April 28, 2007 § 10 Comments
The hardest part will be doing nothing for the next ten days.
We were home by 5p yesterday. I was in bed with a power book warming my belly. My very empty belly. I did not suffer from the usual post op nausea. In fact I was ravenous. Marty went out for some Vietnamese chicken soup. My soup is superior, but I was in no condition to wrestle with raw birds and skim scum from a pot. Recipe follows.
Registration was at 8a, but I arrived late, traffic was awful, and I was dragging my heels. I had my ipod loaded up with pre-op, intra-op and recovery music and meditations plus a precious thank-you note from Frannie for my surgeon. On an 8-1/2″ x 11sheet of paper she numbered three lines and wrote:
line 1) A thank-you card
line 2) Thank you for taking
line 3) Care of my mooo momo mommy (this was her idea of a joke)
I’m not sure why she numbered the lines or needed to call out that it was a thank-you card. Obviously she wasn’t taking any chances. Along the bottom of the page was a drawing of two happy girls holding hands.
MJH loved her card. Frannie made one for me as well.
8:40am and I was shuttled off to radiation where I waited my turn for an ultasound.
While the day would offer some laughs, this wasn’t one of them. Especially for the other patients waiting for their routine mammograms. I felt my entrance too dramatic for the circumstances. Complete with wheel chair and a wacky puffy O.R. shower cap over a bald head. To say nothing of the layers of hospital shmaatas which called-out illness as much as any IV. I was a nasty reminder of mammograms gone wrong. I avoided everyones gaze and they avoided mine. I tuned-in to my pre-op playlist and dozed off.
Eventually I was moved into an ultrasound room where I waited some more. This time for the assigned radiologist to arrive. It was worth the wait. Her charter was to implant 2 guide wires marking the top and bottom of my tumor. Using local anesthesia she would insert a needle which allowed her to thread wires through my breast. These wires would serve as cut lines for my surgeon. I watched all this on the screen. Blobby greys with an occassional white line passing through. Then more blobby vague greys. It looked like an ill-defined black and white landscape suggesting oceans, desserts and cloudy skies. I am amazed these blurry screens mean anything. To my untrained eye, I’d buy a feutus just as easily as a carcinoma.
The room was small enough for a tech and maybe a single radiologist but there were 5 of us. All women, all delightful, helpful to each other. One bossy type in the mix, and there would not have been enough air in the room.
Marked up, wired, and a bit goopy I looked down to see the only part of my body exposed. Somewhat sarcastic I said, “nice tit”.
The radiologist chimmed in “Do you want a picture? Do you have a camera? A camera phone? Lets’ take a picture”
A woman after my own heart.
The only time I saw any team members pull rank was at this impromptu photo shoot. “Oh that’s not good enough, get in tighter, need more light?” I was grateful someone was willing to figure out the camera function on my phone. In three years, I had not.
After a few tries, we had a winning shot complete with wires and a blue bee bee on my nipple.
Cancer shmancer, art makes me happy.
I was wheeled down to pre-op. Jared introduced himself as if we knew each other “we’ve been waiting for you”. I reviewed my ipod playlist with him. It was self-explanatory. I was listening to pre-op, I’d select intra-op as they wheeled me in. His only charge was to hit the “recovery” playlist when the time was right. This dovetailed nicely into his only other job which was to watch the anesthesiologist. I knew he could handle both.
Considering I had chemo-compromised veins my Anesthesiologist was a master at securing a swift IV line in. Saline, then sedation, then the stuff that gives you amnesia. It worked, I have no idea what followed. A couple hours later and it seemed I hadn’t moved. I was still in the pre-op area but for virtue of the time, it must have been the post-op area. My surgeon checked in with a warm smile and said I did quite well. Let’s be candid. I did nothing. I had to lay there unconcious. She needed to do a good job and apparently she did. On the other hand, I think someone dropped a 150lb anvil on my armpit.
My nurse introduced me to painkillers. Eventually I was wheeled into the recovery area.
Marty was waiting with a hug. He knew enough to avoid my left side. After a few moments of groggy babble, I walked 10 feet and was sent home where some glorious flowers greeted me.
Frannie was thrilled to see me, and I her. “Mama, I don’t want you to have breast cancer. I was really scared today”.
Everyone tells me this is really good, her ability to articulate her feelings. All I know is that the feeling is mutual.
Sumptuousness chicken soup for another day.
1 whole (3-4 pounds) chicken or one already cut up chicken.
3 stalks of celery with leaves halved
1 large onion whole
2 cloves garlic whole
1 1/4″ slice ginger root (optional)
3-5 parsnips washed and sliced 1″ thick
5-6 carrots washed and sliced 1/2″ thick
1 medium sweet potato cubed
Salt and pepper to taste
Clean the chicken and discard giblets or any other presents you’ve been given in the cavity. Cut into pieces if it is whole; legs, thigh, wings breast etc.. Salt the entire chicken inside and out liberally with kosher or coarse salt. Let chicken stand for 35 minutes.
Wash salt from chicken and place in a medium to large stockpot. Cover chicken with water and let boil once.
Remove all the gunk that comes to the top as it boils.
Add celery, onion, ginger, dill and parsely. Boil one more time and reduce the heat to simmer. Simmer for 1-1/2 – 2 hours, occasionally skimming the foam from the top.
Remove the wilted greens; parsely, dill, celery and the onion and discard. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside for later.
To the pot/broth, add the carrots, parsnips and sweet potato. Let simmer 1 hour. Ad salt and pepper, need more flavor or more liquid, add some excellent vege or chicken boillon or organic chicken broth.
Bone the chicken and cut up as you like and return to the pot to heat with with veges. Serve. Yum.
April 26, 2007 § 16 Comments
My driveway is ill defined. I am not exactly sure where it ends and where it meets the lawn. Is it soil or sidewalk beneath my feet? The hostas know, they are laying claim to the ground, emerging from the dirt. Dirt which is packed as hard as cement thanks to six cars rolling over it twice a day all winter long.
Still, splashes of green appeared almost overnight, everywhere. It surprises me, life emerging, so suddenly.
Take my head, transformed like a Chia Pet. Dark sprouts mixed in with some white sprouts and it’s all super soft. Better than silk bunnies. Still, it is too early to tell if it will be curly or straight. Chemo offers all sorts of surprises. Just in time too, the hats and wigs while cozy this past winter are stifling now.
Everything is a little stifling now. With estrogen at a minimum and a promise of new lows ahead thanks to estrogen blockers, my internal thermometer is terribly confused. At any given time I may have ice-cold hands or feet, while sweat puddles on my forehead. A slight breeze and I am chilled in search of polar fleece.
Every few hours, a new climatic zone in one single zip code.
Hot, cold, sweaty or chilled. I am in for surgery tomorrow. They’ll pull the tumor and nodes from me like weeds and hope nothing grows back.
Do you have a garden? It requires steady tending. That’s my cancer now. Less a crisis, more a chronic condition requiring constant attention. Post surgery radiation everyday for 8 weeks, meds for 5 years, exams annually, and a very good reason to exercise and eat well every single day even though none of the “serious” medical doctors will discuss nutrition or exercise.
It seem this cancer is mine to manage.
Next stop Shapiro building third floor 8am. I’ll be home for dinner. I hope it’s a nice weekend.
April 6, 2007 § 9 Comments
I have lovely breasts. I am not flat, I am not voluptuous, I am something
in between. I am attached to them regardless of their size. They’re
cushy perky mounds that tell me when it’s cold out.
Some women hold on to abusive husbands. I have a body part that’s turned on
me and still I’m not ready to let go. I know it doesn’t make sense.
My surgeon recommended a mastectomy due to the large size of my presenting
tumor and concerns about getting a negative margin. Still, she was willing
to attempt a lumpectomy with a single caveat. I might need a second
“The likelihood that you will need a re-excision or mastectomy is quite
Two surgeries, I couldn’t stomach one. We scheduled the mastectomy for April
20th. I broached the subject of a hospital stay with Frannie while driving.
Easy, relaxed and happy, I ask her if she would want to spend a few days in
Maine with her cousin or be closer to home when I went in.
“Are they going to remove the lump?” she asked.
“They may have to take the entire breast off”. Was I suppose to be this
“What will be left?” she asked.
“Nothing, I will be flat on one side.”
“Will it grow back?”
I wish. I offered solace in the legend of the Amazons, women warriors who
cut off their breasts so as to be better able to shoot with a bow and arrow.
I would be a warrior. She thought this was a funny and knew the warrior part
was make believe.
Did I have to do this? Hadn’t the chemo dissolved the bugger? What was the
stench in my urine all those months if it wasn’t cancer carcasses?
I wanted a second opinion. What I really wanted was a different diagnosis.
Instead I got a reunion with an old beau. A former amour was a prominent
breast surgeon at the other major hospital in town. I was glad I knew
someone in the biz. I could ask him anything and he would be accessible.
“Good to see you” he said, then added “well, not really under these
circumstances. I’m sorry.”
“How are things going” I ask cheerful like we’d just bumped into each other
on Newbury Street.
“Very good, we’re very busy here”
It would be nice if breast surgeons and oncologists weren’t so busy.
We shared headlines and then dove into the reason I was there.
“How hard do you want to work to keep your breast?” He asked putting a fine
point on it.
I didn’t know the answer. I could be happy with the cosmetic results but the
margins could be dirty. The margins could be clean, but I could hate the way
I look. Or, I could do the mastectomy be done with it.
He gave me a hug and wished me luck. Before I left I asked him what he would
do. He paused and said he might try the lumpectomy first.
I am not vain beyond common sense. Lumpectomy with radiation offers the same
prognosis as mastectomy.
Sensing my mounting anxiety, my surgeon called requesting we meet face to
face the following day. Two surgeons in as many days, you start to see what
my days are made of. We discussed my presenting conditions, my responses to
chemo, my options, my tumor, my daughter and a handful of other things more
private than breasts.
She suggested removing the mass and nodes first, then seeing what came back
from pathology. I radiated relief. Even as I sensed a story in two parts.
This just in, my surgery is postponed to 4/27. I have three weeks to
ruminate, exercise, doubt myself, eat well, hope for a cure and prepare to be a
warrior in some form or another.
April 1, 2007 § 5 Comments
I am grateful beyond measure, and not just because the CT scan was wrong. To be loved and cared for, and to have it expressed so deeply by so many people is nothing short of cosmic. Thank you, I feel very lucky.
What follows a close call?
Ecstasy and then the everyday.
My back to ordinary life has been consuming; endless appointments, initial consultations and second opinions. Everyone is a specialists and I am trying to connect the dots and doctors. Chemotherapy is behind me, and clarity returns slowly even as the neuropathy (numbness) lingers.
Good riddance chair 14 and 21 and 20 and 13 and all the others. For my friends who are starting this journey, count down the days, time flies when you are sleeping. You are stronger than the poison but your cancer cells are not.