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!