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March 1, 2014
by Annie
32 Comments

Batten Down The Hatches!

rain manCurrently we are experiencing some precipitation in Southern California. The official title for all the hoopla is “Storm Watch 2014.” Good Lord…a little rain falls and we’re off to the root cellar!

They take this shit seriously down here…even mailmen don’t deliver. After my 40-year stint in the Northwest I might offer to do a TED talk on survival techniques. Starting with a riveting demonstration on how to open umbrellas, light candles, and change flashlight batteries…ending with one of those Wine-In-A-Box /colostomy bags suspended over my head, the spigot set to full throttle. This device got me through many a damp day in Seattle…and I even got my mail! Win-Win, I say!

The other morning I was trying to take a quick walk before the deluge when a rough-and-tumble guy on roller blades stopped me. “You got cancer, don’t ya?” He said, through a large gap that once housed a handful of teeth. “Yes, I DID,” I said, rather triumphantly. “I noticed you don’t have hair so I just knew!” He seemed so proud of himself. A true detective. “I finished about seven weeks ago. I’m on the other side…so to speak.” He skated alongside for the next two miles, telling me about his hitch in prison. As I turned the corner to my place, and he continued on down the beach, he said, “Stay strong, little buddy. You hang in there…my mom didn’t, but you got this one in the bag.” (So nice to get a Point of Service second opinion.) Needless to say, I’m feeling pretty good about my prognosis.

If the storm continues my husband and I are considering fleeing the beach in a beat up motor home and seeing this fine country. Won’t stop until we run out of gas…at which point my better half will pull out his keyboard and wow the passing motorists as I play percussion, which simply means I’ll bang on anything. I can just see us now…blazing along Route 66… wind gently shredding what remains of the worn naugahyde upholstery, as the sun sets on our newly painted side panel “Will Play For Depends.”

I used to write posts in the nude to free my thoughts. Now I find my bald head provides a sufficient state of undress to relax the mind. It’s hard to take yourself seriously when you look like Uncle Fester. Actually, since taking Biotin and Silica supplements, a new crop circle has emerged on my skull. A sort of skunky salt-and-pepper buzz cut…think Cruella De Vil and Pepe Le Pew’s love child. Not going to lie…it’s a far cry from my tint of choice, but hey…sproutage is sproutage…and you can quote me.

On a more serious note…I would like to offer my help to anyone who has currently been diagnosed with cancer. I’d be happy to offer my support to those in need of some positive encouragement on this journey. Please feel free to get in touch through this blog or my email aboreson4@hotmail.com. I certainly had friends come to my aid when I needed them and I want to do the same.

February 17, 2014
by Annie
32 Comments

The Grey Matter Splatter

0000170-R1-050-23A_2First, I want to say thanks to all who offered loving support and prayers through some rough months. Without your help, I might have become a voiceless hermit, forgetting that humor lies within every difficult situation. I still smile when I think of taking a ride in the old convertible to expedite the removal of those last stubborn chemo-clobbered hairs. My bleached blonde locks finally blowing free like dandelion seeds…escaping down alleys, blinding skateboarders, and eventually becoming bird’s nest insulation.

It’s been six weeks since my last chemo treatment. I thought I’d be ecstatic…over the fucking moon…but it’s been a slow assent up to base camp Happiness.

What I didn’t realize is that once you are released from the guided reassurance of routine treatment, and all those capable healing hands…you are suddenly on your own. I’m not saying my doctors skipped town or won’t return my calls, but their work is basically done. Sure, I’ll have some follow-ups and regular exams in the months ahead, but there are no tests available that will give me a clean bill of health. Instead I must look to the passage of time as my compass. If I make the two-year mark without reoccurrence, that is good news. Five years is even better…and so it goes.

I naively thought finishing chemo was the goal, but have come to understand… I’ve arrived at the hard part. I must learn to slay the beast that is my brain. That factory of gray matter, which fosters frightening thoughts, interrupts meditations, derails daily walks, and wakes me in the night.

I know there are no guarantees in life, but I hadn’t envisioned a wait-and-see world. I guess there was a part of me that wanted to slither back into my old ways and habits…pick up where I left off…but I’m no longer that person. I’ve become pensive, reflective, sometimes sad, and yet, through all these new emotions is an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I have been given the chance to pull up my pantyhose and meet the challenge.

Just when I found myself sinking into a really dark space…letting my mind win the negative battle, a friend sent me a book called Love, Medicine & Miracles by a surgeon named Bernie Siegel. Written in the 80’s, the book became a best seller, and then found its way to discount bins as new authors took their turns with medical discoveries. Even though it was written nearly thirty years ago, the same truths prevail. I highly recommend it to anyone who has cancer, is a survivor, or know someone needing inspiration to heal.

In an effort to learn about a patient’s attitude towards themselves and their disease, one question Seigel asks is, “Do you want to live to be a hundred?”… My immediate response was Good Lord, No!

To me, a person lasting a century conjured up images of slow moving souls collapsing like folding chairs. Folks left to endless hours of solitude with their semi-lucid minds, knitting worries into socks and doilies, crocheting toilet paper holders, and God knows what. Their worlds growing smaller and smaller with each breath until the highlight of the week becomes a trip to the grocery store to buy seven single serving frozen dinners, a can of pureed peaches, Folgers coffee, and prunes. They’ve forgotten who handles their money…the name of that nice young man who convinced them to invest in the market instead of government bonds. It’s all somewhere in a box…or hidden between the pages of a book…or entombed in a jar of pickled pigs feet in the freezer. Regardless, it’s hidden well.

See where my mind goes?

But then I finished the book and a slow calm washed over me. I’m still not sold on reaching the 100-year milestone, but it is my choice to make the time I do have productive, happy, and healthy. Embracing the simple things that bring me joy…honoring each day…and asking only to give, nurture, and strengthen myself and others.

On a lighter note…My passport is expiring next month so I called to see if my old photo would suffice since I’m currently sporting a shade of badass bald. I was instructed that I have two options…buy a wig or go au naturel. Well, I wasn’t about to fork over a grand for a wig and spin a color chart to guess what hue might sprout, so for the next ten years, when traveling to exotic international destinations (one can dream!) I will tote a hairless passport mugshot. How exciting is that? Every time I look at that official document I’ll say “Bon Voyage, my little beauty!” Seriously, it will be a great reminder to get out there and enjoy life.

December 13, 2013
by Annie
42 Comments

Holidays…Hounds…and an Eggnog Snog

dog and treeI definitely look weather-beaten…oh hell, let’s not mince words…I look like shit. To top it off, I can’t feel my hands or feet from the neuropathy and there’s a distinct metallic taste in my mouth. When they unplugged me from the last drip my husband gave me a celebratory kiss and said, “That’s as close as I’ve ever been to heavy metal.” What a guy! I might have spurned the lip-lock myself, but he gets extra points for the snog.

Recently The New York Times ran an article entitled “What Does Cancer Smell Like?” (Subtitle: Tracking The Old Jock Strap In You.) Supposedly research is being done to find out if dogs can detect the disease. It all started back in 1989, when a woman went to see her doctor about a mole. She had no clue it was there until her Collie-Doberman mix became aggressive, trying to bite it off through her pants. (Cancer screening…another reason to buy a violent dog!) The mole turned out to be melanoma, so now they’re calling in the hounds for research. So far Dr. Petri’s canine study is inconclusive, but no matter…I’m on high alert this holiday. You can jolly well believe I’m keeping a close eye out for large slobbering mutts who want to make mincemeat of my pelvis.

I’ve always had an uncanny ability to identify odors. If given the opportunity to dive nose first into my tumor ridden uterus way back in August when it was removed, I could easily have pegged the bouquet of that grisly organ. For all I know my overtaxed womb reeked of granny panties doused in Shalimar…or maybe a downwind Greeley Colorado cow pie. Regardless…there’s no need to pull out those formaldehyde tissue samples for a Pitbull’s second opinion!

As the holidays draw near, I am reminded of many fond memories and blessings. One of my favorite childhood moments took place in Seattle. My mother would sit at the typewriter in my dad’s office as I jumped into his leather chair to tell her stories. I remember we did this on rainy days…and there were many. My imagination ran wild…it was like recess for the brain. I can still hear her fingers on the keys and the buzzing sound of the carriage return as it set up for a new line. The possibilities were endless…where did the characters go?…Whom did they encounter?…and then, depending on my mood, how did they meet their demise? Sometimes they died in quicksand (what happened to quicksand? Did we pave over it?) Maybe eaten by a crocodile?…and sometimes they lived happily ever after. My mom filled a notebook, but unfortunately no one can find it. I do recall one story about not wanting to be a raindrop for fear I’d be like everyone else.

My perspective on motherhood has broadened since being diagnosed with cancer. I know it sounds strange, but this illness reminds me of being pregnant. There are the obvious similarities… watching your diet, feeling sick to your stomach, and the need for more rest. But there is a mental side as well. Small grievances that once got in the way no longer matter. Things that used to send me over the edge don’t even hit my radar. Instead I’m working on letting go of past hurt, and finding forgiveness. The important thing is to live a healthy life (but still have fun), love my family and friends, and pay forward all the incredible support I’ve received.

Of course cancer and pregnancy bring totally different outcomes. One involves birth, and the other rebirth. Either way you are changed forever. The two situations can show you the highest highs and the lowest lows. Each bears a gift, but you may have to search a little harder for the favor from cancer. Both require a tremendous amount of patience, trust, and a sense of humor. Still…A child changes your life forever, whereas cancer only changes the course of your life. One friend likes to remind me that cancer is a temporary condition. Every day will be different. It won’t last forever…just like raising kids. One minute you are submerged in it…and the next, you’re buoyed by newfound wisdom.

Oh my, I’m getting heavy. I’ll stop now and wish you all a healthy happy holiday season and a bright and prosperous New Year. That’s right…Christmas is coming! No stopping the heavy metal hickies under the mistletoe or the dollar store ornaments on display! Sure I’ll be up to my underarm chemo port in a turkey carcass, but at least I won’t smell like Shalimar and fresh cow pies!

November 10, 2013
by Annie
30 Comments

Glide! Kick! Twirl!…(and flush twice)

disco girlI have to keep reminding myself that this is a temporary condition. One day I may feel punk and puny, and the next…chipper and ready to do the Hustle in the glow of a disco ball.

This last bout of chemo started out a little rough, preceded by a staph infection requiring antibiotics. I don’t think my body appreciated adding something new to the mix. I ended up sleeping for days, and when I woke it was like I’d gone through a bad breakup. Quietly sunk into the sofa with that sad, weepy, whipped dog look, I’d try to remind myself everyday is different. (Note to self…repeat that mantra because I’m back in the game with energy to burn.)

I began this cancer diagnosis with a used manila envelope to house important pathology reports, procedures, re-capped doctor conversations, and medical bills. Soon the paperwork overwhelmed my feeble folder so I bought a small, but impressive hardbound notebook with dividers and pockets. I have since graduated to the largest three ring binder one can buy and the damn thing is full…and bloody heavy. Actually, there are two binders–one for medical bills, and the other for doctor related material. Supposedly there is specific software that would organize this mess, but I’m resisting the techno temptation. Besides, I still harbor the strong tactile urge to paperclip, hole punch, staple, and categorize. It makes me feel in charge, which is truly laughable.

It’s sobering to think a once invincible body let down its guard, permitting the enemy to march in and set up camp. The same flesh and blood that held up its end of the bargain for decades finally waving the white flag, granting a portal for bad stuff to enter. I flashback to that game show where a shrill-voiced English woman bellowed at contestants, “YOU ARE THE WEAKEST LINK!” (I visualize my downtrodden uterus limping off the stage accompanied by her closest mates…my ovaries and fallopian tubes.)

The other day I walked into a waiting room lavatory and read these words on the stall wall, “If you are currently undergoing chemotherapy, please flush twice.” Twice? The only advice I’ve heard concerning flushing is to put a brick in the tank to save water. But they were telling me to pull that little handle like on a tight Reno slot machine. For a minute I was liberated! Hell, if they want safety, why not give it a trio of deep sea discharges…or maybe a quartet to really send it packing! When I got home, I googled this multi-flush phenomenon…low and behold, it’s true. I am a biohazard for 48 hours after chemo while my body eliminates the drugs. I have to wonder what they think we are doing on the toilet. Dunking into the bowl splashing about with a little rubber duck and some chemo suds? For those who care, I do my business without making waves and get off the pot.

This week we met with a Gynecologic Oncologist and a Radiologist to develop a post chemo plan of attack. I’ve been a little uneasy about this new level of treatment as radiation zaps of any kind petrify me. I’ve even faked being pregnant at dental exams for the past thirty years just to avoid X-rays. So imagine the joy when I heard my medical team agree that no radiation is needed at this time. They took it off the table…so to speak.

There is a lot to think about while processing this news. I’d been preparing myself to strap on armor for radiation. Incredible as it may be to hear no further treatment is necessary after chemo, it is hard to wrap my head around. How do you live fully with the knowledge that it may rise again and rear its ugly head? What do you do to live cancer-free and remain AWOL for a second tour of duty in the chemo trenches? But as one smart doctor reminded me…There are no guarantees in life. There is just time.

TIME.

It had to sink in. I had to really listen to that word and roll it around on my tongue, wash it around in my brain. Time is the only way I will ever find answers. In two years, I will celebrate a milestone…and each subsequent year after, I will rejoice. It takes a leap of faith. In the meantime, I’m going to glide, kick, and twirl to a disco ball on steroids.