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—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?
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.
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.