that was all she wrote. I arrived home, apparently said some things to my children that they didn’t understand (all the while convinced I was presenting as logical, articulate and clever) and then shuffled straight up to my bed, where Love Tank brought me some Arby’s chicken fingers (I did not get a Jamocha shake) and then headed off to the high school as a solo parent. (This probably worked in my high school freshman’s favor, given the impression I’d likely have made on the parents of his future friends at that point.)

On Friday morning, I woke bright and early (having passed out at roughly 6 p.m. the night before, the chicken finger trash still next to me in bed), and was having coffee when my elder dude came downstairs.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Better,” I replied, referring primarily to the port location pain.
“You sound a lot better,” he responded—and then, in response to my quizzical look, proceeded to entertain me with a one-man imitation of my homecoming the night before. Apparently, in addition to saying a bunch of things that were not actually words, I was also walking like a drunken, geriatric hunchback with a bad knee.

I spent most of Friday hanging out at home, riding out my 24 hours of legal intoxication, and then went to get my hair blown out in the late afternoon (I mean, as long as I’ve got it, right?). Overall, not a bad way to spend a Friday.

BONUS CONTENT: A surprise weekend trip to the coast!

Although this may sound like some spontaneous, romantic venture, it was not. Well. It WAS spontaneous, but otherwise very stressful and sad. 

On Friday evening, just before dinner, I got a call from a long-distance friend who'd found herself in crisis. And while I am 94.2% sure I'd have done the same thing if my own life were going along "normally" right now, the fact that it's NOT made me take that whole "Do it now, while I can" philosophy to a whole new level. So I booked a hotel a few miles from her house, and booked a red-eye flight for Saturday morning to get there. 

It should be noted at this point that I did ask my friend, when she called, if she wanted me to come out there, and she said NO, that's she'd be OK (for now). So for a hot minute, I cooled my jets and decided not to go. But Love Tank pointed out (correctly) that I might regret it if I didn't do all I could to be there for her, and suggested that I book a hotel, fly out there, and then just text her and say, "I'm here if you need me, but if not, that's fine, too." 

So that was my plan—but then, as my plane was taxiing to the gate in her state, I turned on my phone to let Love Tank know I'd landed safely . . . and my friend called me. 

"I figure it's OK to call you early," she began, "since I know you have kids, so you're probably up early." 

"Ummmm," I replied, preparing for her to tell me to go straight to hell, "I'm up early because I just landed at your airport." 

My plan had been to Uber to my hotel, drop my bags, and maybe get a pedicure or something until check-in time, and THEN text her once I'd gotten settled in my room. Instead, I ended up Ubering from the airport straight to her house, where I got to spend most of the day with her. 

Ultimately, my visit did end up being a little intrusive for her, because she needed time alone to process and be a mess and take care of some stuff on her own—which I totally understood (nobody EVER has to explain to me the need to be alone). And it was really hard for her to look at me with fresh port surgery bandages on my neck without getting even more upset, which I also understood. So aside from that one day, I didn't see her, but honestly, I went there fully prepared to not see her at ALL, so getting to see her face and hug her (after literal YEARS) did my soul some good . . . 

 . . . as did my last evening in the hotel, which was an embarrassment of gifts from the universe: DINNER, which I walked to pick up nearby; and the hotel BED, which was where I ate the dinner ALONE, which meant there was nobody there to prevent me from watching the movie TWISTER on the hotel television. 

Turned out I needed that more than I knew. (I think Dusty may very well be my favorite fictional character in the world.)

I can only hope my surprise visit did my friend's soul more good than harm. 

I arrived home on Monday evening, in time to get a decent night's sleep before the beginning of treatment on Tuesday morning.

First chemo treatment
Subtitle: More naptasm and a pee-pee-palooza

On Tuesday, I arrived for my first treatment like I was moving into the place. Love Tank bought me the best bag EVER (I’d hinted about it for Christmas, but he surprised me with it a few days ago):

It sparkles inside, yo.

. . . and I stuffed it with all the goodies I thought might possibly come in handy for a 4.5-hour stint in a recliner:

  • two blankets
  • an iPad, which included a stack of Kindle books
  • a notebook and pen
  • a 32-oz bottle filled with water
  • a PB&J (I’d planned to pick up fancier snacks over the weekend, but instead I skipped town)
  • extra socks
  • a sweater
  • my purse (hey, it’s a big bag), which included my phone
  • chargers for all the things

. . . and most importantly, my laptop, because I had this grand idea that I was going to work on my next blog post during the treatment.

THAAAAAAT didn’t happen. First of all, I slept through most of it, because of the Benadryl they gave me as part of the cocktail of pre-meds before the chemo. Second of all, even through my sweet, sweet Benadryl snooze, I had to visit the loo approximately 7,412 times, due to the combination of that 32 oz. of water I drank and the bags of saline getting pumped through me between medications—and I was required to call a nurse for assistance getting out of the recliner each time, because of the effects of the Benadryl (by the end of the treatment, I felt like I should leave a tip).

So next time, although I’ll probably still bring the bag (because come on—it’s AWESOME), I’m going to just go ahead and plan for the nap and the peeing.

The big news from that visit was that while I was still getting the pre-meds (and before I got the Benadryl, so unfortunately, I know it wasn’t a dream), I got a visit from Nurse Navigator Peppy, to tell me that although the imaging center that had performed my MRI had reported no concerning “spots” anywhere outside the breast tumor we already know and hate, the radiologist on my care team (Dr. Eagle-eye) spotted a suspicious lymph node during the team’s review of the images at my “breast conference” (which I’m sure sounds more fun than it is, but I wasn’t invited, so what do I know?). So I would need to return to the hospital on Thursday (before I got too far into the chemo treatment) for an ultrasound of my left armpit, possibly followed by a biopsy of that lymph node, depending on what the ultrasound showed. None of this, she said, would affect my chemo treatment, but the outcome of these tests could affect what Dr. Get-It-Done would do for the post-chemo surgery, because she might choose to remove that lymph node, if it proved to be problematic.

She told me I had a 10 a.m. ultrasound appointment set for Thursday, and that if, based on the ultrasound, a biopsy was deemed necessary, it would be performed immediately following the ultrasound.

Biopsy #2
Subtitle: Well, shit.

So I’ll cut to the chase (especially since I’ve basically already let loose the spoiler): contrary to my fervent hopes, I ended up having a lymph node biopsy on Thursday. But I kind of had some hints that I would, even during the ultrasound beforehand, because that procedure was being observed by a student, so the ultrasound tech was doing more talking than they typically do, for the purposes of instruction. As the tech began sliding the warm-gelled wand over my armpit, she’d say, “Here’s a normal lymph node . . . another normal one . . . ” and then she reached a point where she stopped saying that. At that point, she expressed some confusion about whether the node in question was a single node, or two snuggled up together, but she spent a LOT of time in that area, and basically let it slip that this was the rogue node. At that point, my hope that I wouldn’t need a biopsy was already fading—but it disappeared altogether when she said, “Doctor’s going to want—” before remembering that there was a patient attached to that armpit, and techs aren’t supposed to share any type of diagnostic info with patients, and correcting herself: “He MAY want to biopsy this one.”

But of course I knew. There was no “may.” I was gettin’ some tissue sucked out.

So I braced for another biopsy, and focused on the positive: it was a single lymph node; the radiologist on my care team is evidently fantastic, since he caught it on the MRI when the imaging place didn’t; and above all, warm blankets. (Honestly, the highlight of all these medical procedures is the availability and generous offering of warm blankets. My advice? Never turn down a warm blanket.)

The biopsy itself was quick, but this time it kinda hurt! Dr. Eagle-Eye numbed the area with local anesthesia, of course (and based on previous experience, I expected that part to hurt), but when he started taking tissue samples (five in all), I discovered I could feel it happening (which was not the case during the previous biopsy on the breast). I spoke up after he took the third sample, and said, “Was I supposed to feel that? Because I did.” The tech assisting him asked if it hurt, and I said no, but unlike last time, I felt . . . something. She said I WOULD feel pressure, but shouldn’t be feeling sharp pain, which I wasn’t. Even with the final two sample extractions becoming increasingly uncomfortable, I reasoned that (a) they didn’t hurt nearly as much as another numbing injection would, and (b) I sure as hell didn’t want to stop the show this close to the end . . . so I endured. Walked out a little sore (and shaky, just like before, BUT thanks to this team of practitioners, who told me that I was being injected with lidocaine and epinephrine to numb the area, I now suspect it’s the epinephrine injection—not my charred and crackling nerves—that’s making me shaky after these procedures), but nothing a little time and Tylenol couldn’t fix.

I was told when I left that I could expect a call with results early next week . . . but in breaking news, I got the call earlier today: the biopsy “showed tumor in that lymph node.”

Obviously not what I was hoping to hear, but right now, I’m clinging to the positives listed above, in addition to the fact that though this news does move the stage of my cancer from 2a to 2b (since there is now a lymph node involved), I’m still within Stage 2.

So that’s where we are as of right now. If you’re still reading, OMG, you’re NUTS, but I love you for it. I had more I’d planned to talk about for this post, but I have blabbled enough, so I will save it for next time. Before I go, however, I will address a couple of things you may be wondering about:

  1. How am I feeling? Pretty good, actually; it’s Friday night, and the days between Tuesday’s treatment and now have been somewhat of a rollercoaster—but like, a kiddie rollercoaster, so no huge rises or dips. I’ve been feeling slightly left-of-center, which I’ve managed to muddle through by trying to stay hydrated and moving. I’ve been joining Love Tank to walk our littler dude to school each morning, and that kinda wipes me, but getting up and doing little things (dishes, laundry, etc.) during the day (plus indulging in a short nap or two) helps keep the mild fatigue and vague nausea mostly at bay.
  2. Um . . . why “Love Tank”? I suppose you could think of it in a couple of ways, regarding what my husband has been for me over the past month or so: a tank full of love and patience that hasn’t yet run out through the gazillion medical appointments he’s attended (serving as the dutiful note-taker each time, and missing a shit ton of work)—or, the way I see him: as a giant, armored vehicle-o-love, protecting me, a tiny, freaked-out kitten in the road, from all the potential danger coming at me. I can’t express how much safety I feel throughout this whole thing, knowing he’s rolling along beside me with his big gun out (not THAT one—clean your mind). My other advice, besides always accepting the warm blankets, is to get yourself a Love Tank for moments like this.

    As always, y’all are rockstars for riding this train with me.