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December 6, 2014
by Annie
10 Comments

Trippin’ With Pitbull’s Mother

suitcase for chinaAbout this time last year I was finishing up chemo.

Sensing I needed a little boost towards the finish line, a good friend offered to take me to China. Dangling the travel carrot was just like promising a feedbag stuffed with sugar cubes to an old nag at the gate if she wins the Preakness.

For those who don’t know, I love to travel. There is something incredibly sexy about getting on a plane bound for an exotic land. Nothing compares to that moment when you are completely lost and can’t even fake the host country’s language well enough to butcher it.

So, armed with the knowledge that I would soon be viewing such sights as Emperor Qin’s Terracotta Army and Tiananmen Square, I bounced into my last chemo appointment, arms extended and blue veins bulging.

Hours later, with I.V. sack’s drained, I gingerly pulled down my sleeve and waved goodbye to the beloved nurses. I was positively bubbling with excitement…and sporting a slight toxic glow. My goal was to get some rest, build up my white blood cell count…and find my passport.

I checked my thong drawer where I stash travel documents and opened the official blue covered passport. A come-hither blonde I barely recognized stared back at me, prompting an immediate check of the expiration date. As suspected, I had just a month to renew…and sprout some Chia Pet coverage on my scalp.

Since my hairless issue wasn’t in the passport renewal FAQ’s, I called the Bureau of Consular Affairs. After a relatively lengthy hold time, they advised me to buck up and buy a wig. If I had wanted a wig, would I have waited until after chemo? So I pulled a hat down low over my noggin and headed to CVS for photos.

“Can I help you?” asked the husky woman with “RIP Elvis” tatted on her forearm.

“I need some passport photos.” I said.

The rockabilly chick instructed me to stand over two taped footprints on the floor and smile.

“You’ve got to take off the hat.” She said.

“It might be better if I keep it on.”

“It’s not allowed. You can only wear a hat for religious purposes.”

“That doesn’t seem fair…can I convert now?”

“Listen, I don’t make the rules. The hat’s got to go.”

I removed my cap and her eyes widened.

“I just finished chemo.” I mumbled.

“Damn sister…I know all about that. My cousin had a tumor the size of a cantaloupe growing in her rectum.”

This is something you hear often…invariably everyone knows someone who has something growing somewhere, and just like new mothers repeating the horrors of labor (the rips, the tears, the bulbous hemorrhoids), you are going to listen to every last detail of that lump and how big it grew.

I’d nearly forgotten about my travel papers until one day a padded envelope with an official stamp arrived. I knew the CVS photos were bad, but I wasn’t prepared for ….

passport3

                          PITBULL’S MOTHER!!!!!!

Good Lord, where did my forehead go? Actually the whole top of my head is missing. It’s like someone decided to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Or they got a little too liberal with the Witeout. When I stopped laughing…and crying…I panicked. If I was lucky enough to get to China with this mugshot…what if they wouldn’t let me back OUT of the country? Clearly I look terminal…and contagious. I’d heard they frown on both.

The day of the trip I kissed my husband goodbye at the airport, and headed for security. When it was my turn, the TSA agent opened my passport…and then slowly raised his head to verify the egghead in question. As he looked into my eyes, time froze. I could only assume he was profiling me as a drug-running, arms-trafficking, computer-hacking, DVD-pirating middleman, disguised as an invalid.

“Wait here,” he said, and was gone.

 Finally he returned with a mountainous female agent in tow. Sweat rolled wild and free as only sweat unimpeded by hair can do. I visualized an intimate back room with “Olga” and a full body cavity strip search, ending with a squeal and a moment to compose myself. Instead, he stamped my ticket and waved me through security.

“Enjoy your trip,” he said, then momentarily confusing my gender added, “I hear you can get a great knock-off Armani suit in Shanghai for next to nothing.”

Obviously I was way off the mark with my perception of what was happening at the security checkpoint because from that day forward I’ve been given TSA PreCheck approval. Just goes to show, it’s not always bad to have egg on your face. (ba da bing ba da boom)

December 3, 2014
by Annie
19 Comments

Don’t Poke Me

Today I plan to cough up a few life reflections and see where it goes.

For instance…I was poked on Facebook by a dead person. Actually, she wasn’t dead when she poked me. I guess I let it slide for awhile…mainly because I don’t get poked…(husband’s expletive deleted!) but while I was figuring it out, she up and died. Is there etiquette in cyberspace? Do I give her a posthumous poke?

I know social media is relatively new and still working out some bugs, but it’s really creepy…especially when prompted to wish a friend happy birthday who has clearly been gone for years. Or LinkedIn asks that we endorse a deceased pal’s skills and congratulate them on another anniversary at their job. I have one friend who took herself out, and every year her photo is dusted off and posted, taunting me to wish her a pleasant day. I’d love to…damn it.

Undoubtedly the dearly departed need our assistance in this matter. So why have they made it so difficult to delete an account? I’m starting to think it would be easier to crack the genetic code than remove a ghost from Facebook.

At the moment, I’m wedged in my writing corner eavesdropping on our neighbors…a little girl and her father. They’ve been tackling small scale trauma up until now, but suddenly she’s pissed. “You know what’s wrong with this place?” I assumed she meant their house, a shoddy remodel in constant jackhammer jitter, but she was going deep. With hands on her hips, the Geico gecko-sized kid said, “There’s too many people on earth. I think God is being mean.”

I was curious how her dad would respond, a man usually quick to add moral fiber to any discourse, but he stayed silent, eventually telling her to go inside and play with her little brother…a colicky 3-month-old with a bad milk rash. I’m playing parent in my brain, but none of my retorts seem to put an adequate cap on their precocious little mite’s commentary. If anyone can come up with a good answer, put it in the comments below and I’ll stick it on a Post-It to their swing set.

We’ve got another neighbor who’s a tad different. Larry used to work at a movie studio…not sure what he did, but now he spends his day raking and teasing his AstroTurf. It’s not exactly clear what effect he’s after, but damn if that faux sod toupee doesn’t have excellent lift and a nice wave. He’s a whiz at animal trivia, a sort of self-taught zoologist, so I told him about my eagle sighting awhile back. Actually I nearly ran over it on the freeway. This was one huge bird and he was taking a roadkill beating in the carpool lane.

What do you think it means?” I asked.

“It’s obvious. America is in the shitcan. That’s our country’s bird and it’s dead…one wing flapping goodbye to the good ol’ days.”

I waved adios to Larry, as political rhetoric is my cue to vamoose, and inched the car into the garage. Slowly I walked up to the house and into the bathroom. As I did my business, I contemplated how one can stay positive in a shitcan?

With no cartoon bubble answers forming above my head, I reached for the toilet paper. Pulling the roll, I noticed out of the corner of my eye something dark twirling on my 2-ply. It was a black spider, running as fast as he could to stay on his Quilted Northern ferris wheel, somewhat like I imagined my Grandpa Sophus did rolling logs down the Snohomish River. When the Wheel of Fortune spin finally came to a halt, there he was…looking so damn frightened (and dizzy) that I let him free fall to the ground and hide under the shower mat. I know there are some who might have squished him to the tile, but at that moment he shared my predicament, just trying to make it in a world tossing some pretty scary giants our way.

That might be enough for today. In passing, I hope Facebook fixes it’s privacy policy, but in the meantime…following the prompt, I wished a Happy 219th Birthday to Rowland Hill, the man responsible for the 1st adhesive postage stamp…Oh Gawd…I think he poked me!

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.