Y’all thought I gave up on this blog, didn’t ya? In fact, I did not; rather, I have just been doing ALL! THE! THINGS! that make up Summer With Children . . . and, OK, a few things that don’t. But more on that later.
As far as my health is concerned, I feel . . . NORMAL. Which is actually fantastic, from my perspective, because how long has it been since I’ve felt like a regular person? But I’m experiencing very few side effects from the chemo pills, so I’m not nauseated, my hair is coming back (which is a blessing and a curse, because I’m now at a stage where if I put on a muumuu and some chunky jewelry, I could easily be mistaken for Mrs. Roper), and although I can still get wiped out after a LOT of activity, the fatigue from radiation has dissipated enough that I’ve actually re-joined the Y with the intention of trying to start running again, for the first time in more than a year. Which ain’t gonna be pretty, but on the bright side, I won’t have to worry about my boobs bouncing around.
And speaking of THOSE bad boys . . . I’m still rocking only one, because my skin is still healing from radiation, but this week, I’m hoping to get the other expander filled and achieve some symmetry.
And speaking of radiation . . .
HOLY TWERKING JESUS WITH A UNIBROW, that business TURNED ON ME like you would not believe.
As you may recall, the last time I posted, I was sailing through radiation with relative ease. I’d show up every morning at 8, many times in time to have a pleasant conversation with the dude whose appointment was just ahead of mine (unfortunately for HIM, his radiation required a full bladder, so when he came out and made a beeline for the bathroom, I knew it was my turn). Then I’d don my little gown, grab a wintergreen Life Saver from the candy dish at the desk, head into the treatment room, and lie, listening to whatever music they piped in for the day (usually late-70s to early 00s), and by the time I’d finished my mint, it was time to go. In short, the treatments were quick and cozy, and I was experiencing no pain or peeling.
HONEY, THAT ALL CHANGED.
Oh, I made it through the last treatment (during which, instead of the usual vintage pop, the techs piped in Pomp and Circumstance) relatively OK; earlier that week, I’d started peeling a TINY bit, and experiencing a wee bit of discomfort, but all of it was easily ignorable with the least bit of distraction (and we all know my life is replete with distractions), so when I met with the radiologist after my final zap, I told him all was well.
He warned me that it likely wouldn’t stay this way—that it would, in fact, get worse before it got better. And he told me that if the pain got too bad, I should call him and he’d prescribe pain meds.
And I thought, “Psssshhhhhht! Whatever.”
I mean, after my surgery, I’d gotten by just fine on Tylenol, and hadn’t bothered with any of the hard core meds (read: opioids) I’d been prescribed—so although I didn’t say it aloud to the radiologist, I was all, “Um, if I can get through a double mastectomy without pain meds, I THINK I can handle radiation pain.”
(Just cocky AF, y’all.)
It . . . was shocking. I’ve told anyone who’ll listen that it was easily the WORST part of this whole “adventure.” Worse than chemo, worse than surgery . . . worse than being forced to listen to “We Built This City” over and over again for 48 hours straight (which has NOT been a part of my cancer treatment, thank God, but it’s on par with being poisoned and cut open).
Not only was I in PAIN! PAIN! PAIN! that required me to be as still as humanly possible in order to manage it, but my skin went through every stage of grief and did two laps through each circle of hell. It turned black. It turned scaly. It peeled off, revealing bright red, raw, sticky, occasionally bloody skin underneath. THAT tightened up and scabbed over. And through it all was just never-ending pain. But finally, after more than two weeks of this business (and after I’d developed a ridiculously expensive ointment-and-bandages habit), I woke up one morning and, while I still felt some discomfort, the abject pain was gone and the skin was starting to look a little less like I passed out for six hours on a bed of hot coals.
I know that everyone’s experience with cancer treatment is different, and I have tried to keep that in mind when people (typically people whose loved ones have just been diagnosed) have asked me for any wisdom about having cancer. But let me tell you what, the next time someone asks, I’m going to say this: Above all, do whatever is necessary to stay alive, but if there is any possible way you can avoid radiation (say, by having a mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy—an option I was initially offered, before the discovery of that rogue malignant lymph node), DO THAT SHIT. It could save you a world of pain.
Or, you could just be less of a dumb ass than I was, and TAKE THE PAIN MEDS. But I did not, because every day I was convinced that tomorrow would be the day it all started to turn around.
That day ended up taking almost three weeks of pure misery.
But on the bright side, if someone ever threatens me with a flaming machete that squirts lye and hot sauce, I’ma be like, “COME AT ME, BRO. I’VE BEEN THROUGH WORSE.”
But I digress.
Getting back to the boobs: the news there is that my reconstruction surgery (which entails replacing my current expanders with actual implants) is scheduled for December. And the good news is that, because I long ago met my out-of-pocket maximum for this year, the installation of them new boobies will be 100% covered by insurance. Merry TITSmas to me!
Papa, I don’t think I said I love you near enough
In NON-medical news, I have just come back from a trip which, last year, went extremely differently for me: the trek to fetch my elder dude from a week-long sleep-away camp in Minnesota.
Like last year, Love Tank drove solo to Minnesota to drop the boy at camp, while I stayed at home with Dude the Younger, and then all three of us piled ourselves in the car a week later, to pick up our missing piece.
Unlike last year, however, I was not completely freaking out for the roughly 36-hour trip.
You see, last year, the day we set off to pick up the kid from camp was the day AFTER I got the news that I had cancer.
More precisely, it was the day after I got ONLY the news that I had cancer; I was given no other information, about what stage, what (if any) the treatment plan was, what my chances were . . . NUTHIN’. All I knew was that I had cancer—and an appointment with an oncology surgeon in A WEEEEEEK.
So last year when I made the Minnesota trip, I was not entirely sure it wouldn’t be the last time I’d pick up my kid from camp. The last time I’d go Minnesota for ANY reason. Hell, the last time I’d take a trip ANYWHERE.
I recall very little about last year’s trip, aside from a few snippets:
- Meeting a woman in the hotel (over continental breakfast), a Minnesota native who’d traveled back to the area from her new(-ish) home in Florida, to spread her late husband’s ashes;
- My elder son’s sadness about leaving camp (which, when you’re holding back tears of your own, is not easy to handle, but I remember being also weirdly happy, because he’d clearly had a great time);
- Getting stuck in traffic, in the rain, and driving (SLOWWWWWLY) past a semi truck in the median, engulfed in sky-high flames (later, once I figured it’d have hit the news cycle, I frantically Googled to find out if the driver had survived—which s/he had, and which brought me a rather astonishing (and bawly) level of relief, considering it wasn’t anyone I loved or even knew); and
- Love Tank at some point having to turn off Dan Fogelberg, because damn that deep-feelings-crooning bastard for bringing us both close to tears with “Leader of the Band.”
Aside from these snippets, most of my memory of that trip centers on the feeling of having taken a lot of things my life for granted.
Kansas, she says, is the name of the star
And I mean, to be honest, hell, I’m 53, so in a few weeks’ time, I won’t recall much about this year’s trip, either, except that the vibe was totally different, because rather than freaked the [BLEEEEEEEEEP] out about all the things I’ve taken for granted, I just felt supremely . . . I don’t know what.
Grateful, to be sure, and fortunate, of course, but mostly I just felt really . . . “HUH. WOW.”
Like, suddenly everything was made utterly fascinating by the fact that at this exact time last year, I had no idea if I’d still be around by now to see/experience it. So all the things I saw/experienced on this trip became small miracles: wind turbines, fish tacos, my younger kid’s teeth, hotel soap, Aretha Franklin’s version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Raisin Bran, my older kid’s hair, rest stop bathrooms, chocolate shakes, hungry alpacas, air conditioning, Love Tank’s arm freckles . . . everything.
And while most of these are things I’ve experienced on the regular over the past year, it was like I’d just gotten hurled through a tornado and deposited in Oz, where everything was suddenly in technicolor.
So basically, Oz was just me tripping balls about a bunch of things that have been part of my life all along.
(Side note: was I the only kid who thought Dorothy should have clocked Glinda in the face when she found out she had ALWAYS had the ability to get back home, and didn’t have to go through all that flying monkey shit?)
At any rate, I think what it all boils down to is that at least one mystery is now solved: last year, I wondered if I’d still be here right now . . .
. . . and look at me, motherfuckers. HERE I AM. Pass me the Raisin Bran. That shit is amazing.
So what’s next?
Well. I’m not actually officially done with treatment yet; I still have a couple more rounds of immunotherapy to go, and will continue taking the chemo pills through September, and of course I still have to get my new boobs. But then, I dunno. I mean, as much as I’m aware that this is not likely to be my last rodeo with cancer, I kind of feel like things have officially been un-paused, and I can start planning things again, instead of just taking things day by day.
So to start: next year, we’re talking about sending BOTH boys to Minnesota for camp; Boy the Elder as a camper for one week, and a CIT for the next, and Boy the Younger as a camper during his brother’s CIT stint.
We’ll see what I’m tripping balls about THEN.
Great God in Heaven, you know I love you
In the meantime, you may be wondering what I’ve been up to since we last spoke. The answer is, like, EVERYTHING. But if I had to throw a theme on it, I’d say the recurring narrative has been about spending time with awesome-ass people.
To start, WAYYYYYYYYY back in April, I finally hit the runway with a group of phenomenal folx to raise money for Bra Couture KC!
It was so much fun. And so nerve wracking. But fun.
The day started at around noon, when the models gathered at the event site for lunch. We spent the afternoon noshing, chatting, rehearsing, and napping (OK, maybe that part was just me, but you throw me in a room full of recliners, I’m going to do what I do best) while we took turns cycling through hair and makeup (my makeup artist—who put more makeup on me for one night than I’ve worn in the last 25 years combined—pulled out a trick I thought had died with the popularity of Kajagoogoo: once she had all my makeup on, she blasted me in the face with aerosol hairspray to “set” it).
All the while, we were pampered like royalty: as we ate lunch, we were greeted by a couple of last year’s models, who’d come bearing CRAZY-generous gift bags for each of us, containing clothing, jewelry, beauty products, wine (and concomitant tumblers), restaurant gift certificates, winery gift certificates . . . swag for DAYS. In addition, each of us got a quick click session with a professional photographer once we were runway ready. And finally, each of us had an assigned “gopher” (who was assigned to one or two other models as well) to make sure we had what we needed: tissues, water, help getting dressed, you name it. Mine showed me pictures of her son with his adorable girlfriend, and told me the most amazing story about how she ended up adopting him from a gal she’d tapped to be an egg donor (but the gal ended up being like, “Hey, you want this baby I’ve already made instead?”) . . . but I digress.
Showtime was at 8 p.m., so by around 7, we were all dolled up, dressed, and gathered backstage. My runway debut was in the second half of the show, so I had a lot of time to cool my jets—during which jewels started leaping from my outfit like rats from a sinking ship.
Enter my wonderful gopher, who saw me trying frantically to glue the jewels back onto my outfit (using glue from an “emergency kit” thoughtfully brought backstage for wardrobe malfunctions and other dramas), and enlisted a team of assistants, who banded together to re-jewel me while I stood, deep breathing, with my arms out like Jesus on the cross.
Eventually, my turn on the runway came, my song (Vehicle by Ides of March) started, and y’all. I DID NOT DIE.
Neither did I generate much money (my bra went for the least amount of money—$4,500, whereas another bra went for like $30,000), but I did come away with an understanding I didn’t have before about how the whole thing works . . .
The people aren’t actually bidding on the BRAS, per se—in fact, most winning bidders gift them back to the models—but on the “packages” that come WITH the bras.
And until I walked out on that stage, I had no idea what my package was going to be.
Turns out, it was kinda pud compared to some of the others (trips to the Amalfi Coast, Chiefs season tickets, etc.), BUT I figure that’s fair, since I only invited two people to the event (whereas other models booked party buses for their attendees).
By 11:30 p.m., I was dragging my ass out of there to make the 40-minute drive home, shower away all the floof (well, most of it, anyway; it was a couple more days before I was fully glitter-free), and drop into bed.
Overall, I’m glad I did it (and simultaneously glad it’s over), and am looking forward to seeing how I can stay involved in this event (BEHIND the scenes) in years to come. For one thing, my fellow models (SUCH AMAZING PEOPLE) and I are going to have some big shoes to fill in terms of coming up with good swag bags for NEXT year’s models. And if you’ve ever been to a birthday party for one of my children, you know how passionate I am about goody bags, so this business is right up my alley—although I don’t suppose Play-doh and monster masks would be appropriate in this case . . .
Ah, well. I have time to give it more thought. In the meantime, here are a few photos from the event (do you see what I mean about the glitter?):
Summer, summer, summer . . . it’s like a merry-go-round . . .
Approximately five minutes after the Bra Couture show, summer came in hot, loudly singing cuckoo. School ended, and then a whole new schedule got into full swing:
- Boy the Elder started a summer Driver’s Ed class, which not only tested the limits of my blood pressure medication, but required daily drop-off and pick-up throughout the month of June. The good news is that he passed with flying colors, and I can now ride as his passenger while breathing somewhat normally. And because he’s my social kid, this summer has also involved near-daily activities with friends, so OF COURSE he gets to drive every time I drop him off or pick him up from a friend’s house. Which I suppose is good practice for both of us (driving practice for him; Zen practice for ME).
- Boy the Younger started summer day camp, where Love Tank drops him off in the morning, and I pick him up in the afternoon. The good news THERE is that he is still IN camp (last year, he got booted a week before the end, for choosing violence as a solution to a kid who wouldn’t stop bugging him), and seems to like it (which is hard for me to imagine, since he spends all day outside in these apocalyptic temps)! In a couple of weeks, it’ll be over, and he’ll be at home all day errday for a full week before school starts, but at least I won’t have to worry about packing his lunch (which requires remembering to re-freeze his lunchbox ice pack every night), and where he left his water bottle. Small favors.
In the midst of all that whirl, Love Tank and I managed to sneak away for a quick anniversary trip, to celebrate our 20th. Our original plan was to whiz down to Northwest Arkansas on our motorcycles. However, we neglected to OK this plan with Mother Nature, so she planned both triple-digit temperatures and thunderstorms for that weekend, which kind of put the kibosh on the motorcycle-riding part of the plan. And that part of the plan was going to be the fun part for Love Tank (I think Bella Vista, AR is pretty and charming, but he’s ambivalent about it, so the location was strictly for MY happy, and the means of transportation was what was going to make it worthwhile for him—along with my sparkling company, of course). So we pivoted and decided to hop in the car and check out Sioux Falls, SD . . .
. . . which was . . .
. . . not exactly what we expected.
We booked an AirBnB (again, MY thing; Love Tank tends to prefer hotels) that was fine overall, but the thermostat was set at damn SEVENTY-EIGHT DEGREES—with a sticker next to it that said, “Please do not adjust.”
And the bedrooms were upstairs, where it was even WARMER . . .
. . . so basically, we were sleeping in a sauna.
We did manage a decent anniversary dinner, at one of those Brazilian steakhouses, where we both discovered that steak and gorgonzola are a magical combination. But we completely overindulged, to the point that we were both miserable by the time we returned to our sauna for the night.
The next morning, we got up and walked downtown for breakfast, choosing a cute fast-casual place I’d found online. He got an omelette, and I got scrambled eggs with avocado toast . . .
. . . and not only was it all rather bland, but the eggs were weirdly JUICY. Like, sitting in PUDDLES juicy.
Mildly squicked by the puddle-eggs (but fed and caffeinated), we headed out to see some of the pretty nature areas we’d found online . . .
. . . only to find that they were either not as pretty as the pictures, OR much smaller than we’d anticipated. So with that part of the day over more quickly than we thought, we hit a small museum downtown . . .
. . . which was not so much a MUSEUM as it was a largely empty historical building. With some dolls, an old timey car, and a taxidermied bison in it.
After that, we headed back to the sauna to rest a little, and then walked back downtown for dinner at another place we’d found online. By this time, we weren’t expecting much, but as it turns out, we were pleasantly surprised! The restaurant was adorable (with bejeweled wallpaper!), our server was charming and wonderful, and our dinner (Love Tank got a bison steak, and I, still gun-shy from our overindulgence-induced misery the night before, opted for a chicken caesar) was delish, as was the dessert (the key lime pie was on point).
After dinner, we decided to stroll around the downtown area (which was quaint and cute) in search of souvenirs for the boys, and there was this glorious moment when I thought, “Maybe this anniversary trip isn’t a complete bust after all . . . “
WARNING! WARNING! TMI FORTHCOMING! SERIOUSLY, SCROLL PAST THIS NEXT PART NOW, BECAUSE Y'ALL KNOW I CAN BRING THE PERSONAL GROSSNESS. IF YOU KEEP READING, DON'T SAY YOU WEREN'T WARNED . . .
Then, shortly thereafter, I shat my pants.
YeeeeeeeUP, that’s right; I was just standing there, looking at a display of those cute blank books you buy and then end up leaving blank because they’re too cute to use (or maybe that’s just me), when suddenly I lost control of my bowels.
Diarrhea is one of the side effects of the chemo pills I’m on (and the only side effect I’m experiencing), but it’s not frequent, and it’s totally unpredictable; there’s no warning churning, burbling, or cramping, just a sudden, er . . . release.
For the most part, it’s been manageable, because again, it’s infrequent, AND I work at home, so when it hits, I’m usually close to all the supplies and amenities I need to get my life together.
This time, I was in a cute little bathroom-less boutique in downtown Sioux Falls, a 15-minute walk from our AirBnB.
I walked over to Love Tank (who was checking out the stuffed animals) and said, “We need to go.”
He looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and concern, and asked, “Are you getting tired?”
“Nope,” I replied.
“Feeling sick?” he asked.
“Need to go to the bathroom?”
To his credit, though he was a little taken aback by this news, he laughed WITH me, not AT me (I must say, the walk home was pretty entertaining, although both of us wondered if I caused a (literal) stink in the shop), and so far, he’s still married to me.
HERE IS WHERE YOU CAN START READING AGAIN IF YOU HEEDED MY WARNING.
We arrived back at home in time to celebrate July 4th as we typically do (nothing fancy, just some hot dogs, chips, and low-key fireworks with neighbors), and the next day, the offspring and I took off for our annual trip to Texas to visit family people.
That’s always a good time, because mostly we just sit around in people’s houses and gab while they feed us.
After a few days of THAT, we headed back home, and had three days of downtime before Boy the Elder headed to camp.
Once Love Tank had dropped him off and returned home, I took off for a couple of days in nearby LFK (Lawrence Fucking Kansas), home to both Kansas University and a couple of my childhood friends, because a THIRD childhood friend swooped in from out of state for a quick visit. She rented an AirBnB, and over the course of about 2.5 days, those friends and I enjoyed:
- Three dinners (two fancy, one pizza)
- One sleepover
- One breakfast
- Some shopping
- A LOT of fancy cheese
- Some deep, ugly laughs (you know what I’m talking about, where you can’t breathe, your face is leaking, and you know there’s blackmail fodder if anyone whips out a camera, but you’re helpless to stop it)
- Some regular laughs
- Some tears
- Some bat sightings
- A rousing sing-along to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and
- Gloriously poop-free pants (musta been all that cheese)
Then, I returned home, simultaneously exhausted and renewed, and three days after THAT, we left for Minnesota to pick up the boy from camp. Arrived home yesterday, and here I am, FINALLY catching y’all up on my life.
Now I’m going to bed.
As always, THANK you for hangin’ in with me! Maybe we can meet up at the Regal Beagle soon. I’ll wear my best muumuu.