Friday, June 29, 2007
I walked into to Cardinal Bernadine Cancer Center at 9 o'clock. First you get your blood drawn, but there was a backlog, a line of patients waiting, so, after a while, they sent me into the chemo ward to get it done. Then back out to wait for two hours until they had a seat for me. I read about half my book while waiting.
They called me about 11:30 to come back into the chemo ward, mauve lounge chairs line the walls and corners and people shuffle in and out for chemo. This place is always crowded, full of people with cancer. The ward has a few beds and private rooms for those who seem to be the worse. If you chance a look, their heads are tilted to the side, eyes half closed, mouths half open. They look pitifully sick, not like me. I look just fine, I think, not sick at all.
When I first learned I had colon cancer, I kind of felt like "a chosen one," a person who was chosen to endure suffering to build character and learn a few things about life. You know the St. Paul philosophy: Romans 5:3-5: ". . . We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope that will never disappoint us. All of this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love." (CEV)
But once I walk in here, I don't feel quite so chosen anymore. I feel more like a Christian walking into a packed church or an activist at a peace rally or a Democrat in Chicago. I'm just like everybody else. There are lots of us. But here, we look different. Some of us are bald, some of us limp, some of us look pale and pallid, some of us need wheelchairs. The lucky few of us, like me, drive ourselves to the clinic, read, surf the Web, look fine, have hair, then go home.
I do have hope, dreams. The book I'm reading, loaned to me by Anne, makes me want to go to Italy, buy an old convent, and start a bed and breakfast. (But I don't really like people enough for that.) I want to sip cappuccino and sit outside in a chair and watch the sunrise. And the sunset. And read and eat and take naps in between. I want to drink these strange Italian drinks the author talks about, grappa, prosecco, Campari (I guess these are drinks.)
Mostly, I just want to be finished with all this. To feel great again. To be cancer free. (Am I cancer free already? They cut it out of me.) To eat with relish. I do not gladly suffer. I panicked on the drive in because I knew. I knew what was to come.
God, give me character. Sustain my hope.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
But if they know you have cancer, are they really asking how you are? And do they really want to know. "Well, thanks for asking. Today I feel like puking." Or, "I haven't pooped in three days. So I'm slightly angry." Or "I've had a headache for a week, but it's probably just an anticipatory tension headache of my next chemo treatment because I know what will follow."
I am an anticipator. A worrier about pain to come. I didn't really worry if my colonoscopy would hurt, but for months before the procedure, I worried about the day I would have to spend drinking that poop cleanser and not eating. I hate to be hungry. Really really bad. I have food everywhere. I have a 32 quart Rubbermaid container at work stuffed with food and snacks.
And I didn't worry about the surgery where they would slit me open and cut out part of my descending colon, and sew me back up. Because I had nothing to compare it with. So I didn't know what sort of pain to expect. (But now I do; it hurt like hell.) But I healed pretty quickly and was back to work in a few weeks because, generally, I am a healthy person.
But I know what's to come now. And I fear it. Mostly I fear the bad mood I will be in, and consequently being generally disliked. Nobody really likes a sour puss. And it's hard to put on a happy face when you have poison coursing through your body. Is my husband going to get tired of me frowning? Are my colleagues going to rue the day I joined the team? Most of my friends aren't around enough to get tired of me. Many of them live more than 100 miles away. And that's the way I like it. And probably they way they like it, at least over the next few months.
Today, at least, I can say, "I feel good." That usually means I have an appetite, and I feel like getting up and walking to the mail box or the water fountain or the bathroom (washroom in the Midwest). That means when I get home tonight, though I might need a nap, I'll feel like walking Louie and Spunk (if she wants to go).
I have less than 24 hours to enjoy it. By this time tomorrow, I'll be hooked up to the chemo IV.
But I'm fine, thanks.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
I love my job (and co-workers), so it wouldn't be a job ephinany. I mean I don't know many people who wouldn't like to work a little less, a day or two fewer a week. At least at my age. So it must be something else. I'm going to keep on it, and I'll let you know.
Maybe I just need life counseling. Or a nap.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
The nurse called Friday after my my recent CAT scan to tell me the nodules in my lungs looked normal. They hadn't grown. It's always good when the nurse calls. When the doctor calls, you've probably got trouble. I wasn't worried, but then so far I haven't been that worried.
Bob said he can't imagine why he hasn't been mad at God because I got cancer, and I can't say that I have either. In fact, I haven't even considered being mad at God about getting cancer. I got mad at God today when God made every light I drove through yellow, then red, and I had to stop. As usual, I was late to church, and since I'm the priest's wife, I should get there on time, but so far, I might have been on time once. But when the lights turn red on me, time and time again as I'm rushing to church, I shout at God.
When I shouted at God today, at the 31st red light (all right, maybe the fifth), I thought, "Funny, I'm mad at God for this, but not for giving me cancer." What in the heck could that possibly be about? If anybody has the answer, let me know.
But, back to the lung nodules, which I didn't even know existed until my primary care doctor decided to make me have another CAT scan. From mayoclinic.com:
"Although most lung nodules are noncancerous (benign), some represent early-stage lung cancer.
Lung nodules — small masses of tissue in the lung — are quite common. They appear as round, white shadows on a chest X-ray or computerized tomography (CT) scan.
Your doctor may compare your current chest X-ray or CT scan with a previous one. If the nodule appears in earlier scans and hasn't changed in size, shape or appearance, it's probably noncancerous. Causes of noncancerous lung nodules include histoplasmosis, tuberculosis, lung cysts and vascular abnormalities. Such nodules usually require no treatment.
However, if a nodule is new or has changed in size, shape or appearance, your doctor may recommend further testing — such as a CT scan, positron emission tomography (PET) scan or tissue biopsy — to determine if it is cancerous."Colon cancer spreads to the liver and lungs first, so I guess it was good to have it checked out.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
He was standing, and I offered him the empty stool next to me. No, he didn't want it because, in his short history (before Bergoff's Bar changed to 17 West), there were never stools at the bar, and that's the way he liked it. (I argued with him slightly but gave up because he was adamant). A few minutes later, he asked my husband and me, "Where are you from?" Berwyn, we said. And he didn't 't believe us. Ok, Nashville (me) and West Tennessee (Bob), originally. We moved here three years ago.
So in the course of our conversation, this (rather pompous, but cute) Midwesterner lets us know, he's always hated the South (Atlanta is tolerable because it is a large city and cosmopolitan) and that Southern accents are like (or used to be like) fingernails on a chalkboard to him. He has some relatives who grew up in Knoxville, and when he first heard their accents, he just could barely stand to talk to them. But the accents have now "grown on him," and he finds them charming. (Right. Give me a break.)
Now, I wonder, what would possess a person to proclaim his hate for the South (true, it has its sordid history) and his (former) abhorrence of Southern accents to TWO SOUTHERNERS. I can be very undiplomatic myself (ask any of my colleagues and friends), but I don't think, if I met someone, I would proclaim my profound dislike for the whole segment of the country in which they grew up. I would not say, "My god, I hate the North because of New York accents." (I might, however, indicate New York is not a place I would like to live. Too intimidating.)
There is something about the South and people who have Southern accents that allows outright ridicule. People believe they have carte blanche permission to make fun of the general area of the country and the people who currently (or formerly) reside in it. Because we have Southern accents, we automatically have 10 to 20 points taken off our IQs. (Now it might be true of me, but my husband has about a 2,000 IQ and a Ph.D. from Northwestern.) Genteel Southern accents from parts of South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia or Georgia are sometimes charming to these people, but I'm not lucky enough to have one of those.
I run into people like this at work, too. They will mock my Southern accent, but do you think they would ever consider mocking an African American accent? Nope that would be racial discrimination. It wouldn't be tolerated. And I work at a very liberal, politically correct place that provides anti-racism training to all new employees.
My colleagues are tired of my harping on this, but it hasn't been resolved, and I'll keep on it until it is.
Now, it's breakfast time, and I'm fixing to get some vittles.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Dullish white food is good right now. Pasta, potatoes, rice. Some cheese. People are commenting on my butt. They say, "Your butt is a lot smaller than it used to be." Wouldn't you hate to walk behind yourself all day and see exactly what your butt really looks like? So there are good things about chemo and cancer, but certainly there would be an easier way to lose a little weight. And you wouldn't think a bunch of carbohydrates would do it.
If you have any good white-food recipes, let me know.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
I don't really feel like going to the gym and that upsets me. Because going to the gym makes me feel superior to all the people too lazy to go. And now I haven't gone since last Thursday. (This is Wednesday.) Today I woke up at 4:30 and couldn't go back to sleep. I think if I felt OK, I would have just gone to the gym and been finished with it. Since I'm a morning person and hate going when I get home from work. But I was afraid I would need to puke or poop. So not only do I have cancer, and I guess unhealthy as a consequence, I'm weak and have no will power. This is not good for self esteem.
But that's the breaks. I'll get over it. By this weekend, I'll feel great. I'll quit feeling sorry for myself. Other people are far worse off than I am. Some are suffering. Some are dying.
I'm just whining. This is not a proper Cowgirl Attitude.
But my clothes fit.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
My brothers (I have two, Jimmy and Doug) had already gotten theirs, but my sisters, Rebecca, not yet 50, and Jennifer, almost 55, had not. Now Becky wasn't old enough but Jennifer was way past due. She said she didn't want to shove her naked butt into somebody's face. Of course, that's not exactly how it goes. But after they learned of my results, they went for their "procedures" - Becky somewhat reluctantly, Jennifer resignedly, I think.
Becky hated the pre-game warm up. The no eating, the poison drinking that makes you poop. Jennifer rather enjoyed it. She said she mixed her potion with some kind of gator aide drink and loved it. She even enjoyed the chicken soup. Nobody really enjoys the the results of the "oral saline laxative" (though I might right now as I am in my post chemo constipation stage).
What I find interesting are the post-colonoscopy boasts, not of No Polyps or Cancer, but about how "cleaned out" they were. Jennifer tells me her doctor said, "You were really clean as a whistle." (I bet he tells that to all the girls). And Becky said she asked the nurse, "Was I cleaned out?" And the nurse looked at her with mild contempt and said, "I wouldn't know. The doctor didn't mention it."
But both were clean where it matters. No polyps. No cancer. Thank God.
Now if I could just talk my mom (age 76) into getting hers. It was her father who started all this. He was the one who had colon cancer late in life. Which I didn't know until my cancer was found.
So she really should go.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Ok, so I go get hooked up to the chemo machine, which is basically an IV machine you see in all hospial rooms. They infuse me through my new port, and it takes about two hours. (A time in which you meet a lot of interesting people; yesterday I met a woman being treated for Ovarian cancer. She had no hair. And an Italian man, a talker with no teeth but plenty of hair, who asked lots of questions, even my age.)
Before I leave treatment, they hook me up to a device that pumps more chemo into me for the next 48 hours. That's the irritating part, having to walk around with a Top 10 fashion faux pas fanny pack for two days. I sleep with it on, I pee with it on, I eat with it on, I drive with it on. Nasty little requirement. On Sunday, I have it removed. All this takes place every two weeks.
According to the Top 10 fashion faux pas list, Fanny Packs is number nine: “There is nothing important enough that you should be carrying around that merits carrying it around in a fanny pack.”
I guess I could argue with that.
So symptoms are:
Sensitivity to cold - When I wash my hands in cold water, they tingle. When I drink cold water, my mouth feels like I've swallowed dry ice. Duration: two days.
Sensitiviy to acid - Eating a strawberry or tomato or something with acid locks up your jaw in that weird electric feeling you get in your back jaw when you eat certain types of food. That happens in spades with this chemo. Duration: two to four days.
Slight nausea - I can take a nausea pill and eat a cracker and I'm usually fine. Duration: about four days.
Flu-like symptoms, aches chills. One day.
Flushed face - Well, it's flushed right now but I think it's because I went outside to water the plants and forgot to put on sunscreen and a hat as I was instructed. Bad girl.
Fatigue - I need a lot of sleep on the first and second day. I couldn't seem to stay awake during a riveting movie, Letters from Iwo Jima. Possibly because it was in Japanese and subtitled in English. So I had to read the whole thing. And it was dark. And I guess it wasn't all that riveting, despite the reviews.
Constipation -- Severe. Luckily, I learned I can take as many laxatives as I feel I need to to "stay ahead of the game," my nurse said. I always thought constant use of laxatives was a no no, but I guess these are extenuating circumstances. Duration: 12 days. Get regular about the time I have to go back to chemo.
For example, Dr. Poo explains "Soft Serve." Synonyms: Jabba the Poo, Play Doo, Cow Pattie, Septic Seepage.
He says soft serve is: "More dense than diarrhea but softer than normal poo, this solid, yet amorphous turd comes out in one, smooth, steady flowing motion. Its easy exit may make you feel like the stool will take a liquid form, but you are pleasantly surprised to see its more cohesive consistency when you are done."
Now who wouldn't want a book like that??? Buy one for yourself and as a gift. Heck, buy one for me!
Friday, June 15, 2007
Louie, our PBGV who is 10, always asks us if there are people in heaven. I don't know for sure, but I bet there are. Somebody has to pick up the poop.
May Rudy's little soul and the souls of all the departed dogs (OK, and cats, oh and horses), through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
We never forget them. I still think about my first Airedale, Ben, who committed suicide under my truck in 1992 because I was about to leave for six months in India. He was the best dog even though he tipped over my trashcan and ate cigarette butts (not mine) and those little red strips that surrounded baloney. (Remember those?)
We love you Rudy!
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
May their souls and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
--The Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal Church
Sandy Broadbent died of ovarian cancer on June 13, 2007.
Jamie Sue Linder Eldridge, 47, a former college buddy, died of melanoma March 17, 2007.
So anyway, he ordered another CAT scan for me because he saw some "nodes in my lung" from the previous CAT scan. "It's probably nothing," he said, "but I'm taking extra precaution now." I told him about a couple of other aches and pains I've been having, and he ordered a couple of other tests for those, X-Rays for one and blood for the other.
Then, when he was about to leave the examining room, he sort of held his arms out, indicating he wanted to hug me. So I stood from my chair and gave him a hug.
I thought that was very sweet.
On the entry for Wednesday, April 11, I taped a fortune from a cookie I opened on Tuesday night. It says: "You are about to embark on a most delightful journey." Delightful? I'm not sure . . . maybe. I did learn the Tuesday before (April 10) that the cancer had not spread to my liver. Bob almost cried when the doctor told us. Which of course made me cry. If I see even the hint of a tear in someone else, I cry. It's genetic. From my mother.
But the way people have treated me has been delightful. Everybody has been so nice. During recuperation from surgery, my hospital room and home looked like a funeral parlor (but the flowers were brighter and happier). And I have a huge "Life is Good" bag full of cards. Some people sent two and three cards each. And they still trickle in.
People came to see me; they brought me food (yummy); they called. I found that delightful, even though I am basically a hermit. At the least, I'm an introvert. I have never (except when I was a kid playing sick) sought out a lot of attention. I just need a little assurance you care. That's all. It doesn't take a lot. But this attention was heart-warming. And it made me think I should give it others.
So I'm trying to pay attention to other people's woes. Everybody has their own troubles, and they are so big when they are yours, even if they seem little to others. So I'm trying. I'm not much good at offering symphathy. But now I see how much it matters.
This cancer has been a trip.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
But since my first chemo treatment on Friday, June 1, I've been "bound up" as we say in the South. Even though I'm actually saying it in the Midwest because I live in Chicago . . .well Berwyn, now. Strangely, people here don't seem to understand what that means. So they give me a quizzical look when I sit down slowly, lowering myself into the chair holding on to both arms, and explain, "Sorry, I'm a little bound up."
Dr. Stool would tell me I've been having Pebble Poo, hard pebbles of poo that are a result of too little fiber. But that's impossible. I've been eating like an elephant lately. Sticks and leaves and drinking trunks full of water. I've been eating Meatamucil cookies and fruit and salads and taking stool softners I got after my surgery. But nothing, nothing is happening.
Friday, June 8, 2007
I've never been able to write legibly. (Or spell.) Ask my third-grade teachers. It's not out of spite or laziness. It's impatience. It just takes too dang long to form a legible letter. And stringing a bunch together is torture. Thank God for typewriters, then computers, then Palm keyboards. Lifesavers all for (former) journalists who can't write. (Well, form letters, cursive or otherwise.)
The point is: Will I keep this blog up because journaling is not my thing? Or is this type of diary-keeping different because it's typing. Stream of consciousness writing is just that. But with blogging, I can backspace and delete (and edit); I don't have to scratch out and re-write. Much easier. Anyway, I have some catching up to do.
I'll look at what I did write in my journal and see if any of it is worth posting. I recall writing a few post surgery dos and don'ts. Like "Do bring food; someone will eat it." But, "Don't stay too long and expect too much."
But a lot of what I stuck in the pages of my journal were e-mails from friends and colleagues wishing me well. One of the e-mails from friend and colleague Beth spurred the name of this blog. She sent me the Dale Evans quote because I am always professing to be a cowgirl, even though I've always lived in a city and only ridden a horse twice (the first time at age five or six, I fell off when the horse reared [and I was in full cowgirl regalia, very embarrassing], and the second was a horse trail ride at about age 35 that can hardly even count).
But when I learned you don't have to be a "real" cowgirl to have a cowgirl spirit, I almost hyperventilated with joy. So I am a Dale Evans cowgirl. Even though she was probably a Republican.
But she still calls a lot. I bet I get most of the phone calls now, even though I have four other siblings (two brothers, two sisters). Maybe she feels guilty. Does she wonder if she passed on some "cancer gene"? Or does she think, My God, one of my kids could die before me? Or is she just a caring mother?
I'm not a mother, so I don't know. I don't know how it feels to have a kid with cancer. Louie, our Petite Bassett Griffon Vendeen, had cancer, and it was scary. I didn't call him all the time. But he does live in the same house.
It is sweet; she can't hear though. When she visited me, I spent a lot of time repeating myself. I'd sneeze, and she'd say, "What was that!!!?" And I'd say, "I just sneezed," And she'd ask, "What!?" And I'd repeat, "I just sneezed." When the phone rang, and I was indisposed, I yelled down to her, "Pick up the phone." Over and over and over. She never heard me; it hurt the cut (nearly 7-inches) in my belly to yell. When I went downstairs, I said, "Why didn't you pick up the phone?" Because she hadn't heard it ringing.
She's great at finishing crosswords though.
My first colonoscopy ever, at age 50, was scheduled April 5 and doctors discovered a golf-ball sized tumor that "didn't look good."
On Monday, my surgeon called me (himself; rather scary) at work and told me he had a cancellation April 12 and that I could have the spot. Regardless of whether the tumor was cancer, it would have to come out. You can't have a golf ball blocking your natural flow.
"Is it cancer?" I asked. "Likely," he replied. That was shocking and somewhat disturbing. I drove home immediately, a little dazed, a little teary. My husband, Bob, was at home waiting for me. A comfort.
I had the surgery, a re-section of my descending colon (lower left track as my friend Kay would understand it), and was in the hospital an unpleasant five days.
Biopsies and surgery told us I had Stage III colon cancer; it had not spread to the liver or lungs, thank God, (or the ovary they removed), but had squeaked its way into a couple of lymph nodes. So chemo would be in order. My oncologist ordered a port (a device surgically implanted under the skin above the right breast which is where bloods samples come out and chemo goes in) and 24 weeks of chemo (every other week).
I've had one treatment of chemo on June 1, and I'll get to that later (or earlier, as blogs run newest to oldest).
So the bottom line is: Thank God, I had my colonoscopy when I did at age 50; thank God I live in Chicago where medical facilities are superb; thank God it hadn't spread into any other organs (and only into a couple of pesky lymph nodes); thank God, I have a loving and supportive husband who insisted on being with me during all my appointments after we discovered the tumor to take notes and remember stuff for me. (He is the brains, I am the brawn).
My new mantra: Get your coloscopy at age 50! Dagnabit.