Sunday, August 8, 2010

Flipping my wig

My wig, or the muskrat as I referred to it, was my daily accessory from the end of January 'til mid July. It traveled to Florida and St. Louis with me. It went to church. It went to the theater. It went to work. It went to garage sales. It went to dinner. All in all, it had a good life. But after six months of pretty reliable service, it was finally laid to rest about three weeks ago.

My wigless test run was in June when we went to Myrtle Beach for a week with Scott, Chloe and Livy. There was no way I was going to sit on the beach with the rat on my head. Not only didn't I want to get sand in it -- although it's washable -- I really didn't want to swelter in the heat. Nor did I want to get hit by a wave and watch it wash out to sea, bobbing along like a hairy jellyfish.

So, it stayed home and pouted while we went on vacation. By mid-June, I had speckled hair, about 3/4 of an inch long, all over my head. It was white and winglike above my ears, with a black/silver/white combo on top and back, tightly curled. Taken in tandem, the effect was Clarabell on the sides and a sheared poodle on the top. I had gone to Hobby Lobby and picked up five bandanas in solid colors, and the day we left I wore one. I looked like Lucy Ricardo in the stomping-grapes-in-Italy episode. The bandanas never saw daylight again after that first day. I went "au naturel". Scott thought it looked great. The girls loved rubbing my head, as the new hair is soft as a chinchilla's fur. I can't resist rubbing my head either. It's like my own personal security blanket. But every time I catch my reflection in a mirror or window, I wonder who is that old poodle?

It really didn't bother me on vacation. Other than my family, everyone we met along the way was a stranger, and I would never see them again, but going without my wig to work was a little scarier. The established staff members knew I was wearing a wig, but there were some employees who were hired during that January-July wig era who thought I was sporting my own hair. In addition, we had just acquired five publications and there were new hires showing up in the office each day. Thus, when I returned to work after being an old poodle for 10 days, I was wigged up.

Then, around mid-July, I had an early-morning follow-up appointment with my radiologist. That meant the following would occur: go into dressing room; remove wig, take off top, put on snap-button smock, put on wig again; see the doctor for about 5 minutes; return to dressing room; take off smock, take off wig, pull on top, put on wig again. I decided that morning that I would go wigless to the doctor's office, and that meant that I would also go wigless to work, as I was heading there directly from the appointment. I was braced for whatever comments would zing my way.

My fears were groundless. Whether they meant it or not, everyone who had a comment made it a pleasant one. They liked it. From the receptionist and the technicians at the radiologist's office to my fellow workers, they liked it. "Don't wear the wig any more," they told me. Of course, these are some of the same people who said they really liked my wig, so there you are!

The curliness could go the way of the wagon wheel within a year, or my hair could remain this way. It's happened both ways with other cancer patients. I'm just happy to once again have a crop of hair on the top forty. And it's so fast and easy to shampoo, dry and get out the door now that I just may keep the old poodle around for quite awhile.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A bitter pill

I had a follow-up appointment with my oncologist a few days before we left on our Myrtle Beach vacation in June. She gave me a prescription and also a two-week supply of the estrogen-blocking hormone pill (Arimidex) that I'm to take for the next five years. She agreed that I could wait to start taking it until after I returned from vacation.

So, I waited. And then, when we returned on June 26, I waited some more. And then another week went by and I was still waiting. It's odd, because with the chemo, I was kind of anxious to get started. My mantra became, "The sooner we start, the sooner it's over." The 7 weeks of radiation? "The sooner we start, the sooner it's over."

Well, you could make the same case for the hormone therapy. The "sooner, sooner" theory. But it's hard to tag five years with the word "sooner". We're talking long-haul here. And while chemo and radiation both had their possible side effects, they were temporary. But with these little white pills come all sorts of possible undesirable companions: insomnia; joint disorder; hot flashes. It gets worse. Check out the laundry list of possible adverse reactions:
1. Asthenia (no clue what that is, but pretty sure I don't want it)
2. Reduced bone density (osteoporosis)
3. Fractures (see #2)
4. Joint pain (for my cortisone-injected knees?)
5. Abdominal pain
6. Chest pain
7. Hypertension
8. Nausea
9. Dyspepsia (irritability?)
10. Arthralgia (again: huh? and no thanks)
11. Myalgia (don't they hawk something on TV for that?)
12. Arthrosis (????)
13. Depression
14. Bone pain
15. Hypercholesterolemia (translation: elevated cholesterol)
16. Cyst
17. Anxiety

Well, who wouldn't be depressed and anxious after looking at that list -- and it's only partial. There are about 66 possible adverse reactions listed, and that's before I decided not to turn the page for more. Among them -- are you ready? -- breast pain and endometrial cancer. And I've saved the most unacceptable for last: weight gain! C'mon! That's just cruel.

How can one little pill pack so much potential evil doing?

So, I waited some more. And finally, I took the first pill Sunday night. Tonight will be my third pill. Who knows what's brewing inside this old carcass, but, so far, to my knowledge, no asthenia, arthralgia or arthrosis -- whatever they might be. No neoplasm either, that I'm aware of. But if I see one crawl by, I'll be on it with a flyswatter.

With a little luck, in five years this little poison pill and I will have warded off a recurrence of breast cancer, but potentially every other body part will have collapsed into a powder and I'll have a skin rash to boot.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

God bless Riley. Our sweet, sweet boy.

The tears just won't stop. And I suspect the thought of him will make my eyes well up for a long, long time. Riley was 12 years old. We had hoped he'd live to be at least 20. Twelve years ago, on the 4th of July weekend, we rescued that little six-week old orange tabby. Today, July 3rd, we reluctantly had to have him put to sleep.

We got him out of grief after losing a 20-year-old cat preceding the 4th of July in 1998. We looked at a rescued litter and I had my eye on a gray, black and white tabby who seemed very shy, but Jeff asked to see the long-legged orange tabby. He handed him to me and the little guy climbed up and played with my necklace and nuzzled against my chin. Jeff said, "That's the one."

He had comically big ears but there was also an elegance about him. He looked like a lion cub. In addition to his long legs, he had the lengthiest tail I'd ever seen on a cat -- at least 18 inches long, maybe longer. His striped legs looked like they'd been drizzled with butterscotch. His intelligent green eyes were huge and they held your gaze. He also had a wired personality; he had so much energy, he'd bounce off the walls and many times we had to put him in a closed-door bedroom for some quiet time. I'd open the door and peek in and he'd be staring right back at me. Feeling sorry for the little guy, I'd go in and lie on the floor and just watch him. He'd rock back and forth while eating from the food dish; couldn't even sit still to grab some dinner. Then he'd run over to where I was lying on the floor and he'd rub his nose against my face and neck, then go back to rocking around the food dish. It was instant love on my part. I'd never seen such a personality in a cat.

I can't imagine coming through the door and him not being there to greet us. Or going to sleep without him jumping up on the bed and curling up next to me. Or opening a bottle of Gatorade and not having him run in, waiting for me to toss the ring for him to catch. Or watching him swagger down the hallway, and calling his name and seeing him stop and turn and look at me. Or curled up in Jeff's arms while they watched TV together. Or seeing him sit on the floor and stare up at us, patiently waiting for permission to jump up on the sofa or chair and join us.

He really was extraordinarily long legged. So much so, that he could stand up on his back legs and try, with his front paws, to grab a sandwich I was making on the kitchen counter. He would follow us everywhere and if we stopped suddenly and turned around, he'd leap up, do a 180 in mid-air and take off in the opposite direction. He would also leap high and bat a tossed ball or Gatorade ring like he was playing volleyball. A super athlete.

He was smart too. He'd have been a good engineer. He could find solutions to problems. If his younger brother Dusty (sibling cat) lost a toy under the bifold door of the linen closet, Riley would hook his paw under the right side of the door, get the door to unfold a bit, then poke his head into the slight opening and shove the door all the way open. With a "there you go, kid" look, he'd leave the bathroom and let Dusty grab the toy.

He was stubborn and determined and incorrigible. But you couldn't stay mad at him, because he was the cutest guy ever in a fur suit.

He'd been losing weight since late last year. Once weighing in at 15 pounds, and still looking lean, he'd dropped down to 9 pounds. For months, we'd been regular visitors at the Vet's office. Riley had two different antibiotics, but he was still ailing. All his blood work looked good. His heart was strong. It was a mystery. Then he was diagnosed with pancreatitis and we were given an enzyme powder to sprinkle on his food. With the powder on it, he wouldn't touch it. We boarded him with the Vet when we went away a few weekends ago to attend a wedding in St. Louis and they said he was then down to 7 pounds. We were leaving again the following weekend for an 8-day vacation and we boarded him then too so he would be given special care, medicine and plenty of nourishment. He gained a half pound, but the doctor had felt a mass. It could be cancer. Or it could be an impacted colon. We were to keep an eye on him. As long as his appetite was good and he was getting around and not in pain...

Then yesterday he started having trouble getting up the stairs. Whereas he used to always race to beat me to the top, now he took them one by one and stopped to rest twice. But he ate. He was hungry. We could tell his back legs were weak, but once he gained more weight, we thought he'd get his strength back.

Then this afternoon, he wobbled and collapsed. I picked him up and laid with him on the sofa. He looked up at me as I petted him, then craned his neck to look over at Jeff. It was like he was saying goodbye. Shortly after that, his eyes weren't focusing on anything. And then he began having seizures where he'd flail his front legs and howl; afterwards, he seemed totally unresponsive.

We took him to an emergency pet hospital and they determined his blood sugar had plummeted, causing the seizures. His heart rate was low, his coloring was pale (meaning he was probably anemic) and his temperature had dropped. He was shutting down. The Vet felt a mass in his abdomen and thought it was likely the culprit for the low blood sugar levels. They could try to get the blood sugar to rise, but with everything else failing, it was likely to be a temporary solution. And in his weakened condition, any one of the things they would try to do for him might actually kill him. Plain and simple, he was dying. He didn't seem to be in pain while they handled him. The howling was part of the seizure reaction, related to the low blood sugar, and not a pain response.

Jeff wanted to at least give it a chance by trying to raise the blood sugar and see if he improved. Part of me wanted to as well, but I knew in my heart it was futile and that he would never have quality of life again. They hooked him up and started a glucose treatment. The "coordinator" then came in and showed us an estimate of what the costs would be for 36 hours of treatment and monitoring. $3600.

Wow. We really loved that little guy. We asked to go in and see him. He was under a blanket, with his little face in a cone. His eyes were open, but he was not reactive. The Vet told us they'd tried two times to get his blood sugar elevated, but it had stayed the same as when we brought in Riley. I looked at her and she shook her head.

They gave us a room with a sofa and we held and petted Riley for quite awhile. His eyes were more alert and we wondered if perhaps we should just take him home. We set him on the sofa, but he couldn't stand. He couldn't move at all. So we did what we thought was the most humane thing for our little buddy and I blubbered like a baby.

I held him all the way home and it looked like he was sleeping. His big ears still stood up. His eyes remained open. I curled him up on his blanket on the sofa and sat next to him and petted him.

I'm struck by the coincidence of his entering and leaving our lives on the same holiday weekend.

Tomorrow we'll bury him with a short eulogy of what a special boy he was. And there will forever be a void left by this funny little guy who brought such joy and affection into our lives.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Loving the gift

Cancer changes your life. It brings a sort of new reality to the foreground. An awareness of your own mortality. I had a sudden glimpse of what might have been while I was walking the beach last week in South Carolina with our son Scott and our granddaughters, Chloe and Livy. Just a fleeting thought that if my diagnosis had been grim and unforgiving eight months ago, I would not be leaving footprints in the sand at that moment.

Seven-year-old Livy had asked me what the word memories means. I explained that memories were like photographs, stored in our brain, of places we had been and things we had seen and how sometimes, out of nowhere for no discernible reason, they would pop up, recalling something sweet and wonderful, and make us smile. Fortunately, we tend to recall good memories more often than bad ones. Or so it seems to me anyway.

And, for a fleeting moment, I thought that it could have been different. Someday, one of those darling girls might have called up this memory: "Remember when Grandpa went to Myrtle Beach with us so he wouldn't be so lonely at home." But it didn't happen that way. I'm still here. So lucky. Present and accounted for, enjoying the gift of life. Enjoying being included in the memories our granddaughters will carry forward of our vacation together in Myrtle Beach.

And thus my memories, so fresh and clear (well, yeah, true -- they're barely a week old), include: Livy giving a dead baby crab a decent burial in the wet sand; Chloe's excitement at finding a shark's tooth; Scott getting slammed by a wave that knocked off his sunglasses; Chloe finding the sunglasses ("I saved Daddy a hundred bucks!"); watching my son, at sunrise, carve out "Chloe and Livy" in giant letters in the sand so that his girls would wake up and see their names from our 12th story balcony; hearing the girls giggle at the incredibly funny and gifted Cirque du Soleil MC; watching them both pet a baby stingray at the aquarium and seeing that same curious stingray swim back to them time after time for another pet; teaching the girls a new card game; being there as Livy learned how to swim; tossing quarters in the pool for the girls to dive after.

Floating along in the lazy river, I was totally relaxed. I had found my "happy place". I can close my eyes and recall that tranquil feeling. If, after cancer, every day is a gift -- and it is -- then I have just unwrapped the mother load. Sweet.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Life is a beach

Sometimes in life you just need to get away and recharge. Our son Scott revved up the amps with a simple invitation. He wanted to take his girls Chloe and Livy on a vacation to Myrtle Beach and would we like to come along? I was on it like a bee on watermelon.

Beginning when Scott was seven years old, we began an annual trek to Myrtle Beach in combination with attending the Southern 500 at the Darlington Speedway. Sticking with a "tourist town" theme, we'd spend the first night in Gatlinburg, TN, and ride the Ober Gatlinburg up into the mountains, and then drive to Myrtle Beach the next day. It was always a very kid-centric trip: go-karts, bumper boats, riding the ocean waves on a rubber raft, swimming pool activities, miniature golf, and of course, lots of seafood and the usual sunburn. I believe we went about five times and usually stayed at The Breakers Resort. Now that resort has become a complex of about five towers, all oceanfront.

Scott wanted to recreate those same memories for his girls, so here we are at The Breakers after spending the night before in Gatlinburg (and yes, we rode the Ober Gatlinburg). We've already been slapped around by the ocean waves and we've tested the new circuit of swimming pools, including a lazy river and a pirate's ship pool, that The Breakers offers. We took a drive down Ocean Blvd. and remembered some of the existing resorts and marveled at some of the new ones. There have been changes -- like even more super-sized beachwear stores -- but enough remains the same that prove the memories are accurate.

Just like Scott and us, the girls love sitting on the balcony and listening to the surf and watching people walk the beach. They love playing in the ocean and shelling. Scott loves watching them have the same great adventure he remembers so clearly. And we love watching him watch them with such delight.

We've only just begun here, and my battery is already fully charged.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I could have danced all night!

It's now going on three weeks since I completed my radiation therapy and this past weekend was quite the barometer reading of the progress I've made toward finding my old battery pack. On Friday, I hit my work desk at 6 a.m. and spent four solid hours of putting out fires, creating ads, completing paperwork and answering questions, before dashing out at 10 a.m. when Jeff arrived to pick me up, and we began the trek to St. Louis. We had a wedding to attend that night at 6 p.m. and with all the construction delays, we were lucky to hit town at 4 p.m., get cleaned up, dressed up and to the cathedral in time to find a parking spot, before the other 350 guests all arrived.

Ordinarily, this would be about the exact time that I would be face down on my bed and out like a light for a nap just long enough to confuse me when I woke up and wondered if it was day or night. But there was no time for a nap on Friday.

The cathedral Basilica in St. Louis is reportedly the largest structure in the city. It utilizes more mosaic tiles than any other structure in the world and its size and acoustics are responsible for the priests' words echoing to the gathered guests. It's an impressive church, but that was just the beginning. The wedding service was at least an hour long, but I'm proud to report my head didn't nod even once.

This being a "black tie optional" affair, the assembled guests looked like a designer's fashion show. At the reception, the Four Seasons Hotel's large "cigar bar" balcony offered amazing views of the nightlife along the Landing and the Mississippi River. In the ladies' room, there were fresh flower wreaths hanging from a ribbon on every stall door and size-designated baskets of "dancing shoes" (flip-flops) for female guests to take and wear.

The band (orchestra?) had six or eight instrumentalists and eight singers -- four men, three women. They were called the Motown Review. We just called them amazing. The music was wonderful. The food was wonderful. Everyone danced and had a wonderful time. Bad knees and all, I danced most of the evening. We left about midnight and I had to drag Jeff out of there. He wanted to keep dancing as long as the band was playing. But, eight hours late, I finally hit that wall that I usually hit at 4 p.m.

It's only been a few weeks and my energy is truly ratcheting back up where it used to be. To tell the truth, I could have danced only about half the night. It was Jeff who could have danced all night. And let me tell you, there's something really wrong with that picture!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Ten days later...

Ten days since my journey ended and I reached my destination. Ten days of free afternoons. Ten days of stopping after work to shop if I so wished (and I frequently wished). Ten days of not speeding down the expressways (yes, I am a law breaker) in a beat-the-clock race to my radiology appointment.

So this is what freedom feels like. I'd forgotten after seven months of treatments and doctor's appointments. But I remember now. And I like it.

It didn't feel like seven months. Seemed to go by faster than I thought it would at the outset.

But, would I want to jump right back into that routine? Absolutely not. I had the occasion to think about that when a lovely woman at church emailed and asked me where I got my wig (oops, "cranial prosthesis"), as the ovarian cancer she fought a year ago has reoccurred. Just as her hair returned to the thickness and length that she used to enjoy, she is preparing to lose it all over again; to feel nauseous and fatigued all over again; to give up her personal time all over again.

Cancer hijacks your life and resets your schedule. There's no denying it. But there is living with it. And now that it's no longer the engine that drives my life, I can focus on hoping and praying for the return to normalcy of a brave woman who's starting her own journey on an all-too-familiar path.

God speed, Diane.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Graduation Day

The thermometer popped up and this turkey is done. I even have a Certificate of Achievement to prove it. There was no cap and gown. Just the usual smock with one snap at the top. Not a very festive garb for such a momentous (to me anyway) occasion.

Here's how it reads:

Certificate of Achievement awarded to Sandi Stevenson for successful completion of Radiation Therapy. Recognition deserved for Punctuality, Cooperation, and Positive Attitude.

And it's signed by all the gals who took such good care of me every day for 38 days. I was pretty impressed by the awesomeness that apparently is me until I realized they probably give the same certificate to those who are late, combative and ornery.

Oh well. The important thing to celebrate here is that the saga that began with a not-so-fun discovery seven months ago is now complete. Just like LOST and 24, it has had its finale. And while I thought both of those final episodes were terrific, this one ends even better.

No more expressway dashes. No more ducking out of meetings because I have an appointment to keep. No more apologetic utterances of "Gotta go. Can't stay..." as I flee work.

Wait a minute. What am I celebrating? I no longer have any excuses why I can't be the last one out of the building.

I believe I have just tanked my positive attitude. But, I still have the certificate.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Thirty-six down, two to go

Time flies, apparently even when you're not having fun. It's been seven months since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Six-and-a-half months since I had the lumpectomy. Two months since I completed chemotherapy. And almost two months since I started radiation.

When I first heard there would be seven weeks, Monday through Friday, of radiation, I thought it sounded like an eternity. Thirty-eight days of fleeing work daily, driving like I was on fire down the expressways to get from the western suburbs to the north shore suburb of Lake Forest. Thirty-eight days of pulling into one of the radiology-designated parking places and slapping the bright yellow parking permit onto the dashboard; 38 days of limping down the hospital hallways, into the descending elevator to the bowels of the hospital; 38 days of a quick change into the smock in the dressing room; 38 days of lying on the table and trying, unsuccessfully, not to stare into the overhead laser beam; 38 days of getting out of the smock in the dressing room and back into street clothes; 38 days of removing the yellow "look out, crazy cancer patient parks here" permit from my dashboard; 38 days of taking a post-radiation nap once I got home.

Well, 36 of those 38 days are now under my belt (above the belt would be more accurate, I suppose) and it seemed to go surprisingly fast. There are just two days to go under the "heat lamp". I will complete all my therapy this Tuesday. Done. Slightly overcooked, but...fini!


Sunday, May 16, 2010

How much beauty sleep is too much?

Before starting radiation, I was told, by those who had experienced it as well as the doctor who administers it, that radiation has only two side effects: fatigue and sunburn.

I suspect there are more that they don't discuss -- like cumulative effects that could deliver an unpleasant surprise in a decade or two, but the reality is you have to deal with the monster at the door and not concentrate on the one who may come knocking somewhere down the road. Besides, by then I'll be staring down at the yellow tennis balls on my walker and wondering where my tennis racket went.

The radiology techs had given me several tubes of Aquapore gel to apply in the morning and the evening to help prevent the burn that can accompany radiation. They also gave me a special deodorant to use -- one that doesn't contain aluminum.

I've completed 5 weeks of radiation now and I'm just starting to get a little raw under the arm. But that will improve shortly and certainly won't worsen, because for the remaining seven days of treatment, I'm receiving a newly focused dose that doesn't irradiate the whole breast, but instead is aimed solely at the scar and lump cavity beneath the skin. That should prevent the raw area from getting more exposure. The Aquapore has done a good job as a scorch preventer.

But there is no gel that eases the fatigue factor. When I get home from my treatment, I read the daily newspaper and work the Suduko puzzle. I get about halfway through it and my eyes close and my head nods, and I limp down the hallway and toss myself onto the bed for a quick nap -- if quick can be defined as about three hours. The nap helps, but by 10 p.m., I am once again toast.

I have so many things to do at home, including the annual planting of flowers. Usually, I'll dig in and keep at it until I'm done, hoping to beat the always impending storm so that the plantings get a good soaking. This year, storms come and go and all I've created a dirt home for is the basil plant. I'll get it done, but not by the usual date, and more than likely, not all at once.

I feel like a maple tree that's been sapped. And I know the fatigue will linger awhile even after the Sandi nuking has ceased, but "normal" or the "new normal" is on the horizon after seven more days, and from here, the view looks lovely.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A special Mother's Day salute

Mother's Day. That one day a year when we tell female strangers to have a nice mother's day and take our mothers and grandmothers out for a meal of appreciation -- a brunch, more often than not. Mom, you're the greatest. Here, have an omelet.

In her later years, when my mother was trying to overcome the challenges of Parkinson's disease, she had a taste for a Waffle House waffle, during one of my visits to St. Louis. I managed to park close to the restaurant door and Mom maneuvered her walker without too much difficulty. Parkinson's isn't always cooperative, but on that day, she was motoring pretty well. We settled into a booth for small talk and hot waffles. It wasn't Mother's Day. It was just a Waffle House Day and she was thrilled.

I said in one of my earliest blogs that while I miss her every day, I'm glad my mother wasn't around to get the "guess what, Mom, I have cancer" phone call. She was a worrier. Always afraid something would happen to me. And not exactly subtle in expressing it to me when I was a kid. "Mom, can I ride my bike to the park with the girls?" "Oh, no, you'll get killed."

I was the only kid I knew who turned down an offer with the response, "Sorry. Can't go. Mom says I'll die."

She never knew that I was a worrier too. And that when my mom and dad were out for the evening, I couldn't get to sleep until they were safely home. I'd sit up in bed and look out the window every time I heard a car, hoping it was theirs. Once they pulled in the driveway, I flopped down on my pillow and pretended to be asleep when they looked in on me.

I was one of the lucky ones who still had my parents well into my adulthood. It was all that worrying that kept them safe. For I was sure that the minute I let my guard down and relaxed too much, that some evil would befall them and I would be left an orphan. Never underestimate the power of worrying.

I met a worrying mother last week while we were sitting together in the radiology waiting room. Her daughter had the same surgeon, the same report -- clean margins and no lymph node involvement -- as me. Her tumor was smaller, so she didn't have to have chemo. And this was her first dose of radiation. I assured her mother she would be fine. And her mother proceeded to tell me that she was at her Florida home, having lunch with her golfing buddies, when her daughter called and told her she had breast cancer. Naturally, she was distraught. Then her luncheon mates told her something she hadn't known: "I'm a 15-year breast cancer survivor;" "I'm a 10-year breast cancer survivor." From their conversation, she tallied that 40% of the group had had breast cancer. Shocking number, but comforting to her as she concentrated on the word "survivor".

And now here I am with four weeks of radiation marked off on my calendar. By May 24, I'll be done with my treatment. You know who'd I like to call and tell her how well it has all gone and that I'm doing just fine? My mom.

To all the mothers out there who have had to tell their children that they have breast cancer, you are my heroes. To all the daughters who have had to make that call to tell their mothers they have breast cancer, you are my heroes. To all the breast cancer survivors, I'm proud to stand among you.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Still here in my heart.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Take three cats and call me in the morning

We have three cats, which is probably one too many, but when we went to the shelter to bring home a second cat, he had a sister to whom he was very attached and upon whom he depended, and they shared a cage together and...well, you know how it is. Who could sleep at night picturing the lonely sibling left behind? Not us. So, that's how we came to have three cats.

The older cat, Riley, is like a bright-eyed, big-eared, long-legged, funny, furry son. He's very smart, very athletic, very friendly to everyone, and extremely affectionate. Of the twins (whom we couldn't separate), Maggie is braver and friendlier than her brother Dusty. She'll climb in your lap, follow you around, but if you try to pet her, she'll shrink away from your touch. Dusty, poor Dusty, has loose wiring. He's afraid of everything, but loves Jeff. Me, not so much. I can brush him and he'll purr and rub his head against my bare foot as a thank you; then I'll walk out of the room and return moments later and he'll hiss at me. Every family has a weird member. Dusty is ours.

But Riley, that sweet boy, is something special. He'll sit in my lap and bury his face in my arm, nuzzling and adjusting until he's perfectly comfortable, and totally at ease. He'll climb up on the pillow at night and curl up next to me. He leaps in the air after a tossed bottle ring and bats it like he's playing volleyball. He'll lie on the floor and when I put a sparkly ball on his paw and tell him to flip it, he does. Like I said, he's special.

When you're sick, family and friends are wonderfully supportive, but daily life goes on for them and they have responsibilities and errands to run, places to go and things to do. Cats, however, are unemployable. They prefer not to answer to anyone. They don't want responsibilities. They refuse tasks. Eat, sleep and a little playtime are their goals in life. But, explainable or not, they know when you're sick and they also, innately, know that snuggling with you is their greatest gift.

When my hair took a powder after chemo, Riley looked at me with head cocked as if to say, "Hmn. Something odd has happened here." But, he didn't shriek and run away or make wisecracks (at least, not to my face). He accepted this new look and snuggled anyway. I can't accurately describe what comfort a pet owner derives from their cat or dog. It's such a gift. And, no matter how undeserving we may be, the gift keeps coming. Absolute loyalty and pure affection. Rewarding and comforting on any given day. Even more so when illness complicates life.

And so, when Riley became ill, I wanted to return the favor. But, animals are nobler than humans. He just wanted to go off and suffer in silence, not be held and petted. He dropped from 15 pounds to 9 pounds. A bag of bones with huge intelligent eyes. From near infancy, he's been on a 3x/weekly pill for an allergy to his own teeth. He's had his teeth cleaned several times and a few pulled, but had never lost weight like this. He was on a couple of antibiotics, then ultimately diagnosed with pancreatitus. That earned him a $100 bottle of powdered enzymes to be mixed in with his food. But that didn't seem to bring about a change. Poor guy was constantly hungry and scavenging for food. Back to the Vet for the third time in a month. He determined that cleaning and pulling teeth was necessary again to rid Riley of the infection that was being released into his system.

Jeff and I were relieved, in a way, because we were worried that maybe Riley too was battling cancer -- but fearful that having to put Riley under anesthesia in his weakened state might be life threatening.

He had a Monday morning appointment for his dental surgery, which meant no food after 10 p.m. Sunday. Let me tell you, there is little that is more heartbreaking than trying to explain to a starving cat why you've taken his food away. When I left for work Monday morning, he followed me, pleading his case, and then just stared at me as I opened the door to leave. I felt like a neglectful mom.

Jeff promised to call me at work as soon as the Vet called him with a report on how Riley was doing. I kept calling Jeff to see if he'd heard anything yet.

I try not to bother God with personal requests, as he has bigger things to do, and from my diagnosis through today, I haven't asked Him for courage or personal favors, but I confess I did ask him to return Riley to us safe and sound. He created these perfect little creatures, so He understands.

I'm happy to report that our furry little best pal came home in the car with Jeff and me Monday afternoon. He growled for a few minutes to let us know of his displeasure with our betrayal but, forgiving little fellow that he is, soon curled up in my lap and took a nap.

I'm pretty sure, for me, that ranks right up there with modern medicine in speeding up my recovery.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What kind of warranty does this miracle carry?

Some of you may recall that there are two things that are working in tandem to keep me from tripping lightly along on this cancer journey. My left knee and my right knee. And, yes, while I certainly agree with you that it is grossly unfair to be diagnosed with bc in the same month that left knee (hereafter known as LK) goes kablooey -- followed by right knee, aka RK, throwing in the towel a month later -- I was elated to discover that a shot of cortisone to each knee tricked them into submission.

The next morning, after the shots were administered, I awoke and stepped out of bed without my knees complaining. I walked like a human being again. No wincing in pain. It's a miracle, I told the cats. They looked skeptical, or disinterested. With cats, it's hard to tell the difference.

And it was a miracle. I was able to fly, knees bent for the duration of two back-to-back flights, to Florida on vacation, and then drive a car back the 1400 miles it takes to leave Ft. Myers, FL, and arrive in Chicago two days later. No pain, lots of gain.

The damage is still there, of course. The knees have just been numbed to it. Tricked. Bamboozled.

As it turns out, the right knee is much smarter than the left knee. While LK pumps right along thinking, foolishly, that it has been cured, the right knee wised up at the 2.5-week post-cortisone mark. Not only is RK smarter than its twin, it seems to have a short fuse. Once it realized it had been tricked, it came screaming back to consciousness with searing pain. Apparently, it can't take a joke.

Thus, Advil has become my dearest friend (sorry, Linn; you're terrific, but you're not a pain reliever). By popping a couple in the morning, mid-day and evening, I can walk, sit and sleep.

Once radiation is over, I know there will be another MRI in my future to determine the perpetrator. Fluid? Torn meniscus? Arthritis? Hamster? Identify the criminal, then determine the punishment. Besides, the MRI techs will be happy to see me again. I'm pretty confident I'm the one who is keeping them employed.

I wish RK had enjoyed the 60 to 90 days of relief other cortisone shot recipients have told me they experienced, but it held up for my trip, and I'm incredibly grateful for that.

Miracles don't come with a warranty. But, they should.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Whatever you do, don't...

I don't know what kind of kid you were, but I was the kind (and still continue to be) who always felt that the word "don't" issued an immediate challenge. And I was always up for accepting it. "Don't, under any circumstances, press this button." "Don't eat that, it's for the guests." "Don't touch." "Don't aggravate the dog."

During my single days in Chicago, when riding the bus, I noticed they preferred the word "no" to "don't".

No standing.
No smoking.
No spitting.
No stripping.

(I threw in that last one to see if you were paying attention). It was like a personal party invitation, even though I'm not a spitter (unless I'm at the zoo and the camel starts it first).

So, there I am in my radiation sessions, lying on my back on the table and staring up at the ceiling where there is a canister light that contains the red eye of a laser and a ceiling sign right next to it that says "Do not stare into the laser."

Well, first of all, it's directly overhead and my eyes just naturally look up and stare into the laser in that split second before I realize that I've just looked up and stared into the laser. And in the ensuing minutes, all I want to do is stare at that laser. I look to the left of center. I look to the right of center. All I want to do is look center at that freaking red light that is the brightest thing in the room. It taunts me. I have to close my eyes to avoid it because I now have this irrational fear (or perhaps it's not so irrational) that, having already stared into the laser by accident, I've already burned holes into my retinas.

I did have a broken blood vessel in my left eye a week ago and that just added to my paranoia that the irresistible laser had already done damage to my disobedient eye. In my opinion, the punishment definitely doesn't fit the crime.

The treatments themselves are incredibly fast. I'm out of the dressing room, onto the table and back in the dressing room in less than 5 minutes. The longest part of the process is lining me up with the lasers (yes, that damn one that lives in the ceiling, plus one on each side wall). That's where the blue freckle tattoos are called into play. The technician slides a metal plate, called a wedge, into the radiation machine that hovers to my left and then she leaves the room and flips the switch or hits a computer key -- I'm not sure which. I'm also not sure I understand how the wedge works exactly, but it's designed to direct the radiation according to the thickness of the skin -- as our skin thickness varies across the square footage that our chests occupy. All I know is those wedge plates are very heavy (they let me pick up a couple different ones) and those gals must save a fortune on health club dues by doing their weight lifting on the job. Once the first radiation from the left is done, the machine rotates its head, then the entire thing traverses above me (briefly blocking the ceiling laser temptation) and comes to a halt on my right. The tech inserts a different wedge, then leaves the room again and 30 seconds later, I'm radiated -- and done. Hopefully, not overdone.

It's easy, it's fast, it's painless, but if you're ever in that same circumstance, whatever you do, don't...oh, never mind.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The world's smallest tattoo

My first session in the radiology department involved me participating in the "line-up". I laid down on the mobile table so that the techs could line me up with the laser beams from the left, the right and up above. My head and shoulders were positioned on a VacLok pillow-like cushion that is filled with tiny polystyrene beads and my hands gripped a T-bar that was suspended just behind my head. Once the techs were confident that I was positioned correctly, a vacuum was drawn through the cushion's valve that created a permanently indented cradle customized to fit me. It would be used for every radiation session.

To mark where the laser beams should line up, they "tattooed" me on three sides with a little drop of ink and a needle. So, it now looks like I have tiny blue freckles. An alcohol wipe of each spot afterwards delivered a slight sting, but that was it. No real discomfort. My doctor of radiology was present too, making his markings and approving the process. Preliminary x-rays were taken and they were done with me in about 15 minutes. They told me my actual radiation session, to begin in two days, would barely last five minutes.

I was to be their last patient of the day. Like me, they start early in the morning. By leaving work at 2:30, I could comfortably get there by 3:10 and be ready for my 3:15 appointment. Once they were through with me, they were through with work.

This was the beginning of a M-F seven-week routine. Almost like having a second job.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

They're baaaaack!

Today marks 35 days since my last chemo, and the first harbinger of my own personal spring made its presence known -- on my chin. Yes, that's right. Like Phoenix rising from the ashes, the chin hairs have returned. It's time to whisk my tweezers off the unemployment line and dust them off.

This brand new crop of chin hairs is different than its ancestors. Not bristly at all. They're soft and pure white. This will require a much closer watch. The good news (or, perhaps not) is that they perfectly match the hair that is sprouting on my head. Soft and white. Whenever I'm sans wig, I can hardly keep from rubbing my hands across my head. I've heard that this is not unique among chemo baldies. I figure the reasons are two-fold: 1) my head feels like velvet and 2) it's a daily check to see if the hair sprouts have grown longer. I could be wrong, but it seems like there is more to grab near the nape.

What this all means, of course, is that all traces of chemo drugs have left the building and regrowth and recovery have begun. Now, there's a celebration.

My radiation began on April 8 and should end just before the Memorial Day weekend. Two days before my radiation began, I had an appointment with my radiologist where I was "fitted" for a Vac-Lok support cushion and "tattooed" for laser positioning, an interesting process in itself. Not as exciting as chin hairs returning, but...interesting.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Meet me at the oasis -- a mere 1400 miles down the road

On Friday, April 2, I completed the last, and most boring leg of my trip from Florida -- I-65 through Indiana and into Chicago, while Jeff was completing the most boring leg of his trip from Arizona -- I-55 through the cornfields of Illinois.

I did discover something new in Indiana that had sprung up since the last time I had traversed the state -- a still-in-progress wind turbine farm north of Lafayette, IN. Hundreds of them in action and several yet-to-be assembled that were lying on the ground. What a sight!

I arrived at the Hinsdale oasis 20 minutes before Jeff and then followed him to Northbrook where we dropped off his customer's car. He rode home with me, where he picked up my car and we delivered the Florida customer's car to his home in Palatine. Job well done. My vacation was over, but the weekend was still ours.

On Tuesday morning, I would visit the radiology department in preparation for my first radiation treatment. But for now, I was treatment free. Chemo was behind me, radiation was yet ahead of me.

Can't think of a better way to end a vacation than that -- other than just plain not ending the vacation!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hey, Dad, only 10 miles to the next Stuckeys!

If you asked most people if they'd enjoy driving 1400 miles in two days, they'd probably respond they'd rather have their teeth drilled without novocaine. But there are a few of us, Jeff and me included, who were born with a combination of wanderlust and a love of driving. The enchantment began when I was a child. Our family vacations were always via car.

In his lifetime, my father never flew. My mother's first flight was from St. Louis to Chicago to view her week-old grandson. Our family treks took us from St. Louis to Florida, or St. Louis to Colorado, or to Arizona or New Orleans, etc., but not on expressways with fast-food chains at every exit -- those expressways didn't exist. Nor did the fast-food chains.

Interstate roads, like Route 66, went through small towns and big cities, and offered much more to see, like houses and gardens and downtown squares. There were no hotel/motel chains in the 50s, just mom and pop motels along the route. We'd look for one that had the diving girl on the motel sign, indicating there was a pool included. As we passed through towns around lunch or dinner time, we'd keep a sharp eye out for a cafe with the frosty blue "air conditioned" sign in the window. When you traveled across country in open-windowed cars without air conditioning, dinner in a cool cafe was a real treat. Adding to the fun of road trips were the clever Burma Shave signs and, of course, the Stuckeys candy stores -- famous for pralines and divinity -- that were scattered every 25 miles or so throughout the south. If Dad drove past the first few, we could start pestering him again to please stop at the next one, a short distance down the road.

My cross-country drives in other people's cars began in my 20s, while I was gainfully employed at the Chicago Tribune. Two office mates and I, by happenstance, ended up driving a dealer's customized van (a unique offering in those days) to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and from there on to Los Angeles where he needed to have it by a certain date for a photo shoot. How fortunate were we that our boss let three of his 10-member staff go off on that adventure for two weeks.

News of that trip spurred a fellow employee, who was being transferred to the New York office, to ask me if I'd be interested in driving his family's second car, a Volkswagon Beetle, to New York. But of course -- via Canada! And so Judy, one of my office mates and fellow travelers in the New Orleans/Los Angeles caper, and I traveled with stops in Toronto and Montreal (where a couple of the Detroit Lions football players, arriving in town for an exhibition game, invited us to party in their hotel room; yeah, right, we were young and naive, but not stupid). We traveled through Vermont and spent a day in Concord, NH, where we met the governor's assistant who followed us to Boston, MA, and bought us each a lobster dinner.

Let me tell you, two single girls traveling across the country meet a lot of interesting people. Those two trips set in motion my fascination with long-distance driving -- of zipping past palm trees in the morning and through mountains in the afternoon. That beats the view from my office.

And on March 31-April 1, my drive from southern Florida to Chicago offered multiple opportunities to stop and savor the scenery. As stated in my previous blog entry, it's the weekend of an annual mass exodus from Florida, and the stop-and-crawl pattern repeated heading in and out of Atlanta (nothing new about that; I remain convinced the only convenient time to drive through Atlanta is 4 a.m.); in and out of Chattanooga and, worst of all, for what seemed an eternity through Nashville.

But each trip delivers some new bit of wisdom and here's mine from that recent trek: if you want to live in a city with no rush-hour traffic jams, relocate to Louisville, KY. One caveat: I didn't see a single Stuckeys.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hey, where are all you people going?

If you're from the northern sector of the midwest where winter strips the color out of the landscape, then dumps a heap of snow just to up the aggravation factor, Florida in March is just what the weatherman ordered. Show me a palm tree and I'm happy -- mentally flashing back to 5-year-old me, in the back seat of my parents' car with my nose pressed against the window, seeing Florida for the first time. It was love at first sight with those graceful palm trees. Mix in the sound of pounding surf and the smell of salt air and I'm hooked.

But, and this is important, so pay attention (actually, you may want to get paper and pen and write this down): Whatever you do, do not depart Florida on March 31.

If you choose to ignore this sage advice, be prepared to come flying up the entrance ramp to whatever northbound expressway you're about to merge onto, hit the brakes, squeeze in among the other parked cars, and commence to read a good book while enjoying a picnic lunch you were hopefully wise enough to pack for this trudge home.

The ensuing weekend being Easter was certainly a complicating factor, but the real culprits were the expiring rental leases on March 31. Yes, sure, many choose to stay through May and a few heat-seeking missiles will refuse to pull up stakes until mid-June, but if you'd been on the I-75 crawl with me from Ft. Myers to Sarasota, you'd swear someone had opened a window and yelled, "It's March 31! All you snowbirds -- get out!"

No accidents. No construction. Just an endless parade of campers and Cadillacs and big 4-door sedans.

I'd had a great, albeit too short stay in Naples and then my cousin drove me to the Ft. Myers airport where I met Jeff's customers who boarded an airplane as I started driving their car back to Chicago. My intended route was I-75 to I-4, where I'd veer off the beaten path and spend the day and night with our good friends in Eustis, FL, then depart before dawn the next morning for the business part of the trip.

I called Jeff, who had taken an early morning flight to Phoenix and was in a PHX airport restaurant, having breakfast and waiting until his customer arrived. I told him the mile marker I was crawling past and begged him to consult his road atlas and find an alternate route that would take me east and then northeast to connect with I-4. "Get me out of here. I'm not a celebrity, but I've had enough fun on I-75."

Jeff did a good job. He routed me through a rural area with no traffic and no stops. It wasn't exactly a short cut, but it was beautiful -- forested in some areas -- and, best of all, I was cruising, not crawling. Did you know there are a lot of beekeepers in the middle of Florida? Neither did I until I got off the expressway and did the two-lane road scenic tour.

So, while the snowbirds were doing the leaving-Florida crawl on I-75, and probably vowing, after the miserable winter weather they had experienced in Florida this year, never to return, I, on the other hand, was freebird, zipping through the back roads and backwoods of Florida.

I highly recommend it. But not on March 31. You've been warned.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"a" is for yes; "b" equals no.

I have yet to jump on the texting bandwagon. Most likely because my cell phone is an older model and I haven't figured out its quirks when it comes to texting. And so, I was waiting at my second flight's gate in the Washington Reagan airport when my phone signaled me that I had a text message. It was from my son Scott, asking if I was flying out that morning. I tried to text back "yes", but I couldn't get to the letter "e". I cleared the "y" and tried to text "am" and my phone skipped past the letter "m" and went right to "n". Tried it again. Same thing. I gave up and texted back "a".

Scott texted me back "what the heck is a?" I thought I'd made myself perfectly clear. "A" for yes. "B" for no.

He immediately called me. "Sonce (his nickname for me), when are you going to learn how to text?" Actually, I know how to text. It's my phone that remains uneducated. It also only holds a charge for one brief call these days. Then it shuts off. I wanted to get a new phone before the trip, but ran out of time. It's on my list, along with too many other things that probably will not get accomplished in my lifetime.

Washington Reagan airport has an "interesting" terminal set up. My first flight parked at the end of one wing of the terminal. I could see, by the airport diagram, that my next flight took off from a gate in the opposite wing of the same terminal. I figured, with my newly functioning knees, that I could walk to that wing. I could look out the window and see it, but I couldn't get to it without walking past the security entrance. A sign informed me that there was a shuttle from one of the gates that takes passengers to the other wing. What is does is send you out a door and down two flights of metal steps, in the rain, to the awaiting shuttle. The shuttle bus literally takes less than 30 seconds to deposit you at the other wing, where you and your luggage, again in the rain, climb metal stairs (which must become pretty slippery when ice and snow are present) to gain entrance into that wing.

Without the cortisone shots, I'd have never been able to ascend or descend those stairs, particularly while carrying my suitcase. I'm sure there's another option for those who require assistance, but fortunately, I wasn't one of them.

My knees were fine during both flights and I arrived in sunny Florida approximately at the same time, though I take no credit for it, as long-awaited warm temperatures. Florida had had a miserable winter. My cousin Dick, who spends half the year in Naples, and his wife Wilma were waiting for me at the Ft. Myers airport and my brief, much-anticipated vacation began.

Dick and I took a 2-mile walk along a path that skirts the mangrove woods that separate the gulf, at one point, from a strip of condos. The path has water on either side and, on a good day, you might spot otters, all kinds of water fowl, and an occasional alligator. It's a beautiful walk and while the otters did not make their presence known, we did see most of the other residents, including a couple of alligators. Again, I was grateful for the cortisone shots, as this was not a walk that I could have accomplished without them.

I guess I could have texted Scott about it, but in this case "a" would have stood for alligator. Smart as he is, I don't think he would have made that connection.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

It's a miracle!

Twenty-four hours after the cortisone shot to both knees, I awoke in the early hours of the morning, climbed out of bed and took a couple of cautious steps. What?! No pain? No collapsible knees? Was this a dream or was I really awake? Had I truly gone to bed with aching knees and while I was sleeping, the pain fairy stole the pain and left me functioning knees?

If there had been a televangelist in my living room, he'd have shouted, "Praise the Lord! She's cured!" And then taken credit for it, no doubt. This was great. This was perfect. My cold was in the waning stages and I was walking, not like an Egyptian, but like a human. Now I really was ready for my Florida trip.

I had met with the radiologist earlier in the week in preparation for my radiation therapy, which would begin sometime during the week following my vacation. I had expressed to him my concerns about the compounding effects of radiation exposure with all the CT scans, X-rays and mammograms I'd had in the past five months. He countered that I'd probably be exposed to more radiation while flying above the clouds than from any medical test. I didn't know that, although the following week I did read about that very same subject in the newspaper. Well, swell, 5 months of compounded testing plus two radiating airline flights to get to Florida. Someone literally could tell me I had a glow about me.

In the meantime, I had functioning knees, followed by succeeding nights of sound sleep, thanks to the thieving pain fairy. That alone had lifted my spirits enough that I could have flown myself to Florida -- below the clouds, naturally.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A shot and a beer

I grabbed a 7:15 a.m. appointment on Thursday with the orthopedist. The last (and first) time I had gone to the orthopedist, I had a 1:30 appointment and sat in the crowded waiting room for more than 2 hours before being led to an examining room where I waited another 20 minutes. Their office is so busy that it's like being at an airport gate and waiting for your group to be called for boarding. Even at 7:15 in the morning, it was busy and I waited a half an hour. When I had seen the orthopedist the first time, it was the day before my first chemo session. He confided in me then that "if you want to make a lot of money in orthopedics, give a lot of cortisone shots." An honest man. But he went on to tell me that since I was already on steroids for the chemo, the drugs were already accomplishing the same thing that the cortisone would do. Unfortunately, it was for a short period of time.

I'd never had a cortisone shot in my life, but I knew that my upcoming trip to Florida meant two things: 1) From 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. I'd either be sitting at an airport gate or sitting in one of two airplanes and 2) returning from Florida, I'd be sitting behind the wheel of a car for 1400 miles (I was driving one of Jeff's customer's car back from Ft. Myers to Chicago, while Jeff, at the same time, was driving another customer's car back from Phoenix). With my aching knees bent for that long of a time, I'd be one miserable old lady.

I'd also heard that the shots hurt. I didn't care. No pain, no gain. How bad could it be? I asked the doc if he had a bullet I could bite down on. I should have insisted. Holy cow, did it smart! And, once the first knee was shot up, I tensed up because I knew what was coming for the second knee. If it wasn't early in the morning, and if I was a drinking gal, I'd have asked for a shot of something else -- like whiskey (which I hate). Whew! But, if these shots worked like everyone said they did, I'd be a new woman by the weekend.

I was kind of hoping that new woman would look like Sandy Bullock (without the cheating husband), but truthfully I'd settle for the old pre-chemo, pre-painful knees me. That would be good enough.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Okay, whose leftover cold is this?!

The days immediately after my final chemo session pretty much followed the pattern of the first three sessions. No side effects. No nausea. No problems. I didn't take any time off of work and made it a point to try and hold it to 8-hour days, not 9- or 10-hour days, with the help of the chemo police (my boss and fellow workers), who would point my way to the door if I strayed too far beyond my schedule.

Saturday I tried to sleep in a bit as we had a surprise birthday party to attend in the afternoon for my friend Linn. It was being held at her mother's house, about an hour-and-a-half away, and I was eager to go, as her family has become my second family -- and her mother welcomes me like a fourth daughter. Jeff and I had a good time, but by the early evening, I was ready for PJs and a warm blanket. My knees were killing me the whole ride home and if they hadn't been, I'd have slept during the ride.

I woke up Sunday and realized why I'd been extra tired. The cold everyone kept passing around had finally decided to stop and visit me. I was congested and coughing -- but had no fever, thank God! I stayed in my pajamas the entire day and slept a good portion of it. I planned to stay home from work on Monday to try and get as much rest as possible and shake the cold, but I remembered I had paperwork to do.

On Monday, I went in early and got done what I had to do and left after 5 hours. Came home and went right to bed and stayed there through Tuesday. By Wednesday, I was back at work, feeling better than I sounded. I was going to Florida on vacation the next week and had lots of projects to finish. The cold came at a bad time, considering all I had to do, but it would have been worse if it came the following week when I was on vacation. No one likes to be sick away from home. And having just gotten over pneumonia the week before, I wanted to make sure this cold didn't turn into something more threatening.

Just a few more days and I'd be out of the post-chemo danger zone. In the month of March, I'd had 13 days of fever, a mild infection, pneumonia and now a cold. That's about as much fun as I could pack into one cold, miserable month.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gone fishin'

I made a full blog entry earlier today, but tonight I'm hanging the "gone fishin'" sign on my blog for the next four days as I head out on vacation. I return on Friday and have every intention of returning my attention to the blog by Friday night. That's the plan anyway.

So, to all of you, I wish as good a week as I'm hoping to have. See you Friday.


Corned beef, cabbage and chemo

On most people's calendar, March 17 was marked as St. Patrick's Day, but my calendar had another entry: Final chemo session. It had been delayed from the week before because of the pneumonia complication. While others, whether Irish or far from it, were being served and over-served with green beer and Irish whiskey, I was having a different sort of cocktail, through a tube feeding into a vein in my hand. But I was okay with it. This was the last dose. Even with Irish ancestors by the name of Karnes on my dad's side, I was never a big St. Patty's Day celebrant. Not crazy about beer, nor whiskey. But I did like corned beef and cabbage. This was the first year I didn't prepare it. To be tender and tasty, corned beef needs to quietly simmer for several hours. By the time I got home from the chemo session, it would be too late and I would be too tired to initiate that process.

My last session was quiet and isolated. When I first arrived, the usual room where I received treatment was full. In the back room, where blood is taken for preliminary testing, there was also a recliner and we began treatment there. Even after the other room cleared out, I chose to remain where I was. I had my lunch, read a book and it was peaceful. Two different women came and went for blood work. One was newly diagnosed. The other had been cured for two years and was having routine testing done. There was an easy rapport and conversation among us, as if we were sorority sisters. Know where you've been. Know where you're headed. It tends to be a tie that binds, even if just for an afternoon.

Treatment completed, I thanked the nurses who had taken such good care of me and made my 3-month follow-up appointment. I felt like I imagine a released prisoner feels as I walked to my car. Time served. Released for good behavior. Oh, it felt good. In 22 days, my body could start the rebirth process. Hair could grow again. Heartburn could go wherever heartburn goes. My immune system could start rebuilding. Spring was coming to Chicago and it felt, to me, like my body was about to enter its own spring season.

The next morning I was the first to arrive at work -- about 6 a.m. As I rounded the corner to my office, I could see a pink glow emanating from within. A helium balloon's escape had been stopped by the ceiling above my chair. My lamp, phone, arm rests and monitor were wrapped in pink netting. A light pink frothy ribbon draped my walls. Pink balloons were everywhere. On my desk, pink plates, cups and utensils. Bottles of pink beverages. Platters of pink food. On the wall, a signed congratulatory note on completing my chemo treatments. I knew immediately this was the work of my staff. On my chair, from my boss, was a bag containing a beautiful pink shawl. I was touched beyond words. It was sweet. It was beautiful. It was fun.

Odd as it may sounds -- and corned beef or no corned beef -- I do believe this will go down as my favorite St. Patty's Day (and day after) of all.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sooner or later, you're going to have to pay for that!

Tuesday, the day before my 4th and final chemo treatment, I took the Dexamethason steroids in the morning and hoped there'd be less lurch walking by noon, which was usually how long it took for the numbing factor to kick in. It didn't seem as effective this time. My knees were slightly better, but I'd still have to stand a second at my desk before taking an assured step.

By the time I was 30, I had calcium deposits on my knees that made them creaky sounding when I climbed stairs, but no pain. I'd long been a tennis-playing fanatic and appreciate now, with the wisdom of senior thinking and reflection, that it must have driven my mother batty to hear me practice forehands, backhands and serves for hours by hitting the ball against the wooden garage door. I wonder how much restraint it took for her not to open the door and practice the skillet toss at her thoughtless daughter.

Fresh out of college, when I moved to Chicago, I became close friends with Sue, another tennis fanatic, and we played tennis nearly every day, from the time the snow melted off the courts to the day it returned and deposited a new layer. On 100° days, she and I would be the only two foolish enough to shake and bake in the punishing heat. After work, she'd zip down Michigan Avenue in her red Corvette, pull up in front of the Tribune, and I'd come running out, already changed into my tennis outfit. Off we'd race to grab an open court or rack up for next available. I was in the best shape of my life. But also not aware of the pounding my knees were taking. A couple of years of racquetball playing a decade later pretty much sealed their fate. I've often wondered if Sue would now be dealing with knee issues, but sadly, a heart attack stole her away nearly two decades ago.

And over the past 10 years or so, I'd had days where one knee or the other would blow during weight lifting or kickboxing or Zumba or whatever other physical activity I was signed up for in an attempt to move those dust-collecting size 4 outfits from the back of my closet to center stage. But I'd never had anything like this before. Not only tender to the touch, my knees were so painful that I'd wake up from a sound sleep every time I'd move. I'm wondering -- and hoping -- that when the last traces of chemo drugs have left my system -- along with the bone-marrow-boosting Neulasta drug that admits it intensifies joint aches -- I'll go back to having just mildly annoying knees and this will all be just a bad memory.

But first, I had my final chemo session coming the next day, delayed from the previous Wednesday. Supposedly, it takes 21 days for the chemo drugs -- let's call them what they really are -- toxins -- to leave the victim's system. Come April 8, 2010, it will be 22 days after my last chemo treatment and I'm penciling in a "Welcome back, knees" celebration. You're all welcome to join me. I'll even host a drawing with my tennis racquet, also long gathering dust in the closet, as the grand prize.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

So, I guess you won't be signing up for the marathon?

I finished the 10-day supply of Levaquin antibiotic on Thursday and was glad to be done with it. I had to take it with food or end up with a yucky stomach. Even food didn't necessary stymie the yuck factor. And I knew with the pneumonia being viral that the antibiotic was ineffective in that battle. But, I think the pneumonia battle was just about over before I even knew I had been engaged in combat. I was feeling much better. And the next night, around 10:30, Scott and the girls arrived. They were all jacked from the trip and there was lots of giggling before Chloe and Livy surrendered to sleep. Scott stayed up til about midnight with us and, except for the beer in his hand, it was like he was back home and staying up way too late for a school night. "Don't drink too many of those or you'll have a hangover in physics class!"

Jeff wanted to take the girls to breakfast and show them off at his favorite local egg joint, so I threw a beef stew in the crockpot and then got myself ready. We were taking the girls to a live performance of Sleeping Beauty at 10 am. Jeff and Scott made sure I got the aisle seat as both knees had decided this would be the perfect weekend to go on strike. I was hobbling and it just wasn't possible to disguise my stiff-legged walk. Jeff helped me on the exiting adventure out of Scott's pick-up so that I didn't land too hard on my collapsible underpinnings. So this is what it's like to get old, I thought. Just a year ago, I was burning off 700 calories at 5-a.m. hour-long Zumba classes. From salsa dancing to walker ready in a matter of months.

Scott had a Portillo's craving so we satisfied that request with lunch and then took the girls to Dollar Tree and gave them some shopping money for color/fun books, puzzles and whatever else they deemed worthy of purchase. I was happy for the low-key afternoon of playing Sorry, assembling puzzles, coloring in books and being able to rest my aching knees on a chair. The wig was resting in another room and I was wearing the soft velvet turban that I don at home. Neither of the girls had reacted to the turban, so I asked if they wanted to see Grandma the egghead. They both laughed and said yeah and really didn't react other than smile. They rubbed my bristly head and agreed it kind of felt like velvet too.

The next day Scott and I took the girls to Gameworks where they drove virtual cars, motorcycles and snowmobiles with enthusiasm and surprising skills. Maybe not so surprising. They're Wii kids. My knees were impossibly worse than the day before, so I perched on whatever open stools were available by each game and took a load off.

Monday I took off of work to spend the last day with Scott and the girls. And if your knees were uncooperative and on the endangered list, what's the one place you would avoid? Something mammoth that can only be explored on foot? Of course! Like, say the Museum of Science & Industry? I know. I'm an idiot. But I had told the girls about the million-dollar dollhouse and it was on their must-see list. And to tell you the truth, other than the unique City Museum in St. Louis, which we had explored the year before, there is no museum that attracts me more than S&I. And this was going to be the girls' first visit. I didn't want to miss it. Surprisingly, they did a fast spin around the dollhouse. Guess the idea of it was more enticing than the reality. But they loved the submarine and coal mine and whispering gallery and elaborate train layout -- you name it. We walked it all. Well, they walked. I lurched, like Dr. Frankenstein's monster.

But the one thing I cannot miss on each visit is the chick hatchery. There they are on one side, the newly hatched naked little chicks, lying exhausted and shell-shocked (sorry) amongst the still intact eggs. Then in the other half of the oversized incubator, the fuzzy chicks, maybe a week or two old, zipping around their enclosure like they're turbo birds -- attracted by anything shiny that just might be food. I could watch them for hours. There was one little bird right in front of me who was kind of sprawled and weak looking and just couldn't keep his eyes open. The more I watched him, the more convinced I became that he was sick and on death's door. I looked over at Jeff and his return look told me he too thought we were watching this little baby struggle to live. I was ready to move on when suddenly the chick popped up and dashed to the watering hole. Did I mention I love these little creatures!

By 3:00 I was out of steam, so we told the kids to enjoy the rest of the museum and have a safe journey home and we headed back to Libertyville. I was in so much pain I was fighting back tears, but hey, I'd been down in a coal mine and a German sub and then witnessed the miracle of new life. You don't gain all that without a little pain!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Oh -- so that's what it is!

Monday morning I headed to the local facility for a quick CT scan before work. Some people start their day with coffee and a bagel. I start with CT scans. Nothing to drink this time -- and the contrast is done by injecting the tubing that feeds to the needle in my hand, so it's all painless and quick with a mechanical voice telling me when to take a breath and hold it.

I headed directly from the test to work and once there, I called Dr. B. to let her know that I had completed the CT scan and that, finally, my fever had gone away over the weekend.

To my surprise, she already had the results -- and a surprise. I had pneumonia. Well, of course, now it made sense. The shortness of breath. The little gasps that followed an intake of breath. While SOB was a side effect of the antibiotic I was on, it certainly went hand in hand with pneumonia. Yet, it had never occurred to me that I had pneumonia. Where were the precursors. I hadn't had a cold or a cough. Just fever. One day fever, next day pneumonia? Was this the workings of chemotherapy?

At that point, I was almost happy to hear I had pneumonia. We could finally name this devil and move on. Nevertheless, we agreed that postponing chemo to the following week would be a wise move. I had three more days of finishing the antibiotic -- Levaquin -- and since the fever was gone, it looked like I was mending all right.

My knees, on the other hand, were getting worse, but come next week, I knew the pre-chemo Dexamethason dose would give some relief there. The good news was that Scott was bringing our granddaughters in for the coming weekend -- and not only was that an occasion to lift my spirits, but now I wouldn't be dealing with post-chemo fatigue. Maybe this was all a good thing afterall.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

We interrupt this blog to bring you BREAKING NEWS

Those of you who have been following my blog from the beginning know that I've been writing in past tense all along, since I started blogging 3 months after my diagnosis and ensuing surgery. But, just for today, I want to bring you current news because I'm in a celebratory mood!

Today I had my 4th and final chemo treatment. That's right. I am done. Fini. Kaput with chemo.

In a few weeks I'll start getting nuked when my daily radiation treatments begin, but the only side effects radiation offers are fatigue and sunburn. I can handle that.

So, today through the next 21 days, toxins will be traveling through my system, deploying their search and destroy talents, for the very last time. And then my hair can start on its return journey and my immune system can start rebuilding and my life can return to whatever it deems normal.

Excuse me while I go celebrate with some good old antioxidants like broccoli and berries and cheesecake (if the latter isn't an antioxidant, it should be).



Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fever -- in the morning, fever all through the night!

I'd been on the antibiotics for four days and I was still one hot mama. Fever in the morning, afternoon and evening, spiking almost exactly 5.5 hours after I'd taken a Tylenol. I'd now been bedeviled by fever for 11 days. I was really worn out. And, judging by my constant thirst, I suspected I was losing the battle against dehydration.

Dr. B. had me come from my office right to hers on Friday. I had more blood work done -- additional blood cultures and a white blood count -- which was fine. The cultures would take 48 hours or more to determine if any new bacteria had developed. My blood pressure was 110/70 and I was thrilled. My BP had been running higher than normal (which used to be around 120/70) since I'd been sick -- and not working out was also a big contributor, I'm sure. While the 110/70 seemed good news, it was actually an indicator that I was pretty dehydrated.

Dr. B. was frankly stumped and tempted to put me in the hospital. The urinary infection was pretty mild and the antibiotic she had prescribed should have taken care of it and most any other infection that might be lurking within. My lymph nodes in the throat area were a little swollen, but I had no other symptoms of anything going on, beyond the returning temperature. She wanted me to have another CT scan of the lungs to see if the nodules or scar tissue that showed up in an earlier scan showed any signs of change.

And what if the CT scan comes up with nothing, I asked her. She replied that she would then send me to an infectious disease specialist. She couldn't treat what she didn't know. I understood that, but I was starting to get nervous about this. What if something sinister was cooking inside. An undiscovered tumor? I really wanted to be able to hang a tag on this fever inducer and get it shut down.

Dr. B. said she was tempted to put me in the hospital, but decided to give me a bag of fluids to counter the dehydration. She also canceled my 4th and final chemo treatment for the following Wednesday and asked me to just come in and see her on that date to determine how I was doing. If we couldn't get this under control, then maybe we'd just stop and end the chemo with three treatments. Or, if the fever went away, then we'd reschedule for the Wednesday after.

After I was rehydrated with the fluids, the nurse took my blood pressure again. It was 140/80. I had a new understanding of how dehydration affects blood pressure.

I scheduled the CT scan for first thing Monday morning. How bizarre that that same morning, the Chicago Tribune ran a big splashy feature on the dangers of CT scans and compared its supposed low-radiation effects to that of years of radiation exposure. And this was my second one in less than two months.

I figure in another year, I'll be a human night light.

If I was going to glow in the dark, I sure as hell better end up with some kind of an answer to the fever mystery. Fair is fair!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Three strikes and you're out!

My third chemo session came and went, again without a hitch. I drove myself this time. No reason not to. Past history showed that I was fine -- no adverse reactions. I also didn't take off from work the day after. Other than being just a little shaky, I had handled both previous post-chemo days like they were just another day. I'd just make sure that I didn't stay beyond 8 hours at work the two following days. I held pretty close to that promise. I came home, took a nap, and sailed through pretty much unscathed.

Six days later, however, I came home from work with chills and a headache. Took my temperature and there was the evidence. 102°. My chemo instruction sheet told me to call in to the oncologist if I had anything higher than 100.5°.

Dr. B. was on vacation. The next morning, I got a call-back from one of her partners who was on call. He had me go into their local office for blood work. Jeff took me in. The white blood count was pretty good -- and that in itself was a good thing. They also drew blood for blood cultures and had me pee in a cup to do a urine culture as well -- both tests checking for any bacteria that might be a source of infection, thus the fever.

I was to come back the next day to see the doctor who was on call. I went in to work and left from there early in the afternoon for the appointment. I was still running a temp, but was able to bring it down with Tylenol. Once the Tylenol wore off, I'd spike back up to 101.8 or 102°.

The doctor asked me all kinds of questions to which I responded no. Throat looked okay. He looked up my nose (with a light, not a rubber hose) and said, "Whoa, really red." He wrote out a prescription for Flonase and we both hoped the nose was the culprit. The nose knows!

The nose might have been guilty, but it had some partners-in-crime. The temperature continued its morning, afternoon and evening spikes to 102° when the Tylenol wore off. That continued for a week. I left a message for Dr. B to call when she returned to the office and she was most upset that I had had a fever for 8 days. I wasn't enjoying it either. As much water as I was drinking, I knew I was getting dehydrated -- and exhausted from the fever battle. She told me there was a slight urinary infection and prescribed an antibiotic that would take care of that and any other troublemakers that might be brewing, even though the blood cultures came back negative.

I hoped this would send the fever packing. But it had no intention of leaving its accommodating host.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hey, are you going to eat that?

Following my second chemo treatment, after a conversation with and ensuing approval from my oncologist, I stayed on one Dexamethason steroid pill a day to ease the inflammation of my right knee and keep me from hobbling so badly. It worked like a miracle cure. I was walking so much better with minimal pain. The trade-off? Actually, there were several. My face was so puffy I looked like Humpty Dumpty doing a chipmunk impersonation. Or a chipmunk doing a Humpty Dumpty impersonation. Either way, this also was not a good look for me and was enough to make sure that in any photo op, I'd be positioning myself in the back row solidly behind anyone who would tower over me (which is pretty much anyone I know).

Second on the list of why I stopped taking the steroid each day: I was grumpy. Under normal circumstances, two of the seven dwarves that I would never be cast for were Bashful and Grumpy. Happy? Yes. Sleepy? Maybe. Sneezy? In certain seasons, yes. Doc? Definitely underqualified, but better than Grumpy. I don't like me Grumpy. Jeff's not crazy about it either.

Third -- I was ravenous. It was like there was a hole burning through my stomach and if I didn't feed it, it hurt. I constantly felt yucky. And never full. If it didn't move, I ate it. If it moved slowly enough, I'd pounce and eat it. And if it moved fast enough, I'd give chase 'til my knee gave out. We're talking serious hunger here. I gained 7 lbs. in one week. The good news is I also lost 7 lbs. in one week, but more about that in a future post.

So, here was my life on steroids: A puffy-faced, disgustingly hungry, weight-gaining grump who was able to walk better.

It didn't seem a fair trade-off. After my third chemo session, I stopped the one-a-day Dexamethason. My face is looking more like my old self, my appetite is back to normal and I'm back to my charming self (although all the votes aren't in yet on that one). So, I hobble. Once I'm done with chemo, I'll get a cortisone shot and find the same relief without the side effects.

And, I've stopped chasing food. Unless, it's really, really slow moving.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

For God's sake, get me to the church on time!

The weekend before my first chemo session I had written a 20-minute play about the first 50 years of my church's 150 year history. The minister's daughter, who is active in theater, had done the casting, but asked if I could direct the play as she was performing in her theater group the same night as the church performance and wouldn't be able to attend. Coordinated with the play was the anniversary kick-off dinner. It was going to be a big night with several hundred people in attendance.

I had written the play so that some cast members would be seated in the audience -- popping up with comments. Hopefully that element of surprise would work to encourage laughs.

I'd never directed anything before, but what the heck, I'd written the play, so if anyone should know what its intended rhythm should be, it would be me. We did a read-through after church the previous Sunday, but some cast members were missing, so the first real rehearsal in the hall, on stage and with microphones, would be the Saturday morning of the dinner. It was a good two weeks after my second chemo session, so I was feeling fine. The rehearsal went reasonably well, despite some initial microphone feedback and some pacing issues. We'd meet back at the church at 5:00 and the play was to begin at 5:30, followed by dinner.

I had just enough time to run to the Dollar Tree that afternoon, pick up a few Valentine bag stuffers for my granddaughters, and still squeeze in a nap before "showtime". What I hadn't counted on was being held captive by a 94-year-old woman at the Dollar Tree. I had just picked out two big red bags with white feathers across the top as the goodie bags for the girls. I never even saw my impending tormenter approach. Just heard her as she sidled up to me and said, "Don't they have the cutest things here!" Good old female intuition should have warned me to just smile, nod and move on, but I suspected she was lonely for conversation. She probably lived close enough to walk to the store and made it part of her daily activities. Go visit with strangers at the Dollar Tree. I replied to her that yes, indeed, Dollar Tree was a great little store. It was the last time I was to hear my own voice. She wasn't hungry for conversation. She was desperate to tell her story to whomever would listen. If I took a step, she took a step, yet never took a breath in between sentences. It was kind of astounding actually. She told me that she was 94 and that her memory was still perfect, and she was right. Because she repeated her story, word for word, over and over again. Yep, that memory was flawless. Thirty minutes later, I could see my afternoon nap slipping away from me. Worse yet, when the church play began, it was not beyond the realm of possibility that I would be on the 50th round of this woman's life story. And so far the only shopping I had done was to pick out the two bags that dropped me like a fly into the spider's web. Finally, desperate (and embarrassed to admit this), I played the chemo card. I flat out lied to her. I held up my hand to indicate someone else wanted the floor and it worked. She paused and took a breath, and I told her I'd just had chemo and I was quickly running out of steam. I had to leave! She said something about "oh, poor thing" and I nodded and backed away. "Yes, poor thing. Goodbye now." And I cut and run. I'd be in church again in a few hours and could ask for forgiveness for lying to a poor old lonely lady. But -- I was free!

I did manage to snag a quick nap before we headed to the church. We sat at a table closest to the stage so that I could direct from there. I have to admit I was nervous. I'd never written a play for a church before. What if no one laughed? Worse yet, what if they laughed in all the wrong places?

But of course they didn't. This was an audience of church-going people. They were kind and generous with their laughs and the play and dinner went well -- with more than 300 hundred people in attendance. I could relax and enjoy the rest of the evening.

But I'm not sure I can ever go back to the Dollar Tree again.

Friday, March 5, 2010

During this performance, no wigs will be allowed to be removed!

The week following my new hair's arrival, I attended a dinner/play with three friends from my old place of employment. That was the main reason I would have been disappointed if the wig hadn't arrived in time. At a live performance, who wants to sit behind someone wearing a hat! "Hey, I came to see a play, not a Fedora!"

I had left work at 2:30 to have at least two-and-a-half hours at home before I was to meet them for dinner. I needed that time to let wiggy perch on its stand while my head cooled off. Plus a little nap wouldn't hurt either. So, I arrived refreshed, with a cool head, ready for the entertainment I had been looking forward to for weeks. And it didn't disappoint. My Fair Lady never does, but this was truly a talented cast and the stage set-up was amazingly clever and well done.

About halfway through the first act, however, I could feel trickles of perspiration around my ears. Warm? Oh my yes. When intermission came, I fanned myself rapidly with the Showbill. Michaelle, seated to my left, automated her Showbill and fanned me as well.

When the lights went down for the second act, I contemplated whipping off the wig, but it wasn't nearly dark enough and my lightbulb head might have been distracting to the cast members. "What is that thing?"

I made it through and thoroughly enjoyed the evening and the company, but I kept wondering if I'm this warm in the winter months, what is it going to be like in the hot summer months with that wig on my head? I'm thinking I need to find a little motorized, hand-held fan. Or a lightweight scarf that doesn't make me look like Carol Burnett's scrubwoman character.

Or move to Nome, Alaska.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Warning: Do not cook in that wig!

My new hair had been to church on Sunday and received my friends' blessings. Now it was time to introduce it to my work friends. The nice thing about starting before dawn is that by the time most people arrive at "normal" hours, I'm already at my station. I didn't have to walk past a group in the hallway and look back to see if they had stunned looks on their faces. I have to say I was nervous about it. A few weeks back, I'd had hair; then a hat; now more hair than usually sprouts on a human head.

My first encounter was in the lunchroom when I went to make coffee and three women who also gather to get the coffee started looked up when I walked in and all of them said they loved my hair. The style. The color. You don't think it looks too wiggy? Oh no. It looks very natural. Okay. That's good.

Back at my computer, I was working away when my boss and our VP of HR ducked their heads in and exclaimed they loved it! "Better than your own hair!" Where had I heard that before? I continued my survey, "doesn't look too wiggy?" Not at all.

Tim, one of our editorial directors, who checks on me daily and points me to the door if I've stayed too long, confirmed. Like it! Not wiggy.

Surely, there would be at least one response of "maybe just a little". Nope. Swanny, one of our sales reps, a fun hail-fellow-well-met kind of guy with a booming voice, stopped by. "Hey, I like your hair! Better than your real hair."

Ok, ok. Now to me, it still looked a tad wiggy. I mean whose hair puffs that high on the crown of their head. I wouldn't be surprised if I was pulled aside in the airport security line and grilled: Okay, lady, what are you hiding under that hair? An assault weapon? Plastique? A lotion tube larger than 3 oz.? Hmn, that last one might just work.

I have to say, come the afternoon, when the building heat rises anyway, I was boiling. My own body heat was all trapped under that thing that didn't look wiggy. I could feel the perspiration. Wow, is it hot in here or is it just me?

First thing I do when I walk through the door at home is whip off the muskrat, put it on its stand and stick my head in the freezer for a few minutes. It's a good practice anyway. If I ever forget to take it off and stand over a pan of boiling water, or open the door to a hot oven, it will melt. That's right, melt.

Are you getting the same image I got? Mrs. Doubtfire. Oooohhhh nooooo, boys and girls. I don't even want to guess what a melted wig looks like or how warm that would be on my head!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Do you mind my asking where you get your hair done?

Saturday -- also known as "hair day" on my calendar -- arrived and I spent most of it resting. It was that third day after my second chemo treatment and it was pretty much following the pattern of hitting the wall and feeling like all the energy had been sucked out of my chemically altered body. My appointment at the hair salon was at 3:00 and on the drive over -- about 40 minutes from my home -- I felt like I was starring in The Return of the Zombie. Worse yet, the strip plaza the salon was in didn't have a left-turn opening in the road divider, so I turned preceding the strip mall, parked next door and scaled a snow mound to get to the salon.

My stylist took me to a private room in the back and shaved the remaining tufts of hair from my head. As it turns out, I fall into the smooth (vs lumpy) head category. I looked like an egg. I don't like eggs. And I really don't like looking like an egg. I suppose there are worse things to look like, but if asked to name one -- sorry, I got nothing.

She brought out my newly arrived wig and I tried it on. Great color, she said. "It's so cute on you." I looked in the mirror and thought holy wig, that's a lot of hair. Remember, I'm from the fine hair/no body club. Now it looked like I was all hair with a disappearing face. You don't think it looks too wiggy, I asked her. Oh no, she assured me. Remember, we're going to feather it, trim it and thin it out a bit. First time in my life that "my" hair would have to be thinned.

First order of business was to make sure it was sized to fit my head. This entailed her sewing more lace to the lining, a pretty lengthy process. So, while she worked on that, I tried on a few turbans. I wanted something soft and comfy that I could wear around the house to keep my head warm. I found one that I liked and added it to my "cart". While the stylist continued with the lacing, I asked her, on average, how long it takes for most chemo patients' hair to grow back. She said about 9 months to a year before there's enough to do any kind of styling with. Groan. I thought maybe four to five months. This wig was going to be a part of my wardrobe longer than I anticipated.

Once she finished with the lacing, I tried on the wig again. It was a good fit. She began styling, per my suggestions. Shorter around the ears, shorter and more ragged around the neck, a little more air in the bangs. She feathered it quite a bit and when she was done, it looked so different than when I first tried it on. "Not so wiggy now, is it!" she said. And she was right. It looked so much better. Still odd to me, having that much hair -- but so much better.

So, I left wearing my wig, and clutching a bag of purchases, including the turban, wig styling mousse, refreshing spray, shampoo and conditioner, brush, wig stand and some shea butter for my egghead. I reclimbed that snowbank and drove the 40-minute drive home. Whenever I pulled up even to another car at a light, I'd look over to see if the driver would do a double take and then start laughing. Nope. No reaction. They were either polite, or they couldn't tell it was a wig.

I wondered what Jeff would think.

He heard me come in from the garage and asked if I had my wig on. I ducked into the downstairs bathroom to make sure it hadn't spun sidewise, and was happy to see it actually looked better in the mirror at home than it had in the salon. I came up the stairs and Jeff greeted me with a big smile. Hey, this was going to be okay. And then he spoke: I like it better than your real hair.

Hmn. Is that a good thing? 'Cause ultimately you're going to be disappointed when my own hair returns, pal.

I wore it to church next day. My wig's first outing. It was warmly received. "It's darling." "I love the cut." "I wonder if I could get my hair styled like that."

Since then, I've actually had two complete strangers ask me where I get my hair cut because they love the style. I was tempted to whip the wig off my head and tell them to give it a try and see if it works for them. But I think that would probably freak them out. Most likely they've never seen a human egg before.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Retired tweezer for rent

In the whole chemo loss-of-hair promise, I was most curious to see if the stubborn chin whisker would be the last soldier standing. Like the cockroach is purported to be the only survivor of a nuclear holocaust, would the chin hair stand up to chemo devastation.

There are aspects of the body's natural capabilities that are astounding -- and for evidence of that one need look no further than its ability to prepare a body to house and nurture a baby for nine months. But the body also can be whimsical and finds itself funny when it really, truly is simply annoying. Ask a middle-aged man how amusing it is when his hair decides to leave his head and relocate to his back.

Or the pre- or post-menopausal woman who may leave home without her American Express, but never without her trusty tweezer. I know several women who have a collection of tweezers: one at home in the bathroom; one in the desk at work; one in every purse and, most importantly, one in the car for those really sunny days when the sunroof is open and a ray of natural light reveals an untended chin hair so long and now obvious that you'd have to turn sidewise to get through a door frame. This is usually immediately followed by a punch to the arm of appropriate husband, along with the exclamation, "Good God, why didn't you tell me?!"

He, of course, responds with the usual rejoinder: "What?!"

I can report that my legs and underarms are smooth as a baby's butt. One good pedicure -- in itself not a good idea because of potential infection -- and I'm ready for the beach.

Nose hairs? Yes, Chris was right. Gone. And my new nickname could very well be "Sniff". Annoying.

But, I am happy to report that I can temporarily retire my tweezers. Trust me, I've given it close inspection, in both natural and artificial light, out of disbelief. Unlike the cockroach, the chin hair is no match for chemo.

Now there's a celebration. As it turns out, chemo did not claim my eyebrows. They fell under the may-or-may-not category of potential hair loss. And I realize I'm fortunate to claim a spot in the may-not column. I can use all the expression I can get at this hairless point in my life.

When you think about it, and I know this sounds strange, but the eyebrow more resembles a cockroach than the chin hair does.

And if you really want to retire your tweezers, the only suggestion I can offer up is to....I can't even go there. You just have to look at it this way: Plucking = healthy. And my tweezers aren't really retired, they're just enjoying a well-earned rest, temporarily.