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

September 23, 2013
by Annie

Gone With My Wind

nuclearI launched a chemo fart today. For the record, had I been outdoors, birds would have dropped from the sky. You see, I’ve never been one to fart. I know Blazing Saddles is a hoot and I busted a gut once when a man I know let a cheek flapper go, blaming it on his new pants, but I’ve never been one to find flatulence a source of relief, release, or an appropriate reaction to a certain type of food. Call me uptight. Toss in too hoity-toity for my own good. But even when my Grandma Tillie would lecture, “There’s more room out than in”…my sensibilities would kick in and I’d think…if 7 billion people simultaneously freed a backdoor breeze, I hardly think we’d need to worry about global warming, wars, or toxic spills. We’d be blindly looking for an exit.

Today I watched golf ALL DAY…which only means that the chemo is messing with me. But there I was, sprawled out on the couch tracking little white balls, soaring towards a flagged pole in the Atlanta blue sky while crowds of onlookers held their breath in eager anticipation of a birdie, a bogey, a whatever. For those of you who know me, you’ll find this behavior hysterical as I’ve never been a golf fan. Don’t get me wrong…I know the setting is groomed and glorious, the exercise commendable, the clubhouse food tasty…but it’s just never appealed to me. I’ve also never imagined my ashes one day scattered into the par three tenth hole cup where I miraculously shot a hole-in-one the only time I ever played. The idea of multiple strange hands reaching into my new resting place is not a comforting visual.

Here’s a strange thing. I mentioned on FB about watching golf on chemo. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that, but then some people messaged me and said they had cancer…or they’re currently cancer-free, but I never knew anything about their hardship. Why? Then I began to wonder…Was it bad that I let the cat out of the bag? It made me think…and analyze why I did it. I guess the best explanation is that cancer seems to be something everyone fears. The whole freak-out factor of chemo…not to mention, radiation. I guess I want to take the fear out of it. Show that it’s possible to find resilience, a laugh, and maybe even a new couch potato sport to zen mode thru a diagnosis!

An odd thing is happening…time has become elastic. It was one month ago that I came home from the hospital after the hysterectomy, waiting to hear about the pathology results. So much has happened since then that it doesn’t seem real. (…And speaking of that surgery…I went out one evening after I was back to my chipper self, and started what I hoped would be an interesting conversation with a very stoned human being. He asked me what it felt like to lose so many organs all at once. His eyes rolled back in his head as he said, “I just want to know what fills in the void where the stuff was? Is it a big black hole up there? If you sleep on your side, does it feel like the listing Titanic…everything sliding downward till it hits a pelvic wall?” Now if I’d been high, I may have tripped out on that question, but because I’m not indulging, I blinked a few times and then moved on.

I started chemo last Tuesday and a hydration treatment on Wednesday. Doing fine. There was one day that I felt lousy, everything ached like flu symptoms…and I couldn’t stop crying. But then my husband made a picnic and took me to the beach. Life is good!beach picnic