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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.

October 30, 2013
by Annie
52 Comments

Annie On Drip

football girlToday I reached the halfway point of my chemo treatment. Hallelujah! Can’t say I look forward to these tailgatin’ toxic cocktail hours, but if it gets me one step closer to the finish line, “Put Me In, Coach!”

I’m a six-course chemo bagger. It starts with a drip of hydration, then steroids, followed by a euphoric “buzz” bag of Benadryl, (easily my fave!) chased by the heavy hitters Taxol and Carboplatin, and capped off with a roto-rooter flush.

If you ask me about the side effects of any of these drips and drugs, I haven’t a clue. I’m one of those people who don’t want to know. It was like that with childbirth. All I knew before entering the delivery room was that for centuries women somehow squeezed out bundles of joy without classes or books, and I was going to join the long line. Just like chemo. So when a friend asked me yesterday, “How are the steroid side effects?”

“Steroid side effects?” I weakly said, conjuring a vision of sprouting shriveled hairless he-man balls.

“Yeah,” she said, “Aren’t you hungry? Like REALLY hungry?” And then it occurred to me…all those recent trips I’d been making to the fridge. I open the door, stare longingly at the oddest things…pickles, prunes, dry pasta, a handful of capers…then impulsively inhale them all…and anything in their way!

I wake in the morning and my first thought is never “OMG, another day of this nightmare!” On the contrary, I feel perfectly normal. It’s only when I take my dog for a walk and see people turn away, or flash a sympathetic smile before jogging on…that I remember. Lately I’ve run into folks I used to converse with as our dogs relieved themselves on someone’s succulants. Now they pretend we’ve never met. They still recognize my dog for his prolific leg hike and steady stream, but suddenly I’ve become invisible. It’s as if I’ve come up with a really good Halloween costume.

This is just another way of saying…I’m still getting used to baldness. I thought it would be a lot easier. I’m not talking about the mental side of hair loss… but the “holy shit my head is ugly” physical side. I suppose I should cut my ol’ noggin some slack since it hasn’t seen sunlight in well over five decades, but does it have to be SO white and bright? And what about this pronounced blue blood vessel? My profile looks like a MapQuest route planner…one minute that unsightly vein appears to be traveling south on the 405, and then it jackknifes abruptly where 110 meets the 91 east.

I definitely have a new respect for hot bald men. Take it from me…having a perfect shiny baldhead should be an Olympic sport, or at the very least, a Best in Show for people like me…arterially challenged.

Before the diagnosis, the world felt messy…swirling out of control. I was just a speck of humanity grumbling at the TV set, finding fault in laws and legislation I was helpless to change. With cancer, I now find that although I may never convince Washington to see it my way…I can make a difference. When I feel invisible, I repeat, “At this moment I am fine”… and that’s all any of us really have. Besides, on this page, I am not invisible. I am still me.

October 18, 2013
by Annie
82 Comments

Hooking Up

turbanNo one will ever confuse cancer with a trip to Disneyland, but it’s important not to let the chemo drip rain on your parade. For the most part, people going through treatment are making the best of a bad situation because cancer patients realize that we need help. So we high five each other after pounding another chemo bag…and we scour the ward for humor… which tends to retreat when you are hooked up intravenously for seven hours. But, there are perks. Somewhere in one of those hanging bags is a whole lot of Benadryl, which affects me like an elephant tranquilizer. The minute it seeps in, I’m slurring the Gilligan’s Island theme song. Maybe it’s the fact the nurse referred to it as, “A three-hour bag,” which sounded so damn close to “A three-hour tour”…that I busted into song. I even mimicked the lightening bolt crash…it was bloody brilliant if you ask me. I didn’t know at the time I was under the influence of Benadryl…or that it would turn me into a helium balloon in an F4 updraft. My daughter finally convinced me to drop the song down an octave or two, and pace myself. There were hours remaining and the chemo wing was losing interest in Gilligan’s shipwreck.

Treatments are every three weeks. Now that I’ve completed a couple, I see a pattern. The first few days of post-chemo are fine, but around day three my bones ache. This phase lasts about four or five days. Netflix and naps are wonderful distractions. I doze like a lush after a bender, and when my eyes open, I channel surf. The white blood cell count is at it’s lowest during the second week, so I make sure to take good care of myself by hand washing compulsively, and avoiding anyone feverish. I also try not to bump into things, like this morning’s collision with a coffee table, because even the smallest of cuts threaten to bleed me dry. By week three I’m back purring like a fine-tuned ’57 Chevy….and then it starts all over again.

I know it’s important to eat right so I’m doing my best to stay away from coffee, sugar, alcohol, white flour, processed food, red meat, sushi, and Snickers. This leaves beets, green plants, nuts, hummus, and tree bark as my “go to” meals. Hold me back! Seriously, the only thing I am craving right now is a ripping cup of coffee with an add shot, a decadent chocolate bar, and a glass of red wine…not in that order. I fear if my common sense takes a hiatus I will channel Cameron Diaz in The Holiday, cracking open a bottle of cheap wine in the supermarket and drinking as she fills her cart with snack food. But then I remember sustaining myself on copious amounts of CHEEZE-ITS and wine for way too long and that’s probably one of the reasons I’m in this mess…so I recoil…and eat a bag of kale.

I take my blanket, a warm pair of socks, and a good book to chemo. It was rather unsettling upon realizing I was the only one there who was bald. I thought everyone lost their hair unless they used that expensive freeze-dry wrap that saves the follicles. So I asked one of the nurses and she told me I was on a heavier dose that can in some cases speed up the balding process. Lucky me. It also speeds up brain fog. I have noticed that I’m not quite clipping it off. I hope my brain, stem and all, decides to make a guest appearance in the months ahead. Only time will tell. On a more uplifting note, I’ve heard that some things are better left forgotten…and when I remember what those are, I’ll write a post.