seven steps out the door

February 27, 2007 § 9 Comments

1. Moisturize. Everywhere. Bathing in baby oil is an option, but a touch dangerous if barefoot on a tile floor.
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2. Concealer. A good painter will tell you that the secret to a great paint job is prep. What stain Kilz does for your walls, concealer does for your face. Don’t like concealer, spend time with people who a) have lost their glasses b) are over 40
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3. Foundation is the equivalent of primer.
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4. Blush and Bronzer, the first and second coats of paint.
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5. Brows/Shadow/Liner/Mascara, think trim and visualize painted Victorians.
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6. Lipstick. A mouth defined is a terrific distraction from anything that’s missing, wrinkled or fallen.
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7. Hair, you’re bald without it.

The American Cancer Society sponsors a terrific seminar called “Look Good… Feel Better” It’s a public service program intended to help women deal with appearance-related changes from cancer treatment. Far from vanity, it’s a prescription, an anti-depressant really.

The session I attended was at 10am in an administrative wing at Dana Faber which meant we avoided the elevators to the patient floors. Thank goodness, too many harsh cancers make their home up there. By comparison, my breast cancer feels like a half hour of Barney.

The seminar.

The room was small and crowded. A greeter from the ACS or one of their many LGFB volunteers met me at the door and offered a snack. Picture the continental breakfast at a Holiday Inn. I passed up the cellophane pressed Danish and opted for a cup of tea. I took my spot at the table. Across from me, were two bald women, to my right three, and so on around the table. I think there were a total of 14 participants. Some of the women brought a friend.

My first thought.

These poor woman with cancer. Gosh they look like shit.

What was I doing there? I was younger, I was thinner, I was wearing a hat. I didn’t look sick. I didn’t look like ….. I resisted as long as I could, like a bag resists a vacuum. Vfoosh I gave in, watery eyes and all. We shared skin tones akin to aged celery leaves. Not vibrant enough for garnish but still useful in soup. And we shared more.

I distracted myself with the make-up; each participant receiving a red goodie bag. Chanel pressed powder, Origins eye shadow, whip-creamy moisturizer and dozens of other items donated by a behemoth cosmetics industry. From surplus to public service, now that’s community relations. Pity I didn’t bring a pal along. Any one of them would have loved all this free stuff.

They dimmed the lights and pressed play on a DVD. We screened what began as an uplifting take on the pending seminar; past participants raving about the program along with dramatic before and after shots. It was a happy piece but I wondered why we were watching it in the first place. Then the music shifted.

I’m in the biz and probably pay much more attention to these details than most. Still, the somber music over b+w stills dissolving was an odd bit of direction. I fully expected text to appear over each woman with her date of birth along with the date she died.

This is not just about my dark psyche, even the woman running the DVD admitted that she cried every time she screened the film. Congrats, not a dry eye in the house. Fabulous fundraiser, but this group had given plenty already.

Lights up, tissues out and the mood shifted to make-up. I’ll admit I needed the refresher course. My last make–over was at Saks eight plus years ago. A touch more celadon in my skin now and I needed a redirect. Big surprise here, women in their 50’s who had no idea what to do with blush let alone lip liner. They must have been teachers or worked for non-profits. Within the hour every one of our pale faces became pure glamour. It was noon, we had no place to go, but gosh we looked good and as promised, felt better.

I’ve been feeling better as well. This week was treatment number seven, just one more to go. There were no chairs or numbers to ruminate about, I was in a room with a bed, much better than a chair with a view. Someone likes me. I think it’s my nurse. The feeling is mutual. She started the Benadryl drip diluted this time to decrease the burn and before the Taxol could interfere with my normal microtubule growth I was asleep under blankets with an IV and dreaming about the terrific party I am going to throw when this is over.

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pitch for a change

February 17, 2007 § 6 Comments

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Keep it personal. Make it emotional. Marketing credos. I practiced them all on the way to the hospital. I was pitching my Oncologist.

My objective: get him to drop the Nuelasta for a week and see if I avoid a slew of miserable side effects.

A series of unnatural responses had raged through my body after treatments 4 and 5. Armageddon under my skin. In both instances, the symptoms that ravaged me did so exactly 12 hours after receiving a shot of a white blood cell booster. I suspected a connection. I studied the list of known side effects. My reactions were rare, but they were no less real.

The Dr had been on vacation the previous week and I would bring him up to speed with my saga of swollen hands, cold sweats and debilitating fatigue. I’d tell him how I had been unable to take my daughter to school, how I lacked the energy to put her to bed. How I lacked energy to get out of bed. For sure this would get my point across and he’d modify my treatment. I poured my heart out.

With his usual warm and affable manner, the Dr offered that one “limps” past this finish line and I was nearing the end.

I was stunned. I wasn’t limping. I wasn’t even crawling. There were people who ran marathons through chemotherapy, others never missed a day of work. What the hell was normal here? I lacked the energy to watch the race on TV let alone participate. My cure was slaughtering me and no one was picking up at 911.

Marty chimed in.

“Marilyn has an enormous leucocytosis, the cold sweats began 12-24 hours after the Nuelasta, and she had the same sequelae on Taxol as on Adriamycin-Cytoxan.”

The two Drs engaged in a volley of hypothesis and then quick speculation that the reactions I had might be due to the post chemo injection.

“OK, lets pass on the Nuelasta this round and see what happens.”

Two more marketing credos for you:

Know your audience and be relevant.

If you can’t do that, bring along a boyfriend who’s an MD.

My blood tests were fine, the tumor small enough we’ll need MRI’s and mammograms to know what’s going on. With that I entered the treatment area for dose 6.

Someone else took chair 22 and Chair 13 was waiting for me. Lucky 13. A window seat.

Every two weeks when I imagine sitting back in that big blue vinyl monster truck of a laz-y-boy lounger for 5 hours I think…

what a perfect time to catch up on my reading.

Not knowing what’s likely to strike my fancy with the nasty running through my veins I bring the mother load; two issues of the New Yorker, the latest Vanity Fair, Food and Wine (even nauseous the pictures are appetizing), and that days Wall Street Journal. I put on my cozy slipper socks, set-up the portable DVD player, pull out my ipod and try to ignore the burning of the pre-Taxol Benadryl drip. The burning in my veins makes me think of “24”. That evil brother got his due. What was my crime?

I don’t open a magazine, I press play on the DVD, I pass out. I wake in time to go home where I sleep some more.

It’s been 5 days since my last treatment. I feel OK under the circumstances, even good. There is no deep chaos of the cells, no war beneath my skin. None of the cold sweats, and exhaustion that laid me up for days and prevented me from the most benign activities. I am up and about. I went to Target and Petco, wrote a few thank you notes and paid my bills. My hands are a dreadful mess all dried out and a little numb. I’m tired, but otherwise OK. And my white blood cell count is OK too.

Six down and two to go. I may leave the magazines at home next time but I will certainly bring the beau.

Xoxo Momo

proceed with caution

February 9, 2007 § 8 Comments

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You did not miss the announcement. I’ve been quiet, and tired. Too tired to sit at the computer. I slipped in for my fifth treatment a couple of weeks ago. I barely slipped out. I was assigned Chair 21. The numerology savvy crowd might applaud, but there was no good fortune or luck associated with the blue vinyl behemoth that day.

It was Taxol and Benadryl and Decadron and handful of other anti-nausea, anti-allergy, anti-energy concoctions mixed into deep sleep syrup with sufficient poison to slay the Disney witches. Five hours later I woke up sloggy and groggy. My blood pressure was taken a half dozen times that day each time a non-event. Eventually I went home. I slept, and slept some more.

The following afternoon I proceeded with caution. First to acupuncture, then back to the hospital for a Nuelasta shot. In between, Carolyn came by for the first in a series of unplugged and unfiltered photo sessions at my home. The day was relatively calm; some mild nausea and tiredness you would expect with this sort of regime. No danger signs, no warnings and nothing to prepare me for what followed.

At 2:48am drenched in an icy cold sweat I shot up in bed. My hands were too swollen to make a fist and my feet too sore to stand on. I knew that it was far better to cower under the covers then subject myself to novice hands and ignorant probes in the ER so
I counted down the hours ‘til dawn.

It took much longer than usual to arrive; an eternity from 3am to 3:23am. Well over an hour from 4:15am to 4:58am. I am not sure what nether world I had entered, but I prayed for an ordinary sixty-minute hour and the unforgiving ding ding ding of the alarm.

I just needed to get Frannie off to school and get in to see my treatment nurse asap. By 9am I was at the hospital and displaying my red hands and sore feet.

The conclusion of my near terminal drama was a stunning bore.

Hand-Foot syndrome; a rare side effect. Not to be confused with the more common foot in mouth syndrome. Hand-Foot occurs when small amounts of the chemo drug leaks out of the capillaries and into the tissue of your palms and soles. The affected area becomes swollen and numb. Keypads and any kind of typing is treachery. Power-tools are off-limits, same for washing dishes, needlepoint and hand jobs.

My vital signs were normal. I was told to stay off my feet and to not use my hands. Bobsledding anyone?

A few days later my digits like the tin man creaked and cracked and eventually moved. Just in time for a deep dose of exhaustion to rain on me.

The chemotherapy textbooks say to expect fatigue. But fatigue is much too delicate and refined a word to suggest what lie ahead. Try shattered, pummeled or battered.

Just looking ahead.

Appointment reminder for Monday 2/12/2007
9:00am CHAIR 22

I asked my acupuncturist how women in China deal with breast cancer. He said they took herbs and had acupuncture. I spent the next 45 minutes with 20+ needles in my back imagining how I would dramatically go about stopping my chemo treatments and reinventing an herbal lifefor myself toxin-free in remote Borneo.

I asked my friends what they thought.

Everyone loves the idea of acupuncture and Chinese herbs, even the case worker nurse from Blue Cross Blue Shield. But, no one seems to love them enough to trust them to do the job of ridding the cancer solo.

“What about all those people who opt for herbal and alternative remedies?” I asked

Marty did not miss a beat. “They’re dead”

My daughter turns 7 tomorrow.

I’ll meet with my Oncologist on Monday before meeting with my Chair and I will ask Dr Come why the magic 8 treatments? Why not stop at 5? I’ll look for a way out that still offers me a cure. I’ll try on the idea of walking away, but won’t. I’ll curse our toxic world. I’ll ask for a smaller dose. I’ll consider taking a week off.

I’ll slip into chair 22 at 9am on February 12th and wake up five hours later with one more down and just two to go.

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Xoxo Momo

backstage pass

February 3, 2007 § 2 Comments

Thanks to Paul Levy (CEO, Beth Israel Deaconess) and Jerry Berger (Media Relations, Beth Israel Deaconess) you may all go behind the curtain to see chair 22 and others in the sequence. Blue vinyl recliner, IV hook-up and me early on with hair and half smile.

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