November 10, 2013
by Annie

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.


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

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

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.

September 30, 2013
by Annie

The Hair and Now

bald guyI’m three weeks into my chemo treatments. Actually people just call them “treatments.” Not to be confused with another word I hear quite often in L.A.– “Procedures.” As in… “I’m just going in for a little procedure.” These I am told require very little downtime, and will take ten years off your tush, mugshot, accordion neck, librarian arms, and even tighten a twat, if so inclined. (As you might guess, a tight twat is the least of my worries.) Good Lord, I’m not looking for a plastic surgeon with steady hands…I’m scouring the internet for scarves.

Every day there is a new and exciting symptom. For instance, this morning my head hurt. REALLY HURT. Not a migraine or Smirnoff flu, but each individual bleach-fried strand of hair was staging an uprising. An ambush of sorts. Then I grabbed my brush and a large clump migrated to the boar bristles. This began a massive tug-of-war with my follicles. It’s as if they were shouting at me… “Yeah? Well, what are you going to do about it?”

My hair has a valid point. I’ve got no bargaining power. I look like something Atticus Finch might put down if I’d limped into Maycomb, Alabama with this mangy doo. Oh sure, it will grow back. Eventually I’ll have grey-brown strands with a possible bounce and hints of brass…which given the Chia Pet alternative is rather exhilarating to contemplate.

Last week, in a pre-emptive strike, I cut my hair short. My husband offered to use his pruning shears and give it a good whack, but when he mentioned Dorothy Hamill’s duck tail in the same sentence, I speed dialed my stylist. (Doesn’t that sound swank!)

Now those shortened locks are aching like a mofo so I drove to Target and bought an electric shaver. There was a man in the razor section sporting a ZZ TOP beard. Not knowing which model would give me the closest shave, I asked this unlikely suspect. Grimacing, he pointed at the one with color coded blades and scurried away.

I’ll be the first to admit it…I used to be a slave to my beauty products. The pinnacle point happened sometime around my fortieth birthday. I mocked Father Time by staying out late, eating crappy food, drinking too much, and never hydrating. Water was something I gave the lawn. (I swear I could almost hear those burnt blades rejoicing!) Now who’s laughing?

No doubt about it…the hysterectomy launched me into menopause like a 57-year-old pregnant pole-vaulter…and then came cancer, which pretty much took my youth and curb stomped it. Do I miss those rebellious days? HELL NO!

It seems we work our entire lives to accumulate properties and possessions, but when we can finally sit back and enjoy them, there is always something to oversee, tend to, or mend. Before diagnosed, I bought nice makeup, shampoo, conditioner, razors that glided instead of nicked, and mascara vowing to make lashes long and luscious. Now my jowls sag and I’m balding…but look at the time I save in beauty prep! I’ve already added forty-five minutes to my day. Not to mention, significant cash flow.

I’ve discovered many accessories for my new cue ball noggin. Here are just a few I’m toying with. Please feel free to comment or give a thumbs up/down as I’m feeling very fashion forward right now. Besides, the more I can keep my sense of humor…the better life seems to be. Thanks for helping me find the ridiculous in losing my hair. After all, it’s not like I got here with a potload of potential! (Can’t believe they spit-matted it down for this shot.)Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Here’s one that covers a couple of situations… corny Knights of the Round Table dinner joints, nuclear fallout…GetAttachment.aspx

This one should come in handy next summer when I retrace the Oregon Trail footsteps of Louis and Clark. DSC01292

Move over Eartha Kitt…there’s a new Catwoman in town!DSC01644

Ringling Brothers here I come!DSC00105

Spoiler update…Hair gone. Wish I looked more like Sinead O’Connor, but unfortunately…this is it.

me with short hair - Version 2